Monday, September 28, 2020

Okinawa and Unmanned Vessels

The US Navy is building a fleet of small unmanned vessels to act as pickets and outer escorts for carrier and surface groups despite having no evidence, whatsoever, that the unmanned vessels can effectively carry out their task.  Since the Navy refuses to conduct any actual experimentation to validate the concept prior to committing to production, is there any other source of information that might allow us to assess the concept?  Of course there is and it’s our most reliable source … history!  Specifically, it’s the battle for Okinawa and the role of the Kamikaze and the US Navy picket ships.


Okinawa was a major battle for both the US and Japan.  US losses during the 3 month battle were steep with 768 aircraft lost in addition to staggering naval losses.(5)  From Wikipedia:


At sea, 368 Allied ships—including 120 amphibious craft—were damaged while another 36—including 15 amphibious ships and 12 destroyers—were sunk during the Okinawa campaign. The US Navy's dead exceeded its wounded, with 4,907 killed and 4,874 wounded, primarily from kamikaze attacks. (5)


Just as astounding to us, today, was the magnitude of the forces assembled for the battle.  Consider this partial Allied naval order of battle at Okinawa (1)


US Navy combat ships:

  11  fleet carriers

    6  light carriers

  22  escort carriers

    8  fast battleships

  10  old battleships

    2  large cruisers,

  12  heavy cruisers

  13  light cruisers

    4  anti-aircraft light cruisers

132  destroyers

  45  destroyer escorts


Amphibious assault vessels:

84  attack transports

29  attack cargo ships

LCIs, LSMs, LSTs, LSVs, etc.



52  submarine chasers

23  fast minesweepers

69  minesweepers

11  minelayers

49  oilers


Royal Navy combat ships:

  5  fleet carriers

  2  battleships

  7  light cruisers

14  destroyers




The 265 US combat ships, alone, nearly equals the size of our entire present day fleet and that was just the force for a single operation. We’ve truly forgotten the size of the force necessary to wage total war.


Japan, too, fielded a large force, mainly aerial, along with the battleship Yamato, a cruiser, and several destroyers.  During the course of the battle, Japan launched 10 large scale kamikaze attacks against the US Navy Fifth Fleet guarding the Okinawa amphibious invasion fleet.  Each attack consisted of hundreds of aircraft.  For example, the first attack consisted of 355 kamikaze aircraft and 344 escort fighters and lasted for five hours.  The US Combat Air Patrol (CAP) did an amazing job but could not stop every attacker.


Twenty-two kamikazes penetrated the combat air patrol shield on April 6, sinking six ships and damaging 18 others. Three hundred fifty U.S. crewmen died. (2)


Only 22 attacking aircraft managed to penetrate the aerial defenses but the damage they did was enormous.


What was the overall result of the kamikaze attacks?


The Japanese fell short of their goal of “one plane one ship,” but sank 36 American warships, and damaged 368 other vessels at Okinawa. The Navy’s losses were the highest of the Pacific war: 4,907 sailors and officers killed, and 4,824 wounded. Japan lost an estimated 1,600 suicide and conventional planes at Okinawa. (2)


The sheer number of attacking aircraft represented what we would, today, call a saturation attack intended to overwhelm the defensive capacity of the US fleet.


The Navy’s answer to the kamikaze saturation attacks was to establish a ring of radar picket ships around the island and the invasion fleet extending out as far as 80 miles.  The pickets provided early warning, fighter direction, and direct engagement.  Each picket ship was tied to a circular station of 5000 yds radius.


Wikipedia describes the Okinawa radar picket system.


A ring of 15 radar picket stations was established around Okinawa to cover all possible approaches to the island and the attacking fleet. Initially, a typical picket station had one or two destroyers supported by two landing ships, usually landing craft support (large) (LCS(L)) or landing ship medium (rocket) (LSM(R)), for additional AA firepower. Eventually, the number of destroyers and supporting ships were doubled at the most threatened stations, and combat air patrols were provided as well. In early 1945, 26 new construction Gearing-class destroyers were ordered as radar pickets without torpedo tubes, to allow for extra radar and AA equipment, but only some of these were ready in time to serve off Okinawa. Seven destroyer escorts were also completed as radar pickets. The radar picket mission was vital, but it was also costly to the ships performing it. Out of 101 destroyers assigned to radar picket stations, 10 were sunk and 32 were damaged by kamikaze attacks. The 88 LCS(L)s assigned to picket stations had two sunk and 11 damaged by kamikazes, while the 11 LSM(R)s had three sunk and two damaged. (3)

Okinawa Picket Stations

Note:  Some picket diagrams show a 16th station located near station 12.





