Monday, December 31, 2018

Littoral Combat Group????

This one somehow snuck by me but I see it now.  The Navy has formed something called a Littoral Combat Group.

Sailors and Marines from Littoral Combat Group One (LCG-1) returned home to Naval Base San Diego and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam after participating in the International Maritime and Naval Exhibition for South America, known as EXPONAVAL. (1)

The group apparently consisted of USS Somerset (LPD 25) and USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) plus an embarked Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF-Peru) as well as a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment.

The group (are two ships really a group?) apparently conducted humanitarian and disaster response exercises, fisheries enforcement activities, and community projects.

I’ve been unable to find out any additional information about the group or its intended purpose.

I don’t know if this was a one-time, ad-hoc group that was given a catchy name and will never be repeated or if this is some kind of new and idiotic concept the Navy is implementing.

Taking the name at face value, there is no way that a single LPD and a Burke can form a useful, effective combat group for high end combat.  This leads us into the next observation.

This kind of non-combat exercise is absolutely worthless and is all the worse when our ships are chronically under-maintained and undertrained.  Why aren’t we spending the time teaching our officers and crews how to conduct basic navigation and seamanship in a safe manner without colliding with giant, hulking commercial ships?  Why aren’t we spending our time developing and practicing peer war doctrine and tactics?  And so on.  There are so many better things our combat ships should be doing.

Now, I’m not against interacting with South American countries.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  South America is a major exporter of problems for the US and we ought to take an active interest in the region.  However, there are much better means of interacting than putting wear and tear on top of the line warships that are desperately in need of maintenance and training.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for an recurrence of this Littoral Combat Group idiocy.


(1)Commander, US Pacific Fleet website, “Littoral Combat Group-1 Returns From South America”, 26-Dec-2018,

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Fleet Problem Exercises

The US Navy famously conducted extensive, full scale fleet problem exercises in the pre-WWII years and those exercises served to validate battle doctrine, explore scenarios, develop carrier operations and tactics, and even predicted the attack on Pearl Harbor (Fleet Problem V conducted a carrier attack on Hawaii).

The Fleet Problems were conducted from 1923-1940 (I – XXI) and were then abandoned after WWII.  Recently, the Pacific Fleet has revived a much scaled down version of Fleet Problem exercises beginning with Fleet Problem XXIII and continuing through XXVIII.

The resumption of Fleet Problems, even if scaled down and limited to the Pacific Fleet rather than the entire Navy, is welcome news.  The exercises were, apparently, reinstituted by Adm. Scott Swift.  He describes a bit of the impetus for the resumption,

Adding to my concern was the clear message from my intelligence team that our potential adversaries were investing in training that was ever more complex and challenging. We needed to raise our training bar. As fleet commander, I needed to know what we could do, exploring the art of the possible and testing our assumptions about fleet capabilities in a fight against a high-end adversary. (1)

It’s encouraging that Adm. Swift seemed to have recognized that many of our operational concepts (ConOps) were more fantasy than reality.

In other cases, as we considered how our ConOps would play out in reality, it became apparent there were warfighting tasks that were critical to success that we could not execute with confidence. This gap was not because deployers did not practice these tasks individually—the efficiency of the OFRP ensured they could—but because we as a force never practiced them together, in combination with multiple tasks, against a free-playing, informed, and representative Red. (1)

In one case, during an exercise planning session, we discussed a critical operational tactic that is used routinely in exercises and assumed to be executable by the fleet. In the course of the brief, a lone voice said, “Sir, you know we can’t actually do that.” (1)

One of ComNavOps’ criticisms of Navy training is that it is broken down into simplistic, scripted exercises and then the assumption is made that the limited result is applicable to an entire war.  For example, if a single ship can launch a single missile and hit a single, unrealistic drone surrogate target, then the assumption is made that our entire air defense concept is valid and has been ‘proven’.  Adm. Swift appears to have grasped the fallacy in this type of training.  For example,

For example, it is critical that we be able to operate carrier strike groups (CSGs) in areas of significant submarine threat. Our traditional approach to this challenge would be to create an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) exercise, tasking submarines to act as targets within a set geographic area. In a Fleet Problem, we instead would task the CSG to conduct a combat mission (“NLT 01100Z, conduct strikes on…”), giving it maximum flexibility in timing and mechanism. We then would create an environment rich in submarine threats. The CSG’s mission would not be ASW, but rather conducting a core combat mission (strike) in support of the joint fight in a robust submarine threat environment.

Managing the submarine threat is the means to the end —strike. (1) (emphasis added)

Brilliant!  This is how training should be.

Swift’s use of Fleet Problems also embraces failure.  He seems to recognize that failure is not only the best teacher but also a requirement for learning.  This is outstanding especially in today’s risk averse, zero-tolerance command environment.  I only hope that he is successful in implementing this philosophy of embraced failure.

One of the strengths of the new Fleet Problem series is that it does not involve future weapons and capabilities.  Participants use only the existing capabilities of their assets.  Thus, for example, there is no hand waving to magically sense enemy assets due to the anticipated, future all-seeing sensor.  The participants must fight with what they actually have – you know, kind of like how you have to fight an actual war.

An Opposing Force (OpFor) has, apparently, been created, the Pacific Naval Aggressor Team (PNAT).  Unfortunately, the article does not go into detail about the structure and assets of the OpFor or the degree of dedication and training they have.  The strength of the Navy’s famous Top Gun program was the core of people dedicated to nothing but studying the enemy’s tactics and capabilities and then using that knowledge to develop and teach tactics.  It is unknown to what degree this model is being followed.  Without a competent OpFor, the training loses much of its value.

