Monday, July 30, 2018

War Deployments

There are a couple of common complaints about US naval capabilities that stem from the same misunderstanding about how naval combat is waged.  Consider these common complaints,

  • Ships lack the ability to reload missiles at sea.  Thus, the Burkes, with 96 VLS cells will, after a few to several battles, be out of missiles and they and the ships they’re escorting will be sitting ducks, waiting to be sunk unless we can provide at-sea reloading.

  • We lack the needed 3 or 4:1 ratio to maintain useful numbers of forward deployed ships during war.  Among other applications, this seems to arise often in people’s calculations of required escort numbers.  For example, in previous posts and comments I’ve stated that carrier groups will need around 20-30 escorts.  People immediately apply the peacetime 3 or 4:1 deployment support ratio and instantly conclude that we would need 60 to 120 escorts just to support a single carrier group and that we don’t have, and can’t afford, enough escorts to even come close to filling our needs.

The misunderstanding that leads to these erroneous conclusions lies in how naval combat is waged.  Too many people seem to think that peacetime ship deployments will continue more or less unchanged during war.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Ships will not deploy at all.  Every available ship will fight “continuously” for the duration of the war.  There will be no routine, scheduled, rotational deployments in and out of the war.

The history of naval combat is one of very brief missions and battles followed immediately by return to port for repair and replenishment.  Combat, both naval and land, is not continuous.  It ebbs and flows.  Forces gather, conduct recon, maneuver, commit to a battle, and then settle back into a “stagnant” period while they re-strategize, reorganize, repair, reassemble, replenish, and rest.  Eventually the cycle repeats itself.  This cycle is even more evident at sea than on land.

As an example, let’s take a closer look at how one ship, the USS Enterprise (CV-6), operated during the first, frantic year of WWII.  Below is a calendar of 1942 with the days blocked in red (at sea) or green (in port, mostly Pearl Harbor).  

During the year, Enterprise participated in strikes and battles at Kwajalein, Wake, Marcus Island, the Doolittle raid, Midway, Guadalcanal, Eastern Solomons, and Santa Cruz.  A very busy year, indeed, and yet note the amount of time in port - roughly equal to the time at sea.  Also, note that the longest sea periods were only around 7-8 weeks as opposed to today's peacetime deployments of several months or more!  So, in the middle of the first desperate year of the war, the Enterprise still did not put to sea and stay there for extended periods.

As seen from the calendar, Enterprise did not deploy for months on end, as so many people seem to believe a ship would, and then rotate back to the US.  Instead, as with every other ship in the fleet, she put to sea for a few weeks at a time, executed a mission (strike or battle), and returned to port to repair, refit, and replenish.  Enterprise continued this pattern for the duration of the war.

Calendar 1942

Note:  Lacking complete ship's logs, a few sea/port days had to be guesstimated but 95%+ of the days are confirmed via data from various sources.

I apologize for the fuzziness of the image but the Blogger engine has only very limited graphics capabilities.

The widely held belief that ships will deploy during wartime is incorrect.  Every ship in the fleet will fight continuously in a pattern of brief missions and battles followed by returns to port.  The pattern is generally one battle followed by an immediate return to port. 

So, what are the implications of this pattern of naval warfare?

  • Reloading VLS cells at sea is unnecessary.  Ships will not be at sea or engaged long enough to run out their collective magazines. 

  • Peacetime forward deployment ship ratios of 3:1 or 4:1 simply don’t apply during war.  If you need 20 escorts for a carrier group then you only need 20 ships to support that effort.  Deployments are a peacetime artifact.

  • Upgrades will occur continuously, in theater, as new equipment becomes available.  Enterprise underwent two fairly major upgrades in 1942 alone and did so at Pearl Harbor, thereby remaining in theatre.  Ships will not need to rotate stateside for upgrades.  This strongly suggests the need for robust forward situated repair facilities and dockyards/drydocks.

  • Maintenance will be reduced to the bare minimum for the duration of the war.  This is not a problem since the Navy tends not to do required maintenance, anyway!  It does, however, strongly suggest the need for on-board maintenance and repair capability to the greatest degree possible.  Ships need machine shops and machinists, pipefitters, welders, electricians, etc.  Shore repair facilities will be in high demand and less critical repairs will have to be done by the ship’s company.  The trend towards minimal manning is flat out wrong.

