Tuesday, April 28, 2020

An Ill-Fated Voyage

An Ill-Fated Voyage

The proud US Navy fleet left San Diego amid much publicity and ebullient speeches from naval spokesmen.  It seemed that every Admiral in the Navy claimed to have played a key role in developing and fielding this new fleet which was, by this voyage, ushering in a new era of naval power.  Press conferences sprang up like mushrooms.  You couldn’t spit without hitting another Admiral touting the wonders of this new naval concept.

The fleet was to be the first large scale demonstration of the wonders and magnificence of the manned/unmanned partnering that would define the Navy’s new fleet structure of the future.  The USS Ford, a Burke, a large displacement unmanned surface vessel (LDUSV), and five medium displacement unmanned surface vessels (MDUSV) were to sail from San Diego to the South China Sea where one of the MDUSVs would perform a publicly announced and greatly hyped unmanned Freedom of Navigation (FONOPS)  passage near one of the many illegal Chinese artificial island bases.  The voyage would not only usher in a new era of naval power but also send a clear message to China that the US Navy was still leading the way in naval technology.

In a nod to President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, whose voyage had introduced the world to American naval power, the press had taken to referring to the fleet as the Great White Unmanned Fleet and the more supportive of the media were given MH-60 helicopter rides to take photos of the fleet as it pulled out of port.

As with the earlier unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), the unmanned vessels hadn’t been thoroughly tested.  The Navy had opted to ignore the DOT&E test protocols in their haste to get the ships into the fleet and avoid any budget reductions that a somewhat skittish Congress might impose if the vessels were found to have significant problems.  Still, this wasn’t a combat action, just a demonstration voyage and Navy leadership was quite confident that the unmanned vessels were up to the task.

Five days into the eighteen day voyage to the South China Sea, the unmanned vessel control systems on the Ford suddenly displayed an alarm.  One of the MDUSVs was registering water accumulation in the hull.  An inspection/repair crew was ferried to the vessel and discovered that the aluminum hull had developed a 6 inch long crack, presumably from the stress of prolonged wave action, that was leaking steadily.  Because the vessel had not been designed for manned operation, physical access was difficult and limited.  The repair crew was unable to reach the crack with sufficient access to effect repairs.  The decision was made to send a ‘prize crew’ of 18 sailors from the Ford to the unmanned vessel to sail it back to San Diego for permanent repairs.  With four other MDUSVs in the group, the loss of one vessel was not a problem.

Three days later, during group refueling operations, the third MUSV was found to be unable to take on fuel.  Again, an inspection/repair crew was dispatched and eventually concluded that a sticking check valve was the culprit.  While this would normally be a simple shipboard repair, the unmanned vessel had no spares and the limited physical access again prevented any effective repair.  As before, a ‘prize crew’ was detailed to sail the MDUSV to rendezvous with a fleet tug which would tow them to Pearl Harbor for repairs.

On day twelve, one of the remaining MDUSV automated monitoring systems reported seawater in the lube oil system.  Once again, this necessitated a ‘prize crew’ to sail the offending vessel to Guam for repairs.  Navy spokesmen noted that water in the lube oil was not unique to the MDUSV and was the same problem that had sidelined several LCS and the Zumwalt during its voyage from the east coast to its homeport on the west coast.

The following day, one of the two remaining MDUSVs suddenly veered out of formation.  Telemetry determined that the vessel had lost communications and was executing a failsafe return to base.

At this point, the fleet was down to the Ford, the Burke, the LDUSV, and one MDUSV.  Navy leadership determined that despite the run of bad luck the group was still more than adequate to perform a simple FONOPS and the decision was made to continue.

