Friday, April 16, 2021

Ohio Versus Columbia Cost

Just for fun, let’s do a quick check of the Columbia SSBN program costs and see how they compare to the Ohio class.  The costs should be about the same after adjustment for inflation, right?  The Columbia is just a modern repeat of the Ohio - same function, same basic sub so the costs should be the same.  Well, let’s see …


As a quick review and in order to have a basis for comparison, here’s a brief table of specifications and cost for the Ohio and Columbia classes.






Length, ft



Beam, ft



Displacement, tons submerged



Missile Tubes



Inflation Adjusted Cost

$3.3B a (FY2021)

$9.15B b (FY2021)



a Ohio:  $2B (around 1997) for final sub of class (1) = $3.3B (FY2021)

b $109.8B total class procurement cost for 12 submarines = $9.15B average cost (FY2021) (2)


From this table, a couple things jump out:


Size.  We see that the Columbia is, essentially, a repeat of the Ohio class as regards basic dimensions so the costs ought to be comparable, allowing for inflation.  In fact, we see that the Columbia has 8 fewer missile tubes so the sub should be significantly smaller/shorter since the missile tube section is the largest section of the sub. 


Looking at the cutaway drawing of the Ohio class below, we see that 8 fewer missile tubes (4 on each side, so 4 tubes in the profile drawing) represents around 11 m (33 ft).  From that, one would expect that the new Columbia would be around 33 ft shorter than the Ohio and yet they’re the same size.  Since no new functions have been added that we’re aware of, what’s occupying the 33 ft of ‘empty’ space?


Ohio Class Cutaway Drawing


Similarly, nuclear reactors have gotten steadily smaller.  Here’s the best data I could find:


Ohio - The Ohio class uses 1x S8G pressurized water reactor.  The S8G reactor compartment for the Ohio submarines is 42 feet (13 m) in diameter, 55 feet (17 m) long and weighs 2,750 tons.(3)


Columbia - The Columbia class uses 1x S1B pressurized water reactor of unknown dimensions.  A concept drawing of the Columbia class suggests that the reactor compartment is around 30-35 ft long.  While this agrees with the reasoning that the reactor compartment should be smaller than the Ohio’s, a concept drawing is a highly suspect source of information and the information should be treated accordingly.


So, comparing reactor compartment lengths,






Reactor Compartment Length, ft





Since no new functions have been added that we’re aware of, what’s occupying the 20-25 ft of saved space from the smaller Columbia reactor?


Adding the 33 ft of saved length from the reduced number of missile tubes to the 20-25 ft of saved length from the smaller reactor, we see what should be a reduced overall length of 53-58 ft for the Columbia.  Inexplicably, it seems that the Columbia is actually slighter larger than the Ohio and has a significantly greater displacement!  How can a sub with 8 fewer of the massive missile tubes and a smaller reactor be larger and have a greater displacement?


Specifications.  As we’ve already mentioned, the Columbia has been down-spec’ed compared to the original Ohios:  33% reduction in missile tubes and a smaller reactor.  The missile reduction is puzzling given that the original threat that drove the Ohio design not only hasn’t decreased, it’s increased as China has significantly more military capacity and potential than the Soviet Union did.


Cost.  As we’ve just seen, the Columbia is, essentially a repeat of the Ohio class but with significantly fewer missile tubes and a smaller reactor.  Setting the internal contents aside, the two subs have nearly identical dimensions and one would reasonably expect them to cost the same after adjustment for inflation and yet this is not even remotely the case.  Why?  Why should a down-spec’ed modern Ohio be nearly three times the cost of the original?







Why has the cost nearly tripled for what ought to be a significantly smaller and cheaper submarine?  Well, we have no actual idea so here’s some speculation:


Numbers – The Navy has not only reduced the number of missile tubes per submarine but also the total number of subs with a reduction from 24 Ohios to just 12 Columbias.  It would be reasonable to assume that cutting the total build in half would increase production costs.  Of course, economy of scale is rarely seen in Navy ship programs so this is a highly debatable assumption.  Still, simply spreading a shipyard’s overhead costs over fewer ships is guaranteed to increase purchase costs (see, “Shipbuilding Costs – Impact of Low Volume”).


Berthing – Presumably, the Navy is planning to man the subs with mixed gender crews and the need to duplicate facilities undoubtedly increases costs.  Still, we’re trying to explain a nearly $6B cost increase so there must be more to it than gender related amenities and duplication.  The need to duplicate facilities may, however, explain some of the lost ‘empty’ space that we can’t account for.


Comfort – We’ve seen an across the board increase in creature comforts for crews as the Navy has moved to nearly year long deployments (see, ”Crew Comfort”).  Despite the idiocy of turning WARships into cruise ships, this may account for some of the missing ‘empty’ space and cost. 


