Monday, October 29, 2018

Single Versus Multi-Function Ships

Well, I didn’t want to do this but this is one of those topics that just keeps coming up and people just keep getting it wrong.  We’ve addressed it repeatedly in previous posts and comments but I guess it’s time to pull it all together, again, for the benefit of the newer readers who have not thoroughly perused the archives.  Huh?!  Not thoroughly perused the archieves????  You should be reading the archives every day!  The accumulated wisdom of the archives dwarfs the imagination.  But, I digress …

So many people want to cram every capability they can think of onto every ship built.  They claim that every ship should be able to do every task because, well …, you just never know what situation will arise.  Multi-function allows greater flexibility, they say.  We don’t have enough ships so they should all be as capable as possible.  A little extra equipment doesn’t really cost all that much more.  And so on.  The arguments are seductively reasonable, at first glance.  For example,

-          That helo flight deck only adds some flat empty deck – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          Those anti-ship missiles don’t take up much room – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          That larger radar array just doesn’t weigh that much more – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          That hangar is mostly empty space – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          That [non-existent] 155 mm naval gun is more powerful – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          Those extra VLS cells aren’t that much bigger – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          That sonar might come in handy– it wouldn’t cost much money.

The problem is that all those items that wouldn’t cost much money add up.  They add up to unaffordable ships which means a smaller fleet.

Some of you are already pounding out contrary replies and part of it is a lack of understanding of the basic concepts.  So, before we proceed any further we need to define single versus multi-function.  You wouldn’t think we’d need to but most people don’t understand what each means and what the difference is.

Definition - Single function does not, literally, mean only one function as so many of you sea lawyers seem to think.  If that were true, a single function ship would have an engine and nothing else because that would constitute its single function.  Well, that’s ridiculous!  So, obviously, a single function ship must have more than one function.  Huh?  Well, then, what is a single function ship? 

A single function ship is one that is built with a single, primary function that dictates all of its design characteristics like size, shape, speed, weapons, sensors, etc.  The key concept is that the term ‘single function’ refers to a single PRIMARY function.  Nothing about that definition precludes a lesser, secondary function as long as that secondary function does not negatively impact the primary function and does not significantly impact the overall cost.

For example, the pure AAW ship that also has a 5” gun for a secondary anti-surface function is, potentially, a reasonable addition since it doesn’t impact the primary function or the cost to any significant extent.  On the other hand, the pure AAW ship that has an ASW fit of sonar, towed array, helo, flight deck, hangar, and torpedoes has its size and cost significantly increased and the resulting increase in size negatively impacts the AAW function by making the ship a bigger  and more radar-reflective target.

This leads us, then, directly to the definition of a multi-function ship.  A multi-function ship is one which has, or attempts to have, multiple primary functions.  The problem with, and defining characteristic of, a multi-function ship is that the multiple, co-equal functions compete for space, funding, training time, and mission assignment and, inevitably, they all suffer – none function as well as they could.  Thus, the multi-function ship is, inherently, the inept jack of all trades and master of none.

The Burke is an example of a multi-function ship.  On paper, the Burke is a combination anti-air (AAW), ballistic missile defense (BMD), anti-surface (ASuW), land attack, and anti-submarine (ASW) ship.  In reality, the only mission that it is good at is AAW and, likely, not even that because the other functions take away from the AAW training time and make the AAW function less effective.  Seriously, does anyone believe that the once a year scripted ASW exercise makes the Burke an effective ASW platform?  For that matter, would anyone seriously risk a multi-billion dollar Burke playing tag with a submarine?  If not, why waste the space and budget on and ASW function?

Let’s now consider some of the arguments that are made for multi-function ships.

History – Yes, history is cited as an argument for multi-function ships.  Many people erroneously make the argument that ships have always been multi-function and that this is the norm and should, therefore, continue to be so.  Of course, this is flawed reasoning on the face of it but, setting the logic issue aside, let’s consider some of the historical examples. 

A commonly cited example is the battleship which was used to provide land attack, anti-air support for carriers, and anti-surface warfare.  That’s about as multi-function as it gets, right?  Well, the reality is that the battleship was designed for one primary task and one only – anti-surface.  The battleship was built to sink other battleships.  Any other capability was either fortuitous, like land attack, or an adjunct to its primary role, like anti-air.  Anti-aircraft capability was not designed into the battleship so that it could act as an escort to carriers – it was designed in as a self-defense capability to allow the battleship to survive long enough to perform its primary function of sinking other battleships.  That the battleship proved to be a superb anti-air escort platform was, like land attack, fortuitous.

The other commonly cited example is the Fletcher class destroyer.  People claim it could perform anti-air, anti-submarine, and anti-surface warfare.  The reality is that the Fletchers were designed to perform one primary function – attacking enemy battle lines with their heavy torpedo fit.  The other capabilities, as with the battleship, were present to allow the destroyer to survive long enough to perform its task.  Convoy and task force escort was a secondary function which accounts for the ASW fit.  This was an acceptable example of a secondary function because the ASW fit of the time was pretty minimal and did not impact the primary function or cost to any significant degree.

We see, then, that most ships have been single function.  It is the failure to understand what their primary design function was that leads people to think they are multi-function.

