Thursday, March 5, 2020

Where Are You Shopping?

Of late, I’ve been seeing nothing but a non-stop parade of proposed products from industry that are the cutting edge (and beyond) of high technology.  I’m seeing exquisitely high tech, artificial intelligence assisted, battle management, unmanned, cross domain, synergistic …  well, that’s enough buzzwords strung together.  You get the point.  No one is offering the military basic, simple firepower that costs next to nothing even though that is likely a better product.  Why not?  Well, it’s all about where you shop.

On a personal level, if you shop at the local thrift store, you’re going to see cheap, basic items.  If you shop at the Apple store, you’re going to see the latest technology stuffed with every function and app that the designers at Apple could conceive.

If you’re the military and you shop at Lockheed Martin, you’re going to see AI-assisted battle management computer products.  What you’re not going to see is offers of bulk quantities of mortar shells.  Which one is likely to be of more use on the battlefield to say nothing of which one is more likely to work?  LM is going to offer what they know how to do and what can make them the most money.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s what business is supposed to do.  The problem is that if the military doesn’t shop at the low level, basic firepower stores then they’re never going to see low level, basic firepower solutions even though those solutions are far more likely to useful on the battlefield.

Here’s the kind of product being offered at the store the military is shopping at.

The Air Force is launching a next-generation airborne surveillance and command and control technology intended to successfully synchronize air, ground, drone and satellite assets onto a single seamless network, service officials said.

ABMS [Advanced Battle Management and Surveillance] seeks to harvest the latest ISR-oriented technologies from current and emerging systems as a way to take a very large step forward – and connect satellites, drones, ground sensors and manned surveillance aircraft seamlessly in real time across a fast-changing, dispersed combat area of operations. (1)

Wow!  You can’t get any more exquisite and less firepower than that!

Wait …  I bet we can do better.  How about this,

The Missile Defense National Team is conducting a feasibility study on connecting the Missile Defense Agency’s integrated command and control system with the U.S. Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System.

The team, which is led by Lockheed Martin, consists of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics and other companies. This team develops C2BMC, the system that integrates separate elements (Aegis, THAAD, SBIRS etc.) of the ballistic missile defense system into a global network. Through C2BMC, commanders can link any sensor, any shooter, at any phase of missile flight in any region, against any type of ballistic threat. (2)

Outstanding!  A global network linking anything to anything.  Is that pretty much the definition of exquisite?  Is there any possible way to top that?  How about this,

Lockheed Martin today unveiled its new HI-Vision Air-Space Integration Lab, a state-of-the-art development and integration facility designed to enable collaboration with customers and industry partners for future advancements in Joint command and control (C2) across air and space domains.

“We are focusing our resources within Lockheed Martin to help address our customers’ increasing requirements for horizontally integrated, network- centric solutions,” said Al Smith, Executive Vice President, Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems and Solutions business area.  

Modeled after a functioning Air Operations Center, The HI-Vision lab creates a collaborative environment where military and industry personnel will address current and future architectural challenges to achieve greater synergy across air and space go-to-war C2 systems. The lab will serve as an integration proving ground for a wide range of current and future systems, including the C2 Constellation, Theater Battle Management Core Systems (TBMCS), E-10A Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2), Integrated Space Command and Control (ISC2), Distributed Common Ground Station (DCGS), and Missile Defense National Team efforts. (3)

Now we’re integrating the totality of air and space and doing so without any mention of firepower.  Zounds!  I’m lightheaded and my hands are trembling from excitement. 

What do all these proffered products have in common?  None of them involve actual firepower.  You remember what firepower is, right?  Yeah, it’s that stuff that actually kills the enemy.

Another thing they all have in common is price tags that would make even the US government take notice and gulp.

It’s all about where you shop.

When the Navy wanted a gun for the Zumwalt did they shop at the local 155 mm artillery gun maker who’s been cranking out artillery and ammo for half the world’s armed forces?  No, they went to BAE for the exquisite, non-standard, rocket assisted 155 mm gun maker and bought a gun that, despite nominally being the NATO standard 155 mm, couldn’t use any other gun’s ammo.  A gazillion dollars spent and we got nothing out of it.

When the Navy wanted a new stealth fighter did they go to Grumman Iron Works (now Northrop Grumman) for the latest version of a rock solid, basic fighter?  No, they went to a worldwide consortium representing a United Nations of suppliers for an aircraft so complex that it’s been twenty years in development and is just barely now entering service and has sustainment costs that even the military has acknowledged is unaffordable.