  • Ships will not be continuously at risk.  Only during the course of a mission will significant risk occur.  Thus, risk can be managed through calculated exposure based on anticipated gain.

  • Ships will not stake out a chunk of ocean and just sit there.  Instead, ships will come and go on specific missions.  This suggests that the “sea control” concept is invalid.

This post clearly demonstrates that wartime operations bear little or no similarity to peacetime operations.  Naval analysts need to keep this distinction firmly in mind while considering combat operations, fleet size and structure, and forward basing needs.  Of course, this also begs the question, why are we conducting peacetime deployments that won't be the mode of operation in a war (train like you fight, fight like you train) instead of conducting peacetime missions?

Hopefully, we now all have a better understanding of how naval warfare is conducted.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Yemen Missile Attacks

It’s coming up on two years since the series of reported attacks on US Navy ships off the coast of Yemen.  It’s worth taking a look back at the events and see what lessons can be learned.  As a reminder, here’s the timeline and description of events.  Note that the descriptions are pieced together from many reports.  As such, I’ve not included any specific references because the reports, at the time, were fragmentary, sometimes contradictory, and far from definitive.

Sunday, 9-Oct-2016

USS Mason (DDG-87), a Burke class destroyer, operating near the Bab-el-Mandeb strait off Yemen’s southern coast, in concert with the USS Ponce (AFSB-15), was reportedly targeted by two missiles fired from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. Both missiles fell short and impacted the water.

Some reports state that the missiles were detected over a 60 minute period, suggesting two separate launches of one missile each.

Initial reports indicated that Mason employed countermeasures but did not launch its own missiles.  Later reports indicated that Mason fired two SM-2 Standard missiles and one RIM-162 ESSM missile as well as deploying its Nulka decoys.

Official statements say that it is not clear whether the attacking missiles were shot down or crashed on their own.

One report indicated that one of the missiles traveled more than two dozen nautical miles before crashing into the water.  Two dozen miles would be an incredibly short distance for an anti-ship missile.  This report seems highly questionable.

Confirming the uncertainty, USNI News reported that the crew of the Mason was uncertain if the suspected cruise missile was taken out by an SM-2 or went into the water on its own. The Pentagon claimed that an investigation was ongoing.

Some reports suggested that the missiles coming from Yemen might have been intended to strike Ponce.

Wednesday, 12-Oct-2016

On Wednesday, 12 October 2016 Mason was again targeted by missiles fired from Yemeni territory while operating in the Bab el-Mandeb strait.  Mason was not hit by the two missiles, which were fired from near the city of Al Hudaydah.   While the Navy is not certain whether the first incoming missile was intercepted or it just fell into the sea, officials claim Mason successfully intercepted the second missile at a distance of about 8 miles (13 km).

Thursday, 13-Oct-2016

On Thursday, 13 October 2016, US ships attacked three radar sites in Houthi-held territory which the Navy claims had been involved in the earlier anti-ship missile attacks against U.S. ships.  Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from USS Nitze. The Pentagon assessed that all three sites were destroyed.

The areas in Yemen where the radars were located was near Ras Isa, north of Mukha and near Khoka.

Saturday, 15-Oct-2016

USS Mason was targeted in a third attack by five anti-ship cruise missiles while operating in the Red Sea north of the Bab el-Mandeb strait. Reports claim that Mason launched radar decoys, an infrared decoy, and several SM-2 Standard missiles in response, either neutralizing or intercepting four of the five incoming missiles. The Navy claims the fifth incoming missile was neutralized by a radar decoy launched from USS Nitze, after Mason alerted her to the threat.  Thus, the Mason was the only ship to have seen the claimed attack.

One report puts it this way:  one of the U.S. ships saw on radar what sailors believed to be missiles being fired on it out of Yemen at night.  Well, was it or wasn’t it attacking missiles?

Here’s a quote from CNO Richardson which indicates the general uncertainty and inability to even determine whether an attack even occurred.

“The latest is there has been recent activity today with the Mason once again. It appears to have come under attack in the Red Sea again from coastal defense cruise missiles fired from the coast of Yemen.” (1) [emphasis added]

So, according to the CNO, the Mason “appears” to have come under attack.  Put another way, no one can say for sure if an attack actually occurred.


