Monday, December 30, 2019

This ... This Is How You Deal With China

The following post is going to touch on geopolitics.  This is not a political blog and the reason I’m going to dip slightly into politics is that the actions and results directly relate to possible military/naval relations with, and actions towards, China.  It is the military aspect that I’m focused on rather than the political but there’s no discussing the one without the other.  So …

President Trump has been criticized by the left for engaging in a trade war with China.  Much of this war took the form of increased tariffs on Chinese imports.  China, of course, responded with increased tariffs of their own and the cycle went back and forth.  The left predicted that increased tariffs would decimate the US economy without considering the potential good that could come from it.  President Trump has held the position that China has been taking advantage of the US in trading for many years and that the situation had to be rectified and could be rectified.

As it turns out, President Trump was correct.  The US economy did not collapse but has grown even stronger and, most importantly, the Chinese have blinked and backed down somewhat.  The President has announced that China has agreed to a Phase 1 trade agreement.  As part of all this, China has announced that it will lower tariffs on 850 products this coming year. (1)

China and the United States cooled their drawn-out trade war earlier this month, announcing a Phase 1 agreement that would reduce some U.S. tariffs in exchange for more Chinese purchases of American farm products and other goods. (1)

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said China had agreed to buy $200 billion worth of additional U.S. goods and services over the next two years as part of the Phase 1 trade pact to be signed in early January. If the purchases are made, they would represent a huge jump in U.S. exports to China. (1)

To be sure, this is a small victory and it remains to be seen whether China will actually follow through and keep their word given that they routinely violate their pledges on all manner of issues.  They are not the most trustworthy of nations – not even close.  Their word is worthless. 

Still, it demonstrates lessons that are applicable to our military relations with, and actions towards, China.

First and foremost, this demonstrates that China respects and responds only to strength.  Conversely, accommodation and compromise are seen as signs of weakness and signals that the other party can be taken advantage of.  This should suggest a course of action for our military.  Instead of meekly allowing ourselves to be chased out of the South China Sea and chased away from Chinese naval forces in international waters, we should respond with resolution and a willingness, nay, eagerness, to engage and escalate.  Despite fraudulent Chinese claims to the contrary, the South China Sea is international waters and we should stand our ground and respond to harassment in kind.

Instead of meek, worthless Freedom of Navigation cruises which only reinforce China’s territorial claims (see, "Freedom of Navigation vs Innocent Passage"), we should anchor a ship a hundred feet off each of China’s illegal artificial islands and dare them to do something about it – and be prepared to take forceful action in response.

Let’s also clearly understand that even if China follows through on their trade pledges, their concessions are in areas that benefit them.  The reduced tariffs are on goods that they actually want to increase imports on.  In other words, they’re willing to accept a small tactical retreat to gain a larger benefit.

Recognizing this, we can take advantage of it.  We need to create situations in which the Chinese will accept small tactical retreats and, when they do, we need to solidify our gains and continually press for more.  Enough small retreats eventually become an overall significant retreat.

For example, we should be pushing back hard on Chinese territorial fishing violations and look to force the Chinese to back off some of their attempts at illegal territorial expansion.  We should increase naval visits to Taiwan and as soon as those become accepted then we should announce extended ‘visits’ which eventually become permanent basing.  We should flood their excessive Air Defense Identification Zones with our aircraft and force them to continually respond to us until they reduce the size of their claims.  I’m betting we can outlast them.  We should have ‘spy’ ships (intel gathering) closely tailing all Chinese naval forces that put to sea (you’ll recall that the Chinese routinely ‘spy’ on the RIMPAC exercises).  And so on.

The opportunities to push back and chip out small victories are endless.  It only requires some fortitude on our part and a willingness to accept escalation if the Chinese wish it.  We won’t be the ones to escalate but we should not be afraid of it – we should embrace it.

China respects strength and only strength as the trade war result proves.  It is far past time to demonstrate our strength with military/naval actions.

Note:  Because of the political aspects of this post, I’m not going to allow free comments because I don’t want to engage in political debates.  That’s not the point of the post.  So, instead, I’m going to moderate the comments for this post.  Be warned … I will not allow political comments.  If you wish to comment, confine it to the military implications.


(1)CNBC website, “China will lower import tariffs on over 850 products from January 1, finance ministry says”, 22-Dec-2019,

Friday, December 27, 2019

DoD Revamps Navy Force Structure

Wow!  You take one day off for Christmas and the Navy completely revamps their entire force structure plan.  The Navy has made known some major modifications to previous force structure plans.  The news came out at Christmas.  Whether that’s coincidence (there’s no such thing as coincidence!) or an attempt by the Navy to hide and bury controversial news is unknown – decide for yourself.

The Department of Defense (DoD) is proposing cutting 5 of 12 planned Burke Flt III destroyers in the 2021-25 period.(1)  These ships are the supposed replacements for the Ticonderoga class cruisers.

The DoD proposal also calls for cutting the 22 Ticonderoga cruisers down to 9.(1)  Digest that a moment.  DoD want’s to not only cut our prime AAW cruisers from 22 to 9 but, at the same time, reduce their planned replacements from 12 to 7.  That’s a double hit on our central AAW force.

DoD’s proposal would decrease the size of the fleet from the current 293 to 287 at the same time that the official Navy fleet size goal (and the legislatively mandated fleet size!) remains at 355 ships. 

How can the Navy cut ships and still produce a 355 ship fleet?  By building small, unmanned ships with little combat capability and counting them as battle fleet ships.  You’ll recall that the Navy already attempted to count hospital ships and other non-combat ships as well as delivered but non-functional ships as active battle fleet ships.  Congress stepped in and passed legislation preventing that but the Navy is determined to do it anyway.

