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

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

LCS Bridge Wings

We’ve talked about the demise of the Navy’s in-house ship design expertise (General Board and BuShips) and the subsequent farming out of the design responsibility to industry and the negative consequences that engenders.  Here’s one small example of that phenomenon.  The Independence LCS variant was designed without bridge wings.  Bridge wings, as you know, are a fairly standard feature that allows the ship to be safely maneuvered in tight quarters such as when docking.


The lack of a bridge wing for the LCS was quickly found to be a problem and bridge wings were eventually incorporated into production beginning with USS Kansas City (LCS-22) and retrofitted to those ships lacking them.


In the photo below, you can see the LCS without bridge wings.



In the next photo, bridge wings have been added.


As best I can tell, the omission of bridge wings was a cost savings measure which, as it turned out, wound up costing more money after retrofitting, than it saved!  This also illustrates ComNavOps’ recurring theme about not designing WARships to a business case.  This business case design wound up costing more money, in the end, and produced a less efficient ship. 


Interestingly, the Swedish Visby corvette is a notable example of a ship without bridge wings – likely due to its extreme emphasis on stealth – but it compensates with an extensive camera system.


The Zumwalt class was also built without bridge wings and will likely never be retrofitted as the ships have been relegated to experimental use, for the time being.  I don’t know the rationale for omitting bridge wings on the Zumwalt – perhaps a stealth measure?  I also don’t know if Zumwalt has a compensating camera system.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Strike-Fighter Example

As the navy contemplates the next carrier aircraft, it is well to recall the state we’re in and how we got here.  The ‘state’ I’m referring to is a carrier air wing with only one type of combat aircraft, the F-18 Hornet.  The F-18 was designed as a combination strike and fighter aircraft and, as a combination, is badly flawed since it is optimized for neither the strike nor fighter role (see, “The Strikefighter Myth”).  It is not well suited for pure air combat as it lacks maneuverability, speed, acceleration, endurance/range, sensors, and other aspects that a modern air superiority fighter must have.  Similarly, the F-18 is not well suited for pure strike as it lacks a degree of all-weather/night effectiveness in terms of dedicated air-to-ground sensors, terrain following, targeting, speed, range, maneuverability, and other aspects that a modern strike aircraft must have.


We used to have dedicated strike aircraft such as the A-6 Intruder and dedicated fighters such as the F-14 Tomcat.  How did we neck down to a single, compromised, inadequate aircraft?  There’s a variety of reasons but they boil down to trying to build an air wing based on a business case instead of a combat effectiveness case.  The F-18 was a cost saving, business aircraft instead of a supremely effective combat aircraft.


What does this mean for our next aircraft?


The most important lesson from the F-18 is not to try to build a do-everything, combination strike-fighter.  We need to return to dedicated fighters and dedicated strike aircraft (if we even want strike aircraft ?!).


Many of you are already pounding out replies about the much hyped benefits of combination strike-fighters.  Before you finish your misguided comments, let’s take a closer look at the combination, strike-fighter concept by looking at the most famous example the Navy has of the ‘success’ of the strike-fighter.  Yeah, you know the one – it’s the only one.  It’s the Jan 17, 1991, Desert Storm mission by a pair of VFA-81 Sunliners, Lieutenant Commander Mark Fox and Lieutenant Nick Mongillo with CVW-17 flying off the USS Saratoga.  During the mission which was intended as a strike mission, the F-18 Hornets encountered enemy aircraft, shot down two of them with air-to-air missiles, and then continued on to bomb their original targets.


Wow!  This is the perfect example of why the strike-fighter combination is so awesome, right?  The aircraft are self-escorting and can fight their way through to the target, taking on all enemy aircraft, destroy the ground targets, and then fight their way back home.  What’s not to like about this?


Well, the reality is that this example was a one-in-a-million scenario that just happened to work out perfectly for a variety of reasons and is unlikely to ever be repeated and certainly not during a peer war.


