Monday, July 27, 2020

Congress Is Doing Its Job - Why Isn't The Navy?

A Breaking Defense article paints a damning picture of Navy leadership (can Navy leadership get any worse?) and demonstrates that Congress, at least, is stepping up and exercising its constitutional oversight responsibilities, as they should.  Specifically, Congress is skeptical about the Navy’s unmanned vessels.

A new class of unmanned ships proposed by the Navy as a bulwark against growing Chinese and Russian naval might is running into deep skepticism on Capitol Hill, reflecting larger and broad frustration in Congress over the Navy’s stalled modernization push. (1)

Congress is finally exerting its oversight responsibility, much to the dismay of the Navy.

The House Armed Services Committee voted 56-0 Wednesday night to send its version of the 2021 Pentagon policy bill to the entire House, a document which slaps restrictions on the Navy and withholds money from the Pentagon until it delivers a long-delayed Navy force structure plan. 

The document also boosts Congressional oversight over the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel, an ambitious new ship the Navy hoped to begin building in 2023. The House’s skepticism over the program is shared by the Senate, which is looking to fence off money for the effort until the Navy demonstrates it understands the technologies involved. (1)

However, this is symptomatic of a larger issue between Congress and the Navy: neither trusts the other.  The lack of trust has arisen over the years and is due to a multitude of broken promises by the Navy and just plain lies in addition to monumental failures to perform.  For their part, Congress has failed to exercise oversight authority and has allowed the Navy to run amok until recently.

The bipartisan consensus to force the Navy to pump the brakes on the LUSV and put pressure on the Pentagon to deliver the shipbuilding and modernization plans reflect a larger uneasiness on Capitol Hill over the Navy’s strategy and its ability to build first-in-class ships on time and on budget.

Lawmakers clearly “are frustrated by the Navy’s last decade of cost overruns on new programs, programs being late, and technology being the thing that holds them up,” Bryan Clark of the Hudson Institute says. 

The HASC version of the bill takes a bold stance in defense of its own oversight, withholding billions from the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance account and prohibiting the Navy from retiring any ships until Defense Secretary Mark Esper delivers to Congress the Navy’s long-awaited force structure assessment and the 30-year shipbuilding plan, both of which he took control over in February. (1) 

At long last, Congress is pumping the brakes on the Navy until they can produce a force structure plan.  Without a coherent plan, hopefully tied to a geopolitical and military strategy, Navy acquisition is just haphazard – hoping that whatever they can obtain will someday, somehow, prove useful.  The Navy hoped the LCS would prove useful and it didn’t.  The Navy hoped the Zumwalt would prove useful and it didn’t.  The Navy hoped the Afloat Forward Staging Base would prove useful and it didn’t.  And so on.  Hope is a poor acquisition strategy.

Congress has begun to see the decades-long pattern of acquisition malpractice from the Navy.

The LUSV has been singled out by lawmakers because the Navy has looked to charge ahead with plans to incorporate new and untested technologies on the ship without fully vetting and testing them before the program kicks off. It’s a repeat of the same approach the service took with new classes of ships like the Littoral Combat Ship, Zumwalt destroyer, and Ford aircraft carrier, only to rack up budget overruns and endure schedules slippages caused by time-consuming fixes and about-faces. 

What has lawmakers concerned is the speed with which the Navy wants to move on these big unmanned ships, and the fact that the service wants to start building while they’re still developing the unique technologies like propulsion systems that will power the ships on long transits with no sailors aboard to troubleshoot or fix problems that might arise. 

“Congress doesn’t have much confidence in the Navy’s approach,” on new programs including the LUSV, a former senior defense official told me. (1)

Here’s an interesting example of laudable Congressional oversight that has come far too late.

On the Senate side, an article in Proceedings — the US Naval Institute’s prestigious magazine — this week by chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe, and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed, lambasted the Pentagon for years of “absurd acquisition debacles that have set back the country tens of billions of dollars and delayed necessary weapon systems.” The senators point out the Navy has struggled to build the first ships of successive classes. (1)

It’s great that Congress is stepping up and exercising its oversight, now, but where were they during the years of “absurd acquisition debacles”?  To step forward now and criticize the Navy without also accepting at least half the blame is hypocritical, at best.

The Navy’s lack of a long term plan is hurting them in Congress.

The absence of the 30-year shipbuilding plan and the Future Navy Force Study which will lay out a modernization strategy is weighing heavily on the Navy, especially now that planning is beginning for the 2022 budget. “The Navy needs to lay out a path for the purpose of the experimentation on the hardware side, and what is the experimentation on the doctrinal side, what are the milestones, and how are we going to move forward,” the former defense official said.  

“I think that would go a long way to providing a compelling vision, and then linking that vision to a strategy. Show me how all these bits and pieces fit in within new operational concepts — this is something that the Navy hasn’t done a great job of doing in recent years.” What has lawmakers concerned is the speed with which the Navy wants to move on these big unmanned ships, and the fact that the service wants to start building while they’re still developing the unique technologies like propulsion systems that will power the ships on long transits with no sailors aboard to troubleshoot or fix problems that might arise. 

It appears that the Navy has worn out its welcome in Congress and used up any reservoir of trust it had.  Now, Congress is reining in the Navy and the Navy has left itself in the position of being unable to justify any of its future acquisitions.  Congress is finally doing its job and exercising oversight.  Now, the Navy needs to begin doing its job and start presenting coherent acquisition plans that are tied to strategy.


(1)Breaking Defense, “Congress Pumps The Brakes On Navy, Demands Answers From OSD ”, Paul McLeary, 2-Jul-2020,


  1. "Without a coherent plan, hopefully tied to a geopolitical and military strategy, Navy acquisition is just haphazard – hoping that whatever they can obtain will someday, somehow, prove useful."

    But does that geopolitical and military strategy come from the Navy, or DOD as a whole, or from Congress, or from the President? Or in the absence of one from anywhere else, should the Navy postulate its own?

    We don't have a coherent geopolitical strategy, and haven't really had one since the Berlin Wall fell and we had no idea what to do next.

    Like it or not, we are now in Cold War II, and this time the enemy is China. They clearly have a geopolitical and military strategy. We had better come up with something soon, or this war won't go our way.

    1. The Trump Administration released the National Security Strategy in Dec '17. See the review of it in this post: Strategy

      The strategy was a vast improvement over anything from the last few administrations although it fell short in some specifics regarding our relationship with China, Russia, Iran, and NK. The military should have been able to work with that strategy to formulate a military strategy but, if we have, I've seen nothing from it.

      One can agree or disagree with the content but Trump's strategy is very coherent, if less than complete, with a foundational basis of 'America first', among other themes.

      At this point, I give the President a C+/B- for strategy and the military and F for failure to develop any strategy.

      Note, this is not a political comment, just a recognition of the existence of a national geopolitical strategy which should be informing our military.

    2. Also trying not to be political, but agree that the 2017 strategy document was a vast improvement over anything that preceded it. But I'm not sure that it is specific enough that you can design a Navy from it. Somebody needs to put some meat on those bones.

    3. I think there's enough in the strategy for the Navy to work with. For example, the Navy could propose that part of their derived naval strategy is to use SEALS to blow up all the artificial islands. That would force the administration to approve or disapprove. Go through a series of those kinds of specifics and, eventually, you'll wind up with an actual naval strategy. That's how I'd approach it.

      The alternative, which the Navy seems to be doing, is to do nothing.

