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.


  1. Is there any particular reason to suppose that the next war (if there is one) will be fought in the same way as the last war?

    1. Well that is a very good, key question. There's the old saying that Generals are always preparing to fight the last war. That's a tendency that has to be carefully guarded against. On the other hand, there is also the tendency to ignore the lessons of the last war which is what we're very guilty of today.

      There are certain constants of war such as the fog of war. Included in this category is the episodic nature of naval warfare. Added to that is the fact that a Chinese war will be fought in the exact same region and, therefore, geography as WWII so there is every reason to believe that many of the broad aspects of WWII will not still apply.

      Certainly, there have been technological changes which alter aspects of modern war such as weapon guidance, vastly increased weapon ranges, and the like. But, as it relates to the conclusions in the post, I'm pretty confident that they will apply.

      Do you have a specific aspect that you feel may not apply?

    2. No, I'm just curious as to your reasoning. For example you dismiss 'sea control' concept since you believe ships will not deploy for long periods, but just for missions.

      The only rationale you give is that this is how it was done in the last war. But that doesn't seem to be a compelling logic to me, as it discounts the possibility that the next war, if any, will be fought differently from the last war.

    3. My reasoning is based on understanding the capabilities of ships and then applying/projecting those capabilities to war.

      For example, understanding that a ship has a limited magazine strongly implies that it will execute a single mission and then return to base to refill its magazines.

      For example, understanding that a ship has a very limited capacity for repair strongly implies that a ship will execute a single mission and then return to base for maintenance and repairs (more so today with minimal manning and reduced repair/maintenance capabilities on board).

      For example, understanding that ships that cost multi-billions of dollars represent a huge risk and will, therefore, be hazarded for specific missions rather than floating around endlessly waiting for some enemy sub to stumble across them and sink them for little or no gain.

      And so on.

      When one carefully and thoughtfully studies the characteristics of ships and the characteristics of combat, it quickly becomes obvious how any prudent naval commander would use his ships and how he wouldn't use them.

    4. Ah, so you are arguing that there will not be long deployments in war because ships aren't capable of it? Fair enough.

    5. Naval missions haven't really changed since WW2. Basically, they break down into:

      -actions against the enemy fleet (including port strikes)

      -amphib actions or actions in support of land forces such as shore bombardment and preventing enemy amphib actions.

      -merchant marine protection

      -anti-merchant marine actions

      And the first mission type is basically a proactive means of accomplishing the others. If you neutralize the enemy's means of threatening your merchant marine, you've won that battle.

      "Sea control" basically means denying the use of a sea area to the enemy and really means denying it's use for shipping.

      Fighting the enemy on the high seas is the least efficient way to apply naval force. For example, if you mine their harbor or destroy their port facilities, it doesn't really matter if they can sail merchant ships as they can't unload them at port.

  2. "the first, frantic year of WWII" - 1942.
    I thought that only Hollywood re-wrote history.

    1. You're being snarky about something but I don't know what?

    2. Few people remember that the Philippines surrendered on May 8th, 1941, the same date as the Battle of the Coral Sea.

      Midway - June 3 - 7th
      Guadalcanal - August 7th - December

      So yeah, it was a busy year. And even the Guadalcanal naval campaign would back ComNavOps point as the major fleet units (DD and up) were based in Espiritu Santo and New Caledonia. They sortied to the sea area around Guadalcanal, but did not remain there. Hence the Marines complaints about the navy being AWOL in the fight.

    3. I believe Wainwright surrendered on May 6th and the last organized group outside of Luzon surrendered on May 8th. So yeah, May 6th is a more accurate date.

      But the point stands that the first half of 1942 was extremely hectic for American military planners and forces.

  3. I think the day of the world war 2 naval engagement as depicted are over. It overlooks satellite, sensors, ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons. The only possible peer to peer conflict will involve China, USA. By the very nature of the combatants, the war will be limited to prevent escalation to a Nuclear confrontation.

    I therefore see economic measures and the power to enforce them rather than a ww2 shooting war as a likely outcome. The navy is about controlling the supply of raw materials and trade, not about large naval battles.


