Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Aegis Battle Damage Resilience

While the circumstances were tragic, the Navy now has a wealth of damage control and battle toughness data available to consider related to the recent collisions of the two Burke class destroyers.

Consider the photo below.  There was not direct impact damage to the Aegis radar arrays but they were clearly affected.  You can see that the array to the right is partially unsupported and has a gentle curve or warp in it.  The array to the left seems largely undamaged although there is some involvement at the very bottom. 

Collision Damage Near Radar Arrays

The question is, were the arrays still functional immediately after the impact and, if so, to what degree?  One of the supposed benefits of arrays is resilience to damage given the modular nature of the elements that make up the array.  On the other hand, we’ve heard unconfirmed reports that the gentle grounding of the Port Royal threw the Aegis arrays out of alignment to the point that they could not be repaired.

Of course, the Navy is unlikely to release any information on this but, internally, the aftermath damage assessments should provide invaluable information about the resilience and battle toughness of the Aegis system.

The same kind of resilience and damage control information can be gleaned from the many other impacted systems and damage control practices.  There are a wealth of valuable lessons to be learned.  It would be fascinating to read an assessment, even a basic, unclassified one, of the battle worthiness of the Burkes. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

F-35 Concurrency Orphans

We’ve repeatedly noted the lunacy of concurrent development and production.  The Navy tried it with the LCS and failed badly.  They tried it with the Ford and failed badly.  However, the F-35 is the poster child for the idiocy of concurrency.  Now the consequences are starting to come out.  We’re faced with a no-win choice:  either rebuild these non-standard aircraft for exorbitant amounts of money on top of the already exorbitant amounts we paid to build them the first time around or leave them as non-standard, non-combat capable aircraft – essentially throw them away.  Sure, we’ll use a few as maintenance trainers but most will have no purpose.

The National Interest website (1) reports,

“The new F-35 program executive officer, U.S. Navy vice admiral Mat Winter, said his office is exploring the option of leaving 108 aircraft in their current state because the funds to upgrade them to the fully combat-capable configuration would threaten the Air Force’s plans to ramp up production in the coming years.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

“Left unsaid so far is what will become of the 81 F-35s purchased by the Marine Corps and Navy during that same period. If they are left in their current state, nearly 200 F-35s might permanently remain unready for combat because the Pentagon would rather buy new aircraft than upgrade the ones the American people have already paid for.”

National Interest astutely notes that these “concurrency orphans” are the ones that cost the most money because they were purchased earliest in the program.  These are the aircraft that cost $150M-$200M each.

Let’s look at that cost a bit closer.

For nice round numbers, let’s call it 200 concurrency orphans at $150M each.  That’s a total of  $30 billion !!!!!!!

$30B lost to concurrency.

That’s $30B worth of aircraft that will never be operational, never see combat, and will wind up sitting in storage somewhere while they are slowly scavenged for parts.

What could we have done with $30B? 

-          We could have bought 2 Ford class carriers
-          We could have bought 16 Burkes class destroyers
-          We could have bought 7 big deck amphibious ships
-          We could have bought 337 advanced Super Hornets (2)
-          We could have bought untold quantities of logistics support ships, minesweepers, ASW corvettes, and maybe, just maybe, a shell for the Zumwalt’s gun!

Worse, we are still producing non-combat capable aircraft and testing is still on-going so the final concurrency orphan tally will be markedly higher – perhaps 300 or so aircraft.

Come on, seriously, someone has to go to jail for this.


(1)The National Interest website, “108 U.S. F-35s Won't Be Combat-Capable”, Dan Grazier, 16-Oct-2017,

(2)USNI News website, “Navy Wants to Buy 80 More Super Hornets for $7.1B Over the Next Five Years”, Megan Eckstein, 13-Jun-2017,

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Navy Ignores SecDef

Here’s an item that speaks for itself, from the DOT&E 2017 Annual Report,

“The SECDEF [Secretary of Defense] directed in FY16 and reiterated in FY17 that the Navy fund long-lead items for an Aegis SDTS [Self Defense Test Ship] to be used for testing Aegis ACB-20, DDG 51 Flight III, the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR, a.k.a. AN/SPY-6), and Evolved Seasparrow Missile (ESSM) Block II; the Navy initially complied with the direction but subsequently removed all funding for the Aegis SDTS and the required aerial targets.”  [emphasis added]

The Navy, against “directions” from the Secretary of Defense, refused to fund an Aegis test ship.  Aegis - the main weapon system of the Navy and the Navy won't even fund a test ship for it.

There’s nothing I can add to that.  It speaks for itself.  CNO Richardson must be fired.

Friday, January 26, 2018

New DOT&E Director

After many years of Dr. Michael Gilmore at the helm of the Pentagon’s testing and evaluation group, Director, Operational Testing & Evaluation (DOT&E), we now have a new Director.  Given that DOT&E was the only voice of truth in the developmental process of new weapons and systems, the presence and performance of a new Director is critical in the extreme.  A weak Director will result in unproven and flawed weapon systems making it to production and giving our forces flawed and inferior weapons.  Conversely, a strong, independent, and objective Director, as Dr. Gilmore was, will ensure that at least one group in the Pentagon will tell the truth about the weapons and systems we are developing. 

