Friday, August 2, 2019

USS Boxer - A Second Drone

It is now being widely reported that the USS Boxer, which reportedly downed an Iranian drone using jamming, also engaged a second drone, at the same time.

U.S. Central Command says that one Iranian drone crashed into the sea after the USS Boxer took what Central Command called "defensive action" against it last Thursday. It said the Boxer also "engaged" a second Iranian drone at the same time, but could not confirm it was destroyed. (1)

Set that aside, for a moment, and recall that the Navy wants to operate a distributed lethality concept which is based on a vast network of all-seeing, all-knowing data links assembled into a master picture and then distributed to all the ships in the region.  Thus, every ship, whether it uses its own sensors or not, will know, with unerring accuracy, the location and targeting information about every enemy asset in the region.  This will allow the distributed ships to co-ordinate and mass their fires on the unsuspecting and hapless enemy fleets.

The Navy is applying the same basic concept of vast networks and data links to AAW defense in the form of an advanced co-operative engagement capability (NIFC-CA).

Now, let’s return to the Boxer engagement.  According to the Navy, one drone was downed and the Navy doesn’t know what happened to the other.  Consider the implications of that statement … they don’t know what happened to the other drone.  The ship had all manner of radars, sensors, optical sensors, EW equipment, Mk1 Eyeballs, and who knows what else applied to a drone that was, by all accounts within a thousand yards so of the ship, and they don’t know what happened to it.

Recall the Burke destroyer that supposedly engaged several incoming anti-ship missiles off Yemen a while ago?  Despite Aegis and all manner of other sensors, the Navy couldn’t say whether any of their missiles hit any targets or what happened to the targets.  In fact, careful analysis of the reporting revealed that they couldn’t even say for sure that there were any actual incoming missiles.

Recall the giant hulking cargo ships that two Burke destroyers never saw and collided with.

Are you seeing the pattern?  Despite the manufacturer and the Navy’s claims of omniscient sensing, we can’t actually keep track of ships, UAVs, and incoming weapons right next to us!  So, how are we going to achieve this regional, distributed lethality, all-seeing, all-knowing master sensor picture or the perfectly networked NIFC-CA AAW defense?

We’re basing our naval offense and defense on a claimed capability that has been proven, time and again, to be woefully inadequate.  When you can’t keep track of a drone a thousand feet from you under non-combat, perfect conditions, how are you going to track every enemy asset in a regional distributed lethality network under electromagnetically challenged conditions?  The answer is obvious – you’re not!  And yet, we’re proceeding with the assumption that we can and will.  At what point do you stop believing unfounded claims and start believing actual field performance evidence?  I think that point is now.  The Navy needs to stop believing in Unicorns and Fairy Dust and start looking at reality.


(1)Miami Herald website, “US now says it ‘engaged’ 2 Iranian drones, not 1”, Associated Press, 23-Jul-2019,


  1. The drones engagement, sounds like any fighter engagement,
    You shoot down 3 JG 100 yellow nose 109's, post war records show JG 100 had 1 plane damaged that day. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable, radar based testimony reliability?

    1. You just pointed out, correctly, that this is not based on eyewitness testimony but, rather, radar/sensor/EW data. If we can't rely on digital data then why are we pursuing an entire offensive naval scheme based on it?

  2. I agree with the major point: we can't do simple things like track ships close to ours. I am curious about how much of the information given out by the Navy is misinformation designed to keep other countries for knowing what we really can do?

    Or do admiral's not read Sun Tzu?

    1. I really don't think misinformation explains why we claim to have no idea what happened to the second drone. We already acknowledged tracking, engaging, and knowing the fate of the first drone so we aren't keeping any secret about drone engagements.

      I suppose we could attribute the Burke collisions to misinformation about our sailing capabilities but it's far more likely that we just can't sail properly! The same applies to this situation. For reasons that totally elude me, we could be applying misinformation about our ability to track a second drone (after acknowledging we can track the first drone) or, far more likely, we simply couldn't track it which leads to the post's question: why are we basing major naval capabilities on something that unreliable?

  3. Lets look at the bright side of something else that is occurring. NK has shot 4 Iskander's into the sea which we can now try to retrieve. Winning!?

    1. NK doesnt have Iskanders, those are solid propellant , while their tactical missiles are Scud derivatives using liquid propellants

    2. "their tactical missiles are Scud derivatives using liquid propellants"

      The NK KN-02, Kumsong-3, KN-06, KN-15, KN-11, and KN-01 all use solid propellant.

    3. The NKorean KN-23 is copied from the Russian SS-26/Iskander. The KN-23 is a solid fueled missile as is the Iskander.

    4. The problem with the Iskander/NK KN-23 is the flight profile.
      It only flies to 150K feet and then travels supersonically to the target, doing hard to believe turns at speed. Its built like a tank and does not fly high enough for THAAD to engage. It also has the Atropus disruption of intercept capability. I am confident we will find at least one of those suckers on the ocean floor. Thank you NK!