On day seventeen, having passed through the first island chain and entered the South China Sea, the group encountered heavy GPS jamming and spoofing.  While not overly affecting the manned vessels that could take manual fixes, the USVs kept wandering off course.  Not unduly worried, the decision was made to instruct the USVs to switch to inertial navigation (INS).  Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to the group commander, the USV’s INS systems were one of the things that had not been tested despite DOT&E warnings.  The MDUSV responded properly but the LDUSV veered off in a seemingly random direction.  Inside the South China Sea, this could not be allowed and the Burke was dispatched to collect the LDUSV and take it under tow back to Guam.

The group, now reduced to the Ford and the one remaining MDUSV opted to go ahead with the FONOPS given that they had essentially arrived at their destination, anyway.

The next morning, the MDUSV began its passage about ten miles off from the designated artificial island.  As the vessel drew abreast of the island, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel approached the MDUSV and a Chinese boarding party proceeded to board and take control of the vessel.  

The US reaction was one of instant anger and condemnation from the Ford with demands that the Chinese return the vessel immediately.  The Chinese reply was that the unmanned vessel presented a hazard to navigation within Chinese territorial waters and had been seized as a matter of safety.

The President’s National Security Council and the Navy met in emergency session with the President calling for the use of force to secure the return of the MDUSV.  However, the Navy pointed out that the Ford was without escort support and her weapon elevators were only partially and sporadically functioning.  Given the situation, the Ford would be unable to mount an operation with any reasonable chance of success and, if things escalated, might even be subject to seizure or sinking, itself!  Further, the precedent had been set in the Middle East that captured or destroyed unmanned assets were not worth taking military action over.  All things considered, the President reluctantly ordered the Navy to abandon the MDUSV and have the Ford retire from the area.

An ill-fated voyage, indeed.


This story is not meant to present any meaningful simulation of the Navy’s manned/unmanned group concept nor is it meant to imply that the rate of unmanned failures in the story is to be expected on a routine basis (although readers may recall that the first several LCS to put to sea ALL experienced major mechanical failures that terminated their voyages!).  The story is intended only to highlight the types of failures that could afflict unmanned vessels and how those failures might impact group operations.   More importantly, writing the story amused me.

The story also points out the danger in not fully testing new ships.  Readers might recall that DOT&E has been quite vocal about the Navy shortcutting tests and trying to skip shock tests, among other testing related issues.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Cost Per VLS Cell

For those of you keeping score at home, here’s a comparison of the cost per VLS cell for the Burke, FFG(X), and the Zumwalt.

Cost Per VLS Cell
Burke a
FFG(X) b
Zumwalt c

a $2B per Burke  / 96 cells
b $1B per FFG(X) / 32 cells (cost is speculative)
c $9B per Zumwalt  / 80 cells

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Zumwalt Delivered

The US Navy has announced that the USS Zumwalt has finally completed the last phase of its construction, the installation and activation of its combat systems, and been delivered to the Navy.(1)

Zumwalt was laid down in 2011.  It’s been delivered, complete, in 2020.  That’s 9 years to build a ship. 

Nine years to build a ship.

Nine years.

What are we going to do when war comes and we start losing ships and need to replace them?  Are we going to wait nine years for the first replacement?  We really need to rethink our entire conceptual approach to ship design and shipbuilding.

Zumwalt Plank Owner Awaiting Delivery


(1)Commander, US Pacific Fleet, 24-Apr-2020,

Friday, April 24, 2020

Hidden Bases

The Marine Commandant, and many casual observers, are enamored with the idea of secret, hidden bases, deep inside enemy territory that host small numbers of F-35B aircraft that will rise out of the jungle, wreak havoc on the enemy, and then disappear without the enemy every having a clue where they came from.  The Commandant also envisions small units exercising sea control for hundreds of miles around using missiles (no clue where the targeting will come from but let’s table that and move on).  On the off chance that the enemy should begin to get an inkling of a base’s location, the Marine vision is that the base will instantly relocate and, once again safely hidden, continue to rain death and destruction on the hapless enemy.

