Friday, September 28, 2018

Goodbye Poseidon and Hawkeye

It’s been reported that China is developing and has test fired a very long range, hypersonic air-to-air missile (VLRAAM) intended to destroy large, high value U.S. targets like the P-8 Poseidon and E-2 Hawkeye/E-3 Sentry.  According to Popular Science website (1), the missile’s characteristics are,

Length:  19 ft
Diameter:  13 in
Range:  300 miles
Speed:  Mach 6
Guidance:  AESA radar with backup IR/EO
Cruise Altitude:  19 miles

The missile has been photographed mounted on a J-16 during testing and reportedly uses a high altitude glide profile to achieve very long ranges. 

VLRAAM on J-16

Reportedly, the Russians have a similar missile, the R-37 (AA-13 Arrow) which is around 14 ft long, 15 inch diameter and has a range of around 200+ miles using a high altitude glide profile. (3)  It is deployed on MiG-31BM Foxhounds and, possibly, Su-35s.  Guidance is both semi-active and active radar homing.  The missile has a 132 lb fragmentation warhead.  It may have entered production in 2014. (2)

R-37 Missile

By comparison, the U.S. AMRAAM AIM-120D has a range of 90 miles.

For long range shots, the missile reportedly is launched at high altitude and climbs even higher to around 100,000 ft where it “glides” for much of the way to the target.

As we’ve noted on many occasions, range is a very misleading attribute.  Without accurate targeting the longest ranged missile in the world is useless.  This is why the “carrier killer” ballistic missile is such a hollow threat.  In this case, however, the U.S. aircraft may provide the Chinese with all the targeting they need.  An E-2 Hawkeye or AWACS has to radiate in order to do its job and, in effect, provides a massive “shoot me” beacon for the enemy.  This was acceptable in the past since no enemy had an air-to-air (A2A) missile with sufficient range to reach the Hawkeye/AWACS which typically operated well back from the active combat area.  Now, however, with missiles that can reach 200-300 miles, “well back” isn’t even remotely far enough back.  Of course, we can pull our radar aircraft even further back but that’s a mission kill, isn’t it?

The U.S. counts heavily on AWACS as a force multiplier in aerial combat.  Our individual fighters can remain passive and undetected while the AWACS/E-2 direct them.  If we can no longer count on this advantage then aerial combat becomes just a ‘who’s got the best fighter’ contest and the Russians and Chinese are steadily closing that gap thanks to the mediocre F-35 basket that the West has placed all their eggs in.

Consider some of the tactical implications of this (see, "Stealth Air To Air Combat Story").  A carrier group used to be able to count on nearly omniscient awareness for hundreds of miles around the group thanks to the E-2 Hawkeye.  If the Hawkeye is rendered a mission kill, or a real kill, the carrier group’s situational awareness advantage disappears and may, in fact, default to the enemy with a multitude of surface, subsurface, and aerial sensors operating in their “home” water and air space.

Since shooting down an incoming, hypersonic A2A missile cruising at 100,000 ft seems unlikely, we need to come up with other counters and alternatives. 

A purely passive sensor system would be ideal.  Such technology exists in the form of EO/IR (IRST) but the range is far too short to functionally replace the couple of hundred mile Hawkeye/AWACS radar range.

A stealthy and fast version of the Hawkeye/AWACS would allow the aircraft to shut down its radar upon detection of an incoming missile and stealthily and rapidly leave the target area but the aerodynamics of a large radome argue against effective stealth or speed though, perhaps, enough could be achieved to increase survival chances.  Regardless, this again equates to a mission kill.

Another alternative would be to distribute the AWACS function to a multitude (swarm?) of drones.  The logistics of hosting, launching, and coordinating such a continuous and revolving cast of drones would be daunting (UAV carrier?).  Even more challenging would be assembling the individual data streams from each drone into a single, coherent, comprehensive picture.  Even this would only be part of the function.  The E-2/3 act as battle management nodes and this function would also have to be duplicated.  Still, the idea is conceptually feasible.

