Thursday, October 31, 2019

US Forces Not Ready for Electronic Warfare

Breaking Defense website has a short article about electronic warfare (EW) and EW training that states everything I've been saying about our woeful lack of preparedness and the military's steadfast determination to avoid realistic training.  

I'm not going to comment further.  The article says everything that needs to be said.  Please, please check it out:

"US Forces Untrained, Unready For Russian, Chinese Jamming"

Breaking Defense, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 30-Oct-2019

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Air Force Continues To Pass On Light Attack Aircraft

For many years now, the idiocy of using front line jets to plink trucks has been obvious.  The solution has been just as obvious – use a light (probably propeller driven) attack aircraft.  The benefits are blindingly obvious:  cheaper acquisition cost, cheaper operating cost, easier to maintain, easier to learn to fly, etc.  Note that when we say cheaper, we mean by astronomically huge margins.  In the military budget world, these light attack planes border on free to buy and free to operate.

ComNavOps has suggested that the Navy acquire a simple Essex-type carrier to operate a wing of Super Tucanos or something similar.  The Navy has no interest in that and wants no part of it.  In fact, the Navy seems quite happy to burn through F-18 Hornet flight hours rather than embrace a simple, cheap solution.  They have sidestepped the issue by allowing the Air Force to take the lead on ‘evaluating’ the concept.

Tucano Light Attack Aircraft

So, how is the Air Force progressing?  You would think that it would take all of about a week to evaluate the issue, right?  I mean, it’s just not that complicated.  Let’s see how they’re doing.  From a Breaking Defense article,

After a decade of dithering, and under threat from Congress to strip the program from its control, the Air Force today issued its long-awaiting request for proposal (RFP) for the Light-Attack Aircraft to Textron Aviation for the AT-6 and Sierra Nevada Corporation/Embraer Defense & Security for their A-29. (1)

So, rather than a week of evaluation, the Air Force has wiled away a decade????  How can that be?  Well, the answer is obvious.  The Air Force wants nothing to do with a small, light aircraft.  If it isn’t a high cost, high performance jet, the Air Force doesn’t want it – just like they don’t want the A-10.  It’s just like the Navy’s disdain for small vessels, no matter how useful.

So, if the Air Force doesn’t want a small, light attack aircraft why are they even pretending to look at it?  Well, it’s because Congress and public opinion has forced them to make a token effort. 

Well, at least they’re finally going to commit to a light attack aircraft, right?  Wrong. 

The Air Force will buy “two or three of both,” an Air Force spokeswoman told Breaking D today. (1)

So, a decade of dithering and now they’re going to buy two or three of each of the two types for a total buy of 4-6.  That’s not exactly commitment – that’s more delay.

Okay, so that’s a miniscule initial buy but that will quickly ramp up to significant purchases, right?  Wrong.

Air Combat Command will take charge of the AT-6 Wolverine planes at Nellis AFB in Nevada “for continued testing and development of operational tactics and standards for exportable, tactical networks that improve interoperability with international partners,” the announcement said. [emphasis added]

Air Force Special Operations Command will use the A-29 Super Tucano at Hurlburt Field in Florida “to develop an instructor pilot program for the Combat Aviation Advisory mission, to meet increased partner nation requests for light attack assistance.”

Newly installed Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett chimed in with one of her first official statements, saying: “Over the last two years, I watched as the Air Force experimented with light attack aircraft to discover alternate, cost-effective options to deliver airpower and build partner capacity around the globe. I look forward to this next phase.” (1)

So … … … more studies?

And, what’s this about other countries?

Phase 3, ongoing since at least 2011, includes looking more closely at their use by allies, such as Afghanistan and Lebanon, who both own small numbers of the A-29, for counter-insurgency operations, and assessing how many the Air Force and allies might buy.

“Our focus is on how a light attack aircraft can help our allies and partners as they confront violent extremism and conduct operations within their borders,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein in the Air Force announcement. “Continuing this experiment, using the authorities Congress has provided, gives us the opportunity to put a small number of aircraft through the paces and work with partner nations on ways in which smaller, affordable aircraft like these can support their air forces.” (1)

Congress started this project to acquire small, light attack planes for OUR use, not for other countries.  Where did this focus on other countries come from?  Who gives a rat’s ass about what other countries might think about our light attack aircraft?  This is just a way to continue postponing any significant action by the Air Force.

