Friday, September 29, 2017

Let's 3D Print Some Stupid

The Marines are learning how to 3D print small quadcopters. (1)

“… Marines built an initial batch of 25 Nibbler UAVs – quadcopters with a dwell time of about 20 to 25 minutes, which can carry cameras or other intelligence payloads and cost about $2,000 apiece to print …”

Wow, you say!  What’s not to like about that?  Unlimited 3D quadcopter printing.  That’s fantastic! 

Uh, back the quadcopter up, for a moment, and let’s look at this a bit closer and make sure it’s as fantastic as we and the Marines seem to think.

Let’s start with capabilities.  A quadcopter with a 20 min endurance is very small, very light, and can carry only a very small payload.  This is not a battlefield roaming, omniscient, eye in the sky, see everything sensor.

“The Marines built, The Nibbler, a four- rotor UAV with a 20-minute flight time capable of looking over hills and around buildings …”

This is a peek-around-the-corner or look-over-the-next-hill type of capability.  That’s nice, I guess, but haven’t soldiers been doing that kind of recon for a thousand years?  Plus, a quadcopter stands a better chance of being spotted and alerting the enemy to our presence than a properly trained soldier who understands stealthy recon.  So, that’s a disadvantage to the quadcopter.  Still, I’m sure there are circumstances where it might be convenient to have a flying, pinhole camera.  That’s right, a pinhole camera – that’s about all a quadcopter this size could carry.  This size craft is not going to be carrying radar, FLIR, or anything else that might actually be useful.

Now, let’s look at logistics.  People tend to think that a 3D printer creates objects out of thin air.  It doesn’t.  It uses a print medium that has to be supplied in bulk.  If you want to print a 10 lb part, you need at least 10 lbs of print medium and that’s only if you have 100% conversion of the medium.  And you don’t.  Printers have a degree of waste.  The conversion is 50% to 90% depending on the printer and part.  So, to make that 10 lb part you actually need 11-15 lbs of print medium. 

Thus, the printer doesn’t actually save any weight or volume in terms of logistics.  If you think you’ll need 100 quadcopters printed, you’ll need to transport 150% more than their weight of print medium with you into the field.  You’ve gained nothing, logistically, and have likely increased your transportation weights and volumes.

How Many People Does It Take To Operate A Quadcopter?

Let’s look at personnel requirements.  A 3D printer is not quite like your home PC printer.  It requires some fairly sophisticated programming and operating techniques.  In other words, you’re going to have to pull riflemen off the line to sit somewhere doing 3D printing. 

“A total of 48 personnel were taught to run the 3D printers …”

We’ve pulled 48 riflemen off the line in order to create a very marginal recon capability.  Is that really the best use of Marines? 

Let’s look at cost. 

“…cost about $2,000 apiece to print …”

You can buy this kind of quadcopter from almost any retail store in America for around $125, ready to fly, with controllers and small cameras.  What are we saving?

Let’s look at time.  It takes a very long time to print an object.  People tend to think a printer can produce a complete, fully functional quadcopter that flies out of the printer and straight to the battlefield.  That’s not even remotely correct.  The printer produces individual components – each component can take minutes to hours to produce - that have to be tediously and laboriously assembled, wired, and tested.  More people, more time.  Why not just have a pre-purchased, complete unit boxed and ready to go?

I have no idea but I would guess that to print all the components for a small quadcopter would require many, many hours.  In contrast, you can open a boxed quadcopter and have it in the air in 15 minutes.  If you have a sudden, urgent need for a quadcopter in the field, printing is not the way to go.  Sure, you could have a supply of them printed up and sitting in a pile, ready to go but then why not have pre-purchased ones in boxes ready to go?  What have you gained?

Let’s look at firepower.  This kind of effort continues the Marine’s trend away from firepower and towards becoming a light infantry with only very limited use.  Quadcopters aren’t going to win a peer war with China, firepower and numbers are.

This smacks of technology for the sake of technology with no real warfighting benefit.  It costs more than buying the same item, it saves nothing logistically, takes far more time, and offers only a marginal capability, if that.  Personally, I’d rather have a scout-sniper do my recon.

The military is so caught up in the technology craze that no one bothers to ask how any of this will result in greater lethality on the battlefield.  Instead, the military seems like it’s desperately searching for some use for 3D printing just to be able to say they can do it. 


(1)USNI News website, “Marines’ 3D-Printed ‘Nibbler’ Drone Creating Lessons Learned on Logistics, Counter-UAS”, Megan Eckstein, 27-Sep-2017,

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

MV-22 Assessment Methodology

War Is Boring website posted an article a few years ago about the MV-22 that I managed to miss which is a shame because it offered some insights into the MV-22. (1)

The author’s main point is that people want to view the MV-22 as a one for one replacement for the CH-46 and, therefore, compare it to the CH-46 and this is not the correct way to look at it.  Here’s the author’s perspective,

“…the Osprey didn’t replace the CH-46—it displaced the CH-46. The older copter made way for an entirely new type of aircraft, not another helicopter.”

