Monday, June 29, 2020

The Final Nail

Here’s the final nail in the Marine Corps coffin, straight from the Commandant’s mouth.

First, a focus on a pacing threat that is both a maritime power and a nuclear power eliminates entirely the salience of large-scale forcible entry operations followed by sustained operations ashore. (1) [emphasis added]

There is no longer the slightest doubt.  This Commandant believes that amphibious assault is a dead concept.  Why?  Why would he think that?  Why would he believe that the [arguably] major reason for the Marine Corps is no longer applicable?

Well, we begin to get an understanding of the Commandant’s rationale for his radical changes in the following statement. 

… even if there were a strong and credible requirement for large-scale forcible entry operations, such operations could not be carried out in the face of an adversary that has integrated the technologies and disciplines of the mature precision strike regime. (1) [emphasis added]

There it is, in black and white, plain English.  The Commandant is prepared to give up without a fight!  He’s just plain scared.  He believes the enemy is invincible and there’s not a thing we can do to counter the enemy’s capabilities.  Apparently, he believes that we have no capabilities of our own that can even remotely approach those of the enemy.

This scared belief utterly flies in the face of history.  We faced daunting enemy defenses and capabilities at Normandy and a host of other places and managed to overcome them. 

Of course we can counter and defeat the enemy!  It just requires fortitude, determination, and strategic/operational competence.  This Commandant appears to lack all three qualities.

Even more disturbingly disappointing is the Commandant’s assessment of our ultimate chance of victory:

… given the geopolitical realities of today and the nature of China’s society and strategic culture, it is highly likely that even if we did have an answer for the challenges of amphibious power projection in a mature precision strike regime, this capability would not be sufficient to deter or prevent our pacing threat from accomplishing its objectives in regions we judge important to our national security. (1) [emphasis added]

In other words, the Commandant believes that our enemy’s technology is sufficient to eliminate any hope, whatsoever, of a successful offense AND that, despite having the same technology as our enemy, we have no hope of stopping his offense even though he can totally stop ours.

It’s one thing to have a realistic assessment of an enemy’s capabilities – I try to define that all the time in this blog – but it’s another to have a doomsday, defeatist view based on nothing but fear.

Shockingly, after the litany of doomsday statements, the Commandant has the gall to pretend that his vision of the Marines can accomplish something:

“… most ready when the Nation is least ready,” remains a central requirement in the design of our future force, and one which I will keep unflinchingly in mind as I oversee the next stage of wargaming, experimentation, and analysis that will work out many of the specific details. (1)

Despite believing, in his core, that there is absolutely nothing we can do to defeat the enemy, he believes that a stripped down Marine force of platoons is the Marines at the ‘most ready’????

Now, here’s a closing thought to ponder … If the Commandant truly believes that our entire military might has zero chance of victory, how does he think a handful of platoon size units will win the war?

Thank goodness this Commandant was not in charge of the Marines in WWII.  He’d have taken one look at the Japanese defenses on any of their islands, announced our inevitable defeat, and surrendered.  Of course, if he was in charge, he’d have been immediately fired for cowardice.

I thought I could not be more disappointed in this Commandant but I was wrong – badly wrong.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Des Moines Class Cruiser

Among those who study naval warfare, the WWII Des Moines class cruiser has taken on a bit of an almost legendary status despite not having actually fought in WWII.  It is frequently mentioned as the basis for a modern cruiser.  Why is that?  What was special about the design of the class?  Is it as special as some believe it to be?  Let’s take a look.

The Des Moines class cruiser was designed during the peak of WWII and incorporated all the lessons learned about naval combat to that point.  More importantly, it was designed by people who were actually fighting a naval war as opposed to the people designing ships today who have no first hand knowledge of combat and, seemingly, no awareness of history or history’s lessons about warship design.  The class can, in many ways, be considered the ultimate development of the cruiser.  As such, it would behoove us to examine the design and see what characteristics its designers focused on and why.  Presumably, we should be valuing the same characteristics in our designs today or, if not, we should have a very carefully thought out rationale as to why not along with supporting evidence and data to demonstrate why we believe that the lessons of actual naval combat no longer apply.

Des Moines Class Cruiser

While the design work began around July 1943 with final design characteristics approved in November 1943, the lead ship, Des Moines, was laid down in May 1945 and commissioned in November 1948, too late for the war.

As a brief summary, here are some specifications of the Des Moines class.

Des Moines Class Specifications (1)
Length (overall), ft
Displacement (full load), tons
Beam (waterline), ft
SHP, hp
Speed (trial), kts
Range @ 15 kts, nm
Main Battery
9x 8”/55 (3x triple mounts)
Secondary Battery
12x 5”/38 (6x dual mounts)
AA Battery
24x 3”/50, 12x 20mm
Fire Control
2x Mk54 (8”), 4x Mk37 (5”), 4x Mk56
Armor Belt, in
Bomb Deck, in
Armor Deck, in
Bulkheads, in
Barbettes, in
Main Mount Armor, in
up to 8
Conning Tower, in
up to 6.5

Let’s take a brief look at the design characteristics that are evident from the specifications.

