Monday, September 30, 2019

Heading Off The Tracks

At its most basic, our armed forces exist to fight and win wars of existential concern: true threats to our national security and existence.  This means peer wars. 

Yes, we assign many other tasks to our armed forces but those are lesser concerns and, frankly, the wisdom of many of them is suspect.  But, I digress …

Our armed forces exist to fight and win peer wars.  Every plan we make, every item we buy, and every exercise we conduct must be run through the filter of, ‘how will this enhance our peer war capability?’.  If we can’t answer that with a good, solid rationale then we shouldn’t do it.  Yes, we can plan, equip, and train for lesser contingencies after we’ve completely nailed down our peer war capabilities and nothing we do should detract from our peer war capabilities.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the latest nonsense and drivel being put forth by the Navy/Marines.

Consider this statement,

The Navy and Marine Corps recently used a new Littoral Combat Force concept to command and control units spread over 2.2 million square miles of land and sea, in the latest demonstration of what a future operation near and on the shore might look like. (1)

Outstanding!  A demonstration of future peer war combat capabilities!  I mean, what else could such a momentous effort be geared towards, right?  But, hey, how about some more detail?  Okay, there’s this:

After the two services signed out the Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) concept in 2017, they’ve been trying to understand what gear they’d need to support moving small units of Marines around the littorals to take a beach, establish sea control from ashore, and more. (1)

Uh, wait … what now?  Small units of Marines?  How is that related to a high end, peer war with China?  How are small units going to defeat China?  I’m getting a bad feeling about this.

There was also no command and control model that adequately reflected that, under LOCE, there would no longer be a traditional blue-in-support-of-green or green-in-support-of-blue relationship. Rather, ships at sea would provide cover for Marines trying to get ashore, who could then set up temporary anti-ship missile launchers and contribute to sea control from ashore … (1)

Ships at sea provide cover for Marines trying to get ashore who then establish sea control???  This is classic Catch-22, circular logic and we've discussed it before (see, "Land To Enable Landings????").  We have to land Marines in order to establish sea control but if we can land Marines don’t we already have sea control?  The Marines have stated before that they envision landing and establishing sea control so as to enable landings.  Landing to enable landing?  Again, circular logic!  If you need to establish sea control to enable landings (and you do!) then how do you land the Marines who will establish the sea control?  I know … I’ve got a headache, too, but this is the Marine’s latest vision of future war.

Surely this major concept and core foundation for future war can’t all be about small units, can it?  Well, there’s this,

Last year, the Navy and Marines first tested out a key tenet of LOCE: the Littoral Combat Group, which would combine a traditional ARG and embarked Marine force with at least one surface combatant … (1)

So … a key tenet … an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG/MEU) plus one escort ship?  That’s the big game changer for future war?  This is not peer war combat power.  If we’re going to war against anything more than an irate Boy Scout troop we’re going to be in trouble! 

I think the real problem and the real goal is incorporated in the following statement.

He’s [CNO Gilday] certainly intrigued by that, and I [Expeditionary Strike Group 3 Commander Rear Adm. Cedric Pringle] owe him a few things as we capture all of our lessons learned and try to rewrite and organize the Navy’s integrated maritime power and talk about how we fight and how we also render assistance” in a disaster relief type of scenario. [emphasis added] (1)

You see it right there at the end of the statement.  I think this is all geared towards the ‘render assistance in a disaster relief type of scenario’ because it sure isn’t geared towards peer war!  Troublingly, the Navy does not seem to see peer war as a either a responsibility or a likelihood.  Instead, they seem focused on very low end threats, humanitarian response operations, and budget expansion.

Of course, what would all this be without some good buzzword bingo?

“I suspect that when he [Marine Commandant] comes out with his guidance here real soon, there’s going to be a heavy portion of it that discusses naval integration and how the Navy and Marine Corps and the Coast Guard can work better as an integrated American seapower team.” (1)

An ‘integrated American seapower team’!  I’m bursting with pride!  In fact, I think I just wet myself a little.

What a bunch of garbage all around.  We have no concept of how to wage a peer war and, far worse, we seem to have absolutely no interest in trying to develop a concept.  The Navy and Marines seem to believe that peer war is not even a possibility which must make the Chinese very happy.

The part I don’t understand is why the Navy is allowing the Marines to drive this effort.  It’s the Marines who came up with the Catch-22 ‘land to enable landings’ idiocy and they’re, somehow, getting the Navy to play along.  Baffling.  Our Navy and Marines are most definitely headed off the tracks.


(1)USNI News website, “Navy, Marines Practice ‘Littoral Combat Force’ Construct in Alaska”, Megan Eckstein, 23-Sep-2019,

Saturday, September 28, 2019

LCS Giffords Naval Strike Missile

Here's a picture of the LCS Giffords with the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) angled box launchers.  The ship is carrying 8 missiles, one in each box, as shown in the photo below.  I apologize.  The photo image probably exceeds the normal blog display space (at least it does on my PC) but I wanted to display it as large as possible and the Blogger engine does not handle images very well.

NSM on LCS Giffords

I'm highly critical of the LCS, as you well know, but I have to be fair.  The NSM finally gives the LCS some actual punch.  Of course, targeting remains the challenge.  The NSM far outranges the ship's sensors.  The LCS will have to depend on an off-board sensor of some sort.

