Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Decline of Firepower

We’ve touched on this in posts and comments but it’s time to bring it together and hammer it home.  The Navy is headed down a path of smaller, weaker unmanned vessels as replacements for the retiring Ticonderogas and soon to be retiring Burkes.  The result is a loss of missiles, guns, and sensors – what we collectively call firepower and what is responsible for the actual destruction of the enemy.  Data and networks don’t destroy the enemy … firepower does.  Data and networks enable firepower;  they don’t replace it.  Unwisely, the Navy is actually replacing firepower with data and networks.  Let’s take a look at the magnitude of the problem.


Let’s start by looking at what we currently have in the way of surface ship firepower.  Note that the following analysis is somewhat affected by what one chooses to classify as existing versus replacement.  For example, is a Burke that is currently being built considered as existing or replacement?  I’ve made my best attempt to present a reasonable interpretation of what’s coming and what’s going but one can easily and validly debate the classification of a few ships.  However, the classification of a few ships won’t change the overall conclusion so view the analysis in that light:  an overall assessment rather than a rigid tally since we have no way of actually knowing what will happen beyond the next few years in terms of retirements or new builds.  We may find that the Navy early retires even more ships than anticipated (the Navy routinely does that!) or we may find that the Navy builds a few more Burkes than anticipated (the Navy loves them!).


With that in mind, here’s a table showing the current surface force ships and their firepower as measured by missiles and guns.






VLS / Ship

Total VLS

Guns / Ship

Total Guns




















a current, building, or on order




I have not included the LCS or Zumwalts because they have no useful, effective combat capability.


Now, let’s look at the replacements that are coming.  To be fair, we don’t have a lot of details on the unmanned vessel configurations, yet, so we’ll have to use our best guesstimates based on the little information we have and based on comparisons to similar size vessels.  Recall that the Navy has identified two classes of unmanned replacement surface vessels:  a small unmanned surface vessel (SUSV) which will be an unarmed sensor platform and a large unmanned surface vessel (LUSV) which will be a mini-VLS barge with few, if any sensors.  Note that the Navy nomenclature of “large” unmanned surface vessel is a joke since the LUSV is described as being 200-300 ft long and 1000-2000 tons which would make it significantly smaller than the 380 ft long, 3500 ton LCS.  So, here’s the anticipated replacements.





VLS / Ship

Total VLS

Guns / Ship

Total Guns





















a  guesstimate based on announced plans for the moderate future

b  estimate based on size of LUSV compared to frigate



There has been talk of a future new cruiser but given the trend towards unmanned vessels and the extreme uncertainty of budgets combined with the absolute certainty of ever-increasing ship construction costs, the likelihood of the proposed new cruiser making it to production is far from certain and, realistically, is probably unlikely.




Now, let’s combine the data and compare the current firepower to the replacement firepower.





Avg VLS / Ship

Total VLS

Total Guns














The problem, the decline in firepower, absolutely jumps off the page.  The total VLS cells are being hugely reduced.  We’re going to lose mammoth amounts of firepower.


In addition to the immense loss of VLS cells, we’re also going to lose almost all of our already meager naval gun firepower.  In fact, there are no plans to replace the 5” gun, at all.  The replacement Constellation class calls for the Mk110 57mm (2.2”) which is barely more than a machine gun and there has been no mention of a gun of any kind on the LUSV.


Now, we have to be fair and assume that additional ships will be built in the future to continue replacing the steady stream of retiring Burkes but all indications are that the Navy will switch to mostly or completely small (although they call them large!) unmanned vessels with fractional weapon capacities so the declining firepower trend identified here will continue or accelerate.  In fact, the Navy has stated publicly that some portion of the Burkes will be replaced by unmanned vessels.  As stated above, the possible appearance of a few more replacement Burkes doesn’t change the overall assessment.


It’s worse than just the loss of firepower and naval guns.  Other sources of firepower are declining, also.


Submarines.  The long known and anticipated shortfall in submarines has begun and will result in a decline from the current 68 subs to around 39.  Even the SSBN replacements will be reduced from the original 18 (later 14 + 4 SSGN) subs with 24 missile tubes to 12 subs with 16 tubes which is a 43% decrease in total missile tubes even compared to the current 14 SSBNs.


Helicopters.  To the extent that helos represent firepower, the 99 Ticonderoga and Burkes represent a helo force of 2x per ship for a total of 198 helicopters.  Compare this to the replacement helo capacity of 20 Constellation frigates with a single helo each for a total of 20 helos.  The LUSV, of course, has no helo capability.












Sensors.  Sensors enable firepower.  The contribution of sensors to the firepower assessment is difficult to quantify but hundreds of Aegis systems will be replaced by the handful of Constellation small SPY-6 Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) and unknown Small Unmanned Surface Vessel sensors.


Carrier Air.  We’ve already seen a steady decline in air wing size from the 80-90 of the Cold War era to the current 65 or so.  As F-35C squadrons are activated, the Navy has stated that squadron size will be decreased from 12 aircraft to 10.  We’ve also seen that the number of combat aircraft has been effectively decreased by 6-12 aircraft due to their use as tankers although the Navy hopes that the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker will free up those aircraft for their intended use as combat aircraft.






To be fair, it’s much easier to see what’s going to be retiring from the fleet in the near to moderate future than to see what will be joining the fleet.  It is quite possible, likely even, that more ships will join the fleet than are noted in this post but the addition of a handful of extra ships does not significantly change the conclusion.


We seem to have forgotten that, ultimately, even after you’ve collected every bit of data there is about your enemy, you eventually have to destroy their assets to achieve victory.  That requires firepower and lots of it.  We’ve lost sight of that elementary fact.  We’re so focused on data and networks and AI-assisted command and control that we’ve forgotten about the firepower side of things.


Firepower?  Yeah, it’s declining and in a big way.


  1. What I don't understand is where goes all the navy budget, that can be at least 10x of other western countries like e.g. France.

    I haven't look for data, but by what I recall the navy doesn't have 10x the ships the French navy has, but much less.


    1. As the surface force goes, it really gets used up in basic construction and the actual air defense radar and combat systems. Even a lightly armed OPC costs more than full combat ships built elsewhere. There is no incentive for the shipbuilders to really invest in keeping the yards competitive. When that happens its when we the taxpayer hand them money to do so.

    2. The LCS program ended up costing what, forty billion dollars?
      And it delivered nearly zero combat capabilities.

      That's where the extra budget goes.

    3. There are 2 problems there. The Navy chose to use that inefficient system to procure a non useful ship. Even when they learn to buy the right ship again, the problem I describe does not just go away. Its why I look at OPC as an example of the opportunity. 8 yards bid on that ship initially. Want competitive yards and affordable ships in at least one section of the fleet. Get bids out for flights of corvettes on the regular. And I don't mean LCS.

  2. Well, let's look at the positive side: USN is doing some testing....

    Not a huge fan though of using a SM6 as an for VLS tubes being "lost" as we get rid of Ticos and early Burkes, wonder if this isn't some back door way of getting them somewhat back since USN might be thinking you only need to load up on SMs instead of mix load out of SM and Tomahawks?

    1. "USN might be thinking you only need to load up on SMs instead of mix load out of SM and Tomahawks?"

      They might well be thinking this but it would be stupid. The SM-6 is not a ship killer. The warhead is 140 lb fragmentation. That's a shrapnel producing warhead intended to fill the air in the path of an incoming missile and damage it. Fragmentation does not kill ships.

      In contrast, the Harpoon has a 488 lb high explosive warhead. That's a ship 'hurter', if not a ship killer.

      If you want to go the frag route, the LRASM has a 1000 lb penetrating frag warhead.

      The Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile will, presumably, have a 1000 lb warhead of some type.