To the best of my knowledge, no Navy report has ever been publicly issued about the purported attacks and I have not seen any results from the subsequent official investigation.

It is obvious that the Navy has no definitive idea whether any missiles were actually launched against any Navy ships.  If they were, they would likely have offered much more public proof because such attacks are potential windfalls for the Navy in terms of going to Congress and asking for money.

It is further obvious that the Navy has no evidence that any of the defensive missiles hit any attacking missiles if such even existed.  If they had, they would have plastered the news all over the media since successful combat operations would bolster recruiting efforts, justify increased budgets, “prove” the validity of Navy weapon systems, and help make a case for more ships – the thing the Navy wants more than anything else.

We see, then, that despite the most advanced suite of shipboard sensors ever constructed, despite the combined sensor systems of multiple ships, despite the use of networked naval data sharing which make up the foundation of the Third Offset Strategy, despite the oversight of satellite coverage, the Navy appears to have no credible evidence that actual attacks occurred and no credible evidence that any attacking missiles were shot down if there were actual attacks.

Regarding the question of whether the Saturday attacks were real, it is telling that there was no retaliatory attack as there was after the Sunday and Wednesday attacks.  The US Navy didn’t hesitate to respond to those attacks and yet a supposedly larger attack involving several missiles prompted no response.  The conclusion seems obvious that the Saturday “attack” did not actually occur.

This strongly suggests that the crew that reported the attack was seeing what they were conditioned to see.  It is noteworthy that despite the presence of several US ships in the immediate area as well as additional regional sensors, only one ship, the Mason, ever reported attacks and it was that ship that reported all three separate attacks.

USS Mason - Scenario Fulfillment?

Finally, if the attacks were real and the Mason actually shot down one to several attacking missiles, the Navy would, without a doubt, have showered medals on the Captain and crew.  You’ll recall that the Navy gave a medal to the crew member of the seized riverine boats who tried and failed to send a radio request for help.  If they would give a medal for a trivial, failed action they most certainly would have showered medals all around for the first successful combat action in quite some time – not only a successful combat action but hugely successful if they actually shot down four of five attacking missiles!  The conclusion is, again, obvious – there were no actual attacks.

It appears highly likely that the crew of the Mason behaved as the crew of the Vincennes did many years prior.  They saw a scenario that they “wanted” or were conditioned to see.  That the fog of war lead an overeager crew to see missiles where none existed is mildly interesting but hardly shocking.  This is nothing more than a common human tendency of scenario fulfillment demonstrated ad nauseum throughout history.  No, the more important aspect is that all of our vaunted technology utterly failed to tell us what was (or, was not) actually happening.  Despite this blatant failure of technology, we remain firmly committed to placing our entire combat welfare in the hands of technology and basing our entire military future in the hands of the Third Offset Strategy which is based entirely on sensor technology – technology that has been demonstrated repeatedly to be unreliable in application.

I know that my analysis completely contradicts the official Navy story but, lacking any documentation from the Navy, the logic is compelling and inescapable.


(1)USNI News website, “CNO Richardson: USS Mason ‘Appears to Have Come Under Attack’”, Sam LaGrone, 15-Oct-2016,

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Ship Service Life Reduction!

In our recent ship service life extension post (see, "Ship Service Life Extensions"), a comment was made suggesting that ships should be designed for longer lives and have the capability for future upgrades designed in so that the ship’s usefulness could be maintained for decades.  This inspired me to offer a post on a better approach which just happens to be the exact opposite approach, in fact.

The Navy has spent the last couple decades trying to engineer longer life into their ships and has failed miserably.

Virtually every ship class the Navy has had has been retired early, not late.  The only class that can claim some longevity is the Burkes and they are now suboptimal vessels because they lack the size and utilities to support the current desired upgrades and capabilities.

In fact, the Burkes perfectly illustrate the challenge the naval ship designer faces in trying to make a ship that can be upgraded indefinitely.  It’s simply not possible to predict future technologies and their associated requirements.  The only ‘solution’ is to over engineer the ship to a ridiculous degree, thus rendering it unaffordable.  We could have designed the original Burkes with twice the size and ten times the power and utilities to try to anticipate future needs but then we wouldn’t have been able to afford them!

