Monday, October 30, 2017

Connector Conundrum

The crux of the Marine’s amphibious assault capability is the connector – the vehicle, whether surface or air, that transports the Marines and their equipment from their ships to the shore.  As you know, doctrine calls for the assault ships and their escorts to remain 25-100 nm offshore due to fears of land based anti-ship missiles.  However, this creates a problem since there are no initial wave connectors that are capable of transporting Marines 25-100 nm to the shore.  Let’s see if we can sum up the state of affairs for the amphibious connectors.


There are no surface connectors capable of transporting initial assault waves from 25-100 nm.  The Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) and its planned follow ons are limited to around 3-5 nm travel.  Beyond that, the troops will be incapacitated from seasickness due to the extended travel time.  The LCAC and LCU are doctrinally considered non-survivable in a contested environment and are reserved for follow on waves after the landing area has been secured.

“… Marines now want their connectors to drop amphibious vehicles off five miles from land. That keeps the connectors out of range of ground troops with anti-tank missiles, for one thing. In fact, the fastest current connector, the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft, is so lightly protected the Navy refuses to land it on anydefended beach.” (1)

Aviation connectors (helos and MV-22s) have the range but are incapable of transporting tanks, artillery, and heavy vehicles.  They are also incapable of logistically sustaining an assault.  Additionally, their numbers are limited and attrition of helos and MV-22s will be significant, further weakening any resupply and support efforts.

We see, then, that the current state of affairs is unworkable.  That being the case, what does the Navy/Marine Corps envision as the future of amphibious assault connectors?


The Marines vision for the moderately near future is for high speed (relative to the AAV) connectors such as the LCAC and LCU to transport AAVs to within 3-5 nm or so of the shore and drop them into the water for the final, short leg of the trip.  The thinking is that this will keep the non-survivable LCACs and LCUs safely out of range (they’re still going to be in range of a LOT of weapons!) while keeping the AAV travel time acceptable.  This will require modifying the LCAC and LCU ramp systems – not a particularly challenging engineering feat.

The major problem with both the LCAC and LCU as regards initial assault waves is that even limiting the approach to 3-5 miles exposes the craft to lots of weapons (artillery, Hellfire type small missiles, rockets, helos, drones, etc.) and if one of these connectors is sunk, they’ll take a lot of troops and equipment down with them as well as cripple the follow on waves.  That is the flip side of having high volume/capacity connectors – if you lose one, you lose a lot of people and materiel.  This makes the Navy’s move to smaller well decks which carry even fewer LCACs/LCUs even more inexplicable.  But, I digress …

Another option popular in the commentary world and that has received Marine Corps attention is the ultra heavy lift amphibious connector (UHLAC).  The full scale version would be 84 ft long with a capacity of three M1 tanks or 200 tons of cargo and a speed of 25 mph in the water although the prototype was only capable of around 5 mph.  How, exactly, the UHLAC, at the same size as an LCAC and much slower, would be any more survivable than an LCAC is a mystery.  It seems likely that this would be relegated to the same follow on role as the LCAC.

We see, then, that the future vision for connectors is still suspect and depends on cobbled together solutions that are highly dependent on the enemy cooperating by not sinking any of our LCACs or LCUs.  This seems like a plan based mostly on wishful thinking.  That being the case, what do we need to actually solve the problem?


What’s needed is a long range, high speed, small connector.  The Marines tried for many years to develop such a vehicle, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) and failed to reconcile the conflicting requirements of both a high water speed transport and a land based fighting vehicle.  The EFV was symptomatic of the military’s obsession with trying to make every platform a “do everything” asset.  What’s needed is a dedicated water-only landing craft – a Higgins boat with speed, in essence – that can transport troops, tanks, artillery, heavy vehicles, and supplies to the shore quickly, unload, and return to the amphibious ship for more loads.  The fighting vehicle – AAV, ACV, IFV, or whatever that might be – can then be a separate, dedicated, specialized vehicle optimized for land combat and transported ashore via one of these notional Higgins boats.

The need for speed is obvious.  Speed increases the distance that troops can be transported before succumbing to debilitating seasickness.  Speed minimizes the exposure time to enemy weapons.  Speed increases the delivery rate by increasing the number of trips per unit time.

Given the requirement to limit the troop’s time afloat to a maximum of one hour and a desire to stand 25 nm off shore, we get a notional speed requirement of around 25-30 kts.

What’s less obvious is the need to be small although we’ve already touched on the rationale.  The smaller the landing craft, the less we lose when one is destroyed.  Smaller also minimizes the targeting size of the landing craft.  Conceptually, we’d like a landing craft that is so small that it transports a single soldier.  Of course, we don’t have that technology and there is a marked lack of efficiency in such a system.  What’s needed is a balance between risk (loss) and efficiency.  The WWII Higgins boat hit that balance fairly well and had a capacity of around 30 troops.  I would suggest that a modern Higgins boat with a capacity of around two squads (24 or so troops) is about right. 

We also need the ability to transport tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment ashore in the initial assault wave.  Keeping in mind the requirement to remain small and minimize risk (loss), a landing craft with a capacity to transport one tank is needed.

