Friday, October 29, 2021

A Vision of Unmanned Combat

ComNavOps has railed against unmanned vehicles, at least as the Navy envisions them, but is there an unmanned future that might make sense?  I do actually see a future for unmanned combat but not the way the Navy is going about it.  Let’s do a fictional exploration of the unmanned future done the right way.


By the way, here’s a couple of previous posts on the subject:

Piece It Together

Drone Wars


Here’s a story describing a different approach to unmanned combat.  As always, and especially so in this case, this is not an attempt at presenting a realistic combat simulation.  It is just a presentation of concepts in a more entertaining story form.





The enemy island base had become an intolerable thorn in the Navy’s side.  The base’s surveillance UAVs were ranging far and wide and restricting what the Navy could accomplish.  The effective surveillance had enabled the enemy to employ their own anti-ship missiles to hold the Navy at a distant arm’s length.  Cruise missile attacks against the base had proven fruitless as the enemy AAW laser emplacements, railguns, and miniature hypersonic Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) had simply blotted the attacking cruise missiles from the sky and the few missiles that had gotten through had been insufficient to make an appreciable dent in the base’s operations due to the facilities having been built into underground, reinforced structures or above ground, hardened shelters. 


It was time for some up close and personal attention.  The Navy was going to conduct an amphibious assault against the base but it would be in a form unimaginable to the sailors and Marines who had conducted the long series of amphibious assaults in the Pacific of WWII.  As a former Marine Commandant had once said, the Marines were out of the frontal assault business but that didn’t mean that an assault couldn’t be done.


As the invasion fleet began its approach – ‘approach’ being a relative term for a fleet still a thousand miles away! - to the island, the opening moves began.


The fleet’s UAV carriers began launching unmanned combat aircraft (UCAV) to seek out and destroy the enemy’s long range manned and unmanned aircraft.  These UCAVs were not the ‘Terminators’ of popular conception that could go to toe-to-toe with manned fighters – not even close!  Instead, the UCAVs had a simple search and destroy function that was successful due to numbers rather than individual capability.  In fact, the UCAVs weren’t much more than aerial missiles that, themselves, carried two missiles, each.  The UCAVs were designated areas to search and instructed to destroy anything they found.  The first wave consisted of almost 200 UCAVs.  This was massing at the local level.


Of course, the enemy had their own UCAVs and the attrition rates on both sides were stunning, the more so when unmanned aircraft met manned.  The manned aircraft generally made short work of the UCAVs but the overwhelming numbers of unmanned aircraft ensured that they could still accomplish their mission. 


The first wave of UCAVs fought to a standstill but succeeded in depleting the enemy’s manned aircraft weapons and forcing them to return to base to refuel and rearm.  While that was happening, the fleet’s UAV carriers launched a second wave of 200 UCAVs which, thanks to the greatly reduced enemy manned aircraft threat, was able to largely eliminate the enemy’s airborne sensor platforms which allowed the fleet to continue its approach to the island with only a greatly reduced anti-ship missile threat to deal with.


As the UCAV battle progressed, the UAV carriers also launched a wave of nearly a hundred unmanned sensor monitors.  These were UAVs that were modified to fly to a designated location and then ‘crash’ into the sea whereupon they would float and act as passive monitors.  Being passive and with not much more than horizon sensing range, they were not some kind of super-sensor that could find all enemy targets in the region.  Instead, they functioned more by providing a sense of where the enemy was not rather than where they were.  Of course, occasionally, they were able to definitively detect enemy units but that was almost a side benefit.  Thus, the invasion fleet was able to establish a reasonable picture of enemy locations and activity.


Despite the reduced anti-ship missile threat, enough got through the fleet’s defenses that a few ships were sunk and several damaged to the point that they had to individually retire and make their way back to base.  Still, a sufficiently intact fleet arrived at the actual assault point.