      The use of a SM-6 is an acknowledgement by the Navy that they don't have an anti-ship cruise missile, at this time. It's an acknowledgement of acquisition and readiness failure, not a demonstration of success.

    2. Post coming on this exercise.

    3. A 140-pound warhead may damage a ship's sensor and/or communications systems, inflicting a "mission kill". It's not guaranteed, though; and using the Standard Missile against a surface target, will be an act of desperation.

      IIRC, the missile does have greater range than the 5" gun; but the Navy will surely accuse of incompetence and then court martial any Captain who allows an enemy ship to get within firing distance of the 5" gun.

    4. "surely accuse of incompetence and then court martial any Captain who allows an enemy ship to get within firing distance of the 5" gun."

      Why? We seem to believe that our various sensor platforms can get within passive detection range of an enemy ship so why wouldn't the enemy be able to get close to us? I'm not asking a real question, just pointing out the one-sided thinking that afflicts our military leaders. Our assets can cruise leisurely throughout enemy air and water but they can't approach us.

      If both sides are operating on purely passive sensors, there might well be a lot of stumbling across each other at visual distance!

    5. "They might well be thinking this but it would be stupid. The SM-6 is not a ship killer."

      True. But, the SM-6 is the closest we have to a supersonic antiship missile. A few hits could damage a ship enough to take it out of action for a while or weaken her enough for a follow on attack to succeed.

    6. "But, the SM-6 is the closest we have to a supersonic antiship missile."

      If we think that supersonic speed is required for an effective anti-ship missile - even with a small frag warhead - then we're wasting a lot of time and money developing sub-sonic anti-ship missiles like NSM, LRASM, and Tomahawk. If, on the other hand, we think a large warhead on a dedicated anti-ship weapon is required then we're wasting a lot of time screwing around with SM-6. Both cases can't be true. It's one or the other.

      SM-6 is around $4.5M each. NSM is around $2M each. So, even the argument that SM-6 is useful against smaller vessels is invalid. Why would we use a $4.5M missile when we have a $2M, dedicated anti-ship missile available?

      If it's simply a matter of inventory and we lack NSMs then that's a condemnation of Navy leadership and procurement which leads back to my suggestion that using the SM-6 demonstrates that the US Navy does not, currently, have an anti-ship missile in available quantities and that Navy leadership has allowed the fleet to reach such a low point in combat readiness that we have no anti-ship weapons available!

    7. They just made public they can target twice as far with SM-6 than NSM. One more reason I want the NSM on MH-60s.

    8. "Both cases can't be true. It's one or the other."

      Not really as several other navies field subsonic and supersonic antiship missiles. For example, Taiwan's Hsiung Feng II is a high-subsonic missile while the Hsiung Fang III is a supersonic missile. And, going after ships is a secondary role for the SM-6. Many weapons have been used in other roles they weren't originally designed for.

      As for cost, a small volley of SM-6s is well worth the cost if it prevents the loss of $1.8 billion Burke or a similar capital ship. But, the issue is also platform related. NSMs are set to equip the Constellation-class and LCS. The NSM, as far as I know, are not VLS compatible. They would have to be canister mounted on the Burkes. Conversely, Tomahawks are limited to the Burkes.

      You're right that the Navy isn't investing enough into antiship missiles. If I had my druthers, I'd develop a surface launched LRASM.

    9. Regardless of warhead size, I have to think someone out there is working on making the missiles smart enough to hit at or below the waterline.

  3. The emasculation of firepower you describe is so bad, it makes me wonder if it is purposely done (evil)....or it is done out of sheer incompetence(inexcusable)....or that there exists some super secret kill chain system which does not rely on ships and that would only be revealed in time of existentialist war (unlikely).

    1. If you add the decline of fire power with the debacle of Ford, Zumwalt, and the LCS it looks very bad. Add in the early retirement of perfectly good Los Angeles class subs and you have to wonder. There are people and groups through out the Government that hate it as it was founded. Why should the military be any different?

    2. "If you add the decline of fire power with the debacle of Ford, Zumwalt, and the LCS it looks very bad. Add in the early retirement of perfectly good Los Angeles class subs and you have to wonder."

      Poor leadership and management made the Navy retire older but still serviceable ships, to free up resources for newer but unproven ships- an extreme example being the proposal to retire the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), in favor of another the Gerald R. Ford class ship. IF the Zumwalt and the LCS proved themselves according to plan, within the timeframe the Navy specified, then the Spruance class destroyers and Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates' early retirement could be justified- BUT those programs suffered delays, and outright failures of systems they were designed around.

      Shouldn't any competent leader account for the possibility of delays, failed systems, and a need for alternatives? The Navy is a man who set his own house on fire, expecting the insurance policy to pay for a newer and better house, to be built AFTER his current home burned down; now he's out on the streets, begging for alms he won't get, because no one trusts such a reckless person.

    3. "then the Spruance class destroyers and Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates' early retirement could be justified"

      I've got to disagree, here. While I understand your point about allowing for the possibility of failure, the reality is that even if the Zumwalt and LCS had come in on time, on budget, and with specified capabilities, they would have been a poor trade for the Spruance and Perrys because the Zumwalt and LCS were born into a world which had changed too drastically from the one they were intended for. By the time they arrived, there was no need for a Zumwalt or LCS.

      What this illustrates is the problem with the lag time between concept and entering service. If that time gets too long, the ship (or aircraft) will be obsolete or irrelevant before it enters service because the threats it was designed for have changed.

      I've got a post coming on this time lag.

  4. Maybe this is the cavalry in me speaking, but firepower wins....always.


  5. Fundamental problem is that Ticonderogas is too old to suit current and future competitions with other superpower - China. Navy needs a replacement of Ticonderogas but the DDG(X) is only at concept stage. Upgrade Ticonderogas is not a good option as the ship itself is not compatible with many new systems.

    Navy made serious strategic blunder of making LCS and DDG-1000 after the Soviet Union's collapse. Navy though that their new mission is to support land invasion than fight another competent rival.

    Today, naval battles between superpowers tend to be beyond visual range (BVR) thus both reconnaissance and long range fire power are important. Use unmanned LUSV to carry missiles need further test as it is not perfect. If you control all LUSV with a central command, your opponent would try to destroy your command control center. If they are successful, all your LUSV become directionless. If you have one manned ship control one LUSV, then, it sounds ridiculous (why not just one manned ship). Operate LUSV is much more complicated than fly a drone. You see many nations fly drones but very few operate unmanned ships.

    Of course, unmanned ships have roles which they can play well, for instance, mine sweep (operate by nearby manned ships) and hunt submarines (they only need to locate once, then, the submarine is close to death even if it sinks the unmanned ship).

    1. I'm concerned jamming, hacking, and other electronic warfare techniques will degrade our ability to control unmanned vehicles, to uselessness. If jamming prevents us from operating an unmanned ship unless the control ship is within spitting distance of the operational area- and thus, well within range of enemy weapons- then the unmanned ship will offer ZERO protection for the control ship's crew.

    2. No reason we don't start building a line of site local network. Use UAVs to stretch the horizon.

  6. Sometimes when I try to understand an Admiral's or SES's motives, I play a little game. I assume the worst. What's the worst reason they could possibly have for saying what they say and doing what they do? Then I ask myself, "How well does that reason explain what they say and what they do?"

  7. Don't worry the (3) DDG-1000s will have hypersonic weapons by 2025.

    Now if the oil coolers can only work long enough to get them out of port and back.

    1. In the upcoming war with China, I have this vision of the navy leasing ocean class tugs and mounting a 25mm after painting them gray.

      Each one pulling an LCS into battle. Three together pulling a 1000 with four army gennies on the fantail for power.

    2. (1 of 2)

      “I have this vision of the navy leasing ocean class tugs… Each one pulling an LCS into battle. Three together pulling a 1000 with four army gennies on the fantail for power.”

