Saturday, October 31, 2020

Corrosion Control

I know I’m not the first to point this out but have we just completely abandoned corrosion control even for surfaces we can easily reach?


We can’t maintain one ship and we want to expand to 500 ships?

What is the crew doing all day?  It's obviously not navigation training and I doubt it's combat training.  Can't we find a little time for corrosion control?

Thursday, October 29, 2020

SSN Shortfall Update

One of the near-criminal failings of Navy leadership over the last few decades is the looming shortfall of attack subs (SSN) with 30 year shipbuilding forecasts demonstrating a steady drop to around 40 subs in the 2030 or so time range.  We touched on this, briefly, back in 2013 (see, “SSN Shortfall”).  The Navy’s stated goal for SSN numbers is 66, derived from the Navy’s 2016 Force Structure Assessment.(1, p.8)  That’s quite a shortfall from 66 to around 40.  Here's a graph showing one of the typical projections that demonstrates the shortfall.


It’s not as if this shortfall is a recent development.  Navy long range shipbuilding plans have been forecasting it for decades.  For example, the Aug 2006 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan shows that the Navy forecast a dip to 40 SSN subs in the year 2028.(5)  A few years after that, the Jun 2010 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan shows that the Navy forecast a dip to 39 SSN subs in the year 2030.(4)    In fact, every Navy long term shipbuilding plan has clearly forecast the shortfall and yet the Navy has done nothing about it.


Where are we at, now?  The current SSN inventory is 50 subs, broken out as follows:



SSN Inventory (3)


Class Name













Los Angeles











So, what has the Navy been doing to mitigate the coming shortfall?  Contrary to what any sane person would expect, they’ve been early retiring Los Angeles class submarines for many years (see, “Los Angeles Class Overhauls And Retirements”)


That is absolute bat-excrement crazy!    but it fits the pattern of incompetent, insane Navy leadership decisions, doesn’t it?


Let’s examine some aspects of the submarine shortfall


Cost – By early retiring Los Angeles class subs, we’re not only exacerbating the submarine shortfall but we’re trading paid for Los Angeles submarines for $3B Virginias.  This might – barely – be excusable if we were getting stunningly more capable submarines for the money but there is no indication that is the case.  The very sparse information available suggests that the Virginias are marginally more capable, at best.  Wait, that can’t be, you say.  The Virginias are decades newer.  They must be greatly improved.  Well, the Ford costs twice the recent Nimitz class, is decades newer and offers absolutely no improvement in combat capability and, quite likely, represents a decrease in some areas.  So, yes, it’s quite conceivable that the Virginias are not a significant improvement over the Los Angeles class.  To be fair, there is almost no public information on performance of either class on which to base a comparison.


Shipyard Capacity – The Navy is trying build more subs but the current shipyard construction capacity is limited to barely two subs per year.  Growth out of the shortfall is simply not possible.  Despite this, the Navy has early retired dozens of Los Angeles subs.  Shipyard capacity also affects maintenance.  Currently, subs are sitting idle pierside for years waiting for their turn at maintenance.


All of this is made worse by the coming Columbia class SSBN construction program.  There are only two yards building nuclear subs for the Navy:  Electric Boat and Newport News.  Electric Boat has been chosen as the prime builder for the new SSBN.  This will likely reduce Virginia class construction to one per year, if that.  We are not going to build our way out of the submarine shortfall any time soon.


Ironically, Congress has signaled its willingness to add more subs to the Navy’s budget but yard capacity is simply not available.  Given that the Navy has known about the coming shortfall for decades, has the Navy been investing in increased yard capacity?  No.  Well done, Navy.


Budget – The SSBN program is going to have a profound impact on the Navy’s shipbuilding budget.  The 2019 GAO annual report cites a SSBNs cost of nearly $9B per sub and history assures us that cost will only increase.


Comparative Numbers – China’s submarine numbers are shown below.  Currently, China has more subs than the US (76 vs 68) although their advantage lies in SSKs as opposed to the US emphasis on nuclear powered subs.  Given that the Chinese operating area is the South/East China Seas and the first island chain, the SSKs do not represent a disadvantage and may actually be an advantage in the shallower, more confined operating areas.



