Friday, May 31, 2019

Base Defense

We’ve recently discussed forward bases and noted the two contradictory desires regarding base location:

  1. The desire to be as close as possible to the next or ultimate objective in order to maximize sortie rate and to minimize response time and ship and aircraft transit times to and from the objective operational area.

  1. The desire to be as far away as possible from the enemy’s defenses, typically cruise and ballistic missiles but also including bombers, submarines, and surface ships.

The existence of ballistic missiles with a few to several thousand mile ranges and submarines with cruise missiles effectively puts any base within range of enemy attack.  This compares somewhat unfavorably with our own attack ranges from a forward base.  Thus, if we place a base at a useful strike range, then we’re automatically placing it well within enemy attack range.  This leads to the inexorable conclusion that if we want to operate a forward base we’ll have to conduct a robust and continuous base defense – something we haven’t done since Guadalcanal.

Forward bases, even if we fight for them, can only survive if we harden them.  Hardening, for purposes of this discussion, is the process of making a base difficult to damage and permanently destroy.  Hardening measures can take many forms.  Let’s take a closer look at some of the means to harden and defend forward bases.


Anti-ballistic Missile Defense – A land base is a fixed target which is ideal for ballistic missiles.  We need an effective ballistic missile defense (BMD).  Of course, the best BMD is to destroy the enemy’s ballistic missile launchers before they can launch.  Failing that, ship based BMD out along the path of the missile adds additional opportunities for intercepts.  Rather than tie up multi-functional, expensive Burkes doing BMD, a dedicated, cheaper, single function BMD vessel is preferred.  Finally, land based BMD at the base constitutes ‘point defense’. 


Anti-Cruise Missile Defense – Cruise missiles can be launched from aircraft, surface ships, and submarines.  We need cruise missile defense similar to the BMD described above.  Ships, submarines, and aircraft need to patrol in layers extending out to the theoretical maximum enemy missile ranges which is several hundred miles.


Anti-Submarine – Submarines present multiple threats to a forward base including mine laying to prevent base resupply, cruise missile attacks, and anti-surface attacks against our own ships.  To counter the submarine threat we need a layered defense (layers, again - are you sensing a theme, yet?) consisting of our own submarines, surface ships, and aircraft.  As always, the best ASW defense is to attack the enemy’s submarines in their own ports and destroy their bases.  The Chinese underground submarine pens in Hainan will prove challenging to incapacitate and we should take a lesson from them.  Failing that we need long range interdiction of enemy submarines by our own subs.  Ideally, this would occur just outside the enemy’s bases as their subs head out on missions.  Closer to our base, dedicated hunter-killer ASW groups (a helo mothership and four ASW corvettes, for example) could prove useful.  We also need relatively high speed, high endurance, fixed wing ASW aircraft for long range search and prosecution.  An S-3 Viking-ish aircraft would be good in this role.  We also need a SOSUS type listening array to assist in the search phase.


Physical Hardening – We need to physically harden hangars, fuel storage, repair facilities, munitions storage, etc.  We could take a lesson from the Chinese who routinely do this with their bases.  The point is not to make facilities immune to damage – that’s not possible – but to make them less susceptible to easy destruction and make the enemy work harder to destroy them.


Underground – We should give serious thought to constructing underground facilities to the extent possible.  Again, this won’t make them immune but it will make the enemy expend more munitions, larger munitions, and more expensive munitions to accomplish their destruction.


Repair – An overlooked aspect of base defense is a robust repair capability and capacity.  The base that can recover from damage quickly is one that can stay in the fight longer and that the enemy will have to expend more effort against.  We should assume that everything will get damaged and destroyed and be prepared to rebuild and replace them.  We need large stocks of dispersed parts and repair equipment.


Fuel Dispersal and Protection – Fuel is the most important feature of a base.  Without it, no ship sails and no aircraft flies.  We need to disperse the fuel storage and protect the fuel storage by placing it underground in reinforced spaces.


ECM – Historical data proves that electronic countermeasures (ECM) are the most effective anti-missile defense there is.  To be fair, there is very little active missile defense data and almost none from any US system so this conclusion could change.  Regardless, ECM is highly effective, easily upgraded or adapted to changing conditions and easily replace if damaged or destroyed.  We need robust ECM defenses with hugely redundant and widely dispersed sensors and transmitters so that ECM can continue even in the face of anti-radiation missile attacks.


Fighter Defense – Long range, high endurance, layered (there’s that layering, again) fighter aircraft defense is vital to allow engagement of enemy strike assets far enough out to prevent weapon launches.  We need to recognize that attrition, both from combat and from maintenance stresses due to combat, will severely reduce aircraft availability rates so we need several times more aircraft than we think are needed.


Simplification – Any forward base is going to be constantly under attack, chronically short of spare parts and replacement assets, woefully lacking in maintenance, undermanned due to combat casualties, and reduced to a much cruder level of operation than we are currently used to.  With that reality in mind, weapon systems such as the F-35 are simply too complex to maintain, operate, and repair.  Similarly, sensors such as Aegis are too complex to maintain and repair in combat.  We need to simplify all of our combat systems to the extent reasonably possible.  It’s a balancing act to simplify without giving up too much capability. 

Instead of F-22/35 aircraft that can’t be kept operational in combat, we need advanced F-16-ish aircraft that are simpler, cheaper to replace, and easier to repair and maintain.  We need electro-optical sensors and basic, mechanical, rotating radars that are easy to maintain, replace, and repair.  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have Aegis radars, for example, but when the initial Aegis radar fails we need reliable systems to fall back on.  Similarly, we can start a war with F-22/35s but when they inevitably are all grounded we need lots of far more robust aircraft to fall back on.

In fact, we need a purpose designed, basic (F-16-ish) interceptor specifically for forward base defense.


Afloat Radar – Ship-mounted radar is far more survivable than fixed, land-based radar.  We need multiple, dedicated radar vessels whose only function is radar sensing.  These can be simple commercial ships with a radar system installed.  They don’t have to be – and should not be – multi-billion dollar warships.  They just need to be mobile, afloat radar barges.


Resupply – The final aspect of base hardening is resupply.  Logistics!  A base that can quickly and reliably replace its fuel, munitions, weapons, and sensors is a base that can continue fighting.  Arguably (actually, definitely!), this is the most important aspect of base hardening.

