Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Passive Hawkeye

Without a doubt, the most important aircraft in the carrier air wing is the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and battle management aircraft, the E-2 Hawkeye.  The problem with the Hawkeye is that it is mostly an active sensor and reveals its position when it operates.  Yes, the aircraft flies offset from the carrier group because of that but it still tells the enemy that there’s a carrier in the area and where to begin looking for it. 


We’ve also noted that in future combat the E-2 will be forced to operate much farther back than desired due to the threat of very long range air-to-air missiles (see, “Goodbye Poseidon and Hawkeye”).  The Chinese VLRAAM reportedly has a range of 300 miles and a speed of Mach 6.  Hawkeyes are not survivable against such a threat.


What is needed is a stealthy, passive version of the Hawkeye.  A passive version of the Hawkeye would use:


  • IR/IRST (Infrared/Infrared Search and Track)
  • EO (Electro Optical)
  • SigInt (Signals Intelligence)
  • TCS (Tactical Camera System)


Being passive, there would be no aircraft sensor emissions for the enemy to locate and track.  In addition, if the airframe were stealthy the aircraft could operate much closer to the enemy thereby compensating for the reduced sensor range, resolution, and field of view compared to active radar.


A partial – and successful ! - model of such an aircraft is the old electronic version of the S-3 Viking, the ES-3A Shadow, which used signals analysis to provide situational awareness for the carrier group.  By all accounts, the ES-3A was quite effective and was phased out only as a [badly misguided] cost savings measure.

ES-3A Shadow - Passive Hawkeye?


Operating multiple such passive AEW aircraft would allow triangulation location of targets and increased coverage area.


Alternatively, we’ve discussed a stealthy active radar AEW aircraft based on the B-21 (see, “B-21 Hawkeye”).


The main point is that the E-2 Hawkeye is no longer survivable on the modern battlefield.  We need a fast, stealthy version of a Hawkeye, likely based on the B-21.  The aircraft can be either passive or active (ideally, both!) or an air wing could have a mix of the two.  We've got to stop simply repeating the past because it was once successful.  Building more and more Burkes just because they were once successful and screwed up every design since is wrong.  Building endless upgrades to an ancient, prop driven aircraft because it was once successful is timid and wrong.  Instead, we have to start thinking about what future combat will be like and start designing equipment and operating concepts to fit that future.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Fleet Size Determination

The Navy has been engaged in a seemingly endless pursuit of an increased fleet size with proposals ranging from 300 on up to several hundred with recent proposals seeming to cluster around 355 to 400+.  The Navy has initiated study after study with none of them tied to a geopolitical or military strategy.  In fact, the only purpose of the studies seems to be to justify a larger budget slice for the Navy.


Why do we want any particular size fleet?  If we could answer that question, the required size would reveal itself without needing pointless studies.  Unfortunately, the Navy has no answer and is simply trying to get the biggest budget slice it can.


The Navy’s floundering aside, there are several possible answers (rationales) to the fleet size question.  Broadly speaking, there are three rationales: 

  • Peacetime requirements as established by the Combatant Commanders
  • Initial war requirements
  • Extended war requirements … recognizing that we have very little capacity to build new ships in a useful time frame


Let’s look at each answer/rationale:


Peacetime Requirements – We’ve covered this in past posts (see, “Combatant Commanders and OpTempo”).  The Combatant Commander system is a badly flawed, failed system that rewards excessive claims of need (requirements) that serve no purpose other than to enhance the perceived importance of the individual Combatant Commander.  Placing the requirement generation responsibility with those who have no accountability for resource utilization is illogical, unworkable, and just plain wrong.  Requirements and accountability should never be separated.  That path invariably leads to misuse and abuse, as we’re now seeing with ships doing double deployments and maintenance being routinely deferred.  Thus, peacetime requirements – at least as established by the Combatant Commander system - are a very dubious means of establishing fleet size and the legitimate requirements can be met by a variety of means that do not require major ship types.


For example, we’ve discussed one viable alternative to major peacetime fleet commitments and that is a two tier, peace/war fleet structure where the peacetime commitments are met by very low end, non-combatant, commercial vessels akin to civilian yachts (see, “Hi-Lo, War-Peace”).


Another viable means of meeting peacetime commitments is to simply eliminate the worthless, routine deployments that accomplish nothing and home port the fleet for enhanced training and maintenance (see, “Deployments or Missions?”).  This is essentially recognition that there are no valid peacetime requirements beyond some very low level anti-piracy and policing patrols which can be met by the peace/war concept cited above.