… DOD shall submit a legislative proposal to redefine a battleforce ship to include unmanned ships, complete with clearly defined capability and performance thresholds to define a ship’s inclusion in the overall battleforce ship count. (1)

We’re going to have unmanned rowboats counting as battle fleet ships but the Navy will be able to say that they met their 355 ship goal.

Continuing, the Navy proposes to decommission the first four LCS one to two decades early. (2)  The Navy will, undoubtedly tell us that the rationale for retiring the first four ships of the type is that they are non-standard because they were developmental.  Well, that’s what happens when you start building without an actual design or finished construction drawings.  What’s next?  Are we going to retire the first four Fords early?  Someone has got to be fired over this.

The Navy also wants to decommission three Whidbey Island class LSD-41 amphibious ships (LSD-41, 42, 44) between 8-14 years early. (2)

Do you see the consistent theme being continued here?  The Navy retires virtually every ship class early.  Los Angeles, Spruance, Tarawa, Perry, and now LCS, Whidbey Island, and Ticonderoga have all been retired early.  At the same time, the Navy is, on paper at least, claiming to increase ship service lives.  Worse, the Navy continues to try to ‘future-proof’ ships during construction, at significant added cost, despite the overwhelming evidence that they’ll be early retired.  That’s an enormous logical inconsistency.  ComNavOps has called for reducing ship design service lives to 15-20 years which is what the Navy is doing anyway.  Despite this, many commenters continue to call for 50 year lives and maximum upgradability.  That’s completely wrong and completely at odds with demonstrated Navy practice.

How can Congress fund even a single new ship for the Navy given the demonstrated practice of deferred and neglected maintenance and early retirements?  I wouldn’t give the Navy a single penny until they prove they’ll maintain and fully use the ships they have.

Finally, the Navy wants to defer acquisition of one Virginia class submarine and one FFG(X).

The Navy seems fully dedicated to abandoning manned ships in favor of unmanned ships with greatly reduced capabilities and firepower.  The rationale would appear to be the pursuit of the Navy’s Holy Grail - manning cost savings.  The Navy is building a profitability business case at the expense of combat firepower and effectiveness.  The Navy has a long and proud tradition of idiotic decisions over the last several decades but this is looking to be their crowning achievement , their magnum opus of stupidity – a colossal monument of stupidity for future generations to admire in stupefied and befuddled awe.

We are designing our own defeat right before our eyes.  Stunning.


(1)Defense News website, “Pentagon proposes big cuts to US Navy destroyer construction, retiring 13 cruisers”, David B. Larter, 24-Dec-2019,

(2)Defense News website, “US Navy proposes decommissioning first 4 LCS more than a decade early”, David B. Larter, 24-Dec-2019,

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The SEAL Mission

Here’s another fictional story but this time, instead of focusing on larger scale battles, we’re going to look at a single individual and how he might operate in the near future.

The very small Short Take Off, Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft settled gently to the ground next to the house the target was reportedly occupying.  It was dark and the aircraft’s stealth (including acoustic suppression) had been sufficient to ensure an undetected landing.  Double checking before leaving the aircraft, the operator patted the bag containing the package he was to deliver.  This was a non-lethal delivery intended only to send a message to the target.  The mission was to be a quick in-and-out operation with the package to be left for the target to find in the morning.

Lowering himself to the ground, he paused a moment to listen and assure himself that he was still undetected.  Satisfied, he spotted the small outcropping on the roof that his pre-mission intel had identified and then unhooked a specialized grappling hook from his MOLLE vest.  The vest was a recent addition to his standard outfit and he wondered how he had gotten along without it before.  He gently tossed the hook up to the roof outcropping and felt it snag securely.  Hand over hand, he quickly scaled the side of the house and pulled himself onto the roof.  It would have been much easier to land the aircraft directly on the roof, like in TV shows, but the reality was that unless a building was specifically constructed to take the weight, even a very light aircraft like his was just too much for a roof to hold.

With cat-like balance born of endless training repetitions, he made his way to the chimney.  It might seem clich├ęd but one of the easiest and least secured entry points to a building or house was the chimney, assuming it was large enough to accommodate a person.  The top of the chimney extended about four feet above the roof and had a simple locked grate over the opening.  His eyebrow arched up momentarily as he considered this.  The target was clearly no ordinary person as no ordinary person would have a locked grate over a chimney.  The operator smirked slightly.  No simple lock was going to stop him.  He had been trained to open any conceivable lock.

Sure enough, a moment’s effort was all it took to open the lock and quietly swing open the grate.  Reaching up with both hands to the edge of the chimney, he gave a slight jump, pulling himself up and twisting so that he landed, sitting, on the edge.  Swinging his legs over the edge, he dropped silently down the chimney only to abruptly stop short barely four feet down.  Pulling out his palm sized tactical flashlight, he looked down to see that he was standing on yet another grate, this one thick and embedded into the brick masonry. 

“Damn!”, he thought to himself, “This guy is taking security beyond reasonable and into paranoid.” 

Still, he wasn’t worried.  There were plenty of other ways into any structure and he had been trained to find and use all of them.  Hoisting himself up and out of the chimney opening, he ghosted back across the roof and slid down the grappling line to the ground.