The P-3/8 Orion/Poseidon that the Navy is counting so heavily on for broad area maritime surveillance will be a sitting duck against these kind of hypersonic, long range missiles.  This is one of many reasons that ComNavOps has been highly critical of Navy surveillance and targeting plans.

Frankly, this is a threat that the US has no ready counter for.


(1)Popular Science website, “China is testing a new long-range, air-to-air missile that could thwart U.S. plans for air warfare”, Jeffrey Lin & P.W. Singer, 22-Nov-2016,

(2)Military Today website,

(3)Wikipedia, “R-37 (missile)”,

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Definition of Insanity

What’s the definition of insanity?  You know the answer – performing the same set of actions and expecting a different result.

The Navy is looking at the next surface combatant ship, the Future Surface Combatant.  Here’s a description.

Future Surface Combatant refers to a family of systems that includes a large combatant akin to a destroyer, a small combatant like the Littoral Combat Ship or the upcoming frigate program, a large unmanned surface vessel and a medium USV, along with an integrated combat system that will be the common thread linking all the platforms. (1)

So, again, we see a family of ships that will be mutually supporting and supportive of the overall naval effort. 

Navy leadership just recently signed an initial capabilities document for the family of systems, after an effort that began in late 2017 to define what the surface force as a whole would be required to do in the future and therefore how each of the four future platforms could contribute to that overall mission requirement. (1)

So …  a family of ships.  Okay.  Wait …  does that sound a little bit familiar?

SC 21 Family of Ships
If you recall, the 21st Century Surface Combatant (SC 21) program was to have been a family of ships that included a cruiser (CG-21), a destroyer (DD-21) and, later, an arsenal ship. (2)  I’m not going to bore you with a detailed description of the SC 21 program, its many name and scope changes, etc.  Details of the failed program are readily available on the Internet.  Instead, I’ll simply ask, how did that work out?  After many years and much effort and anguish, we got three Zumwalts with no main battery and no mission.

So now we’re going to do it all again?


(1)USNI News website, “Navy’s Next Large Surface Combatant Will Draw From DDG-51, DDG-1000 — But Don’t Call it a Destroyer Yet”, Megan Eckstein, 28-Aug-2018,

(2)Wikipedia, “SC-21 (United States)”, retrieved 28-Aug-2018,

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

LSO Cartoon

The cartoon portion of this was just too funny not to re-post.  The LSO with the seeing-eye dog and the dog holding the phone is absolutely hysterical !

Frontier Former Editor blog,

Monday, September 24, 2018

Zumwalt and LCS - Main Batteries

What do the Zumwalt and LCS programs have in common?  Well, lots of things – all bad!  However, for the purpose of this post, the thing they have in common is that despite having commissioned ships in the class, neither has their main batteries installed and functioning yet.


  • 1 built and commissioned Oct 2016
  • 1 built (tentative commissioning date Jan 2019)
  • 1 building

As you know, the Zumwalt was literally designed around the Advanced Gun System (AGS) that was intended to rain precision firepower at ranges of 70+ miles.  As you also know, the Navy has cancelled the only munition the AGS was capable of firing, the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP), due to runaway costs and failure to meet range requirements.

A functional AGS does not exist.  The Zumwalt have no functional main battery despite being a commissioned warship.  We spent $24B to build a class with no main battery.  That’s some major league incompetence!


  • 5 Freedom class commissioned
  • 9 Freedom class built or building

  • 7 Independence class commissioned
  • 8 Independence class built or building

As you know, the LCS’ main battery is the modules – those swappable permanent modules that contain one of the LCS’ three main functions: Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), or Mine Countermeasures (MCM).  Without one of the main battery modules, the LCS is just a patrol boat and not a very good one at that.

-          There is no functional MCM module.
-          There is no functional ASW module.
-          There is no useful ASuW module - it has been scaled back to the point of uselessness.

The first LCS, USS Freedom, was commissioned in 2008.  It is now ten years later with 29 LCS commissioned, built, or building and still no useful, functional, main battery.  A decade after commissioning and still no modules.  Wow, that’s some major league incompetence!

That is two major classes of surface warfare vessels and the two most recent classes to be built that have now been commissioned with no main battery.

That bears repeating.

The Navy’s two newest classes of surface vessel have been commissioned with no main battery.

