Friday, December 31, 2021

LCS RAM Untested

The LCS program problems are many and, generally, well known.  Still, there are aspects that are surprising even for this troubled program.  One such issue is the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) anti-air defense weapon for the Freedom class LCS.  The issue is that the RAM system has not been tested on the Freedom class and the Navy has decided not to conduct any tests.  No tests.  None.


The Navy has not fully tested these combat systems and the Navy does not plan to conduct further air warfare operational testing of Freedom seaframes 1 through 15 in their current combat system configuration. The Navy has accepted the risk of continued operation with a combat system that is not operationally tested. (1, p.190)


The Navy has neither resourced nor conducted any air warfare test events against anti-ship cruise missile surrogates planned as part of the DOT&E-approved Enterprise Air Warfare Ship Self-Defense Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP) or the LCS TEMP. The Navy’s Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems halted all work to develop a Probability of Raid Annihilation (PRA) M&S suite of the combat systems in FY15 and has not yet restarted the effort. (2, p.141)


RAM Launcher

Yes, the Rolling Airframe Missile itself has been tested (is that a true statement?  I’m not sure) but the launcher, combat system software that controls the launcher, the sensors that have to integrate with the combat system and launcher, and possible sensor interference has not been tested.  That’s a lot of potential problems.  For example, prior to the Navy canceling testing, DOT&E noted the need to,


Correct the SSDS [Ship Self Defense System software] scheduling function to preclude interference with the RAM infrared guidance capability stemming from prior intercepts and warhead detonations. (1, p.209)


The Navy is knowingly sending Freedom variants into combat with untested point defense missile systems.  This ranks right up there with the WWII torpedo fiasco.  The only saving grace is that no one, not even the Navy, believes that the LCS is an actual combat asset.


On the plus side, the Navy appears to have standardized on the SeaRAM instead of the RAM so if they’ll quickly follow through and retrofit SeaRAM onto the Freedom variant then the testing halt is acceptable.  If not, it’s simply criminal.


SeaRAM Launcher

This does, however, raise a few questions/issues:


  • Who initially thought having two different point defense systems (RAM and SeaRAM) within the same general class of ship was a good idea?  Someone should be fired for that.
  • Who thought a point defense system without a self-contained targeting sensor (radar) was a good idea?  Someone should be fired for that.
  • This is what happens when you allow two variants of the same ship to be built using completely different equipment.  Who thought that was a good idea?  Someone should be fired for that.


The larger point is that the Navy has been exhibiting a marked tendency to truncate or eliminate testing over the last decade or so.  For example, the Navy delayed the shock testing of the LCS as long as they could and attempted to eliminate the shock testing of the Ford.  Numerous other examples of the Navy skipping testing are documented throughout the DOT&E annual reports.  This is what happens when there is no watchdog.  The Navy cannot be trusted to conduct thorough testing or, indeed, any testing at all.  This is what makes the recent decision to classify, eliminate, or significantly reduce public DOT&E reporting so concerning.







(1)Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, FY2017 Annual Report

(2)Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, FY2019 Annual Report

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

War and Ship Design Philosophy

Do we have enough ships, currently, to conduct a war with China?  Not even close!  Consider that we operated a fleet of some six thousand ships during WWII.  There’s no way we can fight a war with China with only the 180 or so combat ships we have today.  So, we need to build several hundred more ships, right?  Wrong!  We can’t afford that.  Well … we can if we’d spend wisely but that’s not the current reality.  Further, we can’t maintain a fleet of several hundred ships.  Heck, we can’t maintain today’s fleet of 180 combat ships!  Finally, we can’t crew several hundred ships despite the fact that we actually did that during the Cold War.  So, what do we do?  Well, if we can’t build hundreds of ships prior to a war then the only answer is to build hundreds or thousands of ships during the war, as we did in WWII.


But – and this is the big but – it takes 5-10+ years to get a ship built and into the fleet today.  That’s simply not going to work during a war.  We can’t wait 5-10+ years for new ships.  In comparison, China has demonstrated that they have several times the shipbuilding capacity and speed that we do.  That would seem to suggest that China will, inevitably, win the naval war simply because they can out-build us.  That’s not good. 