Moving to a window sheltered in deep darkness, he began to examine the window.  He was taking no chances this time.  Removing a hand held multi-spectral sensor from a pouch on his vest, he carefully scanned the window.  His caution proved wise as he quickly detected criss-crossing laser beams.  Presumably, they were part of a motion detection system and connected to an alarm.  He would have to find another way in.  This was turning out to be more of a challenge than the pre-mission brief had led him to expect.  Time was also becoming a factor.  His mission schedule had some delay variance built in but there was a limit.  He had to find an entry point quickly.

Backing slowly away from the window, he reached across his chest and tapped a padded button on his shoulder.  The button activated his suit’s pizo-electric, adaptive camouflage capability.  The suit’s small optical sensor noted the ambient light and surrounding color wavelengths and the nano-threads of the suit’s fabric received a minute electrical charge from the sensor’s battery which had the effect of changing the color of the threads.  He was now completely blended in with the surroundings and virtually invisible.  Given the target’s demonstrated security fixation, the operator was taking no chance of being visually spotted by a hidden security camera.

Reaching into yet another pouch (love that MOLLE vest, he thought) he removed a pair of glasses and put them on.  He quickly blinked several times, activating the smart glasses head up display (HUD) and scrolled his way to the building schematics.  A quick moment of study and found what he was looking for.  The house was built on a crawl space with a service access door on the side of the building.

He began cautiously walking around the house to the side.  He was in full tactical mode now, stepping slowly and silently, feeling with his unweighted toe before placing his full weight on his extended foot and then repeating the process with each step.  It was an ungainly looking way to walk, toe-then-heel rather than the normal heel-then-toe, but it was silent and safe and he had long since mastered the movement to point that it was second nature.

A step away from the crawl space door, he paused to shine his shielded tactial flashlight at the door.  Out of the corner of his eye he caught the faintest glimmer of light.  Glancing down in the direction of the light, he was barely able to see a monofilament tripwire stretched across the door just a step in front of it.  One more slight movement and would have tripped it.

Backing off a step, he incredulously wondered, “Who is this guy?  No reasonable person has this kind of security at a house!”

The operator acknowledged to himself that he probably should have paid more attention to the mission briefing but his mind had wandered a bit.  That’s what happens when operations become too routine for too long. 

Stepping carefully over the tripwire, he examined the door.  Finding no additional alarms he ever so slowly opened the simple lock and unlatched the door.  Peering inside, he could see the usual assortment of heating ducts, pipes, and wires that every crawl space contains.  Easing himself into the crawl space, he slowly and silently moved to the nearest air duct and traced it up to the house’s main floor, directly above his head.  He quickly unscrewed the duct from the air diffuser and set the diffuser gently off to one side.  He now had a 4 inch by 10 inch opening into the main floor of the house.  Obviously, he couldn’t fit through the opening but he didn’t need to. 

Clipped to the back of his vest was a miniature remote controlled wheeled drone, much like a child’s remote control car, only this one had a tiny camera and a flatbed instead of a car body.  Reaching into his bag, he pulled out the package.  Fortunately, it was only the size of a man’s fist.  Reaching up through the exposed diffuser opening, he placed the drone on the floor and then carefully placed the package on the flatbed of the drone.

Opening yet another pouch on his vest, he removed the remote control unit for the drone, set the miniature display for low level light enhancement, and began driving the drone forward.  After a brief recon of the room above him, he spotted a likely corner and directed the drone to the location.  A touch of a switch and the drone’s tiny flatbed tipped sideways allowing the package to gently slide off and down to the floor.

Satisfied with the package placement, he quickly retrieved the drone and retraced his steps out of the crawl space and back towards his aircraft.  Jumping lightly back aboard, he let out a pent up breath and realized he had been sweating from exertion and tension.  It felt good to stretch his shoulders and relax for a moment.  Mission accomplished, curiosity immediately overcame him and he scrolled through his smart glasses to the mission briefing background to see who the target was and way he was so paranoid about security.  Seeing the name of the target, he let out a muffled curse. 

“Should have known”, he thought, “I hate delivering packages to retired SEALS.  Paranoid bastards, all of them!” 

With that, he deactivated his cammo suit and it immediately returned to its normal brilliant red.  Glancing out of the sleigh to clear left, right, and above, he rose into the air.  No one was there to hear it but as he rose out of sight he quietly muttered, “Ho, ho, ho, wise guy.  I beat you.  Enjoy your present of a new tactical wristwatch.  Merry f*ing Christmas!”

Note:  There’s no messages in this story – just a bit of Christmas entertainment.  I love SEALs.

Monday, December 23, 2019

F-35 Broad Area Maritime Surveillance

I keep encountering a recurring belief among observers/commenters that the F-35 is some kind of miracle, broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) platform and I don’t know where this comes from.  I suspect it’s a case of F-35 proponents latching on to anything they can to justify the aircraft.

This is an important claim because the F-35 in the BAMS role is claimed to be the foundation of the distributed lethality concept, the savior of carrier groups, the guidance system for attacking missiles, and the key to achieving total victory over China – all due to its claimed ability to leisurely cruise through enemy air/water space completely undetected while using its radar to search an entire hemisphere of the world with 100% detection of all enemy assets.  If that’s true, China stands absolutely no chance against us.  Is it true? 

Well, there is zero authoritative public domain information on the subject, that I’m aware of.  That makes drawing any definitive conclusions difficult, to say the least.  However, we have unlimited logic available to us so let’s apply some and see where it leads.

Detection Range.  The F-35 with its APG-81 radar is claimed to have nearly unlimited detection range with 100% detection and target identification.  Of course, this is ridiculous.  Without getting into the math, physics, and software of radar function, the simplistic truth is, ‘more power equals greater range’.  Thus, the larger, higher powered radar has better range and resolution than the smaller, lower powered one.  So, a fighter size radar, for example, has less range than an AWACS.

