Saturday, January 29, 2022

Ford Reliability

The nearly worthless DOT&E annual report has been released and one of the very few sets of actual data is for the Ford EMALS, AAG, and elevator systems.  Let’s take a look at the data.


Note: Reference is made in the quotes to ‘ISE’ which is an abbreviation for Independent Steaming Event which is part of a series of at sea, post-delivery tests and trials.  It’s basically one of a sequence of test periods at sea.  The number indicates which test/event it is in the sequence.  So, for example, ISE 12 would be the twelfth at sea test period.





DOT&E reports this data for the Ford EMALS,


During the 8,157 catapult launches conducted through ISE 18, EMALS achieved a reliability of 272 mean cycles between operational mission failures (MCBOMF), where a cycle is the launch of one aircraft.  This reliability is well below the requirement of 4,166 MCBOMF. [1, p.144]


Compare this to the preceding year’s report,


During the 3,975 catapult launches conducted post PSA through ISE 11, EMALS demonstrated an achieved reliability of 181 mean cycles between operational mission failure (MCBOMF), where a cycle is the launch of one [2, p.137]


What is not clear is whether the phrase ‘through ISE 18’ refers to the total since the beginning of the program up through ISE 18 or whether it refers to the incremental change since the last DOT&E report (2020) which was ISE 11.  If it refers to the cumulative lifetime total then the results are skewed by the initial higher failure rate.  If it refers to the incremental number since the previous report then we can get a good feel for the current performance.


My interpretation is that the numbers are cumulative.  This means we can, therefore, take the difference between the current (2021) figure of 8,157 launches and the 2020 figure of 3,975 launches, do some simple arithmetic and get the performance for the last year (ISE 13 through ISE 18) which, presumably, should show substantial improvement over the initial performance and give us a good look at the current status.


Simple arithmetic gives us the actual number of failures and allows us to assemble the following table of data.[3]  Calculated data is indicated as such.  Remaining data is from the DOT&E report.






Required MCBOMF

8,157 (through ISE 18)

30 (calculated)



3,975 (through ISE 11)

22 (calculated)



4,182 (calculated - 2021)

8 (calculated)

522 (calculated)




We see, then, that the performance for last year (2021) showed substantial improvement from the initial failure rate of 181 to 522, however, it is still woefully short of the required 4,166.


Okay, it’s still very bad but if it keeps getting better we’ll be okay, right?


Unfortunately, no.  As with any developmental effort, progress and improvement is rapid in the initial stages and then slows quickly as the easy improvements are made and progress becomes increasingly more difficult.  Even if progress were to continue in a linear fashion at the current rate – say, improving from 181 to 522 each year – it would take just over 12 years to get from a failure rate of 522 to 4,166 … but, as I just explained,  that’s not how it works.  Barring a developmental breakthrough, I just don’t see EMALS ever being able to meet the failure rate (MCBOMF) or even come close.



Advanced Arresting Gear


For the AAG system, the current DOT&E report gives,


During 8,157 recoveries, AAG achieved a reliability of 41 MCBOMF, where a cycle is the recovery of a single aircraft. This reliability estimate falls well below the requirement of 16,500 MCBOMF. [1, p.144]


And, from the previous year’s DOT&E report,


Through the first 3,975 recoveries, AAG demonstrated an achieved reliability of 48 MCBOMF, where a cycle is the recovery of a single aircraft. This reliability estimate falls

well below the requirement of 16,500 MCBOMF. [2, p.137]


Treating the data as was done for EMALS,






Required MCBOMF

8,157 (through ISE 18)

199 (calculated)



3,975 (through ISE 11)

83 (calculated)



4,182 (calculated - 2021)

116 (calculated)

36 (calculated)




The data shows that we can only recover around 40 aircraft before experiencing an operational failure.  So, if we were to launch a full air wing strike, only half the aircraft could recover!


There are two things that are absolutely stunning about this data:


1.     The failure rate has barely changed from the initial data.  For practical purposes, there has been no improvement from the start until now!  In fact, the previous year’s failure rate is actually slightly worse than the initial rates!

2.     The difference between the actual MCBOMF of around 40 and the requirement of 16,500 is staggering.  No amount of further development is going to eliminate that gap and, as with EMALS, the easy improvements have already taken place and progress from now on will be slower.  Yikes!