Thus, says the author, to compare the MV-22 to the CH-46 on an exact one for one capability and performance basis is inappropriate.  Here’s an example from the article,

“To argue that an V-22 is junk because it doesn’t loiter like a CH-46 is to assume that the V-22 is a helicopter and should loiter like one.”


“…the Osprey’s fragility and susceptibility to heat are notable weaknesses. … It’s not a helicopter. It’s a tilt-rotor aircraft. It should act accordingly. … To prevent overheating, Osprey pilots avoid helicopter mode. They quickly transition to plane mode and move around their objective.”

This is a potentially insightful way to look at, and evaluate, the MV-22 or any new and different platform.  If it can accomplish the mission, just in a different way, then a direct point for point comparison is invalid and misleading.

Note:  The point of this post is not to evaluate the MV-22, it’s to note the author’s point about how to evaluate a new and different platform.

The author also goes on to acknowledge that there are missions and tasks that the MV-22 simply can’t do that the CH-46 can, and vice versa.  He also makes an interesting point about the combination of the MV-22 and the UH-1Y being able to fill all the needed missions.

The author’s point about not evaluating new and, especially, different platforms on a direct point for point basis comparison with the platform they are “replacing” is an excellent one and is my takeaway from the article.  I’ll attempt to factor that approach into my future assessments of platforms.  The LCS, for example, is not a Perry FFG and should be evaluated on its own merits rather than directly compared to the Perry.  Now, that doesn’t mean that the LCS is suddenly a good platform – it just means that there is a better assessment methodology.  That assessment may still reveal a substandard platform!

The F-35 is another example.  So many people want to compare the F-35’s air to air combat capability directly to an F-16/15/18 and that may not be appropriate.  F-35 supporters claim that the aircraft will perform air to air quite effectively, just in a different way.  If it can, that’s fine.  If it can’t, then it’s a failure.  Of course, there are other factors like cost, maintenance, reliability, availability, etc. that can render the aircraft a failure irrespective of any given mission/task performance.

The other takeaway from the article is the author’s more realistic “specs” for the MV-22.  He notes, for example, that the troop carrying capacity is not the commonly cited 24 but rather 18 or less under actual field conditions.  Similarly, he notes that the CH-46 never carried more than 12 troops, despite theoretical claims.

The author also notes that the MV-22’s range with a load of troops is around 233 miles on a single tank.  Compare that to some of the range figures floating around the Internet.

-          Navy Fact File:  860 nm (unstated fuel load) (2)
-          Air Force Fact Sheet for CV-22:  500 (one internal auxiliary fuel tank) (3)
-          Aviation Zone:  2100 nm (unstated but obviously with max internal fuel tanks) (4)
-          Global Security:  251 nm (24 troops; unstated fuel load) (5)
-          Boeing Website:  428 nm (24 troops, unstated fuel load) (6)

That’s quite a range (sorry about that!) of ranges!  It appears that 200 nm is about the actual field range.  Interesting.  I have no idea how that compares to the CH-46 actual field range with a load of troops.  The wide range of ranges further illustrates the points made in the recent post about combat radius (see, “CombatRadius”) 

The article was fascinating and I encourage you to follow the link and read it for yourself.  There was a lot more to it.  It was one of the more balanced articles I’ve seen on the MV-22.


(1)War Is Boring website, “Actually, The V-22 Ain’t Half Bad”, Vincent Mazzurco, 25-Jul-2014,

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

McCain and Fitzgerald Collisions and Repercussions

ComNavOps has called for a complete and total housecleaning by firing every Admiral and staff member in the 7th Fleet chain of command as one response to the rash of collisions and groundings the fleet has experienced.  While the housecleaning has not anywhere near approached that level, I do note that several figures have paid for their gross negligence.  Here’s the current list of personnel who have been fired.

  • 7th Fleet Commander VAdm. Joseph Aucoin
  • Task Force 70 commander Rear Adm. Charles Williams
  • Destroyer Squadron 15 commander Capt. Jeffrey Bennett
  • USS Fitzgerald CO Cmdr. Bryce Benson
  • USS Fitzgerald XO Cmdr. Sean Babbitt
  • USS Fitzgerald CMC Brice Baldwin

In addition, two admirals have put in for early retirement.  Reading only slightly between the lines, both were likely given the option to retire or be fired.

  • Naval Surface Forces commander VAdm. Thomas Rowden
  • Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift

I would like to see CNO Richardson accept responsibility for the avoidable deaths of US Navy sailors and resign.  Failing that, Congress and/or SecNav ought to fire him.

This is nowhere near the total housecleaning that is needed but it is more severe than the usual tepid Navy response such as after the Iranian seizure of our riverine boats.  I would like to see the entire chain of command stand trial for negligent homicide.  Absent that, hopefully, this will prompt other Navy leaders to take their duties a bit more seriously.

Marine's "Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment" Document

The Marine Corps has just released the 2017 unclassified version of “Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment”.  I began reading this with great interest, hoping to have many heretofore puzzling and contradictory doctrinal conundrums explained.  For example, I’ve been reading statements by Marine leadership that in order to effect a landing, they must first land and secure the landing area.  That’s a Catch-22 if I’ve ever heard one!

