Thursday, September 19, 2019

Air Force 5-Year Fighter Production Plan

The Air Force must be reading this blog since they’re copying one of ComNavOps’ posts almost verbatim.  The Air Force wants to build a new aircraft in just five years.  What?!!!  Five years?  How is that possible?  Well, ComNavOps explained how to build an aircraft in five years in a post a couple of years ago (see, “How To Build A Better Aircraft”).

Now, the Air Force is jumping on the bandwagon.  Presumably, the F-35 debacle has scared them to the point of recognizing that the current acquisition process is not viable.

The U.S. Air Force is preparing to radically alter the acquisition strategy for its next generation of fighter jets, with a new plan that could require industry to design, develop and produce a new fighter in five years or less. (1)

Build a new aircraft in just five years?!  Astoundingly, that’s exactly the time frame that ComNavOps put forth.

How will the Air Force accomplish this?  Why, the same way that ComNavOps has repeatedly stated should be done – by building with only existing technology and building in small batches!  To wit,

… the NGAD [Next Generation Air Dominance] program will adopt a rapid approach to developing small batches of fighters with multiple companies … (1)

Instead of maturing technologies over time to create an exquisite fighter, the Air Force’s goal would be to quickly build the best fighter that industry can muster over a couple years, integrating whatever emerging technology exists. The service would downselect, put a small number of aircraft under contract and then restart another round of competition among fighter manufacturers, which would revise their fighter designs and explore newer leaps in technology. (1)

… instead of trying to hone requirements to meet an unknown threat 25 years into the future, the Air Force would rapidly churn out aircraft with new technologies … (1)

This is exactly the process I’ve called for in both aircraft and ship acquisition.  Stop designing mega-programs that try to future proof platforms (not possible and hideously expensive) and, instead, build for shorter lifespans (see, “Ship Service Life Reduction”) and smaller batches of specialized assets.  The small batches and shorter lifespans allow future tech to be incorporated as it becomes available.  There’s no need to future proof that new aircraft because you’ll be building a new batch in a few years anyway and you can incorporate the future tech then.  This is just common sense on a cracker.

This approach also has the added and hugely important side benefit of keeping more industrial companies current and viable as opposed to the winner-take-all mega-project that ensures we wind up with just one or two companies.

I may have to sue the Air Force for plagiarism!  They are almost literally copying my posts.  Relax Air Force, it’s okay.  I don’t mind if you copy and adopt my ideas.  You should and you have my blessing!

Okay, Navy, the Air Force has seen the light of ComNavOps’ brilliance now what about you?  Get on board!  Let’s start building smaller, specialized ships with 15-20 year lifespans (you aren’t conducting maintenance so they won’t last long, anyway) and no need for future tech concurrency which has proven to be the downfall of the last several ship programs.


(1)Defense News website, “The US Air Force’s radical plan for a future fighter could field a jet in 5 years”, Valerie Insinna, 16-Sep-2019,

Monday, September 16, 2019

Walking and Talking Disconnect

The Commander, US Pacific Fleet website had an article that I chuckled through as I read it. (1)  The disconnect between the talk and the walk was so blatant as to be funny.  What made it even funnier was the utter obliviousness of the subject of the article, VAdm. Richard Brown, commander Naval Surface Forces.

Here’s the good Admiral’s thematic statement: 

“Lethal and tough in today’s fight.”

What a great sentiment but let’s start with the obvious – there is no fight today and any confrontation that might occur, we back down from, as a matter of policy.  So, the immediate flaw in the statement is that the leadership – meaning the good Admiral – doesn’t walk the talk, himself, as evidenced by his policies.  Given that there is no fight today, how are we supposed to be lethal?

Let’s give the Admiral the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s talking somewhat generically and referring to the potential enemies we face.

So, moving on,

“During SWFOTS [Surface Warfare Flag Officers Training Symposium], we discussed establishing policies and providing funding to support our commanding officers’ efforts to build combat ready ships and battle-minded crews,” Brown said in his address. (1)

Hey, Admiral, a good start to helping your commanding officers build combat ready ships and battle-minded crews would be to stop replacing commanding officers for every picayune offense, real and imagined.  How’s that for a helpful policy?  So what if he had a drink?  Who cares if he said something that might be construed to be offensive to someone, somehow.  A little feistiness of spirit would be a good first step towards a battle mindset.  Let the commanders exert themselves without constant fear of being second guessed over nothing.  Stop kowtowing to the mothers of sailors who think their precious son or daughter is being worked too hard. Your Captains are scared to impose discipline because it will instantly be transmitted over social media and you’ll relieve them for “loss of confidence in their ability to command” because you, Admiral, won’t stand up to a bunch of mothers of whiny sailors.

Admiral, you created this lack of toughness by selecting for milksop commanders.  You have no one to blame but yourself.  Why don’t you start the process by toughening up yourself and not giving in to every politically correct (PC) impulse?

You want combat ready and battle-minded?  How about getting rid of women?  They, literally, can’t pull their weight or their shipmate’s in a casualty evacuation situation.  They can’t lift damage control pumps.  They can’t lift shells.  But you won’t do that, will you?  That would require standing up to PC, wouldn’t it, and you’re not mentally tough enough and battle-minded enough to do that, are you?  Is it really a mystery to you why the fleet and your commanders aren’t tough and battle-minded?

Adm. Brown went on to offer two real-world examples of why crews need to be ready: 

  • Oct-2018 a Chinese Luyang destroyer approached the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur “in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea" while the Decatur was involved in Freedom of Navigation exercises.  When challenged, the Decatur veered off and went on its way, as Navy policy dictates.

  • Jun-2019 a Russian Udaloy class destroyer in the Philippine Sea made an unsafe maneuver near the USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), closing to about 50-100 feet and endangering the ship and crew.  Chancellorsville veered off, as Navy policy dictates.

Brown’s conclusion from these two examples?