Flexibility.  This is the most seductive argument and the most wrong.  Flexibility is only useful if the functions can be executed competently but the reality is that no ship can be outstanding at more than one thing.  The training time just isn’t there to be good at more than one function.  Consider the Burkes – designed as anti-air warfare platforms, they also have anti-submarine capability.  What great flexibility!  Except that the Burkes never train for ASW and, therefore, are terrible at it.  It’s not flexibility if you can’t do the job competently.

Flexibility comes not from having a single ship with multiple capabilities but from having several ships, each with their own capability.  A single ship can only be in one place at a time and can only perform one task at a time – that’s the opposite of flexible.  On the other hand, several single-function ships can be in several places at once, each performing their own function extremely well.  That’s true flexibility.

Should I send that Burke out to chase a submarine or keep it with the carrier to provide AAW protection?  That’s not flexibility, that’s rigidity.  I’m forced to abandon one necessary task in order to accomplish the other.  Conversely, with multiple single function ships I can send an ASW ship to chase the sub and still keep a pure AAW ship with the carrier.  That’s true flexibility – the ability to meet all the required missions.

Resupply.  This one is specifically for helos, flight decks, and hangars.  Every ship needs a helo for resupply, the argument goes – they’re mandatory and we could not resupply without them.  However, everyone seems to have forgotten that we kept several thousand ships supplied during WWII without once using a helicopter!  This is just pure naval laziness and the cost is enormous.  A flight deck and hangar add around 130 feet to a ship along with associated weapons magazines, maintenance shops, spare parts storage, extra fuel, berthing for the helo pilots and maintenance crews, etc. and for what? – a little bit of convenience?

What If.  Many people make the argument that we should add all manner of extra equipment and functions because you just never know what situation a ship will find itself in.  The problem with this argument is that it has no bounds.  You can always come up with another ‘what if’ that requires yet more equipment and more functions.  This is the fast track to unaffordable.

The ‘what if’ argument is, essentially, the ‘desirable’ versus ‘mandatory’ argument.  Lots of things are desirable, and even useful, but if we built ships that had everything that was desirable then every ship would have a full carrier flight deck, 16” guns, Aegis/AMDR radar, full ASW suite, well deck, troop and vehicle storage, landing craft, and several hundred VLS cells and it would cost several trillion dollars – and we’d have a fleet consisting of just one ship because we couldn’t afford a second ship.  Similarly, if every soldier carried everything that was desirable in combat they wouldn’t be able to walk under the weight of the load.

The ‘what if’ argument is also the argument of fear and mental insufficiency.  We want every ship to have every capability and function because we’re afraid to accept any risk.  In the real world you build to the standard of reasonableness and accept the risk of the unreasonable.  Determining the standard of reasonable requires making informed decisions about the likelihood of threats and risk.  Too many people lack the mental capacity to make such assessments because, inevitably, they lack the totality of data needed to make a 100% certain, safe decision.  Lacking total data, they fall back on wanting all functions for all platforms.  That way, they don’t have to make difficult decisions.  The truly accomplished naval designer assess the likelihood of threats and risk and then designs for the most likely and reasonable scenarios – all on the basis of incomplete data and knowledge about the threats.  We just can’t know every trick China has developed.  Some people cringe in fear and develop massive, multi-function ships while others make their best judgments based on the data that’s available and then design optimized, single-function ships to deal with the anticipated threats.

The problem with the ‘what if’ approach is, again, that it is unaffordable.

Other Navies.  This, too, is a common argument.  Other navies build multi-function ships and they can’t all be wrong so we should, too, proponents claim.  Unfortunately, consensus does not necessarily equate to correctness.  The pre-WWII consensus among countries was that the battleship reigned supreme.  Of course, all of those countries were quickly proven wrong.

Other countries/navies are severely budget limited.  If you can only build a few ships then it’s only natural that you would try to cram as many functions into them as you can.  That’s not good design, it’s budget-limited design.  The US, in contrast, has the luxury of building as many ships as we want - provided we make wise decisions and don’t buy Zumwalts, Fords, and LCSes.  Thus, we can afford to build single function ships and lots of them.

I think that covers the major arguments for multi-function ships.  Now, let’s look at the arguments for single-function ships.

Cost.  Because single function ships are, by definition, smaller and ‘simpler’ than multi-function ships they are inherently cheaper.  Given the cost of multi-function technology the cost savings is generally going to be substantial. 

Consider the case of the Burke.  If we stripped out every function but AAW we’d remove the flight deck, hangar, shops, sonar, and towed arrays.  We’d reduce the crew by 50+.  The ship would be around 130 ft shorter.  What do you think the resulting ship would cost?  My guess is the new, single function AAW escort would cost around $750M compared to the current $2B+.

If we stripped out everything but the ASW function we’d wind up with a really cheap ship by comparison!

Conceptually, we could get 2-3 single function ships for the cost of 1 multi-function ship.

Numbers.  Because of the cost savings we just noted, we could afford a larger fleet – at least twice as large, if not more.

Flexibility.  This is the counterpart to the flexibility argument discussed above.  Several single function ships allow us to operate in several places at once – an immense advantage over a multi-function ship that can only be in one place at a time.  As we noted, this is true flexibility.

Competence.  Because they only have a single function, such ships would train exclusively for their function and would be extremely competent due to that focus.

Size.  Single function ships are inherently smaller which offers advantages.  In addition to cost savings, smaller ships make for smaller targets and are, thus, more survivable.  Smaller size also means quicker construction which allows for faster replacement due to wartime attrition.