Supra-Inflation – We’ve seen cost growth over and above the rate of inflation for almost every Navy shipbuilding program and the magnitude of the increases for some of them, such as the Ford class, have defied belief.  This may be more of that same unexplained supra-inflation.


Bid Inflation – The Navy has clearly demonstrated to industry that the Navy’s construction plans are etched in water and not to be relied on.  In fact, with Navy shipbuilding programs, it is almost a guarantee that the numbers will be cut before the program is over, thus negatively impacting industry profits.  Without a doubt, industry is aware of this and builds in some profit margin cushion to compensate for the expected decrease in numbers.  How the Navy could decrease the SSBN build below 12, which is already reduced from 24, is unknown and yet history suggests that it is a very real possibility.  For those who might think that a leg of the nuclear/strategic triad would be immune to reductions, one has only to consider the example of the Air Force B-2 nuclear/strategic bomber which was planned to build 132 and then was reduced to 21.


Gold Plating – I have zero evidence that the practice of unnecessary over-spec’ing, referred to as ‘gold plating’, is taking place in the Columbia program but, given the Navy’s constant tendency to do this, it would be surprising if this was not taking place to some, likely significant, degree.





We have no concrete conclusion that explains why the Columbia is 53-58 ft longer and nearly $6B more expensive than we can account for – only speculation.   Without a doubt, some or all of our speculation is correct although we cannot quantify the magnitude of any of it and none of it seems sufficient to explain the $6B increase.  Regardless of the actual reasons for the staggering cost increase, the Navy’s continually demonstrated inability to produce reasonably priced new ships is a monumental concern and is inexorably shrinking the fleet to a point of combat-ineffectiveness.  The latest evidence of this is the Navy’s turn to small, weak, unmanned ships to replace Aegis cruisers and Burke destroyers in an effort to keep ship counts up despite the resulting decrease in combat power.  The Navy simply must get control of its shipbuilding programs and learn to produce affordable, combat-effective ships or we will find ourselves without an effective Navy.







(2)Congressional Research Service, “Navy Columbia (SSBN-826) Class Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, May 2020,


(3)Wikipedia, “S8G reactor”,

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Operation Hailstone - Carrier As Escort

Well, the previous post about the changing role of the carrier certainly revealed the paradigms and how difficult it is to change them!  The battleship carrier proponents will fight tooth and nail to hang on to their traditional role.


Let’s follow up with an actual historical example of the carrier as an escort for other strike assets.  WWII offers an illustrative example of the concept of the carrier as escort in the form of Operation Hailstone which was the US attack on the Japanese base of Truk.  An excellent description of the operation is available at the Naval History and Heritage Command website and I leave it to the reader to visit the site for an in-depth description of the operation.


To briefly summarize, the attack on Truk occurred in mid-February 1944.  The US attacking fleet consisted of five fleet carriers, four light carriers, six fast battleships, ten cruisers, 28 destroyers and more than 500 aircraft.  Although the Japanese main fleet had fled from Truk just days prior to the attack, the Japanese defenders still had 300-400 aircraft operating from five airfields on the island which constituted a major threat to any attacking surface force.


Attack on Truk

Though not explicitly intended as such, the operation illustrates the use of the carrier to escort a surface strike force and clear the way for it to operate by establishing local air superiority.


The opening action of the strike on Truk involved a US carrier fighter sweep of 72 aircraft launched during the pre-dawn hours from 90 nautical miles northeast of the island.  The sweep, combined with a subsequent steady stream of bombing and strafing attacks (does any of this sound vaguely like a story you just read?) over the course of the day eliminated the Japanese aircraft and airfields as a threat.


With the Japanese aerial threat eliminated, Admiral Spruance led a surface group of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers on an extended bombardment cruise and surface sweep around the island.


Vice Admiral Spruance led an “around-the-atoll cruise” (TG 50.9) on 17 February to catch leakers, bombarding shore installations as it went. Consisting of the new battleships New Jersey and Iowa, the heavy cruisers Minneapolis (CA-36) and New Orleans (CA-32) (all survivors of the Tassafaronga debacle in November 1942), and four destroyers (covered by combat air patrol from the light carrier Cowpens), TG 50.9 caught the light cruiser Katori. That ship, the auxiliary cruiser Akagi Maru, two destroyers Maikaze and Nowaki), and a minesweeping trawler Shonan Maru No. 15 had left Truk before the attack but had not gotten far enough away. (1)


Though not explicitly the operational intent, the carriers cleared the way for the battleships and cruisers to conduct extended strikes without fear of Japanese air attacks.  By establishing local air superiority, the carrier aircraft were able to cover the battleship’s movements and strikes, provide a combat air patrol (CAP) for the surface group, and cover the group’s eventual withdrawal.  This illustrates the concept of carriers escorting the striking power of the battleships, though, again, this was not the operational intent.  Still, it offers a concise, albeit unintentional, example of the concept.





