Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Real Aircraft Readiness Rates

I’m sure you all recall the memo issued by then Secretary of Defense Mattis in Sep 2018 that mandated that F-35 and F-18 aircraft would achieve readiness rates of 80% or greater by the end of 2019 (see, “You Will Comply”)?  How did that work out?  Well, in a miracle for the ages, less than 6 months after that memo was issued the Navy reported that Super Hornet readiness had jumped from the 50% mark, where it had been mired for several years due to parts shortages, personnel shortages, and other systemic problems, to as high as 76% despite all the same problems still existing.  Did that seem plausible?  Of course not.  Systemic problems don’t disappear in less than 6 months and huge backlogs of idled aircraft don’t suddenly become ready.  It was obvious that someone was playing reporting games and manipulating the data.


Still, the Navy continued to report high readiness rates, claiming to have exceeded the 80% mark.(2)


Here’s what I posted when the Navy announced their miraculous improvement:


Years of maintenance manpower shortages, higher than expected corrosion and problems, chronic spare parts shortages, depot backlogs, funding shortages, etc., all cured in less than 6 months by a single memo. 


Do you think readiness is unchanged and we’re just pencil-whipping and gun-decking the readiness reports?  Before you answer, consider all the Navy fraudulent statements and practices (lapsed certifications, acceptance trial waivers, fraudulent shock trial success claims, and hundreds of other examples) that we’ve exposed on this blog alone.  Now, let me repeat the question … Do you really think readiness surged that much in 5 months or less or is it unchanged and the Navy is just pencil-whipping the readiness reports? (1)



The GAO has now come out with a report on military aircraft readiness and it confirms what ComNavOps knew to be true – that the Navy was falsifying readiness reports.


The table below shows the GAO’s data for readiness of Navy aircraft during the 9 year period FY2011 - FY2019, inclusive.  GAO assessed readiness by comparing the aircraft’s mission capable rate (MCR) to the MCR goal established by the Navy.  Unfortunately, the MCR goals for each aircraft have been withheld from the GAO report as the information is considered sensitive.  Typically, MCR goals are on the order of 70%.


Note:  Mission Capable is the ability to perform any one of the aircraft’s notional missions.  This is the lowest possible form of readiness.  Fully Mission Capable is the highest level of readiness and the only one that we should be using – an aircraft is either ready to fly any mission or it is not ready.  MCR is often little more than the ability to take off and is of no use in assessing true combat readiness.




Number of Years Readiness Goal Was Met

F/A-18A-D (Navy)

1 of 9

F/A-18E-F (Navy)

0 of 9

F-35C (Navy)

2 of 7

F-35B (Marine)

1 of 7

F/A-18A-D (Marine)

0 of 9





Note that the Navy claimed that the Super Hornet readiness had exceeded 80% for the Super Hornet which would have likely easily surpassed whatever its readiness goal is.  Despite this, GAO, with access to real data, found that the Super Hornet never exceeded its goal. 


From the GAO report which addressed the SecDef Mattis memo and the Super Hornet and F-35 readiness,


We found that none of these aircraft had achieved the 80 percent mission capable  goal … (3, p.11)


The Navy publicly reported in late September 2019 that it had met the Secretary’s 80 percent mission capable goal for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler. Our analysis showed that mission capable rates generally did improve for these Navy systems over the course of fiscal year 2019, including meeting the 80 percent mission capable rate at particular points of time in fiscal year 2019. However, we found that none

of these aircraft achieved the mission capable goal when mission capable rate data were averaged for each day in fiscal year 2019. (3, p.12)



There you have it, the real readiness rates and they’re the same as they’ve always been – not ready!






(1)Navy Matters blog, “You Will Comply”, 10-Apr-2020


(2)USNI News website, “Navy Surpasses 80% Aircraft Readiness Goal, Reaches Stretch Goal of 341 Up Fighters”, Megan Eckstein, 25-Sep-2019,


(3)Government Accountability Office, “Weapon System Sustainment”, GAO-21-101SP, Nov 2020

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Jeffersonian Gunboats

Here’s an interesting topic that was suggested during the last open comment post and I thank the anonymous reader for the idea.  I encourage anonymous readers to include a username with their comment.  No need to formally establish a sign-in ID but a name at the end of a comment allows me to give credit! 



In the very early 1800’s, President Thomas Jefferson was faced with an aggressive British movement against American merchant shipping. 


