Friday, March 29, 2019

Navy Orders Block III Super Hornets

The Navy has awarded Boeing a $4B contract for the production of 78 Block III Super Hornets (61 single seat ‘E’ models and 17 two seat ‘F’ models) to be built beginning in 2019 and deliver beginning in 2021. (1)  That’s $51M apiece so, presumably, that’s not the complete cost which indications are should be around $80M each.

As a reminder, the Block III Super Hornet includes the following enhancements:

  • Enhanced stealth (2)
  • Greater range (129 nm) (2)
  • Conformal fuel tanks
  • Larger weapons payload
  • Longer lifespan (9000-10,000 hours) (2,3)
  • Enhanced networking, satellite communications, and data links
  • Block II IRST (Infrared Search and Track) (3)
  • Advanced Cockpit Display (3)

Note that the Block III is not exactly the same as the Advanced Super Hornet (ASF).  The Block III lacks some feature of the ASF, notably additional stealth.

Upgraded Super Hornet

Boeing claims that within a decade the entire Super Hornet carrier fleet will be Block III aircraft. (2)

Note that in addition to providing longer range, the conformal fuel tanks also free up pylons for additional weapons carriage.

Minor structural changes will decrease the aircraft’s radar cross section (RCS). (5)  How that resulting degree of stealth compares to the F-35 is unknown.

Boeing will begin converting Block II Super Hornets to the Block III configuration, as well. (3)  Conversion cost will be on the order of “a few million dollars” per aircraft. (4)

The Navy plans to order additional Block III Super Hornets at a rate of 12 per year for 2022, 2023, and 2024.

Some observers see the Navy using the F-35C as the spotter due to its greater stealth and the F-18 as the shooter due to its greater weapons payload.  According to Sean Stackley, former Secretary of the Navy,

The Super Hornet has a lot of payload, and that’s a good complement to the F-35, which has stealth and sensors. (4)

Others disagree and note that the F-18 will have enhanced stealth and an IRST sensor allowing it to go toe-to-toe with front line enemy aircraft on its own.

One of the remaining problems is integrating the F-35 and the Super Hornet.  The F-35’s ‘stealthy’ communications method involves the Multi-function Advanced Data Link (MADL).  Unfortunately, no other aircraft includes that function so the F-35 can’t securely talk to anyone but another F-35.  The F-35 can, of course, use the standard Link 16 but that mode is more easily detected.  Boeing claims to be working on the issue.

While this is a positive step for naval aviation, the Hornet remains a sub-optimal aircraft for the Navy’s operational needs.  The war with China will require a very long range, very high payload, air superiority fighter and the Hornet is not it – nor is the F-35.

Rather than make the hard decision to terminate the F-35 and embark on a new, purpose designed long range, air superiority fighter that actually meets the operational needs, the Navy is just prolonging the mediocrity by polishing up the ill-suited Hornet.  Yes, it will now be a somewhat better ill-suited Hornet but it’s still an ill-suited Hornet.  This is the classic ‘lipstick on a pig’ scenario.


(1)USNI News, “Boeing Awarded $4B Multi-Year Deal for 78 Super Hornets”, Ben Werner, 21-Mar-2019,

(2)USNI News, “Boeing Touts Block III Super Hornet’s Better Range, Improved Digital Connectivity to Fleet”, Ben Werner, 23-May-2019,

(3)Sea Power Magazine website, “Navy Orders 78 Super Hornet Block III Strike Fighters”, Richard R. Burgess, 21-Mar-2019,

(4)Breaking Defense website,”Boeing’s Block III Super Hornet ‘High End’ Complement To F-35: Stackley”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 6-Apr-2017,

(5)DefPost website, “Boeing Receives U.S. Navy Contract for 78 F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet Fighter Jets”, 24-Mar-2019,

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Open Post

It's been while since the last open post so let's do it again.  This is your chance to offer a comment on whatever interests you.

Got a suggestion for a post topic?

Want to talk about something that's been neglected?

Want to tell me what you'd like more (or less) of?

Want to tell me how you'd make the blog better?

Want to give a shout out to your favorite foreign ship design?

Got a rant you want to get off your chest?

Have at it!

Monday, March 25, 2019

LST Development and Death

The LST was a WWII development intended to provide amphibious assault landing capability on a much larger scale than the individual, small landing craft.  In this role it was hugely successful.  So, given that the Navy has no LSTs anymore, what happened to its development that led to abandoning a combat proven, immensely valuable vessel?

Let’s briefly review the original WWII LST(v2).  As we know, it was purpose designed for larger scale beaching unloads.  As such, it was not normally part of the initial assault wave but was a key part of the follow on reinforcement and sustainment effort.  It was able to land a large quantity of troops and vehicles without requiring a port, artificial harbor, or other extraordinary effort.  With a bow door and ramp, vehicles were able to simply drive straight off the vehicle deck, across the ramp, onto the beach, and into the fight.  