      This has *inspired* me.

      The Distributed Lethality paradigm/dumpster-fire has finally smoldered out, and from its ashes the next Revolution in networked combat platforms is here - Distributed Systems.

      Building on the historic tactical offset provided by Distributed Lethality, the Distributed Systems network architecture enhances the fighting forces survivability by networking together independent platforms for ALL warship systems;

      Fleet Oiler - evolution of current oiler, significant cost reduction is achieved by offloading all non-tanker functions. Likely a USV, fuel transfer can be automated to reduce crew-associated costs.

      Tug - Completely stripped down commercial tug, no CIWS necessary, no crew, just a propulsion system. To achieve cost targets we leverage our fleet oilers which can be operated in proximity, allowing even most fuel storage to be eliminated.

      Generator - Again a USV with none of the capabilities provided by the other ships. An ideal COTS solution to avoid the Navy’s acquisition SNAFU would be a family of barges with sufficient capacity to transport standard mobile generators. Crew would be required to set up the generators and electrical connections to neighboring ships and perform maintenance, but wouldn’t be permanently stationed.

      Pilothouse – A minimal barge with a virtual bridge dedicated to monitoring the largely automated USV navigation systems. Situational awareness is provided by 360 EO/IR cameras on all ships as well as helicopters operated from dedicated hangar barges.

    3. (2 of 2)

      Hangar barge – just what it says, sized for one MH-60 or two smaller UAVs. Crewed permanently, but with rotating shifts and no onboard crew berthing/amenities. Sailors can bring a bagged lunch for one meal a day and relieve themselves over the deck for 8-12 hours a day while at war; the berthing/amenities ships will make up for this. A similar crew concept is applied on all crewed platforms.
      C2 Center – Nearly identical to the Pilothouse, but with a CIC function. Sensors for
      Sensors/Comms – To achieve the best economy on a jamming-resistant network we deploy a large high-gain antenna on a small number of large hulls serving as central relays, and a minimal comms link on all other vessels. This antenna as well as the fleet AAW radar benefit from height as well and increase the metacentric height of the ship, requiring it to have a large displacement and ample stability. It seems attractive to take these necessarily large hulls and add functions to them, but despite the “free real estate” this comes at the cost of putting more eggs in one basket, and only the functions with the greatest benefits and cheapest costs should be integrated, allowing more of these relatively high-end assets to be deployed. The most useful functions would be internal power generation (possibly excess), propulsion (possibly excess), comm/sensor operating stations, operating/maintenance crews and their berthing, but minimal amenities.
      Berthing Barge – Larger hull to achieve good economy, but not outsized to avoid excess vulnerability of these ships which will always contain – in aggregate – 50-66% of crew that are off-duty. In addition to berthing and basic daily services, this vessel will have port facilities for regular crew transfers via air/sea-lift.
      Amenities Cruiser – Very large hull with fleet-wide amenities. Sue the UN to get it listed as a hospital ship and/or integrate it with hospital ships. Paint it white with a red cross, and cross your fingers it doesn’t get SinkEx’d, but write it off as an acceptable loss that will enrage our sailors and the public alike if and when it does. This ship is for less regular amenities including exercise equipment, non-mess dining, office/meeting spaces, and general recreation areas. It shouldn’t be a cruise ship, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad place to start.
      Battle barges – from EW/EA to CIWS, 5 inch guns, and VLS cells, we build minimal USVs that integrate only those systems for which the benefits of integration clearly outweigh the increased cost of the individual platform, such as the magazines for the guns/VLS and the electrical generation for the EW system.

      While (hopefully obviously) somewhat satirical, I’d like to see this given a serious critique. I didn’t approach the paradigm perfectly, and though I don’t think it’s actually the future of naval warfare, I do think the general concept illustrated here has some merit… as long as we’re not forgetting the battle barges (firepower).

    4. "C2 Center"

      That was incomplete. Add:

      Sensors for AAW, ASW, ASuW, and air traffic control will be provided by Sensor/Comms ship, UAVs, and other platforms, and routed through Sensor/Comms ship to C2 Center.

    5. China is also active on USV. Look at this showed in an exhibition for export:

      It has AESA radar, electro-optics, machine gun, 8 VLS, sonar, ... just like a destroyer.

      No information shows that PLA equip this itself but the manufacturer promotes it to small nations to use them to defend their coastal lines.

      A common issue for USV is that once it is far away and close to enemy, your signal strength is weak in comparison with enemy's thus easy to be jammed. You may lose control of the USV. I guess that is why China promotes them as coastal defense tools as land based stations can provide more electrical power to generate strong signals.

  8. Example of a Chinese unmanned surface vessel. It is for export:

    It has area array radar, likely an AESA. It also has optic sensor. There is a machine gun.

  9. You are making an assumption you shouldn't, not at face value at least. You are assuming that the loss of NAVAL firepower is automatically a bad thing and you assume that the loss of NAVAL firepower equals a similar loss of overall US military firepower.

    To be explicitly clear, I am not saying you are unequivocally wrong and that these assumptions are completely wrong. There may well be serious issues resulting from the reduction in VLS cells. But I am stating that you cannot simply assume so across the board. The navy is but an element of the US military, not the whole of it, and no longer one who can and should operate more or less independently. It is also one whose importance in the overall picture wanes further with each passing day.

    For example, to what degree will that loss of VLS cells be replaced by land-based long range missiles? By long range stand-off air-launched weaponry? By hypersonic weaponry that, unlike the obsolete Tomahawks, don't need to be launched in massive volleys to have a chance to get through air-defences, hence requiring less 'cells' for the same EFFECTIVE firepower? What firepower will be brought to the table by future orbital and sub-orbital deployed weapons?

    There's another way to look at what is happening. It would appear that the US Navy agrees with me, or at least can see the writing on the wall, in that the days of using major surface naval vessels for power projection (against near-peers) are over (and they are desperately looking for ways to stay as relevant as they can).


    1. You raise some interesting points that are well worth consideration and discussion.

      However, there is a significant flaw in your analysis and that is range. You seem to be implicitly assuming that the various hypersonic and 'long range' missiles have the range to reach the various enemy targets from whatever land bases you envision them launching from and that is not the case. We have no missiles that can reach from, say, Guam to China. There are none in development, that I'm aware of. Realistically, there will be none in the moderate foreseeable future. So, your analysis falls apart on range.

      It is the Navy that compensates for that lack of range by transporting the missiles we do have to launch points that are within range. To a limited extent, the Air Force can accomplish this, too. I say limited because we have around 19 (maybe less) operational B-2 bombers and that's woefully insufficient to wage a peer war and what we do have will be rendered inoperable with a few weeks of combat due to maintenance and combat damage/losses. B-1/52 bombers are simply not survivable in a modern war.

      Another point you're overlooking is survivability. Land based launch points are susceptible to attack as fixed point targets. Of course, we could use mobile launchers but that inherently limits the size/range of the missiles and complicates the maintenance, logistics, etc. of missile attacks and limits the attacks to a sporadic occurrence.

      You're also ignoring the myriad other functions performed by a navy such as ASW, convoy escort, anti-surface, ISR, AAW, etc., all of which require firepower to perform and none of which can be accomplished by land based missiles or Air Force bombers.

      Having said all that, the overall meshing of the Navy with the other services is a topic that should be under constant evaluation but, at the moment, is not. Worse, each service is engaged in a budget funding grab effort by trying to poach each other's functions. The Marines are the most blatant about this but they're all doing it.

      "It would appear that the US Navy agrees with me"

      In what way? What do you see that leads you to believe that?

      "they are desperately looking for ways to stay as relevant as they can"

      They are desperately looking for ways to justify more funding but that's a bit different from looking for ways to stay relevant. The Marines, on the other hand, ARE desperately looking for ways to stay relevant.

