Monday, November 30, 2020

Weapon System or Jobs Program?

As we’ve so thoroughly demonstrated, our professional military has forgotten what real war is and is no longer producing weapon systems based on combat effectiveness.  Instead, other factors have become paramount in weapon system design and acquisition.  The F-35, for example, was clearly designed as a jobs program and accounting exercise rather than a truly effective combat system.  The LCS very quickly demonstrated that it was not an effective combat system and yet production continues, even today.  Why?  Jobs program.


Here’s an example that demonstrates that this phenomenon is not limited to the US.  Below is a graphic advertising the Franco-British Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) project.(1)  Note what system attribute is displayed with the largest typeface number.  That’s right, it’s a claim that the project will support 215 jobs.


The West has pretty much abandoned any pretense that it is designing combat systems.  Instead, it’s designing jobs programs or accounting projects or budget balancing exercises or public relations demonstrations.  Of course, if the project just happens to have some actual military value … well … that’s a bonus but it’s not a requirement.





(1)Naval News website, “MMCM Program Enters Manufacture Stage with Initial Production Contract Award”, Nathan Gain, 26-Nov-2020,

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Open Post

It's been while since the last open post so let's do it again.  This is your chance to offer a comment on whatever interests you, within the bounds of the blog (no politics!).

Got a suggestion for a post topic?

Want to talk about something that's been neglected?

Want to tell me what you'd like more (or less) of?

Want to tell me how you'd make the blog better?

Want to give a shout out to your favorite foreign ship design?

Got a rant you want to get off your chest?

Have at it!

Monday, November 23, 2020

Commercially Available Parts

One of the common themes in naval blog discussions is the suggestion to use more commercially available parts.  However, Navy attempts to do so have revealed problems that make this approach less feasible and desirable than anticipated.


Another initiative that began in the early 2000s involved the Navy using more shipbuilder-provided commercially-bought systems on ships rather than systems the Navy developed and provided to the ship. However, maintaining commercial systems has been more expensive than anticipated for a variety of reasons, such as systems becoming obsolete and challenges acquiring manufacturer support. For example, the SSN 774 shipbuilding program made an effort to use commercial equipment that it assumed would never need repair or replacement—meaning that these parts would last the life of the submarine—without evaluating whether these parts actually had no repair needs. Further, SSN 774 program officials told us that the program office did not plan for the Navy to support many of the submarine’s commercial components because they initially planned to contract for logistics support. In all, the SSN 774 program asserted that over 4,000 parts on the submarine class would not need maintenance for the duration of the submarine’s life. However, since the submarines have been operating, many of these parts are failing, which has created unanticipated expenses. For example, Navy maintenance officials stated that they are planning to pay $360 million over the next 12 years to maintain a part of the propulsion system that it wrongly assumed would not need any maintenance at the time O&S costs were established. (1)



As we all know, the commercial market is a fast moving, ever evolving entity.  We’ve all experienced the reality of a product being replaced and unavailable in just a few years when we try to replace or repair it.  Why would this be any different for the Navy if they choose to use commercial products?  To believe that replacement parts will be available for the 30 or 40 year life of a ship is just delusional and to believe that there’s such a thing as a product that never needs maintenance or replacement is to engage in a level of fantasy that is stunning in its refusal to acknowledge reality.


Unfortunately, these kinds of idiotic, unrealistic, and unproven assumptions all too often form the basis for Navy cost estimating and, invariably, prove wrong in reality.


There is certainly a place for commercial products but only in cases where the need is short term and/or the Navy ensures that longer term support (spares, service, and maintenance) will be available over the anticipated life of the ship or component.  Of course, I’m not sure how one would possibly ensure such support remains available but that’s a separate issue.


The Navy needs to stop chasing after magic solutions (minimal manning, commercial products, etc.) and, instead, accept the need to do the hard work, like learning to repair the equipment you have, performing regular maintenance, providing on-board fabrication and repair shops for ships, buying sufficient spare parts, and training technicians to repair and maintain equipment.






(1)Government Accountability Office, “NAVY SHIPBUILDING Increasing Focus on Sustainment Early in the Acquisition Process Could Save Billions”, GAO 20-2, Mar 2020, p.43

Thursday, November 19, 2020

LCS Concurrency and Prototype Lessons

Two pieces of news about the LCS program have appeared of late which highlight just how fundamentally flawed the program was.