So, what can we do about it?  Aside from the obvious solutions such as increasing the number of shipyards and maintenance facilities, which we’ve previously discussed but acknowledged would be very difficult to do without sweeping regulatory reforms, there is one other blindingly obvious and easy solution and that is to change the way we design and build ships.


If our current ship designs and construction practices don’t allow us to build ships quickly then we have no choice but to change the designs and practices.  However, before we talk about design changes, let’s first make sure we understand exactly what’s wrong with our current designs as they relate to construction speed.  Yes, we all know that our current designs are woefully deficient in armor, weapons, sensors, separation, redundancy, etc. but those don’t really impact ship construction speed.  Other aspects of ship design have a much greater impact on construction speed.  For example,



Materials – We need to stick with simpler materials from a construction perspective.  For example, aluminum welding is a tricky art and requires a great deal of experience and technique.  There are relatively few welders with expertise in this skill and training of new welders is a difficult and time consuming task which slows down ship construction time.  Sticking with common steel makes more welders available which speeds up construction time.


Similarly, complex composites and layered materials are difficult to fabricate, handle, and integrate into construction.  For example, the Zumwalt’s giant superstructure panels (a complex layered wood, resin, and composite design) are very difficult to fabricate and install.  In fact, the Navy abandoned the material after the first two Zumwalts.


During war, many exotic raw materials will be in short supply.  The current automobile shortage which is due to the lack of computer chips is a chilling example.  When we try to build ships during a war and face critical shortages of the raw materials used in radars, computers, sensors, etc., we’ll quickly realize that we should have designed simpler systems using more common and readily available materials.  That exotic moonbeamium nitride radar that can see through the curvature of the earth and detect a bacteria is great but it won’t be available in war and a simple mechanical, rotating radar will be a better choice.  We need to redesign our systems using raw materials we can count on during war.


Let’s stick with common, simple materials, as much as possible, in our designs.


Complexity – Complex systems are harder to install and take much more time.  For example, the delicate, precise, time-consuming alignments required for radar array faces and VLS cells preclude rapid construction.  Simpler systems that can be ‘slapped’ into place would speed up construction.  The Ford’s elevators are an example of an overly complex system that is very difficult (thus far, impossible!) to install and offers no actual combat benefits and may well be a combat deficiency when it comes to alignment and repair at sea.


Let’s avoid complexity like a rattlesnake.


Concurrency – Concurrency has repeatedly been shown to cause construction delays as previously installed systems have to be removed, reworked, and reinstalled.  Large sections of the Ford’s decks have had to be removed to allow the installation and modification of systems that were not ready during initial construction.


Concurrency must be completely eliminated.


Size – This goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway.  The larger a ship is, the longer it takes to build.  We need to focus on smaller ships by ending our idiotic obsession with cramming every weapon, sensor, and system we can into every ship we build.  We need to build smaller, cheaper, single function ships.  For example, the AAW Burke doesn’t need a flight deck, hangar, helo support facilities, sonar, towed array, and so forth.  Imagine how much smaller such a Burke would be and how much quicker it would be to build … and it would still be fully capable of its main role which is AAW.


Let’s build smaller, single function ships.


New Technology - Radically new systems inevitably require a great deal of time to figure out how to manufacture and install.  For example, the elevators on the Ford offered no overall improvement in carrier air power and yet have wrought havoc on construction times.  The Zumwalt hull form and superstructure offer no discernible combat advantages over conventional forms and yet required a great deal of time to figure out how to manufacture and assemble.  The Zumwalt superstructure panels required the development of entirely new manufacturing techniques and, indeed, the Navy wound up abandoning the composite resin panels in favor of traditional steel plates (albeit massive ones!).


Let’s keep new technology in the lab until it’s mature and can be routinely manufactured, installed, and operated.




Now that we understand the various factors that negatively impact construction speed and know to avoid them, what positive measures can we take to increase construction speed? 



Prototype – We need to try out lots of different ship types so that when war needs arise, we will have already worked out the developmental bugs and will have ready-to-produce designs sitting on the shelves.  I cannot overemphasize the importance of this.  We must have debugged, ready to produce designs so that we don’t waste time debugging designs during a war.