DOT&E has just issued its 2017 Annual Report.  Most of the work presented therein occurred under Dr. Gilmore’s direction so that doesn’t tell us anything about the new Director.  However, the new Director, Robert Behler, did write the introductory portion of the report and it offers some potentially interesting insights into his views and how he will seek to run the group.

Mr. Behler noted a few focus areas that he intends to concentrate on.  One of these is software testing.  As he notes,

“Today, the building material of choice for our weapon systems is software. The amount of software source lines of code in today’s weapon systems is growing exponentially. Software does not just increase the functionality of these systems, it fundamentally defines the weapon system. However, as the number of lines of code increases so does the complexity of the system and cybersecurity vulnerabilities. …  We are now making more changes that effect system capability through software than through hardware.”

Mr. Behler is astutely correct and his desire to place greater emphasis on software testing is completely correct.

He also recognizes the benefit of more realistic testing earlier in the developmental cycle.

“… DT events can benefit from greater operational realism. … My office has often observed that operational testing identifies system performance problems that should have been identified in DT&E.”

Pure common sense, of course!  Sadly, the military does not share that common sense which is why we need a strong DOT&E group.

Mr. Behler identified other areas of emphasis that are equally important but these examples serve to give us a glimpse into his views and I have to say that the initial impression is a good one.  I will be watching closely to see how he performs but the early suggestion is that he will continue the exemplary work of his predecessor, Dr. Gilmore.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Cruise Missile Characteristics Related To Detection and Engagement Range

The US Navy is committed to an anti-air warfare path of long range intercepts using the Aegis and Standard systems.  The wisdom of this is debatable for a variety of reasons.

Long range intercepts depend on being able to detect the target at long ranges.  You can’t engage what you can’t see!  For targets that obligingly fly at high altitudes, this is a viable approach.  For targets that fly at low altitudes or are less detectable due to small size and/or stealth, this approach is not feasible.  Unfortunately, the trend in anti-ship missile (ASM) technology is towards stealth and sea-skimming altitudes.  Many missiles have options for an initial high altitude cruise phase followed by a sea-skimming attack phase.  The question is how far out from the target does the cruise phase terminate and the sea-skimming attack phase commence?  If the cruise phase terminates and converts to the low altitude attack phase beyond the effective range of defensive missiles then the ASM is, for all practical purposes, a purely sea-skimming missile.  This is what seems to be the typical case today.  Thus, it is quite likely that a defending ship will never see, or at least not have the opportunity to engage, the attacking missile until it enters the radar horizon (20 miles or so).

Another problem with the Navy’s long range intercept path is that it’s very expensive.  For example, the Standard SM-6 costs around $4M each and has a claimed range of 150-300 miles.  Launching volleys of $4M missiles quickly becomes prohibitively expensive.  Of course, the cost of a volley of $4M missiles is, arguably, a bargain if it prevents the destruction of a multi-billion dollar ship!  Still, the price tag of Standard missiles does impact the budget and the number of missiles procured. It’s not just the missiles that are expensive.  The Aegis system that enables the Standard missile costs hundreds of millions of dollars and the developmental costs for the ever-changing software are astronomical.

Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to look at some characteristics of common potential enemy anti-ship missiles as provided by readily available open source information.  Note the attack altitudes and relatively small sizes.  These missiles will be hard to detect and engagement windows will be very short.

Speed   Mach 0.75
Flight Altitude  <20 m
Attack Altitude  <20 m
Range  40 km
Length  5.8 m

Speed  Mach 0.9
Flight Altitude  7 m
Attack Altitude  5 m
Range  120 km
Length  6.4 m

Speed  Mach 0.92
Flight Altitude  2 m
Range  72-180 km
Length  4.7 m

P-270 Moskit (SS-N-22 Sunburn)
Speed  Mach 3.0
Flight Altitude  20 m
Attack Altitude  <7 m
Range  90-240 km, depending on version and flight profile
Length  9.7 m

P-700 Granit (SS-N-19 Shipwreck)
Speed  Mach >1.6
Flight Altitude  high
Attack Altitude  <25 m
Range  625 km
Length  10.0 m

P-800 Oniks (SS-N-26 Strobile)
Speed  Mach 2.5
Flight Altitude  high
Attack Altitude  10 m
Range  370 miles
Length  8.9 m

Kh-59 MK (AS-13 Kingbolt)
Speed  Mach 0.8
Flight Altitude  7 m
Attack Altitude  ?
Range  285 km
Length  5.7 m

Speed  Mach 3.0
Flight Altitude  high
Attack Altitude  5 m
Range  280 miles
Length  8.4 m

Even if not designed as stealthy airframes, ASMs are small and have an inherently small radar cross section.  A small missile, in sea-skimming mode, down in the wave clutter, will not be readily detected.  First detection is likely to be inside the radar horizon.  Even the presence of an airborne radar plane will not greatly increase the detection range of an incoming sea-skimming missile. 

Also, detection and targeting are two separate issues.  An airborne radar may detect a missile further out but being able to maintain a steady lock sufficient to guide a defensive missile is another matter and likely will not be achievable until the attacking missile has gotten much closer to its target.