The first piece of news was the announcement by the Navy that they are retiring the first four LCS after just a few years of service.(2)  Well, let’s be honest … it was just a few years of non-service since they never had functional modules and never conducted any useful deployments.


The second piece of news was the announcement that the USS Detroit is being towed back to port due to various mechanical failures including the problem-plagued combining gear which has sidelined almost every LCS that has put to sea.(1)


This program was so badly conceived and executed that the list of lessons are nearly endless.  However, I want to focus on two closely related lessons:  concurrency and prototypes.  The lessons from this failed program regarding concurrency (the practice of simultaneous development and construction) and prototypes are stunning in their magnitude and simplicity and yet the Navy continues to repeatedly and fully embrace those failed practices.  For those readers from Navy command levels, you can stop reading now because you’re just going to continue attempting concurrency so there’s nothing for you to learn, here.  For all the rest of you, let’s continue on and learn something about the impact of concurrency and, specifically, its impact on prototyping.


As you recall, the Navy committed to a run of 55 LCS ships before the design was even complete;  possibly before it was even begun!  Construction of the first two – arguably – four LCS was well underway before the ship designs and construction blueprints were finalized.  Every organization that has ever looked at the practice of concurrency has condemned it as extremely poor practice that inevitably results in higher costs and failed products.


For those who may not be familiar with concurrency and the problems it causes, I’ll offer the following brief description. 


The problem is that as the concurrent development proceeds, changes in product design are inevitably required.  Because construction has already begun and completed products have been produced, the newly identified changes have to be back-fit into the under-construction or already produced products which greatly increases costs ( building and then rebuilding - paying twice for the same product, in essence) and, in the extreme such as the F-35, the result is products that can’t be updated with the required changes or the updates are prohibitively expensive.  As the concurrent development continues and the current production design drifts farther and farther from the original products, the early products are rendered ‘orphans’ – non-standard, unfixable, and unusable.


On a related note, the LCS program is hardly alone in attempting, and failing, at concurrency.  The F-35 program, for example, has reportedly produced two or three hundred aircraft that are now concurrency orphans that the military has deemed too expensive or too difficult to upgrade.  These aircraft will be shuffled aside and left to rot – a few, perhaps, used for training purposes.  Another example is the Ford program which attempted to build a carrier while simultaneously developing new technologies such as EMALS, AAG, and weapon elevators, none of which yet work as intended.  Undeterred, even now, by the lack of functioning EMALS, AAG, and elevators the Navy has already committed to more Fords! 


Returning to the LCS, let’s take a look at the four LCS the Navy is throwing away.  LCS-1,-2,-3,-4 are being retired after just a few years because the Navy states that they are so non-standard that upgrading them to meet the current LCS norms would be cost-prohibitive.  For all practical purposes, the first four LCS were prototypes even though the Navy never referred to them as such until just now as they attempt to justify throwing away essentially brand new ships.

Four LCS Headed for the Scrap Heap


Now, let’s consider what a prototype is and why prototypes are built.


A prototype is a first of its kind.  As such, it is expected that it will have flaws and problems.  Indeed, that is the purpose of a prototype:  to find and fix design and construction problems so that subsequent versions can be improved.  The very concept of a prototype implies a cycle of one-off production, fixes and learning of lessons, and then feeding the changes back into the next version.  Prototyping is a cyclical process:  build, learn, feed lessons back into the process.  The Navy, however, defied all conventional wisdom and opted not to wait for the first LCS prototype to be wrung out and debugged.  Instead, the Navy plunged into full production without delay.  The result was that the prototypes failed to serve their purpose.  They didn’t identify problems for correction in the subsequent ships.  Instead, the subsequent ships were built with the same problems as the prototypes.  This is why the USS Detroit, the 7th LCS and the 4th Freedom class ship, is being towed back to port with a broken combining gear – the same broken combing gear that plagued the prototypes and every other LCS.  The lessons of the failed combining gear in the prototype LCS-1 were not passed on to the rest of the production run because the run was already well along before any lessons could be learned. 


What is the point of building a prototype if you don’t wait for the lessons to be learned?


The result of this incredible mismanagement is that the Navy is throwing away 4 prototypes.  This is also why you don’t build two different versions of the same ship:  it doubles your prototypes and doubles your wastage!  It’s one thing to throw away a prototype of, say, a pump but it’s another when the prototype is a complete ship that costs nearly $800M as the first few LCS did.  When the prototype is that expensive, you really, really, really, want to take full advantage of the prototype concept and learn all the lessons you can before building the next ship.  Of course, the Navy did not do that and now winds up throwing away $2.4B or so of useless ships.  The LCS prototypes failed to serve their purpose.


