Thursday, November 29, 2018

Maintaining the Gap

Militarily, America has traditionally been able to count on a technology and general capability advantage over its opponents.  This gap between our capabilities and our enemy’s has allowed us to persevere while steadily shrinking in numbers (Reagan era excepted!).  Of late, however, our enemies have been able to match, and in some cases exceed, our technology.  China, in particular seems bent on matching or exceeding both our technology and our numbers.  If successful, they will reverse the military gap and own the advantage.  Russia is matching some of our technology and in a few cases exceeding it – electronic warfare being the prime example.  Russia, however, lacks numbers and the economic foundation to alter the numbers imbalance.

The military gap, or offset, as it has also been called, has, historically, been a transient and ever-changing situation.  Whenever one country develops a new technology it is only a matter of time until all countries have it.  Thus, the original developer gains a fairly short-lived, transient advantage that vanishes over time.  

For example, the US was the first to develop stealth in a workable, mass produced form (F-117 aircraft) and that gave us a significant advantage for a number of years.  Now, however, all countries have stealth capabilities.  Not only that, many countries are developing counter-stealth technologies.  Our stealth-based gap (offset) has ended.

With the end of the US stealth gap, our overall gap has begun to shrink.  Decades ago, we committed to a philosophy of fewer numbers in the misguided belief that we could compensate with superior technology.  Now, though, we’re finding ourselves being matched in technology and we’re losing the numbers advantage we once held – the worst of both worlds.

The narrowing gap is beginning to make an impact.

… during a congressional hearing earlier this month, Rand Corp. researcher and Pentagon war gamer David Ochmanek told senators that “when we run war games against China and Russia, U.S. forces lack the capabilities they need to win … and the gap is widening.” (1)

“I think there’s widespread agreement in the building that our conventional overmatch is eroding,” [Robert] Work [former DepSecDef] said. “The only debate is how long we have.” (1)

Having learned no lessons from history, the US’ solution to maintaining our gap over potential enemies is to develop new technology.  For the US, technology has always been the answer to everything.  Quantity, tactics, training, maintenance, etc. have been relegated to afterthoughts.  We’re focused on technology for its own sake, assuming that superior technology automatically grants battlefield success.  Unfortunately, history is packed with examples of low tech forces matching or beating high tech ones.  Some examples include,
  • NVietnam
  • ISIS
  • Afghanistan/Taliban
  • Hamas/PalestineHouthi rebels
Despite history’s lesson about technology, we remain determined to ride the promise of technology.  A few years ago, it was the Third Offset Strategy which would use networks and unmanned vehicles to make up for lack of firepower, survivability, and numbers despite the fact that our networks and unmanned communications are highly susceptible to electronic countermeasures, as Russia has demonstrated in Ukraine.

Now, the Third Offset talk has died down but the pursuit of technology continues unabated.  The name may have changed but the Third Offset goals still resonate with the US military.

If, as history teaches us, technology is not the way to maintain our gap, what is?

The answer is firepower.  More specifically, effective firepower.

It does us no good to know what color underwear each individual enemy soldier is wearing if we lack the firepower to kill them.  Conversely, the enemy doesn’t really care about intel if they can bring massive and incredibly lethal area bombardments to bear.  The Russian TOS-1 Buratino self-propelled rocket launcher (an MLRS with 30x 220mm rockets) is a good example of a thermobaric, area barrage weapon.

Firepower makes up for a lot of missing intel.

Now, don’t get me wrong, intel/recon/surveillance is important.  However, when it supersedes firepower it becomes counterproductive and intel for its own sake is just wasteful and misleading.  Ideally, intel and firepower should operate hand in hand.  However, if you can’t have both, consider the two cases where one of the factors is missing. 

-       Intel without firepower is useless.

On the other hand, 

-       Firepower without intel is still useful.  Area bombardment is effective, if inefficient. 

Given the general principal, what specific types of firepower do we lack?  Here’s a few,

Conventional ballistic missiles – China, in particular, is building an inventory of such missiles including the much-hyped DF-21 carrier killer.  We sorely lack a 1000-5000 mile ballistic missile.  Ballistic missiles are causing immense concern in the Navy.  Isn’t it about time that we return the favor to China?

