Monday, May 31, 2021

Ticonderoga Replacement

This post is a result of a suggestion from reader ‘Lonfo’ in the recent November open post and I thank him for the idea.





As best I can tell, it appears that around half the Ticonderoga fleet is sitting, rotting, pier side – retired and scrapped in all but name and the Navy has proposed officially retiring 7 Ticonderogas in 2022 with the remainder of the class being retired as quickly after that as the Navy thinks they can get Congress to allow.


While the reasonable supposition would be that the Ticonderogas would be replaced by a new cruiser class, the Navy has suggested that a Ticonderoga replacement may be a family of vessels (and UAVs or manned aircraft?) rather than a single ship.  It’s also possible that there may never be a true replacement and that the less capable Burke Flt III may be the semi-replacement. 


Beyond vague, speculative articles on the Internet, there’s no real information about a Ticonderoga replacement so let’s speculate using the Navy’s single, vague statement about a family of platforms, the known push by the Navy towards smaller, unmanned vessels, and the Navy’s general desire to move towards unmanned or minimally manned vessels and see where that takes us regarding a Ticonderoga replacement.

Ticonderoga Class Cruiser


The key is to recognize the Navy’s driving forces for ship design:


Minimal Manning – This not only means manned with a minimal crew but also unmanned.  In other words, the Navy wants to operate platforms with as few people as possible with the Holy Grail being entirely unmanned platforms and an unmanned navy.


Cost – The Navy continually attempts to design and build ‘cheap’ ships and continually fails spectacularly.  Despite the constant failure, they still keep trying to achieve ‘cheap’.


Numbers – The Navy has a myopic focus on hull numbers – AS LONG AS THEY’RE NEW HULLS – and don’t really care whether those hulls offer any useful combat capability – witness the LCS and Zumwalt.  In an apparent contradiction, the Navy has no interest in maintaining and upgrading older hulls so as to increase numbers – only new hulls matter in the Navy’s eyes.


Technology – The Navy is obsessed with new, cutting edge technology which, to them, means artificial intelligence, networking, data, and centralized command and control.  It is vital to note that firepower is not among the valued technology elements.



So, having considered the driving forces for Navy ship design, what kind of cruiser replacement design does that lead us to?


The obvious conclusion is that the Navy will do exactly as they have stated and replace the Ticonderoga class with a family of unmanned or minimally manned vessels.  That being the case, what would a family of cruiser replacements be?


To answer that, we have to recognize the functions that the Navy wants a cruiser to perform: 

  • AAW
  • BMD
  • Strike
  • ASW


With that in mind, what are the ‘breakdowns’ of a cruiser’s functions that could be distributed to a family of platforms?


Weapons – This would be a floating VLS barge, in essence;  a missile magazine.


Sensors – This would be a dedicated radar platform.  Given the need for endurance on the order of weeks and 24/7 persistence, this has to be a ship.  In concept, the vessel would be a blockhouse with 3-4 radar faces spaced around the structure.  As such, it could be quite small.  The Burke’s radar arrays are contained within an approximate 60 ft square superstructure.  This would lead to a very small vessel even allowing for engine space and other requirements.


Command – This would be a small vessel whose purpose is to communicate with, and control, the various components of the cruiser ‘family’.  Thus, this would be a network ship with command functions.


Aviation – Aviation facilities, meaning flight deck, hangar, workshops, magazines, etc., are extremely inefficient in the sense that the same function(s) are repeated for every helo-capable ship.  The more logical and cheaper approach would be to condense several aviation facilities into a single ship … a helo/UAV carrier.  This does not have to be, and should not be, a giant amphibious ship like the current LHAs and the like.  Instead, this should be a moderate size vessel whose only function is aviation and would carry around six or so helos and a dozen small to medium size UAVs.


We should note that the Navy has already begun the process of producing a large displacement unmanned surface vessel that will essentially be a missile barge – an unmanned mini-arsenal ship.  Several ships are already budgeted.  In addition, the Navy has also begun the process of producing a smaller displacement, unmanned, sensor (ISR) vessel.


There you have it.  We can envision four separate unmanned or lightly manned vessels that would make up the family of a cruiser function.  Of course, none of the individual components would be as capable as the function contained within the parent Ticonderoga cruiser.  I really hope someone is gaming this out in a realistic fashion because this is a path that will be difficult to come back from.


Thursday, May 27, 2021

People Not Technology

The US military likes to talk about how their advantage is people but they really don’t believe that.  What they believe is the primacy of technology.


C4ISRNet website has an interesting article that talks a bit about the consequences to the US if China – or any enemy – can disrupt our assumed dominance and reliability of data and networks.  They liken this to the boxer, Mike Tyson, who said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.  The US military has a plan and it’s a beautiful, wondrous thing full of flawless data, seamless networks, real time awareness, and instantaneous flow of information from the very top to the lowest grunt on the ground.