And, just to close out the idiocy, there’s this tidbit,

Sydney did a comparison of the two planes way back in 2012. (1)

Hey, no sense using what they learned.  That would be too quick.  Better to spend a decade restudying and delaying, right Air Force?

By the way, with the cost of a decade or so of ‘studying’ we could have already purchased all the light attack aircraft we need and had plenty of money left over.

With the Air Force taking the lead on light attack aircraft, the Navy is never going to get a cheap, simple alternative to burning through Hornet flight hours but I guess that’s fine by the Navy.  Why use a free aircraft when you can use a $100M jet with a limited number of flight hours?


(1)Breaking Defense, “Air Force Finally Commits To Buy Up To 6 Light Attack Aircraft ”, Theresa Hitchens, 25-Oct-2019,

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Rot Starts At The Top

ComNavOps has long criticized Navy leadership and called – hopelessly – for their mass firing.  ComNavOps firmly believes that an organization’s character and characteristics start at, and are derived from, the top.  An organization takes on the attributes of its leaders, good or bad.

Navy leadership has, once again, shown its true, deplorable, colors.  Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer  – you remember him, right? the guy who promised Trump that he could fire him if the Ford’s elevators weren’t fixed by the end of summer? – has now come out and blamed Congress and anyone else he could think of for the Ford’s problems.  Let’s take a look at his alternate reality view of the world, as reported by USNI News.

The problem starts with Spencer utterly failing to understand where he and the Navy stand in the United States government scheme of things.

Spencer called out Congress, who he refers to as his “board of directors, …” (1)

Mr. Spencer (I’ll forego giving him the courtesy of addressing him by his title since, by his own statement to the President, he has forfeited his right to the title), let me set you straight.  Congress is not your ‘board of directors’.  Congress is the people of the United States and, as such, YOU WORK FOR THEM.  THEY ARE YOUR BOSS.  You are subservient and serve at the pleasure of the people.  Now that we have that most fundamental of understandings cleared up …

Spencer was, apparently, especially upset with comments and questions from Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) who referred to the Ford as a “$13-billion nuclear-powered floating berthing barge” during a House Armed Services readiness subcommittee hearing. (1)  Spencer’s response was,

“Not one of her comments was, how can I help?” Spencer said. “I consider that disparaging. (1)

Apparently, Mr. Spencer has utterly forgotten that Rep. Luria and the rest of Congress gave Spencer and the Navy over $10B dollars to build the Ford – all the money that Navy said they needed.  Then, when the Navy failed to properly do that, Luria and Congress gave the Navy several billion dollars more and obligingly increased the spending cap multiple times!  As delays and costs have continued to mount, Luria and Congress have continued to supply Spencer and the Navy with ever more money and time.  How much more helpful can they be, Mr. Spencer?  They did everything you asked and backed you up and supported you when you failed, time after time.  

What Congress did wrong was to aid and abet the Navy as they built their floating debacle.  What they should have done was refuse to give the Navy any more money past the original budget request until those in the Navy who were responsible for that original failure were fired.  Perhaps that would have motivated the next set of program managers to perform better and more honestly.

By the way, lest you think Rep. Luria is an uninformed, know-nothing, Congressional hack, you should know that she is a retired nuclear-trained surface warfare officer and U.S. Naval Academy graduate.  That is some top notch qualifications. 

Apparently, Spencer believes that anyone who has the temerity to ask questions is ‘disparaging’.  I guess Mr. Spencer does not know that Congress’ job is to exercise oversight AND ASK QUESTIONS.  In fact, if Congress had exercised more extensive and effective oversight maybe Ford wouldn’t be such a disaster.

Here is Luria’s statement on the matter,

“I find it disappointing that the Secretary finds Congressional oversight disparaging. Here are the facts: The USS Ford will be six years delayed in its initial deployment, which causes incredible strain on the carrier fleet. Secretary Spencer himself promised the President that the weapons elevators would be fully functional by the end of this past summer. It is now fall and no elevators accessing the ammunition storage areas are functioning, which results in a carrier with no combat capability. I have yet to see a detailed plan to fix the multitude of problems with these new technologies. The Navy accepted the design of these systems and accepted the ship in an incomplete state from HII so it is absolutely my role to question Navy leadership on their current failure to deliver an operational ship to the fleet.” (1)

She could not be more on point.

Spencer also blames Congressional cost caps.

