Thursday, May 17, 2018

Reversing the Trend

A recent anonymous comment pointed out that while we have been focused on fighting third world terrorists for the last decade or so, our peer competitors have been developing advanced electronic warfare capabilities, new families of armored vehicles, new cluster munitions, and so on.  We lost focus on what our military is supposed to be doing which is preparing for high end combat.  ComNavOps has unceasingly criticized military leadership for allowing our readiness and combat capability to atrophy.  However, ComNavOps is nothing, if not fair and so it is time to note and acknowledge the first glimmer of the beginning of the reversal of that trend.

We’ve noted several instances of the Army recognizing high end combat shortcomings and beginning to take action to rectify the situation.  The Army is currently far ahead of the other services in correcting the situation. 

That said, the Navy is also beginning, just barely, to recognize and correct the deficiencies and I would be remiss not to take a moment to list a few of those efforts and acknowledge them as baby steps in the right direction. 

LCS/Frigate – The Navy finally terminated the LCS and has initiated a frigate program to take the place of the LCS as the small combatant.  Despite ComNavOps’ reservations about the usefulness of a frigate, it is still a step towards a more capable surface force.

LRASM – The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile is a long overdue replacement for the venerable and obsolete Harpoon.  This will greatly increase our anti-surface lethality.

Manning/Tempo/Training – The Navy identified insufficient manning as a contributor to the recent collisions and groundings and noted that excessive operational tempo and the concomitant lack of training were also factors.  Having identified these factors, the Navy is saying all the right things about correcting them but has yet to implement any significant corrective actions.  We’ll have to wait to see what, if anything, develops from this.

Tanker – The MQ-25 unmanned tanker program will alleviate the dependence on F-18 Hornets as tankers.

VPM – The Virginia class submarine Payload Module will add additional Tomahawk cruise missile capacity to the submarines.  This will help offset the pending loss of the SSGN cruise missile subs as they retire without replacement.  To be clear, this a poor solution but it is a recognition of the impact of the loss of 600+ Tomahawk launch cells and an attempt, if a suboptimal one, to mitigate that loss.

Hornet Upgrades – The Navy is adding IRST, conformal fuel tanks, and other upgrades to the F-18 Super Hornet.  These are welcome, if long overdue, additions that will allow us to get the maximum out of the Hornet that it has to give.

These are all peripheral items that will have no significant impact on the overarching problems (inept leadership, inappropriate fleet composition, huge maintenance issues,  runaway costs, quality issues, tactical atrophy, lack of warfighting focus, etc.) plaguing the Navy but they are, potentially, the first steps to reversing our decaying lethality, firepower, and readiness trends.


  1. At least they are kinda starting to do something politics of the last administration did a lot to create this situation not unlike the 70s after Vietnam and the Carter administration that was a disaster also

  2. Now if they could also figure out the OBOGS problems and the over pressurization issues on the F/A-18E/F and the Growlers. There are serious problems there with the potential to kill aircrews.

  3. "This will help offset the pending loss of the SSGN cruise missile subs as they retire without replacement"

    A technical question about those SSGN's

    I mean once they retire them can't they just convert some other Ohio's next in line and in the future just build a SSGN based on the next gen Boomer ? It seems too unlogical to loose such a capability .

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. "can't they just convert some other Ohio's"

      The Navy's story is that the Ohio's have reached the end of their lives in terms of dive limits and other parameters. Of course, this is the same Navy that told us the Perry's couldn't be upgraded and yet every country that's bought one has done exactly that. So, decide for yourself whether you believe them.

      It would make all the sense in the world to build some extra Ohio replacements and convert them to SSGNs - which is why you won't see that happen.

    3. ComNavOps,

      There has been some talk from the Navy on continuing the Columbia class SSBN in SSGN form after the 12 SSBNs are complete sometime around 2035. There stated goal is to keep the production line open for large diameter subs so they do not have to restart the line when the Columbia class needs replacing. If you factor in the service live of 42 years and the production schedule it would around 32 years between the completion of the Columbia SSBN program and the out of service date of the first Columbia SSBN. That is quite awhile to keep the production line warm by building SSGNs, I assume the production line would be slowed down by building one SSGN every 3 to 4 years instead of funding one every year. Okay, I feel like I am rambling, here is the link:

    4. "continuing the Columbia class SSBN in SSGN form ... goal is to keep the production line open"

      The concept is okay although the practicalities of keeping a line somewhat artificially open for thirty some years is a bit daunting and illogical. More importantly, this is just Navy speculation. They engage in this kind of wishful thinking all the time. There's nothing wrong with that but it rarely materializes.