The only hint of range data for the APG-81 that I’m aware of is a claim of 150 km (90 miles) or so and that claim has occasionally been associated with a 1 sq.m. target which implies an aircraft target and aerial detection mode.  How applicable that is to the broad area maritime surface search we’re discussing is an open question.

Any manufacturer’s claim, which is, presumably, what the 90 mile claim is, is based on non-stealthy targets under ideal conditions, at best, or, far more likely, it’s just based on someone’s theoretical calculations.

Let’s consider the nature of the targets that are the subject of BAMS.  We’re looking for stealthy warships of various sizes.  China, for example, has their versions of the Burke although, visually, they appear to be a bit more stealthy.  They also have stealth missile boats (the Type 22 is a good example), corvettes, and frigates.  These stealth ships have reduced radar signatures.  The only data we have on ship stealth is vague statements that the ship (whichever ship) has a radar signature of a ‘fishing boat’.  Oddly, almost every ship of whatever size and degree of stealth seems to have the same claimed ‘fishing boat’ radar signature.  Obviously, the claim is very generic and utterly useless.  Still, it gives us some sort of very general idea of the reduction in radar signature.

What this means for our F-35 BAMS mission is that whatever the claimed range of the APG-81 radar might be, the effects of wave clutter, weather, and ship stealth combine to greatly reduce the actual detection range.

We also need to recognize the difference between detection and identification.  Let’s say we detect a ‘fishing boat’ at x-miles.  Okay, that’s nice but what is it?  Is it an actual fishing boat?  We’d hate to launch a maximum effort naval strike only to find out that the target was, indeed, a fishing boat!  That would be a lot of wasted missiles.  That means we have to identify the target in addition to detecting it.  That, in turn, means we have to get much closer – to the point where we can either visually identify it or our radar provides sufficient resolution that we can identify the signature.  So, our effective identification range is much shorter than our detection range which, we’ve already noted, is much shorter than the manufacturer’s claimed maximum range (which we don’t have for the APG-81 in surface mode).  So, our detection range is a mere fraction, and not a big one, of the maximum range.

Thus, the notion that a small, low power, fighter size radar can ‘see’ vast areas of ocean with 100% detection and identification is ludicrous. 

Logical Conclusion 1.  An F-35 APG-81 radar is going to provide a very limited view – the soda straw analogy.

Logical Conclusion 2.  Effective targeting is a two part challenge.  Detection is only half the problem and it’s the easy half.  Identification is the other half and requires that the F-35 approach the target much closer.  Thus, the suggestion that an F-35 can provide targeting from hundreds of miles away is utterly unrealistic.

Logical Conclusion 3.  Ship stealth will greatly reduce the detection/identification range.

Survivability.  In order for the F-35 to be an effective BAMS platform, it needs to be survivable long enough to find a target and track it to provide mid-course guidance for an attack.  That could, and likely will, require flying in enemy controlled air space for hours.  All the while, the enemy will be diligently searching the air space for just such activity.  Our F-35 will have to evade a multitude of all manner of sensors:  airborne patrols, ship radars, ESM, land radars, IRST, optical sensors, etc.  Yes, the F-35 is stealthy (from the front aspect – the sides and rear, not so much) but stealth isn’t magic.  Worse, the F-35 will be operating its own radar which further increases the chance of detection.  The odds on being able to loiter undetected in the vicinity of an enemy force in enemy air space are poor. 

Detection is a simple matter of statistics.  To illustrate, let’s say that a stealth aircraft has only a 1% chance of being detected in any given minute.  Hey, that’s great!  We have a 99% chance of not being detected.  Those are great odds, aren’t they?  However, over the course of an hour (sixty 1-minute intervals, each with a 1% chance of detection), that 1% chance of detection means a 46% chance of detection.  Oops.  Make it two hours and the chance of detection goes up to 71%.  Yikes.  Admittedly, this is a simplistic treatment of stealth and detection but it is, essentially, conceptually correct.  There is always a chance of detection and the longer the stealth aircraft loiters, the greater the chance of being found.  Thus, the idea that an F-35 can loiter and track targets and guide missiles is fundamentally suspect.  And, of course, the closer the F-35 loiters to the target, the greater the momentary odds of being detected.

Logical Conclusion 4.  Stealth aircraft WILL be found and the odds of being found increase with loiter time and proximity to the target.

Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) Radar.  The magic solution to detection and survivability, according to F-35 fanboys, is the fairy dust LPI radar.  F-35 proponents would have us believe that the LPI radar is undetectable while retaining maximum range and resolution.  Of course, this is simply untrue. 

LPI radars use a variety of methods to reduce the chance of the signal being intercepted (recognized in the background noise – the signal will always be intercepted).  These include frequency agility, pulse rate variation, etc. and, mainly, power reduction.  However, hand in hand with power reduction goes decreased detection range.

Make no mistake, LPI radars do, indeed, lower the chance of intercept (recognition) but do so at the expense of range and resolution.  Thus, our F-35, operating its APG-81 radar in LPI mode, will have the effective detection range (which we previously noted would be only a small fraction of the manufacturer’s claimed range) reduced even further.  This further reduction in detection range also means that the F-35 must get even closer to a target which, we previously noted, further decreases the F-35’s survivability.

Logical Conclusion 5.  LPI radar is not magic and will decrease detection range and survivability.