ComNavOps has already roundly and soundly mocked and discredited this concept for a variety of reasons including :

  • The impossibility of supporting and supplying bases inside enemy territory
  • The implausibility of believing that a base can stay hidden
  • The impossibility of sailing through enemy territory with impunity and invisibility to deposit Marines and aircraft at these hidden locations
  • The near uselessness of a small number of aircraft in terms of any operationally benefit
  • The impossibility of maintaining modern stealth aircraft at any useful degree of readiness in a remote, crude, island base given the impossibility of doing so during peacetime with unlimited parts, maintenance, manufacturer support, and perfect conditions
  • The inability to target beyond the horizon

While all of the above is more than enough to discredit the concept, there is yet another consideration that renders this concept suspect and that is that the enemy might choose to do the exact same thing – and they’re a lot closer to these magic, hidden islands than we are!

If we have this absolutely brilliant idea to put small, hidden units on these islands to exercise sea control for hundreds of miles around, wouldn’t the Chinese have the same idea?  Being much closer to the islands – and already controlling many of them – wouldn’t it be easier for them to implement the idea?  When our ships attempt to penetrate to deposit their Marine sea control units wouldn’t the Chinese sea control units see them and destroy them since our ships will have, apparently, few escorts and little protection?  If we think our sea control units can see and destroy everything for hundreds of miles around, why wouldn’t we think the Chinese sea control units could do the same?  Or, is this just more of the military’s tendency to think that everything we do will work and nothing the enemy does will work and that the enemy will actively cooperate in their own destruction?  I’ve repeatedly documented this tendency to exhibit one-sided thinking on the part of the US military and the Marine’s sea control concept seems to be the latest manifestation of the phenomenon.

I suspect that Commandant Berger and many of the hidden, jungle base proponents out there would simply say, if the Chinese are already on an island then we’ll pick another island.  Well, if we can see the Chinese bases that easily, won’t they be able to see ours just as easily?  And, if that’s the case, there goes the entire ‘hidden’ aspect which was the only protection for the base.  If a small unit comes under attack, it will have zero chance of survival – that’s the problem with these penny packet distributions of small units (well, that’s one of the problems!).

Are We Going To Put a Ghillie Suit On An Entire Island?

Every time I hear or read about this island base / sea control concept, including from Commandant Berger, the discussion always starts with our forces already being established on the island and fully equipped.  No one ever explains how these forces will penetrate into enemy territory undetected and land their small units.  Also, no one ever seems to account for enemy activity and surveillance.  We’ll see everything around us but the enemy will never see us.  Amazing, isn’t it?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

VLS Versus Arm Launchers

Our recent discussion about the Virginia class cruisers (see, "Virginia Class Cruisers") brought up the issue of ‘arm’ launchers versus vertical launchers (VLS).  As you know, it is accepted as an article of faith, today, that VLS systems are vastly superior to the older ‘arm’ launchers such as the Perry’s Mk13 single arm launcher or the more capable Mk26 twin arm launcher.  Is this really the case?  Let’s look a bit closer.

The end development of the arm launchers was the Ticonderoga class’ Mk26 twin arm launcher so let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of both the Mk26 arm launchers and the Mk41 VLS.

Arm Advantages

Pointing.  The arm launcher points directly at the target and the missile launches horizontally rather than vertically.  This means there is no delay while the missile tips over and acquires the target.  Therefore, the missile gets to the target faster than it would from a vertical launch system.

Magazine Protection.  Because the missiles are stored below deck, presumably in an armored magazine, the missiles are better protected.

Deck Space.  An arm launcher requires very little deck space as opposed to a VLS which is spread out over a large deck area.

Arm Disadvantages

Single Point of Failure.  An arm launcher represents a single point of failure.  If the launcher is rendered non-functional for any reason, the entire missile capability is unusable.  Obviously, with two launchers, the remaining launcher could continue to function.

Firing Arc.  Arm launchers have a limited firing arc because the ship’s superstructure masks portions of the firing arc.  Assuming the ship has time to maneuver to unmask its launchers, which would almost always be the case, this is not a serious drawback but it is still a limitation.