Adm. Swift sums up the value of realistic Fleet Problems nicely,

Fleet Problems allow us to learn those lessons with bruised egos instead of combat losses. (1)

Unfortunately, there are some notable shortcomings with the Fleet Problem as currently practiced:

Limited Assets – The Pacific Fleet, though large, is still just a subset of the Navy and has a limited number of ships and aircraft assigned to it.  For example, it typically has only a single carrier or, occasionaly, two.  This means that any exercise will not be representative of how we’ll actually fight.  We’ll conduct carrier operations with groups of four and it just isn’t possible to simulate multi-carrier groups with only a single ship.  Further, it’s impossible to provide multiple carriers to both the OpFor and the Blue (US) groups.  Thus, we run the risk of developing bad habits.  We may develop tactics suited for a single carrier that are entirely unsuited for multiple carriers.  We certainly aren’t learning how to effectively command and utilize twenty or thirty escorts, for example.  By way of comparison, Fleet Problem XX in 1939 involved 134 ships, 600 planes, and over 52,000 personnel, according to Wiki. (2)

Limited Geography – Pacific Fleet can only operate in the Pacific Fleet area although given that China is the ultimate enemy this is not as bad a limitation as it might be.  It does, however, limit the ability to exercise in an area or against land targets that are better simulated elsewhere around the globe.

Limited OpFor – there just aren’t enough assets to properly equip a realistic OpFor.  Again, the Pacific Fleet normally has only one carrier assigned or, temporarily, perhaps two.  It just isn’t possible to provide multiple carriers to both the OpFor and the Blue (US) groups.  The same applies to submarines and aircraft.  Thus, the exercises are inherently limited in scope.

Limited Applicability – The ‘doctrine’ developed from the Pacific Fleet exercises is limited to just the current Pacific Fleet personnel.  It is not, to the best of my knowledge, adopted or applied Navy-wide.  Thus, the local commanders may benefit but the Navy, overall, does not.  The next logical step would be for the Navy to reinstitute Navy-wide Fleet Problems.

ComNavOps loves to report good news but there are so few opportunities.  Well, this is one such opportunity.  The resumption of Fleet Problems, even on a limited basis, is a great development.  The Navy needs to reinstitute this practice on a Navy-wide basis and provide the larger numbers of assets that a truly useful Fleet Problem requires.  Well done, Adm. Swift. 

Now, Admiral, get the Navy to expand this to a true Fleet Problem and let’s find out what 4-carrier battle groups can do.  Let’s put that distributed lethality concept to a large scale test.  Let’s see if we can sustain our logistical support for the fleet during combat.  Let’s explore what the Chinese will attempt to do.  Let’s see if we can retake Taiwan.  Let’s figure out how to penetrate the Chinese A2/AD zone.

Peacetime is our golden opportunity to prepare for the next war and we’re squandering it.  Let’s get back to the business of preparing for high end, peer war.


(1)USNI Proceedings, “Fleet Problems Offer Opportunities”, Mar 2018, Adm. Scott Swift,

(2)Wikipedia, “Fleet Problem”, retrieved 28-Dec-2018,

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Doctrine - Battle of Vella Gulf

We’ve often discussed tactics and strategy and have occasionally touched on doctrine.  In simplified form, doctrine is a set of standardized actions in response to a given situation. 

For example, the Navy/Marines have devised a doctrine for executing an amphibious assault.  That the doctrine is an unworkable fantasy doesn’t change the fact that it’s the accepted doctrine.

As another example, a naval surface group would have an anti-air doctrine – how to position the various ships, how to allocate defensive measures, whether to emphasize passive or active defenses, and so on.  Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between doctrine and tactics.

The advantage of having doctrine is that the individual soldiers, sailors, ships, and planes don’t need detailed orders since they understand the guiding doctrine and can act accordingly with the knowledge that everyone else understands the same situation and will act in a unified manner – at least, that’s the theory.

The classic example of the successful use of naval doctrine was British Admiral Nelson’s engagement at Trafalgar.  Nelson devised a new doctrine that provided general guidance about his intent to his Captains but left room for the specifics to change.  His plan entailed cutting off, isolating, and overwhelming the last third of the enemy fleet.  With this guidance in place, Nelson and his Captains were freed from any concerns about the order of their ships or the exact placement or maneuvering as long as the individual Captains acted under the overall guidance.  This greatly reduced the need for in-battle communications and helped reduce the inevitable confusion of battle.  Every Captain had all the information they needed prior to the battle, in the form of Nelson’s doctrine.  From Wiki,

Nothing is sure in a sea battle, so he left his captains free from all hampering rules by telling them that "No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy." In short, circumstances would dictate the execution, subject to the guiding rule that the enemy's rear was to be cut off and superior force concentrated on that part of the enemy's line. (1)

One can debate whether Nelson’s new tactics were truly doctrinal since, by definition, doctrine is a standardized set of actions and his tactics were not, at that time, standardized across the entire British Navy. They were, however, standardized across his fleet. This devolves into a semantics discussion and is irrelevant to the point of the post.

The point is that a set of standard, generalized guidance (which is what doctrine is) allowed the British ships to operate with minimal orders, each secure in the knowledge that every other ship and Captain in the fleet would operate in the same way.  There was no need to issue orders in the midst of the battle and no need to ask for orders.

Let’s move, now, to WWII and the early naval battles around Guadalcanal.  US Navy pre-war and early war doctrine had the destroyers tied tightly to the battle line (cruisers, since the battleships had been sunk at Pearl Harbor and not yet replaced).  The initial night battles revealed the folly of this doctrine as the US Navy suffered multiple defeats and the US destroyers were ineffective and poorly used.

As the Navy gained operating experience, doctrine changed, culminating in a decisive night battle in which the destroyers were allowed to operate independently.  The battle resulted in an overwhelming victory for the US at the Battle of Vella Gulf.