An aircraft loaded with weapons for a strike mission cannot successfully engage in air-to-air combat.  The weapons load renders the aircraft non-stealthy, slow, and unmaneuverable.  The air combat word for that combination of characteristics is ‘dead’.  The only reason the F-18s were able to succeed in this scenario was the total ineptness of the Iraqi pilots. 


LtCdr Fox acknowledges this.  In his own words,


Talking about the strike-fighter concept that the F/A-18 represents, Fox has a definite opinion.  “This is the first time to my knowledge that an airplane scored a kill while carrying four 2,000-lb bombs, then continued on to hit its target.  If the MiGs had got behind us, we would have had no choice but to honor their threat.  You can’t do that with 8,000 lb of bombs.  We would have had to jettison ordnance to face them, and would have served their purpose in stopping our strike.  They failed, we succeeded.” (1)


Fox recognizes what so many outsiders don’t:  the strike-fighter is not a capable fighter in any scenario more challenging than a drone shoot down which is, essentially, what the Iraqi incident was.  The added drag and weight of bombs and missiles significantly impacts the aircraft’s already sub-optimal fighter characteristics.


VFA-81 Sunliner

As a point of interest, here’s the weapons load the aircraft carried for that Desert Storm mission :


  • 4x 2,000-lb Mk84 Low Drag, General Purpose Bomb
  • 2x AIM-9L Sidewinder
  • 2x AIM-7 Sparrow


Examining the weapons load we note that attempting to conduct aerial combat against a competent enemy peer fighter while lugging 4x 2,000 lb bombs would be suicidal.  Here’s the other overlooked aspect:  if the strike-fighter jettisons the ground attack weapons, it is left with a very minimal air-to-air weapons load – 2 Sidewinders and 2 Sparrows, in this case.  That kind of a minimal air-to-air load is starting the fight at a decided disadvantage.


A strike-fighter, by definition, carries a less than optimum load of ground attack weapons since it has to give up hard points to the air-to-air missiles and it carries a less than optimum load of air combat weapons since it has to give up hard points to the ground attack weapons.  Thus, both missions are compromised and sub-optimal right from the start.


The next issue for a strike-fighter is training time and, hence, competence.  There is simply not enough flight training time for pilots to be supremely competent at both missions.  In fact, today’s pilots are barely staying flight certified when not deployed and the use of waivers to maintain flight certification is becoming commonplace.  How can a pilot be supremely skilled at both missions when he can’t even get enough monthly flight hours to remain flight certified without waivers?


The only possible conclusion from this is that a strike-fighter can only succeed when the opponent is so incompetent as to be barely flight-capable, as was the case in the Desert Storm incident.  In any other scenario, the strike-fighter is a kill or, at best, a mission kill, waiting to happen.  It is certainly not a viable concept against a competent, peer enemy.


What does all of this tell us about the next Navy fighter?  The answer is crystal clear:  do not attempt to produce another strike-fighter.  Make the next fighter a pure fighter.  The A-6/F-14 combination is the example to follow, not the F-18/F-35.  The A-6 and F-14 were huge successes, for their time, whereas the F-18 and F-35 are mediocre and marginally successful, at best.


The next fighter must be a pure fighter.







Thursday, March 18, 2021

Flat Tire - Mission Kill?

The DOT&E report on the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) trials of the Marine’s Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) illustrates a concern related to the trend towards wheeled vehicles instead of tracked and that is the age old automobile plague of flat tires.  Many followers of armored vehicles have speculated about the performance and, therefore, advisability of substituting wheels for tracks with the obvious concerns of traction, durability, vulnerability, etc. being raised.  Now, we have the IOT&E results to offer some actual data.