From 1800 to 1805, fifty-nine American merchant ships had fallen captive to Britain; from 1805 through 1807, four hundred and sixty-nine ships, or approximately half the merchant fleet, fell into British hands. (1)


In 1807 alone, the British impressment of American sailors resulted in the loss of 6,000 men.(1)


Jefferson’s solution was to abandon any offensive action against the British and instead to fall back on a home waters defensive force.  He recognized that the US could not take on the might of the British navy and he opted, instead, for a defensive force of small gunboats.  The specific means of defense that he chose was a fleet of small gunboats designed for coastal defense and for use on the western rivers and lakes.  Later, several served in the Mediterranean and other areas outside the US home waters.


First authorized in 1803, a couple of hundred gunboats were built in many port cities until at least as late as 1811.  The gunboats were 50-75 ft long, 18 ft wide, shallow draft, variously rigged, and could sail under wind or oar.  Armament consisted of two or three 18-24 pound swivel mounted guns or 32 pound traversing guns.(1)


Jefferson Gunboat Model - Note cannon in bow and two offset
cannon amidships, one to port and one to starboard

Jefferson’s gunboat concept was based, in part, on the effectiveness of gunboats in the defense of Tripoli.(1)  In his letter to Congress, Jefferson cites evidence of the effectiveness of gunboats using historical and contemporary examples:


Algiers is particulary known to have owed to a great provision of these vessels the safety of its city since the epoch of their construction. Before that it had been repeatedly insulted and injured. The effect of gunboats at present In the neighborhood of Gibraltar is well known, and how much they were used both in the attack and defense of that place during a former war. The extensive resort to them by the two greatest naval powers in the world on an enterprise of invasion not long since in prospect shews their confidence in their efficacy for the purposes for which they are suited. By the northern powers of Europe, whose seas are particularly adapted to them, they are still more used. The remarkable action between the Russian flotilla of gunboats and galleys and a Turkish fleet of ships of the line and frigates in the Uman Sea in 1788 Will be readily recollected. The latter, commanded by their most celebrated admiral, were completely defeated, and several of their ships of the line destroyed. (2)


The Mariner’s Museum provides an explanation of the general theory about the gunboats.


Jefferson and other Republicans knew that gunboats posed no threat to the British navy and thus would not provoke a preemptive strike. Gunboats could be distributed to many American ports and provide defense to a larger territory for less money than a frigate navy. Jefferson envisioned gunboats used in conjunction with land batteries, movable fortifications, and floating batteries to repulse attacks. (1)


Jefferson, himself, explained his theory about gunboats in a Feb 10, 1807 letter to Congress:


Under present circumstances, and governed by the intentions of the Legislature as manifested by their annual appropriations of money for the purposes of defense, it has been concluded to combine, first, land batteries furnished with heavy cannon and mortars, and established on all the points around the place favorable for preventing vessels from lying before it; second, movable artillery, which may be carried, as occasion may require, to points unprovided with fixed batteries; third, floating batteries, and fourth, gunboats which may oppose an enemy at his entrance and cooperate with the batteries for his expulsion. (2)


Thus, the gunboats, individually weak as naval vessels, were intended to operate as part of a combined (we would call it joint) defense utilizing land fortifications and artillery.


The Museum also offers thoughts on the weaknesses of the concept.


A passive defense was useless against an invader with a strong navy like Britain. One frigate had the gun power of forty gunboats, and with their thin planking and low decks exposed to gunfire, gunboats stood little chance of survival. Invasion points were never known, and the few gunboats stationed at various American ports could provide only minimal defense.  Furthermore, a gunboat was useless at sea and thus could not defend U.S. commerce. (1)


Jefferson acknowledges the limitations of the gunboats in his letter:


It must be supenduous to observe that this species of naval armament is proposed merely for defensive operation; that it can have but little effect toward protecting our commerce in the open seas, even on our own coast; and still less can it become an excitement to engage in offensive maritime war, toward which it would furnish no means. (2)


Cost was also an issue.  Congress authorized 25 gunboats in 1805, 50 in 1806, and 188 in 1807 with construction occurring at ports all around the country.(1)


First estimates put a gunboat's cost at $5,000; in actuality, costs totaled over $10,000. (1)


Apparently, the Navy had difficulty estimating costs even back then!


One of the consequences of the gunboat program was a cessation of major naval construction which left the nation ill-prepared for the War of 1812.  In 1809, Jefferson’s successor, James Madison, began to remove the gunboats from active service and by the end of 1811 only 63 gunboats remained in service.


