Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Chinese Type 075 LHD

It’s always good to review a potential enemy’s weapons, platforms, and systems.  Today, let’s take a look at one of China’s latest amphibious assault ships, the Type 075 Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD).

As the name implies, the ship will feature an amphibious assault combination of helicopters and landing craft launched from a well deck.  The design includes Command and Control facilities.  The ship is expected to be launched in 2019 and enter service in 2020. 

The Type 075 is reported to be around 40,000 tons, 820 ft long, and capable of carrying 30 helos with six operating spots (2).  The ship, as described, is very similar in size and capability to the US Wasp class LHD-1 which is 843 ft long and can carry around three dozen helos and Harriers in various combinations along with three LCACs and 1900 troops.  One key difference is that the Chinese do not, as of yet, have a Harrier/F-35B STOVL or MV-22 type aircraft in operation.  Unconfirmed reports, however, suggest that they are developing such aircraft and, given the demonstrated speed of their military development programs, should have the capability within five years.

Wiki reports that armament is limited to a pair of short range HQ-10 SAMs and a pair of point defense CIWS.

Type 075 LHD

The LHD will complement the Type 071 Landing Platform Dock (LPD) amphibious ships which are analogous to the US San Antonio class LPD-17.  The combination will provide the Chinese with a very credible amphibious assault capability.

This begs the question, why is this ship needed?  Here’s the official Chinese answer.

“The South China Morning Post reported earlier this month, citing military sources, that the navy planned to increase the size of its marine corps from about 20,000 to 100,000 personnel to help protect its increasing interests overseas.” (1)

Okay, that states the obvious that more ships are needed to carry more marines but it doesn’t say why a large amphibious assault force is needed to begin with.  This is simply more evidence that China is gearing up for a major war.  This kind of ship is not defensive in nature.  China is preparing for major offensive amphibious operations.  While the obvious targets are Taiwan and neighboring countries, China may also be planning amphibious operations in Africa and other world wide locations.  As I’ve repeatedly said, China has aspirations of global domination.

In any event, this ship class provides a significant increase in vertical assault capability and mobile, close air support for ground troops.  Such capabilities can be especially useful in intimidation actions by the military aimed at neighbors such as Vietnam.

The US is engaged in a military arms race whether they want to be or not and, while still ahead, are losing ground rapidly.


(1)South China Morning Post website, “China building navy’s biggest amphibious assault vessel, sources say”, Minnie Chan, 30-Mar-2017,

(2)The National Interest website, “China's New Amphibious Assault Ship: A Big Waste of Time?”, Dave Majumdar, 31-Mar-2017,

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Scout Ship

We recently discussed the Navy’s ill-conceived plan to use unmanned vessels as sensor scouts out in front of a surface group (see, “Navy’s Manned-Unmanned Fleet Concept”).  We noted problems such as small size, limited endurance, questionable speed, high cost for an expendable vessel, broadcasting their own location (due to active sensors), and lack of defense.  The alternate option is to use small UAVs which would accomplish all the same goals at a fraction of the cost.

The Navy is correct in their desire for long range sensing – just wrong about how to accomplish it.  As we begin to procure some longer range missiles (LRASM, NSM, anti-ship Tomahawk), longer range targeting becomes critical.  As I’ve said many times, it’s pointless to have a ten thousand mile missile when your sensor is only good to the horizon.  So, good for the Navy for recognizing the need but they missed the mark on how to do it.

In addition to UAVs, there is another option for long range sensing that is actually closely related to the Navy’s unmanned sensor vessel yet solves most of the small sensor vessel’s drawbacks.  The option is a  larger, manned, scout ship sensor vessel but with a different concept of operations (CONOPS).  Let’s take a closer look.

The biggest problem (that’s actually debatable because the vessel has a lot of problems and they’re all pretty major!) with the Navy’s planned 130 ft long sensor vessel is that it will have to use active radar to find anything and get a targeting location.  Think about it … a tiny vessel will have a very low radar mounting.  A vessel that size will have its radar mounted perhaps 20-30 ft above the surface.  That makes for a very short radar horizon – something on the order of 12 nm or so (there are radar horizon calculators readily available on the Internet if you care to play with the numbers).  Using active radar will give away the sensor vessel’s location long before it can find a target.  Plus, with a sensor field of view that small, the vessels will be nearly useless for providing area coverage unless there are a LOT of them and large numbers simply compound the problems we’ve already identified.

The alternative is to use passive sensors.  The problem with this approach is that passive sensors generally provide a bearing but not range.  Of course, the passive sensor can, over time, develop a range by moving and triangulating – this is what a submarine does.  Alternatively, two or more sensors operating at different locations can work together to fairly quickly establish the target’s position.  The problems with small vessels remain, however.  They are poor sea keepers, have limited endurance, and are too expensive to be the expendable asset they would need to be when used the way the Navy intends.

Alternatively, let’s consider a significantly larger, corvette-size vessel that operates not in front of a surface group but around the periphery, offset well to the sides, and uses only passive sensors.  Due to the nature of the various signals of interest and the effects of atmospheric phenomenon (ducting and the like), passive signal detection can occur far beyond the horizon.  Thus, passive detection range is much greater than active sensors.  The trade off, as we noted, is that passive detection provides only a bearing, not range.  This is where using two or three vessels comes in – they can combine their data and triangulate.  The vessels would be offset hundreds of miles to the sides of the area of interest rather than grouped directly in front of the surface group.  Given the much greater range of detection and area of coverage, only a few vessels are required rather than the Navy’s vision of mini-fleets of sensor vessels.