The key to this is separation of the two functions:  transport of the initial assault wave and combat ashore.  The Marines have combined those functions and produced an AAV that is good at neither, and EFV that failed miserably at both, and a doctrine that is unexecutable.  Separating the functions allows for the design of an optimized connector and an optimized combat vehicle while keeping the costs of both down since neither will have any unnecessary functions added on.

Speaking of costs, the conceptual Higgins boat must be cheap.  They will be lost during an assault and cannot be so expensive that attrition will be a problem.  There is nothing wrong with wooden construction, for example.  We’re not building them to last 50 years!  These need to be cheap to the point of being free by modern acquisition standards. 

Model For The Future

We should also re-examine the well deck concept.  In WWII, Higgins boats were mounted externally about the ship’s decks and superstructure and lowered into the water.  A typical attack transport carried a couple dozen landing craft.  They occupied no internal ship’s volume.  The well deck, on the other hand, is a huge penalty in internal ship’s volume – volume that could be used for additional storage of troops and equipment (wouldn’t it be nice to not have to leave the tanks behind when the ship loads?) or to simply make the ship smaller and cheaper if additional storage is not needed.  Some thought would have to be given to how to load tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment into the landing craft, of course – perhaps a RO/RO type ramp at the waterline?

For too many decades we’ve leapt immediately to the far, complicated end of the technology spectrum for every solution and requirement.  The time has more than come to begin thinking of simpler, affordable solutions even they aren’t elegant.  I know the thought of a wooden landing craft would give a modern naval officer apoplexy but, in combat, the KISS principle reigns supreme and we would do well to remember that and begin applying it.  To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, the simplest solution that meets the requirements is, invariably, the correct one.

“Away all boats!”


(1)Breaking Defense, “Marines Seek New Tech To Get Ashore Vs. Missiles; Reinventing Amphib Assault”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 16-Apr-2014,

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Northrop Pulls Out Of Unmanned Tanker Competition

Northrop has announced that it is pulling out of the competition to build the Navy’s MQ-25 unmanned tanker.  As you recall, there were four competitors: Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.  Northrop’s explanation is cryptic, to say the least.  Here’s the statement from Northrop CEO Wes Bush.

“When we’re looking at one of these opportunities, let me be clear, our objective is not just to win.  …we really look hard at executability under the terms of [requests for proposals] that come out to make sure that we can execute.” (1)

So, something in the Request For Proposals (RFP) made Northrop believe that they couldn’t meet the requirements.  This is all the more odd given that the RFP was structured to have very few actual requirements.  In fact, the only requirement that has been revealed is the informal statement by Navy personnel that the tanker would deliver around 15,000 lbs of fuel at 500 miles.

Northrop was assumed to propose their X-47 as the basis for their tanker.  In fact, given that the X-47 was used in actual carrier landing and takeoff tests, Northrop was assumed to have a huge advantage in the competition.  That they would feel that advantage was insufficient makes their decision even harder to understand.  If Northrop’s actual carrier UAV operational experience isn’t adequate to meet the RFP, what does that say about the other competitor’s offerings and capabilities?

Another possibility is that the X-47 is simply incapable of meeting the fuel capacity and distance requirements.  The flying wing type of UAV may be simply unsuited for the task.  Perhaps the stealthy body size and shape does not allow sufficient fuel carriage?

It is also possible that Northrop felt that a stealthy flying wing would be inherently more expensive than a more conventional wing-fuselage-tail design and unable to compete on a cost basis.  If so, it’s worth noting that the General Atomics design, the only other design we’ve seen, is a conventional design and may hold a cost advantage.

Recall, also, that we’ve discussed the vulnerability of non-stealthy support aircraft so stealth may be an attractive feature in an aircraft that is expected to operate hundreds of miles from the carrier and within range of enemy aircraft and long range missiles.  The Chinese are developing a very long range air-to-air missile for the explicit purpose of attacking high value support aircraft like the E-2 Hawkeye, AWACS, P-8, tankers, etc.

The other interesting aspect of this is that this is the second occurrence of major defense firms pulling out of contract competition.  You’ll recall that the Navy’s competition for the over the horizon (OTH) anti-ship missile saw all but one of the competitors pull out after the RFP was released.  We discussed this at the time (see, LRASM Drops Out Of OTH Competition) and noted that it was a development with several negative consequences, not the least of which was that the lack of competition was an invitation to price gouging by the only remaining competitor.  At the time, I speculated that the Navy had pre-selected the company that they wanted to win the OTH competition and had written the RFP so as to ensure that only that company could meet the requirements.  Could this be a similar case?  Has the Navy already pre-selected a winner?  If more companies pull out of the tanker competition then this may be what’s happening.

X-47 - Out!

I would hate to think that pre-selecting competition winners, if that’s what’s happening, is the latest Navy trend given all the negatives associated with such a practice.  Had the OTH competition fiasco not just occurred, I wouldn’t give Northrop’s actions, in this case, much thought but now this looks suspiciously like a trend towards pre-selecting winners.