What is the overall point of this discussion?  It’s that I suspect that the actual targeting detection range of most ASM’s is going to be very short.  That being the case, one can’t help but ask whether the Navy’s focus on very long range Standard missiles is appropriate.  It would seem that the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (RIM-162 ESSM) would be a more likely and useful defensive system.  ESSM range is given as 27 nm which would seem to be an appropriate match to the expected detection range.

In fact, I have doubts that intercepts at ranges of hundreds of miles are even feasible given the cruise characteristics of enemy anti-ship missiles.  What enemy missile or aircraft is going to fly obligingly high, straight, and level for an extended period while we guide a Standard missile to it?  Ballistic anti-ship missiles do fly predictable paths and, for those, long range intercepts are both feasible and desirable – but that’s another topic.

If my conjecture is correct and the vast majority of anti-ship cruise missile engagements are going to occur at radar horizon ranges, shouldn’t the vast majority of our defensive systems also be optimized for those same ranges?  Wouldn’t it be better to emphasize ESSM defenses over Standard missiles?

Further, given engagement ranges of radar horizon and closer, shouldn’t we also greatly beef up our short range engagement capabilities such as RAM, SeaRAM, and CIWS?  Sure, debris from a successful short range intercept may still impact the ship and cause damage but it will be a lot less damage than having an intact, functioning anti-ship cruise missile hit the ship.  Consider that most Burkes have only a single CIWS for close in defense and, for a time, Burkes were built with none.  Burkes do not mount RAM/SeaRAM.  Our short range defenses are lacking, to put it mildly.

We need to do several things to beef up our medium range (out to 30 miles or so) AAW capability.

  1. Install multiple RAM/SeaRAM launchers on every ship.
  2. Provide at least 3 CIWS for every Burke.
  3. Focus on electronic anti-missile defenses (soft kill).
  4. Develop radars/sensors optimized for medium/short range use.
  5. Develop methods to effectively launch and utilize high density volleys of ESSM and RAM.  This would include the ability to track the incoming target even in the presence of high clutter returns due to near miss defensive missile explosions.  Given the short engagement window, it is vital that we can continuously track and engage rather than have to wait for the radar picture to clear after a near miss.  The traditional engagement sequence of shoot-shoot-look is no longer viable.  The engagement sequence has to be shoot-shoot-shoot-keep shooting!  We also need to be able to track the incoming missile in the presence of many outgoing missiles.

The last point also suggests that Aegis is likely not the optimum AAW radar.  We don’t need bigger and longer range AMDR radars (well, we do for ballistic missile defense but, again, that’s a topic for another post); we need very high definition, very rapid response, enhanced capability medium/short range radars combined with much greater numbers of medium range ESSM and integrated fire control systems.  We need to greatly reduce our emphasis on Aegis/Standard and put far more emphasis on medium range engagement.

We also desperately need to improve our AAW electronic countermeasure (ECM) capability.  The venerable – and never all that effective, according to reports – SLQ-32 needs to be enhanced far beyond even the current SEWIP (Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program) block improvements.  We need massively more capable and powerful detection and active jamming/decoy systems (remember our discussion about an electronic warfare version of the Zumwalt?).

In summary, future naval AAW engagements are not going to be the long range intercepts that the Navy has designed for – they’re going to radar horizon, close range, short window, affairs that require an optimized radar fire control system capable of operating a continuous fire defensive system, backed up by extensive short range and ECM capabilities.

Monday, January 22, 2018

WWII LVT(A) Amphibious Tank

In WWII, the military quickly realized that amphibious assaults would require efficient and effective means of getting men, machines, and supplies ashore.  More to the point, they quickly learned from bloody experience that they needed to get heavy firepower ashore in the initial wave and they needed to provide better protection for the assault troops than the open and unarmored Higgins boat, the iconic landing craft.  The solution to both needs, firepower and protection, was found in the Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) family of amphibious, armored vehicles.

I’d like to examine the armored firepower version, the LVT(A), of which there were several evolutionary variants.  The end result was the LVT(A)-4, essentially an amphibious light tank.  Take a look at the specifications.

LVT(A)-4 (1)

  • Armament – M8 turret with 75 mm M3 howitzer or Canadian Ronson flamethrower plus 1x 0.50 cal machine gun or 3x 0.30 cal machine guns
  • Armor – 6-38 mm
  • Weight – 20 tons
  • Speed – 20 mph land, 7.5 mph water
  • Range – 150 miles land, 75 miles water
  • Length – 7.95 m
  • Engine – gasoline radial, 250 hp; 12.5 hp/ton

Around 1890 LVT(A)-4’s were built during the war and continued in service until the mid-1950’s.  They were first used in combat at Saipan in June 1944.  Being in the initial assault wave and then used at the front line of combat once ashore, the LVT(A)-4’s often experienced high loss rates.


A few things jump out when looking at this vehicle.  First, the LVT has essentially the same specifications as today’s Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV).  That we have been unable to produce a significantly better vehicle in seventy some years is depressing and disturbing. 

For comparison, here are some specs on the AAV.

AAV (formerly LVTP-7)

  • Armament – turret with Mk19 40 mm grenade launcher and M2 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) machine gun
  • Armor – 45 mm
  • Weight – 29 tons
  • Speed – 20 mph land, 8.2 mph water
  • Range – 300 miles land, 20 miles water
  • Length – 7.94 m
  • Engine – diesel, 400 hp; 13.8 hp/ton

Now, before anyone starts pounding out replies disputing some specification, just relax.  The exact specs are all over the map depending on exactly which version of the AAV we’re talking about and which upgrades it’s had.  The point of this comparison is not to discuss exact specs but to note the lack of significant improvement since WWII.