Modular payloads were supposed to be the magical solution to obsolescence with upgrades being made on a regular basis because the hull no longer mattered.  Unfortunately, the hull does matter.  This approach is badly flawed.  We’ve discussed this many times and I won’t belabor it.  You can refer to archive posts for discussions on the importance of the platform (for example, see, "The Myth Of Modularity"). 

All of this suggests a logical path.  Given that challenges in future-proofing a ship are insurmountable the logical path is to not attempt it.  Quite the opposite, the logical path is to shorten, not lengthen, ship service lives.

Put another way, the goal should not be to make ships last longer by increasing costs and complexity and building in more potential capabilities and growth margins up front. The goal should be to make ships affordable enough to replace on a more frequent basis!

Let's face it, the Navy is always going to retire ships early because they don't want to spend money on maintenance and because they desperately want new hulls all the time. Disturbingly, Navy leadership believes that building new hulls is the reason the Navy exists!  That being the case, designing in longevity features is a waste of time, space, and money.

The better approach is to build smaller, vastly cheaper ships that can be replaced often enough so that the force and the technology stays fresh and current. The way to do this is to build smaller, single function, basic but solid ships.

For example, rather than build a Burke with AAW, ASW, ASuW, MCM (yes, that was attempted on several ships), VBSS (visit, board, search, seizure), shore fire support, and ballistic missile defense capabilities that costs around $3B, why not acknowledge that a ship and crew only has time to train for one major task and, for the Burkes, that is AAW?  Recognizing that, we can take a conceptual Burke and strip out the sonar, towed array, 5” gun, 5” magazine, ASW electronics, anti-ship missiles, MCM gear (if any), flight deck, hangar, helos, helo magazines, shops, fuel storage, and crew berthing, etc. and just produce a basic AAW platform that does AAW, only AAW, and nothing but AAW.  It’s a floating AAW missile barge with Aegis/AMDR sensors – likely cheaper by one to two billion dollars.

Further, we wouldn’t design and build in any excess growth margin whatsoever because when the time comes for upgrades we’ll just scrap it and build a new, up to date ship.  More cost savings!



Let’s stop kidding ourselves that ships are going to last 35-50+ years (the only exception being aircraft carriers, sometimes) and, instead, design for a 20 year life span.  That way, our ships will always be state of the art. 

Wait, you can’t design a ship for a 20 year life span!  That’s insane.  No.  No, it’s not.  In fact, it was once the standard – we’ve simply forgotten.  As documented in a recent Proceedings article, the world navies once standardized on a 20 year life span, recognizing that vessels beyond 20 years were ‘overage’. (1)

Shorter lives and cheaper, not longer lives and more expensive.


(1)United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “Would Nimitz Win A Midway Today?”, Capt. James McGrath, USN, Jun 2018, p. 23

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Real War - Welcome Aboard

ComNavOps is constantly preaching that we have forgotten what real war is.  The latest convert is the Heritage Foundation’s Dakota Wood (1).  Here’s what he just recently had to say,

“Ten years of no opponent, following the collapse of the USSR, then 17 years of COIN, CT, and stability ops has led to a force that has simply forgotten what ‘real war’ is really like and the demands it will place on the force.” (2) [emphasis added]

Welcome aboard, Mr. Wood!


(1)Dakota Wood is a retired Lt.Col., USMC, and is now a Senior Research Fellow for Defense Programs at the Heritage Foundation

(2)Breaking Defense, “Heritage To DoD: Do War Games, Experiments, Don’t Write Requirements”, Colin Clark, 24-Jul-2018,

Monday, July 23, 2018

Ship Service Life Extensions

In their latest act of delusional fantasy, the Navy is looking at arbitrarily extending the service life of ship classes.  Of course, followers of this blog are well aware that very few Navy ships even make it to their current service life endpoints before being retired.  The Los Angeles class submarines, for example, are being retired, on average, several years prior to their service life endpoints.

Here are some of the current and proposed service life endpoints as documented in a 25-Apr-2018 NAVSEA memo.

Class      Current, yrs   Proposed, yrs

CG  52-73     35             42-52
DDG 51-78     35             45
DDG 79-       40             46-50
LHD 1-8       40             46-53
LHA 6-8       40             47-49
LSD 41-52     40             45-52
LPD 17-28     40             47-53
LCS 1-26      25             32-35

How can the Navy seriously propose extending service lives when they can’t even reach the current endpoints? 