    4. Your referenced post on strategy laid out the process as follows:

      "Military actions and acquisitions should follow this simplified chain of actions:
      1) Geopolitical Strategy – sets the nation’s goals and defines our desired relationship with the rest of the world
      2) Military Strategy – defines how to achieve our geopolitical goals via military means
      3) CONOPS – defines the role and use of specific, individual military assets and lays out the tactics that the asset will employ within the context of the military strategy
      4) Acquisition – having defined the needs and characteristics of specific, individual assets, we can now acquire them with assurance that they will prove useful"

      If we accept (which I agree) the National Security Strategy as formulating the geopolitical strategy, then we need the remaining steps. Where is military strategy, from that how have we defined CONOPS, and from there what is the acquisition policy? I don't see those links.

      It seems to me that in the absence of the intermediate links, all of the services, not just the Navy, have turned to letting acquisition drive the cart.

      I have laid out my own, at least outlined a CONOPS to implement it, and developed what I believe is a prudent acquisition approach. I know you and I disagree on some details, but I think we could work those differences out.

    5. Even more than letting acquisition drive the cart, the military has substituted technology for strategy. They seem to truly believe that if we have superior technology that we don't need an actual strategy. We pursue technology as a substitute for strategy. We appear to have forgotten the lessons of Vietnam and elsewhere where inferior technology can easily triumph through superior strategy. The Millennium 2000 wargame is another example of strategy vanquishing technology. Our entire Middle East fiasco is an example of Iranian/terrorist strategies equaling or outperforming our technologies. Despite the abundant examples of the folly of the pursuit of technology as a substitute for strategy, we seem determined, almost as an article of faith, to stick with technology and ignore strategy.

      I honestly believe that the American military does not understand what strategy is or the role it plays. In fact, we should be going a step beyond strategy and addressing geo-strategy, meaning strategy specific to the local/regional geographic features - but that's another issue.

    6. Just ask yourself one question.

      If the US military has a strategy, what is it?

      The inability to answer that question means there is no strategy.

  2. I'm sending my congress critter a note, that ComNavOps should testify. Nice to see Congress reading something other than the Quarterly Ship Names Report.
    Maybe "The Curtis LeMay Strategy Report" would have a larger readership, than the NSS.

  3. ComNavOps, you have touched on an interesting subject. What do we think the national geopolitical and defense strategy should be, and how do you build a navy (and Army and Air Force and Marine Corps) to execute it?

    It was easy until 1990 or so. We contain communism, particularly Russian. Now we have China plus a bunch of rogue states plus a bunch of non-state terrorist actors. How do we respond?

    1. I've posted on much of this. Check the archives.

      A larger issue is national fortitude. With the Soviet Union, we had an 'evil empire' and responded with determination and courage.

      China, on the other hand, we've been reluctant to even name them as enemies so it's hard to respond with anything resembling fortitude. Now, though, the Chinese are slowly revealing themselves as the evil that they are (some of us recognized it long ago) and the US is sloooowly starting to recognize that. If we can reach the required level of determination and courage then we can begin to develop Cold War level plans and fortitude.

      Terrorism ought to be easy to respond to and yet we lack the will to engage with lethality and finality. Sure, we kill the occasional terrorist leader but we stop short of eradicating the source. The fight against ISIS was a classic example of a half-hearted - if that - effort where avoidance of collateral damage was a higher priority than victory.

      So, how do we respond? We have to start by engaging the US populace. The govt needs to be loudly and constantly describing the enemy (China, terrorists, Iran, whoever) and why they're an evil. We need to do this not with heavy-handed propaganda but with verifiable facts. We need to be telling the US about the constant Chinese cyber attacks (not classified info but just general facts and examples), the constant intellectual property theft, the illegal expansions, the violation of treaties, etc. We also need to begin taking some stands and allowing China to demonstrate for us the duplicity and treachery of their responses (nudge them into creating their own problems and their own international mistakes). And it goes from there ...

    2. You are preaching to the choir here.

    3. Never fight a war that you don't intend to win. We should have learned that in Vietnam, but we didn't.

      There were four reasons to go into Afghanistan--1) kill Osama bin Laden, 2) kill Mullah Omar, 3) destroy the al-Qaeda infrastructure, and 4) get out in two years and tell the folks left in charge that if htwy screw up we will be back to kill them. We didn't do any of them. We finally got Osama 10 years later, but Omar died a natural death, we didn't destroy the infrastructure, and we are still there playing games.

      We need a strategy for combating China. I agree with your points, but if they're isolated one-offs, they won't accomplish anything. Right now is the perfect timing to get manufacturing out of China. Will we do it? Doesn't look like it so far.

      Like it or not, we are in Cold War II, and this time the enemy is China. The sooner we start acting like that, the better.

    4. "Right now is the perfect timing to get manufacturing out of China."

      You could not be more right! I focus on military/naval aspects but, of course, we need a comprehensive strategy that includes economic, diplomatic, monetary, academic, and every other form of pressure. If it were up to me, I'd expel every Chinese citizen from the US, pull every American entity out of China, and implement a total trade embargo with China. We can make up the shortfalls by increasing our dealings with other countries AND BY INCREASING OUR OWN MANUFACTURING - win, win! Not being a political blog, I'll leave it there.

    5. My only counter point would be that some of that cheap consumer goods manufacturing really doesn't work here economically. But it works just fine in places like Indonesia or Malaysia or the Philippines. And IMO we should be trying to bribe up alliances in those countries to help contain China, just like we did in western Europe to contain the Soviets in the 1940s and 1950s.

    6. Beyond any strategy reasons, the reason to move manufacturing now is the fact we just devalued and continue to devalue the currency with the bailouts. We aren't buying any infrastructure with that cash either. Our buying power is about to tank and noticeable inflation is about to become apparent (already has if you buy the groceries). Domestic manufacturing would lessen the blow. Not sure how you turn a restaurant worker back into a plant worker, but it needed to be happening these past 4 months. Not that those plants won't be automated, but we could at least try and get more engineering jobs back to design the robots that will build everything. Unfortunately, the robots will build themselves too. The real kicker here is that I think the Navy is doing an end round with Congress and just bought an MUSV bigger than what their RFI called for. Let's wait and see if I'm right.

    7. I guess my feeling about unmanned vehicles is that they can be viable extenders of manned vehicle capabilities, but I don't trust them as replacements. Let them do surveillance, but letting them carry weapons goes further than I am willing to go.

      I also think it would be interesting to give some of them explosive modules for protection. We send one out win the South China Sea. Chinese destroyer picks it up. Boom! One less PLAN destroyer.

  4. America has two parties that violently hate each other, yet they have come together unanimously (albeit way too late) to tell the Navy that enough is enough.


    1. "yet they have come together unanimously (albeit way too late) to tell the Navy that enough is enough."

      Isn't that stunningly remarkable?! If I were the Navy, I'd be very concerned about that.

    2. While I have a very, very low opinion of Congress, did the Navy believe they could use an entire year's worth of shipbuilding on a non-functional carriers and get away with it?
      To say nothing of LCS, DDG-1000, etc.

      (Apparently, yes.)

  5. One problem with the derivation of a military strategy from a geopolitical grand strategy is that the services overlap so much that nobody really has responsibility for anything. Here's one way that I might try to divide it:

    Combine Space Force and the Triad into a purple-suited Strategic Command, with each branch operating its component units. Outside the Triad, Navy is responsible for blue water, Navy/Marines jointly responsible for coastal/littoral waters up to 50-100 miles inland, Army and Air Force responsible for surface and air, respectively, operations over continental land masses.