Understanding the basics of the situation at Okinawa, what can we learn that is applicable to today’s Navy?  The foundation of any analysis is the recognition that the Kamikaze was the functional equivalent of a guided anti-ship missile.  The guidance, obviously, was in the form of a human pilot and the ‘missile’ was very powerful, rivaling a modern guided missile in terms of destructive impact.  This functional equivalency allows us to assess the attacks and defense in modern terms.  Further, the dynamic of the Kamikaze and the picket ships gives us insight into the Navy’s plans regarding its unmanned picket/escort vessels.


As you recall from previous posts, the Navy intends to procure two types of unmanned vessels.  One will be a small version which is intended to act as a picket for a larger group by providing surveillance and reconnaissance – much the same as the picket ships did at Okinawa.  The second will be a somewhat larger vessel which is intended to stay with the main group and act as a missile barge. 


So, what does the Okinawa Kamikaze and picket ship scenario tell us about the Navy’s plans for its unmanned vessels today?  There are several lessons, factors, and considerations for us.


Lethality – We need to recognize that today’s anti-ship missile will be every bit as lethal, if not more so, than the Kamikazes.  In fact, the situation is far worse today due to the complete absence of armor on modern ships.  The Okinawa picket ships routinely absorbed multiple hits, kept fighting, and often survived.  Does anyone seriously believe that a Burke, FFG(X), or LCS can take multiple hits and not sink?  Astonishingly, one of those ships is actually designed to be abandoned at the first hit!  A missile attack against our ships will be devastating and we need to factor that into our ship designs and cost and we need to accept that naval battles will involve a significant degree of attrition.  The lethality will absolutely stun us.


Saturation – The Kamikaze was used as a saturation attack with each of ten major attacks consisting of several hundred aircraft.  This is a lesson we have completely forgotten.  Peer warfare requires huge numbers of munitions – dwarfing any estimates we may have.  This was demonstrated time and again in WWII and Korea where munition expenditures far exceeded predictions.  We’ve become so used to the small Tomahawk strikes against unresisting targets that we’ve come to believe that peer warfare will involve the same minimal usage of weapons.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We’ll see unimaginably massive expenditures of weapons against us and unbelievable salvos launched against our fleets.  We absolutely must come to terms with this reality because it drives our ship design sensor and weapons density, fire control capacities, sensor design, armor considerations, etc.  Ships with one CIWS will not survive saturation attacks.  We must heavily arm our ships – far beyond anything imagined by today’s designers.


Defensive Guidance/Sensors - Defending ships at Okinawa did not possess any weapon guidance comparable to the Kamikaze pilots and this put them at a huge disadvantage.  The defending weapons were optically (and radar, to a degree) aimed and fuzed to a marginally successful degree.  The mismatch in technology between the advanced [human] guidance of the Kamikazes and the unguided defensive weapons mimics and demonstrates the consequences of a loss of defensive sensors and fire control in modern engagements.  Given the very limited number of sensors and fire controls on modern ships, it is all too easy to imagine a ship being blinded early in an engagement and being unable to continue fighting even though the weapons, themselves, might still be available.  We desperately need to increase the number of sensors (redundancy) and types of sensors on our ships.  For example, we should have much more extensive, physically distributed EO/IR sensors tied into the fire control system as well as a separate, technologically dissimilar type of radar as a backup to the Aegis arrays.  The Aegis arrays are large, exposed targets and likely to be seriously damaged and degraded from almost any hit.  Consider the Burke destroyer that was involved in the collision with a commercial ship.  One of its radar arrays was, apparently, rendered completely inoperative and that was from a waterline collision, not a missile hit.  In like fashion, the Port Royal’s arrays were reportedly rendered inoperative when it gently nosed aground off Pearl Harbor.  That doesn’t bode well for the combat resilience of the Aegis system.  We need sensor redundancy and backups.