Armor – With a 1” bomb deck (intended to detonate armor piercing shells and high explosive bombs before they reached the main armor deck), 3.5” armor deck, up to 6” main belt, and heavily armored main gun mounts, the class was well equipped to stand and fight and continue fighting while absorbing damage.  We’ve completely forgotten just how well armored ships used to be.  Imagine a Des Moines class cruiser going up against the 57-76 mm guns so prevalent in today’s navies.  The cruiser would be almost invulnerable to gunfire.  Even 5” gunfire effects would be greatly mitigated.  Of course, anti-ship cruise missiles are a different story, to some degree, and no one is suggesting an exact duplicate of WWII armoring schemes for modern ships (see, “Conceptual Armor For Modern Ships”).  However, the lesson that armor mitigates damage and allows ships to stay in the fight is a timeless reminder of the reality of combat and one that we have forgotten, today.  WWII warship designers understood this even though we’ve forgotten the lesson, today.

Speed/Range – Capable of 32+ knots and a range of 10,500 nm at 15 kts, the Des Moines was heavily armored for her size and reminds us that we don’t have to sacrifice speed or range to achieve armor.  Contrast this with the entirely unarmored LCS which is only capable of around 37 knots (see, “LCS – Not All That Fast”) – hardly much more than the Des Moines while being significantly lighter!  So many people have commented that armor means less speed and range.  They’re wrong and the Des Moines specifications prove it conclusively!  Modern ship designers have completely forgotten how to achieve the combination of speed, range, and armor that we routinely met in WWII ship designs.

Battery – The Des Moines carried a heavy and numerous main and secondary battery.  We’ve forgotten just how densely packed WWII ships were with weapons.  Weapon density (redundancy) is what allows a ship to keep fighting even if one or more weapons are disabled.  It is also worth noting the secondary battery which was numerous and powerful.  Compare that to today’s ‘secondary’ batteries – for those ships that even have one it generally consists of one or two 30 mm guns or some such.  This reminds us that there is value in a powerful secondary battery in the event that the main battery is disabled.  It also provides an alternative for situations in which firepower is still needed but the main battery would be a vast overkill.  The failure to recognize the value of a powerful secondary battery, today, is yet further proof that we no longer design WARships.

Fire Control Redundancy – One can’t help but be struck by the number and types of fire control systems in the Des Moines class.  In addition, and notably, the Des Moines had two separate main battery plotting rooms which would provide invaluable redundancy in combat.  Contrast that with today’s obsession with consolidating every sensor into one system which, of course, creates a single point of failure in combat.  As battle damage accumulates, the more fire control systems that are available, the longer a ship can stay in the fight.

All of the above characteristics are noteworthy, without a doubt, however, they don’t add up to a truly special warship.  So, is there something else that makes the Des Moines class special?  There is!  It’s the rapid fire 8” guns.

8”/55 RF Mk16 – This gun represented a major step forward with the capability to achieve firing rates three times faster than previous guns!  As reported by Navweaps website, the 8”/55 routinely demonstrated sustained firing rates of 10 rds/min thanks to automated shell handling and loading.  As Navweaps states,

… a fire rate three times greater than that of previous 8" (20.3 cm) guns and coupled together with the use of "super-heavy" AP projectiles, these weapons made the Des Moines (CA-134) class the most powerful heavy cruisers ever built. (2)

The guns were able to be loaded at any angle – again, a major benefit – and were able to achieve firing ranges of 30,000 yds (17 miles).  Interestingly, the guns used two radars on each turret for rangefinding instead of optical rangefinders.(2)

8"/55 Gun Turret Drawing

8"/55 Gun

We see, then, that the key to the Des Moines class was the very heavy weapons fit and the ability to fire those weapons three times faster than any previous 8” gun!  Combine this with a heavy armor fit and the Des Moines was a powerful, effective warship, for sure.  It is little wonder, then, that the Des Moines keeps cropping up in discussions about modern cruisers and why modern ships compare so poorly to the WWII class.

The lessons of the Des Moines and the characteristics that were valued by WWII warship designers were speed, range, firepower, redundancy, armor, and rate of fire – all of which, except perhaps speed, have been abandoned by today’s ship designers.  What makes us think that those characteristics of a good warship design no longer apply to naval combat?  What evidence do we have that those characteristics no longer confer any benefit in naval combat?  The answer is … nothing.  Only our own stupidity, ignorance, and arrogance are telling us to abandon the hard learned lessons of actual combat.  We’re substituting our ignorance-based thinking for combat-reality and the folly of that will quickly become apparent in the next naval battle.

Indeed, the folly has already become apparent with examples such as the Norwegian frigate that sank from a simple, limited collision, the gentle grounding of the Port Royal that mission killed the ship’s VLS and Aegis, the exterior bomb blast that almost sank the Cole, the two Burke collisions that almost sank those ships, the French ship that was unable to launch its cruise missiles, the LCS that cannot repair even the simplest damage at sea, and so on.  Today’s examples are telling us, loudly and clearly, that our ship designs are garbage and unsuited for combat.  We need to return to the Des Moines, conceptually, if not literally.

Imagine a Des Moines class cruiser with VLS and some modern sensors added.  It would instantly be the most powerful surface ship in the world.