Chinese Submarine Inventory (6)















Trend – Far more concerning than the current total numbers of submarines is the trend.  China’s submarine fleet is expected to increase to around 76 subs, or so, by 2030, depending on which report you care to believe while, at the same time, improving the quality by retiring older subs and replacing them with new ones.  At the same time, as the Navy has indicated, the US submarine fleet will be steadily decreasing as the SSN fleet drops towards 39-40.



This post is mainly informational.  There is no particular point other than the criminal stupidity and mismanagement by the Navy that has allowed this situation to develop.  Submarines represent one of the US Navy’s biggest advantages over any other country and Navy leadership is knowingly squandering it.


Unfortunately, lacking the yard capacity, we can’t build our way out this shortfall but what we can do is stop early retiring perfectly capable Los Angeles class subs.  We also need to begin the long term process of building more maintenance capacity so that we don’t have submarines sitting idle waiting for their turn at maintenance.  Seriously, this is the kind of thing we used to mock the Soviets/Russia for and now we’re doing it:  building subs and leaving them sitting idle, unable to operate.






(1)Congressional Budget Office, “An Analysis of  the Navy’s  Fiscal Year 2019 Shipbuilding Plan”, Oct 2018


(2)Congressional Budget Office, “An Analysis of  the Navy’s  Fiscal Year 2013 Shipbuilding Plan”, Jul 2012




(4)Congressional Research Service, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronal O’Rourke, 10-Jun-2010, p.7


(5)Congressional Research Service, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronal O’Rourke, 14-Aug-2006, p.14



Monday, October 26, 2020

Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS)

The Navy – and, I suspect, many naval observers – have a completely unrealistic idea about mine clearance (MCM, mine countermeasures) and the speed with which it occurs.  The Navy would have us believe that half dozen LCS-MCM vessels are all we need.  On a particularly honest day, you might get a Navy admiral to grudgingly admit that a few MCM operators in a RHIB might also lend a hand but that’s the extent of the clearance assets that the Navy is developing.


The problem (well, one of many!) with the Navy’s MCM vision is that it is excruciatingly slow and I’ve pointed this out many times.  I won’t rehash the overall discussion.  Instead, I’d like to take a deeper look at the heart of the MCM system, the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS, AN/ASQ-235).


Airborne Mine Neutralization System - Empty 
Carrier Being Recovered

As enumerated by the Navy, mine clearance consists of three basic steps:


Detect possible mines with a broad area search

Identify mines with small AQS-20A towed sonar

Destroy mines with AMNS/Archerfish


This already sounds slow, doesn’t it?  Searching an area twice before you can neutralize the first mine is not a process designed for speed.  But, I digress …


The AMNS is the neutralizer which is the Navy’s less-violent euphemism for the destructor system.  The system consists of a helicopter (MH-60S or MH-53E) which mounts a carrying cradle (Launch and Handling System, LHS) for four mini-unmanned ‘torpedoes’ which are individually guided to a mine and then blow themselves up, destroying the mine in the process.  Thus, each helo can destroy a maximum of four mines before it has to return to the host ship to reload or replace the cradle.




Archerfish is the destructor for the AMNS.  It is a small, lightweight (34 lb), expendable, remote controlled, underwater vehicle which carries a small shaped charge to destroy mines one at a time.  It is a suicide vehicle since it is destroyed each time it is used.  Each Archerfish contains a sonar, video camera, and light to assist the operator in reacquiring the mine. 



Unfortunately – and repetitively inefficiently - , AMNS has to reacquire the previously detected mines and the Archerfish is then guided to the mine by a sonar sensor operator on the helo, using a fiber optic communication cable, positive identification is established, and the destructor is command detonated.


The destructor reacquisition and approach phase is not a lightning fast operation as some might imagine.  The destructor doesn’t approach the target at 50 kts, ram into it, and explode.  Instead, the approach is slow and time-consuming.  From the BAE Archerfish data sheet we get a sense of the slow, deliberate approach process,


Excellent maneuvering characteristics enable Archerfish to traverse the target to obtain pictures and sonar images from a variety of angles.  Archerfish approaches the target under command guidance. In the final stages of the approach, the Archerfish sonar and video also acquire the target and transmit more detailed information to the operator via the fibre optic link.(1)


Shown below is the launch system with four destructors.