Armament – The use of picket ships mimics the Navy’s desire for advanced screens of unmanned vessels.  The pickets succeeded in their mission but were devastated – what does that suggest for today’s unmanned vessel screens?  The picket ships were heavily armed and armored but were still devastated.  The Navy, in contrast, envisions the unmanned escorts being unarmed.  They’ll be quickly eliminated in any combat which will transfer the burden of their functions back to the manned escorts who won’t be trained or proficient at the functions and certainly won’t be properly positioned.


Armor – The Okinawa picket ships were all armored to varying degrees.  Again, the Navy envisions completely unarmored, unmanned vessels as pickets.  Not only will the unmanned vessels be quickly eliminated but the absence of armor ensures that weapon expenditure by the enemy to do so will be absolutely minimal.  One of the major benefits of the Okinawa pickets was that they soaked up so many of the Kamikazes.  Imagine if each picket had instantly sunk from a single hit.  The remaining Kamikazes would have been able to continue on to the amphibious ships, the true targets of the Kamikazes, instead of being wasted against the pickets.

USS Aaron Ward After 6 Kamikaze and 2 Bombs


Weapon Density – The number of weapons on the picket ships was incredible and that redundancy allowed the pickets to keep fighting even after taking multiple hits.  The USS Aaron Ward is an outstanding example of a ship that was able to keep firing despite taking half a dozen or so Kamikaze strikes and a couple of bomb hits.  Even the ships that would make up today’s core group have very limited numbers of defensive weapons.  While the VLS numbers are large, and quad packing makes the missile inventory numbers even larger, we’ve shown that the number of VLS weapons that are actually usable in an engagement is limited to around four.  Beyond that, the number of close in weapons is nearly non-existent.  Burkes have a single CIWS.  Many ships have a single RAM/SeaRAM.  We need to greatly increase the number of defensive weapons installed on our ships.


Picket Spacing – One of the aspects that jumps out from looking at the diagrams of the picket locations is the distances involved.  For those of us who have grown up looking at Navy PR photos of ships sailing side by side, the idea of spacing is foreign to us.  The Okinawa pickets were located 20-80 miles (mostly 50-80 miles) from the center of the defended area.  Translating that to modern terms is difficult but one way to sort of get a handle on it is to compare the Okinawa distancing to the speed of the incoming attackers.  Obviously, the faster the attacker, the farther out the picket has to be located in order to provide sufficient warning.  At Okinawa, the pickets were, generally, 50-80 miles from the center point of the defended area which puts them at distance equivalent to 25% - 40% of the attacking aircraft’s speed (assuming 200 mph).  For a modern high subsonic (assume 500 mph), anti-ship missile that would, proportionally, place pickets at 125 miles – 200 miles.  That seems unbelievable to us, today, but facing supersonic or high subsonic missiles, those are the kinds of distances required to provide sufficient early warning and engagement.


If the Navy intends, as they say, to place unmanned vessels as escort pickets for the main groups, the pickets will need to be 50-200 miles out which places them well beyond any AAW support from the core group.  As we stated earlier, being unarmed and unarmored, they’ll die quickly and easily.  I’m pretty sure the Navy hasn’t thought this through.


The Okinawa picket stations were positioned close enough to allow continuous tracking of attacking aircraft but were too far apart to provide mutual gun support.  Given today’s longer ranged anti-air missiles, mutual support may be possible but only if many, many more pickets are used due to the greater required distancing from the escorted group and only if the pickets are armed.  Again, this reminds us that we’ve completely forgotten just how many ships are required to form a survivable group.  We’ve grown up seeing a carrier escorted by three ships when the combat-reality is that we will need 30+ ships and that’s before we factor in any distant picket requirements.


Countermeasures - Japan did attempt radar countermeasures, employing chaff and radar reflective kites, though with limited success.  Today, sophisticated radar countermeasures would, undoubtedly, be employed and would greatly decrease the effectiveness of radar pickets.