“So we have to be lethal,” Brown said. “We have to be tough because we don't know when we're going to go into the fight.” (1)

That’s a nice platitude Admiral except for the fact that Navy policy is to meekly give way when confronted.  So, while ‘tough’ and ‘lethal’ are inspiring words, the reality is that, by policy, you’re forbidding our commanders from taking any action.  So, while you want to talk about ‘tough and lethal’ because it makes for a nice PowerPoint slogan, the reality is that our Navy is, by policy that you helped create and enforce every day, ‘meek and mild’.

Adm. Brown, you can talk the talk all you want but until you, personally, are willing to walk the talk, you’re just a hypocrite spouting slogans that mean nothing. 

Sir, you are talking but not walking.


Friday, September 13, 2019

Hunter-Killer ASW Groups

In WWII, with the exception of a few very fast transports that traveled alone, protected by their speed, most supply ships made the Atlantic crossing in convoys.  Protection was provided by escort ships.  Threats to the convoys included air attacks, notably from Focke-Wulf FW 200 Condor long range bombers, surface ship attacks, though this was more of a potential threat than actual, and U-boats which nearly choked off supplies to Britain and, later, Russia.

While the convoys had ASW-capable escorts, they were only marginally effective.  The major problem was that they were tied to the convoy.  They could not detach from convoy to conduct long, drawn out ASW engagements.  After a brief counterattack against a submarine, the escorts had to quickly return to their place in the escort screen.  Unfortunately, effective ASW generally involved patience and time that the escorts didn’t have.  The role of the escort ships was to hinder submarine attacks by their presence rather than kill submarines.

One of the solutions to this inability to engage submarines on a protracted basis was the formation of dedicated anti-submarine (ASW) hunter-killer (H-K) groups.  These groups were formed around smaller escort carriers along with several destroyers, frigates, destroyer escorts, corvettes, and sloops.  Not being tied to a convoy, the H-K groups were able to move independently, hunt for submarines rather than just react to an attack, and take the time necessary to prosecute contacts.

The H-K escort ships were, by and large, lower capability or second line vessels such as Black Swan class corvettes, River class frigates, Wickes and Clemson class 4-stack destroyers, and the like.  ASW, at the time, did not require state of art ships because the ASW sensors were small in size and the weapons were common.  The main requirement – the main ‘weapon’ - for effective ASW was persistent presence – the ability to patiently search and remain engaged as long as necessary, using the submarine’s limited underwater time against it. 

The most successful US ASW escort carrier was USS Bogue (CVE-9) whose aircraft and escorts sank 11 German and 2 Japanese submarines.  The carrier’s aircraft were Grumman Avengers and Wildcats which used depth charges, rockets, and Mk24 FIDO acoustic homing torpedoes.

USS Bogue with TBM/F Avengers on Deck

This also raises the issue of weapons.  The major difficulty in WWII ASW was the lack of weapons that could effectively engage a submarine.  Even with the nascent sonar systems of the time, detection was relatively easy.  The problem was that the weapons of the time were very inaccurate and largely ineffective.  It required many weapon launches to achieve a kill and many submarines got away despite the profligate expenditure of weapons.  Depth charges, the main weapon of the time, were marginally effective, at best.

When WWII ended, the US Navy continued to operate H-K groups culminating in the Cold War ASW skirmishes with the Soviet Union submarine fleet.  Due to the larger size of the ASW aircraft, larger carriers were required and the Navy converted WWII Essex class carriers to dedicated ASW carriers.  Surface ships employed ASW weapons such as Weapon Alpha, hedgehogs, torpedoes, and the unmanned DASH helicopter.  Groups consisted of a carrier and 8 destroyer escorts.

USS Essex, CVS-9, with S2F Trackers on Deck, 1965

Eventually, as the ASW Essex carriers retired without replacement and long range land based ASW patrol aircraft came on line, the H-K concept died out.  ASW efforts became centered on the S-3 Viking fixed wing ASW aircraft operated from carriers, land based ASW P-3 Orions and the like, and SSN submarines.

Of course, the S-3 Viking has been retired without replacement.  Land based ASW aircraft require a permissive environment to operate and that is an unlikely scenario in a peer war.  Submarines, while effective in the ASW role, will be tasked with many missions and their ASW efforts will be somewhat sporadic.  Worse, they will be unable to operate near friendly units due to the inability of those units to distinguish friend from enemy.

Thus, the Navy currently has no H-K groups and little in the way of persistent, dedicated, effective ASW capability.  Ironically and dangerously, while our ASW capability is withering we are simultaneously seeing the rise of peer Chinese and Russia submarine fleets.  While neither yet presents an overwhelming threat, the trend in both numbers and quality of submarines is improving and it is only a matter of time until the submarine threats become substantial.  Further, many smaller countries are investing in quiet, deadly, conventionally powered submarines (SSK) which present a major threat to our nearer-shore naval operations.

What conclusions and lessons can we draw from the history of H-K groups?
  • Combating submarines at the convoy is a losing proposition due to the escort’s inability to take the time necessary to successfully prosecute a contact.
  • Aircraft are extremely useful and effective ASW platforms.
  • Persistence and patience are the key attributes of ASW
  • Land based, ASW patrol planes do not have the persistence necessary for truly effective ASW engagements.
  • State of the art ships are not necessary.  The ASW gear must be reasonably modern but the ships themselves do not need to be front line vessels.

So, what does all this tell us about potential modern H-K groups?

Need - Having noted that the convoy is not the place to attempt ASW and that convoy escorts make ineffective submarine killers, it is clear that modern H-K groups, acting independently, are required.

Aircraft – While a fixed wing aircraft would be ideal for a H-K group, the reality is that rotary wing (helo) aircraft are the better choice in terms of simplicity and ease of operations and budget.  An S-3 Viking type aircraft would require a carrier with catapults, arresting gear, advanced maintenance support, etc.  In contrast, helos can operate from any flat surface which lends itself to modified commercial vessels similar to the simplistic escort carriers of WWII. 

