Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Attrition Warfare - You Can't Avoid It

ComNavOps has frequently extolled the virtue of numbers, even over quality.  As the old adage says,

“Quantity has a quality all its own.”

When I advocate greater numbers, one of the common counter arguments is that we no longer engage in attrition warfare.  Supposedly, we now engage in maneuver warfare to paralyze our enemies and bring them to their knees with no casualties on either side.  Ahh …  the ideal war!  Or so the story goes.

The reality is that war is all about attrition.  We’ve just forgotten that.  You know, there’s another old adage,

“The enemy gets a vote.”

The enemy gets a vote, yes.  Sometimes, though, we can minimize or marginalize the enemy’s vote.  Iraq got a vote in Desert Storm but it didn’t amount to anything.  However, when it comes to attrition warfare, the enemy’s vote trumps ours.  Huh???  What does that mean?

It means that if an enemy is willing and determined to engage in attrition warfare, it’s almost impossible not to become inextricably involved in attrition warfare.  When the enemy sends a human wave attack at your troops, you ARE engaged in attrition warfare whether you want to be or not.  When the enemy is willing to send waves of aircraft at your ships to wear down your defenses and, eventually, sink your ships, you ARE engaged in attrition warfare whether you want to be or not.

Maneuver warfare will only work until you come into contact with the enemy and then, if the enemy so chooses, it becomes attrition warfare.  The hope is that your maneuvering put you into an advantageous position so that you’ll win the attrition phase of the battle but, barring Saddam Hussein type stupidity, you can’t avoid an attrition battle if the enemy wants it.  I don’t think China or Russia are going to be that obligingly stupid.

Speaking of China and Russia.  What are their single biggest military advantages?  That’s right … numbers. 

The biggest numbers advantage Russia and China have is manpower.  They have, literally, billions of people to throw at our forces and they have the required inhuman insensitivity to actually do it.  Such a tactic is abhorrent and almost unimaginable to us.  I say “almost” unimaginable because we actually saw the Chinese do it as recently as the Korean War and the Russians did it during WWII.  Given China’s uncaring attitudes towards human rights, as demonstrated repeatedly in modern times (recall the massacre of several hundred protesters in the Tiananmen Square incident), does anyone really believe that China wouldn’t hesitate to employ attrition tactics?  Given Russia’s uncaring attitude towards human rights as evidenced throughout their history (Stalin, KGB, Siberian camps, etc.), does anyone really believe that Putin wouldn’t hesitate to employ attrition tactics?

In fact, from a purely military perspective, China and Russia would be foolish not to employ attrition warfare.

For China, their numbers advantage will soon extend to aircraft and ships, if it doesn’t already.  And, unlike us, they tend not to early retire and throw away perfectly serviceable aircraft and ships.  For example, they have a very large contingent of second and third line aircraft that would work quite well as attrition fodder.  If they can throw early generation MiGs at us and destroy, say, a single F-22 for a loss of 10 second/third line aircraft, that’s a win for them.  Yeah, but that can’t happen, you say.  Even 10 MiG-21’s can’t match a single F-22.  Well, they don’t have to match the F-22, they just have to soak up the F-22’s missiles and distract the F-22 so that the first line Chinese aircraft can destroy the F-22.  Consider …  the Chinese have reportedly (Wiki) built 2400 MiG-21s and they are still operational.  That’s a LOT of aircraft to conduct attrition warfare with!  We have 150 or so combat-capable F-22s.

Warfare IS attrition.  We’ve just forgotten that in our desire to pursue clean, neat wars where everyone goes home at night, takes a hot shower, eats a good meal, watches some TV, and then gets up the next day and goes to work to conduct another neat, clean patrol or aerial strike while carefully avoiding collateral damage or casualties to either side.

Russia and China are going to come at us hard and attrition will be one of their major tactics.  We need to recognize this and begin preparing for it.  We need to stop pussyfooting around with networking, distributed lethality, jeep-based mobility, LCS, and the like and start developing massively effective cluster munitions, hugely increased artillery and self-propelled artillery, heavy armored personnel carriers, amphibious tanks, ships with serious AAW and ASuW capability and armor, and the like.  We need to start focusing on killing people in the most efficient manner possible.  We need to build up massive inventories of bombs, missiles, and rockets.  We need to prepare the framework to absorb hundreds of thousands of new soldiers (war draft) so that they can fight effectively without having to spend years learning the latest networking technology just to talk to the guy in the next foxhole over.  And so on and so on.

We need to start imagining what the next war will really be rather than what we wish it would be.  Brutal, ugly, and lethal.  That’s what it will be and that’s what we need to be.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Diversity In The Air

A comment was made in a post about the F-35 that has stuck with me and is worth some consideration.  Here’s the statement that caught my attention in the comment.

“The F-35 has monopoly in its sphere and we are led to believe that there is at least a reasonable chance that it will be outclassed by competitors. If air superiority turns out to be a decisive factor in the next war, I would argue that diversification is a sound choice. “ (1)

I believe the author is saying that our monolithic commitment to the F-35 to the exclusion of other fighter types may prove to be a mistake if our assumptions about future aerial combat are wrong and, if our assumptions are wrong, having other fighter types to choose from, each with their own strengths, would be very beneficial.