The problem which the article ponders is what happens when our command and control and networks are attacked and fail?


Today, China and Russia channel Tyson through strategies that attack U.S. military information and command systems and exploit the resulting cognitive and psychological disruption. (1)



After 30 years fighting below its so-called weight class, the Pentagon has largely forgotten how to deal with opponents that can disrupt its information and command-and-control systems. (1)


So, what is the solution to this potential punch in the mouth disruption?  As always, it’s technology.


U.S. armed forces desperately need a new network architecture … (1)


The solution, as the military sees it, is more technology and more advanced technology.  It’s not better trained people who can function without being micromanaged.  It’s not using commander’s intent instead of voluminous orders (Air Force Air Tasking Order, anyone?).  It’s not training people to operate in total EMCON.  It’s not encouraging independent thought and actions at the low level.


Train people well and you don’t even need technology.


Slightly encouraging, the article recognizes that trying to maintain our assumed data and network dominance is a fool’s errand and suggests, instead, that the military strive to be better at degraded operations than the enemy.


… the Pentagon should aim for degradation dominance: operating effectively enough with degraded systems. (1)


I give partial credit and recognition to the article’s author for this insight.  Indeed, I’ve said the exact same thing many times and even wrote a story illustrating the concept (see, “Piece It Together”).  The reason I give only partial credit is that the author, after correctly stating the problem and the required solution, then goes on to suggest that the path to the solution is, again, via technology rather than people and training.


We absolutely do need technology that has degradation resilience built into it but the more important aspect is training people to operate in a degraded environment rather than expecting technology to compensate for the degradation.






(1)C4ISRNet website, “The Pentagon needs a plan to get punched In the mouth”, Christopher M. Dougherty, 20-May-2021,

Monday, May 24, 2021

Missile Boat Battles – Latakia and Baltim

There is great debate among naval observers about what a future naval battle will look like and opinions range all over the map.  As always, let’s take a look at history to see if we can get a glimpse of the future.


The 1973 Yom Kippur War took place during October of that year between Israel and several Arab states, notably Egypt and Syria.  During the war, two missile boat battles occurred in the brief span between 7-Oct and 9-Oct.  These offer us the possibility of observing a modern naval battle (from the past!) and learning lessons applicable to today.



Battle of Latakia


The first of the two battles occurred on 7-Oct-1973 between  four Israeli Sa’ar 3 and one Sa’ar 4 missile boats and Syrian boats consisting of two Komar and one Osa missile boats plus a minesweeper and a torpedo boat.  The Israelis were armed with short range (12 miles) Gabriel anti-ship missiles and the Syrians were armed with the SS-N-2 Styx anti-ship missile which had twice the range (25 miles) of the Gabriel.(1)


The Israeli plan was to lure the Syrian missile boats out and engage them at the maximum range of their Styx missiles, which the Israelis hoped to defeat through the chaff and electronic countermeasures (ECM). (1)


On their approach to the operations area, the Israelis detected a Syrian torpedo boat by radar at 4 miles, visually identified it, and engaged with 76 mm gunfire to save a missile.  The gunfire from multiple Israeli boats, at ranges out to 10 miles, proved inefficient with many misses, though ultimately it was successful and sank the torpedo boat.


[Israeli commander] Barkai had to assume that the Syrian torpedo boat had reported the Israeli presence. He now abandoned the carefully rehearsed Israeli plan of an attack from the north and fighting at optimum distance in favor of an immediate descent on Latakia from the west. (2)


As the Israelis headed west, they detected a Syrian minesweeper at 15 miles and fired a Gabriel missile at extreme range which the minesweeper was able to outdistance, causing the missile to fall short.  Additional missiles were fired at closer range which damaged the vessel and a combination of missiles and gunfire sank the ship.(2)


Soon after, the Israelis detected the Syrian missile boats which fired first, at long range (45 km/28 miles), but the Israeli electronic countermeasures (chaff and jamming) prevented any hits.  Some Syrian boats attempted to fire missiles while docked in the port of Latakia but the missiles malfunctioned and two nearby merchant ships were hit by mistake.


As the Israelis closed the range and got their chance to launch missiles, an equipment malfunction prevented on Israeli boat from launching.


At this critical juncture, a short circuit on the Reshef prevented a missile launch. (2)


The Israeli missile salvos from the remaining vessels sank two Syrian missile boats immediately and the remaining boat, damaged, opted to run aground.  An Israeli boat engaged it with gunfire and destroyed it.


Osa I

The Israelis are reported to have used 9 Gabriel missiles which sank a minesweeper, one Komar, one Osa, and damaged another Osa.  Israeli 76 mm guns were used to sink a Syrian torpedo boat and the damaged Osa which had run aground.