Ships – As was found in WWII, the best combination of ships for an H-K group is a carrier and several low end ASW corvette/destroyer escort type vessels.  ASW does not require state of the art ships with advanced radars, stealth, etc.  A basic, cheap ship that can carry sonars, arrays, and anti-submarine weapons is all that is needed.  The baseness and cheapness of such ships allows them to be procured in numbers and put at risk.  Does anyone really think we’re going to risk $2.5B Burkes playing tag with submarines?  Heck, it would be foolish to put the Navy’s new $1.5B frigates at risk.  After all, ASW is a high risk business and the submarine has most of the advantages.

Regarding the carrier, a modified commercial cargo/tanker vessel would be suitable.  Add a flight deck with enough room to operate around 10 MH-60R helos and a covered hangar for maintenance and call it a day.  Simple, cheap, expendable.

What we absolutely can’t do is what the Navy always does: build a gold plated, do-everything ship.  An ASW carrier is, by definition and requirement, a low end ship in a high risk job.  That calls for a cheap, expendable (another way of saying cheap) ship that we’re willing to send into harm’s way.

Weapons – We now have ASW weapons (torpedoes) that we believe are effective – at least, that’s what we tell ourselves.  However, to the best of my knowledge, they have never been tested under realistic conditions.  As DOT&E has noted many times, the Navy’s submarine threat surrogates are unrealistic and unrepresentative in the extreme and testing has not occurred under operationally realistic conditions.  We need to fire actual torpedoes (warheads removed, of course) at real submarines that are trying their best to survive and see what happens.  Yes, we may dent some propellers and cause some superficial damage to the submarines (assuming we can hit them!) but that is well worth the cost to find out how effective our weapons and tactics really are.

I’ve stated repeatedly that we need a Soviet RBU-ish type of rocket depth charge launcher (see, "The Modern Hedgehog").  This is even more important for H-K corvettes that will go toe-to-toe with submarines.

The US Navy has all but abandoned ASW in any persistent, dedicated, effective form and we need to regain that capability.  We need to bring back a fixed wing carrier ASW aircraft, ASW corvettes, and dedicated ASW Hunter-Killer groups.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Forward Presence - Deterrent or Provocation?

One of the tenets of US naval policy is forward presence which, the Navy believes, has a deterrent effect on potential enemies.  ComNavOps has repeatedly stated that forward presence, at least as practiced today, has zero deterrent effect.  However, for the sake of this discussion, let’s set my misgivings aside, accept the Navy’s premise, and examine it a bit closer.

To repeat, the premise is that forward presence equals deterrence.

However, what if the reverse is actually true – that forward presence not only fails to provide deterrence but actively encourages war?  Huh?  Well that can’t be right.  I mean, sure, maybe forward presence is debatable as far as accomplishing deterrence but it surely can’t encourage war … can it?

Well, where is the first place we always turn for answers?  That’s right, history!  What does history tell us about forward presence?  Let’s look at some examples.

Pearl Harbor – The Pearl Harbor naval base was developed during the 1920’s and ‘30s and became the home of the US Pacific fleet in 1939 and beyond.  It was hoped that the forward presence of the Pacific Fleet would temper Japanese encroachments on China and the surrounding region.  Many US analysts believed that the Japanese, if they initiated hostilities, would strike the Dutch East Indies, Singapore or Indochina.  Instead, as we know, the Japanese took advantage of the concentration of US naval and air power to deal what they hoped was a crippling blow.

It seems almost certain that the Japanese viewed the concentration of vulnerable US military power as too good an opportunity to pass up.  Instead of acting as a deterrent, the Pearl Harbor forward base acted as a stimulus for the Japanese who believed that destroying that much of the US Pacific forces would ensure their successful occupation of the various South Pacific islands and facilities that were their ultimate objectives. 

We see, then, that far from deterring Japan, the forward base of Pearl Harbor encouraged and hastened the onset of war by presenting a target too good for Japan to pass up.

Admittedly, this is pure speculation, though well reasoned.  We have no documents or contemporaneous statements to the effect that Pearl Harbor’s concentration of military might encouraged the war.  On the other hand, we have no statements to the contrary and many documented writings and statements about the attractiveness of Pearl Harbor as a target so the conclusion that the forward base encouraged war is eminently logical.

Falklands – The Falkland Islands (and South Georgia) provided forward presence and served as a forward base of sorts for UK interests in the Antarctic  region and minor trade activities.  The islands were the subject of disputed territorial claims by the UK and Argentina.  Argentina, which was suffering from domestic unrest and economic troubles, seized on the opportunity to use the Falklands to deflect internal political criticism and create a rallying point for the population.  With the UK’s main military forces far away and having witnessed the UK initiate territorial transfer discussions, Argentina believed that the UK would not respond to a seizure of the islands.  As we know, the British did respond and the Falklands War resulted.

While not a forward base in the classic military sense, the islands were still a forward base for UK interests and presented a convenient and irresistible target for Argentina.  The British forward presence encouraged the conflict.

United States Colonies – The forward presence represented by the British colonies in America in the early to mid 1700’s were a trigger for numerous conflicts between the French and British, including the well known French and Indian War of 1754-1763.  Just a little later, the American Revolution resulted in the formation of the United States.  Clearly, the British forward presence, in the form of colonies and military forces, acted as a trigger for multiple conflicts.

Poland – Germany began WWII by invading Poland.  While Poland was not a forward base/presence in the strict definition of such, it did, by aligning itself with the UK (1939 Agreement of Mutual Assistance, for example), become a de facto UK forward base/presence for hostilities and operations against Germany.  While there were multiple reasons for Germany’s selection of Poland as the initial strike of WWII (Lebensraum, for example), did Poland’s forward location (adjacent to Germany) and vulnerability make it too good a target for Hitler’s Germany to pass up and thus encouraged the start of war?

To be fair, this example is a bit of a reach and may be a case of attempting a bit of tortured reasoning to support the premise.

Guam – Although a war has not yet occurred, the US forward base at Guam offers the Chinese the same type of overwhelmingly enticing target that Pearl Harbor offered the Japanese.  Elimination of Guam as a forward base would severely impair US military operations in a war and the Chinese obviously recognize this.  Will a strike on Guam prove to be a temptation to good to pass up for the Chinese and encourage them to initiate a war?

