Thursday, July 11, 2019

Influence Sweeping and the LCS

The LCS mine countermeasures (MCM) module has experienced repeated failures, undergone conceptual resets, and seems terminally mired in developmental testing.  I won’t bother citing the litany of failures like realizing the helo couldn’t safely tow the MCM equipment, discovering the launch/recovery mechanism was designed by a kindergarten class, cancelling the Remote Minehunting System (RMS) after purchasing 10 of the planned 54 units (1), suffering a Nunn-McCurdy program breach, finding that the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle failed reliability standards, etc. (oops,  I guess I did cite a mini-litany!)

What little progress there’s been has been almost peripheral in nature.  Consider this proud announcement from the Navy proclaiming successful integration testing of the Knifefish Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) and Textron Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) around the beginning of the year.

During these integration events, both the Knifefish and UISS successfully verified the communications link between Independence and the unmanned systems as well as executed multiple launch and recovery evolutions from the ship. (2)

So, 15 years of effort managed to prove that the communications link worked (at least long enough to complete the test) and that the vehicles could be launched and recovered (at least once).  What’s missing from the testing?  - How about any semblance of actual performance testing like, can it actually find a mine?  I get that you have to start with small, incremental tests of the various subsystems before you can attempt an overall performance test but wouldn’t you think that after 15 years we’d beyond simple comm checks and the basic vehicle launch/recovery stage?  But we’re not!  I mean, just great – 15 years and we can launch the vehicle and talk to it.  Wow.  Impressive technological achievement!

As a point of interest, the LCS MCM IOC date has slipped multiple times and is now tentatively scheduled for 2022. (4)  By the time IOC is achieved, if it ever is, we’ll be looking at around 20 years of developmental effort !



Okay, I’m mocking the LCS MCM program and rightly so but I actually want to examine one specific aspect of it and that is the influence sweeping.

To begin with, we have to understand that the very concept of the LCS MCM effort was flawed even if everything had worked perfectly.  Huh???  How could that be?  If everything had worked perfectly the MCM module would have been a success, right?  Wrong!  The inherent flaw in the concept was, and still is, time.  That’s right, time.  The MCM module was, and still is, envisioned to laboriously, painfully, sloooooowly look for individual mines and then laboriously, painfully, sloooooowly neutralize them one by one.  Given that the speed of the underwater vehicles involved is around 5-7 knots, you can readily imagine how slowly mine clearing operations would proceed.  Having examined the various technologies and methodologies, and read the various reports, my best estimate is that each LCS would be fortunate to clear around two mines per hour.  Considering that minefields can easily consist of thousands or tens of thousands of mines, I leave it to you to do the math on the total clearance time required.

You don’t believe me about the time and clearance rate, do you?  Well, the concept calls for multiple passes through the suspect area.  The first pass does a ‘quick’ (quick, meaning 5-7 kts) pass to identify items of interest.  The second pass slowly zeroes in on the items of interest and verifies that they are, or are not, actual mines.  Systems like the unmanned underwater vehicle Knifefish or the towed AQS-20 sonar are used for the first two passes. The third pass is the actual neutralization pass where an underwater, expendable vehicle self-destructs against the mine.  SeaFox, Archerfish, and Barracuda are examples of such vehicles.  In the envisioned LCS module, a helo can carry up to four of these neutralization vehicles.  Thus, the helo can destroy four mines before it has to return to the host ship to land and reload vehicles.  That return to the ship, landing, unloading and reloading, and return to the operational area takes time, time that is added to the effective clearance rate.

By the way, did you realize that search vehicles, such as the Knifefish, have to wait until they return to their host ship to upload their data for analysis?  Not until that data is uploaded and the analysis completed can the verification and neutralization of the mine begin.  I bet you thought the process was real time and that mines were being neutralized as quickly as they were found!  Anyway, that return transit time, vehicle recovery time, upload time, and analysis time all gets added into the effective clearance rate.  Now are you beginning to see where the 2 mines per hour clearance rate estimate comes from?  And, even that rate may be optimistic!

Each neutralization event requires around 30 minutes.  The helo has to position itself, release the neutralization vehicle, the vehicle has to find and positively identify the specific mine, properly position itself relative to the mine, and then detonate.  After detonation, the disturbed water has to settle and then the destruction of the mine has to be verified.  Doesn’t sound like a speedy process does it (and that’s ignoring the first two passes)?  So, at best, the helo can neutralize two mines per hour and, after neutralizing four mines, has to return to the host ship to reload on neutralizers so that 2 mines per hour clearance rate is going to drop to around 1 mine per hour!

Now, if you’re clearing minefields after a conflict is over then, fine, take as much time as you need.  However, if you’ve got an assault fleet backed up behind you waiting to hit the beach or a carrier/surface group piled up waiting to transit a chokepoint, clearance speed is of monumental importance and that’s the inherent flaw in the LCS MCM scheme.  Even if it worked perfectly, it would be monumentally too slow to be useful in combat.  Now you understand what I meant when I said that the concept was flawed even if it had worked perfectly.