Supersonic cruise missiles – We lack supersonic cruise missiles.  Even our newest anti-ship missile, the LRASM, is subsonic.  Again, we worry greatly about our enemy’s supersonic missiles (every conversation seems to include mention of the ‘unstoppable’ BrahMos) and for good reason.  They are very difficult to engage.  We need our own.

Stealthy cruise missiles – The Tomahawk is our main cruise missile and, among its other shortcomings, is not stealthy.  The success rate of Tomahawk against a peer defense is highly suspect.

Artillery cluster munitions – The US has opted to cease development of cluster munitions despite our enemies enthusiasm for them.  Why wouldn’t they be enthusiastic?  Cluster munitions are highly effective and hugely destructive.  We need cluster munitions.

Heavy naval guns – We have an entire amphibious assault doctrine that completely lacks heavy naval gunfire support.  The vast majority of military targets throughout the world lie within 20 miles of the shore.  Heavy naval guns would prove immensely destructive and useful.  Vietnam and a host of other historical examples prove that conclusively.

Very Long Range Air-to-Air Missile – The US developed the Phoenix missile and owned a significant air-to-air range advantage but has since failed to follow up with even longer ranged missiles.  China and Russia are now developing and fielding air-to-air missiles with ranges of 200-300+ miles.

The examples can go on but these should suffice to illustrate our firepower shortcomings.

If we don’t change our approach and begin focusing more on firepower, we’ll someday have the most exquisite knowledge in the history of warfare of the enemy that is destroying us with good old-fashioned area bombardment.

We need to regain our firepower gap or, at the very least, not allow our enemies to own the firepower advantage.


(1)Foreign Policy website, “The Pentagon’s Third Offset May Be Dead, But No One Knows What Comes Next”, Paul McLeary, 18-Dec-2017,

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mobile Device Display Change

Readers, I've modified the settings on the blog to display the desktop view on mobile devices.  Ominously, the preview does not look good.  Let me know if I've inadvertently made the problem worse.  Thanks.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

CNO Richardson Incriminates Himself

CNO Richardson just issued the most self-incriminating statement imaginable.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) just issued a report on the submarine maintenance problems. (1)

… a recent Government Accountability Office report that found the Navy has lost more than $1.5 billion and thousands of operational days over the past decade due to attack submarines caught in maintenance delays or sitting idle while awaiting an availability. (1)

Soak up those numbers … $1.5 BILLION and THOUSANDS of operational days lost !!!!!!!!!!!

Did you catch how long it’s been going on?  - From the quote, ‘over the past decade’.

CNO Richardson’s reaction?

Richardson, in a media call on Thursday during his Thanksgiving visit to USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), told USNI News that he found “no surprises in that report. Every bit of information in that is information we’re very, very aware of. (1)

So, CNO Richardson, you have a massive, massive problem facing the fleet, you weren’t surprised by any of it, and you’ve been “very, very aware” of it?  So what in the hell have you been doing about it besides sitting on your ass?  Talk about dereliction of duty!  This is incompetence on a massive scale.

CNO Richardson’s statement is about as self-incriminating an indictment of his incompetence as is possible to imagine.

What does the GAO have to say about the Navy’s pathetic efforts?

The Navy has started to address challenges related to workforce shortages and facilities needs at the public shipyards. However, it has not effectively allocated maintenance periods among public shipyards and private shipyards that may also be available to help minimize attack submarine idle time.

So, even after a decade or more, the Navy’s effort at a solution is feeble and ineffective.

Why does CNO Richardson still have a job?


(1)USNI News website, “CNO: ‘No Surprises’ in GAO Report on Submarine Readiness Challenges”, Megan Eckstein, 26-Nov-2018,

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Why Battleships?

In a past post (see, "Why Not Battleships?") we reviewed the arguments against a modern battleship and were unable to find a compelling reason not to build them.  However, that does not necessarily mean that there are any compelling reasons to build them.  Let’s see if there are.  Here are some of the arguments for a battleship.

Presence – One of the Navy’s major justifications for its very existence is presence/deterrence.  Personally, I find that rationale to be completely unfounded and historically dubious but that’s a separate topic.  The Navy feels presence is a major justification and nothing says presence like a battleship.  Even critics would have to agree with this – they may not agree that it’s worth it but they can’t deny the sheer imposing presence of a battleship.  There is no better naval presence or deterrence than a battleship.

So, presence would seem to be a valid reason to build battleships.