(1)Naval History and Heritage Command website, “H-026-3: Operation Hailstone—Carrier Raid on Truk Island, 17–18 February 1944  ”,

Monday, April 12, 2021

Missile Escort

The US carrier task force slid silently through the calm night waters as the Admiral on the flag bridge of the carrier looked out into the darkness.  He could just make out the distant silhouette of one of the three other carriers in the group.  The carriers were spread out in a box formation with around five miles separation between them.  The task force – the first thing the Admiral had done upon assuming command was to jettison the modern terminology and return to WWII descriptions, like ‘task force’,  feeling that it conveyed a more no-nonsense, combat focus – had an immense escort group of 8 Ticonderoga class cruisers, 18 Burke class destroyers, and 6 of the new frigates.  This was, the Admiral reflected, a group worthy of being called a task force.  The Navy was finally getting serious about this war but it had required the abject failure of the Virginia submarine attack on Hainan to shake the Navy out of its delusional comfort zone.


The Admiral had been briefed on the results of the Virginia missile attack – the Navy’s first combat operation of the war - and it hadn’t been pretty.  Hainan had been a priority target both to relieve pressure on the Taiwan operations and to open up the southern approach to China that Hainan guarded.  The Navy had confidently assigned seven Virginia class submarines with a combined load of 280 Tomahawk cruise missiles to attack Hainan from the south at a standoff range of several hundred miles.  The 280 missiles were deemed sufficient to destroy the facilities at Hainan even with some expected attrition of the missiles.  After all, Tomahawks were relatively slow and non-stealthy so some were bound to be shot down.


What hadn’t been expected was that the Chinese would present a layered defense that decimated the Tomahawk missile stream.  The missiles had been detected at almost their firing points – Navy communications and centralized computer planning were nowhere near as secure as believed - and the Chinese had immediately begun cycling fighter aircraft loaded with air-to-air missiles to start reducing the incoming stream of Tomahawks.  With about 800 miles to work with, the Chinese were able to cycle a constant stream of fighters against the Tomahawks for the duration of the 1.5 hour flight time of the missiles.


The 130 or so defending aircraft, launched from Hainan and various bases scattered around the South China Sea and carrying around 10 air-to-air missiles each, were able to bring 1300 missiles against the Tomahawks.   As it turned out, the Tomahawks were nothing more than drone targets for the Chinese fighters; the cruise missiles couldn’t maneuver or evade and had no countermeasures that mattered to the Chinese aircraft.  It was like sharks feeding on a school of fish.


Once the sharks were done feeding and the remaining missiles neared Hainan, the ground SAM defenses had taken over.  Again, the slow, non-stealthy Tomahawks had fared poorly against China’s modern SAM systems.  Of the original 280 Tomahawks, the Navy estimated that only around 50 had reached the Hainan area and, of those 50, 2/3 had been shot down by SAMs.  Only around 16 missiles had actually struck a target and the damage inflicted was minimal and quickly repaired.


All in all, it had been a colossal wasted effort.  The only good to come of the attack was that the Navy had learned lessons and was now serious about conducting the war.  This task force was going to apply those lessons and finish the job the first attack had failed at.


The task force was sprinting towards the initial launch position – not the launch position of missiles but, rather, the launch position of its aircraft.  The task force’s mission was to fly escort for the Tomahawk missiles which would be launched from four SSGNs. 


One of the lessons the Navy had learned was that overwhelming force was needed to penetrate modern defenses.  Thus, the Navy would use 600 Tomahawks in this attack.


The other lesson the Navy had learned was that Tomahawks were obsolete and non-survivable on the modern battlefield.  The carrier task force’s mission was to provide fighter escort for the cruise missiles during their long flight to the target.  The carrier’s fighters would engage the Chinese interceptors and attempt to keep them from engaging the missiles.


As the task force reached its launch point, the group’s 160 F-18 and F-35 aircraft began a leisurely launch process.  Just as the Chinese would cycle aircraft to attack the cruise missile stream, as they had done before, so too would the carriers cycle escort aircraft to meet them.  The idea was to maintain a constant rotation of new aircraft timed to arrive at the ever moving engagement point so that fresh, fully armed aircraft would be continually arriving to engage the fresh, fully armed Chinese interceptors. 


As the task force continued its leisurely launch cycle of several aircraft every few minutes, the ships continued on a course which followed the path of the missile stream.  This shortened the travel time for the aircraft, facilitated aircraft recovery, and allowed the task force’s E-2 Hawkeyes to maintain some degree of awareness of the moving battle.