This is where sweeping comes in.  Sweeping, as opposed to the slow, careful, clearance approach, emphasizes speed by foregoing the location and identification of the individual mines in favor of an area wide attempt to simply trigger the mines into exploding by putting out a signal (acoustic, magnetic, etc.) that mimics a ship’s signature and tricks the mines into exploding.  If you can do that, who cares about carefully locating and identifying individual mines?  Sweeping is much more efficient.  It’s the ‘many’ versus ‘individual’ approach.

However, sweeping has drawbacks.  Sweeping is not, and never has been, 100% effective.  Thus, the tradeoff is speed for effectiveness.  With sweeping, you’re never sure you got all the mines because you never bothered to locate and identify each mine.  Thus, you accomplish the sweep very quickly but you accept a degree of risk that you didn’t get all the mines.

In WWII, sweeping was fairly effective because the mines were mostly pretty ‘dumb’ and could be easily triggered.  With modern smart mines that can be programmed to ignore initial signals, use multiple aspects of a ship’s signature to decide whether to trigger, and spot sweeping signals, the effectiveness of sweeping has decreased and the associated risk has increased.

The Unmanned Influence Sweeping System (UISS) currently under development consists of the Textron Common Unmanned Surface Vessel (CUSV) tow craft and the signal emitter payload.

The UISS payload includes a specialized magnetic cable that tows a modified Mk-104 acoustic device.

“The Mk-104 generates an acoustic source by cavitation and the specialized cable creates an electromagnetic field. The output of these two emitters generates the appropriate fields that satisfy the mine logic so that the mine detonates,” explained Colleen E. O’Rourke, an official at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). (5)

The Mk104 is a legacy sweep unit currently in use by MH-53E MCM helos and has been in service since at least the early 1970s where it was employed in Operation End Sweep, the minesweeping effort that took place at the conclusion of the Vietnam war.  The Mk104 can be acoustically adjusted or tuned to mimic specific ship types.

Mk104 Acoustic Mine Sweep


The CUSV has towing capacity of 4,000 lbs-force at 20 kts and is claimed to have 20 hours endurance. (3)  Will the CUSV actually prove capable of towing the required equipment?  Will it prove to be sufficiently reliable (recall that the RMMV failed to meet its reliability requirements and was dropped)?  Can we maintain comms with the craft?  We’ll see.

CUSV


CUSV with what appears to be a Mk104 at the stern.


What does all this mean?  We noted earlier that the inherent flaw in the LCS MCM module concept was the extremely long time required to achieve clearance and that useful clearance rates were simply not achievable using the LCS MCM individual mine approach.  The sweep procedure, on the other hand, is much faster but is far less reliable and modern smart mines may well render influence sweeping very ineffective.  So, we’re left with a  dilemma: clear very slowly which is not useful in combat conditions or sweep quickly but run a significant risk of uncleared mines.

At this point, one might reasonably wonder whether smart mine technology has such an advantage over mine countermeasures as to render the application of countermeasures almost pointless?

Beyond that, the Navy needs to decide what degree of risk it’s willing to accept.  Are we willing to conduct rapid combat mine sweeping and accept a significant risk to high value ships?  Or, have we reached a point where the risk associated with sweeping is too great to risk high value ships in which case one has to wonder why we would bother with sweeping at all?

Obviously, none of us has the actual performance data on the effectiveness of sweeping against modern, smart mines and without that data we can’t draw any definitive conclusions.  My sense is that the LCS MCM individual mine approach is limited to peacetime/non-threat environments and that sweeping can’t produce an acceptable level of risk.  That means that the mere presence of mines is sufficient to ban surface ships from operating in the area, swept or not.  This has profound operational implications since every potential enemy of ours has mine inventories that number in the thousands to tens of thousands or more.  This, alone, almost guarantees we can’t conduct amphibious assaults!

The conclusion is clear – the Navy lacks a credible combat mine clearance capability and influence sweeping is not the solution.  As with other non-sexy functions like gun support, logistics, ASW, etc. the Navy has largely ignored mine countermeasures for decades.  The fact that we’re using the exact same technology today (although the Navy raves about it for the LCS and would have us believe that it’s some brand new, never before seen capability) as we did in Vietnam tells us all we need to know about the Navy’s misguided priorities.






_____________________________________

(1)USNI News website, “Navy’s Remote Minehunting System Officially Canceled, Sonar May Live On”, Megan Eckstein, 24-Mar-2016,
https://news.usni.org/2016/03/24/navys-remote-minehunting-system-officially-canceld-sonar-may-live-on

(2)Ocean News and Technology website, “General Dynamics Knifefish UUV and Textron UISS Complete Shipboard Integration Testing”, 28-Jan-2019,
https://www.oceannews.com/news/defense/general-dynamics-knifefish-uuv-and-textron-uiss-complete-shipboard-integration-testing


(4)USNI News website, “LCS Mission Package Office Focused On Test, Fielding; IOC Dates Continue to Slip”, Megan Eckstein, 25-Jan-2019,
https://news.usni.org/2019/01/25/lcs-mission-package-office-focused-on-test-fielding-ioc-dates-continue-to-slip

(5)Defense Systems website, “Navy approves testing for unmanned minesweeping system”, Katherine Owens, 24-Apr-2017,
https://defensesystems.com/articles/2017/04/24/uiss.aspx

43 comments:

  1. Nice write up

    "During these integration events, both the Knifefish and UISS successfully..."