Area Search.  The key characteristic of BAMS is that it is a large area search function.  As such, the searching aircraft must, simplistically, pass back and forth repeatedly (a euphemism for whatever search pattern is employed) in order to effectively cover the desired area.  As we noted, given that detection range for targets of interest is going to be only a fraction of the claimed range, the searching aircraft will have to cover very small increments of the search area as opposed to sweeping vast areas in a single radar pulse, as F-35 proponents would have us believe.  This continual and extended back and forth searching, all the while with the radar broadcasting, is going to still further increase the chance of the F-35 being detected.  As noted in a Wiki article on LPI radar, a searching aircraft with LPI radar active will always be pointing its main lobe at some radar receiver. (1)

Having considered and applied all the preceding logic, it is logical to conclude that the F-35 cannot be an effective BAMS asset.  There is, in addition, one final bit of evidentiary logic that disproves the F-35 fanboy’s claims of effective BAMS and the simplicity of the logic is so self-evident that it needs no additional analysis:

Ultimate Logical Conclusion.  If all the claims for the F-35 broad area maritime surveillance capability were true, we’d have already eliminated AWACS, Triton, BAMS, E-2 Hawkeyes, etc. in favor of the F-35 with its APG-81 radar.

So, does the preceding mean that an F-35 is incapable of finding a target?  Of course not.  It just means that the F-35 is not a magical BAMS asset as so often claimed.  The F-35 is not the magical answer to the distributed lethality sensor problem.  The F-35 is not the magical answer to some notional sea control concept.  The F-35 is not a substitute for a carrier’s E-2 Hawkeye.

What can the F-35 do?  It can provide search over a limited area if we’re willing to risk the detection and loss of the aircraft.  Is it worth risking a $100M aircraft to do limited area search?  Well, that’s an operational question whose answer depends on what the potential benefits are in relation to the potential loss.

Where this can work best is when we have an idea where the target is and the search area – and risk - is, therefore, limited.  This is not as unlikely as it might sound.  Naval forces usually have at least a general idea of where the enemy is.  This was true throughout WWII and is true today.  A shared understanding of our own and the enemy’s strategies and objectives combined with various other sensor reports and intelligence are sufficient to offer general locations of enemy naval forces.  Thus, we do not need to search the entire ocean, we just need to search a moderately constrained area although prudence dictates sending search assets out in all directions just to be safe (the WWII carrier dawn 360 degree search by SBD Dauntlesses). 

We see then, that the F-35 is NOT a BAMS platform and would not be effective as such.  It can, however, be effective as a search/confirmation asset when we have a general idea of where to find enemy targets.


(1)Wikipedia, “Low-probability-of-intercept radar”, retrieved 20-Dec-2019,

Friday, December 20, 2019

Drones are ... Awesome!

A new Breaking Defense article describes the stunning results achieved by a combination of human soldiers and drones working together to attack and defeat enemy defenders in a wargame. (1)    In the exercise scenario, a company of 40 soldiers plus ‘dozens’ of drones managed to defeat a defending force of 120 soldiers.  This is stunning!  As the article points out, conventional military wisdom dictates that the attacker needs a 3:1 numerical advantage to defeat the defender.  That would mean that the attacking force should have required 360 soldiers (the article actually suggested needing 600) instead of 40.  That the smaller attacking force of 40 was able to defeat a numerically superior defender is nothing short of miraculous!  Apparently, the presence of drones conveys nearly superhuman combat capabilities to the force that has them.

I know I’ve been extremely lukewarm about drones and, in fact, often quite critical but this is just a demonstration of capability that’s beyond belief.  Who would not be impressed and ‘converted’ into a drone supporter given this kind of demonstrated result?

Of course, as with any combat exercise, there were a few very minor nitpicks that a nitpicking nitpicker might nitpick about.  What kind of minor nitpicks, you ask?  Well, I hesitate to even mention them because I’m sure they don’t alter the results one iota but, since you asked, here they are:

The defenders, while they could see the drones, were apparently unable to shoot or destroy them.  I guess this is to simulate the fact that the Russians and Chinese don’t have guns or missiles.  That seems reasonable and accurate.

The technologies that were used in the game don’t exist but are all considered feasible in the near future.  Of course, if I could use made up technology, I could probably develop some pretty kick-ass capabilities, too!  And, just to add some perspective, the Zumwalt’s gun was considered feasible and the F-35’s ALIS logistics program was considered feasible and those turned out to be complete failures.  However, I’m sure that any envisioned technology in this wargame would turn out to be a complete success so the fact that the result is based on non-existent technology is almost irrelevant. 

The defenders did not, apparently, have access to any drones themselves.  This is the typical US military tendency to assume that everything we have works and the enemy has nothing and whatever they have doesn’t work.  If the game called for the attackers to possess advanced drone technology wouldn’t the enemy also have advanced drones, ground combat robots, radar, anti-drone electronic warfare capability (the Russians already do and, presumably, so do the Chinese), anti-drone kinetic weapons (isn’t that what a ZSU-23 is, even if you have nothing else?), advanced sensors, adaptive camouflage capability, etc.?  But, no, the simulated enemy apparently only had Revolutionary War muskets to work with.

As I said, these are incredibly minor, insignificant nits that, I’m sure, have no bearing on the result or interpretation of the results.  The key takeaway is that if you encounter a defending force with no apparent capabilities and you, yourself, have near Star Wars capabilities, you can defeat them with ridiculous ease.

Seems like it was a worthwhile wargame, don’t you think?

Seriously, this is the epitome of tilting the scenario to achieve the results you want.  The US military is desperate to justify unmanned vehicle technology (reduces personnel costs, they think) so they create wargames that so artificially constrain the opposing force that the outcome is a foregone conclusion and  *surprise*  they get the result they want.  With proof like that, who wouldn't jump on board the unmanned train?