The cargo capacity was 2,100 tons and approximately 200 soldiers. Its heart was a tank deck which was 230 ft long, 30 ft wide, and 12 ft tall. (1)  Well over a thousand LSTs were built during the war and hundreds served around the world for many decades after the war.

The LST was a nice balance of rapid construction (two months build time), low cost, low risk versus payload, and efficient delivery directly to the beach.

Post-war, in the late 1950’s, the US Navy built seven new LSTs designated the De Soto County class.  It was 445 ft long versus the WWII LST of 327 ft.  The main refinement seems to have been improved habitability for crew and embarked troops.  This class marked the beginning of the end for the LST in US Navy service.  It was a significantly larger ship that offered no new or improved combat capability and marked an unwise trend toward deployments over missions.

De Soto County Class LST

In 1969, the Navy finalized the ruination of the LST with the construction of the Newport class which was substantially larger, more complex in design and operation (a Mickey Mouse derrick/ramp, over-the-bow arrangement and bow thrusters), and incorporated a stern gate to launch AAVs and mate LCUs.

Newport Class LST - Note Over-the-Bow Ramp

Here’s a comparison of the WWII LST and the Newport LST.

Length, ft
Width, ft
Transport, troops

Newport Class LST - Note Flight Deck

We see, in the LST design history, today’s trend toward deployment ‘cruise’ ships meant to house troops for extended periods instead of just for the duration of an assault. 

The trend towards deployments and permanent troop housing led to the explosive size growth of the type.  Compare the original LST at 327 ft long with the Newport class at 522 ft – with no concomitant increase in combat capability, just a larger size which made the ship a larger target and greater risk, contrary to the combat dictate of spreading the risk.  Yes, some small growth could reasonably have been expected given the increase in tank and vehicle size but much of the increase went to habitability rather than capacity.

Other than a core of LSTs maintained for training and tactics development, LSTs should never have been turned into ‘cruise’ ships.  They should have been tied up pierside and left until needed.  A simple rotational schedule for training exercises would suffice to keep the ships mechanically maintained and operable and core of crews trained.

Because the LST became a deployment asset rather than a mission asset, it had to perform more functions.  The LST became more of an amphibious ‘base’ ship than a single function landing vessel.  This is seen in the provision of a stern gate in the Newport class to allow AAV launches and mating with LCUs and the incorporation of a flight deck.  This eventually led to the amphibious fleet of today which epitomizes all the weaknesses we’ve discussed: concentration of risk, unaffordable cost, deployments over missions, and sub-optimal capability for the combined roles of aviation and transport.

By abandoning the single function, combat-focused design in favor of a deployment ‘cruise’ ship meant to house troops for extended periods, the Navy made the LST unaffordable relative to its other budget desires        and the LST vanished from the fleet.

There’s a larger issue, here, and that is that we’re peacetime designing warships out of existence by giving them non-combat features until they become unaffordable.  Once war ended and the sharp, laser-focus on combat capabilities vanished our ship designs began wandering into peacetime requirements of comfort and endurance rather than combat.  We now have a fleet of compromised designs intended for peacetime use rather than war.

We need to bring the LST back but only in its original form:  cheap, quick to build, mission oriented, and without peacetime frills.


Friday, March 22, 2019

Ticonderoga Class Modernization

As you know, the Navy has been attempting to early retire the Ticonderoga class cruisers for several years now.  They’ve put forth various plans and Congress has repeatedly slapped them down.  That hasn’t stopped the Navy from scheming to achieve the desired retirements.  It’s only made the Navy more creative and devious about how they go about it. 

After the last attempt at hidden retirements, Congress forced the Navy to adopt the ‘2/4/6’ plan which called for 2 cruisers per year to enter a ‘modernization’ program, 4 years to complete the modernization, and a maximum of 6 cruisers in modernization at one time.

It’s important to understand that this program results in a permanent reduction in the number of cruisers by 6 since the modernized cruisers will re-enter the fleet only as one-for-one replacements for retiring cruisers.  Thus, the Navy got what they wanted, at least partially.

So, what’s the current status of the ‘modernization’ program?  Surprisingly, it’s very difficult to get information.

Here’s the list of cruisers inducted into the modernization program, thus far:


USS Cowpens (CG-63)
USS Gettysburg (CG- 64)


USS Vicksburg (CG- 69)
USS Chosin (CG- 65)


USS Anzio (CG-68)
USS Cape St. George (CG- 71)

Now, in 2019, it’s been 4 years and the first two cruisers should be coming out of modernization.  According to Navy Recognition website, the Gettysburg is being prepared to re-enter the fleet in March 2020 under a $150M contract with BAE Systems in Norfolk.  Gettysburg will be replacing the Bunker Hill (CG-52), scheduled to retire in 2020.

