Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Stupid Is Growing!

We’ve discussed the utter stupidity of the Navy’s distributed lethality concept.  We’ve pointed out the idiocy behind risking high value amphibious or logistic support vessels in an attempt to mount 4 or 8 Harpoons and somehow “complicate” the enemy’s tactical situation.  We’ve pointed out that none of those ships have access to the long range targeting that distributed lethality would require.

Despite the obvious stupidity of distributed lethality, the Navy has decided to double down on “distributed” and is now proposing distributed mine countermeasures (MCM). (1)  Having recognized that their all-in bet on the LCS as the future of MCM has turned into a dismal failure, the Navy now proposes a piecemeal distribution of MCM components across the fleet. 

“…the Navy now wants at least some mine-hunting gear on a vessels ranging from modified oil tankers to catamarans to aircraft carriers.” (1)

It’s a grand vision, isn’t it?  A task force encounters a minefield and barely even hesitates as every ship unleashes remote MCM drones that clear the field in short order and the task force sails on, hardly even delayed.  Another enemy stratagem foiled!

Breaking Defense website at least sees part of the problem with this concept.

“The new plan could finally infuse mine warfare into the mainstream of the Navy — or diffuse responsibility to crews that see it as an unwelcome distraction from their ships’ main mission.” (1)

They’ve got it right.  A Burke, carrier, or other ship has a main purpose and many other side functions that already occupy all their time.  Adding yet another responsibility to an already overloaded crew is pointless – they won’t be any good at it.  Once a year (at best!) the ship will run through a quick, scripted MCM exercise to check off a training box and then promptly store the equipment out of the way and forget about it and the skills required to be competent at MCM.  Despite what the Navy would have us believe about the magical capabilities of remote, autonomous MCM UUVs, mine detection and identification still require a great deal of expertise from the human operators.  Do you think a Burke captain is going to spend his precious training time practicing MCM or AAW?  That’s right, when the time comes for real, the crew won’t even remember how to spell MCM let alone be able to competently execute it.

Do we really want to take a carrier or Burke or high-demand logistics ship away from their main mission and park it next to a minefield for weeks on end?

Do we really want to risk multi-billion dollar ships near a minefield?

Do we really want to tie high value warships to a fixed location for weeks on end, offering the enemy a perfect target that they can pick off at their leisure?

Breaking Defense website sums up the problem.

“Navy culture makes it all too easy for surface commanders to ignore mine warfare unless that is their vessel’s only mission. And hunting mines is a slow, laborious task that requires a ship to stay in one small area until it’s done.” (2)

As retired Navy commander Bryan Clark puts it,

“…adding MCM to the task list of ships that are already unable to stay proficient and certified in their current mission areas is not a good idea.” (2)

Our crews are overworked and unable to master basic seamanship and now we want to add another task to the list of things they’re not competent to do?

I give the Navy the tiniest bit of credit for recognizing that the LCS MCM concept has failed.  However, instead of doing the obvious and building a fleet of dedicated MCM vessels, ranging from small Avenger replacements to large MCM motherships, along with squadrons of MCM helos, the Navy has chosen the stupid option, as they always do.

Our Next Minesweeper!

By the way, does any of this sound vaguely familiar?  It should.  We built six Burkes that had organic MCM capability in the form of the WLD-1 Remote Minehunting System (RMS) which was to be housed and launched from a pocket built into the side of the Burke’s hangar.  That program failed and was cancelled – now we want to do it again and think it will work.  Does anyone recall the definition of insanity?

Burke With Minehunting Modification

Distributed lethality.  Distributed MCM.  I’m waiting for someone to come up with distributed aircraft carriers with every ship carrying one aircraft. 


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Every Ship A Minesweeper? Navy Looks Beyond LCS”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 30-Oct-2017,

(2)Breaking Defense website, “Worries Surface On New Navy Mine Warfare Plan”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 31-Oct-2017,


  1. Distributed aircraft, XFV-1 Pogo. A convoy defense vtol
    fighter. A 1950s version of a Hurricat/CAM ship.
    The nifty 50s, every crazy idea got a couple prototypes.

    1. Nothing wrong with prototypes. That's how we learn!

  2. I'll admit, I'm almost despairing of our Navy doing anything but spending a lot of money while traveling down the road to be a shell of itself, like the Spanish Navy in the early 20th century.

    We have a large fleet of $2bbn destroyers, in varying states of repair, doing every level of mission, and crewed by what sounds like over-worked, undertrained crews, serving an amorphous, illogical 'strategy'. And a good percentage of those have only defensive weapons.

    Acquisition is a mess, top to bottom; from the Ford class to the LCS. The Virginia class is a (possible) outlier but is still super expensive.

    The air wings seem to continue to be small and generic. It's legs are marginally better, but it is far from perfect.

    Vital but non sexy missions like ASW and MCM are seemingly ignored or given lip service.