      As I said, you raise discussion-worthy points so feel free to dive deeper into this by addressing some of points. For example,

      -how do you address the range and basing limitations?
      -if we use conventional intercontinental ballistic missiles to achieve range, how does and enemy differentiate them from nuclear weapons?
      -how can the Air Force participate to a combat-significant extent with a force of only 19 bombers?
      -who should determine/coordinate the Navy's role in the overall military?
      -how will you accomplish the other Navy tasks without shipboard firepower?
      -if land based missiles are fixed locations, will we need a massive increase in base defenses and, if so, how will that occur?

      I look forward to your thoughts!

    2. "-how do you address the range and basing limitations?"

      To be brutally honest, the current range limitations are a result of gross US incompetence.
      The Russians and Chinese do have missiles with very long ranges and more are coming. They (and especially the Russians) are generations ahead of the US when it comes to missile technology (in other fields too btw). We can acknowledge that reality or all keep pretending like the US is best in everything, despite the ample evidence provided by this blog among others of the apparently increasing level of incompetence among US military planners and developers.

      As I mentioned in a reply to an earlier post a few weeks ago, this is in part because the navy continues to claim ownership of the transportation of the firepower to where it is needed. As do you in your reply btw. You should really take a long hard look at that assumption too. The truth is that if not now, than in the near future (if the US wants to keep up with the rest technology-wise) the navy will no longer be required for that transport. There will be other means that are both cheaper, more flexible and more effective. The US, spearheaded by the navy, may elect to put their head in the sand and ignore this near-future reality, I assure you, others won't.

      If there truly are no ongoing developments in missile technology on the US side to rival what the Russians and Chinese are already deploying now (not to mention what they're planning for the future), you might as well throw in the towel now and save yourself a lot of money.

      As to the basing element, you are making more assumptions.

      1. land based long range missiles can be mobile. This applies to cruise missiles and both intermediate and intercontinental ranged ballistic missiles too. Why are you automatically assuming they are fixed?

      2. Even if they were to be fixed, or their mobility limited for whatever reasons, they would be much better dispersed and hence in aggregate your total firepower would be LESS vulnerable, not more, than if you clump a whole bunch of them together on a surface ship.

      3. land based launchers, especially mobile ones, can be hidden under and protected by lots of rock and earth, reducing their alleged vulnerability even more.

      In general though, you appear to be equating the (supposed and highly debatable) vulnerability of ONE land based launcher with that of ONE ship. That's apples and oranges. A single enemy missile can take out ALL of those on your ship, while that single enemy missile can take out only one on land, if those are properly dispersed.

      Looks to me like the aggregate firepower (because that's what we're talking about!) is more vulnerable on a ship than it would be even on fixed land based launchers, not to mention on mobile ones!

      Part of your intended rebuttal will likely be regarding the problem of targetting ships with long range weapons. It's not nearly as hard as you think it is. It doesn't even come close. I suggest you read this well reasoned article and then take some time to consider all of the implications if what he claims is in fact true.

      It's a very long read but very much worth it. To be honest, it kind of blew my mind when I read it (not as much of what the articles says directly, but because of the massive implications).


    3. "-if we use conventional intercontinental ballistic missiles to achieve range, how does and enemy differentiate them from nuclear weapons?"

      It’s not a new problem. How does an enemy differentiate between conventional and nuclear armed cruise missiles? How do they differentiate between conventional and nuclear armed bombers? How do you differentiate between conventional and nuclear armed intermediate range missiles (which btw would suffice to reach most targets)? How do you differentiate between a conventional launch from a submarine and a nuclear one? The answer is always the same, and has been for a long time. You only know when warheads begin detonating. To pretend like that question only matters with regards to ICBMs seems a bit of a cop out.

      Besides, because of increased accuracy and effectiveness of conventional warheads the old distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons (which militarily speaking was based on the difference in damage inflicted by a single weapon) is fading. High hypersonic glide vehicles (mach 20+) for example don't need a nuclear warhead to be city-killers. Both Russia and the US (and I assume the other nuclear powers feel the same way) reserve the right to nuclear retaliation in response to a non-nuclear attack, which stems from the potential damage that non-nuclear attacks can do. Non nuclear attacks are now existential threats to countries too.

      Furthermore, and I know I’m starting to sound repetitive, but you are again making unwarranted assumptions. You don’t need traditional ICBMs to achieve the required range. You can achieve that through next-generation cruise missiles, you can extend range by air-launch, you could use (mobile) intermediate range missiles. And given the pace of developments regarding the military use of (near)-space, orbital and suborbital deployed weapons aren’t that far away either (I hold very little hope of that treaty holding given the ease with which so many others have been and are being discarded.)

      Come on, let’s be creative here! You’re good at that when it comes to the navy and what the navy ought to be doing, do the same for non-navy alternatives.


      PS, if equipped with (very) long range stand off weapons like cruise missiles, ‘B52 type’ bombers (in a very general sense) are not obsolete, on the contrary. Ironically, the more modern deep penetration bombers like the B1 and the B2 are (in peer warfare).

    4. “-how can the Air Force participate to a combat-significant extent with a force of only 19 bombers”

      There’s a lot wrong within the Air Force too. I suspect that part of it stems from turf-staking by them and the Navy.

      What they should be doing, besides developing much longer ranged and far better stand-off missiles, is develop a cheap B52 analogue that can launch these in adequate volleys. If you have enough stand-off range, you can stay pretty safe.

      Increased stand-off ranges means increased bomber protection, to far greater degrees than stealth can offer. High stealth (as if even possible!) bombers meant to penetrate peer airspace are a dead end.

      You’ve dedicated quite a few posts on what the navy should be building, how they could do much better, and how they consistently lack a proper CONOPS. Much of the same applies to the Air Force. They’re focusing on the wrong kind of things, imagining the wrong kind of war.

      But as to how thing stand now, as opposed to what they could be and they should be, I have to give you that what the USAF can bring to the table now when it comes to bombers is about as useless and vulnerable in peer-warfare as the navy’s carriers are. None of them will survive for very long.


    5. "There will be other means that are both cheaper, more flexible and more effective."

      Such as? It's fine to speak in non-existent generalities but what specific, existing options do you see?

      "Russians) are generations ahead of the US when it comes to missile technology"

      Again, what specific missile do you see as being significantly superior?

      " land based long range missiles can be mobile."

      What is an example of an existing, mobile, long range missile?

    6. He may be referring to the BrahMos. India has paraded it on truck-mounted launchers. There's also the Iskander ballistic missile, and the air-launched ballistic missile based on it, the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal.

    7. "There will be other means that are both cheaper, more flexible and more effective."

      I have specified those. Given sufficient range, both land based and air launched missiles are all of that.

      But, you are now adding in the extra qualifier 'existing'. Your post is about expected replacements, in other words, future expectations and not current capabilities.

      The required extra range for stand off weapons can be achieved within the time frame of the replacements you mentioned, hence my original question, what other (non-navy) developments are there to compensate?

      "Again, what specific missile do you see as being significantly superior?"

      Nearly all of them?

      To start with, the complete array of modern air defence missiles (S300s, S400s, S350s, S500s, A135s, A235s). For shorter ranged air defence there is really no comparison as the US army is frightfully lacking in adequate air defences (the Army philosophy being that it is the air forces' job to keep the sky clear). Pantsirs, Buks and Tors for example have a range of different missiles available the US army wish they had.

      Then there are missiles like the Iskander and the Hermes. If there are US equivalents to those that would be news to me.

      You have the Zircon, the Kinzhal, the Kalibr and the Onyx and off course the Kh101/102.

      For coastal defence they have the Bal and Bastion.

      And I almost forgot the enigmatic Burevestnik. Sure, it's shrouded in mystery, but the mere fact that this is a genuine Russian missile development track should give pause for thought.