Sa'ar 3


Summary – On paper, the Syrians had every advantage:  longer range missiles, first salvo, home waters, and land based support.  Despite this, the Syrian force was wiped out.  Israeli EW/ECM allowed their boats to pass through the Syrain engagement zone unharmed and reach their own engagement range.  The Israeli Gabriel missiles proved devastatingly effective while the Syrian Styx missiles were complete failures.



Battle of Baltim


The second battle took place just north of Baltim, in Egypt, on 8-9-Oct-1973, the day after the Latakia battle.  This one involved 6 Israeli Sa’ar missile boats (2x Sa’ar 4, 2x Sa’ar 3, 1x Sa’ar 2, 1x Sa’ar 1) and 4 Egyptian Osa class missile boats. 


The Israeli boats shelled coastal targets to try to draw out the Egyptian boats.  Initially, the Israelis detected targets to their west and pursued at high speed, however, after 30 minutes they realized that the targets were just false electronic ‘ghosts’.  Because of the high speed pursuit, several Israeli boats ran short of fuel and had to retire but enough were left to continue the mission.


Shortly after, 4 Osas were detected to the east, coming out of the port of Alexandria.  Unable to maintain contact, the Israelis fired chaff clouds, hoping to deceive the Egyptians into firing and this tactic succeeded.  The four Egyptian boats launched multiple missile salvos over the course of several minutes, many (all?) targeted on the Israeli chaff clouds.  After the last salvo, the Egyptians reversed course and headed back towards Alexandria.  The Israelis pursued for 25 minutes before reaching firing range.  Three of the Egyptian boats were hit by missiles, damaged, and further engaged with 76 mm gunfire.  The remaining Osa escaped when a pursuing Israeli boat suffered a malfunction and was unable to launch missiles.  At this point, the Israeli force withdrew.



Note:  Any attempt to study these battles is somewhat limited by the lack of information from the Syrian side.  Their objectives, intent, and actions are unknown or known only as reported through Israeli sources.  Nevertheless, the battle offers a good view of a modern naval missile battle.




So, as harbingers of modern naval combat, what lessons can we learn from these battles?



Targeting – As ComNavOps has repeatedly pointed out, missiles (no matter how fearsome, deadly, and long ranged) are useless without valid targeting.  The Egyptian misidentification of chaff clouds as actionable targets provided graphic demonstration of this phenomenon.  By launching at non-existent targets, the Egyptians forfeited any possibility of success.  They violated the axiom, ‘fire effectively, first’.  Firing at a misidentified, non-existent target is not firing effectively.  This also gives lie to the reliability of radar.  Targets will still be misidentified or missed no matter how modern and effective the radar is – or is claimed to be.  Recall the recent misadventure of the Burke destroyer launching several missiles against likely non-existent attacking missiles.


EW/ECM – Chaff and jamming allowed the Israeli boats, with shorter range missiles, to reach firing range safely.  ECM has, historically, proven highly effective at defending against missiles, far more so than active defensive weapons.  Hughes presents the data on this in his fleet tactics book.


Reliability in Combat – Systems will fail in combat as the Israelis encountered at least twice.  As long as Murphy roams the battlefield, this will be a guaranteed truth.  The fix for this, to the extent possible, is rigorous testing during peacetime, redundancy, and a ship and weapon system design that acknowledges such failure and allows for it with practices such as backups, local control, rapid repairability, and simplicity of design.


Manufacturer Claims versus Actual Performance – The much hyped Styx missile failed utterly while the relatively unknown Gabriel performed nearly flawlessly.  More generally, the Soviet Osas failed as a weapon system despite manufacturer claims.  With near 100% certainty, weapon systems will fail to live up to their claims and, generally, by a wide margin.  The antidote to this is rigorous, realistic testing during peacetime – a practice the US Navy abhors.


Mindset –The willingness to accept risks allowed the Israelis to close to effective engagement range.


Squadrons – The Israeli operation of small vessels as squadrons allowed for massing of weapons and resilience in combat when several boats ran low on fuel and had to retire leaving a still effective group behind.  It also allowed the Israeli commander to dispatch individual boats to perform side actions while still retaining a useful mass of force.


Missile Range – As noted in the post, the Syrian Styx missiles had twice the range of the Israeli Gabriel and yet were utterly ineffective.  This reinforces, with a hammer to the forehead, ComNavOps’ oft repeated warning that missile range is useless without valid targeting and a missile that can actually perform at least somewhat as advertised.  In fact, missile range is almost a minor attribute compared to other missile characteristics!  The obsession with missile range that so many naval observers have is based on a misdirected emphasis on a single attribute and the complete disregard for the missile’s other characteristics and the kill chain, in general.  For all practical purposes, the effective Styx missile range was zero.  This is also true of the hugely overhyped Chinese DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile whose effective range is also zero due to the complete absence of commensurate targeting capability.