Spencer added it was Congress that placed a price cap on the carrier’s construction. The result, Spencer said, was that contractors made production decisions focused on saving money. (1)

Mr. Spencer again betrays both his ignorance and his total absence from reality.  The cost caps were established by the Navy’s cost estimates as supplied to Congress.  If the cost caps were inadequate, it was because the Navy lied utterly failed to accurately predict the costs.  In fact, Congress has increased the cost cap twice beyond the original cap, from $10.5B to $11.8B to $12.9B, as the Navy has blown through each cap (which leads one to ask what the point of a cost cap is if it’s simply raised every time the budget is exceeded – but, I digress …) .  Apparently, Mr. Spencer believes that it is Congress’ job to give him unlimited money.

Mr. Spencer, instead of disparaging Congress and trying to tell them how to do their jobs, why don’t you do yours?

Mr. Spencer has already demonstrated that his word is worthless, now he’s demonstrating that he’s living in some kind of twisted, alternate reality.

It’s no wonder the Navy is in the shape it’s in.  It’s no wonder that the Navy works harder at evading and circumventing Congress than they do at preparing to defend the country.  It comes from the top.

The rot starts at the top and the top is rotten.

Mr. Spencer, show us you have a tiny modicum of integrity and resign, as you vowed to do.  You promised, you failed, now do it like you said corporate America does and resign.


(1)USNI News website, “SECNAV Spencer Rebuts Congressional Criticism of Ford Carrier Program”, Ben Werner, 23-Oct-2019,

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Chinese Type 22 Missile Boat

Today we’re going to take a look at the Chinese Type 22, Houbei class missile boat.  It is a small, fast, stealthy assassin with massive firepower relative to its size.  The class has been built in large numbers (Wiki cites 83 boats currently built and active) which suggests that it will operate in squadrons, allowing it to mass its firepower.  Properly used, this is a formidable threat.

Let’s take a closer look.

Type 22 Missile Boat

Size - The vessel is a 140 ft long catamaran design with a 220 ton displacement and a crew of 12 (1).  For comparison, this puts it at around 1/3 the length of the LCS and a 1/16 the displacement.

Propulsion - Four waterjets give it a speed of 36 kts. 

Number - Wiki cites 83 boats currently built and active.

Range - Range is a potential issue with suggestions of a 300 mile range based on similar civilian craft. (1)

Sensors - Sensors are an issue but operating within the A2/AD zone may greatly mitigate sensor limitations.  It has a Type ESR-1 362 surface search radar plus a Fenis-ME electro-optical tracker and a Kolonika II low-light-level optical director and backup CIWS fire control director, on top of the bridge.  A mast-mounted Type 765 I-band navigation radar rounds out the sensor fit. 

Armament - It carries 8x C-802/803 anti-ship missiles with a range of 100-125 miles depending on variant, an AK-630 (30 mm) CIWS, and a small FLS-1 surface-to-air launcher for QW series missiles. (1)  The Type 22 has extensive communications and data link equipment which suggests the capability for off board control of the missiles.

As noted, this vessel is a combat vessel with firepower far out of proportion to its size.  Add to that, numbers and stealth and you have a vessel that will be hard to detect and can operate in squadrons for concentrated missile salvos – a formidable naval force, to be sure!

The number of vessels built, 83, is magnified by the small operating area that the boats will operate in.  Unlike a 300 ship US Navy which is spread over an entire world, the entire Type 22 fleet of 83 boats is concentrated in the relatively small East or South China Seas.  This has the effect of magnifying the vessels firepower because it automatically concentrates it.

This also suggests that the Chinese will use it as an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) asset to keep US naval forces out of the South and East China Seas.  This also suggests a defensive mindset as opposed to an open ocean, long range naval hunter vessel.  If true, this in turn suggests how the Chinese view the S/E China Seas – essentially, they act as a buffer zone or ‘moat’ around the mainland.  The Chinese are clearly working toward becoming a global naval/military force but this suggests that they are not there, yet, and that their current focus is defensive.

There is also some suggestion that the Type 22 has a shore bombardment role in support of amphibious operations in addition to the anti-ship role. (1)  If true, this would give the Chinese a small, stealthy, hard to hit fire support vessel – a capability that would be unmatched in the world.

It is difficult to talk about the Type 22 without comparing it to the American LCS.

The obvious conclusion is that this is one version of what the LCS could have been.  The LCS tried to be and do everything and failed to be or do anything.  Had the LCS concept been more focused, the Type 22 is one version of what might have been – a small, lethal, stealthy, fast, focused, anti-surface craft cheap enough to be acquired in large numbers and operate in massed squadrons.

