Monday, April 29, 2019

Torpedo Threat - Is It Really?

Today’s naval analysts and observers tend to think that torpedoes are wonder weapons that can’t miss, can’t be avoided, and sink any ship with a single hit.  Well, we’ve already disproven the one-hit, one-kill idea and the back breaking myth along with it.  Now, what about the can’t miss, can’t be evaded belief?  Is that really true?  Well, unfortunately, we have no data to work with but when has that ever stopped us?  Let’s see what we can logically surmise.

Why are torpedoes considered can’t-miss weapons?  It’s because of two attributes of modern torpedoes:

  • Speed – Modern torpedoes have sprint speeds greater than ships have.  Thus, it’s not possible to outrun one.  It is possible to outlast one if the detection occurs early and the geometry-range is favorable but that’s unlikely unless the sub launches from the edge of the envelope.

  • Guidance – Modern torpedoes have self-contained sonar sensors and wake homing guidance.  Thus, unlike during WWII where simply turning parallel to the torpedo was generally sufficient to produce a miss, maneuvering to avoid a torpedo will be far less likely to succeed.

Or so the story goes …

The speed/range/geometry issue is straightforward but what about the guidance?  Does it really work?  As I said, there is no data to guide us (sorry, that was unintentional).  Commentators attribute near magical, perfect performance to torpedo guidance systems but are they really that good?  Consider …

Air-to-air missile guidance systems certainly aren’t perfect and, historically, have achieved something in the vicinity of 20% success rate in combat.  Why would we think torpedo guidance systems are so much better?

Laser guided bombs are around 80% effective under perfect conditions and as low as 50% in scenarios with adverse weather or less than perfect release geometry.  Why would we think torpedo guidance systems are so much better?

Surface-to-air AAW guided missiles have a historic success rate of 5%-20%.  Why would we think torpedo guidance systems are so much better?

While none of those systems use the same sensors and guidance systems as a torpedo, making direct comparisons invalid, we can note that every guidance system tried has proven to be far less effective than advertised.  There is no reason to believe that sonar and wake homing sensor/guidance systems have some kind of magic performance that no other guidance system has.  It is far more likely that sonars and wake homing suffer from the same poor performance that every other system does.

While we have no direct body of data to work with, we do have a few related bits of evidence that we can draw inferences from.

The US Navy anti-torpedo torpedo weapon system was a failure in actual use conditions.  The culprit was the sonar systems which produced so many false alarms as to render the system useless.  That being the case, why would we think that a torpedo with it’s small on-board sonar won’t be subject to the same kinds of false signals?

During the Falklands conflict, the Royal Navy’s submarine Conqueror fired three 21 inch Mk 8 mod 4 torpedoes (conventional, non-guided).  The sub carried modern Mk 24 Tigerfish homing torpedoes but doubted their reliability.  NavWeaps website offers some insight:

… in a test performed in 1982 immediately after the Falklands War, two out of five Mod 1 [ed. Mk 24 Tigerfish] torpedoes fired at a target hulk failed to function because of bad batteries and none of the others even hit the target. This unreliability was well known in the Fleet, which is why ancient Mark 8 torpedoes were used to sink the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano. (1)

This finding introduces yet another source of torpedo failure: mechanical/electrical.  Torpedoes are just like any other piece of machinery.  They have a mechanical/electrical failure rate.  We’ve seen Tomahawk missiles fail to launch or fail immediately upon launch.  We’ve seen Standard missiles explode during launch (rocket motor failure).  We’ve seen missiles drop off aircraft rails and never ignite.  And so on.  Why would we think torpedoes are mechanically/electrically any better?

Certain Death?

All we have is circumstantial evidence but it’s pretty convincing.  Torpedoes are nowhere near the inexorable killing machines that commentators make them out to be.  The reality is that torpedoes will simply fail to acquire targets, miss targets, fail mechanically/electrically, suffer from false signals, and generally fail to hit their targets to a large degree.  Throw in torpedo defenses such as acoustic decoys, Nixie-like tails, aggressive maneuvering by the target, etc. and the success rate of torpedoes will be even lower.

All of this analysis is not to say that torpedoes aren’t a serious threat.  They are.  A torpedo, if it can hit its target, is a powerful weapon. 

The conclusion we should be taking from this is that while the torpedo threat is serious, it does not preclude surface ships from operating and surviving during war, despite the many claims to the contrary. 

This also suggests that the Navy should be conducting extensive torpedo performance tests.  Have a sub fire live torpedoes – with the warheads removed, of course – at ships and see what actually happens.  Yes, we may get some dented hulls but the chance to gather actual performance data and develop real defensive tactics is priceless.

It’s peacetime.  Now is the time to find out what works and what doesn’t. 


(1)NavWeaps website, “Torpedoes of the United Kingdom/Britain”, Home / Weapons / Torpedoes / United Kingdom/Britain / Post-World War II,

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Anechoic Tile Problem Fixed?

As you recall, the Navy has had a very difficult time getting the anechoic tiles on its submarines to stay attached.  Subs returning from deployment often looked like the surface of the moon with missing tile 'craters' dotting the ship's sides.  The Navy periodically issued statements claiming to have fixed the problem but the missing tiles persisted.  However, the photo below of USS Cheyenne returning from a five month deployment seems to show no missing tiles.  If that's the case, then it appears the Navy has finally solved the tile attachment problem.  If so, that's good news.