VLS Advantages

Missile Availability.  In a VLS system all of the missiles are immediately available for use.

Maintenance.  Missiles are supplied as sealed canisters which minimizes maintenance.

Simplicity.  A VLS system is mechanically simpler and more reliable.

Missile Size.  A VLS is capable of launching larger missiles such as Tomahawks.  The Mk41, for example, was supplied in three sizes to accommodate different missile sizes although, currently, only two sizes are offered.  To be fair, this advantage comes at the cost of more internal ship’s volume being consumed which is a disadvantage.

VLS Disadvantages

Tip Over.  The vertical launch requires that the missile travel straight up (90 deg off the target vector) after launch and then tip over to the horizontal and acquire the target.  This delay means that it takes longer to get to the target.  This delay could prove critical when using ESSM at shorter ranges or against supersonic missiles when every second counts in terms of the number of engagement attempts possible.

Exposure.  The entire missile inventory is exposed at deck level and is unarmored from above which renders the ship’s entire missile inventory more susceptible to battle damage.

Launch Failure.  Vertical launch systems are susceptible to damage from a failed launch due to either a restrained (obstructed) launch or fallback if the missile engine fails/explodes during launch.  This exact scenario happened to the US Burke class destroyer The Sullivans, just recently, and to the German ship Sachsen a couple years ago.  Both ships were damaged and set afire.  In contrast, a failed launch from an arm launcher results in the missile being ejected over the side of the ship rather than falling back on the ship.  Any initial motor explosion would occur off the side of the ship and debris/fire would not fall back on the ship.


Firing rate.  It is a common belief that the VLS has a much faster firing rate than an arm launcher.  However, the useful, effective firing rate for arm launchers pretty well matches the VLS.  The Mk26 twin arm launcher could launch two missiles every 9 seconds.  For ships such as the early Ticonderogas and the Virginia class cruisers, both of which mounted two launchers, one fore and one aft, that equates to 4 missiles every 9 seconds or a missile every 2.25 seconds.  Given the Navy’s typical shoot-shoot-look engagement sequence, a missile every 2.25 seconds is adequate for nearly any scenario.  Today’s VLS really offers little in the way of an effective enhanced firing rate. 

Illustrative Examples

The Perry class frigates had a Mk13 single arm launcher with a 40 missile magazine.  By comparison, we’re struggling with today’s frigate designs to get 32 VLS cells to fit into a design.  The US Navy’s new frigate design, for example, is spec’ed at 32 VLS cells, a 20% decrease in capacity from the Perry class!

As noted, the Virginias and early Ticonderogas had 2x rapid fire Mk 26 twin arm missile launchers mounted fore and aft.  A pair of missiles (one on each arm) could be launched every 9 seconds.  Thus, the ship’s overall firing rate was 4 missiles every 9 seconds (a missile every 2.25 sec) – a respectable rate and quite adequate for almost any scenario.  Given the Navy’s typical shoot-shoot-look engagement sequence, this rate of fire seems perfectly adequate. 

The Burke class carries 96 VLS cells which provides enough missiles for air defense (especially with ESSM quad packing) and a useful quantity of Tomahawk cruise missiles.  To be fair to the arm launchers, that number of missiles was not believed necessary at the time.  Had more missiles been deemed desirable, a third launcher could have been added or the existing standard missile magazine could have been enlarged.


The table below summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of both systems.  As seen, neither has an overwhelming advantage.  The choice of which system to select depends on which factors one chooses to prioritize.

Firing Rate
Time To Target


Magazine Survivability

Minimal Deck Space

Firing Arc

Larger Missiles

Missile Availability


Launch Failure Damage

You can decide for yourself which system you prefer but the key finding in this post is that the supposed superiority of the VLS is nowhere near the absolute given that everyone believes.   In fact, for the most common surface to air engagement scenario that we’ve documented in previous posts – an incoming missile first engaged at the horizon with ESSMs – an arm launcher which can point directly at the target and get missiles to the target faster may well be the better choice.