For forward bases in the Pacific theatre, resupply translates to convoys.  China knows this and convoys will be high priority targets.  Losses will be alarmingly high.  Unwisely, the US has put no effort into developing the numbers of cargo and escort ships needed, the type of dedicated escort vessels needed, or the tactics for operating and defending convoys.  Our initial attempts at resupply convoys will likely be disastrous.

As a historical note, the Japanese were unable to successfully and reliably resupply their forward base at Guadalcanal and had to eventually withdraw.  The US was also hard pressed to resupply but were just successful enough to eventually win out though at an enormous cost.  We would do well to study this example in great detail as we formulate our plans to operate Guam or any other forward base.


Conclusion - Base hardening goes well beyond physical hardening.  All of the above measures serve to harden the base against damage and make the base easier to repair and more resilient to the inevitable damage it will sustain.

The reality of forward bases is that, by definition, we’ll be attempting to operate in the enemy’s “home” territory and at the very long end of our own supply chain.  Currently, the US has almost no realistic base defense capability and certainly no comprehensive base defense system (layers!) and plan.  The US seems to believe that we can operate forward bases with some sort of magical immunity to enemy attack.  This belief is utter nonsense.  We need to begin planning for a robust defense, acquiring specialized equipment, developing defensive strategies, and practicing for wholesale damage recovery.

If we address the items listed and discussed above we can mount a credible defense of a forward base.  If we continue to keep our heads buried in the sand and deny the reality of forward base challenges we’ll find ourselves unable to sustain any forward bases.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Praise the Gods of Acquisition!

In a totally unexpected development, Lockheed has announced that it is dropping out of the competition to build the Navy’s frigate.(1)  That leaves Huntington Ingalls Industries, Austal, Fincantieri, and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works.

The decision to drop out of the competition is quite surprising because ComNavOps had believed that the competition was heavily slanted to favor the Lockheed Freedom class LCS ‘frigate’ and that the LCS ‘frigate’ was a lock to be selected. 

One can only speculate on the reason for the decision but a hint comes from the USNI News article.

…the company told the service it felt the Freedom design would be stretched too far to accommodate all the capabilities required, one source told USNI News. (1)

This suggests and sort of confirms what we have been saying all along, that the Freedom LCS variant has severe, inherent limitations as a ship that can’t be fixed even by stretching the design in length.  Issues such as non-existent weight growth margins, weak structural construction, excessive vibration due to the weak structural design, self-noise issues, compartmentation issues, badly designed internal layouts, aluminum structure cracking, meta-centric height deficiencies (stability problems), etc. are ‘baked in’ to the design and can’t be corrected by lengthening the ship or adding a few extra weapons.

With all the LCS problems in mind, this is tremendous news and can only be considered a good thing as it removes a very poor option from the frigate candidate pool.  That leaves one exceptionally poor competitor, the Austal ‘frigate’ which, like the Lockheed, is just a version of the Independence variant LCS.  Like the Lockheed Freedom variant ‘frigate’, the Austal Independence LCS ‘frigate’ has built in flaws and weaknesses that simply adding a few more weapons can’t overcome.  We need to get the Austal entry removed, now.  The remaining three options are, at least, acceptable frigates although ComNavOps still sees no need for a frigate, at all.

This is some of the best news ComNavOps has seen in recent times.  Praise the Gods of Acquisition!



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(1)USNI News website, “Lockheed Martin Won’t Submit Freedom LCS Design for FFG(X) Contest”, Sam LaGrone, 29-May-2019,
https://news.usni.org/2019/05/28/lockheed-martin-wont-submit-freedom-lcs-design-for-ffgx-contest

New CNO Approved

Adm. Bill Moran has been confirmed by the Senate as the next Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).  Here’s a bit of background.

He assumed duties as the Navy’s 57th chief of naval personnel, Aug. 2, 2013. Serving concurrently as the deputy chief of naval operations (Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education) (N1), he is responsible for the planning and programming of all manpower, personnel, training and education resources for the U.S. Navy. …  His responsibilities include overseeing Navy Recruiting Command, Navy Personnel Command, and Naval Education and Training Command. (2)

Here’s some bio information per the official Navy website.

As a flag officer, he has served as commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group; director, Air Warfare (N98) on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations; and most recently as the 57th chief of naval personnel.

His operational tours spanned both coasts, commanding Patrol Squadron (VP) 46 and Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2. He served as an instructor pilot in two tours with VP-30 and as a staff member for Commander, Carrier Group 6 aboard USS Forrestal (CVA 59).

Ashore, he served as executive assistant to the chief of naval operations; executive assistant to Commander, U.S. Pacific Command; deputy director, Navy staff; and assistant Washington placement officer and assistant flag officer detailer in the Bureau of Naval Personnel.

Moran assumed duties as the Navy’s 39th vice chief of naval operations, May 31, 2016. (1)


Patrol squadron, staff, personnel, executive assistant, recruiting, education, placement officer, detailer …  What about this resume screams warrior?  Where’s the strategic and tactical expertise?  Where’s the hands on command of ships, carriers, and combat aircraft? 

He sounds like a staff guy with a heavy emphasis in personnel organizations.

Now, I don’t, for a moment believe that the only way a coach can be good is if he was a former player – but it’s gotta help! – and I don’t believe that a good CNO must have been a fighter pilot or ship commander – but it’s gotta help!  The thing is, out of the entire Navy, is this the best we could come up with?  What about him jumps out to make someone say this is the guy to be CNO of a warfighting organization?  This is the guy to lead a combat organization?  I’m not seeing it.

We couldn’t find a warrior?




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Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Useful Amphibious Exercise

The Marines/Navy conduct virtually worthless amphibious exercises.  Neat rows of AAVs swim to shore from a ship perched just offshore (what happened to the 25-50 mile standoff that doctrine calls for?).  With parade like precision they leave the water and proceed, unimpeded (other than by cameramen for photo ops), to an assembly point for more photos and then, perhaps, simulate a humanitarian mission or, possibly, a raid on a small village to rescue hostages.  Does that sound like a realistic exercise?  It sounds about as worthless as it gets.


Does This Look Like A Realistic, Useful Exercise?


Here’s what a useful amphibious exercise should be …

The exercise should start only if significant, adverse weather is present.  That’s probably how it will be in a real war so let’s start dealing with waves, rain, and wind.