For the Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWE), we have only one set of data.  From the DOT&E report,


Therefore, only preliminary reliability estimates are available to compare to the requirement of 932 hours between operational mission failure. Through the first 14,842 elevator cycles, 68 operational mission failures were reported. [1, p.145]


Again, simple arithmetic gives us the following:


cycles = 14,842

failures = 68

failure rate = 218 versus that target of 932


While this tells us that the performance is still well short of the requirement, it is at least numerically conceivable that the gap can be closed with further development.  On the other hand, with the amount of effort and man-hours that have already gone into this, it is hard to imagine that there is much more improvement left to be had.





The basic function of a carrier is to arm planes (weapon elevators), launch planes (EMALS), and recover planes (AAG).  The Ford is currently unable to perform those basic functions at anywhere near the required level of reliability which means the Ford is unable to perform its basic function.


How do we get from where we are to the requirement?  Disturbingly, for the reasons discussed, it likely can’t be done.  We’re well into the diminishing returns portion of the development curve.  In other words, we’re entering the flatter portion of the development curve and improvements will be fewer and less impactful. 


So, what’s the alternative?  What can be done?  Well, we could rip out the systems and install something proven like the Nimitz systems but that’s almost prohibitively expensive and difficult since the Fords are not designed for those systems.  Instead, I’m going to predict that the Navy will do what they always do when they can’t meet a specification … change the requirement!  I predict the Navy will accept the current performance and simply change the specification.  And just like that, they’ve met the spec!


As bad as all this is, the really scary part is that we’re in the process of building three more identical carriers with, presumably, the same problems.  We are building an entire class of carriers that can’t perform their basic function.


The only slight hope is that the engineers have learned from the Ford and significantly modified the equipment for the subsequent carriers so that they will be able to perform their basic function.  Unfortunately, this is yet another example of concurrent construction.  We’re building multiple ships before the first one is complete and working properly so the EMALS, AAG, and AWE for the subsequent carriers were ordered long ago, before there was time for the development feedback loop to function and, therefore, the equipment is almost certainly identical, for all practical purposes.  Same equipment … same problems.


Of course, given DOT&E’s new practice of concealing almost all data, it’s likely that we’ll never see any data for the other carriers so we’ll have only the Navy’s official statements to inform us … and those will be glowing, without a doubt, as the Navy’s official pronouncements about the Ford have been.  In fact, I’m quite surprised that DOT&E exposed even this data.


On the plus side, China has committed to EMALS for their carriers so they’ll likely have the same problems!





[1]Director, Operational Test & Evaluation, 2021 Annual Report, Jan 2022


[2]Director, Operational Test & Evaluation, 2020 Annual Report, Jan 2021


[3] Launches / failure rate = number of failures

8,157 / 272  = 30 fails

3,975 / 181  = 22 fails


Taking the difference between those two data sets

4,182 / 522  = 8 fails

Friday, January 28, 2022

DOT&E Disappointment

Well, the 2021 DOT&E weapon systems annual report is out and it’s everything I was afraid it would be:  watered down to the point of being nearly useless (see, “The Demise of DOT&E”).  I’ve read the entire Navy section and the only actual data was about the Ford EMALS, AAG, and elevator reliability.  Other than that, across all the remaining systems and programs, there was no data.  Beyond that, there was almost no qualitative information, either; no indications of what problems exist and why.  The most common phrase in the report – which appears verbatim in every individual section, generally multiple times, is, ‘Not enough data are currently available … ‘.


The report is not worth the time it took to write and is certainly not worth anyone’s time to read.


This is a major disappointment.  For many years, DOT&E was the sole voice of reality and sanity in the military development and testing world and now that voice has been silenced.  I don’t know why DOT&E decided to do this.  They proffered a vague excuse about security but, having read all the previous DOT&E reports, I can assure you there was never anything remotely classified in any report and there was nothing that would have given an enemy any insight or advantage.


What there was, was an honest, test-based assessment of our systems as opposed to the Navy’s outright lies.  We have lost that voice and the Navy has shaken off the last vestige of accountability.  Yes, DOT&E is issuing an informative report for Congress that has been deemed to be a ‘controlled unclassified information’ document but that will not be available to the public.