Wait … communicate and triangulate?  How can they communicate?  Haven’t I repeatedly stated that we won’t be able to maintain a viable network of data in peer war, electromagnetically challenged environment?  Yes, I have.  The difference is that this approach does not require constant communication because there is no need for real time data fusion – thus, no network.  Occasional bursts of minimal data are sufficient.  If a burst doesn’t get through, you try again – no harm done.  Further, this requires only minimal data:  conceptually, the sensor ship’s location and the threat bearing it detected.  The smaller and shorter a signal transmission is, the easier it is to get through any interference.  The point of these vessels is not to establish real time targeting data with constant transmissions but to develop situational awareness of a broad area – though we’ll gladly take a targeting quality datum if we can get it.  With broad situational awareness, we can then allocate additional sensors (the UAVs we mentioned earlier or an F-35 or whatever) to the known threat locations and establish the final targeting data – or, we can avoid the area if we want to stay hidden.

Visby Scout Ship

We see, then, that with this approach we can establish broad area situational awareness with just a few vessels that won’t give themselves away and won’t have a negative impact on the surface group’s movement, speed, or endurance and, being far away from the likely area of action, the vessels won’t be at exceptionally high risk and will be capable of limited self-defense, if needed.

What kind of ship fits this requirement?  The Visby would be a good starting point (see, “Ship Stealth and Visby”).  It is corvette size but with adequate sea keeping and the potential for good endurance and range.  It is very stealthy and has the basis for SeaRAM/CIWS self-defense.  Most importantly, it has the size to accommodate all the signals analysis sensors, computers, and analysts that are needed.  In short, it would be a very capable, very survivable vessel for the role.

USS Palm Beach (AGER-3) - Electronics and Signal Intelligence Ship
Repackage in a Visby-Type Hull

A Visby-type scout ship could also be equipped with acoustic sensors (towed array optimized for long distance, passive, convergence zone detection) which would further enhance the usefulness of the vessel.

The ES-3A Shadow (S-3 Viking variant) once performed this signals intercept and analysis role for carrier groups but that incredibly powerful and valuable aircraft was retired without replacement.  In addition, it could only operate from carriers whereas this scout ship can operate anywhere.

This CONOPS offers the advantage of providing detection without the enemy realizing they’ve been detected.  The Navy’s proposed small sensor vessels, using active radar, would be easily tracked and offer no advantage of surprise.


Note that this is not a case of mutually exclusive, one-or-the-other options.  I’m not looking to replace every sensor platform the Navy has with just this one scout ship.  This is just another option that better accomplishes the Navy’s intent and complements the other sensor options.  What I’m saying is that I don’t want to hear any comments debating one-over-the-other scenarios because that’s not what’s being proposed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Once upon a time (as all good fairy tales begin), the Navy required electromagnetic pulse (EMP) hardening in all its electronics to counter possible Soviet nuclear weapon effects.  That requirement has dropped by the wayside over the last few decades along with EMCON (emissions control) operations, basic seamanship, and many other capabilities.

To refresh, EMP is a short duration, electromagnetic energy burst across a fairly wide spectrum of the electromagnetic (EM) field.  It has the effect of damaging and destroying electronic devices.  EMP can occur naturally, as in lightning strikes, or from man-made weapons.  The best known source of EMP is a nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere high above the target.  Today, smaller, non-nuclear weapons can generate EMP thereby allowing tactical use of EMP without the devastating and long lasting effects of nuclear weapons and radiation.  This also makes EMP weapon use politically acceptable as opposed to nuclear weapons.

The US has acknowledged the existence of a missile-mounted EMP device known as CHAMP (Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project) which was developed by Boeing and the US Air Force.  CHAMP appears capable of delivering multiple microwave EMP bursts during a single flight and can target specific frequencies. (1)  A publicly acknowledged test occurred in 2012 in which various types of electronic devices inside a building were disabled by an EMP missile flying by.

CHAMP EMP Concept Missile

There are numerous reports of Chinese, Russian, and NKorean EMP weapons although details are, understandably, sparse.

A good discussion of the scope of the EMP threat is available in an Oct 2017 statement for the record to Congress from Dr. William Graham, chairman of the Congressionally established Commission To Assess The Threat To The United States From Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. (2)  Dr. Graham’s statement was focused on NKorean EMP threats but it is not hard to extrapolate the threat to Russia and China who have more resources and, presumably, more advanced EMP programs.  A report to the Commission further details the potential EMP threats. (3)

Presumably, we have continued to develop our EMP weapons – I hope so, at any rate.  Lacking any further information in the public domain, there is nothing more to be said about offensive EMP weapons.

Defensively, as noted, we used to build ships with component EMP hardening.  We need to return to that design requirement.  Herein we see yet another negative impact of the LCS program.  Prior to the LCS, the Navy operated for years with a clear, simple survivability design requirement.  OPNAVINST 9070.1 defined survivability for ships and Level 1, the lowest level, mandated EMP hardening among other requirements.  When the LCS was shown to have been designed without adhering to any formal survivability requirement the Navy spent years defending it with outright lies about some mythical Level 1+ survivability.  After this was proven false (see, “Rationalize Survivability”), the Navy finally opted to issue a rewritten survivability document which eliminated all specific survivability requirements in favor of a nebulous, feel-good, non-specific description of generic survivability.  Thus ended the requirement for EMP hardening.  Thanks LCS.  To be fair, the Navy had probably abandoned EMP hardening prior to the LCS but I can’t pin down exactly when that occurred.

Back to task …

Unless we want to risk the specter of a ship or fleet lying dead in the water, immobilized and neutered by an EMP burst, we need to start – well, return – to designing ships for combat and designing to a mandated survivability rather than some feel-good policy intended to allow the Navy to save face.  We once knew how to build warships and we’d better remember how, quickly.  The new frigate would be a good place to start.  Let’s demand that it be built as a warship, not some glorified LCS (which is exactly and literally what it will be, I’m afraid).


(1)Boeing website,

Monday, February 18, 2019

A Harsh Mistress

As regular followers of the blog are all too aware, the US Navy’s mine countermeasure assets are few and dwindling.  Compounding this problem is that fact that the US Navy bet ‘all in’ on the LCS as the MCM platform of the future and failed resoundingly.  As of now, there are only plans for 6 LCS-MCM, three on each coast.  Two additional training LCS-MCM might or might not be deployable.