  4. "The ship had all manner of radars, sensors, optical sensors, EW equipment, Mk1 Eyeballs, and who knows what else applied to a drone that was, by all accounts within a thousand feet or so of the ship, and they don’t know what happened to it."

    CNN reported that the first drone was downed when it came with 1,000 yards of Boxer. Other than acknowledging that a second drone was engaged, there is no information as to its range from Boxer when it was engaged. Presumably, it was at a similar range as the first drone.

    If the Navy can't track a drone at 1,000 yards, then you're right in that this is a serious problem. Hopefully, and I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, that there is a good reason why the Navy is tight-lipped on the second drone.

    1. Consider the other examples of 'lost' objects listed in the post. There seems to be a pattern that suggests our sensor awareness is nowhere near as good as purported. Thus, the question posed in the post of why we're basing our offense and defense on a very suspect capability?

    2. "there is a good reason why the Navy is tight-lipped on the second drone. "

      I don't think they're being tight-lipped, at all. I think they said everything the know which is that they lost track of the drone and don't know what happened to it!

  5. My understanding is that we were not in the midst of an all-arms, maximum effort counterforce strike on Iran at the time. The full weight of our satellite/airborne C4ISTAR apparatus was not deployed to the region, never mind participating in this defensive engagement. I fully agree that we need to plan some undesired tactical ignorance into our doctrine, and be prepared to win the hard way (missile for missile, ship on ship, fighter on fighter, no information advantage) when we have to... but that's when we have to. When possible, we should use every tool in the kit to give ourselves every advantage we can get.

    Boxer took down a couple dirtbag Iranian drones with bright light instead of million dollar missiles, using more light to detect and track them... until it lost track on the second one before it went down. We don't know if the second drone was OTH (visual) and simply fell below the radar horizon or if it was an actual issue with the ship.

    Now, not only is this not meant to argue against CNOps' main point, it tangentially supports it. Boxer was in unfriendly waters, it should not have been in the kind of situation it was in. There should have been enough airborne ISR support to confirm the kill, to say nothing of the pitiful ROE doctrine that allowed that drone so close to a Burke after all those recent shipping debacles. The Navy placed too much trust in its conventional and information superiority in this case, and it routinely does so. This is a serious issue, even if we're not really being made to pay for it. We never want to see the day that three dozen Chinese ships/drones are allowed time to track and target our regional forces before being engaged... they'll be ready to shoot first that day, unlike the Iranians.

  6. There is a crushing need for indirect fires; The ability to cheaply saturate an area where an enemy may or may not be with Gun Artillery, dumb rockets, mines, and/or hedgehog style depth charges.

  7. So maybe our sensor awareness is not as good as purported?

    I have my reservations abut how well all this data linkage and integrated data structure is going to work in any kind of electronic warfare environment.

    Are there any concerns that maybe our vaunted Aegis system might not be all it's cracked up to be? I've heard some reports that it is a maintenance nightmare. One of the reasons why I have been perhaps more willing to look at some of the European mini-Burkes is thinking that maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a few SMART-L and APAR or EMPAR combinations in the task force, just to get maybe a different look from what Aegis gives us. I'm not sure putting all our AAW eggs in the Aegis basket is the smartest thing to do.

    The Brits found out in the Falklands that their state-of-the-art Type 42 AAW destroyers with the Seadart missile had a flaw because their radars could not adequately differentiate Argentine jets flying over land from ground clutter. Unfortunately, the Argentines knew this too because they had acquired a couple of the Type 42 destroyers of their own to practice with. So the Brits had to pair the Type 42s with Type 22 frigates whose shorter range Seawolf missiles did not have the same problem.

    I can see a situation where since Aegis has really not yet been thoroughly tested, real war might uncover a glitch and and it might be useful to have something else out there to play the 22/42 pairing game with.

  8. I found this very interesting

    This is an evaluation of the AN/APS-137 radar for Coast Guard use. I believe this was the P-3 radar, so until recently state of the art for maritime patrol aircraft. Granted they were looking for small boat surface targets, but this pretty-darn-modern radar didn't have even a 50% chance of spotting a 30' boat until within ~9nm.

    I also enjoyed this article about the E-2

    which includes an anecdote about a B-52, known inbound, that managed to slip through Hawkeye cover to within 20mi of a carrier without being detected.

    I think the layperson imagines radar as omniscient out to as far as the EM waves reach (or at least I used to imagine that), but clearly reality is WAY more complicated...

    1. "I also enjoyed this article about the E-2

      which includes an anecdote about a B-52, known inbound, that managed to slip through Hawkeye cover to within 20mi of a carrier without being detected."

      Great link. Thanks! Excellent example of the fallibility of radar. Same with the Coast Guard paper.


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