      Feel free to give me examples of US missiles you feel are equivalent or superior to these Russian ones.

      "What is an example of an existing, mobile, long range missile?"

      Again, I'd like to point out how the word 'existing' seems to have crept in while talking about a near future situation, not a current on.

      The Kalibr has been successfully tested up to 3000 miles range, and according to unverified accounts coming out of Russia, the actual maximum range is up to 4000 miles. The Russians do have a history of understating capabilities, (the claimed range of the Kalibr itself for example has been steadily climbing over the years in tandem with observed testing and deployments) and a range of over 5500 kms would put the missile out of the INF treaty (which was still in effect when this missile was being developed, so that would make some sense).

      The Iskander is a bit of a mystery here too (range-wise), as a new missile for the system has been tested up to 2000km range, but the Russians aren't particularly forthcoming with details.

      In the intercontinental category they have the Topol and the Yars.

      The claimed range of the Burevestnik is 10.000 kilometres but well, there's not much to really go on there, including how it is supposed to be launched.

      The Chinese have the DF-25 and DF-26 off course.

      Again, these are systems being currently fielded or in the late stages of development. Both nations have been consistently increasing missile ranges for years and appear to be intent on continuing on that path. I see no reason to claim that the US would not be able to do so too for some reason.


    8. “-who should determine/coordinate the Navy's role in the overall military?”

      Certainly not the navy itself. Ideally a powerful centralised authority.

      I don’t really see a realistic way to fix what is in effect a broken system, i.e. the command structure of the US armed forces at the highest echelons.

      The different branches should not be organised as de-facto independent organisations who are only nominally beholden to a central controlling authority that has little effective power to order about the differ forces but has to rule through consensus and compromise. Once such a situation comes about though, you can’t turn it back, not unless you suffer a serious defeat first.

      There’s actually a historical analogue to this, but you’re not going to like it. With regards to military history, my main interest goes to Italy during ww2 and during the years between the two world wars. The manner in which the different armed forces (army, navy and air force) developed during the inter-war years resembles what is occurring in the US in many ways.

      Each more or less went their own way independent of each other. They focused on their own needs and wants, largely ignoring what was required in order to operate in conjunction with one of the other forces. The was a prime cause of the often rather poor performance of the Italians in the war.

      ‘Mussolini and his generals’, by John Gooch, is a great book for those interested. It focusses heavily on economic and political aspects of the military though, covering the period of 1922 - 1940. If you’re not into that, be aware it’s tough and dry stuff.

      What the Italian example illustrates very well is that the boundaries between the different forces are not as clearcut as we tend to imagine they are and that ignoring that comes at a cost. There is a substantial, ‘fuzzy’, area where they overlap. For example, is aerial anti submarine warfare a naval or Air Force capability? And aerial anti-ship missions? Air defence, is it the army or the Air Force who’s responsible? The list goes on.

      The more independent that the branches are of each other, the LESS likely they are to invest into creating capabilities to cover those ‘fuzzy’ boundaries. They will reason that it’s the responsibility of the other branch to do so.

      This will lead to substantial capability gaps where branches argue with each other over who should sacrifice budget to cover it. Even if one, or both, ultimately does, it will rarely be done wholeheartedly and usually on the cheap. With likely dire consequences.

      When I see the lack of development of long range missiles, or the lacklustre approach of missile technology in general in the US, to me that’s no surprise because it’s a ‘fuzzy’ capability. They Air Force wants to keep the big bombers to justify their budgets and the navy their carriers and destroyers. Both fear a third solution that lies somewhere in the middle. God forbid the Army claims it!

      In my opinion, this division between the branches, which is sometimes close to antagonistic, is the greatest flaw in the US military. And if history is to be a guide, I fear it does not bode well.


    9. "I have specified those. Given sufficient range, both land based and air launched missiles are all of that."

      I was afraid of this. You're speaking in vague, speculative, generalized terms rather than specifics. There's nothing wrong with that per se but it would be nice to tie to something real.

      If you want to speculate about future intercontinental range cruise missiles that can fit on a truck launcher then, sure, contemplation of a revised navy becomes an option. However, the degree of speculation and production of non-existent technology that would have to take place renders this unproductive speculation for me.

      That's why I asked about specific examples and, as far as I can tell, the only example that even begins to approach your concept is the Russian Kalibr and that is a fairly short range missile that Russia claims is being developed to have multi-thousand kilometer range. Unfortunately, my experience is that Russian claims are rarely accurate and are routinely overstated or understated depending on their need. Given the small size of the Kalibr, to believe it can be increased from a few hundred km to multi-thousand is far-fetched, at best. I've seen articles suggesting that the missile will carry a 1-ton warhead which would make the overall missile weight several tons which is no longer a simple, small, mobile missile although that kind of size would, at least, allow the possibility of much greater range due to vastly increased fuel and engine space. However, it's Russia and it's developmental. I don't need to cite all the developmental projects that fail for both the US and Russia.

      Given the paucity of US basing in the Pacific theatre, we would need missile with ranges of 2000-4000 miles (not km!) and that seems unlikely in a cruise missile for the foreseeable future.

      Of course, that leaves intercontinental ballistic missiles but using them as routine conventional weapons
      is problematic because of the nuclear concerns. China seems to have no problem with the concept so that does suggest that we ought to have no qualms, either but, again, we are well away from any such conventional missile.

      With all that said, feel free to speculate about the impact of future intercontinental ballistic missiles on the structure and function of the Navy. That's a bit too far removed for me so I'll leave it to you.

      While your future missiles might make it possible to launch from CONUS or the few oversea bases we have, we would still need a fairly conventional navy for all the other tasks I listed and those ships would need as much VLS as they could get for AAW, ASW, and surprise surface encounters so I don't really see any great reduction in VLS cells being justified.

      At this point, I'll leave the topic to readers. You're presented your concept and it's worth consideration. Readers can both our comments and draw their own conclusions.

      Good comments!

    10. "-how will you accomplish the other Navy tasks without shipboard firepower?"

      How does a REDUCTION in firepower and de-emphasizing the power projection role result in a navy 'without shipboard firepower'????

      That's a rather big leap you're making there.

      "-if land based missiles are fixed locations, will we need a massive increase in base defenses and, if so, how will that occur?"

      As explained above, land based missiles don't need to be fixed.

      Also, through dispersal of launchers and digging in, you will already achieve a degree of protection that will result in the enemy having to expend more firepower than he is taking out. If your enemy has near unlimited firepower compared to yours, then you have a problem. But you would in any circumstance. Otherwise, it quickly becomes a net loss for the attacker (and yes, it does mean attrition warfare).

      You've actually answered your own question to a large degree. Trying to defend against incoming missiles is a losing proposition financially. The costs of the defensive effort are highly likely to be much higher than those of the attack, possibly even by orders of magnitude (for example, Iron Dome vs home-made Gaza rockets is about three orders of magnitude difference).

      This is a big reason why ship costs are soaring. As you are putting a lot of eggs in one basket, you need to go to great lengths to defend them, incurring heavy financial costs, to the point that it's no longer justified by the onboard offensive firepower you're protecting.

      The obvious answer (to me) is to make it significantly more expensive for the opponent to take out your offensive firepower than it is for you to field it. Which leads to dispersed mobile land based launchers (and air-launched long range stand-off munitions). If there are cheap ship-based alternatives I'll happily embrace those, but I can't come up with any.

      While many like to ignore financial costs when it comes to comparing these kinds capabilities, they are fundamental.


    11. "I was afraid of this."

      So was I. You are dismissing actual fielded capabilities for the simple reason that it's 'not american', and hence can't be what it's claimed. That's what it looks like to me at least.