    I have seen a couple of interesting proposals to move some functions around:

    1) Ed Luttwak has proposed a division into Strategic Command, Army (with CAS and other overland tactical air missions integrated) and Navy/Marine Corps. Under this proposal, Air Force could essentially become the Strategic Command, incorporating the manned bomber and ICBM portions of the Triad (and operational control of the SSBNs when deployed), plus the NORAD and land-based ABM/BMT missions, and would also take command of the Space Force. They would give up their CAS mission, which they don’t really want, to the Army. Air Force would presumably get somewhat smaller, but would have a huge hammer in budget negotiations. With the shift of focus away from Europe (which is primarily and Army show) to the Pacific (which isn’t), Army would presumably get smaller, probably by transferring a bunch of billets to the Reserves, but picking up CAS would counter that to some extent.
    2) Combine Marines and Special Forces into an Expeditionary and Contingency Command. That’s kind of what Royal Marines did to stave off extinction. Based on my amphibious concept of 3,200 headcount Marine Expeditionary Units (Regiments?), and 10 of them, with Marine concept of rotating three units through each Fleet Marine Force slot, that would require up to 96,000 Marines. We currently have about 66,000 special forces. I doubt that each branch would be willing to give up their SEALs/Green Berets/AFSOCs, but maybe unify the command under the Marines and transfer about half of each component to Marines over time. Marines would take command of SOFCOM and provide core of special forces missions, with Army/Navy/Air Force units attaching operationally as necessary for operations. Marines/SOFCOM would also have primary responsibility for developing strategy and tactics for asymmetric/counterinsurgency/irregular operations. So 33,000 more Marines, for 129,000. Add about 20% for admin/training, and you’d end up with about 150,000 Marines. Marine air gives up every mission but CAS, both fixed-wing and helo. Navy provides other air missions until beachhead is solidified and land-based airfields secured.

    Anyway, just a few ideas for consideration.

    1. This makes sense... Focusing on specific battlefield/theatre objectives. Then restructure forces/elements to be self-supporting. For instance, the Marines should have proper CAS, so give them A-10s. Leave the offshore fighter and strike to the Navy. While the Navy would bristle at AF operational control of SSBNs, if it takes the cost of Columbia construction out of the standard shipbuilding budget, great!! SOF has grown to nearly become its own branch in some respects. Is that whats needed? Trunking that down to a Marine-run enterprise makes sense, in that the Marines, being the quick deployed force is nothing if not a bigger, slower version of SOF in some respects. The danger in reorganizing anything right now is that without a proper strategic and tactical plan, it would be misinformed and probably create even more problems...

    2. ComNavOps and I have already had this debate, but I'm not sure how well A-10s work off carriers. We really do need a "Marine A-10" that is fully carrier-capable. It might even be just a downsized A-10. It may not need to be a jet.

      It would be nice if it could operate off short and/or unpaved strips, so Marines could take them ashore with them fairly early on. It does need to be extremely rugged and reliable, to handle well low and slow, and to be able to carry a big weapons load. It doesn't need to be all that stealthy. And it doesn't need a huge range or loiter time if it can go ashore with the Marines and be close to the front, so it can just pop up as needed.

      The F-35 is not it. We made all these concessions to build a STOVL airplane for the Marines, and it really isn't what they need. They can give all their F-18s to the Navy because they need to focus on CAS and let the Navy handle the air superiority mission. For that matter, give all the F-35s to the Navy too, once the "Marine A-10" comes in.

    3. Exactly what I had in mind!! Marines dont need "F-anything"... Navalized A-10 (or anything similar)and helos are all the Marines need...!!

    4. The Russians use Su-25 variants (Su-25UTG and Su-25UBP) for carrier trainers. Admittedly, trainers for ski jump carriers.
      The Marines could get the Georgians to restart production at the Tbilisi Aircraft manufacturing plant or license build the aircraft in the USA. Some new build Ge-31s (Georgian built Su-25s) that could operate from CATOBAR or STOBAR carriers would have similar capability for close air support as A-10s minus the GAU-8.
      The SU-25 is a respectable close air support aircraft that already has a variant designed for STOBAR carrier operations. Western engines and avionics would make it an even better aircraft.
      Super Tucanos were built under license in the USA, why not GE-31s (SU-25)?

  6. One question I have from another angle.

    Why build Fords for $14B, when for roughly the same money you could have a Nimitz (last one cost $7B, so say $8-9B) and a Kitty Hawk (maybe $5-6B)? Instead oof having 12 carriers, let's have 12 CVBGs, each with 2 carriers. At 80 and 60 aircraft respectively, which each should be able to carry easily, that's 1680 aircraft, instead of 960 from 12 Fords. And we know the cats and traps work--not to mention toilets.

    OK, I know we don't have enough aircraft or pilots, but those can be fixed, and I have to believe congress would be in a better mood to fund them if the Navy showed some sensible restraint in buying ships.

    One other thing. Why no S-3s? That's a capability we need to restore, particularly now that Chinese (and other) subs are a real concern.

    How about something like 48 fighter/attack aircraft, 12 S-3s (6 ASW, 5 tanker, 1 COD), 6 E-2s, 6 EA-18s, and 8 helos on a Nimitz, and 36 fighter/attack, 10 S-3s (5 ASW, 5 tanker), 5 E-2s, 5 EA-18s, 1 V-22 (COD), and 4 helos on the Kitty Hawks?

    1. I agree that Kitty Hawks are the way to go.
      Those aircraft carriers are just floating airports.

      The money needs to go into the air wings, that is where the combat power resides.

      The navy needs the best trained pilots in the world flying top end aircraft like navalized F-22's.

    2. @CDR Chip, just for info my latest estimate for Ford build cost $17 billion in 2019 dollars.

      CBO quoted Ford procurement cost in 2019 dollars of $16.2 billion in their “An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2020 Shipbuilding Plan”

      CBO used the Navy’s inflation index for naval shipbuilding to convert $13.1 billion in nominal dollars to $16.2 billion in 2019 dollars,since increased by .2 billion in nominal dollars to $13.3 billion, so now approx $16.5 billion plus the development cost of $6.5 billion per GAO in FY 2020 dollars total $23 billion.

      Navy split build into Phases 1 & 2, a Navy sleight of hand as Phase 2 costs were excluded from Congress cost cap by which Navy hoped to hit, but they overspent anyway. Navy has not disclosed the additional cost of Phase 2 build for cost and installing of Ford’s mission equipment fitted during the 15 month Post Shakedown Availability completed March 2019. Minor point as mentioned previously Phase 1 build still not complete as only six of the eleven the elevators operational. Ford build cost if include both Phase 1 and 2 ~ $17 billion

    3. And at those numbers, the Nimitz/Kitty combination is a slam dunk.

      Only problem is finding enough aircraft and pilots. Of course, if another of my recommendations is followed and Marine air becomes CAS, there will be a bunch of F/A-18s and F-35Bs with nothing to do.

  7. Absolutely agree with stopping the Ford lineup today!! Not convinced that the smaller conventional carrier needs to be in the lineup, as Im fine just restarting Nimitz production, and fattening the airwing size back to Cold War standards. And there needs to be another look at modern variants of the Skyhawks, Vikings, etc. as the F-18/F-35 should be used in roles they relatively excel at. Just like multipurpose ships, "F/A" means compromise....

    1. The combination of nuke and conventional carriers in a 2-carrier CVBG actually comes from a ComNavOps proposal. He had a Midway in mind for his proposed fleet (see tab), and I started out thinking of converting LHAs/LHDs to "Harrier/Lightning Carriers" as an interim measure (particularly since the LHAs/LHDs are pretty useless as amphibs). But if we could get a Nimitz for $8.5B (last 3 averaged $8.3B), and a Kitty Hawk for $5.5B (just guessing here, but seems about right, particularly if we reduce the number of cats and do some other things to save money). Another option might be a UK Queen Elizabeth with cats and traps, that would probably run about $5B. Someone who knows more than I would have to evaluate the best way to go, although I'm not so sure that any of us couldn't do as well as the Navy has recently.