(1)“U.S. Cruisers, An Illustrated Design History”, Norman Friedman, Naval Institute Press, 1984, ISBN 0-87021-718-6, p.481

(2)Navweaps website, retrieved 17-Jun-2020,

Monday, June 22, 2020

Littoral Regiment Combat Team

The Commandant’s latest idea is Littoral Regiment Combat Teams (LRCT).  What is a Littoral Regiment Combat Team?  From a Marine Corps Times website article,

The new Marine Littoral Regiment will be comprised of roughly 1,800 to 2,000 Marines and sailors, but the final design of the new unit is still under consideration, according to MCCDC [Marine Corps Combat Development Command]. In comparison 3rd Marine Regiment is roughly 3,400 Marines and sailors. (1)

The LRCT is intended to operate inside enemy territory and enemy controlled waters.

The littoral regiment combat team is “designed to provide the basis for employing multiple platoon-reinforced-size expeditionary advance base sites that can host and enable a variety of missions such as long-range anti-ship fires, forward arming and refueling of aircraft, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance of key maritime terrain, and air-defense and early warning,” MCCDC said in an emailed statement. (1)

This statement also indicates what size the small, secret sea control units will be: ‘platoon-reinforced-size’.  That’s right, Marine platoons will establish control of the seas.  No need for the Navy or large, powerful ships with crews of hundreds or thousands – a platoon with a few missiles can do the job.

This also suggests that the LRCT will have no function, itself, other than to provide the detachments for the platoon size sea control units.  It seems unlikely (to be fair, the Commandant’s entire scheme seems unlikely and yet …) that an entire regiment would be formed whose only purpose is to be broken up to provide penny packets of small units.  Will we see some further assignment of responsibility for the LRCT in the future?

Where did the idea of the LRCT come from?

The term came up in a panel discussion at the Surface Navy Association annual symposium in Arlington, Virginia, on Jan. 15, when Wise [Maj. Gen. Mark Wise, deputy commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command] was answering questions about how the Corps would go about building new formations to fight better alongside the Navy. (2)

Is this the end of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) which has been the cornerstone of the Marines for decades?

In October 2019, Brig. Gen. Benjamin Watson said that the Corps was “no longer going to stick or take an uncompromising position on the sanctity of the MAGTF,” while speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

“If what is needed is a piece of the Marine Corps that is not organized like a MAGTF or a capability the Marine Corps can bring that is not a MAGTF, then we are not too proud to provide that,” he said. (2)

So, not only are the Marines dumping tanks, artillery, and mortars but also the MAGTF organization although the MAGTFs may hang on for a while as the transition to LRCTs occurs.

Just thinking out loud, here, but if all you need is a handful of platoon size units, how do you justify a Marine Corps of 180,000 plus all its equipment?  How many of these LRCTs do you need?  It seems like you can get quite a few platoons from just one LRCT.  There seems to be a real disconnect with this Commandant.  His stated vision is that a handful of platoons can win a war with China and yet he seems to want to keep a nearly full size Marine Corps.  Which is it, Commandant, a handful of platoons or a full Corps?  Are there still more secret plans coming?  And, if you want to maintain a full Corps, what responsibilities will the rest of the Corps have given that they have no tanks and little artillery?  It seems they’ll be limited to minor raids and very low end combat.  Again, it would be hard to justify a 180,000 man Corps with these kinds of limited missions.

A Chinese agent couldn’t inflict the damage to the Corps that this Commandant is doing. 

At some point, we’re going to see Marines start to vote with their feet and leave the Corps.  We’re going to wind up with a Marine Corps consisting of new recruits who have no clue and a handful of old-timers just riding out the last few years until retirement. 


(1)Marine Corps Times website, “New Marine Littoral Regiment, designed to fight in contested maritime environment, coming to Hawaii”, Shawn Snow, 14-May-2020,

(2)Marine Corps Times website, “New Corps formation: Marine littoral regiment may be how the Corps fights future battles”, Todd South, 29-Jan-2020,

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Navy Aerial Refueling

As you know, the Navy is struggling with aerial refueling and some time ago made the unbelievably stupid decision to use its newest, most capable, front line strikefighter as a tanker.  This decision has resulted in several F-18E/F’s in each air wing being removed from combat service and the aircraft being prematurely worn out due to the greatly extended flight hours of a tanker.

This idiocy prompts us to look back at the history of Navy aerial refueling.

Surprisingly, the history of Navy aerial refueling is fairly short.  As best I can tell, here’s a chronological list of the dedicated tanker aircraft that the Navy has used over the years.  Various other aircraft have been used for occasional buddy tanking but these are the dedicated tankers even if they weren’t purpose built for the task.

Operating Period
Deliverable Fuela
KA-3B Skywarrior
1967- mid 1970s
29,000 lb
KA-6D Intruder
early 1970s – late 1990s
20,000 lb
S-3 Viking
late 1970s – late 2000s
16,000 lb
F/A-18E/F Super Hornetb
early 2000s - current
14,000 lb
MQ-25 Stingray
2024? - ?
14,000 lb

a Deliverable fuel is a highly variable number which depends on the distance the tanker has to fly to reach the refueling point and how much, if any, of the tanker’s internal fuel is available for off-load.  The figures presented are approximate estimates under typical conditions.

b The Super Hornet is sometimes cited as being able to carry around 29,000 lb of fuel but that includes both internal fuel and all five external fuel tanks.  Under actual conditions, the Hornet cannot deliver all of its internal fuel and the Navy no longer operates the Hornet with all five fuel tanks due to increased stress and wear on the aircraft.  Thus, the actual deliverable fuel is much less.