      You're claiming that a system (the Kalibr) which has been used in combat (Syria) in ranges at least as high as 1500km, and which has been successfully tested at double that (as observed by third parties, not just claimed), is short range? Really?

      Like it or not, cruise missiles in the 2000 to 3000 miles (yes, not kilometres) range already exist.

      But I do have to agree with you on one count, as a US capability it may be well out of reach for the foreseeable future, given that the US has been trailing in missile technology (vs the USSR first and now Russia) since the 60's at least and has made little effort to catch up.

      Looks like we both have our own opinions on where the mutual capabilities lie exactly and on what to believe and what not. Let's hope we won't have to find out who's right.


    12. "As explained above, land based missiles don't need to be fixed."

      Are you referring to towed, tracked, or truck-mounted missile launchers? From where can launchers be safe from a Chinese missile attack or counterattack? Guam and other Pacific islands are small, and thus, poor hiding places; Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and other nations are sovereign, and will likely remain neutral in a Sino-American war, denying the US the right to station missile batteries on their territory; India may join the US in such a war, but is too far from optimal targets, i.e., Chinese industrial centers near the eastern coast.

  10. The Navy plans to continue to build "Large Surface Combatants", to the tune of 1-3 per year (see 30 year shipbuilding plan). For the foreseeable future, that will be DDG-51s. So, overall, there will be some DDGs, some FFGs and some LUSVs.

    How many they actually get is up in the air. There may still be a decline in VLS cells and helicopters, but not as dramatic as you state here.

    1. "The Navy plans to continue to build "Large Surface Combatants"

      The Navy had plans for 30+ Zumwalts. The Navy had plans for a 350-500 ship navy depending on which plan you look at. The Navy had plans for 55 LCS. The Navy had plans for a hundred mile guns system for the Zumwalt. The Navy
      had plans for rail guns. The Navy had plans for … I can do this all day. Navy plans are like throwing pennies in a wishing well except that you have a better chance of those wishes coming true than of a Navy plan coming to full fruition!

      As you note, it is an open question whether the Navy build any significant number of new large surface combatants. Recent history, the Navy's own plans to replace Burkes with unmanned vessels, the Navy's public statement that the next 'cruise' might well be a family of unmanned systems, ever increasing and out of control construction costs, and expected tight budgets all point to the Navy's plans for a future large surface combatant being sharply curtailed or cancelled.

      As stated in the post,

      "It is quite possible, likely even, that more ships will join the fleet than are noted in this post but the addition of a handful of extra ships does not significantly change the conclusion."

    2. Yes, the Navy has had numerous missteps, but do you really think they won't build any LSCs after the handful that are currently budgeted? Not even continue the DDG 51 line indefinitely?

      I think it's far more reasonable to expect that the Navy will continue to build 1-2 DDG 51s for at least the next 10 years.

      The current 5-year plan is to build eight DDG 51s vs their 30-year plan desire of 13. Assuming that rate, they will build 48 DDG 51s over the next 30 years vs the 30-year plan desire of 73. That won't be enough to hit their goal of over 100 LSC's, but should be enough for 60-80 over that period. That's 6-8000 VLS cells.

      Now they may switch to a DDG(X) at some point. Or they may continue their streak of programmatic failures and be forced to continue building Burkes. Only time will tell.

      But the Burkes are a known quantity. They aren't Zumwalts or Fords or LCS's or rail guns. We can continue to build them with little risk.

    3. "But the Burkes are a known quantity. ... We can continue to build them with little risk."

      The Burkes represent little risk. However, as I've demonstrated in various posts, they also represent little effective future combat power since they lack modern levels of stealth, lack power for future weapon system demands, lack weapon system utilities support (cooling, for example), lack significant UAV support, are max'ed out on weight margins, have no armor, etc.

      So, little risk but little reward.

      If all we want is little risk, we should still be building sailing ships.

      The Navy has already publicly stated that they won't be replacing Burkes on a one-for-one basis but will replace an unstated number with unmanned vessels. Thus, any way you look at it, the fleet firepower will decrease substantially. The combination of the Navy's stated plans, the increasing desire/trend for small, weak unmanned vessels, and the out of control construction costs all point quite clearly to a significant decrease in firepower.

    4. 6-8000 VLS cells, 120-160 helicopter spots. That's not nothing. Given the subject of your blog post, this seems especially relevant.

      60-70 SPY-1(D) or SPY-6 is not nothing.

    5. "That's not nothing."

      It's also pure speculation and, history suggests, highly unlikely. I'll leave it at that.

    6. I look at this to a degree as unbalanced capabilities. In reality, we ended WWII with 72 cruisers in a time when the destroyers were dwarfed by a modern frigate.

      In the cold war We only ever had 7 Talos armed cruisers and 36 Terrier armed and later RIM-67 armed ships. We spend too much to get each cell into the fleet as we stick it with the top end radar on the surface and a nuclear plant below the surface. We need useful combat power on a surface ship that costs less than what the Air Force will spend on a B-21. I'd also say we need a surface combatant for less than the price of a P-8 or E-2D. We can talk Conops along the way, but Congress and talking heads need simple cost comparisons.

    7. "We need useful combat power on a surface ship that costs less than what the Air Force will spend on a B-21. I'd also say we need a surface combatant for less than the price of a P-8 or E-2D."

      The USAF plans to buy the B-21 at a cost of $550 million each. That amount will barely cover an LCS, and the LCS is USELESS in conflict against a peer power.

      What capabilities will you sacrifice to meet the cost? Range, which forces this hypothetical surface combatant to stay near friendly ports and unarmed "mother ships" (priority targets to a competent opponent), and far away from an enemy (she cannot reach, due to her short range)? Sensors and communication systems, meaning she's blind to the enemy, and thus, useless (except as a floating coffin and propaganda producer)? Crew comforts, which will lower crew morale, with negative consequences to recruitment and retention? FIREPOWER?

      Don't overemphasize quality over quantity; find the median between Pierre Sprey's Luddite beliefs and Professor-General Norden's bombastic ones (from Arthur C. Clarke's short story 'Superiority'). We don't need gold-plated battleships to win, but the low cost surface combatants you proposed will be USELESS.

    8. "That amount will barely cover an LCS, and the LCS is USELESS in conflict against a peer power."

      The LCS is useless not because of the cost but because of the design. So, your question,

      "What capabilities will you sacrifice to meet the cost?"

      is not the appropriate question. The more appropriate question (or it could be in the form of a statement) is, how will you make a better design or, simply stated, make a better design for the same cost or less. As an example, the Swedish Visby is a better design than the LCS and possibly at a lower price although I've repeatedly stated and demonstrated that trying to capture and compare foreign shipbuilding costs is nearly pointless because they all contain hidden subsidies, costs, practices, and accounting manipulations that aren't applicable to us. Still, the Visby would be one example of a better design and likely lower cost.

    9. The Swedish Visby is useless to the USN, as her small size also limits her range. The Swedish Navy limits its concerns to guarding Swedish shores, so its ships don't need long range and endurance to patrol the Baltic Sea. On the other hand, the USN has global commitments, so its ships need long range and endurance to cross the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

      The fact the LCS was designed WITHOUT accounting for the USN's global commitments, meaning their range and endurance are too short to let them do anything useful in the Pacific Ocean's expanse, is baffling. The US government could've stayed it was abandoning these commitments after the Cold War, and forced the USN to accept the limitations the LCS's small size and low costs imposed; instead, it accepted MORE commitments (competing with China, leading to the freedom of navigation operations you decried as pointless), allowing the USN to shoehorn the LCS into operations she is obviously unsuited for, instead of expending resources necessary for those missions (not just money to buy new ships, but to build and maintain shipyards to build and maintain those ships, enlist and then train crews for those ships).