The Navy’s helo-based MCM, in the form of 28 MH-53E Sea Dragons, is ancient, long overdue for retirement, and scheduled to be retired without replacement (see, “MH-53E and Mine Countermeasures”).

The Navy also operates 11 Avenger class MCM vessels which, like the MH-53E’s, are past due retirement and have barely been kept seaworthy.

With this background, you would think that the Navy would treasure every MCM asset it has and the loss of any would be devastating.  That makes the Jan 2013 grounding and loss of the Avenger class USS Guardian (MCM-5) on a reef in the Philippines all the more tragic.  The only saving grace is that no one was killed.

USS Guardian On Reef

Let’s take a look at the Navy’s grounding report, provided by the Navy’s Freedom of Information service. (2)

The first sentence in the Executive Summary of the original report says it all:

The grounding of USS GUARDIAN was entirely preventable.


The CO, XO/NAV, and ANAV failed to ensure consistent application and compliance with prudent, safe, and sound navigation principles and standards during navigation planning and underway execution.

Does this sound at all familiar?  Isn’t this almost word for word the findings in the Burke collisions?  The Navy has had repeated opportunities to correct its cultural and institutional leadership failings and has declined to do so.

Before we go any further, it is necessary to address the general belief that the cause of the grounding was a chart error which implies that the crew was not at fault.  This is factually only partially correct and the conclusion that the crew was not to blame is totally incorrect. 

The crew had access to multiple charts and sources of navigational data, only one of which had an incorrect location for the reef.  The Captain and navigation team knew about the chart discrepancy, opted to ignore it, and chose to rely on the incorrect chart in a mistaken belief that it was the more reliable one.  The report covers the chart issue in great detail and makes clear that the inaccurate chart was not the cause of the grounding. 

Now, let’s look at some specifics. 

The Navigation Plan was badly flawed.  From the report,

The CO-approved Navigation Plan for the transit from Subic Bay, RP to Makassar, Indonesia was imprudent, unsafe, and unsound.

So, disaster was baked into the plan.

The CO-approved Voyage Plan for the restricted waters transits inbound and outbound Subic Bay, coupled with corresponding log entries and crew member statements, indicate exclusive reliance on a single source of electronic navigation (Global Positioning System (GPS) from the AN/WRN-6 or Defense Advanced GPS Receiver (DAGR)) by the Bridge during the Sea and Anchor Details despite the availability of visual aids to navigation and RADAR navigation.

How many times has ComNavOps pointed out the Navy’s dependence on GPS and subsequent loss of basic navigational skills?  Further, the dependence has created an air of arrogance fostering the belief that GPS is flawless.  This arrogance has led to the abandonment of basic precautions like lookouts, radar fixes, etc.

… the CO-approved Voyage Plan plotted the Plan of Intended Movement (PIM) over the northwest corner of the South Islet of Tubbataha Reefs, nearly the exact location where USS GUARDIAN ran aground.

Seriously???  You plotted your own grounding!  This is incompetence and negligence on a staggering scale.

Ignoring the fact that the navigation plan intended to run over a reef, there were various alarms that attempted to point out dangers.

Based on a simulation ran by the Investigating Officer and the_ Technical Assistant on the CO-approved Voyage Plan used by USS GUARDIAN on VMS-3 [ed, Voyage Management System], when the ship approached Jessie Beazley Reef and Tubbataha Reefs the VMS-3 issued 12 dangers with associated visual and audible alerts prior to the reaching the location of the grounding.

… visual VMS alarms and dangers were available to the OOD, QMOW, and CIC watchstanders at various portions of the transit. However, based on witness statements, it is my opinion that the audible alarms were not heard because the Bridge and CIC either disabled the audible alarm feature or turned the VMS volume down on their respective VMS consoles.

You plotted your own grounding and you turned off the alarms that tried to save you????

Wait, it gets better.

Had USS GUARDIAN not ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef, the imprudent, unsafe, and unsound CO-approved Navigation Plan would have placed the ship directly over another navigation hazard with unknown depth at latitude …

So, they had a second potential grounding as a backup in case the first didn’t get them?  You’ve got to admire that kind of determination to self-destruct.

Guardian On Reef

Equipment operability was also an issue.

All equipment related to safe navigation was operable at the time of grounding with the exception of the Digital Dead Reckoning Tracer (DDRT) and the starboard Bridge-to-Bridge radio in the Pilot House.

Prior to LCDR Rice assuming command, the Digital Dead Reckoning Tracer (DDRT) had not been used. When LCDR Rice assumed command, he directed use of the DDRT for contact management in ere. The CO released a Category Two Casualty Report (CASREP) for the DDRT, and technical representatives had come onboard to repair/replace a faulty circuit card. The repairs were not successful, and the DDRT remained degraded at the start of deployment up until the grounding on 17 January.

This demonstrates a long seen pattern of degraded equipment and failure to repair in a timely manner.  The Navy is focused on new ship construction to the catastrophic detriment of existing ships.

Guardian Being Cut Up During Salvage Operations

The report offers a conclusion,

There is nothing more fundamental to a professional mariner than the safe navigation of his or her vessel. As this investigation shows, the U.S. Navy is "re-learning" painful lessons taught by the grounding of USS PATRIOT (MCM 7) near Chinhae Bay, Korea on 19 March 2005, and the grounding of USS PORT ROYAL (CG 73) on 5 February 2009. Only this time the lessons cost our Navy the total loss of a commissioned warship, and nearly cost Sailors' lives.

We can and must do better. My recommendations address deficiencies and/or causal/contributing factors identified in the areas of shipboard leadership, crew readiness, navigation standards, manning, training, personal qualification standards, equipment and publications.

Did the Navy learn any lessons from any of these incidents?  The subsequent grounding of the Antietam and collisions of the McCain and Fitzgerald demonstrate that they did not.