Consider the lesson of WWII.  From the outset of the war and as the war progressed, we had many fighter types to choose from:  Wildcat, Hellcat, P-40, Mustang, P-38 Lightning, Brewster Buffalo, Corsair, and P-47 Thunderbolt, among many others.  And those are just the U.S. fighters.  There were also dozens of bomber types and all manner of support aircraft as well as dozens of allied aircraft!  It is also important to recognize that the aircraft I’ve listed were just the ones that made it into substantial production.  For every aircraft that made it into production, several were proposed, designed, and possibly prototyped but were not produced.

Each aircraft had its strengths and weaknesses.  We were able to pick and choose which type was suited for which role.  Some aircraft failed at their intended role but were able to adapt and excel in other roles.  The Corsair was not entirely successful as the carrier aircraft it was intended to be but became an outstanding land based fighter.  Others, while not failing at their intended role, had strengths that allowed them to excel in unanticipated roles.  The P-47, for example, was intended as a high altitude fighter but eventually adapted to become a very effective low altitude ground attack aircraft.

As the war progressed, new missions arose.  Short range air-to-air combat gave way to long range escort missions.  Carrier fighter aircraft became reasonably effective bombers.  And so on.

The point is that as the needs of combat changed over the course of the war we had a wide selection of aircraft to choose from and could select the one best suited for the new roles. 

Today, our range of aircraft options is much more limited and, if the F-35 ever makes it into full production, we’ll quickly retire most of our other aircraft.  We’ll essentially be limited to a single aircraft.  If it should turn out that our view of future aerial combat is wrong and the F-35 is not the perfect fighting machine that the military would have us believe, we won’t have any other ready alternatives to choose from.  What if the Chinese figure out how to negate the F-35’s stealth and can detect it easily?  At that point the F-35 is just a mediocre fighter, at best, and we’ll have no other aircraft to turn to.

P-47 Thunderbolt - We Had Choices

While there was an inefficiency in having, supporting, and operating so many aircraft types in WWII, it provided a valuable flexibility and adaptability that we’ve lost today.

Instead of embarking on mega-dollar, once every 40 year, uber programs to produce one aircraft that replaces every aircraft in existence, maybe we should be producing much more frequent, smaller lots of aircraft, each a new design.  I’ve already discussed how that can be done in a very short time frame so I won’t bother describing it again.

War is not efficient.  War is not a business case.  If having multiple aircraft types is the price for flexibility and adaptability in war then it’s a price worth paying.  The only thing more expensive than waging a war with many different types of aircraft is losing a war due to lack of choices.

What would I suggest for some new aircraft types?  How about these?

  • A very long range air superiority fighter for the Chinese theater
  • A medium range, heavy weight fighter with very large missile capacity for the Russian theater
  • A small, short range, very fast, very maneuverable, pure Boyd-like fighter for cheap export sales to allies – this would greatly boost total allied numbers and provide valuable support during war;  this would be aimed at European countries to counter Russia
  • A very long range interdiction fighter for carriers – a modern F-14
  • A very large, very long range missile “arsenal fighter”

Note:  I have no interest in debating the specifics of any particular proposed type.  The point is to have a more diverse inventory so that we have choices when the next war springs its inevitable surprises on us.


(1)Navy Matters blog comment, “I Actually Hate The F-35”, Thursday, April 21, 2016, by username: Eric, April 22, 2016 at 6:50 AM,

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Navy Manpower History

This is a companion piece to the previous post, “Naval Budget History”, in which we demonstrated that Navy budgets are at nearly record high levels despite the Navy’s dreaded bogeyman, sequestration.  In other words, the Navy is lying about the lack of money.

Moving on, the Navy whines incessantly about the lack of money, lack of manpower, and lack of money for manpower.  To hear the Navy tell it, we simply can’t afford large crews and that’s why the fleet is gapped to the tune of about 7000 billets.  In fact, one of the contributing causes of the recent collisions involving the Burkes was manpower shortages.  Along the same line, you’ll recall that one of the contributing factors in the Port Royal’s grounding a few years ago was manpower shortages that resulted in the lookouts working in the galley rather than standing lookout watch.

Is the Navy really that short of manpower?  Is it really impossible to pay for adequate numbers of sailors to man the ships?

As with the budget, let’s look at the Navy’s manpower history.  Below is a table of Navy personnel numbers presented by year with the fleet size also shown.  The Avg Crew column is the ratio of personnel to ships – the theoretical average crew size of the fleet.  Yes, it’s not an actual average crew size because not every person in the Navy is assigned to a ship – there are shore positions that have to be filled.  Still, it gives a consistent basis of comparison.  The last column shows some selected basic monthly pay salaries in FY18 dollars for an E-4 with 2+ years experience.  

Year   Manpower      Fleet Size   Avg Crew  Basic Pay

1960    616,987 (1)   812 ships     760
1965    669,985 (1)   880 ships     761       1621 (4)
1970    691,126 (1)   743 ships     930
1975    535,085 (1)   559 ships     957
1980    527,153 (1)   530 ships     994       2029 (4)
1985    570,705 (1)   571 ships     999
1990    579,417 (1)   570 ships    1016       1838 (4)
1995    435,617 (1)   392 ships    1111
2000    373,193 (2)   318 ships    1173       2016 (4)
2005    362,941 (2)   282 ships    1287
2010    328,303 (2)   288 ships    1140       2272 (4)
2015    323,600 (3)   271 ships    1194       2252 (4)

What jumps out is that the theoretical average crew size has actually INCREASED over the years rather than decreased as the Navy would have us believe.  In fact, theoretical average crew size is at nearly record high levels.  Compare the crew size today to the 1960’s, for example.  We have 57% more manpower per ship now than in the ‘60’s and yet we have 7000 gapped billets in the fleet.  Worse, the Navy is cutting crew size to dangerously low levels in an effort to minimally man ships and save some money.

