Saturday, June 30, 2018

DepSecDef Work Is Right - Partly

Followers of this blog know that ComNavOps has nothing but disdain for former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work.  Work is responsible for the zealous promotion of the horribly flawed LCS, the stifling of opposition, the promulgation of the idiotic Third Offset Strategy, and a litany of other misguided actions.  I consider Work to be a grave threat to the security of the United States.  That said, I’m now going to turn around and give Work credit where credit is due.  Breaking Defense website has an article with several quotes from Work that are perceptive and wise and with which I agree completely.

Here’s a series of quotes from the article (1).  They speak for themselves.  The emphasis is mine.

“[The United States military] can’t build up war-ready forces to deter Russia and China while engaging in non-stop operations around the world, the way we have since 1991.”

“As the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon struggle to restore the US military’s readiness for war, Work said, they must avoid two great traps. First, he said, we can’t let the insatiable demands of the theater combatant commanders (COCOMs) siphon off forces from the vital task of deterring rival nation-states, above all Russia and China. Second, he said, we can’t let well-intentioned enthusiasm to build a bigger force – as President Trump and House Republicans have promised – come at the expense of readiness and modernization for the military we already have.”

“During the Cold War, Work said, US policymakers had clarity about the military’s missions. Deterring the Soviet Union by standing ready to fight it – primarily with conventional forces in Europe, but with nukes if necessary – was unambiguously number one. Readiness to respond to lesser crises such as Vietnam came second. “Shaping” operations to advance peace, stability, and democracy around the world came a distant third. In the years of US unipolar dominance after the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, those priorities reversed, until shaping become the dominant mission

“In fact, the way the Defense Department works, COCOM commanders could make unlimited demands without paying any of the cost, …”

Cut presence before cutting maintenance, for God’s sake!” fumed Work.”

Compare those quotes to ComNavOps’ statements in a recent post about the Combatant Commanders (see, “Combatant Commanders and OpTempo”).

“The entire Combatant Commander setup is geared towards inflated requests, reverse incentives, and leads to premature wear and tear on the military.  There is nothing wrong with having a CC as a regional subject matter expert but having them divorced from the budgetary, maintenance, and readiness ramifications of their asset requests is a flawed system.

Work’s observation about shaping having taken precedence over readiness is particularly astute.  We have forgotten that the primary mission of the military is to fight wars, particularly peer wars.  Deterrence, shaping, presence, or whatever other term you want to use is fine as a lesser adjunct to readiness but not as a priority over it.  By losing sight of that main mission, we have allowed Russia and China to make significant progress towards military parity and eventual superiority.

The various military leaders, uniformed and civilian, make the right noises about readiness (remember CNO Greenert’s “Warfighting First” tenet?) but their actions belie the words.  We have yet to make more than minor, half-hearted attempts at restoring combat readiness.

We must return combat readiness to preeminence over all other concerns.

Work also correctly notes the debilitating effect of the unbridled requests from the CoComs.  The Combatant Commander model of force allocation is horribly broken and is devastating the Navy.  We need to abolish the power wielded by the Combatant Commanders, say no to most of their requests, and return readiness to a higher priority than deployment.

Unfortunately, Work being Work, he then proceeds to completely misunderstand the relationship between size of the military and the costs of modernization.

“The US can’t afford to modernize its military and increase its size at the same time, said the former deputy secretary of defense , Bob Work.”

He’s dead wrong.  Of course we can increase size while also modernizing.  We have more than enough money if we would spend it wisely.  The Ford class was a gazillion dollar cluster-spend that gives us no more capability than the Nimitz class.  The LCS was a complete and utter waste – a throwaway of an entire class of ship.  The Zumwalt is an absolute embarrassment with no ammo to fulfill its designed intent.  The F-35 is an aerial train wreck that is decimating the entire military.  The Marine Corps is off the reservation with its insatiable desire to become a third air force.  We’re on, what, our tenth set of uniforms for the Navy in the last five years?  I can go on almost endlessly but you get the idea.  Spend wisely and we can modernize and increase numbers.

Compounding the bad, Work then lists the things that we need to invest in.  I won’t bore you with the list but, predictably, it’s almost all technology, little of it increases our firepower, none of it improves readiness or numbers, and most of it is highly questionable.

Former DepSecDef Work had at least a few good ideas.  We need to restore combat readiness to our top priority, largely abandon “shaping” efforts, and neuter the CoComs.  In short, we need to our military’s focus to its primary mission which is to defeat peer opponents.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “‘At War Next Week’: Bob Work On Readiness, Modernization, & COCOMs”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 7-Nov-2017,

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Why Not Battleships?