Loss Impact.  Being smaller and cheaper, single-function ships cause less impact on the overall fleet capability when lost.  When you lose a multi-function ship you lose multiple functions.  For example, if we lose a Burke playing tag with a submarine we lose an ASW ship, an ASuW ship, a BMD ship, and an AAW ship, all in one.  That’s a huge price to pay, operationally and financially, for the loss of a single ship.  Conversely, if we lose a single function ASW ship we lose just an ASW ship – nothing more.  What’s more, it’s cheaper and quicker to replace a single function ship than a multi-function ship.

Optimized Design.  Having only one primary function, a ship can be exquisitely optimized for that function.  The LCS, for example, will be a poor ASW ship even with a working ASW module because the ship, itself, isn’t optimized for ASW.  The machinery is not acoustically isolated.  The hull can’t support a sonar.  The engines are loud, acoustic beacons.  And so on.

Risk.  When platforms get too expensive they become unusable because no sane commander will risk them.  How do platforms get too expensive?  - by making them multi-function.  As we’ve noted, a Burke is too expensive to risk playing tag with submarines.  A Ford is too expensive to risk penetrating enemy waters.  Thus, by being too expensive, multi-functional ships are unlikely to be used for the very missions they’re designed for!  Conversely, smaller, cheaper, single-function ships can be freely used as intended because they can be replaced and the loss of individual ships has minimal impact on overall fleet capabilities.

We see, then, that multi-functionality leads directly to increased costs, decreased numbers, and poor execution of all the functions.  We need the exact opposite of multi-function.  We need to build platforms not with the maximum that we can fit in them but with the minimum that allows them to execute their single, primary function and execute it supremely well. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ship Magazine Size

Let’s suppose we’re contemplating a new warship design.  Raise your hand.  How many VLS cells should the ship have?  70?  100?  125?  150?  More than 150?  Be honest, now, how many of you said 150 or more?  I’m betting it was most of you.

From WWII on, and probably before, how many ships have exhausted their magazines during a naval battle?  Very few, bordering on none. 

For example, the Guadalcanal naval battles were short affairs, typically lasting minutes and the participating ships sank or retired from battle with relatively little expenditure of their magazine inventories.

The final ship to ship battle that sank the Bismarck lasted a little over an hour and a half.  No ship ran out of shells or, to the best of my knowledge, even came close.

The final battleship to battleship engagement at Surigao Strait lasted around 30 minutes and saw the following battleship main battery expenditures from their magazines which typically contained 100 or so shells per gun for a total of 900+.

West Virginia  93 shells
California     63 shells
Tennessee      69 shells
Maryland       48 shells
Pennsylvania    0 shells

And so on.  There may be an example somewhere in history of a ship emptying its magazines but the general conclusion is that naval battles are short and vicious and magazine size is rarely, if ever, a factor.

The situation for land attack is, of course, different.  In many amphibious assaults, the battleships and cruisers fired the majority of their magazine inventories spread over days of bombardment but that was a planned event with an orderly schedule for resupply already in hand.

Okay, so how does any of this apply to modern naval battles and warship design?

Well, the most likely naval battle will be an anti-air (AAW) defense against an enemy’s anti-ship cruise missiles.  We’ve previously noted that the engagement will most likely start at the radar horizon which we’ll call 20 miles.  We further noted that the realistic engagement window would be on the order of 30 seconds.  That’s time for a single shoot-shoot-look sequence.  So, let’s simplify this and say that a single Burke is attacked by 15 anti-ship missiles.  Using a single shoot-shoot-look engagement sequence, we’d need two ESSMs per incoming missile for a total defensive missile requirement of 30 ESSMs.  ESSMs are quad-packed so 30 missiles translates to 7.5 VLS cells.

Note that 15 simultaneous attacking missiles is a major engagement and defending against it required 7.5 VLS cells.  Suppose a third (say 30) of the Burke’s VLS cells are loaded with ESSMs (120 ESSMs, total).  That means the ship can conduct 4 major engagements of the nature described.

We’ve also previously noted that, historically, naval engagements consist of a single battle after which the force returns to base to refuel and rearm.  Naval forces simply don’t stand and engage in multiple battles.  Yes, there can be multiple attacks per battle and, with that in mind, we’ve just noted that a Burke could engage in 4 such major attacks.

Now, let’s take a moment to consider the reality of a future naval battle.  A carrier group, for example, will consist of 3-4 carriers and 20+ Aegis escorts (seriously, you’re not going to expose 3-4 carriers with anything less than 20+ escorts, are you?).  Some quick math reveals that 20 escorts, each with 30 ESSM quad-packed VLS cells, totals 2,400 ESSM missiles.  A major attack against a carrier group might consist of, say, 60 anti-ship missiles.  If not detected until the 20 mile mark, that would require 120 defensive ESSMs.  Thus, the group could engage in 20 such major attacks before running out of ESSMs.

We see, then, that the need for AAW defensive VLS cells – the AAW magazine - is small; on the order of 30 cells per ship, if even that.  Throw in some cells for longer range Standards, say, 30, and you have a fully equipped and capable AAW escort ship whose magazine, meaning VLS cells, doesn’t need to be much more than around 60.  That will have a significant impact on ship size and resulting cost.