ACV land mobility in the desert environment was often degraded by tire failures, which led to 2-hour mission delays while crews replaced or swapped tires. The ACV platoon did not have a hydraulic jack or other means to lift the ACV without an LVSR Wrecker. Some tire failures could be attributed to incorrect tire pressure settings in the Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) on the ACV. As crews actively monitored CTIS settings, tire failures were less frequent. (1)


So, to no great surprise, we see that wheeled vehicles are subject to flat tires.  The DOT&E report notes two main issues:


1. Modified driving may be required.  DOT&E notes that ACV drivers will have to learn to modify their driving to avoid obstacles that may penetrate tires and cause flats.  According to Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Sorrell:


“Since IOT&E, we’ve had the ability to change tires out more expediently, and since we’ve also learned how to ultimately not pop or puncture more tires, based off of terrain, and actually making smarter decisions as drivers of what we should and cannot maneuver over,” he added. “And comparable to an AAV, it’s the same. We can maneuver over anything that an AAV can maneuver – no changes in that – but it is like, hey, am I really going to roll over a bed of nails. In an AAV, I could, but maybe I’m not going to do that in an ACV.” (2)


So, the solution to flat tires is to learn what the vehicle can and cannot drive over?  Hmm …


On the face of it, that seems like a reasonable suggestion/solution and a simple matter of training.  However, a bit more thought reveals a lot wrong with that.  While avoidance of suspect obstacles may be easily achieved in a staged test under ideal conditions, what happens when the driver/vehicle is confronted with darkness, fog, rain, confusion, and the stress of combat where avoidance of certain types of terrain or obstacles is not the highest priority?  How will the driver detect and avoid suspect obstacles then?  For that matter what happens if the only immediately desirable direction happens to lead through suspect terrain or obstacles?  Does the driver abort the mission due to a ‘bed of nails’?  Is that really all it will take for an enemy to stop an ACV movement or assault … just scatter some nails?


Other than a mine, tracks don’t care what they travel over.  By using wheels, we’ll be giving up some mobility and operational capability.  We’ll have combat vehicles with obvious and common limitations.  Is this really combat-desirable?

Wheeled ACV


2. Tire replacement is problematic.  From the USNI News website,


The [DOT&E] report suggested the Marines think about “adding a spare tire kit at the section level” and find a better way to change the vehicle’s tires.


Sorrell described the tire issues as a learning experience for the Marines, who used trial and error to figure out what worked best in the field. For example, during testing, the Marines would dig a hole in the ground to change a tire because at the time they did not have tools like a jack.


“But now we have the capability, since IOT&E, to basically bring an air compressor to the field with us, be able to lift a strut up in the air underneath the tire, and change a tire out in less than 30 minutes,” Sorrell said. (2)


Doesn’t having a fast, easy method for changing tires on a wheeled combat vehicle seem like something someone in the program should have thought of long ago?  But, I digress …


Is driving over a stick or obstacle the only way to get a flat tire?  What about shrapnel and small arms fire?  Is that all it will take to stop an ACV … just shoot out a tire?  I’m not terribly knowledgeable about wheeled vehicle combat operations but is a single flat tire really enough to mission kill a vehicle and require immediate changing as seemed to be the case in the IOT&E trials?  If so, that would seem to be a poor design for a combat vehicle potentially subject to large amounts of shrapnel and small arms fire.


On a closely related note, the ACV size and weight present some recovery challenges.


The weight, height, and size of the ACV made recovery of a disabled ACV challenging and time consuming, at times requiring additional LVSR support. When vehicles sustained severe damage to suspension components or became mired, one or more LVSRs were required to recover the ACV. LVSRs are on the Table of Organization for the Assault Amphibian Battalion, and Marine Corps Maintenance Battalions. Additional LVSRs may be required to support future ACV platoon or company-level operations. (1)





I find myself deeply troubled by the US military’s push toward wheeled vehicles.  I don’t follow the issue closely enough so I don’t know whether it’s been carefully studied or not but my vague impression from reading bits of discussion over the years is that this is another example of an assumption based on no tests and no experience.  Common sense would suggest that tracks are far superior in terms of ruggedness and performance.  There may be financial arguments for wheeled vehicles but, as we’ve often stated, combat assets should never be designed to business cases.  Combat vehicles should be designed for maximum combat performance and all other factors assume a secondary importance.


I’ll continue to follow this with great interest.  As I say, I’m not a combat vehicle expert.