      If the 2nd carrier is a Kitty Hawk, not really sure how much smaller it is. Both Nimitzes and Kitty Hawks can carry (and have carried up to 90 aircraft), and right now would just be looking for 80 and 60, respectively. The big difference would be nuke versus conventional, and that has been discussed at some length here earlier.

      Like ComNavOps, I like the idea of 2-carrier CVBGs, and you're never going to get there with 2 Fords. If you can build 2 of something else for the cost of one Ford, that pretty much gets you there. The limiting factor is then number of aircraft and number of pilots. If Marine air went fully CAS, and transferred their F-somethings to the Navy, that would help somewhat.

    2. Agreed, we only wont get "there" with Fords, we will likely find ourselves down around 9 CVNs at best as we hit the late 2020's. Sooner or later, an RCOH is gonna get 'defunded' in the name of progress if we dont get a handle on things.
      I dont think significantly smaller, ie Lightning Carriers or modified QEs will be worth the expense. Having the space not only on deck, but for hangar, maintenance shops,fuel for ship and aircraft, plus ability for AEW aircraft just isnt somthing I see in somthing that small. I understand the idea of it being paired with a larger more capable ship, but if that ship is damaged or lost, then both are out of the fight. So in a carrier, they have to have all the capabilities, and to me that means big-deck only.
      Now, rewrite everything, fix the doctrine and make it so that the LH ships can get within sight of land, and Ill buy their avaition usefullness, with a cat n trap added and a load of navalized A-10s !!! Although if they can get that close, then theyre useful as amphibs again, too!!

    3. "Like ComNavOps, I like the idea of 2-carrier CVBGs"

      To be clear and clarify, ComNavOps believes 4 carriers constitutes a viable carrier group, not 2.

    4. "Sooner or later, an RCOH is gonna get 'defunded' in the name of progress if we dont get a handle on things. I dont think significantly smaller, ie Lightning Carriers or modified QEs will be worth the expense."

      I think ultimately, yes, you want big-deck carrier. But you have to go cheaper than a Ford, or you will never get numbers. The Lightning Carrier may never be a true big-deck carrier, but as an interim step, it may be the best use of the $3.5 billion LHA/LHD hulls. Running an amphib operation from 25-50 miles offshore clearly isn't.

      "So in a carrier, they have to have all the capabilities, and to me that means big-deck only."

      Kitty Hawk is a big-deck carrier.

      "To be clear and clarify, ComNavOps believes 4 carriers constitutes a viable carrier group, not 2."

      4 in a group, or 2 in a group and you operate 2 groups together, either way you need numbers. You clearly want as big a group as possible, and my understanding is that, based on WWII experience, 4 is the maximum number that can feasibly operate together, based on keeping flight patterns non-interfering.Jets instead of prop aircraft may require a bit more separation, but I'm guessing 4 is still the magic number. Operating 2 together is a step forward from where we've been. And you're not going to get numbers with all Fords, or even all Nimitzes. With 12 or fewer carriers, you are probably limited to two 4-carrier groups. That is my point. Let's try not to get off into the weeds.

    5. "4 in a group, or 2 in a group and you operate 2 groups together"

      This is not just an arithmetic semantics debate. There is a real difference between 4 carriers and 2x2. The difference is the escort group. Mitscher stated that 4 carriers was the ideal group and that more were not feasible due to air space constraints. He also stated that less than 4 carriers was inefficient due to requiring more escorts.

      Thus, 2x2 requires significantly more escorts than 4. In other words, you need as many escorts to cover a 2-carrier group as a 4-carrier group.

      A 2-carrier group (especially if one or both are small carriers with 20-30 aircraft only) CANNOT defend itself and operate offensively (which is why carriers exist) simultaneously. A 2-carrier group is operationally ineffective. If the answer is to combine 2x2 for operations then what's the point of even having a 2-carrier group if they have to be combined to do anything?

      The only time we operated 1 or 2 carrier groups was during the early stages of WWII when we simply didn't have enough carriers. The results showed, too. The early carrier raids, while daring and morale-boosting and helpful in developing tactics, didn't actually accomplish much of lasing military importance. One can argue that they accomplished a bit of strategic value by causing the Japanese to redistribute some of their assets to guard against raids but, again, that was a small effect. The conclusion is straightforward - 2-carrier groups are not operationally effective so what's the point?

      While we don't want to get off in the weeds, neither do we want to gloss over key CONOPS and doctrine issues, either.

    6. "Sooner or later, an RCOH is gonna get 'defunded' in the name of progress"

      Not only have you made a correct prediction but you've also cited historical attempts by the Navy. They've already attempted to defund RCOHs but were shot down by Congress. The Navy wants the RCOH money for new Fords and absolutely will continue to try to defund them just as they've continued to try to early retire the Ticos despite Congress clearly not wanting them to.

    7. "While we don't want to get off in the weeds, neither do we want to gloss over key CONOPS and doctrine issues, either."

      So I agree with you that we need more carriers, and I agree with you that we don’t need Fords, and I think I agree with you that the nuclear/conventional power debate has no clear-cut winner, so building some conventional carriers at a cheaper price to extend the numbers is a reasonable way to go.

      Peacetime (and last I checked we were officially at peace, except for the debacle in the Mideast), there is no way we are going to operate 4 carriers together. We don’t even get 2 together very often. We had 4 in the Arabian/Persian Gulf and 2 in the Red Sea for Iraqi Freedom. Admittedly, that wasn’t really a test of escorts or CAP, and quite frankly the Gulf has to be really tight quarters for 4 carriers, but we did it.

      I’m totally onboard with your CONOPS of 4 carriers operating together with other capital ships and a large escort force in wartime. But I think we have to be realistic and understand that is not a peacetime or budgetary reality. I understand what you want to win a war, and if we could get it without constraints, I would agree 100%. But we have constraints of operating in peacetime and very real budgetary constraints. The Navy seems to have no clue about wartime or budget, spending billions on stuff that has no combat value.

      What I’ve talked about from a fleet structure standpoint is 12 2-carrer CVBGs, 8 battleship and ASW helo carrier SAG/HUK groups, 10 amphibious squadrons of 6 ships each, and 20 escort squadrons, each including one cruiser (enlarged Tico with 8-inch guns and more VLS cells), 2 AAW destroyers (could be Burkes), 3 GP escorts (could be FFG(X) with a few upgrades), and 4 ASW frigates (purpose built, could be updated Knoxes or Perrys). Each escort squadron is notionally assigned to one CVBG or SAG/HUK group. PhibRons would operate in company with one or more CVBGs or SAG/HUK groups in wartime.

      So let’s put together a task force. Say we have 2 CVBGs, so 4 carriers, a SAG/HUK group, so we have a battleship and an ASW helo carrier, and notionally 3 escort squadrons, or 30 escorts (3 cruisers, 6 AAW destroyers, 9 GP escorts, and 12 ASW frigates). That’s your 4 carriers and it’s right in Mitscher’s sweet spot of 24-32 escorts. I know you posted a preference for 38, so if we need that many, we can always task a fourth escort squadron.

      Peacetime, we start working up with a notional carrier task group of 2 carriers, 1 cruiser, 2 AAW destroyers, 3 GP escorts, and 4 ASW frigates. That’s not a task force, but it’s more than we operate with now, and we can learn some necessary lessons. I spent 4 years on active duty at sea, and unless you count the Russians that surrounded us during the Yom Kippur War, I never sailed in even that big a company of ships, not once ever. Learn how to maneuver with 12 ships before you try it with 40. And learn about 2-carrier ops before you try to do 4. Where do you place the carriers for maximum effectiveness? If you put them abreast, does the left one fly a left-hand pattern, and the right one a right-hand pattern? Do our pilots have any experience flying a right-hand pattern to land on a carrier? It’s not that difficult, but it is different for both pilots and PriFly, and it helps to have done it a time or two.