    Does this mean the Navy can sell the Avengers to Egypt or something?

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    1. Implied, but left unsaid, in the post was that numbers matter. I clearly laid out that a single LCS has zero chance of clearing a minefield in any combat-useful time frame. What's needed, whether it be the LCS MCM, helos, Avengers, or whatever, is numbers. The more MCM assets you have, of any and all types, the quicker you can clear an area. We're on the verge of losing all our Avengers and all our dedicated MCM helos. We'll be left with a grand total of 6 deployable LCS MCM. That's shocking and utterly insufficient even if everything worked perfectly.

      We need to build an Avenger replacement and a new, dedicated MCM helo. Frankly, the LCS is worthless as an MCM platform and we should simply scrap them as a mistake that can't be corrected.

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    2. I can do nothing but agree. What I don't understand is why Congress is completely ignoring that we are fast approaching effectively no mine clearing ability.

      Why where the Ospreys tossed and not stored? The Italians are still operating theirs (base design)and selling the upgraded versions. I can't find anything but was the navy's only rational the LCS will do it? Put up a side by side look cool future ship vs dumpy functional one

      A simple inflation adjustment to Osprey puts them at ~250 million. Add the 25 million per ship Italy is spending to upgrade their version and they easily are cheaper than a LCS (likely half as much because as far as I can tell the Pentagon is not adding any of the mission units to its supposed unit cost).

      What I fear is nobody on the Hill ever read anything like your above breakdown of the ludicrous nature of the LCS MCM real ability (if it ever works). You might start forwarding some of these to your local reps and senators.

      In any case the culture impunity across the Pentagon and large contractors is always amazing. Its kind of scary that the Austal was allowed to use the LCS as the basis for a FF(X) entry. That should have been nixed without thought.

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    3. Except for a few brief periods, the MCM mission has been ignored and underfunded. It's just not sexy like warships and fighter planes.

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    4. "Why where the Ospreys tossed and not stored?"

      For the same reason the Spruances were sunk. The Ospreys represented a viable alternative to the LCS and that meant a threat to the Navy's new shipbuilding budget. After all, the main purpose of the Navy, in their minds, is to build new ships. Whether they're useful ships is not a concern of the Navy.

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  2. It's a bad situation, but not quite as bad as you suggest.

    Take an amphibious assault, for instance. A minefield guarding a beach might consist of thousands of mines, but you don't have to clear all of the mines to assault the beach. Instead, you have to clear enough assault lanes to allow landing forces to proceed. Not including the VSW or SZ, this might entail clearing a few tens of mines, depending on the configuration of the minefield and number of lanes required.

    On the other hand, the current approach is to hunt and clear first, and then sweep to "proof" the lane. So you end up doing both.

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    1. You're quite correct about landing lanes, however, unless you intend to pack every landing craft into a very narrow lane, you're still going to have to clear many lanes. Also, simply getting the amphibious ships near (somewhere between 5-50 miles) to the staging location will require clearing large areas. Also, assuming the landing site is defended, the MCM assets will be under fire and that isn't going to help clearance efficiency (he said in a dry, understated tone!). For example, the Navy's ill-conceived COBRA capability envisions a low, slow UAV cruising back and forth directly over the shoreline. I'm hard pressed to believe that UAV will have a lifespan of more than a minute or two.

      So, yes, it is as bad as I suggest.

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    2. Mines probably won't reach out 50 miles, since that would require a tremendous number and may very well be in excessively deep water. 20-25, certainly.

      With the COBRA mention, you touch on an aspect that is actually a significant obstacle (pun intended): the potential for a mixture of both obstacles and mines (naval and land) in the area from the Surf Zone (SZ) through the Craft Landing Zone (CLZ) and out the Beach Exit Zone (BEZ).

      The LCS MCM kit can only recon this area with COBRA. Clearance requires a whole 'nother set of capabilities, which we don't really have.

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    3. For the lanes I can think of two techniques that might be useful.
      First, inflatable landing craft decoys with engines can be sent in first. The engine will not only propel the decoy but also provide the audio and magnetic signatures to set of mines. Add in a smoke generator and it looks like the first, perfect to shoot at.
      Second, use an anti-mine heavy torpedo. Instead of a warhead, it needs acoustic and magnetic signatures. Heavy torpedoes can have a range of twenty plus miles. The disadvantage of this approach is the need to design and build new ships. Of course the new ships might actually be useable for other purposes as well.

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    4. "For the lanes I can think of two techniques that might be useful.
      First, inflatable landing craft decoys with engines can be sent in first."