Expendability - It was understood that the pickets would be spotted and attacked.  Recommendations were made that the picket ships be the smallest possible ship that could perform the function so as to make losses ‘acceptable’.(4)  This is a concern for us, today, given that our smallest surface ship is the multi-billion dollar Burke.  Even the future frigate is a billion-plus dollar ship and cannot be considered expendable.  The Navy’s vision of small unmanned vessels may be appropriate in terms of cost, if they can resist the temptation to gold plate them.







Future naval warfare will, without a doubt, feature massive, saturation missile attacks and the US Navy has not devoted any attention to the problem.  The Chinese Type 055 destroyer/cruiser, for example, has 112 VLS cells that can be loaded with anti-ship missiles.  Okinawa offers historical lessons that we can apply to our defensive efforts.  The Navy plans to employ unmanned picket vessels to accompany and escort carriers and surface groups but the pickets are going to be unarmed and unarmored.  A peer enemy will have hundreds or thousands of missiles available for attacks and unarmed/unarmored pickets won’t stand a chance and will be quickly eliminated leaving the core group with no early warning and no early engagement.


The Okinawa pickets provided early warning but also early engagement and fighter direction assistance.  In other words, the pickets were not just passive observers, they were active combatants and, as such, managed to tie up many of Kamikaze aircraft that penetrated the CAP screen.  We need to give serious thought to reconfiguring our pickets beyond their purely passive sensing role and make them combatants.  That requires arming them with short/medium AAW weapons and building them with an appropriate degree of armor.  The Okinawa pickets clearly demonstrated the value of armor.


Given the relatively small number of kamikaze aircraft that penetrated the CAP, the damage and destruction they wrought was stunning and modern anti-ship missiles are likely to be even more destructive given the unarmored and weakly built ships that make up today’s fleet.  We need to alter our ship design philosophy and start designing ships for combat, not peacetime cruises.


The Okinawa example pointed up the need for massive numbers of ships to stand up to high end saturation attacks and to compensate for sunk and damaged ships.  Okinawa, alone, involved over 600 ships, not counting hundreds of additional, lesser craft such as LCIs, LSMs, LSTs, LSVs, etc.  This one operation used 2-3 times more ships than the entire current US Navy.  We’ve forgotten what is required to wage high end war.


Frankly, the Navy’s vision of unmanned, unarmed, unarmored picket/escort ships is ludicrous and combat-useless.  They’ll be instantly eliminated in any attack without accomplishing anything.  Only if we can make them powerful enough and tough enough to survive long enough to accomplish their purpose will they be combat-useful.  However, this requires a complete rethink of the entire concept.  Unfortunately, just like the LCS, the Navy has already committed to the design and acquisition of a fleet of unmanned vessels without any understanding of their capabilities and vulnerabilities.  As with the LCS, we’re committed to buying a fleet of worthless vessels.  Is the Navy truly incapable of learning from their mistakes?  It would seem so.





Related side note:


The radar picket system was established to provide early warning and early defense against the kamikaze saturation attacks.  The ultimate development of radar picket ships was the high speed, nuclear powered submarine USS Triton which could perform picket duty and dive when threatened.  The obvious problem with this tactic is that the pickets could be kept underwater and ‘mission killed’ by a single aircraft.  In addition, a submarine has no anti-air capability and cannot engage the attack, only warn of its approach.






(2)History News Network website, “Kamikazes at the Battle of Okinawa”, Joseph Wheelan, 6-Mar-2020,




(4)Naval History and Heritage Command website, “Battle Experience Radar Pickets and Methods of Combating Suicide Attacks Off Okinawa”,



Friday, September 25, 2020

Another Wasted Exercise

ComNavOps has often complained about the unrealistic, worthless exercises the Navy engages in and also the worthlessness of multi-national exercises.  Well, here’s yet another example.


Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) is scheduled to join the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) during a multinational group sail from waters near Hawaii to Guam beginning Sept. 9, to conduct integrated, multi-domain operations. (1)


A group sail?  Is that like a group hug? 


A group sail from Hawaii to Guam?  Will they be serving Pina Coladas on the fantails during this photo-op, sightseeing, group hug cruise?


Why are we doing this cruise?


U.S. naval forces routinely participate in multinational group sails in order to operate alongside regional allies and strengthen our shared commitments to regional stability and a free and open Indo-Pacific through integrated training and cooperation. Operating together alongside allies from the RAN, ROKN, and JMSDF strengthens each nation’s collective commitment to international rules-based order. (1)


Well that was a lot of buzzword bingo that says nothing!