Jefferson's theory of naval defense would lead to the loss of much of the naval strength the United States had gained since the Barbary War of 1805, leaving the nation with an inadequate naval force when it needed it most. (1)


The Mariner’s Museum sums up the situation at the start of the War of 1812 quite nicely:


The U.S. Navy had seven frigates, four schooners, four ketches, and 170 gunboats to pit against the greatest naval power the world had ever seen. (1)





So, what can we learn from Jefferson’s gunboat program?  Some of the similarities to today’s currently vogue concepts are remarkable.  Here are some noteworthy points of consideration:


Distributed Lethality – Each gunboat carried 2-3 guns which epitomizes the modern US Navy concept of distributed lethality.  A 40 gun frigate or 100 gun ship of the line was, essentially, broken down into 20-50 individual ships each carrying a couple of guns.  The problem, as noted by the Mariner’s Museum description, is that the individual gunboats, while carrying a weapon equal to a frigate or ship of the line, was an incredibly weak, non-survivable vessel.  Thinly and weakly built, with no ‘armor’ (meaning thick protective strakes of wood on the hull), the vessels were easy kills and would be lucky to get off a single shot in combat.  They might be useful as peacetime patrol vessels but they were utterly useless in high end combat.  Jefferson built a navy that could not fight.


Today, we are headed down the same path of building small, individually weak vessels that are incapable of contributing to high end combat.  Replacing Burkes with small, weak, unmanned vessels is a repeat of Jefferson’s concept with the same attendant flaws.


It should be noted, however, that the gunboat concept did not call for the gunboats to operate as standalone naval forces but, rather, as one aspect of a multi-faceted defense that relied on combined land-sea forces.  In other words, the gunboats were intended to operate under the close protection and cooperation of a heavy land artillery force.  In contrast, the US Navy’s distributed lethality concept has the individual vessels operating in enemy controlled or contested waters with no other support.  This glaring difference, alone, should give pause to the US Navy’s proponents of distributed lethality and force a consideration of where and how our individual ships will be supported and, if they cannot be supported, why we are exposing them, individually to certain loss.  Simply using the word ‘lethality’ in the phrase ‘distributed lethality’ does not actually make it lethal any more than the word ‘combat’ in ‘Littoral Combat Ship’ makes the LCS a warship.


Massing – One of the foundations of modern military theory is the massing of localized force (conceptually accomplished by maneuver) to achieve victory even against overall superior forces.  In contrast, Jefferson’s gunboat concept scattered the gunboat force all over the coastal US, preventing any massing of force.  Any enemy attack would, by definition, be met by only a small fraction of the total force and would be inadequate for defense against all but the smallest of enemy forces.  This automatically granted the enemy the achievement of localized mass and assured their victory.  The gunboats would be subject to defeat in detail against any enemy that wished to make the effort.  Similarly, our distributed lethality concept, our push for disaggregated ARG/MEUs, and our trend towards scattered unmanned vessels exposes our entire force to defeat in detail.  Just as naval leaders in WWII recognized the value of massing of ships (convoys, task forces, escorts) for mutual defense, so too, should we recognize that same value and yet we’re knowingly proceeding in the opposite direction.  We are scattering our naval force like a Jeffersonian gunboat fleet.


Combat Resilience – Throughout history, naval warfare has been characterized by the ability of ships to stand and fight.  Damage is absorbed while the ship continues to fight effectively until the enemy is subdued.  In the age of sail, ships were generally not sunk but were, instead, slowly pounded into submission.  This required the ships to be able to maintain constant volleys while absorbing constant damage.  In WWII, the same behavior occurred.  As an example, the naval battles of Guadalcanal saw Japanese and American ships absorb dozens or hundreds of shell hits while maintaining effective fire of their own.


Gunboats, as we have noted, had absolutely no ability to absorb damage.  They were completely unable to stand and fight.  One or two hits and the gunboats would be mission killed, if not destroyed.


Today, we’re building ships that are actually designed to be abandoned at the first hit (LCS, LAW, and, by virtue of its minimal crew, the Zumwalt).  This is not combat-effective and represents very poor combat value for the money.


Armament – The gunboats were the epitome of heavy but extremely limited armament.  Most gunboats had 2-3 guns which were, as individual guns, considered heavy armament, equal to a frigate or ship of the line.  However, as a fighting unit, the gunboats were very weakly armed with, as noted, only 2-3 guns.  Thus, a single gunboat was, essentially, combat-useless.  It was capable of successfully engaging only weaker armed ships which, from a naval perspective, meant that it had no use in naval combat.  Only if operating in massed squadrons – what we would refer to as a swarm, today – could they apply enough collective firepower to have a chance to be effective.  Unfortunately, being scattered across dozens/hundreds of port locations, they had no chance to ever mass.