Starting in January 2019, the Gettysburg will undergo extensive repair and upgrade work that will return the ship to full capability after nearly four years of inactive status under the Navy’s cruiser modernization program. (1)

The key point, here, is that the cruiser has NOT been undergoing continuous modernization since entering the modernization program in 2105, as you might reasonably suppose.  Instead, it has been sitting idle in inactive status.  Most people do not realize this aspect of the ‘modernization’ program.  The program is really a way for the Navy to idle cruisers for several years and then bring them back when another cruiser is retired – thus, an effective permanent decrease in the cruiser fleet size.

USS Gettysburg Sitting Inactive While Undergoing "Modernization"

One might also note that the 4 year limit is being violated by some months.

It is also unclear exactly what is being modernized.  The Navy claims the usual mishmash of vague improvement lists such as,

… installation of a new Aegis combat system, new communications suite and the Consolidated Afloat Network Enterprise Systems (CANES); and renovate the crew’s living spaces aboard the 27-year-old ship. (1)

It’s unclear, though, just how much improvement in combat capability will occur.  For example, the ‘new Aegis combat system’ is, as best I can determine, just a software upgrade and could have been done, pierside, at any time without a 4 year ‘modernization’ program.  Crew living space improvements have nothing to do with combat capability.  CANES appears to be a consolidation of existing networks – nice, but not a direct combat enhancement.

It’s also interesting to note the cost of the modernization.  At $150M, this is not a very extensive modernization by today’s cost standards. 

Given the limited scope of the modernization and the moderate cost, one can’t help but ask, ‘why did it require 4 years?’.  Well, as you now see, it didn’t.  The first three years were spent in inactive, idle status.  The actual work only requires a year and that’s probably stretching things out a bit.  The real purpose of the program was to idle as many cruisers as Congress would allow for as long as Congress would allow.  We’re trying to grow the fleet to 355 ships or so and yet we’re idling the most capable cruisers in the world.  Hmm …

Here’s the retirement schedule (3):


USS Mobile Bay (CG-53)
USS Bunker Hill (CG- 52)


USS Antietam (CG- 54)
USS Leyte Gulf (CG- 55)


USS San Jacinto (CG-56)
USS Lake Champlain (CG- 57)


USS Philippine Sea (CG-58)
USS Princeton (CG-59)


USS Normandy (CG-60)
USS Monterey (CG-61)


USS Chancellorsville (CG-62)

Just recently, the Navy has, apparently, indicated its intention to cancel the cruiser modernization program:

The FY 2020 budget request also notes the Navy’s intention to cancel a planned cruiser modernization and life-extension program – which the service has asked to do previously and Congress would not agree to. (2)

What the Navy intends to do at that point is unknown.  We’ll have to wait and see Congress’ reaction to the Navy’s new plan but it’s unlikely to be positive.

In summary, the ‘modernization’ program was clearly a fraud intended to idle cruisers and, in that regard, the Navy has partially succeeded in bypassing Congress’ intent.  Where the program goes from here remains to be seen.

Update Jan-2020:  BAE Systems has been awarded a $175M contract to modernize USS Vicksburg's gas turbine propulsion system, restore crew habitability spaces, and support the installation of a new Aegis combat system, communication suite and CANES (Consolidated Afloat Network Enterprise System). Work is expected to be completed in July 2021.  Again, this violates the 2-4-6 Congressional mandate by several months to a year.  Vicksburg has been sitting idle since 2016 rather than undergoing modernization as the Navy claimed.  This was, clearly, a means for the Navy to idle cruisers rather than actually modernize them.  The described modernization contains very little in the way of direct combat capability improvements.


(1)Navy Recognition website, “BAE Systems to Modernize U.S. Navy Tico-class Cruiser USS Gettysburg“, 27-Aug-2018,

(2)USNI News website, “Large Surface Combatant Program Delayed Amid Pivot Towards Unmanned, Other Emerging Tech”, Megan Eckstein, 13-Mar-2019,

(3)Defense News website, “The US Navy will start losing its largest surface combatants in 2020”, David B. Larter, 8-Oct-2017,

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Roots Of Failure

In this blog, we have often discussed that the roots of future failure (without using that exact phrase!) are being formed today.  Most of them are quite evident and do not require hindsight decades from now.  They are clear to see, today, and I’m pointing them out, frequently.  The list of failure roots is long and I’m not going to bother reciting them. 

With that backdrop, I read an article in Breaking Defense that discusses the roots of failure and is authored by someone who has been in the military system at the highest levels: Lani Kass - special assistant to Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Moseley. (1)  The article offers some fascinating, thought-provoking theories about the roots of failure, not just theoretically but specifically.