Unfortunately, I was absolutely stunned by a sentence in the opening paragraphs defining the scope of the document.  From section 2. (Scope), 2.b.1/2 describes the range of operations that the document applies to.  At the low end are what are described in 2.b.1 as “Crisis Response Operations in Uncertain Environments” which include humanitarian assistance, evacuations, and embassy reinforcements – generally non-combat or occasionally very low end combat scenarios.  At the other end of the range, 2.b.2 describes “Contingency Operations in Hostile Environments. 

The latter, presumably describes actual combat … war.  However, the following statement casts severe doubt on how much combat/war this entire concept applies to.

“…major combat operations (MCO) and campaigns versus peer competitors are beyond the scope of this concept.”

What???  Major combat operations and peer combat are not covered by this concept?  Are the Marines really saying that their capabilities and this concept are not useful in a peer war?  That’s what it seems to be saying – that none of the littoral capabilities described in this document apply to actual war?!

Did the Marines really just develop an entire concept that has no applicability to peer war?  Did they really just acknowledge that they have no role in peer combat? 

I can’t believe that’s what was intended but I see no other way to interpret it.  All I can hope is that it was just a very poorly worded sentence but given the Corps’ trend towards lightness, they may be acknowledging that they are no longer a serious warfighting organization.  I’ve got to get a clarification on this.

I’m not going to go any further in analyzing this document for two reasons. 

  1. Until I understand the actual scope of the document, I can’t perform a valid assessment.
  2. The rest of the document is garbage that reads like a generic sales brochure to Congress.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Technology Or Firepower?

Western militaries are caught up in a technology craze:  networks, unmanned, remote, cyber, open architecture, data sharing, software, integration. 

The belief, I guess, is that floods of data, data sharing, networking, etc. will allow us to know where every enemy asset is and then we can use the wonders of our distributed, light, mobile, flexible, adaptable forces to destroy the enemy. 

Of course, all the Aegis radar, navigational radars, EO/IR sensors, satellite monitoring, aerial surveillance, and “big picture” data sharing in the fleet hasn’t prevented us from completely losing track of where giant, slow moving cargo/tanker ships are and colliding with them or running aground so one can’t help but question the very foundation of the entire technology push. 

Unfortunately, the UK’s Royal Navy is now getting in on the technology craze, as described by First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff Adm. Sir Philip Jones and reported by USNI News website (1).  Here are some snippets from the First Sea Lord’s vision.

“autonomous systems operating in squads”
“artificial intelligence-assisted decision making”
“3D printing”
“novel weaponry”
“power of data” 
“ultra-modern communications”
“information exploitation”
“lightweight deployable IT system”
“vertical lift unmanned air system “
open architectures”
“augmented reality
“…bandwidth acceleration technology, which slashed the time for chest x-rays to pass through a handheld SATCOM terminal from half an hour to under five minutes.”
“drones that dissolve on demand”
“algae electric propulsion systems”

What do all those technologies have in common?  With the possible exception of the vague, buzzword-ish “novel weaponry”, whatever that might mean, none go “BOOM”.  None produce a bigger explosion.  None make the RN more lethal.  None increase the combat resilience of the RN.  None allow the RN to take more hits and keep fighting.  None increase the number of ships, aircraft, or personnel in the fleet.

They’re mostly technology for the sake of technology.

And all depend on the enemy cooperating by allowing us to send and receive data and to network systems without hindrance.  Think about it.  We’re putting all our eggs in the data basket.  A basket which is easily upset by enemy electronic warfare, cyber warfare, jamming, etc.  Would you buy a rifle that only works if the enemy doesn’t jam it?  Of course not!  And yet, that’s exactly what we’re doing with the whole data and networking movement.

Meanwhile, China and Russia are steadily producing bigger, heavier, better armed and armored tanks, more artillery, more cruise and ballistic missiles, bigger mortars, and better cluster munitions. 

Consider a few more detailed statements from the First Sea Lord.

“…integration of all weapon systems, engineering sensors and off-board logistics in the future, we have specified that the new Type 31e general purpose frigate should be designed with open architecture from the outset.”

Open architecture sounds appealing, doesn’t it?  It allows us to easily upgrade, incorporate third party and commercial software, and make it so that many, many people and companies can support our efforts.  Of course, all that openness also means that the systems are vulnerable to hacking and cyber attack!  Recall the U.S. software attack on Iran’s centrifuges?

Here’s another interesting statement from the First Sea Lord.

“We proved, for example, that a drug smuggler is no longer a bobbing needle in an oceanic haystack but has an identifiable algorithmic fingerprint. In the engineering world, we can predict, and therefore prevent, component failures.”

It’s a dubious leap from finding a drug smuggler to predicting and preventing component failures.  A relevant example is the U.S. LCS which has mammoth amounts of automated monitoring of its machinery intended to predict component failures, minimize maintenance down times, reduce the number of people needed for maintenance, and save untold amounts of maintenance money.  Of course, the reality is that the maintenance aspect of the LCS has been an abysmal failure.  Every LCS has suffered major engineering breakdowns, most ships having suffered multiple failures – all unforeseen, maintenance down times have almost exceeded operation times, and maintenance personnel requirements and maintenance costs have far exceeded expectations.  Of course, perhaps the RN will be the organization to make this all work.