      Just to offer some perspective on the magnitude of the problem. As I noted, our enemies have inventories of mines in the tens or hundreds of thousands. They can apply a great many to anticipated landing sites - and, let's face it, most landing sites are strategically fairly predictable.

      The Normandy invasion used something like 300 minesweepers (I don't have exact number in front of me) to clear transit channels from England to Normandy and to clear the beach approaches. You're suggesting a handful of decoys. The numeric mismatch is, potentially staggering.

      And, of course, there's always the remote activated mines that would be impervious to sweeping techniques.

      I really think that MCM is WAY behind the curve compared to the technological sophistication of the mines, themselves. I think it's to the point that mines are a problem we simply can't deal with especially considering the miniscule number of MCM assets we have.

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    5. What I was thinking was as an additional technique in the toolbox. Hopefully with enough overlapping techniques and unit we could have something resembling acceptable losses.

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    6. Yes, the more tools the better, as long as they're useful tools that are appropriate for the task. The task … that's the problem. We don't start our designs from the task and work backward to the required equipment, like we should. Instead, we develop technology and then try to work forward and make it fit the task and it rarely does.

      For MCM, we need to define the task - combat clearance scenarios - and then work our way backward to a set of actually useful equipment requirements that we can then develop and procure.

      For combat clearance scenarios, we need speed and numbers. So, right off the bat we see that 6 LCS are woefully insufficient numbers so that rules out the LCS as a useful MCM asset. Numbers suggests very low cost assets like helos and small, dedicated Avengers and sweep craft (CUSV?). You see where this logic takes us? It's in a completely different direction than what the Navy attempted but it would produce a capability that will actually work!

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  3. I spent a fair amount of time in the mine force, both active duty and reserves, and the LCS as an MCM vessel has always seemed a bit strange. What is the LCS's primary, perhaps only, advantage? Speed; in fact, it appears very much that everything else was sacrificed to achieve 45 (or however many) knots. What is the last place you want to be running around at 45 knots? A minefield.

    What we probably need is a combination of minehunters, helo sweepers, and remotely operated boat sweepers.

    The Germans already have remotely-operated minesweeping craft--the Seehunds. So why do we have to reinvent the wheel? Why not just start from the Seehund and achieve marginal improvements (I think comms is a major area to improve)? Seehunds would have a wider swept path than helo sweeps, so they make more sense in some situations, and sometimes it might work best to use both in combination.

    If you want to go into a minefield to hunt, you need to be small and highly maneuverable. The LCS is neither. If you want to stand off and operate remote minesweepers, ideally you would want a mother ship with a big enough CIC to control multiple simultaneous remote sweep operations, a helo pad, and a well deck big enough to accommodate 3-4 Seehunds plus one or more helo sleds--something like a mini-LSD. That's two different ships, both of which are useful. The LCS is neither.

    Either way you need numbers (which we do not have and really haven't had in decades), and you are going to be taking risks, so cheaper is much better. That pretty much blows out of the water any remaining hope for using the LCSs as MCM platforms.

    The point about time required to minehunt is valid, as is the point about not needing to clear the whole field.

    But the concept of hunting first and then sweeping seems bas-ackwards. Sweeping first to establish quickly a swept path, and then hunting the path for anything left, would seem a much more time-efficient approach.

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  4. "If you want to go into a minefield to hunt, you need to be small and highly maneuverable. The LCS is neither. If you want to stand off and operate remote minesweepers, ideally you would want a mother ship with a big enough CIC to control multiple simultaneous remote sweep operations, a helo pad, and a well deck big enough to accommodate 3-4 Seehunds plus one or more helo sleds--something like a mini-LSD. That's two different ships, both of which are useful. The LCS is neither."

    Congratulations, you've just described the Independence-class LCS! It even has a non-magnetic aluminium alloy hull!

    The Independence-class has a large flight deck, 200 tons, and nearly 400,000 cu-ft of cargo capacity to play around with. Yeah, the speed-thing was kind of a red hearing (until you're trying to outrun a torpedo), but at least the bow thruster and water jets provide excellent low speed maneuverability. At least the Independence-class isn't saddled with the powerplant of a Zumwalt, unlike the Freedom-class....

    If we actually had a mature, modern suite of mine hunting and sweeping systems, overhauling and refitting the Independence class ships into dedicated MCM ships wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.

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    1. The Independence-class doesn't have a well deck, and I'm not sure how it could be modified to carry Seehunds and helo sleds, and the helo deck is probably not sturdy enough to accommodate H-53s (which we used to haul the old helo sleds) or something similar, although they would only need to land briefly, hook up the sled, and go. I'm not sure if or how either of those could be overcome, but it might be a better use on at least the Independence-class than anything else.

      "If we actually had a modern, mature suite of mine hinting and sweeping systems..." If only.