    1. You may well be right about the more limited nature of a future peer war (I don't think so - China seems bent on a large scale war and utterly eliminating the US as a peer power). Certainly, some of the alternate measures will be attempted before the shooting starts.

      I think the very nature of the Chinese psyche ensures an eventual shooting war with the US. The Chinese simply can't, in their minds, allow a powerful US to exist because, again in their minds, a powerful US (or any powerful country) will, eventually, attempt to conquer China. China has been invaded so many times that it's been pounded into their psyche. It's conquer or be conquered.

      Regardless, the hope (or, in your case, belief) that a shooting war won't happen is not a reason to not prepare for a shooting war. The job of the military is to prepare for such a was in the even that all else fails. That is what we discuss on this blog. There are other blogs where one can discuss geopolitics, financial competition, etc. This one considers the combat aspects.

      All that said,

      "I think the day of the world war 2 naval engagement as depicted are over. It overlooks satellite, sensors, ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons."

      So what impact do satellite, sensors, ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons have on warfare that leads you to believe that WWII style naval engagements won't happen again in a war? You've made a statement, now support it with data, facts, historical examples, or logic, as I do in my posts.

    2. One thing people seem to not grasp is often the cultural aspect that colors a societies view of the world and the way they think.

      Western society has the benefit of the Jewish and christian idea of morality leading power. However most of the world never because christian. Doesn't mean its not Moral its just that the old adage of Might makes Right still applies.

      The Chinese will seek a engagement when it is in their favor. They have stated their goals numerous times. They believe they have the right to the pacific and view the other nations in the region as rightful vassal states.


      In late 2000 or so they suggested to the US we divide up the world. The US gets everything in the Atlantic, the Chinese get everything in the pacific (take a look at that thinking and compare it to the colonial powers...yea same world view.) That was before they had gotten as powerful as they are now

    3. I think strategic nuclear weapons will have the least impact on naval combat as ships are remote from large numbers of troops or civilians. The major US doctrines about using nuclear weapons were for either strategic deterrence or stopping the "uncountable hordes of Russians" with tactical weapons before they overran Europe.

      Naval forces are poor targets for nuclear weapons in terms of efficiency (overkill) and the massive disruption to sensors from their use. You don't need to nuke a CVN to cause it to abort a mission and you couldn't tell if you'd hit it for a long while after the strike.

      And I think active sensors are vastly overrated. I suspect that most forces will quickly go EMCOM since EM emissions are just a huge beacon advertising your location.

      Satellites are extremely predictable for when they will be over a specific area and are not "all seeing eyes" and I don't believe that satellite data can really be used for targeting weapons on a moving target since the target can easily change course when observed by the satellite which throws off a bearing-only launch solution.

      Finally, as we found in the 1991 Gulf War, the first thing the enemy learns to do is deceive our aerial reconnaissance.

  4. Drawing Fleet wide conclusions based solely on an examination of the operations of the Enterprise is a bit of a mistake.

    Carriers were in very high demand at the time, and there were very few in the Pacific theatre - leading to very risk averse behavior. Not losing a carrier was the prime directive.

    I imagine if one looked at the operations of say a cruiser or destroyer during the same period you might see some different trends.

    1. "Not losing a carrier was the prime directive."

      No. Expending/using the carriers wisely was the prime directive as it would be today. As evidence, here is Nimitz' order to Spruance governing his actions at Midway:

      "In carrying out the task assigned in Operation Plan 29-42 you will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of your force to attack by superior enemy forces without good prospect of inflicting, as a result of such exposure, greater damage to the enemy."

      The same principle, that of calculated risk with the prospect of inflicting greater damage on the enemy governed all naval ships, including cruisers and destroyers.

      "I imagine if one looked at the operations of say a cruiser or destroyer during the same period you might see some different trends."

      If you're going to make a statement of this nature, back it up with data. I'll save you the trouble. The operational trends for cruisers and destroyers were the same as for carriers. In some large measure, this is due to the fact that they often operated together as groups. More generally, the cruisers and destroyers operated as escorts for carriers, battleships, and amphibious ships. As such, those groups only periodically put to sea so the escorts only periodically put to sea.

      You need to do your homework before drawing conclusions.