What did the rush to get LCS hulls in the water accomplish?  There have been no significant deployments and certainly none with a fully functioning module.  The ships have wound up sitting pier side.  They accomplished nothing.  There was plenty of time.  The prototype process could have played out with no detrimental effects and the Navy would have gotten functioning, debugged ships – well, to the extent that an LCS can be considered functioning given that they still have no modules and have myriad inherent design and structural flaws.


The purpose of prototypes is to find and wring out the problems before the subsequent ships are built.  Because of concurrency, the prototypes wound up serving no purpose.






(1)Defense News website, “Littoral combat ship Detroit is being towed into port after another engineering failure”, David B. Larter, 7-Nov-2020,


(2)Defense News website, “US Navy’s first 4 littoral combat ships to leave the fleet in 9 months”, David B. Larter, 1-Jul-2020,

Monday, November 16, 2020

Carrier Deployments and Combat Readiness

USNI News website has a lengthy article about carrier deployments and maintenance.(1)  It makes for sobering reading and I urge you to read it.  I want to analyze the implications but, first, it is necessary to understand the fundamental conditions so here are some of the main points from the article (this does not relieve you of the responsibility of reading the entire article for yourself!):


  • Carrier operations are up 40 percent this year over last year;  from Jan. through Oct. 31, U.S. carriers had spent a combined total of 855 days at sea – 258 days more than all of 2019.
  • Carriers are regularly conducting back-to-back, double deployments and suffering shortened or skipped maintenance periods as a result.
  • The East Coast has just one deployable carrier for the next year and that one is the Eisenhower which has just returned from deployment and will have to execute a double deployment with a shortened maintenance interval.
  • Carrier maintenance is routinely running significantly longer than planned due to the deferred maintenance resulting from double deployments and longer deployments. 


The current status of our carriers illustrates the problems.  Right now, two carriers are tied up with mid-life refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) activities instead of the normal one carrier at a time: USS George Washington (CVN-73) is in the second half of its four-year overhaul, and USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) is in pre-RCOH activities and should begin its overhaul late next year. 


A third, the Ford, is still trying to achieve operational status and is years away from doing so.  The first deployment is likely 2024 and that assumes that all goes well, including shock tests.


Of the remaining 8 carriers, 4 are home ported on the West coast, 3 are on the East coast, and 1, the Reagan, is ported in Japan.  The West coast carriers are generally adhering to the planned operational schedule although the Roosevelt is scheduled for a double deployment.  The East coast carriers have Bush in the 20th month of a planned 28 month maintenance period, Truman is in a maintenance period after undergoing a double deployment, and Eisenhower is halfway through a double deployment.


The carrier status is summarized in the table below. 







West Coast



West Coast



West Coast

executing double deployment


West Coast

maintenance after record deployment


East Coast

executing double deployment


East Coast

maintenance after double deployment


East Coast

20 months into 28 month maintenance


East Coast













Deployments, and double deployments, are eating up our carrier lifespans, ruining their material condition, and reducing readiness.  Why are we doing this to ourselves?  Deployments are intended as a deterrent but they do not accomplish anything.  I know that’s trying to prove a negative but we do have evidence.  If carriers are what’s preventing Iran, Russia, NKorea, and China from initiating hostilities with us or our allies then hostilities should have occurred during any of the extended periods of carrier coverage gaps that have occurred over the last decade or so in the various regions.  The fact that they haven’t demonstrates that the presence of a carrier has no deterrent effect and the absence of a carrier has no detrimental effect.  In other words, carrier deployments serve no purpose. 


If carrier deployments serve no purpose, why are we burning up carrier readiness conducting deployments?  Why are we conducting double deployments with deferred maintenance that is worsening the readiness situation?  At the moment, our carrier combat readiness is abysmal. 


Deferred maintenance in order to conduct double deployments is robbing Maintenance Peter to pay Deployment Paul and Deployment Paul isn’t giving us anything for our effort.