As an example of the typical armanent, gunboat #5 carried, at various times (3):


1805:  2x 32-pounder guns

1812:  1x 24-pounder + 2x 6-pounder

1813:  1x 24-pounder + 4x 6-pounder

1814:  1x 24-pounder + 4x 12-pounder


This is exactly the situation the Navy is creating with the LCS, each of which will be armed with 4-8 Naval Strike Missiles as its entire anti-ship weaponry.  Thus, a single LCS is capable of successfully engaging only corvette size ships or smaller, if even that.  An LCS’ 4-8 anti-ship missiles constitute no threat to, say, a Chinese 052 or 055 Burke-type destroyer.


This should also serve as a warning to the Navy about their plans to arm amphibious and logistics ships.  A very limited capability of 4-8 missiles offers no useful combat capability.





As noted, the parallels between Jefferson’s gunboat concept and today’s distributed lethality concept are striking and today’s concept contains all the same flaws as the gunboat concept.  History constantly screams its lessons at us and we resolutely cover our ears and refuse to listen.  History has judged the gunboat program an abject failure and yet we seem determined to repeat it. 


The one theoretical strength of the gunboat concept was its link with land based fortifications and artillery.  Thus, the gunboats and the land fortifications were intended to operate as a single defensive entity.  This emphasizes two aspects of the program:  the ‘joint’ nature of the concept and the purely defensive nature.  Our modern distributed lethality concept abandons both of those aspects by operating the individual ships without support and in an offensive role which, by definition, places them forward, in higher risk situations.


If we are determined to repeat the gunboat concept, we need to study the gunboat program and explain how/why our version will succeed gloriously despite containing all the same flaws (and none of the few strengths!) as Jefferson’s program.







(1)The Mariner’s Museum website, “Jefferson’s Gunboat Navy”, retrieved 12-Dec-2020,



(2)History Central website,




Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all and best wishes to you and your loved ones!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Ford Update

The Navy has, essentially, stopped releasing any data or information on the Ford, even to DOT&E which has noted that the Navy is no longer providing EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) and AAG (Advanced Arresting Gear) performance and reliability data.


That leaves us to infer the state of the Ford so …  let’s do some inferring!




How is EMALS coming along?  Well, you’ll recall that the last data we had from DOT&E, before the Navy stopped providing data – which should, itself, infer something negative about the system - , showed that the system was failing at a staggering rate.


Out of 747 shipboard launches performed with the EMALS, ten had suffered critical failures. The target reliability average was one critical failure per 4,166 launch cycles. The launch system is over 50 times less reliable than the target failure rate. Every time they try to launch the full complement of airplanes they will have a critical failure.


The landing system also fails every 70-75 times it is used. This is over 200 times less reliable than planned. General Atomics engineers made it impossible to repair the AAG landing failures without shutting down flight operations. The AAG power supply can’t be disconnected from the high-voltage supply while flights continue. (3)


Is the EMALs doing any better, now?


Ford’s EMALS experienced a crash over the summer [June 2020], prohibiting the carrier from performing flight operations for five days. (1)


… the ship’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) suffered a failure that prevented the carrier from launching planes for five days …


On June 2, the crew discovered a fault in the power handling system that connects the ship’s energy-generating turbines to the EMALS power system.


 “After several days of troubleshooting and assessing a fault in the launch system’s power handling elements, embarked EMALS experts and Ford’s crew restored the system to enable the safe fly-off of the air wing on Sunday morning, June 7… (2)


As we have previously noted, the interconnected nature of the catapults assures that if one goes down, they all go down and this was case in this incident.  It is also noteworthy that it required several days of troubleshooting to restore the system enough to fly off the air wing.  The wording seems to suggest that the restoration was a temporary fix although that is far from clear. 


It is also worth noting the presence of ‘embarked EMALS experts’ which would not normally be present during routine operations.  This has two implications:


  • That the troubleshooting and repair was likely beyond the capabilities of the Navy crew.  This does not bode well for combat damage repair efforts.
  • That the presence of embarked experts absolutely indicates that the EMALS is still not working correctly and reliably or else the experts would not need to be on the ship three years into its commissioning and during pre-deployment workups and trials which should be about training for naval operations rather than still struggling to get the EMALS system to perform at basic, contract-mandated levels of reliability.


The inference from the above is that EMALS is still woefully short of contract-mandated levels of performance and reliability.




Okay, what about the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) system?


Capt. Josh Sager, the commanding officer of Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW-8), said Nov. 17 that Ford had all three of its AAG wires operating with no issues for the preceding four to six days. (1)


Cummings [Commanding Officer Capt. J.J. Cummings] described the reliability for both the Dual Band Radar and AAG as getting better throughout every at-sea period. (1)


The fact that Capt. Sager thought it noteworthy enough to publicly state that the AAG had worked for ‘the preceding four to six days’ suggests that this level of performance is exceptional and should be noted.  Proudly noting that the landing gear worked for a few days in a row is extremely worrisome.  It suggests that this is not the norm.