The most notable aspect of the comparison lies in the armament.  The LVT(A) had a heavy 75 mm howitzer whereas the AAV has only machine guns and grenade launchers.  To be fair, today’s AAV is not intended as a “tank” whereas that was exactly the purpose of the LVT(A).  The AAV is simply an armored personnel carrier and is not meant to provide heavy firepower.

LVT(A)-4 at Okinawa

While today’s military continues to flounder around with the dilemma of firepower in the initial assault wave the WWII military solved the problem with a light amphibious assault tank.  Today, China has developed light amphibious assault tanks and the US military views that as cutting edge and a controversial concept.  Hey, it’s just reinventing the WWII wheel.

We also need to keep the role of a light amphibious tank firmly in mind.  It's role is not to stand toe-to-toe with main battle tanks - no light tank can prevail in such a match up.  The role of the amphibious light tank is to provide heavy infantry support with suppressing fire and to reduce enemy strongholds, fortifications, and emplacements.  Thus, an amphibious light tank does not need to be a water-going Abrams - though figuring how to get an Abrams ashore in the initial assault wave would be great!

LVT(A)-4 Providing Infantry Support

We lack any kind of significant firepower in the initial assault wave and the Navy has doctrinally stated that they will not risk ships close enough to shore to be able to use even the small 5” guns.  Airpower, against a peer, will be only sporadically available and, in any event, is unable to provide the sheer volume of sustained heavy firepower needed to support an assault. 

The only viable solution is to provide heavy firepower in the assault wave and the only way to do that is with a tank of some sort.  We would do well to consider the lesson of the WWII LVT(A)-4 as we continue to ponder our amphibious assault doctrine and operations.


(1)World War II Database,

Friday, January 19, 2018

What The National Defense Strategy Should Have Said

As you just read, ComNavOps reviewed the National Defense Strategy and found it to be “absolute garbage”, to quote myself.  Seriously, though, how bad was the unclassified version of the National Defense Strategy?  Well, the best way to answer that is to point out the things it should have addressed and then you can see the magnitude of the deficiency by the absence of those items in the document.

As a reminder, here are some of the general objectives of the administration’s geopolitical National Security Strategy (NSS) as described in a previous post and review. (1)  Included with them are some of the specifics that should have been addressed in the military’s NDS.

  • Deploy a layered missile defense aimed at Iran and NKorea – How?  Land based in neighboring countries?  Sea based?

  • Control weapons of mass destruction – What military options are there for controlling weapons of mass destruction?

  • Strengthen border control and immigration policy – How will the military contribute to border control? 

  • Eliminate terrorist safe havens – How?  Establish a lower tier military force (Super Tucanos, for example) for these lower threats?  What forces will we use?  Does this mean incursions by us into harboring countries?

  • Reestablish military overmatch – How?  What forces or capabilities will we focus on strengthening?

  • Improve readiness – How?

  • Reverse the decline in size of our military forces – How?  Will the Navy stop retiring ships before their service life has expired?  Will the Navy stop deferring maintenance?

  • Modernize the military – In what areas?  What weapons will we pursue?

The NSS, as you’ll recall, addressed specific regional concerns and stated,

“The United States must tailor our approaches to different regions of the world to protect U.S. national interests.”

The military strategy should have addressed those specific regions and threatening countries.  For example,

China – What are the military options to oppose China’s illegal militaristic expansionism?  What military options exist to counter China’s proliferation of illegal artificial islands?  What force structure is needed to penetrate China’s A2/AD zone?  What forward presence can actually be an effective deterrent, if any?  How will we respond to China’s seizures of our military assets?  How can we prevent our assets from being seized?

NKorea – What military options exist to eliminate the threat of NKorean nuclear weapons?  What can the military do to impede NKorea’s nuclear missile development, such as shooting down NKorean test missiles?  What force structure and size is needs to be stationed in SKorea in order to counter NKorea?  Where and how will we resupply our forces in SKorea in the event of war?

Taiwan – How will we protect Taiwan?  What military support can we offer?  Do we have a plan to defend or retake Taiwan when the inevitable invasion occurs?  What force structure do we need to defend Taiwan?  How will we effectively employ the Air Force given the scarcity of bases in the region?

Russia – What military options exist to counter Russia’s militaristic expansionism?  What force level do we need to maintain in Europe to provide an effective counter to Russian’s forces?  How will we respond to Russia’s unsafe harassment of our military forces?

Iran – What military options are there to prevent Iranian harassment and seizures of vessels in international waters?   What military options exist to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat?  What force structure and size is needed to defeat Iran?

And the list goes on …

All of these questions and many, many more should have been addressed but none were.  That should illustrate just how worthless the NDS is.  I understand that detailed, specific information has to be kept secret – besides, that’s operational level planning, not strategy.  For example, the strategy should  say something like, “we will curtail NKorea’s nuclear missile development by stationing ballistic missile defense ships off the coast and shoot down all missile launches”.  That’s a strategic level statement.  The operational level would deal with the number of ships needed, where to place them, how to sustain them, what backup they need, etc. and much or all of that would, appropriately, be classified.  However, the basic, strategic statement of intent should be public knowledge – partly to inform our citizens who are being asked to support and pay for all this and partly to let NKorea know what they can and cannot do.  The NDS should have been packed with those kinds of statements and it had none.