The US Navy talks incessantly about distributed lethality.  Unfortunately, the LCS is a poor fit for the distributed lethality concept.  Further, many observers and some naval officers have talked about the LCS as a modern PT boat.  Again, this is utterly ridiculous, for reasons we’ve previously discussed.  The irony is that the Type 22 actually fills the role of a modern PT boat and distributed lethality asset quite well.  Again, this is a version of the LCS that could have been.

A Type 22 swarm attack against a US carrier group would be unstoppable although it is difficult to imagine how such a swarm would even get close enough to launch an attack.  ‘Swarm’ in this scenario is radically different than the Iranian type swarm.  In this case, it would amount to a long range missile swarm as opposed to a short range rocket attack.  That said, I don’t believe the Chinese view the Type 22 as a viable carrier attack asset although if the chance presented itself …

In summary, the Type 22 appears to be a defensive, A2/AD asset intended to prevent US naval entry into the S/E China Seas.  Its stealth, cheapness, and numbers make it the distributed lethality asset that the US Navy wants but has failed to develop.  This is the distributed threat that will ‘confuse and complicate’ our operational and tactical thinking just as we hoped that distributed lethality ships would confuse Chinese naval commanders.  The difference is that the Chinese actually have a suitable vessel for distributed lethality operations whereas we do not. 

The Type 22 is also a good representation of the Hughes concept of small, distributed naval forces – a concept that ComNavOps disagrees with, at least, for the US – and, again, ironically, it is the Chinese that have developed it.


Monday, October 21, 2019

Forrestal - Ford Comparison

The Ford class aircraft carrier represents the pinnacle of carrier development.  Its features represent the best aircraft carrier characteristics ever conceived and have never before been matched.  The Ford instantly obsoletes every other carrier that has come before.  Or so the Navy would have us believe.  In true ComNavOps fashion, let’s take a level-headed, objective look at a comparison between a supposedly hopelessly obsolete carrier design, the Forrestal, and the revolutionary Ford.

Here’s a quick comparison.

Cost, FY19 dollars
Length Overall, ft
Displacement Full Load, tons
Speed, kts
Range, miles
Propulsion, Shaft Hp
Air Wing, number of aircraft
Combat Aircraft, number of aircraft
Crew without Air Wing

a Reportedly around 700 less than a Nimitz class
b Estimated – USS Enterprise, CV-6, had a range of 12,500 nm at 15 kts (Wikipedia);  I’ve been unable to find an actual range for Forrestal

USS Forrestal

USS Ford

So, how do the two carriers compare?  Well, two factors just leap off the page.

Cost.  The Ford just explodes any previous carrier cost by a staggering amount.  Ford costs over 6x a Forrestal !!!!!!  We could build 6 Forrestals for one Ford.  Even compared to the Nimitz class, the Ford is about 60% more expensive (see, “Carrier Costs”).

The Ford cost is simply not sustainable.  A single Ford represents nearly a full year’s shipbuilding budget all by itself.  There’s no mystery about why our carrier fleet is steadily declining and why our air wings are steadily shrinking – it’s all about the cost.

Air Wing.  The other number that leaps off the page is the size of the air wings and the number of combat aircraft (fighters and strike).  Despite a whopping 23% increase in displacement, the Ford carries far fewer aircraft:  only ¾ of the Forrestal air wing and 70% of the combat aircraft (less when F-18 tanker aircraft are excluded from the count). 

Note that F-35C squadrons will be only 10 aircraft, further reducing the air wing and combat aircraft numbers. (2)

Combat.  The reason a carrier exists is, of course, combat.  Does the Ford offer any combat enhancements over a Forrestal?  None.  The only combat related claim ever made for the Ford was the now-debunked (by GAO and others) sortie rate claim.  In fact, the Ford has a few features that actually decrease its combat capability such as the EMALS catapults that can’t be individually or easily repaired without taking all the catapults off line in a massively time consuming electrical flywheel spin down and spin up procedure.

All other combat characteristics are identical between the two carriers:  same number of catapults, same launch capacity, same flight cycle operations, same aircraft recovery capacity, same number of elevators, etc.

Conclusion.  So, what do we gain from our staggeringly expensive $13B+ state of the art Ford class carrier?  Absolutely nothing!  In fact, the Forrestal cost a fraction of the Ford and carried a larger air wing.  Some of you may be saying that the Ford could carry a larger air wing and you’d be right, in theory.  The reality, however, is that the carrier costs so much that we can’t afford the air wing.  What’s a carrier without an air wing?  A floating paperweight!  What’s a carrier with a reduced air wing?  A marginally useful combat carrier. 