USS Cheyenne Returning to Pearl Harbor From Deployment

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Chinese Type 055 Update

China’s Type 055 destroyer (cruiser, actually) is intended to be a functional equivalent to the US Ticonderoga class Aegis cruiser.  The 055 just made its international debut at a Chinese naval parade. (1)

From China Defense Blog, a second Type 055 was launched in April 2018 and a third and fourth were launched in July 2018. (1)  Two others are known to be under construction.  That’s five Aegis-equivalent ships in a very short period while China continues to build other destroyers, frigates, and corvettes, as well.

What is the US building?  More outdated Burkes.  There are seven Burkes scheduled for commissioning over the next five years.  That’s an average of just more than one per year.  China is building surface warships at two or three times the rate we are.

Let’s take a look at the profile view of the Type 055.

Type 055 Class (Credit Ref 2)

The profile emphasizes not only the stealth shaping of the ship but also a low and greatly reduced superstructure – something ComNavOps heartily approves of in ship design.  In addition to the lower radar signature, the smaller superstructure provides less of a target and makes for a smaller visual signature.  Recall how our Gato fleet submarines in WWII underwent drastic sail reductions to reduce their visual signatures? 

Now, compare the 055 profile to a Ticonderoga class Aegis cruiser profile.

Ticonderoga Class

Note the gigantic, blocky superstructure.  There’s nothing stealthy about that!  To be fair, the Type 055 is a brand new design and the Ticonderoga design dates back to the late 1970’s, long before stealth was a design consideration.  The Ticonderoga superstructure also makes for a very unstable, top heavy ship.

How about we do a quick visual comparison of the 055 to our newest surface warship, the Burke class?

Burke Class

We see that the Burke has some degree of stealth shaping but it pales in comparison to the Type 055.  Note the Burke’s large superstructure and great deal of exposed equipment, all of which detracts from the ship’s stealth.  Again, the Burke design dates back to the early 1980’s when stealth was in its infancy, so this is somewhat understandable.  However, that begs the question, why are we still building them?

There’s nothing terribly profound about this post – just a quick update and scan of the Type 055.


(1)China Defense Blog, “China debuts most powerful destroyer in celebrations”, 25-Apr-2019,

(2)China Defense Blog, “DDG 101”, 25-Apr-2019,

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Electronic Warfare Training – The Stupidity Is Stunning

ComNavOps has long stated that we should be conducting every training exercise with full electronic warfare (EW) being applied against the training force.  This would accomplish three things:

  • It would provide valuable experience for our own offensive EW forces.
  • It would make our forces learn how to function in a heavy EW environment when none of our networks, computers, GPS, comm links, and data sharing are working.
  • It would reveal where our EW vulnerabilities are so that we can begin to correct them.

Instead, we train with only very limited EW application.  Why?  The rationale is that if we applied full EW the training would grind to a halt and be of no value.  Do you see the stupidity in this view?  The unmitigated, staggering stupidity?  If EW can bring our training to a halt, that’s exactly what we need.  That’s exactly what the Russians and Chinese, both purportedly more advanced in EW than we are, will do to us.  What are we going to do in a real war when we encounter massive EW, stop because it’s too hard?  Apparently so, because that’s what we’re doing in our training.

In a Breaking Defense article about wargames and exercises and the impact of EW,

The US has wargamed cyber and electronic warfare in field exercises, Work [Robert Work, former Deputy Secretary of Defense] said, but the simulated enemy forces tend to shut down US networks so effectively that nothing works and nobody else gets any training done. “Whenever we have an exercise and the red force really destroys our command and control, we stop the exercise,” Work said, instead of trying to figure out how to keep fighting when your command post gives you nothing but blank screens and radio static. (1)

It’s too hard to deal with EW in exercises so we quit?????  Here’s a wild thought: instead of quitting, how about ramping up the EW even more until we figure out how to deal with it.  How about forcing our military leadership to confront the ugly truth about our vulnerability?

Maybe we’re just overstating the threat?  Maybe ComNavOps is just an alarmist?  Well, former DepSecDef Work is saying the same thing I am.  Consider his warning,

The Chinese call this “system destruction warfare,” Work said: They plan to “attack the American battle network at all levels, relentlessly, and they practice it all the time.” (1)

They practice it all the time.

They practice it all the time.

They practice it all the time.

And what do we do?

We quit.

The Russians are using their EW in the field, in real combat, in Ukraine and Syria.  They’re seeing what works and what doesn’t.  They’re even applying it against our front line aircraft and, by all accounts, quite successfully.  Do you remember our own Gen. Raymond Thomas making this statement?

“Right now in Syria we are operating in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet from our adversaries. They are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etcetera.” (2)

“Disabling our EC-130s”?????  Does anyone else find that just a tiny bit alarming?

Do you remember that claim some time ago that a Russian aircraft ‘shut down’ the Burke class destroyer, USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea? (3)  We all dismissed it, at the time, but since then we’ve seen the extensive and successful Russian EW being applied in Ukraine and Syria and now I can’t help but wonder if there was an element of truth to the story.

Regardless, it’s clear that our military has a ‘head in the sand’ approach to EW.  We aren’t good at offensive or defensive EW so, instead of doing the hard work to get better, we just stop our exercises.  The sheer stupidity is staggering to behold.

ComNavOps has long stated that our over-dependence on networks is arrogant, misplaced, and foolish and is laying the foundation for defeat by leading to a state of helplessness when our electronic toys stop working.  These statements from former DepSecDef Work confirm my warnings.  We must relearn how to function when our toys die.  Every exercise should be conducted with no GPS, no network, no comm links, and no data sharing unless we can do so in the face of full EW attacks.  It’s time to quit sniveling in a corner crying ‘woe is me’ and put our big boy pants on and start relearning how to fight without our precious toys.