AMNS with Four Archerfish Loaded


AMNS - Note the Size of the LHS Mounting System


Setting aside the first two steps of the MCM process which are the initial survey and subsequent sonar identification, the speed of the AMNS portion is determined by the steps below.  The time estimates are just ballpark figures and would depend on a multitude of factors but they offer a decent approximation.



AMNS Speed of Operation



Configure helo for LHS carry


Load LHS

1 hr

Transit to operation area

30 min

Lower LHS

10 min

Launch destructor

10 min

Locate and identify target mine

15 min



Repeat until four destructors have been consumed


Return to ship

30 min

Reload LHS

30 min

Repeat cycle



 (a)demonstrated on an LCS video; very lengthy process



The overall time for a single cycle with the helo already configured for the AMNS and with the LHS already loaded is on the order of 2h:20m.  That equates to a mine clearance rate of 4 mines per 2h:20m or 1 mine every 35 min or, roughly, 2 mines per hour.  This is the best case clearance rate but the actual rate is lower since the helo has to return for maintenance, crew changes, fuel, etc., multiple times over the course of a day so the actual clearance rate is less than 2 mines per hour.


It is also important to note that the helo is also used for the initial broad area detection sweep, using the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and that time has to be included in the overall mine clearance rate so the effective clearance rate is further reduced to around 1 mine per hour on a sustained basis.


The AMNS system, assuming it works as advertised – and they never do - , is decisively effective, in that it blows up the mine, while also being utterly inefficient.  Clearing minefields one at a time is the worst possible approach especially in combat where speed of clearance is vital.  Ships waiting for passage through a chokepoint or amphibious forces waiting to land can’t wait while mines are cleared one at a time and yet this is the system that the Navy has decided on for its future mine clearance capability. 


We should note that the Navy is also working on a rapid sweep technique using the Common Unmanned Surface Vessel (CUSV), however, the effectiveness of sweeps against modern smart mines is highly questionable.  As with so many other weapon systems, we desperately need to test the sweep system under realistic conditions against actual smart mines to determine whether the system can work, at all.


AMNS is fine for peacetime or very limited mine clearance operations but in war mines are likely to be laid by the thousands and AMNS will be completely unsuited for the task.  We need to develop highly efficient, wide area sweeping and neutralization capabilities. 


AMNS is yet another example of the Navy developing peacetime capabilities instead of large scale war capabilities.  We must break out of this peacetime mentality that the Navy is married to and start preparing for real war.








Thursday, October 22, 2020

Just Claim It - No Need To Prove It

As we’ve seen, the US military, and the Navy in particular, are all-in on unmanned assets taking over major portions of combat despite the utter lack of any proof of concept.  The latest example comes to us courtesy of the Hudson Institute in a report titled, “Sustaining the Undersea Advantage: Disrupting Anti-Submarine Warfare Using Autonomous Systems” and discussed in a USNI News article.(1) 


The report itself is not available so we just have the USNI article to work from.  As with all such reports, it appears to be brimming with beautiful, full color diagrams and graphics.  The report apparently describes how unmanned assets will track and defeat enemy submarines.


… the team argues, unmanned systems can – for less money and in greater numbers – track enemy submarines from their home waters towards a chokepoint, and then either maintain a trail on them through and beyond the chokepoint or engage them with a small weapon. (1) 


That sounds great, doesn’t it?  Small, low powered, cheap, unmanned systems will track enemy subs and engage them at our leisure.  I find it hard to believe that potential enemies are even wasting time and resources building submarines given that they will have absolutely no chance to accomplish anything before we destroy them.  The outcome is a foregone conclusion if one believes the report.


Of course, all of this ignores the reality that we have a very hard time finding submarines even in scripted exercises.  Our very best manned systems with high powered sonars, computers, the most sophisticated acoustic analysis software in the world, and trained experts can’t readily find submarines but small, low powered, unmanned assets will flawlessly find and track enemy submarines across the oceans.


Does this sound familiar?  When the Marines first came out with their ridiculous hidden bases and anti-ship missile concepts, I kept pointing out that no one was explaining how these bases would be established, operated, and resupplied without being detected.  To this day, no one has explained that.  Instead, we’ve leapt right over those pesky reality questions and straight into the fantasy portion.