At this point, the UAV carriers launched a wave of sonar equipped underwater unmanned scout vehicles (SUUV) to scout the approaches to the landing site.  The SUUVs quickly identified shoals of enemy mobile mines slowly converging on the fleet, drawn to it by their passive sonar.  These mobile mines were, essentially, torpedoes optimized for long range, slow speed approaches, hugging the bottom of the ocean floor.  Their intent was to reach a point under a ship and then initiate a near-vertical terminal sprint into the underside of the target ship.


The UAV carriers had a counter for the mobile mines which were smaller, faster underwater ‘fighter’ UUVs (FUUV) that would search for the mobile mines and fire very small torpedoes which mimicked the function of an aircraft’s air-to-air missiles.  The FUUVs engaged in underwater ‘strafing’ attacks against the mobile mines and were able to largely destroy the threat.  Again, not all could be stopped and several more ships were damaged and two more sunk.


As the FUUVs were being recovered back aboard the UAV carriers, those same carriers began simultaneously launching the first assault wave of crawlers.  The crawlers were an amphibious, mobile vehicle that traveled on spherical, tracked rollers that granted tremendous maneuverability and the ability to traverse broken ground and obstacles on land or under the sea.  With the mine threat eliminated, the crawlers were able to complete their slow approach to the beach whereupon they began emerging from the waves and started to move inland.


The crawlers were programmed with simple destination and targeting instructions and were free to choose their own paths to the enemy base.  While they were easy enough to kill individually, their numbers and small size ensured that many would survive to reach the target base.  This was massing on a local basis and it was effective.  Once at the base, the crawlers performed simple optical and IR scans to locate suitable, pre-defined target types, approached those targets, and detonated themselves.  Of course, the enemy had their own unmanned, ground combat vehicles that roamed the battlefield and tried to intercept the crawlers.  However, the degree of intelligence and capability of the sensors that could be fit into small unmanned ground combat vehicles was limited and while many crawlers were intercepted and destroyed, the massed crawler numbers were sufficient to ensure that enough got through to the target. 


The crawler’s main targets were the SAM radars, launchers, and reloads and they were sufficiently successful that the fleet could begin launching cruise missiles and aircraft for more precise strikes with larger weapons.


At this point, there would be a great deal of hard fighting still to come but the assault was a success.  The enemy’s defenses had been breached and follow on forces could complete the mission.








Here’s a description of some of the unmanned vehicles mentioned in the story.


Crawlers – These are small, heavily armored, mobile explosives.  They are spherically tracked which gives them great maneuverability and the ability to traverse broken terrain and obstacles.  They are equipped with various short range sensors and rudimentary find and destroy ‘intelligence’.  They seek out a designated target, move up to it, and explode.  The heavy armor makes them hard to kill.  They can crawl along the sea floor and on land equally well.  They are employed by the thousands.  Each has an explosive equivalent to an 8” shell which, with propulsion gear and sensors, gives a total weight of around 500 lbs.


Waves of these crawl up out of the sea and inexorably move to the designated targets and explode.


Lest you think this is a ridiculous, scifi, fantasy concoction, note that we already almost have this in the form of two separate, existing vehicles:


Ground robots – For example, the QuinetiQ Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) 




Mobile mines – For example, the US Navy Mk67 Submarine Launched Mobile Mine (SLMM)


All that is needed is to marry the two concepts.



Monitors – These are UAVs that would fly to a designated location and then ‘crash’ into the sea whereupon they would convert to a floating ‘raft’ of sorts with passive optical, communication, and IR sensors as well as a small onboard solar power generator.  The sensors, being located very low on the water, had only a horizon range sensing capability although the comm sensors could often detect signals originating much farther away thanks to signal ducting in the atmosphere.  The value of the monitors was the ability to develop a picture of where the enemy was not more so than where they were.  Precursors of this already exist in the form of sonobuoys and Chinese floating sensor platforms.  All that is needed is to scale the concept to the appropriate size.