(1)Wikipedia, “Mk26 Missile Launcher”, retrieved 3-Apr-2020,

Monday, April 20, 2020

Eliminate Aviation Amphibious Ships

The Navy’s dilemma in amphibious assaults is that they don’t want to risk the high cost, high value ships like LHA/LHDs close to shore.  Well of course they don’t !  Those ships cost several billion dollars each and we have way too few to risk.  Unfortunately, that means we can’t actually execute an amphibious landing because the ships have to stay too far from shore for the landing craft to get there with the troops in any kind of functional condition.

What’s the problem?  Why has this situation occurred?  Can we do anything about it?

Let’s start by asking, why do we even have a problem?  It’s because we did something very foolish some time ago: we combined an aircraft carrier and a troop transport to get the LHA/LHD.  The LHA/LHDs are gigantic ships that cost a fortune and cram both the aviation element and the ground element together in the same ship.  Talk about concentrating risk!  If we lose a LHA/LHD, we lose both elements and several billion dollars worth of investment.

Wasp Class LHD - Ground + Aviation

Yeah, that’s true, you say, but that’s the way it’s always been.  Wrong, bilge breath!  In WWII those functions were separate.  Let’s recall how it was done then.

The aviation element, in WWII, was contained on a small escort carrier.  This carrier was free to maneuver and remain well off from the landing site because a few dozen, or more, miles meant nothing to the airplanes.  Thus, the carrier could provide effective support for the ground troops without having to risk the ship, itself.

The troop transports (APA attack transports) were free to move in near shore to unload their troops into landing craft.  Being smaller, with the risk widely dispersed, the transports were expendable in the sense that the loss of one would not cripple the entire assault.

We need to return to this model.  We need to separate the aviation and troop transport functions.

We need to build small carriers that house the assault aircraft and that have no other function.  These small carriers can stand as far off from the landing site as needed.

We also need to reevaluate what constitutes assault aircraft.  If the assault aircraft are dedicated to ground support (as opposed to air-to-air fleet defense) then they don’t necessarily need to be high performance stealth fighter designs.  They could, potentially be more akin to an A-10 or Skyraider.

We need to build small (on a relative basis) WWII type troop transports, each with a couple dozen landing craft (which also need to be designed and built).  This reduces the cost, disperses the risk, and makes a landing actually feasible again.

Attack Transport

Eliminating big deck amphibious ships and breaking them up into small, separate, ground support carriers and troop transports reduces risk, reduces cost, and increases the feasibility of amphibious assaults.  Let’s do it, Navy! 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

COVID-19 and the Navy

ComNavOps has stated in various post comments that the Coronavirus is no threat to the Navy.  I’ll now go further and state that the Navy should have simply continued operations as normal.

The national statistics and CDC summary descriptions make it plain that this virus preys on the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.  Young people are largely unaffected or only mildly so.  Symptoms, if any, in the young consist of a mild fever for five days or so, possibly accompanied by a brief cough towards the end of the illness.

In the 20-30 yrs age group which makes up the bulk of any ship’s crew, the death rate is near zero and hospitalization rate is extremely low.  In fact, far and away the most likely result of infection in that age group is … nothing.  No symptoms.  For example, the carrier Roosevelt, which has been hit hard with infections has noted very little impact despite the since-fired Captain’s impassioned plea for help – as if he were facing an Ebola outbreak or the plague.

As reported in a 13-Apr USNI News article, the Navy has tested 92 percent of the sailors assigned to Roosevelt and discovered 585 positive cases of the virus. …

Infections on Roosevelt account for 63 percent of the Navy’s 929 active duty COVID-19 cases. Of the sailors who have tested positive, almost 70 percent have been asymptomatic, a Navy official told USNI News … [emphasis added] (1)

Of those infected and showing symptoms, four have been hospitalized and one has died.