Some of these service lives are already delusional.  For example, the DDG 79 has already been arbitrarily extended from 35 to 40 years with no physical or maintenance changes that would rationalize the extension.  It was just an arbitrary extension to make things look better when devising 30 year shipbuilding and fleet size plans.  Does anyone think we’re going to take a Burke class that was designed for a 35 year life span and, without doing anything to actually improve that span, suddenly make it to 50 years just because of a memo?

There are two main reasons for premature retirement of ships.

  1. Physical abuse due to insufficient and chronically deferred maintenance.  This is self-inflicted neglect and is an ingrained aspect of the Navy’s failure to properly maintain the ships they have.

  1. Technological obsolescence.  This is the excuse trotted out whenever the Navy wants new toys but can’t otherwise justify them.  Of course, this utterly ignores the ease and cost effectiveness of upgrades.

Do you recall the Perry class?  They were standing in the way of the LCS but the Navy couldn’t come up with a good reason to retire them so they removed their weapons and then claimed that they had to be retired because they were underarmed and couldn’t be upgraded.  Of course, the Australians and others promptly went and upgraded them, putting the lie to the Navy’s claims.

Does anyone believe that when the next new ship toy comes along that the Navy wants, they’re going to stop and say, “Wait, we can’t get our new toy yet because we still have service life remaining on the current class.”?  Of course not!  They’ll early retire the current ships just as they do now.

To be fair, NAVSEA points out that in order to meet these proposed service life endpoints, the Navy must adhere to the class maintenance plans – something the Navy has never done.

The memo might just as well call for extending the service lives to 100 years, or a thousand years, because they have an equally good chance of reaching those points as reaching these delusional points.  Heck, we could project a 1000 ship fleet if we simply make the service lives infinity!

Friday, July 20, 2018

13th MEU Deployment Tidbits

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) just left for a deployment to the Western Pacific and Middle East.  There are some interesting aspects to the deployment including a detachment of F-35Bs.  Here’s some more tidbits of interest.

Essex ARG includes Essex (LHD-2), amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD-23), and dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD-47).

  • "Blackjacks" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21 (MH-60S helos)
  • Assault Craft Unit 5 (LCAC)
  • Naval Beach Group 1
  • Beachmaster Unit 1
  • Fleet Surgical Team 3
  • Tactical Air Control Squadron 11

13th MEU is commanded by Col. Chandler Nelms and consists of

  • Command Element
  • Aviation Combat Element
  • Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 (Reinforced)
  • Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211
  • Ground Combat Element
  • Battalion Landing Team 3/1 (Reinforced)
  • Logistics Combat Element
  • Combat Logistics Battalion 13.
The F-35B’s belong to VMFA-211 (Yuma Marine Corps Air Station, Ariz.) and will make up part of the 26-aircraft air combat element.  A MEU typically operates around half a dozen Harriers in addition to MV-22s and various transport and attack helos so, presumably, the F-35B’s will also number around six.

Deployment training evolutions included exercises in maritime interdiction operations, anti-piracy operations, close-air support, air assaults, reconnaissance, amphibious landings, humanitarian assistance, non-combatant evacuation, assisting the State Department. (3)  Note how many of those missions are non-combat.

One of the interesting aspects of the ARG is the apparent lack of advanced communications and data linking as compared to other surface warships.

“Olin [Capt. Gerald Olin, Amphibious Squadron 1 commander and commodore of the Essex], who’s served on warships and a carrier, said he was surprised when he came to Essex – his first amphibious ship assignment – and took command of PHIBRON 1 in November after serving as its deputy commander. “I didn’t see an air picture. I didn’t see a robust link picture,” as he did on other ships.

“We’re trying to up that game a little bit, ensure that the command-and-control piece is much more clearer for the leader controlling forces,” he said of the Essex ARG. (1)

The Marine Commandant noted the same types of issues.

“Neller [Commandant of the Marine Corps] voiced concerns about continued shortfalls in advanced joint communications technology among the Navy’s L-class inventory of amphibious ships, particularly as it enables the Marine Corps to maximize the capabilities and features of the Joint Strike Fighter. “They need to have a comparable capability with other ships,” the commandant said.