US Middle East and Pacific Fleets – While not forward bases in and of themselves (though they are forward based in the respective regions), it is clear that the forward presence of the US Middle East and Pacific Fleets is stimulating aggressive acts, some meeting the definition of acts of war, by Iran and China – acts that would not occur if not for the presence of US naval assets.  Thus, forward presence is encouraging aggressive, war-tending acts.

Spanish-American War of 1898 – The Spanish forward presence/base in Cuba ignited various United States economic, strategic, and humanitarian interests.  The sinking of the USS Maine provided the trigger that allowed the US to justify the initiation of war but it was a war that was stimulated by the Spanish forward presence and was likely to happen with or without the Maine incident.

It seems clear that forward presence has the inherent tendency to encourage conflict rather than deter it.  That makes the US geopolitical strategic policy linking forward presence and deterrence highly suspect.  Thus, the entire rationale for the US Navy’s global forward presence is founded on an untrue premise that forward presence equals deterrence when, in fact, history suggests the exact opposite effect. 

While forward presence has a clear antagonistic effect, it is important to recognize that forward presence also accomplishes beneficial objectives and that an accelerated movement to war may be a ‘good’ and necessary step to those ends.  While the reverse case, meaning no forward presence, might have prevented many conflicts it would also have allowed many undesirable situations to arise.  For example, without the forward base of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese would have been able to achieve their Indo-China goals and might have been able to prevail in any subsequent conflict.  Had the British refrained from establishing forward bases in colonial America, the territory might well have been completely occupied by the French.  If the US naval presence were absent from the Middle East and South/East China Seas, Iran and China would likely have established a militant and military presence (China has annexed the South China Sea even with our presence!).  And so on.

Thus, the mere fact that forward presence encourages conflict is not, in and of itself, reason to avoid it.  Instead, the use of forward presence should be entered into with careful forethought as to the repercussions and should be balanced against the desired gains and benefits.

One final thought is that forward presence, when combined with a policy of appeasement, which is how the US implements its forward presence, promotes all the negatives of aggressive behavior with none of the benefits.  It is the worst of both worlds.


Comment note:  The examples offered have varying degrees of validity and none are absolute, clear cut, indisputable proof of the premise.  Any one example could be argued.  Further, the reverse of the premise which would be that forward presence prevents war and, if true, would disprove the post premise, is impossible to prove, absent statements from foreign leaders stating that they wanted to initiate war but were discouraged from doing so by the forward presence of their enemy and, of course, there are no such statements on record.  Thus, the way to read this post is to consider the totality of the examples and logic and consider the pattern described herein.  I am specifically NOT going to entertain individual arguments about the examples.  If you wish to comment, do so about the overall premise rather than individual examples.  Fair warning.

Finally, regarding forward presence and deterrence, someone is inevitably going to claim that our forward presence in, say, Europe, has resulted in no Soviet/Russian war and, therefore, must be true.  This is a case of correlation versus causation.  Just because there is a correlation (presence and no war) does not mean there is a causation.  One could just as logically argue that our implementation and use of fluoride in our water supply in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s correlates to no wars with the Soviets/Russia.  Therefore, fluoride must prevent wars as well as cavities!  Well, obviously fluoride doesn’t prevent wars – that’s correlation without causation.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Get Out And Don't Come Back

Get out and don’t come back.  That’s the message from China, Russia, and Iran to the US regarding the presence of our warships in the East/South China Seas, Black and Baltic Seas, and the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, respectively.  Of course, these are international waters that all countries are free to travel.  Despite that, the respective countries apparently view the waters as theirs and call any US presence destabilizing or worse.

There is a school of thought, promoted by misguided, shallow thinkers, that suggests that if we did as requested and left the regions as demanded, that all would be peace and love in the world – that it’s only the presence of the US that makes otherwise happy, peaceful, caring, and responsible countries act irrationally.  Aside from being idiots, these people seem unaware of the number and size of the areas that we would be excluded from if the peaceful countries had their way.  Also, the amount of international commerce that transits these waters is staggering.  With no US presence to ensure the safety of that shipping, piracy, be it traditional criminal piracy or government sponsored “fees” for the privilege of passage, would become rampant.

What’s disturbing about this issue is that we’re essentially complying with the demands. 

We’ve completely ceded the entire South and East China Seas with nothing more than an occasional impotent Freedom of Navigation exercise which, truth be told, only strengthens China’s claims and demands.

We’ve largely backed off any enforcement actions against Iran in the Middle East.  They’re bombing commercial vessels, seizing ships (including US naval ships!), shooting down our drones in international air space, and harassing ships and aircraft with near impunity.  The only reaction from the US has been one downing of a drone that we’re not even 100% sure was Iranian.

Russia has largely forced us out of the region and aggressively harasses any ships or aircraft we dare to send in.

Russia, Iran, and China are all closely watching our reactions to the various provocations and exclusionary demands and our lack of reaction (appeasement) only encourages additional, more aggressive actions on their parts.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Ford Trials and Propulsion Problems

The new carrier Ford has suffered more than its share of problems due to normal shakedown issues plus the stupidity of concurrency.  Well known problems include,

  • Weapon elevators
  • Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG)
  • Nuclear propulsion / main turbines
  • Dual Band Radar

Most of the problems have been well documented and thoroughly discussed but the propulsion problems are far less understood and far less public so let’s take a closer look at the propulsion problems.

Ford is currently undergoing Post Shakedown Availability (PSA) to correct the various problems identified in trials and sea periods.  However, the PSA completion date has been repeatedly extended due in large part to the elevators and propulsion problems.

Problems with the propulsion system are less understood publicly. The problem isn’t resident in the two nuclear reactors aboard but rather the ship’s main turbines generators that are driven by the steam the reactors produce.

… two [of four] of the main turbine generators needed unanticipated and extensive overhauls. As Geurts [Navy acquisition chief James Geurts] told Congress, the ship’s company discovered the problem during sea trials. (1)

The turbine generator repairs are likely related to earlier propulsion issues related to a recent design change which forced the ship to return to port in May 2018. (2)

Here’s a brief timeline of the propulsion problems and the various trials that the ship has undergone.