That Capt. Cummings described the reliability of the AAG as ‘getting better throughout every at-sea period’ again strongly suggests that the AAG is a major problem, though slowly improving.


The inference, here, is that the AAG is still woefully short of contract-mandated reliability levels and is at a barely functional level. 


Overall, how is the Ford doing with launches and recoveries?


Since the beginning of 2020, Ford has conducted 5,000 launches and recoveries of aircraft – most of which the crew has done in the last eight months — and is slated to achieve 6,000 by the end of this calendar year, Cummings said. (1)


The question, of course, is not how many total launches and recoveries have been performed but how many have been done between catapult and arresting system failures.  What is the failure rate?  The evidence suggests that the failure rate is still far greater than specified and is likely to continue to be a problem for a few more years, at least.  This is extremely worrisome if the Ford should ever be called to combat.


The evidence suggests that the Ford is not capable of reliable, sustained open ocean launch/recoveries, meaning that the ship has to stay within reach of land divert bases so as not to lose aircraft when EMALS and AAG failures occur.  Three years into commissioning, this is inexcusable and everyone associated with this program should be fired.


Weapon Elevators


So much for launch and recover.  What about those disastrous weapon elevators?


With the seventh of 11 weapons elevators slated for certification before the end of this calendar year, … the remaining four will be completed by the end of April 2021. Newport News Shipbuilding has 200 shipyard workers aboard the carrier to aid in finishing the elevators … (1)


How bad are these elevators that 200 specialist workers are working on them 24/7 and the best projection is that they’ll be ready by the middle of 2021?  What does this suggest for battle damage repair when the Ford doesn’t have 200 weapon elevator engineers on board?






Ford is in bad shape with major systems failing to meet specification.  The worst aspect of the Ford’s launch and recovery issues is that the design is fundamentally and irrevocably flawed from a maintenance perspective.  The individual catapults and arresting gear cannot be electrically isolated and worked on.  The entire carrier must be powered down to work on any single component.


The reliability concerns are exacerbated by the fact that the crew cannot readily electrically isolate EMALS components during flight operations due to the shared nature of the Energy Storage Groups and Power Conversion Subsystem inverters on board CVN 78. The process for electrically isolating equipment is time-consuming; spinning down the EMALS motor/generators takes 1.5 hours by itself. The inability to readily electrically isolate equipment precludes EMALS maintenance during flight operations. (4)


The reliability concerns are magnified by the current AAG design that does not allow electrical isolation of the Power Conditioning Subsystem equipment from high power buses, limiting corrective maintenance on below-deck equipment during flight operations. (4)


This issue will continue to plague Ford throughout its service life since it is not correctable.  This also renders the Ford highly suspect as a viable combat unit.  If this design flaw has been continued into the subsequent ships of the class, we are building a class of carriers that has very poor damage repair capability and can be rendered combat incapable by minor battle damage or even simple, routine electrical or mechanical failures.


Absent any information from the Navy, we are left to quite reasonably infer that the Ford is a floating pile of hot, steaming excrement.  If the Navy would have us believe otherwise then they need to resume releasing performance and reliability data to DOT&E and the public.  The clamp down on data pretty much tells us just how bad the situation is and is reminiscent of the Navy’s response to the epidemic of INSURV failures which led to the Navy classifying the results instead of fixing them.






(1)USNI News website, “USS Gerald R. Ford Making Steady Progress Ahead of Deployment”, Mallory Shelbourne, 24-Nov-2020,



(2)USNI News website, “USS Gerald Ford EMALS Launching System Suffers Fault During Testing Period”, Sam LaGrone, 8-Jun-2020,



(3)Next Big Future website, “Ford Carrier is a Failure With Huge Radar, Elevator, Launch and Landing Problems”, Brian Wang, 31-Oct-2019,



(4)DOT&E FY 2019 Annual Report, 20-Dec-2019

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Commandant's ASW Podcast

Commandant Berger was a guest speaker on a USNI Proceedings podcast (1) and discussed his vision of Marines conducting ASW.  A link to the podcast is referenced below.  It’s around 44 minutes and is well worth listening to.  It offers some insight and perspective on the Commandant’s thinking on ASW and a number of other topics.  I’ll examine the Commandant’s statements and see what insights we can gain.  The podcast timeframes are listed with each quote, for those who wish to hear it for themselves.


The Commandant started by laying out the basis for his motivation and he cited Title 10 and his desire to support naval campaigns.  Of course, the cynical might see that support as a budget grab more than a core belief.