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    2. "Independence-class has a large flight deck"

      Unfortunately, the flight deck is not rated for the only MCM helo in the Navy inventory, the MH-53E Sea Dragon. The MH-53E weighs around 70,000 lbs fully loaded whereas a MH-60S/R weighs around 17,000 lbs loaded. The LCS flight decks were built light with minimal structural support, as a cost savings measure. That huge flight deck is often cited as a positive but is actually quite limited!

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    3. I wonder if the mine sleds can be pulled by CH-46 or CH-47 helos. Could be a cheaper way to go than the 53's.

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    4. There are no more CH-46's in the US inventory. USMC divested them all as the Osprey came on line and the Navy even before that.

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  5. The Independence-class is probably about the right size for an MCM mother ship, but you'd have to redo the whole back end, and I'm not sure how the trimaran hull would accommodate a well deck. As for the non-magnetic aluminum hull, if you are controlling remotely and not actually going into the minefield, I'm not sure that is important. And what kind of acoustic/magnetic signature does the rest of the ship have?

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    1. A while back, there was significant interest in a larger vessel carrying numerous smaller boats (USS Catskill). This seems like a better approach to me than a smaller, but still pretty expensive vessel, carrying a limited number of boats.

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  6. A dedicated MCM ship.

    Since our amphibious assault capability is nearly zero, why not re-task LHAs and some America class amphibs into the MCM mother ship role? They have the capacity to carry CH 53s and multiple mine hunting sleds.

    I know the ships are big and expensive but most mine hunting missions could be conducted while the ships are 40-50 miles offshore and would certainly involve destroyers for air defense.

    This is one way to get use out of a now useless ship, without having to build something entirely new.

    Even if we never launch an overseas offensive operation again, we will need the MCM to keep sea lanes open near the USA and our ally's.

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    1. Your idea is valid. The recently retired Tarawa class could also have been converted to MCM motherships instead of retired early.

      However, you're overlooking the time aspect of MCM. Having a few MCM motherships and their helos won't solve the problem of combat-useful clearance time frames although the more assets we have, the better the cumulative clearance time is - within limits. A thousand MCM helos, to illustrate with a ridiculous example, could not physically operate in the same small, congested area. There is a practical limit as to how many assets can work a given area.

      So, MCM motherships are a good idea but they don't solve the combat clearance time problem - a problem made all the worse by modern smart mines that may be highly resistance or even immune to our legacy clearance methods.

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    2. @KH

      "we will need the MCM to keep sea lanes open near the USA"

      Given the disdain the USN has for MCM you are likely better off advocating giving that job to the USGC (assuming you give them a budget to do it). Point of interest the new Malaysian coast guard medium endurance ships can lay mines.

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  7. On this go around of the UISS make sure the specialized magnetic cable doesn't burn out like the one first designed by the Navy labs. Seems no one figured out what 300 amps going down a cable does. Probably just figured water is relatively cool, how hot could the cable get? Hot enough to burn out is the empirical answer.

    The other than the magnetic part of the cable, the first instantiation of the USV/UISS system worked back in 2008. It used the same acoustic noise maker and the boat towed the system fine.

    So 10 years another defense contractor, same noise maker, different boat, and hopefully a WORKING magnetic cable.

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  8. "Influence Sweeping and the LCS"
    I really was wondering if the post was going to be about the Military industrial complex sweeping up influence in Washington DC to continue to build the LCS.
    Michael

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    1. Yeah, I guess it's a title that could serve more than one post subject!

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  9. https://www.vox.com/2019/7/12/20691689/usa-iran-tanker-strait-hormuz-british

    So we are going to start escorting Tankers again. Are all the Avengers being forwarded to the Persian Gulf or we do figure the Iranians won't push the easy button if they want escalation and toss some mines out.

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  10. I don't understand the USN policy on minesweeping.

    Even the Dutch recently bought 12 minesweeperss from the French, and each minesweeper can handle about 10 minesweeping drones. I only know what has been written in this article, but there's no indication they're concurrency projects.

    Besides politics and doubling down on bad decisions, I don't see why they couldn't build these Naval Group systems for the LCS, even if the LCS is has a little trouble handling them.

    I mean, if the LCS can handle both patrol and minesweeping duties, then the LCS has legitimate and essential functions.

    (I remember reading Australia used it's Huon class decades old minesweepers for patrol boats, and their top speed was just 14 knots, so the LCS should be a show in for patrol duties...in theory )

    https://www.brusselstimes.com/all-news/business/54599/belgium-to-spend-more-than-one-billion-euros-on-french-built-minesweepers/

    https://navalnews.net/belgium-and-the-netherlands-seal-the-purchase-of-12-minesweeping-ships/

    Andrew.

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    1. The problem with the LCS is it is not purpose built to withstand an explosion (we are talking about a ship that cannot pass any navy shock test) and or be a wood and fiberglass hull to avoid tripping mines. It lacks the the crew for damage control. Putting men and women on it and asking them to sweep for mines would be a dereliction of duty by any flag officer who gave the order.

      At best some time in the future it can clean up after a war.