Do I have to spell out what’s going on here?

The Navy has a larger proportion of non-ship-assigned personnel now than ever before.  That’s a manpower management issue, pure and simple, and yet the Navy wants to blame sequestration and budget limits for the lack of manpower instead of their own bloated bureaucracy.

Let’s look at affordability.  The Navy claims they can’t afford larger crews.  Of course, a quick glance at the table shows that Navy manpower levels were twice as high in the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s as now.  How did we afford a Navy with twice the manpower then – and more ships?  Simple – we budgeted for it because it was a priority.  Today, the Navy is sinking more and more of the budget into ship construction because ships cost more – a $15B+ carrier????  No wonder the Navy says they can’t afford manpower – it’s all going to pay for shiny new toys that are breaking the bank!

What about pay rates?  Maybe sailors earned far less in previous decades and today's sailors cost more?  The pay rate data shows that while pay in the '60's was significantly less, pay has been pretty constant since at least the '80's when we had far larger manpower and ship numbers so that's not the reason why we have manpower funding issues today.

Relative to the fleet size, the Navy has more manpower now than they ever have in the last several decades.  There is no excuse for gapped billets in the fleet.  There is also no shortage of money for manpower.  We’ve operated far larger fleets and manpower in the past with no problem.  What’s changed is the incredibly poor manpower management of today’s Navy.  This is just one more reason CNO Richardson needs to be fired.

Note:  This post was updated on 22-Feb-2018 to add a column and paragraph for historical pay rates.


(3)Highlights of the Department of the Navy FY 2015 Budget

Monday, February 19, 2018

Force Multipliers

There is a growing consensus (heck, it’s an acknowledged fact!) that the U.S. military is overworked, poorly maintained, undertrained, and unready for combat – in other words, a hollow force.  People will debate the degree of that hollowness but rarely the reality of it.

The solution espoused by military leaders is, predictably, increased funding.  Lack of funding, they say, is at the root of maintenance issues and precludes modernization.  Of course, this flies in the face of all data and evidence.  Defense spending is at an all time high while readiness is at historic lows.  Thus, funding does not seem to be either the problem or the solution!

Civilian military leaders espouse networking as the solution.  In the broadest sense, this is the Third Offset Strategy which postulates battlefield superiority thanks to networking, data links, surveillance, and unmanned vehicles of all types.  Of course, the very foundation of this Strategy is suspect in the face of enemy electronic and cyber warfare activities as demonstrated in Ukraine and the pages of this blog.

Casual observers espouse bigger, longer range missiles as the solution.  Some see a large buy of frigates as the answer, at least for the Navy.

And so it goes.  The list of combat readiness solutions is long but they almost all share one common attribute: they’re all “things” that must be purchased which, again, leads back to funding as the solution.  However, as we just stated, funding is neither the problem nor the solution.

Okay, so if funding is not the solution, what is?

What can restore our combat readiness without requiring massive funding? 

The answer is simple:  fundamentals.  Fundamentals are not just a readiness solution, they’re actually force multipliers.

The Navy and, more generally, the military, talks about force multipliers such as the Third Offset Strategy which theorizes that vast networks of shared data will greatly enhance our military effectiveness over and above the mere capabilities of the individual ships, aircraft, and weapons.  You know what?  It would.  The Third Offset Strategy would be a force multiplier, and a potent one at that, IF it worked perfectly. 

Therein lies the rub.  It won’t work perfectly.  In fact, it will barely work at all.  It will fail for two broad reasons:

  1. Inherent weaknesses
  2. It can be taken away from us

The kind of vast networking that the Third Offset depends on is inherently unstable and unworkable.  We see this today in our day to day lives and we see this in the Navy’s day to day workings.  In our daily lives we see the inherent fragility of even simple networks.  We all experience network failures at home and at work.  Networks fail “spontaneously” on a regular basis.  In addition, they’re inherently too complex to maintain.  They require highly trained people to operate, maintain, and troubleshoot them.  These people are rare.  In war, networks will fail and we won’t have sufficient numbers of trained personnel to restore and maintain them.

Consider a microcosm example of the kind of network the Third Offset envisions, the ALIS software that is supposed to run the entire F-35 maintenance and operations.  You know that ALIS is supposed to monitor the aircraft, predict failures, and reduce maintenance but did you know that it is also supposed to manage the logistics for the entire F-35 fleet, manage spare parts inventory, and conduct mission planning, among other responsibilities?  How is that working out?  That’s right, it’s an abysmal failure and that’s just for one aircraft.  The Third Offset envisions scaling this up to the entire military.  How is that going to work if we can’t even get it to work for one aircraft?  The answer is obvious, it won’t work.

I can list example after example of current military mini-networks that are failing.  This simply proves that the kind of vast, all-encompassing network that the Third Offset Strategy depends on is inherently not viable.

Worse, the Third Offset Strategy can be taken away from us.  It can be taken away by the enemy and it can be taken away by ourselves.