Simplify – Nothing speeds up construction like simplified designs.  The LCS, for example, used a complex combining gear that has been nothing but trouble and for what?  It offered no improvement in combat capability, just a possible fuel cost saving by allowing multiple power sources to be used.  The combining gear is larger, more complex, harder to install, harder to operate, weighs more, and takes longer to build and install.  A simplified design would use a single power source and accept the fuel penalty (who cares about fuel cost savings in war?).


Simplification applies equally to individual systems.  For example, the VLS system desperately needs to be redesigned, not because of any performance deficiency, but because they are very delicate and difficult to install.  We need a new VLS design/redesign) that is robust and can be ‘slapped’ into place quickly and without requiring exquisite alignment.


Standardize - Weapons, sensors, and electronics which are, themselves, simplified, need to be standardized.  Having dozens of ‘flavors’ of Aegis software is idiotic.  Having multiple navigation systems is inefficient and, indeed, contributed directly to the Burke and Avenger collisions and groundings.  Consider the number of different types of radars we currently use:  SPY-x, AMDR, Dual Band Radar, Enterprise Air Search Radar, TRS-xx, SPS-48, SPS-49, SPQ-9, and so many others.  We need to pick a high end radar and a low end and call it a day.  How many different computer systems do we operate?  How many different ship combat software systems do we operate?  And so on.  We need to settle on some standards and be done with it so that we can mass produce the chosen systems and eliminate the current multitude of different configuration and installations.


Pre-qualify – We need to have shipyards ready to build standardized designs.  After we implement the preceding steps we need to qualify shipyards by having them build one example of each ship type they’ll be asked to build to debug and prove out the manufacturing process and have production lines ready to go.  Yes, this will cost money to maintain idle or very limited production lines but since when is national security and war production a money making venture?  Paying to maintain production lines may seem inefficient but will be worth every penny when war comes.






In addition to the many ship construction problems such as lack of shipyards, shrinking industrial labor pool, insufficient trades development, regulatory requirements, aged facilities, etc., it is painfully obvious that our current ship designs, themselves, are a major source of the construction delays we encounter today.  These designs are overly complex and simply cannot be produced in a useful time frame during war.


In addition to better designs, we need proven, debugged designs that are ready to be put into production.  This requires an extensive prototyping effort during peacetime.  We need to build lots of prototypes to develop and debug both the designs and the manufacturing processes.  It is just as important to debug the manufacturing as the design but this is always ignored.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Taiwan Submarines

Taiwan is attempting to build 8 new indigenously designed SSKs.  Reuters has a good article summarizing the effort.[1]


Shipbuilder CSBC began construction last year and is aiming to deliver the first of the planned eight vessels by 2025, according to government statements. The value of the project is estimated at up to $16 billion, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. [1]


Taiwan’s current submarine fleet consists of two Sea Dragon SSKs built in the Netherlands and delivered in 1987.  Typical of SSKs, they have six 533 mm bow tubes and 28 torpedoes.


The central rationale for acquiring new submarines appears to be the following,


The eight new submarines, plus the Sea Dragons, would pose a deadly threat to an invasion fleet, say veteran Western, Japanese and Taiwanese submariners. Armed with powerful torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, these vessels could attack the convoys of troop transports and warships that China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), would need for any landing on Taiwan. [1]


This smacks of the kind of everything-we-do-will-work-and-the-enemy-won’t-try-to-stop-us thinking that the US military routinely engages in.  Can a handful of SSKs really present a significant threat to what would be a massive invasion fleet?  Let’s analyze that premise.


Despite anyone’s desperate wishes, the Chinese are not going to launch an invasion fleet with no anti-submarine (ASW) protection.  Chinese ASW efforts will be extensive and will greatly diminish the effectiveness of defending SSKs unless the SSKs are determined to perform a suicidal attack that would only result in a couple of sinkings per submarine. 