Pure AAW escort ships wouldn’t need helos/flight decks/hangars which would cut 130 ft or so from the ship length.  You can see that we could build top of the line, pure AAW escorts that would be half the size of a Burke and with 2/3 the number of VLS cells at, one would reasonably hope, half to a third of the cost.

However, this post isn’t about specialized AAW escort ships.  The post is about magazine size (VLS capacity).  We can see that the trend towards more and more VLS cells is misguided.  The odds of ever needing more than a third of the magazine capacity are poor.  We’re overbuilding our ships and when they sink, they’ll take most of their magazine with them, unexpended, just as their WWII forebears did.  While a WWII ship taking shells costing hundreds to thousands of dollars each is grudgingly acceptable, a modern ship taking, say, 90 cells worth of missiles that cost $1M-$3M each represents a loss of up to $300M dollars.  Worse, our current inventories of most missiles numbers around a few thousand, at most.  Thus, losing 90 unexpended missiles represents a significant hit to our inventory.  This is exactly the same argument that highlights one of the disadvantages of the arsenal ship. 

We need to start doing some serious combat simulations and planning and start basing our ship designs on the realities of combat rather than just unthinkingly trying to cram as much as we can into every ship.

Monday, October 22, 2018

A Vision Of Future ASW

Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) always has been and always will be a challenging endeavor.  The submarine has the overwhelming inherent advantage.  It’s clear that surface forces (to include aircraft and ships) need a breakthrough technological and/or operational advantage to tip the scales back in their favor or even simply even them up a bit.  The problem is that most new technology is just enhancements of old technology: a sonar with better sensitivity, a variable depth sonar, a new P-8 Poseidon ASW aircraft to replace the old P-3, etc.  Even the latest concept of multi-static sonar is just an enhancement of normal sonar and has, thus far, proven generally ineffective.

The latest and hottest craze in ASW is unmanned vehicles.  Western militaries have gone absolutely “all in” on unmanned vehicles of every type and description and for almost every function in the military – and all without any substantive proof that unmanned vehicles are viable and effective in peer combat.  Sure, we’re all familiar with UAVs that shoot Hellfire missiles at some hapless terrorist but what about when we try to send that same UAV over the battlefield against Russia or China?  Odds are that the life span of that UAV will be measured in minutes. 

But, I digress …

I was talking about unmanned vehicles being the latest, hottest craze in ASW.  For example, the US military’s research group, DARPA, is developing an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) unmanned surface vessel that is supposed to trail submarines for weeks on end – without explaining how the small, low powered sonars on the unmanned vessel, with no human guidance, insight, or interpretation of data are going to effortlessly find and track submarines that full size, high powered sonars on manned destroyers that are also equipped with towed arrays and undersea warfare software suites can’t.

But, again, I digress …

Let’s move away from specifics and, instead, consider general concepts.  I came across the following description of one blogger’s vision of future ASW operations.  His vision illustrates the fascination with unmanned and beautifully captures the essence of what, I suspect, most people would see as a reasonable operational concept.  Here it is,

“So, a vision of near-future ASW could look like this.  Ahead of operations in a particular area, a number of autonomous underwater sensors are deployed, mapping the environment and generating an updated model of the sonar conditions that exist.  A force then moves into the area, screened by a number of USV’s [ed. unmanned surface vessels] deployed ahead of the force.  The escorts could search a huge front, with the USV’s up [front] and able to detect the SM [ed. submarine] before it can get into firing position and MPAs [ed. Maritime Patrol Aircraft], if available, would link into the network and add their own sonobuoy data.  Once detected, the SM is fixed and the force can deal with it however it wishes – surging helicopters or MPAs to harry the SM, or long-ranged engagements with a weapon such as ASROC.  It’s a worthwhile vision of how effective a Type 31 frigate could be if both it and two SEAGULLs [ed. a specific USV] were equipped with an interlinked system like TRAPS [ed. a type of variable depth sonar] and a weapon such as ASROC.” (1)

Note:  SEAGULL is a 12 meter long unmanned powerboat being developed by Elbit Systems

Note:  SM – I don’t know what that stands for as it wasn’t defined in the post but from the context it is clear that it refers to a submarine.

Well, that’s a very appealing scenario, isn’t it?  I’m betting most of you think it’s a pretty realistic vision.  Let’s take a closer look and see if its appeal holds up.

One fascinating aspect of the author’s vision is the battlefield preparation.  An unspecified, autonomous sensor is deployed in large numbers to map the battlefield and generate sonar models based on water conditions.  This is a great idea … if we know the battlefield ahead of time.  How often does a surface force have the luxury of knowing where an encounter with a submarine will occur?  Not often, bordering on never.

Yes, there are some areas such as navigational chokepoints where submarine contacts can be anticipated with some degree of likelihood but those are relatively few and such chokepoints are likely to be avoided by any surface force.  Beyond that, most encounters will be unexpected or only vaguely anticipated.

Thus, the ability to pre-deploy sensors is extremely limited.  ASW battlefields are going to be a surprise rather than planned.

The next aspect of the ASW vision is the employment of small, 12 m USVs with some sort of small sonar.  The vision anticipates these boats searching “a huge front” and detecting submarines before they can get into firing position.  Given that modern torpedoes have ranges of 20-30 miles (the Chinese Yu-6 torpedo is the equivalent of the US Mk48 and has a reported range of 28 miles), that means that the USVs would have to be deployed 25-35+ miles in front of the ships they’re escorting.  The area to be searched would, therefore, be 25-35+ miles in front and 25 miles or so to either side of the surface group’s path of travel.  That requires a search box perhaps 15 miles in depth and 50 miles wide, at a minimum.  That’s 750 sq. miles. 