(1)Navy Matters, “National Security Strategy”, 20-Dec-2017,

National Defense Strategy Summary Review

The military’s 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) summary has been released. (1)  This is the document that flows from the recently released National Security Strategy (NSS) and describes how the military will support the NSS.  Let’s take a closer look.

The NDS starts with a promising premise – that we conduct our international affairs from a position of strength.

“…the Department provides military options to ensure the President and our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength.”

This is a time-proven and common sense maxim that, unfortunately, previous administrations forgot and abandoned.  Our attempts to conduct our affairs from a weak position have proven to be abject failures.

The NDS next highlights an important observation and truth about today’s world – that lawlessness is on the rise.

“We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the
long-standing rules-based international order …”

China is flouting international norms, laws, and treaties with unbridled glee.  Terrorism knows no behavioral bounds and recognizes no system or morals or ethics.  Russia is engaged in militaristic expansionism.  Iran consistently flouts international law.  NKorea ignores international law by launching missiles into Japanese territory.  And so on.

Why is it important that we recognize this movement away from the rule of law?  It’s important because it provides a moral and ethical justification for more aggressive action on our part.  When a person commits a criminal act, they forfeit any ethical considerations we would otherwise extend to them.  A burglar breaking into your home forfeits any expectation of a polite reception and accepts the fact they are subject to being killed with no discussion, notice, consideration, or trial.

So, too, with nations and terrorists.  When a country flouts international law, it forfeits the protections that those same laws would otherwise provide.  This is the basis for pre-emptive strikes, territorial incursions, clandestine military strikes, or any other action we deem necessary to ensure our national security.  Recognizing this concept opens many more military options.

As the NDS puts it,

China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea. Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors. As well, North Korea’s outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue despite United Nation’s censure and sanctions. Iran continues to sow violence and remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability. Despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate, threats to stability remain as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly.

There it is – all the justification that is needed to pursue more aggressive military actions.

Moving on, the NDS recognizes that we have become complacent.

America’s military has no preordained right to victory on the battlefield.”

The consequences are also laid out.

“Failure to meet our defense objectives will result in decreasing U.S. global influence, eroding cohesion among allies and partners, and reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living.”

And, the ultimate risk is bluntly stated, as well.

“It is now undeniable that the homeland is no longer a sanctuary.”

So much for the introduction to the strategy.  To this point, it is an excellent document.  Now, to the meat of the strategy – the specific goals and actions that the military will take.     ………….   And, now it all falls flat on its face.

The rest of the document, the heart of the document, is a collection of vague generalities along the lines of, “we will become more lethal”, with no specifics about how that will occur or, “we will be more agile”, with no specifics or definition.  The document consists of nothing but this type of vague, generalized, useless PowerPoint babble.

Honestly, this concludes my review of the document since there is nothing of any substance to review.  What a disappointment, especially after the fairly good NSS and the excellent introductory portion of the NDS.  This document was not worth the time it took for the military to write it and not worth the time it took for me to read it.

Absolute garbage.  I could not be more disappointed in our professional military.

Note:  This is the public summary.  One can only hope that the classified version has much more in the way of useful specifics but, somehow, I doubt it and, if it does, the military is making a huge mistake by failing to offer a better public description of the strategy.  I’m not advocating giving away secrets but a basic description is necessary if the public is to buy in to the military and provide financial support.  Further, there is a benefit in letting other countries know that we are preparing for them and, to an extent, how.  This is called deterrence.


(1)National Defense Strategy Summary, 2018,

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

UAV Swarm Attack Against Russian Base

It’s being reported that a Russian airbase in Syria was attacked by a UAV drone swarm and that the attack destroyed or damaged Russian aircraft.  I’m not going to offer a link because the event can easily be found with a simple Internet search and, frankly, there is no reliable information to refer to.  Further, for the purposes of this post, it doesn’t even matter whether the event actually occurred or how.  What I want to discuss is the concept of a drone swarm attack in a land attack setting.

Let’s start by imagining the possibilities!  It boggles the mind.  Swarms of small, cheap drones attacking in perfectly coordinated precision, putting on an aerial display of pure wonder, and then either suiciding into their targets and/or dropping small mortar type bomblets.  Why, you could blanket an area with such an attack!  Yes, against an alerted, defended base many of the drones would be shot down, thereby reducing the amount of “weapons” that get through but it would be difficult or impossible to stop them all.  Sure, we’re not talking 16” battleship shell fire but it only takes a small explosive to ruin an airplane, right?  Plus, this attack could come from many miles away and it would only take, maybe, 30-60 minutes of flight time, depending on the distance.  That’s not instantaneous response to a fire call but it’s fairly quick.  Yes, it’s got to take a fair amount of time to set up the attack, get everything organized, and get all the drones into the air and assembled but the effort is worth it for the results.  This is the future of warfare, without a doubt!