Even without considering Chinese ASW efforts, ten SSKs have a limited capacity.  With a total of 60 torpedo tubes across ten submarines and using an initial salvo of six torpedoes per sub, two per target, this would only result in 30 targets being hit (sunk or mission kill).  This is ridiculously optimistic and assumes that every sub is available, every sub finds targets, every sub launches unhindered, and every torpedo hits but it defines the absolute upper edge of expectations.  So, the upper end of expectations is 30 hits.  The invasion fleet would consist of two or three hundred ships so this amounts to 10-15% of the invading fleet being stopped (sunk or mission killed).  That’s not insignificant but it’s hardly an invasion stopper, either.  The Chinese would gladly pay that price to seize Taiwan.  To assume further success by the submarines would be compounding the ridiculousness by assuming that, having given away their positions by firing, the Chinese would stand back, do nothing, and allow the subs to continue firing until all their torpedoes were exhausted.  Of course this won’t happen.  It is highly unlikely that any submarine would get a second attack opportunity before the defending ASW forces made a second attack impossible.


Now, let’s inject just a small degree of realism into the scenario.  For starters, not all ten submarines would be available and in the right location to attack an invasion fleet, not all the available submarines would achieve a firing situation due to enemy ASW activity, and not all torpedoes fired would hit their intended targets.  So, a slightly more realistic estimate would be that five subs would achieve a firing situation and half the torpedoes fired would hit a target thus giving around 7 targets hit (sunk or mission kill).  There would be no follow up attacks as the submarines would be too busy evading and dying.

This is what a serious invasion fleet would look like.


Not only would a few submarines always be unavailable due to maintenance, the submarines might well have other duties that prevent them from being used against an invasion fleet.  For example,


The two people in Taiwan with direct knowledge of the sub program said the vessels would also be deployed in the deeper waters east of the island. That would help keep open ports along Taiwan’s eastern coastline, which is furthest from China, for resupplies in a conflict. [1]


Thus, some number of subs would be deployed on the opposite side of Taiwan from an invasion fleet and would be unavailable to attack the fleet.


So, our more realistic assessment is that a fleet of ten SSKs could achieve 7 hits from an invasion fleet of two or three hundred ships.  Is this level of result sufficient to justify a $16B program?  The best way to answer this question is to pose another question: could the money be better spent on small, mobile, land based anti-ship missile launchers?  For example, the Norwegians have demonstrated that small anti-ship missiles like the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) can be launched from mobile, land based launch vehicles.  Taiwan could acquire thousands of such systems for what they plan to spend on 8 submarines.  Which would do more damage … thirty or so torpedoes or many thousands of anti-ship missiles?


Let’s ask some more questions:


Which would be more survivable?


Which would be easier to acquire?


Which would be easier to man?


Which would cost less to operate?


Which would be easier to deploy on short notice?



Unless Taiwan chooses to start a war, they are going to unavoidably take the first hit in an invasion.  That means they need widely scattered, numerous, hard to find, hard to hit weapons that will survive to strike back.  China will commence an invasion by finding and striking at the submarines and employing sufficient ASW resources as to prevent the subs from achieving viable firing situations.  In contrast, thousands of small, mobile anti-ship launchers present a capability that cannot be eliminated or even significantly reduced prior to an assault.  The SSK program represents time, resources, and money that could be much better spent on other alternatives.


Even if Taiwan is determined to go through with the SSK program, there are many obstacles that make project success less than a given.  Aside from the fact that this is a brand new, never before done effort from a non-existent indigenous submarine building industry (recall how the US LCS turned out when we contracted two companies that had never built a warship before?), the various technologies that make up a modern submarine must largely come from foreign companies and many of those companies and their parent countries are very reluctant to upset China.  Again, the odds of success for a small anti-ship weapon system are much greater than an indigenous SSK program.


Ten SSKs are an annoyance to China, not an invasion stopper.







[1]Reuters website, “T-Day: The Battle For Taiwan”, Saito et. al., 29-Nov-2021,

Tuesday, December 21, 2021


Quick question … why are Marines still deploying on amphibious ships if they have no AAV/ACV landing craft to get ashore from the ships?