Firepower – As we noted in the previous post, a battleship has more firepower, more sustained firepower, and more responsive firepower than a carrier – and the battleship’s firepower can’t be jammed, decoyed, shot down, or have a pilot captured.

Within its inherent range limitation, the firepower of the battleship, therefore, offers a viable alternative to a carrier group which frees up the carrier for its primary mission of air superiority and escort of Tomahawk shooters.

A battleship utterly dominates anything it can reach.

So, firepower would seem to be a valid reason to build battleships.

Flexibility – As noted in the preceding discussion of firepower, a battleship offers the ability to conduct significant strikes without requiring a carrier.  This flexibility would be operationally advantageous given the limited number of carriers in the fleet.

Further, the ability of a battleship to operate as the centerpiece of a powerful surface group gives the navy the flexibility to operate more surface groups than just the few carrier groups that are currently possible.

So, flexibility would seem to be a valid reason to build battleships.

Amphibious Assault – We’ve noted that the Navy/Marine amphibious assault doctrine completely negates any possibility of gun support.  Given the Marine’s already light combat structure, the absence of naval gun support effectively renders the entire concept of amphibious assault null and void.  The existence of battleship gun support completely changes that picture and makes amphibious assault conceptually possible again.  The ability to stand relatively near shore and provide gun support with near-immunity to land based rockets, artillery, and anti-ship missiles (via the small size of mobile anti-ship missiles and the presence of the Aegis umbrella) is a huge advantage in an assault.  

So, amphibious assault would seem to be a valid reason to build battleships.

Pressure – The Navy’s distributed lethality concept is predicated on the ability to apply much greater operational and tactical pressure on the enemy by forcing them to account for more threats.  Again, ComNavOps believes this is bilgewater but the Navy believes it.  That being the case, a battleship, alone (stupid) or in a group, would be the epitome of creating additional pressure on the enemy’s operational and tactical situation.  Unlike, say, an LCS with a few anti-ship missiles (if that comes to be), a battleship would be a major threat to both the enemy’s surface and land assets.  The enemy would have to devote significant resources to defending against a battleship group.

So, pressure would seem to be a valid reason to build battleships.

Range – The Iowa class battleships had a range of 15,000 nm at 15 kts, according to Wiki.  Short of nuclear propulsion, this is about as good as it gets.  This type of range is particularly applicable to the Pacific/China theatre and stands out in stark contrast to the LCS which has proven to be a disaster in its deployments to the Pacific.  Given the Navy’s limited bases and limited at-sea replenishment and refueling ships, a powerful ship with great range is mandatory.

So, range would seem to be a valid reason to build battleships.

We noted no compelling reasons not to build modern battleships and now we note several reasons to build them.  Operational and tactical flexibility combined with immense firepower are the main reasons for building modern battleships.  The increase in lethality and options that a battleship provides would be a tremendous advantage for any fleet.  The logic seems clear – battleships are a good idea and a modern battleship is long overdue.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

New Reader Responsibility

There has been an influx of new readers in recent weeks and I find that we're having to repeat a lot of material that has been previously covered.  The archives exist for a reason.  It is the responsibility of new readers to become familiar with the archive material so as to avoid 're-litigating' old issues. I don't mind new perspectives on old issues as long as the reader has done his homework and reviewed the existing material.  You'll find, however, that many of your ideas and arguments have already been covered.

So, grab your favorite beverage, settle in, and enjoy the wisdom of the archives!  Plus, with your new-found knowledge you'll be more interesting and you'll find yourself invited to more parties.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Carrier Group?

Train like you fight.  Fight like you train.

The Navy still doesn't get it.

Here's a photo of the recent Reagan and Stennis carrier groups operating together in the Philippine Sea. (1)

Reagan and Stennis Groups

Notice the number of escorts?  There might be some other escorts detached for side missions but this is consistent with what we've seen over the last couple of decades.  We're simply not training like we'll fight.  Does anyone really think we'll send carriers into combat with only two escorts?  Of course not!  So why, then, are we operating with so few escorts?  That's not training us for combat.  We're not learning how to position, control, and tactically operate a large escort force.

Is a carrier and two escorts even a group?  But, I digress.