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    2. "LCS ... asking them to sweep for mines"

      The LCS was never intended to be the sweep vessel. Quite the contrary, it was intended to stay outside the mine field and, instead, send vehicles into the field from afar.

      I know you know this. I'm just restating to eliminate any confusion in the discussion.

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    3. Fair - I'll clarify a bit I guess because Anonymous used the term mine sweeping and cited actual purpose built boats I just don't the LCS rising to that ability.

      @Anonymous

      "Besides politics and doubling down on bad decisions, I don't see why they couldn't build these Naval Group systems for the LCS, even if the LCS is has a little trouble handling them"

      I don't see how, the French/Dutch/Belgian ship is a ground up purpose built Mine sweeper. Conceptual art shows built in well deck/launch stations that would have to retrofitted to an LCS. Given the modest scale of LCS mine clearing I'm not sure they could end up with more than the limited capability they are supposed to have at some future under the latest iteration of its Mine warfare plug in. As for Patrol duty I assume if they could do that 6 of them would be in the Persian gulf now and not 6 USCG cutters...

      If you want patrol the USN should build up armed Sentinel-class boats (essentially modern Cyclones)

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  11. The one saving grace with respect to time is that you don’t have to clear the whole field, you just have to clear a path through it to transit. And depending on the operational situation, you clear it to a certain risk-adjusted confidence level, and then conduct your operations.

    I think we need two different ships with different capabilities—a minehunter and a minesweeper mother ship.

    The mother ship would stand off from the minefield, where it would control minesweeping drone boats and minesweeping helicopters. The Germans have done something similar with their Troika system in which Ensdorf class sweepers control Seehund ROV minesweepers. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I would start from the Troika. The Ensdorfs are converted minehunters with no capability to transport the boats, but I would want a mother ship with a well deck large enough to carry three or four ROV boats and two helo sleds, and a flight deck and hangar to accommodate two H-53s. It could be an LSD/LPD-type hull, but could be smaller because it does not need the troop berthing spaces. It needs a CIC sufficient to control multiple drone sweepers, and ideally would have a 20-knot speed capability to be able to get to the operating area quicker than a typical minehunter/sweeper. Some kind of self-defense gun or missile would be nice to have but the mission is not shoot-em-up.

    The minehunter would actually enter the minefield, hunt mines with its sonar, and destroy them with a mine disposal system. The Osprey class or UK Sandown class could be models.

    Another possibility that strikes me as interesting would be to supplement these capabilities with smaller vessels like the Norwegian Oksoy hunters and Alta sweepers. Those are interesting ships with interesting design and operating concepts.

    The concept of operations would be that the minesweepers would arrive first, deploy helo and or ROV boat sweeps, and create a swept transit path. The minehunters would then search the swept path to ensure that it is clear of all mines.

    I would build about 30 each of the minesweeper mother ships and the minehunters, and homeport two of each in 15 major naval and commercial ports on the two coasts--Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, New Orleans, Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Honolulu. Following the model we used in the mine force in the 1970s, at least some of them could be NRF ships.

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    1. You've described a reasonable force and concept of operation FOR A NON-COMBAT SCENARIO. This is one of the problems the military has. They seem to assume that every piece of equipment will function in non-combat or extremely permissive environments.

      Now, run your concept through the filter of realistic combat. You've got ships piling up, waiting for you to clear. How much time can you afford to take? What does that tell you about numbers of MCM assets? This operation will be opposed (China isn't going to sit and wait patiently for you to clear the mines). How will these assets protect themselves from attack? How will these assets function while under attack (can you launch/recover vehicles while under attack and do you want to stop the motherships while you launch/recover?)? What about your numbers of assets when you factor in attrition? What happens to your nice, neat, orderly clearance plan when the various sweep/clearance vehicles are destroyed mid-task? What does that do to your timeline and how do you compensate? Hurry! Those ships are getting impatient! You've got troops getting sick in landing crafts waiting to get ashore!

      Data point: Normandy required around 300 minesweepers. How many are you contemplating for a realistic combat scenario?

      This is analogous to the military's UAV vision. They see nice, leisurely observation flights of UAVs providing total situational awareness without ever accounting for enemy resistance like shooting the UAVs down minutes after they appear.

      So, re-examine your concept and force from a realistic, peer-defended combat scenario and see if it still works. If not, what adjustments need to be made?

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    2. 300 for Normandy? So take my 30 and add a zero after it for starters.

      Now, are we going to build 300? No way, we both know that.

      But I'm more addressing a concept than numbers. If we had 30 and proved up the concept, then we'd be way, way further down the road than we are now.

      As I understand the current concept, it's that we hunt first and then sweep. Hunting takes forever, guaranteeing that those troops will get very seasick. Sweep to some level of confidence. Define a swept channel, and hunt it for stragglers. At some point, you just have to say, we've done the best we can, go forward with the operation. That's not very reassuring, but that's how mine warfare works.

      As far as defending the sweeping/hunting assets, that's going to have to come from somewhere else--air support or gunfire support being the two most likely. You simply can't build a minesweeper/hunter and put on it all it needs for self-defense without making it 3 times as large as it needs to be to be effective.