How does this happen?  How does the Navy accept and commission a ship that has no main battery?  How has no one been fired?  How has no one been charged with fraud?  Has anyone’s promotion at least been delayed by a couple of months?

Okay, aside from simple complaining, what can we learn from this?

Well, the Zumwalt and LCS have another point in common regarding their main batteries – neither battery actually existed in a functional form when the Navy committed to building the ships.  The Navy assumed they could develop the batteries while the ships were building.  This is the concurrency that we’ve railed against and has been proven, repeatedly, to be a failure as a procurement method.  Concurrency has failed every time it’s been attempted and yet the Navy is still married to the concept.

It’s one thing to begin construction of a ship when the deck buffing machine is still under development but it’s insanity to begin construction of a ship when its main battery doesn’t exist.  Even the “fitted for but not with” philosophy, as bad as it is, is better than building with concurrency in the main battery.

I don’t know what it takes for the Navy to learn lessons.  Apparently, it takes more than the utter failure of two major ship classes (and the F-35, EMALS, AAG, Advanced Weapons Elevators, etc.)!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sortie Rate

We’ve discussed forward bases and sortie rates (see, "Forward Base" and "Sortie Rate And Response Time"), however, sortie rate is one of those issues that’s often cited but poorly understood by most people.  For example, everyone wants to discuss sortie rates for aircraft carriers – heck, even the Navy used increased sortie rates as a justification for the Ford class.  Of course, DOT&E and others have already debunked that claim!  Still, sortie rate is a common and attractive factor in many carrier discussions.  This blog discussed sortie rates for forward air bases and noted the tyranny of distance as it impacts sortie rates.

Unfortunately, sortie rate is a bit of a red herring that has only limited impact in modern war. 

Wait, what now?  Isn’t it obvious that more sorties equates to greater combat power?  Well, that’s only partially true and only in a limited sense.  Let’s look closer at this issue.

Let’s start by remembering what a sortie is.  A sortie is a single flight by a single aircraft to accomplish a single task (yes, the task might include multiple targets but it’s a single tasking).  Think about that phrase, “single task”.  Is that how wars are fought?  In single tasks?  No.  Wars consist of a series of operations – an island assault, a massed aerial bombing of factory complex, a mine laying operation, the seizure of a city, etc.  Each operation is planned, executed (hopefully successfully), and then the assets involved are redistributed and reallocated to the next operation.  Further, and this is key, most of the time the operation is a pulse of combat power, in the broad sense.

Now, let’s consider what steps are required to launch a sortie – the sortie chain, as it were.  In no particular order, the sortie chain consists of the following typical steps: aircraft maintenance, mission planning, aircraft tasking, pilot rest, fueling, ordnance loading, and asset assembly (tankers and EW escorts, for example).  All must come together in order for a single aircraft to launch. 

The sortie chain, like all chains, has a weak link or limiting step that determines the overall speed or rate of the chain.  For example, even if we could otherwise land an aircraft, top off the fuel tanks in minutes, and send it right back out to the runway for take off, we might be forced to do some routine maintenance prior to launching or risk having the aircraft crash due to a maintenance problem.  Or, we might be able to turn the aircraft around quickly but it might take a significant amount of time to plan and coordinate the next sortie and arrange for tanker and EW support.  Thus, the fact that a carrier (or base) can theoretically generate a given sortie rate is almost always irrelevant because the physical turnaround is rarely the limiting factor.  Maintenance, planning, coordination, and support are almost always the limiting factors – refueling and rearming are rarely – I would go so far as to say never - the limiting factors.

What’s important in combat is not the rate at which single aircraft can be physically catapulted off the carrier but the rate at which the operation can generate coordinated pulses of power.  Consider the battle of Midway in WWII.  The carrier aircraft – on both sides – were used in pulses of striking power.  Sortie rate was meaningless and irrelevant.

We see, then, that pulse rate is a far more meaningful concept than sortie rate. 

Thus, the Ford’s – debunked – claim of greater sortie rate is seen to be irrelevant even if it were true.  Carriers simply don’t fight by flinging individual aircraft off the deck as fast as possible.  They fight by launching coordinated group strikes in pulses and then they stand down until the next pulse – again, pulse rate rather than sortie rate.

