Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 Developments and Favorites

It’s that time of year, the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, when everyone likes to release lists.  Well, ComNavOps will offer two lists.

First up is a list of the top significant developments for the US Navy in 2018.  In no particular order, here they are:

No LCS Deployments in 2018 – Despite having 13 ships in commission, there were no LCS deployments in 2018.  Through its inaction, even the Navy is grudgingly acknowledging that there is no use for these floating dog piles.

F-35 Concurrency Orphans – It has been acknowledged that concurrency is going to result in hundreds of F-35s that can’t be upgraded to combat status.  What a colossal waste!

No Munition for Zumwalt Gun – The Navy officially announced that they’ve given up on the idea of developing some kind of munition for the Zumwalt’s gun.  This one is criminal, or should be.

MQ-25 Contract Awarded – The Navy has officially moved into the UAV era – for better or worse.

Navy Greatly Reduces McCain/Fitzgerald CO Punishments – After announcing plans to prosecute the Cos for negligent homicide, among other charges, the Navy inexplicably reduced the punishments to mere slaps on the wrist.  The Navy’s accountability and integrity just went from near-zero to below zero.

Norwegian Frigate Sinks – While not a US Navy incident, the opportunity for lessons learned is unprecedented.  Further, the design is one of the US Navy’s frigate contenders.  Ominous.

Frigate Conceptual Design Contracts Awarded - Huntington Ingalls, Lockheed Martin, Austal, GD Bath Iron Works, and Fincantieri will move forward with conceptual frigate designs.  The Lockheed Martin Freedom class LCS 'frigate' will be selected for production in 2018, thus condemning the Navy to a frigate on par with the LCS.

The second list is ComNavOps favorite posts from 2018.  The challenge here is that all the posts are so good that it’s hard to choose favorites.  This is your chance for a well-worth-it re-read of some outstanding posts.  In no particular order, here they are:

Deployments Or Missions?

PT Boat

Carrier Vulnerability and Operational Reality

Battle Damage – Savo Island

Why Not Battleships?

War Deployments

China War – Setting The Stage

Carrier Strike

Europe – Why?

Precision Guidance


  1. An update on the F-35 Concurrency Orphans

    Its since been revealed that might have been an optimistic assessment, FOC will require the Technology Refresh 3,TR3 planned for Lot 15 a/c due for delivery 2023.

    The Block 3.6F a/c will not have full operational capability, due to problems certain capabilities were slipped to Block 4. A total of 53 additional capabilities are to be included in Block 4, not detailed but which range from updated software to a suite of new weapons including the Small Diameter Bomb II etc, JPO saying about 22 of the capabilities will require the F-35 to include the TR3, the JPO did not disclose details of those 22 capabilities and their importance.

    TR3, new computer with 25x power, panoramic cockpit display electronic unit, aircraft memory system and new DAS (as yet no mention if the new generation silicon tech IR in an Advanced EOTS to be included, the new tech in current upgrades to the F-15 & F-18 and the new Litening, Sniper and Talios pods, another item have not seen mentioned was the inclusion of SAR capability in the radar slipped from Block 3.6.

    The March initial estimate was $16 billion for Block 4 modernization, $10.8 billion for development and $5.4 billion for procurement of upgrades to the F-35 between fiscal years 2018 through 2024.

    December 27, 2018 LM awarded additional contract of $712M for continued TR3 development.

  2. A few thoughts

    On the Norwegian ship. I don't know that I thought about it at the time, but like the two US collisions all three ships seem to have been operating w/o AIS on. Now I suppose that is all well and good on the high seas on patrol and all... but in a shipping lane, where you are hardly stealthy. Is there some reason not to use a generic AIS in those situations: Hello I am an official ship make way - type you do not need to know" Are they so expensive a warship can't afford a couple different ones?

    On the LCS not working is there any point to them at this point? Why not simply build the PF 4921 concept (based on the NSC)Ingalls was showing about a couple years ago. At least the NSC works and the light frigate version shown had a ~8000 nmi range that beats a LCS.

    1. "Is there some reason not to use a generic AIS in those situations"

      No, but the larger issue is how a modern warship with the most advanced sensors in the world can't see and avoid a large, slow moving, commercial ship. This is a basic seamanship, training, readiness, and competency issue. The point is that a warship shouldn't need AIS. If it does, then we lack the most basic level of seamanship and shouldn't be sailing.

    2. No dispute on that. I would say one more element is endless drive to make crew go away such that the watches are overworked and lack immediate alternates to stand to station. But I love redundancy an AIP solution is just one more bit of protection for the day maybe an otherwise good crew fails.