On an interesting and possibly related note, the report shows that the USS Guardian had 59 at-sea days in all of 2012.  That is not much sea time and the lack of practical experience may have been a contributing factor to the grounding.  We are seeing the same phenomenon play out, today, in naval aviation with non-deployed squadrons getting barely enough flight hours to stay flight qualified let alone any advanced training.  Similarly, no LCS deployed in 2018.  How are Navy personnel supposed to get experience if they don’t operate?

As the old saying has it, the sea is a harsh mistress.  Arrogance toward the sea will kill you.  Refusal to learn lessons will ensure that disasters continue to happen.  Navy leadership is badly broken and incapable of fixing itself.  Congress and the Secretary of the Navy need to clean house and fire every Navy Admiral and start over.


(1)Navy Matters blog, “MH-53E and Mine Countermeasures”, 17-Apr-2018,

Saturday, February 16, 2019

HVP Speed Lie

As you know, the Navy has, for the moment, shelved the electromagnetic rail gun in favor of firing hyper velocity projectiles (HVP) from 5” guns.  The HVP’s distinguishing characteristic is its speed which is reported to be Mach 3 (3344 ft/sec).  This leads the manufacturer, BAE Systems, to make all sorts of amazing claims which, if they are to be believed, would mean a single 5” gun is the only weapon any ship will ever need!  I’m being a bit facetious, here, but not much.  BAE and the Navy claim the HVP will handle land attack, anti-surface, AAW, and ballistic missile defense!

By the way, hyper velocity is defined as greater than Mach 5-8, depending on what definition you choose.  Mach 3 is not hyper velocity.  Moving on …

Let’s take that distinguishing characteristic, speed, and check it out.

The HVPs from a traditional deck gun will be slower than one launched from a railgun — a little over Mach 3 versus Mach 5 [ed: railgun projectile speed] — but still more than double the speed of an unguided regular shell from the service’s Mk 45 five-inch gun … (1)

Mach 3 = 3344 ft/sec

Wow that’s fast!  Double the speed of a standard round from the Mk45 5” gun!  Wow!  Just Wow!

Just out of curiosity, what is the speed of a round from a 5” gun?  Well, since the HVP is double the speed then the 5” round must be half the HVP, right?  That would put the 5” round at 1672 ft/sec. 

Just for giggles, let’s see what NavWeaps says the 5” round muzzle velocity is.  NavWeaps gives the following data. (2)

5”/62 round types:

Mark 80 HE-PD - 67.6 lbs. (30.7 kg)
Mark 91 Illum-MT - 63.9 lbs. (29.0 kg)
Mark 116 HE-VT - 69.7 lbs. (31.6 kg)
Mark 127 HE-CVT - 68.6 lbs. (31.1 kg)
Mark 156 HE-IR - 69.0 lbs. (31.3 kg)

5”/62 round muzzle velocities:

Mark 80 projectile with Mark 67 cartridge - 2,725 fps (831 mps)
Mark 80 projectile with EX-175 cartridge - 3,450 fps (1,052 mps)
Mark 91 projectile with Mark 67 - 2,750 fps (838 mps)

So, the 5” muzzle velocities range from a low of 2725 ft/sec (Mach 2.4) to 3450 ft/sec (Mach 3.1).  Compare that to the HVP’s speed of 3344 ft/sec (Mach 3).

We see, then, that the slowest 5” round is 81% of the HVP speed.  The HVP isn’t double the speed, it’s only 1.2 times faster which is only 23% faster!

The fastest 5” round is actually faster than the HVP!

What’s going on here?  The HVP is only marginally faster than the slowest 5” round.  Someone at BAE or the Navy is lying confused about their facts.  Does the Navy really not know basic arithmetic?  We’re being fed a lie.  As we noted, the hyper velocity projectile isn’t hyper velocity, at all.  Ignoring that definition inaccuracy, the HVP is barely faster – or actually slower – than a standard 5” round.  Again, we’re being fed a story that doesn’t match reality.

Setting aside the lying confusion, does it really seem plausible that a 23% increase in projectile speed (or slower than a 5” round, depending on the projectile!) will grant all the magical capabilities that BAE and the Navy are claiming? 

Projectile guidance is certainly a useful capability, one would think, although, depending on the guidance process, likely only useful in certain circumstances.  As I vaguely understand it – it hasn’t been publicly discussed in any detail, as far as I’m aware - , the guidance will be a very small millimeter wave (MMW) sensor/seeker.  The inherent drawback to a MMW sensor/seeker packaged in a small 5” projectile is that the power output of the sensor is limited and, thus, the detection range is limited.  This means that the projectile must get close to the target to be able to “see” it.

Presumably, the projectile is unguided until it reaches a calculated near-intercept position and then guides to the target in the terminal phase, assuming it sees a target.  Herein lies the problem. 

The short millimeter radar detection range is problematic for use in AAW when the convergence speed of the target and projectile may approach Mach 4-5. By the time the projectile is close enough to detect the target, the target is almost past!  The time available for guidance maneuvering is almost zero. Unless the seeker can detect the target from much farther away, a guided AAW-HVP will not be any more effective than a standard 5" round.  For example, at a combined closing speed of Mach 4, if detection occurs at 1 mile, the target will be past the HVP in 1.2 seconds. That's useless for guidance maneuvering. No significant guidance can occur in 1.2 seconds. 

If the HVP round is an air burst round (there is no indication that an air burst HVP is being actively developed but we’ll speculate for sake of discussion) the HVP fuze can electronically react in 1.2 sec but can the round react, detonate, and disperse an effective burst pattern in 1.2 seconds?  I don’t know. 

The critical question, of course, is what range can a millimeter radar actually detect an incoming missile? Given the extremely small size and low power output of a radar packaged into a sub-5" HVP, I'd guess that 1 mile detection is optimistic but I'm not a radar expert.