This is how we get to the beach, now.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Pod Propulsion

One of the challenges of ship design is the propulsion system.  The traditional propeller and drive shaft present problems such as:


  • Complicated gearing systems which are an operating and maintenance challenge
  • Long drive shafts which take up precious space in the ship
  • Multiple points of watertight seals that have proven to be less than watertight in damage situations
  • Shaft bearings that are prone to overheating and require lubrication and cooling
  • Complex lubrication systems for shafts and gears with sea water influx being a common problem


One potential solution is the pod system in which an electric drive motor and propeller are mounted in a pod external to the ship’s hull.  This eliminates the shaft, many bulkhead penetrations and seal points, complicated gearing, etc.  The pod rotates via a small steering motor mounted in the ship’s hull directly above the pod’s mounting flange.  The only penetration of the hull is the electric cables from the power generating unit to the electric motor in the pod.  Large commercial pods may have maintenance access hatches built into the pod mount.

Typical Propulsion Pod Concept


Pods can be either push (traditional rear mounted propeller) or pull (front mounted, like an airplane) and can be either fixed or rotating (azimuthing).  Some ships have used a combination of fixed and rotating pods.  Front mounted (pull) pod props have been claimed to reduce cavitation compared to conventional push propulsion systems due to operating in less disturbed water flow.[2]

The features of pod systems include:


  • No gear systems required
  • Space saving
  • Pods can rotate 360 deg
  • 2-25 MW per pod
  • Eliminates need for a rudder


Pods have a range of power outputs from 2-25 MW per pod.  As a point of comparison, the Burke’s propulsion system consists of 4x LM2500 turbines connected via gearing to two propeller shafts producing a total of 78 MW of power.  Two large pods would produce 25 MW and three would produce 75 MW which equals the conventional Burke output.


Various Types of Pods

Pods have been extensively fitted to icebreaking vessels and cruise ships, among others.  Some examples include:


Rolls Royce Mermaid Pod


The QUEEN MARY 2 has four Rolls Royce Mermaid podded propulsion systems, the first four-podded installation to date and the largest output for any podded-driven vessel. The system comprises two fixed and two azimuthing pod units delivering a combined output of more than 85 MW, which gives the ship a service speed of 30 kts. [1]


ABB azipods are produced in a range of sizes and power outputs.  For example,


The luxury polar expedition cruise ship, due delivery for the French cruise company Ponant in 2021, will feature two Azipod VI propulsion units, designed for the most challenging ice conditions.


Upon delivery from Norway’s Vard Søviknes, a Fincantieri Company, the cruise ship will take passengers to unexplored destinations in Arctic and Antarctic waters. In the harsh conditions of ice-covered seas, Azipod units with six-meter propellers and combined power of 34 MW will help the vessel achieve greater maneuverability and efficiency, as well as lower the environmental impact. Due to minimal noise and vibration, Azipod propulsion will also improve passenger and crew comfort. [3]


On a larger scale, the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, uses 3x ABB 20 MW (60 MW total) rotating azipods.



Some naval examples of pod propulsion include:


  • French Mistral LHD class uses 2x 7 MW pods.  The ship is 650 ft long, 20,000 tons displacement, and can achieve 18 kts.
  • Australian Canberra LHD class uses 2x Siemens Navantia 11 MW pods.  The ship is 757 ft long, 27,500 tons displacement, and is rated at 20+ kts.





Pods seem like a worthwhile possibility for naval vessels.  The reduction in complexity, equipment, and bulkhead/hull penetrations make pods an attractive alternative to convention systems.  In particular, eliminating the complex combination gearing systems that the Navy seems completely unable to operate and maintain would significantly reduce the number of ship breakdowns the Navy has encountered of late.  How pod systems would fare in combat and damage control situations is, of course, unknown and would have to be tested.


At the moment, I see a lot of upsides and no real downsides to this technology.











Friday, December 17, 2021

Marine’s AAV – High and Dry

The Marine’s Amphibious Assault Vehicle, AAV, is now just the Vehicle, V.  The amphibious part is gone as the Marines have announced that the AAVs will no longer be used for water operations.


… given the current state of the amphibious vehicle program, the Commandant of the Marine Corps has decided the AAV will no longer serve as part of regularly scheduled deployments or train in the water during military exercises; AAVs will only return to operating in the water if needed for crisis response.    The AAV will continue to operate on land; 76 percent of its tasks are land-based. [1]


AAV - Now Just 'V'

Well, they always have the new ACV, right?  Well, no, at least not at the moment.