(1)Breaking Defense, “US ‘Gets Its Ass Handed To It’ In Wargames: Here’s A $24 Billion Fix ”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 7-Mar-2019,

(2)Breaking Defense, “Russia Widens EW War, ‘Disabling’ EC-130s OR AC-130s In Syria ”, Colin Clark, 24-Apr-2018,

(3)Voltaire Network website, “What spooked the USS Donald Cook so much in the Black Sea?”8-Nov-2014,

Monday, April 22, 2019

Japanese Invasion of Pearl Harbor

Here’s another ‘what if’ version of history:  what if the Japanese had immediately invaded Hawaii after attacking Pearl Harbor?  How would the war have progressed from that point?  Let’s see.

Note:  Credit for this idea goes to blog reader ‘Purple Calico’ who suggested the topic during the recent open post discussion. (3)

The initial premise is that the attack on Pearl Harbor and all the related events happened exactly as history records except that the Japanese fleet contained an invasion force and the Japanese continued on to Pearl Harbor rather than turning away.

To review, the Japanese strike fleet consisted of 6 aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, Hiryū, Shōkaku, and Zuikaku) with well over 400 aircraft, protected by 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, and 9 destroyers (all actual).  Accompanying the strike were 8 tankers (actual) which would prove crucial in our alter-history by sustaining the fleets while the island was being secured.

In addition, 23 fleet submarines (actual, 4) were assigned to provide containment around Pearl Harbor to prevent any surviving US ships from escaping to open waters (1) and screening for the strike and invasion fleets.  A third were assigned to screen the fleet to the east of Oahu, another third capped the Pearl Harbor channel to the south, and the remaining third patrolled the waters to the west of Oahu.

The alter-historical addition to the Japanese strike fleet is an invasion force consisted of an armored division with 10,000 men and 270 tanks plus dozens of artillery and anti-tank guns plus an infantry division of almost 25,000 men supported by several dozen artillery guns, all loaded on dozens of transport vessels. 

The attack on Pearl Harbor came from the north with the 1st wave launching around 220 miles north of Pearl Harbor.  The strike fleet continued to sail east and launched the 2nd wave from the northeast. 

The first two attack waves succeeded in sinking or damaging nearly all the battleships and cruisers and eliminated effective aerial resistance.  Of the 402 American aircraft in Hawaii, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged, 155 of them on the ground (actual).

Note:  An outstanding map of Pearl Harbor ships and facilities at the moment of attack can be found on the National Geographic website. (2)

What follows is a descriptive alter-historical summary of events beginning immediately after the 2nd assault wave of Japanese aircraft.

A 3rd wave was launched from east of Oahu and focused on the ten or so destroyers which had been largely untouched in the first two strikes and any remaining aircraft on the ground.  By the time the 3rd wave was finished, there were very few undamaged ships in Pearl Harbor. 

The strike fleet continued sailing in a clockwise circle around Oahu, escorting the transport vessels.  The land assault would be focused on the militarized island of Oahu which contained the Pearl Harbor naval base, Marine barracks, and multiple air fields.  The remaining Hawaiian islands did not need to be occupied.  This allowed the Japanese to concentrate their resources on a single small island only 20 miles or so across.

With no American air power to worry about, the two Japanese battleships raced ahead of the rest of the invasion and strike fleets and entered the Pearl Harbor channel at dusk.  Their mission was to destroy any remaining ships, bombard the facilities that the Japanese didn’t need to occupy and reuse, and to distract from the assault force that began their landings at the same time.  There was risk with attempting an evening landing rather than waiting for dawn but it was felt that the risk was worth it to maintain the shock and confusion that the reeling Americans were under.

As it turned out, the Japanese battleships were hugely successful with the Americans firing on their own ships as much as the Japanese did due to the darkness, confusion, and panic.  With reports of Japanese troop landings, and the evidence of Japanese ships in the harbor, American troops began firing on their own ground forces as they were totally untrained and unprepared for night combat and had not trained for friendly forces identification.  By morning, the Japanese ground forces were well established and by the end of the day on the 8th were in control of the Pearl Harbor facilities.

Japanese Forces Landing on Oahu

The USS Enterprise, returning from delivering Wildcats to Wake Island, was 215 miles west of Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacks began.  Several of Enterprise’s SBDs had flown ahead to Pearl and were shot down by friendly fire.  Enterprise spent the day of the 7th searching for the Japanese strike fleet but found nothing since the Japanese fleets were on the opposite side of Oahu.  As reports of Japanese invasion forces reached Enterprise, Admiral Halsey headed southeast and began to assemble an aerial strike force.  Unfortunately, that brought Enterprise into the teeth of the Japanese submarine screen and a Japanese submarine found her and put three torpedoes into the ship.  Over the next several hours, a second Japanese submarine was able to approach and hit Enterprise with two more torpedoes.  Her fate was sealed.  Enterprise was a blazing wreck and eventually sank during the night of the 8th.

Enterprise Torpedoed and Sinking

Meanwhile, Lexington, which had been on a mission to deliver planes to Midway, found herself caught halfway between Midway and Pearl Harbor and with her escorts low on fuel due to previous refueling difficulties (actual).  With Enterprise sunk, the Japanese dispatched four carriers to search for Lexington and, on the 12th, found her, thus setting the stage for the first carrier battle where the opposing ships never saw each other.  Both sides launched nearly simultaneous attacks.  Lexington, with only a single air group which included over a dozen older Brewster Buffalos, was unable to fight off the Japanese attack and suffered two bomb hits, two torpedoes, and a damaged Japanese plane that dove into the carrier.  Lexington’s strike, facing the defensive CAP of four carriers, managed to score two bomb hits on the Kaga which damaged the carrier enough to curtail flight operations but did not sink it.  Both sides recovered their strikes but the Japanese, with greater numbers, were able to launch a second, standby, strike before Lexington could effect repairs sufficient to assemble another strike.  The second strike finished off the Lexington. 