    We rely on easily disrupted tech.

    And not only is the Navy not pausing, or are the Admiralty/bureaucracy complaining or giving warnings, they're doubling down... and I don't know why but fear corruption or the seeking of personal political gain.

    If something bad happens, like really bad, I see a lot of US ships getting hammered; either by submarines, mines, or other surface ships that out stick them.


  3. Sadly, nothing really to add to what Jim Whall, throughout history, we all understand how this ends: only after we get a kick in the ass and losing lots of ships and sailors.....

  4. It would appear that the ships involved in collisions had serious issues with basic seamanship BUT USN decides its a good idea dumping new missions on the same ships!!! Anyone else wonder how REALLY good they are using AEGIS?!?


    “In our view, the Navy has to be more analytical and, frankly, honest about its personnel needs as it plans for a bigger fleet,” Pendleton said in an email response to Stars and Stripes.

    “But we found that the Navy has plans to grow the number of ships while actually decreasing Navy personnel over the same period,” he said. “This does not make sense.”

  6. Well once the Chinese mount an all or nothing attack on an aircraft carrier group with surface ships and our navy finds that the distributed lethality leads to no leathality in a surface engagement they might finally change their mind and rethink the strategy to suit the environment they find themselves in.

  7. This is their excuse to scrap the mine warfare ships without replacements. They could easily be SLEP'd for another 20 years of service.

    A bigger threat are smart shore launched torpedoes with metallic or heat sensing? These can't be cleared in advance. Each could have some small floats so any guy in along shore can point it seaward and fire. And why not fire wire guided torpedoes from shore?

    1. Torpedo seekers are short ranged and narrow of field. You need either a pretty good idea where your target is, and will be when the torpedo arrives, or you need wire guidance which requires that the user have a continuous sensor fix on the target. None of that is likely for ships beyond the horizon which is where the Navy would generally operate.

  8. Ask the Norwegians , they brag that they're up to something in MCM technology.

  9. The crew training aspect has been rightly identified as a challenge. However, the mission package / mission module concept might help in this respect, as the concept could be to deploy the mission package / mission module to different platforms and bring along the trained personnel to operate the MCM gear. I don't see the Navy getting back to the organic MCM concept (ie, RMS on most/every DDG) but there is value in an "expeditionary" capability that could be embarked on multiple platforms that would be the truck for the MCM systems. This is especially true as the MCM class capabilities are retired and the Navy transitions to offboard vehicles to accomplish the mission. There is nothing inherent in the LCS platform to support the MCM mission other than a flight deck and launch and recovery gear for unmanned vehicles. Why not use something like the ESB or EPF in this role, assuming that the trained operators come along with the gear? The mission systems could be utilized similar to MH-60R detachments...conducting mission training at their home station before deploying a DDG or other platform. Should at least give it a try, especially with the current state of the LCS programs.

    1. "deploy the mission package / mission module to different platforms and bring along the trained personnel to operate the MCM gear."

      This was the concept behind the LCS mission modules and there is nothing wrong with it, FOR CERTAIN FUNCTIONS. It is not possible to conduct ASW in this manner, for example, because the ship is part of the ASW equipment and would not be optimized. For MCM, however, and assuming the use of standoff components, there is nothing wrong with the concept.

      The main problem I see with this is the tying up of large, valuable platforms like the MLP/AFSB doing an activity that only requires a fraction of the ship's storage and support. The ship is tied to a very specific location for the duration of the effort which, for MCM in a non-combat scenario, can be weeks or months. Why tie up a very large vessel doing a very small (in terms of ship space) task? Why not just go ahead and build a dedicated destroyer size (by WWII standards) MCM mothership? Or, maybe a bit larger to include several helos?

      So, there's nothing wrong with your suggestion other than it's not a very wise and efficient use of the available ships. It's a bastardized solution that bypasses the right solution of building dedicated MCM motherships.

      This also doesn't address combat MCM.

    2. It's strange to me that the US Navy (the richest navy in the world), can't just build a fleet of small, cheap, dedicated MCM vessels, like every other navy has done (including the USN) for the last 100 years.
      Surely that would be cheaper than any other option.
      The US seems to always go for the revolutionary, expensive, high technology solution in everything, instead of just taking the cheap, obvious, reliable, easy path.

  10. MCM operations are essentially an exercise in sortie generation. You're applying effort in hunting/sweeping using systems with variable effectiveness given the environment. To clear large areas, you either need lots of time with single systems or less time with many systems. The beauty of a large platform like MLP/ASFB is that you can employ more systems on a single platform. It's the equivalent of bringing four or five MCM LCS platforms to bear on a minefield.

    It doesn't solve the problem of sortie transit time...the manned and unmanned systems have an endurance, and some of that endurance is used transiting to and from the minefield to conduct the mission. Some studies would have to be done to show whether it's best (per whatever metric is appropriate) to have a single large platform hosting multiple systems or a multiple platforms hosting single systems.