Note: You know that we only have 9 air wings for our 11 carriers, right?  That means we only have a maximum of 9 operational carriers.

Consider, however, if we were to build modern versions of the Forrestal for $2.1B.  Compared to the Ford, that would leave us with $11.4B to buy more carriers and more more/larger air wings.

A modern Forrestal sized air wing (say, 85 aircraft), at an average of $100M per aircraft, just to use a round number, costs around $8.5B – well within our $11.4B savings and still leaving us with $2.9B we could use for another carrier or escorts.

So, why are we building 100,000 ton, $13B+ Fords when we’ve just demonstrated that a modern Forrestal could provide the same combat capability and larger air wings for a tiny fraction of the cost?


Reference – Air Wing Composition

Typical air wing composition in mid-1980’s with number of squadrons, type of aircraft, and number of aircraft per squadron. (1)

2x F-14 Tomcat, 12 ea = 24
2x A-7 Corsair, 12 ea = 24
1x A-6 Intruder, 10-12 plus 4 KA-6D
1x E-2 Hawkeye, 4-6
1x EA-6B Prowler, 4
1x SH-3 Sea King, 6
1x S-3 Viking, 10

Total = 82-86
Combat = 58-60

Typical current air wing composition with number of squadrons, type of aircraft, and number of aircraft per squadron. (1)

4x F-18 Hornet, 10-12 ea = 40-44
1x E-2 Hawkeye, 4-5
1x EA-18G Growler, 5
1x MH-60S Seahawk, 8
1x MH-60R Seahawk, 6-8

Total = 63-70
Combat = 40-44


(1)Wikipedia, “Carrier Air Wing”, retrieved 16-Oct-2019,–1990)_and_the_1983_Invasion_of_Grenada

Friday, October 18, 2019

Logistics Surge Exercise

You recall hearing about the recent Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) surge exercise, no doubt.  ComNavOps has been eagerly awaiting the results and they’re beginning to trickle in.  USNI News website reports that 80%-85% of the vessels were able to meet their underway requirement.

TRANSCOM officials are still reviewing the results of the turbo activation, but initial reports indicate that between 80 percent and 85 percent of the ships targeted to participate were able to successfully meet the underway evaluation criteria, Navy Capt. Kevin Stephens, a TRANSCOM spokesman, told USNI News. (1)

To briefly review, here’s a description of the exercise.

Overall, 33 surge sealift ships left Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coast ports last month as part of the turbo activation. Most of the ships were part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) Ready Reserve Force.  

The purpose of the test was to gauge how effectively the Ready Reserve Force – the fleet of civilian-operated ships that would be called upon to deliver personnel and equipment – could be activated in an emergency. The ships have five days to be fully crewed and set sail for what is typically between a three and five-day sea trial. The turbo activation involved nearly 1,000 merchant marines who were called to work on ships usually maintained by skeleton crews. At sea, each ship has between 30 and 40 crew members. (1)

The question, of course, is whether a 80%-85% success rate is good or bad.  It’s supposed to be 100% success but that’s unrealistic.  There will always be some unexpected breakdowns that prevent sailing.  On the other hand, these ships are supposed to be checked and maintained on a regular basis, as I understand it, so even one failure to sail should not happen.  So, is that fact that several ships were unable to sail acceptable? 

I guess I’d call the result disappointingly average.  It’s not horrible – 50% success would be horrible – but it’s not great.  What do you think?  Good or bad?


(1)USNI News website, “TRANSCOM Stress Test Practiced Cargo Delivery Through Mine- and Sub-Filled Waters”, Ben Werner, 16-Oct-2019,

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Open Ocean Ship Detection

There is a misguided and incorrect belief among some military observers that ships are a relic of a bygone era – doomed to be instantly found and sunk in any war.  The belief is that ships cannot hide from modern surveillance systems such as satellites and radar – that every ship will be instantly detected the moment it puts to sea and continuously tracked until it is sunk, presumably moments after leaving port.

Is this true?  Can ships be flawlessly detected and tracked?  Well, the US Navy certainly seems unable to detect and track giant commercial cargo ships before colliding with them.  However, that’s not the kind of detection and tracking we’re talking about.  We’re talking about finding ships at sea somewhere in the middle of an immense ocean – ships that don’t want to be found.