By the way, does anyone have any idea what that green discharge down the side is?

There's no particular point to this post.  It's just an interesting visual of the NSM mount on an LCS.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Sea Hunter Myth

The unmanned Sea Hunter vessel has already assumed near mythic proportions in the minds of many observers – and, apparently, the Navy! - despite that fact that it has yet to demonstrate any actual performance whatsoever and despite the complete absence of any performance specifications and despite the lack of a specific mission and Concept of Operations (CONOPS).

Even by US military standards, the excitement surrounding Sea Hunter, a prototype unmanned submarine tracking vessel developed at a cost of $20m by US defence research agency DARPA, is startling. Variously described as “a highly autonomous unmanned ship that could revolutionise US maritime operations” and “a new vision of naval surface warfare”, the drone was developed through the agency’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ASW ACTUV) programme. (1)


‘revolutionize US maritime operations’
‘a new vision of naval surface warfare’

That’s some lofty praise and expectations for a vessel that has not yet demonstrated any capability, whatsoever.

Sea Hunter

Here are some of the claims being made for Sea Hunter:

-It has been described by the Navy as being capable of finding and following submarines indefinitely using a high frequency, fixed sonar array. (1)

-It has been suggested by observers as being capable of conducting complete, independent ASW operations.

-It has been suggested by commentators as being capable of conducting AAW/ASW wide area surveillance while, apparently, being undectectable.

“The drone boats could also scout well ahead of manned ships for the enemy… and get close to particularly high value assets, such as aircraft carriers or amphibious assault ships.” (1)

-It has been suggested as a replacement for capital ships.

“ACTUV represents a new vision of naval surface warfare that trades small numbers of very capable, high-value assets for large numbers of commoditized, simpler platforms that are more capable in the aggregate,” said Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). (1)

-It has been suggested as a mine countermeasures vessel and was tested in the role by DARPA. (1)

-It has been suggested as a harbor protection vessel.

-It has been suggested as a logistics supply vessel.

-It is planned to be used as an intel collection vessel.

… plans already in the pipeline include equipping drones with anti-submarine weapons and additional sensor suites to gather visual and electronic intelligence. (1)

As a refresher, the $20M Sea Hunter is a moderate size vessel (Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessel, MDUSV) of 132 ft in length, capable of 27 kts, and was designed by DARPA to operate unmanned and autonomously.  The vessel appears to be non-stealthy in the extreme.  It is designed to be modular with regard to payloads.  DARPA indicates the vessel can operate for 90 days with a range of 10,000 miles. (1)

DARPA has developed Sea Hunter, a prototype unmanned submarine tracking vessel with the ability to autonomously patrol the seas for months on end at a fraction of current costs. (1)

DARPA tested the Sea Hunter with the Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS – a tortured, contrived acronym if ever there was one!) which is, essentially, a parasail carrying a sensor or communications package aloft via a cabled parasail. (1)

Operating costs are reported to be in the range of $15,000-$20,000 per day versus $700,000 per day for a destroyer. (1)

Sea Hunter was transferred from DARPA to the Office Of Naval Research (ONR) in early 2018.

So, there’s the background.  Now how about some analysis?

ASW – The small size and low power of whatever sonar array the vessel has suggests a very limited sonar range.  Also, the vessel has no helo which, on this blog, nearly every commentator has stated is mandatory for successful ASW (ComNavOps, of course, does not believe helos are mandatory for successful ASW – useful, yes; mandatory, no).  Despite this, the Navy claims that the vessel, with a low powered, small sonar array and no helo, will be able to find and track submarines indefinitely despite that fact that our very best full size, high powered sonars on Burke destroyers, with the benefit of human interpretation of data and anticipation of submarine behavior and tactics and using helos to help search and prosecute, cannot reliably detect and track submarines.  Does it really make sense to you that a $20M vessel with a small, low powered, unmanned sonar can outperform our Burkes?  If that was really true and if that was what testing has already demonstrated (and I’m unaware of any realistic testing having been performed) wouldn’t the Navy be engaged in a crash program to replace the Burke sonars with these small, low powered sonars that require no manning and yet are many times more effective?  And yet, they aren’t.  What does that tell you?

Some commenters have suggested a swarm of Sea Hunters sweeping ahead of a surface group and clearing the path of submarines.  Again, the very limited range of the sonar fit precludes any useful ASW sweep capability unless several dozen such vessels were employed and who is going to control and perform data analysis on several dozen vessels simultaneously?

Surveillance/Intel/Scouting – The small size and limited power again limit the range of whatever sensors might be placed on the vessel.  More importantly, the vessel is non-stealthy, in the extreme, and would have a lifespan of minutes in a forward battle area.  How anyone thinks this vessel will sail ahead of a surface group and survive long enough to collect any useful surveillance data is beyond me.  Remember that to achieve any useful sensor range will require active radar which also pinpoints the craft’s location to the enemy.

Survivability – The vessel has no self-defense capability and is non-stealthy in the extreme.  It’s lifespan will be measured in minutes in a battle zone.

Control – Unless these vessels are going to operate 100% autonomously – and no one believes we’re at that level of software capability – then someone has to control the vessels and analyze any data they collect.  Given that most of the proffered applications call for many vessels, likely dozens, operating together, who is going to control the vessels and how will they do it?  It will require continuous, wide area, two-way communications which doesn’t exactly fit with combat EMCON requirements.