(1)Breaking Defense website, “AI & Robots Crush Foes In Army Wargame ”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 19-Dec-2019,

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Book Review - "Hornets Over Kuwait"

ComNavOps has offered occasional book reviews and I’ll try to include a few more in the upcoming year.  ComNavOps loves books written by the men who were there.  There’s nothing like hearing it from the horse’s mouth.  Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that the horse is right but it’s a pretty good start.  One such book is “Hornets Over Kuwait” (1) which, as the title indicates, is about a Marine Hornet pilot in Desert Storm.  The pilot was, at the time, a 30 year old Marine Corps Captain flying with VMFA-451 (Warlords).  The book is written from the day to day perspective of the pilot rather than attempting to delve into the larger strategic or operational picture.  As such, we get a fantastic glimpse of the pilot’s limited but up close view of the war. 

He describes:
  • The striking degree of confusion and uncertainty surrounding the initial movement to the Gulf and the sheer magnitude of the logistics required to get a squadron into theater.
  • Problems caused by women deploying with the unit.
  • Interesting assessments of the F-18 including a somewhat surprising comparison of its air-to-air capabilities against the F-15 Eagle and F-16.
  • The monotony of endless, routine CAPs.
  • The adrenaline and terror of the first strike mission and the feelings associated with being shot at by AAA and SAMs.
  • The Hornet’s air-to-ground performance.
  • The overwhelming importance of tankers on nearly every mission.
  • Interesting thoughts about the two seat F/A-18D which the author deems useful for FAC but not much else.
  • The confusion of the Close Air Support (CAS) effort and the lack of peacetime training for the task.
  • Aerial communications problems and overuse of the radio.
  • Intel and bomb damage assessment (BDA) as being woefully lacking due to lack of peacetime training.
  • The high and unexplained dud rate for iron bombs and the failure of electrical fuzes.
  • Base life between missions which consisted of TV, cards, food, and mail and packages from home, among other activities.

The book is as noteworthy for what it doesn’t describe as what it does.  What it doesn’t describe is peer-opposed air operations.  Instead, the book clearly conveys that Desert Storm was, essentially, a live fire exercise conducted in a leisurely manner, the more so after the first few days.  The author/pilot even acknowledges this in his preface and throughout the book.  Thus, the applicability of the author’s experience to a peer level war is quite limited.

The author has done a magnificent job of providing a head down, lower level perspective of a pilot in Desert Storm combat.  The gems and insights scattered throughout the book make for a completely absorbing tale that is every bit as entertaining as fiction but carries with it the fascination of reality.  I highly recommend it.


(1)“Hornets Over Kuwait”, Jay A. Stout, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1997, ISBN 1-55750-835-6

Monday, December 16, 2019

Mobile Submarine Support

Here’s an interesting and encouraging bit of news …

The Los Angeles class submarine, USS Key West (SSN-722), exercised with a dry cargo logistics ship, USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE-4), to demonstrate forward, mobile logistics support for submarines.  This is kind of the second half of what’s required for forward support of submarines with the other half being a submarine tender for mechanical support.

Apparently, this was a first of its kind event which seems hard to believe but, hey, better late than never! 

Dry cargo class ships are responsible for providing logistic lifts to deliver cargo (ammunition, food, limited quantities of fuel, repair parts and ship store items) to U.S. and allied ships at sea. (1)

The demonstration was performed to highlight the submarine’s ability to go safely alongside a dry cargo class ship, which could facilitate the transfer of weapons, stores, critical repair parts, and provide the ability to support crew rest. (1)

USS Key West is one of four Los Angeles class SSNs based in Guam along with the submarine tenders USS Frank Cable (AS-40) and USS Emory S. Land (AS-39).  The combination of submarine tenders and dry cargo logistics ships offers the ability to support submarines in a mobile, forward deployed setting, independent of a land base.  This offers a degree of resilience in the face of attacks against Guam naval base facilities.  Someone is beginning to think in terms of combat operations and that's a good thing!

USS Key West Alongside USNS Richard E. Byrd

Submarine Tender USS Frank Cable, AS-40


(1)Commander, US Pacific Fleet website, “USS Key West conducts mobile logistics demonstration”, Lt.j.g. Meagan Morrison, 11-Dec-2019,

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Open Post

It's been a while so here's an open post.  What would you like to discuss?  What would you like to see addressed in a post?  What's on your mind?

Des Moines Class Cruiser - In many ways, the ultimate development of the gun cruiser and, with modernization, would be a formidable ship today.

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Wrong Next War

There’s an old saying that Generals are always preparing to fight the last war.  Well, there’s a related and previously unknown phenomenon developing within the US military which is that the Generals are preparing to fight the wrong next war.

To give some credit where credit is due, the US military is devoting a fair amount of effort to preparing to fight the next war.  The problem is that the next war that our military envisions is one entirely of their own creation rather than one defined by consideration of the enemy’s capabilities and intent.  We’re not preparing to fight the war that China and Russia are going to deliver;  we’re preparing to fight the war that we want to see:  a war of high technology, with lots of cross-domain buzzwords, artificial intelligence assisted joint battle command, with dispersed, small, flexible, light units creating havoc deep within enemy territory, tiny unmanned vehicles roving the air, land, and sea and applying nearly magical capabilities, all supported by an exquisite, ephemeral network providing perfect situational awareness.