The enemy can take away the Third Offset’s foundation – networks - via electronic countermeasures, jamming, signal disruption, cyber attacks, hacking, false signal generation, etc.  The Russians in Ukraine are giving us a field lesson in the power and impact of basic electronic warfare and it’s a lesson we should heed.  The susceptibility of a network to attack and disruption is fairly obvious and I won’t belabor it any further. 

The Third Offset can also be taken away from us by ourselves through our own incompetencies.  We see this every day.  We’ve lost our basic seamanship skills to the point that warships are colliding with other ships, basic anchoring evolutions are beyond us, and ships are running aground.  It does no good to have a Third Offset Strategy that produces an opportunity for military success if we don’t have the individual ship and personnel skills to execute the required actions.  Again, this is fairly obvious and I won’t belabor it.

More generally, it is folly to depend on a strategy that can be taken away from us.  What we need are capabilities and, even better, force multipliers that can’t be taken away no matter what the enemy does.

So, again, what are these magic force multipliers that enhance our capabilities and are immune to enemy actions?  Well, they’re easy, simple, and obvious.  They’re the fundamentals that a military and a Navy should have but that we have lost.  Here they are,

Training – We don’t’ know how to effectively use the equipment we already have and yet we think the solution is to acquire more advanced equipment.  It’s been reported that the officers entering the Navy’s new surface warfare “Top Gun” school are having to undergo remedial training on the basic capabilities of the very equipment they work with every day.  They are inadequately trained.  Our officers don’t even know how to get the maximum out of what we have.  We’ve lost the ability to even conduct basic seamanship exercises such as sailing, anchoring and determining our position. 

Aegis has become degraded fleet wide.  We no longer know how to maintain and operate Aegis to get the maximum out of it.

With sufficient training, we could instantly “double” our capabilities just by understanding the capabilities of what we have and fully utilizing them. 

The training issue goes back to focus (see below).  Our potential training time is being spent on non-warfighting activities. 

Tactics – Good tactics can make up for a lot of substandard equipment.  The F4F Wildcat of early WWII may be the classic example.  On paper, the Wildcat was badly outclassed by the Japanese Zero but the pilots developed tactics that allowed the Wildcat to succeed.  Similarly, we currently have ships, aircraft, sensors, and weapon systems that we don’t know how to use to their maximum effectiveness.  In large measure, this is because of our set-piece, scripted exercises that don’t allow the participants to exercise any creativity.  How can we find the best ways to use what we have if we can’t “play” with them?

We need to begin with an intensive historical study of tactics then move on to intensive study of our enemy’s equipment and tactics and, finally, create realistic, free form exercises to explore our current tactics.  Failure in exercises should be encouraged!  Failure defines the boundaries.  Does this sound a lot like the original Top Gun program?  It should!  They had the right idea. 

Hand in hand with this is the need to create standing opposing force training units (OpFor) whose only job is to study enemy technology and tactics and pass that information on to the fleet using the Top Gun model.  Further, we need a different OpFor for each potential opponent.  The Russians won’t fight like the Chinese so why would we have a single unit try to emulate both?  The cost of an OpFor is miniscule compared to the overall Navy budgt.  We can afford as many as we need.

The Top Gun Model Had The Right Idea

Effective tactics can enable us to get far more performance out of our equipment than is currently possible.

Focus – A world class athlete focuses 100% on his sport.  We need to focus on warfighting to the exclusion of all else.  We need to stop focusing on gender equality, sensitivity training, green energy, transgender assimilation, new uniforms every other year, zero-defect witchhunts, etc.  Every hour of the day must be spent on some aspect of warfighting.  To this end, we also need to stop treating the military as just another branch of the government, subject to the same social demands and laws/rights.  The military must be recognized as exempt from the usual social and legal requirements.  If women in combat is not efficient then women must be excluded from combat and the military must be excluded from gender equity laws and norms.  The military must be exempt from social and legal requirements.  A military governed by social requirements is a military that is sub-optimal.

Focus also includes running every decision Navy leadership makes through the filter of “will it enhance our combat effectiveness?”.  If it won’t, then we shouldn’t do it.  It really is that simple.

Pure, simple, warfighting focus can hugely increase our current effectiveness.

There you have it.  Training, tactics, and focus are the fundamentals that can act as huge force multipliers and at no cost, on a relative basis.  We need to return to these fundamentals.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Australian Hobart Class Destroyer

Australia’s HMAS Hobart class destroyer has generated a lot of interest from naval observers.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

The Hobart class is intended as an anti-air warfare destroyer.  The ship is 483 ft long with a displacement of around 6200 tons.  Relevant weapons include a 48 cell Mk41 VLS, two Harpoon quad launchers, two triple torpedo tube launchers for lightweight torpedoes, a single Phalanx CIWS, and one 5” gun.  The main sensors include the Aegis/SPY-1, SPQ-9B for low level detection, two missile guidance illuminators, hull-mounted sonar, and a towed array/variable depth sonar.

Just as a frame of reference, here’s a brief comparison of the Hobart’s characteristics and the Burke, as another example of an anti-air warfare ship.