Logistics – The use of a Sea Hunter as a logistics transport vessel is nearly pointless.  It has no significant cargo capacity and no means to load/unload whatever it might carry.

Capital Ship Replacement – This is stupidity on a platter.  Our surface fleet is already too small and steadily shrinking and we would replace what we have with these combat useless vessels?  Claiming that the Sea Hunter is more capable in the aggregate is analogous to claiming that infantrymen are more capable in the aggregate than an armored unit of tanks.  Infantry have their uses but they are not more capable than armored units.

Patrol – This is the one application that is potentially useful.  Such a vessel might well make an efficient and effective harbor patrol craft.  Of course, that’s a peripheral task rather than combat but it would still be useful if the vessel’s cost can be contained.


It is worth bearing in mind that for most of these suggested uses a MH-60R/S helo which costs about the same as Sea Hunter (helo costs are $28M-$42M depending on type and source) has much more mobility, speed, capability, and survivability than a Sea Hunter.  In fact, the only redeeming quality of the Sea Hunter compared to a helo is the endurance and even that is only valid under certain defined circumstances.  The helo’s endurance is unlimited in the sense that it is carried by a host ship and so can travel as far and as long as the host ship.  The helos endurance becomes a factor only when it’s in the air – for example, dropping sonobuoys.  In comparison, given the Sea Hunter’s utter lack of survivability, its endurance is likely to be a non-factor!  All things considered for the helo vs. Sea Hunter, it almost seems as if we’re reinventing the wheel just to be able to make it unmanned.

Any reasonable analysis of Sea Hunter capability reveals the vessel to be very heavy on hype and very light on any useful function.  As I’ve harped on so many times, this is what a CONOPS does – it lays out, in detail, how a vessel will be used.  Sea Hunter has no CONOPS and, therefore, it can do anything and everything, or so its proponents would have us believe.

Sea Hunter, as it currently exists, is a hyped-up myth, nothing more.  That’s not to say that it isn’t worthwhile as a research program.  By all means, let’s continue to explore autonomy and unmanned vessels.  However, the Navy has already committed to a fleet of these vessels (specifically, their small and medium displacement unmanned vessels) with absolutely no CONOPS and no idea of how to use them or what their capabilities are (hint to the Navy: I’ve just told you what their capabilities are; they don’t have any!).  Does this sound eerily familiar?  It should.  It’s exactly what the Navy did with the LCS and you see how that turned out.  Remember all the projected uses for the LCS?  Why it was going to revolutionize the Navy and win wars single-handed.  The reality is that they have no use, are a drain on resources, can’t seem to sail two days with a breakdown, require more manning than the Perrys they replace, and have no place in combat.  It appears as if the Navy is now committed to building the unmanned version of the LCS.  Well, no one ever accused the Navy of being able to learn lessons!


(1)Naval Technology website, “Sea Hunter: inside the US Navy’s autonomous submarine tracking vessel”, 3-May-2018,

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Another Pointless Fatality Investigation

The Marines have released their findings on the Dec 2018 crash of a KC-130J tanker and a F/A-18D Hornet which resulted in the death of all five Marines on board the tanker and the death of the pilot of the Hornet.

The findings were the usual collection of “pilot error, inadequate oversight of training and operations and an unprofessional command climate”.  I won’t bore you with the details because we’ve covered them many times – every time there’s an incident, it’s always the same litany of problems and they never get fixed.

Here’s the part I want to focus on:

“The many findings of the investigation reconfirm our need to constantly evaluate risks, identify unsafe conditions, and ensure internal controls are being followed,” reads the summary.

Commanding General of III Marine Expeditionary Force Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy wrote, when signing off on the investigation, that “we must all learn from these failures and not repeat them,” according to the summary. (1)

These statements make me want to vomit because of their meaninglessness.  We’re not going to learn from the incident.  We’re not going to make any true corrections.  We’re just going to repeat the mistakes in the next incident.

Hey, Marines, here’s a radical thought … your report says you should constantly “evaluate risks, identify unsafe conditions, and ensure internal controls are being followed”.  How about, just for shits and giggles, instead of waiting for the next incident and then repeating the same report results almost verbatim, why don’t you investigate BEFORE an incident occurs?  That’s right – before.  Pick any unit and any operation and investigate it as if an incident had occurred and I guarantee you’ll find all the same failings.  Do that and you can correct the problems BEFORE they become the next fatal incident.

Hey, Gen. Clardy, if you care so much, why don’t you investigate your force now, before they die?


(1)USNI News website, “Marines: Lack of Training, Command Problems Contributed to Fatal 2018 Crash off Japan”, Megan Eckstein, 23-Sep-2019,

Monday, September 23, 2019

Carrier Costs

The carrier Ford’s construction costs seem way out of line even allowing for traditional first-in-class elevated costs.  In fact, carrier costs seem to have been increasing over and above simple inflation increases.  Those are my impressions at any rate.  Let’s take a look at some data and see what the situation really is.

The table below shows inflation adjusted construction costs for the nuclear carriers of the Nimitz class and the Ford.  Costs are obtained from the GAO report referenced in the table.  GAO cost figures are about as good as can be had in the public domain.

