Thursday, November 2, 2017

Distributed Lethality in WWII

An Anonymous reader’s comment sparked a thought for me regarding distributed lethality.  Can you imagine, in WWII, sending out a bunch of individual destroyers, vital attack transports with a 5” gun or quintuple torpedo tube, or precious oilers with the same, to look for enemy ships and conduct distributed attacks?  What an idiotic idea.

Well, wait, you say, the technology has changed.  We now have long range sensors and long range weapons so the distributed ships don’t have to get as close to the enemy.  They’ll be able to safely stand off and attack!  You’re right, the technology has changed.  Unfortunately, it’s changed for the enemy, too.  They don’t need to get as close to our distributed ships to attack them.

There’s just no getting around it.  A lone ship is not a complication for the enemy’s tactical picture – it’s a floating target waiting to be sunk.  If an idea was bad in WWII, it’s bad today!  Apparently, the Navy no longer teaches military history.


  1. Aren't those long ranged sensors just a chimera, I mean, even more than the Navy wants to believe?

    It is my (quite possibly flawed) understanding that to get a good targeting fix you need real time data provided by something like radar. All well and good. But any surface ship is going to be limited to normal radar horizon. I spoke to one former sailor who said even a 'burke can't really target it's own missiles beyond 24 miles or so. So for any OTH stuff they are dependant upon another asset.

    In this instance, the advantage is to land based/carrier based air. I'm guessing an E2 can see a ship long before it's CVN is seen, and direct an F-18 with Harpoons to it. Of course the E2 is at risk but it's something.

    More and more I wonder why we have million dollar missiles on ships that can only target out to the range of old WWII capital ship guns.

    I know you have talked about this before. I'm just more and more dumbfounded by what the logic is behind the Navy leadership.

    1. The Navy is being led and run by men who grew up, professionally, without a peer adversary and, therefore, have never had to consider actual peer combat. They're used to undisputed technology and total freedom of movement. Understanding that, we can begin to understand where their stupidity stems from. Of course, the really stupid part is that they seem unable to study history and grasp history's lessons about peer warfare.

    2. “...unable to study history...”
      More like never really taught history. Ivy League and public universities teach politics disguised as history and the Military academies have been slowly been taken over by the same academics.
      They are happy to teach tech so their graduates depend even more on technology without little worries like real world application.
      They’re pretty much taught from birth that we will never get in a war with anyone who has nukes (so no China or Russia) and that technology solves everything.

      I seem to recall a “one ship” mentality on the part of Germany with the Bismarck/Tirpitz battle ships. Spoiler alert, they were sunk by teamwork from multiple ship/aircraft designs.

    3. "even a 'burke can't really target it's own missiles beyond 24 miles or so".....I remember a weapon system that's effective out to 24 miles; its projectiles are big and can't be shot down once fired.

      "technology solves everything" is a repeated theme with most of my classmates in the naval engineering classes. Unlike them, I have been a sailor on a ship and have done a lot of repairs and damage control training. Training and maintaining is the key. Tech can't solve all your problems.

      ...and another thing,


    4. I don't understand why our vessels don't have more guns. 8' HE would be brutal. Maybe have a few less missiles, but guns give you a native weapons system you can use all by your lonesome.

      As to the tech... I have kind of a mania for designs that are simple, so they don't break often and are easy to fix; reliable, you might over-engineer them to get this, and robust, so that when something does go wrong you aren't completely FUBAR'd.

      I just read an article in the Economist on the DC-3/C-47 and how it is still in use 80 years later. The reason is that it was a simple, reliable, robust design.

      I know you have to have some tech in weapons. I'm not saying you can't, but there has to be a way to build that sort of thinking into a system.

      But I don't know if we will ever get that back.

    5. The Burkes can only target something on surface out to 24 miles on their own. They can reach much further for air targets. Also, E-2Ds can guide missiles fired from a Burke onto a target. And finally with regards to ballistic missiles, the standard missiles need all the legs they can stuff into a VLS tube to reach the target.

    6. "They can reach much further for air targets."

      Yes, they can but we're talking about distributed lethality which is an anti-surface concept. Absent an external sensor, a distributed lethality ship is limited to targeting out to its radar horizon.

    7. "They're used to undisputed technology and total freedom of movement. Understanding that, we can begin to understand where their stupidity stems from."

      Another main source is from their paymasters in Congress. Who seem to have two axioms:

      a) The USA is automatically best at everything.

      b) The job of politicians is to spend money on things that are profitable for their campaign contributors.

    8. He was also wondering why we had such big expensive missiles sitting on ships that couldnt reach out more than 24 miles. A Burke has other options to extend its range beyond that, however, since they cant even seem to figure out the navigation controls I am not sure how much I trust them to use those options effectively.

  2. You got my vote let's build some 8"gun cruise with 2 3 gun turrets and a reasonable missile load for defense and offense didn't they convert some WWII cruisers for just such a role in the past

    1. The Boston and Canberra. They went back to the gun line in Vietnam when their anti-air missiles were declared obsolete.

  3. I don't mind the long range missiles. LRASM/NSM are a fine *start*. But I am questioning the offensive fitment of our destroyers overall.

    I believe only the FLT I's have Harpoons. FLT II's do not.

    So, a significant portion of our 'super powerful warships' are reduced to attacking other ships with 5' and maybe Standards in their secondary roles.

    Why not have a long range missile that you can either shoot out to 24 miles, or farther if something else can guide it, *and* have a couple of 8' guns, rapid fire, that you can use on your own if you have to. 8' HE would play bloody hell with a modern warship.

    I know it would take space, but so what? If you're cruising alone (as many of our ships seem to do) it might make you feel a lot better.

    As far as the E2D's are concerned, with the news that the Russians/Chinese are trying to make long range anti-awacs missile, what are we planning on doing to defend against it?

  4. "Can you imagine, in WWII, sending out a bunch of individual destroyers..."

    Actually, there is no need to imagine it. See radar picket line at Okinawa. Lots of individual ships (destroyers mostly) separated from main fleet.

    1. That's not exactly the distributed lethality concept as envisioned by the Navy but it's close and a great example. Good one!

      The ships were close enough to provide some degree of mutual support and had air cover to some extent. They were also tied to a known, fixed location as opposed to roaming around.


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