-Note that the 5” HVP is saboted and, considering the very narrow shape of the HVP projectile, the “average” projectile diameter is decidedly sub-caliber.  Thus, the room available for packaging an electronic power source, radar sensor/seeker, guidance electronics, guidance mechanics, and fins is very limited.  Any radar seeker will be very small and low powered which means very short detection range.  Trying to fit an explosive and fuzing mechanism into such a small package only compounds the problem.

I’m left wondering about the effectiveness of a HVP (that isn’t really hyper velocity and is only marginally faster than a standard 5” round!) in the AAW role.  The speed is actually a potential drawback for a guided and/or air burst HVP because greater speed minimizes reaction/guidance time.  Counterintuitive, I know, but seemingly true.

We see, then, that the entire HVP concept is factually incorrect – it’s not hyper velocity and is only marginally faster than standard 5” rounds – and conceptually questionable.  The HVP round sacrifices a great deal of size and weight to gain, at best, 23% more speed compared to the slowest 5” standard round and is slower than the fastest 5” standard round.  Do the benefits justify this reduction?  I don’t know but I’m dubious.

The one speed related benefit that I could see is that the extreme aerodynamic shape of the HVP might reduce its drag thereby allowing it to retain more of its speed for a longer period of time.  Again, whether that confers an actual performance benefit is questionable.


Reference Data:  Speed of sound ~ 760 mph = 1115 ft/sec = Mach 1


(1)USNI News website, “Updated: Navy Researching Firing Mach 3 Guided Round from Standard Deck Guns”, Sam LaGrone, 1-Jun-2015,

(2)NavWeaps website,

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Hyper Velocity Projectile Test

The Navy announced a limited test of hyper velocity projectiles (HVP; for a general discussion, see “Hyper Velocity Projectile”) fired from a 5” gun.  This is great news because the HVP can … can … ah …  Well, I’m not actually sure what the HVP can do.  No one has laid out an actual tactical use/benefit beyond vague generalities, most of which are likely untrue.

Last summer USS Dewey (DDG-105) fired 20 hyper velocity projectiles (HVP) from a standard Mk 45 5-inch deck gun in a quiet experiment that’s set to add new utility to the weapon found on almost every U.S. warship … (1)

Oh, now I see.  The HVP is “set to add new utility”.  That’s good.  We can always use new utility.  What the hell is new utility?

Here’s a bit more specific claim,

… the Navy could turn the more than 40-year-old deck gun design into an effective and low-cost weapon against cruise missiles and larger unmanned aerial vehicles. (1)

I fail to see how a faster projectile is going to transform the AAW-ineffective 5” gun into an effective AAW gun.  It’s still the same 12-15 round per minute rate of fire that’s considered too slow to deal with modern missiles.  It’s still the same train and elevation rates which are considered too slow to deal with modern missiles.  It’s still the same fire control system that is not considered capable of air-to-air gun engagements.

BAE Systems claims all kinds of amazing performance including 40-50 mile range, guidance, 20 rds/min from a 5” gun, high maneuverability, and low cost.(2)  As with any industry touted system, cut the performance in half and double the cost you’ll be somewhere in the real neighborhood.

You’ll recall that one of the original selling points of the rail gun was that it would fire inert, essentially free, projectiles … lumps of metal.  Well the 5” HVP isn’t going to be free.

… a hyper velocity projectile – even in the highest-end estimates have it in the $75,000 to $100,000 range, and that’s for the fanciest version of it with an onboard seeker. (1)

As you know, these kinds of estimates always wind up being understated so figure on doubling that cost.  That’s no longer a cheap projectile.  Yes, it’s cheap compared to a $1M-$2M missile but when you’re firing HVPs at 12-15 rds/min the cost quickly adds up.  At $100,000 per projectile (to use the likely optimistic number cost), firing for one minute will cost $1.2M-$1.5M.  Where’s the cost savings?  Unless the HVP transforms the 5” gun from a 0%, non-AAW-capable gun to something like a 90%, can’t miss weapon, there won’t be any cost savings.

Related thought:  If the HVP is all it takes to turn the 5” gun into a marvel of AAW weaponry, then why are we still wasting money on Standard missiles, ESSM, and RAM/SeaRAM?  But, I digress …

Here’s another suggested use,

HVPs could also find a home aboard the Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyers as a replacement round for the classes 155mm Advanced Gun System. (1)

The Zumwalt’s 155mm Advanced Gun System (AGS) was intended to be a precision guided, land attack weapon with 70-100 mile range.  How is the HVP going to replicate that performance to be a viable replacement for the cancelled LRLAP?  It could, perhaps, someday, become a second rate, poor man’s replacement but it can’t match the LRLAP specs.  To be fair, the LRLAP couldn’t match the LRLAP’s specs!

What would the cost of a very limited production quantity, one-of-a-kind,  AGS-HVP munition be, do you think?  We’re looking at half a million dollars or more, quite likely!


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Quietly Fires 20 Hyper Velocity Projectiles Through Destroyer’s Deckgun”, Sam LaGrone, 8-Jan-2019,

(2)BAE Systems website, retrieved 8-Jan-2019,

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Come As You Are

In a recent comment about a sparsely attended ASW exercise, ComNavOps happened to suggest that the event would have made a good opportunity to conduct a no-notice, come as you are, scramble type exercise to see what our first day of war capabilities would look like.  Well, now I’m going to formally propose that we should be conducting this type of exercise several times per year, all across the fleet.  Let’s find out how many ships could actually sail on no notice (I’m betting not many), how quickly we could actually load weapons (I’m betting we’d encounter all kinds of obstacles and shortages of weapons, equipment for loading, and manpower), how many ships have full crews (none!), and how many ships are actually combat capable at any given moment (I strongly suspect none).

My understanding is that the Army conducts this type of no-notice mobilization on occasion although I don’t know the frequency, scope, or results.

The Navy used to conduct a few no-notice exercises for the pre-positioning ships.  I don’t know if they still do or not.

Wouldn’t it be incredibly informative to order a squadron of destroyers to sail on a moment’s notice and conduct a live fire missile exercise?  What do you think the result would be?