              Hobart            Burke

Length        483 ft            509 ft
Displacement  6200 tons         9200 tons
Range         5000 @ 18 kts     4400 @ 20 kts
Speed         28 kts            30 kts
VLS           48 cells          96 cells
Harpoon       8x                8x
Torpedo       2x Mk32 Triple    2x Mk 32 Triple
Gun           1x 5”/54          1x 5”/62
Close In      1x CIWS           1x CIWS
Illuminators  2x                3x
Helos         1x Seahawk type   2x Seahawk type

It is clear that the Hobart is a slightly smaller version of the Burke with the main difference being the Hobart’s VLS capacity is half that of the Burke and one less illuminating radar for missile guidance.  That reduced capacity classifies the Hobart as a frigate, at least in comparison to the Burke.  Unfortunately, this also illustrates the problem with frigates – they tend to be 80% of the cost of a Burke with half the capability. 

In this case, for the vessel’s main function, anti-air warfare, the Hobart has half the capacity on a hull that is 95% of the Burke’s length.

Hobart Class Destroyer

A cost comparison between countries borders on pointless but Wiki lists the cost as A$8B (US$6.2B) for 3 ships (US$2.1B per ship versus the $1.8B per Burke).  Wiki also reports that the program is A$1.2B over cost.  Thus, the Hobarts are as expensive as Burkes or more expensive.  As I say, take the cost figures with a huge grain of salt.  It’s hard enough getting accurate US Navy cost figures, let alone Australian costs.  While the Hobart’s capability is decent, though limited, the ship appears to be poor value for the money.  It would seem that Australia could have simply purchased full Burke for the same cost.  I won’t pretend, however, to understand Australian acquisition policies since I can barely explain our own!

US naval observers and commentators tend to ascribe near miraculous characteristics to foreign ship designs but, inevitably, when the designs are examined more closely their luster tends to fade.  The Hobart is a decent ship but a poor value for the money.  It offers nothing for the US Navy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Navy Budget History

Here is the inflation adjusted budget for the U.S. Navy presented in FY17 dollars and the corresponding fleet size (number of ships) for the indicated year.

1980  $149B (1)  530 ships
1985  $231B (1)  571 ships
1990  $194B (1)  570 ships
1995  $126B (1)  392 ships
2000  $130B (1)  318 ships
2005  $159B (1)  282 ships
2010  $201B (1)  288 ships
2015  $156B (2)  271 ships
2017  $165B (3)  275 ships

Note:  The 2015 and 2017 fleet size numbers are misleading because they count the non-combat-capable LCS as warships but the trend of shrinking ship numbers relative to the budget is still quite evident.

We see from this that the budget, with some bouncing around, has remained fairly constant and that the 2010/15/17 budgets are in the upper half of historic values and even compare well with the 1980-90 buildup to the 600 ship fleet.  

In fact, the ratio of budget to ships has increased markedly!  We have the same amount of money and far fewer ships yet the Navy, and many observers, claim that the Navy is somehow budget constrained and can’t afford more crews, more training, more ships, more maintenance, more whatever.  This is patently untrue.  Relative to the number of ships we have, we have more money than ever.  We’re just spending it unwisely.

We’re just spending it unwisely.


(1)Naval History and Heritage Command,

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hyper Velocity Projectile

The Hyper Velocity Projectile (HVP) from BAE Systems is the latest fad that military observers have latched onto.  The HVP can be fired from any gun, travel several times around the Earth, has a speed of Mach 328, cost nothing (might even generate a small profit per shot?), and is a guaranteed one shot kill against any target on land, sea, or air …  At least, that’s the impression one gets from the unbounded hype surrounding this technological wonder.  Let’s look a bit closer and see where the reality lies.  Note that it is difficult to separate reality from claims in the literature and to determine what actually exists versus what is just proposed or planned.

To refresh, the HVP is a kinetic (meaning non-explosive) projectile that can, indeed, be fired from multiple weapons such as a rail gun, the Army 155 mm howitzer (with suitable modifications to the gun), and the Navy 5” gun.  The BAE product brochure claims that the HVP can be fired from the currently useless Zumwalt Advanced Gun System (AGS).  That is an unproven claim, at the moment.  Aside from the unique and non-standard barrel of the AGS which seems to preclude any round other than the LRLAP, the entire automated ammo handling system would have to rebuilt or the HVP would have to be packaged in an exact duplicate of the LRLAP round – doable, presumably, but expensive.

The projectile is a common, dart-like body that is fired from various weapons via specialized sabot adapters unique to each weapon.  The flight body is 24 inches long and weighs 28 lbs.  The payload is 15 lbs. (2)


The HVP is claimed to travel at speeds of around Mach 7 (5000 mph or so).  This presents both benefits and drawbacks.  Presumably, the speed is less when fired from a conventional gun as opposed to a rail gun.

The HVP is transitioning to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for additional development.

Now, let’s look at some specific aspects and features of the HVP.

Firing Rate.  From the BAE product brochure (2), here are some projected firing rates for various weapons.

Mk 45                    20 rounds per minute
AGS                      10 rounds per minute
155 mm Tube Artillery     6 rounds per minute
EM Railgun               10 rounds per minute

Range.  From the BAE product brochure (2), here are some projected ranges from various weapons.

Mk 45                   40+ nm
AGS                     70  nm
155 mm Tube Artillery   43  nm
EM Railgun             100  nm

Guidance.  The HVP is claimed to be guided but that’s true only in a limited sense.  The guidance is GPS and is applicable only against fixed, land targets with known GPS coordinates.  Useful guidance is not possible against moving land targets or aerial targets due to the extreme speed of the projectile. 