Ship Range – Missile boats are strictly a short range, home waters asset and even under these conditions fuel became an issue and forced several Israeli boats to retire prematurely at Baltim.  Range is a priceless commodity and should not be ignored as has happened in modern US Navy ship designs.


Fog of War – Israeli boats at Baltim pursued electronic ghosts.  Egyptian boats targeted chaff clouds.  One Egyptian boat ran aground (whether intentionally or not is unknown – reports differ).  The carefully planned Israeli battle plan for Latakia was quickly abandoned after the initial engagement with the Syrian torpedo boat.  The fog of war is a constant of combat and all the modern sensors and electronics won’t change that reality.


Distributed Lethality – The Syrian torpedo boat at Latakia is a prime example of the folly of using distributed, isolated vessels which is what distributed lethality is.  This leads, inevitably, to defeat in detail, as happened to the torpedo boat.  Only in the most extremely positive set of circumstances can the concept have even a chance of succeeding and reality rarely provides the most extremely positive set of circumstances!


Detection – Syrian boats were detected by Israeli radar at horizon ranges or shorter.  It is noteworthy that the Syrian torpedo boat at Latakia was not detected until around 4 miles.  This should give pause to those who believe that radar is some kind of all-seeing, omniscient, miracle sensor.  The Syrian minesweeper at Latakia was detected by Israeli radar at 15 miles.  Syrian detection ranges of Israeli boats are unknown but, given the extreme ranges that they launched their missiles, they were presumably 20+ miles – with the caveat that the target identifications were suspect.


Soviet Weapon Performance – This was yet another in an almost endless string of Soviet weapon system failures.  Whether it was Soviet SAM performance in Vietnam, Styx missiles, or Soviet aircraft and tanks in Desert Storm, the simple fact is that Soviet weapons have failed spectacularly throughout post-WWII history.  This history should offer us some perspective as we contemplate whatever the latest claimed Russian wonder weapon is.  Soviet/Russian claims far exceed their actual performance.


Damage Control – Israeli boats twice suffered malfunctions that prevented missile launches, in one case allowing an Egyptian vessel to escape.  Battle damage, and simple breakdowns/malfunctions, will always occur and the ability to implement repairs on board, during a battle, is crucial.  US ship designs have forgotten this lesson by instituting minimal manning with no on-board repair capability and embracing overly complex systems that cannot be repaired on board.






Missile Comparison


Following is a brief comparison of the Gabriel and Styx missiles:



The Israeli Gabriel anti-ship missile used a joystick tracking system requiring that the operator keep it on target by radar. It had never been fired in actual combat. (1)


Meanwhile, the Soviet SS-N-2 Styx fire-and-forget (meaning that it does not require human tracing once fired) missile employed by the Syrians was combat-proven. (1)






SS-N-2 Styx

Gabriel Mk1

Length, ft



Warhead, lb



Range, miles



Speed, mach




inertial guidance, active radar homing (fire and forget)

semi-active radar, joystick guidance








These missile boat battles offer many lessons but do they offer guidance for future battles?  The answer is yes but it all depends on the particulars.  Huh?  What I mean is that the individual lessons are manifestly informative and telling but their impact on future battles depends on how they are combined and what individual ship/weapon/sensor characteristics and battle plans/objectives one has.  For example, the seemingly simple question of whether to radiate or not is not an absolute. It depends on whether one has a defensive system that they believe can handle the enemy’s attack that will result from broadcasting one’s own position. 


Well, that’s not very satisfying for those hoping to read about how a future naval battle will play out.  Okay, I’ll offer my general conclusions which are, as I intimated, subject to modification depending on specific circumstances.


  • Barring an anticipated mismatch in missile/defense capabilities such as the Israelis had, EMCON is mandatory until the missiles start flying.  This suggests a much greater role for passive sensors than the US Navy is currently committed to.
  • Active missile defenses will be only marginally effective and electronic countermeasures will be far more important and effective.  Again, this is something that the US Navy is largely ignoring.
  • Confusion will reign supreme and all the networks in the world won’t change that.
  • Massing of ships equals flexibility, resilience, survivability, effective firepower, and victory.
  • Battles will be won or lost during peacetime testing.
  • Short range defenses will be the most valuable and yet are woefully lacking on US Navy ships.



From that you should be able to pretty well visualize what a future naval battle will look like.




Interesting thought:


The Israeli use of radar for target detection is interesting considering the flip side of radar use which is that it gives away the user’s position.  It is unknown whether the Syrians detected the Israeli radar emissions but, presumably, they did.  Given the Israeli intent to concede the first missile salvo to the Syrians, the use of radar and its revealing of the Israeli position was immaterial but if the electronic countermeasures hadn’t worked, the Israelis would have been decimated.  Alternatively, the Israelis could have opted to attempt a clandestine EMCON approach, similar to a WWII PT boat, and rely on visual detection but this would have run the risk of missing the Syrian targets.  The decision to use, or not use, radar is always a double sided coin of risk/benefit and is one of the major considerations in an anticipated naval battle.  To radiate or not?