We need to start behaving as if we’re just a moment away from war and start realistically preparing for it.

Some of you will roll your eyes and say that’s overdoing it.  Aside from the fact that that’s exactly what the Navy is supposed to do, life at sea is always just a moment away from combat and disaster.  I’ll bet the Cole, McCain, Fitzgerald, Antietam, and Port Royal all wish they had treated day to day life a little more like combat and as if their lives depended on it – because they did and they were all unprepared.

Now is the time to try these exercises.  Now is when we can afford to make mistakes, as long as we learn from them and correct the errors.  Now is our golden opportunity to prepare for war so that fewer people will die while we relearn war when it actually comes – and it always does.

Right now, CNO Richardson – no notice - order the fleet to sea and see what happens.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Go Play Right Field

This reference may only be understandable to American readers but …

When you played Little League or sandlot pickup baseball games, what position did the worst player play?  Right field, of course!  It was the position least likely to see action.  You could hide the least capable player out there.  I know, this offends the sensibilities of today’s “we’re all equal and everyone’s a winner” crowd but we’re not all equal and we’re not all winners so toughen up and deal with it.  Moving on …

It appears the Navy must have once played baseball because they’ve opted to send the LCS to right field to hide its lack of capability.  Right field, in this case, is doing drug smuggling interdiction.  That’s about the farthest thing from combat you can get.

A Littoral Combat Ship, with an embarked Coast Guard law enforcement detachment, will hunt for drug runners in U.S. Southern Command later this year …

Faller [Adm. Craig Faller, SOUTHCOM commander] told the committee that illegal narcotics were “at the heart” of the security concerns of the region and are the driving force as to why so many Central Americans keep heading northward for a better life. (1)

Now, I have no objection to drug interdiction and focusing on South/Central America.  Indeed, I just recently wrote a post advocating exactly that type of heightened focus and engagement (see, “The Daily Threat”).  However, the use of the LCS is both illuminating and disappointing.  This tells me that the Navy sees no capability in the LCS, either.  In fact, given the incredibly urgent need for mine countermeasures (MCM) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) in the fleet and, despite the fact that those are two of the LCS’ three core missions, the assignment of the LCS to drug patrols rather than combat MCM/ASW training is quite telling.  It’s telling me that, despite their public pronouncements of the wonders of the miracle warfighting machine called the LCS, the Navy internally, in the darkest, most secret recesses of their heart, acknowledge that the LCS is fit for nothing related to combat.  In other words, the Navy is acknowledging that the LCS is not a warship.

While I’m fully supportive of more engagement in South/Central America, including drug interdiction, this also illustrates another of my proposals: the need for a peace/war two tier force structure.  It makes absolutely no sense to send a several hundred million dollar LCS on a drug interdiction mission that can be equally well executed by a simple commercial-based vessel for a tiny fraction of the cost.  As a point of comparison, the Cyclone class cost $20M and could do the job quite well.

This is also telling me that the MCM and ASW modules are nowhere near ready despite the Navy’s never ending claims that the modules are almost ready.  If they were almost ready, the LCS’es would be training intensely for them … but they’re not.

We have thirty some LCS built or building that have, literally, nothing to do.  They have no capabilities and, therefore, nothing combat-related that they can do.  The Navy is looking for some way to keep them busy while the decades long wait for modules drags on.  With nothing productive to do, the Navy is sending the LCS to right field.


(1)USNI News website, “Littoral Combat Ships Headed to SOUTHCOM for Drug Interdiction Patrols This Year”, John Grady, 7-Feb-2019,

Friday, February 8, 2019

Surface Ship Torpedo Defense Cancelled

The DOT&E 2018 Annual Report reveals that the Navy has decided to cancel the hard-kill torpedo defense system program (Surface Ship Torpedo Defense  – SSTD). 

In September 2018, the Navy suspended its efforts to develop the SSTD system.  The Navy plans to restore all carriers to their normal congurations during maintenance availabilities between FY19 and FY23.  DOT&E removed the SSTD system from DOT&E oversight. (1)

The SSTD, you’ll recall, was the result of a Fifth Fleet Urgent Operational Needs request after the sinking of the South Korean ROKS Cheonan in Mar 2010.  Prototype units were to be installed for deployment on carriers in a rapid fielding procedure concurrent with development and testing.  In the event, systems were installed on three carriers over a several year period (so much for urgent, huh?).  DOT&E has a good writeup on the overall system for those interested (2).

Despite investing $760M in development efforts, the system was unable to perform acceptably. (3)  This leaves the Navy with the same torpedo defense capability gap they had ten years ago!  What do you call an urgent need that, several years later, still hasn’t been filled?  Is it now a super duper urgent need?  But, I digress …

It’s not all that surprising that the technology failed - most new technologies do.  They require years or decades of development.  The Navy should have been working on this all along.  It’s not as if torpedoes magically appeared as a threat just ten years ago.  Torpedoes have been a threat since ships first took to the seas (all right, not quite that long but almost).  Further, the principle threat, the Soviet wake homing torpedo has been around since the 1960’s.  Why the Navy hadn’t been working on an active torpedo defense system for decades is a mystery and reflects the Navy’s utter lack of focus on combat. 

We eagerly invest $15B on a new carrier but neglect things like torpedo defense and weapon elevators, to name just a couple of items.  As the DOT&E reports have pointed out for many years, the Navy refuses to even develop a realistic torpedo threat surrogate for testing!

The threat still exists.  What now, Navy?


(1)DOT&E 2018 Annual Report, p. 164

(3)The Drive website, Joseph Trevithick, 5-Feb-2019,

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Navy's Manned-Unmanned Fleet Concept

Breaking Defense website has an article about the role of unmanned surface vessels in the future combat fleet.  Fascinating stuff and, not surprisingly, not a lot of detail but let’s take a look.