Another good example is the state of the art (I use that phrase laughingly) ALIS comprehensive and predictive maintenance software that runs the F-35.  Far from streamlining maintenance, reducing costs, and predicting component failures, the F-35’s ALIS program has been an abject failure with aircraft unable to get off the ground without substantial workarounds to the software interlocks.  Aircraft have caught fire with no prediction whatsoever!  Of course, perhaps the RN will be the organization to make this all work.

The First Sea Lord goes on.

“As modern warfare becomes ever faster, and ever more data driven, our greatest asset will be the ability to cut through the deluge of information to think and act decisively.”

No, your greatest asset will be large enough munitions inventories to keep fighting for more than a week (recall the 2011 Libyan affair when the European militaries ran out of certain munitions after just a few weeks – and that was hardly an all out war!) and sufficient numbers of aircraft, ships, and tanks to absorb the inevitable attrition losses and cover the necessary territory and missions.

“…technologies that senior officers hope will keep the RN “at the forefront of capability in the decades to come”.

What’s the point of being at the forefront of irrelevant technology if you haven’t got the firepower and numbers to actually win a war of attrition which is what a war with Russia, China, NKorea, or Iran will be.  We may not want a war of attrition but those countries will most certainly make it so.  Remember, the enemy gets a vote and when it comes to attrition, if the enemy is willing to engage in attrition warfare you won’t have much choice but to follow.  A human wave attack doesn’t care about your data sharing.

Now, how does the First Sea Lord propose paying for all these irrelevant technological advances? 

“This requires big decisions with far reaching consequences. Are we, for instance, prepared to remove existing platforms from service in order to create the financial and manpower headroom to introduce new systems …”

His solution is to drop existing platforms and further decrease numbers in an already numerically challenged military!  Let me repeat – the enemy is not going to give you a choice about attrition warfare.  In fact, given the steadily decreasing size of Western militaries, our potential enemies may well see attrition warfare as a major advantage for them. 

Decreasing numbers to pay for highly questionable technologies that do little or nothing to increase firepower and lethality is foolish.

Now, I’ve been focused on the Royal Navy and the First Sea Lord’s comments but this post is really about the U.S. Navy which is doing all these same things.  The First Sea Lord’s comments simply provided a handy platform to work from.

The technology path we’re on is insane.  We’re ceding firepower and numbers to the enemy in the desperate hope that data will make up for it. 

Let’s be objective.  Recon is incredibly important to a military and plays a huge role in who wins and data is a form of recon.  I’m not arguing against data.  I’m arguing against abandoning the pursuit of firepower in favor of data.  Data should complement firepower not replace it.  Let me repeat – because it’s vitally important – the US Navy, for all its myriad sensors, Aegis radar, electro-optical sensors, infrared sensors, satellite imagery, aerial surveillance, drones, data sharing, and networks, couldn’t see giant, slow moving, cargo/tanker ships as they collided with our warships and couldn’t keep track of their own locations to prevent running aground – and this happened during peacetime with absolutely no electronic countermeasures or stealth on the part of the commercial vessels.  Come a peer war, do we really think we’ll be able to track stealthy ships and aircraft that are intentionally “hiding” and using electronic countermeasures, cyber attacks, hacking, jamming, decoys, etc.?  Well, despite all evidence to the contrary, this is exactly what we’re betting our future military capability on.

Someday, after a monumental military disaster, people will look back and wonder why no one saw it coming.  Well, they did.  This is the warning!


(1)USNI News website, “DSEI: First Sea Lord Jones Plots High-Tech Future for U.K. Royal Navy”, Jon Rosamond, 12-Sep-2017,

Friday, September 22, 2017

Another Layer of Oversight for 7th Fleet - This One Will Work, Right?

Here’s another entry in the Category of Oblivious Navy Leadership.

“The Navy’s Pacific Fleet is standing up a new command that will consolidate training and certification oversight for ships based in Japan, according to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.  …

Dubbed the Naval Surface Group Western Pacific, the new command will help ensure 7th Fleet ships are properly certified.”

The entire command structure, including CNO Richardson, utterly failed to properly oversee the 7th Fleet training, personnel needs, and certifications so the solution is to create yet another layer of oversight?  Cause, yeah, this one will work even though none of the existing ones did.

Hey, Navy, why not try making the existing command structure do what it’s supposed to do? 

Yes, that means fire the entire 7th fleet chain of command, including CNO Richardson, and all their staffs and start over.  Clean house.  Are you proud of the job you’re doing, Richardson?  If you had any honor you’d resign.