More specifically, his rationale for involving the Marines in ASW is that precision strike has eliminated any inherent advantage the surface Navy has.  However, he believes that the Navy retains a significant advantage in undersea warfare and wants to help ‘maintain and grow’ that advantage and sees Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) as the means to do that.


Berger acknowledges that most of the EABO discussions and planning were classified or not publicized, leaving observers to form their own idea about what his vision is – the implication being that observers are wrong.  I got the sense that Berger felt that the lack of public support – or out and out opposition and criticism – was unfair.  Well, that’s what you get when you operate in total secrecy.  If you want support, you have to provide at least some basic information.  No one is asking for detailed operational plans but you have to give observers something to work with if you want their support.  The lack of transparency has been a strategic mistake on his part.


Here is Berger’s statement about a major portion of EABO operations which is different than what has previously been put forth:


I think a huge aspect of how we’re going to use EABO going forward is how we’re going to, what the naval force might call scouting and counter-scouting, or the Army calls reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance.” (1, 8:27)


Expeditionary naval forces … they’re going to have advanced sensing capability forward.  We don’t have it yet. … We’re experimenting with all that now. (1, 8:50)


‘We don’t have it yet.’  Um … okay, if you don’t have the sensing capability why are you remaking the Corps as if you do?  This seems eerily similar to concurrency where you build as you design.  You’re rebuilding the Marines around a capability that doesn’t yet exist and is only now in the early stages of development.  We’ve seen the disasters of the F-35, LCS, Zumwalt, and Ford concurrency debacles and now you want to add the entire Marine Corps to that list?


Just to confirm, for anyone who still thinks the Marines will conduct amphibious landings,


The big amphibious landing … that’s not where we’re headed. (1, 9:17)


This kind of leads into another problem.  I don’t think the Commandant is truly focused on combat.  I think he’s more focused on peacetime activities and monitoring.  He says as much:


We’re going to organize, train, and equip to compete in the maritime gray zone and help contribute towards this scouting, counter-scouting competition ...  all of this in the framework of deterrence and, potentially, de-escalation. (1, 9:20)




The game is about deterrence and competition. (1, 22:50)


He seems to be viewing all of this as a peacetime, gray zone, deterrent exercise more than a high end war effort.  This is troubling in the extreme if he’s remaking the Marine Corps from a combat organization to a peacetime, deterrent organization.  Of course, he acknowledges in his comments that if the gray zone transitions to war, the Marines at the EABOs will have to fight but that appears not to be the EABO focus and main purpose.  Very troubling.


If EABOs are a peacetime construct, this raises the question of where these bases will be located.  The US owns almost no territory in or around the first island chain and very few countries (likely none) will allow the US to establish such bases on their territory.  Further, if such bases can be established during peacetime, they’ll hardly be secret.  Their locations will be pinpointed and in the first several minutes of a war, will be targeted with a handful of cruise missiles and cease to exist.  No matter how you twist this concept and look at it, it makes no sense.


Discussing his idea of the Marines being involved in ASW, Berger acknowledges that other Marines and observers may think the idea is questionable but he says:


I think that’s close-minded. (1, 11:00)


I think this reveals Berger’s ‘smartest man in the room’ syndrome:  only he can see the brilliance of his ideas.  The rest of us are not capable of grasping the glory of the concept.


I am pushing folks to think wider, to elevate, to think in a non-conventional, non-traditional way.  I’m not asking them to go into science fiction but this is reasonable.  Move beyond the traditional comfort level in your intellectual boundaries.  (1, 11:05)


Again, this is showing his belief that he, and he alone, can see the future.  Now, to be fair, this is the characteristic of true visionaries.  They ARE the only ones who can see the future and grasp the new revelations.  Da Vinci, Einstein, and others could see what no one else could.  Of course, for every Einstein, there have been thousands of others who claimed to be able to see what others could not but were proven to be completely wrong.  Is Berger one of those very, very few who CORRECTLY see what others do not or is he just another misguided, incorrect failure?  Only time will tell but the problem is that if he is wrong, he will have destroyed the Marine Corps in his pursuit of his vision.


Berger believes that the problem is that outside observers don’t have the imagination to think of the uses that he’s come up with.


… public conversations about what EABO could bring to the Navy-Marine team are less imaginative than the ones actually happening behind closed doors.” … I’d ask folks to stretch out their brains for us and think of EABO much wider than that.


I seriously doubt there's anything he can think of - THAT MAKES SENSE - behind closed doors that I can't think of. I'm sure there are lots of things he can think of that are every bit as idiotic as his hidden bases idea and that would never occur to me … BECAUSE THEY'RE STUPID.