      It's a high-risk business. Always has been, always will be. There are no perfect answers. But if we at least built some real MCM assets, started working and training with them to figure out if our concepts worked, and made adjustments as we went along, we would at least be far better off.

      Yes, there is a huge difference between combat and non-combat. Right now, we can't even handle non-combat. Let's walk before we run. If all I have done is to define a reasonable concept for peacetime operations, then that's way ahead of where we are now.

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    3. "Now, are we going to build 300? No way, we both know that. "

      Of course we won't build 300! We didn't have them to start WWII, either. We'll build 300 when we need 300. HOWEVER, what we need is a viable, cheap, quick to build MCM asset that we can build now to practice with, develop tactics, and have ready for production when the need arises. We don't have that now. A glaring capability gap.

      " At some point, you just have to say, we've done the best we can, go forward with the operation."

      … and accept our losses. We need to remember that people die in war and their IS such a thing as acceptable losses in the cold calculus of combat. This also means that we need to plan for those losses. That's why building $100M LCACs is stupid. We need cheap, expendable landing craft that we can build in large numbers. Another glaring capability gap.

      "As far as defending the sweeping/hunting assets, that's going to have to come from somewhere else--air support or gunfire support being the two most likely."

      Now you're thinking operationally. Good! Of course, we have no gun support. Another glaring capability gap.

      "You simply can't build a minesweeper/hunter and put on it all it needs for self-defense"

      Of course not! That's what Burkes are for. This also says that it is stupid to build overly expensive MCM vessels because, being that close to the beach, we'll lose some/many. That's why a $600M LCS-MCM, even if it worked, is idiotic. It's too expensive to lose.

      "Yes, there is a huge difference between combat and non-combat. ... Let's walk before we run."

      The danger with that is that we'll wind up building a 'walk' capability that isn't useful for combat. Then what? That's what we have now with MCM, UAVs, and all sorts of other things - things that look good in peacetime but won't be functional and survivable in combat.

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  12. "Of course we won't build 300! We didn't have them to start WWII, either. We'll build 300 when we need 300. HOWEVER, what we need is a viable, cheap, quick to build MCM asset that we can build now to practice with, develop tactics, and have ready for production when the need arises. We don't have that now. A glaring capability gap."

    I thought that was what I was suggesting. We need a cheap, no-frills mother ship for transporting sweep assets to the area of the field, and launching and controlling them in the field. It needs to be able to carry 4 ROV boats, 2 H-53s, and 2 helo minesweeping sleds. It should be able to do over 20 knots to get those assets to the minefield relatively quickly. And it needs to have enough of a CIC to control multiple remote sweeping vehicles (boats/helicopters) at once. That's all it needs. And we need a cheap, no-frills hunter that has top-flight minehunting and classification sonar, capacity for divers, and remotely piloted vehicles to destroy mines. That's all it needs. Trying to put more on either one of them runs up cost unnecessarily. Anything that is going to go anywhere near a mine field needs to be as cheap and expendable as possible.

    We need a concept of operations for employing them, and I think the current hunt-first, sweep-later plan is exactly backwards. And we need to get those assets out in realistic exercises to test and verify the operating concepts.

    Once we have all those things, we need a plan to scale up to combat needs. We can probably find ways to convert merchant ships for the mother ship role. Hunters probably need to be specially built since there are so many unique requirements. One thing, building 30 of each in any reasonable time frame will create a capability that could be scaled up if we keep it going. And 30 mother ships, each with four Seehund type ROV boats and two H-53s and sleds, is potentially 180 sweep vehicles. Not 300, and certainly not all in one place, but way more than we have ever had in peacetime.

    "The danger with that is that we'll wind up building a 'walk' capability that isn't useful for combat. Then what? That's what we have now with MCM, UAVs, and all sorts of other things - things that look good in peacetime but won't be functional and survivable in combat."

    We have an MCM capability that looks good in peacetime? Where? That's the problem, we don't even have a viable peacetime capability. At least, I have an approach that I think might get us there. The idea of putting a module on an LCS to do MCM is just one more example of how little the Navy brass understands--or cares--about mine warfare.

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    1. The Seehunds are 80+ ft long and 99 tons with a top speed of only 10 kts. Do they offer something that the CUSV at 39 ft long and a top speed of 28 kts (I don't know what the tow speed is) doesn't? If not, you could fit more of them on a mothership. Just something to think about.

      They'd also be cheaper, presumably, and easier to build and replace as combat attrition occurs (again, the realistic combat scenario in an opposed peer scenario).

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  13. "The Seehunds are 80+ ft long and 99 tons with a top speed of only 10 kts. Do they offer something that the CUSV at 39 ft long and a top speed of 28 kts (I don't know what the tow speed is) doesn't? If not, you could fit more of them on a mothership. Just something to think about."

    If the CUSVs work. Been there, done that, more than a few times.