    10. I think Visby's best lesson is how to make a low observable composite combatant. I'd want an American composite to be longer range, more seaworthy and give up some speed. I will always worry composite will cost too much for the value unless the right mission is chosen. As for larger, infinite options with more combat ppower for LCS price. There is a big crowd in favor of a US Spec Sa'ar 6. I might rather just gray hull an OPC with some modification. In terms of literally teaaring the shipbuilding budget up to make a new ship, you can get lots of fire power for the cost of an LCS.

    11. "The Swedish Visby is useless to the USN"

      Of course it's not useful to the US Navy, although with the downgrading of the LCS range, it's not that far off! The Visby was an example of a better design for the money, illustrating that lack of money is not what produces a bad product … bad designs produce bad products.

    12. A ship's displacement can be used house hardware (engine, etc.), fuel, sensor (radar, sonar, etc.), weapons, sailors, food, fresh water, ... etc.

      Israel's Saar 6 is an example of super strong fire power of its size but its range is quite limited. Israel has no need to have ships with long sail ranges but US does need. US Navy needs to be ready to meddle foreign affairs far away. This is price a hegemonic power needs to pay.

    13. The OHPs were built for today's equivalent of roughly $400M... So with a 25+% increase in budget to the Air Force's $550M, theoretically we should be able to build somthing respectable. Id have liked to have seen the new FFG be a modern equivalent ASW Perry, without AEGIS and what must be gold plating to run the cost up to the $800M-$1B zone...

    14. That 550 isn't inflation adjusted from when it was first published. I'm currently tracking the B-21 at 605.8 million. The Saudi LCS is real close to that number having weapons rather than modules fitted. Its right between NSC and OPC. Gowind 2500/3100, Damen 10514/10714 come in under those numbers.

  11. Well, looks like I wasn't the only one with that thought, now to see what USN does in the next few years:

    1. I've found a universal bullet for my handguns. It's a .22 caliber. It's small enough and light enough that my wife can use it and handle the recoil. I can target shoot with it. I can defend myself. I can hunt bear.

      Of course, for two of those uses, it's a pretty poor choice. It's questionable for self-defense and a bear won't even notice it. For the other two uses, though, it's ideal.

      You see the analogy, right?

      'Universal' is almost never synonymous with good. Swiss army knife, LCS, F-35 … universal but not good.

      The old saying is, the right tool for the right job. It's not the universal tool for every job.

      I can keep going with analogies but I trust I've made my point?

      The Navy has gotten lazy and keeps looking for the quick, easy, universal, CHEAP solution instead of doing the hard work.

      If you're going to hunt Chinese Type 055s would you want a 140 lb frag warhead or a 1000 lb dedicated anti-ship missile?

    2. Does the SM-6's speed, and the kinetic energy that imparts, make up for its small warhead? A 16" shell packs few explosives, compared to a missile (the shell must be thick to not only pierce armor, but to resist bursting within its own gun barrel), but no one argues it's not a ship killer.

    3. I've done this calculation too many times. People seem to have this belief that kinetic energy translates to vaporization of the target and that's simply not true … not even close. The calculation is simple,

      K.E. = 0.5 mv^2

      Work it out for yourself and then covert the result to equivalent lbs of TNT and you'll see what the kinetic energy does or doesn't do.

      "A 16" shell packs few explosives, ... but no one argues it's not a ship killer."

      You need to educate yourself on how explosive shells work. Again, I've covered this many times. The very short concept is containment of the explosion within the shell. Understand that and you'll understand why missile with much more explosive are much less effective than, say, a 16" shell.

    4. The other downside apart from the obvious lack of a real ship killer warhead, you have to worry about the scenario where USN fires a salvo of SM6s as ASMs and doesn't sink anything, now what? Does USN fire another salvo in ASM mode or wait for the obvious Chinese counter strike and use the remaining SM6s in SAM mode for defense....I think having a finite number of dedicated ASMs clarifies to the commander when u need to get out, job done or not, the temptation might be to "stick around" longer in hopes of a second strike with your remaining SM6s and end up running out of SM6s for defense. You end up with similar to Japanese Midway scenario where the commander kept changing between bombs and torpedoes and got caught with his pants down....

    5. Battleship caliber shells will go right through unarmored ships such as destroyers. Likewise tank AP shells will simply pass right through unarmored targets like trucks. For a pure kinetic projectile, you have to transfer the projectile's energy to the target. There is a lot of research on this for small arms ammunition.

      I'm also amused by the "new" capability to use standard missiles in surface to surface mode despite the fact we sunk ships with SM-1 and SM-2 missiles decades ago.

    6. "Battleship caliber shells will go right through unarmored ships such as destroyers."

      On occasion, yes, but there are numerous examples of destroyers being hit multiple times by Japanese battleship main guns during the various naval battles of Guadalcanal. That qualification noted, you're quite correct that kinetic energy has to be transferred to the target in order to do damage. This is the bullet passing through paper analogy. Despite a great deal of kinetic energy, the bullet does almost no damage to the paper beyond creating a bullet size hole.

      Yes, the fervor and excitement with which the Navy is 'discovering' new capabilities is amusing and embarrassing.

  12. The Navy is finally reach attack submarine Boise on their backlog.

    1. The sub has been out of service since 2015, will not receive the necessary maintenance until 2022, and will require two years' additional work to return to service? How can the USN maintain a fleet of 500 ships- many of them unmanned and thus, requiring EVEN MORE maintenance- when the ships it already has, are receiving the same amount of "tender loving maintenance" the Russian Navy gave those it inherited from its Soviet predecessor?!

  13. Regarding fire power, there are three issues - number, precision, distance. Lots of guns with limited range and precision is only good for making movies than today 's and future's wars.

    After Soviet Union's collapse, Navy's main mission became supporting land invasion than face another competent navy over sea. As China's rising, Navy has to quickly adjust its mission thus we see changes and tons of talks of changes. The nation seeks no nation has ability to threat her than any nation wants to attack her. Let's not argue the policy here as we discuss naval technologies than national goal and pride.

    Facing Chinese navy, Pentagon needs to decide which is US' strategy - defend whatever possible Chinese attack or be able attack China. There are huge differences in building Navy depending on the goal. Some might want to have everything but harsh reality is impossible.

    Defend possible attacks from China is easier. More nuclear submarines can do most jobs because the Pacific is deep water all way to the West Coast of US. China's long range missiles are useless toward submarines.

    To be able to attack China at will, then, it is far more difficult. There are large areas of continental shelf off China's coasts which means shallow waters. With today's sonobuoy technologies, submarines are difficult to survive. Only issue for sonobuoy is cost (one use consumable) which is not a problem for China. Also, it is much easier to build effective underwater cable monitoring systems to detect submarines. The only place around China suitable for submarines is some part of the South China Sea.

    With so many sophiscate missiles of different models aim for various functions, it is vey difficult for any US naval ships to sail close to Chinese coasts thus only long range precision fire power count. Navy's mission is not to make movies to make people high but to do its mission.

    LUSV is questionable but small USV could be useful. They can be launched from large manned ship to provide long distance reconnaissance tasks. Main purpose to use USV is to prevent lose human lives and expensive equipment. LUSV is not only difficult to hide (lots of fishing ship off Chinese coasts thus even stealthy is useless) but also too expensive to use as consumable. As some have posted, China also has its own USV. Navy is doing experiments and let's watch if they work or not.

    1. Take the unmanned out of the LUSV conops and look at it as part of the reload at sea solution. Here is 32 strike length VLS on a ship for under 225 million that if they would use a current high speed ferry design could shuttle missiles 1000 nm in 24 hours if they use an updated design. With a 3 ship rotation you could be bringing 32 fresh rounds up each day.

  14. For whatever reason, the USN has never been a big fan of surface-to-surface or anti-ship missiles. I think it is well past high time for us to plug that gap.