An actual and significant opposing force (OpFor) should contest every second of the exercise including the approach into the area.  Let’s involve the Air Force and give them free reign to try to stop the amphibious force using any tactics they can think of.  Interservice rivalry and pride should provide all the realism and creativity we need.  Let’s include manned aircraft simulating cruise missiles (since we don’t have enough drones to do anything worthwhile).  Let’s give them free reign to begin attacking as far out to sea as they can detect the amphibious force (there’s your 25-50 mile stand off !).  Let’s have them conduct attacks on any forces that land and see how we perform anti-air defense (hint: we don’t have anti-air capability!).

Let’s include an opposing submarine force and see if they can penetrate and sink the amphibious ships.

Then, let’s set up a division size OpFor (yeah, good practice for the defenders, too, in commanding and controlling a large unit – something we don’t practice at all, anymore) to defend the beach and, again, give them free reign to devise their own tactics.  Let’s give them engineering units to construct obstacles, trenches to be crossed, and fortifications (good practice for combat applications of engineering instead of building schools in third world countries) and see how the amphibious force deals with them (I bet they won’t have a clue).

Let’s emplace extensive simulated minefields and make the assaulting force deal with them (what a cluster* that will be!).

Let’s give the defending force a full complement of electronic warfare capabilities.  Let them jam, decoy, disable GPS, cyber attack, and any other tactic they can think of and make the assaulting force operate in a degraded electronic environment.  Let’s see what (and who!) can work under those conditions and what can’t.

Let’s have referees permanently remove ‘dead’ ships, aircraft, and personnel from the exercise – no ‘reanimations’.  We can, and should, repeat the exercise, in its entirety, as often as necessary to ensure that all units can participate start to finish.  Those that keep getting killed and can’t participate are either trying to execute flawed tactics or they have incompetent commanders.  Either way, it’s something we should identify as opposed to our current practice of reanimating dead units over and over again with no penalty.  If they’re consistently dying, that’s telling us something!

With the above defensive efforts, we should have a lot of induced confusion (What do you mean, my MLP sea base is sunk?!  I’ve only got one!  What am I supposed to do now??) but let’s not stop there.  Let’s add additional layers of confusion and chaos.

Let’s apply lots of smoke.  There will be lots of smoke from explosions and burning equipment in a real war so let’s get used to our vision and our sensors being degraded.

Let’s use lots of flash-bang explosives.  A real war is going to be incredibly noisy so let’s start learning how to communicate when you have to scream into the radio.

Let’s have referees arbitrarily misdirect landing vehicles to the wrong areas – you know, just like will happen in a real assault – and see how units recover and reorient.

Let’s have ‘dead’ vehicles and equipment get left where they are, constituting additional obstacles for subsequent units.

Let’s have referees arbitrarily insert incorrect orders into communications - you know, just like will happen in a real assault – and see whether the receiving units can figure out for themselves what to do.

Let’s remove half of all the supplies delivered to the beach to simulate actual combat usage which is always 2x-5x the predicted rate and see how we deal with ammo and supply shortages.

All right, that’s enough to get us started.  Seriously, what do you think would happen if we did this?  I know exactly what would happen.  We’d immediately find out that most of our doctrine is unexecutable.  Most of our tactics will be seen as flawed.  None of our plans will work.  We’ll have great difficulty loading, launching, and coordinating AAVs due to the weather.  Most of our equipment will be found susceptible to electronic warfare effects.  Our communications will be compromised.  All of our commanders will be confused and begin issuing contradictory orders.  We’ll find that we lack all kinds of useful equipment.  None of our equipment will work as advertised – some will be useless and some will be less effective but still somewhat useful.  


This Is What We Should Be Simulating


In short, the exercise would be a total debacle … exactly what we want!  That’s how you find out what really works and what doesn’t.  That’s how you learn.

Let’s do it, let’s fail, and let’s get better.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

V-280 Low Speed Agility Demonstration

I just watched a YouTube video of the Bell V-280 tiltrotor conducting some kind of low speed agility demonstration.  The V-280 is being developed as a possibility for the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program and is sized to carry 14 infantry troops.  This is of interest because the Marines may latch on to this, as well.  Like the V-22 Osprey, the V-280 is capable of both level and vertical flight.

Take a look at the video of the agility test.






The aircraft can rock back and forth and roll side to side.  That’s nice, I guess.  However, what I want to see is combat related flight and maneuvers.  Like the old Vietnam era Hueys that came plummeting out of the sky, flaring just before crashing into the ground, disgorged their troops in seconds, and popped off the ground to vanish again, all in about 30 seconds or less, I want to see a V-22 or V-280 perform a similar combat-useful maneuver.  Then, and only then, will I be impressed.  Until then, the V-22 or V-280 is just a technological curiosity, not a combat asset.

That’s the problem with the V-22.  It’s a technological wonder – so say its supporters – that has little combat capability.  I’ve seen videos of V-22s conducting ‘combat’ landings and they are a total farce.  They hover, high and exposed, very slowly settle down, and seem to take forever to unload troops.  For those of us who witnessed Vietnam helicopter assaults, this is a recipe for disaster.

Here's a video of a Vietnam helo assault.







Note how the first helo never even completely touches down.  Note how the helo is popping back into the air before the last troop hits the ground.  Note how the troops unload in seconds.  Note the flare and touch maneuver.  By comparison, watching a V-22 landing exercise is like watching in slow motion with a lot of still shots thrown in!

Hey, I get it … Bell is trying to sell aircraft, not develop a combat aircraft.  They’re hoping the technology, itself, will sufficiently impress the military to result in sales – and they may be right given that we’ve substituted technology for strategy.  I’m sorry but slowly rocking back and forth might be a technological achievement – I have no idea – but it’s not, by itself, a combat useful capability. Hovering in one spot and rocking is not going to accomplish anything in combat.  It won’t dodge a rocket, missile, or gunfire.  It won’t put troops on the ground more efficiently.  It won’t do anything useful.  We've become enamored with the technology and forgotten the combat.  

Bell, do you want to sell me on the V-280?  Then show me combat maneuvers.  Translate that little rocking demonstration into an actual, useful combat maneuver.  Show me a vertical assault maneuver that will work in combat.

We buy too much stuff on the lure and glitz of technology without considering the combat usefulness (Ford CVN, I’m looking at you).  We perform too many tests that are completely divorced from any combat reality.

Show me combat!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Great White Elephant

President Theodore Roosevelt sent a Navy fleet on an around-the-world tour during 1908 as a public relations tour and a sort of coming-out announcement and celebration for the nation and the Navy on to the world stage.  The fleet, and the event, was dubbed the Great White Fleet.

Now, something similar is happening on a smaller scale.  The USS Zumwalt is on its first operational voyage which appears to be a public relations tour and an attempt to introduce the Zumwalt to the world.