Rather than being tied to cruisers, six US destroyers, operating under Comdr. Frederick Moosbrugger, sailed independently to intercept a Japanese resupply force of four destroyers.  The independence doctrine was further enhanced by a flexible plan of attack that was simple and allowed for the inevitable unexpected actions by the enemy.  
Moosbrugger’s destroyers were split into two groups of three ships each and each group thoroughly understood what to do and what the other group would do regardless of how the enemy behaved.  The Destroyer History Foundation has an excellent and detailed description of the battle for those who would like more information. (2)

Salient points of the doctrine included:

  • Attack instantly upon initial sighting, no waiting, no orders needed
  • Torpedoes first, hold gunfire until the torpedoes reached their targets
  • Operate in two offset groups, each able to take advantage of the enemy regardless of which way the enemy turned (cross fire)
  • The two groups would provide mutual support

Again, one can argue at what point the doctrine descends into tactics but that’s irrelevant.  The main doctrinal point was that, for the first time, the destroyers were free to operate independently and this totally changed how the destroyers behaved and what tactics they could use.

USS Craven - Vella Gulf Participant

This is all very interesting but what can we learn from it?

For starters, the US Navy has no battle doctrine of any kind that I’m aware of.  The Navy has technology instead of doctrine.  In other words, our battle leaders are taught to embrace technology and, when war comes, they’ll be expected to figure out how to use it.  That means that no one but the single commander who formulates the plan will know what the plan is and that, in turn, requires extensive communications during the battle – communications that history has taught us will not be clear and successful in the fog of battle.  We need doctrine instead of technology so that every commander understands how we intend to fight.

Doctrine needs to be validated.  The Navy’s pre-WWII doctrine of tying the destroyers to the battle line proved unworkable because circumstances changed and the Navy failed to anticipate the new circumstances.  The doctrine must be exercised under every imaginable set of circumstances so as to anticipate and prepare for the unexpected, as best as possible.  To the best of my knowledge, the pre-war Navy never exercised night battles in the crowded confines of nearby islands even though that set of circumstances should have been foreseeable in a Pacific campaign.  

To be fair, the Navy never anticipated the complete loss of the battleship fleet on the first day of the war and so they never exercised cruisers and destroyers as the main battle line.  However, that is exactly the kind of alternative exercise that should be practiced.  What if we are forced to attempt naval operations without carrier air cover?  We should exercise that and see what happens and what new doctrine that might call for.

We don’t even practice our main, anticipated doctrine – we don’t have any so I don’t know what it would be but, presumably, it would involve carriers.  We’ve discussed the requirement to operate carriers in groups of four and yet we never exercise that way.  To the extent that that is our battle doctrine, none of our battle leaders know it or have ever practiced it.

Peacetime is a precious commodity for a combat organization.  It is the time to exercise, develop doctrine and tactics, and prepare for combat.  Peacetime is a gift of immeasurable value to a warfighting organization and yet we are squandering it with every conceivable activity except combat preparation.  We need to get our minds right, assume a combat mentality and start preparing by developing and testing battle doctrine


(1)Wikipedia, “Battle of Trafalgar”, retrieved 11-Dec-2018,

(2)Destroyer History Foundation website, “Battle of Vella Gulf”,

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

From ComNavOps to you and yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Precision Guidance

Precision guidance - the miracle of modern warfare!  We’ll be able to fight a war with one hundredth or maybe one thousandth the number of munitions we used to use, right?.  The military has embraced precision guidance (PG) wholeheartedly and without taking even a second to examine the wartime usefulness of such munitions.  Heck, why would they?  We can pick which window of a building for a missile or bomb to fly into.  We can pick which vehicle in a convoy to hit.  We can blow up a building and leave the building next to it untouched.  What possible downside could there be to precision guidance aside from a little more production cost which more than pays for itself in all the munitions that don’t have to be used because we can do the job with just one?

How do we know all this?  How do we know it will work in a real war?  We know because we’ve been using PG munitions in real combat scenarios since Vietnam in the 1960’s and Desert Storm in 1991.

There’s just maybe one slight, tiny, miniscule concern, though – none of the combat uses over the ensuing decades has been against a peer opponent.  That shouldn’t matter though, should it?  There’s no difference between an A-6E circling over a target while laser guiding a bomb to its target and an F-15E or F-35 circling over its target while laser guiding a bomb to its target, is there?  Is there? 

Well, let’s think about that peer opponent concept.  Historically, we’ve had the luxury of being able to leisurely circle above targets to provide the necessary laser guidance.  Is that going to happen against a peer opponent?  Would we allow enemy planes to casually circle over our bases, troops, and facilities and provide precision guidance for bombs?  I don’t think so!  Historically, bombing runs have been single, high speed passes – no loitering.  How are we going to deliver laser guided bombs in a survivable manner?  If our planes can’t leisurely circle over a target without getting shot down, we may find that those laser guided bombs are nowhere near as useful as we’ve come to believe.

Of course, we’ve been talking about bombs that are guided by the aircraft.  The option also exists to provide laser spotting from the ground.  Again, though, this presupposes a fairly benign environment in which the spotter can set up, acquire his target, and provide the necessary spot for the required length of time.  Is this realistic in a peer ground combat scenario?  

For starters, a spotter is limited to very short ranges from the target.  The spotter has to approach the target quite closely on a relative scale (line of sight).  Either the spotter is going to be limited to those few (or many if we’re being overrun!) targets to the immediate front or he’s going to have to attempt to penetrate enemy lines to reach spotting positions for targets beyond his line of sight.  Can a spotter successfully penetrate large scale, peer, enemy infantry and armored units to reach the desired position?  How would the spotter even know where a desirable position is without pre-knowledge of the target?  The reality is that in high end, peer combat a spotter will be limited to the few targets immediately in front of him that he can visually see.  Further, most of those targets will be moving, fleeting, and small.  A single tank would be an example of a likely target.  It’s nice to take out a tank but that’s definitely not the kind of high value, lucrative target that precision guided munitions are intended for.