(1)Navy Times website, “New Navy command will oversee Japan-based ships’ training and certification”, Geoff Ziezulewicz , 20-Sep-2017,

MV-22 and Landing Zones

Hopefully, you’ve all seen videos of Vietnam era UH-1 Huey aviation assault landings.  The helos come in fast in a turning, gut-wrenching drop, tightly packed, land hard, disgorge their troops in seconds, and haul out.  The entire assault landing is over and done in seconds.  The landing zones (LZ) were generally fairly small – just a clearing wide enough for several helos to land at the same time.

Now, let’s consider the MV-22 and LZ’s.  I’m led to understand that the MV-22 requires 250 ft separation when it lands – so much for a tightly packed group of assault craft!  Assuming several MV-22s (or more!) make up the assault package, where are we going to find an LZ that’s big enough to support several MV-22s all spaced 250 ft apart?  That’s going to require an LZ covering several city blocks!  That immediately rules out the type of small clearings that constituted LZs in Vietnam.

On a related note, a USMC Basic Officer Course assault document specifies the LZ diameter for a single MV-22 to be 175 ft if bordering obstacles (trees, buildings, etc.) are 5-40 ft tall and an LZ diameter of 250 ft for a single MV-22 if bordering obstacles are 40-80 ft tall.  In comparison, the LZ diameter for a UH-1 helo is 100 ft for an LZ with bordering obstacles 5-40 ft tall (1).

The implications of the preceding are:

  • LZ choices will be limited and much more predictable by the enemy

  • Large, wide open LZs will place the troops in open fields without any cover and require them to move across large spaces, potentially under fire the entire time, in order to reach cover around the periphery of the LZ

The alternative to large, wide open LZs is to land aircraft sequentially, one at a time.  Given the very slow landing performance of the MV-22, that will result in an assault landing going on and on, one aircraft at a time with each aircraft, in turn, becoming the focus of enemy fire.  Survival rate ought to be around zero in a contested landing.

These considerations may force the MV-22 to land only in uncontested, unopposed areas.  If so, this further degrades the assault effectiveness of the MV-22 by ruling out most useful LZs and pushing the landings so far away from the ultimate target as to eliminate the element of surprise and speed.  In short, I don’t see the MV-22 as being a viable option for contested assaults.

I am also unaware that the Marines have ever conducted a full scale MV-22 combat assault exercise.  They may have done so but I doubt it or we would have heard about it in glowing terms, no matter how badly it went, and we’ve heard nothing.  Shouldn’t we conduct such an exercise and find out now what the MV-22 can do rather than find out the bloody way, in actual combat?

Let’s take that America class amphibious ship that has no well deck and conduct a full scale aviation assault and see what happens. 

Before we conclude, let me be clear – there is very little public domain information on MV-22 combat landing performance so much of what I’ve discussed is speculative.  However, it is all reasonable speculation backed by data.  For example, I have seen no public information on MV-22 LZ landing speed (the time from entering the LZ’s small arms fire range until the aircraft has landed and troops can begin debarking) but there are plenty of videos of MV-22 landings and they are painfully slow.  I’m sure they would be faster in combat but the point remains that they won’t be anywhere near as fast as the helos they’re replacing.


(1)“Assault Support Capabilities / Operations”, USMC The Basic School, Marine Corps Training Command, Camp Barrett, VA, Basic Officer Course, B2C0355XQ

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sleepy Time!

Well, here’s a welcome bit of common sense rules regarding sleep requirements for sailors.  What’s the problem with sleep?  It’s that the sailors haven’t been getting any!  From a Navy Times article (1),

“Government watchdog studies have found sailors on ships working more than 100 hours a week, and have cautioned that this can lead to fatigue and reduced readiness.”

The standard U.S. business work week is 40 hours so 100 hours is 2.5 normal work weeks compressed into one, week after unrelenting week.  How long do you think you could do that before sheer, overwhelming fatigue began to make you lethargic and mistake prone?

Now, the Navy has issued new crew sleep guidance.

“In an internal Navy message issued Friday, Rowden said surface fleet skippers will be required to implement watch schedules and shipboard routines that better sync with circadian rhythms and natural sleep cycles.”

“Such a move aims to give sailors a more consistent and less erratic sleep schedule, resulting in a more rested and alert crew.”

“In further guidance sent out this week, skippers were given the choice from among several watch schedules that follow this natural cycle, according to copies of the messages obtained by Navy Times.

While the guidance does not mandate any specific schedule, it will likely mean the end of grueling 5-hours on, 10-hours off watch schedules, known as “five and dimes,” because that does not align with circadian rhythms and a 24-hour daily cycle.”

Well, that sounds great.  No more fatigued crews.

“You’re going to have to form some level of watch bill that protects sailors’ sleep,” Naval Surface Force spokesman Cmdr. John Perkins said.”

Of course, one can’t help but wonder how crews are going to get that sleep given that the reason they’re working 100 hour weeks now is because most ships are significantly undermanned.  The manning shortfall is going to be even more pronounced if more of the crew is sleeping more of the time!  This is what lead to the widespread use of waivers to get around all those nasty expired seamanship and warfare certifications that happened due to lack of time.  Are we just going read the new sleep guidelines, congratulate ourselves, brag to Congress about our proactive reactive actions, and then begin issuing waivers?  History says, yes.  History says shipboard fatigue and mistakes are not going to go away.  History says the Navy will find ways around the new rules just as they find ways around all rules that aren’t convenient.