Similarly, all these unmanned ASW concepts fail to explain how our very best manned assets, backed by unlimited power, advanced computers, sophisticated software, and highly trained specialists can’t find submarines but small, simple, low powered, unmanned assets will easily find and ride herd on submarines we can’t even find in scripted exercises.  How is this possible?  If it’s true, then we need to immediately get rid of our Burkes because they can be replaced with a torpedo sized unmanned ASW vehicle for a tiny fraction of the cost.  Those new frigates we’re going to build?  There’s no point to building them since their main mission of ASW can be flawlessly executed by a small unmanned asset.


Either reality is wrong or our grandiose, fantasy, unmanned visions are wrong.  Which is it?  Is reality wrong or are our fantasies wrong?


The Navy clearly believes that reality is wrong and is betting on fantasy.


Where’s the proof that the fantasy is correct?  Before we totally commit to changing over to an unmanned navy shouldn’t we test the concept?  Shouldn’t we turn an actual submarine and an actual unmanned vessel loose and see whether the sub can be effortlessly tracked?  Shouldn’t we prove it?  Instead, we seem quite happy to merely make the claim and skip over the proof of concept.

This Ship and Helo Can't Find a Sub …

… but this Won't Have Any Problem

It would cost next to nothing to set the DARPA Sea Hunter unmanned vessel out at sea somewhere and see if it can find a Los Angeles or Virginia submarine and track it.  In fact, I’d go a step further and allow the sub to live fire against the Sea Hunter, if it can.  That would provide a pretty compelling demonstration, wouldn’t it?


Detection issues aside, there’s another small drawback to small assets.


If the unmanned system were told to engage with a small weapon, the submarine wouldn’t be sunk; but it would be at the very least warned that it’s being prosecuted, potentially forcing it to abandon its mission, or ideally it would be damaged enough that it couldn’t remain silent, forcing it back to port or making it easy to continue tracking. (1)


Small assets can’t actually sink a submarine!   … but they can warn it.  That’s what we want to do in war – warn our enemy rather than destroy them.  We are seriously losing track of reality.  This is what passes for a serious concept and report to the Navy nowadays.


Here’s some more unreality about war,


If naval commanders chose to just track them [submarines] instead of engage, the unmanned systems would track them to the chokepoint, where seafloor sensors, ocean surface gliders and sonobuoys would support unmanned vehicles in monitoring the enemy sub tracks, and another set of unmanned platforms would meet the subs on the other side and continue tracking them.


In war, what naval commander is going to choose to track rather than destroy a sub?  That’s insane!  Again, note the presumption that we can effortlessly track modern submarines with small unmanned assets despite all evidence to the contrary and absolutely no evidence that unmanned assets can actually track a sub.  Why don’t we try it before we commit to it?  Where’s the actual exercise that provides the proof of concept?  No need to prove it when we can just claim it’s true, I guess.


So, if the concept is as bad as ComNavOps lays out, why are we even considering this stuff?  The answer, as always, is money.  The Hudson report suggests that unmanned ASW assets offer great savings.


… less than a third [of the cost] of the traditional predominately manned approach to ASW. (1)


Less than a third of the cost!  Of course, you can’t actually track or destroy the enemy subs so that’s a drawback but, at least, it’s a cheap drawback, right?


If reality gets in the way, just make claims that bypass reality and continue on.  No need to prove anything.  Go Navy!






(1)USNI News website, “Report: Unmanned Systems Could Track and Fight Submarines At Less Cost Than Manned Ships, Planes”, Megan Eckstein, 19-Oct-2020,

Monday, October 19, 2020

FFG(X) Versus Perry

Everyone is excited about the Navy’s forthcoming FFG(X) (now Constellation class FFG-62).  The only problem is that it’s a bit of a step backwards in terms of firepower and combat effectiveness compared to the Perry class frigates.


What??!  No way.      Yes way. 


Let’s take a closer look.  Let’s compare the Perry class, before the Navy neutered them, to the Constellation class.  The significant differences and advantages are highlighted in green.