What kind of war are the Russians and Chinese preparing to deliver?  They’re building heavier and heavier armored units with more, bigger, and far more lethal conventional explosives delivered by massed artillery and ballistic missiles.  The Chinese are building for a war of attrition and are on a quick path to outnumbering us in every category of military capability.  The Russians are telling us exactly what kind of war they’ll deliver with their semi-proxy invasion of Ukraine.  It’s a war of unimaginable destruction delivered by artillery supported by electronic warfare and UAVs, all backed by heavy armored units.  Entire mechanized units are wiped out in seconds.  Our enemies are preparing to employ lethal battlefield unmanned vehicles without a care for unintended casualties.

In short, our enemies are preparing to deliver a war with massive firepower, heavy armored units, widespread and effective electronic warfare, and Terminator style unmanned killing machines.

Now look at the kind of war games we’re conducting.

We’re preparing to conduct the first multi-domain command and control exercise, Cross Domain One.

The Air Force will lead the first experiment of Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) capabilities in two weeks, tying fighter jets to Army ground systems and Navy ships in a real-world example of Multi-Domain Operations.

Preston Dunlap, Air Force chief architect for acquisition, told Breaking D that the exercise in Florida will “be powered by” the service’s nascent Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS). (1)

We’re preparing to fight a war of neat columns of data, sophisticated user interfaces, systems of systems, and cross-domain synergistic spreadsheets all backed up by dispersed light infantry and distributed logistics ships with a few anti-ship missiles.  Our idea of heavy firepower is the 30 mm machine gun that we’ve so proudly stuck on the Strykers and dubbed ‘Dragoon’.  The Russians in their heavily armored, T-90 or T-14 Armata tanks with 125 mm guns must be quaking in their boots over the prospect of facing unarmored Strykers with machine guns for main weapons.

Stryker Dragoon - Wrong For The Next War

While Russia is developing improved cluster munitions and China is mass producing conventional ballistic missiles, we’ve established a Department of Defense, Non-Lethal Weapons Program (2).

Where’s our war game that examines the devastating effects of pure firepower?  Where’s our wargame that tries to figure out how to defeat an armored division?  Where’s our wargame that looks at how to deal with massive artillery barrages?  Where’s our exercise that forces units to operate with jammed communications, no GPS, jammed radar, and constant cyber attack?  Where’s our wargame that looks at trying to operate under enemy controlled skies?

Our [badly] misguided military leadership has created a fantasy vision of what a future war will look like – a war that doesn’t match the predictable reality - and are now contentedly ‘validating’ our weapons and systems against that unrealistic fantasy war.   Our Generals and Admirals are busy congratulating themselves for the rosy results of these fantasy wargames that are concocted from wishful thinking rather than the enemy’s demonstrated capabilities and plans. 

We’ve left firepower far behind in the rear view mirror in our pursuit of perfect data awareness.  We’ve forgotten that even perfect awareness is useless without the means to destroy what we see.  We’ve forgotten that firepower trumps awareness – you don’t need to know exactly where that enemy unit is if you’ve got the firepower and are willing to wipe out a grid square (and all the collateral damage that might go with it) to destroy it.  An unstoppable barrage of artillery fire doesn’t require precision guidance – close counts in horseshoes and artillery.

The decades of low intensity, low threat conflict have led our military leaders who have grown up in that environment to believe that war with Russia/China/Iran/NKorea will be more of the same and that the war can be won with data and networks.  These ignorant leaders have now concocted fantasy wargames because they simply can’t grasp the horror, devastation, and barbarity that will be a modern peer war.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “First Multi Domain C2 Exercise Planned: Cross Domain One ”, Theresa Hitchens, 6-Dec-2019,

Friday, December 6, 2019

Duplication and Overlap

The US military is set up with certain, fairly well defined roles and areas of responsibility.  Why?  Well, this prevents needless duplication of effort, defines responsibilities and authorities, and clarifies operational requirements.  In simple terms, the service responsibilities are:

  • Army – Responsible for physical occupation of territory and the battlefield’s immediate front out to 30 miles or so.
  • Air Force – Responsible for aerial supremacy and deep strike beyond the Army’s front.
  • Navy – Responsible for naval supremacy, logistical support and transport, and short to medium range inland strike.
  • Marine Corps – Responsible for rapid response and entry point seizure.
Those roles seem pretty clear and straightforward with relatively little overlap or duplication of responsibilities.  However, the services have, of late, been expanding beyond their own realms and moving into each other’s areas.  The Marines are far and away the leaders in this mission creep/grab but all the services are guilty of it to some degree.

Here are some examples of duplication and overlap:

ATACMS – ATACMS missile has a 100+ mile range which more than covers the Army’s immediate front responsibility and now Raytheon is developing the ATACMS successor, DeepStrike, with a 309 mile range.  This is well beyond the Army’s immediate front responsibility and overlaps and duplicates the Air Force’s deep strike.  The weapon is capable of hitting land and sea targets (ships) which duplicates and overlaps the Navy’s responsibility.  On a related note, the 309 mile range is a limit imposed by the 1987 INF treaty.  The weapon’s actual range could, and will, likely be much longer now that the treaty is no longer in effect.

AGS/LRLAP – Although the Zumwalt’s Advanced Gun System (AGS) and Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) have been cancelled, this is still an example of the Navy’s attempt to move into the Air Force deep strike mission.

Marine Aviation – The Marines have moved beyond simply providing their own close air support and have entered the areas of air superiority, anti-shipping, deep strike (well, as deep as an F-35B can go), broad area maritime surveillance, etc.  The Marines are in the process of becoming America’s third air force.