    The concept of the unmanned mother ship or other ship to conduct MCM operations is an interesting one. My understanding is that some of the early studies have been initiated for what the next MCM platform will look like...what type of features/capabilities will be necessary? If you think that our future MCM mission systems will remain relatively small unmanned vehicles with the limited endurance, will it look like a WWII escort carrier with a well deck or other sea interface? Or do we anticipate larger unmanned vehicles with greater endurance that will require some other interface for the mother ship to tender? Or will it mimic the old destroyer and submarine tenders? I know that you have put some similar posts together in the past, but with the somewhat recent fielding of some of the LCS MCM mission package capabilities, I would be interested in hearing an updated set of thoughts.

    1. I can't offer much more than generalized thoughts regarding the exact makeup of a future MCM force without knowing exact performance capabilities of the various manned and unmanned components. Unfortunately, those performance specs are either classified or not in the public domain.

      For example, a remote, unmanned UUV with a sonar does not have a uniform capability to detect all mines. Some types it can detect better than others. Some, perhaps, not at all or very poorly. Without knowing the strengths and weaknesses of all the components and being able to then design a balanced "force" of components, I can't offer much. Which components do we need more of? Which do we need less of? I don't know.

      As a more generalized thought, you seem to be focusing on "leisurely" mine clearing where we are operating in an uncontested area and have weeks or months to work (like a leftover minefield from a conflict) as opposed to combat mine clearing where we have a matter of hours to clear assault lanes and we're under fire the entire time. Those two cases require totally different capabilities and components.

      I'll be offering more thoughts in the future but, hopefully, you see the challenge in describing an MCM force?

    2. I can't offer much more than generalized thoughts regarding the exact makeup of a future MCM force without knowing exact performance capabilities of the various manned and unmanned components.

      But we can speculate, and even the people that have perfect knowledge of current performance capabilities have to speculate where future systems might take us to start the design process now for ships that will be in-service 40 years from now (for fun, assume a 10 year cycle from first white paper to fielded platform, another 10 years for building a ship class, and then another 20 years for the class to be in-service). In many cases, you can make some reasonable assumptions and ensure sufficient flexibility to help avoid (or minimize) expensive redesigns or mid-life modifications, but the nature of unmanned vehicles adds to the challenge. Will they go smaller? Will they go bigger? What characteristics will be required to be an unmanned vehicle mothership? In-flight or off-board refueling/re-arming? The speculation is the fun part.

      you seem to be focusing on "leisurely" mine clearing where we are operating in an uncontested area and have weeks or months to work as opposed to combat mine clearing where we have a matter of hours to clear assault lanes and we're under fire the entire time. Those two cases require totally different capabilities and components.

      I understand the challenge, and I understand the theory. The systems that are available for use in the "leisurely" mine clearance operations vs the "rapid" break out clearance operations are the same systems, only applying the efforts in different ways to achieve different levels of clearance with different levels of residual risk. The current search capabilities and clearing capabilities are not tuned to a contested vs non-contested environment, and you're restrained by physics. So a discussion of how to get the systems into theater to apply the effort is relevant for both the contested and non-contested scenarios. Now, there could be a follow on discussion of whether the capabilities should be different for the different scenarios you described. That could be a fun exercise.

    3. I would disagree with the ability to design a force without knowing the pretty exact specifics of the components. For example, what is the actual detection efficiency of the AQS-20 sonar? Knowing that, we can decide how many of them we need to cover a given area in a given time. Will one do it? Do we need a hundred? That, in turn, will determine whether we need one guy in a canoe or an entire Navy task force. And so on.

      That said, yes, there are some broad generalities that can be "designed".

      Unmanned, underwater UUVs are extremely slow at detection and neutralization and are unsuited for short time frame, combat mine clearance. Helos cover much more area but with less efficiency and are not survivable in a combat clearance scenario. The only viable option for combat clearance is unmanned surface sweep vessels. Of course, they are not all that effective and would engender a degree of risk for the assault force or task force that has to operate in the swept area.

      All of this suggests the need for two distinct types of MCM forces: a combat force consisting of MCM motherships operating drone sweep craft and a "leisurely" MCM force of Helos/Avenger-ish ships for the non-combat clearance operations.

      Your time frame, by the way, is appalling for a simplistic MCM vessel, whether mothership or Avenger-ish. You're probably right but that's a travesty. A mothership just needs to be a commercial cargo ship with some modifications to operate the surface sweep craft. An Avenger replacement just needs to be an updated version. Even a MCM helo carrier is something we build routinely, albeit on a much larger scale in the form of amphibious ships. If we can't issue a production contract within a year of deciding to proceed, then something's very wrong. But, that's a separate topic.


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