Of course, it’s also quite possible that this is just a business/investment/financial decision by Northrop, pure and simple, in which case there’s nothing to be seen here and we can all move on.

We’ll keep a close eye on this competition and see what develops.


(1)USNI News website, “Northrop Grumman Drops Out of MQ-25A Stingray Competition”, Sam LaGrone, 25-Oct-2017,

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

HIMARS For The Navy

ComNavOps, along with many readers, has called for looking into the possibility of mounting a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) on ships to provide firepower support for troops ashore. 

To refresh your memory, the Army’s M270 MLRS  can fire, among other munitions, 12 guided rockets with a range of 60+ km (37+ miles) with a unitary high explosive (HE) warhead or a payload of 404 M85 submunitions.  Alternatively, the MLRS can fire the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) which is a ballistic missile with a range of 300 km (186 miles) and a 500 lb HE warhead.  ATACMS is being upgraded with a new seeker to enable it to hit moving targets including targets at sea.  The missile occupies the same space as six of the smaller rockets in the MLRS launcher enabling two to be fired from a single launcher.

The Army seems to be replacing the MLRS with the M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) which is a lighter version of the MLRS but with only half the weapon capacity.  Thus, a HIMARS can fire 6 smaller rockets or 1 ATACMS.

We see, then, that the Army already has the long range rocket system that the Navy has spent $24 billion dollars on in the form of the Zumwalt program and which has totally failed due to the prohibitive cost of the rockets.

To bring us completely up to date, USNI News website reports that the Marines have test fired a HIMARS system from the deck of an amphibious ship (1).  This is both good news and stupid news.

HIMARS - Publicity Stunt With Potential

First, the stupid …  Firing HIMARS from the deck of a ship is a publicity stunt, at best.  Such an application is unworkable for a variety of reasons.  The HIMARS system includes a launcher vehicle, resupply vehicle, and two resupply trailers.  This is space and volume that no ship has to spare.  Someone, at least, seems to recognize this.

“And then,” said O’Connor [Rear Adm. Cathal O’Connor, ESG-3 commander], “there is the question of trade-offs because ships are limited in volume, weight and personnel. So in order to bring X, we’d have to give up Y. So it’s something to consider.” (1)

That’s why the idea of placing trucks on the deck of an amphibious ship is silly.  The deck space is already completely accounted for and utilized.  Some essential function, like helos and MV-22s, would have to be sacrificed to accommodate the MLRS.

Further, a non-marinized HIMARS truck sitting out on the deck of a ship, subject to saltwater and the elements, will quickly corrode into inoperability.

Frankly, this stunt just smacks of more of the Marine’s recent trend to try to be and do all things instead of concentrating on its unique role and doing it well.

Now, the good news …  It appears that someone is at least thinking along the right lines.  As stated in many previous posts and comments, a MLRS system adapted to naval vessels is an outstanding idea.  The base system and munitions are already fully developed and in production with fully matured and understood costs.

The two main challenges to adapting MLRS to a ship are developing a naval launcher and writing code to allow the launcher to function on a constantly moving ship as opposed to the rock solid base of dry land.

Developing a permanent naval launcher, possibly a box launcher along the lines of the old Mk112 ASROC or the Mk29 Sea Sparrow launcher should not be that difficult.  We already know how to build both if we can resist the temptation to reinvent the wheel and gold plate it.

The software, or at least the basis for it, has already been developed, according to the article.

Having noted the stupidity of a truck on the deck of an amphibious ship, a viable alternative is a purpose built ship designed to operate MLRS launchers.  Such a system would possibly be a good fit for the LCS.  The ample flight deck and hangar space could be converted to launchers, magazines, reload mechanisms, and support mechanisms.  The resulting modified fire support LCS could be highly useful as a ground forces firepower support vessel.  Add in three or four SeaRAM launchers for self-defense and the ship would be well suited for close in fire support work.  There you have it – a useful purpose for the LCS!


(1)USNI News website, “Marines Fire HIMARS From Ship in Sea Control Experiment With Navy”, Gidget Fuentes, 24-Oct-2017,

Monday, October 23, 2017

Communications Vulnerability

Long time readers know that ComNavOps has frequently pointed out that the major underpinning of the entire Third Offset Strategy, which is networking and unmanned vehicles, is based on the foundation of unhindered communications.  You can’t operate a network, data links, or control unmanned vehicles if you can’t assure your communications.  I’ve also pointed out that the assumption of unhindered communications is very suspect.  Against a peer, communications will be jammed, spoofed, disrupted, hacked, etc.  This calls into question the very foundation of the Third Offset Strategy and the military’s entire warfighting concept.

With that backdrop, USNI News website reports that the Russians have established a Murmansk BN mobile, truck-based communications eavesdropping and jamming system in Crimea aimed at our destroyers in the Black Sea (1).

Personally, I welcome Russian jamming attempts.  Maybe we’ll learn what vulnerabilities we have and, more importantly, maybe we’ll learn how to conduct operations without transmitting (EMCON), as we routinely did during the Cold War.