One of the “side effects” of speed is inertia.  The faster an object moves, the slower and harder it is to alter its course.  Faster means a larger turn radius.  A WWI Fokker Triplane has immensely greater maneuverability than a modern F-16 because the F-16 has such high speed.  An HVP traveling at Mach 7 cannot easily change course.  An incoming cruise missile traveling at high subsonic speeds, for example, would be far more maneuverable than a Mach 7 HVP which is, for practical purposes in that scenario, ballistic and non-maneuverable.

Warhead.  The HVP is currently a kinetic weapon with no explosive warhead.  It must hit to kill.  Various reports have suggested that an explosive warhead could be developed that would enable proximity fuzed projectiles for anti-air defense.

Cost.  One of the much-ballyhooed claims about the HVP is the low cost per round compared to missiles.  This is true but only in an unrealistic sense.  The original cost of an HVP round was claimed to be around $25,000.  The current cost estimate is $86,000 per round (1) though it is unclear what version and capabilities that cost represents.  This is still much less than, say, a Standard missile but only in a one to one comparison.  In a realistic engagement scenario the costs are much closer.  For example, Breaking Defense offers an example in which each HVP is assumed to have a kill probability of 10% (pK=0.1) and 22 shots would give a 90% chance of killing the target.  Well, 22 x $86,000 = $1.9 million dollars which is the same realm as a Standard missile.  Thus, cost is not a clear cut advantage and it could turn out to be more expensive over the course of an engagement.  Note that the 10% pK was a number made up by Breaking Defense for illustration purposes.  There is absolutely no data for actual kill probabilities.  Personally, without a proximity fuzed warhead, I’d estimate the pK to be 1%-5%, at best.  If true, the cost “benefit” is even less.

Lethality.  This is a difficult issue to quantify.  Yes, we can calculate kinetic energy for the projectile but that’s only part of the story.  Consider the example of a bullet fired from a handgun at a piece of paper.  Based on the kinetic energy calculation, the paper should be vaporized and yet the only damage done is a hole the size of the bullet!  Why?  Because the kinetic energy wasn’t transferred to the paper target.  More accurately, the bullet had POTENTIAL energy that wasn’t converted to actual kinetic energy upon impact (I’m grossly simplifying some physics here for sake of illustration).  In simplistic terms, the paper did not offer enough resistance to the bullet to allow the bullet to convert its potential energy into kinetic energy on the target.  The bullet passed through the paper, converting only a very tiny fraction of its potential energy, and retained most of its potential energy.

Similarly, if an HVP hits one of today’s thin-skinned warships or even thinner-skinned missiles, will the projectile be stopped, thereby converting all of its potential energy into kinetic energy and causing significant damage or will it pass through, like the bullet through paper, and convert only a portion of its potential energy to kinetic energy?  The astute observer will note that the impressive videos of rail guns and HVP rounds always show the damage done to targets that are several inches to many feet thick of steel or some such material.  What would happen if a rail gun HVP projectile impacted a 3/8” thick metal sheet, as is typical of a modern ship?  Undoubtedly, the projectile would pass through, almost unaltered, leaving behind only a hole the size of the projectile.  In other words, it would cause very little damage. 

Now, in an actual ship, there would be multiple bulkheads (even thinner!) and pieces of equipment (really thin!) that the projectile would encounter on its path through the ship.  Each would cause the projectile to “dump” some potential energy but would the cumulative effect be enough to achieve the massive energy conversion that would constitute significant damage?  I have no idea but I suspect not.  Of course, the projectile might also encounter flammable fluids leading to fires or sever pipes and electrical lines causing more damage.  I suspect, though, that if a HVP were fired at a ship, it would pass straight through and cause relatively little damage.  This is just semi-informed speculation on my part.  One would hope that someone in the Navy has thought this through before we commit to this weapon.  Of course, one would have hoped that we would have thought about galvanic corrosion on a ship (known about since the days of sail) and yet we failed to provide galvanic protection on the LCS so I make no assumptions about what the Navy should have considered.

Of  course, one could imagine using a HVP with a contact fuzed explosive warhead.  That would solve the problem of pass-through and provide localized damage effects.  The 15 lb payload, however, drastically limits the magnitude of the explosive effect.  It is also unknown whether the entire 15 lbs is available for explosive or whether a significant portion would be devoted to fuzing, electronics, etc.  While the 15 lb compares favorably to the 5” gun round burst charge of around 8 lbs, the 5” round is a heavier walled shell which contains the burst and amplifies the damage effects versus a thin walled, uncontained burst.  I have no idea what the wall thickness of the HVP is but I suspect it is not very thick.

All of this leads one to ask whether there is any actual gain in damage effects over those obtained from a conventional shell.

That takes care of anti-ship lethality.  Next, let’s look at land attack.

For a specific, hard target such as a building or hangar, the kinetic HVP will likely cause significant damage.  However, it has a significant limitation in that a near miss will cause no damage.  The projectile will simply bury itself in the ground.  There is no explosion.  It’s a case of exact hit or no damage.  Conversely, a conventional round with an explosive warhead may well cause damage from a near miss due to the explosive effects and shrapnel.  Of course, a warhead could be added to the HVP but with a payload of only 15 lbs, it wouldn’t be much of an explosion.  Thus, the HVP looks to be an excellent choice for a specific, hard target but of limited use in general bombardment and useless for suppressive fire (one of the major uses of naval gun fire).

I have been unable to determine which HVP warheads other than the kinetic (inert) version actually exist, if any.  My impression is that all are just proposed versions.