      When we perfect that, which is far from where we are now, then we move up to full-scale opposed training exercises with 4-carrier groups and 30 or more escorts. I’d like to be able to go straight there, but we have to do the onesies and twosies first. Right now, we wouldn’t know how to operate 4 carriers with 30 escorts, even if we had them. The good news is that right now, nobody else knows how to do it either. And right now, nobody has the kit to do it.

      Let’s focus on our points of agreement, not pick petty differences. We both want to get to pretty much the same place (although I want more amphibs), but we have different ideas of how to get there.

    8. "Let’s focus on our points of agreement,"

      That's fine but we don't learn anything from that.

      For example, I'd like to understand how your 2-carrier group, or even your 2x2 group fits in with a notional strike as outlined in this post: Carrier Strike

      How do you see a realistic war time strike package being executed with 2 (or 2x2) carriers? And, if you don't, then what's the point of having carriers? Actually, I have a non-strike purpose but that's a separate topic.

      So, there's still a lot to learn from points of disagreement, however, if you'd rather not discuss those, I'll respect that and drop any discussions that don't agree.

    9. Well, let's see. First, there seems to be a bit of a misconception here. For wartime I am proposing the same 4 carrier task force as you are. But for peacetime we're not going to operate 4 carriers with 30 escorts routinely, and from the budget process we are certainly not going to get enough to build enough Fords even to think about 4-carrier routine operations. So I use 2 carrier groups, each with 2 carriers and 10 escorts, and SAG/HUK group with a battleship and ASW carrier and also 10 escorts as my building blocks. That gives me a task force of 4 carriers, a battleship, an ASW helo carrier, and 30 escorts, plus another 10 if we task an additional squadron. We could add a PhibRon to the main body if we were also planning an assault, in which case we would probably definitely task the additional escort squadron. I'm proposing to operate them as 4 carriers, not 2x2, in wartime and in realistic training exercises.

      In the referenced post you said, "So, where are we at on this strike, so far? Here’s the totals.
      F-18 148
      EA-18 12
      Tanker 20
      E-2 3
      Total 183"

      With each pair of carriers, we have
      84 fighter/attack aircraft
      22 S-3/equivalent (11 ASW patrol/10 tankers/1 COD)
      11 E-2
      11 E-18
      12 helos
      1 V-22 (COD for 2nd carrier)

      So for the 4-carrier task force we have, compared you your stated requirements:

      168 fighter/attack versus your 148
      22 EA-18 versus your 12
      20 Tankers versus your 20 (ignoring any MQ-5s that we might have)
      22 E-2 versus your 3

      Looks to me like we pretty well have it covered. Tankers are the only place without significant cushion, and we could press some of EA-18s or even some of the ASW S-3s into service as buddy tankers.

      The strike package would depend on a lot of specifics from intel that I don't have in the abstract. In the case of China, keep in mind that my approach is to keep the first island chain in allied hands and not to permit PLAN to operate freely beyond that. In the first phases, because of their A2/AD capability, I would expect carriers to stand off with two missions--sink any PLAN ship that ventures past the first island chain, and provide air cover for our land attack missile carriers that go inside the first island chain. I would probably deploy a 4-carrier task force between the Philippines and Taiwan, another 4 down south to cut off any trade (particularly oil) and also oppose any Chinese efforts to invade Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore or the Philippines. The 4 down south could operate inside the first island chain because they would be further away from the mainland. I would also put a 2 carrier task group south of Japan, with support from Japanese and Korean land-based air.

      If any parts of the first island chain had fallen into Chinese hands, we might also conduct an amphibious assault or two to take them back. I might also fly some long-range attack missions against China, but those might require an airplane not in the current inventory. As long as the Air Force has Andersen, they would probably provide the primary aircraft if we attacked the mainland, with the Navy strike force coming primarily from surface-to-surface missiles. Assuming we are able to take out or neutralize a significant portion of their A2/AD, at that point we would bring the carriers closer in and launch strikes against the interior.

      That's sort of a top of the head conceptual idea. As I say it would depend a lot on situation-specific intel.

    10. "I am proposing the same 4 carrier task force as you are."

      Maybe I'm misunderstanding and, if so, I apologize. I thought your 2-carrier group was one large carrier and very small (on a relative basis) carrier like a converted LHA. If so, that would mean that your 4-carrier (2x2) group consists of two large carriers and 2 very small carriers which would be completely inadequate for any offensive operations of any significance.

      You state that your 2-carrier pairs carry 140 aircraft total (70 per carrier!) and 84 (42 per carrier) combat aircraft. That's bigger than today's air wings! How do you propose to do that with one large carrier and one very small carrier? You must be imagining bumping the large carrier up to 100+ aircraft. I'm sure you've explained this before but humor me again. *apologies*

      "peacetime we're not going to operate 4 carriers with 30 escorts routinely"

      Well, you say that and yet we did operate 3-carrier groups routinely during the Cold War. They were training for peer war in the Soviet's backyard. So, I don't see why we wouldn't operate 4-carrier groups. Train like you fight … That's one of our main problems today. We don't train like we'll fight. No admiral today has ever operated a full carrier group or escort. How we think we'll do so when war comes is a complete mystery to me and your 2-carrier groups just propagates the shortcoming, I fear.

      "not going to get enough to build enough Fords"

      No one disagrees with that!

    11. My thoughts about carriers have evolved a bit as I've looked at costs more carefully. My target idea was always to build 2 carriers for the price of a Ford. We aren't going to get any of the Fords actually to work for less than $15B apiece. We should be able to build a Nimitz for $9B (the last 3 averaged $8.5B, as we learned how to build them). And we could probably do a Kitty Hawk for about $6B ($1B less because of size, $1B less because it's conventional, and $1B less because we could do only 2 cats). My 140 is based on 80 on the Nimitz and 60 on the Kitty, which since both used to carry 90 should be very doable.

      The LHA/LHD "Harrier/Lightning Carrier" conversions would be an interim step. It'll take 35-40 years to build 12 KHs, and we could use the small carriers to take up some slack until then. Operating in company with a big carrier solves some of the problems (AEW and tankers for a couple) and if it can operate closer in then the aircraft don't need as long legs. The bad news is that while losing a small carrier might mean that the STOVL airplanes would have to go to the big one to roost, if we lost the big one then their CATOBAR aircraft would have nowhere to go But if we go my way with ARG/MEU, we'll have them sitting around with nothing to do and F-35Bs in the same boat if Marine air goes strictly CAS. So more than anything, it's an attempt to get some use out of some very expensive hardware that is ill-suited for its current purpose.

      By the time the last KHs come into the fleet, the LHAs/LHDs would be past their useful lives. So it could be a transition.

      The one thing I would consider doing with the KHs that I know you don’t like is putting a ski jump forward instead of the two cats. I know you don't want to give up the 5 deck parking spots. But operating 60 aircraft off a carrier that used to carry 90, I don't think we are going to be starved for space. We are still going to have some F-35Bs and a ski jump would help them get off with more fuel and weapons. Boeing has even claimed that an F/A-18 could go off a ski jump with a full load (I'll believe that when I see it, but they have made that claim based on something). And one aircraft that I really like for the Marines--the SAAB Gripen--should do well as a STOBAR or CATOBAR adaptation.