Notwithstanding the previous discussion, one clarion fact when trying to determine peacetime fleet size is the recognition that our peacetime fleet is utterly impotent.  Our rules of engagement prohibit using naval force for anything other than a cruise missile attack every few years against some hapless target in order to send some sort of half-baked political message.  When push comes to shove, our Navy’s policy is appeasement and you don’t need a navy to appease someone.  In fact, the Navy just gets in the way of appeasement.  For example, the Iranian seizure of our riverine boats demonstrated that we won’t forcefully use our Navy even when another country commits an illegal act and seizes our vessels.  We won’t even defend ourselves so why even have a navy?


Initial War Requirements – This is a legitimate determiner of fleet size.  Obviously, we want to be prepared for the start of a war but what size fleet does that require?  The determinant of an initial war fleet size and structure is, of course, a war with China.  Unfortunately, simply knowing that does not, immediately, lead to a fleet size since it depends on what type of war we want to fight which is another way of asking, what is our geopolitical strategy and its derivative, our military strategy?  Disturbingly, we lack both.


Lacking absolutes to blame base a decision on, timid, incompetent leaders will fall back on a never ending, open-ended, ‘more of everything’ position.  The obvious problem with this is that it’s patently unaffordable in addition to lacking any link to strategic reality.  You can readily see the signs of this mentality from Navy leadership, right now.  Our ‘professional warriors’ are simply asking for more of everything with no idea (meaning, no CONOPS) of how to use it;  hence, the LCS, Ford, Zumwalt, JHSV, MLP, etc.


What we can explore, even without a concrete strategy, is the fleet size needed to weather the initial year of war until our industry can begin producing on a wartime basis.


Unfortunately, even this approach and examination requires at least some degree of anticipated strategy.  Will we implement a fairly passive, long distance blockade which requires relatively few resources, risks relatively little, and leads to an eventual negotiated peace where we try not to give up too much and call it a victory or will we implement a hard hitting, aggressive attack as a prelude to the path to total victory?  The two approaches, and every variation in between, have radically different requirements.  So, you need some glimmer of a strategy.  Again … we lack that so we’re left to guess and theorize on our own.


As always, it is instructive to examine history for insight as to peacetime fleet size.  The obvious place to look is the Navy just prior to the start of WWII.  The table below shows the fleet size and structure in the years leading up to WWII and a few years into the war.






Jun ‘38

Jun ‘39

Jun ‘40

Dec ‘41

Dec ‘42

Dec ‘43

Dec ‘44









Carriers, Fleet








Carriers, Escort
























Destroyer Escorts
























Combat Fleet








Mine Warfare


































Table adapted from:




We see, then, that we didn’t have a large navy prior to the start of WWII.  The fleet had only 216 combat ships just three and half years before Pearl Harbor.  However, what we did have was plenty of shipyards and the capacity to quickly build new ships as demonstrated by the total fleet size increasing from 380 ships in June 1938 to 6,084 by December 1944.


Simplicity was also a key as compared to today’s highly complex ships which take much longer to build.  We need simple, easily produced ship designs and if that means accepting simpler, less capable equipment, primarily electronics, then so be it.  For example, what’s wrong with WWII optical fire control for large caliber naval guns?  At the very least, it should be a backup capability.


Finally, one of the characteristics of the pre-WWII fleet was that ships were designed to be survivable with heavy armor, extensive redundancy, and large crews for attrition and damage control.  Our current ship designs lack all of those characteristics which suggests that initial ship losses will be far more than was experienced in WWII.  This implies that we would need a much larger fleet than the pre-WWII fleet in order to absorb the expected greater losses.



Extended War Requirements – It is obvious that any extended war will require a massive increase in fleet size.  Unfortunately, we currently have very little capacity to build new ships in a useful time frame.  China’s shipbuilding capacity far exceeds our own.  We can counter this one of three ways:


Option 1.  Build a very large initial fleet that can weather the initial battles and still have enough ships to constitute a powerful force for years into the war.


Option 2.  Continue our policy of appeasement so as to avoid a war and any need for a fleet.


Option 3.  Drastically increase our shipbuilding capacity.



Option 1 is patently unaffordable among many other problems with the concept.

Option 2 ensures Chinese global domination.

Option 3 is the only one that makes sense.



It is evident that the combination of poor (non-survivable) ship design, overly complex ship designs resulting in drawn out construction times, and the severe lack of shipyards (for both new construction and battle damage repair) means that the extended war requirements method of fleet sizing is not realistic.  We simply won’t be able to replace our losses, let alone increase the fleet size, in any useful time frame.  Thus, we’ll essentially fight the entire war with only the fleet we start with plus a few odd, occasional replacements.  This, in turn, means that we either need a much larger fleet or a much more survivable fleet.