Assuming a rate of advance of the surface group of 20 kts, the search box would also be advancing at a rate of 20 kts.  How many 12 m boats with small sonars would be required to search a 600 sq. mile box while advancing at a rate of 20 kts?  If a small boat with a small sonar had a field of view of 1 mile, it would require 25 boats in a line abreast advancing at 20 kts to maintain the search – and we’re ignoring the detrimental acoustic effect of the 20 kts speed on the boat’s sonar – hence the need for some depth in the search box to allow some sprint and drift type of tactic.

Where are 25 such boats going to come from?  A typical destroyer, for example, might be able to accommodate a couple of deployable small USV boats.  It would require 13 escort destroyers to carry and deploy 25 USVs!

Of course, we can manipulate the numbers by making different assumptions. 

This leads us to our next point of interest.  As we previously noted, if we’re going to believe that a handful of small boats are going to be effective then have to explain how our very best, highest powered sonars and towed arrays mounted on full size destroyers and operated by highly trained crew can’t find submarines with any significant degree of success but 12 m unmanned boats with tiny sonars powered by batteries are going to find submarines with unerring success.  If we actually had sonars that effective wouldn’t we be engaged in a crash program of retrofitting them to our existing destroyers?  Of course we would!  Since we’re not, it’s obvious that no small boat with a tiny battery powered sonar is going to find a submarine.

What becomes apparent is that such a boat is equivalent to a mobile sonobuoy.  Recognizing that, we see that such a small sonar CAN detect a submarine but the field of view is extremely limited (recall our earlier discussion about field of view and numbers).  Also, sonobuoys are static, once deployed.  As such, they are immune from self-generated acoustic “noise”, unlike the moving small boats which would likely be, essentially, deaf.

Perhaps we could deploy the small boats much farther in front – say, 30-50 miles.  That would allow some time to drift or move slowly while searching.  The problem there is how to get the boats there and then how to control/communicate with them since their communications are line-of-sight.  Communications limits the deployable distance to 20 miles, max – that’s not very far out in front and may not even exceed the operating host ship’s own sonar, depending on conditions.

Finally, note that the various platforms the author calls for in his scenario:

  • small unmanned boats,
  • an undefined field of autonomous sensors
  • maritime patrol aircraft
  • helos

What do these platforms have in common?  Answer: they’re all utterly defenseless and their effectiveness and survivability depends on the enemy offering absolutely no resistance.  So many modern US military (Western militaries, in general?) operational and tactical plans seem to depend heavily on the enemy’s cooperation.  For example, our plans to use UAVs and large, slow P-8 Poseidons depends on zero enemy opposition.  Would we allow the Chinese that kind of freedom to operate against us?  Of course not!  So, why do we persist in thinking the Chinese will allow us to freely operate all our shiny new toys?  I guess scenario planning is a lot easier when you start with the assumption that the enemy won’t do anything to hinder your actions!

Okay, I’ve critiqued the author’s vision of future ASW and without him being able to respond – an unfortunate and undesirable situation for which I apologize to the author – so what’s a better proposal?  Criticizing is fine but it’s preferable to offer an alternative at the same time.

We noted that ASW needs a breakthrough technology to level the battlefield.  Here’s some possibilities.

Unmanned “beaters” – torpedo-like vehicles that can travel ahead of a ship and carry active sonar.  The small size allows for many dozens to be carried on a ship as opposed to one or two unmanned surface boats.  The torpedo size/shape allows for simple launch from the host ship.  The purpose is less to detect a submarine than to flush a submarine from hiding.  The sub can either retreat – a mission kill – or attempt to close and risk increased odds of detection.

Wake Homing Anti-Submarine Torpedo – Submerged submarines leave wakes – large, long trails of turbulent, disturbed water which an ASW torpedo with a suitably designed sensor should be able to detect just as conventional wake homing torpedoes can detect surface ship wakes.  In fact, submarines impact their environment in many ways (thermal wake, Debye magnetic wake effect, eddies, chemical trails, minute radiation trails, etc. (2,3)) and those impacts can be sensed and tracked.  We need a brand new generation of homing technology based on previously impossible detection methods.

Limpet Particles – Small particles spread over large, suspect areas with properties of attachment and detectability.  Consider a submarine sailing through particle-seeded waters and slowly building up concentrations of attached particles that can be detected and tracked.  The attachment could be magnetic or some other attractive force that sea creatures would be immune to (it would do no good to track whales!).  The detection mechanism might be low level radiation, thermal due to induced friction, chemical (some unique, not naturally occurring chemical or isotope), or some other mechanism.

Penetrating Wavelengths – Acoustic wavelengths have been the traditional means to penetrate the protective water and detect subs but there is an entire spectrum of wavelengths that be able to penetrate water to useful depths.  Bear in mind that we don’t necessarily need to penetrate from the surface down to a thousand feet below the sea.  If the wavelength generator were mounted on a torpedo or some such device, the device itself could start at a hundred feet or a thousand.  The sensor would only need to penetrate the sphere immediately around itself to whatever range it can.