The same holds true for an air base on land.  Aircraft are not sent on individual attacks against the enemy – they’re assembled into strike operations that typically require days or weeks of planning, reconnaissance, asset assembly, and so forth.  The theoretical sortie rate of the individual aircraft is meaningless.

So, we need to amend our thinking about sortie rates.  We need to start thinking on the higher level of operations rather than the lower level of individual aircraft.  We need to think pulse rate.  We need to think about the factors that impact pulse rate such as mission planning, reconnaissance, logistics, aircraft numbers, pilot pools, fuel storage, etc.

In short, we need to think about war from an operational perspective.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Anechoic Tiles

In its quest for ever quieter submarines, the Navy began affixing sound absorbing tiles (anechoic tiles) to submarines in 1980.  The tiles are an inch or so thick and are made of different layers, materials, and void spaces designed to deaden specific frequencies of sound. (1) 

Interestingly, anechoic tiles were first used on German U-Boats at the end of WWII.

While effective, the tiles have a disturbing tendency to fall off during patrols.  Tile loss reduces the effectiveness of the silencing and increases flow noise due to the “holes” left on the submarine’s surface.  The rough edges of these holes likely create additional turbulence and noise just as any rough edge or projection on a hull would.  Addressing a photo of a ragged looking USS Mississippi on return from patrol, former submariner Bryan Clark stated,

Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former Navy submariner, said the amount of acoustic coating missing on the Mississippi "could create enough flow noise to be a sound problem at even relatively slow speeds. Also, there is enough tile missing that it could reduce the coating's ability to absorb sonar energy and make the submarine easier to find with active sonar." (3)

The Navy has formed various study groups to address the problem and have claimed success multiple times but tile loss remains a problem as this photo of USS Virginia in 2018 shows.

USS Virginia - Note the patches of missing tiles.

One alternative approach to anechoic tiles is being developed by researchers at the University of Michigan.  They are developing a “superhydrophobic (water repellent)” paint-like coating presumably filled with bubble voids which reduces drag thereby increasing speed, fuel efficiency, and quietness. (2)  The challenge, as with anechoic tiles, is to make the coating durable.

Similar research at the Universit√© Paris Diderot in France has examined the use of microscopic bubbles in thin coatings. (1)  The bubbles dissipate acoustic energy.

In underwater experiments, the scientists bombarded a meta-screen placed on a slab of steel with ultrasonic frequencies of sound. They found that the meta-screen dissipated more than 91 percent of the incoming sound energy and reflected less than 3 percent of the sound energy. For comparison, the bare steel block reflected 88 percent of the sound energy.

To make submarines invisible to the sound frequencies used in sonar, larger bubbles are needed. Still, the researchers predicted that a 0.16-inch-thick (4 millimeters) film with 0.08-inch (2 millimeters) bubbles could absorb more than 99 percent of the energy from sonar, cutting down reflected sound waves by more than 10,000-fold, or about 100 times better than was previously assumed possible. (1)

While the experimental results are encouraging, the challenge, again, is to produce an easily applied, durable coating.  This is technology that is worth keeping track of in the future.


(1)Live Science website, “Thin 'Bubble' Coatings Could Hide Submarines from Sonar”, Charles Q. Choi, 4-Feb-2015,

(2)Popular Mechanics website, “Navy Testing Superhydrophobic Hull Coatings For Submarines”, Kyle Mizokami, Jul 5, 2018,

(3) website, “Navy Subs Still Show Issue with Stealth Coating”, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser By William Cole, 2018,

Monday, September 17, 2018

Sortie Rate and Response Time

Note: while the principles are universal, the following discussion is focused on a war with ChinaRussia is simply not much of a threat and the various options in a war with Russia are nearly boundless due to the availability of the entire European continent.