… four Roosevelt sailors were hospitalized over the weekend.

“All are in stable condition, none are in ICU or on ventilators,” a Navy official told USNI News. (1)

The sailor who died was 41 yrs old.(2)  His pre-infection medical condition was not revealed but the description of his case strongly suggests an underlying condition.

This entire Coronavirus pandemic has been a media-induced panicked over reaction that was simply not warranted by the facts of the illness.  The cure has been far worse than the illness.

This is not to say that the virus is harmless.  For the elderly and medically challenged it is quite serious – but so is the common cold and the regular flu.  Did you know that around 24,000 people die every year from the regular flu, according to CDC statistics, and yet we don’t shut the country down every year during flu season?

In total, the CDC estimates that up to 42.9 million people got sick during the 2018-2019 flu season, 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died. That’s fairly on par with a typical season, and well below the CDC’s 2017-2018 estimates of 48.8 million illnesses, 959,000 hospitalizations and 79,400 deaths. (3)

A more reasonable approach to dealing with the virus would have been targeted isolation efforts aimed at the high risk groups while the younger groups continued to work and hold the economy together.

Similarly, the Navy should continue operations as normal with the targeted precautions for the older members.


(1)USNI News website, “Carrier Roosevelt Sailor Dies from COVID-19, 4 Sailors Hospitalized”, Sam LaGrone, 13-Apr-2020,

(2)USNI News website, “Navy Identifies Carrier Roosevelt Sailor Who Died from COVID-19”, Sam LaGrone, 13-Apr-2020,

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Peacetime Navy Activities

ComNavOps largely focuses on peer war combat, quite correctly, because that is, after all, the number one responsibility of the military.  Lesser conflicts are a subset of the main responsibility and peacetime activities are a distant third responsibility although they are the most common.  For a change of pace, let me now focus on the Navy’s peacetime activities.

As always, there are two levels to this:  one, is the activities that the Navy actually does and, two, is the activities that the Navy should be doing.  Predictably, we’ll focus on what the Navy should be doing.

Just to gather our thoughts and set the table for the comparisons to come, let’s ever so briefly review what the Navy actually does during peacetime.

The Navy engages in interminable deployments (see, “Deployments or Missions?”), usually several months long, that amount to nothing more than austere, low budget cruise ship ‘vacations’ for the crews.  The cruises accomplish nothing other than adding wear and tear to the ships and running up huge operating costs while plinking occasional pickup trucks and colliding with commercial cargo ships. 

The deployments are supposed to promote deterrence but are utterly ineffective as such.  China is still engaged in annexation of the entire East and South China Seas and ordering us out of the area while seizing our UUVs and expanding into Africa and other countries.  Iran is mining commercial ships and shooting down our UAVs.  Russia is engaged in annexation and invasion of neighboring countries while engaging in unsafe harassment of our ships and planes.  North Korea continues their ballistic missile program.  Houthi rebels launch anti-ship missiles at our ships, if the Navy is to be believed.  Clearly, our enemies are unimpressed with our deterrence cruises.

In addition, we engage in chasing pirates in skiffs, showing the flag to anyone who cares, hosting foreign dignitaries, and exercising with foreign navies whose biggest warship is, all too often, a patrol boat or corvette – none of which prepares us for war.

So, if deployments accomplish nothing and we’re not deterring anyone from anything, what should the Navy be doing during peacetime?

Well, the answer is obvious – we should be preparing for war.  We should be training hard, exercising constantly, and performing maintenance when we aren’t training.  We’ve discussed this in previous posts so I won’t belabor it. 

Beyond this, is there anything legitimate that the Navy could and should be doing?  Yes!  The world is an unhappy, angry place marked by unfriendly peers and near-peers, terrorists, and third world countries full of unrest.  These represent a threat to our interests and should be monitored and dealt with before they become major problems.  In addition, we should be preparing the battlefield for potential future wars (as distinct from training for wars).