The Navy’s vision is that manned ships will be accompanied by two different sizes of unmanned surface vessels.  From the article (1),

Medium-sized Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs), about the size of the experimental 132-foot Sea Hunter launched in 2016, will act as scouts and decoys, carrying sensors and jammers for what the Navy calls Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare. If their radio and radar emissions draw enemy fire, well, they were relatively cheap and there’s nobody aboard to get killed.

Larger USVs [around 164 ft long],  … will provide additional punch, loaded with missile launchers but relying on other vessels to find the enemy and relay targeting data – a concept similar to the Arsenal Ship cancelled 20 years ago. (1)

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad concept but let’s dig a little deeper.

There are some assumptions inherent in this concept.

Numbers – With actively radiating sensors, one has to assume the lifespans of the vessels will be short.  Remember, the enemy can “see” the USV much further away than the USV can see the enemy.  For a small, unarmed (?), sensor vessel it would only take a single anti-radiation missile (ARM) fired from very long range to sink or incapacitate the vessel.  This is okay provided that we have sufficient numbers of such vessels that we can operate more than the enemy can sink or we can replace the vessels faster than the enemy can sink them.  Having no individual USV defensive protection, a surface group would need a couple dozen USVs, at least to deal with the attrition and this is probably the low end of the numbers requirement.  This leads directly to the next assumption.

Cost – If numbers are important then cost becomes paramount.  These unmanned vessels will not be tiny quadcopters costing ten dollars each.  These will be fully functional ships without a crew.  It is not possible to somehow magically build free ships.  A 130-170 ft long ship is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  If we can resist the urge to gold plate the USV with, say, a UAV landing pad/hangar, ultra high end sensors, complex hybrid multi-mode co-diesel/turbine/nuclear engines, and super sophisticated electronics, communications, and electronic countermeasures then, perhaps, we can keep the cost in the $50M-$100M range – and that’s being very optimistic.  Still, that’s a lot of money for a throwaway vessel that we don’t expect to have a very long life in combat.  As suggested above, even a couple dozen such vessels at $50M-$100M would represent $1.2B-$2.4B.  Yikes!  We’re going to casually throw that away and say, “well, they were relatively cheap and there’s nobody aboard to get killed.”?  That’s hard to imagine.  “Relatively cheap” is not the same as cheap.  One to two billion dollars, even if thrown away piecemeal, is still a lot of real money!

Operations – These USVs are small vessels and there is a limit to the range, speed, and seakeeping you can build into such a ship.  For comparison, the famous Flower class corvette of WWII was 205 ft long which is some 25% larger than the large USV and 55% larger than the small USV and the Flower class still struggled with weather and sea state.  How much worse will it be for smaller USVs?  A surface group is going to operate at 20+ kts which means these USVs are going to have to operate at 20 kts in all manner of sea states.  What will be the impact of these small vessels on the rest of the group.  Will we have to conduct daily refuelings?  Will such small vessels be able to maintain speed in even moderate seas?  Will the USVs become operational ”anchors” on the rest of the group?

Having offered some critical analysis, the general concept of unmanned, throwaway sensor platforms is not without merit and, in fact, ComNavOps has suggested this same approach but using UAVs instead of USVs.  Think about it … all the faults of the USVs are remedied by using UAVs.  UAVs are a fraction of the cost of a ship, can be used in very large numbers, and have no detrimental impact on group operations.  What’s more, they can be stored on, and operated from, almost any ship.  Remember, we’re not talking about large UAVs with thousand mile range and infinite endurance – all we need is a small UAV with, perhaps, 200 mile range and, maybe, 12 hour endurance and around 70 mph speed.  The Scan Eagle UAV, for example, has 24 hr endurance, 60-80 mph speed, weighs 30-40 lbs, and would easily have 200 mile range with suitable communications modifications (range is currently comm-limited).  Cost is listed as less than $100,000 each (2) and large scale production would certainly reduce that cost.

After the lesson of the LCS which was designed and built without a Concept of Operations (CONOPS), does the Navy have a CONOPS for these unmanned vessels?  It appears not.

“We’re still working through… how specifically we’re going to use these things,” Small [Rear Adm. Douglas Small, PEO-IWS.] told me. What’s crucial is to get the technology to the fleet, quickly, so real crews can experiment with it in real-world conditions. We may have in our small minds some idea of how this thing’s going to be used,” he said, “but when you turn it over to the sailors, they’re going to have a whole new, awesome way of using it.” (1)

No, you idiot!!!  This is how you wind up with an LCS.  You don’t just build something and give it to sailors to see what they’ll do with it – you develop a solid concept of operations (CONOPS), then design and build the ship, and then you tell the sailors what to do with it.  The Navy appears pathologically incapable of learning lessons.

So, what are we left with?  The Navy has a portion of a correct concept (unmanned, distributed sensors) but, in typical Navy fashion, is screwing it up by choosing to implement it with an inappropriate platform and without a CONOPS.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Robot Wolfpacks: The Faster, Cheaper 355-Ship Fleet ”, Sydney J. Freedburg, Jr., 22-Jan-2019,

(2)Barnard MicroSystems,

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Daily Threat

This blog avoids blatant political subjects for very good reasons.  However, today’s post is going to be as close to that line as possible because we need to address a national security threat that is being largely ignored and isn’t that what the military is supposed to do – protect our national security? 

So, let’s try venturing into uncharted territory for a few moments.  Let’s talk about threats to our national security and way of life.  In other words, pretty serious threats.  What are those threats?  China?  Russia?  NKorea?  Iran?  Sure, but think about it, which of those threats impact us (‘us’ being the average American) every day and in a significant way?  Well, none, really.  Yes, China is the major threat to the world’s safety and freedom but they don’t really impact us negatively on a daily basis, do they?  At least, not in a way we can readily discern.  Yes, Chinese financial manipulations may impact prices and whatnot but that’s not something any of us can specifically point out on a daily basis.  Iran is a nuisance that we hear about on the news but they have no real daily impact on us.  Same for NKorea.  Russia is a bit of a rogue actor but, again, aside from election influencing – which the US engages in routinely in other countries (remember Obama campaigning for and against various issues and people in Europe and Israel?) – they have no daily impact on us.