We’ve discussed forward basing and closely tied in to that is the concept of aircraft sortie rates.  The problem is that most of our bases are so far from the anticipated operational areas that we are sortie rate limited due to distance.  For example,

  • Distance from Guam to the center of the South China Sea is a bit over 2000 miles
  • Distance from Guam to Taiwan is a bit over 1700 miles
  • Distance from Whiteman AFB (Missouri), the home of the US B-2 bomber fleet, to the center of the South China Sea is around 8400 miles
  • Distance from Kadena AFB (Okinawa) to the center of the South China Sea is around 1130 miles

For these cases, at a cruise speed of 300 mph, a round trip sortie time is a minimum of

  • GuamSouth China Sea = 13.3 hrs
  • GuamTaiwan = 11.3 hrs
  • Whiteman – South China Sea = 56 hrs
  • Kadena – South China Sea = 7.5 hrs

Throw in aerial refueling time, non-linear waypoints, some loiter time at the target, etc. and those sortie times increase by 25%-50%.  The result is clear.  For Guam, in a Chinese war, you get one sortie per day and that’s assuming no unusual maintenance delays due to battle damage or even routine mechanical failures.  Even Kadena only provides two sorties per day, if no significant maintenance is required between flights.  For the B-2 bomber fleet, you get one sortie every three days, at best.

Okay, if those distances are too great for useful sortie rates, what distance would be acceptable?

In order to have useful sortie rates for fighters or strike aircraft, we need no more than 6 hr sorties – and that’s pushing it.  Even 6 hr sorties means 3 hr transit times and that length of time sitting in a cockpit begins to degrade pilot performance due to physical discomfort.  A much better sortie time would be around 2 hrs with 1 hr transit times.

At a cruise speed of 300 mph, a 6 hr sortie translates to 900 miles distance to base while a 2 hr sortie translates to 300 miles distance to base.  Examine the map below and note the red rings which are centered on the South China Sea.  The inner ring represents a 300 mile radius and the outer ring shows 900 miles.  A base that can support useful sortie rates must lie inside the 900 mile ring and, preferably, around the 300 mile ring.  It immediately becomes apparent that there are very few basing options within that area.

Okay, this is looking bad but we kind of knew this so what’s the point of this post?

Well, there’s another closely related aspect to sortie rates that is rarely discussed and that is response time. 

When a naval group in the South China Sea gets in trouble and calls for air support from Guam, it’s going to take over half a day to get there and that’s if the aircraft launch the moment they get the request.  Realistically, by the time they prep the aircraft, set up tanker schedules, plan the mission, etc. it will be around a full day before help can arrive.

There are only two solutions to response time.

  1. Move the responder closer to the area of interest.
  2. Maintain a constant stream of responders in/over the area of interest so that there will always be a responder available.

Let’s look a bit closer at these two options.

Move Closer.  Moving a base closer is difficult.  As the US found in WWII, there simply aren’t that many possibilities.  Worse, unless we’re willing to seize territory from neutral countries, such as Philippines, our basing options are quite limited.  Some of the Japanese islands would be suitable but gaining basing rights is, again, potentially problematic.

Closer basing also carries with it the greater likelihood of attack and the US has shown no desire or capability to actively defend an operational base.  The specter of trying to operate, maintain, and repair delicate, finicky F-22/35s while absorbing cruise/ballistic missile hits is daunting, to say the least.  As a reminder, we lost many aircraft on the ground at Guadalcanal due to Japanese attacks.  It’s one thing to lose F4F Wildcats that were a dime a dozen but it’s another thing, entirely, to lose $100M F-22/35s on the ground.

Closer basing can also be obtained by using mobile bases, meaning aircraft carriers and battleships.  The disadvantage in this is the inherent limited endurance which will manifest itself as munitions limits.  This can be overcome by a combination of robust at-sea replenishment and planned rotations of fresh ships while exhausted ships retire and replenish.  The other obvious problem with this is that the locations of the ships eventually become predictable and the risk, especially from submarines, increases.

Battleships (or any form of naval gunfire support) are, of course, the epitome of timely and effective response time assuming they are within range of the area of interest.

Constant Stream.  Given the transit distance and resulting very short loiter times in the area of interest, maintaining a steady stream of aircraft would be challenging, to say the least.  The sheer number of aircraft required to maintain a constant, say, dozen aircraft in a single area of interest would be on the order of several dozen, at least.  To put it in perspective, to maintain a dozen F-22s over Taiwan or the South China Sea from Guam would require at least half our total F-22 fleet – and given the historically demonstrated low availabilities, that’s probably extremely optimistic!