Boy, if only such a technology had existed in the past, wouldn’t that have revolutionized warfare?  That kind of ability to drop explosives over a wide area from many miles away would have been something military commanders would have loved to …  to … ah …

Hey, now that I think about it, didn’t we used to have a system that could launch unmanned, ballistically guided, aerial systems that could drop small explosives over a wide area?  Yeah … yeah, we did!  It was called “artillery”, wasn’t it?  They used launchers that fired small, aerodynamically shaped, unmanned craft that carried payloads of explosive submunitions that the aerial craft would scatter over a wide area before suiciding themselves into the target area.  If I remember correctly, they called the unmanned craft, “shells”, and the explosives were called, “cluster” munitions.  I think they referred to the unmanned launch process as “firing”.  They would “fire” the “shells” from many miles away and they were unstoppable in flight, unlike swarm drones, and traveled at speeds immensely greater than swarm drones.  What’s more, I seem to recall that the “shell” attacks could go on and on for extended periods as opposed to the one-and-done nature of a drone swarm.  Furthermore, the “artillery” system could respond within seconds to a call for fire and the “shells” would arrive over the target in minutes.

Okay, I had a little fun with the writeup, there, but it illustrates the idea that in our blind and fanatical pursuit of technology we tend to overlook simpler, more effective, existing technologies.  Artillery puts to shame any drone swarm and yet we’re downsizing our artillery, have stopped developing cluster munitions, and are pursuing drone swarms with a zealousness that is obsessively fanatical.  Does that really make sense?

Our technology obsession is blinding us to the reality of far more effective methods just because they’re older.

Here’s an amusing story that illustrates the issue.  I was talking to some of my nieces and nephews at a family get together and they were all comparing notes about their new smart phones and all the latest features that each had.  Well, not to be outdone, I told them that my phone had a just-released new app that allowed flawless conversational verbal text messaging  on a real time basis.  They were amazed and they all wanted to know what the app was so that they could download it.  Of course, I told them that each of their phones had the app built in – it’s called “talking on the phone”!

The pursuit of technology can blind us to what we already have.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Third Zumwalt

There’s been an interesting discussion going in a recent post about the fate of the third Zumwalt, currently under construction.  The Navy has stated that they are no longer pursuing a replacement munition for the cancelled Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP).  Thus, the Zumwalt’s have no functional main armament.  Their guns, the very reason for their existence, are just paperweights.  The magnitude of the stupidity that led to this situation is staggering but typical of the Navy.  We’ll leave that aspect alone, however, for the time being.  Instead, the situation raises an interesting problem and opportunity. 

The problem is the obvious one:  it makes no sense to complete the third Zumwalt with a non-functional gun.  To do so would create a $4B+, 15,000 t ship that carries only 80 VLS cells and a limited radar system.  That's the equivalent of a super-sized frigate or a partially neutered Burke.  That would add almost nothing to the fleet's combat power.

The opportunity is the chance to complete the third ship as a prototype – the question being what kind of prototype?  Here are a few possibilities:

  • Complete the ship as a heavy (by today’s standards) naval gunfire support vessel by installing 8” guns.  The guns can be either the old, already tested, Mk71 or some new design.  Yes, it would probably take a year or so to design a new gun but, who cares – the ship isn’t needed.  This would give the Navy a chance to re-acquaint themselves with heavy guns and begin the process of regenerating actual, effective naval fire support.

  • Install a navalized version of the Army’s MLRS/ATACMS in place of the guns.  Again, this would give the Navy a chance to explore another form of naval fire support and one with potentially much more range than the original Advanced Gun System would have had – potentially a major improvement!

  • Complete the ship as a UAV “carrier” by repurposing the hangar and flight deck to exclusive UAV operations.  This would give the Navy a chance to explore operational integration of UAVs into task groups.

  • Complete the ship as an advanced intelligence and surveillance vessel.  Unlike the Pueblo or Liberty, this ship would be able to defend itself and could be sent into high threat areas such as the South/East China Seas, off the Russian coast, or near NKorea.

  • Complete the ship as an advanced electronic warfare (EW) ship.  Load it up with every electronic warfare piece of equipment and see what a dedicated EW ship can do.  This would allow the Navy to explore offensive and defensive EW and see if a single ship can provide effective area EW protection.  The ship has plenty of electrical power for the equipment.

We’ve discussed the need for diversity in the fleet and the need for prototypes to promote that diversity.  Well, this a golden, if unwanted, opportunity to prototype something new and potentially useful.  Knowing the Navy, however, they’ll complete the ship with a non-functional gun and waste the opportunity.

Friday, January 12, 2018

AGS-Zumwalt Colossal Failure

The Navy has now confirmed that the Zumwalt’s Advanced Gun System (AGS), the entire reason the Zumwalt class was built, will not be getting any new ammunition round.  After the gun’s Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) was cancelled due to the cost per round reaching $1M (see, "A Ship With No Ammunition"), the Navy indicated that they would adapt the Army’s 155 mm Excalibur artillery shell for use in the AGS (see, "Excalibur - LRLAP Replacement").  This would have provided a range of around 20 miles or so – woefully short compared to the LRLAP’s reported range of 70+ miles.  Now, even this option has been dropped by the Navy.  Instead, the Navy will monitor industry over the coming years and wait to see if some new, suitable round happens to appear.  Unfortunately, given the AGS gun barrel’s unique twist arrangement, that’s a pretty unlikely occurrence. (1)

“A year after the Navy decided to abandon the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) for the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer, there is no plan in place for a replacement round for the Advanced Gun System (AGS) the ships are built around, service officials said on Wednesday.” (1)

What will the Navy do with the Zumwalts?