The article’s author sets her stage with a reference to a book about systemic failure, “Why Air Forces Fail”, edited by Robin Higham and Stephen J. Harris, which suggests the determinants of failure:

  • deficiencies in the industrial base
  • misguided technology and tactical picks
  • inattention to logistics and neglect of training

These determinants are problematic, to be sure, but they seem a bit too ‘in the weeds’ for a discussion about systemic roots of failure.  Systemic failure factors should be at a higher, broader level.  The article’s author seems to agree and offers a different view with her own candidates for the roots of failure:

  • aggressors tend to assume risks that seem irrational — and, thus, improbable — to the intended victim. This leads to strategic dislocation, and, potentially, catastrophic failure
  • credibility born of past successes rarely suffices as a deterrent
  • hubris kills

I would, perhaps, pick a different set of failure roots but let’s ignore that and look deeper into the author’s thoughts. 

The author proceeds to throw out one incredibly fascinating and thought-provoking statement after another!  For example, she expands on her first failure root,

First, aggressors tend to assume risks that seem irrational — and, thus, improbable — to the intended victim. This leads to strategic dislocation, and, potentially, catastrophic failure. (1) (emphasis added)

The concept of ‘strategic dislocation’ is extremely insightful.  The enemy does something we dismissed as unlikely, improbable, or impossible and, when he actually does it, we’re left staring in bewilderment with no plan at hand to counter the action.  Consider the rise of ISIS – no one saw it coming and we obviously had no plan to counter it.  At a smaller, tactical level, consider the use by ISIS of ‘technicals’ - pickup trucks with guns bolted on.  We didn’t anticipate it and had no plan to counter them except the use of carrier groups and front line F-18 Hornets to conduct truck plinking.  Consider China’s construction of illegal artificial islands.  It’s something we never would have thought of doing and so we didn’t anticipate China doing it and, yet, they did and we were left dumbfounded and without a clue what to do about it.  We still haven’t figured out what to do about it and, as a result, the Chinese have annexed the entire South China Sea without firing a shot and with hardly even a strongly worded protest from us!  Consider Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.  We didn’t anticipate it and had no effective response.  And so on.

In previous posts, we’ve discussed the need to war game and think about things from the enemy’s side and try to anticipate what they’ll do, however unlikely we think it to be.  Instead, what do we do?  We conduct the Millennium Challenge 2002 and hand wave away all the improbable and impossible actions taken by the Red force that, apparently, utterly defeated our Blue force. 

We need to war game the improbable and, seemingly, impossible actions our enemies might take rather than dismiss them just because we’d never consider doing them.

The author continues to throw out insightful statements.  For instance,

The U.S. must balance current exigencies with future requirements. Any single-focus approach bears a huge opportunity cost. The world has not taken a time-out to allow the U.S. to tend to Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, competitors exploited the emphasis on the lower end of the conflict spectrum to leapfrog in areas where the U.S. took its dominance for granted. (1)

Admittedly, this is authored from the vantage point of hindsight but the common sense of it transcends time.  We focused exclusively on third world terrorism and allowed our conventional military to degrade and wither.  We gave up our institutional knowledge of amphibious assaults, we built non-combat LCS vessels, we adopted technology over strategy, we light-sized our Army and Marines, we shed tanks and artillery in favor of glorified jeeps, etc.  The military (uniformed and civilian leaders alike) lost sight of their main mission which is to defeat peer enemies and to do so decisively.  We assumed the world would wait patiently while we took care of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Well, the world didn’t wait and now we’re faced with resurgent peer enemies who have their own plans while we lurch from one stupid idea to another in lieu of an actual plan.

Another gem,

Future conflicts will be more lethal and more difficult to control than ever. The potential for strategic surprise is high, and the military’s residual capacity is at a historic low. (1)

The recognition that the military’s ‘residual capacity’ is at an historic low is profound.  We’ve dispensed with reserve fleets, consolidated our defense industries (industrial base) to just a few, closed shipyards, eliminated multiple types of ships and aircraft in favor of just a very few, regulated many suppliers out of business, forced defense companies to merge, abandoned many types of highly effective munitions (cluster munitions, ballistic missiles), allowed weapon development to stagnate (torpedoes, anti-ship cruise missiles, naval guns), and failed to secure strategic mineral sources.


Concepts and structures, valid for a specific time and place, should not be allowed to become dogma. That too is a prescription for failure. (1)

This has been happening for some time and continues to happen.  For example, we are, seemingly, locked into the dogma of stealth as our ‘advantage’ despite the daily evidence that stealth is becoming less and less effective.  We continue to build Burkes because, well, we always have and always will.  Who cares that they do not have the power, utilities, size, and weight or growth margins to accommodate new radars and weapons?

Debacles-in-the-making develop over time, usually offering plenty of opportunities to spot them and correct the downward spiral. (1)

Isn’t that what this blog is – a series of observations/opportunities to spot and correct the downward spiral?  The debacles of tomorrow are being clearly pointed out, here, today.