The WWII battleships were retired, multiple times, for various reasons, none of which were particularly valid.  The fact remains, we don’t have any in commission today and we’re unlikely to ever have them again.  But why?  What is so horrible about battleships that we can’t even contemplate having them in the fleet again?  Detractors see the issue as almost a religious thing.  They oppose the evil of battleships and spew forth the Word of the Modern Navy to shout down any talk of battleships.

Let’s look a bit closer at the arguments against battleships and try to understand why a modern version of an Iowa/Montana class battleship can never be part of a modern navy, in the minds of opponents.

Firepower – This is a less common argument because, well, it’s simply not true.  The argument is that a battleship can’t match the firepower of a carrier.  The reality is that the opposite is true.  A carrier can’t match the firepower of a battleship. 

WWII battleships carried 100+ shells per gun.  Navweaps website lists a total of 1220 shells per ship.  The secondary armament magazines contained around 500 rounds per gun (I assume this means per mount rather than per barrel) for a total of around 5000 rounds.

A battleship can fire salvos of 16” 2200+ lb shells at a leisurely rate of 9 shells/minute (19,800+ lbs per minute) and do it on a sustained basis.  A carrier can’t even come close to matching that kind of explosives delivery rate.  A carrier maximum effort strike of, say, 20 Hornets – a carrier always retains aircraft for self-defense and needs several strike aircraft for tanking – can deliver oh, let’s be generous and say 12,000 lbs of munitions per aircraft – remember, some of the hardpoints are taken up by air-to-air weapons and fuel tanks and a max loaded combat aircraft would be an unlikely occurrence.  So, that’s a pulse salvo of 240,000 lbs of munitions.  Let’s also be generous and say each aircraft could generate three sorties per day.  That’s 720,000 lbs of munitions per day delivered sporadically, in three pulses.  By comparison, the battleship can maintain a steady 18,000 lbs of munitions fired until its magazines are depleted.  That’s 2.44M lbs of munitions.  And, this doesn’t even begin to consider the battleship’s secondary 5” guns which adds another 275,000 lbs of munitions!

A battleship’s firepower is also available 24/7, on call within minutes, is unaffected by weather, and can’t be electronically jammed, decoyed, or shot down.  There are no pilots put at risk.  This is kind of the same rationale being put forth for UAVs except that UAVs can be electronically jammed, decoyed, and shot down!

Clearly, firepower is not a valid reason for not having battleships in a modern navy.

Gun Range – Range is limited to around 20 miles but the vast majority of worthwhile targets are within 20 miles of the ocean.  The mere fact that some targets may be out of range is not a reason to pass on a weapon.  There are targets that are outside the range of a Tomahawk cruise missile but no one is calling for their elimination because they can’t reach a particular target.  Being able to utterly dominate a 20 mile strip along all coastlines would be a staggeringly beneficial capability.

There have also been developmental efforts directed at creating longer range battleship shells.  In fact, the Navy built an entire, if abbreviated, class of warship, the Zumwalt, predicated on extended range munitions fired by 155 mm guns.  If this was sufficient justification for the Zumwalt, surely it would be sufficient for a battleship.

There is every reason to believe that sub-caliber, sabot rounds could be developed with greatly increased ranges.

Clearly, gun range is not a valid reason for not having battleships in a modern navy.

Manning – This is one of the major reasons cited for the undesirability of battleships.  However, objective analysis shows this to be a false argument.  The WWII battleship crew size was around 2700 with much of that being devoted to the manpower intensive 10x dual 5” mounts (~17 crew per mount including fire control), 20x 40 mm quad Bofors mounts (~14 crew per mount including fire control), and 49x 20 mm single mounts (~5 crew per mount).  A rough estimate puts the secondary and anti-air manning at around 695.  None of that would exist today.  Even a modern secondary armament fit of 5” guns has very low manpower requirements.  As partial evidence, the crew size of the battleships in the 1980’s was reduced to around 1800.  A modern battleship, with modern computers and electronics, modern turbines, and extensive automation could reduce crew size further to perhaps 800 or so.

As evidence, the Zumwalt has a crew of around 150 on a ship of 15,000 tons.  If scaled up, a battleship with a displacement of 57,000 tons would require a crew of just 570.  ComNavOps has severe reservations about the wisdom and suitability of the Zumwalt crew size but that is the official Navy manning level.  Further, the Zumwalt has demonstrated that we could, if we want, 100% automate the main and secondary batteries and require no gunnery crew.

The big deck amphibious ships such as the America class LHA have crews around 1000 and we cheerfully operate around 33 of those so we can clearly afford to operate a ship with a “large” crew, if we want.

Clearly, manning is not a valid reason for not having battleships in a modern navy.

Operating Cost – This is a common but completely unsupported claim.  We’ve operated 15-20+ carriers in the past.  We operated a 600 ship fleet in the Reagan era.  We currently operate carriers and big deck amphibious ships.  Our current fleet is at a several decade low.  We have more than enough budget to operate a few battleships, if we choose to. 