(1)Director, Operational Test & Evalution, “FY2020 Annual Report”, Jan 2021, p. 121-123


(2)USNI News website, “Marines Defend ACV Development as Program Matures”, Mallory Shelbourne, 19-Feb-2021,

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Cruise Ships

I’ve repeatedly stated that the Navy has moved from designing WARships to designing glorified cruise ships.  I’ve also repeatedly stated that we can significantly reduce ship construction costs by eliminating excessive crew comfort features.  Of course, that goes hand in hand with eliminating interminable deployments in favor of home port based training, maintenance, and occasional short duration missions.  The eliminated crew comforts can be provided by shore based facilities.


I stumbled across a partial listing of ‘cruise ship’ features of the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) which demonstrates some of the non-combat, non-essential, cruise ship, crew comforts that were built into the ship.  Here is a partial list of some non-combat, non-essential crew comforts that were part of the USS Kitty Hawk (1):

Closed Circuit Television:  6 channels  [if the crew is working hard, there won’t be time for watching TV]
Average Soda Consumption Daily:  5,040 cans  [that explains some of our weight problems]
Public Works Force:  300 personnel  [what is this???]
Number of ATMs:  4 (Navy-specific)  [if you eliminate ship’s stores, you don’t need money aboard ship]
Chaplains:  3  [make them shore based]
Ship's Retail Stores:  2  [it’s a WARship, not a shopping mall]
Dentists:  5  [make them shore based]
Barber Shops:  2  [make them shore based]
Exercise Facilities:  5  [if the crew is working hard, there won’t be any interest in exercise during off duty time]
Lawyers:  2  [make them shore based]
Post Office:  1  [pick your mail up on shore]
Pounds of Mail Processed Daily:  2,500 pounds  [how many sailors must be employed processing and distributing 2500 lbs of mail every day?]

This list is, by no means, comprehensive.  It was just a partial list of some interesting features. Consider, though, the number of compartments even this partial list requires and the number of sailors working to support these non-combat, non-essential functions and you can see where significant savings begin to accrue by eliminating them.  I'm sure a comprehensive list would be 2x-10x larger!


Consider, also, the secondary effects of eliminating these functions.  By reducing the number of ‘comfort support’ crew, you also reduce the number of crew supporting the support crew.  You need fewer cooks, fewer laundry workers, etc.  You can also reduce the number/size of galleys, food storage, water generation and storage, laundry, heads, berthing, etc.


Then, there’s the tertiary effects.  Once you’ve eliminated the crew comfort functions and the facilities and people supporting them, you wind up with a smaller, lighter ship and can design in smaller engines, smaller HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), smaller distillers, smaller chillers, and so on.  It’s a domino effect of savings … all from eliminating cruise ship comforts.

Interesting, huh? It shows how much we've moved from designing WARships to designing cruise ships.


USS Kitty Hawk





(1)Kitty Hawk Vets website,

Saturday, March 13, 2021

If The Navy Had Its Way

We’ve talked about the various attempts by the Navy to early retire the Aegis cruisers among other misguided actions.  Thank goodness Congress slapped them down.  However, chillingly, have you ever thought about the consequences if Congress and other factors hadn’t intervened over the years?  Just for fun, let’s pull together all the Navy’s attempts and see what kind of Navy we’d have if the Navy had gotten its way the last couple of decades.


Here’s what the Navy has attempted to do:


  • Retire all the Ticonderoga Aegis cruisers
  • Build 55 LCS
  • Early retire 2 carriers at their mid-life refueling and overhaul points (Washington in 2014 and Truman in 2019)(1)
  • Build a class of LCS-based frigates







Carriers (Nimitz, Ford)



Cruisers (Ticonderoga)



Destroyers (Zumwalt, Burke)



Frigate (LCS)








a Assumes a 20-ship build as with the future Constellation frigate class




What jumps out from the table is the shift that would have occurred from the current number of high end and highly capable ships to low end, less capable ones.  That is what the Navy wanted to do.  Thankfully, Congress and other factors stopped them.