Building, maintaining, and operating a much larger fleet during peacetime is not a viable option given our dysfunctional ship acquisition process.


What we’ve just concluded is that there is no realistic, militarily relevant fleet size that can meet both our peace and war needs.  That’s a depressing conclusion but one we need to face before we can begin to look for solutions.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Distributed Lethality Precedents

The Navy’s concept of distributed lethality envisions individual, or very small groups, of ships operating on their own, deep inside enemy waters, confounding the enemy’s operational and strategic thinking and paralyzing the enemy with indecision while our ships operate with impunity, springing forth to rain death and destruction on the hapless enemy and then vanishing from sight and sensor to do it all again.


So, let’s recall the historical precedents of ships operating alone or in small groups in enemy waters.


  • Force Z (Repulse, Prince of Wales)
  • Bismarck
  • Graf Spee
  • Pueblo
  • Asiatic Fleet
  • General Belgrano



And the list goes on.  I’m not going to describe the outcome of each case.  You can investigate them on your own if you’re not already thoroughly familiar with them.  Suffice it to say that each ship(s) led a very short, ineffectual life.  In fact, I can’t, offhand, think of a single example of a ship successfully operating alone in enemy waters and having any significant impact.  There may be one but the successes are extremely few, if any.


The US Navy is in the process of building a future fleet based on distributed lethality?  Why do we think that will work when the totality of history demonstrates otherwise?


The military leaders who couldn’t win in Afghanistan after two decades are the ones changing our fleet structure and we’re supposed to believe that they know what they’re doing?

Monday, October 11, 2021

We’re Doomed

An organization is only as good as its leadership.


Here’s what SecNav Del Toro says are the four biggest challenges facing the Navy:


I have characterized the most pressing challenges facing the Department of the Navy as the “Four Cs”: China, Culture, Climate Change, and COVID. (1)


Three of the four have nothing to do with the Navy’s reason for existing.  To even mention them in the same sentence as China amply demonstrates the incompetence of Navy leadership at the very top.




(1)USNI News website, “SECNAV Del Toro’s Strategic Guidance to Navy, Marines Corps”, 11-Oct-2021,

Last War, Next War

There’s an old saying that Generals are always preparing to fight the last war. 


Historically, there’s always been an element of truth to that although perhaps not as much as popularly believed.  For example, the popular notion is that the Germans perfected tanks and ‘invented’ tank warfare leading into WWII while the French were caught preparing WWI trenches (the Maginot Line) and that this was demonstrated by Germany’s armored divisions rolling over and around the French defenses.  The reality is that the French had some excellent tank designs, bolstered by innovations in production (casting), steering, armor, and tracks and had produced 6,126 tanks by June 1940.(1)  They certainly correctly foresaw the importance of tanks in the coming war.


French Char B1 bis Tank

Where they failed was in the utilization of their tanks.  They focused on a defensive doctrine, epitomized by the Maginot Line and derived from the trench warfare model of WWI.  Thus, they envisioned tanks as infantry support assets – essentially, slightly mobile pillboxes rather than highly mobile strike forces.  Just as importantly – or more so - the French tanks lacked radio communications with only command tanks possessing long range radio gear.  This hindered their ability to coordinate their tank actions.  Again, this was the result of doctrinally consigning tanks to distributed infantry support positions.  Of course, failed logistic support and the lack of air cover were also important factors.


Conversely, the Germans envisioned highly mobile tanks with mobility being preferred over armor.  Communications and coordination were seen as key to the effective use of tanks.


The point is that it is not enough to recognize that the next war will be different or even to correctly foresee which assets or technology will become major factors, as the French did with tanks;  it is also necessary to devise effective means of utilizing the anticipated assets.  Thus, we see, yet again, that doctrine and tactics are more important than equipment.


The US military has, correctly, recognized that the next war will be different.  They may even have correctly anticipated some technologies that will emerge as major factors.  However, it is quite evident that they have failed utterly to recognize the doctrine and tactics that will allow those assets to succeed.


For example, the US military has correctly identified that networks and unmanned vehicles (of all types) will assume major roles in the next war but they have failed to grasp the proper uses of those capabilities.


The US military is not preparing to fight the last war but neither are they correctly preparing to fight the next.  They are focused on the equipment rather than the doctrine and tactics to successfully use the equipment.  How many times have we heard an Admiral say, ‘we need to get hulls in the water so that the sailors can figure out what to do with them’?  Hey, you’re an admiral.  YOU’RE supposed to be the one to set the doctrine and tell the sailors, not the other way around. 