Here’s the Zumwalt’s mini-tour, thus far.

8-Mar-2019        Departed San Diego
11-Mar-2019      Esquimalt, British Columbia, Canada
23-Mar-2019      Ketchikan, Alaska
4-Apr-2019        Pearl Harbor

Zumwalt is, presumably, conducting live fire exercises at the naval range in Hawaii.

As a reminder, the total Zumwalt program cost is $8.4B per ship and continuing to climb as the remaining two ships work to complete construction and fitting out of combat systems.  The ship’s reason for being, the Advanced Gun System (AGS), has been rendered non-functional due to the Navy cancelling the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP), the only munition the gun is capable of firing.  Absent the AGS, the only other significant weapon system on the ship is the 80x Mk57 VLS which can launch ESSM, Tomahawk, Standards, and the like.

The problem is that the 16,000 t, $8.4B ship, without the AGS, brings very little to the fleet in terms of combat capability.  Despite these problems, the Navy seems determined to operate the ship as if it were a useful asset.  The reality, though, is that the ship has no Concept of Operations (CONOPS), offers little combat capability, and contributes little to the fleet.  That being the case, one has to wonder why the Navy wants to operate the ship.  Why not park the ships and leave them idle pending the onset of a major war?  The Navy is constantly whining about the cost of operating ships and yet they’re pouring budget money into these marginally useful vessels that appear to be an evolutionary dead end.  Park the ships and save operating budget as well as wear and tear on the ships.

From Wiki, a white elephant is a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness. In modern usage, it is an object, building project, scheme, business venture, facility, etc., considered expensive but without use or value.

Zumwalt’s publicity tour isn’t the Great White Fleet, it’s the Great White Elephant.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Threat Surrogate Status

We’ve often discussed the Navy’s myopic focus on new, shiny, sexy ships like carriers at the expense of logistic vessels, drydocks, depot maintenance, shipyard improvements, testing facilities and equipment, etc. – you know, all the things that actually make a navy function and contribute to readiness. 

One of the specific problem areas is threat surrogates.  While we’d like to test Aegis against a Chinese or Russian missile, we usually don’t have any available to us.  Thus, we have to use threat surrogates – another, similar, asset that can mimic the real threat to a sufficient degree as to allow meaningful and useful testing. 

This seems simple enough.  If we don’t have a particular Chinese missile, we should be able to modify and mock up some existing missiles to simulate the Chinese missile’s flight profile, on-board ECM, speed, terminal maneuvers, seeker/sensor radiations, etc.  While the one-off, hand modified nature of such a threat surrogate will result in a high cost compared to the cost of the base production missile, the cost is virtually free compared to the Navy’s overall budget or the cost of the acquisition program it is intended to be used in.

For example, if we want to develop and deploy a new submarine sonar, a program that would cost billions to research, develop, and install, the cost of a diesel sub surrogate – a modified torpedo, in essence – would likely be a few million dollars which is round off error in the math of the billion(s) dollar sonar program.  We’d have to be idiots to try to scrimp and forego acquiring the needed threat surrogates to thoroughly test our systems just to save some fraction of a fraction of a percent of the cost of the parent program, right?

Well, sadly and unbelievably, that’s exactly what the Navy is doing.  They’re routinely refusing to acquire the threat surrogates needed to test our shiny new systems.  Here’s some quotes on the subject from the 2017 DOT&E Annual Report.  I’ve included the page numbers with the quotes so you can read them yourself because I’m pretty sure you’re not going to believe the degree of stupidity these shortcomings demonstrate.

What’s one of the major threats to the Navy?  Why it’s shallow water non-nuclear submarines (SSK), of course!  Obviously we must have threat surrogates for those, right?  Wrong.

No assessment can be made against operationally relevant midget and coastal diesel submarine threats because the Navy does not have any test surrogates that accurately represent these platforms. (p. 152)


Continuing with submarines and sonar, the undersea warfare combat software needs torpedo threat surrogates to test against.  We’ve got hundreds (thousands?) of torpedoes.  How hard could it be to tweak some into enemy torpedo threat surrogates for something as important as testing the main undersea combat control software?  I’m sure we must have torpedo threat surrogates, right?  Wrong.

A representative threat torpedo surrogate is needed to adequately assess future AN/SQQ-89A(V)15 variants.  (p. 152)


Along the same lines, the LCS ASW module has various pieces of equipment intended to detect and defeat submarines and torpedoes.  We must have torpedo threat surrogates for use in testing the LCS ASW module, right?  Wrong.

Current test surrogates have significant limitations representing threat torpedoes.  (p. 191)


Aegis is the foundation of our entire naval defense capability.  We don’t even need to ask whether the Navy has provided for an Aegis surrogate test bed ship, right?  Wrong.

To adequately assess the Probability of Raid Annihilation requirement for the self-defense mission for Flight III DDG 51 destroyers/ACB-20, the Navy must provide … an Aegis-equipped Self-Defense Test Ship (SDTS) where the ship’s full self-defense kill chain can be tested.  (p. 139)


Our close range air defense is the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM).  I’ll bet we must have an adequate anti-ship missile surrogate because I know we have drones, including a supersonic one, right?  Wrong.

The Navy has not completed the following previous recommendations:

Develop a Multi-Stage Supersonic Target adequate for use in a phase of RAM Block 2 FOT&E.  (p. 209)

Develop an improved steerable antenna system for its ASCM surrogates. (p. 209)


The America class LHA uses the standard Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS) installed on all amphibious ships.  The SSDS is the standard for all amphibious ships and has been around for quite some time so we must have fully developed threat surrogates, right?  Wrong.

… the Navy has not resolved the following previous recommendations related to LHA 6 ship self-defense:

Develop an open-loop seeker subsonic ASCM surrogate target for ship self-defense combat system operational tests.  (p. 212)

Develop an adequate Multi-Stage Supersonic Target (MSST) and electronic warfare target surrogates for operational testing.  (p. 213)


You’ll recall that the Navy fielded a torpedo defense system on carriers in response to an Urgent Operational Need (UON) requirement.  If any system would have adequate threat surrogates it would have to be a carrier protection system developed for a UON, right?  Wrong.