The country has lost the only reliable oversight reporting available about the military development efforts and this can only bode ill for informed oversight.  We, the people, will be the worse for this loss. 


Nickolas Guertin, Director Operational Test and Evaluation, has failed the country and his duty.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Pointless Drones

The Navy is experimenting with small, unmanned boats in the Middle East.  VAdm. Brad Cooper, commander 5th Fleet, talked about small motorboats and a small sailboat operating out of Bahrain and Jordan,


“The drones that we have operating at Aqaba, [Jordan,] have been at sea for 33 straight days,” he said. “They’re really redefining what persistence means in the maritime environment.” [1]


So what?  Persistence without action is pointless.  We already have all the persistence we need.  Remember the video of Iranians attaching mines to a cargo ship?  We had persistence but we refused to couple it to action.  We don’t need any more persistence.  We have thirty or more significant bases in the Middle East and dozens more smaller or undisclosed bases.  US Central Command reports 60,000 – 70,000 troops in the region.  On any given day, the Navy operates dozens of ships ranging from patrol boats to carrier groups.  The Air Force operates hundreds of aircraft in the region.  UAVs crowd the skies.  How much more persistence do we need?


Persistence?  We fart persistence!


Action?  Uh … … …  not so much.


When you do couple action with persistence you get positive results.  Do you recall the Iraqi soldiers trying to surrender to a battleship’s UAV in Desert Storm?  That’s because the UAVs presence (persistence) was directly coupled to a battleship bombardment.  The Iraqis knew this and the mere presence (persistence) of the UAV was then sufficient to instill fear and induce surrender.


  • Persistence without action is pointless.
  • Persistence with action produces results.


We’ve opted for the former instead of the latter, to our great detriment.


23 ft Saildrone Explorer

Mantas Tx Family


This small unmanned boat experiment is further evidence of putting the unmanned cart before the horse.  Instead of developing specific military needs (CONOPS) and then acquiring or developing the equipment (possibly unmanned or possibly not) to meet those needs, we’re developing technology for its own sake and then trying to shoehorn it into some operational fit.  Thus far, that approach has been a stunning failure (for example, see, “AFSB – Looking For Something To Do”).


We have got to stop trying to use technology as a substitute for strategy.


We have got to break this cycle of technology first and then operational requirements.  The proper cycle is requirements (CONOPS) first and then equipment.


Moving on …


So what can a small unmanned boat do for us?  We can mount a camera or some other small, short range sensor on it but what does that gain us?  We can already see everything that’s going on in the Middle East.  How will some additional small boats help?  Even if we were so inclined, they’re incapable of any action.  I’m missing the operational requirement for small, unmanned boats that carry a camera and don’t do anything.


On the negative side, I can see the potential for lots of trouble.  Iran didn’t hesitate to seize two fully armed, manned Navy combat boats so how long do you think it will be until they seize a small, unmanned boat?  Iran hasn’t hesitated to seize US UAVs so how long do you think it will be until they seize a small, unmanned boat?  Iran hasn’t hesitated to blow up cargo ships while we watch so how long do you think it will be until they take target practice at one of these unmanned boats just for fun and propaganda purposes … while we watch?


We have jumped right over CONOPS and landed on unmanned.  Why?  No one knows since there is no validating exercise.  Actually, we do know why – it’s technology for the sake of technology;  it’s change for the sake of change so that some admiral can claim to have done something.






[1]Breaking Defense, “US 5th Fleet commander: ‘Dramatic uptick’ in Iran’s drone use ”, Valerie Insinna, 14-Jan-2022,

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Task Force

The Admiral stood on the catwalk outside the bridge of the carrier, scanning around the horizon.  Sure, he had all the fancy displays and charts and staff feeding him updates but there was no substitute for simply standing out in the weather, absorbing the feel of the situation.  He was a throwback to an earlier time, he supposed, but it worked for him.  For the moment, there were no flight operations and the quiet time allowed him to gather his thoughts and consider his decisions. 


Distantly, he could see an occasional escort ship, one of 33 in the 4-carrier task force, but the group was far too spread out to see most of the ships.  That was one of the things he and his ship captains had had to get used to after a life of peacetime sailing in relatively close formation instead of true battle formations.  He liked it, though.  It had never seemed right to sail with ships so close together.  It wasn’t combat-ready.  It was just a lazy, bad habit developed in peacetime.  He felt comfortable, now, with the group spread out over fifty miles or more.