    When ADM Gorshkov started his effort to build the Soviet navy into a blue-water fleet, he faced a huge problem with his deficiency in carrier air versus the USN. To compensate, he built the Kirovs and the Kievs. The former were bristling with missiles of all types and the latter had plenty of missiles but also had an angled deck and hangar for about 10 STOVL aircraft and 10 helos. When we were steaming around in circles in the Med during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, with Russians steaming around us in slightly larger circles, let’s just say that our two twin 3-inch mounts that pointed backwards did not give us a warm and fuzzy feeling staring at Russians with anti-ship missiles that could have put us on the bottom fairly quickly. I felt that there was a hole in USN’s capability, and that experience left me wondering why USN didn’t build something comparable. Perhaps it was the influence of the aviation (and possibly submarine) communities, but we have lagged pretty far behind in development of surface-ship-launched anti-surface warfare missiles—whether anti-ship or land-attack. We need to change this.

    1. Objectively, this is not correct. We developed and deployed in large numbers both the Harpoon and Tomahawk, both of which set the standard for ASuW and land attack, respectively. One might well argue that we've sat too long without providing modern successors but we certainly led the way, not lagged.

      As far as your feeling of inadequacy (naval, not …), that's a case of poor deployment of assets. We have a long history of sending ships and aircraft off on solo missions and then losing them or seeing them harassed (Pueblo, EP-3, UUV, etc.). Your ship (an LST, if I recall?) should never have been alone if we felt there was any risk and there certainly was at that time. You should have been escorted and protected.

      "Kirovs and Kievs"

      The Kirovs were a partial response to USN carriers (some reports indicate they were intended not for use against carriers but for use against battleships). The main counter was the Soviet bomber regiments. To a lesser extent, submarines were also a counter though probably unlikely to succeed.

      The Kievs were not a counter to carriers but were intended as ASW leaders, as best I can discern.

    2. "Your ship (an LST, if I recall?) should never have been alone if we felt there was any risk and there certainly was at that time. You should have been escorted and protected."

      Who said anything about being alone?

    3. If you had escorts then what are you complaining about?

    4. Because they didn't have any anti-ship missiles to shoot back with either.

    5. Well, they should have had Talos in that time frame and Sea Sparrow has always had a anti-surface mode, I think. In addition, we should have had extensive air support with Maverick, Walleye, Bullpup, and other air to surface missiles and bombs. The Soviets completely lacked air support. Our missiles, at that time, tended to be air launched whereas the Soviets developed ship launched missiles because they didn't have carriers.

    6. Little Rock was 6th Fleet flagship, and they had Talos, but I don't think anybody else did. We did have some Knoxes with BPDMS, but I'm not sure how effective Sea Sparrow would have been against a destroyer. If it had gone to a shooting war, we would have been in a world of hurt.

    7. Unless 6th Fleet leadership was totally incompetent, they should have had air support standing by. It is the Soviets, with no air support who would have been in a world of hurt. I get that from your individual ship, deck level view of things you must have felt like you were pretty helpless but in the larger scheme of things, it was the Soviets who were pretty helpless.

      By the way, if there was a chance of naval combat, what was an LST doing in the middle of it? You should have been heading full speed away from the area!

    8. We were there to evacuate American citizens from various cities if the need arose (we were assigned Beirut), so we sort of had to hang around the eastern Med. We had the 6th Fleet phib force (there actually was one back then), plus an extra PhibRon (of which we were part) that just happened to be in the Med on another assignment when hostilities broke out. There was air cover, but if the Russkis had started shooting they could have done some pretty severe damage before the air cover could take action.

      This was 1973. We had passed on developing Exocet with the French, Harpoon wouldn't come along until 1977, and Tomahawk in the 1980s.

      So regardless of ship type, we really did not have any adequate ship-to-ship missiles, and would not have them for several more years.

    9. "we really did not have any adequate ship-to-ship missiles"

      You didn't need them since you had overwhelming air cover with plenty of air-to-surface bombs and missiles. The Soviets would have had no hope, whatsoever, of 'winning'. True, if they were feeling suicidal they could have extracted a toll for their certain demise but while evil and aggressive, the Soviets were never suicidal.

      Also, since we were not going to shoot first, even having surface-to-surface missiles wouldn't have done much good since the side that shoots first (the Soviets, in this case) gets a free hit and would have rendered their targets inoperable (assuming the missiles of that era worked as advertised). There's an unavoidable disadvantage to ceding the first shot to the enemy!

      While you may have been nervous, would you rather have been the Soviet commander with no air cover and certain death if combat occurred or the US commander with total air support and certain 'victory' in the overall sense?

      I suspect that combat was never an option for the Soviets given that they faced certain total destruction. You were likely 100%, guaranteed safe the entire time.

      The US missiles were in the air and the Soviet's were on the ships. The US was in the far better position.

      That doesn't mean we shouldn't have put more effort into shipboard anti-ship missiles but it does mean that things were not as bleak as you portray. Now, with the decline of our carrier fleet and the shrinking of the air wings (and other factors), our airborne missile advantage is not what it once was and we should have a robust shipboard anti-ship missile capability. Unfortunately, we don't and we seem in no great hurry to get that capability.

      This 'case study' is actually a good example of one of my themes: look at the big picture instead of looking at systems in isolation. From your 'isolated' position it undoubtedly seemed like you were defenseless, however, in the big picture, you had overwhelming firepower and were likely guaranteed safe.

    10. "That doesn't mean we shouldn't have put more effort into shipboard anti-ship missiles but it does mean that things were not as bleak as you portray. Now, with the decline of our carrier fleet and the shrinking of the air wings (and other factors), our airborne missile advantage is not what it once was and we should have a robust shipboard anti-ship missile capability. Unfortunately, we don't and we seem in no great hurry to get that capability."

      And my larger point is that we've never seemed to be in a hurry to get that capability.

  15. For a long time, US Navy thinks that attack other ships are aircraft's job. There is no need long range ship based anti ship missiles. Harpoons launched by F/A-18, effectively, have long range as F/A-18 can fly far. Other nations don't have air carriers like US are keen on surface to surface anti-ship missiles.

    This has changed as Chinese Navy's emerge as a strong force.

    Before get what Navy wants (need R&D time), navy use LRASM and NSM as stop gap measure. There was a development of supersonic LRASM (or AGM-158B) but failed. Current LRASM is sub-sonic. NSM use IR to home (no RF signal) thus cannot be interfered by radio waves. NSM are made by Norway.

  16. This discussion of firepower reminds me of an article I read the other day about China's naval militia.

    They use mass numbers of fishing boats to occupy spots in the South China Sea.

    It would be difficult (and expensive) to sink them with missiles or torpedoes.

    What a perfect group of targets for 8", 12", or 16" guns to blast into oblivion.


    1. "What a perfect group of targets for 8", 12", or 16" guns to blast into oblivion."

      If only we had some 8", 12", or 16" guns to do the blasting.

    2. These are fishing boats. 25mm autocannon will do the job well enough, you don't need the big guns for that. Most ASEAN navies' patrol boats have have autocannon, Bofors 57mm, OTO Melara 76mm, they have the firepower to sort this merchant militia. 12" on a fishing boat is hilariously overkill, let alone 16".

      (8" I give a pass, because I'm of the opinion that it's the right size for a new general purpose naval gun: being bigger than 5", you have more space for warhead AND smart fusing and guidance, so your lethality sacrifices aren't as great as with guided 5", and you've got more range out of the round.)

      The problem isn't firepower, the problem is that the chinese are massing these boats in sufficient quantity that if any ASEAN navy sinks these boats or chases them off, that invites retaliation from China, which now has an excuse to deploy its navy in force to "protect Chinese civilians". And if the USN sinks these boats, that just lets china play the wounded party in the court of public opinion.

  17. We need to get some of them.



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