I’ll state the reality flat out: finding a ship in the ocean is a very difficult task and tracking it is even harder.  Now, what evidence do we have to support that statement?

You’ll recall the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777-200ER, that took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014 and flew into the South China Sea toward Vietnam and then Beijing and completely vanished and has, thus far, eluded all search and recovery efforts.  It was flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet.  The aircraft was emitting a transponder signal in addition to being tracked on flight control radars.  As the aircraft entered Vietnamese air control, it disappeared from radar and transponder tracking.  Although it vanished from tracking, it did not immediately crash.  Instead, it appears to have radically changed course and flew for several more hours, untracked. (1)

The aircraft eventually crashed, of course, and the crash location should have been easily pinpointed but the reality was that aircraft appears to have been nowhere near its believed crash location.  A large, non-stealthy aircraft, flying at high altitude in the Indo-China region should have been as easy a tracking exercise as there is and yet the aircraft managed to vanish and fly for several more hours, undetected and untracked.  What does that suggest about our ability to track small, stealthy aircraft, perhaps flying at very low levels and taking advantage or terrain or weather conditions to intentionally evade detection?  What does that suggest about our ability to track stealthy ships, partially obscured in wave clutter and hidden to varying degrees by weather?

A similar incident occurred with an Indian Air Force An-32 which vanished from radar on 22-Jul-2016 over the Bay of Bengal.  Extensive searches for a month turned up no sign of the aircraft.  Again, a large, non-stealthy aircraft, making no attempt to hide, managed to vanish completely.

These examples involved large, high flying aircraft which were not only making no attempt to hide but carried transponders to expressly enhance the ability to track them and yet each vanished without a trace.

Let’s look at some different evidence.

You’ll recall the supposed Oct 2016 Yemen missile attacks against the USS Mason, a Burke class destroyer?  The Mason reported several missile attacks over a period of a few days.  Despite the most sophisticated air surveillance radar and sensors in the world, along with the sensors of other nearby ships and other regional surveillance assets, no other ship or asset reported detecting missiles and the Navy was unable to say whether the Mason’s surface to air missiles, fired defensively, actually hit anything.  Further, the Navy was unable to say what happened to the attacking missiles.  All this led us, in this blog, to conclude that there was no attack (see, “YemenMissile Attacks”).  If the combined sensors of multiple ships and the regional sensors in the area couldn’t even definitively state that an attack had, or had not, occurred or what became of the various missiles, how do we expect to track ships and aircraft with flawless, omniscient accuracy? 

There is also the now legendary example of the Cold War carrier group that parked off the coast of Russia and operated for several days without being detected despite extensive efforts by the Soviets. (2)  If the Soviets, no slouch in the surveillance department, couldn’t find a carrier group off its coast, how will we track modern, stealthy ships?

Let’s consider some other aspects of the detection challenge. 

How about those giant, hulking ships that the Navy keeps running into?  Sure, you’d say that wasn’t a detection issue as much as it was a failure to recognize the available data and act on it.  An alert, better trained crew would have seen the ships coming.  Fair enough.  Now, let me ask you … when we go to war will both sides have only bright, alert, well trained people or will they have loads of tired, stressed, and insufficiently trained people?

How about the Vincennes incident where an airliner was clearly recognized by the data but the crew ignored or misinterpreted the data?  Just having a functioning sensor is not the end of the detection question.  You also need people who can correctly interpret the data.  Maybe, somewhere in the reams of satellite photos, there’s a shot that vaguely shows the ship you’re searching for.  Unless a person (or computer) sees the photo and recognizes it for what it is, you missed it.

We see, then, that there is a detection chain.  You need a capable sensor, a capable analyst (human or computer), and you need to act on what’s found and do so in a timely manner.  That ship that you found in a week old satellite photo is long gone.

Radar operators at Pearl Harbor detected the incoming Japanese attack planes but didn’t recognize what it was and didn’t tell anyone.  The sensor worked but the analyst and communication links in the detection chain did not.

War is an endless series of missed and misinterpreted data.  That’s what the ‘fog of war’ is.  Sure, our modern systems can generate far more data than ever before but that’s just far more data to miss and misinterpret.  Our sensor data has grown immensely more voluminous but our analytical abilities have not.

Consider every terrorist act ever committed.  In the post-incident investigation it always turns out that we had enough data to have identified and prevented the incident but we failed to correctly interpret and communicate.  Every time.  Every single time.  The issue is not the amount of data, it’s the interpretation and analysis of the data.