ComNavOps has stated that carriers will have to operate in groups of four and even this little 'exercise' (more likely just a photo op) has only two carriers - still not like we'll fight.  Setting that aside, if we went to the trouble of assembling two carriers, why wouldn't we provide a combat escort and really get some worthwhile training out of it?

The Navy simply isn't serious about combat and, therefore, isn't training for it.  There isn't an Admiral in the Navy that has ever commanded a full combat carrier group.  We'll pay for this when war comes - and it will.

Train like you fight.  Fight like you train.


(1)USNI News website, "Reagan, Stennis Carrier Strike Groups Conduct Dual Operations In Philippine Sea", Ben Werner, 16-Nov-2018,

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Roles - The Frigate

Why do we have or want frigates today?

Sadly, the most accurate answer is probably just because we’ve always had them.

We’re going to take a look at the role of the frigate, its historical function, and how that role translates into today’s naval force, if it even does.

Frigates originated in the days of sail.  They were single deck ships designed to be fast.  They were not part of the line of battle.  Their role was patrol, scouting, commerce raiding, escort, communications, and diplomacy (often of the gunboat variety!). 

It was their scouting and patrol functions that were most valuable in that they provided what we now refer to as ‘situational awareness’ for the fleet commanders.  In many respects, fleet commanders valued frigates more than ships of the line.

As the age of steel and steam emerged, the traditional frigate somewhat disappeared.  The scouting role for the fleet became the responsibility of the cruiser – more so when aircraft appeared and cruisers could launch their own planes.  Cruisers were the eyes of the fleet commander until the rise of aircraft when carrier and land based, long range scout planes largely took over the role.

By the time of WWII, frigates were relatively rare.  However, the advent of submarines gave rise to the small anti-submarine ship which, in the US Navy, was referred to as a destroyer escort (DE) although in terms of size the DE slotted into the space between a destroyer and a corvette which would be the frigate space.  The DE’s role was anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and escort.  Other navies referred to the same function/size vessel as corvettes or frigates.  Thus, we see the beginning of today’s widespread overlapping designations.

So, by the end of WWII the frigate’s traditional role of situational awareness had given way to ASW and escort.

During the post-war period the US continued building destroyer escort (DE) classes such as the,

  • Dealey, DE,  1952
  • Claud Jones, DE, 1956
  • Bronstein, DE,  1963

In 1975, the Navy redesignated many ship classes and introduced the formal use of the frigate (FF/FFG) designation.  Subsequent classes such as the Garcia, Knox, and Perry were now frigates. 

Regardless of designation, they retained the DE’s role of ASW and convoy escort.

As the Cold War developed and Western military planners contemplated the need to move convoys across the Atlantic to support a land war in Europe, Soviet submarines were seen as the major threat with some additional, less likely, threat from long range, cruise missile armed bombers.  Thus, the convoy escort was mainly an ASW vessel with a nod to self or near area air defense – hence, the Perry FFG’s fit of Standard missiles.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union the need for massive cross-Atlantic resupply convoys disappeared and, to a large extent, so did the need for frigates, at least in the convoy escort role.  There just wasn’t any need for convoys and this remained the case until the rise of China.  A China war once again raises the specter of trans-oceanic convoys, this time across the Pacific.  As with the Soviet scenario, submarines will, again, present the major threat to convoys.

Concurrent with the rise of the Chinese threat, small, conventionally powered submarines (SSK) proliferated and created a need for up close ASW although, in this case, the need is for pure ASW without the need for convoy escort or even limited area AAW.  Thus, what is needed is a small, cheap, expendable, pure ASW vessel along the lines of a WWII Flower class corvette.

Another chapter in frigate development has been the world-wide tendency of budget-limited navies (almost everyone except the US and China!) to try to pack as much firepower and capability as they can into their frigates since those ships are what constitute the major suface combatant of those navies.  If a frigate is your biggest ship, it makes a certain kind of misguided sense to load it with as much capability as you can to try to make it your ‘capital’ ship.  So called ‘frigates’ now perform almost every naval role:  ASW, AAW, ASuW, cruise missile land attack, etc.  Unfortunately, this trend has led many US Navy observers to call for similar frigates for the US Navy.  We’ve already debunked this desire in previous posts so I won’t belabor it further, here.  Suffice it to say that the US Navy has no need for a frigate and would benefit much more from a small, cheap, ASW corvette.