As the Chinese fighters arrived and met the defending Hornets and F-35s some 30 miles in front of the leading edge of the trailing missile stream, both sides began to launch missiles at beyond visual range.  The handful of stealth fighters on both sides were immune to target locks at that range but the Hornets and Chinese Flanker/MiG copies were not.  Missiles crisscrossed the sky as fighters launched and then began their own evasive maneuvering.  The initial exchange brought relatively little result as nimble fighters maneuvered violently and dumped chaff.  A handful of fighters on both sides were downed but the majority pressed on and the fighters merged to visual range dogfighting.


It was then that the US Navy learned another lesson.  The pre-war concept of F-35s loitering outside of the immediate battle and leisurely targeting enemy aircraft was quickly found to be unworkable.  The F-35s were unable to distinguish friend from foe in the intertwined aerial mess and the F-35s that tried to launch into the tangle actually hit a few friendly aircraft as the AMRAAMs were immediately sidetracked by the chaff, flares, and multitude of targets that filled the sky and locked onto any signature that appeared.  The F-35s had no choice but to join the giant dogfight.  Unfortunately, eyeball dogfighting was not what the F-35 was designed to do and it proved to be a mediocre performer – able to hold its own but nothing more.


The combat slightly favored the Chinese with the F-18 being slightly outperformed by the Flanker/MiGs.  While the F-18/35s failed to sweep the skies, they were able to force the Chinese fighters to honor the threat and use up their air-to-air missiles which kept them from attacking the cruise missiles.


As the initial wave of aircraft emptied their loads of air-to-air missiles and began to retire, the next group of escort fighters showed up and the process repeated itself.  For the next hour, the cycle continued.  Occasional individual Chinese fighters broke through and attacked the cruise missiles but the attrition was minimal.


When the missile stream approached the Hainan SAM defenses, the Chinese fighters broke off to clear the way for the SAMs.  At the same time, the final, larger wave of escort fighters appeared.  In addition to fighters, this wave also included EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft and Hornets loaded for radar suppression.  Their job was to blind the SAM radars long enough for the cruise missiles to penetrate the layered SAM defense and strike home. 


Being at the extreme of their range, the escort aircraft could not linger.  The Navy had failed to develop the extreme long range fighter that this war demanded.  This degraded the radar suppression effort with the result that the SAMs were more successful than they should have been but still far less successful than in the first SSN missile attack.  Of the 600 attacking missiles, a bit over 500 survived to strike their targets.  The targets were not runways, which could be quickly repaired, but, instead, were fuel storage, hangars, maintenance facilities, weapons storage, command facilities, etc.  These were the elements vital to a functioning air base and their destruction could not be quickly repaired and replaced.  Similarly, the naval facilities were also targeted with dry docks, piers, submarine tunnel entrances, etc. being heavily targeted.  By the time the strike was over, Hainan had ceased to exist as a viable air and naval base and would remain non-functional for many months to come.  The road to the South China Sea had been opened for the operations to come.




Lessons and Considerations From the Story:


Real war operations will involve quantities of ships, aircraft, and missiles that we, today, cannot imagine and have not been seen since WWII.  That being the case, why are we training in ones and twos instead of tens and hundreds?


The primary purpose of the carrier should be to escort Tomahawk shooters, missiles, and Air Force bombers as well as provide local air superiority.


Carriers must operate in groups of four to mass sufficient aircraft.  The steady shrinking of the air wings is a profound mistake as is the loss of WWII and Cold War carrier operating doctrine.  The further reduction in aircraft squadron size from 12 to 10 when the F-35 reaches service will only exacerbate this misguided trend.


The Navy desperately needs a very long range air superiority fighter.  Strike aircraft are a distant, secondary need, if even that, and have no role in a modern peer war. 


The Navy desperately needs a modern, supersonic, very long range cruise missile.  The new cruise missile should include variants dedicated to penetration aids, anti-radiation, and electronic warfare.




Disclaimer:  As always, this is not a realistic combat simulation.  It is simply a more entertaining way to illustrate the various concepts and how those concepts might link together.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Death of the OCO

In a move that is heartily approved and applauded by ComNavOps, the Biden administration is proposing to eliminate the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding as a separate account from the base military budget.    


The OCO was initially set up to pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from sources outside the military’s base budget.  It had very little oversight and was quickly abused by the military which turned it into a slush fund for all sorts of non-combat items.  OCO funds were also not subject to sequestration which, again, prompted the military to use it as a slush fund.


As an example of the magnitude of the OCO, the OCO budget in 2015 was $64B(1) and $77B in 2019(3).  The FY2020 budget request contained a staggering $174B in OCO and emergency budget requests.(4)


The degree of abuse of the OCO fund is extensive, as noted below.


“You would expect to see war funding decrease as the U.S. withdraws troops from operations. But the sticking point is that the OCO budget has been used to skirt the Budget Control Act caps,” said Seamus Daniels, a program manager for defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


Approximately 70 percent of the war budget constitutes enduring costs unrelated to war efforts, he noted. (2)


The fund was supposed to have been purely for combat operations but now consists of 70% non-combat items.  That’s abuse!  It is well past time for this ill-conceived budget manipulation to end.