What prevents that course correction are systemic deficiencies, wishful thinking, and the inherent human ability to adjust to a “new normal” –the fluctuating baseline of what is deemed acceptable. (1)

Spot on!  Consider how the US moved relentlessly from a requirement to win two major wars, simultaneously, to a major war and a regional conflict, then two regional conflicts, then one regional conflict while holding another.  We rationalized each change so that we could accept it without ever recognizing that the threats didn’t decrease – just our ability to fight them decreased.  Each time we rationalized our decreased capabilities we congratulated ourselves with our new strategic wisdom and celebrated with brilliant white papers and reports.  Heck, we even had to coin a new phrase, ‘regional conflict’, in recognition of our inability to conduct and win an actual war!  Now, we don’t talk about ‘war’, we talk about ‘regional conflict’ as if it were a rowdy soccer crowd rather than an implacable enemy bent on our destruction.

Consider the steady decrease in the size of our carrier force from dozens, post-WWII, to, eventually, 15 and then 14, 13, 12, 11, and now the Navy wants to drop to 10.  With each decrease, we rationalized the change as ‘good’ and right in line with our new strategies – themselves downsized and rationalized.

Unfortunately, this is where my praise for the author comes to a screeching and disappointing halt.  The rest of her article basically violates her own warnings about failure by descending into Air Force parochialism and pitching the case for the F-35 as the salvation of the military.  She states,

No modern war has been won without air superiority. (1)

This is historically, demonstrably false.  North Vietnam kicked the US out of the country with a complete absence of air superiority.  North Korea/China fought the US/South Korea to a standstill with a complete absence of air superiority.  The Taliban are in the process of winning in Afghanistan with a complete absence of air superiority.

She goes on to describe the wonders of the F-35, thereby ignoring or violating her own warnings about dogma (F-35 stealth), debacles in the making (is there a better example of a debacle than the F-35?), the opportunity cost of ‘single focus’ (is there a more stunning example of ‘single focus’ than the F-35?), and the human tendency to accept the ‘new normal’ (is there a better example of our acceptance of the ‘new normal’ than the downgraded and deferred F-35 capabilities?).

I’m not going to rehash the multiple shortcomings of the F-35.  We’ve done that enough and you can check out the archives if you want to revisit that.  I’m also not going to allow the author’s flawed closing to detract from the brilliance of her preceding discussion.  Unfortunately, it seems as if the author failed to read her own writing!  Regardless, I urge you to read the linked article.  It offers some truly profound thoughts.


(1)Breaking Defense, “US Air Power: The Imperative For Modernization (Buy The F-35) ”, Lani Kass, 18-Mar-2019,

Monday, March 18, 2019

Combat Fleet Count Update

Here is the periodic update on the combat fleet size.  The Navy claims the fleet is growing and is well on its way to 300+ but what are the actual numbers?  Well, previous updates have shown that the combat fleet size is steadily decreasing.

To refresh your memory, the combat fleet is composed of carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, submarines, and amphibious ships (CVN, DDG, CG, FFG, SSN, SSBN, SSGN, LHA, LHD, LPD, and LSD).  Vessels like the JHSV, MCM, PC, hospital ships, LCS (we’ll count them if and when they ever get any combat capability), tugs, salvage ships, and ships whose designation starts with “T” or “A” are not counted as part of the combat fleet.

I’ve deleted the Ford from the count because, even though technically in commission, it is not a functional ship yet.

I’ve also deleted the six idled Ticonderoga class cruisers from the count since they represent a permanent decrease (they’ll only return to the fleet on a one for one replacement for a retiring Tico, according to the Navy).

By Congressional order, the Navy is not allowed to count the Zumwalts until they complete their delivery over the next several years.

Here are the updated numbers.

1980  392
1985  421
1990  405
1995  283
2000  243
2005  220
2010  225
2012  210
2014  205
2015  197
2016  191
2017  193
2018  192
2019  194

You can check the fleet size for yourself at .

I’ll close this post with the same statement I closed the previous Combat Fleet Count update posts:

Compare the Navy’s trend to China’s and ponder the implications for yourself.

I’ll continue to update this from time to time.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Carrier Retirement Rationale

Much is being made of the Navy’s “plan” to forego the USS Truman’s midlife refueling and overhaul (RCOH) and retire the Nimitz class carrier decades early.  ComNavOps has stated that it’s just a ploy by the Navy to get additional funding from Congress.  However, for sake of discussion, let’s take the Navy at face value and see if their rationale holds up.

There appear to be two ?related? reasons being offered by the Navy for early retiring the carrier:  money and survivability.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan made the hard call to retire the USS Truman decades early — cutting the Navy’s carrier fleet by nine percent — to free up funding for new weapons more likely to survive a war with China. (1)

So, the Navy sees the carrier as not being survivable in a future war with China and wants more funding for weapons that it believes will be more effective.

What are the projected savings from retiring the carrier?