We see, then, that there have been three major incarnations of the frigate:

  • the original sailing frigate with its role of fleet scout

  • the oceanic convoy escort with its role of ASW and limited AAW

  • the pseudo-capital ship of budget limited navies

Today’s frigates are, by and large, just generic surface ships of as a great a size and capability as the building nation can afford.  Generally speaking, frigates with a specific role no longer exist.

Hopefully, this little review has shed some light on the historical development of frigates.  In the end, though, this is just a semantics discussion.  Lacking a specific role, a frigate can be anything and trying to compare one country’s frigate to another’s is pointless since it is not comparing apples to apples.  So, sit back, relax, and enjoy your favorite version of ‘frigate’.

USS Ford – aviation frigate?

Monday, November 19, 2018

Secrecy Is The Enemy Of Readiness

Just as perfect is the enemy of good, sometimes secrecy is the enemy of readiness.

Let's look at a few examples.


The F-22 is artificially limited in its performance during training exercises out of fear of revealing too much about its capabilities.

F-22 pilots may be restricted from flying the F-22 the way they would fly it in combat -- due to security concerns about exposing the F-22's unique capabilities," the report said. "These restrictions limit the value of the exercises and can result in pilots developing bad habits, according to Air Force officials. (1)

On a related note, this may be an explanation for those occasional stories about foreign aircraft/pilots who claim to have defeated F-22s – along with the desire by the American military not to embarrass foreign militaries during training exercises.

For many years, the Air Force refused to commit the F-22 to operational missions – missions which would have yielded vast amounts of actual performance data.  F-22 IOC was declared in 2005 but the first combat sortie did not occur until 2014 in Syria.


Secrecy has crippled the ability of the Navy to evaluate the Virginia class submarines.

Because Navy security rules prevent the ability to collect useful operational test data from Virginia when conducting exercises with foreign ASW capable platforms, the Navy finished IOT&E without testing the Virginia class submarine against one of its primary threats, the foreign diesel electric submarine (SSK). (2)

Refusing to test against a primary threat because of secrecy concerns is insane.

B-2 Bomber

For many years, the Air Force refused to commit its B-2 bombers to operational missions – missions which would have yielded vast amounts of actual performance data.  The first B-2 was delivered in 1993 but the first mission did not occur until 1999 in Kosovo.

Electronic Warfare

The US military has many electronic warfare (EW) platforms and the Russian’s Ukrainian and Syrian involvements would seem to offer an excellent opportunity for some real world EW testing but, so far, we seem to be withholding much of our EW capability although it has been noted that EC-130 aircraft have been ‘disrupted’ over Syria.  EW is an area that is very difficult to find definitive information on so, to be fair, it’s difficult to determine the exact extent to which our EW is, or is not, being actively employed.  However, circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that we are greatly throttling back our EW other than monitoring Russian performance.


While there is a strong argument to be made for secrecy, if it is taken to the extreme where we don’t even know how our systems perform then it’s been taken too far.

Another key point is that there are very few real secrets anymore.  Cyber hacking by Russia, NKorea, Iran, and China has been so successful that attempting to preserve ‘secrecy’ is probably pointless.  The benefits of actual testing now far outweigh the dubious preservation of secrecy.

As an example, when the F-117 was developed the Air Force kept it under tight wraps, refusing to even admit its existence until it was used in Desert Storm.  At the time, this was probably appropriate and effective.  Today, however, the Chinese are probably seeing our F-35 technical data in near real time!  Thanks to the Internet and proliferation of networks, the days of physical isolation of a secret platform being able to ensure secrecy are long gone.

We need to start vigorous, real world testing and find out what works and what doesn’t.  Secrecy is no longer possible.


(1) website, “Air Force Missing Out on Opportunities to Employ F-22, Report Finds”, Oriana Pawlyk, 20-Jul-2018,

(2)DOT&E Annual Report 2011, p. 176

Friday, November 16, 2018

Navy Getting Divorced

Well, it had to happen sooner or later.  The Navy was just served with divorce papers from its longtime partner, reality.  We can’t say it’s a surprise, can we?  We’ve seen that reality and the Navy have been drifting apart for some time.  Still, it’s always sad to see a marriage torn apart.  I wonder who will get custody of their child, the fleet?  I’m betting the Navy will and the fleet will only see reality a couple of times a year, if that.