This is radically different from a spotter in Afghanistan sitting in a mountain oversight position and casually dealing with occasional groups of Taliban.

There’s also the issue of time.  It takes time to visually identify a worthwhile target, set up the spot, communicate and coordinate with a circling aircraft (there’s that peer survivability issue again – there won’t be any circling, waiting aircraft to call on), and actually execute the attack.  That kind of time is readily available against a few roving bands of terrorists but will it be available in high end, frenetic combat against peer opponents who are pushing hard against our positions?  It seems extremely unlikely.

We’ve been talking about dumb gravity bombs that have been provided guidance packages but there’s another class of precision guided weapons that are long range and much more sophisticated.  These include Tomahawks, JSOW, JDAM, JASSM, JWhatever, and the like.  These weapons have a few common characteristics.

  • Their range allows the launching platform to stand off from the target and, to an extent, reduces the risk to the launching platform.
  • They require precise targeting coordinates, typically, a combination of GPS and inertial guidance.
  • They are expensive.

The cost precludes these weapons from area bombardment and limits them to individual targets.  However, those targets require exact coordinates and that raises an issue.  Who supplies the co-ordinates?  Where do the coordinates come from?  

We’ve grown used to UAVs leisurely circling an area and providing real time video and targeting data.  That’s simply not going to happen against a peer opponent.  Would we allow an enemy UAV to casually circle above us providing targeting data?  Of course not!  Why would we think a peer opponent will allow us to do that?  They won’t!  In short, we won’t have any survivable source of targeting data.  That B-2 bomber that has spent the last day flying all the way from some base in the US to launch long range, precision guided weapons is going to be asking for target coordinates and we won’t have any to give.

Yes, initially, we’ll have a list of known, fixed targets such as airfields, dockyards, factories, headquarters, etc. that can be readily targeted but attempting to support our forces with precision munitions in a fluid battle environment is going to be very difficult because none of the enemy forces will stay in one place long enough to establish coordinates, transmit the targeting data, coordinate the attack, and execute the attack.

The preceding discussion leads to one inexorable conclusion – on the active battlefield against a peer opponent, effective precision guidance will be limited to line of sight from the front lines – a hundred feet to a mile or two, depending on terrain, and then only against fixed targets or slowly moving targets (slow relative to the speed of the weapon).  Thus, small, portable anti-tank weapons (TOW and the like) will be effective because they can be rapidly employed against ‘fixed’ targets but 1000 lb guided bombs will be only marginally effective.

Consider this conceptual snippet of conversation between a ground unit under attack and a circling plane with a precision guided weapon attempting to help.

Infantry:  “Help!  We’re taking mortar fire.”

Aircraft:  “Give me the target coordinates.”

Infantry:  “I don’t have any coordinates!  It’s somewhere behind one of those hills in front of us.”

Aircraft:  “Without coordinates I can’t help you.  Call me when you have coordinates.”

The solution for this scenario is, of course, to call for artillery area bombardment and then, a couple of minutes later, the mortar no longer exists.

Without a doubt, precision guided weapons are useful and effective under the right circumstances.  But – and this is the big but – they will be nowhere near as useful as we’ve come to believe because we won’t be able to provide targeting to any useful extent on the active battlefield.

Here’s an example of the military’s misguided focus on precision munitions:

Wiki (“Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod”):  For target coordination with ground and air forces, a laser spot tracker, a laser marker, and an HDTV quality video down-link to ground-based controllers supports rapid target detection and identification.  –Seriously, does that sound like a rapid process to you?  Does it sound like a process that will stand up under peer combat?

Precision guided weapons are great for known, fixed location targets but are limited or nearly useless on the active battlefield.  This was always the inherent weakness with the Zumwalt (well, that and the million dollar projectile!).  It could only hit known, fixed targets and that’s not helpful for supporting engaged ground forces.

So far, we’ve been talking about geographical coordinate (GPS) and laser designation type targeting but there are other types of precision guidance such as electro-optical (EO) imaging and infrared (IR).  Those types of targeting do not require fixed geographical coordinates and can, to an extent, handle moving targets but they still require a reasonably accurate target fix prior to launch in order to avoid being wasted.

For example, EO guided weapons can be programmed to look for specific types of targets but unless the target location is known with a fair degree of assurance, the launch becomes an exercise in random chance and such weapons are too expensive to waste in such a fashion.  So, even EO/IR weapons suffer from the same targeting limitations on the active battlefield.

Targeting in high end, peer combat simply will not be readily available.  We’re going to find ourselves falling back on good, old fashioned, area bombardment weapons which are known as artillery.  Despite being able to anticipate this result, the US military is pouring most of its resources into ever more precise weapons and is downplaying the role of artillery.  We are not developing advanced artillery-delivered cluster munitions, thermobaric munitions, advanced self-propelled artillery, etc.


Precision guidance factoids:

-Wiki (“Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor”):  “The F-22 can also carry air-to-surface weapons such as bombs with Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) guidance and the Small Diameter bomb, but cannot self-designate for laser-guided weapons.

-AAQ-14 LANTIRN Targeting Pod provides laser designation for the F-15E, F-16

-AAQ-33 Sniper Pod for F-15E and B-1B

-F-35 EOTS includes a laser designator

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Mk 45 5" Gun

Let’s get technical, just for a change of pace.  Let’s take a bit of a look at the standard 5” gun of the U.S. Navy.  There have been 5” guns since before WWII but we’ll limit our examination to the modern versions, the Mk 42/45.

This is a bit of a follow on to a previous post on the 5" gun - see, "Mk45 Assessment" - and offers a slightly different perspective and a few issues for consideration.

The Mk 45 was first introduced in the California (CGN-36) class in the early 1970’s and has been the US Navy’s standard 5” gun since.  Interestingly, the Navy’s last two surface warships, the LCS and the Zumwalt, have abandoned the 5” gun.