Operating cost just a red herring put forth by battleship critics.

Survivability – Ironically, this is one of the more common arguments against battleships even though a battleship is the most survivable ship ever built!  Opponents claim that battleships are not survivable – that modern torpedoes will easily sink them and modern anti-ship missiles will devastate them.  These same opponents then go on to ask for more carriers and Burkes and frigates whose survivability is far less.  The inconsistency in logic is stunning!

We’ve already debunked the torpedo myth.  It would take many torpedo hits to sink a battleship.

Clearly, survivability is not a valid reason for not having battleships in a modern navy.

Construction – Another common argument is that we no longer possess the industrial construction ability to build 16" guns and heavy armor.  This is true but not persuasive.  Whatever we currently lack, we'll simply create.  We had no ability to build gigantic laminated wooden panels for the Zumwalt superstructure and yet we developed the ability as part of the construction effort.  We had no ability to build large trimaran warships until the LCS and now we can.  We had no ability to build ships by superlifts and now it's routine.  History is a non-stop series of new developments that happened because we needed/wanted them.  How much easier must it be to re-develop technology that already existed?

Clearly, lost construction techniques are not a valid reason for not having battleships in a modern navy. 

Funding Competition – This is not a common argument against battleships but it is, perhaps, the most valid one.  The Navy has a fixed shipbuilding budget in any given year and choices must always be made and shipbuilding priorities set.  This is, essentially, a question of value and need.  Which ships provide the most value for the cost and which ships meet our most pressing needs? 

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine that 55 LCS offer more value than, say, four battleships.  The LCS production run would cost $27.5B or thereabouts and that’s without modules or the developmental costs.  Surely, we could build four battleships for $27.5B and get much more value.  Certainly, they would meet our needs more than a bunch of toothless LCS.  Had we not wasted $24B on the Zumwalts we could have easily built four battleships.  If we would stop building $15B Fords and revert to evolutionarily upgraded Nimitzes we could save around $8B per vessel which would easily pay for a couple of battleships for each carrier built.  And so on. 

Thus, while funding competition is potentially a valid argument, we see that it is actually not.

I’m running out of arguments against battleships and I have yet to find a compelling reason not to build them.  Shouldn’t that tell us something?

On the flip side of the coin, one of the major justifications for naval ships, in general, is ‘presence’.  Presence supposedly deters war and promotes peace.  ComNavOps believes that is bilgewater but it’s part of the Navy’s formal justification.  Well, nothing shouts ‘presence’ like a battleship!

Maybe it’s time to rethink battleships in the modern navy?

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Inefficiency of Manning

Reduced manning is the Holy Grail of the U.S. Navy for reasons that, frankly, elude me and have never made sense.  Manning, of course, really means operating costs.  Men cost money.  That’s certainly true.  The Navy presumably believes that if they can reduce manning costs they can buy more hulls which is what today’s Navy leadership believes is their reason for being.  This is a somewhat dubious argument since manning costs come from a different budget line than ship construction.  If manning were somehow, magically, reduced to zero, there would be no automatic, corresponding increase in ship construction funding.  Sure, the Navy could go to Congress and make an argument for reallocating some/all of the now-zero manning costs into ship construction and they might well get Congressional buy-in, at least to some extent.  The fact remains, though, that there is no direct link between manning and construction funding so the mindless, zealous pursuit of manning reductions makes no sense.

The fleet size is steadily decreasing so manning availability shouldn’t be a problem although I note a consistent shortfall in manned billets throughout the fleet for the last several years.  I attribute that to poor manpower utilization rather than a lack of manpower.

All of this is interesting but is not the point of the post.  The point of the post is that manning for a warship is not a very efficient operation.  A warship is built for – that’s right – war.  In war, we need extra manning over and above that needed to simply sail the ship.  We need extra manning to conduct damage control, replace casualties during battle, and man battle stations that are not normally manned during non-combat situations.  Carrying these extra men is, inherently, an inefficient process since they are only needed on those rare occasions that a ship is in combat.  However, when that moment comes, those extra men are vital and may well make the difference between a sunk a ship and one that lives to fight again.  They may also be the difference between a ship that can continue to fight hurt and one that quits at the first hit.

Consider the LCS, the poster child for reduced manning.  The Navy’s official position is the ship cannot and will not fight hurt.  At the first significant hit, the crew will abandon ship.  Why?  Well, setting aside the lack of survivability in the class, there simply aren’t enough crew to conduct effective damage control, replace casualties, and, simultaneously, continue to fight.  Thus, the only option is to abandon ship.  The Zumwalt is the same – a 600 ft long, 15,000 ton ship that will have to be abandoned at the first hit due to insufficient manning.