Here’s some interesting tidbits of information about the various tankers.

KA-3B Skywarrior
  • 85 A-3B bombers were refitted in 1967 for the tanker role
  • The KA-3 could deliever 29,000 lb of fuel at 460 miles (1)
Skywarrior Refueling Intruder

KA-6D Intruder
  • 90 A-6As and A-6Es were converted for use as tanker aircraft
  • Could deliver half the load of the KA-3B Skywarrior (1)
  • Could deliver a maximum of around 3000 gal (20,000 lb) (5)
  • Could carry 5 external fuel tanks (4 wing + 1 centerline) and dispensed fuel from buddy tanks or a centerline hose/drum refueling basket which could transfer fuel from the external tanks or the aircraft’s internal tanks
  • First demonstrated in 1966.
KA-6D Intruder

S-3 Viking
  • A single KS-3A prototype was developed and tested but the program was cancelled
  • The original proposed KS-3A Viking tanker would have added a conformal weapons bay fuel tank to supplement standard external buddy tanks which would have allowed the aircraft to carry 30,000 lb of fuel (2)
  • S-3 Vikings were used as dedicated buddy tankers able to deliver around 16,000 lb of fuel (2)
S-3 Viking Tanker

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
  • Older A-D model Hornets were not equipped for tanking so only the more modern E-F models were used
  • Anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of Super Hornet sorties are used for refueling missions (4)
  • The Hornet Aerial Refueling System includes an external 330 gallon tank with hose reel on the centerline along with four external 480 gallon tanks and internal tanks for a total of 29,000 pounds of fuel on the aircraft, however, the Navy has had to reduce the number of external fuel tanks in the tanking role due to excessive wear on the airframes (6) and this reduces the deliverable fuel which, in turn, requires more Super Hornets to be used as tankers to dispense the same amount of fuel
F-18F Tanker

MQ-25 Stingray
  • Refueling specification is to offload 14,000lbs of gas at a distance of 500 miles
  • IOC won’t occur until 2024 and that target is subject to up to a three year delay due to carrier test ship modernization delays (3)
  • Navy plans to buy around 70 production aircraft
  • The 2020 GAO annual report cites a unit cost (includes procurement and development) of $146M per aircraft and notes that costs could rise substantially if carrier modernization is delayed
  • Eisenhower (CVN-69) and Bush (CVN-77) have been designated to be the first two carriers to test and operate the MQ-25 but each requires modernization and installation of unmanned aircraft control stations, data links, and maintenance facilities.  If the upgrade schedule cannot be met – and it’s currently in doubt – the MQ-25 introduction faces a several year delay.
MQ-25 Stingray

Here’s a few general bits of information:

Aerial refueling dates back to the 1920’s beginning with early attempts to refuel biplanes.

In 1934, Sir Alan Cobham had founded Flight Refuelling Ltd which began refining the probe-and-drogue system commonly used by the Navy, today.

The Intruder and Super Hornet provide tactical refueling capability in that they are capable of accompanying strike groups rather than having to meet them at designated locations.

The KS-3A Viking original proposal would have provided significant refueling capacity (up to 30,000 lb) and, if implemented, could have saved the Hornets from being forced into tanker duty.  Even today, some 90 S-3 Vikings are still available in long term storage and most have used only around half of the lifetime flight hours.  They could still be converted into KS-3 Viking tankers for much less than the cost of developing the new MQ-25 Stingray, one supposes.

Here’s an example of typical tanker usage:  During Vietnam, strike forces launched from aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin were accompanied by tankers for a final refueling before they went to the target. Tankers were held in standby orbits for attackers returning from the target, and a tanker was always in orbit over the aircraft carrier in the event a returning airplane, almost out of fuel, missed its "trap" and had to circle for a second attempt at landing.(1)

The future of Navy aerial refueling, assuming the MQ-25 Stingray pans out, is mediocre, at best.  The MQ-25 deliverable fuel is at the lower end of the historical capability spectrum which means that more aircraft will be required to deliver the required quantity of fuel.  Of course, given that air wings have shrunk to nearly half their original size, there is plenty of room on the carriers for extra aircraft.  Whether the MQ-25 can operate tactically with strike groups or will have to establish refueling locations remains to be seen.  The MQ-25 seems to be a decidedly average capability.  If the aircraft can be procured at sufficiently cheap prices and the operating costs are not excessive then the mediocre capability is acceptable.  Unfortunately, the $146M unit cost is extremely high and costs always increase so this is looking to be poor value for the dollar.

That’s it.  Other than the obvious conclusion that the Navy chose the absolute worst path for aerial refueling (not surprising), this is primarily just an informational post to help us understand what our aerial refueling situation is, how we got there, and what our future prospects look like.