What is evident from this discussion is that the US is in a fundamentally disadvantageous position as regards basing.  There are options to deal with this but no easy ones.  We need to face the reality, make our choices, and begin preparing. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Shipyard Improvement Plan

Assuming it comes to fruition – not a safe assumption with the Navy - , here’s some genuine good news about our four publicly owned naval shipyards.  You’ll recall that our shipyards have lost the capability to build ships and are in, literally, crumbling condition (see, “Government Run Shipyards”).

Now, NavSea, prodded by Congress, has produced a plan to rebuild the shipyards. (1, 2)  The 20 year plan (right there is reason for skepticism since no 20 plan is ever carried to fruition) proposed spending $21B to revitalize the yards, concentrating on three main aspects.

  • Dry Dock recapitalization - As the Executive Summary of NavSea’s plan notes, drydock investment is needed in order to service the Ford and Virginia class vessels.

  • Facility layout and optimization - Facility layout at the yards needs extensive modification.  NavSea plans to resize, reconfigure, and relocate facilities to optimize work flow.

  • Capital equipment modernization - NavSea plans to reinvest in capital equipment that is beyond its service life, obsolete, and no longer supported by the original manufacturer.

This is good news on its own but even better is that the Navy seems to have a logical approach to the project.

“We’re not going to get $21 billion in one year to go do this, nor could we execute that amount of money, so … we’ll go do that work in a way that allows us to get the most important work done as quickly as we can to get the biggest return on investment to the taxpayer, and then also takes into account work that’s ongoing in the yard.”

The Navy is currently in the process of working with a civil engineering firm to draw out what the final end state will look like at each of the four public shipyards, and will then determine how to plan the work around one-year budget cycles, Naval Sea Systems Command commander Vice Adm. Tom Moore told USNI News. (1)

While I noted at the outset that the length of the plan, 20 years, is cause enough to be skeptical about its success, the Navy even seems to be aware of this aspect!

“That’s going to be the challenge, for sure, is to keep people interested over a 20-year period. For anything that’s a challenge. I think the selling point to everybody has been … if you want to get to a force of 355 (ships) and you want to be more productive going forward, this is a key component of it,” Moore said. (1)

The Navy has correctly identified the monumentally obvious connection between fleet size and shipyard maintenance facilities!

Portsmouth Shipyard

Another worrisome aspect of this project is the Navy’s well known, well demonstrated fixation on advanced technology at the expense of actual usefulness.  In the article, Moore cites a “need” to incorporate digital technology, Wi-Fi, 3D printing, computer machining, and electronic documentation.  As we’ve so often discussed, existing technology is fine but the Navy seems to always want leap ahead technology that never pans out.  They need to restrain themselves and stick to existing technology.

Technology fixation aside, NavSea’s plan is a good one and the Navy seems to have a solid grasp on how to execute it.  If the funding can be maintained, $1B each year ought to yield substantial improvements to the yards and, ultimately, to the state of the fleet.  ComNavOps gives this project his wholehearted approval and support. 

While I’m highly critical of Navy leadership for allowing the shipyards to deteriorate to the horrific point they have, I’ll give the Navy full credit for finally recognizing the problem and doing something meaningful about it.  I also have to give Congress full credit for their oversight and prodding without which the project would likely not exist.  This is what Congress is supposed to do – well done! 

I’ll attempt to revisit this from time to time and track the progress.

The Executive Summary of NavSea’s plan is available on-line (2).


(1)USNI News, “NAVSEA Looking for Early Wins as it Kicks Off 20-Year Yard Modernization”, Megan Eckstein, 5-Sep-2018,

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

China Seizes Sri Lanka Port

China recently completed another master stroke in its war for global domination.  They obtained complete rights to the Hambantota port and 15,000 surrounding acres on Sri Lanka which is just off the southern tip of India. (1)  Take a look at the map below and you’ll see that such a port provides control over the entrance to the entire Indochina region, access to the Bay of Bengal, and influence over a large chunk of the Indian Ocean.  Looking longer term, this also gives China a direct threat against India, down the road.  This is the very definition of a strategic port.