No More Tired Sailors or Just More Waivers To Issue?

Optimal manning is not conducive to a good night’s sleep!


(1)Navy Times website, “Navy issues new sleep and watch schedule rules for the surface fleet”, Geoff Ziezulewicz, 20-Sep-2017,

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Amphibious Assault - Strategic Level Follow Up

As I anticipated, no one offered a concrete, specific, foreseeable need for an amphibious assault.  All the comments were, again as anticipated, a call for continued Marine Corps amphibious capability based on vague, theoretical features of amphibious assaults such as threatening an enemy’s coastline.

I’d like to address some themes from the post and comments.

First, the common comment response was that the mere threat of amphibious assaults will tie up huge amounts of enemy troops and attention.  This is a theoretical feature only.  As I described in the post, it presents no real threat because there is no real possibility of an assault.  Sure, we could somehow circle to the far northern coastline of the Russian tundra and conduct an amphibious assault but it would accomplish nothing.  We’d have no means of resupply.  There are no worthwhile targets in the area (center of gravity).  Winter weather (always just a few weeks away there!) would destroy any forces left after their initial supplies ran out.  It’s a theoretical threat but not a credible one.  And so on for the other cases.

Second, the enemies we’re facing each have hundreds of thousands of mines.  We have two dozen mine clearing helos and a handful of barely functional Avenger MCM ships to counter the threat.  We simply do not have the capability to conduct opposed amphibious assaults when mines are involved.  This is why the Desert Storm amphibious “feint” was never a real threat.  The presence of mines precluded the possibility of an actual assault (recall the mining of USS Princeton and USS Tripoli?) – Iraq’s Hussein was just too militarily incompetent to realize this.

Third, most readers incorrectly took the post to mean that I was calling for elimination of the Marine Corps.  In actuality, I called for a reduction, not elimination, down to 6 big deck amphibious ships with the ability to embark two MEUs.  I also called for port seizure as a core Marine capability.  I haven’t gamed that one out so I don’t know what force size/structure would be needed.

As an astute Anonymous commenter pointed out,

“Remember that the USA required over two years to mobilize and deploy forces to invade Normandy in 1944.”

Retention of 6 big deck amphibious ships and two MEUs (plus whatever additional port seizure force is needed) retains a core of amphibious capability that can be reconstituted in war if we suddenly find an unanticipated need for an amphibious landing.

My post proposal was not a call for elimination of the Marine Corps and amphibious capability but a reduction based on the foreseeable operational needs.  It makes no sense to maintain a fleet of 30+ big deck amphibious ships and a 180,000 man Marine Corps when there are no foreseeable needs for significant amphibious assaults.

If no other country in the world possessed airplanes, we wouldn’t maintain a fleet of fighters, would we?  We’d maintain a fleet of bombers but there would be no need for fighters.

Similarly, if no other country in the world possessed anti-ship missiles, we wouldn’t continue to build AAW focused, multi-billion dollar ships with Aegis/Standard, would we?  We would be smart to continue to develop AAW capability in R&D programs, against future need, but we wouldn’t continue to buy unneeded capabilities.

This is no different.  There is no reasonable, foreseeable need for major amphibious assaults so why buy the ships and maintain the force?  Besides, it’s not like we haven’t abandoned the amphibious mission before, and recently, at that.  For the last couple of decades the Marines have been exclusively focused on land based operations, albeit unwisely.  We lost our amphibious capability.  We’ve been slowly attempting to “rediscover” our amphibious capabilities. 

The final piece of the puzzle is the fact that we can’t actually conduct an amphibious assault from 25-50 nm standoff distance as our doctrine calls for!  So, we have no reasonable, foreseeable need combined with an inability to execute an amphibious assault even if there were a need.  Does that sound like justification to maintain a fleet of 30+ big deck ships and a 180,000 man Corps?

In short, there is no compelling reason to maintain the Marine Corps and amphibious navy at their current sizes.  This could change over time as needs and/or capabilities evolve but, for the present and foreseeable future, we need to drastically downsize.  We also need to carefully examine the need for port seizure and how to accomplish it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Amphibious Assault - Strategic Level

We’ve devoted much discussion to amphibious assaults in this blog and we should given that it’s both a traditional US military capability and the foundation of an entire branch of the military – namely the Marine Corps.  We’ve talked about specifics like connectors, naval gun support, LST’s, logistics, etc.  Let’s back off a bit and look at the larger picture – the strategic level, as opposed to the operational level.

The first, and only, question is whether amphibious assaults are even needed from a strategic level.  I’ve repeatedly addressed this in comments and, obliquely, in posts and it’s time to formally address this.

From a geopolitical strategy perspective we have five foreseeable “enemies” that we can identify that will be concerns for the next twenty years.  The enemies are,

  • China
  • Russia
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Third World / Non-State

Let’s take a hard look at each enemy and consider the likelihood of needing to conduct an amphibious assault against each.