Jun 2016  Major turbine problems discovered

Apr 2017  Builder’s Trials

May 2017 Acceptance Trials

May 2017 Delivery

Jan 2019  Propulsion problem discovered

May 2019 Propulsion problem forced return to port

Note the ineffectiveness and pointlessness of the trials.  The Navy knew about the major turbine issues and yet accepted the ship anyway.  Subsequent trials failed to discover the additional propulsion problems.  I have one question: What’s the point of trials if we’re going to accept damaged ships anyway and if the trials don’t reveal problems that routine operating does?  Trials have become a joke.  Since they accomplish nothing, why not just do away with trials and save some money?

The first several LPD-17 ships were accepted with many thousands of hours of incomplete work.  The early LCS’es were accepted with incomplete compartments.  Zumwalt was accepted with none of its combat systems installed.  Ford was accepted with major systems inoperable and compartments incomplete (see, “PartialDelivery – Total Obfuscation” and “Navy To Accept And Commission Damaged Ship”).

Here’s a bit more background on some of the propulsion problems.

A transformer/voltage regulator problem caused main turbine generator failures in Jun 2016.

A serious voltage regulator problem on the carrier's four main turbine generators (MTGs) has prevented engineers from running the motors up to full power, and only now has the problem been identified and a fix decided upon.

The MTGs are a significant element in the ship's power generation system – an all-new layout supporting a plant developing at least three times the electrical power of previous carriers.

The problem manifested itself June 12 when a small electrical explosion took place on the No. 2 MTG during testing. Navy sources disagree whether the term "explosion" is appropriate, but two sources familiar with the situation used the reference, one noting that "it was enough of an explosion that debris got into the turbine." (5)

May 2019 propulsion system problem was found.

This second propulsion issue is unrelated to a previous one identified earlier this year. According to Navy Times, the current issues are related to mechanical failures which prevent steam produced in the ship’s nuclear plant from adequately spinning the ship’s 30-ton propellers. (3)

A propulsion system problem was found during a Jan 2019 at-sea period.  The problem may have been a bad bearing.

“During at-sea testing in January, the crew identified one component in the propulsion train was operating outside of design specifications and took action to place the propulsion train in a safe condition,” Bill Couch spokesman for Naval Sea System told Navy Times. (4)

As we’ve seen with the waivers of certifications in the Pacific fleet and the complete lack of enforcement of construction standards, the Navy has totally abandoned any pretense of standards.  This is simply unacceptable.  Navy leadership should be fired en masse.  As they’re so fond of declaring, I have lost confidence in their ability to command.


(1)USNI News website, “USS Gerald Ford Delivery Delayed Due to Extensive Nuclear Propulsion, Weapons Elevator Repairs; Carrier Won’t be Ready Until October”, Sam LaGrone, 26-Mar-2019,

(2)Navaltoday website, “Nuclear propulsion system repairs delay USS Gerald R. Ford’s return to fleet”,

(3)Navaltoday website, “USS Gerald R Ford returns to port with propulsion issues”,

(4)Navy Times website, “Why the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier was forced back into port”, Mark Faram, 22-May-2018,

(5)Defense News website, “Carrier Ford Has Serious Power Problem”, Christopher Cavas, 18-Sep-2016,

Monday, September 2, 2019

Common Support Ship

The military has been pursuing commonality and modularity for some time, now, and with generally dismal results.  In particular, the military has been fascinated with the idea of common platforms that can be modified to serve multiple functions.

The Army has attempted to create a common vehicle, both armored and non, from which families of specialized vehicles can be created.  The Stryker and Bradley have both been used as the basis for multiple, specialized vehicles with some degree of success.

The various aviation services have attempted to create common airframes.  The F-35 is an example of such an attempt.  The S-3 Viking, though not an intentional attempt at a common airframe, did develop into ASW, SigInt, Tanker, and COD airframes.

The Navy attempted to create a base LCS that could morph into specialized functions via swappable modules – a disaster on every level.  The Navy also appears to be attempting to use the San Antonia LPD as a common hull, necking down various amphibious ship types, replacing older LPDs and LSD-41/49s.  It has also been proposed as a dedicated ballistic missile defense ship.

And so on.

Most attempts at a common base have met with limited success for a variety of reasons.  Ironically, the example of the unintended common airframe of the S-3 Viking has, arguably, met with the greatest success.

Along the lines of a common airframe, one could imagine a common hull for a range of support ships.  A reader offered this idea in a comment in a previous post and suggested uses such as mobile HQ's, hospital ships, mother ships, ammunition haulers, artillery/rocket platforms, and repair shops. (1)

ComNavOps has stated repeatedly that modularity is, by definition, a sub-optimal solution – a failure, in essence.  So, why would a common hull be a good idea?  The difference is the application.  Commonality and modularity are failures for combat platforms because, as I said, they inherently produce sub-optimal platforms and sub-optimal platforms will lose to optimized platforms every time.  On the other hand, for non-combat applications, like a family of support ships, the fact that they aren’t exquisitely optimized really doesn’t matter.  A little inefficiency in a support role is perfectly acceptable.

What we’re talking about with a common hull is, basically, a WWII Liberty ship.  A fairly generic ship that can be quickly and cheaply produced and can, with minimal modifications, serve a variety of functions.

The danger in trying to adopt a common support hull is making it too all-encompassing.  The hull size required to support an EOD MCM unit is much smaller than that required for hospital ship.  If one sizes the common hull for the largest possible application then all the lesser applications wind up with a ship that is too big and, as a consequence, overpriced.  Thus, for a common support hull to work we have to limit the applications to those that share a reasonably similar area (square) and volumetric (cube) need.