Those who believe that some type of combat operations funding mechanism was needed would do well to recall that ONLY Congress can declare war.  Combat operations that last decades should have long ago been either halted or war should have been declared by Congress and funded as such.  The OCO was a gross abuse of the military budgeting process and a way for the military to fund programs outside the oversight of Congress and the regulation of the sequestration legislation.


If Congress follows through on this effort to remove OCO funding, ComNavOps gives a major salute and kudos to the Biden administration.











(3)Congressional Research Service, “Overseas Contingency Operations Funding: Background and Status”, Sep-2019,



Wednesday, April 7, 2021


You recall that the investigation into the cause(s) of the two Burke collisions revealed the extensive use of waivers to allow personnel with missing or lapsed certifications to deploy and operate equipment.


You recall that the Navy and Marines are using waivers to keep pilots flight certified even though they are receiving insufficient flight hours to remain certified.


Now, the investigation into the sinking of the Marine AAV last summer that resulted in the deaths of 9 sailors and Marines has revealed – surprise! – that waivers were involved.  From the USNI News website article about the investigation’s report,


“We are going to be more directive,” he added. “Some things become non-waiverable.” (1)


So, two fatal ship collisions weren’t enough for the Marines to realize that waivers are a fatality waiting to happen?  They continued to use waivers?


Unfortunately, I do not have access to a copy of the report so I can only comment on the items discussed in the website article but that is more than enough.


The mechanical failures did not cause the loss of life. This vehicle sank over a period of 45 minutes,” said the former MEU commander, who spoke on background to discuss the investigation’s findings and the service’s follow-on actions. “There were multiple opportunities to intervene and prevent the loss of life. That’s the sad story behind this mishap and this tragedy.” (1)


No sir, the sad story is that you allowed the continued use of waivers which have been found to be a contributing factor in almost every incident in recent times.  YOU … ALLOWED … IT.


The long list of contributing factors included an absence of Marine Corps or Navy safety boats during the training event and the platoon receiving “deadlined” vehicles – AAVs that were set aside and in poor material condition. Marines lacked training and did not follow standard procedures, had inefficient flotation vests, and were operating in high seas – factors that raise serious questions about accountability at various units and senior commands, the investigation found. (1)




“We often say what we do is a dangerous business, and it becomes more dangerous when you don’t follow directed procedures or standard operating procedures and approved [tactics, techniques and procedures] that are designed and trained to make you more effective,” said a former division commander familiar with the details of the investigation. (1)


No sir, it does not become more dangerous … it becomes negligent homicide when you willfully, knowingly, and intentionally ignore the safety training and procedures, as evidenced by the use of waivers.


There is no – repeat, no – repeat, no – repeat, no – place for waivers during peacetime.  Waivers mean you failed to implement a REQUIRED certification, training, or procedure.  There is no excuse for this.  None.


If you can’t execute a task without waivers then you have no business attempting to do so.  You stop until you’ve successfully met the requirements.  It’s that simple.  Waivers are an excuse for not doing something the right way. 


Some military leaders try to rationalize the use of waivers as a means of accomplishing a ‘greater’ task or mission but this is just self-deception employed by people who lack the courage to do what is right;  who lack the courage to take a stand against incompetent leadership;  who lack the courage to say no to an unsafe task;  who lack the courage to put their own career on the line to protect their fellow sailors or Marines.  The reality is that there is no task so important in peacetime that it can’t wait for proper training and certifications to be completed.


“We’re a learning organization. We’re going to capture what we learn about this tragedy,” said the former MEU commander. (1)


No sir, you’re not a learning organization and you won’t learn anything from this.  You’ve had plenty of opportunities to learn from recent tragedies across the military and you’ve refused.  You’ve seen waivers repeatedly used and abused with fatal results and yet you continued – and still do - to use them.




Peacetime waivers should be abolished.  Pure and simple.  There is no need or excuse for waivers of any type.  Do it right to begin with and then you don’t need waivers.






(1)USNI News website, “Marine Corps Begins to Address Factors, Shortfalls Identified in Fatal AAV Mishap”, Gidget Fuentes, 2-Apr-2021,

Monday, April 5, 2021

LRASM Update

Once the hottest item on the Navy’s weapons wish list, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM, AGM-158C) was intended to be air launched from F-18s and then quickly adapted to shipboard vertical launch from standard Mk41 VLS systems.  Of late, however, the LRASM seems to have faded away.  Air launch tests have been conducted but the vertical launch effort appears to have ceased.  The most recent vertical launch progress I can find is a 2017 Lockheed funded test that demonstrated that a LRASM could push through a VLS vertical launch cell cover.(4)  The Navy also conducted a test firing of the LRASM from a container mounted at an angle, similar to the Mk141 Harpoon rack launcher.(3)  I’ve found no mention of anything more recent.