Apparently, the event that finally triggered the divorce was the Navy’s latest desire to turn the amphibious ships into destroyers.  From a USNI News article,

Maj. Gen. David Coffman said his directorate will spend 2019 working out the finer details of an Amphibious Warship Evolution Plan, which will …  put the smaller amphibious transport San Antonio-class (LPD-17) docks more on par with cruisers and destroyers as “prominent middle-weight fighters” in a future naval battle. (1) 

Here’s a little bit more detail.

Coffman said that wargames and tabletop exercises have shown the LPD is just the right size to be highly effective in the Navy’s distributed lethality and distributed maritime operations concepts, if they were upgraded to include more lethal systems.  

“Making a bet on increased lethality … is absolutely essential” and worth the cost, he argued. He declined to say what weapon systems he was looking at putting on these amphibs, but he said the upgrades would allow the amphibs to join the rest of the black shoe navy in the fight for sea control once they put their MAGTF ashore.

“Why aren’t you contributing to air and missile defense? Why aren’t you contributing to anti-surface? Instead of having to be protected, why don’t you put something on offer to be part of the killers?” Coffman said of the possibilities of an upgraded LPD.  “The bulk of that will be Navy systems integrated into Navy weapons architecture.”

The general described a scenario of multiple LPDs fighting alongside cruisers and destroyers, and not only would the amphibs have a complement of sensors and weapons to contribute to the sea and air control fight, but they would also have a surprise mix of aircraft and surface connectors hidden in their well decks and flight decks to surprise an adversary closer in to shore. (1)

Well, that was heavy on fantasy and stupidity and light on reality!  Let’s look at the concept in a bit more detail – detail that the Marines/Navy apparently did not.

Sensors.  The ships will, apparently, have a new “complement of sensors and weapons to contribute to the sea and air control fight”.  Is every ship going to get Aegis/AMDR/EASR?  That should drive the already multi-billion dollar cost up quite a bit!

Weapons.  This seems to be more than just welding a few Harpoon launchers onto an open space on the deck.  The vague description seems to imply extensive vertical launch systems, SeaRAM, ESSM, Standard (?), and, likely, the coming (?) vertical launch anti-ship missile (VL-LRASM), among others.  This is no minor upgrade!  No ship has large amounts of unused space.  Every compartment on a ship has a function and few (none!) are unnecessary.  Every weapon added has to be balanced by the loss of some existing function to free up space.  Where are VLS cells going to go?  Where is there room for additional magazines?

Risk.  We only have around 30 amphibious ships to begin with.  Are we really going to risk our only amphibious ships in an air/surface battle that they aren’t designed for?  The amphibs are not stealthy (LPD-17 class claims to have some degree of stealth), do not have integrated air/surface combat control software suites, do not have optimally located sensors, etc.  Yes, they could be rebuilt to incorporate all that but the cost to do so boggles the mind.  Does it make sense to risk the amphibious fleet just to gain a few extra missiles in a fight the ships are not suited for?  If we lose amphibs trying to fight a battle they’re not suited for we lose our amphibious capability (or that portion, at least) for the rest of the war.  We’re not going to build new multi-billion dollar amphibs in any relevant time frame.

Mission.  The amphibious fleet doesn’t just “drop off” the Marines.  That’s kind of what happened at Guadalcanal !  The entire ship(s) has to be unloaded to maintain a continuous flow of supplies for the ground fight.  Once the ships are emptied, their job will be to go get more supplies.  The amphibs embarked supplies are only sufficient to maintain the ground force for a couple of weeks at combat usage levels (always way beyond peacetime estimates!).  When is the amphibious fleet going to have time to hang around for an air/sea battle?  That’s just not their job.

Manning.  You can’t just add weapons with no additional crew.  Weapon and sensor operators will be needed.  Additional high end electronic and weapon system maintenance technicians will be needed.  Additonal crew will be needed to feed these added people.  Additional berthing, galley space, heads, etc. will be needed to service the added manpower.  The Navy is already on an ill-advised quest for reduced manning and this is going to increased manning.

Cost.  While there are no details offered on what the upgrade/conversion would consist of, it’s clear that this won’t be cheap!  These ships already cost multi billions of dollars and this is just going to drive the price way, way up.  The Navy is already screaming about not enough funding for new ships and that’s before the looming SSBN replacement program in addition to the normal ship construction.  Where is this money going to come from.