The Navy has not accredited the surrogate torpedo targets used for testing as representative of any real-world threat torpedo.  (p. 225)


I can go on listing the threat surrogate deficiencies but you get the idea.  For reasons that totally elude me, the Navy steadfastly, adamantly, stubbornly, and stupidly refuses to fund and acquire the requisite threat surrogates to allow adequate testing.  There’s simply no excuse.  Compared to the cost of the parent acquisition programs, the surrogates are free.  This is just inexplicable stupidity on a scale that defies belief (geez, I seem to say that in a lot of posts, don’t I?).

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Up Close And Personal

We’ve discussed and noted many times that the Navy/Marine doctrine of conducting amphibious assaults from 25-50 miles off the beach is not feasible and is completely at odds with the need for naval fire support given that the Navy’s only gun is the 5” which has an effective range of 9-15 miles, depending on version.

We need to recognize that  the 5” gun’s limited range means that a fire support ship would have to be within a mile of shore to have any useful range beyond the immediate beach area.  That’s close!  That puts the ship within range of enemy artillery, rockets, and mortars as well as anti-ship missiles.

So, how will the Navy provide fire support?  The short and bitter answer is they can’t.  Even if the Navy wanted to bring its 5” guns (meaning Burkes) into range, they’d be risking high-tech, multi-billion dollar, capital, AAW ships to conduct low tech fire support – not a reasonable risk.  We’ve discussed the need for dedicated fire support ships of both larger caliber (8” – 16”) and small (5”).  Assuming the Navy won’t build such a ship, is there anything they can do to modify a Burke to allow it to operate near shore and give it a better chance of survival and success?

As it happens, there are a couple of simple modifications that would enhance the Burke’s chances.

C-RAM – The Army has adapted the naval Phalanx CIWS to the C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar) function, apparently successfully.  The addition of three or four C-RAM units to a Burke would enhance its near shore survivability.  Given that the CIWS is a self-contained unit, requiring only ship’s utility hookups, installation of multiple units should be reasonably easy.  This would provide the ship with a degree of protection from artillery, rockets, and mortars.

Counterbattery – Aegis is, theoretically, capable of counterbattery sensing and computing with appropriate software modifications.  This would provide the Burkes with the ability to conduct counterbattery fire against both artillery, rockets, mortars, and anti-ship missiles.

The major near-shore threats to a ship are artillery and small anti-ship missiles and the modifications noted above would go a long way towards providing enhanced protection from both artillery and anti-ship missiles.  Thus, it would be possible to operate Burkes near shore with an enhanced chance of surviving.


Burke DDG - $2B and 1 Gun, Not Exactly Fire Support


Now, this doesn’t mean that this is a good idea.  Risking multi-billion dollar ships that constitute our main AAW defense is still a bad idea but, since the Navy adamantly refuses to build a dedicated, simple, cheap fire support ship, this at least offers a viable, if still unwise, option.

Failing this approach, any Marine assault will be operating without any fire support whatsoever which is one of many reasons why I say that our amphibious assault doctrine is non-executable and pure fantasy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

This Is Why You Don't Train With Allies

You’re undoubtedly aware that the US is in the process of surging carriers, bombers, and other assets to the Middle East in response to intelligence that indicates Iran might be planning to attack US troops. 

Before we go any further, note that I have no access to the intel and cannot assess whether the US actions are appropriate or not.  Neither the government nor the Pentagon has provided any details about the nature of the threat but the fact is that we have taken those actions and our military and civilian leadership believe the actions are appropriate. 

Aside from the actual threat and US actions, the most noteworthy aspect has been the fact that an ally has abandoned us.  It was reported today that a Spanish frigate deployed with the USS Lincoln has pulled out of the group and headed back to Spain over a disagreement about US actions.

Fox News reported that the Spanish Defense Minister indicated the departure was due to “a disagreement over the White House’s Iran policy”. (1)

The U.S. government has taken a decision outside of the framework of what had been agreed with the Spanish Navy. (1)

Let’s review our position on cooperation and training with Spain, back in January 2019.

… Navy leaders stressed U.S. allies role in the service’s emerging Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) plan for high-end warfare.

“We will never fight alone,” Adm. Christopher Grady, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said 2019 Surface Navy Association Symposium.  “The strength of DMO is our ability to bring our allies and partners along.”

Currently, Menedez Nunez is in Norfolk training with the Abraham Lincoln CSG. The training exercises are expected to start next week and run into February.

“We bring our partners with us,” Grady said. “We’d be stupid not to because we learn a lot from them and we hope they learn something from us.”

“We will never fight alone.”  Adm. Grady could not have been more wrong, could he?  When this crisis, whatever it is, arose, it turns out that we do fight alone, as history has demonstrated repeatedly.  Adm. Grady has bought in to the Navy line and is ignoring the evidence of history.  He’s either a mindless drone, repeating the company line, or an idiot. 

So, the US enthusiastically trained with the Spanish frigate and deployed the Lincoln carrier strike group with the frigate.  Despite that, what happened when it came time to act?  Spain opted not to support the US. 

So, why did we waste time, money, effort, and resources training with Spain? 

I’ve stated repeatedly that training with other militaries is a waste and this is a perfect example of why.  Our “allies” have their own agendas that frequently do not coincide with that of the US.  History has proven, repeatedly, that with the exception of the UK (and even they occasionally part ways with us), we cannot count on our supposed allies when crises arise.  I’m not going to bother citing a litany of the times “allies” have abandoned us or even acted against us (I’m looking at you, France).  You know the examples as well as I do and you can readily find and research them on the Internet, if you wish.

Spanish Frigate F-104 Mendez Nunez 
Bye - Thanks for Nothing

Now, here’s the point you need to clearly understand:  I do NOT blame our allies for having their own agendas and acting in their own interests.  Indeed, they could not and should not behave otherwise.  We act in our own interests so why would think other countries wouldn’t act in their own interests?  The stupidity, our stupidity, lies in not recognizing and admitting that simple truth.  We need to accept that reality and act accordingly.  One of those actions should be to recognize the futility of training with allies who are unlikely to not support us when the time comes.

Our time spent training with the Spanish frigate was a waste.  Worse, depending on the degree of integration, if the frigate was an actual integral part of the carrier strike group, as opposed to a public relations ‘tag along’, then we put ourselves into a position of degrading our carrier group’s combat capability by counting on an unreliable Spanish frigate and then losing it when the need came.  If that was the case, that’s worse than merely wasting time and resources, that’s crippling.  Of course, it’s completely our fault.  Knowingly planning for a scenario in which we are likely to be crippled is beyond stupid on our part.

Training with allies is a waste and needs to stop.