The ACVs are under their own restrictions from waterborne operations. [1]


The Marine Corps in early September announced the pause to ACV water operations due to the problem with the towing mechanism. [1]


ACVs were temporarily suspended from open ocean waterborne operations as we worked to solve an issue that was identified with the towing mechanism. We expect that issue to be resolved soon and for ACVs to return to the water early in the New Year. [1]


So, currently the Marines have no means to get ashore in an assault since the LCAC is doctrinally excluded from initial assaults and has been relegated to follow on support.  Of course, the Marines have stated that they’re out of the amphibious assault business so I guess this isn’t really a problem.


This does, however, lead to a potentially serious question.


Is the AAV the best vehicle for land tasks?  Presumably, the newer ACV also has the same 76% land tasks so the same question applies.  The AAV/ACV is not an armored personnel carrier (APC) like the Israeli Namer nor an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) like the Bradley so what tasks is it being asked to perform? 


Land combat vehicles are intended to go in harm’s way and are armed and armored appropriately.  The AAV/ACV is not.  As best I can tell – not being a land combat expert – the AAV/ACV was intended as a poor man’s APC, though without the armor – thus making it a very lightly armored personnel carrier.  As such, it is unsuited for modern battlefield combat.  It could, perhaps, function as a rear area personnel carrier but does that role justify the expenditure on the new ACV?  I would think not.


The amphibious nature of the AAV/ACV led to a compromised vehicle that is optimized for neither water nor land tasks.  This was possibly acceptable if the Marines were going to conduct amphibious assaults (no, it really wasn’t but we’ll set that issue aside for now).  Now, since the Marines are abandoning landings from the sea they should seriously re-evaluate whether the AAV/ACV is suited for strictly land tasks. 


The AAV/ACV seems to have no role in the new Marine Corps so why are they continuing to purchase ACVs?



On the bright side, the Marines have no viable mission so I guess none of this matters but, wow, this is some top notch embarrassing fumbling and incompetence on display for the world to see.  China has to be wetting themselves laughing about this.






[1]USNI News website, “Marines Keeping AAVs Out of the Water Permanently”, Sam LaGrone, 15-Dec-2021,

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

AnnualEx 2021

The AnnualEx 2021 exercise took place November 21-30 in the Philippine Sea off the southern coast of Japan.  It involved naval forces from five countries:


Royal Australian Navy (RAN)

Royal Canadian Navy (RCN)

German Navy (GMN)

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF)

U.S. Navy (US)



Five countries!  And in the Pacific theater where our pacing threat, China, is?  It sounds like a major exercise with several dozen ships involved, surely!  Given the location, perhaps it is an exercise focused on high level combat with China along the lines of the pre-WWII Fleet Problems?  One might reasonably assume three dozen or more ships from the US Navy, alone.  Let’s take a look at this mammoth exercise.


Public relations photos indicate that the exercise consisted of 17 ships, in total, six from the US Navy.  Uh oh.  This doesn’t sound as mammoth as I envisioned.  Well, if not big it should at least be focused on China and high level warfare, right?

AnnualEx 2021 Group PR Photo

 As best I can ascertain, here is the list of participating ships:




USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)

USS Lake Champlain (CG 57)

USS Stockdale (DDG 106)

USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204)

USNS John Ericsson (T-AO 194)

Los Angeles class submarine




HMCS Winnipeg




JS Teruzuki (DD 116)

JS Kirishima (DDG 174)

JS Yamagiri (DD 152)

JS Asahi (DD 119)

JS Onami (DD 111)

JS Izumo (DDH 183)

JS Inazuma (DD 105)

JS Harusame (DD 102)

JS Chokai (DDG 176)

Soryu class submarine




HMAS Brisbane (D 41)

HMAS Warramunga (FFH 152)




FGS Bayern




There appear to have been some Japanese ships that participated only briefly which may change the apparent numbers.


Various reports list the following training events during the exercise:


  • maritime communication tactics
  • anti-submarine warfare operations
  • air warfare operations
  • replenishments-at-sea
  • cross-deck flight operations
  • maritime interdiction maneuvers
  • enhanced planning
  • live-fire gunnery events
  • combined information warfare



As usual, the US Navy contributed its bit of buzzword bingo.