(1)Naval Post website, “Battle of Latakia: An operation changed the character of Naval Warfare”, Raymond McConoly, 11-May-2021


(2)Weapons and Warfare website, posted 9-Jun-2018,

Friday, May 21, 2021

Seize the High Ground … Or Some Level Ground … Or Any Ground …

We’ve previously noted that the Navy is a mostly defensive force.  Now, we have to add the Marines to that assessment as they are transforming from a ground seizing force to a missile-based defense force.


For the sake of discussion, let’s pretend that the idiotic Marine concept of small, hidden, missile launching forces is completely valid, effective, and survivable.  How does that concept impact an overall war?  Well, let’s consider what influence a small missile launching unit can have in combat.


Being able to launch a handful of anti-ship missiles into an area of one or two hundred miles radius around the launch point prevents enemy ships from entering that area – again, we’ll assume that enemy Aegis-type ships would be deterred by a handful of missiles.  That’s a denial capability which is, inherently, defensive.  In the Chinese theatre, this translates to setting up a blockade of sorts – we’ll assume we’ll somehow get permission to set up such bases on the myriad islands that we have no ownership of, or basing rights to, – that, at its most effective, prevents the Chinese surface navy from exiting the first island chain.  We’ll ignore the fact that for the foreseeable future, the Chinese have no interest in exiting the first island chain during a war.


Now, let’s consider the geography and distances.  The distance from the first island chain islands to the Chinese mainland is 500-1000 miles depending on where you choose to measure.  The shortest distances are from the Philippines and we can safely assume that the Chinese-leaning Philippines are not going to grant us basing rights in a war with China.  We’ll be lucky if they don’t actively enter the war on the Chinese side!  So, that leaves us with the longer distances, again, assuming we can get basing rights anywhere.  That means that the bulk of the thousand mile deep South China Sea is unthreatened by the Marine’s one or two hundred mile missiles – we’ll ignore the targeting challenges involved in getting sensor platforms one to two hundred miles deep into the South China Sea and surviving long enough to find a target and transmit data.


The usual purpose of a war is to seize territory:  either territory you want to take from someone else or territory you want to reclaim because it was taken from you.  As they are constituted today and as they are envisioned in the moderately near future, how are the Navy and Marines set up to seize territory?  The short, brutal answer is that they are not. 


The Marines have flat out stated that they are out of the amphibious frontal assault business.  Further, they have transformed themselves from a middle weight force with tanks and artillery to a very light infantry force with no tanks, not much artillery, no armored fighting vehicles, and few heavy weapons.  They won’t be seizing anything.


In short, the Marines have very little to contribute to an offensive strategy.


The navy can’t, themselves, seize ground, of course.  However, the traditional role of the Navy is to support ground forces that can seize territory.  That role involves transporting soldiers and supplies, providing amphibious assault ships and ground support firepower, and conducting offensive strikes in support of an overall offensive, ground seizing strategy. 


Unfortunately, the Navy has completely abandoned naval gun support firepower, has only an obsolete, non-survivable land attack cruise missile that is too expensive to use in general area bombardment, and has ships that are too expensive to risk in open battle.  The Navy’s main weapon system is Aegis and that is a purely defensive system. 


The Navy has only the big deck amphibious ships for transport and those are likely to be phased out in favor of the small Light Amphibious Warships (capacity 75 troops) that the Marine Commandant has demanded the Navy give him.  Given the cost of building, manning, and maintaining large amphibious ships that the Marines don’t want, the Navy is likely to quickly begin retiring the large ships.


In short, the Navy has very little to contribute to an offensive strategy.


The Navy and Marines have ensured that the next offensive waged by this country will be a purely Army affair with no Marine contribution and, at best, some logistics contribution from the Navy.


Of course, if we toss in even a bit of realism (you noted all the assumptions we had to make in the preceding discussion in order to keep the conversation moving?), the Marines missile-shooting concept is dead on arrival and they won’t be able to contribute even a defensive effort.


Seize the high ground?      Sorry, no ……..

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Mk16 ASROC and Harpoon Launcher

Before the advent of VLS, missiles were launched from some type of arm or box launcher.  One such launcher was the Mk16 ASROC/Harpoon box launcher.  Let’s take a closer look at the launcher.