      "Well, you say that and yet we did operate 3-carrier groups routinely during the Cold War."

      I'd say we operated 3-carrier groups occasionally, not routinely. And that was with 15 or more carriers, depending on time frame. I never saw a 3-carrier group, or even a 2-carrier group, in the early 1970s. We did have 2 playing tag team on Yankee Station, and we did have 3 set up a tank of gas apart to ferry A-4s to Israel in 1973, but those were never operating together by any means.

    12. "So, there's still a lot to learn from points of disagreement, however, if you'd rather not discuss those, I'll respect that and drop any discussions that don't agree."

      Fair enough. There have just been a few cases lately where I put forward a proposal, and instead of discussing my major thrust, you go off nit-picking (IMO) about minor details. I've kind of been left thinking, why, of all things, is that what he thought was important. If I can assume that if you don't comment about it, we are at least generally in agreement, then I'm fine with that.

    13. "Kitty Hawk"

      Nowhere do I recall you talking about your small carrier as being a Kitty Hawk size. That's exactly what I proposed although I use the Midway/Forrestal as the size reference - same thing. A Kitty Hawk IS a super carrier. Four of those would do just fine.

      "I'd say we operated 3-carrier groups occasionally, not routinely."

      This is where today's definition of 'routine' is so skewed. During the Cold War, our 'deployments' meant missions. A group went out with the mission of testing the Soviet defenses, for example. We ran individual carrier training exercises near home waters, too, of course. I don't recall doing the nearly year long deployments of individual carriers that we do now. We may have done some but they weren't the important operations - the Soviets were!

      Vietnam was an aberration as far as carrier ops. The ability to sit, unchallenged, in one place, and conduct leisurely strikes is not how a normal war is fought. In that circumstance, you can use any type of carrier in any numbers and succeed.

    14. "nit-picking"

      One man's nit is another man's major point! Another consideration to bear in mind is that when a central premise is based on nits, the nits become important as the make the foundation of premise. I can say I disagree with a premise but without covering the nits, I wouldn't be able to say why.

      I comment when I see something important that bears additional examination. Take that as a back-handed compliment, at the very least!

    15. "Nowhere do I recall you talking about your small carrier as being a Kitty Hawk size."

      See my post from July 27 on this thread, above.

      "This is where today's definition of 'routine' is so skewed."

      I just don't recall our ever sending 3 carriers out together. Maybe we did, but at least in the early 1970s I think I would have known about it if we did.

      I still think we need to learn how to operate a 2 carrier task group with 10 escorts before we start operating a 4 carrier task force with 30 escorts.

    16. ComNavOps,

      Let me explain a little about how my thought process evolved.

      First, as an old gator navy sailor, I thought the LHAs/LHDs were an abomination as amphibs. I didn't like putting too many eggs in one basket, and as time went along and they began to be exposed as platforms from which we really couldn't get tanks and artillery ashore, they just seemed like a total waste of $3+B. So I was partly motivated to figure out something that they could do. Second, as the Ford's struggles became the stuff of legends, I started trying to figure out how to build two carriers for the price of one Ford. At about $13B for a Ford, that was going to be a Nimitz or a RAND CVN-LX at $9B, plus whatever we could get for $4B, which. looked a lot like a RAND CV-LX or a "Harrier/Ligtning Carrier." But as the Fords continue to have problems, that cost is inching up toward $15B to get them actually to work, if then. And for $14-15B, it looks like we could build a Nimitz ($8.5-9B) and a Kitty Hawk ($5.5-6B) in the same price range. We're not going to have 12 KHs (or 12 new Nimitzes) for around 35-40 years, so I'm kind of thinking that the "Harrier/Lightning Carrier" may have some usefulness as an interim.

      But long term I'm leaning toward KHs as the second carrier. Even though I was in Ranger, I think the KH has a better flight deck arrangement than the Forrestals, and the Midway was so sponsoned out to get the flight deck width and angle deck angle in its last incarnation that it had a lot of trouble in heavy seas.

      CSBA has some discussion about doing a major upgrade to the LHAs/LHDs, kind of a smaller version of what we did with Midway. Add sponsons, an angled deck, and some cats and traps. Looks like we could probably end up with something close to the 50s/60s/70s HMS Ark Royal. I don't know how much it would cost, and I imagine it would be cost effective only for ships with a lot of life left. If it's cost-effective, it might make sense for a few of them.

    17. "Midway was so sponsoned out"

      Just to clarify, I don't advocate creating a small Midway and then adding all kinds of sponsons to make it bigger, as was done with the real ship. When I refer to Midway, I'm referring to its final, ultimate size and air wing capacity but designed to that size properly, from the beginning.

    18. Why not just build all KHs then, and pocket the rest of the money? In my book, two Kitty Hawks are better than a Nimitz plus Lightning Carrier/Midway, or one Ford.

    19. Good discussions CNO and CDR Chip. A couple points I'd like to add based on research on optimal carrier task force size:

      The 4-carrier task forces Mitscher espoused (a Capt Apollo Soucek was apparently the thought leader behind this doctrine innovation) consisted of 2 Essex CVs and 2 Independence CVLs, so it wasn't a 4 90-plane airwings combined but rather 2 90-plane and 2 36-plane configuration from each task force. Current CVWs have gotten smaller, so this is a minor quibble, but in a wartime they could get plussed up closer to Cold War CVW size

      Carrier flight ops has also evolved since WWII. We have to account for some evolution in thinking about how air ops are handled / should be handled today. Back then, the planes smaller, slower perhaps didn't require as much air space in forming up or conducting patrols. C3 capabilities also were more limited. However, planes are now bigger and faster and presumably require more airspace to safely operate. However with C3 capabilities improved (AEW, AAW escorts helping to coordinate fighter assets), maybe this is a wash. I suspect that the optimal carrier task force config has changed since WWII. Would be good to get someone with carrier flight ops experience to chime in.

    20. 20thSFMedic,

      Thank you. The WWII combination of CVs and CVLs/CVEs was analogous to a CVN and ”Lightning Carrier” combination today. As you note, lots of things have changed—including jets, weapons, and C3—so it’s not entirely clear how that translates today.

      My thinking has evolved, starting from two thoughts:

      1. The Fords impose a huge opportunity cost on the rest of the fleet. The video where CAPT Tal Manvel explains the thought processes behind the Fords, at, makes it pretty clear that opportunity costs were not considered, at least not strongly.
      2. The LHAs/LHDs are $3.5B ships that can’t do amphib assaults. They put too many eggs in one basket, and they can’t get tanks or artillery ashore, so that all they can effectively transport is very light infantry. That limitation is killing the Marine Corps, but parking a bunch of $3.5B assets seems nonsensical from a cost standpoint.

      I started with converting the LHAs/LHDs to full-time “Lightning Carriers” by making the Marine berthing and equipment spaces, plus the well deck areas, into additional hangar space and aircraft maintenance spaces. The America class can carry 20 F-35s, plus helos and V-22s, and the additional space gained by converting the troop spaces (and well decks on ships that have them) might permit them to carry up to 35-40 total aircraft. If those ships could be converted for $2B apiece, a Nimitz plus one of these could give about a 50% increase in number of aircraft, at a cost savings of $2-3B.

      In 2017 RAND identified four potential future carrier types at, as follows:

      - CVN-8X (descoped Ford), $13B, 80 aircraft
      - CVN-LX (basically Nimitz with nuclear-electric propulsion), $9.3B, 70-80 aircraft
      - CV-LX (basically a “Lightning Carrier”), $4.2B, 35 aircraft
      - CV-EX (rejected as too small)

      We could build one CVN-LX plus one CV-LX for $13.5B. The CV-LX is not the equal of a Nimitz, and STOVL/CATOBAR compatibility could be an issue, but 45-50% more total aircraft is useful.