Historically, the 5” gun has proven to provide a good balance of firepower and size/weight, enabling it to be installed on a wide range of ships.  The gun has proven quite effective in supporting amphibious landings such as Normandy and the Pacific island assaults.  Stories of WWII destroyers sailing right up to the beach and providing pinpoint fire support for assault infantry are common.  

More recently, HMS Liverpool used its 4.5” gun against various Libyan ground targets in 2011, including against shore batteries firing on the British ship.  While the British 4.5” gun is not the 5” gun that is the subject of this post, it does illustrate the continued need for a naval gun of around that size.

Interestingly, all major navies seem to have settled on the 5” gun or a gun very close to that as their standard ‘heavy’ surface ship naval gun.

Here are some relevant characteristics for the Mk45 as reported by NavWeaps website (1).

  • Rate of Fire = 10-20 rpm depending on model and type of munition
  • Effective Range = 15,000 m (~9 miles) – 24,000 m (~15 miles)
  • Mount Weight = ~50,000 lbs depending on configuration
  • Train Rate = 30 deg per second
  • Fire Control = Mark 86 Gun Fire Control System or the Mark 160 Gun Computing System

Mk 45 Versions:

Mod 0 – single munition type; mechanical fuze setter
Mod 1 – selectable munition from up to six types; electronic fuze setter
Mod 2 – export version of Mod 1
Mod 3 – never produced
Mod 4 – increase to 62 caliber; strengthened supports; longer recoil stroke; stealth mount cover

Note that the mount cover is just a weather covering and provides no protection from shrapnel.  Thus, the mount is susceptible to destruction/disabling from simple shrapnel or flying debris.  Contrast this to WWII 5” mounts which had 1”-2” of armor for protection against all but a direct hit.

The Mk 45 operating crew consists of a gun captain, a panel operator and four ammunition loaders with none located in the gun mount itself.

The 5” gun was considered an anti-air mainstay weapon in WWII but modern 5” guns, while claimed by manufacturers to be anti-air capable, are not generally considered effective in the role.

Let’s consider the history of the modern 5” Mk45.  Unfortunately, there is little combat use to evaluate but here are a couple of notable instances.

Praying Mantis – In April of 1988, the Navy used 5” guns to attack Iranian oil platforms (GOSP) with mixed success – the degree of success depending on who described the action and what they felt the objectives were.

USS Merrill (DD-976, 2x 5”/54 Mk45) and USS Lynde McCormick (DDG-8, 2x 5”/54 Mk42) used air burst gunfire to suppress the Sassan oil platform personnel who refused to evacuate when warned.  Merrill destroyed a 23 mm gun that fired back.  As described by Captain Perkins, commander of SAG Bravo during Praying Mantis,

“At the first muzzle flash from the Merrill's 5-inch mount 51, the Iranian 23-mm. gun mount opened up, getting the attention of the ship's bridge and topside watchstanders. The Merrill immediately silenced the Iranian gun with a direct hit, and encountered no further opposition. After about 50 rounds had exploded over the southern half of the GOSP, a large crowd of converted martyrs gathered at the northern end. At this point, we checked fire and permitted a tug to return and pick up what appeared to be the rest of the Sassan GOSP occupants. Following this exodus, the Merrill and the Lynde McCormick alternated firing airbursts over the entire GOSP …” (2)

At the Sirri GOSP, the USS Wainwright (CG-28, 1x 5”/54 Mk42), USS Bagley (FF-1069, 1x 5”/54 Mk42), and USS Simpson (FFG-56, 1x 76 mm) exploded a compressed gas tank and set the platform ablaze.

Capt. Perkins reports that 208 rounds, total, were fired at Sassan and Sirri oil platforms.  Perkins noted that the structure of the platforms, with thin supporting legs, precluded effective naval gunfire and necessitated suppression followed by insertion of troops to destroy the platforms via demolitions.

Vincennes Incident – During the incident, the Vincennes attacked a group of possible Boghammer type speedboats but failed to record a hit despite around a hundred rounds being fired.  Initial reports indicated that two boats were sunk and a third damaged but later reports could not confirm any hits.  During the attacks, one of the 5” guns failed and the Vincennes had to maneuver to unmask the remaining gun.

Consideration of the 5” gun leads to several questions/issues:

Multiple Mounts – More guns are always better.  Guns always jam and fail – the Vincennes failure of one gun being a modern example.  If it’s worth having one gun on a ship, it’s probably worth having two or more for redundancy and reliability.  In combat, guns get damaged or destroyed and redundancy is critical.

It’s interesting to note that the Tarawa class amphibious assault ship was originally built with 3x 5” guns!

Dual Mounts – Given the scarcity of 5” mounts (one per Burke), one can’t help but wonder why dual gun mounts aren’t used to increase the ‘throw weight’.  An example of a modern dual 5” mount is the excellent Soviet AK-130 which houses two 130 mm (5.1”/70 cal) guns with a range of 23,000 m (~13 miles), a 500 round magazine (Sovremenny) and 150+ ready rounds.  In fact, the Sovremenny class carries two AK-130 mounts for a total of 4x 5” guns as compared to the Burke’s single gun.

Range – The 5” gun is the Navy’s only naval gunfire support weapon and its limited range requires close approach to shore in order to provide fire support which is at odds with the Navy’s stand-off doctrine and necessitates risking a multi-billion dollar Aegis ship.

Various extended range programs have been attempted in the past and have failed but one can’t help but wonder if a basic extended range munition/gun can’t be developed.  Previous efforts (ERGM, BTERM, and the like) have attempted to be near-magical and incorporate multi-mode guidance, advanced warhead performance, complex flight control systems, etc.  It would seem that a simple, extended range, unguided shell would be highly useful to support ground operations.  In other words, no electronics, no guidance, no advanced warhead, no flight control, no networking, none of the things that drive up costs and cause such programs to fail – just a dumb shell that travels further.