When the Navy needed a way to kill drones did they go the neighborhood Oerlikon store and look at the basic, 20 mm machine gun (Oerlikon 20mm/85 KAA, for example, capable of 1000 rds/min at a range of 1+ mile) that’s been a staple on naval ships since the Revolutionary War?  No, they immediately jumped on the laser bandwagon.

When the Navy needed a weapons elevator for their new carrier, did they go to elevators-R-us?  No, they went to the science fiction, quantum physics store for non-existent, theoretical electromagnetic pulse elevators.  How’d that work out?  Well, I’ll let you know if and when the Ford elevators ever get working properly.

If you shop at high tech stores you’ll get high tech products.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean high performance products.  In fact, all too often, it means products that flop miserably.  With high technology comes a high risk of failure and a certainty of difficulty in support.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Artillery, We Got Data.  Let's Buy Ten Of These!

We can’t blame the high tech companies.  It’s what they do.  Of course they’ll push high tech solutions.  That’s where the money is and making money is what they’re supposed to do.  Lockheed isn’t going to suggest binoculars and a note pad for battle management.  They’re going to push bio-matrix, artificial intelligence battle management, with nodes linked by telepathic relays using subspace inductive communications and multi-dimensional, interactive, spatial displays.  Sure, the binoculars and notepad are probably more reliable when the enemy starts raining artillery shells on you but that’s not what will make Lockheed money.  It’s incumbent on the Navy to know what will really work and not be lured by shiny toys.

We need to stop shopping at the high tech stores and start shopping at the bargain basement, firepower clearance stores.


(1)The National Interest website, “The Air Force Is Creating a System to Manage the Military's Forces in War”, Kris Osborn, 1-Mar-2018,


  1. Had the same thought the other day when I was reading about Army new 1000km hypersonic missile program or cannon, whatever....anybody worry about the troops that need immediate huge fire support just in front of them??? "Sorry guys, we cant send anything downrange inside 50Okm...hey, why is the enemy that close anyways? You fighting a war or something?"

    1. @NICO: the Army's 1000 mile (1600km) gun program, to hear the army's talk about it, so that you can shoot at people while being outside of counterbattery range, and your artillery doesn't have to move and reposition as much. With guns capable of reaching 1000 miles, you could setup in the UK and cover the entirety of Western Europe, topping out at the Romania-Ukraine-Belarus border. There's also the implication that the Army is less than confident in the Air Force's ability to conduct deep strikes, and therefore wants a long range attack option of its own, as a complement to the more tactical range of 155mm guns (standard US 155mm guns top out at 40km, but there's research being done to try and get the range out further to around 70km+).

      As for adjusting the firing range... that's why the Army is interested in railguns, because with a railgun, you can have more granularity in adjusting your power, vs conventional guns where you use bag charges.

  2. "...nodes linked by telepathic relays using subspace inductive communications and multi-dimensional, interactive, spatial displays..."

    Thanks for the morning chuckle CNO!!!
    Sadly though, your hilarity is actually spot-on and makes the point perfectly. The nosebleed-level Pentagon types are seemingly so out of touch with realistic warfighting needs that its not even funny. Maybe its time to have a house cleaning of the brass, and start putting Lieutenants in charge of procurement decisions. Guys that havent been brainwashed yet, who know what the "guys in the trenches" actually need, and still have a modicum of sense regarding fiscal responsibility...

  3. So, I guess US military has decided to play catch up? with Russia and China because suddenly we are way behind the 100s of thousands of deployed hypersonic missiles they have in inventory....Nice to see that we need more than 500 missiles to scare them. Is that what we need, scary missiles? Is that official US policy? I dont know what to make of this, its seems so seat of the pants spur of the moment flying....

  4. "When the Navy needed a weapons elevator for their new carrier, did they go to elevators-R-us? No, they went to the science fiction, quantum physics store for non-existent, theoretical electromagnetic pulse elevators. How’d that work out? Well, I’ll let you know if and when the Ford elevators ever get working properly."

    When you think about it, it seems strange that the Navy is having so many problems with the Ford's elevators. Sure, using electric motors to drive the elevators instead of cables and hydraulics is a new thing, but trains have been running on electric motors for decades now, so it's not as if the concept is as newfangled as it seems. Then again, I suppose we should not underestimate the ability of defense contractors to screw up proven concepts.

    1. these electric rail elevators are nothing like electric motors where the tolerance is between rotor and stator can be maintained on the order of a 10th of a millimeter or less

  5. Jesus, it's scary when you make so much sense and see the way the US military is behaving and the way the forces of (relative) decency are heading, just when we need a robust military the most.