      A 2017 CSBA study at proposed building 10 CVLs at a lead ship cost of $6B, to provide CAP for CSGs or CAS for amphibious operations. I wonder whether the LHAs/LHDs could be converted to CVLs by adding sponsons, angled decks, and cats and traps, to get something like the UK Ark Royal of the 1970s. That’s a more costly conversion than the “Lightning Carrier” or CV-LX, and could probably be justified only for LHAs/LHDs with considerable useful life left, but both CVN and CVL could operate CATOBAR aircraft.

      As Fords continued to have problems, I considered other and more expensive options. If we cn build Nimitz for $9B ($8.5B average cost of last 3) and a Kitty Hawk for $6B, that puts two full big-deck carriers into the fleet for roughly the cost of one Ford. I know which alternative I would rather have. Since the nuke/conventional debate seems to be about a draw, having one of each makes sense.

      As for opportunity cost, consider a) 2 Fords at $28B, versus b) a Nimitz ($9B), a KH ($6B), and an escort squadron of a cruiser ($4B), 2 AAW destroyers ($1.8B each, $3.6B), 3 GP escorts ($1.2B each, $3.6B), and 4 ASW frigates ($500MM each, $2B), or $28.2B total. Again, I know which alternative I’d rather have. In the short run, the LHAs/LHDs could be converted to interim “Lightning Carriers” or RAND CV-LXs, or perhaps even CSBA CVLs, to provide some capability until the KHs come into the fleet in numbers, about the time that the LHA/LHD useful lives would expire.

      As for the 2 versus 4 carrier debate, I am proposing 2-carrier task GROUPS with the concept that a task FORCE would consist of 2 task groups, or 4 carriers. Train with 2 carriers and 10 escorts until we master that, then move up to 4 carriers and 20+ escorts. We have a lot to learn to do this right.

  8. I've read that the Ford class wasn't suppose to have all the new toys it has. At least, not all at once. The USS Ford would have new reactors and maybe 1-2 other new items. The USS JFK2 would have those and a couple more. And so on and so forth. The idea being you roll them out as they become available with the ability to backfit to the previous ships.

    Sounds like a nice plan, doesn't it? Seems one person really disagreed with it because it wasn't 'transformative' and ordered that the the first ship get all the planned toys even if they weren't really ready.

    The person behind the debacle? You guessed it! Don Rumsfeld.

    1. You're correct. Now, one can debate whether it's better to have a single carrier inoperable for an extended period due to lots of problems or whether it's better to have, say, three carriers sequentially inoperable for (hopefully) shorter periods, each due to its own unique problems.

      The larger issue is why we're trying to introduce new technology into production BEFORE IT'S BEEN THOROUGHLY TESTED AND DEBUGGED IN DEVELOPMENT. Whether we introduce non-existent technology all on one ship or spread out across a few ships, the problem is that it's still non-existent technology and shouldn't be introduced at all.

    2. I can see building one Ford, or one Zumwalt, or even one of each type of LCS, as an experiment to see what works and what doesn't. Sometimes the only way that untested technology can be properly tested is to build one and see if it works. But that's it.

      You build one Ford and then you build Nimitzes until the Ford proves itself (which is starting to look like never). You build one Zumwalt and one Freedom and one Independence, but you don't get rid of the Spruances or the Perrys until they work (which is looking like never in those cases, so you come up with a cheap ASW frigate and build a bunch, and something with a bit more capability, and build some of them, too).

      The Navy is being way too theoretical. And as the great philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra once said, in theory, theory works in practice; in practice, it doesn't. Or in theory a tomato is a fruit; in practice, you don't put a tomato in a fruit salad. The navy has put a bunch of tomatoes in to its fruit salads.

    3. "You build one Ford "

      NO!!!!! You build a prototype, yes, but that doesn't mean you have to build the entire ship. Of the Ford, the parts that are not proven are the EMALS and a few other items. You don't need to build a $15B supercarrier to prove out the EMALS, for example. You start by thoroughly debugging it at a land based R&D facility. Then, build a sea-going prototype. A surplus, converted cargo ship could have a prototype EMALS installed. You crane aboard a few aircraft and launch them, over and over again, at sea, until you're satisfied that the system works.

      Take the Zumwalt. What's new about the Zumwalt that needed to be prototyped? Only the gun system (and, arguably, the hull form). We built land based prototype gun systems and they did, indeed, prove that the gun/ammo wouldn't work. We did not need to build an $8B prototype ship to prove that. The Navy built a 1/4(?) scale Zumwalt to test the hull form.

      What was new about the LCS? Only the modules. They didn't need a complete ship prototype to develop and test the modules. The modules could be loaded on any surplus cargo ship (they're modules, right?) for at sea testing.

      That said, I'm all for prototype ships but less to develop technology and more to develop operational concepts. For example, a modern gun 'monitor' would contain no new technology but ought to have a prototype build to see how it functions in realistic exercises. Of course, the presupposes that you conduct realist exercises which we do not!

    4. You can do all the prototype testing you want, but at some point you have to put it on a real ship and see if it works. Agree that you have to test everything on land to see if it works, before putting it on a test ship to see if it works there, before putting it on a real ship. We're not disagreeing that you have to prove it up fully before you put it on an actual warship, and it looks like that didn't happen for any of the ships discussed.

      But at some point you actually have to build one. The problems in the cases are 1) we didn't do enough prototype testing first, in the ways you suggest, and 2) when it didn't work on the big one, we didn't stop at one.

    5. "But at some point you actually have to build one."

      Of course! However, at that point, you've done all the land testing and cargo ship testing so you can build the real ship with a lot more confidence that it will work and confidence that whatever additional problems are uncovered - and there will be some - will be fairly minor.

      "we didn't stop at one."

      The issue is not that we fail to stop at one, it's that we COMMIT to a full production run before the first design is complete. LCS committed to 55 ships before we even had a design in hand!!!!! How did anyone think that would turn out well?

      The full up prototype should be to shake out the final bugs and, mainly, to experiment with the CONOPS, doctrine, and tactics, not to find basic level, fundamental flaws.

      Consider the example of the USS Albacore which pioneered the tear drop shaped hull - a major advance for the time. The hull had been developed and tested in all manner of wind tunnel and water tests before construction. By the time the Albacore was built, we knew it would work. What was left was the small, unforeseen problems, mapping out the performance envelope, and things like that. We didn't leap straight from paper theory to full up prototype. Hmmm … Albacore/Skipjack might make for a good post.

    6. We clearly built the Ford, the Zumwalt, and the first two LCSs before we were ready to go with them. And we committed to more before we knew whether the first ones would work or not (so far, they haven't).

      So test every component independently, not until you know it works, but until you know it can't fail to work. Then build a prototype to put them all together and see if the total package works. Then commit to a full production run.

      That almost certainly means that the first one costs more. For one thing, you need to pay for more up-front testing and for another, no shipyard is going to give you the same unit price for building one as for building 10 or 55. But the first one works, and the ones that follow are cheaper.

      Again, I'm not quite sure what your disagreement is.

    7. "I'm not quite sure what your disagreement is."

      No disagreement with anything in that comment! I was highlighting that prototypes don't need to be - and shouldn't be - full up builds of untested new equipment. The full up prototype build should be the LAST step, not the first. If that's what you were saying in your previous comments then we're good!

    8. "So test every component independently, not until you know it works, but until you know it can't fail to work."

      Well said!