The Mk16 was an 8-cell box launcher that could rotate and elevate to provide complete hemispherical coverage (minus superstructure cut outs, of course).  The launcher was sized for ASROC (RUR-5) and Harpoon missiles.  Early systems had no reloads while latter versions mounted on Spruance, Knox, California, and other classes had up to 16 automated reloads.(1)

Mk16 Launcher


We’ve previously discussed the relative merits of single arm launchers and VLS systems (see, “VLS Versus Arm Launchers”) and the Mk16 ASROC launcher benefits fall into the single arm category.  Trainable launchers offer some advantages over vertical launchers, as we’ve noted. 


In addition, one of the major benefits of a box launcher is that it has no significant deck penetration into the hull as opposed to VLS and arm launcher systems which consume large volumes of internal hull space.  Of course, the reloadable versions of the box launcher require internal volume for storage of the reloads.


Another benefit of the box launcher was the ability to mix loads of ASROC and Harpoon.  The reloadable version of the box launcher offered a maximum of 24 Harpoon missiles which far outguns any Navy ship today.  Even a reasonable mix would offer, say, 8 ASROC and 16 Harpoon.


It is worth noting that today’s VLS still does not support Harpoon anti-ship missiles although the Navy is looking at adapting the LRASM anti-ship missile to vertical launch.  Given anticipated budget constraints, that may or may not come to fruition and Navy interest appears to have greatly abated.


Before one scoffs at the outdated technology of a box launcher, it should be noted that the Navy, today, employs box launchers for Sea Sparrow missiles (Mk29 launcher) on carriers and RAM launchers, which are just a smaller version of a box launcher, on a variety of ships.  Similarly, the Army uses box launchers extensively.


Mk29 Launcher and RAM Launcher in Background

Just as we’ve previously noted that the arm launchers have certain advantages over VLS systems, box launchers share some of the same advantages such as being able to train directly at the threat and launching horizontally which eliminates the vertical tip-over and gets missiles on the threat faster.  With that in mind, it is worth considering a wider application of box launchers, possibly with the earlier combination of Harpoon and ASROC missiles.


ASROC Launch



Launcher with Reload Hatches in the Superstructure to the Left


Launcher Behind 5" Gun






Friday, May 14, 2021

Saturation Firepower

As we’ve thoroughly documented, the Navy is going full speed down the path of networks and data and de-emphasizing firepower.  They now want to build smaller, unmanned ships that are significantly weaker than Burkes or even the coming frigate.  ComNavOps has repeatedly demonstrated the folly of this approach and suggested that we should, instead, be pursuing firepower. 


That said, what kind of firepower should we be pursuing?  I’m not posing a question about specific weapons but, rather, a question about general types of firepower.  For this post, I’d like to discuss the concept of saturation as it relates to firepower.


There are two general types of saturation firepower as it relates to naval weapons:


  • Area bombardment
  • Missile attacks (against either land targets or ships)


By definition, saturation attacks overwhelm the enemy’s defenses by presenting the enemy with more attacking munitions than they can defend against in a given moment in time.  By implication, this means that even dumb, unguided munitions can be devastatingly effective if we have more of them than the enemy can stop.


It seems blindingly obvious - but remains a mystery to the Navy - that it does no good to have perfect situational awareness about an enemy but insufficient firepower to do anything about it.  It doesn’t matter if you know the serial numbers of every piece of enemy equipment, how many missiles they have left, and what each enemy sailor had for breakfast if you can’t overwhelm their defenses and destroy them.  There’s no getting around the reality of war that, sooner or later, you have to destroy the enemy’s equipment and kill their soldiers.  Right now, we lack the firepower to do that.  Consider our current weapons.


Anti-ship Weapons


Harpoon – The Harpoon is obsolete and likely totally ineffective against a Chinese fleet due to its lack of stealth, speed, terminal maneuvering, and penetration electronics.  We have Standard missiles that can be used in an anti-ship mode and are faster but their warheads are much smaller and are blast fragmentation rather than high explosive.  The SM-6, for example, has a 140 lb warhead versus the 480 lb Harpoon warhead.  And, of course, they lack terminal evasive maneuvers and penetration electronic aids.  In short, they’re faster than Harpoon but much weaker and no better at penetrating.  Worse, Harpoons are limited to 8 missiles per ship on Mk141 launch racks.  We would need many dozens of ships to mass enough Harpoons to mount a saturation attack and we simply don’t have the number of ships in any realistic scenario.


Naval Strike Missile (NSM) – The NSM is modern and stealthy with a 276 lb warhead.  The problem is that we have very few of them and no plans to acquire significant additional numbers.  Given the extremely limited numbers, there is no possibility of mounting saturation attacks.


Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) – The LRASM has a large 1000 lb warhead, is stealthy, and has a high sub-sonic speed but, again, we have very few of them and no plans to acquire many more.  In addition, it is currently only aerial launch capable.  Setting available inventory issues aside, the problem with aerial launch is that each aircraft can carry only two missiles.  Assembling even a small saturation attack of, say, 100 missiles would require 50 aircraft which is more than an entire carrier air wing.  In practice, it would require around 3 air wings to assemble such an attack force and still provide sufficient tanking, EW, CAP, defensive reserves, etc.  While the Navy has discussed plans to make a vertical launch (VLS) version of LRASM, the reality is that our surface ships currently have no LRASM capability and, given current flat budget projections, may not for quite some time.  Interestingly, our most advanced anti-ship missile is carried only by the LCS!  How’s that for ironically disturbing?  Worse, the Navy seems to have abandoned the LRASM in favor of the Tomahawk.


Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile – The Tomahawk is slow, non-stealthy, and lacks modern terminal maneuvering, sensors, and penetration aids although some upgrades have been applied to the missile.  Currently, numbers are almost non-existent.



Land Attack Weapons


5” Naval Gun – As we’ve discussed many times, the 5” gun is nearly useless for land attack.  It’s very short range requires that the attacking ship approach shore very closely in order to achieve any useful range.  The 5” shells are good for soft targets but nearly useless for armored or fortified targets.  In the area bombardment role, 5” shells simply don’t have the explosive power to be effective.  Worse, the Burke class destroyers have only a single 5” gun each.  It would require 5 Burkes to equal the firepower of a single WWII Fletcher class destroyer.


Tomahawk – The cruise missile is slow, non-stealthy, and has no terminal maneuvering or penetration aids.  In short, it is unlikely to have an acceptable success rate against a peer defender.  Further, at a few million dollars apiece, it is too expensive to use in the area bombardment role although it can be justified for use against high value targets like air or naval bases.





It is clear that the only weapon we currently have that is capable of mounting a saturation attack is the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) and it is obsolete and highly susceptible to modern defenses.  The remaining weapons are either too few in number (NSM, LRASM) or have too little density (Harpoon, 5” gun) on ships to mass an effective saturation attack.


Modern enemy defenses, whether land or sea, are not going to be penetrated by a handful of weapons.  We’ve grown used to attacking undefended, third world or terrorist targets and, as a result, have become lazy in our operational and tactical thinking.  We have developed the mindset that one precision weapon equates to one destroyed target.  The reality, however, is that modern defenses are equipped with layered surface to air missile systems, electronic countermeasures, sophisticated decoys, GPS jamming/spoofing, radar directed gun systems, radar stealth, IR masking, obscurants, etc.  Small groups of missiles will stand no chance of penetrating such defensive systems.  We need to saturate the defenses and overwhelm their ability to cope.


The degree to which we’ve abandoned firepower in favor of networks is truly frightening.  I’ll keep repeating this:  sooner or later you have to be able to destroy the enemy and networks can’t do that.



Here’s a few implications from this discussion:


  • We need large caliber naval guns and not any of this sub-caliber sabot nonsense, either.  Sub-caliber means sub-explosive which means ineffective.  Not only do we need large caliber naval guns but we need large numbers of them.  Quantity has a quality all its own.
  • Saturation requires numbers.  We need to be able to launch or fire large numbers of weapons.  For example, attacking even a moderate size enemy task force will require hundreds of missiles to overwhelm their defenses.  Where are we going to get hundreds of missiles for a strike?  As noted, we seem to have standardized on around 8 Harpoons/NSM per ship as our offensive firepower.  That means we need 12-30+ ships to generate a single anti-ship saturation strike.
  • We need to develop saturation tactics.  For example, maybe a second wave of high explosives after an initial wave of smaller, saturation weapons intended to deplete an enemy’s defensive magazines and inflict sensor blinding damage and disable weapon launchers.
  • We need to develop a cheap, basic, anti-ship / land attack missile that can be procured in large quantity.  The key to cheap is simplicity.  It doesn’t matter if the missile doesn’t have every bell and whistle if we can procure and employ it in saturation quantities.
  • We need to regain our offensive mindset.  The Navy has, for far too long, been defensive minded and that has negatively impacted our capacity to conduct offensive operations. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

At The End Of The Rainbow ... Cloud Computing!

The military’s current fad is cloud computing – that nebulous, magic ‘thing’ that will seamlessly connect every sensor, every shooter, and every individual on the battlefield.  What’s the vision?


  • we’ll know everything and the enemy will know nothing
  • we’ll make all the right decisions and the enemy will be paralyzed with indecision
  • we’ll have every sensor and shooter connected and the enemy will have no coordination whatsoever


What’s the key to making all this work?


It’s cloud. It is having your data connected and in a place where I can run analytics on it in real time or near real time, and then render informed decisions to support war-fighting missions,” said Rob Carey, former Navy CIO and deputy DoD CIO, now president of Cloudera Government Solutions. (1)


What’s the key assumption - and flaw - in the preceding statement?  It’s the ‘render informed decisions’.