Let’s look a bit closer at these peacetime activities.

Monitoring.  This consists of monitoring our potential enemy’s capabilities and developments.  If we can better understand their capabilities then we can be better prepared for the inevitable war.   We need to monitor signals, electronic capabilities, military testing and exercises, and the like.  This is where the Navy can make a huge contribution.  Surveillance ships should be parked 13 miles off the coast of every potential trouble spot in the world.  As a nation, we have many types of surveillance capabilities but ships offer the one thing that no other surveillance asset can and that is persistence.  A ship can sit off a trouble spot continuously, providing uninterrupted, real time surveillance. 

A lot of people will object to this out of fear that we might offend or upset an enemy.  Hey, they’re called enemies for a reason.  Who cares what they think?  If they don’t want us monitoring them that closely then maybe they should consider being a little more friendly.

For the case of countries that are harboring terrorists, whether intentionally or not, we should be flying UAVs over those trouble spots regardless of international law (see, “The Navy and the War on Terror”).  There are two justifications for this:

1. I’ve previously discussed that a country that won’t or can’t stop terrorists in their country forfeits their right to the protections of international law. 

2. Given the world’s evolving cavalier attitude towards unmanned assets (the Chinese have seized our unmanned underwater drones and Iran has shot down our UAVs) UAVs are quickly taking on the characteristic of being above/beyond/outside of the constraints and protections of international law. 

If terrorists are forming, we need to know about it before it becomes a major problem.  If an unfriendly country is testing and developing new radars to missiles, we need to know about it so that we can develop countermeasures.

Interestingly, a suitably modified LCS would make an outstanding surveillance platform (see, “The Electronic LCS” and “LCSAlternative Uses”).  Modifications would have to include a larger crew and facilities to conduct onboard maintenance as well as specific surveillance equipment.  Such an LCS would have the speed to avoid trouble and enough firepower to discourage troublemakers.

Pre-emptive Action.  Monitoring is only half the peacetime activity.  Pre-emptive action is the other half.  We need to stop problems before they become major.  America should not be apologizing for aggressively exercising our legal rights and our inherent right to self-defense.

The Navy has much to offer in the realm of pre-emptive action.  In addition to the obvious direct action such as air strikes and Tomahawk strikes, the Navy is ideally positioned to support other, less obvious actions, direct or indirect.  Navy ‘barges’ (could be a MLP, JHSV, AFSB or, gods forbid, an actual barge) could be parked just outside territorial waters (or inside, if needed) and used to host special forces and UAVs.  That terrorist training camp that we’ve been monitoring should be struck before it actually generates functioning terrorists.  That corrupt government that is unofficially supporting terrorism should be ‘visited’ in various ways to encourage them to cease their support.

Battlefield Preparation.  We know where war is likely to occur (looking at you China and Iran) so let’s study the battlefield.  Let’s map the underwater domain.  Let’s map the electronic ‘geography’.  Let’s practice trailing enemy subs.  Let’s fly practice missions to the extent we can.  Let’s intercept any aircraft or ships that venture into international air/water.  Let’s insert ourselves into enemy exercises and observe the reactions and capabilities (China has done exactly this during RIMPAC, for example).


We see that there is much productive work that the Navy could be doing during peacetime but it all starts with ending the useless, interminable deployments that wear out ships and accomplish nothing.  We need to pull our ships back and engage in intensive maintenance and hard, realistic training.  That will free up ships to conduct the missions described above.

It is noteworthy that none of the peacetime missions described require high end, sophisticated ships.  Thus, the bulk of the fleet can undergo maintenance and training without adversely affecting the peacetime missions that should be done.  Indeed, converted commercial ships could perform most or all of the peacetime missions.

We need to make the Navy truly productive during peacetime and now we know how to do it.