      What I noted from that article that is more worrisome is the desire to continually add capabilities to the Virginias instead of cutting off the class and committing to a new design. This is what happened with the Burkes. We've kept them going long past their expiration date and now we have a ship that is incapable of supporting the radar that's needed and the ship has no room for growth. We hung on to the Burkes too long and are now paying the price. I'm afraid we're about to do the same with the Virginias.

    5. Ok, couldn't they just take out the cruise missile VLS modules from existing SSGN's and put them in some of the best preserved Ohio's, that would be the cheapest think in the mid term?

    6. In this once instance I'm more inclined to believe the Navy. The Ohio's have been around a *long* time, and the rigors of a submarine are greater than that of a surface ship.

      That said, yes, It totally makes sense to look over the remainder of the fleet and squeeze whatever life we can out of the rest of them.

      And, I think it totally makes sense to add maybe 3 SSGN's to the Columbia line while it's running.

      But we won't do it.



      "The USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730) will be the first of the Ohio-class SSBNs to reach the end of her 42-year service life in 2027, with the remainder retiring at a rate of roughly one boat per year, with all being decommissioned by 2040"

      Why not, just take the last Ohios and transform them into SSGN's you could have more then 20 years of service live from them?

  4. "We lost focus on what our military is supposed to be doing which is preparing for high end combat."

    Minor quibble here, our military's job is to achieve our political objectives by other means (i.e. the use of force or threat of force), after 9/11 that definitely meant securing Afghanistan and, wisdom of the war aside, Iraq as well.

    The catch is that what it takes to win a guerrilla war is exactly the opposite of what it takes to win a conventional war, because they are completely structurally different.

    Time: A 'short' conventional war lasts days and a 'long' war lasts weeks, the only exception I can think of was the Vietnam War(a half guerrilla war), where the NVA was safe from ground assault north of the border. A 'short' guerrilla war lasts years and a 'long' war lasts decades. You can adjust your force structure, training, planning an equipment during a guerrilla war, in a conventional war, what you bring to the table is all you have.

    Quality: In a conventional war, you equipment needs to be equal or better to that of the enemy, and that means spending massive amounts to ensure our warships, aircraft, artillery and armor are up to snuff. In a guerrilla war, by definition, our opponents will not have those things, which means we get most of the same armor advantage from a T-54 as from an Abrams, and that a Super Tucano can do the job just as well as a F-22.

    Cost and Experience: In a conventional war, there is no substitute for victory, and any fighting produces useful lessons. In a guerrilla war, cost is arguably THE victory parameter, and while the lessons learned are certainly useful, they don't cross over that well to conventional war (see exhibit A: our drone obsession).

    What it takes to win the wars we have been fighting is far different from the threats on the horizon. The problem is, that we did not take guerrilla war seriously enough to equip and organize for it, and so we wasted billions of dollars and thousands of flight hours of first-class aircraft, at least we got an appropriate aircraft for the task, the Super Tucano...
    3 months before we stopped combat operations in Afghanistan, and 3 years AFTER we left Iraq.

    We desperately needed a dedicated all-arms Counterinsurgency Corps to match the task, so the rest of the military can focus on the rest of our responsibilities elsewhere. What terrifies me is that we made the same error as Vietnam, assuming "any soldier can beat a Guerrilla", and this time we did it not out of ignorance, but because we were not willing to stop business as usual. The last time we failed like this, we lost "Mistakes" on the edges of civilization covered in jungle and desert. If the problem is not Asymmetric Warfare, but the unwillingness to pay the psychological costs of reform...

    Then we are in the same boat as the Royal Navy at the turn of the last century.

    We need a hero, an American Jackie Fisher.

    Or we lose everything, and look like idiots in the process.

  5. I don't know that we have the national character anymore to win a guerrilla war. I'm not even sure if that's a bad thing.

    We are, or were, excellent in the conventional war setting. But to win a true guerrilla war takes time, money, and a ruthlessness that I don't think our short term populace can understand or back up.

    And when dealing with an enemy whose idea of mercy and tolerance is RADICALLY different from ours, it's going to be hard to win.

    I have a controversial opinion, but to be honest, I think that we treated Afghanistan the wrong way. Why are we trying to bring democracy to a tribal nation that is barely a nation-state? I have zero troubles with us going in and eliminating terrorist bases at will when they have shown to be a center of power for strikes against us. But the nation building is expensive and wasted on a tribal culture that doesn't have the history or tradition for the government we want them to have.

    It's the same with Egypt in the 'Arab spring'. I remember so many people talking about how democracy was going to come to the area. Based on what? Their long history of autocracy and occupation?