(1)Global Security website, “KA-3B / EKA-3B”,

(2)The Drive website, “The Compelling Case For Turning S-3 Vikings Into The Navy's New MQ-25 Tanker Drone”, Tyler Rogoway, 6-Apr-2018,

(3)Defense News website, “If the US Navy isn’t careful, its new unmanned tanker drone could face a 3-year delay”, David B. Larter, 11-Jun-2020,

(4)USNI News website, “Navy Has Picked the First Two Carriers to Fly MQ-25A Stingray Unmanned Aerial Refueling Tankers”, Sam LaGrone, 12-Jun-2017,

(5)A-6 Intruder, Detail and Scale, Vol.24, Bert Kinzey, 1987, p.58

(6)USNI News website, “Navy Getting ‘Smarter’ About Tanking Mission As Super Hornets Approach 6,000 Hours”, Megan Eckstein, 12-Aug-2015,

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

BALTOPS Amusement

More and more, I’m reading stories that are so pathetic that they become truly funny and entertaining.  Here’s another such example involving a British frigate during a BALTOPS exercise.

The story’s title was, “British frigate tested with ‘drone assaults and torpedo attacks”.  Okay, that sounded intriguing.  Throwing drones that simulate attacking missiles and ?submarine? torpedo attacks against a frigate to test it is exactly the kind of thing we should be doing.  I eagerly jumped into reading the article to see the details.  Well, here’s the relevant portion of the article,

The upper deck gunners tested their marksmanship with machine-guns and Miniguns (ship-mounted Gatling guns) and the 30mm Automatic Small Calibre Gun (ASCG) against dummy surface targets before ‘air attacks’ as Banshee drones – 9ft long, 8ft wingspan, moving at about 120mph – were deployed against Kent. Also put to the test were the flight team as maintainers prepared and loaded a dummy Sting Ray for the Merlin helicopter, which promptly headed off on a sortie with the torpedo at the ready.” (1)

In stunned disbelief, I had to reread the passage a couple of times to be sure I was understanding it correctly.

The drone attacks were from Meggitt Banshee drones which are 9 ft long, non-stealthy, and have a speed of around 120 mph.  That’s half the speed of a WWII aircraft!  For comparison, Wiki lists the top speed of a WWI Sopwith Camel as 113 mph.  So, what modern, attacking, weapon system is that simulating?  The only thing it remotely simulates is a very low end, commercial grade quad-copter or UAV.

Banshee Drone - Top speed is more than twice that of the boat it's riding in!

The torpedo attack?  It wasn’t an attack, it was a practice loading of a dummy torpedo onto a helicopter.

What was the Royal Navy assessment of these pathetically meager efforts?  The Royal Navy claimed the exercises,

… tested the crew of HMS Kent to the limit. (1)

A WWI-ish drone and loading a practice torpedo is a test to the limit????

Seriously, I did get a good laugh out of this article.  It’s hilarious what passes for a major exercise today.  The crew of the Kent must be exhausted after being ‘put to the test’ and ‘tested to the limit’.  I hope they get a commendation and some well deserved time off to recover.


(1)UK Defence Journal, “British frigate tested with ‘drone assaults and torpedo attacks”, Tom Dunlop, 15-Jun-2020,

Monday, June 15, 2020

Some Positive Developments

One of the aspects of this blog that I struggle with is that so many of the posts are critical and negative.  This is not because I hate the Navy.  Just the opposite!  I love the Navy and I write this blog to try to point out problems so that they can be corrected.  You can’t fix something until you know that it’s broken. 

It’s also important to recognize that I don’t set out to write critical posts.  Instead, I analyze a topic.  The fact that the analysis so often leads to criticism simply reflects the many bad decisions Navy leadership makes.  If the analysis proves positive, I gladly say so.  Sadly, the positive results are few and far between.

I would also point out that other countries, friend and enemy, experience the same problems or worse but we tend not focus on them, mainly due to lack of information.

Unfortunately, all of this can lead to readers getting discouraged and thinking that there’s nothing right about the Navy and that’s not true.  This post is an attempt to offer some brief reminders of some of the positive developments that are taking place.  Not all will succeed and not all are the best possible approach but all are positive steps.  The list is not all-inclusive but represents a sampling of some of the positive developments in the Navy.  Enjoy the listing and feel good about these developments. 

LRASM – By all accounts, this will be an effective long range anti-ship weapon and provide a much needed improvement over the venerable Harpoon.  I’d like to have seen this be a supersonic weapon but this is still a large, positive step forward.  Assuming it can be successfully adapted to the VLS – and there’s no reason to think it can’t – this will provide surface ships with a powerful anti-ship weapon.

Naval Strike Missile – This provides a much needed, basic, shorter range, anti-ship weapon and gives the LCS some minimal capability, at long last, although targeting remains an issue.

Upgraded Tomahawk – Supposedly, the Navy is planning to upgrade its Tomahawk inventory to Block V standards which includes improved guidance and extended range.  Additionally, an anti-ship version is planned although one wonders whether this will materialize given the Navy’s commitment to the LRASM.

Submarine Shortfall – While the submarine shortfall – estimated to drop the sub fleet to around 40 at the low point – has been known for decades and the Navy has both allowed it and failed to take any action to mitigate it (and have, in fact, early retired Los Angeles class subs despite the looming shortfall), the Navy is finally waking up and is attempting to increase submarine production.  Unfortunately, submarine manufacturing capacity is just about max’ed out so this may produce only minor improvements.  Still, the Navy is at least trying.

Frigate – While readers know that ComNavOps does not believe a frigate is needed, it still represents a vast improvement over the LCS and whatever forsaken unmanned vessels the Navy is going to come up with.  This should, at least, provide a combat capable ship for the fleet and help maintain combat capable ship numbers.