Not refueling the nuclear reactor core of the USS Truman would save the roughly $6.5 billion it would have cost to overhaul, plus $1 billion a year in operating costs thereafter, at the price of retiring the carrier about 25 years early. (1)

These savings figures are highly suspect but, again, let’s take them at face value.  After all, the Navy wouldn’t lie to us, right? 

So, what would be done with these savings?  The Navy/military would acquire new types of weapons supposedly better suited to future combat.  These weapons would include,

...large numbers of smaller, robotic vessels, both small surface ships and mini-submarines … a mix of robotic scout ships … and unmanned missile boats … arsenal of long-range, precision-guided, non-nuclear missiles …  hypersonic missiles … (1)

All right, we’ve laid out the Navy’s rationale.  Now, let’s examine the logic of it.

Survivability – If the Navy believes carriers are not survivable then why are we not retiring more carriers given how expensive they are to operate?   More to the point, why are we building new carriers?  The Navy’s position, as they’ve laid it out, appears to be:  “Our carriers aren’t survivable so let’s build more of them.” 

Let’s take it a step further.  If carriers aren’t survivable, does it make more sense to lose $1B-$8B (the construction cost range of the Nimitzes from first to last) as each is sunk or to lose $15B which is the cost of the Fords that the Navy wants to continue to build?  Wouldn’t it be better to let China sink cheaper, older carriers instead of brand new, hideously expensive carriers?

I’m beginning to think that the logic of survivability does not support the Navy’s rationale.

Money – Here’s where it gets tricky because you can make almost any case you want by manipulating what is and is not considered.  Still, let’s give it a look.

The Navy wants to retire a carrier so as to save money that can then be used to finance new, alternate weapon systems.  Okay, how much money is really being saved?  Using the Navy’s own, suspect figures,

Truman Savings
Operating Cost at $1B x 25 yrs
Total Savings                                    

*Published costs range from $4B-$7B, depending on what is included in the figure.

That’s a lot of money!  No wonder they want to retire a carrier early.  Hmm …  Just for shits and giggles, I wonder how much money the Navy could save if, instead, they simply didn’t build a Ford?

Ford Savings
Midlife Overhaul*
Operating Cost at $1B x 50 yrs**
Total Savings                                    

*A carrier intended to operate for 50 years will still need a midlife overhaul even if its reactor does not need refueling.

** Presumably, the operating costs will be the same but the lifespan will be double that of the Truman.  Reduced personnel costs will be offset by greater complexity and maintenance costs.  Manning will, undoubtedly increase as it did for the LCS and will for the Zumwalt.  Costs will probably be a wash, in the end.

Wow, I thought the Truman savings was a lot of money but simply not building one Ford would save over twice as much! 

Wait a minute …  If foregoing a Ford would save twice as much money shouldn’t the Navy want to keep the Truman and drop a Ford?

I’m beginning to think that the logic of the money savings does not support the Navy’s rationale.

Well, there you have it.  Even accepting the Navy’s rationale and cost figures at face value, the scenario is illogical.

I’m beginning to think the Navy has concocted a nonsensical scenario in a transparent attempt to extort more budget funds from Congress.  No.  No, wait.  I apologize.  The Navy has the utmost integrity and is the most honest and transparent organization this proud nation has.  The Navy’s leaders have nothing but the good of America foremost in their hearts and minds.  So, despite the illogic, I’ll place all my trust in the Navy.  Go get ‘em, Navy!  Stick to your guns, do the illogical, and make me proud!


(1)Breaking Defense, “Why DoD Cut A Carrier in 2020 Budget: Survivable Robots & Missiles Vs. China ”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 12-Mar-2019,

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Mk VI - Gunboat Diplomacy Story

The US Navy has always had a love-hate (mostly hate!) relationship with small patrol boats.  Witness the building and then rapid abandonment of the Cyclones, Pegasus class hydrofoils, and various riverine boats.  The current Mk VI patrol boats are underequipped, underutilized, and lack any coherent concept of operations which would take advantage of their potential.  With suitable modifications, various specialized versions could be built and integrated into multi-function squadrons.  The following story illustrates the concept.  Detailed descriptions of the Mk VI versions are presented after the story.

Mk VI Patrol Boat

The usual disclaimer (which no one takes note of):  This is NOT intended to be a fair and balanced simulation of combat.  It is intended to illustrate concepts and tactics in a more entertaining and understandable format than a simple listing.  Enjoy it as such.

Mk VI Story – Gunboat Diplomacy

The eight Mk VI boats of the squadron crept silently through the night toward the Iranian naval base facilities with the MkVI-ISR surveillance boat in the lead, cautiously sniffing the electronic air for any sign that they had been discovered. 

The boats had been working their way up the coast, hugging the shoreline, with the ISR boat scanning the shore with IR sensors, monitoring communication signals, and plotting radar sources.  So far, there was no indication that the Iranians were aware of their presence.