This left Saratoga, which was training her air group in San Diego, as the only US carrier in the Pacific.  Yorktown, Hornet, and Ranger and Wasp were training in Norfolk.  Ranger was considered unsuited for the Pacific and was destined for Atlantic and European operations.  It would be many weeks before Yorktown, Hornet, and Wasp could be moved to the Pacific and the Japanese used that time to secure Pearl Harbor and set it up as their forward base.  Japanese army aircraft fighters were ferried to the island along with long range patrol planes and bombers.

One of the major benefits for the Japanese in seizing Pearl Harbor was the presence of the drydocks which they had wisely and carefully avoided damaging in the initial attacks and which were captured largely intact and quickly returned to service.  Damaged Japanese ships which might otherwise have had to return to Japan for repair, were able to be serviced locally, at Pearl Harbor, and returned to combat much quicker.  This was significant as even the base at Truk lacked significant repair facilities.

Fall of Wake – On 11-Dec-1941, Wake defenders fought off the first Japanese landing attempt, sinking two Japanese destroyers with coastal defense guns and Wildcat aircraft.  A second assault initiated shortly after midnight on 23-Dec-1941 succeeded and the island fell later that same day.

Seizure of Tulagi and Port Moresby (Coral Sea) – The Japanese planned to seize Tulagi and Port Moresby in operations that began in April 1942.  The Americans were able to intercept and decipher Japanese signals and knew the general location and timing of the operations.  Having lost Pearl Harbor, the threat to Australia as a forward base was considered strategically vital and an operation to intercept the Japanese in or around the Coral Sea was initiated.  The carrier Yorktown, recently arrived in the Pacific, was patrolling in the area to the west of Australia and Saratoga was dispatched from San Diego to join her and meet the Japanese invasion fleet.  The Japanese sent the Carriers Shokaku, Zuikaku, and Shoho to screen the invasion forces from the north and a surface force centered around the battleship Yamato approached from the northeast from Pearl Harbor.  Despite the efforts of their respective scout aircraft, the two sides stumbled across each other during the night of 6-May with the Yamato group sighting the Yorktown and Saratoga which had joined up the previous day.  The Japanese and American destroyer screens made contact and exchanged fire in a wild night battle which the Japanese cruisers and the Yamato quickly jumped into.  When word came that a Japanese battleship was part of the attack, the American carriers conducted an impromptu and untrained-for night launch and attack.  Despite the darkness and their lack of training, the untrained flyers succeeded in hitting Yamato with one torpedo and a cruiser was hit with two bombs.  Unfortunately, in the darkness, confusion, and co-mingling of the ships, the flyers also torpedoed and sank a US destroyer.  As dawn approached, and fearing further aerial attacks, the Japanese broke off the attack and steamed away.  

Yorktown and Saratoga Night Attack on Yamato 

However, with the US carrier force now located, the Japanese carriers launched a heavy dawn attack which caught the US carriers and their exhausted pilots unprepared.  Saratoga was heavily damaged by multiple torpedoes and bombs and Yorktown suffered two bomb hits.  When the attack ended, Yorktown, whose dawn scouting planes had located the Japanese carriers, was still able to conduct flight operations and launched a counterattack which caught the Japanese carriers refueling and rearming their aircraft.  Shoho was sunk and Shokaku was heavily damaged.

After recovering her aircraft, Yorktown broke off the engagement and retired to the southeast and back to San Diego for repairs.  Saratoga was taken under tow but the Yamato group, reversing course and returning to the area to mop up, fell upon the carrier and sank it with gunfire.

The Battle of the Coral Sea, as it came to be known, was a tactical draw but because the US was unable to stop the Japanese invasion fleet which still had sizable carrier and surface forces in the area to provide protection, the Japanese were able to complete the seizure of Port Moresby which was then used as a staging area to threaten Australia directly.

With the loss of Saratoga, only the Hornet, Wasp, and damaged Yorktown remained from the pre-war US carrier force.

The Japanese then seized Midway, costing the US the valuable PBY Catalina patrol and scouting base.  Despite having knowledge of the Japanese intentions via signals analysis, the US simply didn’t have the naval strength to contest the Japanese invasion.

The US was now forced to operate from Australia, the Aleutians, and San Diego.  None of these options was desirable although Australia was, at least, near the action due to the Japanese seizures.  US efforts for the next several months centered on reinforcing Australia and beefing up its defenses.  If Australia fell, the US would be effectively ejected from the Pacific theatre.

Taking a cue from the Germans, the Japanese began conducting aggressive Australian convoy interdiction using submarines based out of Pearl Harbor.  The Battle of the Pacific, mirroring the Battle of the Atlantic, became a logistic supply contest with the US attempting to reinforce Australia and the Japanese attempting to cut the supply line.

The Japanese, having essentially secured the Pacific now focused on a holding strategy in an attempt to force the US into a negotiated peace.  The Japanese believed that the US, already occupied with the war in Europe, would grow weary of fighting a difficult war in the Pacific and lacked the stomach for the casualties such an endeavor would entail.  