The Navy’s new plan is to focus the Zumwalts on deep strike land attack (Tomahawks) and anti-surface (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile – LRASM, maybe?) warfare by using the ship’s 80 Mk54 peripheral VLS cells.  I guess that makes the Zumwalt’s each an $8B+, lightly loaded arsenal ship?

Also, recall that the Zumwalt’s unique tumblehome hull form has some inherent sea keeping problems due to its shape (see, "Zumwalt Tumblehome Tests").  That was considered acceptable since the ship’s mission was intended to be shallow water littoral warfare rather than open ocean sailing.  Now, with the mission switched to largely open ocean work, the ship will have significant sailing issues to deal with.  The Navy had previously issued limitations on sailing in certain quartering seas.  This may be a mission that the ship has difficulty executing.

So, the Navy has built a $24B+ class of three ships whose entire reason for existence was the AGS and now the AGS is a non-functional, ocean-going, paperweight and the fall-back mission is one that the ship’s flawed sea keeping may render difficult or impossible to execute in common sea conditions.  Just plain, WOW !

Someone has got to be fired!  - or, as the Navy refers to it, promoted.


(1)USNI News website, “No New Round Planned For Zumwalt Destroyer Gun System; Navy Monitoring Industry”, Sam LaGrone, 11-Jan-2018, retrieved 11-Jan-2018,

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Frigate News

Here’s some interesting news about the Navy’s proposed new frigate.  As regular readers know well, ComNavOps is dead set against a traditional frigate.  However, I’m going to set that aside for the duration of this post and simply address the new frigate information that the Navy has provided.

From USNI News website we get the following bits (1):

  • The Navy has set a maximum average cost of $950M per ship for ships 2 through 20.  The first in class is, apparently, exempt from imposed cost limits.

  • The Mk41 VLS will consist of a minimum of 16 cells and a desired target of 32 cells of the full length strike variety.

  • The vessel will mount a minimum of 8 deck launched over-the-horizon anti-ship missiles and a desired target of 16.

Depending on what you believe the Burke Flt IIa cost, this gives us a price comparison.  Let’s go with the Navy’s value for the Burke of $1.8B.  This isn’t real but neither will be the frigate cost so at least we’re comparing fake apples to fake apples.  Thus, we see that the frigate, at $950M will be 53% of the cost of the Burke.

Of course, no one believes that the frigates will actually come in at the target price.  A more likely cost will be about $1.3B, I would guesstimate, which puts the cost around 72% of the Burke.

One might reasonably expect, then, that the weapons load of the frigate would be half that of the Burke.  As a reminder, the Burke carries 96 VLS cells and 8 deck mounted anti-ship missiles (though rarely actually carried).  Thus, the frigate’s 16-32 cells is well under half the Burke’s weapon load.  On the other hand, the anti-ship missiles will equal or surpass the Burke.

On the plus side, this is a significant upgrade in weapons load over the LCS and the LCS versions may have difficulty achieving the higher target levels.  This might, then, favor a foreign design.  On the minus side, this is still a somewhat light weapon load for a vessel that is likely to be around 70% of the cost of a full Burke.  This is the fear I’ve had from the beginning on this – that we would get a vessel costing 80% of a Burke with 25% of the weapon load – not a good value and one of the reasons I don’t want a frigate.

Now, the weapons load could be excused and might even be considered quite acceptable if the ASW capability was emphasized.  In other words, if the main emphasis of the frigate were ASW rather than AAW/ASuW then the cost and light weapon load might be fine.  However, I’ve not yet seen any specifications that lead me to believe that ASW will be particularly emphasized.  We’ll have to wait and see.


(1)USNI News website, “NAVSEA: New Navy Frigate Will Cost $950M Per Hull, More Than Double LCS Cost”, Sam LaGrone, 9-Jan-2018,

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Diversity On The Sea

Diversity equals resilience

In nature, if one type of tree develops a susceptibility to a particular disease or pest and largely dies off, another type of tree will take its place in the ecosystem and the overall strength of the ecosystem is preserved.  The ecosystem’s strength lies in its diversity.  If one species fails, another takes its place and the ecosystem goes on.

The same is true of military, and in this discussion, naval forces.  If one type of ship is found to be a failure, or even simply less successful, another type can take its place and the naval force adapts, lives on, and succeeds.  This occurred in WWII.  Our magnificent battleships, lined up neatly at Pearl Harbor, were suddenly found to be failures.  That was okay, though, because we had other types of ships, submarines and carriers chief among them, to take over their role.  Our naval diversity ensured that our Navy was able to adapt, live on, and succeed.

One can’t help but wonder, what if we hadn’t had such diversity of ship types.  What if our submarines and carriers had been excluded from the fleet in the name of budgetary savings and standardization.  What if every capital ship had been an unending progression of minor variations of, say, the Pennsylvania class battleship?  What if, instead of new ship types, we had succeeded the Pennsylvania class with the Pennsylvania Flt II and then the Pennsylvania Flt III and so on – an endless string of slightly improved Pennsylvanias?