It is important to understand the devastating effects of double deployments and deferred maintenance.  Let’s look at one example:  storage tanks.  Carriers have enormous numbers of tanks that store all manner of fluids.  Those tanks corrode and need regular maintenance.  If the maintenance is performed on a regular basis, the tanks never get too bad and the work is fairly straightforward, easy, and quick.  However, if the regular maintenance is deferred then the tanks are much more corroded by the time maintenance is performed and what should have been a fairly straightforward, easy, and quick effort becomes much more difficult and time consuming.  An analogy would be if you take care of little spots of rust on your car as they appear, it’s no big deal but if you wait until the car is covered in rust and the corrosion has eaten through some panels then the repair is a major effort and cost.


This is exactly what’s happening with the carriers.  The planned maintenance work is being hugely increased as the extent of the deterioration is revealed when the equipment is actually opened up and examined.  Maintenance time is being doubled from what was planned.


We are generating crippling maintenance requirements faster than we can perform the required maintenance.  Every deployment increases the carrier maintenance backlog and makes the situation worse.  We need to step back, take a pause in carrier operations, focus on maintenance, and then return to operations with a sane concept of use instead of the blind attempt to fulfill the Combatant Commander’s ego-driven requests for carriers.  

 We need to say no to the Combatant Commanders.  I know that some of you are going to say that the Navy has to obey orders and can’t just arbitrarily say no.  Well, that’s incorrect.  The National Defense Strategy in January 2018 called on the military to prioritize building up readiness and lethality for a future fight over routine low-end operations today.  There’s the permission to say no.  Combatant Commanders do not ‘outrank’ the National Defense Strategy.  The Navy has, essentially, been given an order to prioritize readiness over routine operations.  Instead, we are doing the opposite of that. 


There you have it … Deployments (generated by the Combatant Commander’s pointless requests for carriers) are degrading our carrier readiness to an alarming state and the situation is getting worse with each deployment and double deployment.  Carrier usage is increasing while maintenance is decreasing.  This is insanity and must stop.  The National Defense Strategy gives the Navy the ‘cover’ they need to say no to the endless and pointless requests for carriers from the Combatant Commanders.  Now we just need a Chief of Naval Operations with the courage to actually say no.  Unfortunately, CNO Gilday has demonstrated that he is not that man.





By the way, we only have 9 air wings. 


By the way, the same problems are happening with all ships, not just carriers and the problems are only going to get worse.  If we can’t maintain 280 ships how are we going to maintain 350-500 ships?




(1)USNI News website, “No Margin Left: Overworked Carrier Force Struggles to Maintain Deployments After Decades of Overuse”, Megan Eckstein, 12-Nov-2020,

Friday, November 13, 2020

USS Wayne E. Meyer Completes Maintenance

Sometimes it’s good to just be reminded of the routine activities of the fleet.  For example, the Burke class destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer, DDG-108, just completed a Dry Docking Selected Restricted Availability at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PHNSY & IMF).(1)  This is an extensive maintenance period during which the ship’s hull and systems are maintained and modernized.  The maintenance period began 24-Mar-2020 and the dry docking portion was completed on 5-Nov-2020.


USS Wayne E. Meyer was commissioned in 2009 so this maintenance period is occurring at around the ten year mark of the ship’s life.


I can’t find a detailed description of the work list but the following is a brief description of the similar maintenance period for Wayne E. Meyer’s sister ship, the O’Kane, DDG-77, just to give you a feel for the scope of the work.


… major alterations include a bow strengthening modification, advanced galley modifications to enhance meal prep times and serving capacity, two berthing complex renovations, mast preservation, antenna overhaul, and shafts/rudders/propeller reconditioning.  


The projected scope of work is in excess of 80,000 man-days. The predicted manpower requirements are more than 500 people per day. (4)


Vigor Marine acted as the prime contractor, apparently a first for PHNSY & IMF.  Following is the contract award announcement which puts the price of the maintenance at around $90M.