AGS – While the Zumwalt Advanced Gun System (AGS) was an unabashed fiasco, I consider it a positive sign that the Navy cancelled the program instead of riding it all the way down the funding sinkhole, as they have so many other programs.  The money saved can be spent on other, hopefully better, programs.  This is a rare and welcome sign of some degree of fiscal responsibility.

Unmanned Tanker – Assuming the Navy can get it to work, this should free up Hornets to do what they’re intended to do which is combat.  This not only saves wear on the Hornet airframes but effectively increases the number of combat-available aircraft in the air wing.

Drydocks and Shipyards – Yes, the drydocks and public shipyards are in pitiful shape and that’s a crime on Navy leadership that is unforgivable.  However, the Navy, with a good deal of prodding from Congress, has at last begun to pay some attention to our public shipyards and drydocks and begun funding upgrades, maintenance, and new facilities.  The funding should be much more than it is but it’s at least a positive step.

I get lots of email and communications from active duty personnel of all ranks so I know the blog is being read by the Navy and, as a result, I firmly believe that this blog and its readers have had a positive influence on the Navy.  It’s our job to keep hammering out the ‘right’ message to the Navy.  The victories will be small and hard to see but they’re there!  In the meantime, let’s recognize the positive developments and enjoy them!  Feel free to chime in and add your own examples of positive developments.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

More Defensive Missile Data

I’ve repeatedly stated that ship anti-air / anti-missile defenses will perform far worse than the Navy believes.  I’ve backed that statement up with all the available historical data which, to be fair, is not a lot.  However, what data exists unequivocally proves that defensive surface to air missiles (SAM) have a probability of kill (pK) in the range of 1%-25% with the vast majority falling in the 1%-10% or so.  Despite this, there is a group of observers/commenters who have a vastly inflated confidence in SAM systems that is based on nothing but the same promise of improved technology that accompanies every new SAM system and that, ultimately, fails to deliver.  Well, here’s a new data point for Russian S-300 system performance against Israeli aircraft:

Syrian air defense forces having launched more than 1,000 surface-air missiles to try and foil the repeated Israeli attacks. They’ve had little effect so far. (1)

While this does not provide exact numbers, the trend seems clear.  I’ve heard of no reports of downed Israeli aircraft nor any credible claims of downings by Syria.  Thus, the Russian S-300 system would seem to have a pK of, essentially, zero.

S-300 - Ineffective?

I know exactly what some of you are going to say.  You’re going to wave away the failings of this system and point to the wondrous S-400 system.  Well, I’ll remind you that the S-300 once got the same rave reviews that the S-400 gets today.  Dr. Carlo Kopp, the renowned author, had this to say about the S-300 system in 2006.

The S-300 SAM systems remain one of the most lethal, if not the most lethal, all altitude area defence SAM systems in service … (2)

This is yet another data ‘point’ that proves that SAM success rates are quite poor across all eras and all systems.  Despite this body of evidence, the US firmly believes that its missile systems are extremely effective, to the point that we don’t even mount close in weapon systems on the Zumwalts.  We desperately need to put our defensive missile systems through real, live fire weapon trials on sacrificial barges and find out what they can, or cannot, do.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Unanswered Israeli Air Strikes Against Syria Raise S-400 Questions ”, Arie Egozi, 9-Jun-2020,

(2)Dr. Carlo Kopp, 25-Feb-2006,

Monday, June 8, 2020

Fleet Problems - Then and Now

The Navy’s most famous exercises were the series of 21 major Fleet Problems conducted between 1923 – 1940.  These massive exercises not only presciently predicted the course of the WWII naval campaign but also developed the doctrine and tactics that would become the foundation of our WWII naval operations.

From the Wikipedia compilation of Fleet Problems, here is a summary of the exercises.(1)  Look them over and note the remarkable similarity they bore to the actual WWII naval operations.

Fleet Problem I

Held in February and March 1923 and was staged off the coast of Panama. The attacking Black force, using battleships to represent aircraft carriers, tested the defenses of the Panama Canal. A single plane launched from Oklahoma—representing a carrier air group—dropped 10 miniature bombs and theoretically "destroyed" the spillway of the Gatun Dam.

Fleet Problem II

Simulated the first leg of a westward advance across the Pacific.

Fleet Problem III

Focused on a defense of the Panama Canal from the Caribbean side. The Blue force was defending the canal from an attack from the Caribbean by the Black force, operating from an advance base in the Azores. It was to practice amphibious landing techniques and the rapidity of transiting a fleet through the canal from the Pacific side.

In the exercise, a Black force special operations action resulted in the "sinking" of Blue force battleship New York in the Culebra Cut which would have blocked the canal.

Fleet Problem IV

Simulated the movement from a main base in the western Pacific to the Japanese home islands—represented in that case by islands, cities, and countries surrounding the Caribbean.

Fleet Problem V

Held in March and April 1925 and simulated an attack on Hawaii. The Black force, the aggressor, was given the United States' first aircraft carrier, Langley along with two seaplane tenders and other ships outfitted with aircraft, while the defending Blue force had no carriers. In addition, aircraft aboard the battleship Wyoming could not be launched for lack of a working catapult. Langley's positive performance helped speed the completion of aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga.