    3. "But I love redundancy an AIP solution is just one more bit of protection for the day maybe an otherwise good crew fails."

      Or … it's a crutch for the crew and breeds dependency on technology rather than dependency on "self-seamanship".

      GPS is a crutch and we came to depend on it to such an extent that we lost our ability to navigate at sea without it. We lost our ability to take sightings and navigate a channel. We lost our basic seamanship skills because we had the GPS crutch. So, too, with the AIS.

      If you have competent crews you don't need AIS. On a ship, collisions don't just happen in the blink of an eye like driving a car. Collisions develop over extended periods of time. You didn't collide because a sailor blinked and missed the on-coming tanker in a split second. You have to have missed the tanker for several minutes, over and over.

      AIS does not protect a good crew against a momentary failure because there is no such thing at sea. You have plenty of time - if you know what you're doing.

    4. Again that is fair. I would still say AIP is a valuable element. I recent cases it clearly it is not a crutch since is was not being used. So we have the apparently the worst of both worlds crews with super Aegis ships that cannot navigate (not competent for whatever reason) and crews who fail to alert commercial traffic to their presence with the latest techno device so they can (navigate). If you rely on crutches then use them. A double failure of training.

      Perhaps the solution is being willing to rotate crew into training ship stints where they navigate with w/o all the bells and whistles of modern navigation. And just a more rigorous SOP that require you check everything in more ways than just one.

      The 2016 indecent with 2 patrol craft sailing into Iranian waters also highlights navigational gaffs.

    5. In the last few years the Navy has seen the Port Royal, an Avenger, and Antietam all run aground. Two riverine boats got lost and captured. McCain and Fitzgerald collided with commercial vessels. This is not a case of an odd crew here or there needing a bit of refresher training - it's a case of systemic failure of basic seamanship and competency. The Navy needs to send everyone (lowest sailor on up to CNO) back to seamanship boot camp and then send them to sea without any electronic aids until they prove they can perform basic seamanship. Having utterly mastered basic seamanship, they can then begin to introduce limited use of electronic aids (although, I wouldn't because you then lose the expertise you just acquired).

      How many young people today can do basic math in their heads? From what I've seen, not many. They've become dependent on calculators. Same concept.

    6. AIS is "Periodically Updated", its not really a crash prevention system, it can operate in such a manner, but its slow to update, minutes, its unreliable, its periodic updates can and do fail, as two ships broadcast at the same time, and if it gets sent on time and without interference, its also not always correct,

      In the event of a ship sinking, or otherwise becoming "lost", AIS provides a starting point for rescue/recovery, beyond that, its all a bit hope for the best.

    7. The problem with lack of AIS in the Norwegian case, was that the tanker, who was fully aware of the frigate, did not know who to call on the radio & neither did the marine authorities. This wasted valuable minutes trying to raise the frigate. Why the frigate, just by listening to radio chatter, did not seem to put 2 & 2 togeather is a mistery in itself. Frigate approaching well known fixed oil terminal at speed, at night, while tanker is informing marine authorities as to its movements on standard marine radio channels the whole time - the pilot was even still onboard. It is believed the tankers AIS was functioning. This was a very high end frigate. NATO navies are worried about boat swarms. If you can’t detect a single 100,000t tanker, with its lights on, AIS on, trying to raise you by radio, actually telling you ‘turn or you will hit us’ when they do eventually raise you, then boat swarms are the least of your worries.

  3. The murky world of Ford class costs, post prompted by claim of an additional saving of $2B in costs per ship for two ship buy.

    CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford was $13.0 billion in then year 2008$ appropriated from 2001 to 2018, CBO used the Navy’s inflation index for naval shipbuilding to convert that figure to $15.5 billion in 2018$, or 23% more than when the ship was first authorized 2008. Figures exclude the Ford R&D $5.7 billion costs that apply to class plus AAG development costs Admirals managed to loose in separate NAVAIR R&D budget.

    The second ship CVN-79 Kennedy is budgeted at $11.3B in 2013$, actual 2018$ say ~$13.6B, CBO were sceptical they could meet that figure as Navy were forecasting unprecedented reductions in build hours from Ford, now the Navy in 2018 informed CBO that there is a greater than 60% chance that the ship’s final cost will be more than the current estimate, current estimate $11.7B in 2013$, actual ~ 2018$ $14B?

    January 2, 2019 DOD/Navy now claiming they can shave off $4B for two ship buy of the 3rd and 4th Ford class carriers, CVN-80 & 81 if Congress gives approval.