Well, fortunately we didn’t do that.  Fortunately we developed new ship types like the long range fleet submarine and the aircraft carrier.  And, fortunately, we learned that lesson – that diversity of ship types equals strength and resilience in the never-ending evolution of naval power.  Yes, as I look proudly out over the row upon row of nearly identical Burkes, the Flt I’s , Flt II’s, Flt IIa’s, and now Flt III’s, I rest easy knowing that our diversity has prepared us for the next unanticipated upset in naval warfare and that we will have plenty of alternate choices to …  ah … um …       You know, as I look upon the ranks of Burkes, it occurs to me that we may not have as diverse a fleet as I thought.

Setting aside the small and non-combat capable LCS and the Ticonderogas that the Navy is in the process of retiring, it occurs to me that we only have one surface warfare ship – the Burke.  If an enemy were to find an effective counter to a Burke or if the dictates and conditions of future naval combat were to negate the capabilities of the Burkes, we wouldn’t have much in the way of alternate platforms to choose from, would we?

The same concepts can be applied to our one and only weapon system, Aegis.  If an enemy develops an effective counter to Aegis, we have nothing else to turn to.

Are we arrogant enough to believe that we are perfectly predicting what future naval combat will be like?  Every war ever fought has produced major, unanticipated changes to the prevailing notions of warfare.  Do we really believe that we will flout all of history and perfectly predict the next war?  It seems unlikely in the extreme.

So, where’s our diversity?  Where are the one-off prototype ships that explore new technologies and new approaches to naval combat?  The answer is that there aren’t any.  We’ve sacrificed innovation and diversity in the name of a few percent savings through standardization on the next ship to be built.

Well, now that you and I have had a chance to think about it, we realize that our current fixation on unending Burkes is wrong.  We should be building all manner of prototype vessels to try out new concepts and see what works and what doesn’t.  For example, 

  • Maybe we should have a few 16” big gun battleships in the fleet.

  • Maybe we should build a combination ship that’s half carrier and half cruiser.

  • Maybe we should build a prototype laser ship even if the technology isn’t yet perfect.  Hey, the technology wasn’t perfected when we built the first carrier, the Langley, but it paid off in experience and lessons learned, didn’t it?

  • Maybe we should build a submersible Aegis destroyer.

  • Maybe we should build a rail gun fire support vessel.

  • Maybe we should build a close-in MLRS and C-RAM amphibious assault support ship.

  • Maybe we should build a new generation LST.

  • Maybe we should build a replacement SSGN.

  • Maybe we should build a short range ballistic missile arsenal ship.

  • Maybe we should build a cheap WWII style attack transport as an alternative to our budget busting big deck amphibs.

I can go on all day listing alternative naval ship types that might prove useful in a future war.  Of course, many might not – that’s the nature of experimentation.  As long as we build these as one-off prototypes rather than leap instantly into buying 55 of each like we did with the LCS, who cares if they don’t prove useful?  We won’t be out much.

Building such prototypes has the added advantages of keeping our industrial naval design expertise fresh and vibrant and it would keep our shipyards active and up to date with new construction technologies.

Diversity equals resilience and, right now, our navy is not very diverse or resilient.  That needs to change because the next war is guaranteed to be unlike what we imagine and the more choices we have to choose from, the more likely that we’ll be able to adapt and win.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Defective F125 Frigate Returned To Builder

We complain about the incomplete and, in some cases, damaged ships that the Navy accepts from the builders and we wonder why they don’t enforce any warranty repair actions (turns out that most shipbuilding contracts don’t have any warranties!).  We also wonder why every other country’s ships are better built than ours.

Well, the better built part is easy to explain – they aren’t!  We just are more aware of our ship’s problems because we have much more open information sources for our ships.  Other countries have the same problems but they just aren’t publicized.

Anyway, here’s a bit of news that addresses both the warranty and the quality of build issues.  Germany has just returned the lead F125 frigate to the builder, after delivery, for repair of defects found during trials – and there’s a lot of defects and they appear to be pretty serious.

Here’s some of the problems as reported by Naval Today website. (1)

  • software and hardware issues
  • problems with the frigate’s operations room
  • listing problem - they list 1.3 degrees to starboard
  • overweight

Here’s an amusing bit of related information.

“According to the German Navy, the new frigates will require only half the crew necessary to operate the Bremen-class frigates. They will be able to stay at sea for up to 24 months and thereby reduce the transit times for the crews. The crews will swap in regular intervals directly in the areas of operations which means that the ships will have to make fewer port visits.” (1)

Does that sound like the failed LCS program?  I anticipate that the German Navy will find the same thing we did – that minimally manned crews can’t perform well, will be overworked and undertrained, and ship maintenance will suffer.  Well, good luck to them.

F125 Frigate

Back to the main point …    Hats off to the Germans for sending a defective ship back to the builder.  Maybe their example will inspire the U.S. Navy to do the same.

It is also worth noting that this disposes of the myth that other countries build better ships than we do.  A lot of observers want the U.S. to buy and/or build foreign ships and use foreign shipyards.  I have no problem with that, in concept, but the reality is that no one is building problem-free ships.  We just document and hear about our problems more than other country’s.


(1)Naval Today website, “Germany returns lead F125 frigate to builder, report”, 22-Dec-2017,