HVP Sabot Forms

In summation, the HVP appears to be a potentially useful weapon for a limited target set, primarily fixed, hard, land targets.  The projectile is very long on claims and proposals and very short on demonstrated performance, as is typical of new, developmental weapons.  It is well worth continued development but appears to be well short of being the miracle weapon that its hype would suggest.

This is one of those subjects that some readers may have more current information on than I do.  If so, feel free to add information via the comments.  Additions will be greatly appreciated.  Just be sure to offer supporting documentation.


(1)Breaking Defense, “$86,000 + 5,600 MPH = Hyper Velocity Missile Defense”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 26-Jan-2018,

(2)BAE Systems website,

Friday, February 9, 2018

Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile Status

Thank goodness for the Pentagon’s DOT&E (Director, Operational Testing & Evaluation) group!  The Navy is pushing ahead, hard, with the AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) which is a replacement for the AGM-88B/C High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).  However, in their zeal to field the missile they are glossing over or ignoring serious performance issues although you wouldn’t know it from the speed with which they’re moving ahead with the program.

DOT&E, on the other hand, has found the AARGM Block 1 to be “not operationally suitable”.  Here’s some specifics, quoted from the DOT&E 2017 Annual Report.

·     The Navy evaluated the current version of Block 1 software for only 24.0 hours of the 234.09 hour test.

·     AARGM Block 1 software demonstrated improved capabilities over the previous Block 0 software version but also demonstrated effectiveness shortfalls in key capabilities of reliability and accuracy.

·     Of the eight live fire events, six were successful engagements and two were unsuccessful because the missiles did not impact anything of tactical significance. The analysis of the two unsuccessful events revealed classified deficiencies.  …  - The Program Office made adjustments to correct the problems but did not verify the effectiveness of the corrections with additional live fire events before fielding Block 1.

·     AARGM Block 1 demonstrated a slight decline in reliability compared to Block 0, which failed to satisfy reliability requirements during IOT&E

·     The Navy attempted to streamline the AARGM Block 1 FOT&E test design by conducting developmental and operational testing simultaneously …  - This is the same concurrency that has plagued every other Navy/Military program.  Why won’t they learn?  How stupid are they?

·     Cybersecurity testing was inadequate to assess AARGM survivability against cyber-attacks.

There’s more but you get the picture.

Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile

Now, here’s the damning statement (as if what you just read wasn’t damning enough!).

“The Navy released Block 1 software in July 2017 without completing operational testing and without adequately addressing performance and software stability problems discovered during Block 1 testing.”

There you have it.  The Navy has put untested software out in the field with known problems.  They just don’t care.  People are going to die using this weapon and the Navy just doesn’t care.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ford Problems Continue

Here’s an update on the Ford’s continuing problems as documented in the DOT&E 2017 Annual Report.  Some of these problems are stunning and strongly suggest that the Ford is not even capable of routine operations.

·    “As of June 2017, the program estimates that EMALS has approximately 455 Mean Cycles Between Critical Failures (MCBCF) in the shipboard configuration, where a cycle represents the launch of one aircraft. While this estimate is above the rebaselined reliability growth curve, the rebaselined curve is well below the requirement of 4,166 MCBCF. At the current reliability, EMALS has a 9 percent chance of completing the 4-day surge and a 70 percent chance of completing a day of sustained operations as defined in the design reference mission without a critical failure.”    -  This means that the Ford is currently unable to conduct high intensity – meaning war – operations.

·    “The reliability concerns are exacerbated by the fact that the crew cannot readily electrically isolate EMALS components during flight operations due to the shared nature of the Energy Storage Groups and Power Conversion Subsystem inverters onboard CVN 78. The process for electrically isolating equipment is time-consuming; spinning down the EMALS motor/generators takes 1.5 hours by itself. The inability to readily electrically isolate equipment precludes EMALS maintenance during flight operations, reducing the system operational availability.”   -   EMALS doesn’t work reliably and can’t be readily fixed.  That’s a disturbing combination.  How did a system that can’t be isolated and repaired on the fly ever get past the first conceptual design meeting?  This is Navy engineering design incompetence on an almost unimaginable scale.  Yes, I understand that the Navy didn’t design the EMALS but they did review it and failed utterly to spot a major, major flaw.

·    “In June 2017, the Program Office estimated that the redesigned AAG had a reliability of approximately 19 Mean Cycles Between Operational Mission Failures (MCBOMF) in the shipboard configuration, where a cycle represents the recovery of one aircraft. This reliability estimate is well below the rebaselined reliability growth curve and well below the 16,500 MCBOMF specified in the requirements documents. In its current design, AAG is unlikely to support routine flight operations. At the current reliability, AAG has less than a 0.001 percent chance of completing the 4-day surge and less than a 0.200 percent chance of completing a day of sustained operations as defined in the design reference mission. For routine operations, AAG would only have a 53 percent chance of completing a single 12 aircraft recovery cycle and a 1 percent chance of completing a typical 84 aircraft recovery day.”   -  Are you kidding me?!  A zero percent chance of conducting war operations and only a fifty/fifty chance of recovering 12 aircraft????  Who let this abomination get this far?  This, alone, renders the Ford non-operational even for routine operations.

·    “[Dual Band Radar] Current test results reveal problems with tracking and supporting missiles in flight, excessive numbers of clutter/ false tracks, and track continuity concerns.  …  In limited at-sea operations, DBR exhibited frequent uncommanded system resets, and has had problems with the power supply system.”