Length, ft



Displacement, tons



Speed, kts



Range, nm @ kts

4500 / 20

6000 / 16






32(b) + 8(c)


1x 76 mm

1x 57 mm

Close In AAW Weapons


1x RAM


2x triple Mk 32 = 6/24(d)



2x SH-60 Seahawk

1x MH-60 Seahawk + 1x MQ-8C Firescout


SQS-56 hull mount + SQR-19 towed array

SQS-62 variable depth sonar + multi-function towed array



(a)Mix of Standard, Harpoon

(b)Mix of Standard, ESSM with quad-packing

(c)Likely NSM in deck mounted quad racks

(d)Perrys had up to 24 torpedoes including reloads




Perry Class Frigate

Speed - The Perry class may have a few knot advantage but it is likely not significant.


Range – Given that the two ranges are cited for different speeds, I suspect that the ranges are likely equivalent if compared at a common speed.


Crew – The Constellation’s smaller crew on a larger ship will be a detriment in combat when it comes to damage control, as graphically evidenced by the experience of the USS Stark.  Replacement of combat casualties will also be problematic for the Constellation class.


Missiles – The Perry has a larger missile magazine [40 vs. 32] although the Constellation compensates with bolt on anti-ship missiles (probably the Naval Strike Missile).  It is worth bearing in mind that the Perrys could have easily accommodated bolt on quad Harpoon launchers just as the Constellation will do, thus providing a greater missile capacity.  We’ve already examined VLS versus single arm launchers and determined that VLS offers no great advantage and, depending on circumstances, may be inferior in combat use (see, “VLS Versus Arm Launchers”).


The other noteworthy aspect is that in the AAW role, ESSM missiles can be quad-packed in the VLS which greatly increases the number of missiles.  Of course, quad-packing didn’t exist when the Perry was built.  Presumably, quad-packing would also be applied to a modern single arm launcher.  So, in a comparison of the Constellation to the original Perry, the missile number advantage would favor the Constellation.  Comparing the Constellation to a modern Perry, the missile numbers would likely be the same.


Gun – The Perry had larger and more effective gun.  Navy experience with the Mk110 57 mm gun has been disappointing, to say the least, with vibration/accuracy problems in the LCS, insufficient fire control sensors (optical only in the LCS), and elimination of the 57 mm from the Zumwalt design in favor of a smaller 30 mm gun.  The latter is particularly damning.


Close In – Close in weapons are equivalent and minimal.  Both classes should have a 2nd close in system, at the minimum.


Torpedoes - For a supposed ASW vessel, the Constellation’s lack of on-board ASW torpedoes is surprising and disappointing.


Helos - For a supposed ASW vessel, the Constellation’s single helo is disappointing.  Whether the ship could operate a second helo is unknown.


Sonar - The absence of a hull mounted sonar on the Constellation is puzzling although that is offset, to some degree, by the VDS and towed array.  It should be noted, though, that the towed array imposes some limits on sonar functionality while the ship is maneuvering.  The ship can physically tow the array while maneuvering (to an unknown extent and an unknown maximum speed constraint) but the array is negatively impacted and needs time to straighten out and ‘settle’ after maneuvering before it can again provide useful sensor data.  The maneuvering and speed constraints imposed by the VDS, if any, are unknown.  The Perry hull mounted sonar, in contrast, is functional at all speeds and needs no time to ‘settle’ after maneuvering although flow noise is an issue, as with all sonars.




Note:  This should not have to be said but I know it will come up.  Yes, the Constellation, being decades newer, has newer, more capable electronics.  Duh.  This comparison looks at each ship relative to its time.  If the Perrys were built today, they’d have all the same electronics that the Constellation has. 

Constellation Class Frigate



The Constellation is significantly larger than the Perry and yet is less combat capable especially in the ASW role which is a frigate’s main role.  The Constellation’s single helo, no ASW torpedoes, and lack of a hull mounted sonar will hamper ASW effectiveness.  Crew size and a markedly inferior gun further emphasize the decrease in combat capability although the quad-packing of ESSM missiles adds to the AAW capability.  Admittedly, the differences are not huge but the fact that a frigate which is decades newer represents a bit of a step backward is disappointing.  When cost is factored in, the Perry, at around $122M in the 1980 time frame ($385M inflation adjusted to FY20), is far cheaper than the Constellation which will likely be around $1B+ even in serial production.


A more expensive ship with less combat capability?  That seems in keeping with the Navy, today.