Monday, April 13, 2020

ACV Comparison and Evaluation

The Marines are developing a wheeled Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV 1.1) to replace its legacy amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) (for some background, see, "Future Connectors - The Marine Corps View").  On 19-Jun-2018 the Marines selected BAE over SAIC to build the ACV and awarded a contract.  The plan, at that time, was for 204 vehicles at a cost of $1.2B. (4)

Here are some comparative specs on the forerunner, the WWII LVT-4, the legacy AAV, and the new BAE ACV.

Length, ft
26 (6)
28 (5)
28 (3)
Width, ft
11 (6)
11 (5)
10 (3)
Height, ft
8 (6)
11 (5)
9 (3)
Weight, lbs
36,500 (6)
58,000 (5)
63,000 (3)
Payload, lbs
6950 (7)
6,000 (3)
Sea State
5 (5)
3 (1)
Horsepower, HP
250 (6)
400 (5)
690 (1)
Land Range, miles
250 (6)
300 (5)
325 (1)
Land Speed, mph
14 (6)
45 (5)
65 (1)
Water Speed, kts
7 (6)
8 (5)
6 (3)
Troop Capacity
30 (6)
21 (5)
13 (1)

Comparing the three vehicles, it is interesting to note that in its main role as an amphibious transport vehicle, the water speeds are identical and the troop carrying capacity has steadily decreased from WWII until now.  This is not necessarily a bad thing especially given that the AAV and ACV are intended as light armored personnel carriers (APC) and it would be nice if they carried some even multiple of squads.  The BAE ACV does appear sized for about one squad whereas the AAV was an odd squad and a half, or so.  The WWII LVT was a pure water transport vehicle and troop capacity was maximized.

LVT(4) Amtrac

Land performance, in terms of speed and range, has improved which, again, tracks with the use of the AAV and ACV as light APCs.

This is mostly just an informational post.  The main realization from looking at the historical vehicle performance compared to today is how little the vehicles have improved since WWII in regards to their primary role of ship to shore connector.  When one considers the incredible increases in performance of aircraft, missiles, stealth, guidance, sensors, etc. one can’t help but be disappointed by the relatively minor improvements from LVT to ACV.  


Although a Marine issue, I guess this is lumped in with the Navy’s indifference towards naval gun support and ship armor.  Landing craft just aren’t ‘sexy’ enough to get Navy/Marine attention although I would have thought the Marines would have pushed hard for vastly improved landing craft (not withstanding the long, drawn out, failed EFV program).  Of course, I would have thought they would have pushed hard for heavy naval gun support and they didn’t.

The main problem is that the ACV suffers from the same problem as the AAV which is that it is limited to a few miles of travel to the shore.  In other words, it no more supports the Navy/Marine amphibious assault standoff doctrine than the AAV did so why did the Marines opt to procure it?  It represents zero improvement in the ability to conduct a landing from 25-50+ miles offshore.  So what was the point? 


Conceptually, the AAV/ACV seems like a failed compromise between a heavy armored personnel carrier (HAPC – like the Israeli Namer or Achzarit) and an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV – like the US Bradley).  The AAV/ACV has neither the armor protection of an HAPC nor the firepower of an IFV.  It is the worst of both worlds!

An amphibious HAPC would have allowed the vehicle/troops to roll straight through any initial resistance and get off the exposed beach.  The ACV, by comparison, has no significant armor and no firepower.

There is now another issue confronting the ACV and that is Commandant Berger’s all but explicitly stated abandonment of opposed landings.  That being the case, what purpose do ACVs serve?  If all future landings will be unopposed then an ACV is not needed – any old ship to shore connector will suffice, including pure helo transport.  In fact, in an unopposed landing and with no heavy equipment like tanks or artillery, helo transport of the resultant light infantry is perfectly adequate.  Of course, rowboats, canoes, barges, and rafts would work equally as well.  To be fair, the Commandant has hinted that the ACV numbers might be decreased.

The ACV appears to be a piece of equipment that has no real purpose in the Commandant’s vision of a new Marine Corps.  Of course, that vision is badly flawed, so …