I also have to ask, where and when did this Marine become an expert on naval battles?  This seems like yet another example of the Marines pushing into areas they aren’t qualified for (aviation, UAVs, fleet defense, long range strike, cyber warfare, etc.).

Amphibious ships are highly specialized, incredibly rare and valuable, and not easily replaced.  Why would we want to risk them in a battle they’re not suited for?  Wouldn’t it make far more sense to build dedicated, optimized destroyers to fill the destroyer role?

This has to be the dumbest idea I’ve heard in a long while.  I know, I know, the Navy has come up with a LOT of dumb ideas recently (Zumwalts with no ammo for the guns, for example) so maybe this isn’t the absolute dumbest but it’s certainly up near the top.

I see why reality has decided to divorce itself from the Navy!  They were in a loving relationship once but have nothing in common anymore.

(1)USNI News website, “Navy Pitching Amphibious Warship Overhaul to Boost Lethality, Survivability” Megan Eckstein, 13-Nov-2018,

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Survival On The Modern Battlefield

The lethality of the modern land battlefield argues against the survival and effectiveness of unprotected infantry.  Indeed, it strongly suggests that only armored vehicles have any reasonable expectation of survival long enough to be effective.  For the infantry, this means that heavy armored personnel carriers (HAPC) are mandatory.  The U.S. military’s fascination with unarmored or lightly armored “jeeps” in various forms (such as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle) is misguided in the extreme.  The Russian lesson in artillery in Ukraine should have been eye-opening for the US and allies.

Similarly, the naval battlefield will be one of immense lethality where only the big and strong (armored) will survive.  Of course, this has always been a characteristic of naval warfare.  Naval battles have always been short, vicious, and deadly, especially for the smaller vessels like WWII destroyers and even cruisers.

Consider our modern U.S. Navy.  Our 90 or so surface warships, the Burkes and Ticonderogas, are likely one-hit kills or, at best, mission kills due to the combination of near complete absence of armor and reduced crew size for effective damage control. 

Our most powerful ships are one-hit kills?

Does this seem wise?

During WWII, ships had to be sunk or very badly damaged to knock them out of a fight and it required immense amounts of ordnance to accomplish.  Today, a single anti-radar, air burst missile can achieve a mission kill. 

Consider the Burke class destroyer.  For all its many VLS cells and impressive Aegis radar arrays, its combat effectiveness ultimately comes down to three SPG-62 missile guidance radars (illuminators).  All three are exposed high on the superstructure, unprotected by any surrounding structures to any great extent.  In other words, they’re out in the open just waiting for some simple shrapnel to wander by.  Worse, two of the three illuminators are located within 10 ft of each other which begs for 2/3 of the ship’s fire control to be eliminated with a single hit.  This violates the survival design maxim of separation of critical items and there is nothing more critical to an Aegis AAW ship than its illuminators.

Consider the recent history of “hits” on US Navy ships.  The Stark, Cole, Port Royal, Antietam, McCain, and Fitzgerald were all rendered mission kills and most were nearly sunk by a single “hit”.  Ponder what that means for the modern naval battlefield.  An entire battlegroup could be wiped out or mission killed by a dozen individual hits.  That’s a pretty low bar for the enemy to achieve!  In WWII, it required dozens (usually many dozens) of hits on a ship to sink it or render it a mission kill.  In fact, mission kills were fairly rare.  A ship either sank or continued fighting.  Losing a few illuminators should not be the end of a ship’s usefulness and yet that is exactly the situation, today.

If we’re going to intentionally and knowingly build one-hit ships then we ought to, at least, be building them much, much cheaper.  Losing a $2B Burke to a single hit is criminal.

If we want expensive ships then we need to build them to absorb damage and keep fighting.  That means firepower and armor and lots of it.  We need to remember what a warship is for, what dangers it faces, and design accordingly.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Sensors - What Good Are They?

We’ve previously noted that the US military has gone all in on sensor networks and unmanned vehicles as the basis for its Third Offset Strategy which is intended to provide the US with a military advantage over its enemies.  We’ve also noted the Navy’s commitment to distributed lethality which also depends on regional sensor networks to provide targeting to roving ships with a few anti-ship missiles.  Further, the entire basis of the F-35’s hoped for ‘superiority’ is sensor fusion and situational awareness (it’s sure not air combat maneuvering!).