After adjustment for inflation – meaning all costs are set to FY19 dollars – the costs should all be identical if we were just making serial copies at the same relative cost.  Alternatively, if costs are decreasing due to serial production savings, as so many commenters want to claim, then we should see decreasing costs for each subsequent carrier.  Conversely, if carrier costs are increasing over and above mere inflation, as is my feeling, then we should see increasing cost figures.  Examine the table.

Carrier Construction Costs – Inflation Adjusted
2019 Dollars *
CVN-68 Nimitz (1)
CVN-69 Eisenhower (1)
CVN-70 Vinson (1)
CVN-71 Roosevelt (1)
CVN-72 Lincoln (1)
CVN-73 Washington (1)
CVN-74 Stennis (1)
CVN-75 Truman (1)
CVN-76 Reagan (1)
CVN-77 Bush (2)**
CVN-78 Ford (2)

* Costs for CVN68-76 were taken from Figure 3.2 in Ref 1 and adjusted for inflation.
** Bush costs are suspect and probably reflect the beginning of the accounting games that the Navy began playing with ship costs.

What does the table tell us?

Nimitz.  As expected, the cost of the first-in-class Nimitz is higher than the next couple of carriers.

Trend.  The cost trend shows a steady rise of around $1.5B from the early CVN-69 to the later CVN-76.  That’s an increase of $1.5B over and above inflation.  That’s real increases for reasons unknown.  The Nimitzes are, indeed, as serial a production run as the Navy gets.  Yes, each carrier undoubtedly had small changes but there was nothing particularly major over the course of the run.  So why did the costs increase?  I have no idea but it is clear that carrier costs are rising faster than inflation.  Serial production savings are a myth.

Bush.  As noted, the Bush costs were highly suspect and likely reflect Navy accounting games which began in earnest around that time.  Obviously, the Bush didn’t suddenly drop from around $9B for the previous carrier to $7B.  Also, if we think the Bush numbers are artificially/fraudulently low, what does that tell us about the purported Ford costs?!  We know Ford has been racking up additional construction costs since delivery even though the ship has been supposedly paid for.  The true cost of Ford is likely around $15B by now.

Ford.  The Ford, while a first-in-class, blows any reasonable first-in-class increase out of the water.  The magnitude of the real cost increase is stunningly staggering.  Staggeringly stunning?  Unbelievable!  Yes, the Ford had some new technologies inserted but the basic carrier construction is the same as a Nimitz.  The new tech (EMALS, AAG, weapon elevators, dual band radar) add some cost but none come close to accounting for the increase.  Bear in mind that this is construction costs only.  The development costs for the new tech are staggering but those are not included. 

While some might be tempted to write the Ford costs, staggering as they are, off to first-in-class, we should note that the second and third Fords are also projected to be around $12B each and we know with 100% certainty that those cost estimates will go up!  So, the Ford costs are not just first-in-class costs but real, albeit stunning, cost increases for unknown reasons.

The overall conclusion is absolute, if unexplainable: carrier costs are rising faster than inflation.  I have no idea why carrier costs are rising faster than inflation and without access to a detailed, itemized cost list, I can’t begin to explain it. 

Because of the escalating costs, we are pricing ourselves out of the carrier business.  Carrier numbers have dropped steadily from the 20’s to 15 to 11 to our current 9+1+1 (9 carriers + 1 in long term refit + 1 non-functional Ford).  The Navy has, at least twice, floated/attempted the idea of early retiring a carrier to drop the fleet from the statutory requirement of 11 to 10.  Given the runaway costs, look the Navy to push hard to early retire a carrier in the near future.  Before you protest, recall that we only have 9 air wings which means we can only operate 9 carriers, at most.  Nine air wings makes a tiny bit of sense in a 9+1 fleet but not in a 10+1.  Sooner or later, Congress is going to ask why we need 11 carriers when we only have 9 air wings.  If/when the Ford joins the fleet, we’ll have two carriers without aircraft.  Do you really think the Navy is going to continue to operate 11 carriers when 2 don’t have aircraft?

We desperately need to rethink our carrier construction philosophy.  Carriers are increasing in size at the same time that the air wings are shrinking.  There’s a logic disconnect there.  We’ve doubled the cost of carriers by building the Ford class with no commensurate increase in combat capability and, objectively, we’ve decreased combat capability by installing an EMALS that can’t be repaired without shutting down every catapult (and weapon elevator?) and decreased our willingness to risk a carrier in combat due to the massive cost.  We need to return to basic carriers.  I’d prefer returning to the Forrestal pattern (especially with the smaller air wings) but even a return to the Nimitz pattern would save several billion dollars per carrier!!!!!!!!!


(1)General Accounting Office, “Navy Aircraft Carriers”, Aug 1998, Figure 3.2, p.77

(2)CRS, “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class (CVN-21) Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O’Rourke, Apr-2008

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Air Force 5-Year Fighter Production Plan

The Air Force must be reading this blog since they’re copying one of ComNavOps’ posts almost verbatim.  The Air Force wants to build a new aircraft in just five years.  What?!!!  Five years?  How is that possible?  Well, ComNavOps explained how to build an aircraft in five years in a post a couple of years ago (see, “How To Build A Better Aircraft”).