Vigor Marine LCC, Portland, Oregon, is awarded an $89,336,289 firm-fixed-price contract for the execution of the USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) fiscal 2020 dry-docking selected restricted availability (DSRA).  This availability will include a combination of maintenance, modernization and repair of the USS Wayne E. Meyer.  This is a Chief of Naval Operations scheduled DSRA.  The purpose is to maintain, modernize and repair the USS Wayne E. Meyer.  Vigor Marine LLC will provide the resources capable of completing, coordinating and integrating multiple areas of ship maintenance, repair and modernization for the USS Wayne E. Meyer.  This contract includes options, which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $97,954,544.  Work will be performed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and is expected to be completed by November 2020.  Fiscal 2020 operations and maintenance (Navy) funding in the amount of $89,336,289 will be obligated at time of award and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  This requirement was competitively solicited using full and open competition via the Federal Business Opportunities website, with one offer received.  The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, District of Columbia, is the contracting activity (N00024-20-C-4464).(2)


Vigor Industrial, of which Vigor Marine is a subsidiary, is based in Portland, Oregon and builds tugs, ferries, and barges as well as performing ship maintenance and repair.  According to Wikipedia, Vigor has seven facilities with ten drydocks, more than 17,000 feet of pier space, and over 2,000 employees.(3)  The company traces back to Todd Pacific Shipyards and Kaiser Shipyard, among others.




Vigor announced in late 2017 that it had won a $1 billion contract to produce U.S. Army landing craft, the largest contract in its history. The company selected Vancouver, Washington as the production site for the vessels.(3)


We’ve often discussed the possibility and desirability of encouraging the growth of smaller shipyards to eventually handle larger naval construction and this might be an example of such a yard.


USS Wayne E. Meyer Departing Dry Dock In Pearl Harbor
This availability is an example of the kind of regular maintenance that the Navy so desperately needs and yet is routinely deferring for various [poor and unwise] reasons.  This is good, if routine and unremarkable, news.  My only concern is whether all the required work is being performed.  I’m hearing too many stories of ships coming out of maintenance periods with work left undone.  For example, the Port Royal, which ran aground off Hawaii a few years ago, had just come out of a maintenance period and yet had several broken systems including GPS and navigation.  If all the required work is being completed, this is good news.  If not, this is just a partial band-aid.  
















Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Combat Fleet Is Going To Grow … Smaller?

We’ve all heard about the recent reports recommending that the Navy fleet size be increased from the current 296 ships (196 combat ships which are the carriers, cruisers, destroyers, subs, and amphibs) to 350-500 ships depending on which report you hear.  The Navy is eager to get going on the expansion so the upcoming Navy shipbuilding budget must be crammed with ships, right?


Well, the proposed Senate budget provides funding for 9 ships, only 6 of which are combat fleet ships.  The 6 combat ships are:


1x Virginia class submarine

1x Columbia class submarine

1x Constellation class frigate

1x LPD-17 amphibious ship

2x Burke class destroyers


The remaining 3 ships are:


2x T-ATS towing and salvage ships

1x Expeditionary Fast Transport


Assuming a service life of, say, 35 years for the combat ships, a build rate of 6 ships per year leads to a combat fleet of 210 ships.  If we discount the Columbia submarine since it’s not really a combat ship except in a nuclear war, the remaining 5 combat ships lead to a 175 ship combat fleet.


That’s not exactly an explosion of shipbuilding and a sprint towards 350-500 ships, is it?

Monday, November 9, 2020

Fight In Plain View

In future wars, the US military believes it will see everything, friendly and enemy, on the future battlefield thanks to vast regional/global command and control networks, UAVs, regional sensor networks, underwater unmanned vessels, unmanned surface vessels, satellites, etc.  ComNavOps has pointed out the fallacy in that belief but, for sake of discussion, let’s follow the logic of that belief and see where it takes us.  I must warn you, the destination may be surprising and upsetting.


If we believe our omnipotence to be true then we have to believe the flip side which is that the enemy will also see everything since they will have all the same assets, capabilities, and resources and, in the case of China, they’ll have the added advantage of ‘home field’ (we’re talking about a main war, now, not a proxy conflict in Africa or some such) which provides land based radar, air bases, harbors, etc. which will greatly increase the density of sensors that can be applied to the battlefield.


If we believe it to be true then we must believe that all forces, friendly and enemy, will be under constant threat of attack or, indeed, constant actual attack since their location will be continually known.


That being the case, the inevitable and inescapable conclusion, then, is that it is mandatory that our forces be able to fight exposed and fully out in the open, as far as detection is concerned, because the enemy will know exactly where we are at all times.


That’s right, there will be no hiding, no hidden bases, no skulking LCS distributed lethality ships waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey, no undetected Marine anti-ship missile units hidden on islands, no undetected transports relocating small Marine units and providing them with resupply, no UAVs blithely flying undetected deep into enemy territory, no submarines cruising undetected through enemy waters, etc.