Stealth was vital for this mission, as was plausible deniability.  The new Administration had decided that Iran had finally gone too far.  The seizure of US boats and crews a few years ago, followed by numerous taunting harassments of Navy ships by Iranian small boats, followed by a period of harassments of carriers by UAVs intruding into the carriers aircraft operating space had made a laughingstock of the US Navy and US political resolve on the world stage.  Now, the most recent series of mock attack runs by Iranian small boats on US warships had been a step too far for the new Administration and the President was determined to send an unequivocal message that the days of “strategic patience” were over.

So it was that the squadron of MkVI boats were approaching one of the naval bases that the Iranian boats operated from.  The squadron’s orders were to clandestinely wreak as much damage on the base and boat facilities as possible.

Tomahawk and Air Force bomber attacks had been considered but ruled out because they would leave far too much evidence of their presence.  The President wanted plausible deniability as part of a larger political game.  He had no problem with letting Iran know who had hit them and why but he wanted no blatant evidence.  The use of the MkVI boats would maintain the thinly veiled, plausible deniability that would prevent Iran from claiming proof of US involvement on the world stage and escalating the incident.  Of course, if they did choose to escalate without the benefit of clear and overwhelming evidence …  well, there were assets and plans in place for just that eventuality – and that would be communicated via back door connections, as well, once the attack was completed.

As the squadron, throttled down to bare steerageway, rounded the headland that partially sheltered the port, it became clear that the Iranian base was suffering from the fruits of its repeated successes.  In a word, they had become complacent and were taking no great security precautions.  They flatly did not believe that America had the political will to take any substantive action against them, especially inside their territorial waters and against a base on their mainland.

The squadron spread out with the five MKVI-Attack boats in a line abreast and a bit in front.  The two MKVI-AA (anti-air) boats hung back a bit, covering each flank and the ISR boat dropped further back to continue monitoring.

The base was clearly visible about two miles ahead – well within rocket range of the attack boats.  Though not guided, the Hydra 70 2.75” rockets were computer controlled by the boats fire control system to achieve the best aiming aspect by the launcher.  Each boat had several pre-assigned targets and now each rocket launcher twitched as the final aiming corrections for the first round of targets were made.  The boats each carried four rocket pods with each pod containing 19 rockets.  That gave a total of 76 rockets per boat and the five attack boats carried a total of 380 rockets.  Each boat would retain 10 rockets for defense on the way out.  The base would receive the remaining 330 rockets.

The boats idled, waiting silently for the pre-determined launch time.  At the exact same moment, all five boats began firing.  The initial salvos exploded out of their launchers and sped toward the targets at 2400 ft/sec.  Travel time was only about 5 seconds.  The base lit up as the rockets exploded on their targets and secondary explosions added their fireworks.  Some of the rocket warheads were point detonation and some were air burst, depending on their assigned targets.  What wasn’t destroyed outright in the wave of explosions was shredded by shrapnel.

Even before the first rockets hit their targets, the rocket launchers were adjusting their aim for the second round of targets.  And so it continued until all the assigned targets were serviced and the rockets were expended.

Piers, boats, fuel storage tanks, control facilities, munitions storage, and warehouses were all targeted and, now, were all burning furiously.  Notably, a pair of barracks for the Iranian boat crews had been allocated ten rockets each.  The destruction was devastating and, this late at night, most of the Iranian crews were in the barracks.  The Iranian death toll would be high and this was another aspect to the message being sent.  The US would hold individuals accountable and the prospect of enemy deaths would no longer inhibit military actions.

On one of the boats, a Hellfire launcher trained slightly to one side to target a large, lavishly decorated house that Iranian officers and leadership used as their quarters and as a luxury headquarters.  In fact, the base commander and his family occupied one wing of the house.  Four Hellfire missiles shot off the launcher and impacted the house.  There was nothing but rubble left when the dust settled.  This was yet another part of the message – that the fear of collateral damage would no longer unduly restrict US military actions.

As the boats completed their assigned attacks, silence settled back over the squadron and the boats throttled up a bit.  Led by the ISR boat, the squadron reversed course and began their return.  Surprisingly, they did not immediately throttle up to full power and begin a high speed run straight to the safety of international waters, twelve miles out to sea.  Instead, they began to slowly retrace their ingress route.  It was assumed that as Iran began to react the first place they would look was on a direct line to open waters. 

The boats hugged the shore, proceeding slowly along the coast.  They would continue this way for several miles before breaking veering off to international waters.  The exposure time was longer but the planners had concluded that the overall safety was increased.

After about 15 minutes, the ISR boat noted indications of helos and UAVs swarming towards the area and a few Iranian boats that had survived the destruction appeared to be putting to sea.  Sure enough, the majority were heading directly out to sea, right where the squadron would have been if they had made a direct run for safety.