“The U.S. Navy is honored to be invited to participate once again,” said Rear Adm. Dan Martin, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1. “ANNUALEX presents an opportunity to strategically coordinate, collaborate and further strengthen our network of partnerships and alliances, enabling us to remain a flexible, adaptable and persistent combined force capable of quickly projecting power, where and when needed.” [1]



So, the exercise lasted 10 days.  Day one and day ten were meetings, photo ops, and self-congratulatory press exercises.  So, that leaves around 8 days of actual exercises … at best.  We noted a list of 9 supposed training events.  Doing the arithmetic, that’s just more than one event per day.  Is that really effective training?  How much can you learn in one day when 17 ships have to cycle through the day’s event?  A bit more arithmetic shows that 17 ships would get an average of 1.4 hrs per training event.  Can you learn to be a professional baseball player in one day or one hour?  Can you learn to be an anti-submarine warfare expert in one day?  Can you become an air warfare expert in 1.4 hrs?  There were 15 ships and two submarines, as best I can tell.  Again, do the math.  That’s 7 ships per submarine.  If each ship had a turn at a one-on-one event with a sub, that’s an average of 3 hrs ASW training per ship.  Can you really learn anything about ASW in 3 hrs?  In any kind of realistic exercise you’d be phenomenally lucky to even detect a sub in 3 hrs.  ASW is a long game, played out over many, many hours or days for a single encounter. 


Of course, all this assumes 24 hour, non-stop exercising.  Far more likely is that the events were limited to daytime for safety’s sake so that means even less time per event.


Sure, some of these events may have occurred in parallel.  ‘Maritime communications tactics’, whatever that is, could possibly be done while something else was going on.  That does not, however, change the fact that no useful training could have possibly occurred in the time allotted.


What did we – the US military/Navy – accomplish by this exercise?  Did we actually learn anything or was this just an excuse for a multi-naval, international group hug?


Best case … even if the exercise was wildly successful and worthwhile … it involved three US Navy warships and a sub.  Three warships and a sub that was presumably there just to be a ‘target’.  Three out of a US Navy fleet of 285 ships gained something.  How is that making the fleet more combat ready?


We say we’re pivoting away from anti-terrorism and nation building to peer competition and yet we can’t seem to let go of these useless, low end, group hug exercises.  Where are the massive, high end, combat exercises that last for weeks … you know, like a real war operation would?






Friday, December 10, 2021

Top Heavy

We’ve talked about the current trend in ship design as it relates to superstructures (see, “Ship Superstructures”) and we’ve noted the many disadvantages to massive superstructures.  Inherent with a massive superstructure is weight which invariably leads to top heaviness (metacentric height).  All modern US Navy surface ship designs are inherently top heavy.  To be fair, this has been a problem that has plagued ships since the very first ship in history.  However, the US Navy designs have taken a chronic challenge that typically manifests over time as more equipment is added to a ship during refits and codified the problem into designs that start with top heaviness built in.  The Freedom class LCS design, for example, violated the Navy’s own design requirements for weight growth margin and metacentric height.  The problems didn’t come from refits and added equipment;  they were designed in!  That’s insane.


Just for fun, let’s take a look at a few bow-on photos of ships from WWII versus today and compare their ‘visual’ top heaviness.


To begin, here’s a photo of the USS Pasadena, a Cleveland class cruiser.  The superstructure, at its base, extends around half the width of the ship and narrows quickly as it rises.  Most of the superstructure is around a half to a quarter of the width of the ship.  Also note that the structure height (not the mast height) is relatively low compared to the height of the hull as seen at the bow. 




 Next, here is a photo of an unidentified crusier.  Again, note the skinniness of the superstructure which occupies perhaps half the width of the hull and, again, narrows quickly;  not a lot of weight high up.






Now, let’s take a look at some of today’s ships.


Here’s a Burke class destroyer.  Note the massive size of the superstructure which extends all the way to the extreme edges of the ship and rises nearly vertically.  That’s a lot of weight!






Here’s a view of a Freedom class LCS.  The superstructure extends the width of the ship is just massive compared to the hull.



Next is a view of a Ticonderoga class cruiser and the USS Long Beach.  Again, they just look immensely top heavy, don’t they?