What will the participants in this group sail be doing, other than sunning on the fantail?


Throughout the group sail period, participants will operate and train together, exercising integrated maritime operations in a multi-domain warfighting environment. Professional integrated engagements allows the U.S. Navy and allies the opportunity to build upon existing strong relationships and improve collective readiness and response to any situation. (1)


Ah … okay.  We’ll be ‘exercising integrated maritime operations in a multi-domain warfighting environment.’  I should set up some kind of prize for any reader who can tell me what, specifically, that means.


USS Barry - Drinks On The Fantail

If we want this exercise to be worth anything – and the fact that it involves a single Burke says that even the Navy recognizes that the exercise is worthless – we should have a submarine intercept and attack the group and see if they can defend themselves.  And then, while the group is busy floundering around with a submarine, send a few dozen aircraft to conduct a no-notice attack and see how the group handles that. 


Anything less is an utter waste of time.







(1)Commander, US Pacific Fleet website, “U.S. Navy joins Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea for multinational group sail”, Lt. Mark Langford, 8-Sep-2020,

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Delusion Piled On Delusion

The magnitude of delusion that is required to believe in the Navy and Marine’s new vision of warfare is staggering.  Here’s yet more evidence.  From a Breaking Defense article,


“If we do come to blows with China it’s gonna be very confused for the first 30 or 45 days, and then we must fight in a distributed fashion,” King [Maj. Gen. Tracy King, the Marine Corps’ Director of Expeditionary Warfare] added. (1)


So … here’s a related question.  After those first 30-45 days, what are we going to have left in the way of assets to execute this ‘distributed fashion’ of warfare?  Surveillance, the foundation of distributed lethality warfare, will be hugely degraded because our satellites will be destroyed, UAVs will have been shot down, and any P-8 maritime patrol aircraft that ventured out will be gone.  On the firepower side of things, any LCSes that were in the area will have been sunk, any armed amphibious ships (‘if it floats, it fights’) will have been sunk, our Burkes will be tied up in large numbers escorting the carriers that we learned the hard way need to operate in groups of 4 and require 30 some escorts.  What will we have left to distribute?  To believe that we’ll skate through the first 30-45 days of high end, very high intensity combat and then begin distributed warfare is delusional.


Tell you what, though, let’s go ahead and delude ourselves about what will happen and just move on.


The Marines seem to vaguely grasp the problem with China’s military rise.  Consider this statement,


“The most destabilizing event in the 21st century is going to be when China can achieve conventional parity at a time and place of its choosing,” Maj. Gen. Tracy King, the Marine Corps’ Director of Expeditionary Warfare said during an online event today. “These war games are reinforcing that fact. So when they are able to do that, and when they can decide whether or not we’re going or fight or not, that’s going to be extremely destabilizing.” (1)


So, the Marines recognize that parity confers the ability to choose the time and place of engagement which, as history and military theory notes, is a huge advantage in achieving victory.  However, the Navy and Marines then conclude that the way to prevent parity and loss of initiative is to make our own forces smaller and less capable!!!!!!!!!


In an attempt to forestall parity, the Navy and Pentagon leadership are working on a force structure plan that includes more unmanned ships, smaller vessels that would be harder to hit … (1)


Even the Navy has acknowledged that the unmanned vessels they’re calling for will be individually weaker than the manned vessels they’ll be replacing and yet they’re doing it anyway in the delusional belief that somehow these individually weaker elements will form an aggregate that is greater than the sum of the parts.  That’s some first class delusion going on there.  Taking that concept to its logical conclusion, we’d be better off with ten thousand combat canoes than a fleet of carriers and Burkes.


Wait, though, it gets better.


Having entered the realm of delusion, the Marines are not only holding firm to their delusional ideas but expanding on them!  To whit,


“We’re gonna have Marines out there sinking ships,” King said. “You know I’ve even talked to our undersea guys about Marines out there sinking submarines so some of our inside forces can stay hidden and let our adversary worry about me and my hundred guys running around crazy on some island, instead of these capital assets that are really the heart and soul of the joint force.”  (1)


Yep, not only will the Marines sweep the seas of Chinese surface naval forces but they’ll wipe out the Chinese submarine fleet, too – and the Chinese will never find them!  Is there anything those hundred Marines can’t do?  Even the Spartans needed 300 warriors but the Marines will only need 100!