There is, however, one more threat that dwarfs all the others combined in terms of its daily impact on our lives.  It’s South and Central America (SCA).  SCA is a major exporter of drugs, crime, criminals, refugees, smuggling, illegal immigrants, money laundering, gang activity, murders, etc. and it all crosses our southern border and invades our homeland.  Relax, this is not a border wall post – this is a national security post. 

SCA is negatively impacting our daily lives in a major way.  Every state in the country and almost every city is negatively impacted on a daily basis.  Despite this, what are we focused on with our military, State Department, diplomacy, and other agencies?  We’re focused on Europe, China, Russia – everywhere but our own backyard.  If we want to stand up to the threat of China, we need to first get our southern flank straightened out so that we can safely and confidently focus further afield.

For too long, we’ve taken a hands-off approach to SCA out of some sort of misguided notion of letting them live their own lives.  Well, as my father used to say, your rights extend only until they bump up against someone else’s rights.  Now, the lives and rights of the people of SCA are impacting ours in a major, negative way and it’s time for the US to reengage.  We need to stop pretending that every other country is equal (Obama would have us believe superior) to the US.  They aren’t.  In the agglomerate, we have superior values, morals, actions, economy, military, resources, and results.  That’s not arrogance, it’s a simple statement of fact.  That’s true great power and with great power comes great responsibility – a responsibility that we’ve been abdicating out of misguided notions of international equality. 

We need to engage – not ham-handedly, not overbearingly, not dictatorially, but in a genuine effort to help other countries achieve stability and prosperity – note that I’m not calling for universal democracy.  I don’t care what government type a country has as long as it behaves itself as a responsible global contributor.  The Middle East, for example, is clearly not mature enough for democracy to work and we need to accept that a stable, benign, dictatorial government may be the best the region can hope for.  What we can’t accept is a country ruled by a dictator who dumps his criminals on the US (Cuba, for example) or demonizes the US and makes the US the focus of his country’s hatred (Hugo Chavez, for example) or sponsors terrorism (Iranian Ayatollah, for example).  Countries with that type of immature, evil, disruptive behavior forfeit their right to independent self-government and we need to step in.

China is extending its influence – and military basing efforts – into the Indian Ocean, Africa, and South America. Do we really want to have to deal with a Chinese military presence in our own southern backyard of SCA (recall the Cuban missile crisis?)?  The best way to prevent that is to make the United States a more attractive partner to SCA than China.  We can do this through significant social, medical, financial, infrastructure, and military projects with SCA countries but it has to be a continuous and substantial effort.  Note – and this is important – that I’m not calling for a ‘hearts and minds’ type of campaign.  As I’ve stated in the past, I have grave doubts about the efficacy of the entire concept - actually, I don’t have any doubts – it doesn’t work!.  What I’m calling for is the establishment of continuous interactions that are mutually beneficial.  If we can do that, the ‘hearts and minds’ will take care of itself.  I also don’t particularly care whether another country likes us – they just have to cooperate, behave, and recognize that we’re a reliable and desirable partner.

There’s another major aspect to this interaction, one that has never been attempted before, and that is to use the ratcheting stick approach as well as the carrot and in a significant way.  You don’t accede to the desires of a child, you dictate the rules of behavior and you do so until they grow up and demonstrate a desired level of maturity.  If the child doesn’t respond to the initial discipline you ratchet up the punishments and consequences.  So, too, with countries.  A country that is behaving badly needs to be disciplined and corrected – aggressively and decisively.  Now, that doesn’t mean war (neither does it rule it out!) every time a country takes an action that we disagree with.  What it means is that a country that demonstrates a pattern of actions that are irresponsible, evil, unethical, immoral, and, more to the point, anti-American, needs to be decisively corrected and the corrections need to continually ratchet up until the desired correction is achieved.

Here’s an example that could have prevented untold years of war, thousands of deaths, and almost unlimited destruction:  Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.  Hussein was causing instability in the Middle East, upsetting world oil supply stability, sponsoring terrorism,  invading neighboring countries, and engaging in the development of weapons of mass destruction (yes, he used chemical weapons, we found biological weapons labs, and he was attempting to develop nuclear weapons – we’re not going to debate this) – more than enough bad behavior to justify action.  However, instead of the mass invasion that the US initiated and which led, ultimately and directly, to destabilization in the region and the rise of ISIS, we could have simply launched a single Tomahawk missile at his most likely location accompanied by a simple warning to those around him that if Iraq’s behavior did not immediately change we would continue to launch a single missile every day at our best guess as to his location until the desired behavior modification was achieved.  One of two results would eventually happen.

1. Hussein would be killed and then we’d tell his successor the same thing.

2. Those around Hussein would remove him for us to save their own lives and then we’d tell his successor the same thing.

Either way, we would have achieved the desired outcome without an invasion and none of the resulting decades long, region-wide, death and destruction.

Here’s a current example.  We want better behavior out of NKorea and Iran so we applied sanctions (and pallet loads of cash!).  They had an impact on the common people but didn’t actually change any state behaviors.  Now what?  The evil, irresponsible behavior continues and we have no further options.  Useless.  Pointless.  Worthless.

Instead, we could apply the same Tomahawk-a-day diplomacy and achieve guaranteed results.  Do this a couple of times and the rest of the world quickly learns not to cross the US.

Back to South/Central America … 

We need to engage continuously and actively on all levels.  We need to clearly define what we consider acceptable behavior.  We need to begin the ratcheting process where necessary.  If we do the first part (engagement) correctly, we should rarely have to resort to ratcheting.

We need to secure our southern flank in a positive, mutually beneficial manner.


Feel free to comment but note that I am not going to allow this to degenerate into a pure political discussion.  There are international politics involved in this, certainly, and you’re free to comment on those but treat this as a national security issue rather than a partisan political issue.  Pure political comments will be deleted.