Floating Sensor Platform

FUUV – These are unmanned underwater vehicles that are the equivalent of UCAVs.  Equipped with passive and short range active sonar, FUAVs use a simple seek and destroy control program and are armed with two micro-torpedoes which are the functional equivalent of Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.  A precursor of this already exists in the form of Archerfish, Barracuda, and others.



SUUV – These are unmanned underwater scout vehicles.  Equipped with passive and short range active sonar, their function is just what the name implies: to scout for enemy underwater assets.  These essentially already exist in the form of Knifefish and others.





This is not in any way meant to be a realistic, balanced combat simulation.  It is simply a more entertaining way of illustrating some unmanned concepts.  So, what are the key takeaways from this?



Numbers.  The common theme throughout the story is large numbers of unmanned assets.  Lots and lots of numbers.  By the hundreds and several times that.  It is important to recognize that one of the key characteristics of unmanned assets is – or should be – cheapness which translates to numbers.  Individual assets are not supremely capable and are, in fact, only marginally capable.  It is in the aggregate that they become capable.  Numbers.  Lots and lots of numbers.


Artificial Intelligence - Unmanned assets, lacking Terminator level artificial intelligence, need to be employed in very large swarms to be effective which, again, takes us back to affordability.  One of the key aspects of the story’s vision of unmanned assets is that not only are the individual assets not very ‘intelligent’, they are downright simplistic.  This means that they are not suited for low end, peacetime operations that would require careful discrimination between combatants and non-combatants.  Instead, they are intended only for high end combat where anything they see that meets a basic set of criteria becomes a legitimate target.  This keeps the programming simple, cheap, reliable, and far less prone to deception by an enemy.


Carriers - It is obvious that launching, controlling, collating data, and recovery of the required number of unmanned assets requires a dedicated carrier capable of handling both aerial and underwater unmanned vehicles.



It is clear from this story that ComNavOps’ vision of a potential viable future for unmanned assets is radically different from the Navy’s.  This vision is focused on utilizing unmanned assets for combat scenarios rather than the ridiculously optimistic scenarios that the Navy is assuming.  Further, this vision of unmanned assets focuses on the characteristics and strengths of unmanned assets (cost, simplicity, numbers, and risk tolerance) rather than trying to create gold-plated unmanned systems that are unaffordable and unachievable. 


There is a future for unmanned assets but it’s not the Navy’s vision.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Sea Control

The term, ‘Sea Control’, is an oft cited phrase that is used to justify all manner of ships and operations.  The problem with ‘Sea Control’, however, is that everyone who discusses it has a different idea of what it is.  Is it any wonder, then, that no two ‘Sea Control’ discussions draw the same conclusions?


Note:  This post is inspired by comments from many people, most recently reader ‘Lazarus’ who offered this comment that prompted me to think about ‘Sea Control’ definitions and what that might mean for ship/carrier designs.(2)  My thanks to all of you!


Here’s a few of the more common definitions/descriptions of Sea Control (SC):


ASW – This view sees SC as more akin to an anti-submarine, hunter-killer function.  It is an undersea, sea control concept and, as such depends on uncontested aerial dominance to be successful.  This concept typically envisions a helo-centric carrier with a few fixed wing aircraft added in for supposed air supremacy.  As a pure ASW task force, this has validity but the broader view of an ASW sea control group that also engages in other naval dominance activities is highly suspect given the lack of firepower.


Anti-Surface – This view envisions SC groups sweeping the oceans, looking for enemy naval forces and engaging them to eliminate the enemy’s navy.  This concept typically envisions a converted amphibious ship operating a fixed wing group of 1-2 dozen AV-8/F-35B aircraft.  Alternatively, a full Nimitz/Ford carrier has been mentioned as the SC element although this would seem to be simply a carrier task force.


Patrol – This view has the SC group ‘patrolling’ (whatever that means) around an area and presumably attacking whatever it comes across thereby establishing local dominance.  There is a suggestion in most such descriptions that the SC group would operate around the periphery of a conflict which, in turn, suggests that the main function would be almost tantamount to blockading and would be largely focused on anti-merchant shipping.  This concept typically envisions some kind of hybrid cruiser-carrier and requires total air control to be successful.