China.  Unless we are insane, we are never going to want to land troops on mainland China.  There is no geopolitical need to do that.  The land, itself, has nothing we need and comes with many problems (extensive land borders, cultural and ethnic issues, population problems, etc.) that make forcible entry into, and occupation of, China undesirable.  That only leaves the artificial islands that China has constructed and militarized or similar small, natural, militarized islands.  However, those islands will never be subject to amphibious assault if for no other reason than they are too small to hold any troops!  They’ll be destroyed with cruise missiles and forgotten – somewhat akin to the island hopping strategy of WWII.  The only conceivable use for an amphibious assault would be to reclaim a foreign country that China has seized, such as Taiwan, Philippines, or Vietnam

From a geopolitical perspective, the only one of those that would realistically justify an assault is Taiwan.  We simply don’t care enough about Vietnam to fight for it.  China has already begun the annexation of the Philippines but will conclude that “peacefully” as they’ve done with the South China SeaChina will conduct political maneuvers aimed at ousting US influence and enhancing Chinese influence, as they’ve already started to do.  They’ll flood the country with state sponsored immigration (already underway) until the balance of population shifts to Chinese and then simply and slowly absorb the economy and government and the “Philippines” will align with China and become a Chinese state in all but name.  At that point, the US will have no internationally recognizable rationale for an invasion. 

Within the context of a Chinese Philippines (Chilippines?), seizing the Philippines as part of a larger war effort might be a possibility.  However, we are likely looking at a Chinese fortified Philippines scenario as being 20+ years down the road and, therefore, beyond the time frame of this post subject.

Taiwan remains the one possible amphibious assault scenario.  In any war scenario, Taiwan will be seized by China as the first order of business for two reasons:  one, China has always stated that Taiwan belongs to them and the opportunity of a war simply makes the seizure inevitable and, two, China cannot afford to leave Taiwan as a possible base of operations for the US so deep in its territory and so close to its mainland.  The seizure will occur quickly – far quicker than the US could possibly respond.  The US will be faced with a fait accompli.  If the US wants to retake Taiwan, it will have to be after a massive amphibious force buildup.  Given the proximity of Taiwan to mainland China, an amphibious assault to reclaim the island would be conducted under the very near umbrella of mainland China’s air power, missile power, naval power, and with a close and ready resupply of an almost unlimited amount of manpower.  This is the farthest possible scenario from a “quick” Marine Corps assault using existing forces.  Such an assault would require years of build up.  Is the US likely to do that?  I think not.  A Taiwan seizure will, unfortunately, be a one-way affair.  China will seize it and it will not come back.

Thus, there is very little need for amphibious assaults in a China war scenario.

Russia.  There is very little usable or useful Russian shoreline to assault!  That’s one of the geopolitical problems that Russia faces and is probably one of the reasons they seized Crimea.  A war with Russia will be a land war conducted through Europe.  The Cold War plans still largely apply.  There is a very remote possibility that an assault against the far eastern regions could occur which would be intended to seize military bases along the Sea of Ohkotsk.  Far more likely, though, is that those bases would be neutralized with cruise missiles and relegated to unimportance.  There is just no reason to attempt to seize the bases or the region.  There is nothing there that the US would want.

Further, there is no foreseeable scenario in which US troops would attempt to enter mainland Russia.  Combat would occur around the periphery of the Russian borders and would be aimed at restoring the pre-war boundaries.

Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a Russian war scenario.

Iran.  Most combat forces would enter Iran through Iraq.  While there is a possibility of wanting to land troops somewhere along Iran’s coastline, this would not be an amphibious assault but just an unopposed unloading of troops and supplies through an already seized port or across an uncontested beach.  Iran simply does not have the capability to oppose a landing. 

Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a Iranian war scenario.

North Korea.  There is some small possibility of the need for an amphibious assault along the northern shoreline.  This would be a diversionary assault or raid rather than a major, sustained assault.  The bulk of combat will be land based and troops and supplies will enter through South Korea via secured ports and airbases. 

NKorea possesses a vast inventory of mines which will be used to protect the northern shoreline.  Coupled with our almost complete lack of mine countermeasures, there is probably little likelihood of attempting even a small scale diversionary assault.

Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a NKorean war scenario.

Third World / Non-State.  This is the case that is most likely to require amphibious assaults.  Assaults into Middle East locations or Africa to deal with terrorist threats or, less likely, South America to stabilize collapsing countries are conceivable.  However, given the nature of the threats, any amphibious assault would be limited in size and scope and the assault itself would likely be unopposed and revert to a simple unloading.  A single MEU/ARG would be the likely force size required, at the high end.

Thus, there is a conceivable need for amphibious assault of a limited and, likely, unopposed nature.

As a general observation, unless someone miraculously takes over the entire Pacific, as Japan did, we’re never going to need to island hop our way across an ocean again.  That recognition, alone, eliminates a huge chunk of the need for amphibious assaults.  Similarly, unless someone miraculously seizes all of Europe, we’re never going to need to conduct another Normandy invasion.  That recognition eliminates most of the remaining chunk of need for amphibious assaults.