One aspect of Fleet Problem V was conducted near Guadalupe Island off Baja California and involved attacking a lightly held position and refueling at sea.

Fleet Problem VI

Held off the west coast of Central America in early 1926.

Fleet Problem VII

Held March 1927 and involved defense of the Panama Canal. The highlight of the exercise was Langley’s successful air raid on the Panama Canal.

Fleet Problem VIII

Held in April 1928 between California and Hawaii and pitted Orange, a cruiser force from Pearl Harbor, versus Blue, the Battle Force.  It also involved a convoy search and anti-submarine operations.

Fleet Problem IX

This scenario in January 1929 studied the effects of an attack upon the Panama Canal and conducted the operations necessary to carry out such an eventuality, and pitted the Battle Fleet (less submarines and Lexington) against a combination of forces including the Scouting Force (augmented by Lexington), the Control Forces, Train Squadron 1, and 15th Naval District and local army defense forces. In a daring move, Saratoga was detached from the fleet with only a single cruiser as escort to make a wide sweep to the south and "attack" the Panama Canal, which was defended by the Scouting Fleet and Saratoga's sister ship, Lexington. She successfully launched her strike on 26 January and, despite being "sunk" three times later in the day, proved the versatility of a carrier-based fast task force.

This was the first major test of independent carrier task force operations which would eventually become the model for WWII naval operations in the Pacific.

Fleet Problem X

Held in 1930 in Caribbean waters. This time, however, Saratoga and Langley were "disabled" by a surprise attack from Lexington, showing how quickly air power could swing the balance in a naval action.

Fleet Problem XI

Held in April 1930 in the Caribbean.

Fleet Problem XII

USS Los Angeles moored to USS Patoka, along with other ships off Panama during Fleet Problem XII.

Held in 1931 in waters west of Central America and Panama. Black, attacking from the west, was to land forces and establish bases in Central America and destroy the Panama Canal, while Blue defended with an aviation-heavy fleet.

Blue's two carrier groups, centered on Saratoga and Lexington, attacked the invasion fleets but failed to stop the landings and got too close to the Black fleets.

Fleet Problem XIII

Fleet Problem XIII began in March 1932, one month after Army/Navy Grand Joint Exercise 4. Blue, based in Hawaii, was to sail east and invade three "enemy" ports on the North American Pacific coastline to try and gain a foothold for future operations. Blue had nine battleships, one aircraft carrier, and many lesser ships. Black defended with one modern aircraft carrier and some fictional battleships, as well as a number of actual cruisers, submarines, and many other ships.

Blue's advance was quickly located by Black's picket line of submarines which then took heavy losses from air attack. Both sides put a priority on destroying the enemy aircraft carrier, launching air attacks almost simultaneously after a few days of probing. Significant damage was laid on both carriers, with Blue's carrier eventually "sunk" by torpedo from a Black destroyer.

After-action critiques stressed the growing importance of naval aviation, and an increased need for the construction of aircraft carriers in the event of a war in the Pacific. Submarines operating at or near the surface were seen to be critically vulnerable to air observation and attack. The exercise showed that one carrier was insufficient for either fleet attack or area defense, so the practice of two or more carriers operating together became policy. Admiral Harry E. Yarnell said that six to eight carriers would be required for a Pacific campaign, but no orders were placed for new carriers, as Depression-era financial difficulties caused President Herbert Hoover to limit naval expenses.

Fleet Problem XIV

Held February 10–17, 1933, Fleet Problem XIV was the first naval exercise to test simulated aircraft carrier attacks against the west coast of the United States. Pacific cities had for decades vied for permanent stationing of U.S. military assets, and vulnerabilities exposed through the exercises were used by metropolitan navy boosters to leverage their cases. In spite of early Navy plans for San Francisco to be home port for the main west coast fleet, these plans had failed to materialize with San Diego incrementally gaining the majority of navy investments.

Fleet Problem XIV coincidentally occurred the month before Franklin D. Roosevelt, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, took the office of the presidency. The results of the exercise between the U.S. Navy's 'black' and 'blue' fleets, were mixed. The simulated attacks had certainly been mitigated by the defensive 'blue' fleet, however the 'black' fleet had scored key victories with strikes on San Pedro and San Francisco, California, respectively.

Fleet Problem XV

Held in May 1934 in Hawaii, this was a three-phase exercise which encompassed an attack upon and defense of the Panama Canal, the capture of advanced bases, and a major fleet engagement.

Fleet Problem XVI

Held in May 1935 in the northern Pacific off the coast of Alaska and in waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, this operation was divided into five distinct phases which were thought to be aspects of some real naval campaign of the future in which the U.S. would take the strategic offensive.

Fleet Problem XVII

This problem took place off the west coast of the U.S., Central America, and the Panama Canal Zone in the spring of 1936. It was a five-phase exercise devoted to preparing the fleet for anti-submarine operations, testing communications systems, and training of aircraft patrol squadrons for extended fleet operations, and pitted the Battle Force against the submarine-augmented Scouting Force.

Fleet Problem XVIII

This exercise was held in May 1937 in Alaskan waters and in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands and Midway, practicing the tactics of seizing advanced base sites—a technique later to be polished to a high degree into close support and amphibious warfare doctrines.