Warning to commenters:  I’m going to delete any comment that provides an example of an ally supporting us.  I have not stated that allies will never support us.  I’ve stated that we can’t count on their support.  A fifty/fifty record of support, or whatever the record is, is not a basis for planning for combat.  If you can’t absolutely count on an ally then you shouldn’t waste time training with them on the off chance that they might see fit to support you – or not.


________________________________

(1)Fox News cable broadcast, Margarita Robles (acting Defense Minister),14-May-2019, ~1100 hr

Monday, May 13, 2019

Rail Guns In Combat

One of the topic suggestions from the recent open post was for a discussion of the future of rail guns and lasers so, here it is.  As a follow up to the post on lasers, we’ll look at rail guns In this post.

There are many articles and papers about the technology of rail guns and you can read those on your own.  There are also numerous articles about rail gun improvements and the latest thickness of steel that some new rail gun penetrated.  You can also read all the Navy’s glowing, raving PR announcements about rail guns.  What you can’t readily find is any analysis of the real world combat applicability of rail guns and that’s what we’ll focus on. 

Practical rail guns already exist – practical in the sense that the rail gun and its associated power supply can be fitted on a ship and will fire a projectile that can produce a destructive effect.  However, rail guns have considerations and limitations that, at the moment, preclude any real world usefulness.  We’ll take a look at those conditions and limitations and see what they are and how they impact the future of rail guns as shipboard weapons.


Fire Control

Many people have an image of a rail gun as an almost laser-like weapon that instantaneously hits its target with unerring accuracy.  The reality is that a rail gun, like any conventional gun, is only as accurate as its fire control system.  The high velocity of a rail gun projectile imparts no magical accuracy.  What it does is reduce the target’s time to evade but the inherent accuracy is no better or worse than any other gun.  For a kinetic (hit to kill) projectile, accuracy is an all or nothing proposition.  A miss by one millimeter may as well be a miss by a mile.  For the case of a proximity fuzed projectile, close counts and this is where the higher velocity and reduced evasion time may improve the odds of a successful hit but, still, the inherent accuracy is unchanged over conventional guns.

If you haven’t yet, take a look at any of the numerous live fire gunnery exercise videos available on YouTube.  What stands out about all those videos is the extraordinarily high percentage of misses.  A very broad visual estimate ‘average’, based on splashes versus flashes (impacts), suggests an accuracy of 10%.  Note, that these gunnery exercises are, invariably, conducted under ideal conditions where the target is generally stationary or moving fairly slowly in a steady, predictable path and the firing ship is also stationary or moving in a slow, steady line.  Weather conditions are always perfect and seas are almost always calm.  This is about as far away as one can get from real world combat conditions where both the target and firing platform will be twisting, turning, rolling, pitching, disappearing in waves, vibrating due to speed, etc.  Even so, under these near perfect conditions, the accuracy is around 10%.  What does that suggest for real world accuracy?  For example, the Vincennes airliner shootdown incident involved around 100 5” rounds fired at Boghammers with no verified hits.

What does this mean?  Again, for kinetic projectiles, a direct hit is the only beneficial outcome.  A near miss is a miss.  Fire control will be key to the success of a rail gun.  This suggests that proximity fuzed, explosive projectiles may be desirable, however, such projectiles also negate one of the major claimed benefits of rail guns which is the cheapness of inert projectiles.  Once we begin incorporating sensors, circuitry, explosives, fuzing, shrapnel or scoring to produce shrapnel, etc. the costs quickly escalate. 

Explosive projectiles also negate another claimed major benefit which is the inertness of the projectiles and resultant safety of the non-explosive magazine storage.  This suggests that while proximity projectiles might be useful, the advantages of rail guns are maximized only with inert, kinetic projectiles – almost a contradiction in terms.

The solution to rail gun fire control shortcomings is the same as for conventional guns: guided projectiles.  Of course, adding guidance control sensors, circuitry, and mechanical fins negates the major claimed benefit of rail guns which is the cheapness of inert projectiles.


Lethality

Let’s now turn our attention to lethality.  For a conventional explosive shell, lethality is high.  Why?  This isn’t a trick question.  It’s because the shell explodes!  The explosion produces an area of damage many times larger than the shell, itself.

An explosion taking place in or near the target is very likely to damage or destroy something critical to the target and produce the effect of destroying it.  For a rail gun, however, it is quite possible that the projectile may cause little or no damage despite its great kinetic energy. 

For example, a rail gun projectile hitting a thin skinned aircraft would likely pass straight through without converting its kinetic energy (relax – I’m taking liberties with the strict definitions provided by physics) to heat.  This is the bullet through a piece of paper scenario.  If the target has insufficient resistance, the projectile will not ‘shed’ its kinetic energy into the target.  Of course, in the case of the aircraft, the projectile might well hit something critical to the operation of the aircraft during its momentary passage through the aircraft.  On the other hand, there are many non-lethal ‘paths’ through an aircraft.

A rail gun projectile used against a small boat would be mostly useless.  The projectile would pass straight through the boat, causing only a small hole unless it happened to hit the engine or a control cable.  It’s easy to see that a rail gun would be largely ineffective against a small boat swarm.

Another case is a rail gun kinetic projectile used in land attack.  If the projectile hits a target with sufficient resistance it will do significant damage.  A building, bunker, or thick skinned, heavily armored vehicle like a tank would likely suffer great damage.  However, if the projectile hits the ground just inches away from the target, the projectile will penetrate deeply and continue moving until it runs out of kinetic energy.  The result will be a puff of dirt and … nothing else.  Thus, a kinetic energy projectile is useless for area bombardment unless it just happens to hit something substantial.  Unlike an explosive projectile which can do damage with a near miss, a kinetic projectile has zero near miss damage potential.

The case of a kinetic projectile used against a ship is another case of a thin skinned target.  The projectile would likely pass straight through without ‘shedding’ much energy.  The ship would be left with a few inch diameter hole clean through and not much damage.  There is relatively little in a ship that would result in significant damage from a narrow hole being drilled through it.  Of course, one could always get lucky.

It’s obvious that a kinetic projectile has the potential to inflict great damage but only against targets with sufficient resistance.  Have you ever wondered why every rail gun test video used giant plates or blocks of thick steel as the target?  It’s because if they used, say, 3/8” sheet metal that is typical of a ship’s hull, the projectile would likely pass straight through with no visible effect – it wouldn’t make for a very impressive video!  This observation also makes it obvious that an explosive rail gun projectile (again, negating the benefit of an inert magazine!) is needed if we wish to effectively cover the full range of targets. 