The Air Force appears to have certified the missile for use and awarded Lockheed Martin a $414M contract earlier this year to produce 137 LRASM for its B-1 bombers.(2)


DOT&E cites numerous problems with LRASM development and a paucity of testing.  A DOT&E Quick Reaction Assessment (QRA) report covering tests from 2017-2019 stated that the assessment had limited operational realism and that testing had demonstrated multiple hardware and software failures.(1)  Further, the Navy’s Modeling and Simulation (M&S) effort for the missile is incomplete and, therefore, inadequate to determine whether the system meets its key performance parameters (KPP).


Unfortunately, that’s all the information there is as the details are classified.


The LRASM is now being described as an interim anti-surface solution in response to a Pacific Fleet  2008 Urgent Operational Need request.  2008?  It’s now 2021 and the LRASM is still undergoing testing.  If this rate of progress is what passes for urgent it’s no wonder the Chinese are building their fleet far faster than we are!  Urgent?  What a travesty.


The description of the missile as an interim solution is also telling and indicates the Navy’s sudden loss of interest.


While I have no problem – and would applaud – a cessation of interest due to technical problems that cannot be solved or would cost too much to do so, I also note that this is symptomatic of the Navy’s tendency to jump from one shiny toy to the next.  Recall how the Navy went from describing the Zumwalt as the single foundation upon which the future fleet would be built to completely unwanted in the span of a few months?


Of course, without the classified details I can’t determine whether the program has run into insurmountable technical issues or just the Navy’s wandering attention span.


In any event, it now appears that the Tomahawk anti-ship missile (once called TASM but now referred to as the Maritime Strike Tomahawk in the Navy’s never ending quest to appear to be developing something new despite the TASM having been in service for years prior to being removed in 1994) has overtaken the LRASM in the Navy’s eyes and now seems to be the focus of development.






(1)Director, Operational Test and Evaluation,  2020 Annual Report, Jan 2021, p. 161







Thursday, April 1, 2021

Navy Announces Ford Class Flt II

The Navy has finally released some details about the long awaited, improved Ford class Flt II variant now scheduled to begin construction after the completion of CVN-82, the last Ford Flt I.  The Flt II carrier will be 125 ft longer than the current Ford which the Navy claims will enable a 47% increase in sortie rate.


The Navy also revealed planned modifications to the air wing composition.  The Flt II air wing will consist exclusively of F-35C squadrons in place of the traditional F-18 Hornet squadrons.  As hinted several years ago, the F-35 squadrons will be reduced in size from the current 12x F-18s per squadron to 8x F-35Cs per squadron.


Navy spokesman, Capt. Bill Melader, explained the smaller squadrons,


With fewer aircraft and a significantly larger flight deck,  aircraft crowding will be reduced and we’ll be able to greatly increase the sortie rate by streamlining aircraft deck movements and repositionings which will allow us to operate the F-35 at much higher rates.  This will more than compensate for the smaller squadron size and allow us to keep more F-35s in the air than we could have with larger F-18 air wings. (1)


The smaller F-35 squadrons will result in the air wing being reduced to around 50 aircraft including 32x F-35 (4 squadrons of 8x) plus assorted E-2 Hawkeyes, unmanned tankers, helos, and a future electronic warfare F-35 variant that will replace the EA-18G Growler.


The Navy also announced that the first Flt II Ford will be named the USS Carol Turner  to commemorate the first female chief of the Navy Dental Corps who held the position from November 2003 to August 2007.






(1)Broken Defense website, “Navy Previews Ford Class Flt II and New Air Wing Composition”, Sue Medude , 1-Apr-2021,

Monday, March 29, 2021

Why Do We Need A Strike Aircraft?

Some of the recent posts have engendered discussion about strike aircraft with people offering opinions about multi-role versus single, one-seat versus two, adapting existing aircraft versus purpose built, and so on.  In essence, everyone is endeavoring to answer the question, what kind of strike aircraft do we need?  Lost in this discussion is the most fundamental question:  why do we need a strike aircraft?  No one has addressed this and yet no discussion about strike aircraft can begin until this question is answered.  The universal reaction of commenters is that of course we need strike aircraft.  It goes without saying.  It’s a requirement because it’s always been a requirement and always will be.  Battleships strike aircraft will always be needed. 


What I just described is a paradigm – a mode of thinking that has become so ingrained that it’s not even possible to consider an alternative (see, “Knee Jerks and Paradigms”).  Most people are locked into the paradigm of strike aircraft and are incapable of considering any alternative.  Thus, asking the fundamental question of why we need strike aircraft, let alone answering it, is not even a possibility because the paradigm, itself, is the answer:  we need strike aircraft because we’ve always needed strike aircraft.