MUX – The Marines have called for a MUX Group 5 UAV (same size group as Triton, Reaper, Global Hawk) to perform broad are maritime surveillance, ISR, early warning, electronic warfare, and communications relay.  Well, we already have Triton broad area maritime surveillance aircraft, Growler electronic warfare aircraft, AWACS early warning and aerial surveillance and control, E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning and control, and numerous varieties of ISR UAVs.  This is utterly pointless duplication.

Marine Sea Control Missiles – The Marines are looking at HIMARS and various other options for launching long range anti-ship missiles which blatantly overlaps the Navy’s sea control mission.

Super Cannon – The Army is developing a super cannon with a 1000 mile range.  This duplicates, carrier strike groups, Tomahawk cruise missiles, B-1/2/52 bombers, Air Force AGM-86 cruise missiles, Navy SSGNs, etc., all capable of thousand-plus mile ranges.

And the list goes on.

This is not to say that all duplication is bad.  Some is warranted and useful but – and this is the key point - the problem is that each service is seeking to expand their domain even while their own core responsibilities are not being met.

Marines lack an effective ship to shore connector that jibes with the Navy/Marine doctrine of assaulting from 25-50+ miles offshore and yet they’re expanding into fleet airborne early warning, broad area maritime surveillance, and electronic warfare with the MUX drone.

The Marines lack initial wave heavy firepower and mobile anti-air defense and yet they’re trying to establish anti-ship missile capability.

The Army lacks effective mobile anti-air defense capability, electronic warfare capability, and a Bradley replacement, yet wants to expand into deep strike.

The Navy lacks … well, everything we’ve talked about in this blog and yet they want to expand into deep strike.

If you have everything taken care of in your area of responsibility, are fully trained and 100% combat ready, and have extra money to spend then, sure, expand – but that’s never happened before and never will.  The services are engaged in budget grabs, pure and simple.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Hide It, Don’t Fix It

What do you do if your organization is failing?  Well, one solution – the only correct solution – is to fix the problem.  The other approach – the Navy solution – is to hide the problem and restrict the public from hearing about the problem.

As you know, the Navy suffers from a steady, never-ending stream of firings of Commanding Officers (CO), Executive Officers (XO), and Command Master Chiefs (CMC) … the leadership triad.  Given the steady drumbeat of firings and the resultant poor public relations, the Navy has now opted to stop releasing information about XO and CMC firings.  According to Navy spokesman, Cmdr. Clay Doss,

I think you’ll see CO/Flag Officer relief announcements as press releases more frequently/consistently than the past few years but not necessarily other triad members. (1)

You’ll recall that several years ago the Navy suffered a spate of INSURV inspection failures.  As pressure mounted from Congress and the public to explain the failures, the Navy’s response was to classify INSURV inspection results.  When that didn’t completely work, the Navy changed the inspection from a pass/fail to a mere advisory report.  If you have a problem, hide it, don’t fix it.

Each time the Navy gets a new Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), my hopes go up.  Unfortunately, each new CNO seems worse than the preceding one.  When CNO Gilday took office recently, my hopes went up and now he implements a policy of hiding failures to start his tenure.  Looks like another failed CNO.


(1)Navy Times, “Mystery relief of carrier’s command master chief revealed”, Staff, 14-Nov-2019,

Monday, December 2, 2019

LCS and Distributed Lethality

As you know, the Navy’s big combat concept is distributed lethality (see, "Distributed Lethality") and the LCS is prominently mentioned as one of the candidates for the concept (see, "Exploring Distributed Lethality").  Distributed lethality is idiotic in every respect but we’ll confine ourselves to consideration of the use of the LCS in the concept.

As you also know, the Navy’s restructuring of the LCS force has resulted in two squadrons, one on each coast.  Each squadron consists of a single 4-ship group of each of the three mission areas:  ASW, MCM, and ASuW.  In each group of 4 ships, one of the ships is designated as a non-deployable training vessel.  Thus, each mission area consists of just three ships.  That means that each squadron has 3 ASW, 3 MCM, and 3 ASuW ships and that, in turn, gives a total fleet force of 6 ASW, 6 MCM, and 6 ASuW ships.

The LCS-MCM is the total replacement for our aging Avengers which are long overdue for retirement (see, "LCS MCM - What's the Point?").  The 6 total LCS-MCM will replace the 14 ships of the Avenger class minesweeper.

The LCS-ASW is the replacement for the ASW aspect of the Perry class frigates.  Thus, the 6 total LCS-ASW will replace the 51 ships of the Perry class frigate.

The LCS-ASuW is the replacement for the ASuW aspect of the Perry class frigates.  Thus, the 6 total LCS-ASuW will replace the 51 ships of the Perry class frigate.

Okay, with that reminder of the LCS force structure, let’s get back to the LCS and distributed lethality (DL).  There is only one question that needs to be asked:

Given the immense importance of mine countermeasures and with only 6 deployable LCS-MCM, does it make sense to risk them in distributed lethality?

By its very definition, DL places the ships deep in enemy territory, alone, in harm’s way and the LCS has extremely limited defensive capability.

Our entire mine countermeasure force is going to be 6 LCS-MCM.  If those are sunk (or even just a one or two!) our MCM efforts will go from woefully inadequate to nearly non-existent.  Does that seem wise to anyone other than the Navy?

Another LCS Sunk, Alone, in Distributed Lethality

The preceding also applies to the LCS-ASW and LCS- ASuW.

With that simple consideration, the idiocy of the Navy’s distributed lethality concept and the use of the LCS in it becomes clearly manifest.  There’s really nothing else that needs to be said.