Make no mistake, this was a military seizure, pure and simple, conducted via non-kinetic means.

Chinese Port In Sri Lanka

ComNavOps tips his hat to the Chinese for yet another brilliant move and, just like the annexation of the East/South China Seas, it was accomplished without bloodshed or even significant protest!

Using nothing but economic coercion, bribery, intimidation, and debt manipulation China forced Sri Lanka to hand over the rights to the Hambantota port for a period of 99 years.  Of course, by then, the entire region will belong to China and the lease terms won’t matter.

The unethical, unfair, and illegal means China used to accomplish this are detailed in a New York Times website article and it makes for fascinating reading as well as an object lesson on the conduct of non-kinetic warfare. (2)

Yes, China has promised not to use the port for military purposes but they made the same promise about the illegal artificial islands in the South China Sea.  Their word is worthless.  With 100% certainty, they will militarize the port.  As the NY Times notes,

“Sri Lankan officials are quick to point out that the agreement explicitly rules out China’s military use of the site. But others also note that Sri Lanka’s government, still heavily indebted to China, could be pressured to allow it.” (2)

The US has got to wake up and start engaging in this war or we’re going to lose without every taking any action.  We can start by taking a lesson from the Chinese.  One of the strategic weaknesses for the US in the Pacific/China theatre is the lack of basing.  Well, take a look at the IndoChina map below.  There are endless opportunities for US basing in the region: Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, etc.  We just need to start engaging diplomatically, economically, politically, culturally, and any other way we can with these countries.  We don’t need to, and absolutely should not, stoop to the illegal and unethical means that China does but we do need to engage. 

Basing Opportunities Around The South China Sea

If you don’t think China is bent on global domination then take a look at the New York Times map below of Chinese financed ports around the world.  If it doesn’t scare you, then you’re Chinese.  They've seized the East and South China Seas and are in the process of seizing Africa.

Chinese Ports Around the World

We are years late, already, to this war but better late than never.  We need to wake up, sound the alarm, and start fighting every way we can.


(1)The Diplomat website, “Sri Lanka Formally Hands Over Hambantota Port to Chinese Firms on 99-Year Lease”, Ankit Panda, 11-Dec-2017,

(2)New York Times website, “How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port”, Maria Abi-Habib, 25-Jun-2018,

Monday, September 10, 2018

Partial Delivery - Total Obfuscation

Over the years of this blog, we’ve noted the rise in accounting games that the Navy has been playing to hide the true costs of weapon systems and the failures of quality and scheduling.  This trend has been accelerating with the Navy coming up with more and more schemes as Congress has attempted to exercise oversight.

One of the most egregious is the recent practice of accepting – and commissioning! – incomplete ships. 

The ship is contracted, delivery is made with substantial incomplete compartments, weapon systems, sensors, etc. and then the ship is completed during post-delivery availabilities.  Thus, the original construction contract only actually covered a partial ship.  Some or all of the additional funding needed to complete the ship comes from various non-construction account lines and, therefore, does not show up in the final ship cost.  This leads Congress and observers to believe that the ship is cheaper than it really is.

For example, the USS San Antonio (LPD-17), was delivered substantially incomplete.

The Navy accepted delivery of LPD-17 with about 1.1 million hours of construction work remaining to be done on the ship. This equated to about 8.7% of the total hours needed to build the ship, and (with material costs included) about 7% of the total cost to build the ship. (3)

Lest you think this was just a first of class issue,

The Navy accepted delivery of LPD-18 with about 400,000 hours of construction work remaining to be done on the ship. (3)

The carrier Ford was delivered with 367 unfinished compartments, among many other deficiencies. (5)

LCSes have routinely been delivered incomplete (see, “LCS Waiver Trials”).

This partial delivery practice started as a means to cover up delivery schedule failures and was used as needed.  However, the practice has proven so effective in misleading observers that the Navy has now formalized it as “phased delivery”. 