I repeat, the logic has to work both ways.  If we can see everything, so can the enemy.


So, if our forces will be constantly exposed and under constant attack, how can they survive?  There is one way and one way only and that is through the application of massive, overwhelming defensive firepower combined with extensive ‘armor’ (‘armor’ includes actual armor and also electronic warfare ‘armor’).  Instead of Burkes with a single CIWS, we’ll need ships with dozens of CIWS/SeaRAM and hundreds of ESSM.  Instead of remaining passive and hidden, our ships will need to radiate constantly (no point using passive sensors since the enemy will know exactly where we are!) and, given the inevitable combat damage, we’ll need ships with multiple redundant sensor systems and backup sensors on top of that.


Can this actually work?  Can a force survive under constant surveillance and attack?  Of course they can … if they have sufficient firepower.  This is analogous to telling the other team your play and daring them to stop you.  If you have big enough, fast enough, strong enough players you can successfully execute your play even if the other team knows it’s coming.  This is actually what we did in WWII.  Okinawa was not a surprise to Japan.  They knew it was coming.  They knew exactly where our forces were and they attacked almost constantly but it didn’t matter because we had sufficient firepower to survive and succeed – albeit it at great cost.


Of course, the astute among you have noticed that the solution to the problem – overwhelming firepower and armor – is the exact opposite of where the US military is going.  The military is almost ignoring firepower while they pursue networks, data, and command and control schemes. 


If our ground forces will be under constant attack, why haven’t we developed a robust, mobile, anti-air capability?


If our naval forces will be under constant attack, why are our ships so lightly armed (Burkes have only a single CIWS), unarmored, and without redundant or backup sensors and weapons?


If our carriers will be under constant attack, why aren’t we training for multi-carrier group operations?


Why does our front line F-35 aircraft carry so few weapons?


Why does the Marine Corps believe that platoon size units will be able to survive?


And so on …



Now, the extremely astute among you will have already concluded that the best defense is a good offense.  Rather than simply stand and see how long we can survive while the enemy pounds on us, relentlessly, we need to be conducting our own massive and constant attacks on their assets.  Again, this means firepower, not networks, and massive amounts of it.  Where are our massive offensive forces?  Where are our massively powerful and numerous weapons?  China will be flinging super/hyper-sonic ballistic missiles at us and we’ll be answering with subsonic, non-stealthy, obsolete Tomahawks.  I know which side of that exchange I’d rather be on!  China will be flinging supersonic (Mach 2-4) YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missiles at us and we’ll be answering with slow, obsolete, non-stealthy Harpoons or, possibly, subsonic Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASM).  Again, I know which side of that exchange I’d rather be on.  Chinese submarines will be flinging YJ-18 supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles at us and we’ll be answering with Harpoons or, possibly, an anti-ship Tomahawk missile.  And so on.


We lack the firepower, lethality, and numbers of weapons to win a war of attrition.  That’s right, a war of attrition.  If both sides have complete knowledge about each other’s forces, the war defaults to a war of attrition.  All of our vaunted maneuver warfare theories are rendered invalid when the enemy sees everything, just as we can.


Now, some of you, quite rightly, may be saying, hey, it’s not possible for the enemy to see all of our forces.  In fact, most of our forces will, at any given moment, be undetected.  Well, if that’s true then it must also be true for the enemy.  Most of their forces will, at any given moment, be undetected and, if that’s the case, why are we basing our entire future military hope on the concept of perfect knowledge and awareness of the enemy’s forces?  Why are we focusing so much effort on networks, data, and sensors if we won’t be able to see the bulk of the enemy’s forces?  Do you see the logical disconnect inherent in what our military is doing?  Either way, perfect knowledge or not, we’re being inconsistent in our logic which means our information-centric approach to future warfare is fundamentally wrong.  The correct approach is firepower-centric with information being used to support firepower, not replace it.  The Russians demonstrated this to perfection in Ukraine and we’ve opted to ignore the evidence.


Useful or Pointless?

So, are our systems going to see everything and we’re going to fight in plain view as our military development  path logically dictates or will our systems be unable to see everything which makes our development path fundamentally flawed?  If we are going to fight in plain view, our forces are poorly designed and equipped to do so.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

The German Navy Versus England

As we know, the WWII German surface navy never accomplished anything significant and most of it was expended in piecemeal fashion with little to show for the effort.  Many historical observers believe that there was little else the German navy could have done beyond what they did but is that true?  Let’s take look at how the German navy could have been employed and what lessons their actual and possible employment holds for us, today.