With the F-35 shipboard deployments looming ahead, “I’m not sure we’re going to optimize the capability of that airplane on the big-deck amphib because of some of the command-and-control. So we’ve got to fix that,” he added.” (1)


“The Marines’ new F-35Bs have the sensors to gather vast amounts of data and the computer smarts to “fuse” and make sense of it, experts tell us, but the Navy amphibious warships it will fly from lack the networks and computing to download and use all that intelligence. (4)

“almost none of our ships are equipped communications-wise to make full use of all of the information an F-35 can send to them in real time,” (4)

How long has the F-35 been under development and the Navy still hasn’t addressed aircraft-to-ship communications and data linking?  It’s not like this is a sudden, new problem.  The communication and datalinking issue has been highlighted for many years in DOT&E reports.

F-35 sensor fusion remains a problem.  Note the use of the phrase, “a little bit funky”.

“Shoop, VMFA-211’s commander, said the F-35B’s AN/APG-81 distributed radar “is the best one on the market, hands down,” noting among other features its multiple air-to-ground nodes to link with ground forces. Various sensors fused for situational awareness into a single display remain “a little bit funky,” he said, but pilots “get a God’s eye view.”

“It’s good right now. It’s getting better as software fusion algorithms get tweaked,” he added.”

The MEU will also deploy with a small UAV, the RQ-21 Blackjack.

“The F-35B isn’t the only new aircraft the 13th MEU will have for the first time. The air combat element will have the RQ-21 Blackjack, a small, tactical Group 3 unmanned aerial vehicle from a detachment from Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, based at Yuma.

“There are some naysayers about the RQ-21 deploying with the MEU, because it does have a fairly limited radius as a platform,” Nelms said. “It’s got an incredible amount of time on station, but it’s only get a fairly limited amount of combat radius for us because it’s a line-of-sight controlled platform.”

The UAV has a “range” of 50 kilometers, or 31 miles, according to Naval Air Systems Command. (Boeing, whose subsidiary Insitu, Inc., developed the RQ-21, advertises a “line-of-sight range” of 55 nautical miles, or 63 miles.)” (1)

Blackjack UAV

These kind of UAVs are a niche capability but, under the right circumstances, can be quite useful.  Whether they’re worth the space onboard ship is an open question especially since the ARG/MEU has plenty of full size helos with much greater range.

13th MEU will also bring along M1 Abrams tanks – something that is becoming less and less common.

“Along with a full company of 19 light-armored vehicles, more than it took on its prior MEU deployment, it will have a platoon of [four] M1A2 Abrahms main battle tanks.” (1)

The Marine’s focus on non-combat capabilities shows with the 13th MEU deploying with a Female Engagement Team (2) which is, according to the Marines, a small group of women as advisers and liaisons uniquely poised to cut through cultural sensitivities surrounding gender.  What a bunch of bilgewater!  If you need a Female Engagement Team then you’re not engaged in combat and you don’t need the Marines.  The Marines are meant to fight, not talk.  We have plenty of other organizations that can talk about feelings and sensitivities.

Female Engagement Team - Seriously?

The 13th MEU’s deployment is demonstrating the changes the Corps and the MEU’s are undergoing as they transition from powerful, feared, credible amphibious combat units to non-combat, light infantry, crisis response groups whose focus is steadily moving away from combat and towards humanitarian missions.  Peer level combat seems to be a fading priority.


(1)USNI News website, “Challenges Ahead as 13th MEU, Essex ARG Prep for First West Coast F-35 Deployment”, Gidget Fuentes, 12-Feb-2018,

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Dynamic Force Employment

ComNavOps has argued for the abandonment of the traditional naval deployment model in favor of a mission based model (see, "Deployments or Missions?").  The result of a mission based model is that readiness, in all its manifold expressions, increases dramatically.  It appears that SecDef Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dunford have begun implementing a naval activity model that lies somewhere between deployments and missions.  By way of example, the Truman carrier group is returning home after just a three month deployment instead of the more common 8-12 months. 

“In a statement, new Fleet Forces Command head Adm. Christopher Grady said the order for Truman to return to home port was a “direct reflection of the dynamic force employment concept, and the inherent maneuverability and flexibility of the U.S. Navy.” (1)

Cutting a deployment short does indicate flexibility, to an extent, I guess.  I’m not sure how it demonstrates maneuverability nor am I sure what maneuverability even means in this context.  It sounds like a meaningless buzz-phrase.