Well, maybe we can get by with reduced manning during peace time and increase manning during war.  Setting aside the inability to simply “bump up” manning in a modern, high tech ship that requires years of training to master the various jobs, there’s the fact that combat is always just a moment away, even during peace. 

In fact, combat isn’t even necessary to expose the dangers of minimal manning.  For example, the Port Royal ran aground, in part, because the lookouts that should have spotted the danger were serving food in the galley due to manning shortages.  The Cole suffered a terrorist attack and massive explosion while in port, during peace time.  The two recent Burke collisions had inadequate lookouts due to manpower shortages.

Manning a warship is a very inefficient operation but an absolutely vital one to ensure its ability to carry out the function it exists for.  Manning is very inefficient but also very effective.  A warship is not a business case and only idiots, such as Navy leadership, would attempt to design and operate one as such.

As a reminder, we once had a 600 ship fleet and managed to man it and yet, somehow, we can not afford to man a 280 ship fleet today?  I trust you can see the logical inconsistency there and I don’t have to belabor it?

Consider the Samuel B Roberts (mine), Stark (Exocet), Enterprise (fire, bombs), Cole (bomb), and Forrestal (fire, bombs) – each was severely damaged and all survived.  The number one attribute that saved each of them was manning – manning well over and above that required to simply sail the ship during peacetime.  Damage control is, essentially, a manpower exercise and the more men you have, the better the ship’s chance of survival.

The Navy currently has around 325,000 active duty officers and enlisted personnel plus another 210,000 civilian employees.  The fleet needs around 140,000 personnel to man the ships (280 ships at 500 crew per ship, as a wild estimate).  Thus, the ship manning level is only around 43% of the total active duty personnel and 26% of the active duty plus civilian.  So, even if every ship in the fleet could, magically, reduce its manning by, say, 20%, the manpower reduction would only be 28,000 which is only 9% on the active duty personnel and 5% of the total active duty plus civilian workforce.  Thus, the savings would only be 5-9% - and for that, Navy leadership wants to hazard every ship by severely negatively impacting damage control and combat?

Manning warships is inherently an inefficient endeavor but combat, itself, is a poor business model and the manning of warships does not lend itself to good business case studies.  The Navy’s attempts to run the service like a business are misguided and idiotic and the pursuit of reduced manning is leading the way down the path of stupid.  We need to reverse this course and start manning warships for combat, not business.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Disaggregated MEU

There’s an article on the USNI News website trumpeting the flexibility and capability of the Navy/Marine Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).  The article notes that the three ships of the ARG were widely distributed, as shown below.

  • Iwo Jima (LHD-7) – Persian Gulf

  • USS Oak Hill (LSD-51) – Baltic Sea

  • USS New York (LPD-21) – Mediterranean Sea

Take a look at the map below and find those three locations.  That’s thousands of miles separation.  The Baltic Sea is some 3000 miles sailing distance from the center of the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf is another 2500-3000 miles assuming the Suez Canal were available – not a sure thing in the event of a conflict.  So, depending on where the ARG/MEU needed to congregate, it would require one to two weeks or more of sailing to reform the MEU.  Consider that a disaggregated ARG ship that is, say, 3000 nm away from its needed location would require over 6 days sailing at 20 kts to reach the desired location.


The point of a MEU is to present a credible, ready, on-site, amphibious force in high threat areas.  It is not to split off into operationally non-functional units and go on world tours.

One of the official MEU characteristics is

“Rapid response: within 6 hours of notification”. (1) 

While simply waking up within six hours is, technically, responding, I’m quite sure that’s not what is meant.  I’m sure the six hour response is supposed to be to begin taking action.  Again, while beginning to set sail so that they can aggregate several days later is a response, it’s a pretty ineffectual response.  Thus, disaggregation negates one of the central characteristics of the MEU.

What else does Marine policy state?

“An ARG/MEU is best employed as designed—as a single entity.” (1)

An ARG/MEU spread over several thousand miles and with a continent’s separation is not a single entity nor can it aggregate in any useful time frame.

Further, the MEU is considered the smallest Marine unit capable of independent operations but only as a complete unit.  Disaggregation eliminates the MEU as a combat capable unit.

The big problem with this policy of disaggregation is that in a time of crisis the temptation will be to commit the disaggregated MEU piecemeal instead of waiting several days for the group to assemble its full combat power.  A third of a MEU is of little use and would likely become a liability.

As the Marine MEU summary dryly notes,

“Although ARG/MEUs are highly capable and flexible organizations, there are some limitations on key enablers that constrain tactics and employment options if required to operate in a split or disaggregated manner.” (1) [emphasis added]

What this is really saying is that a disaggregated MEU can’t perform any task more stressing than taking on a rogue Boy Scout troop.