Far more interesting and disturbing is this quote from the article.

“What’s it going to do to Aegis? Probably nothing. But maintaining data links could be an issue,” Carlson [Retired Navy captain and naval analyst Chris Carlson] said.” [emphasis added]

This is exactly what I’ve been talking about.  All of our fancy cooperative engagement capabilities, our fantasized regional networking, the entire F-35 combat concept of sharing data, our universal shared tactical picture, our weapon guidance, and the entire distributed lethality concept are all based on unhindered data links.  What happens when a peer figures out how to disrupt or degrade our communications?

Murmansk BN System

We’ve created an immense potential vulnerability and Russian and China can see it and have the capability to take advantage of it.  We desperately need to start conducting realistic tests and find out whether our entire combat concept is based on a fatal weakness or whether we can operate in the face of peer level electronic warfare and communications disruption.  We need to find out before we go to war, not after.

Note: The point of this post is not to debate the effectiveness of the Murmansk BN system. The point is to note the need for robust and realistic testing of our datalink communications which forms the foundation of our entire future military capability.


(1)USNI News, “U.S. Official: Russia Installed System in Crimea to Snoop on U.S. Destroyers, Jam Communications”, Sam LaGrone, 1-May-2017,

Friday, October 20, 2017

Land To Enable Landings ????

I keep hearing the Marines talk about landings to enable landings – that the Marines recognize that an assault can’t be successfully conducted unless Marines first land and secure the area, both sea and land, around the intended landing site.  I continue to be amazed by the fact that no one seems to recognize the Catch-22 nature of that concept.  You can’t land until you’ve landed and secured a landing area????  If you can’t land successfully, how do you land to secure a landing area?

Well, you can rule out a conventional assault, as evidenced by Commandant Neller’s comment, as reported in a USNI News website article:

“…Neller said the Marine Corps wouldn’t launch an amphibious assault with lines of Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) swimming ashore …” (1)

That immediately begs the question, why are we pursuing replacement AAVs and ACVs?  But, I digress …

Okay ……..  So how are Marines going to land to secure a landing area?  Maybe this is where the aviation (read MV-22) component of the Corps comes in?  But, MV-22s and sufficient manpower to secure an operating area can only come from big deck amphibious ships which the concept says can’t successfully operate in an enemy area until the area has been secured – Catch-22 again.

Somehow, in some magical, undefined way, the Marines will land in sufficient force to secure land and sea control over a large enough are to enable the actual landing. 

“…focus on securing an advance land base that can then allow ground units to establish sea control …” (1)

One more point of logic – if you’ve managed, in some magic way, to secure the land and establish sea control, why do you need a subsequent landing?

I further note that while the very concept assumes the Navy is not capable of establishing sea control, the Marines will, somehow, land a (presumably small?) force and establish sea control from the land!  If small forces of infantry can establish sea control, why do we need a Navy?

This concept, landing to enable a landing, may work at the very low end of the warfare spectrum but I can’t see it working in a peer war.  Of course, at the very low end of the warfare spectrum, we probably already have sea control and don’t need to execute this concept!

I’m also dismayed by the apparent ignorance of amphibious operations being displayed by Marine leadership.  Consider this statement from Neller.

“…we have operated amphibious ships by themselves as opposed to part of the fleet. This Bold Alligator, I think the last one had a carrier strike group …” (1)

A carrier supporting an amphibious operation seems to be an entirely novel concept to Marine leadership (just as escorts were new to the Navy) and yet this was how amphibious operations have always been conducted.  This is not new.  I also don’t think Neller grasps how a carrier operates – to be fair, I don’t think the Navy grasps how a carrier operates, either!  Carriers don’t sail with amphibious groups – they sail in support of amphibious groups but operate well away from the group.  A rudimentary study of WWII amphibious operations makes that clear.

If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.  I keep hearing this landing to enable landings being repeated and no one is questioning it.  Well, that’s why this blog exists – to examine, analyze, and question.  Right now, I have major questions and reservations about this concept.


(1)USNI News website, “Neller: Marines Must Prepare to ‘Fight to Get to the Fight’ In High-End Littoral Warfare”, Megan Eckstein, 21-Sep-2017,

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

GPS Vulnerability - Stupid Followed By Stupid

This blog has, for years, trumpeted the warning that we are critically overdependent on navigational technology, principally GPS, that will be unavailable or only sporadically available in a peer war.  Our navigational technology addiction has crippled and all but eliminated our fundamental navigational skills.  Our soldiers and sailors no longer know how to read a map, use a compass or sextant, or execute dead reckoning with a stopwatch. 

Once upon a time, we had mastered basic non-technological navigation skills.  The Marine Corps LAVs in Desert Storm navigated the featureless deserts with nothing but dead reckoning.  For years, pilots mastered the ability to achieve precise time-on-target with nothing more than a plotting board and a stopwatch.  Sailors were able to establish their position with a sextant.  All soldiers used to have to master map reading and overland navigation with a map, compass, and stride length.

Now, our Navy is lost without GPS and even has trouble navigating with radar fixes.  Ships are running aground in known waters.  The riverine boat crews that were captured by Iran were completely lost. 