Bioluminescence – Many marine life forms generate light which is referred to as bioluminescence.  The passage of submarines disturbs the normal background light levels and studies have postulated the ability to find useful signals from the changes. (4)

Vortex – Similar in concept to wake detection, the vortices that submarines leave as the travel and maneuver can be tracked by mobile, underwater sensors.

And so on.

The purpose of this post is not to advocate for any specific technology but, rather, to note that we need to alter the current submarine/anti-submarine warfare balance which decidedly favors the submarine.  Unfortunately, with the end of the Cold War the Navy foolishly allowed its ASW capabilities and research to atrophy and we are now scrambling to catch up.  The Navy needs to begin conducting serious ASW research (not the warmed over obsolete version of ASW that they’re trying to install on the LCS but something truly effective) and developing new ASW tactics. 

We also need to cut the cord linking us so solidly to unmanned vehicles and expand our thinking to many other areas.  Until we do, submarines will continue to dominate the naval battlefield.


(1)Verdigris blog, “Unmanned Systems and Anti Submarine Warfare”, 30-Dec-2017,

(4)“The Anti-Submarine Warfare Potential of Bioluminescence Imaging”, Strand, Pautzke, and Mitchell, 1-Jan-1980,

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

China War - Setting The Stage

War with China appears to be inevitable.  Many people don’t believe that or, rather, don’t want to believe it.  You know what, though?  For the purposes of this post, it doesn’t matter.  We’re going to stipulate that a war with China is coming for the sake of discussion.  You don’t need to believe it but it’s only wise to prepare for the possibility even if you don’t think it will happen.  To totally ignore the possibility would be the height of foolishness.  This somewhat long-winded opening paragraph serves to set the stage for this post and eliminate the inevitable “China is our friend, a peace loving world neighbor, and would never consider going to war” comments.  I’m not going to allow a debate of whether China will or won’t go to war.  Instead, we’re going to discuss and plan for a war regardless of how likely or unlikely you or I, personally, believe it to be.

Whew!  Glad to get that out of the way.

Now, what I’m going to discuss is general considerations associated with a war with China.  Note that most of this would apply in a general sense to any enemy and any war.

Before we go any further, we need to stipulate that the US will not start a war with China.  That means that a war will be started by China.  That initial condition dictates many aspects of the war.  China will get the first strikes, will be able to initiate land seizures, establish the initial location and conditions of combat, etc.  Thus, America’s first actions will be purely reactionary and defensive.

The recognition that our first actions will be defensive should dictate our peacetime posture and raise questions such as,

  • How many and what type of forces we should have forward deployed given that they will be hit hard and likely lost in the opening moments of a war?

  • Should our few forward bases be hardened more than they are given the expected ballistic and cruise missile attacks?

  • Do we have sufficient forward deployed engineering assets to quickly rebuild initially damaged bases?

  • Is it wise to have naval forces based in Japan given the proximity to Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles and the resultant likelihood of their loss?

  • Are our forces positioned so as to quickly respond to initial invasion/seizure attempts?

  • Are we willing to fight for Taiwan in the initial stages of a war?

The issue of Taiwan is one that needs to be addressed.  In any war, Taiwan will be the first (or co-first) objective of China for two main reasons:

  1. China has long wanted control over Taiwan and a war offers the perfect opportunity regardless of the actual purpose of the war.

  1. More importantly, China simply cannot allow an enemy base to exist in its front yard during a war.  Strategically and operationally, Taiwan must be eliminated as a threat.

Thus, the U.S. will have the choice of trying to fight a very difficult battle to support/retake Taiwan, deep in the heart of the Chinese A2/AD zone or to abandon Taiwan and allow it to become a Chinese fortress anchoring the first island chain A2/AD zone.  Neither choice is particularly palatable but the issue must be accounted for in initial war planning.

Moving on, the biggest requirement in any war planning and, ironically, the biggest failing of most people who discuss war plans, is the need to define the desired end result.  Presumably, that means victory, right?  After all, who enters a war with losing being the desired end result?  Ironically, and disturbingly, the US has not attempted to win a war since WWII.  Even Desert Storm turned out to be a tactical and operational victory and a long term strategic failure.  So, what general conditions would constitute a desirable end result, if not victory, in a war with China?  Let’s consider some possibilities.

Conquer all of mainland China – Well, that’s just absurd.  We don’t have the manpower, weapons, capacity, or will to engage in that level of war and, even if we did, it’s highly unlikely that we could successfully (meaning, for any cost that we’d be willing to pay) subjugate a country of 1.4 billion people who have been raised to hate us.  While a conquered China that is no longer a threat to the rest of the world is a highly desirable end state, it is just not realistically achievable. 

This is just an idiotic non-starter of an idea.

Return to pre-war status quo – This is probably the end result that most people would choose.  While this would return the world to “normal” it presents one major problem – we’ll have to fight the war all over again, down the road.  China will learn military lessons, rearm (while incorporating the lessons), and try again.  This is essentially what happened with Iraq and Saddam Hussein.  We returned Iraq to the pre-war conditions and, sure enough, wound up having to fight the same war/country/leader again.  We had the opportunity at the end of Desert Storm to permanently eliminate Iraq/Hussein and opted not to. 