Armor – Current gun mounts are completely unprotected other than a weather cover.  As noted, WWII 5” mounts were protected by up to 2+” of armor.  Again, if a gun is worth having, it’s worth protecting it against near misses, shrapnel, and other easy kills.  This is all about keeping a ship combat-capable as long as possible in a fight.

Gunship – It might be worth considering developing a modern equivalent of the WWII Fletcher which mounted 5x 5” guns on a small hull.  With the addition of a navalized M-270 MLRS rocket launcher, one would have a compact, moderately powerful fire support vessel.

In summary, there is every reason to believe that a general purpose 5” gun is still a valuable addition to a modern warship although it should be installed in multiple, dual gun mounts to enhance its firepower and ensure its combat viability.  In addition, an extended range, unguided shell should be developed to extend the usefulness of the gun.

Note, that this is not to say that the 5" gun is the ideal naval gun.  ComNavOps is on record as preferring the 8" gun as indicated in the previous post.


(1)NavWeaps website, weapons/guns/United States of America/5"/54 (12.7 cm) Mark 45 Mods 0 – 2, retrieved 23-Sep-2017,

(2)USNI Proceedings, “Operation Praying Mantis: The Surface View”, Captain J.B. Perkins III, USN, May 1989,

Monday, December 17, 2018

LCS MCM - What's The Point?

As we all know, the LCS is, by design and intent, utterly useless without a module.  Of course, the first LCS was commissioned in 2008 and here we are, a decade later, still waiting for any useful modules.  Now, USNI News website reports that the Navy is developing an unmanned surface vessel (Common Unmanned Surface Vessel – CUSV) as the prime ‘carrier’ for the various planned mine countermeasure equipment packages (mine hunting, mine sweeping, mine neutralization).  This is actually somewhat old news – not sure why it’s being reported as new other than the Navy’s constant attempt to spin news.

As a bit of memory refresh, the ASW (anti-submarine warfare) and MCM modules are running neck and neck in terms of the most module program starts, stops, start-overs, revamps, and slipped schedule dates.  The MCM module was originally planned to be a combination of helo-towed equipment and the unmanned underwater (UUV) remote multi-mission vehicle (RMMV).  Unfortunately/unbelievably, no one bothered to see if the helo could actually safely tow the required equipment and, as it turned out, it couldn’t.  Plus, the RMMV was a failure.  So, it was back to the drawing board.  After a few years of floundering around, the latest plan is to use the CUSV to tow sonars and influence sweep gear.

The really interesting point to this is the time frame.  As the article reports,

NAVSEA is set to compete for the MCM USV with an acquisition program that could start as early as 2020. (1)

So, the CUSV acquisition program won’t start until 2020 (or later – everything LCS related seems to slip its schedule!).  Integration and testing will take several more years.  Let’s be generous and say that the MCM module will be ready in 2025.  By then, the first LCS will be 17 years old and staring at retirement (the Navy hasn’t kept any ship class for its full service life in recent times).  More likely, the testing will slip further.

Okay, all of this highlights the abject stupidity and incompetence of the Navy but that’s hardly news at this point, is it?  Is this just another beat up on the LCS and the Navy post?  No, it’s not.  There’s a larger point here.

For sake of continued discussion, let’s assume that the LCS MCM module works perfectly and is fully deployed by 2025.  The question then becomes, so what?

As a reminder, the LCS fleet has been reorganized into two squadrons, one on each coast of the US, and each squadron will consist of four 4-ship divisions with one division each for training so there will be one division of ASW, one of ASuW, and one MCM in each squadron. (2)  Thus, there will be a grand total of 8 MCM-configured LCS ships in the entire US Navy.

The Navy’s entire MCM fleet will be 8 ships.

That bears repeating.

The Navy’s entire MCM fleet will be 8 ships.

Those 8 ships will be replacing the previous 12 Osprey class and 14 Avenger class mine countermeasure ships.  In addition, the Navy’s entire helo-based mine countermeasures inventory, 30 MH-53E Sea Dragons, are old and barely flightworthy and will retire very soon and without replacement.  Thus, the 8 LCS MCM ships will be replacing the Ospreys, Avengers, and MH-53E’s.  So, 8 LCS will replace 26 ships and 30 helos.  Does that sound rational to you?  Do you really believe that 8 LCS are equivalent to 26 ships and 30 helos?

Let’s recall a few salient points related to mine warfare and mine countermeasures. 
  • In WWII, the Normandy (D-Day) invasion used over 250 minesweepers to clear the sea lanes and approaches in a combat-useful time frame.
  • China’s inventory of mines is in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
  • Iran’s inventory of mines is in the tens of thousands.
  • N Korea’s inventory of mines is in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
  • A single LCS can clear a couple of mines per hour.

Ponder the interrelated ramifications of those five related points.

Considering the concept of combat-useful time frames, the size of the mine inventories our enemies have, and the clearance rate of the LCS-MCM, it becomes immediately apparent that we have a mammoth mismatch between needs and capabilities which is only going to get worse as the LCS becomes the only MCM asset in the fleet.

The mine clearing capacity of the entire LCS “fleet” is absolutely dwarfed by the enemy inventories and combat time frame requirements.  There is almost no difference between having the LCS-MCM fleet and not having it at all.  We have atrophied to the point that we may as well have no MCM capability since even with the LCS-MCM fleet we essentially won’t have any for any relevant use.

The conclusion is inescapable.  We need to abandon both the LCS and the LCS MCM concept (modular, remote, unmanned vehicles locating and removing single mines at a time) as an effective mine countermeasures asset and move on to an entirely new concept.  What that concept is, I don’t have a solid idea about.  Certainly, though, it needs to include high speed, high volume mine removal – sweeping – combined with individual mine removal, as needed.  Whether this can be done with small, unmanned craft towing influence sweeps or whether we need dedicated small vessels, as in WWII, is something for the experts in the field to determine.