We have an addict’s dependency on technology that is not going to be available in a peer war.  What’s our response?  How are we planning to address this vulnerability?  What will we do to eliminate our dependency on technology?

You guessed it!  We’re going to create new technology.  Why go back to mastering fundamentals when you can create expensive and unreliable new technology?

Seriously, I’m not making this up.  Our solution to our technology dependency is to create new technology.  From a Defense News website article,

“In the quest to provide positioning, navigation and timing to troops deprived of GPS, Army planners are developing an open-architecture system of plug-and-play sensors that could deliver such a capability.

… The potential PNT [positioning, navigation, timing] solution would use modular hardware and software on a tactical computer.

“It will be a sensor fusion filter that will allow us to hook up any sensor to the filter, and the filter will understand what the sensor is, what the data is and how to integrate that into a single PNT solution,” said Adam Schofield, the chief at the Emerging Technologies Branch of the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC.” (1)

So, rather than teach basic navigation, we’re going to develop a gazillion dollar technological solution that is, supposedly, omniscient, able to take any sensor, integrate it on the fly, and provide a totally flexible and instantly adaptable synthesized navigation solution.  I can’t see anything that could go wrong with that!

Best of all, it can fit and run on a standard laptop computer.  I can see it now – our soldiers leaping into battle, clutching their rifle in one hand and their laptop in the other.  Plus, we all know how reliable laptops inherently are.  I can’t see the dirt, mud, water, shock, vibration, and electromagnetic jamming on the battlefield having any negative effect on the laptop!

What’s more, we’re basing the whole thing on an open architecture scheme.  That’s great!  It offers complete flexibility and adaptability.  Of course, it also offers complete access to an enemy’s cyber attacks and hacking!

The Department of Defense must have a group whose job is to come up with idiotic ideas that the rest of us would just reject out of hand.


(1)Defense News website, “Army wants constant PNT capability for troops without GPS”, Adam Stone, 17-Oct-2017,

Monday, October 16, 2017

Neller's Mismatch

Marine Corps Commandant Neller offers some amazing views of future combat as reported in a Marine Times article. (1)

“… the next fight will be far more complex and deadly than the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan that have shaped the force and its leadership over the past 16 years.

“I don’t think the next fight is going to be a stability op/counterinsurgency: It’s going to be a violent, violent fight,” Neller said …”

Neller is saying the right thing but his actions, meaning the acquisitions the Marines are pursuing, the developmental path they are on, and the doctrine/tactics they are pursuing, all indicate the wrong things.  There is a mismatch between his words and the Corps’ actions.  Despite the Nellers verbal recognition of where the Corps needs to be, the reality doesn’t match.  Even Neller acknowledges this.

“In June, Neller told Congress that, right now, the Marine Corps is “not currently organized, trained and equipped to face a peer adversary in the year 2025.”

Further indicative of the mismatch between words and actions is Neller’s assessment of the strength of the Marines.

““The center of gravity that we have to protect is the network, and the network is dependent on space.”

“The opening salvos of future wars will likely be fired in space, Neller believes.”

Neller fails to grasp that future peer warfare will be incredibly brutal and violent and victory will go the side that can muster and apply the most explosives.  In contrast, Neller believes that victory will go to the side with the best network.  Ironically, he also acknowledges that space will be contested and compromised which means the network will fail and yet he believes this failure prone construct is the Marine’s center of gravity!  Unbelievable.

Consider further … Neller claims to see a “violent, violent fight” as the future of combat but the Marines are shedding tanks, artillery, and heavy vehicles, leaving tanks out of MEU/ARG loadings, emphasizing aviation, pursuing battlefield lightness over armor, and becoming a light infantry force.  How is that preparing for a “violent, violent fight”?  There’s a mismatch between words and actions.

China and Russia, on the other hand, see the future of warfare quite clearly.  They’re developing families of heavy armored vehicles, massive artillery forces, advanced cluster munitions (while we are unilaterally eliminating our ours), mobile anti-aircraft vehicles, and battlefield electronic warfare.  They’re preparing to fight and win a “violent, violent fight”.  We’re still preparing to fight another insurgency.

Neller needs to heed his own words, end the mismatch, and start preparing the Marines to fight and win a “violent, violent fight”. 


(1) Marine Times website, “The Next Fight: The commandant is pushing the Corps to be ready for a ‘violent, violent fight’”, Jeff Schogol, 18-Sep-2017,

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bold Alligator Scaled Back

The Armed Forces of the United States and the Navy, as our focus on this blog, exist to fight wars.  There is no other mission.  Everything else is a secondary, time wasting exercise.  If we aren’t fighting a war then we should be preparing for war.  Instead, the Navy’s time is filled with useless tasks that detract from the main mission.  A case in point is the humanitarian assistance that is being provided to hurricane areas at the expense of combat training.  As USNI News website describes it (1),

“The Navy and Marine Corps’ Bold Alligator 17 international amphibious exercise will still take place this month but will be scaled down due to ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.”