Convoy – This view envisions a small carrier operating as a convoy escort providing ASW and AAW protection.  This concept typically envisions using a WWII escort type carrier.


Nebulous – This is, honestly, the most prevalent view and is characterized by a lack of any specifics beyond the vague notion of establishing some sort of local naval dominance.  Proponents tend to be much more concerned with the type of sea control ship (usually a smaller, specialized carrier of some sort) rather than the actual use/mission.



SC enthusiasts have put forth ideas for ship designs and group compositions that cover a range of concepts including small, specialized escort carriers, dedicated ASW carriers, modified LHA amphibious ships, hybrid cruiser/carriers, and full size Nimitz/Fords.  Quite a range!  The range of ship concepts reflects the lack of a standardized definition of Sea Control and lack of a concrete mission/role.


How does the military define SC?  From Joint Publication 3-32,


Sea control may include naval cooperation and guidance for shipping, protection of sea lines of communications, air lines of communications, blockades, embargoes against economic or military shipping, and maritime interception operations (MIO). (1)


Well, that’s not very helpful.  That’s just a very vague definition of what a navy does and is much more focused on peacetime patrol operations than actual war.




Honestly, the only reasonable conclusion is that there is no such thing as sea control and that the phrase is just a buzzword used to justify someone’s idea of a hybrid carrier or small naval group – in other words, the phrase ‘sea control’ is used to describe equipment rather than a role or mission.


Well, before we give up on sea control, let’s give it some more thought.


If ‘sea control’ is legitimate then what are we controlling?  Most of the sea, most of the time, is empty.  There aren’t that many naval forces around.  Even in the Pacific in WWII, how many actual naval battles were fought?  Not that many.  That suggests that having a standing sea control group patrolling around a given area is generally pointless.


Of the entire Pacific Ocean in WWII, how often was any given square mile of water occupied by an enemy vessel?  I’d guess somewhere around 0.000000001% of the time.  Again, that suggests that having a standing sea control group patrolling around a given area is generally pointless.


Consider the WWII naval battles that did occur.  How many were a total surprise to both sides?  I’m guessing around none.  Given the highly predictable strategies on both sides and the intel from various sources (scouting, code breaking, coast watching, signal analysis, etc.), both sides were generally aware of where and when the other’s naval forces would appear.  On those occasions, task forces were assembled and sent to engage but, of course, that’s a short, specific mission, not sea control, at least not as the term is being discussed here.  Again, that suggests that having a standing sea control group patrolling around a given area is generally pointless.


Now, let’s consider the idea of a SC group lounging around some area in the general vicinity of, say, the first island chain during a war with China.  Given the ranges of today’s various anti-ship weapons, the density of various ISR sources, and the presumed weakness of a sea control group’s AAW defenses, is it really safe/wise for a lightly armed group to be loitering around a war zone?  There are many naval observers who doubt that even a full-fledged carrier group can survive in a modern war zone (they’re wrong but, I digress …).  If that’s true, what chance would a SC group have of surviving long enough to be effective?  Logically, then, a SC group would either have to operate so far from the active war zone as to be irrelevant or would be quickly detected and destroyed if operating near an active war zone.





Sea control, as a phrase, appears to be much like ‘littoral’ which was used to justify new ships for the Navy despite there not actually being any such thing as littoral naval requirements (see, “Littoral Warfare – Is There Such A Thing?”).  The phrase ‘sea control’ has no useful, valid definition and has no specific mission associated with it.  It is used to justify fanciful ship designs rather than describing a viable, bona fide mission or role.  In fact, there does not appear to be any readily identifiable and relevant mission or role that we could label sea control.  Further, historical evidence from WWII strongly suggests that there is no justification for a SC group regardless of what mission/role it would be attempting.


I just can’t give the concept any credence.