So what was accomplished, in this case, by breaking up the ARG/MEU to the point of ineffectiveness?  Well, one third of the MEU got to practice amphibious operations with the Romanians.(2)  Seriously, does anyone believe we’ll ever conduct an amphibious assault with Romania?  And, even if we did, what are the odds that the handful of personnel that participated in the exercise with Romania would be around to conduct the assault?  The Romanians used rubber boats, for crying out loud!  That’s not how we do assaults so why are we practicing for that?  What a waste of time and resources! 

The Marines seem to recognize the dangers and limitations inherent in disaggregated operations and yet persist in doing so.  Why?  The benefits are miniscule, at best.

We run the risk of committing MEU fractions piecemeal – a recipe for disaster.

Finally, I have to ask, if we’re going to disaggregate the ARG/MEUs, then why have them?  If it takes a week or two to consolidate before they can take action, can’t we just leave them home and ship them out when needed?  The time frame would be the same. 

Further, if it takes a week or two to bring an ARG/MEU to bear, why don’t we just use Army/Air Force units which can deploy anywhere in the world in less time.

Honestly, disaggregated MEUs are a great argument for disbanding the Marine Corps.  Marine leadership appears not to recognize this.

Marine Corps leadership needs to get their heads out of their butts, drop this disaggregation nonsense, and start preparing and training for their real job which, in my opinion, should be port seizure.


(2)USNI News website, “USS Oak Hill BALTOPS Participation Highlights Pentagon Push for Unexpected Deployments”, Megan Eckstein, 18-Jun-2018,

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

War Short of War

How long has ComNavOps flatly stated that we are at war with China (and losing)?  How long has ComNavOps advocated a much more robust, confrontational response to Russia, China, Iran, and NKorea (see, "Island Showdown")?  How many times has ComNavOps stated that our policy of appeasement is only encouraging further aggression? 

Well, it appears that the military is beginning to come to the same realizations, if far later than they should have.  Breaking Defense reports on the conclusions of a high level military meeting that took place in April at Quantico. (1)

China and Russia are outmaneuvering the US, using aggressive actions that fall short of war, a group of generals and admirals have concluded. To counter them, the US needs new ways to use its military without shooting, concludes a newly released report on the Quantico conclave. The US military will need new legal authorities and new concepts of operation for all domains — land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace.” (1)

One of the problems is that the US military, and government in general, do not recognize the kind of actions being undertaken by our enemies as war.

“Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, has publicly warned that our adversaries don’t abide by our doctrine, with its clear distinction between war and peace and its tidy phases of escalation. The American military operates in phases, with Phase 0 being peace (officially, “shaping” the environment) and so on. Traditionally, actions other than war are just that to the US and do not merit a military response, let alone a kinetic one.” (1)

““We’re stuck,” Freier [Nate Freier, a researcher at the Army War College] told me [Freedberg]. “We are still institutionally and culturally stuck in this five-phase model of operations. Our adversaries certainly aren’t.” (1) [emphasis added]

For example, using intimidation, harassment, and just plain ignoring international laws and treaties, China has accomplished a de facto annexation of the entire South and East China Seas, and done so masterfully, while the US simply stood by and watched, unable to recognize the “battle” that was occurring or do anything about it.

We need to recognize that we ARE at war whether we want to be or not.  That we’re at war is no longer even a question.  The only remaining question is how to respond.

Freier describes this kind of non-kinetic war as a sine wave of competition. 

“As tensions go up and down, you always have two goals in mind. “You’re trying to impose costs on the opponent and, at the same time, offer off-ramps to the opponent for de–escalation.”

Freier makes two good points: first, is that we must constantly be imposing costs on our enemies and, second, that we must offer face saving escape outlets for our enemies so that they don’t feel backed into a corner.

Thus far, our competitive responses have been rigid and limited because we have no official response policy for this type of war.  For example, Freedom of Navigation exercises are a laughable joke that has had absolutely no effect on China’s annexation of the East/South China Seas but we don’t really have any other options or, at least, none that we’re willing to use. 

We need to apply some creativity and come up with additional, more effective responses.  The corollary to this is that the responses must hurt our enemies, in some fashion, and that the responses WILL increase tensions (the rise portion of the competitive sine wave).  We need to recognize and accept the increase in tensions – the escalation – and understand that it is not us who are escalating but our enemies whose actions have forced our actions.  The policeman who shoots a bank robber with hostages didn’t escalate the situation, the bank robber did when he robbed a bank and took hostages.  The U.S. has not yet come to grips with this.  Everything we do is run through the filter of NOT escalating which is another name for appeasement and appeasement has a 100% failure record in history.

Freier offers this further insight,

Every ship that sails, every advisor that goes abroad to train allies, every unit that participates in exercises, needs to be part of a larger plan to demonstrate US resolve and capability, Freier said.”