    2. "Not losing a carrier was the prime directive."

      This is simply not true. As proven above, the prime directive was acceptance of risk when the potential for greater damage to the enemy was present. Witness the early, solo raids by Enterprise and the other carriers - high risk but high reward.

      The Enterprise had a very active operating tempo and engaged in many battles that first year. Hardly the behavior of a ship whose prime directive was avoidance of risk!

      You really need to do your homework and study naval history.

  5. Wrt to Enterprise's upgrades, it helped that the upgrades to her AA armament were increasing the number of Bofors 40mm and Oerlikon 20mm guns - there's not much cutting away and deck penetration needed. In modern terms I guess that'd be bolting CIWS and RAM onto sponsons or clear areas. Not saying you're wrong in that angle, just that we need to keep that perspective in mind - any wartime refits are probably going to relatively simple modifications (like the Singaporeans clearing out their "spaces" on their stealth FFGs to slot in more Harpoons).

    I actually do agree that the lack of ability to reload at sea isn't as much of an issue as people claim, if the ships aren't emptying their magazines in single engagements and if you can regularly return to friendly ports to reload. That said, I recall two of the USN Future Force Assessments done last year suggesting it would be useful to employ the mobile seabase ships as logistics hubs, carrying additional missiles and cranes to make like the WW2 destroyer tenders. Can't say I disagree mightily with that suggestion...

  6. One problem is going to be access to dry docks that are outside Chinese missle range. The dry docks that the USN will have the best chance of access to in a conflict are in Japan and South Korea, but they are ubder the gun in a major way. Singapore is a possible alternative, but we had better start building a tighter alliance there now. It not out of the range of all of their missiles, but only their longest range missiles will reach and they will be using mnay of those to shut down airfields.

    We have no drydocks at Guam, and the Australians have none at Perth or Darwin. I'd start thinking about stimulating that investment right now.

  7. Very nice depiction of a war reality w/WW2 as the paradigm. That world campaign quickly devolved into total war fast and as per the times only total defeat and capitulation of the enemy was the desired end state. A different world..

    IE- they were in it to all costs. You make good points about attrition and deferred upkeep/main, etc.. In other words we use it or lose it.

    However, tying WW2 and total war together as the paradigm to now curtail the Cold War strategy of Forward Presence (6 month deployments) that has kept the peace mainly since that World War, is sort of a stretch to me. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water..Think it out. BTW, I don't like Mattis's experimentation in the way it appears he is going at it for CSGs. Seems like that old USMC MEU SOCC "float" scheme to me. IMO, that approach will be more expensive than ever for our ships lifecycle and especially T&R.

    It is sometimes easy to throw away what appears to be bad because you are so familiar with it and go with other schemes. Did you ever think that as we have been downsizing and underfunding what does work for 25 years now and maybe that is what is wrong with Forward Presence in your eyes?

    "Keeping the peace", man. Forward Presence has worked and we have the history to prove it. Cause and effect.


    1. At least as regards this post, you're conflating two separate issues. One issue is deployments versus missions in peacetime - and I've already done a post on that - and the other is the conduct of naval operations during war which was the topic of the post.

      You seem to be arguing for continuing peacetime deployments which is a valid discussion but not the topic of the post. That's okay, though. Turning to the issue of peacetime deployments and forward presence, you cite, as proof, the fact that we haven't had a war - presumably, you mean a major world war because we've had plenty of smaller wars! - but that's quite likely correlation without any evidence of causation. To turn it around, there's no proof that if we hadn't had forward presence we would have had major wars. So, I've got to heartily disagree with you about forward presence. I'll leave it at that or, feel free, have the last word, if you wish.

  8. Regarding VLS reloads
    The USS Mason fired, at least, half a dozen missiles over the course of a week at sensor ghosts.
    In a real war, that could become problematic.

    Although in reality, the problem will be lack of reloads, rather than lack of reload-ability.