The evidence is quite clear.  Our ability to find and track ships at sea is quite limited, for a variety of reasons.  Now, add in the inevitable destruction of surveillance satellites in a peer war and the task of finding and tracking ships at sea becomes even more difficult.

Ships remain what they have always been: hard to find.


On a related note, this is why the dreaded Chinese Carrier Killer DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile is pure media hype and a complete non-threat.  The Chinese have no ability to find carriers at sea.


(1)The Atlantic website, “What Really Happened To Malaysia’s Missing Airplane”, July 2019,

(2)Navweaps website, “How To Hide A Task Force”, Andy Pico,

Monday, October 14, 2019

Speak Softly And Carry A Big Stick

Respect is earned, not given.

You negotiate peace with your boot on your enemy’s throat.

You don’t give a bully your lunch money, you punch him in the nose.

Speak softly and carry a big stick.

“A Russian jet came within 20 feet of a Navy surveillance aircraft as it flew in international airspace over the Baltic Sea …” (1)

“Tuesday’s intercept follows a January incident, when a Su-27 flew within 5 feet of a EP-3 Aries spy plane flying in international airspace over the Black Sea, forcing the American aircraft to fly through the Russian jet’s flight wash.” (1)

“A similar incident occurred in late November, when another P-8 was left in another Russian jet’s afterburners, causing that P-8 to roll 15 degrees and experience what the Navy dubbed “violent turbulence.” (1)

  • Russian jets have made extremely low level passes over US destroyers.
  • Iran has seized US boats and crews
  • China has harassed US cruisers
  • China has seized US unmanned vehicles
  • Russia has annexed Crimea
  • Russia has proxy-invaded Ukraine
  • China has seized the South China Sea in a fait accompli
  • Iran has resumed nuclear enrichment
  • NKorea continues its nuclear ballistic missile development
  • Iran has shot down US aircraft
  • Iran has mined tankers

I’ve heard some people say, stop your whining, this is just the way the cold war game is played.  That would be fine except that only one side seems to be playing.  We don’t seem to be playing and the lack of response is destabilizing the world.  Our appeasement and passivity is encouraging Russia, China, NKorea, and Iran to step up their territorial seizures and harassments. 

We have been speaking softly for far too long and our stick has become a twig.  No one is listening and no one fears our stick. 

Just as in football (real football, not that soccer crap!), where you run to set up the pass and pass to set up the run, we need to use the stick to maximize the effectiveness of our speech.

We need to begin using the stick.


(1)Navy Times website, “Report: Russian jet buzzes US spy plane over Baltic Sea”, Geoff Ziezulewicz, 1-May-2018,

Friday, October 11, 2019

Amphibious Assault Perspective

We often discuss the Marine Corps and amphibious assaults while noting that the Navy/Marines are currently unable to even implement an assault that would adhere to their own doctrine.  This is true enough, however, I suspect that part of our dismay about the Marine’s assault shortcomings lies in unrealistic expectations.  Too many of us, I think, envision the Normandy D-Day assault and use it as the basis of comparison.

Recall, though, that D-Day involved the best efforts of multiple nations, required years to build up the forces and equipment, and required the invention of multiple, specialized equipment (Hobart’s Funnies, for example, and the Landing Ship Tank, LST).  The ability to conduct D-Day was not a capability that we entered the war with.  We may have, debatably, had the germ of the concept prior to the war but it took wartime experience to refine and much effort to assemble and develop the necessary force.

We also need to firmly keep in mind that D-Day was the ultimate amphibious assault of all time in terms of scope.  We should not be comparing the Marine’s current capabilities to the D-Day assault and expecting the Marines to be able to conduct another D-Day at a moment’s notice.

Rather than looking at the D-Day assault, let’s look at a much smaller assault, Tarawa (Gilbert Islands), which occurred early in the Pacific Island campaign.  Despite being a smaller assault, the assembly of forces was still substantial.