Unfortunately, we’ve also noted that the entire concept of sensor and data networks is inherently flawed.  Non-enemy induced network crashes, sensor failures, UAV communications link failures, and GPS failures are commonplace.  Add to that wartime cyber attacks, jamming, GPS disruption, electronic countermeasures, electronic spoofing, false signal injection, etc. and the prospects for successful sensor and data networks is dismal – and yet we’re betting everything on exactly this.
Are we being overly pessimistic?  Well, consider,

• The Russians have been giving an object lesson in electronic warfare in the Ukraine and Syria.  US commanders have acknowledged that the Russians have disrupted and ‘disabled’ our dedicated electronic warfare EC-130 aircraft over Syria.

• Iran is believed to have disabled and captured US UAVs.

• US Navy unmanned underwater vehicles routinely wander off due to communication’s loss, never to be seen again.

• Despite having inertial navigation systems and GPS, the Aegis cruiser Port Royal managed to run aground in well known, well charted, home waters.

• Despite GPS and extensive regional sensors, two US Navy riverine boats became lost and wandered into Iranian waters and were captured.

• The Vincennes shot down an airliner despite having continuous, unhindered radar contact.

• Despite the most advanced naval sensors in the world, the Navy has been unable to determine whether any of three separate attacks on a Burke class destroyer off Yemen actually occurred.

• Despite the world’s most advanced radar, sonar, and electro-optical sensors two Burke class destroyers managed to collide with large, slow, non-stealthy commercial ships.

The examples are nearly endless.

Now, as has been recently and widely reported, the Norwegian Nansen class frigate Helge Ingstad (F313) has collided with an oil tanker and been beached to avoid sinking.  The ship has essentially capsized and is laying on its side on the beach.

The Nansen class frigate possesses a multitude of advanced sensors of various types including,

• SPY-1F 3D multi-mode radar
• Reutech RSR 210N air/sea surveillance radar
• Sagem Vigy 20 Electro-optical
• MRS 2000 hull mounted sonar
• Condor CS-3701 ESM/ECM

Despite this impressive array of sensors which should have provided unparalleled situational awareness, the ship managed to collide with a tanker. 

On a related note, yet another modern ‘warship’ has been nearly sunk by a single ‘hit’ – not exactly a tribute to modern warship design, is it?  But, I digress …

The empirical evidence is overwhelming.  Our vaunted sensors and networks do not work at anywhere near the claimed levels.

Our sensor and network systems are simply not reliable.

They don’t work.

And yet, we’re betting our military future on them working flawlessly and doing so in the face of a vast array of countermeasures.

The reasons for failure are many and varied and not all of the failures are due purely to the sensors and networks.

• Comm. links fail (UAVs being lost)

• Networks spontaneously fail (we’ve all experienced this at work or in the military)

• Maintenance shortages cause degraded sensors (the Aegis system being a prime example)

• Human action based on sensor data is inherently flawed (Vincennes)

The overall conclusion is that we can’t count on sensor and data networks and we can’t count on having situation awareness – and yet that’s exactly what we’re betting our military future on.  It’s also worth noting that all of the examples of sensor and data network failings are peacetime examples when everything should work perfectly.  How much worse will our situational awareness be during war?

Now, having said all that, I’m certainly not suggesting that we should abandon sensors and networks.  What I’m saying is that we should acknowledge the inherent limitations and tendencies to fail and not bet our military future on them.  Instead, we should use them as adjuncts to basic technologies (binoculars or sextant, for example) and common sense (post lookouts!).  We should train to function without sensors, to any great extent, and then we’ll be pleasantly surprised when they do, occasionally, work.  We have to break our mindset of dependence on sensors and networks and learn to stick out heads out the porthole and look and reason for ourselves.

We also need to recognize that data, alone, is useless in war.  We need firepower to destroy whatever we see.  Failing that, we’ll have the most perfect awareness in history of the enemy that kills us using low tech, indiscriminate, area bombardments.  For all its impressive development of electronic warfare capabilities, the Russians have not neglected to also develop impressive families of armored vehicles, advanced cluster munitions, treaty busting cruise missiles, very long range air-to-air missiles, advanced torpedoes, etc.  They understand that, ultimately, firepower wins wars.