The reality of any battlefield intel system, whether human or machine based, is that the raw data will be badly compromised.  That being the case, we fall back to the well known axiom, GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).  Wait a minute … with gazillabytes of data, light speed networks, and artificial intelligence assisted analysis, how can our raw data be garbage?  It’ll be garbage for the same reasons it’s historically always been garbage:


Destroyed sensors resulting in only sporadic and partial sensor coverage

Enemy deception (decoys, misdirection, camouflage, obscurants) resulting in incorrect sensor data


Misinformation via spurious or incorrect data (false signals) injected into the networks

Miscommunication resulting from incomplete and interrupted data streams or verbal reports


So, with all that garbage entering the system, the output is guaranteed to be garbage.  GIGO.  This completely negates the ‘render informed decisions’ assumption.  Whatever decisions are made will be highly suspect.  GIGO.


Now, if we were talking about just one minor aspect of our collective warfighting effort, we’d just make a mental note to question our intel predictions and decisions and continue on with fighting the war directly in front of us - as we’ve always done – using whatever intel we could get but tempering it with the understanding that it is flawed and suspect.  However, we’re not talking about one minor aspect.  We’re talking about the entire basis of our collective US military warfighting effort.  The military wants to base everything on this single, mammoth, all-seeing, all-encompassing, AI-assisted, decision making software program they refere to as Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).  This is the ‘be all’ and ‘end all’ of our military effort.  This is to be our next offset.     ………  and yet it’s obviously flawed from the start at its most fundamental level which is the raw data.  GIGO.


You cannot ‘render informed decisions’ with garbage for raw data.  GIGO.


Now, let’s be fair and objective.  Some of the data will not be garbage.  Some of it will be legitimate.  This has been true throughout history.  Some intel reports are valid.  Some are not.  Some of the raw data is good.  Some is not. 


A ship(s) was sighted at the reported position but the speed, course, number, and type are almost certainly incorrectly reported to an extent.  Which bits are correct and which are not?  We don’t know.  That’s always been the problem.  How do you ‘render informed decisions’ with flawed data?  You don’t!


There are no ‘informed decisions’.  Intel doesn’t give us ‘informed decisions’.  It gives us indications and suggestions and possibilities and alternatives and leanings.  In the end, we don’t make ‘informed decisions’, we make tentative assessments and the operational commanders who use those assessments layer on the understood degree of uncertainty.  The commanders may or may not act on those assessments depending on the degree of uncertainty they have about it and the degree of risk they’re willing to assume if they do act on uncertain assessments.  In the meantime, they continue to wage the war that is directly in front of them and whose outcome is decided by firepower, not intel alone.  Unfortunately, we’re abandoning the firepower part and constructing a system that is wholly based on intel … intel that is going to be as suspect as ever, maybe more so because digital systems are even easier to fool than human systems.


We can see, then, that this system, this dependence on some almighty digital, cloud-based system is flawed due to the inevitable corruption of the raw data but is that the extent of the problem?  No … there is another level of unreality baked into the concept and that is the end user access.  Consider …


“When we want to do call for fires, when we want to do things [where] people’s lives are in jeopardy or they’re at risk, we want that information right there so that they can render their own decision ... at the level of the squad,” Carey said. “So that’s what cloud enables, that connectivity to that information.” (1)


So, there you have it.  It’s simple, really.  The squad, in the middle of battle, with explosives going off all around them, dug into the jungle mud and water, with enemy electronic warfare working full time to jam, disrupt, cyber attack any communications, and with enemy fires waiting to zero in on any communications transmissions, will, we assume, still be able to sit quietly and calmly, with full access to a cloud server somewhere and ‘render informed decisions’.  Does that seem even slightly realistic to you?


Now, multiply this two-way, intensive computer network communications by a factor of many thousands for all the individual squads, ships, HQs, commanders, etc. who will, presumably, be accessing the system on a continuous basis and you’ll quickly see that the electromagnetic airwaves will be ‘humming’ with non-stop transmissions or, as the enemy calls it, a roadmap to all our locations.  Anyone who thinks we can perform this kind of non-stop, grossly huge bandwidth type of communications undetected is a fool or an officer of flag rank.


This concept might have the tiniest, most miniscule chance of working against stone age, third world terrorists in a zero threat environment but it has no chance in any real world scenario against a peer enemy.


Just out of curiosity, given that the Chinese appear to have already penetrated every network we have, why do we think our cloud system is going to be immune from cyber attack?


I apologize for being crude but this is just mental masturbation on a military wide scale.

Pot of Gold at the End of the Battle Rainbow - Cloud Computing !





(1)crisrnet website, “How cloud computing makes Joint All-Domain Command and Control possible”, Andrew Eversden, 26-Apr-2021,