Now, the Air Force is jumping on the bandwagon.  Presumably, the F-35 debacle has scared them to the point of recognizing that the current acquisition process is not viable.

The U.S. Air Force is preparing to radically alter the acquisition strategy for its next generation of fighter jets, with a new plan that could require industry to design, develop and produce a new fighter in five years or less. (1)

Build a new aircraft in just five years?!  Astoundingly, that’s exactly the time frame that ComNavOps put forth.

How will the Air Force accomplish this?  Why, the same way that ComNavOps has repeatedly stated should be done – by building with only existing technology and building in small batches!  To wit,

… the NGAD [Next Generation Air Dominance] program will adopt a rapid approach to developing small batches of fighters with multiple companies … (1)

Instead of maturing technologies over time to create an exquisite fighter, the Air Force’s goal would be to quickly build the best fighter that industry can muster over a couple years, integrating whatever emerging technology exists. The service would downselect, put a small number of aircraft under contract and then restart another round of competition among fighter manufacturers, which would revise their fighter designs and explore newer leaps in technology. (1)

… instead of trying to hone requirements to meet an unknown threat 25 years into the future, the Air Force would rapidly churn out aircraft with new technologies … (1)

This is exactly the process I’ve called for in both aircraft and ship acquisition.  Stop designing mega-programs that try to future proof platforms (not possible and hideously expensive) and, instead, build for shorter lifespans (see, “Ship Service Life Reduction”) and smaller batches of specialized assets.  The small batches and shorter lifespans allow future tech to be incorporated as it becomes available.  There’s no need to future proof that new aircraft because you’ll be building a new batch in a few years anyway and you can incorporate the future tech then.  This is just common sense on a cracker.

This approach also has the added and hugely important side benefit of keeping more industrial companies current and viable as opposed to the winner-take-all mega-project that ensures we wind up with just one or two companies.

I may have to sue the Air Force for plagiarism!  They are almost literally copying my posts.  Relax Air Force, it’s okay.  I don’t mind if you copy and adopt my ideas.  You should and you have my blessing!

Okay, Navy, the Air Force has seen the light of ComNavOps’ brilliance now what about you?  Get on board!  Let’s start building smaller, specialized ships with 15-20 year lifespans (you aren’t conducting maintenance so they won’t last long, anyway) and no need for future tech concurrency which has proven to be the downfall of the last several ship programs.


(1)Defense News website, “The US Air Force’s radical plan for a future fighter could field a jet in 5 years”, Valerie Insinna, 16-Sep-2019,

Monday, September 16, 2019

Walking and Talking Disconnect

The Commander, US Pacific Fleet website had an article that I chuckled through as I read it. (1)  The disconnect between the talk and the walk was so blatant as to be funny.  What made it even funnier was the utter obliviousness of the subject of the article, VAdm. Richard Brown, commander Naval Surface Forces.

Here’s the good Admiral’s thematic statement: 

“Lethal and tough in today’s fight.”

What a great sentiment but let’s start with the obvious – there is no fight today and any confrontation that might occur, we back down from, as a matter of policy.  So, the immediate flaw in the statement is that the leadership – meaning the good Admiral – doesn’t walk the talk, himself, as evidenced by his policies.  Given that there is no fight today, how are we supposed to be lethal?

Let’s give the Admiral the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s talking somewhat generically and referring to the potential enemies we face.

So, moving on,

“During SWFOTS [Surface Warfare Flag Officers Training Symposium], we discussed establishing policies and providing funding to support our commanding officers’ efforts to build combat ready ships and battle-minded crews,” Brown said in his address. (1)

Hey, Admiral, a good start to helping your commanding officers build combat ready ships and battle-minded crews would be to stop replacing commanding officers for every picayune offense, real and imagined.  How’s that for a helpful policy?  So what if he had a drink?  Who cares if he said something that might be construed to be offensive to someone, somehow.  A little feistiness of spirit would be a good first step towards a battle mindset.  Let the commanders exert themselves without constant fear of being second guessed over nothing.  Stop kowtowing to the mothers of sailors who think their precious son or daughter is being worked too hard. Your Captains are scared to impose discipline because it will instantly be transmitted over social media and you’ll relieve them for “loss of confidence in their ability to command” because you, Admiral, won’t stand up to a bunch of mothers of whiny sailors.

Admiral, you created this lack of toughness by selecting for milksop commanders.  You have no one to blame but yourself.  Why don’t you start the process by toughening up yourself and not giving in to every politically correct (PC) impulse?

You want combat ready and battle-minded?  How about getting rid of women?  They, literally, can’t pull their weight or their shipmate’s in a casualty evacuation situation.  They can’t lift damage control pumps.  They can’t lift shells.  But you won’t do that, will you?  That would require standing up to PC, wouldn’t it, and you’re not mentally tough enough and battle-minded enough to do that, are you?  Is it really a mystery to you why the fleet and your commanders aren’t tough and battle-minded?

Adm. Brown went on to offer two real-world examples of why crews need to be ready: 

  • Oct-2018 a Chinese Luyang destroyer approached the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur “in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea" while the Decatur was involved in Freedom of Navigation exercises.  When challenged, the Decatur veered off and went on its way, as Navy policy dictates.