Here’s a list of possible functions that could be accomplished with a common hull and the required vessel size.

mobile HQ's – small
repair vessel - small

tender - medium
artillery/rocket platforms – medium
MCM mother ship – medium

troop transport - large
hospital ships - large
ammunition haulers – large

We see, then, that we need three different size ‘common’ vessels to meet our family of needs.  To stretch our Liberty ship example, we would need three different size Liberty vessels.  They could share common characteristics (length to beam ratio, etc.), I suppose, but at some point you’ve got to face the fact that you’ve designed a different ship for each vessel group size.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Having three ‘classes’ of common ship would be fine.  It might even be possible to condense the three sizes into two without imposing too much waste and inefficiency.  I’ll leave that up to the designers.

The larger point is that there’s a fine line between commonality cost savings and operational inefficiencies due to the non-optimized commonality.  For example, in our medium size group, an MCM mothership would likely need a radically different stern structure for unmanned vehicle launches, small boat launches, etc. than a tender or artillery/rocket platform ship.  Yes, you can take the common medium hull and greatly modify it to fit the MCM mothership requirements but after you do, you’ve probably lost any cost savings that came from the original commonality.  Is it worth it or is it better to just design a different, optimized mothership?  I’m not offering an answer to that, just illustrating the challenge of assessing the balance between commonality and optimization.

So, there is certainly some potential for a common support hull – or maybe two or three common support hull sizes – but we need to assess and balance the potential commonality cost savings against the non-optimized operational inefficiencies.


(1)Navy Matters, “LST Development and Death”, 25-Mar-2019, comment: Seal Of Lion, March 25, 2019 at 8:03 PM,

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Burkes - The Anchor Around The Navy's Neck

My favorite baseball team went out and traded for a star and gave him a record setting, long term contract.  Now, just a few years later, he’s constantly hurt and contributes little.  Unfortunately, his enormous contract makes him untradeable and we’re saddled with him for another ten years.  In the meantime, we lack the budget to pay for other good players, have had to let promising players go because we couldn’t afford to give them new contracts, and he’s blocking the development and rise of young players in the minor leagues at his position.  Despite having once been a star, he and his contract are an anchor around the team’s neck.

Similarly, the Burke class destroyers are an anchor around the Navy’s neck.  Huh?!  You can’t be serious.  The Burkes are the most (only?) successful surface ship design we have.  Why, the Burke is the star of the Navy team (oh, oh … I don’t like where this is heading!).  How can they be anything but a benefit?

Well, let’s look at the situation.

When the Navy wanted to replace the Ticonderogas, did they look to design a new, optimized cruiser to take full advantage of the desired AMDR radar?  No, they stuck with the Burke because they were afraid of a new design after the recent string of disastrous new designs.  So, we’re now saddled with a Ticonderoga replacement, the Burke Flt III, with a half-AMDR instead of what we really want.

When the Navy wanted to build a better LCS (the new frigate program) did they look to design a new, dedicated ASW vessel, which is what they really needed?  No, they opted for a mini-Burke because it was what they were comfortable with.  The ‘new’ frigate is actually a manifestation of the illusion of the Burke’s ‘safety’ by insisting that the ‘new’ design be an existing design which, by definition, makes it an old design.

When combat comes and the Navy wants to conduct ASW, does anyone really believe that the Navy will risk $2B+ Burkes playing tag with submarines?  Of course not!  That means that for practical purposes we have no ASW capability!  Our star ship is now quite limited in realistic capability by its price.  On a related note, does it make sense to risk the proposed new frigates which will cost around $1.5B (I’m laughing at the Navy’s cost estimate of $800M)?  Of course not, again!  Our desire for mini-Burkes is preventing us from building the ASW corvette we really need and the Burkes are too expensive to risk doing the ASW job which is, supposedly, one of their core capabilities.

USS Burke

Let’s be clear.  The Burkes, at one time, served a very valuable role as the world’s most advanced AAW system.  Now, however, the Burke is at the low end of ship stealth and Aegis and Aegis-clones are everywhere and it’s even debatable whether Aegis is still the world’s premier AAW system.  There’s a plethora of radar manufacturers who claim their radars are superior and for a fraction of the cost.  So, what do the Burkes represent now?  Well, they’re a good AAW system but that’s about as far as we can go with our praise.  Even the Navy recognizes the shortcomings of Aegis and are replacing it with AMDR which they claim is vastly superior.  The Navy is saddled with a vast fleet of decent AAW Burkes and no hope to break out of the mold and produce something better. 

Because they represent something ‘safe’, albeit no longer state of the art, the Burkes are stifling innovation and new designs by the Navy.  Unwilling to risk another Zumwalt or LCS, the safety of the Burke now drags the Navy down and prevents the adoption of new designs.

The Burkes are an anchor on the Navy’s development.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Navy Cloud

Breaking Defense website has an article announcing the Navy’s push to convert from multiple networks to a single Amazon Web Services cloud based data storage/sharing system. (1)

While the benefits are obvious and loudly trumpeted by the Navy, the dangers are waved away and not discussed. 

To illustrate, in my personal life I’ve moved to a 100% local data storage system, meaning, all my files are on jump drives in my possession.  I have no data files on my PC, whatsoever, and none on any cloud service.  Why?  Because there is no such thing as a secure Internet/cloud system.  Every system has been and will repeatedly be compromised.  It’s not through lack of effort by the system owners.  It’s simply impossible to protect data that can be accessed and, indeed, is designed to be accessed. 

My jump drives, on the other hand, cannot be accessed.  They are completely secure.  When I access them, I do so on an isolated computer that acts as a connectivity gap.  The modified files are then loaded on a dedicated transfer jump drive for subsequent uploading to the Internet on a dedicated and protected PC.

Think about the last few years.  Every company swears to us that if we’ll give them our data as we conduct transactions with them, the data will be protected and secured on their impenetrable networks and, yet, we hear week after week about another major company whose data has been compromised.  How many times have you been warned that your personal data, being held by xxxx Corporation, may have been compromised and that you should change your passwords (at that point, they’ve already got your information – changing your password is pointless but if you want to secure the barn door after the horses have left, go ahead)?

So, I pose the question, why do we believe that Amazon Web Services will be somehow immune to the now routine hacking that every other company is subject to, and victim of?  The answer, if we’re being honest and realistic, is that the Navy’s Amazon cloud will be just as vulnerable as every other system.  I know, people are going to write comments about the latest ten thousand bit encryption protection system or whatever.  You know … the same kinds of protection that every other hacked system has had.