Status quo doesn’t gain anything for the US or the world.  If we’re going to commit to war and pay a horrific price in lives, it’s mandatory that we improve the world in some way – not just return to status quo. 

This is a viable and achievable end result but it produces no net positive gain for the US or the world and ensures that we’ll fight another war.

Negotiated settlement – This allows China to achieve a portion of its goals in exchange for peace – essentially, we “sell” various countries, locations, rights, and controls at the negotiating table in order to avoid continued fighting.  China gains, to a degree, undoubtedly a significant degree, and we and the rest of the world lose. 

This also sets a horrible precedent that China can initiate a war, seize what it wants plus a bit more, and then return the parts it didn’t really want and keep the parts it did want while looking like it is negotiating in good faith and desires peace.

This guarantees future wars.

That pretty much covers the common end results.  See what I mean about the disturbing lack of actual victory conditions?  Only conquering all of mainland China is an actual victory and it’s unachievable. 

So, where does that leave us?

There is one, and only one, other logical end result and it happens to result in an actual victory with actual long term improvement in the world condition.

Military and Academic Annihilation – This results in the complete defeat of China’s military but does not require occupation of China.  We simply, systematically, destroy China’s military and destroy China’s military industry.  This, alone, however, is not enough.  That end result would leave China’s leadership in place and the country intact.  China would learn lessons and rebuild its industry and military and we’d have to eventually fight the war all over again at some point in the future.  To prevent this, we need to go a step further and utterly destroy China’s academic capability.  We need to destroy every university, every think tank, every study group, every research facility, every school.  We need to eliminate China’s ability to produce new engineers and scientists that can eventually design new military factories and new weapons.  That’s how you prevent a repeat, future war.


Having set the desired end result, we now have to set the initial conditions and, most importantly, our initial force disposition.  Having already stipulated that the first strike will go to China, we have to consider a force disposition that allows us to absorb a first strike without crippling damage – in other words, not another Pearl Harbor.

For example, having a single carrier based in Japan is inviting a first strike, immediate loss of a carrier.  We should reconsider the wisdom and benefit of a single carrier in Japan versus the risk of immediate loss.

Guam is a Pearl Harbor waiting to happen.  Again, we need to reconsider the benefits versus the risk.  At the moment, Guam is not host to a lot of naval force so a strike would not represent a crippling blow.  On the other hand, we have seen a slow but steady increase in the number of ships based there and we should consider the risk carefully.

Hand in hand with risk assessment, we should carefully review the defendability of Guam and make major improvements if we want to maintain it as a viable and survivable forward base.

Pearl Harbor is also a Pearl Harbor waiting to happen and all the same considerations apply.  While Pearl Harbor has the advantage of greater distance from China, it is not beyond the reach of a first strike.

For both Pearl Harbor and Guam, we need to establish a continuous anti-submarine (ASW) barrier around and between those sites and China

Beyond absorbing the first strike, we also want to have forces positioned to enable us to hit back hard and quickly in response to the first strike in an attempt to produce a pause in combat which will enable us to “set” ourselves for continued combat.

Thus, we need a combat ready surge force.  Unfortunately, our military leaders have produced a hollow force that is far from ready.  Returning carrier groups, for example, are scavenged for aircraft, personnel, and equipment to transfer to deploying groups.  The remaining aircraft and pilots barely get enough monthly flight hours to remain flight qualified.

Our aircraft availability rates are barely 50% across all services and aircraft types.

Our ships are barely seaworthy with multiple equipment failures, training lapses, and personnel shortages.

And so on.

As previously discussed, we need to end deployments and move to a mission based system in which we can reset our forces, catch up on maintenance, and train rigorously.

Hand in hand with initial kinetic strikes, China will launch massive cyber attacks.  We need to ensure that we are prepared to defend our networks or function without them.  Our crippling dependence on networks and our na├»ve assumption that we will always have them is a critical vulnerability.

This discussion leads to questions like what force structure and numbers do we need to implement the victory conditions but that’s a post for another time.

We now understand the initial conditions of war with China and the challenges we will face.  Now, before the shooting begins, is the time to plan, prepare, and train.  We need to adjust our force structure, reposition our forces, build up our bases, and train for the initial actions.  There is no hindsight required, here.  The initial conditions are easily anticipated.  We need our modern War Plan Orange.

Regarding comments, I’d like to have a reasoned, logical discussion about this. 

I am specifically not going to allow comments suggesting that we can’t even sneeze in China’s direction because they might begin using nuclear weapons.  That’s absurd beyond belief.  Yes, there could be a point where, in extremis, China would use nuclear weapons but it’s not going to be because we shoot down a plane or some such trivial action.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Not Enough Escorts For Convoys

Defense News website has what I’m sure they believe is an eye-opening article about the Navy not having enough escorts for convoys in future wars. (1)  I have no doubt that the article will cause a brief sensation and then fade into the realm of the forgotten as all such eye-opening revelations do.  Before it fades, however, commentators will, no doubt bemoan the state of the Navy and suggest that we have no hope of winning a future war.

Here …  read this quote from the article.  You can’t help but be alarmed, right?

“The Navy has been candid enough with Military Sealift Command and me that they will probably not have enough ships to escort us. It’s: ‘You’re on your own; go fast, stay quiet,’” Buzby [Mark Buzby, the retired rear admiral who now leads the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration] told Defense News … (1)

This sounds like just the kind of thing that ComNavOps will jump on, right?  Wrong.  I have zero interest in the fact that the Navy does not have enough escorts for convoys.  What’s more, the lack of escorts is meaningless and – hold on to your hats for this – probably a good thing.  Wait, what now?!  How can a lack of convoy escorts be meaningless and a good thing?