  • Jun-2019 a Russian Udaloy class destroyer in the Philippine Sea made an unsafe maneuver near the USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), closing to about 50-100 feet and endangering the ship and crew.  Chancellorsville veered off, as Navy policy dictates.

Brown’s conclusion from these two examples?

“So we have to be lethal,” Brown said. “We have to be tough because we don't know when we're going to go into the fight.” (1)

That’s a nice platitude Admiral except for the fact that Navy policy is to meekly give way when confronted.  So, while ‘tough’ and ‘lethal’ are inspiring words, the reality is that, by policy, you’re forbidding our commanders from taking any action.  So, while you want to talk about ‘tough and lethal’ because it makes for a nice PowerPoint slogan, the reality is that our Navy is, by policy that you helped create and enforce every day, ‘meek and mild’.

Adm. Brown, you can talk the talk all you want but until you, personally, are willing to walk the talk, you’re just a hypocrite spouting slogans that mean nothing. 

Sir, you are talking but not walking.


Friday, September 13, 2019

Hunter-Killer ASW Groups

In WWII, with the exception of a few very fast transports that traveled alone, protected by their speed, most supply ships made the Atlantic crossing in convoys.  Protection was provided by escort ships.  Threats to the convoys included air attacks, notably from Focke-Wulf FW 200 Condor long range bombers, surface ship attacks, though this was more of a potential threat than actual, and U-boats which nearly choked off supplies to Britain and, later, Russia.

While the convoys had ASW-capable escorts, they were only marginally effective.  The major problem was that they were tied to the convoy.  They could not detach from convoy to conduct long, drawn out ASW engagements.  After a brief counterattack against a submarine, the escorts had to quickly return to their place in the escort screen.  Unfortunately, effective ASW generally involved patience and time that the escorts didn’t have.  The role of the escort ships was to hinder submarine attacks by their presence rather than kill submarines.

One of the solutions to this inability to engage submarines on a protracted basis was the formation of dedicated anti-submarine (ASW) hunter-killer (H-K) groups.  These groups were formed around smaller escort carriers along with several destroyers, frigates, destroyer escorts, corvettes, and sloops.  Not being tied to a convoy, the H-K groups were able to move independently, hunt for submarines rather than just react to an attack, and take the time necessary to prosecute contacts.

The H-K escort ships were, by and large, lower capability or second line vessels such as Black Swan class corvettes, River class frigates, Wickes and Clemson class 4-stack destroyers, and the like.  ASW, at the time, did not require state of art ships because the ASW sensors were small in size and the weapons were common.  The main requirement – the main ‘weapon’ - for effective ASW was persistent presence – the ability to patiently search and remain engaged as long as necessary, using the submarine’s limited underwater time against it. 

The most successful US ASW escort carrier was USS Bogue (CVE-9) whose aircraft and escorts sank 11 German and 2 Japanese submarines.  The carrier’s aircraft were Grumman Avengers and Wildcats which used depth charges, rockets, and Mk24 FIDO acoustic homing torpedoes.

USS Bogue with TBM/F Avengers on Deck

This also raises the issue of weapons.  The major difficulty in WWII ASW was the lack of weapons that could effectively engage a submarine.  Even with the nascent sonar systems of the time, detection was relatively easy.  The problem was that the weapons of the time were very inaccurate and largely ineffective.  It required many weapon launches to achieve a kill and many submarines got away despite the profligate expenditure of weapons.  Depth charges, the main weapon of the time, were marginally effective, at best.

When WWII ended, the US Navy continued to operate H-K groups culminating in the Cold War ASW skirmishes with the Soviet Union submarine fleet.  Due to the larger size of the ASW aircraft, larger carriers were required and the Navy converted WWII Essex class carriers to dedicated ASW carriers.  Surface ships employed ASW weapons such as Weapon Alpha, hedgehogs, torpedoes, and the unmanned DASH helicopter.  Groups consisted of a carrier and 8 destroyer escorts.

USS Essex, CVS-9, with S2F Trackers on Deck, 1965

Eventually, as the ASW Essex carriers retired without replacement and long range land based ASW patrol aircraft came on line, the H-K concept died out.  ASW efforts became centered on the S-3 Viking fixed wing ASW aircraft operated from carriers, land based ASW P-3 Orions and the like, and SSN submarines.

Of course, the S-3 Viking has been retired without replacement.  Land based ASW aircraft require a permissive environment to operate and that is an unlikely scenario in a peer war.  Submarines, while effective in the ASW role, will be tasked with many missions and their ASW efforts will be somewhat sporadic.  Worse, they will be unable to operate near friendly units due to the inability of those units to distinguish friend from enemy.

Thus, the Navy currently has no H-K groups and little in the way of persistent, dedicated, effective ASW capability.  Ironically and dangerously, while our ASW capability is withering we are simultaneously seeing the rise of peer Chinese and Russia submarine fleets.  While neither yet presents an overwhelming threat, the trend in both numbers and quality of submarines is improving and it is only a matter of time until the submarine threats become substantial.  Further, many smaller countries are investing in quiet, deadly, conventionally powered submarines (SSK) which present a major threat to our nearer-shore naval operations.