This leads – as so many posts do – back to the role of firepower.  The last war (2) was Desert Storm whose main characteristic firepower … overwhelming firepower.  Since then, we’ve set out on a path of networks and unmanned assets as a substitute for firepower which illustrates the military’s recognition that the next war will be different but also illustrates the military’s incorrect understanding of how to correctly apply the anticipated changes.  Networks and unmanned assets should be supplementing and complementing firepower, not replacing it.








(2)The designation of the ‘last war’ is a debatable point which hinges on what one considers to be a war.  Desert Storm was, clearly, a war albeit a geographically limited one against a third rate opponent.  The various Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts are less wars and more some kind of ill-conceived police action combined with nation building.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Predictions For The Navy

As long time readers know, ComNavOps writes at two different levels:


What is – where I describe current conditions and problems.


What should be – where I describe what we should be doing.


I’d like to delve into a third level for this post and take a look at ‘what will be’.  In other words, I’d like to offer my predictions for what will happen based on what is.  Note, these are by no means my recommendations.  In fact, most are horrible ideas that I would strenuously disagree with.  Instead, these are developments that I predict the Navy will do regardless of how unwise they are.  In no particular order, here are my predictions.


Big deck amphibious ships (LHA/LHD) will no longer be built once the current contracts are fulfilled.  They simply do not offer enough for the Navy to champion their cause in an era of flat budgets and lack of Marine Corps interest and support.  This prediction is, of course, subject to change when a new Commandant takes over the Marine Corps.


The LCS class will be retired early – significantly early.  This has already begun with the announcement that the first four ships will be retired early next year.  The LCS offers no significant combat capability and even the Navy is reluctantly recognizing that.  The Navy is also discovering that the LCS costs far more to operate than they had hoped.  Again, budget constraints will ensure early retirement.


No further Ford class carriers will be built once the current contracts are fulfilled.  The Ford class is hideously expensive and the Navy has been buying into the distributed lethality concept which is the antithesis of the Ford class.


The Ticonderoga class will be idled and/or retired within the next four years.


The Navy will begin replacing retiring Burke class destroyers with unmanned vessels though not, initially, on a strict one for one basis.


Air wings will further shrink to around 60 aircraft as F-35s enter service.


The Navy will not develop an unmanned strike aircraft in the foreseeable future.  The economics offer no advantage, whatsoever, for unmanned aircraft and, quite likely, are a net increase in costs.  Besides, we already have an unmanned strike aircraft – it’s called a cruise missile.


The Navy will not build an SSGN despite its obvious value.


The Navy will eliminate a carrier and decrease the carrier force level from the current legislatively mandated 11 to 10 and eventually to 9.  Recall that we only have 9 active air wings so …




Predicting the Navy’s actions and decisions is challenging because they are illogical and often seem random in nature.  Still, there is a pattern that can be discerned.  The Navy is driven by politics and budget rather than warfighting so that provides a basis for accurate predictions.  With that in mind, what are your predictions?

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Do We Know How To Do This?

Because of the last two decades of low level wars, we’ve come to believe that a couple of ships or a few aircraft constitute a significant force.  As a result, we have admirals who have never commanded a bona fide task force and commanders who have never operated a large air group.  We’ve completely lost our institutional knowledge of how to command fleets and immense fighter sweeps or air strikes.


Consider the following:


China flew 52 fighter planes toward Taiwan on Monday in the largest show of force on record, continuing the three days of sustained military harassment against the self-ruled island.


The sortie included 34 J-16 fighter jets and 12 H-6 bombers, among other aircraft, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. (1)


Now, ask yourself, could we do this?  Could we operate and coordinate 50+ aircraft on a single mission? 


Now, go further and ask yourself, could we defeat 50+ aircraft in a single battle?


As you ponder those questions, remind yourself that 50+ aircraft is just a small subset of what a real war will see.  We’ve forgotten that WWII routinely saw multiple hundreds of aircraft involved in single missions.  We’ve forgotten the threat level that a real war will bring and we’ve certainly forgotten how to carry out such missions either offensively or defensively.  China, however, is learning how to do this while we’re focused on gender integration, sensitivity training, and stamping out extremism (meaning conservative views) among the troops.

If you want to go a step further, ask yourself, could we put 50+ aircraft over Taiwan at a moment's notice, if we chose to defend the country?


China is gearing up for war.  What are we gearing up for?






(1)Navy Times website, “China flies record 52 planes toward self-ruled Taiwan”, Huizhong Wu, 4-Oct-2021,