The really striking aspect of all this, aside from the sheer magnitude of the Navy and Marine’s delusion, is that their own studies and war games show that they’re wrong!  Read the following statement and read between the lines.


While not going into detail about the force structure study, Schlise [Rear Adm. Paul Schlise, the Navy’s Director of Surface Warfare] said the war games taking place to guide it are showing “the value of some of the manned/unmanned force packages that we’re talking about, but also the value of our legacy forces.”


‘… the value of some of the unmanned’?  ‘… also the value of our legacy forces’?  Just read between the lines.  The war games, even heavily slanted to produce the desired outcomes favoring small, unmanned vessels, are still showing that traditional, heavy firepower forces are far more valuable.


Why are the Navy and Marines embarking on this delusional path?  I honestly don’t know or understand the degree of delusion our military leadership is demonstrating but a major chunk of it is certainly budget related.


More unmanned ships, smaller frigates, and other relatively inexpensive vessels would allow the Navy to blow past its previous goal of 355 ships, a number Esper [Secretary of Defense Mark Esper] has already said is too low. (1)


Ahh, there it is  …  budget.  More ships.  The Navy doesn’t care whether those ships are combat effective.  They just care that they can use them to justify a bigger budget slice.


Ten thousand combat canoes … it’s coming!  The biggest (and most impotent) fleet the world has ever seen!


Delusion piled on delusion.



The New Capital Ship Of The Navy





(1)Breaking Defense, “DoD War Games Predict ‘Extremely Destabilizing’ Chinese Military Parity ”, Paul McLeary, 27-Aug-2020,

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Marines and Concentration of Force

One does not need to have the overall superior force in order to win.  If one can achieve localized mass and superior firepower, one can win enough individual battles to eventually win the war.  On land, this localized massing of firepower is achieved through maneuver warfare, according to modern theory.  The wisdom of localized massing of force/firepower is generally undisputed.  The challenge lies in creating the circumstances that allow for it.


The Marines, until just recently, appeared to subscribe to this theory with their published doctrine of Operational Maneuver From the Sea (OMFTS) (1), Ship To Objective Maneuver (STOM) (2), and, less formally, ‘land where the enemy isn’t’ philosophy.  Now, of course, the Marines have switched to the exact opposite approach and want to deploy small, dispersed units that will be individually overmatched in every scenario.


Before we go any further, let’s remind ourselves that the term ‘massing’ actually refers to the massing of firepower rather than troops and weapons.  For example, massing light infantry against heavy armor may produce superior numbers but not superior firepower.  With that firmly in mind, let us also recall that massing can be achieved two ways (on a related note, see, “LCS– Mass or Disperse” for a general discussion of massing as applied to the LCS):


  • Concentration of forces which is the traditional method. 
  • Concentration of firepower which requires only simultaneous time-on-target.  In this approach, the forces may be physically dispersed and only their weapon effects need to mass.  Of course, that requires perfect networking and data sharing which seems like an unlikely event in a peer contested electromagnetic and cyber spectrum.


So, to return to the Marines, we see, now, that instead of maneuvering and creating localized, superior firepower and mass, the Marines want to operate on small islands from fixed points where maneuver is not even possible and the amount of firepower that they can bring to bear is extremely limited.  Yes, I’ve heard the Commandant describe the ability to relocate from island to island, in a form of maneuver, but does anyone really think that’s possible – to casually sail in, pick up Marine units, sail to another island, and unload without being detected and destroyed?  That’s just pure fantasy.


Unless we want to believe that the Marines have discovered a war-winning alternative to massing which no one else in history has managed to do, we have to conclude that the Marine’s concept is badly flawed and runs counter to one of the most fundamental precepts of warfare.


If concentration of mass/firepower is the key to success, why aren’t we practicing it?  Train like you fight, fight like you train.










Thursday, September 17, 2020

War Games Built The LCS

Commandant Berger is completely remaking the Marine Corps.  Why?  Because of the results of a series of war games.