Fleet Problem XIX

This operation in April and May 1938 gave the navy added experience in search tactics; in the use of submarines, destroyers, and aircraft in scouting and attack, in the dispositions of the fleet and the conduct of a major fleet battle. In addition, the exercise again dealt with the matter of seizing advanced fleet bases and defending them against minor opposition. Fleet Problem XIX also tested the capabilities of the Hawaiian Defense Force, augmenting it with fleet units to help to defend the islands against the United States fleet as a whole. The last phase of the exercise exercised the fleet in operations against a defended coastline.

Fleet Problem XX

Took place in February 1939 in the Caribbean and Atlantic, and observed in person by President Franklin Roosevelt. The exercise simulated the defense of the East Coast of the United States and Latin America by the Black team from the invading White team. Participating in the maneuvers were 134 ships, 600 planes, and over 52,000 officers and men.

Fleet Problem XXI

An eight-phase operation for the defense of the Hawaiian area in April 1940.

Fleet Problem XXII

Scheduled for the Spring of 1941, but cancelled.

Grand Joint Exercise 4 (GJE4)

Similar to the Navy’s Fleet Problems, the Army and Navy held a few large, combined exercises.  This particular exercise revolved around an attack on Pearl Harbor.  Lexington and Saratoga conducted an air strike on Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning, 7-Feb-1932.(4)  The attack was an unmitigated success with facilities, aircraft, and ships being decimated.  Attacking aircraft even dropped sacks of flour on battleships to simulate bombs!(5)  Army defenders protested the ‘inappropriateness’ of an attack on a Sunday morning and the unfairness of the attacking aircraft having deceptively approached from the direction of the mainland.(5)  As we know, this was almost an exact foretelling of the actual Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Operations During Fleet Problem X

What is striking about these exercises is the sheer size compared to what we laughingly call exercises today.  Today, a couple of ships that happen to pass each other is called an exercise whereas the Fleet Problems were actual, entire fleet exercises!  The commanders learned to operate entire fleets and squadrons for real.  Here’s an interesting explanation for the size of the Fleet Problems:

This large-scale participation was possible because very little of the U.S. Navy was forward-deployed, so forces could be brought in from the East and West Coast bases. (2)

Hmm …  Better training thanks to reduced forward deployments.  Does that sound familiar?  This is exactly what ComNavOps has been calling for and yet we had it back in the 1920’s!  History is shouting at us, telling us what we should be doing but we’re not listening.

Also noteworthy is that the exercises were not just technology demonstrations as today’s exercises are; they were scenarios that tested operations that we actually believed we might be called on to execute in a war.  The exercises tested specific aspects of War Plan Orange that we were unsure about which made the exercises highly relevant since they were taken from the actual operational plan of war with Japan.  Of particular note are Fleet Problems II (first leg of an advance across the Pacific), IV (advance on the Japanese home islands), V (attack on Hawaii), XVIII (seizing advanced bases in the Pacific via amphibious assault), XXI (defense of Hawaii), and GJE4 which exactly simulated the eventual Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  It was evident that as early as the 1920’s, the Navy was already anticipating war with Japan and developing the doctrine and tactics needed to conduct that war.  What are we exercising today?  What are we preparing for?  In a word … nothing.

Note all the techniques, tactics, and operations that were tested and exercised that eventually became the foundation of our WWII naval operations.

The Navy has revived some minor exercises and fraudulently given them the name of ‘Fleet Problem’ but they do not even remotely capture the essence, purpose, or magnitude of the real Fleet Problems.(6)

Another interesting aspect of the Fleet Problems was that they were real in the sense that problems were not hand-waved away and the results, good or bad, stood.

… the Fleet Problems assumed there often would be a clear loser—and not a junior officer designated to be defeated, but an officer of stature and accomplishment. Senior officers could and did fail dramatically, were critiqued candidly and publicly, and continued to advance and lead. Indeed, across the 21 Fleet Problems, timidity and inattention seemed to be the only unforgivable errors in command. (3)

This is how you learn … by doing and, often, failing!

We need to bring back real fleet problems, not the small, pathetic, watered down efforts that we call exercises today – exercises which are conducted for just a few days while transiting somewhere.(5)  We need to assemble entire fleets and conduct real war games.  Here’s a few examples of some large scale fleet problems we should be conducting.

  • How to operate 4-carrier combat groups and their escorts
  • How to penetrate a thousand mile A2/AD zone
  • Where and how to attack China
  • How to defend or reseize Taiwan (if that’s even part of our geopolitical strategy)
  • How to operate groups when we don’t have aerial supremacy
  • How to operate non-carrier surface groups
  • How to escort convoys and defend against subs, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and aircraft

Of course, all of these possible Fleet Problems presuppose the existence of a modern War Plan Orange aimed at China and, sadly, I see no evidence that we have such a plan.  We need a War Plan Pacific aimed directly at China and we need to start exercising it.


(1)Wikipedia, “Fleet Problem”, retrieved 5-May-2020,

(2)Naval History and Heritage Command website, “Fleet Problem IX”

(3)United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Captain Dale Rielage, Jun-2017,

(6)USNI Proceedings, “Fleet Problems Offer Opportunities”, Adm. Scott Swift, Mar 2018,