Overhead, a small UAV passed by on its way out to its designated scouting point.  No one controlled the UAV.  It was flying simple waypoints and would remain communications-silent unless it found a reportable target and then it would issue only a momentary micro-burst transmission.


Far off, a contrail marked one of the CAP aircraft going about its business.  At least a dozen CAP aircraft were always in the air.  Death could approach far too fast to depend on aircraft sitting on the carrier decks to respond.  If aircraft weren’t already in the air when a threat appeared, it would be too late.


Hundreds of miles away, far out of sight on all sides of the task force, additional aircraft were conducting counter-scouting sweeps to deny the enemy targeting data on the group.  The semi-stealthy F-35Cs had, at last, found a task they excelled at.  The task force had already destroyed three enemy search aircraft before they had been able to spot the task force.  In fact, it was quite likely that the enemy search planes had never even detected the F-35s.  The searchers had simply ceased to exist in the space of a heartbeat, never knowing what had happened.  In addition, two enemy commercial fishing boats had been destroyed hundreds of miles out from the group.  The Admiral was taking no chance that the fishing boats would radio the group’s location.  Maybe the boats were simply eking out a living and represented no threat but this was war, not some half-measure, semi-peacetime operation where avoidance of collateral damage and concern for civilians was more important than combat objectives.  If it wasn’t a US warship, it died.


A blinking light on a distant escort caught his eye.  A message was being relayed back to the carrier from an escort far over the horizon.  Who would have thought that blinker lights would have become the standard means of communication on today’s maritime battlefield?  The necessities of EMCON had resurrected the role of the signalman.


The admiral almost thought he could hear the silence of the inactive radars that normally poured massive amounts of electromagnetic noise into the world.  It felt right to him.  A task force should be silent.  Silent but not blind.  The group was constantly monitoring their surroundings using every passive EO, IR, and signal collection sensor they had.  In every ship, operators strained to pick out the faintest hint of a threat.


Far ahead, the Admiral glanced at the dark, rolling clouds that signaled a storm.  The carrier group was headed straight for that storm and it was a blessing.  The weather would provide safety and concealment, at least for a while.  Peacetime sailors on deployment had bemoaned bad weather but that had quickly changed.  Now, every sailor who appeared on deck looked first at the sky, hoping to see clouds and storms and the added safety they offered. 


A twitching movement of one of the forward CIWS units caught his attention.  The operators were running non-stop combat drills, he knew.  The unit pointed towards an empty patch of sky and the gun fired a couple of seconds burst, its ripping sound disturbing the quiet.  This was not peacetime where weapons were left idled for months on end and fired once a year during some checklist exercise.  This was war and every gun and missile system in the fleet was test fired every day.  Every weapons station was continually manned and those systems that had the capability were left in full auto mode.  At any given moment, a third of the crew was at their battle stations.  When the enemy appeared – and they eventually would – it would likely be with little warning.  The ships were poised and straining at the leash.  This level of readiness could not be sustained indefinitely but they only needed to do so for the several days that the actual combat portion of the mission would last.  After that, they would return to port and they could rest all they wanted … those who survived.  This was not a several month long peacetime deployment.  The task force was on a mission and they would strike fast and hard and then retire just as quickly.


Glancing around, the Admiral noted with immense satisfaction the several extra SeaRAM and CIWS that had been hurriedly installed in various locations around the carrier.  After the first few carrier losses of the war, the Navy had quickly realized that its standard defensive weapon fits were inadequate, to say the least.  The Admiral had pounded on higher command and demanded the additional weapons.  It was amazing how the engineers, when challenged and turned loose, had managed to find room to mount the additional units.


Below him, on the flight deck, the Admiral watched as the various colored shirts went about their tasks.  EMCON had been extended even to the flight deck crew.  Radios and headsets had been abandoned and the crews had been trained to accomplish their jobs with just hand signals.  It was riskier to operate that way but the crews had enthusiastically embraced the new procedures that reduced emissions and lessened the likelihood of enemy attack.