ComNavOps, in solitary contrast, has opined the we don’t need a strike aircraft, at least not as we think of it today.  I’ve brought this up in multiple posts and comments but it’s time to focus in and address the question of why we need strike aircraft … or  *gasp!*  not.


As always, let’s start with history.


Historically, strike (meaning, generically, the ability to reach out and touch someone with lethal effects) has been notable for two characteristics:


Limited Range – Prior to the advent of the aircraft, naval strike was performed by ships carrying large caliber guns.  Range was limited to a maximum of twenty miles or so and this rendered many land targets inaccessible and, therefore, immune.  The rise of aircraft changed that by providing immense range, on a relative basis.


There is a subset to the range discussion and that is the aircraft weapon’s release range.  While the aircraft may be able to fly hundreds of miles, thus greatly extending the host vessel’s strike range, the aircraft still has to approach the target fairly closely to reach weapons release range.  Stand off missiles have somewhat increased the release range but, at the same time, defending surface to air missile (SAM) ranges have hugely increased which results in the aircraft still often having to enter the defender’s engagement zone.


Nearly Non-Existent Accuracy – Prior to the advent of the aircraft, naval gunfire was wildly inaccurate and required many, many rounds to achieve a single hit.  Even the development of aircraft did not change the fundamental inaccuracy of strike.  Aircraft bombing was wildly inaccurate, requiring many bombs, torpedoes, or bullets to achieve a hit.  Dozens and dozens of aircraft, concentrated in a single, massive strike, were required to offer even a slight chance of hitting a target, whether on land or at sea.


In more modern times, precision guided weapons have offered a partial solution to the accuracy issue.  I say, ‘partial’, because the accuracy of precision guided weapons is overstated (consider the glowing accuracy claims in Desert Storm versus the substantially less impressive post-conflict documented results) and the performance of precision guided weapons in the face of peer defenses and electronic warfare has yet to be established but is absolutely going to be far less than we’ve grown used to while attacking terrorists and third world countries.  Still, precision guidance offers a significant improvement over dumb bombs.



We see, then, that the advent of the aircraft seemingly solved the first characteristic of limited range and, with the dawning of precision guided munitions, has somewhat solved the accuracy issue.  However, defenses have not been static, either.  As aircraft have increased strike range, defenses have increased defensive ranges.  As aircraft and precision guided weapons have increased accuracy, defenses have decreased accuracy by forcing greater standoff distances, employed sophisticated electronic warfare measures, deployed highly effective point defenses, constructed hardened shelters, and employed obscurants and decoys (chaff, flares, etc.), among other measures.  That leaves us with aircraft still having to penetrate robust defenses, face significant attrition, and struggle to achieve accuracy without excessive losses … not an ideal situation.  That’s asking a lot of aircraft, especially non- or marginally stealthy aircraft.  The F-18 Hornet, for example, has few of the characteristics (range, speed, stealth, armor, redundant systems, dedicated air-to-ground sensors, etc.) necessary to have a reasonable chance to penetrate a peer defended target, destroy it, and survive to return home.


So, where does this leave us as regards the question of why we need strike aircraft? 


It leaves us with the realization that aircraft are not ideally suited to the task, even stealthy aircraft.  Considering the kinds of A2/AD zones an attacker will face, the range of modern SAM systems, the effectiveness of point defenses, the development of modern electronic warfare and decoys, the steadily decreasing value of stealth, and the existence of highly effective defending air forces, the odds on successful strikes by aircraft are poor.


Well, poor odds do not alleviate the need for strike.  We still have to destroy the enemy’s assets.  Does that mean we just have to do the best we can and accept the likely high attrition rates from aircraft strikes – kind of an aerial Charge of the Light Brigade?  If so, then that’s our answer, right there.  Yes, we need aircraft strikes and our job is to maximize the effectiveness and minimize the losses, as best we can.  Of course … if there was another option … an alternative … some other way to strike …


Fortunately, there is another option … an alternative.  Cruise missiles!


Cruise missiles have almost all the characteristics for an effective strike asset and few of the limitations of aircraft.


Cruise missiles have,


  • Great range
  • Potentially supersonic speed
  • Potentially excellent maneuverability, especially terminal approach maneuvering
  • Large payloads,
  • Low cost
  • No pilot risk


Consider … for the cost of a single $100M strike aircraft carrying, say, two JSOW AGM-154C 500 lb warhead bombs, we could procure 33x $3M Tomahawk type cruise missiles with 1000 lb warheads.  That’s 33,000 lbs of explosive cruise missiles versus 1000 lb of JSOW explosive.  It makes no sense, whatsoever, to use an aircraft when cruise missiles are available.  Thus, there is no role for strike aircraft.