What conclusions and lessons can we draw from the history of H-K groups?
  • Combating submarines at the convoy is a losing proposition due to the escort’s inability to take the time necessary to successfully prosecute a contact.
  • Aircraft are extremely useful and effective ASW platforms.
  • Persistence and patience are the key attributes of ASW
  • Land based, ASW patrol planes do not have the persistence necessary for truly effective ASW engagements.
  • State of the art ships are not necessary.  The ASW gear must be reasonably modern but the ships themselves do not need to be front line vessels.

So, what does all this tell us about potential modern H-K groups?

Need - Having noted that the convoy is not the place to attempt ASW and that convoy escorts make ineffective submarine killers, it is clear that modern H-K groups, acting independently, are required.

Aircraft – While a fixed wing aircraft would be ideal for a H-K group, the reality is that rotary wing (helo) aircraft are the better choice in terms of simplicity and ease of operations and budget.  An S-3 Viking type aircraft would require a carrier with catapults, arresting gear, advanced maintenance support, etc.  In contrast, helos can operate from any flat surface which lends itself to modified commercial vessels similar to the simplistic escort carriers of WWII. 

Ships – As was found in WWII, the best combination of ships for an H-K group is a carrier and several low end ASW corvette/destroyer escort type vessels.  ASW does not require state of the art ships with advanced radars, stealth, etc.  A basic, cheap ship that can carry sonars, arrays, and anti-submarine weapons is all that is needed.  The baseness and cheapness of such ships allows them to be procured in numbers and put at risk.  Does anyone really think we’re going to risk $2.5B Burkes playing tag with submarines?  Heck, it would be foolish to put the Navy’s new $1.5B frigates at risk.  After all, ASW is a high risk business and the submarine has most of the advantages.

Regarding the carrier, a modified commercial cargo/tanker vessel would be suitable.  Add a flight deck with enough room to operate around 10 MH-60R helos and a covered hangar for maintenance and call it a day.  Simple, cheap, expendable.

What we absolutely can’t do is what the Navy always does: build a gold plated, do-everything ship.  An ASW carrier is, by definition and requirement, a low end ship in a high risk job.  That calls for a cheap, expendable (another way of saying cheap) ship that we’re willing to send into harm’s way.

Weapons – We now have ASW weapons (torpedoes) that we believe are effective – at least, that’s what we tell ourselves.  However, to the best of my knowledge, they have never been tested under realistic conditions.  As DOT&E has noted many times, the Navy’s submarine threat surrogates are unrealistic and unrepresentative in the extreme and testing has not occurred under operationally realistic conditions.  We need to fire actual torpedoes (warheads removed, of course) at real submarines that are trying their best to survive and see what happens.  Yes, we may dent some propellers and cause some superficial damage to the submarines (assuming we can hit them!) but that is well worth the cost to find out how effective our weapons and tactics really are.

I’ve stated repeatedly that we need a Soviet RBU-ish type of rocket depth charge launcher (see, "The Modern Hedgehog").  This is even more important for H-K corvettes that will go toe-to-toe with submarines.

The US Navy has all but abandoned ASW in any persistent, dedicated, effective form and we need to regain that capability.  We need to bring back a fixed wing carrier ASW aircraft, ASW corvettes, and dedicated ASW Hunter-Killer groups.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Forward Presence - Deterrent or Provocation?

One of the tenets of US naval policy is forward presence which, the Navy believes, has a deterrent effect on potential enemies.  ComNavOps has repeatedly stated that forward presence, at least as practiced today, has zero deterrent effect.  However, for the sake of this discussion, let’s set my misgivings aside, accept the Navy’s premise, and examine it a bit closer.

To repeat, the premise is that forward presence equals deterrence.

However, what if the reverse is actually true – that forward presence not only fails to provide deterrence but actively encourages war?  Huh?  Well that can’t be right.  I mean, sure, maybe forward presence is debatable as far as accomplishing deterrence but it surely can’t encourage war … can it?

Well, where is the first place we always turn for answers?  That’s right, history!  What does history tell us about forward presence?  Let’s look at some examples.

Pearl Harbor – The Pearl Harbor naval base was developed during the 1920’s and ‘30s and became the home of the US Pacific fleet in 1939 and beyond.  It was hoped that the forward presence of the Pacific Fleet would temper Japanese encroachments on China and the surrounding region.  Many US analysts believed that the Japanese, if they initiated hostilities, would strike the Dutch East Indies, Singapore or Indochina.  Instead, as we know, the Japanese took advantage of the concentration of US naval and air power to deal what they hoped was a crippling blow.

It seems almost certain that the Japanese viewed the concentration of vulnerable US military power as too good an opportunity to pass up.  Instead of acting as a deterrent, the Pearl Harbor forward base acted as a stimulus for the Japanese who believed that destroying that much of the US Pacific forces would ensure their successful occupation of the various South Pacific islands and facilities that were their ultimate objectives. 

We see, then, that far from deterring Japan, the forward base of Pearl Harbor encouraged and hastened the onset of war by presenting a target too good for Japan to pass up.

Admittedly, this is pure speculation, though well reasoned.  We have no documents or contemporaneous statements to the effect that Pearl Harbor’s concentration of military might encouraged the war.  On the other hand, we have no statements to the contrary and many documented writings and statements about the attractiveness of Pearl Harbor as a target so the conclusion that the forward base encouraged war is eminently logical.