(1)Joint Publication 3-32, “Joint Maritime Operations”, 16-Dec-2020



Monday, October 25, 2021

Bonhomme Richard Accountability

The Navy has released the results of its investigation into the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, LHD-6.  Navy Times website reports that 36 people are accountable and face possible disciplinary action (1) including the following: 

  • Vice Adm. Richard Brown, Commander, Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet
  • Rear Adm. Scott Brown, Pacific Fleet’s maintenance officer
  • Rear Adm. William Greene, Fleet Forces’ East Coast maintenance officer
  • Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander, Navy Region Southwest facilities
  • Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage, Navy Regional Maintenance Center  
  • Capt. Gregory Thoroman, Bonhomme Richard’s commanding officer
  • Capt. Michael Ray, Bonhomme Richard’s executive officer
  • Command Master Chief Jose M. Hernandez


Now, before we celebrate the fact that several flag rank officers are included in the list, let’s note several things about this list and the possibility of disciplinary action:


  • These are report recommendations and some, none, or all may occur.  The reality is that most will likely not occur.  You may recall that the Navy was, initially, going to charge the Commanding Officers of the Burkes that were involved in collisions with negligent homicide, among other charges.  That never happened.(2, 3)
  • While ComNavOps is entirely in favor of accountability, the number one person in accountability is conspicuously absent from the list and that would be CNO Gilday.  This is just a scapegoat list, not true accountability.  If there was any actual accountability and integrity, CNO Gilday would have submitted himself for disciplinary action and then resigned.  This is just theater with a handful of sacrificial lambs being offered up.
  • None of these people, if they had protested the prevailing conditions and failures prior to the incident, would have been listened to and would, instead, have been disciplined and fired for failing to make do.  We’ve seen this repeatedly.  Ask the Commanding Officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, of the carrier USS Roosevelt who protested COVID conditions.  He lost his command.
  • As we’ve seen in the previous investigation reports of multiple collisions, fires, groundings, and loss of ships, despite report after report and nearly endless lists or recommendations, nothing of consequence has actually changed and senior leadership has not been held to account.  Nothing will change from this, either, and senior leadership will not be held to account to any significant degree.



Regarding recommendations and changes, one interesting passage from the report seems to recognize that the spate of collision, grounding, and fire reports in recent years has not materially improved conditions.


The Navy has created requirements that have not been followed or verified as effective by their owners, and many personnel within the Fleet lacked awareness to their existence as seen in this investigation.  Crafting requirements without effective follow-through creates the illusion of fixing a problem, giving false comfort that the same problem would not recur. (4) [emphasis added]


Significant change and improvement will only come when the CNO is court-martialed and the Secretary of the Navy is fired.  With that precedent established, their successors may become motivated to pursue actual improvement.




(1)Navy Times, “36 officials, including five admirals, face potential discipline over Bonhomme Richard fire”, Geoff Ziezulewicz,  20-Oct-2021,


(2)The commanding officer and tactical action officer of the USS Fitzgerald received letters of censure in lieu of any formal charges.


(3)The commanding officer of the USS McCain pled guilty to a single charge of negligence in not setting a proper watch team.  The plea resulted in a letter of reprimand and forfeiture of $6,000 pay.


(4)”Command Investigation into the fire aboard into the fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) 12 JULY 2020”, p.312


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Passive Hawkeye

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


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


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


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


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


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

ES-3A Shadow - Passive Hawkeye?


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


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


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

Monday, October 18, 2021

Fleet Size Determination

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


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


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

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


Let’s look at each answer/rationale:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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






Jun ‘38

Jun ‘39

Jun ‘40

Dec ‘41

Dec ‘42

Dec ‘43

Dec ‘44









Carriers, Fleet








Carriers, Escort
























Destroyer Escorts
























Combat Fleet








Mine Warfare


































Table adapted from:




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


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


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



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


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


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


Option 3.  Drastically increase our shipbuilding capacity.



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

Option 2 ensures Chinese global domination.

Option 3 is the only one that makes sense.



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


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


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