There’s a common theme to all these problems and that is concurrency.  The Navy, despite every previous failed attempt at concurrent production and development, has stubbornly and stupidly insisted on pushing ahead with concurrent development and production and the results, predictably, are distressing.  We now have a commissioned warship that is not only utterly incapable of combat but can’t even conduct routine peacetime flight operations.  Some of these problems, like the AAG reliability, are not just slight deviations from specifications – they’re huge!  The AAG is, for all practical purposes, non-functional. 

The Ford may wind up being less of a warship than the LCS or Zumwalt !

Monday, February 5, 2018

Anti-Ship Cruise Missile Characteristics - Follow Up

You undoubtedly recall the recent discussion about anti-ship cruise missile characteristics and how they impacted likely defensive engagement scenarios (see, "Cruise Missile Characteristics Related To Detection And Engagement Range")?  The conclusion was that intercept engagements were likely to occur much closer to the ship (radar horizon) than the Navy believes and that what is needed is an optimized medium/short range radar paired with ESSM.  Some people struggled to understand how demanding the engagement scenario would be due to the short engagement window, the need to immediately flood the skies with ESSM missiles, and the resultant need to be able to deal with the immense amount of targets, both incoming, outgoing, and engagement debris.  Well, here’s some bits of information from the recent DOT&E 2017 Annual Report that illustrate and support the conclusions from the post.

“Investigate means to mitigate the chances of an ESSM pre-detonating on debris before approaching its intended target.” (p. 213)

This is exactly what I described.  With a very short engagement window, we won’t be able to leisurely fire off one or two ESSM and then wait for the radar picture to clear to see what the result was.  We’re going to have to launch many missiles and the radars are going to have to be able to function in a debris-filled sky.

Correct the SSDS scheduling function to preclude interference with the RAM infrared guidance stemming from prior intercepts and warhead detonations.  (p. 213)

Again, this is the ability to distinguish valid targets from debris in a chaotic sky.

Investigate and correct the combat system time synchronization problem that prevented the launch of a full salvo of ESSMs.  (p. 213)

This acknowledges the need to be able to launch many missiles as nearly instantaneously as possible.

Improve SSDS MK 2 integration with the MK 9 Track Illuminators to better support ESSM engagements.  (p. 212)

This demonstrates that it’s not enough to just have a radar that is capable of the required resolution.  We need to be able to take that resolution and actually distinguish valid targets among large debris fields and outgoing missiles and do a much better job of integrating the radar with the combat fire control software.

As I stated in the post, an engagement that begins at the radar horizon will be over in 120 seconds for even a relatively slow 600 mph, high subsonic, incoming missile.  A 1200 mph, supersonic, incoming missile will have an engagement window of just 60 seconds.  Actually, that’s not true.  Those engagement windows are vastly overstated.  We can’t engage when the incoming missile is one second from impact.  The engagement window closes when the either the minimum safe arming distance of the defensive missile is reached or the defensive sequence can’t react in the flight time remaining for the incoming missile.  Thus, the engagement window is more likely from the radar horizon to about 10 miles (I’m purely speculating about these values).  Thus, the engagement window for ESSM against the 600 mph incoming missile is just 60 seconds and the 1200 mph engagement window is just 30 seconds.

Of course, the engagement windows assume that the threat is instantaneously identified and the defensive reaction also occurs instantaneously.  If there is any hesitation, like waiting for human command and control, the engagement window essentially is non-existent.  This mandates a purely automatic defensive mode.  This, in turn, raises some questions.

  • Have we developed fleet doctrine to safely operate our ships and aircraft in the vicinity of ships whose defensive systems are in full auto mode?

  • Can our full auto systems reliably distinguish incoming targets from our own decoys, flares, and countermeasures?  CIWS had this problem in the past.

  • Can our systems operate in full auto mode without hazarding our own ships to friendly fire?  The corollary to this is, do we know how to position and operate our ships so as not to interfere with our own defensive fires?  With engagement windows of 60 seconds or less, there won’t be time to reposition ships.

  • Do we know how to coordinate our countermeasures with our defensive sensors so as not to inadvertently confuse our own defensive fires?  Is it more effective to use countermeasures and risk disrupting our own active defenses or is it more effective to forego countermeasures in favor of a cleaner radar picture?

To summarize this post and its predecessor, there is every reason to expect that anti-ship cruise missile defensive engagements are generally going to start at the radar horizon (say, 20 miles or so) and will have a correspondingly very short window of opportunity.  The traditional shoot-shoot-look engagement sequence is not going to be feasible or effective.  We need to modify and upgrade our systems for the medium/short range, short time frame engagement scenario.  We need radars, both ship and missile, that can discriminate targets amid a debris filled sky and we need the ability to salvo lots of missiles in an incredibly short time frame.  To the best of my knowledge, we currently have little or none of this capability, as indicated by DOT&E test results and recommendations.  We also need a comprehensive set of operational and tactical procedures to enable full auto defensive modes.

Now is the time we should be testing and developing these capabilities, not when actual combat occurs.  We need to largely pull back from the many peacetime, worthless missions (partnership, show the flag, forward presence, deterrence, anti-piracy, etc.) and concentrate on bringing our ships and crews up to combat readiness and developing the capabilities well need to fight the next war.