To ever so briefly review, following is the state of the German and British navies early in the war (around 1940-42 or so) or, at least, what they could have been without losses.


11 Aircraft carriers

3 Glorious class commissioned around 1916

1 Argus class commissioned 1918

1 Eagle class commissioned 1924

1 Hermes class commissioned 1924

1 Ark Royal commissioned 1938

4 Illustrious class commissioned 1940-1941


22 Battleships & battlecruisers, of which only two were post-World War 1.


5 Queen Elizabeth dreadnoughts commissioned around 1915

5 Revenge class dreadnoughts commissioned around 1916

2 Nelson class battleships commissioned 1927

5 King George V battleships commissioned around 1940-1942

2 Renown class battlecruisers commissioned 1916

2 Courageous class battlecruisers commissioned around 1916

1 Hood class battlecruiser commissioned 1920

66 Cruisers, mainly post-World War 1 with some older ships converted for AA duties.

184 Destroyers of all types and eras.


Note that the British carriers were barely worthy of the name, employing WWI era bi-plane Fairey Swordfish torpedo planes, Blackburn Skuas, and, later, Fairey Fulmars.  The carrier air wings were generally quite small by US standards.  That said, they accomplished some amazing feats.


In comparison, in the same 1940-42 or so time frame, the German naval order of battle could have consisted of the following.


4 Battleships




3 Battlecruisers


Graf Spee
Deutschland (renamed L├╝tzow)

2 Dreadnought Era Battleships


Schlesien (dreadnought)
Schleswig-Holstein (dreadnought)

3 Heavy Cruisers


Admiral Hipper

Prinz Eugen

6 Light cruisers

11 Auxilliary cruisers

30 Destroyers


Comparing the two forces and, in particular, noting their ages, we see the following table which demonstrates the numbers and ages of the ships.  For this purpose, a modern (at the time) ship is considered one which was built post-1930.  Note not only the numbers of the two fleets but also the relative degree of modernity.




British – German Fleet Comparison




British Post-1930

German Post-1930


























E-Boat / PT Boat












It is understood that various combat losses afflicted both fleets but for the purpose of this post, that is immaterial.


One aspect that jumps out from this comparison is the ages of the two fleets.  The German fleet is significantly more modern than the British, many of whose ships are obsolete or nearly so.  This makes the comparative strength much more even than a simple numerical comparison would suggest.


However, there is more to the table.  Recall that the UK had worldwide commitments and  ?half?  of the British naval strength was dispersed around the world. 


If we arbitrarily divide the British fleet size in half to account for the large, worldwide dispersion we get the following comparative table.




British – German Local Fleet Comparison



















E-Boat / PT Boat








At this point, we see that the effective, local strength of the RN was roughly comparable to the local German strength and the German fleet retains the age advantage.  Further, we note the overwhelming German advantage in submarines.


The historical question, then, becomes, what could the German navy have done to take advantage of this roughly comparable size comparison and actual advantage in age?


Well, some possible operations might have included:


Destroy the British Home Fleet using combined surface navy and submarines.  There are any number of ways the Home Fleet could have enticed/coerced into a decisive fleet battle.  For example, a surface ship sortie against British ports along the English Channel would likely have sufficed to draw out the Home Fleet.  The larger point is that a major German surface action, coordinated with multiple wolf packs of submarines could have decimated the Home Fleet.


Blockade British ports to seal off convoys.  There would have been no need to try to destroy convoys at sea if they can be prevented from unloading at their destination ports.  It would have been much easier to seal British ports with mines and submarines than to try to find and engage convoys at sea.  The closer distance to the U-boat’s home ports would have also facilitated the support efforts for the submarines.


Seal the English Channel.  Had the German U-boats and E-boats been concentrated in the English Channel, it could have been sealed off with fairly minimal effort and resources.  Combined with mining, both ends could have been sealed thereby allowing the Germans to conduct cross channel naval bombardments, raids, and, ultimately, a cross channel invasion, all unhindered by English naval forces.


Bombard English coastal ports/cities.  The German surface navy could have devastated British ports, again, denying British resupply efforts.


Prevent the D-Day build up.  As we discussed in a previous post, the Germans could have prevented the Allied assault at Normandy by attacking the ports, camps, depots, etc. that were necessary for the Allied invasion effort.