Taking a final deep, satisfied breath, the Admiral returned to the bridge and was struck, yet again, by the eerie quiet.  Because of the absolute EMCON, there was none of the usual peacetime background buzz of constant communication updates, radar reports, orders, useless information churn, and pointless discussion.  The task force had trained relentlessly for the mission and was now executing it in total silence.  When they spoke, the crew spoke almost in whispers, as if the enemy might hear them.  Cold War carrier groups had trained to launch entire strikes in total radio silence and this group’s EMCON was taking even that to new levels.  Not a single stray electron was being emitted for the enemy to suck up and analyze.  Until incoming missiles appeared at the horizon, the task force would remain a silent ghost.


Smiling slightly, the Admiral acknowledged to himself that he was thoroughly enjoying combat operations.  It was immensely satisfying to not have to continuously answer to higher command.  It was just him.  He knew what the mission was.  He knew how he wanted to execute it.  For once, there was no one looking over his shoulder.  This was the way it should be. 


The Admiral had drilled his captains to exhaustion so that they thoroughly understood the mission, his intent, and the required doctrine.  Now, they would execute the mission without him looking over their shoulders.  They did not need micro-managing from him any more than he needed it from those above him.  His captains knew what to do and they would fight their ships with his intent firmly in mind.  Simplicity was the foundation of the group’s doctrine and it was simplicity that would maintain some degree of order when the inevitable chaos of battle arose.


The Admiral nodded slightly to himself.  The task force was combat-ready.







This was just a short vignette to try to convey a sense of what a combat task force should be and some of the ways it would differ from a peacetime cruise.  Too many people still have the impression that ships will conduct deployments during war just as they do during peace.  I’ve tried to capture many of the individual elements that we discuss and tie them together in a single, coherent picture. 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Future Ship Design

The Navy is currently engaged in the design of future ships to replace Burkes and Ticonderogas and is embarking on a family of unmanned vessels.  That leads us to ask, what is the Navy’s recent track record of new ship designs?  I think we all know it but here’s a listing of the last several surface ship classes the Navy has attempted and how they turned out: 


  • Constellation – already a failure in terms of being an obsolete design dating back to the early 2000’s
  • Ford – massive failure in terms of cost, schedule, and initial performance due to concurrent construction utilizing non-existent systems like EMALS, AAG, and weapon elevators
  • Zumwalt – complete failure due to lack of a mission and the cancellation of the ship’s main weapon system
  • America – failure due to cost, inability to operate the F-35B, and lack of a well deck
  • AFSB/MLP – failure for complete lack of mission
  • JHSV – mechanically success but lacking any useful mission or purpose
  • LCS – unmitigated disaster for every conceivable reason
  • MkVI Patrol Boat – utter failure due to lack of mission; already retired


Well, that’s not encouraging! 


The most common reason for failure in the designs is the lack of a Concept of Operations (CONOPS).  As we know, ship designs are – or should be – derived from a solid, specific, detailed CONOPS which, in turn, is derived from the military strategy and operational planning.  Further, there has been no public discussion of any war games, simulations, or tests conducted in any remotely realistic fashion which would provide a basis for design.  There has also been no discussion of the form of future naval combat and, therefore, the requirements that would derive from that form.  So, we lack all of that … and yet the Navy is proceeding with new ship designs, anyway!


Someday, people are going to be discussing the future ship design problems and there will be those who attempt to defend them by saying, yes, there are problems but they only became apparent in hindsight.  Hogwash!  The problems are visible here and now.  But, I digress …


Lacking any of the preceding design bases, let’s see if we can, at least, lay out some general requirements (as opposed to specific designs) for future naval surface combat ships.  These would be requirements and characteristics that seem obvious just by considering developments and trends in technology that would impact combat.  Again, this is not the basis for an actual ship design as that can come only from a consideration of strategic operational requirements and a specific CONOPS.  However, certain technology driven requirements seem fairly obvious.


Note:  The following discussion was triggered by various commenters across multiple posts.  There have been too many people who contributed to the genesis of this post to individually name them but I thank everyone.  Your comments, on any subject, whether I happen to agree or not, are always considered and often trigger new posts so … well done!