The Navy is going to be replacing Burkes with medium and large unmanned surface vessels (MUSV, LUSV).  Why?  Because of the results of a series of war games.


The US military is investing heavily in UAVs.  Why?  Because of the results of a series of war games.


The Navy established the Ford class aircraft carrier specifications because of the results of a series of war games.


ComNavOps has expressed doubt about all of the above but they were all established by war games so they should be solid, logical requirements, right?  None of us are privy to the details of the games so we should just relax and accept the results and conclusions of war games run by our professional warriors, right?  Right?


Well, before we buy in on blind faith, let’s consider what we do know about previous war game results and conclusions.


Millenium Challenge 2002 – This is the classic example of a staged, utterly unrealistic game that had a pre-determined outcome and, as a result, absolutely no value, whatsoever, as a combat simulation.  From the Wiki article about the event,


After the reset, both sides were ordered to follow predetermined plans of action.  After the war game was restarted, its participants were forced to follow a script drafted to ensure a Blue Force victory. (1)



Ford – USS Ford was designed based on the results of a war game modeled after Desert Storm rather than a peer war. (2)


LCS – The LCS program was initiated and executed based on the results of a series of war games. (3)


Zumwalt – The Zumwalt design was derived from war games that determined that a long range naval fire support capability was needed.  It was also derived from simulations that determined that a family of future warships was necessary.  Of course, the Zumwalt went from the mandatory future of naval combat to unwanted by the Navy in a matter of weeks based on classified naval studies and simulations that, apparently, completely contradicted those that came shortly before.


Dogfights – After the Korean war, the US Air Force determined from combat simulations and studies that dogfighting was a thing of the past and began building aircraft without guns.  The folly of this was demonstrated in Vietnam.



The US military has a long history of conducting war games, combat simulations, and studies and then basing future platforms and force structure off the results.  Unfortunately, the US military also has a long history of drawing exactly the wrong conclusions from the war games, combat simulations, and studies.  So, what does this suggest about the likelihood of the Marine’s restructuring being correct?  It suggests, with near 100% certainty, that the Marines and Commandant Berger are acting upon incorrect conclusions drawn from faulty war games.


More generally, the military has wholeheartedly embraced unmanned assets in combination with extensive networks and data flow as the key to future success in war.  Given the preceding discussion and examples, why would we trust the war games that are telling the military to drop firepower in favor of networks and data?  The military has gotten nearly every war game conclusion wrong so should we now believe that their emphasis on networks and data instead of firepower is correct?


Do you know what would make me a believer in networks and data?  If the military would run realistic exercises where our own anti-network, anti-data, anti-sensor, anti-communications – meaning electronic and cyber warfare – were applied against our networks, sensors, and comms and prove that we could effectively operate our networks, collect our data, and communicate.  Do that and I might begin to buy into the concept.  Lacking that kind of actual proof of concept and remaining fully cognizant of our badly flawed history of incorrect war game conclusions, I’ll remain highly skeptical about our plans to emphasize networks instead of firepower.

War games built the LCS and now war games are building a new Marine Corps.  Not exactly confidence inspiring, is it?







(1)Wikipedia, “Millenium Challenge 2002”, retrieved 7-Sep-2020,


(2)Navy Matters, “Ford Design Considerations”, 23-Mar-2020,


(3)Navy Matters, “LCS – Conceptual Origin”, 10-Sep-2012,

Monday, September 14, 2020

Right In Front Of You But You Can't See It

The US Army is working to figure out how to fight the next war which is more than can be generally said for the Navy or Air Force.  Unfortunately, they’re blind (as is the rest of the military) to what’s in front of them.  Consider this statement from Army Futures Command Commander Gen. Mike Murray who was discussing the German Blitzkrieg:


“It was a combination of those three technologies [German military’s airplanes, radios and tanks] and how the Germans put it together to execute what we call Blitzkrieg" that was “fundamentally different” than any of the capabilities the Allied forces … (1)


Okay, General, you recognize that Germany achieved a breakthrough in warfare and you want to achieve something similar in terms of significance.  Good for you!  What are your thoughts, Gen. Murray, on how to achieve this?