Cruise missiles can do everything a manned strike aircraft can except return home and their small cost renders that exception irrelevant.


Consider … a carrier strike group, even with four carriers as ComNavOps calls for, can muster a maximum of around 80 aircraft for a strike and even that’s more wishful thinking than reality (see, “Carrier Strike”).  With two major strike weapons per aircraft, that’s a total of 160 strike weapons.  By comparison, a single SSGN carries 154 cruise missiles.  There is no role for strike aircraft.




It is clear that strike aircraft have no role in modern strike against a defended target.  Cruise missiles can do everything a strike aircraft can, and more, with few of the drawbacks and none of the risk.  This makes the role of the carrier and air wing that of escort for the true strike assets (Burkes, SSGNs, and Air Force bombers) and localized air superiority.


So, the question of why we need a strike aircraft has been answered:  we don’t !


Now, instead of discussing what type of strike aircraft we need we can move on to discussing what type of long range air superiority fighter we need for our carriers.




Note:  The only role for strike aircraft is in very low threat scenarios like striking terrorists or unresisting third world countries.  The aircraft for such a role are Tucano/Skyraider types flying off a WWII Yorktown type carrier.

Friday, March 26, 2021

MUSV Update

The Navy is pursuing two unmanned vessels:


  • Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV) – weapons barge
  • Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel (MUSV) – surveillance (ISR) vessel or [later?] electronic warfare (EW) vessel


The MUSV is loosely defined by the Navy as being 45-190 ft long and around 500 tons.(1)


On 13-Jul-2020, the Navy issued a $35M contract to L3 Harris for construction of a 195 ft MUSV with an option for eight additional vessels which would bring the contract value to $281M.  The issuance of this contract has provided us with a glimpse of the appearance of the L3 Harris MUSV design.  What we see is a low silhouette vessel with few stealth features.  The bulk of the vessel displays a flat, open deck aft of a forward located, minimal pilot house.


MUSV Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel

What can the ship’s appearance tell us about its suitability for its ISR mission?



Survivability – The vessel is unarmed and not stealthy.  The hull sides appear to be nearly vertical, increasing the radar signature, and the superstructure has masts and antennae scattered about.  The open, flat deck suggests that functional modules and equipment will be carried on it which, presumably, would consist of additional radars, sensors, antennae, communications, and data processing computer enclosures, all of which further degrade any stealth the vessel might have.  Thus, we appear to have an unarmed, non-stealthy ship that is likely going to be radiating signals (both communications and sensors)  thereby pinpointing its location.  In combat, the vessel’s survivability will likely be measured in minutes.


Sensor Range – The very low silhouette suggests that the sensors will, perforce, be located very close to the water surface which means a very a limited sensor range (short horizon) for many of the sensors unless the payload includes tall masts which would impact stability and further decrease what little stealth the vessel might have. 


Seakeeping - The short, blunt bow suggests that the forward sections will be very wet in any kind of seas and the forward antennae will encounter breaking seas on a regular basis.



How do the factors just described impact the mission?


CONOPS – From various Navy descriptions, the MUSV will be an ISR vessel operating out in front of a surface group, at a distance, to provide early warning and broad area situational awareness.  If correct, this would place a defenseless, non-stealthy vessel out on its own.  Defenseless, non-stealthy vessels are known as target drones.  A Burke, in the main group, could provide some long range AAW support for the MUSV but only if the enemy obligingly flies aircraft and missiles very high so as to enable long range detection and targeting by the Burke.


As we noted, the MUSV will, presumably, be using active sensors for much of its surveillance activity.  This will broadcast the vessels location and, coupled with the lack of defensive weapons and non-stealthy nature, likely lead to fairly short combat lives for the vessels.  Worse, the radiating MUSVs surrounding the host surface group will provide the enemy with a very convenient and accurate location of the host group.


The low placement of the sensors and resultant short sensing range suggest that it will be difficult to achieve the early warning and wide area situational awareness that the Navy desires.  Instead, the vessels will only be able to monitor a fairly small area and it would require many dozens of these vessels to establish any kind of useful wide area awareness … for the short time the vessels operate before being sunk.


As I’ve stated, the Navy has jumped on the unmanned path with no foundation of proven operating doctrine.  Despite this utter lack of evidence of effectiveness, the Navy has already committed to completely restructuring the fleet, similar to the savaging and neutering the Marines are inflicting on themselves.  The Navy seems determined to move from a fleet of the most powerful ships in the world to a fleet of individually weak, nearly defenseless, network nodes with little firepower or survivability.  The Chinese have to be like kids waiting for Christmas, almost unable to contain their excitement until the moment that the Navy completes their own self-destruction and the Chinese can brush the US Navy aside as nothing more than a minor annoyance.






(1)Congressional Research Service, “Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress”, 25-Feb-2021