(1)Breaking Defense website, “Pentagon To Retire USS Truman Early, Shrinking Carrier Fleet To 10”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 27-Feb-2019,

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Initial Ticonderoga Retirement

I get tired of hearing people call for ship designs with 40-50 year service lives and designed in upgradability.  Aside from being an extremely questionable concept, the reality is that the Navy almost always retires perfectly good ships far earlier than their service life limit calls for.  The only exception is carriers and that, only to an extent. 


For example, the Ticonderoga class cruisers were designed with a 35 year service life and yet the first five ships of the class were retired barely halfway through their designed lifespan.  The actual service lives are shown in the table below.





Years at Retirement

CG-47, Ticonderoga


CG-48, Yorktown


CG-49, Vincennes


CG-50, Valley Forge


CG-51, Gates




Why were these ships retired?  The Navy has offered numerous explanations with most centering around the ineffectiveness of the twin arm missile launchers and the prohibitive cost to upgrade the ships to VLS.  We’ve already demonstrated the fallacy of the claim that arm launchers are substantially inferior … they’re not (see, “VLS versus Arm Launchers”)!  They’re just as good and, in some circumstances, better than VLS!


At the very least, the twin arm launcher Ticonderogas were, and still are, the equal or superior to any other ship in the world.  Does it make sense to have thrown them away?  Even if one believes that VLS is superior, the difference in performance is minimal and nowhere near enough to justify early retirement of five world class ships.

USS Ticonderoga


For the sake of further discussion, let’s accept the Navy explanation at face value.  This perfectly illustrates the folly and the degree of self-deception in designing a ship to have a long service life and undergo modernization – it just doesn’t happen!  When the time comes to modernize, the Navy always claims that the ship under consideration is too expensive and obsolete to modernize.  This was true for the Spruance, the Los Angeles, the Perry, the Tarawa, the Ticonceroga, and other classes.  If we know, with near 100% certainty that the ship won’t be upgraded and modernized and will, in fact, be retired early, why do people persist in trying to argue for long design service lives?  Clearly, the rationale - that modernization will occur - is false.


ComNavOps has argued for building ships with a 20 year life span.  In this example, two of the five ships didn’t even make it that far!  I guess I need to reduce my goal!


Had the Ticonderoga class been designed for a 20 year life, maintenance costs would have been far cheaper since maintenance costs go up with time.  In addition, the mythical modernization would have actually occurred because brand new ships would have been built at the 20 year mark.  New ships … cheaper to operate … it’s a Navy dream come true!


Let’s stop deluding ourselves and acknowledge that designing long service lives is pointless, useless, more expensive, and results in a fleet of older, less capable ships.  It is obvious that the Navy has no interest in properly maintaining ships to achieve their full service life and even less interest in performing mid-life modernizations.  The Navy attempted to retire the entire remaining Ticonderoga class early and proposed foregoing the mid-life RCOH for a couple of carriers.  In each case, Congress has slapped the Navy down and yet the Navy keeps trying to early retire its ships.  The Navy uses long service lives as a ‘bait and switch’ tactic to obtain funding from Congress. 


Having acknowledged that (admitting a problem is half the battle!), we can then begin a rational force structure design process based on 20-year ship lives and continual, timely modernization (new ships).  The result will be a younger fleet with lower construction costs and significantly lower maintenance and operating costs, as well as a more robust shipbuilding industry thanks to building twice as many ships.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Speak And Remove All Doubt

There’s an old and very wise proverb that goes,


It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool then to speak and remove all doubt.


After reading the latest memo from SecDef Austin, it is clear that he is in the process of removing all doubt.


Austin issued a memo to the Department of Defense in which he outlined his priorities.  The memo has no redeeming value, whatsoever, and removes all doubt about the SecDef.  He lists three top level priorities (1):


  • Defending the Nation
  • Take Care of Our People
  • Succeed through Teamwork


Well, that pretty much says nothing but let’s see what Austin's more detailed priorities reveal:



Defending the Nation


Defeat Covid-19 – Austin has this to say about the virus,


The greatest proximate challenge to our Nation’s security is the threat of COVID-19.