Oddly, the Navy’s LCS MCM module development has been almost exclusively focused on one-at-a-time mine removal which is useless in a combat scenario.  I’m completely baffled by the thinking behind the effort.  What is needed, as I stated, is high volume, high speed clearance.  From day one of LCS MCM module development, we should have been focused on combat clearance (sweeping), not leisurely one-at-a-time clearance.

We also need to hugely increase our MCM asset numbers.  Mine clearance in a combat-useful time frame requires numbers of assets … large numbers of assets (250 minesweepers at Normandy!). 

We need to produce an immediate replacement for the MH-53 which currently forms the backbone of our MCM effort.

The Navy bet ‘all in’ on the LCS for MCM and crapped out.  We have, essentially, nothing left.  We need to invest heavily and quickly in a multi-faceted and robust MCM force.  As it stands, our vaunted amphibious assault capability can be stopped in its tracks by any country with a handful of mines.  Further, a system of mines laid in the gaps between the various islands of the first island chain can effectively close the E/S China Seas to the US Navy and don’t think that thought hasn’t occurred to China.


Related thought:  Given China’s willingness (eagerness?) to flaunt international treaties, laws, and norms in constructing artificial islands and expanding their territorial claims, it’s only a matter of time until China decides that the negative political repercussions of laying mines between the first island chain waters and truly closing the E/S China Seas to the US is worth it.  We would have no means of conducting large scale clearance operations and would have no choice but to fully concede the E/S China Seas.

Another related thought:  In a war, if China places just a few mines in just a few US harbors, stand back and watch the US Navy convulse in an effort to protect and clear all our harbors with just 8 LCS – leaving none for forward combat operations!


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Developing New Mine Countermeasures USV for Littoral Combat Ships”, Sam LaGrone, 17-Oct-2018,

(2)USNI News website, “Littoral Combat Ship Program Vastly Different a Year Into Major Organizational, Operational Overhaul”, Megan Eckstein, 6-Sep-2017,

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Conceputal Armor For Modern Ships

Modern navies have all but abandoned armor for ships.  ComNavOps has demonstrated the fallacy in this approach.  The overall situation can be summed up thusly:  we are building multi-billion dollar ships that are susceptible to one-hit kills (literal and mission) due to lack of armor.

The arguments against armor, such as the one-hit killing power of torpedoes, have been debunked.

What is left now is to design a conceptual armor arrangement for modern ships that takes into account modern threats.

Let’s start by looking at the threats.

Large Anti-ship Cruise Missiles (ASCM or just ASM) – These are the heavy weight, generally supersonic missiles such as the BrahMos (Mach 3, 6000 lb, 28 ft long, 440 lb warhead) or SS-N-22 Sunburn/P-270 Moskit (Mach 3, 10000 lb, 32 ft long, 660 lb warhead).  These present a threat to the ship’s side and upperworks as well as having significant penetrating capability to internal compartments.

Small Anti-ship Cruise Missiles – These are the smaller, generally high subsonic missiles such as Exocet, Harpoon, or C-80x.  They typically carry 350-400 lb warheads.  These present a threat to the ship’s side and upperworks as well as having significant penetrating capability to internal compartments.

Mines – There are all manner of mines but for our purposes we can categorize them as contact or influence fuzed – the difference being the distance and depth at which they explode from the ship’s hull.  A contact mine is typically the venerable floating or near surface mine that would contact the ship’s underwater hull side.  An influence mine is more likely to explode under the ship’s hull but offset well to the side.  These present a threat to the ship’s structural integrity below the waterline but generally above the bottom of the ship.

Torpedoes – Generally, torpedoes are designed to explode under the ship’s hull.  These present a threat to a ship’s structural integrity at the bottom of the hull.

Artillery – Guns, whether ship or land based, are generally guns of up to 5” (127 mm) or 6” (155 mm) size.  Depending on the range, artillery shells present a plunging threat to the upper works and decks of a ship.

Close Range Missiles – These are small, close range missiles such as Hellfire.  These present a threat to upperworks and the sides of a ship, depending on the launcher height relative to the target.  They do not, however, have a great deal of penetrating power.

Fragmentation Missiles/Shells – These are generally small warhead missiles or shells intended to destroy exposed upper works and equipment.  A typical example is an anti-radiation missile intended to destroy radars and sensors.  These present a general shrapnel threat to upperworks and a specific threat to sensors and nearby equipment.

Miscellaneous – These include machine guns (0.50 cal, 20-30 mm, etc.), rocket propelled grenades (RPG), rockets up to 5” in size, etc.  These present a threat to upperworks and the sides of a ship, depending on the launcher height relative to the target.

I’ve intentionally left out anti-ship ballistic missiles because there are no sensor systems of sufficient range to make them viable threats.  A 5000 mile anti-ship ballistic missile is useless when the sensor/targeting range is on the order of hundreds of miles.

Having defined the scope of threats, it is now necessary to consider the likelihood of each threat.  In the inevitable tradeoffs of armor design, the likelihood of a threat will help determine where best to place our armoring efforts.  In order, the likelihood is
  1. Small ASMs.  Modern naval combat will be mostly missile based and small ASMs are the most numerous and likely to be encountered.
  2. Fragmentation missiles and shells will be commonly used to attempt to blind ships by destroying their sensors.
  3. Large ASMs.  While potent, these are far less numerous and, therefore, less likely to be encountered.
  4. Torpedoes are potent but less likely due to the simple fact that submarine attacks are challenging to set up.
  5. Mines will be ubiquitous but are easily detected en masse and will be avoided with generally good success.
Everything else is relatively unlikely due to the short ranges required to launch the weapons.

In the normal course of armor design consideration, we would also include an assessment of the lethality of the various threats, however, we’ve already noted that every weapon is ‘lethal’ (mission or ship kill) to today’s lightly built ships!  Therefore, this is almost pointless and we’ll ignore it.