Size, Rate of Fire, and AAW

Rail guns are fairly large machines – on the order of a 5”-8” naval gun.  This is not a major problem, merely a characteristic as ships are sized to be able to accommodate weapons of that size.  However, hand in hand with size goes rate of fire.  The larger the projectiles, the more energy that is needed to fire them.  The energy causes heat buildup on the ‘barrel’ of a rail gun and limits the rate of fire (along with cyclic power requirements and limitations). 

One future developmental avenue for rail guns is to significantly decrease the size and increase the rate of fire.  One can imagine this being used to create smaller anti-aircraft rail guns with very long ranges and very high rates of fire – think CIWS on steroids.  The high velocities would minimize the target’s time of evasion and enhance the chances for a hit although, like conventional guns, explosive shells with proximity fuzing would be required to be effective.


Range

While rail gun proponents make enthusiastic claims about the range of rail guns, the range must be recognized to be relative.  Yes, the range is significant compared to conventional guns but it is insignificant compared to the other readily available methods of delivering ordnance against typical inland strike targets.  Aircraft and missiles, for example, are numerous, readily available, and far outrange rail guns.


Applicability Summary

So, where does this analysis leave us?  It appears that, in order to produce destructive effects, rail guns will require targets with sufficient resistance to cause the projectile to ‘dump’ its energy into the target.  This suggests that the applicable target set will be thick concrete structures like buildings and bunkers, heavy vehicles like tanks, fortifications, and very large ships like carriers or large cargo vessels.  The challenge, even for this target set, is fire control.  A near miss with a kinetic projectile produces zero effect.  The obvious solution, a combination of guidance and proximity fuzing, would completely negate the major claimed benefit of rail guns which is the cheapness of the projectiles and would totally negate the claimed safety benefit of non-explosive magazines.  The overall conclusion seems obvious – rail guns have a very limited and specific target set.  They cannot be a general purpose weapon.


Naval Rail Gun Concept Image

Historically, the main target set for a naval gun is land area bombardment.  Even in WWII, ship against ship engagements were the rare exception, not the rule.  Shore bombardment was far more common.  Kinetic rail guns are next to useless for this application.  This, alone, has to lead one to wonder why we would install rail guns on ships.

The anticipated target set suggests that the most useful application for rail guns will be as land attack weapons against known, fixed targets.  Unfortunately, this is a fairly limited target set.  In a peer war, most battlefield targets will be hidden, think skinned, or mobile.  To mount a sizable weapon, like a rail gun, on a ship means using valuable hull and deck space for a weapon with limited usefulness.  That’s going to be a tough sell to naval ship designers.  I can see two likely ship mounting scenarios for rail guns:  very large ships (cruiser size and larger) that can afford the space for a limited use weapon and/or a much smaller, dedicated rail gun vessel akin to the old monitors.

We could build a rail gun armed ship that could deliver shells, whether kinetic or explosive, some 50, 100, or 200 miles (depending on what claim you want to believe about rail guns) inland from the sea – actually, given some reasonable stand off distance from shore, you’d have to subtract 5-50 miles from those range numbers – but we already have artillery of various sorts that can achieve those ranges and reach out to 300 miles (ATACMS, for example).  A rail gun, then, would be a duplication and an expensive one at that if we have to build an entire ship to mount it!

In short, rail guns are a technically viable weapon, albeit one with a very limited target set and, in its most useful configuration (explosive carrying and proximity fuzed), negates the major claimed benefits of cheapness of projectiles and inertness of storage.





Disclaimer:  This is, by its nature, a highly technical topic in its underlying foundation and I am not a rail gun expert, by any means.  Some of my assumptions about the technology may not be completely correct and I welcome any discussion that can correct and enhance our grasp of the topic.  What I will not welcome is ‘gotcha’ type comments, even if correct.  This is an attempt at a discussion, not a contest to see who can score the most points.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Lasers In Combat

One of the topic suggestions from the recent open post was for a discussion of the future of rail guns and lasers so, here it is.  We’ll look at lasers in this post and then rail guns in a second post.

There are many articles and papers about the technology of lasers and you can read those on your own.  There are also numerous articles about laser power improvements and the latest thickness of steel that some new laser burned through.  You can also read all the Navy’s glowing, raving PR announcements about lasers.  What you can’t readily find is any analysis of the real world combat applicability of lasers.  It’s pointless to develop a laser with a city block of dedicated power generating equipment that can burn through two feet of steel in only ten minutes because none of that is applicable in a real world combat situation.  We’ll focus on the real world considerations.

Practical lasers already exist – practical in the sense that the laser and its associated power supply can be fitted on a ship and will produce a coherent beam that can, under the right conditions, produce a destructive effect.  However, the ‘right conditions’ generally preclude any real world usefulness.  We’ll take a look at those ‘right conditions’ and see what they are and how they impact the future of lasers as shipboard weapons.


Dwell Time

Barring development of the far, far future (in a galaxy far, far away) Star Wars type lasers that instantaneously disintegrate whatever they touch, lasers in our lifetime will be limited to prolonged contact types.  That means just what it says – that in order to produce a destructive effect the laser will have to maintain contact with the target for an extended period (dwell time) and, what’s more, that contact will have to be on the same pinpoint spot to allow the laser enough time to ‘burn through’.  Even ‘burning through’ the initial material of the target may only be the first step in destruction of the target.  For example, a laser hitting a missile will have to burn through the outer shell of the missile, which will have no effect whatsoever on the missile, to reach the inner works of the missile that can, in turn, be burned to, hopefully, produce the desired destructive effect on the missile.

Of course, for a smaller, more fragile target, like a small quadcopter or UAV, the outer contact may be sufficient on its own to destroy the target by, for example, shearing off a fin/wing or destroying a propeller hub.

The developmental goal in laser development will be to produce effects with less and less contact time (more powerful lasers), ultimately moving towards the Star Wars instantaneous disintegration.

Dwell time is a function of the system’s fire control.  Whatever fire control aiming system we’re using has to be fine enough to maintain laser dwell for the required burn through time.  Consider what that means, today.  A laser fire control would have to be able to maintain contact on the exact same spot of, say, a missile while it moves at Mach speed and jinks in terminal approach while the laser firing platform (our ship, presumably) also moves, maneuvers, rolls, and pitches.  That is some exquisitely fine fire control and nothing like that is even remotely possible today. 