  9. Actually both are problems. As currently designed, the VLS cells can only be reloaded in port. I'm not sure even tying up next to an AFSB would provide a stable enough platform to reload the cells. The Navy experimented with an apparatus that could do at sea reloads, but it had to be transferred to the ship and rigged before the missile tranfers could proceed. It seems to me this apparatus, which didn't take much space, should be designed into the VLS system. It was a fixed arm rather than a crane, and so solved the issue of the cannisters swinging from the old built in crane during reloads. Again, a change we should be making now. I see no reason it couldn't be added to all of our existing ships, unless it was weight prohibitive. Even then, I'd opt for losing some cells to add a capacity for at sea reloading.

    1. "reloads, ... should be designed into the VLS system."

      I assume you read the post. The post clearly demonstrates that reloads will never be an issue because ships don't stay at sea long enough in a war for it to be an issue. Despite this, you still want an at-sea reload capability. Why?

    2. @Haz: The Ticos and Flight I Burkes DID have a Reload At Sea crane installed in the foredeck and aftdeck VLS; the crane takes up 3 VLS cells of space and could be used to load missiles into empty cells (this is why the Ticos have on ly 122 cells and the Flight Is 90 cells). The RAS crane went away on the Flight IIs because the navy found that you can only really use it in calm water at speed below 5 knots: if you have to be in that sea state, you might as well return pierside to reload, with an actual pier crane instead of your folding mini crane.

    3. Norman Polmar has a comment in the August issue of Proceedings and offers the arsenal ship as the solution to the replenishment at sea issue.

      Over 20 years ago, the Navy deemed replenishment at sea as too dangerous, time consuming, and risky. A committee, which included Polmar, proposed an arsenal ship carrying 500 to 750 cells, but no fire control or missile guidance electronics. The arsenal ship would operate near cruisers and destroyers and operate with a small crew and armed with defensive weapons.

      With advances in unmanned systems, a modern arsenal ship could be man-tended and operate autonomously or by remote control while in theater. I would propose a smaller arsenal ship, maybe with a double-hull, powered by diesels with 256 cells (4 x 64 cells) and 2-4 SeaCWIS and SeaRAM for self-defense. One or two could be assigned to each carrier or surface action group with newly replenished ships cycled in as needed.

    4. The main drawback to the arsenal ship is that it puts a significant amount of the inventory in a single ship. Lose that ship and you lose a big, big chunk of your missile inventory. Best estimates place the US Standard missile inventory at around 3,000 - 5,000. An arsenal ship with 500-750 cells represents a big chunk of inventory.

      A smaller ship with 256 cells, as you suggest, reduces the risk of inventory loss but also reduces the usefulness as it represents the equivalent of only two Ticos. So, it's a trade off. Where the best balance point is, I don't know but it's certainly worth a study.

    5. There's the other issue that maybe an arsenal ship can carry 5 DDGs worth of missiles, but you don't have the same coverage as 5 DDGs, and if your arsenal ship is sunk, your 500 missiles are off the table. Meanwhile, if one of those DDGs is sunk, you've lost 100 missiles but still have another 400 missiles on 4 DDGs.

      On the other hand, you do need to pay for 5 DDGs' worth of crew, ship and electronics, so that can be a dealbreaker.

  10. ComNavOps:

    I am thinking of the 5-8 week missions. It seems to me that a task force could easily run out of a specific type of missile in that time frame, or at least face a choice between reloading and calling off part of the mission.


    You can read about the system I am referring to here:

    Because it is a fixed frame rather than a crane, it solves the problem of the missile cannister moving independently of the ship that made reloading with the old folding cranes impraticable. The system as tested had to be transferred to the ship for each reload, but it looks to me to be easy enough to fix something similar to the VLS permanently.

    My take is, if it is doable, brings added combat flexibility that costs you next to nothing in payload, why not do it? It might only come into play one mission in four, but it will be worth it.

    1. "It seems to me that a task force could easily run out of a specific type of missile in that time frame"

      No. Consider what a mission is. The vast majority of the time is spent simply transiting to or from the target area. The actual mission - combat, presumably - would only involve hours or, at most, a few days.

      Unless you're fighting every day of the transit, the missile usage is minimal. If you are fighting non-stop, every day of the transit then you'd better call off the mission because you have zero element of surprise!

      I've got a post coming on the math of all this because so many people are confused. Hang tight, you'll enjoy it!


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