Mattis’ hybrid activity model, which he refers to as ‘dynamic force employment’ (DFE – another buzz-phrase), is intended to make naval forces “more agile and less predictable” (1).  Again, I’m not sure how a shorter deployment make the Navy more agile or what that even means.  The returning Truman group will enter a surge-ready sustainment phase, whatever that means.

“… all returning units are 100 percent mission-capable and will remain in the sustainment phase of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, which means they will sustain war-fighting readiness and be ready to surge forward or redeploy when called upon.”

In Navy-speak, the sustainment phase means that the ship will be held at deployment-level manning, training and general readiness so that it can surge on short notice in a crisis.”

As a reminder, the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) was an attempt by the Navy to better manage regular deployments so as to ensure proper maintenance through the course of the deployment cycle.  Unfortunately, the OFRP immediately failed upon its initial implementation.  Regardless, the OFRP is predicated on rigid adherence to planned deployment schedules.  Returning a group early from a deployment is the antithesis of the OFRP.

The DFE is a hybrid type of deployment model.  Insofar as it reduces pointless deployment time and increases home port maintenance time (if it does?) and training time (does it?), ComNavOps can buy into it.  After all, it’s not all that far removed from a pure mission based activity model which is what I’ve advocated.

The DFE does, however, lead to the question, why deploy at all?  An actual, short deployment is a whole lot of pointless sailing, not much meaningful activity, a lot of operating cost, and a near suspension of training in favor of routine ‘operations’.  It would make far more sense to stay home, save money, forego pointless sailing, and concentrate on meaningful training and maintenance – in other words, a mission based activity model.

The cynical among you, myself included, might wonder if this DFE is just a thinly disguised way to reduce operating costs?  After all, it’s always about the money, right?

On a practical note, deployments that end unexpectedly (if the end was actually a surprise to the crews?) must create problems for the crews and their families due to the uncertainty.  Yes, there would be a great deal of happiness at the unexpected good news but also a great deal of confusion and disruption of carefully laid plans.

All in all, I’m cautiously in favor of this DFE pending additional evidence of the detailed workings and scope.  Was this a one time cost savings measure, not to be repeated?  Will the group simply be ‘parked’ to save money and not actually use the time to train, maintain, and improve readiness?  The answer to these kinds of questions will determine whether I’m in favor of this over the long haul.  So, this may be a step in the right direction but the better approach is no deployments and implementation of a purely mission based model.


(1)Defense News website, “Jim Mattis’ ‘dynamic force employment’ concept just got real for the US Navy”, David B. Larter, 17-Jul-2018,

Monday, July 16, 2018

Ship Stealth and Visby

Naval warship stealth is one of the most difficult things to find any data on.  The best information in the public domain consists of nothing more than vague statements like, “smaller radar cross section than a fishing boat”.

Ship stealth consists of more than just radar signature.  Stealth encompasses various aspects, including:

  • Radar
  • Infrared
  • Magnetic
  • Acoustic
  • Wake
  • Visible Light
  • Electromagnetic
One of the few vessels that claims to be stealthy and has even a bit of descriptive information is the Saab/Kockums Visby class corvette.

The Visby class corvette is claimed to be the first vessel in the world to have fully developed stealth technology.

“The outstanding stealth properties fundamentally change the ship's survivability and improve its mission effectiveness.” (1)

“Flat surfaces and concealed equipment reduce radar signature to a minimum. The hull is designed on stealth principles with large flat angled surfaces. Every feature that need not necessarily be located outside the hull has been built in or concealed under specially designed hatches.” (1)

The concealed nature of much of the ship’s equipment is a noteworthy aspect.  It has been used on other ships but seldom to the degree that the Visby does.

Naval Technology website quantifies the radar detection range of the Visby.

“A stealth corvette of the [Visby] design has a detection range of 13km in rough seas and 22km in calm sea without jamming. In a jammed environment, the Visby would be detected at a range of 8km in rough sea and 11km in calm sea.” (2)

Saab suggests that the vessels small radar cross section (RCS) is due, in part, to the material of construction.