Yes, we have stabilized fire control but that’s exceedingly crude by comparison.  Motors are used to move the firing weapon (guns, currently) in train and elevation to stay on target.  Consider what that means, however.  It means staying close enough on the target to achieve, at best, a 10% hit rate somewhere on or near the target.  Do you grasp how far that is from maintaining a pinpoint lock on a target when both the firing platform and the target are moving fast and maneuvering violently?  You’ve seen videos of Navy tests where a laser slowly destroyed a small boat motor or a UAV but have you seen a video of a speeding, maneuvering shipboard laser destroying a fast, violently maneuvering target?  Of course you haven’t because it can’t be done!

The real world consequence of extended dwell time is extended engagement time.  If we have a battery of shipboard lasers defending against an incoming volley of anti-ship missiles and each individual missile engagement requires a dwell time of, say, 30 seconds, to make up a number, you can readily see that, given the Mach speeds of the incoming missiles and the resulting minute or so engagement window (we’ve run through the arithmetic on this in previous posts or you can run through it yourself), we’ll only be able to engage a few missiles before the remainder reach us.  In comparison, bullets (CIWS) or defensive missiles (SeaRAM or ESSM) can be fired at numerous targets simultaneously (well, nearly so for the purposes of this discussion) and a hit will produce an instantaneous kill.

In order to be effective in real combat in the AAW role, a laser system has to produce a kill in about 10 seconds or less.  Any more than that and you simply can’t engage enough targets to mount an effective defense. 

One way to compensate for longer dwell time is to increase the number of defensive lasers.  We’ve noted that the number of close range SeaRAM and CIWS systems on modern ships is far too few for an effective defense and the same situation would apply to lasers.


Lethality

Let’s now turn our attention to lethality.  We’ve already noted that laser lethality requires dwell time.  Assuming we’ve achieved that, we now need lethality.  For a conventional explosive shell, lethality is high.  An explosion taking place in or near the target is very likely to damage or destroy something critical to the target and produce the effect of destroying it.  For a laser, however, it is quite possible that the focused beam, being relatively quite narrow and having no explosive effect, may damage or destroy something that is not critical to the target or not critical in a relevant time frame.  For example, a laser may burn through the exposed motor shell on a small swarm boat only to hit and damage an exhaust port underneath which is not critical to the engine’s continued performance, at least for the time needed for the boat to complete its attack.  Or, a laser may burn through the shell of a missile only to hit an empty fuel tank or an ECM component, neither of which would stop the missile.  Consider the case of a laser used against a ship and imagine a narrow beam passing through the ship on a straight line.  With no explosive effect, the odds of the beam hitting a component that would destroy or mission kill the ship is near zero.

One conclusion from this analysis is that lasers will work best when the target is most densely packed with critical components.  Thus, quadcopters, UAVs, and missiles would be more susceptible to laser effects while large aircraft and tanks would be less susceptible and ships would be nearly invulnerable.  This suggests the target classes we should be developing lasers for.


Power

Lasers require a great deal of power although I would imagine that the power can, and is, supplied in pulses (a capacitor like function).  Thus, it’s not necessary to provide continuous power but only pulses of power.  I’m way out of my field here so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.  This is interesting and has implications for power management and power system architecture but is only marginally relevant to this discussion.  What is relevant is the need for power, however it is supplied.  If the power is disrupted the laser is rendered inoperative.  Power represents a single point of failure for a ship’s entire battery of lasers.  Lose power and you lose all the lasers.  Of course, this applies to conventional guns as well.  Ideally, what you’d like to see is a local power system that can continue to operate if the main power is disrupted.  To an extent, conventional gun systems of WWII had this capability with local fire control and, for smaller guns, local manual train and elevation.  For lasers, the analogous local capability would be a battery or capacitor backup that could supply power for at least enough shots to continue the immediate engagement before ultimately failing.


Countermeasures

As with all weapons throughout history, the implementation of laser weapons will be immediately followed by the implementation of countermeasures.  If the countermeasures turn out to be cheaper than the weapon, then the weapon is on the wrong side of the cost curve and will be at least an economic failure, if not a practical failure.  Early anti-ship missiles were expensive and the early countermeasures, such as chaff and flares, were very cheap.  Eventually, the curve flipped and now we see that anti-ship missiles are far cheaper than the defensive Aegis/Standard weapon.  So goes the perpetual back and forth of weapons and countermeasures development.

Lasers of the foreseeable future are susceptible to countermeasures.  Noting the requirement for significant dwell time, simple countermeasures could include ablative coatings, reflective coatings, ‘rolling’ to prevent extended contact (rolling airframe missile?), multi-shelled sacrificial layers, jinking, sea skimming to reduce the engagement window (lasers are, of course, line of sight and the engagement range against a sea skimming target is around 15 miles or so), stealth to deny fire control solutions, and many other possibilities that I’m sure I haven’t thought of.  The takeaway from that list is that most of the possible countermeasures would be very cheap to implement relative to the cost of the laser – in fact, some already exist.

Thus, for the foreseeable future, lasers appear to be on the wrong side of the cost curve.


Applicability Summary

So, where does this analysis leave us?  It appears that, in order to produce destructive effects, lasers will require small, slow targets so as to maximize the chance of achieving sufficient dwell time.  This suggests that the applicable target set will be drones, UAVs, and small boats.  The challenge, even for this target set, is fire control.  Laser development would do well to go on hiatus and instead focus (a laser joke there - sorry) on fire control.  To put it simply, the key to effective lasers is dwell time and the key to dwell time is fire control.  This also suggests that the most effective lasers will be land based which eliminates one half of the movement issue.

With sufficient fire control, there is no reason why lasers can’t be quite effective for the small, slow target set.  Interestingly, the anticipated target set suggests that the most useful application for lasers will be on land as anti-drone weapons.  That being the case, the development trend should be towards smaller lasers that can be vehicle mounted.  For ships, I would see lasers being mounted on smaller ships like Cyclones, LCS, and, possibly, the new frigate for use as anti-small boat and anti-drone weapons.  I don’t see the benefit of lasers with the noted target set on larger ships since they shouldn’t encounter those types of targets.



Disclaimer:  This is, by its nature, a highly technical topic in its underlying foundation and I am not a laser expert, by any means.  Some of my assumptions about the technology may not be completely correct and I welcome any discussion that can correct and enhance our grasp of the topic.  What I will not welcome is ‘gotcha’ type comments, even if correct.  This is an attempt at a discussion, not a contest to see who can score the most points.