  9. USNI July20 “Geurts: Navy Looking for ‘Balance’ in Developing Future USVs”

    Guerts the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Research, Development and Acquisition since 2017 a former Air Force colonel seems to have been talking more sense than any of the admirals.

    “From my perspective, the biggest challenge in the unmanned arena is not the technology, per se. There’s certainly some technology elements to work on // It’s really the concept of operations, the command and control, the concept of employment”

    Question what’s to stop any of the thousands of larger Chinese fishing ships of several thousand tons coming alongside, or any of their numerous naval vessals jamming all USV comms, bording and taking control? If so USV must be in line of sight of Navy destroyer/frigate to protect the USV, so what use for ISR USV missions as Sea Hunter if having to be tied to 10 nm of mother ship.

    1. "any of their numerous naval vessals jamming all USV comms, bording and taking control?"

      Not only is there nothing to stop it, they've already done it at least once. In Dec 2016, they seized an unmanned underwater drone that we were operating, WHILE WE WERE OPERATING IT! We did nothing to stop them.

      You can find accounts of it all over the Internet.

  10. Hi, I am an Australian who avidly reads your blog topics as i find them most informative and you a very fair and reasonable moderator.

    I am commenting for the very first time because i think this by far the most important post in you history.

    I say that because the issue you raise overshadows all others in discussing the defence of the USA, its interests and the free world.

    Ihave, for ages been dismayed at the ineptitude of your military and civilian leadership in enunciating a meaningful Grand Strategy, a consequent military strategy and then doctrine and procurement policy to effectively achieve such.

    I ally this puzzlement and frustration with a very strong concern of what people, accurately but pejoratively, call military industrial complex.

    I strongly believe that your military suppliers be able to make a fair profit BUT too too often it seem to be at a huge cost financially to the tax payer and operationally to your defence forces.

    I have a close relative who was a senior player in military procurement here. He was constantly astounded, and disappointed at the lurks (do you have such a word) that overseas suppliers would try and get away with. Mind you it wasn't just US companies, but he found them the most condescending and greedy.

    Between, Congress, the service procurement processes and the suppliers it looks to an outsider that you are slowly being, if not disarmed, then at least your vital interest put at risk.

    Given the role congress has played in all this, it is somewhat ironic that they are now taking this stand.

    I fervently hope it has the effect we all desire and comes to apply to the other services as well.

    How then to put an end to congress pork-barreling?

    I, and most Australians wish you all the best in defending your vital interests because very very many of them are our also!

    Cheers and keep up you good work


    1. Always good to hear from Australia. Welcome!

      The workings of our government are baffling to us, the US citizens, so I can only imagine how they must appear to people in other countries. The fault, of course, lies with us, the voters, for not being more active and informed. That's a sad commentary on us.

      To delve into a bit of sociology, one of the problems that I think we face is that we've been focusing far too much on entitlement (what does the government and society owe me) and far too little on responsibility (what do I own society) and accountability. We've eliminated the idea of the individual earning their benefits. Instead, we're looking too much for society to simply give us benefits.

      Well, enough of that.

      I enjoyed your comment. I hope you'll chime in again, in the future, as topics catch your interest. Outside perspectives are always fascinating and welcome. Have a great day!

  11. I would like to see the USAF replace their F-16s (when they expire) with F/A-18Es. It makes a lot of sense for the USAF to be able to stage via carriers when needed and act as a reserve for the Navy squadrons. You're also removing a complete supply chain and getting more economies of scale.

    1. The only caution I would offer about the AF trying to operate off carriers is that it isn't an easy thing to do. The carrier pilots claim that landing on a carrier is the hardest thing there is to do in all of aviation. It isn't something an AF pilot could practice once or twice and be good to go for the rest of their career. It requires constant practice.

      Even the landing approach is different. Carrier aircraft land steeply, almost a semi-controlled crash. AF pilots who didn't practice that regularly would have a very difficult time trying to change their ingrained, softer, landing habits.

      So, the idea is fine but the realities of carrier landings might be impractical. Something to think about.

    2. While "the hardest thing in all aviation" is an obvious exaggeration yeah, landing on a carrier is hard.

      I'm not exactly a great aviator, yet I can land you a plane at Whateverville Airport with no problem.
      On the other hand, I wouldn't attempt a carrier landing unless someone forced me to do it with extremely persuasive means, and even then I wouldn't be so sure about the success.

    3. If that runway at Whateverville Airport was pitching up and down, moving away from you at an angle, and you had to touchdown in 50 ft spot and stop in a hundred feet, with an ocean just ahead and waiting for you if you miss, and a ramp strike if you come up short, and almost no light at night, and you could flawlessly land on it, then, sure, you'd be a naval aviator!

      "I wouldn't be so sure about the success."

      Barring pure dumb luck, you'd die.

    4. I concur with the carrier qualification issue and it would have to be practised to get best use. That said you absolutely have no chance to land on a carrier with an F-16. Having extra carrier-capable aircraft in a China conflict scenario is extremely valuable. F-16s aren't of much use in a China-focussed world.

    5. Yes, I was being sarcastic.
      Carrier landing is a great skill to have but you don't learn it in a day (normal airbases don't move, for example), have to practice it constantly and so on, which is a major investment.

      On the other hand, in a Pacific war there will be a limited number of useful air bases available, so giving AF pilots naval aircraft and training them for the role makes sense.
      (It would also help with the carrier air wing numbers.)

  12. I'd also like to see more cross-service standardisation - Goshawk would be a great solution to giving more air hours at lower cost to Reserve/Guard units of all services and arming them like the RAF has done with its Hawks gives you a CAS option plus limited air defence.

  13. I’m not even going to try to get into the weeds of a subject of which I know little, but I do have a question: is this another case of the Navy assuming it will always have access to the full electronic spectrum and thus unmanned vehicles will always be able to work without interference?

    1. You're exactly right. The Navy assumes they'll have unhindered communications. I can imagine an entire fleet of unmanned ships and aircraft all going 'stupid' due to enemy cyber attacks, jamming, comm disruptions, etc. We need to test our command and control capability for unmanned ships/aircraft under the most aggressive conditions we can so that we have some idea of what will and won't work in combat. The Navy is being utterly irresponsible by not doing so.

      Good observation on your part.

  14. ComNavOps,

    I would have one small quibble with your thread title, although your use of the present tense probably makes it all okay. Neither congress nor the Navy have done their jobs in the past. The fact that congress is at least sorta, kinda stepping up to the plate is certainly noteworthy. But the Navy didn't get into this mess because congress did its job.

    We complain about senior Navy officers padding their retirement by going to work for defense contractors, and wondering how independent their thought processes are, but the same applies to congress. Those defense contractors have offices in states and congressional districts represented by those congress critters, and they want re-elected too.

    I think the real problem is a lack of an overarching strategy to guide decisions. The 2017 NSS is a good start, but somebody needs to break that down and say, "To make this happen, we need the Army to do W and the Navy to do X and the Air Force to do Y, and the Marines to do Z. And now they have to figure out how to get it done."

    1. Absolutely Congress has failed to do their job for many, many years. As I noted,

      "It’s great that Congress is stepping up and exercising its oversight, now, but where were they during the years of “absurd acquisition debacles”?"

      Perhaps I should have added the word 'now' to the title?

    2. No, I think as long as you are using the present tense, it's fine.

      The whole system is rotten IMO.

  15. Maybe it’s just myself, but I can see unmanned vehicles as sensors and observation platforms, but I don’t get huge unmanned vehicles with weapons. I know we do it with drones, but I wonder how effective they are in a full ECM environment. I can see we launch one, bad guys jam it, it comes back and shoots at us.

    1. I agree. I would think that is a real concern that I never see addressed anywhere.


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