    Currently budgeting in 2018$ $12.6B for CVN-80 and $15.1B in 2023$ for CVN-81, so Navy forecasting ~20% shipyard inflation in five years (equivalent to 3.65% inflation per year.) As carriers build take ~10 years, take mid point actual cost currently looking like ~$15.1B for CVN-80 and $18.1B for CVN-81, total of $33.2B.

    CBO October 2018 report "The Navy estimates an average cost of $12.4 billion (in 2018 dollars) for the 7 carriers (CVN-81 through CVN-87) in the 2019 shipbuilding plan. CBO’s estimate is $12.8 billion per ship. The gap between the estimates has narrowed since the 2017 plan: The Navy’s has increased by $500 million per ship, and CBO’s has dropped by $200 million per ship. It is not clear why the Navy’s estimates increased, but CBO’s estimates fell mainly because the agency projects somewhat less growth in real costs of the shipbuilding industry in future years."

    To me that looks optimistic based on CVN-79 outcome in 2018$ at ~$14B, CVN-80 based on 2018$ 12.6B, so with additional build saving of $1.4B on CVN-79 cost, saving on CVN-78 is $2.9B and now forecasting an additional saving of $2B per ship based on two ship buy for a total reduction on Ford costs of $4.9B and $3.4B on Kennedy costs.

    Nuclear carriers are expensive, very expensive.


  4. CNO,

    Last month, 2 F35-A's landed in Australia. Apparantly, 7 are still in the US. if we've received 9, but 7 are concurrency failures, Australia has almost a AUD $billion of F-35's still in the US being used as training aircraft.

    Wayyyyyyy down at the bottom of this article:

    "The F-35 has been flying in some form or another now for 17 years. Some 300 early examples have already been delivered to the US and its allies.

    Seven of Australa’s nine F-35s are currently situated at a US training facility in Arizona."

    17 years to receive 2 F-35's.

    Not the best outcome.

    Thanks again for your interesting and thought provoking blog. Keep it up mate.


    1. Australia is a bit of a mystery to me. It is unclear to me who, if anyone, Australia views as an enemy. They have attempted to simultaneously side with the US and China to varying degrees. Adopting a neutrality position, perhaps?

      I'm at a loss to see how a handful of F-35s will further Australia's military objectives, assuming they have any. The cost of operating a handful of F-35s will be all out of proportion to any possible benefit.

      Perhaps you can educate me?

    2. While I am not Andrew, I will give it a go. Australia has ordered 72 F35A. So far only 9 delivered, but only 2 actually in Australia (7 in USA). They are to replace the remaining 71 F/A18 A/B Hornets. Australia also has 24 F/A18F Super Hornets configured as strike fighters (dedicated strike console in rear seat) & 12 E/A18G Growlers. That’s over 100 front line fighters. Then there’s the armed jet trainers, P8 maritime patrol, E7 Wedgetails, C17 & other transports etc, before you start on the other services.

      There is ongoing debate on ordering 28 F35B, as Navy has 2 relatively recently commissioned 27,700t amphibious assault ships complete with ski jumps (Spanish JC1 variants). This is becoming increasingly likely as China is building more carriers & Japan intends converting 2 of their helicopter carriers to F35B operations. Close eye to be kept on Turkey (2 JC1 variants building with F35B on order) & Spain (JC1 still with Harriers but eventually replaced with F35B) as to mods required & if worthwhile. Australia is finishing off its 3rd 7,000t AAW destroyer & is in the process of starting a build of 9 ASW 8,000t T26 frigates. The planned 12 new submarines are still in the design stage (4,500t surfaced, 97m d/e), but the current 6 submarines (3,100t surfaced, 77m d/e) are working well.

      Australia generally supports US militarily, is a member of the 5 Eyes intelligence arangement & has a peripheral association with NATO (it’s not a member). Australia’s closest military allies are the 5 Eyes members (3 of which are NATO members). It also has military ties with Singapore & Malaysia. Australia maintains a joint air base in Malaysia & is about to rebuild & enlarge a joint naval base in PNG (Manus Island - old WW2 US base).

    3. " I will give it a go. "

      You described a bunch of numbers but you didn't give it any context. Who does Australia view as an enemy, if anyone? How will xx number of F-35s contribute to defending/attacking that enemy? What role will a couple of semi-carriers play in peace or war? Will Australia's navy forward deploy - if so, where - or stay at home? What purpose does the navy serve either deployed or at home? Is Australia trying to straddle the fence and be friends with everyone or is there a clearly defined enemy?


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