“However, due to ongoing HA/DR missions in Puerto Rico, many of the forces set to participate in the major live exercise will not be available anymore.”

So one exercise had to be scaled back a bit.  What’s the big deal?  Well, the big deal is that Bold Alligator is not just a small exercise.  It is the main amphibious exercise for the Marines/Navy. 

“Bold Alligator … is now the East Coast’s premiere amphibious force training exercise.”

Worse, the exercise, despite being the main training exercise, is only occasionally conducted as a live exercise so it is absolutely vital that the opportunity for live work be taken.

“Bold Alligator was last conducted as a live exercise in 2014, with the 2015 installment meant to be a simulated event. Last year’s live exercise was postponed a year, with the services opting instead to conduct a pierside live, virtual and constructive event to prepare for this year’s highly integrated exercise between traditional amphibious forces and the carrier strike group needed to help set the conditions for amphibious operations.”

Does it really matter if a ship or two misses the exercise?

“Expeditionary Strike Group 2 leadership was set to serve as the Commander of the Amphibious Task Force aboard amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3). Now, ESG-2 and Kearsarge are no longer available for BA 17, along with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), amphibious transport dock USS New York(LPD-21), dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD-50), hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), aviation logistics support container ship SS Wright (T-AVB 3), and elements of Naval Expeditionary Combat Command and 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing – all of which are tied up with the ongoing HA/DR response, according to a U.S. Fleet Forces Command statement.”

That’s a lot of assets that will miss the premier combat training exercise of its type and a rare and vital chance for live training.  The very reason for the existence of the exercise is being curtailed.

“On the Marine Corps side, without Kearsarge and other amphibious ships, many planned amphibious landing events have been canceled … “

So, a vital and rare opportunity, which only comes once every two or three years, is going to be watered down and many units will miss it entirely so that the Navy and Marines can deliver food and water?  Let me repeat.  The Navy has only one mission – war or training for war.

The U.S. government has many assets and organizations at its disposal that can provide humanitarian assistance but the military should not be one of them.  Humanitarian assistance missions degrades the readiness of our forces, puts unnecessary wear and tear on equipment, and racks up precious flight hours on aircraft. 

This is a shining example of the failure of the Navy to say “no” to a non-mission essential task request.  The Navy’s failure to say no is why we have ships and crews sailing with lapsed certifications.  Instead of training and perhaps learning basic seamanship, navigation, and combat, we have crews spending their time delivering supplies.  Instead of providing our ships and aircraft with maintenance to restore readiness, we’re sending them to deliver supplies – a job that any commercial cargo ship can do far more cost effectively and efficiently.

We are tasking our Navy with gender issues, sensitivity training, diversity programs, biofuel experimentation, climate change planning – in short, everything but war and training for war.


(1)USNI News website, “Bold Alligator 17 Exercise Scaled Down Due to Ongoing Humanitarian Assistance Mission in Puerto Rico”, Megan Eckstein, 13-Oct-2017,

Thursday, October 12, 2017

COBRA Description

We just recently saw that the Navy declared initial operating capability for the LCS' Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (DVS-1 COBRA) system.  We expressed severe doubt about that and wondered about the rationale behind the plan to order 30 of the systems despite only having 8 LCS MCM platforms (see, “COBRA Declared Operational”).  That aside, COBRA is a rarely discussed system and there is not a lot of information about it that is generally available so let’s take a brief look at what we do know.

COBRA is intended to detect and localize mines in the surf and beach zones as well as provide visual reconnaissance of the zones.  The system is carried on an unmanned MQ-8 Fire Scout UAV deployed from an LCS and consists of the sensor package and data collection station on the UAV plus a mission control and planning package on the host LCS (3).

The current Block 1 version can detect surface laid mines and obstacles in the beach zone and has a more limited capability to do the same in the surf zone.  It is limited to daytime use only due to the need for illumination for the imager, much as a regular camera needs a light source.  Data is collected and analyzed post-mission after recovery. 

A developmental Block 2 version is intended to enhance the surf zone capability and add a nighttime illuminator.  The developmental Block 2 illuminator is a new technology effort.  It is, essentially, a flashlight that is required to provide illumination for the COBRA camera.  The problem is that current electro-optical illuminators cover only a single wavelength band and cannot support the 6-band COBRA multi-spectral sensor (2).

COBRA uses a passive, multi-spectral sensor which covers 6 wavelength bands from near UV to near infrared. The sensor is capable of providing 4 frames per second (4 Hz) for the 6 bands with a 16M camera (4896x3264) yielding a Ground Sample Distance (GSD) of 2.4" which translates into 6.1 Gigabits per second (Gbps) of data (1).

Military and Aerospace website states that the COBRA payload includes stabilized step stare digital gimbal and high-resolution multispectral imaging digital camera with a spinning six-color filter wheel, a processing unit, and a solid-state data storage unit which collects six different color-band images across a large area using a step-stare pattern (4).

The system appears to be effective mainly in the beach zone with little water depth penetration in the surf zone – not surprising given that it is, essentially, just a camera with a wavelength expanded beyond just the visual.