He’s absolutely right and this is the Chinese way of war – the entire country and all its activities are focused on national goals.  War isn’t just the purview of the military, it’s the responsibility of every aspect of our government, private sector, and culture.  War is fought with every tool, not just the military.

Freier continues,

“The ultimate goal isn’t just to respond to what the Chinese and Russians are doing in the grey zone, he told me. It’s to force them to respond to what we’re doing in the grey.”

He could not be more right.  The U.S. needs to retake the lead in managing world affairs including managing the war with our enemies that is currently ongoing.

He concludes,

“The United States has to become less rigid in its view of military operations.”

Unfortunately, while Freier sums up the problem quite astutely, he offers no concrete solutions.

The key aspect to this entire discussion is that we must first accept the sine wave of competition and that tensions will escalate.  What did you expect?  It’s a war, after all.

Once we accept and embrace the escalation and increase in tensions we can begin to formulate effective responses that ALLOW for escalation and heightened tensions.  If our enemies aren’t comfortable with increased tensions then they can dial back their actions.  The responsibility for increased tensions is not all on us.  The responsibility for the increased tensions at the bank is not the police, IT’S THE BANK ROBBER!

We need to make Iran and Russia pay a price for harassing our units.  When a Russian jet makes a pass too close to our ship, let’s “accidentally” eject a chaff cloud or decoy in their flight path.  When Iran sends a drone too close to our carriers let’s just shoot it down and then plead ignorance – that’s the beauty of UAVs, there’s no one to get hurt and they offer good opportunities to make a decisive statement.

We need to build our own artificial island base in the South China SeaChina has set the precedent so let’s follow it and make them respond to us.

We need to flood the South China Sea with ships and let’s be aggressive with them.  Here’s your presence mission.  This is what China has done.  Let’s make it physically difficult for them to build or resupply an island base.  A few dents in the hull are well worth it.

Let’s start isolating and herding Iranian small boats that harass our ships.  Let’s physically cut them off from retreat, surround them, board them, seize everything not welded down, and make it clear that the days of running around like irresponsible children are over.  We have high speed riverine patrol boats (you know, the ones that Iran seized) so let’s start using them productively.

Let’s start using our electronic warfare capabilities to make life difficult for enemy ships, boats, and aircraft.  Let’s jam communications, lock on fire control radars, initiate electronic counter measures, etc.  It’s not like we’ll be giving away any secrets by using the equipment.  Russia and China probably have all our specs, already.

Let’s make sure that any Russian or Chinese intercepts of our high value aircraft are met with our own fighters and let’s fly aggressively.  Let’s also disrupt their version of GPS (GLONASS or whatever they use) and see if their pilots can find their way home.  We should be sending Growler EW aircraft along with high value aircraft as escorts and let’s turn them loose to disrupt Russian intercepts.  Let’s send the message that there are no free intercepts anymore.

Let’s build a base a mile from the Chinese base in Africa.

I can go on with an endless list.  The point is that there are a lot of actions we can take short of direct combat if we just develop the will and courage to do so.  We also need to pursue all available economic, diplomatic, academic, and other measures to impose costs and pain but those discussions are outside the scope of this blog.


(1)Breaking Defense, “Russia, China Are Outmaneuvering US: Generals Recommend New Authorities, Doctrine”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 15-Jun-2018,

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Battle Damage Design Lessons

I’d like to look critically at the recent Burke collisions and damage as they relate to warship design.  Because sailors died, I hesitated and thought long and hard about whether to do this or not as it might seem to some as being critical or disrespectful of the dead.  In the end, however, the lessons that can be learned outweigh any sensitivities and I would hope the dead would want us to learn from what happened.

ComNavOps has consistently preached that the Navy has forgotten what war is and how to design a ship for war.  In addition to weapons, sensors, armor, and the like, the Navy has forgotten how to build a ship that can sustain damage and has a maximal chance of recovery for the ship and the crew.  The recent McCain and Fitzgerald collision reports (Nov 2017 Memorandum and Enclosures – ref (1)) offer graphic evidence of this design deficiency and lessons that ought to be learned.  Specifically, let’s look at the problem of debris after the collisions.  Consider these statements from the report.