Stealth – This one seems obvious and yet we need to clearly understand the rationale.  As future missiles grow ever faster and more powerful, the likelihood of a successful missile attack increases.  One way to counter this is via stealth.  If a missile can’t find a target, it can’t hit it.  So, the purpose of stealth in ship design is not to render the ship ‘invisible’ – there’s no such thing – but to decrease the number of attacking missiles that can find the target and get a viable sensor lock.  The harder we make the attacking missiles work to get a viable sensor lock, the fewer attacking missiles we’ll have to deal with.  See, “Stealth For Dummies”. 


This stealth encompasses not just radar signature but infrared and visible, among others.  We tend to focus on radar but IR and optical stealth will be just as important since missile manufacturers are increasingly going to multi-mode sensors.  Optical stealth, in particular, is almost totally ignored but is an area that needs much more research.  Many manufacturers are attempting to develop missiles that find and track their targets passively (IR and optical) and we can anticipate those modes becoming much more important in future combat.


Stealth also includes electromagnetic emissions control (EMCON).  During the Cold War, our ships routinely operated in EMCON mode and this will become even more important in the future.  We cannot emit any stray radiation in any part of the spectrum.


Power – Power is one of those commodities that you can never have enough of.  One can easily foresee future needs for lasers, rail guns, larger and more powerful radars, more extensive active emitting ECM suites that dwarf today’s outputs and power needs, electrically manipulated coatings (adaptive camouflage), electric UAV catapults, more powerful sonars, microwave emitters, podded propulsion systems, and a host of other power gulping equipment.


UAV – We’ve discussed the need for large numbers of small, cheap, expendable UAV scouts to provide situational awareness for surface groups.  We’re not talking about one or two Fire Scouts, as the Navy is doing, but many dozens of RQ-21 Blackjack-ish UAVs.  Thus, a ship would need the ability to store, launch, recover, fuel, maintain, and control dozens of UAVs simultaneously.


Guns – In a peer war, we will quickly reach a point where missiles have been expended and become a rare commodity given the length of time required to build new ones.  What happens when the Navy suddenly goes from ordering 50 -100 missiles per year to needing tens of thousands per year?  The manufacturers simply won’t/don’t have the manufacturing capacity.  What does that leave?  Guns!  Large caliber naval guns!  These will be useful for anti-surface warfare, ground support, and cheap area bombardment.


If both sides do their job in terms of emission control and counter-recon, it becomes increasingly likely that opposing forces will, literally, stumble across each other at short range or that initial longer range combat will devolve into short range combat (see, “Future Naval Battle”).  Large caliber guns will rule the day, at that point.


AAW – We’ve demonstrated that the most likely AAW scenario will involve horizon range and closer engagements which points to the need for extensive close/medium range missile defense in the form of ESSM and lots of CIWS/SeaRAM.  The close in CIWS/SeaRAM requirement, in particular, needs to be greatly increased over the current Navy practice of one or two units per ship.  We need to mount a minimum of six and, preferably, eight to ten or more units per ship.


EW/ECM – History has proven that electronic AAW defense is the most effective form of missile defense, as demonstrated in the data in Hughes’ book (Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat).  Every ship needs extensive Electronic Warfare/Electronic Countermeasure capabilities including the ability to conduct tailored, active emission defense.  With a slight nod to the underwhelming SLQ-32/SEWIP, the Navy’s electronic defenses are a joke.  We also need to give serious thought to a dedicated EW/ECM escort ship.


Armor – Nothing could be more obvious than the requirement for extensive armor to mitigate damage and losses.  The cost and time frame for replacement of lost ships absolutely demands that we build ships as robustly as possible.  We need to return to the WWII standard of armoring, as a minimum starting point, and then begin a desperate research program to upgrade armor concepts to modern technological standards and methods.


While we noted above that large caliber naval guns are needed, it is not enough to simply have a gun, even if it’s a large caliber gun.  It must be in an armored gun mount.  Otherwise, a gun will be quickly disabled in combat due to simple shrapnel damage, even without a direct hit.  In WWII, designers ensured that the gun mounts were heavily armored because they recognized that a ship with a disabled gun was useless.