  6. This is something of a side issue, is there an office or special software to create cool and exciting program acronyms for the military?

    In the military, we use all kinds of abbreviations and acronyms in every day conversations. FUBAR and BOHICA are common, but to succeed today a program needs a hip acronym, often based on a common word.

    For example, the Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project is abbreviated as CHAMP. Which also applies to the Navy's Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-mission Platform as well.

    Then there is Lockheed Martin's Revolutionary Approach To Time Critical Long Range Strike also known as RATTLRS.

    The Marine Corps has a good one in the Remotely Operated Ground Unit Expeditionary (ROGUE) Fires Vehicle which will fire a new Ground-Based Anti-Ship Missile (GBASM). I believe the program was initially known as the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System or NMESIS for short.

    Going back in time and across the pond, the British had the L6 WOMBAT (Weapon Of Magnesium, Battalion, Anti-Tank).

    1. Maybe they'll come up with PORP, Procurement Officer Replacement Program. That sounds like a worthwhile acronym.

  7. "When the Navy wanted a gun for the Zumwalt did they shop at the local 155 mm artillery gun maker who’s been cranking out artillery and ammo for half the world’s armed forces?"

    What upsets me about the Zumwalt guns is there is no plan to fix them. At least they are talking about getting the Ford elevators working and have a team working on it.
    The Zumwalt guns are lawn ornaments stuck on a $8 billion dollar barge. The US Navy should provide the plans of the complete gun system to any company that would like to devise a retrofit system that will allow the gun to fire standard NATO 155 mm rounds and guided 155mm rounds (m982 excalibur). Make it a competition, to the victor goes the contract to retrofit all six guns. Any company involved in the original gun system should be excluded from the competition.

    A few ideas to get the ball rolling.


    1. "no plan to fix them."

      MW, you raise a fascinating issue. The unfortunate problem is that the Zumwalt gun (AGS) is so unique that it can't be adapted to any existing munition for any cost anyone would care to pay. That means developing a brand new, unique munition for just six total guns in the world. Because of the very limited quantity of rounds needed, the cost per round would be exorbitant and we'd be right back to what got the AGS cancelled which was the runaway cost of the AGS round (the LRLAP). The Navy really did paint themselves into a corner on this. By making the system so unique, they created a case of either success or bust and it turned out to be bust.

      Even if, somehow, someone could make a round for the gun at an affordable price, the entire gun system would have to be adapted. Most people don't realize the extent of customization inherent in the AGS. The Advanced Gun System is called a system for a reason. It truly is a system, not just a gun. The Zumwalt was literally designed and built around the gun, much like the A-10 and its gun. From the loading of the rounds on board the ship, to their movement through the ship to the magazines, and their subsequent storage (on unique pallets, of course) and loading into the gun, the entire system is truly a one of a kind. So, the entire system would have to be modified. That means the entire ship would have to be opened up and the existing handling system replaced or modified. The cost would be staggering.

      This is not the simple retrofit that people think it would be. The Navy well and truly painted themselves into a corner from which there's no escape. There's also no incentive for suppliers to take on the work. Again, with only 6 guns in the world, there's a limit to how much profit a supplier could make even if they could come up with a miracle solution.

      I hope that helps explain the current situation.

      The best option at this point is to just use one of the Zumwalts as a technology test bed and to lay the others up and save the operating costs.

      Congress should insist that people be fired over this.

    2. It's a pity the Zumwalts were too tied to the AGS. It's a CONOPS that made sense in the 90s, but isn't relevant now. The sad thing is, without AGS being the anchor around its neck, the Zumwalt could have become a stealthy Spruance successor, with more units built, relieving some of the pressure off the fleet with more hulls in the water.

    3. CNO, Thank you for the summary of the idiocy that created the Advanced Gun System. It makes sense from a corporate stand point to exclude competition via unique features but why the Navy agreed to it is beyond me. I was hoping the ships could become more than technology test beds. I agree that they have no function that cannot be done better by a different ship.
      If the guts of the system (below deck) cannot be changed, maybe install a deck mounted gun (ballast may be needed deep in the ship depending on what the mass of deck mounted gun does to the stability of the ship (metacentric height). My guess is they have to use ballast currently to approximate the lack of shells in the magazine or carry inert shells in the magazines.
      The Artillery Gun Module (AGM) from KMW holds 30 rounds and fires NATO standard 155mm. That would give the Zumwalts 60 rounds, not great but better than nothing. Just looking for ways to salvage Billions of dollars.