“Racks and lockers detached from the walls and were thrown about, leaving jagged metal throughout the space. Cables and debris hung from the ceiling.” (p. 53)

“Debris, including mattresses, furniture, an exercise bicycle, and wall lockers, floated into the aisles between racks in Berthing 2, impeding Sailors’ ability to get down from their racks and their ability to exit the space.” (p. 14)

“One Sailor reported that FC1 Rehm pushed him out from under a falling locker.” (p. 15)

“Exiting from the head during this flood of water was difficult and required climbing over debris.” (p. 15)

“Lockers were floating past him and he scrambled across them towards the main berthing area. At one point he was pinned between the lockers and the ceiling of Berthing 2, …” (p. 15)

“Even after the door was open, there was a large amount of debris and furniture against the door, preventing anyone from entering or exiting easily.” (p. 18)

“The passageway leading to the ladder-well was blocked by debris, wires and other wreckage hanging from the overhead.” (p. 52)

“Sailors had to climb over lockers and other debris to escape, … “ (p. 53)

“…a number of lockers that became dislodged during the collision.” (p. 54)

These statements paint a graphic picture of a nightmare maze of debris in the affected compartments.  The debris impeded escape efforts and subsequent search and rescue efforts. 

Let’s be clear …  when a ship is hit by an explosion or collides with another ship there will be debris and lots of it.  It’s unavoidable.  Structural elements such as walls, doors, overheads, cable runs, etc. will be ripped apart and torn free from their mountings.  Nothing can prevent that. 

What can be prevented is the presence of loose debris that was never secured.

What can be minimized is the presence of debris that was never strongly secured to begin with.

What can be minimized is the presence of debris that served no warfighting purpose to begin with.

Let’s take a closer look at debris that served no warfighting purpose to begin with.  This would be just what it says and would include TVs, video games, exercise bikes, couches, personal gear beyond that necessary for shipboard duty, etc.  I can already hear the sound of keyboards being furiously bashed upon as people pound out replies telling me that without some comforts, no one will volunteer to join the Navy and serve aboard ship.  We already addressed that, in depth, (see, “Crew Comfort”) but we’ll briefly review it.

First, I’m not saying that all creature comforts should be banned from ships.  I’m saying that they should be severely minimized and modified.

Second, we have to recognize that the reason we have ships and crews is to fight and we have to be ready to fight with no notice.  Stripping ship is a tradition when a ship knows that it is going to be in a fight so, if that’s a wise thing to do when combat is imminent, why should it be different just because the ship doesn’t know when it will have to fight for its life?  We’ve seen that life and death situations can arise at any moment:  the Cole attack while in port, the Port Royal grounding, the Enterprise and Forrestal conflagrations, mine strikes, the missile attacks on the Burke destroyers off Yemen, and the recent collisions and groundings.  Today, there is no such thing as peace and safety at sea.

Third, we should ask why we feel we need creature comforts?  The answer is obvious – we need them because we send ships and crews on deployments that are far too long.  I’ve already addressed this and recommended that we abandon deployments in favor of missions (see, “Deployments or Missions?”).  Failing this, we need to reduce deployments to 2-4 months.  The problem is that we’ve done the exact opposite and gradually increased deployments to 8-12 months.  We need to regain some deployment rationality.  If we do that, we can live without as many comforts for reasonably short periods.

Let’s consider debris that was never secured or not strongly secured to begin with.  Chairs, exercise bikes, couches, mirrors, and a hundred other items all need to be securely fastened.  By “securely”, I mean fastened with ten times overkill.  Fastened beyond any reasonable degree because an explosion or collision is not a reasonable scenario.  Therefore, we have to prepare for the unreasonable.  If that means a little less ease of use or flexibility in placement then so be it.  That’s the price of survival.

Here’s a few more specific recommendations related to crew comforts and survivability:

  • Lockers, furniture, etc. should not float; they should be designed to sink.  It’s easier to scramble over something on the deck than try to fight past something floating right in your way.
  • Locker size should be minimized.  This ties in to minimizing unnecessary personal items.
  • Nothing should be unsecured (exercise bikes, TVs, consoles, tables, etc.)
  • Everything should be secured far more than is deemed necessary or reasonable.
  • Lightly secured items should be as far inboard and as far from exits as possible
  • Thought should be given to making lockers and berths out of rigid plastics instead of sheet metal which, when ripped and distorted, presents edges as sharp and lethal as knife blades.  This has to be tempered by the fact that most plastics give off toxic fumes when burned.  This is a recommendation that needs study and may or may not be desirable.
  • Thought should be given to making large items such as lockers pre-designed to fail and separate into small sections.  Thus, rather than tear an entire locker loose and present a major obstacle, smaller, breakaway sections can be produced while the larger potions remain secured as they originally were.  Alternatively, but along the same line of thought, lockers can be designed as small, modular components which can separate independently from their mounts, hopefully leaving more of the overall item secured.  Worse case, the smaller sections would be easier to move out of the way for escape and rescue.

Here’s an interesting though unrelated item.

“FITZGERALD also used three onboard pumps to remove water from the ship. Two of the pumps functioned as designed and a third seized and was inoperable for the duration of the recovery efforts.” (p. 11)

Clearly, the inspection and verification of operation procedures for these items was deficient.  Instead of spending time sitting through another gender sensitivity meeting or filling out another sexual harassment survey, maybe we should be spending our time inspecting and operating vital equipment?