Regarding Marines and ASW, Berger said,


Although some would think, immediately, what kind of weapon system are we talking about, my first thought is how do you paint a picture … Is there a way where Marine units could complement, could add to that undersea picture? (1, 18:57)


All right, now this has some validity, at least conceptually.  Literally, throwing torpedoes into the water from shore, as was postulated in some articles, is ridiculous but providing an ASW ‘coastwatcher’ capability would be quite useful.  Of course, this ignores all those pesky bits of reality like how you set up and operate a sonar array without being detected and how you operate a sonar analysis station in the jungle, using Marines, and so on but, at least, the underlying goal is valid.  Anything that can extend the undersea picture is quite useful.


Though not related to ASW, the Commandant touched on the light carrier concept.  He sounded ambivalent and only mildly interested.  He seemed to have no particular interest in it and gave no indication that it was important to the Marines. 


… we’ll have to sort through going forward is this whole notion of a light carrier and what that might mean and I don’t know where that one will go … (1, 30:52)


That being the case, that it is not a Marine interest, this means that it is a Navy interest, only, which changes the various views of how a light carrier would be used.  Those who are interested in the light carrier concept should now be asking what the Navy would gain from such a concept because, clearly, notions of Marine aviation using a light carrier to support ground forces is not a concern or interest of the Commandant’s.


Further reinforcing the impression that the Commandant had little interest in a light carrier, he was asked about possible upcoming experiments or exercises involving a light carrier and his answer, boiled down, was that there were no plans to do so.


The Commandant was asked about manning and his reply was that he sees budgets as holding or declining and he has chosen to reduce manning to pay for modernization.  In his mind, the end result is,


It will be a better Marine Corps, just a little bit smaller. (1, 34:30)


This is the oft repeated and never realized rationalization for manpower cuts to enable more shiny new toys.  Berger has bought into the same flawed reasoning as everyone else.  Taken to its logical conclusion, the best possible Marine Corps would have only a single member surrounded by a Star Wars death star.


Asked about professional education (1, 40:00), Berger was strongly in favor of it and firmly believes that it is mandatory for a competent force and that educational efforts over the last couple decades have vastly improved the force.  If that’s the case, why is the Corps at its lowest point in decades as far as capability, readiness, operational and tactical expertise, etc.?  Shouldn’t it be at a peak?  This suggests that professional education offers little or no direct warfighting benefit.


Finally, and to return to the EABO/ASW concept, hey, Commandant, why don’t you try your concept?  Have the US military look for you while you clandestinely establish a base on some island off the Carolinas or Florida and see whether you can do it without being seen.  Then, do your listening for submarines and see if you can detect any.  And, just for fun, simulate a cruise missile attack on your base and see if you can survive it.  I’m betting that this kind of exercise would give you all the answers you need to evaluate your concept and I’m pretty sure what that evaluation would be.


I think this podcast offered some good insight into the Commandant’s thinking.  It all boils down to this:  if the Commandant is a true visionary and is right, then he is in the midst of accomplishing an amazing transformation of the Corps.  However, if he’s wrong, the Marines are finished as a useful fighting force and will be decades recovering from this disaster.  I know which of those options I believe is happening but I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusion.






(1)USNI News website, “CMC Berger Outlines How Marines Could Fight Submarines in the Future”, Megan Eckstein, 8-Dec-2020, Proceedings Podcast Episode 198 – “Commandant on Marines Fighting Subs”, 7-Dec-2020,


Monday, December 14, 2020

Japanese Resupply of Guadalcanal

The Marines have a vision of establishing small, hidden, forward bases inside enemy territory.  From these bases, the Marines will rain death and destruction down upon the hapless Chinese ships (and now subs!).  The bases will be established, resupplied, and, when necessary, relocated by small Light Amphibious Warships (LAW) and all of this activity will remain blissfully undetected by the enemy.


Let’s focus on the resupply aspect.  Even if the entire concept were to work perfectly – meaning, that the Marine units could be inserted, establish a base, and launch missiles without being detected – each unit would only be able to launch a few missiles and operate for a few weeks before they ran out of weapons and food.  In other words, in order to be an ongoing threat they must have a means of resupply.  That’s elementary and yet it is an aspect of the concept that has received zero public discussion or explanation.


Presumably, the same LAW vessels that would be used to transport and establish the hidden units would also be tasked with the resupply since the presumption is that these miraculous vessels, although slow, defenseless, and non-stealthy, are somehow immune to detection and destruction.  So, we see that a need exists for resupply on a regular basis - every few weeks, presumably.