We see, then, that there is no compelling geopolitical need for major amphibious assaults and no resulting military strategy requiring major amphibious assaults to support the geopolitical needs.  There remains a possibility of small assaults that would be more akin to unopposed unloadings than opposed assaults.

So, what does this tell us about our amphibious fleet force structure?

The obvious conclusion is that we don’t need 33 large deck amphibious ships!  A single MEU/ARG consisting of three ships is sufficient.  If we want to play it safe and call it six ships to allow for reinforcement and overhaul unavailabilities, that’s fine.  So, six amphibious ships should be sufficient.

In fact, since we just concluded that amphibious assaults are so unlikely, we now have to ask, why do we have forward deployed MEU/ARG’s?  And, if we don’t need forward deployed MEU/ARG’s, we don’t need the traditional 3-ships-to-support-one-forward-deployed.  Instead, we can take our six amphibious ships and keep them home ported until needed and provide proper maintenance along with occasional training stints.

The one valid argument for forward deployed, amphibious Marines is crisis response:  embassy protection, evacuation, terrorist response, short term stability operations, etc.  There is a valid and ongoing need for this capability but this leads to the next question which is, is an Amphibious Ready Group the best way to provide this kind of response?  Is keeping several major warships and an entire Marine Epeditionary Unit afloat for months at a time the best way to meet the need?  Alternatively, could the Army’s rapid response, aviation transported units better meet the needs?  There is a valid argument to be made that keeping crisis response troops home-based with aviation transport available on short notice is a more economical and more effective method of providing crisis response.  A MEU can only be in one area at a time and can only respond within that specific area.  An aviation transportable Army unit, however, can respond anywhere. 

The problem that any crisis response force faces is escalation – the threat rapidly escalates beyond the original level and reinforcements are needed very quickly – Mogadishu, for example.  That specific issue – excalation/reinforcement – is, however, a topic for another time.

We should also note that crisis response forces have historically been small and very light compared to a full MEU.  Again, this argues against the need for a forward deployed MEU/ARG.

All of this suggests that we should reevaluate our amphibious doctrine.  Rather than prepare for major amphibious operations that are extremely unlikely, perhaps we should be preparing for small, uncontested landings/unloadings and, perhaps, the Marine’s aviation-centric shift is not without merit.

To sum up,

  • We only need around 6 major amphibious ships.
  • We should keep our amphibious ships home ported.
  • We should investigate whether a MEU/ARG is the most economical and effective crisis response force.
  • We should reevaluate the MEU force structure in light of the historical “light” nature of crisis responses.
  • We should reevaluate Marine manning levels.

I love the Marines and desperately want to see them remain part and parcel of the US Armed Forces.  However, I just don’t see the need for major amphibious assaults in the next 20+ years.  That doesn’t mean that the Marines should be eliminated but it does mean that we should reexamine their missions and force structure.

Now, there is one other potentially useful function that the Marines can perform and which I see as far more likely than the classic amphibious assault and that is port/airfield seizure.  In any war, we are going to need access to ports for unloading the massive amounts of supplies required to keep any invasion going.  To a much lesser extent, the same applies to seizing airfields although it is simply not possible to keep an invasion going via airlifted supplies.  The tonnage and volume movement is just not there.

Port seizure is a completely different game than an amphibious assault.  The operations, tactics, and equipment are radically different.  Also, since most (all?) major ports are intimately and physically intertwined with cities, a port seizure becomes a specific case of urban warfare which brings its own set of challenges which are entirely different from the classic amphibious assault.

The likelihood of port seizures within the context of geopolitical and military strategies should be carefully evaluated.  Unfortunately, I’m simply not in a position to make that evaluation. 

All that said, my conclusions can and would change if we felt port seizure was a likely strategic need and made it a Marine mission.  Right now, however, port seizure is not a specific Marine mission in the sense that they have the equipment, doctrine, tactics, and training to accomplish it.  To the best of my knowledge, the Marines/Navy have never practiced a port seizure.  If you ask a Marine general whether port seizure is a mission, I’m sure they would say yes but it’s not really a mission if you aren’t equipped for it and have never trained for it.

I understand that most of you are going to disagree with the conclusion of this post.  That’s fine.  Feel free to tell me why.  However, do not engage in “what if”.  What if Russia takes over Europe and we need to conduct another Normandy invasion?  What if China suddenly launches an instantaneous seizure of the entire Pacific Ocean?  “What if” is not a viable or logical argument.  If you think we need to retain significant amphibious assault capability, tell me, specifically, where and under what circumstances it would be needed.  Nothing else is reasonable or logical.

Also, do not engage in “you never know” – we need to keep our current Marine force structure because you never know what will happen.  “You never know” is an argument that has no logical basis and can’t be countered.  It’s also an argument for unlimited capabilities because …  well …  you never know.  Using that argument, we should have 98 super carriers, a ten million man Marine Corps, and a thousand B-2 nuclear armed bombers in the air continuously because …  you never know.

The practicalities of budget, industry, and manpower preclude “you never know” force structures.  Therefore, “you never know” is not a valid argument.

Give me something specific or accept the conclusions of the post.