To that end, in late 1942 the Japanese dispatched a strike force of carriers and battleships to the west coast of the US to conduct bombardment raids which, it was hoped, would further discourage a demoralized populace and force the US to negotiate.  The strike force arrived off the coast of Washington and began moving south, bombarding cities and targets of opportunity as they went.  The intent was to inflict some casualties and instill fear in the populace rather than achieve any specific military success.  After 24 hours of nearly continuous bombardment, the group turned away and retired to avoid the inevitable surge of US naval forces to the area from San Francisco and San Diego.

Japanese Battleship Bombarding Washington Coast

While the operation was executed flawlessly the reaction of the American people was a surge of anger, defiance, and cries for revenge and retaliation.  As a result of the raid, US determination to defeat Japan was greater than ever, much to the disbelief of the Japanese strategists.

There was little doubt that the US needed to recapture Pearl Harbor to support the war with Japan.  However, by this time, Japan had had a year to fortify the base and seizing it by a direct assault with the closest support being the US west coast was not immediately feasible.  Instead, US military strategists opted to seize Midway atoll first and then use Midway to screen and support a subsequent assault against Pearl Harbor.  An invasion force consisting of Maj. Gen. Vandegrift’s 1st Marine Division and supported by the carriers Yorktown, Hornet, Wasp, and the newly arrived Essex along with RAdm. Willis ‘Ching’ Lee’s battleship group of North Carolina, Washington, Indiana, and South Dakota was assembled in the Aleutians at Dutch Harbor and sailed for Midway in May 1943. 

As the force approached Midway from the north, the carriers broke off and circled to the east to take a position to the southeast of Midway, somewhat between it and Pearl Harbor.  As expected, the battleships and troop transports were spotted by long range patrol planes from Midway.  The Japanese surged four carriers and their escorts, including the battleships Yamato, the newly arrived Musashi, and the older battleships Nagato, Mutsu, and Fuso from Pearl Harbor to intercept the American force. 

The US transport fleet hung back while the battleship group and its escorts took the lead.  As the US fleet approached Midway, the Japanese launched two aerial strikes of high level bombers from Midway.  The concentrated anti-aircraft fire of the US battleships and escorts, combined with the inherent inaccuracy of high level bombing resulted in only two hits:  one bomb hit the South Dakota resulting in only minor damage and a more serious hit on a cruiser which was forced to retire northward.

Having yet to spot any US carriers, the Japanese saw the chance to engage the US battleships in the long-desired battle line confrontation.  The Japanese battleships sprinted ahead to meet the US battleships.

Japanese Battle Line Steaming To Meet US Battleships

Shortly after, scout planes from the Japanese and US carrier forces located each other, roughly simultaneously and both sides launched strikes at the other’s carriers.  Each realized that the carriers were the priority targets and that their respective battleship forces would have to take care of themselves without the benefit of air cover.

The Japanese strike aircraft reached the American carriers first and managed to penetrate the carriers CAP and escort screen to put two torpedoes into Hornet and one into Wasp.  Essex and Wasp were each hit by two bombs.  The US strike failed to achieve any torpedo hits but put three bombs into Akagi, and two into Soryu.  At the end of the exchange, Wasp was left ablaze and drifting while Essex worked frantically to control internal fires and patch her flight deck.  Hornet was slowed due to flooding but otherwise operational.  On the Japanese side, Japanese damage control measures proved to be less effective than US efforts and Akagi was left a wreck and Soryu was badly damaged but working to regain operational ability. 

A brief pause ensued while both sides worked on damage control and refueled and rearmed for a follow up strike.

Meanwhile, to the northwest, the US battleships, using their SOC Seagull and OS2U Kingfisher scout planes, were aware of the approaching Japanese battleship group and moved to meet them. 

While the two forces sailed towards each other, the carriers launched their second strikes.  This time, the US carriers were able to turn their strike groups around a bit faster than the Japanese and struck first.  The pilots bypassed the blazing Akagi and concentrated on Kaga and Hiryu, managing to put a single torpedo into Kaga along with three bombs.  Hiryu suffered one bomb hit and two near misses.  The Japanese strike found Hornet and Essex and put three torpedoes into Hornet along with two bombs and Essex was hit by another bomb and a torpedo.  Both strikes returned to their carriers and both carrier groups broke off from the engagement, too damaged to continue. 

By this time, the approaching battleship groups were entering into range of each other.  This turned into the classic battle line engagement with the two groups turning to face each other.  Thanks to the Yamato and Musashi the Japanese battleships held an initial range advantage and opened fire at around 44,000 yds.  The American battleships, being outranged, continued to close thus presenting the Japanese with the opportunity to ‘cross the T’ at long range.  South Dakota, in the lead and seemingly a hard luck ship, was straddled several times and suffered one direct hit from an 18” shell which knocked out one of the forward turrets. 

As the US ships reached 35,000 yds, they turned onto a nearly parallel course, closing slowly.  At this point, all the battleships were engaged, each picking their targets at will.  The older Japanese battleships proved to be susceptible to the US 16” shells and suffered several direct hits causing extensive damage and slowly reducing their firepower as mounts were hit and disabled.  Yamato and Musashi proved quite resilient and several hits from 16” shells destroyed secondary guns and started fires but were unable to silence their main batteries.  The US battleships were hit multiple times, except for Washington, and were slowly being pounded down. 

At this point, the three older Japanese battleships fell behind and out of the battle as did the South Dakota.  That left the Yamato and Musashi engaged with Washington, North Carolina, and Indiana.  The US had a greater combined rate of fire while the Japanese had heavier firepower.  As the battle dragged on, all the ships suffered additional hits and were slowly being worn down but the greater volume of fire from the American ships began to tell.  The Japanese broke off the engagement and the battered Americans were quite willing to let them go. 