    Sure, it happened with Japan. But Japanese culture was nearly totally destroyed by the end of the war. It left a somewhat blank slate upon which to nation build.

    I guess where I'm going with this is I'm fine preparing for the big peer competitors. If, along the way, we have to knock off terrorist groups, then lets do that. But let's not pretend we can fix the problems in other nations.


    1. An excellent comment about nation building realities. We need to recognize that democracy, while the preferred choice, isn't a feasible choice in many cases. That said, we need to accept less ideal choices.

      Hand in hand with that, we need to recognize that not all peoples are as "mature" as we in the West and don't share the same values or desires.

      Really good comment.

    2. I think corruption has been keeping us from winning any guerrilla or insurgent war. Corruption drives people towards extremist movements. It drives the best of society away governing and only attracts the worst. If we wanted a government to succeed in Afghanistan or Iraq we would have to hold them to much high standards of corruption than we hold ourselves currently, and that would seriously cut into the war profiteers profits. Cant have that.

    3. "corruption has been keeping us from winning any guerrilla or insurgent war."

      No. What keeps us from "winning" such a war is unrealistic expectations. If one's goals are unrealistic, they'll never be achieved.

      For example, attempting to impose democracy on peoples and cultures who have never known any other form of govt than tribalism (even if writ large in the form of a dictator) is doomed to failure. We need to adjust our expectations and recognize that "victory" may include acceptance of what we would consider a ruthless dictator. Victory, then, should be aimed at modifying his behavior rather than killing him and trying to replace him with a democracy that the people are ill-equipped to implement and are unprepared for, culturally.

      For example, Iraq's Saddam Hussein could have been dealt with simply by sending a Tomahawk missile, once per day, at our best guess at his location. If we killed him, we'd tell his successor to behave better or suffer the same fate. If we miss, we tell him that we'll continue to fire a missile a day until he's either dead or he agrees to modify his behavior to a point we can minimally accept. Either he'll quickly cooperate or die and his successor will quickly cooperate or die and so on. Sooner or later, we'll find someone willing to be reasonable. The key point is that while the process of achieving cooperation was going on, the regime and its control would still exist thereby ensuring stability in the country.

      We don't always need to launch wholesale invasions to achieve our goals, IF THEY ARE REALISTIC GOALS. Sometimes a simple, one-a-day missile persuasion program is sufficient.

  6. The USA is filling the void left by the Old World colonists, this is a very expensive business.
    It is also a long term commitment, Iraq and Afghanistan are going to US problems for at least a generation - longer. Perhaps until the oil runs out.
    At what point that most of what the West does in these places is nothing to do with foreign democracy or for the benefit of the locals ? Should we be messing in these places, it is none of our concern.
    Unless of course the US fills that void, the British Empire started that way. Slippery slope.

    1. "Should we be messing in these places, it is none of our concern."

      This is a very simplistic view that is fundamentally incorrect. The world has become a global commons. What happens anywhere, affects everywhere.

      For example, we've already seen that the growth of terrorism in the Middle East has spread to virtually every country in the world and led to mass migrations of displaced peoples. So, yes, it most assuredly is our concern.

      Now, what you're correct about, though you didn't explicitly state it, is that we need to be much more selective about where we choose to intercede. Such decisions are, in turn, related to "victory" conditions (what we want to achieve) which we need to be much more realistic about. We also need to give much more thought to our rules of engagement. The limited, no one gets hurt type of engagement that we've attempted has proven largely ineffective and we need to re-examine that.

      So, everything concerns us but we need to rethink our points of engagement and methodologies.

  7. You could also add to your list adding ship targeting sensors to the TLAM. The dual purpose Tomahawk will increase the ASuW capabilities of ships with Tomahawk load-outs.

    Also, the SM-6 has acquired ASuW capabilities as well. Giving these missiles anti-ship capabilities increases our options and magazine depth for attack enemy surface ships.

    1. Yes, I guess. Although, we had Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missiles (TASM) back in the 1980's or thereabouts and Standard missiles have had an anti-surface mode since the beginning, I think. The USS Simpson and USS Wainwright fired five Standards at an Iranian Combattante missile boat during Operating Praying Mantis in 1988.

      So, the Tomahawk is a return to what we had and the SM-6 is just a continuation of what we already have. Kind of a reversing the trend, I guess, in a very weak way!

      Disappointingly, the Navy acts like these are new capabilities, never before seen in the history of naval warfare - and, to be fair, the Admirals in charge probably don't remember these capabilities so they probably do seem new. That's what happens when you don't study history and/or are desperate to portray non-accomplishments as something significant.


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