Can this resupply work?  Well, the Marines have hand-waved aside any possible difficulties so that leaves it to us to examine the issue.


We’ve already noted the slow, defenseless, and non-stealthy nature of the LAW itself which, for any other platform, would instantly and automatically preclude its survivability and effectiveness in a combat situation.  Had we known that slow, defenseless, and non-stealthy had no negative impact on survivability, we could have saved a lot of money and built the F-22/35 to be slow, defenseless, and non-stealthy and just assumed they’d be undetectable like the LAW … but we didn’t.  Instead, in the world of reality, we know that survivability on the modern battlefield requires speed, stealth, and firepower (which we only sporadically include in designs!).  So for this reason(s) alone, the resupply concept is not viable. 


However, let’s dig deeper.  Let’s look where all thorough examinations should look:  history.


One of the best examples of contested resupply was the Japanese attempts to resupply their force on Guadalcanal.


Initially, the Japanese attempted major resupply convoys escorted by powerful surface groups which led to some of the largest naval battles of the war and resulted in heavy losses on both sides.


After those failed, they resorted to smaller efforts by individual ships such as destroyers crammed with troops and supplies.  That, too, failed.


The Japanese then attempted resupply using floating supply drums dropped from destroyers.


During the Battle of Tassafaronga on the night of 30 November–1 December 1942, the U.S. Navy, at great cost, had thwarted the Japanese navy’s first attempt to resupply Japanese troops on Guadalcanal using the new floating supply-drum method. The Japanese tried again on 3 December, fighting off a 15-plane long-range U.S. air attack from Guadalcanal at dusk and proving that radically maneuvering high-speed destroyers were very difficult targets to hit. The ten destroyers dumped 1,500 drums of supplies just off Guadalcanal, but at dawn, strafing from U.S. aircraft sank most of the drums before Japanese troops could retrieve them. (2)


Resupply by submarine was also attempted.


The Japanese continued resupply efforts by submarine that had begun the previous month, making three deliveries in the first week of December, before U.S. Navy radio intelligence pinpointed the schedule for the next delivery. In the pre-dawn hours of 9 December, the Japanese submarine I-3 surfaced right between PT-44 and PT-59 waiting in ambush, and was hit and sunk by a torpedo from PT-59 (Lieutenant Jack M. Searles, commanding) which actually worked. Searles was awarded the Navy Cross. The Japanese suspended further submarine supply runs. (2)


In addition, resupply was attempted with small landing craft and barges, moving at night.  This gave rise to night battles with US PT boats modified as barge-busting gunboats.

Kinugawa Maru - Beached and Sunk on Guadalcanal Nov 1942


Guadalcanal demonstrated that contested resupply is very difficult, bordering on impossible.  The key takeaway from the Guadalcanal example is that almost all of the Japanese resupply efforts were spotted and contested with most efforts failing and this was during a time when sensors were limited to visual range, Mk1 eyeballs in the form of coastwatchers or search/patrol aircraft.  There were no effective radar, IR, satellite, UAV, EO, or other sensors as the Chinese have today.  How we think we’ll be able to resupply the Marine’s bases in the face of modern sensors inside the enemy’s A2/AD zone where the sensor density will be extremely high is a mystery to me and I have yet to hear any Marine address and explain this aspect of the overall concept.






As a brief reminder, here are some of the characteristics of the Light Amphibious Warship from the CRS report (1, p.6-7) :



Light Amphibious Warship Characteristics


200 ft – 400 ft


4000 tons



Troop Capacity

75 Marines

Cargo Capacity

4,000 – 8,000 sq.ft.


stern or bow ramp


14-15 kts


3,500 nm

Defensive System

25-30 mm gun



A seemingly minor but incredibly important feature is the use of open deck storage as the main means of cargo storage.


The LAW’s maximum draft of 12 feet is intended to permit the ship to transit shallow waters on its way to and from landing beaches. The Navy prefers that the ship’s cargo space be in the form of open deck storage. (1, p.8)


This enlarges the vessel’s radar signature, making it even less stealthy and, therefore, less survivable.



What about cost?


The Navy states that it wants the LAW’s unit procurement cost to be $100 million to $130 million. (1, p.8)


Given the Navy’s demonstrated inability to even remotely estimate costs correctly, it is a virtual certainty that the cost will be double or triple what the Navy wants.  That puts the cost in the $200M - $390M range.  At that point, these are no longer cheap, throwaway vessels.  Add in the value of the cargo/troops that might be lost with each vessel and the notion of expendable vessels becomes even less viable.




(1)Congressional Research Service, “Navy Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, 23-Nov-2020