Another drawback to consolidating all of the Navy’s information is that if when an enemy does successfully hack the system, they’ll get EVERYTHING.  The current situation, where data resides on many different systems may be inefficient but at least it has the unintended benefit of limiting the amount of data that any one successful hack can acquire.

Okay, so there are dangers associated with this cloud data storage that the Navy has not bothered to share with us but is that the end of the story?  Not quite.  What have we constantly said about military programs?  We’ve said that everything should run through the filter of, “will this improve our combat capability”?  If the answer is no, we shouldn’t be doing it (oops, there goes our gender sensitivity training!).  If the answer is yes, then we’re okay.  So, does moving to cloud storage, with its attendant dangers, improve our combat capability?  Let’s see what the Navy has to say.

One of the biggest benefits to the Navy, Geurts [Navy acquisition chief James Geurts] said, is that sailors and civilians on the pier or on the flight line will be able to reach into the cloud to keep an eye on parts bouncing through the pipeline …

Okay, tracking spare parts is certainly a peacetime convenience.  Whether ‘keeping an eye’ on parts will actually produce the requisite number of parts or simply allow people to verify that the parts are unavailable, is not clear.  Currently we suffer from a lack of necessary parts.  Being able to track that isn’t going to produce the non-existent parts, it will just verify what we already know.  Now, if we have plenty of parts but we’re having problems shipping the parts to the needed locations then this might help.  Of course, we already have multiple systems that are intended to do that so why this system will work and the others haven’t, has yet to be explained by the Navy.  Well, I’ll explain it to you.

The problem with current systems is not that they can’t track a part – that’s computing child’s play - , it’s that the data inputs are garbage and you know the ancient computer axiom:  GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).  Heck, it’s scratched on cave walls!  We’re not taking the time to accurately input parts inventories.  Well guess what?  If we don’t accurately input parts inventories to the cloud, it will be just as inaccurate as what we have now.  ‘The Cloud’ is not magic.  It’s only as good as our data inputs which, apparently, are horrendous.  That’s not going to change.

Moving on …

Simply put, “it will increase the visibility of the data,” Navy Comptroller Thomas Harker added. “Right now, in order to run audits the Navy has to pull data from nine different systems, not all of which are configured the same, and then slice it and dice it and put it all together.” Working that way is time consuming, and “creates challenges in financial reporting.

So, this will allow for easier, more accurate(?) audits.  That’s nice but that does nothing for our combat capability so why are we doing this?

Any other benefits?

If the Pentagon fails to build a common system to share data rapidly among units in different services and different globally-dispersed theaters, it’ll fail to implement the kinds of high-speed, AI-assisted Multi-Domain Operations that military leaders say are imperative in potential future conflicts against advanced adversaries.

So, this cloud will somehow, in some unexplained manner, provide ‘high-speed, AI-assisted Multi-Domain’ operations.  Buzzword bingo, anyone?  Sure, the enemy will be raining old-fashioned artillery shells down on us but we’ll crush them with ‘high-speed, AI-assisted Multi-Domain’ operations.  The poor bastards will never know what hit them. 

When you don’t have any good justification, just string together a bunch of buzzword phrases.  This looks to be a perfect example of that.

This cloud effort sounds like an exercise in convenience rather than combat capability.  It also sounds like a venture that has a lot of potential for profound, unintended, negative consequences.  Hey, China, would you like one-stop shopping for all of our data?  Come hack the cloud!


Side Note:  F-35 ALIS Case Study in the Making

The Air Force, frustrated with the abject failure of the F-35 ALIS logistics and combat planning software, has instituted a ‘Mad Hatter’ program to transfer the ALIS functionality (the theoretical functionality because, you know, there is no actual functionality!) to cloud servers and a bunch of apps.  In addition to being non-functional, ALIS is also, apparently, quite vulnerable to cyber attack.

… with the current setup, ALIS may be so vulnerable that Robert Behler, the OTE [Director, Operational Test and Evaluation – DOT&E] director, thinks the program should be able to operate for a month without hooking up to it at all. Now that’s a bad sign. (2)

So, as with the Navy’s plan to migrate to cloud storage, no one is explaining how ‘the cloud’ magically eliminates cyber threats whereas the previous, highly encrypted, well protected computing system could not. 


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Navy Takes First Big Step To Cloud, Pushing Logistics To Amazon’s Service ”, Paul McLeary, 23-Aug-2019,

(2)Defense News website, “Air Force Tries To Fix F-35’s ALIS — From A Big, Broken Box To the Cloud ”, Colin Clark, 6-Mar-2019,

Friday, August 23, 2019

Base Hardening

We’ve discussed the vulnerabilities of our forward bases (see, "Base Defense") and, among other actions, noted that we should be pursuing hardening of our bases.

National Interest website makes the point that hardening includes far more than merely protecting the aircraft on the ground.

“However, protecting the aircraft is just a first step. Combat aircraft sortie generation can be thought of as an industrial process with the airfield as a “sortie factory.” The factory needs working aircraft, but the aircraft must be able to taxi to a runway that is long enough for them to operate from safely and when they return they must be able to be repaired, refueled and rearmed, and their crews must be able to receive orders and plan missions. This means other parts of the factory must be protected if the base is to function under attack. This means hardening maintenance, fuel storage and distribution and operations facilities.” (1)

This is an interesting, and correct, take on the issue that recognizes what an airbase actually is and, therefore, the scope of what must be protected.  This leads to the concept of a “sortie chain”, similar to a kill chain, in which a series of steps are required to generate a sortie.  Breaking the chain at any point will terminate the sortie.  For example, there is no need to destroy the aircraft if you can destroy the fueling facilities or the maintenance facilities or any other step in the chain - hence, the need to harden the entire chain and its associated facilities.

Dr. Carlo Kopp notes that China is actively pursuing airbase hardening and presents data on the extent of that effort.