I don’t have metacentric height data for the ships so this is just a visual impression of top heaviness but it’s quite instructive, nonetheless.  How stable do you think these ships will be after they’ve taken some damage and taken on water?  We’re building in the tendency to capsize!  We’ve got to radically rethink our ship designs on so many levels.  When we lost BuShips, we lost our ship design compass and institutional knowledge..

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Demise of DOT&E

The most valuable organization in the US military complex is the office of Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E).  As documented countless times in this blog, DOT&E is the only thing preventing the military from engaging in wholesale fraud when it comes to weapons development testing.  For their part, the Navy has done everything they can to skirt, avoid, bypass, and ignore DOT&E test requirements and has been publicly slapped down multiple times for it.  A good example is the Navy’s attempt to avoid shock testing on the Ford which was thwarted by DOT&E.


Unfortunately, someone has gotten to DOT&E and appears to have neutered them.


But next year, the Pentagon’s office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation will issue two different versions of the 2021 report: An unclassified version that will be available to the public, and a version with “controlled unclassified information” (CUI) that will only be made available to lawmakers and those inside the department, according to Raymond O’Toole, acting head of the DOT&E office. [1]



As a reminder, DOT&E is required by law to release a public version of its annual report.


DOT&E is required by law to submit an unclassified version of the report every year. [1]


Why is the Director taking this action?


“I thought it very important to provide Congress and the Secretary the test evaluation details that shouldn’t wind up in our adversaries’ hands, hence the new CUI version of the annual report,” he said at an event hosted Monday by the National Defense Industrial Association. [1]


No one wants to make sensitive information available to the enemy but the dual reports are not necessary.  DOT&E already routinely issues classified sub-reports, as warranted.


The problem is that the negative information will, undoubtedly, be deleted from the public version and pushed to the ‘controlled’ version where we will not be able to see it.


Mandy Smithberger, director of defense information for the Project On Government Oversight, raised concerns that most technical details could be pushed to the CUI version, leaving the unclassified version a shell with little relevant insight. [1]


“DOT&E already has the ability to include classified reporting, and I worry that this will end up [resulting] in a watered down version of the report that makes it more difficult for the press and the public to make sure that we are buying weapon systems that are effective and safe,” she said in an email to Breaking Defense. [1]


More frightening is that, under this new system, the military gets to decide what is ‘controlled’ and what is not.


O’Toole also stated that the decision about what constitutes “controlled unclassified information” ultimately rests with the services, not DOT&E itself. [1]


Do you really think the military is going to allow negative results to appear in the public version?  I think we can anticipate, with 100% certainty, that the services will use a very broad definition of ‘controlled’ to keep unflattering information from going public.


Someone has gotten to the Director and applied pressure to coerce him into hiding weapon failures.  There is no other explanation.  As someone who has read every DOT&E report issued, I can assure you that the information in the DOT&E reports contains nothing that could remotely be considered classified or sensitive.  The reports contain almost no actual data and only vague descriptions of the issues that arise during testing.


Beyond that, our enemies have active and robust cyber espionage programs and know far more about our weapon programs than what appears in the DOT&E reports.


The pubic exposés of the various program failures are the only means the tax-paying public has to evaluate whether their tax dollars are being well spent.


DOT&E reports are often the only negative reports ever seen as the Navy/military trots out an endless string of spokesmen to sing the praises of the various programs.  According to Navy spokesmen, there has never been a weapon system or test that did not far exceed our wildest hopes … and yet we have the LCS, Ford, Zumwalt, and so many other abject failures.  Well, you didn’t hear about those failures from the Navy.  Only DOT&E gave you the straight truth.


The Director has been co-opted by the Pentagon and is doing a disservice to the American public by watering down the public version of the annual report.  This is only going to make an already badly broken weapon development, testing, and acquisition process even worse … if that’s even imaginable.

You'll recall that INSURV reports got classified when they were demonstrating too many negative results, and now this.

DOT&E was the shining light in military systems development and testing and now that light has gone out.







[1]Breaking Defense, “Pentagon tester to restrict info on weapons programs, raising transparency concerns ”, Valerie Insinna, 6-Dec-2021,