Mutso and Fuso eventually sank, as did the South Dakota.  The remaining ships on both sides would be out of the war for several months.

South Dakota Fighting Mutso and Fuso

In the aftermath, the battle was a tactical draw with the Japanese losing two carriers, Akagi and Kaga, plus two older battleships and the US also losing two carriers, Hornet and Wasp, plus the South Dakota.  However, strategically, the Japanese failed to stop the American invasion force and Midway was seized thus setting the stage for the eventual recapture of Pearl Harbor.  Historians view the Battle of Midway as the turning point of the war.

After Midway, the US war industry began to hit its stride and new Essex class carriers began arriving along with the new Iowa class battleships and replacement aircraft and pilots.  Japan was unable to match the industrial output and could not replace their losses as readily.  This trend would continue and worsen as the war progressed.  The end was inevitable although four more years of bitter fighting still lay ahead.


(1)Naval History and Heritage Command website,
“An Advance Expeditionary Force of large submarines, five of them carrying midget submarines, was sent to scout around Hawaii, dispatch the midgets into Pearl Harbor to attack ships there, and torpedo American warships that might escape to sea.”

(2)National Geographic website, Map of Pearl Harbor facilities:

(3)Navy Matters blog, “Open Post”, 27-Mar-2019, Purple Calico March 27, 2019 at 7:22 AM


Friday, April 19, 2019

Australian ESSM Test

Be still my beating heart!  Someone has finally conducted live fire missile testing that wasn’t completely useless and, to the shame of the US Navy, it was the Australian Navy that did it.  HMAS Perth (FFH-157) conducted several live fire exercises for the ESSM and CEAFAR/CEAMOUNT sensor systems at the US Navy's Pacific test range and the testing apparently included multiple targets and supersonic targets.

HMAS Perth is an Anzac class (MEKO 200 variant) frigate with an 8-cell Mk41 VLS, single 5” gun, and two triple torpedo launchers.  Sensors include the CEAFAR/CEAMOUNT S and X band radars.  Wiki has a good description of the ship.

HMAS Perth

To be sure, the tests were still highly scripted, staged events with all the attendant unreality imposed by US Navy safety regulations.  Consider the following quotes extracted from Robert Macklin's report describing the Anzac program and the live fire testing that was conducted.

Now the targets being fired at Perth included two supersonic Coyote missiles—each costing $4  million—which would come screaming out of the blue, cutting a path across Perth’s station as the combined radar and combat system on board responded with the ship’s own relatively slow ESSMs in the hope of intercepting the incoming target. In addition, Perth would track at least seven subsonic missiles, some of which would be in combination with supersonics. (1)

This statement is a bit misleading as it suggests that Perth faced seven or more missiles, some of which were supersonic, at the same time.  That would be a major challenge, indeed!  The reality, as best I can tell, is that the Perth faced a total of seven missiles over four or so separate tests (referred to in the quotes as “profiles”).  There is a YouTube video that shows three missiles being fired from Perth simultaneously so three seems to be the maximum number of simultaneous threats faced in the exercise.

As indicated in the next quote, a subsonic and a supersonic were paired in a single test.  Whether the two missile types appeared in the engagement window at the same time or whether they arrived separately is not clear.

First up, he says, they did the seven subsonics but on occasion they were mixed with supersonic interference. The test, he says, ‘was designed so you could potentially be attracted to the subsonic target at the expense of the supersonic. And in fact I can assure you each of them was a success—in fact probably more successful than we thought possible.’  (1)

Note is made of the difficulty of intercepting a crossing missile as opposed to a head-on target.  The write up suggests that Perth did test a crossing missile and, if this was the case, this is a degree of difficulty and reality that the US does not test.

The ESSM missile has traditionally been a point defence system designed for a weapon coming in directly, which is easy [to take out]. But once it starts crossing—heading for a highvalue unit, especially if it’s doing mach 3—then it becomes exponentially more difficult.

We’d simulate being a short distance from a highvalue unit on its quarter, so when we’d take out the incoming supersonic mach 3 missile with the ESSM, they’d never seen it done before. (1)

If the US Navy had never seen a supersonic missile being intercepted by an ESSM before (referring to a crossing missile?), that speaks volumes about the lack of realistic testing by the Navy.

On one occasion—I think in profile three—we actually lost the target momentarily—and that happens sometimes in the fog of war—and when it came up again a young operator, a sailor who was literally in front of me in the Operations Room—saw it and intuitively pressed a ‘hostile’ and a missile went and took it out at the minimum engagement range. So at the last moment we were able to save the [highvalue unit]. (1)

The next quote illustrates the point that we’ve made repeatedly and that is that the engagement window against a supersonic threat is very short.

They saved the last two profiles for the supersonic Coyotes. The first one, Goddard says, came at them skimming at its minimum safe height. ‘You probably have 10 to 11 seconds to react, and as soon as you’ve made it “hostile” the system just automatically does it and of course it’s just “hands off.”’

In fact, when that first Coyote came at them the system fired two missiles. The first smashed into the target and the second took out the debris. ‘The Americans said “We’ve never seen that. You’ve actually taken out the target and we thought the second missile would just disappear. But all of a sudden it turned and actually took out the debris on the way through.”’  (1)

In the next quote, note the reference to a ‘ghost’ radar image and the resultant wasted defensive missiles.  We recently noted a ‘ghost’ image of sorts being part of the reason why a US Aegis cruiser was hit by an out of control drone.  Also, in terms of overall system efficiency and performance, the unintended and unnecessary expenditure of extra defensive missiles is a problem.  To be fair, if the main target(s) is destroyed, no Captain is going to begrudge a few wasted missiles.