COBRA Surf and Beach Zone Reconnaissance

One of the weaknesses of the system is that the data is not available in real time and requires post-mission analysis which means the UAV must survive in order for the data to be available.  Thus, a UAV could complete an entire reconnaissance mission only to be shot down at the end and all the data would be lost.

Another weakness is the operational concept.  A good sized, low, slow flying, non-stealthy, non-maneuvering (has to remain reasonably steady during its recon run) helo passing back and forth across the shore line just can't have much of a life expectancy.  This is the classic definition of a target drone!  In combat, we're going to go through these like candy!  As with so many of today's operational concepts, the success of the system depends on the enemy cooperating by not shooting down this sitting duck of a target and allowing us to recon the beach unimpeded.  Does that seem like a reasonable assumption to base a combat operational concept on?  Seriously, who comes up with these things?

The coverage area of the system depends on the sensor being raised above the beach/surf.  This is the same as a regular camera being able to “see” more of an image the further back it is held from the scene.  Thus, COBRA is not applicable to, for example, an unmanned surface vessel.  It could, presumably, be deployed from any aircraft large enough to carry the system.

COBRA is intended to complement the AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) which is operated from the MH-60 helo and provides laser detection of surface and near-surface mines past the surf zone.

As stated, I have severe doubts that the system is operational, reliable, and effective.  I’ll wait to see a DOT&E assessment before accepting the system as combat effective.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

COBRA Declared Operational

Apparently, the Navy quietly declared the LCS MCM Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system operational during the summer as just reported in a USNI News website article (1).  COBRA is an aerial mine detection system that has been under development for many years.

Before we go any further, does anyone believe the Navy’s declaration of operational capability?  How many systems have we see declared operational and nothing short of magnificent only to find out the reality, as actually measured by DOT&E, falls far short?  To put it bluntly, I don’t believe the Navy and I don’t believe the COBRA system is operational.

Setting that aside, something else caught my eye in the article.  Apparently, the Navy plans to purchase a total of 30 COBRA systems. 

“… the Navy bought two systems in Fiscal Year 2017 and will continue to buy more as quickly as budgets allow.  … the plan is to buy 24 additional COBRAs, for a total of 30.” (1)

Now, you’ll recall that after the recent reorganization of the LCS fleet, there will be three functional squadrons of four ships each on each coast, one squadron for each type of module/function: ASW, MCM, and ASuW (see, “Navy Surrenders”). 

Thus, there will be a total of 8 MCM type LCS vessels.  Therefore, 30 COBRA systems is way beyond the minimum required.  For one system per ship, only 8 are needed.  Even with two, the maximum possible per ship, only 16 are needed.  Throw in a few for backups or maintenance unavailabilities and that still leaves a bunch extra.  Is the Navy planning for combat attrition?  That would be wise and very unlike the Navy.

MQ-8 Fire Scout

Recall that the COBRA system is intended to search for mines along the shore.  The host platform for the COBRA is the MQ-8B/C Fire Scout unmanned helo.  In an opposed scenario which, by definition, any mined shore would be, a large, slow, non-stealthy, hovering helo is going to have a very short life expectancy.  Additional COBRA systems will be required, for sure!  However, I’m unaware that the Navy is planning to procure additional UAVs so having extra COBRA systems would be pointless.

I’m a little puzzled by this.  Could the Navy be planning to mount the COBRA systems on some other platform in addition to the LCS/Fire Scout?  Alternatively, does the Navy already know that the reliability is such that 30 units will be required to keep 8 in service?

I’ll have to continue looking into this.


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Declares COBRA Coastal Mine Detection System Operational After Successful Test”, Megan Eckstein, 10-Oct-2017,

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Unhappy Ship?

Navy Times website just published an article describing a command leadership crisis on the USS Shiloh and rock-bottom morale coupled with safety and combat effectiveness shortcomings.  Shiloh, by the way, is attached to the 7th Fleet – the same fleet that has experienced multiple collisions and groundings recently.  It all ties in, doesn’t it?  You read this article and can’t help but come away with the impression of a ship on the verge of mutiny being run by an incompetent despot of a captain backed up by wholly incompetent fleet leadership.

However, before we form up the lynch mob, let’s take a brief moment and look just a little bit closer at this.  If you actually read the article and look at the survey results, you'll note that roughly a third of the crew respondents indicted that they were motivated, proud of their ship, and trusted their leadership.  That doesn't quite jibe with a ship on the verge of mutiny and crew being uniformly oppressed by their Captain.  How do we explain the contradictory results?

The situation may be just as portrayed by the article - a ship being badly lead and falling into despair and ineffectiveness.

On the other hand, an alternative explanation might be that the previous Captain was far too lenient and the crew came to believe that low standards, lack of discipline, and lack of performance were acceptable and normal and now, with a new Captain demanding actual performance and holding the crew accountable, we see a bunch of whiny, spoiled malcontents.  The third that responded as motivated, proud, and trusting are the ones who had wanted to do a good job and now have a Captain that is trying to whip a poor performing ship into shape and they fully support that effort.  People who have been cruising along with little expected of them will naturally rebel when forced to perform to standard again.  It’s human nature.  We get lazy and resist attempts to make us better.