The first phase is the initial delivery of the incomplete ship.  The Navy has taken to referring to this as the Hull, Mechanical, and Electrical (HM&E) delivery.  That partial delivery is accompanied, in short order, by “hugely successful trials” (how can a trial be successful when the ship isn’t complete?) and then commissioning (how can a ship be commissioned when it is incomplete?). 

The second phase consists of one or more post-delivery / post-commissioning availabilities where the weapons, sensors, combat system, and whatnot are added and incomplete compartments are finished (well, some of them – there are reports that LHD-17, LCS, and Ford ships still have unfinished compartments).

For example, the Navy accepted delivery of the Zumwalt (DDG-1000) in May 2016 and commissioned the ship in Oct 2016.  Zumwalt was then transferred to San Diego for completion.  Among other work needing to be completed, BAE Systems received a contract to install Mk 57 peripheral launch cells (VLS), “combat systems”, sensors, combat system programming, and perform post-construction hull, mechanical, and electrical enhancements. (1,2)

Zumwalt - Good Enough, Call It Delivered - We'll Finish It Later

This practice has not gone unnoticed by Congress and they are not very happy with it.  Congress included language in the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act which prevents the Navy from claiming delivery of incomplete ships as battle force ships in the Naval Vessel Register.  Thus, the first two Zumwalts which the Navy has claimed count towards the battle force numbers have now been removed from the count.

The 2019 defense authorization bill clarifies what lawmakers tried to do two years ago related to Navy ship-counting, making clear that a ship cannot be included in the Naval Vessel Register’s list of battle force ships until it has been fully delivered to the Navy – and in the case of ships with a phased delivery, where the Navy takes custody of the hull but adds in the combat system or electronics later, that means the final delivery date.

So, upon passage of the bill, Zumwalt-class destroyers USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) and yet-to-be commissioned Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) were taken off the battle force ship count and will not be added back on until they complete a combat system activation in San Diego. (4)

Congress had earlier attempted to put an end to the practice of counting incomplete ships from partial deliveries.

In the FY 2017 NDAA, lawmakers stated that the Navy should “deem ship delivery to occur at the completion of the final phase of construction,” and that all materials submitted to congressional committees should use that format, rather than including an earlier partial-delivery date. (4)

That should have ended the practice but, in typical fashion, the Navy ignored Congress’ wishes.

After the 2017 language became law, the Navy was required to use the full delivery date when reporting to Congress, but it was still entering ships – namely Zumwalt and Michael Monsoor – into the Naval Vessel Register upon HM&E delivery rather than final delivery. (4)

Hopefully, Congress has now gotten the message across to a Navy that believes itself above and beyond Congressional oversight and legislative authority.

Why does partial delivery and battle force counting matter to Congress?

The committee is concerned the variance in the Navy’s definition of ship delivery may obscure oversight of the program’s schedule, including whether or not a project has breached its threshold delivery date. … CVN-79 and the Zumwalt-class programs illustrate this practice. (4)

For lawmakers, the need to use a final delivery date instead of a partial delivery date also contributes to program oversight and accountability. (4)

The difference in time frame between the Navy’s attempt to include partial delivery ships in the battle force count and the final delivery is substantial.  For example, Zumwalt was accepted by the Navy in May 2016 and is not yet complete, 2 yrs and 3 months later and counting.

The Navy cites construction costs for the Zumwalt but those are only partial costs.  Over two years after delivery and commissioning, the Zumwalt’s construction costs continue to mount up but we’ll never see those costs cited.

Let’s be crystal clear about the practice of partial delivery.  It’s all about hiding costs from Congress, hiding schedule delays, hiding inept program management, and keeping funding flowing. 


(3)Congressional Research Service, “Navy LPD-17 Amphibious Ship Procurement:
Background, Issues, and Options for Congress”, Ronald O'Rourke, March 16, 2011, RL34476,

(4)USNI News website, “Navy Battle Force Tally Dips By 2, After New Ship-Counting Rules Postpone Zumwalt Destroyers”, Megan Eckstein, 21-Aug-2018,

(5)Government Accounting Office, “Navy Shipbuilding”, July 2017, GAO-17-418, p.22