On the second attack, only one ESSM was needed—the Coyote was pulverised. However, a ‘ghost’ image had appeared briefly on the screen and Lee Goddard actually fired three ESSMs, two of which weren’t needed. ‘So it was all very positive,’ he says. (1)

In summary, Perth’s testing was far more extensive and realistic than anything I’ve read about the US Navy conducting.  Is this enough?  Not by a long shot!  They should conduct similar tests ten times over to get a feel for long term reliability and success rates.  They should use different approach angles.  They should conduct the test under adverse weather conditions.  They should try the test with a ship that wasn’t ‘tweaked’ for the test and didn’t have tech reps helping out.  Still, for whatever drawbacks, limitations, and flaws the test might have had, it was still leaps and bounds beyond what the US Navy does and the Australians are to be commended. 


(1)Australian Strategic Policy Institute, “Rearming the Anzacs”, Robert Macklin,

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Unfriendly Skies

WWII ushered in the rise of air power as the pre-eminent form of warfare at sea (and, to a significant extent, on land).  Ships that attempted to operate under enemy controlled air generally paid the price and were sunk.  Examples include the Repulse, Prince of Wales, the entire Pearl Harbor battleship fleet, the Yamato, and many others.  Interesting, though, isn’t it, that the examples seemed to largely occur at the beginning or the end of the war?  This probably reflects a lack of understanding of the power of aviation at the start of the war (Repulse and Prince of Wales, for example)  and then the lack of any options at the end of the war (the Yamato, for example). 

What about the in between times?  Did every ship, on both sides, always and only operate under total friendly air cover?  Well, no.  For example, the entire Guadalcanal naval campaign was fought under uncontrolled skies where, at any given moment, either side might have localized and immediate control of the air.  Despite this aerial uncertainty, both sides continued to operate naval forces.  Yes, they made allowances and adjustments, such as operating at night to avoid aerial detection and attack but the point is that they routinely operated without assured aerial supremacy and did so with varying degrees of success.

We should probably ask ourselves why neither side was able to obtain aerial supremacy?  The answer is simple – at that point in the war, it was still an even match.  In other words, it was a peer war (before it evolved into a completely one-sided, lop-sided affair) and both sides were evenly matched.  Neither could gain a permanent advantage. 

Adding to the inability to obtain aerial supremacy was the long ranges involved.  Both sides had to fly long distances in order to engage which made ‘time on station’ short.  Yes, Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was on scene but, until the end, there were never enough aircraft available at the field to establish uncontested control of the air.  Replacement aircraft for the US had to come from thousands of miles away.  Japanese aircraft were largely based at Rabaul which was around 500 miles from Guadalcanal – a very long flight in those days.

There are lessons to be learned from this which are applicable today to a peer war with China.

Air Control

In a peer war, aerial control of a given operational area will, by definition, be sporadic and will flip back and forth at a moment’s notice as groups of aircraft arrive, or depart, the immediate area.  There may well be times when there are no aircraft in the area, at all.  The reality is that if we want to accomplish anything we’ll need to figure out how to operate our naval forces without the absolute control of the air that we’ve become accustomed to, and dependent on.

The Tyranny of Distance

Simply having aircraft available at bases near the operational area isn’t enough.  Aircraft on the ground are useless.  They have to be in the air in the operational area to matter.  For the US, even our nearby bases are going to be hundreds to thousands of miles from likely operational areas.  Aircraft from Guam, for example, will have to fly several hours just to get to an operational area and will then only have brief moments of loiter time.  This is the Tyranny of Distance.  Distance will render even the aircraft we have in theatre only marginally available and useful.

Aircraft Resupply

Both sides will begin the war with large inventories of aircraft.  The challenge will be to get the aircraft to the operational area.  In the Guadalcanal example, both sides were operating at the end of enormously long supply trains.  In a conflict with China the US will, again, have to supply aircraft at the end of an enormously long supply train.  This resupply challenge will be exacerbated by the very long time it takes to build modern aircraft as opposed to, say, a WWII Hellcat which could be built in a matter of days.  To some extent, manufacturing time will also be a problem for China although the delivery distance will, of course, not be a factor.


The distance challenge is complicated by dispersion.  In the Guadalcanal example, both sides were attempting to spread supplies (aircraft, in this case) across many operational areas over the entire Asian and Pacific regions.  For the US, it was even worse as we were having to provide aircraft to operations spanning the entire world! 

We see that all of the above factors can be combined into one broad issue: 

- placing aircraft, in the air, in the operational area. 

This supply challenge will remain an issue in a modern war with China.  The US will, again, have to supply aircraft at the end of an enormous supply train while maintaining ready aircraft around the world to cover all our other commitments (an argument for weaning Europe off our support?).  China will be fighting at the short end of the supply train and will have an inherent advantage in that it can focus all its military might on the immediate fight since it has no worldwide military commitments.

Unless the US pulls back and refuses to engage (a win for China), it is quite likely that we will have to operate under skies that we do not control.  How do we do that?  Isn’t it now conventional wisdom that ships that operate without air cover are doomed?  How can we operate under skies we do not control?

At this point we have to recognize the boundaries of the problem.  When we ask how we can operate under skies we do not control, that is not the same as asking how we can operate under skies the enemy owns.  Operating in areas where the enemy has established aerial supremacy is, indeed, foolish and suicidal.  What we are really asking is how can we operate under skies that neither side owns? 