I’m sorry but that’s garbage and patently false.  The virus has certainly disrupted our economy [well, the virus hasn’t, it was the media driven panic frenzy that led to the draconian measures which disrupted our economy – none of which had any positive impact on the virus] but it is not a threat to national security.  That’s not even remotely true.  For 99% of infected people, the virus is just a nuisance and for a very large percentage, it is asymptomatic.  This virus is barely worse than the common flu.


Prioritize China as the Pacing Threat – I’m on board with this although Austin reduces the topic to a PowerPoint cavalcade of nearly incomprehensible buzzwords,


We will ensure that our approach toward China is coordinated and synchronized across the enterprise to advance our priorities, integrated into domestic and foreign policy in a whole-of-government strategy, strengthened by our alliances and partnerships, and supported on a bipartisan basis in Congress. (1)


Address Advanced and Persistent Threats – This appears to be addressing the remaining threats of Russia, Iran, NKorea, and terrorism.  That’s great but, unfortunately, the method of addressing those threats would appear to be appeasement,


… using all of our tools to lower the risk of escalation with our adversaries … (1)


You don’t address enemies by doing everything you can to ‘lower the risk of escalation’.  That’s the definition of appeasement.  You address enemies by demonstrating that you have the courage, will, and capability to crush them and then you put that determination and capability into action from time to time so as to impart a bone-deep lesson.


Innovate and Modernize – The scary part of this priority is,


Where necessary, we will divest of legacy systems and programs that no longer meet our security needs, while investing smartly for the future. (1)


This is the same failed policy we’ve been pursuing of abandoning firepower in pursuit of some magical offset that will grant us victory through technology and ignores our enemy’s plans and capabilities.  For example, the Marines have dropped legacy tanks in pursuit of some kind of magic hidden outpost where they will perform anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare in some unexplained, invisible manner.


Tackle the Climate Crisis – Setting aside the utter lack of proof that there is such a thing as climate crisis (go study historical climate cycles dating back millions of years and you’ll see that we’re not experiencing anything noteworthy), it is not the job of the military to solve a climate issue.  This is a betrayal of the military’s responsibility to the nation.



Take Care of Our People


Grow Our Talent – This is just PowerPoint garbage.


Build Resilience and Readiness – This would be a great priority except that it doesn’t mean what it says.  Here’s what it really means,


We maintain and enhance force readiness and develop the capabilities we need to protect America when we fully embrace a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and thought. (1)


This is diversity and social engineering masquerading as a military goal.  Readiness is a function of repair depots, maintenance, training, etc., not diversity. 


Ensure Accountable Leadership – Well this one is already out the window.  If there was any accountability, Austin would be gone after penning this piece of garbage.  Instead, this is all about political removal of conservative beliefs.


… working to stamp out extremism … (1)



Succeed Through Teamwork


Join Forces with Allies and Partners – This is the completely discredited concept of sharing the military responsibility so that we don’t have to maintain as strong a military and can redirect our funding to social programs.  The Thousand Ship Navy was a failed example of this.


Partnership with Our Nation - ?????  Partner?????  Would the military 'partner' with someone else?  Are they taking bids from various countries?  This is some kind of garbage about … well … I really don’t know what this is other than it’s a waste of the paper it was written on.


Unity Within DoD – More compete meaningless gibberish.





Well, there you have it … the defining tome from your top military figure.  Impressive, huh?  I would have a hard time intentionally writing a more worthless piece of garbage and Austin meant this to be serious.  I had to check to see if it was April Fool's Day but, sadly, it wasn't.  Almost none of the memo addressed warfighting, the DoD’s main responsibility, and what little touched on it was so corrupted by social engineering and utter gibberish as to be incomprehensible and worthless.  As worthless a document as I’ve seen. 


SecDef Austin has spoken and removed all doubt.






(1)USNI News website, “SECDEF Lloyd Austin’s Message to the Force”, 4-Mar-2021,