As we enter the meat of the discussion, note that I am not an armor expert.  Therefore, our discussion will be limited to conceptual arrangements rather than specific armor types, thickness, or specifications.  That’s a job for a naval engineer.

As we begin to contemplate the actual armor arrangement, we note from the preceding discussion that a ship has several distinct zones or bands that are each susceptible to different threats.  The main “bands” are:

  • Upperworks – the upperworks are susceptible to horizontally impacting missiles
  • Deck – the deck is susceptible to plunging artillery fire and plunging missiles that have executed a pop-up maneuver
  • Side above the waterline – the above water side of the ship is susceptible to sea-skimming missiles
  • Side below the waterline – the side below the waterline is susceptible to influence fuzed mines and torpedoes
  • Bottom – the bottom is susceptible to torpedoes
  • Internals – this includes the critical combat related command and control spaces, fire control, engineering, computer facilities, etc.
  • Special mention: electronics and weapons – electronics and weapons are particularly susceptible to shrapnel in addition to direct impacts from all manner of shells and missiles

Having identified threats and their likelihood and recognized key zones of a ship, we are now ready to discuss the armor arrangement.  The arrangement is predicated on understanding the reason for armor.  While it is simple enough, it bears stating.

The purpose of armor is to maintain the ship’s combat capability (enable it to keep fighting) for as long as possible and to enhance the ship’s survivability.  The purpose of armor is NOT to grant total immunity.

Recognizing the purpose, this gives us some guidance as to how to design our conceptual armor. 

We need to protect the ship’s structural integrity and mitigate the main threat which is flooding (fire is actually the main threat to a ship but that’s more of a damage control issue rather than an armor issue).
We need to protect the ship’s weapons, sensors, and command so that the ship can continue fighting.

With those two goals in mind, here is the armor concept for the various zones.

  • Upperworks – the majority of upperworks are devoted to a ship’s daily operational tasks such as small boat handling, replenishment, anchoring, and the like.  As such, they require only fragmentation armor protection.
  • Deck – the deck is susceptible to plunging artillery fire and plunging missiles but these are less common occurrences.  Therefore, unlike WWII ship armoring, deck armor can be significantly reduced – perhaps needing only a couple of inches.
  • Side above the waterline – the above water sides have been identified as likely targets and will need heavy armor bands sufficient to resist small anti-ship missiles and low level, horizontally launched rockets and small missiles.  Depending on the size of the ship, this is where several inches of armor should be placed.
  • Side below the waterline – while the potential for damage is large from mines the likelihood is very low.  This area needs only enough armor to mitigate the effects of torpedoes which explode below the ship’s hull.
  • Bottom – The bottom of the hull needs v-shaped, shock absorber mounted armor plates, multiple void spaces that alternate empty and liquid (foam, maybe) filled, and modified structural elements that are designed to absorb more than resist torpedo explosions.  Scaled down battleship torpedo defense designs and construction techniques are a good starting point and should be built into every ship.  This is less a question of pure armor and more an issue of proper structural design.
  • Internals – the critical combat related command and control spaces, fire control, engineering, computer facilities, etc. require substantial armor in ‘cubic’ form – meaning, all around the compartments as opposed to just on the sides.
  • Special mention: electronics and weapons – Weapons need to be armored to the point that only a direct hit can incapacitate them.  I believe that VLS systems are armored around the sides to direct blasts upwards but are not significantly armored against hits from above.  This is semi-informed speculation on my part and could be wrong.  If correct, we need to add topside armor to the VLS systems sufficient to protect against plunging shellfire and small anti-ship missiles.  The 5” guns need protection against shrapnel and near misses.  The WWII Fletchers had up to 2.5” of armor on their 5” guns and today’s guns should have a functionally equivalent amount.  Sensors are a challenge to armor because armor generally interferes with their function.  What can be done is to provide armored screens around the backs and sides of sensors and, for those that rotate, make the screens rotating with the sensor.  Thought should be given to housing the sensors inside armored pockets until needed and then extending when in use.  Precedent exists for such arrangements as observed in some of the more extreme stealth ships.

Compared to WWII armor designs, plunging fire is much less of an issue and armor should be concentrated more on the sides and less on the decks, on a relative basis.  Thus, we see a modern armor design that features a single, very heavy side band of armor combined with significant protection of critical internal compartments.  The hull bottom is every bit as critical but requires less in the way of pure armor and more in the way of structural design modifications, as we’ve addressed in previous posts.

Hand-in-hand with armor is intelligent ship design.  For example, outer compartments should be non-critical functions such as berthing, storage, machine shops, and the like with all such compartments designed to contain shrapnel and localize damage.  To an extent, the upperworks and outer compartments are sacrificial.  Being non-combat-critical, their purpose in combat is to act as ‘crumple zones’, to borrow an analogy from the automotive industry, and shrapnel sponges.

As with WWII armor, a ship’s side armor should be designed to detonate missiles as early as possible rather than allow deep penetration prior to detonation.  WWII armor research developed some very specific techniques (de-capping, for example) for the purpose.  Whether those would apply to detonating missiles or not, the concept remains valid – detonate the missile as far ‘out’ from the ship’s core as possible.  That, combined with locating non-critical compartments and functions in the outer areas should provide substantial sustainment of combat capability during battle.

Again, the goal is not to provide total, 100% immunity to all known weapons but to prolong the effective combat duration of the ship in the face of damage.

Below is a drawing of a Burke class destroyer illustrating the concept just described.  The heavier green is heavier armor with lighter green areas being lighter armor.  Note that the entire ship should be constructed of heavier material than is current practice.  Also, the ship's critical internals should be armored, as discussed.  The yellow band of the underwater hull represents a combination of armor and structural redesign for torpedo resilience.

Conceptual Armor Scheme