After a few more minutes, the ISR boat spotted an infrared heat source several hundred yards ahead and about a hundred yards inland.  It appeared to be an Iranian truck of some sort with several people milling around.  They were likely Iranian soldiers ordered to look for intruders.

The squadron was prepared for this eventuality and this was why each boat had retained 10 rockets.  The ISR boat issued the first spoken command of the evening and assigned one of the attack boats to eliminate the threat.  A minute passed as the target was acquired and then five rockets ignited out of their pod.  One of the rockets hit the vehicle near the cab and a second exploded on the ground almost beneath the vehicle.  It was shredded and flipped over in a spectacular fireworks display.  The remaining three rockets impacted in the area, killing or severely wounding the presumed soldiers.  This was further proof that the US military would not be unduly constrained by fear of collateral damage.  The vehicle and people were almost certainly Iranian army and the squadron would take no chances. 

The squadron continued on their way.  Several more minutes passed and the ISR boat noted a small UAV about 3 miles out and heading in their general direction, possibly attracted by the attack on the vehicle.  Again, a brief message designated one of the anti-air boats to deal with the intruder, if it continued to close.

The AA boat’s Mk38 Mod 2, 25 mm remote control gun tracked the UAV.  The UAV was a small one and flying low, probably using an optical scanner of some sort, looking for the source of the base attack.  The squadron was tucked inshore and throttled way down, leaving no wake.  Unless the UAV had an infrared scanner, it wasn’t likely to see the boats from a couple of miles away. 

The UAV continued to close.  As it approached three quarters of a mile, the Mk38 fired.  The first short burst missed but before the UAV operator could react and veer off, a second burst connected and sent the UAV tumbling to the sea.

By this time, the squadron was far enough away from the base to turn out to sea and head for international waters.  Besides, they had begun to attract attention and a change of direction would be a good idea.  Turning perpendicular to the shoreline, the squadron increased speed to 12 kts.

Ten minutes later, the ISR boat detected a helicopter headed their way.  The flanking anti-air boat needed no directions for this encounter.  As the helo reached five miles, the boat’s Stinger mount launched.  The missile tracked the low, slow helo and impacted with a brilliant flash of light and a couple of seconds later, a sharp crack of thunder.  The helo wasn’t instantly killed but did immediately veer off, losing altitude steadily.  It likely wouldn’t make it back to its base.

It was obvious the Iranians were beginning to realize that the squadron was the source of the attack so there was no further need for stealth.  The boats throttled up to 37 kts to complete the run to international waters.  At that speed, the 12 mile territorial limit was just a 16 minute run away.

However, 12 minutes into the dash, the ISR boat detected communications signals from ahead and offset a bit to starboard.  One or more surviving Iranian boats must have put to sea and were now being vectored towards the squadron or, perhaps, had just stumbled into the right location.  Either way, it didn’t matter.

The AA boats dropped back a bit and the attack boats formed a line abreast, oriented towards the threat.  Two Iranian small boats appeared in the attack boat’s IR scans, about two miles out.  The ISR boat allocated one Iranian boat target to each of the two closest attack boats.  The boat’s Hellfire launchers trained and fired one missile each.  One of the target boats exploded in a blinding flash.  The other missile clipped a wave top just before impact and skidded above the boat – a clean miss.  This prompted the lucky, surviving boat to launch its rockets in an immediate and, probably, unaimed attack.  The rockets arced over the squadron and impacted the water well beyond the boats.

The attack boat that had fired the errant missile immediately launched another missile and this one found its mark, demolishing the Iranian boat.

With no further threats, the squadron resumed its dash to international waters where a Burke destroyer was waiting to escort the boats back to their mothership.


The MKVI boats described in the story were one of three specialized, conceptual versions, as described below.  The boats operate in squadrons with types being mixed and matched according to the mission.

Mk VI Anti-Air

  • 2x Stinger Pod Mounts, 4 missiles/pod, 2 pods per mount, 16 missiles total and ready, mounts fore and aft, FIM-92, effective firing range 5 miles

  • Mk 38 Mod 2 Remote Weapon Station, effective range 9800 ft (1.8 miles), max firing range 22,000 ft (4 miles)

  • 4x twin 0.50 cal M2 machine gun, 1 mile range

Mk VI Attack

  • 2x AGM-114 Hellfire Pod Mounts, 4 missiles/pod, 2 pods per mount, 16 missiles total and ready, mounts fore and aft, effective range 4 miles

  • 2.75” Rocket Pod Mounts, 4x on 2 mounts, 76 rockets total, Hydra 70 rockets, 8700 yd (5 miles) effective firing range, 11,000 yd (6.25 miles) maximum range

Mk VI Surveillance

  • Signal collection and analysis electronics

  • Passive signal triangulation electronics

  • Radar threat receivers

  • Laser detectors

  • EO/IR imaging sensors providing hemispherical coverage

  • IR tracking sensors