The American invasion force to the Gilberts was the largest yet assembled for a single operation in the Pacific, consisting of 17 aircraft carriers(6 CVs, 5 CVLs, and 6 CVEs), 12 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 66 destroyers, and 36 transport ships. On board the transports was the 2nd Marine Division and a part of the Army's 27th Infantry Division, for a total of about 35,000 troops. (1)

A small portion of the forces were assigned to seize Makin Atoll.  The naval force directly assigned to Tarawa included, (2)

Fleet Carriers             6
Light Carriers             5
Escort Carriers            5
Battleships                8
Heavy Cruisers             5
Light Cruisers             2
AA Cruisers                3
Destroyers                43
Minesweepers               2
Transports/Landing Ships  18

The ground force counted 35,000 troops.  By comparison, a Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) consists of a Ground Combat Element of 18,000 troops and an Air Combat Element. (3)

While it is more appropriate to ask whether the Marines can, currently, conduct a Tarawa size assault we should note that the pre-WWII Marine Corps and Navy were not capable of that either.  They needed time to build up to that level.

Okay, so if we can’t fairly expect the Marines to be capable of even a Tarawa size assault on day one of a war, what is it that we do expect the Marines to be capable of?  Honestly, I don’t expect the Marines to be capable of anything on day one.  What I do expect is for the Marines to develop and maintain the institutional memory and knowledge of two main tasks:

Amphibious Core

Arguably, the Marine’s main responsibility is to keep the institutional memory of how to conduct amphibious assaults alive.  Unfortunately, a decade or more of land combat has largely allowed that memory to fade from existence.  Indeed, in recent years the Marines have begun conducting amphibious assault training exercises, to some limited degree, and have publicly expressed the need to “re-learn” how to conduct such assaults which, of course, means that they have forgotten how.  The institutional memory is gone.  This is tragic and will cost lives somewhere down the road when we have to re-learn the lessons in combat.  Allowing the institutional memory to be lost is unforgivable and many Marine leaders, current and recently retired, should live with the shame of that failing.

Setting aside blame, what is required from the Marines is to maintain and exercise a core of amphibious capability and knowledge which can be used to build a much more extensive wartime capability if/when needed.

This also suggests that maintaining a peacetime amphibious fleet of 33 ships or so is unnecessary.  If all the Marines need to do is to maintain the institutional memory, that can be accomplished with just 6-9 amphibious ships – basically, just a few ships conducting training exercises (institutional memory) or undergoing maintenance.  When war comes, we can build more amphibious ships, if needed.  This, in turn, suggests that we need a far more basic, cheaper amphibious ship design that we can build quickly during war.  A modified commercial ship is adequate for troop and cargo transport.  Our current big deck aviation/amphibious ships are far too large and far too expensive for rapid wartime construction.

Port Seizure

A subset of general amphibious capability is port seizure and it is this which I consider to be the Marine Corps’ main mission.  We’ve discussed the challenges presented by an over-the-beach amphibious assault and noted that the logistics, in particular, are currently unlikely, bordering on impossible.  With that in mind, the only way to currently insert a large force into a hostile area is via a port.  Only ships can transport the required mass of materiel and ships must have a functioning port.  The fantasy of moving an entire invasion force and all its follow on materiel through Mobile Landing Platform (MLP or whatever the Navy’s label of the day is) ‘sea bases’ is just that, a fantasy.  We’ll need a port and if a nearby, friendly port is not available then we’ll have to seize one.  That, after all, was the immediate objective of the Normandy D-Day assault – to seize the ports of Cherbourg and Le Havre through which would pour the millions of tons of subsequent supplies for the assault on Germany.

As with general amphibious assault, I don’t expect the Marines to have everything they need to conduct a major port seizure on day one of a war.  What I do expect is for the Marines to have the institutional knowledge about how to conduct a port seizure along with detailed plans and equipment lists that can be realistically and readily implemented when war comes.


Unfortunately, the Marines have lost the institutional memory of how to conduct general amphibious assaults and they never had any knowledge about port seizure.  Peacetime is the golden opportunity to practice these capabilities and develop the required institutional knowledge.  Unfortunately, the Marines are practicing neither capability.  The occasional, extremely limited, small amphibious exercises the Marines do conduct are so unrealistic as to be worse than worthless – worse, because they develop bad habits and false confidence.

In summary, I don’t fault the Marines for not being able to conduct a D-Day or Tarawa assault on day one of a war but I do fault them for not knowing how and not having detailed plans and equipment acquisition lists ready to go.  With this in mind, we can see that day one capabilities are a red herring.  What’s more important is ‘day two’ capabilities after you’ve had a chance to build up.


(1)Wikipedia, “Battle of Tarawa”,  retrieved 28-Aug-2018,

(2)Wikipedia, “Gilbert Islands Naval Order of Battle”,  retrieved 28-Aug-2018,

(3)Global Security website, note – the table of data is not completely current but serves as an indicator,