As a general statement, most people will not perform to the highest expectations but will, instead, perform to the lowest standard.

No, you say!  Our crews are highly motivated, gung-ho perfectionists who aspire to the highest levels.  Well, some are but most are human and will perform as I’ve described.  No, ComNavOps, we don’t believe you.  You’re wrong!

Perhaps.  But consider the bits of evidence we have.

Recall the Iranian incident in which Iran seized two of our boats and crews without a fight even though we heavily outnumbered and outgunned them?  Clearly, those crews were not performing at a high level.  Heck, they weren’t even performing at a minimally acceptable level.  The list of things they did wrong is almost endless.  They had been skating by for quite some time.  Even when faced with a potentially life-threatening situation they failed to perform.  The same applies to the entire chain of command above them.

Recall the recent collisions.  Clearly multiple people at all levels failed to meet even the minimal standards of performance.

I’m not going to bother reciting more examples.  The point has been made.  There is more than ample evidence that our personnel are not performing to standard and are not being held accountable.

With that in mind, is it all that hard to imagine a situation in which a Captain takes over a lazy ship, tries to whip it into shape, and is perceived by two thirds of the crew as a tyrant just because he now expects minimal standards of performance?

The article could be completely right in their take on the situation.  On the other hand, my alternative explanation is potentially just as valid.  Without being there, I have no basis to make an assessment and that is not the point of this post.  The point is that we need to read these articles with an objective perspective while being mindful of the relevant background (the widespread failures of performance that have been documented). 

You’ll note that the article presented lots of survey quotes from disgruntled sailors but not one quote from any of the third of the crew that was happy.  Is that a balanced article, informative, investigative article or a hit piece?  There was no comment from the ship’s Captain although to be fair, he was presented the opportunity and declined for obvious reasons.  This was a lazy, one-sided, slipshod article that made no effort to actually investigate the situation.  The article went straight for sensationalism.  Again, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong but it does cast doubt.

I have insufficient information to make a judgment about this incident but I do note the one third of respondents who claimed to be motivated, proud, and trusting of leadership and I can’t reconcile that with the situation as the article paints it.  I remain non-committal but dubious about the article as it’s written and presented – and so should you.

I’ve written this post because I witnessed exactly the scenario I described occur in an industrial setting and a good leader was punished for demanding performance rather than making his people happy.  I’d hate to see that happen in this case, if that turns out to be the case.


(1)Navy Times website, “‘I now hate my ship’: Surveys reveal disastrous morale on cruiser Shiloh”, Geoff Ziezulewicz, 9-Oct-2017,

Sunday, October 8, 2017

MQ-9 Reaper Shootdown

By now, you’ve probably read about the shootdown of a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper UAV over Yemen.  The event has been confirmed by U.S. military officials (1). 

Why is this of significance to a Navy website, you ask?  Well, I’ve repeatedly harped on the theme that our planned surveillance and targeting platforms such as UAVs, P-8s, and other large, slow, non-stealthy aircraft are not survivable and, as such, will be unavailable to perform their tasks in a peer war.  If some low end threat in Yemen can shoot down a top of the line UAV, what will China or Russia do to our UAVs and patrol aircraft?

MQ-9 Reaper

I’ve repeatedly told you to turn this situation around.  If Chinese or Russian large, slow, non-stealthy UAVs or patrol aircraft were attempting to surveil or target our forces, would we allow it?  Of course not!  And yet we think we’ll be able to conduct surveillance and targeting of them, unimpeded. 

We need to recognize this inherent flaw in our thinking and rectify it or we're going to be fighting the next war blind.


(1)Defense News website, “US MQ-9 drone shot down in Yemen”, Shawn Snow, 2-Oct-2017,

Friday, October 6, 2017

Frigate Budget

Let’s continue our budget data examination.  Here’s some budget numbers on the new LCS frigate from the 2019 initial frigate construction.  It’s interesting that the budget data is included in the LCS account line.  Is that telling us what ship the Navy will select as the basis for the new frigate?  Hmm …  Anyway, here’s the budget numbers for the first frigate scheduled to be funded in 2019 (1).

Net Procurement                $822M
Cost To Complete                $84M
Total Obligation Authority     $906M
Outfitting and Post-Delivery   $218M

Total                         $1124M

Thus, we see that while the Navy will report some lesser cost, the “true” cost, if there is such a thing, is $1.1B for the first frigate.  Bear in mind that there is no finalized set of requirements, no design, and no company has been selected to build the ship so the cost is just the Navy’s estimate, based on almost nothing.

What do we know about Navy estimates?  We know that they’re always ridiculously underestimated.  Thus, the first frigate will likely cost around $1.5B or more!  This is the dilemma that has been pointed out before.  We’re likely to get a ship that has 50% of the capabilities of a Burke at 80% of the cost – not a good deal.


(1) Dept of Defense 2017 SCN Budget, Exhibit P-40, LCS, FY2019 data column