“The only nation in the region actively investing in airbase hardening over the past decade is China, which has incrementally expanded its inventory of underground hangars (UGH), while investing in HAS [Hardened Aircraft Shelter] at multiple airfields.

China’s tally as of 12 months ago ( was 7 x UGH sized for Badger bombers, capable of accommodating 138 – 145 aircraft (or many more fighters), 14 x UGH sized for Beagle bombers, capable of accommodating up to 668 Flankers, 17 x UGH sized for MiGs, capable of accommodating up to 723 J-10 fighters, for a total of 38 sites, with several further sites unused or abandoned. In addition, all other PLA fighter airfields are equipped with revetted dispersals, and a good number have been upgraded with HAS.” (2)

Dr. Kopp also makes the point that China’s huge advantage in hardened sites creates a strategic imbalance in their favor.  The side that is better prepared to absorb attacks and continue to fight has a significant advantage – no great surprise but a concept seemingly lost on Western military professionals.

Air Force Magazine website notes some of China’s HAS efforts.

“Distributed over 15 air bases throughout Nanjing and Guangzhou military regions in the east and southeast of China, the number of hardened shelters has grown from 92 to 312 in the past 12 years …” (3)

Hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) are not a magic solution to attack and do not grant immunity to damage.  Precision guided, penetrating bombs will destroy HAS structures as the US demonstrated during Desert Storm and, just recently, in the Tomahawk attack on the Syrian airbase associated with chemical weapons.  What HAS (and any form of hardening) does is to eliminate the cheap kills and drive up the cost of achieving the desired degree of destruction.  “Dumb” bombs are plentiful - precision guided, deep penetrating bombs are not.  

Kopp illustrates the point using the Desert Storm war.

“When Coalition air forces flew into Iraq in early 1991, they confronted the most extensively hardened airbase system ever built. Saddam’s hardened airbases proved ineffective, and Coalition tactical fighters destroyed 375 of 594 during the six week air campaign. With complete control of the air won within the first day, Coalition fighters were able to repeatedly attack HAS installations until they were cracked open. The pivotal weapon used was the American 2,000 lb BLU-109/B I-2000 Have Void concrete piercing bomb, fitted with either the GBU-10, GBU-24 or GBU-27 laser guidance kit. Typically two weapons were used per target, the intent being for the second round to punch into the hole made by the first round. While many HAS were punctured in an initial attack, many others required repeat attacks until fatal damage was inflicted. This absorbed a significant proportion of available Coalition sorties, as the limited number of F-111, Tornado, and Buccaneer aircraft equipped to laser illuminate targets set hard limits on daily sortie rates.” (2)

Hardening did not defeat the overall attack but it greatly increased the time and effort required for the Coalition to achieve its goal.  The key lesson is that many hardened targets required multiple re-attacks.  In Desert Storm, with total control of the air, we were able to re-attack as often as needed.  Against a peer adversary and lacking control of the sky, the ability to knock out hardened bases becomes a much more difficult and questionable task and re-attacks will likely be prohibitively expensive, in terms of attacking aircraft attrition or simply not possible given sortie availability and defense changes.

A related point is that the type of laser guided, precision, penetrating bombs used by the US require that the launching aircraft (and lasing aircraft, if they are not the same) overfly or very closely approach the target.  Again, against a peer with a credible SAM system, this may be costly or impossible.

Kopp also discusses underground hangars.

“The alternative to HAS, underground hangars, if built with proper entrance designs, deflection grids and blockers, can resist repeat attacks with tactical fighter compatible concrete piercing bombs. Such targets require genuine ‘earthquake bombs’, such as the new 30,000 lb GBU-57/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP)…” (2)

Air Force Magazine notes possible vulnerabilities of underground hangars.

“… the perceived vulnerability of UGHs to precision weapons. Most of the shelters have only a few entrances, which if struck could pin aircraft inside for an extended period. …

Precision strikes against the taxiways leading to the entrances could also hinder operations. Although aircraft inside may survive, it could prove difficult to extract them from their underground lair and launch. In addition, it might be possible for the first precision guided munition to penetrate the doors with a follow-on weapon to detonate inside the UGH.”

Just as there is a crowd of people who believe that since armor can’t stop every weapon that exists, there is no point having any armor, so too there is a crowd, likely the same crowd, who believes that since no amount of hardening can stop every bomb or missile, there is no point hardening bases.  Clearly, this is misguided, idiotic thinking.  Hardening (or armor, as the case may be) drastically drives up the cost and effort for the attacker.  In a peer war, where you may only get one chance at an attack, hardening ensures that at least some of your assets survive and forces the attacker to expend many more assets than would otherwise be required.  China recognizes this and is preparing their bases accordingly.

On the U.S. side,

“Currently, the US military has 207 HAS dispersed among four bases in the Western Pacific, with a significant majority in South Korea.” (3)

On the other hand, some key U.S. bases have little in the way of hardening.

“Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, located just 460 miles from the Taiwan Strait, houses F-15s and occasionally F-22s—and large numbers of other USAF aircraft—but possesses only 15 shelters.

Andersen Air Force Base on Guam hosts a range of strategic assets, such as B-2 stealth bombers and RQ-4 surveillance aircraft, but has no hardened shelters.” [emphasis added] (3)

The US needs to devote serious efforts towards hardening its few forward bases.  This is a key point since the US has so few forward bases in the Pacific – Guam being the notable example.  We need to do all we can to ensure that Guam can withstand attack and continue to function.  

Can we afford more hardening efforts?  From Air Force Magazine,

“… it should be noted that roughly 20 new hardened shelters can be purchased for the cost of a single fourth generation fighter.” (3)

On the opposite side of the coin, we need to devote more effort to figuring out how to more efficiently and safely destroy hardened facilities.


(1)National Interest website, “Base Hardening: Can America and Its Allies "Play Fort" against China?”, Harry J. Kazianis, October 27, 2014,

(2)“Airbase Hardening in the Western Pacific”, Dr. Carlo Kopp

(3)Air Force Magazine website, “The Dragon Pours Concrete”, David Lewton, Dec 2014,