Well, military observers and commentators have a consistent problem with their analyses and that is that they analyze from the perspective of being able to wage an instantaneous, full on war from day one.  If we don’t have all the escorts we need on day one then the Navy has failed.  If we don’t have all the minesweepers and minelayers we need on day one then the Navy has failed.  If we don’t have all the logistics support auxiliaries we need on day one then the Navy has failed.  If we don’t have all the cargo/transport ships we need on day one then the Navy/Merchant Marine has failed.  And so on.

The reality is that no one has all the things they need for a war on day one.  It takes time to gear up for war.  Factories need to convert to war production.  People need to be inducted and trained.  Ships, tanks, and aircraft need to be built.

We know the Navy had thousands of ships in WWII but what did the Navy start the war with?  Let’s look at, say, 1935 which was just before we began the gradual build up to war (by 1935 it was obvious that war was coming and the US began a slow build up).

Carriers        4
Battleships    15
Cruisers       25
Destroyers    104
Submarines     52
Mine Warfare   26
Patrol         23
Auxiliary      71

Total         320

If you subtract the ‘Patrol’ ships, whatever those are, which are probably not combat vessels, we had only 297 ships.

A 297 ship Navy???  That’s nowhere near enough to fight a full on war!  That’s nowhere near enough escorts for all the convoys!  All is lost!  We can’t win a war with that Navy!  …  …  Except that we did.

It just took time to build up.  By 1944 we had over 6000 ships in the Navy and every convoy had escorts.

The lesson is clear.  The lack of escorts, today, is meaningless.  We’ll build what we need, when we need it. 

In fact, the lack of escorts is probably a good thing because it means we aren’t wasting ships, crews, and budget on a task that doesn’t exist.

Now, there are some aspects to this that I will jump on.

Shipyards – The most important aspect of this is our lack of shipyards.  Before WWII we had dozens of shipyards which meant we had the capacity to quickly build whatever we lacked when we entered the war.  The same applies to factories.  We’ve sent so much of our production capacity overseas that we may lack the factory capacity to build the required tanks, aircraft, munitions, etc.  This is a very serious issue and is one that the nation should be addressing as a strategic national interest.

Institutional Knowledge – One of the responsibilities of the military/Navy should be to maintain institutional knowledge about operations, tactics, and capabilities that we may not use frequently but which we can anticipate needing when war comes.  Escort tactics is an example.  When was the last time you heard of the Navy training to escort a merchant convoy?  The answer is never.  How many escorts do we need for a given convoy?  How should they be deployed to counter modern air and subsurface threats?  What kind of command and control structure is needed?  I have no idea (understandable) but neither does the Navy (unforgivable). 

It’s not a problem that we don’t have all the escorts we need for a war but it is a problem that we don’t maintain a small group of dedicated ships that train constantly for the escort role so as to provide a fully competent training cadre when the need arises.

Simplicity – Gearing up when war comes is greatly facilitated by being able to build things that are relatively basic and simple.  An F6F Hellcat, for example, is a lot easier to build quickly and in large quantity than and F-35.  This is not to suggest that we revert to Hellcats but we should factor complexity into our design criteria.  In other words, a state of the art but relatively simpler fighter aircraft that we can build quickly, in large numbers, might well be a better choice than an F-35 that we’ve been trying to build for decades and still can’t get right.  Alternatively, we might consider a slightly second tier aircraft that can be quickly mass produced as a supplement to the overly complex front line aircraft.

Specifically, for the escort issue, we currently lack a suitable, simple, general purpose escort vessel that we can quickly mass produce when war comes.  We don’t really want to have to use front line, multi-billion dollar Aegis vessels to conduct routine convoy escort where, 95% of the time, nothing happens.  There’s nothing wrong with attaching a Burke to a convoy that we anticipate is likely to encounter the enemy but most convoys will not fall into that category.  A simple corvette/destroyer escort type vessel is needed.  We should have a few such vessels in service in order to maintain the design, train, develop tactics, and test new equipment (see, Institutional Knowledge, above).

Convoy Escort - WWII Flower Class Corvette

While I have no problem with the Navy’s current lack of escorts for merchant convoys, I have a severe problem with the Navy’s utter indifference to the issue.  Simply telling the Military Sealift Command and various merchant groups, ‘You’re on your own; go fast, stay quiet,’ is not the answer.  The answer is to maintain a small group of escorts for training and competency, have a simple ship design that can be quickly produced, and have a plan to build, train, and man those ships when the time comes.

Unfortunately, the Navy is so focused on big, shiny, expensive hulls that they completely ignore the mundane.  Well, I’ve got news for the Navy – unless those mundane convoys get through, those big, shiny, fancy new Fords are going to grind to a halt for lack of parts, fuel, munitions, food, etc.

Laughing off the convoy escort issue with a ‘go fast’ admonition is irresponsible and dereliction of duty.  This is yet another example of CNO Richardson’s failure of command.


(1)Defense News website, “‘You’re on your own’: US sealift can’t count on Navy escorts in the next big war”, David B. Larter, 10-Oct-2018,