“The vessel is built of sandwich-construction carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). The material provides high strength and rigidity, low weight, good shock resistance, low radar signature and low magnetic signature. The material dramatically reduces the structural weight (typically 50% of a conventional steel hull). This results in a higher payload carrying capability, higher speed or longer range.” (1)

The carbon fiber material has the added benefit that it conducts electricity and functions to shield radio signals from the ship. (3)

It remains to be seen how the material behaves in combat damage situations.  Does it fracture, does it produce toxic fumes when burned, does it propagate fire, can it be repaired at sea, etc.?

Visby Class Corvette

Other, seemingly minor, aspects of the ship’s radar signature have been minimized.

“Many less noticeable aspects include the coating of the bridge windows with indium tin oxide and gold which prevents radar returns from objects inside. Hatches and vents are also adapted with things such as a honey comb grid which also prevents returns, while radar absorbent materials have also been added in selected areas. The antennas are retractable into the hull as are the floodlight and fog horn, and even the navigation lights have been adapted to not stand out. They are fitted with quadruple redundant LED lights to avoid giving off a heat signature which brings us to the next point.” (3)

“The paint of the ship’s hull has also been specifically developed to reduce the IR signature.” (3)

Radar cross section is not the only stealthy aspect of the ship’s design.  The turbine exhausts have been relocated from the traditional upper superstructure location to the stern and use water injection to lower the exit temperature.

“The gas turbine exhausts have been concealed in hidden outlets close to the water surface at the stern of the vessel.” (1)

“… the exhaust is water injected which brings down the temperature to just above room temperature before the exhaust exits the hull.” (3)

One can’t help but wonder if the location of the exhausts to the stern is a wise idea.  If a missile does manage to home in on the exhaust, it will hit the stern and cause almost certain loss of propulsion and probably fatal flooding.  On the other hand, if the location combined with the water injection are sufficiently effective then a major heat source has been nearly eliminated.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any actual data regarding the thermal reduction effectiveness.

Magnetic signature has also been carefully addressed via an active, dynamically adjusted degaussing system.

“…  the ship has been fitted with an extensive degaussing equipment which renders it without a magnetic signature detectable by a mine. This is achieved by fitting degaussing coils throughout the ship which compensates for the magnetic signature of the on-board equipment. These are laid out in an X, Y and Z grid – the equipment also measures the earth’s magnetic field and compensates for this by adjusting the power to the degaussing system. The larger coils can however only manage the ship as a whole. There are specific steel objects that needs separate degaussing setups fitted. Engines, generators and gearboxes among other things.” (3)

The salient point to all of this discussion is the attention paid to every aspect of the ship’s stealth and the degree to which stealth was pursued.  The American Burke or LCS classes, by comparison, have only rudimentary stealth measures applied, mainly in the form of structural shaping (sloped sides).

Saab presents a fascinating series of photos related to warship stealth which illustrate their claims about ship stealth.

Here is a photo of a U.S. F-117 stealth fighter.  Note the flat, angular panels and lack of protuberances.

Now, here's a photo of the Visby.  Again, note the flat, angular panels and lack of protuberances.  The similarity to the F-117 is striking.

Finally, here is a photo of a U.S. LCS (Freedom class).  The Navy claims that the ship is stealthy but note the many protuberances, round domes, bits of deck equipment, exposed electrical junction boxes, antennae, etc.

Compare the number of projecting bits of equipment in the bow-on photo of the LCS versus the bow shot of the Visby.  It’s clear which one was serious about signature reduction!

Now, the key question is whether the extreme stealth measures of the Visby are worth it.  For example, if the Burke and LCS can’t be detected until the searching platform is within visual range then any further signature reduction – ala the Visby – serves no practical purpose.  Common sense would suggest that the Visby’s extra stealth measures are worthwhile but without data there is just no way to know.

The related question is what impact the Visby’s stealth measures have on the various ship’s system performances.  If the price of some extra stealth is poorer sensor performance, reduced weapon effectiveness, greater difficulty shiphandling, more mechanical problems associated with hidden doors and such, less efficient propulsion performance, etc. then these negative impacts would have to be weighed against the benefits of some incremental improvement in stealth.  Again, without data we just can’t make any judgments.

Regardless, it’s fascinating to see what a maximum, operational, stealth ship looks like and how it’s designed.


(1)Saab website,

(2)Naval Technology website,

(3)Task Force 72 website, “The Swedish Visby Class Corvette”, Craig Taylor, 18-Nov-2017,