    Of course, the Seehunds are 20 year old technology at this point, and surely we can make some improvements. We need to look at anything that would be better.

    One thing that would concern me about the CUSVs whether they can carry a big enough generator to drive powerful enough noise makers and magtails. That was a problem with the original helo sleds, they had a swept path about 10 feet wide because of low power output from the small generators they carried.

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    1. "One thing that would concern me about the CUSVs whether they can carry a big enough generator"

      A totally valid question. At the risk of beating a dead horse, this is where the direction of development comes in, yet again. We should be defining the desired end result and then designing backwards from that to whatever equipment/methods that gives us. Instead, we develop equipment and then see what it can do and whether we can make it fit the desired end result - usually not.

      If our desired end result is to sweep a mile wide channel in one pass at 50 kts then let's design equipment that will do that. Of course, we'll probably find that it requires 5 nuclear powerplants operating together and, obviously, that's not practical. So, we change the desired end result and one of two things will happen:

      1. We'll get to an achievable end result and then we can begin designing and building or,

      2. We'll conclude that our desired end result is simply not technologically achievable given our current level of technology. If this is the case, we'll have to adjust our operational planning to work without this capability.

      Our problem is we're developing technology almost at random and then trying to make it fit a desired end result and we're winding up with very poor end results that cost a LOT of money.

      The specific MCM problem is that the desired end result is very rapid combat clearing to an acceptable risk level and I don't see any technology that can achieve that.

      Wild speculation: You know what would work, conceptually? A swarm of mini-UUVs each with a tiny warhead and tiny sonar that swarm an area and blow up everything that looks remotely like a mine. You'd need hundreds to thousands, depending on the scenario, but it would be a one or two pass completion with a high degree of certainty.

      The UUV would have a range of 1-10 miles, a speed of 5-10 kts, and an endurance of 1-2 hours. Numbers would make up for the limited sonar field of view.

      Hey, I said just wild speculation but it illustrates the concept of working backwards from the desired end result!

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  14. "You know what would work, conceptually? A swarm of mini-UUVs each with a tiny warhead and tiny sonar that swarm an area and blow up everything that looks remotely like a mine. You'd need hundreds to thousands, depending on the scenario, but it would be a one or two pass completion with a high degree of certainty."

    Interesting idea, and we have played around with it a bit. Do you really think the Navy could develop it, given its current state? Perhaps more importantly, given the almost total neglect of mine warfare in the Navy, do you think there's any chance of even a serious effort being made?

    I can think of a couple of issues. There's a lot of junk on the bottom, and mine classification can be a pretty demanding process, even with human eyes on a sonar scope. How discerning do you try to make the sonar, with increases in cost and size and complexity? Or do you take the approach of killing anything that looks like it might be a mine, and living with a high rate of attrition. I can see the Navy going for the former, while the latter probably works out better. With human operators, false positives are usually a bigger problem than failing to detect a mine. I would anticipate the same here, but we could always just decide to live with blowing up the false positives.

    Another question would be how wide a detection path you would get with a tiny sonar. Also, there would need to be some coordination so that they don't all blow each other up on the first mine they detect. And you'd need to be able to control them enough to keep them in the proposed swept channel instead of wandering too far afield. All issues that can be dealt with, and probably lived with if we can get to good enough instead of going for perfect.

    Agree totally with the problem of developing technology at random and trying to make it fit. And the Navy has not thought seriously about mine warfare since End Sweep, and before that not since Inchon.

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    1. "Do you really think the Navy could develop it, given its current state?"

      Since it hasn't got Aegis or a flight deck … not a chance!

      "How discerning do you try to make the sonar"

      Not at all! Blow up everything. Just like area bombardment. … Was it a mine? Who cares, it's gone now!

      "how wide a detection path you would get with a tiny sonar. "

      Not very. That's why you use a swarm of very cheap UUVs. Use hundreds of 'em! You've seen the mini-drone swarm behavior that we can program now? Same idea. If you have to space 'em 20 ft apart, that's fine.

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    2. There are some very good, quite inexpensive commercial sonars around that could be easily adapted for a cheap UUV. Everything from hi-res fish finders to commercial ROV sonar that resolves to a high quality optical image.

      I would think that 100' of range would not be out of the question.

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  15. Talking about technology at random reminds me of End Sweep. We had tech reps crawling out of the woodwork with all sorts of crazy ideas. Two I remember were 1) rattle box, which was basically a box with what IIRC were sticks and rocks inside that rattled when you towed it along, supposedly for acoustic mines, and 2) barrel sweep, which was a 55-gallon drum designed to sweep magnetic mines in the canals. There was a motor inside that drove a propeller that caused the barrel to rotate and also drove an electromagnet to create a magnetic field. You put the barrel into the stream, round ends top and bottom, and the rotation caused the barrel to "roll" along the bank. You had separate barrels for left banks and right banks, and you had to be careful to launch the correct ones on the correct banks. I don't think we made any serious use of either, but the fact that both ideas made it to WestPac gave an idea of how little the Navy understood the problem.

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