Falklands – The Falkland Islands (and South Georgia) provided forward presence and served as a forward base of sorts for UK interests in the Antarctic  region and minor trade activities.  The islands were the subject of disputed territorial claims by the UK and Argentina.  Argentina, which was suffering from domestic unrest and economic troubles, seized on the opportunity to use the Falklands to deflect internal political criticism and create a rallying point for the population.  With the UK’s main military forces far away and having witnessed the UK initiate territorial transfer discussions, Argentina believed that the UK would not respond to a seizure of the islands.  As we know, the British did respond and the Falklands War resulted.

While not a forward base in the classic military sense, the islands were still a forward base for UK interests and presented a convenient and irresistible target for Argentina.  The British forward presence encouraged the conflict.

United States Colonies – The forward presence represented by the British colonies in America in the early to mid 1700’s were a trigger for numerous conflicts between the French and British, including the well known French and Indian War of 1754-1763.  Just a little later, the American Revolution resulted in the formation of the United States.  Clearly, the British forward presence, in the form of colonies and military forces, acted as a trigger for multiple conflicts.

Poland – Germany began WWII by invading Poland.  While Poland was not a forward base/presence in the strict definition of such, it did, by aligning itself with the UK (1939 Agreement of Mutual Assistance, for example), become a de facto UK forward base/presence for hostilities and operations against Germany.  While there were multiple reasons for Germany’s selection of Poland as the initial strike of WWII (Lebensraum, for example), did Poland’s forward location (adjacent to Germany) and vulnerability make it too good a target for Hitler’s Germany to pass up and thus encouraged the start of war?

To be fair, this example is a bit of a reach and may be a case of attempting a bit of tortured reasoning to support the premise.

Guam – Although a war has not yet occurred, the US forward base at Guam offers the Chinese the same type of overwhelmingly enticing target that Pearl Harbor offered the Japanese.  Elimination of Guam as a forward base would severely impair US military operations in a war and the Chinese obviously recognize this.  Will a strike on Guam prove to be a temptation to good to pass up for the Chinese and encourage them to initiate a war?

US Middle East and Pacific Fleets – While not forward bases in and of themselves (though they are forward based in the respective regions), it is clear that the forward presence of the US Middle East and Pacific Fleets is stimulating aggressive acts, some meeting the definition of acts of war, by Iran and China – acts that would not occur if not for the presence of US naval assets.  Thus, forward presence is encouraging aggressive, war-tending acts.

Spanish-American War of 1898 – The Spanish forward presence/base in Cuba ignited various United States economic, strategic, and humanitarian interests.  The sinking of the USS Maine provided the trigger that allowed the US to justify the initiation of war but it was a war that was stimulated by the Spanish forward presence and was likely to happen with or without the Maine incident.

It seems clear that forward presence has the inherent tendency to encourage conflict rather than deter it.  That makes the US geopolitical strategic policy linking forward presence and deterrence highly suspect.  Thus, the entire rationale for the US Navy’s global forward presence is founded on an untrue premise that forward presence equals deterrence when, in fact, history suggests the exact opposite effect. 

While forward presence has a clear antagonistic effect, it is important to recognize that forward presence also accomplishes beneficial objectives and that an accelerated movement to war may be a ‘good’ and necessary step to those ends.  While the reverse case, meaning no forward presence, might have prevented many conflicts it would also have allowed many undesirable situations to arise.  For example, without the forward base of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese would have been able to achieve their Indo-China goals and might have been able to prevail in any subsequent conflict.  Had the British refrained from establishing forward bases in colonial America, the territory might well have been completely occupied by the French.  If the US naval presence were absent from the Middle East and South/East China Seas, Iran and China would likely have established a militant and military presence (China has annexed the South China Sea even with our presence!).  And so on.

Thus, the mere fact that forward presence encourages conflict is not, in and of itself, reason to avoid it.  Instead, the use of forward presence should be entered into with careful forethought as to the repercussions and should be balanced against the desired gains and benefits.

One final thought is that forward presence, when combined with a policy of appeasement, which is how the US implements its forward presence, promotes all the negatives of aggressive behavior with none of the benefits.  It is the worst of both worlds.


Comment note:  The examples offered have varying degrees of validity and none are absolute, clear cut, indisputable proof of the premise.  Any one example could be argued.  Further, the reverse of the premise which would be that forward presence prevents war and, if true, would disprove the post premise, is impossible to prove, absent statements from foreign leaders stating that they wanted to initiate war but were discouraged from doing so by the forward presence of their enemy and, of course, there are no such statements on record.  Thus, the way to read this post is to consider the totality of the examples and logic and consider the pattern described herein.  I am specifically NOT going to entertain individual arguments about the examples.  If you wish to comment, do so about the overall premise rather than individual examples.  Fair warning.

Finally, regarding forward presence and deterrence, someone is inevitably going to claim that our forward presence in, say, Europe, has resulted in no Soviet/Russian war and, therefore, must be true.  This is a case of correlation versus causation.  Just because there is a correlation (presence and no war) does not mean there is a causation.  One could just as logically argue that our implementation and use of fluoride in our water supply in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s correlates to no wars with the Soviets/Russia.  Therefore, fluoride must prevent wars as well as cavities!  Well, obviously fluoride doesn’t prevent wars – that’s correlation without causation.