    4. "makes sense from a corporate stand point to exclude competition via unique features"

      That's something I've been unable to verify: who initiated the unique aspects of the gun system. I have not seen anything stating that it was one party or the other that was responsible or whether it was a group idiocy. In any event, I absolutely do not blame industry. Their responsibility is to make money. It is the Navy's responsibility to ensure that the products they order make military sense. Even if industry proposes a unique, proprietary system the Navy simply has the option to say, 'no' and the problem never happens.

    5. "The Artillery Gun Module (AGM) from KMW"

      Unless it was built for marine duty, it can't be used. The seals, electronics, and materials of construction would not be suitable for a saltwater environment. The gun would have to be completely rebuilt with saltwater immersion in mind.

      There have been several attempts throughout history of trying to adapt land weapons to ship mounting and it rarely succeeds. The German MONARC gun is a good example. The US LCS 30 mm is another example of an attempt that has been besieged with problems.

      I'm not saying the AGM can't be adapted but it's far more difficult than just physically mounting it to the ship.

    6. IMO, any fix to Zumwalts is throwing good money away. I bet they disappear rapidly from the fleet, just like the first 4 LCSs. Now, USN saying Ford class will be capped? at 4 ships, tells me USN doesnt have much faith about usefulness of the entire class....serious question but does USA still know how to build a real warship??? LCS, Zumwalt, Ford dont inspire confidence....

    7. "does USA still know how to build a real warship???"

      When you build a warship (or any ship for that matter!) you build it for a specific purpose (sounds like CONOPS, doesn't it?). The US has fallen into the trap of substituting technology for purpose/CONOPS. Instead of building a warship for a strategically and operationally necessary purpose, we now build floating collections of technology and hope they will somehow be useful someday. As we're seeing with the LCS, Zumwalt, Ford, JHSV, and others, that's a practice that is doomed to fail.

      We certainly have the capability to build a useful warship. What we lack is the vision/CONOPS to build a useful one!

    8. NICO "Now, USN saying Ford class will be capped? at 4 ships..."

      I have not seen any reporting about the Ford class only being 4 ships. Is that recent news? I figured that it would be the design for the next 40 years. I'm having a problem getting my mind around that.

    9. "I have not seen any reporting about the Ford class only being 4 ships."

      The Navy has initiated a couple of carrier study groups (Future Carrier 2030) to look at what comes after the four Fords currently under contract. The FC 2030 moniker suggests a target time frame of 2030 for the future carrier.

      To the best of my knowledge, the Navy has not explicitly stated that the Ford class will terminate at four but the implication is there.

    10. From Breaking Defense: "....Modly hinted at his study this morning during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We have a duty to look at what will come after the Ford,” he said, adding that the Navy has “some breathing room” before having to decide what comes after that last Ford is built in 2032.

      Modly’s testimony, taken with similar recent comments about capping the Ford carriers at four before moving in a new direction, could signal a major shift in the Navy’s thinking. “I don’t know if we’re going to buy any more of that type,” Modly said in an interview published on March 4. “We’re certainly thinking about possible other classes. What are we going to learn on these four that’s going to inform what we do next?”

      To me, this is just USN covering their behinds and saying we need to look at the "future" needs, IMO, Ford is hopeless trash, hopefully the next 3 carriers somewhat work but the costs are horrendous, already the last one built of the 4 will start at $15 billion! USN can't afford these $15 billion 100,000 ton paperweights....this is just US military covering up mistakes and blunders!

  8. "When you build a warship (or any ship for that matter!) you build it for a specific purpose"

    The odd part about the Zumwalt is that it was designed to fill a very specific niche use - to deliver a high rate of land support support fire and maintain that rate while reloading. While the technology didn't quite pan out, and the price for what was delivered was overly high, a CONOPS did exist. Had more hulls been produced and the range fully realized, the price point for the system may even have been palatable. However, the odds of developing a new gun system with rocket propulsion and internal guidance successfully is pretty slim. Why the Navy would have committed a whole class of ships to the AGS and the rest of its baggage without a working printer prototype is incredulous.

    This is in contrast with the LCS which you have well documented had little to no CONOPS or even an inkling of how these hulls would actually be used. The attitude of "Let's build it then figure it out" is crazy given the numbers of hulls laid down. I support experimentation and one off prototype to help learn, but why build and build before the lessons have determined if they serve any propose. The same logic or lack thereof could be applied to the Ford class as well.

    I agree with your previous suggestions for NGFS using large caliber standard guns with a more minutes limited range would have had a much higher chance of success. (Note that I wouldn't commit to " certain success" even though it had been done in previous classes, given the Navy's recent design success)


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