In 2020, there are three key technologies that when paired together in novel ways can provide a strong advantage against possible conflict with near-peer adversaries, according to Murray: artificial intelligence, autonomy and robotics in the air and on the ground. (1)


Uh …


Do you see a problem, General?




Okay, let me lay it out for you.


Here’s what you identified as the three keys to the German breakthrough:






Now, here’s the three keys you’ve identified for your desired, modern breakthrough:


Artificial intelligence




General, do you see a fundamental difference between those two groups of factors?  It’s okay.  Take your time.  I’m asking you to think and that’s a new experience so I’ll wait.  


… …


Really … nothing?


All right, I’ll spell it out for you.


Two of the three German factors were things that make explosions (airplanes and tanks) and one was an enabler (radio).  None of the three current US factors make explosions and it’s highly debatable that any are even enablers.


It’s all about firepower, General.  If you can enhance your firepower, as the Germans did … all the better, but you have to have firepower.  Without it, you’ll just be a well-informed loser when the enemy’s firepower overwhelms you.


You’re not going to revolutionize warfare without things that go boom (I’m trying to keep this on a level that a General or Admiral can understand).  All the data in the world is useless if you haven’t got firepower.



For those who are a little smarter than a General or Admiral – like all the readers of this blog! – let’s consider the General’s three factors a bit closer.


Artificial intelligence – Our AI efforts are at the level of the Wright bother’s airplane.  We’re just barely beginning to develop it.  There won’t be any breakthroughs from this for the foreseeable future.  Consider our recent attempt:  the F-35’s ALIS was a colossal failure and it wasn’t even AI, really, just a predictive maintenance database.


Autonomy – The Navy just proved that an unmanned ship couldn’t navigate from San Diego to Hawaii without an attending ship and boarding crew.  We’re decades away from any significant breakthrough, here.  Significantly, our military appears committed to NOT allowing autonomous systems to control lethal weapons.  One can debate the wisdom of this position but it surely diminishes the breakthrough potential of autonomy, doesn’t it?  You’re trying to achieve a breakthrough while simultaneously limiting the scope and usefulness of the technology!


Robotics – Our current state of the art combat robots can’t tell the difference between a puddle and a lake, as a recent Internet article pointed out.  Our UAVs have been deemed non-survivable over a battlefield by the military.  UAVs around the world are routinely shot down.  Robots can offer some ancillary assistance but to expect a breakthrough from them is pure fantasy.



Here’s some more from Gen. Murray,


“I firmly believe on a future battlefield, the commander that can see first, understand first, decide first and the act first will have a distinct advantage and will ultimately win any future battle,” Murray said. (1)


Not without firepower, they won’t!  This is the blindness that the US military exhibits.  It’s all about firepower and they simply can’t see it.  There’s an adage that’s applicable, here.  Paraphrasing,


Get there firstest (first) with the mostest (most).


The saying is attributed (debatably) to Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and it means that victory goes to he who first achieves the proper position with the necessary firepower.  The key is the ‘mostest’:  the firepower.  It does no good to know everything about your enemy and to maneuver to an advantageous position if you lack the firepower to do anything decisive when you get there and yet that’s exactly the path the US military is heading down:  perfect knowledge and insufficient firepower.


Consider the example of Midway, in WWII.  We had the intel (code breaking) which allowed us to mass forces and reach a position of advantage but what allowed victory (aside from some large doses of good fortune!) was that we had sufficient firepower when we got there.  Had we arrived at Midway with our intel but lacked firepower, we would have been defeated.  Today’s leaders fail to recognize that you need the mostest to go along with the firstest.


It’s sad, isn’t it?  General Murray obviously read some history about the German army, which is great – ComNavOps constantly pushes for our military leaders to study history – but he completely fails to see the lessons from that history. 

Stuka Dive Bomber

 The more we head down the misguided path of data over firepower, the more I’m going to push back and keep pounding on the need for firepower.


Consider this for some perspective …  We’re coming out with new networks and data schemes on a seemingly daily basis but what was the last significant advance the US made in firepower?


Standard Disclaimer:  I'm all in favor of intel - as an enabler of firepower, not instead of firepower.




(1)Defense News website, “Inside Project Convergence: How the US Army is preparing for war in the next decade”, Jen Judson, 10-Sep-2020,