Bismarck and Tirpitz - Operate As A Massed Force

Admittedly, all of these efforts would have required the support of the German air force but, early in the war, this was not only possible but the German air forces would have enjoyed parity, if not superiority, in aircraft performance.  By coordinating their efforts, the German navy could have operated with air cover and eliminated air bases and radar stations on or near the coast.  In turn, the German aircraft could have benefited from the concentrated anti-aircraft fire of the German ships.


What was not a good operational use was solitary commerce raiding. The allies had, for all practical purposes, an infinite supply of merchant ships. Sinking a handful was not going to impact the war.  In a similar vein, the submarine attacks on convoys was a hopeless effort.  The German submarine fleet could have been much more effectively employed, as described above.

The point of this post is not to discuss what specific missions the German navy could have or should have performed but to examine how Germany used its navy, what it could have done differently, and what lessons their actions, or lack thereof, offer us today.


So, what lessons can we take from this that apply to us, today?  Consider these:


Fleet In Being – Some historical observers have claimed that Germany’s surface fleet was most useful as a ‘feet in being’ by tying up Allied resources.  Is this true?  Absolutely not! The point of a military is to destroy the opponent's assets, not make them consume renewable resources. The allies, supported by the industrial might of America, had an infinite amount of resources, for all practical purposes. The Germans needed to use their naval forces to impose operational and strategic defeats on the allies - which they failed to do or even attempt to any great degree.  This should serve as an important lesson as we contemplate war with China and their resources.  Our Navy cannot become a ‘fleet in being’, unwilling to engage and unwilling to seek victory.  We must become offensive-minded as opposed to our current defensive mindset.  This starts with building a fleet that is cheap enough to risk in combat.  A $15B+ carrier is not an asset anyone is going to risk.  Billion dollar destroyers are not expendable assets.  And so on.  Currently, we have a 'fleet in being' rather than a combat fleet.

Solitary Ships Will Be Destroyed - Distributed force cannot succeed unless the sensing and communications network works flawlessly and the massing of firepower can be achieved.  Even then, the individual ships are subject to defeat in detail.  Germany’s commerce raiders demonstrated this.  Before we irreversibly commit to distributed lethality (if we haven’t already), we need to seriously wargame the concept of distributed operations using realistic conditions, not scripted games skewed to support a pre-determined conclusion.  We need to be 100% sure that distributed operations will work and I am certain that any realistic and unbiased assessment will demonstrate the folly of such operations.  History conclusively supports this.  The handful of distributed operations that were conducted in WWII pretty much uniformly resulted in disaster.


Offense – “The seat of purpose is on the land.”  This adage is the fundamental truth for navies but is too often lost in the fascination with ship-to-ship battles.  Navies exist to support land operations and they do that by conducting offensive operations oriented toward impact on land.  The Germans forgot this and never made any serious effort to support the strategic land operations and never made any serious attempt to conduct offensive operations.


Our Navy, today, is almost exclusively focused on defensive operations.  Consider the small, anti-ship Marine units.  Those aren’t offensive, they’re purely defensive.  Consider our aircraft – they’re short ranged, defensive assets intended to protect the fleet.  Consider our major surface ship, the Burke.  It’s main purpose is defensive anti-air warfare.  Consider our entire Marine Corps which has devolved from a middle weight, amphibious offensive force to a lightweight, defensive force.  Consider our major weapons development efforts like ballistic missile defense, Standard SM-6 anti-air missiles, LCS ASW and MCM which are defensive in nature, an FFG(X) which is supposedly focused on ASW and AAW, both defensive in nature.  Where’s our long range, hard hitting new weapons?  There essentially aren’t any.  We’re a defensive Navy.





Germany had a reasonable powerful and numerous fleet – or could have – that was squandered in piecemeal fashion.  Does this sound ominously like our current plans for distributed lethality?  WWII demonstrated that lone ships, or small groups of ships, are subject to defeat in detail and modern missile warfare will only exacerbate this trend.  Naval survival and victory will go to the side that can mass both offensive and defensive firepower.  Too many people, including the US Navy, forget about the need for defensive firepower as a mandatory adjunct to offensive operations.  We need to abandon the fantasy of a few scattered units bringing a powerful enemy to their knees through the magic of networking. Instead, we need to refocus on single purpose, powerful, survivable, ships that can conduct offensive operations in large groups.