We have forgotten what war is and hand-in-hand with that we’ve forgotten how to design ships for combat and damage.  Let’s not waste the lessons from McCain and Fitzgerald.  They cost us too much to ignore them.


(1)Department of the Navy,  Memorandum for Distribution, Enclosure (1) Report on the Collision between USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) and Motor Vessel ACX CRYSTAL, Enclosure (2) Report on the Collision between USS JOHN S MCCAIN (DDG 56) and Motor Vessel ALNIC MC, Nov 2017

Thursday, June 14, 2018

F-35 Distributed Aperture System Replaced

One of the key capabilities of the F-35, arguably, the most important capability was supposed to have been the AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System (DAS) which, in theory, allows the aircraft to integrate six electro-optical sensors to provide a synthetic, 360 degree view around the aircraft by supplying imagery for the pilot through the magic helmet.  Specific functions include,

  • Missile detection and tracking
  • Launch point detection
  • Situational awareness IRST & cueing
  • Weapons support
  • Day/night navigation
Development, however, has been beset by problems with reliability, helmet performance, image integration and latency, etc.  Director, Operational Testing and Evaluation (DOT&E) has consistently panned the technology and the helmet has undergone complete redesign.  The point of this post is not to look at the specifics and flaws of the DAS but to note the sudden and unexpected announcement by Lockheed that they are switching DAS system supply from Northrop Grumman to Raytheon, as reported by Breaking Defense website. (1)

The Raytheon DAS will be substituted into production in the 2023 Lot 15 run, five years from now.

In its announcement, Lockheed claimed that the Raytheon DAS “will provide five times the reliability of Northrop’s product.”

“…Lockheed’s director of F-35 international business development, Steve Over, told Aviation Week: “We’ve found a supplier that can produce a better DAS system at a significantly lower price that has significantly better performance.” (1)

Lockheed is claiming astounding cost reductions.

“Lockheed projects that the new Raytheon DAS will cost $3 billion less than Northrop’s over the lifetime of the program, with an estimated 45 percent reduction in the price per unit  and a 50 percent cut to sustainment costs.” (3)

This is a highly unusual move, to switch suppliers of the major aircraft sensor at this stage and it raises a lot of questions.

  1. What about the hundreds of aircraft already manufactured?  If the Northrop DAS is so costly, so poor performing, and so unreliable, will the existing aircraft have to have their DAS replaced?

  1. If the existing DAS is so bad, doesn’t that mean we’ve been lied to because we’ve been told all along that the DAS is technology so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic.

  1. Didn’t the Marines and Air Force declare Initial Operational Capability (IOC) which means the aircraft are combat ready? (2)  How is the F-35 DAS combat ready if the reliability and performance are so bad as to need replacing? 

  1. “Five times the reliability”?  Just how bad is the reliability of the existing DAS?  It must be absolutely terrible!

  1. If Raytheon could develop a better, cheaper DAS without any government development contract (that I’m aware of) and in its spare time, this must not be very sophisticated software and hardware.  Doesn’t that suggest that every aircraft in the world, including Russian and Chinese, could have a DAS if they want it?  Doesn’t this also suggest that we’re giving out too many development contracts and that we should let manufacturers develop products on their own dime and time?

  1. This suggests that the real driving force behind this is the program sustainment costs.  There have been rumblings that Congress has balked at the sustainment costs and have hinted that significant production cuts could occur.  This appears to be a desperate attempt to stave off cuts. 

  1. The magnitude of the unit cost reduction and the sustainment cost reduction lead one to wonder if the cost cuts are being achieved by cutting quality, performance, and capabilities despite Lockheed’s claims of significant improvements in all areas.  If not, then the only other conclusion is that Northrop was engaged in price gouging.

  1. Lockheed assured us originally that the DAS was a piece of near-magical equipment.  That turned out to be a lie inaccurate.  Why would we believe these new, even more miraculous claims?

  1. If it’s going to take five years to get this kind of improvement into production, does this suggest that Raytheon doesn’t actually have a production-ready DAS product?  That they’re going to need five years to develop a production-ready product?  That five years down the road we’ll find out that the claims of miraculous improvements in cost, reliability, and performance were all just PowerPoint claims and can’t actually be achieved?

No answers, just lots of questions!


(1)Breaking Defense website, “‘Major Upset’ As Lockheed Ditches Northrop For F-35 DAS SensorColin Clark, 13-June-2018,

(2)US Dept of Defense, “Air Force Declares F-35A Lightning II ‘Combat Ready’”, 3-Aug-2016,

(3)Defense News, “Raytheon snags F-35 system business previously held by Northrop”, Valerie Insinna, 13-Jun-2018,