Let’s make sure we understand what ‘neither side owns’ means.  It means what it says.  Neither side will have continuous control of the air but either side may, at any given moment, have momentary control.  The key characteristics of such contested control are:

Limited numbers – neither side will have enough aircraft to establish continuous control so even the momentary control will be established by limited numbers.  This means we won’t have to fight off a thousand aircraft but, instead, maybe just a flight or two of aircraft at a time.  Perhaps the enemy will manage to fight an attack group of half a dozen to a couple of dozen aircraft into the area.  This is a radically different situation than having to fight off never-ending waves of saturation attacks as so many people seem to argue when attempting to make their points.

Limited time – given the distances and the need to fight their way into the operating area, neither side will have a great deal of loiter time in the area.  Thus, attacks from aircraft will be brief.  Chinese aircraft will, of course, have a longer loiter time.

Our concept of operating under skies we do not control is beginning to take shape, isn’t it?  We see that we’re talking about contested skies that will feature fairly small groups of enemy aircraft that come and go.  This is a completely doable concept.  Aegis, for example, was designed to handle much more than this.  Several Aegis ships should be able to survive and operate in such a scenario.  Thus, we can operate under skies we don’t own.

I’ve already addressed it but it’s necessary to repeat it:  China and the US will be contesting many operational areas simultaneously.  That’s what war is – it’s combat along a broad front with many, many points of contention.  Both sides will be splitting their resources and assets many times over.  Too many people want to look at utterly ridiculous situations in isolation.  I know that despite this paragraph someone is still going to comment that our ships can’t fight off the thousands of aircraft that the Chinese have.  Well, those thousands of aircraft are going to split across a hundred operational areas plus they’ll be fighting their own battles for survival as we attack their bases with cruise missiles, bombers, etc.

So, recognizing the need to operate under skies we don’t control, is there anything we can do to enhance our ability to do so?  Yes, there is.


Building more carriers is the obvious answer.  A mobile air base provides the ability to tip the aerial balance of power in a localized operational area.  What we have to do, however, is stop building $20B Fords that we won’t risk in combat, can’t afford to lose, and can’t build enough of and start building smaller, simpler Midway/Forrestal size carriers in large numbers with larger air wings.

Purpose Built Ships

We need to design a class(es) of ship that is intended to fight under uncontrolled skies.  We need an independent operations cruiser that is optimized for the kind of combat we’ve just described.  I’ve described one such class of ship, the independent cruiser (see, “Independent Cruiser”)


We need to adjust our thinking about how we will conduct naval missions.  Too many people have the idiotic notion that we’ll conduct a war just like peace – that we’ll deploy ships to the area for months at a time and that they’ll cruise around the area, back and forth, fighting continuously.  This is absurd.  We’ll need to conduct quick missions, as navies have always done:  in and out without lingering.  This is actually the standard for wartime naval operations, anyway.  We’ve just forgotten that’s how naval missions are conducted.  We need to remember and start training for such missions.  It’s been so long since we’ve had actual missions that we’ve forgotten what a mission is and how to conduct one.  A mission has a specific goal, the forces are assembled, the group makes a high speed run to the operational area, executes the mission, and retires at high speed.  We need to start training Admirals and Captains to conduct such missions.  Today’s Admirals and Captains are just glorified cruise directors shepherding around a bunch of tourist/sailors for several months at a time.


One of the main benefits of aerial control is the situational awareness (surveillance) that the aircraft provide.  Without aerial control our situational awareness will be severely limited.  Therefore, we need large numbers of shorter range, cheap, expendable UAVs to provide area situational awareness.  I’ve suggested that all ships should carry large numbers of such aircraft (in place of helos, if necessary) and that we should build small UAV carriers.


Ships conducting missions under uncontrolled skies are at greater risk of damage.  We need to stop building one-hit ships and start building tough ships that can take damage, conduct repairs at sea, and keep fighting until the mission is over.  Armor is a good start towards building tougher ships along with greater redundancy and separation of key systems and equipment.  We can’t build Burkes that have two of their three illuminators located within about ten feet of each other.  A single hit can eliminate two-thirds of a Burke’s AAW capability!


Increased manpower is another vital aspect of toughness and independent operations.  Ships need to be able to absorb casualties and keep functioning and the only way to do that is with larger crews.  Larger crews are also absolutely vital to damage control efforts and are generally considered to be the single most important aspect of damage control.

It is clear that we will need to conduct naval operations under skies we do not control and it is also clear that doing so is quite viable.  We will, however, have to begin designing and building ships intended for those conditions and we have to begin developing doctrine and tactics for such missions.  As I’ve said so many times, peacetime is the precious time to prepare for war and we’re squandering it on idiotic concepts like distributed lethality, distractions like gender sensitivity training, and worthless deployments and humanitarian missions.

We need to figure out what future war will look like (hey, Navy, I’m telling you what it will look like, since you haven’t got a clue and can’t seem to figure it out for yourself – you’re welcome!) and begin preparing for it.  Everything we buy, build, or do must run through the filter of combat.  How will [fill in the blank] enhance our combat capability?  If the answer is it won’t, we shouldn’t do it.  That, alone, would eliminate all the sensitivity sessions, green energy initiatives, new uniform of the year programs, humanitarian missions, etc.

Accept that we won’t control the skies.  Embrace the concept and begin preparing for it.

We need to focus.  Combat, combat, combat.  Nothing else matters.