In the same vein, there are some things that are contraindicated in our generic ship design requirements:


VLS – VLS is good, to a point.  However, the desire for ever larger numbers of VLS cells is unproductive.  We’ve demonstrated that beyond a certain point, extra VLS cells are of no use and simply wasteful of ship’s volume, add cost, and risk the loss of expensive, unexpended missiles when the ship is sunk.  No one believes a Burke can withstand more than a couple of hits without sinking (no armor, limited damage control due to limited manning, etc.) so whatever unexpended missiles are in unused VLS cells will be lost.  That’s very expensive missile inventory literally going down the drain.  VLS cell numbers should be sharply limited, appropriate to the type of ship.


Superstructures – Large superstructures are detrimental to ship’s functions (loss of deck space), add top weight (instability), and increase the ship’s radar and IR signatures despite stealth shaping.  See, “Ship Superstructures”.


Minimal Manning – We have more than enough proof that minimal manning is a disaster in terms of maintenance and it will be even more of a disaster in combat as we will lack bodies to replace the dead and wounded and to conduct damage control.






We see then, that we can readily identify characteristics that are likely to be requirements for future naval designs.  Of course, not all of the identified characteristics will be appropriate for every ship type and most will be applied on a proportional basis depending on type.  Still, that gives an idea of what future ship designs should be moving towards.  I leave it to you to compare the Navy’s current trend towards small, unarmored, marginally stealthy, almost defenseless vessels to our anticipated requirements.  What we quickly realize is that the Navy’s path seems to lead in the opposite direction from a robust, powerful, survivable, hard to sink, ship with lots of firepower.  How the Navy thinks that opposite direction will win wars is, frankly, beyond me.


Even at the higher end – meaning large, manned ships - the Navy’s surface warship design concepts seem wedded to some hybrid of Burkes and Zumwalts;  Burkes because they can’t let go of the past and Zumwalts because … ah … they … I got nothin’.


So, even without a detailed CONOPS, we can anticipate and produce a decent WARship by understanding the trends in combat technology.  The Navy, on the other hand …

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Small Wars and Firepower

ComNavOps focuses a great deal of attention on major wars and rightly so.  Smaller conflicts are just subsets of major wars and if we’re prepared for major wars then we’ll be prepared for smaller conflicts, at least on the macro scale.  To be sure, smaller conflicts bring their own unique and specific problems that must be addressed but it is major wars that represent existential threats and are the main responsibility of our armed forces.  However, the likelihood of major wars is less than the likelihood of smaller conflicts - witness the never ending parade of small conflicts the US has jumped into over recent decades.  Therefore, let’s take a momentary break from contemplating major wars and look at smaller, localized conflicts.


The US military wants to fight small, clean, data based and AI-assisted wars with firepower being a mere afterthought.  The problem with this is that the enemy may not agree. 


The US had every possible technological advantage in Vietnam and yet the enemy refused to accept our evident superiority and, instead, opted to wage a brutal, barbaric, individual level war which did not hesitate to kill civilians, use them as hostages and pawns, and use them as intel and supply resources.  The enemy waged a dirt level war while we attempted to wage a high level, technological one and, worse, a technological war with significant self-imposed restraints.  As it turned out, the low level approach prevailed, not just in terms of ultimate victory but, more importantly, in terms of its daily relevance to combat operations though the US military was loathe to acknowledge that fact.  Now, some maintain that the US technological approach was hamstrung by extremely restrictive rules of engagement and, indeed, there is ample evidence to support that view.  But, I digress …



What allows one to win a small war?  The answer is twofold: 


1.     Firepower  – the ability to apply sufficient firepower to devastate the enemy.

2.     Willpower – the willingness to apply one’s firepower.


This leads us to recognize the following ComNavOps axiom:


War will devolve to the lowest technology level rather than rise to the highest. 



This has profound implications for technology-loving militaries such as ours.


When you’re fighting goat-herders, all-domain technological warfare probably isn’t going accomplish much.  The sniper or suicide bomber hiding as a civilian amongst the population isn’t going to be affected by superior technology.  The verbal orders delivered in person are not really subject to electronic intel collection.  And so on.


So, how does this discussion of small wars impact us, today?


Breaking Defense website published an article about a new set of Chinese military doctrine which emphasizes smaller, remote (from the Chinese mainland) conflicts and operations.(1)


The PLA began shifting in the 1990s from preparing to fight “local wars under modern, high-tech conditions” to “local wars under informationized conditions” to today’s “informationized local wars.” In each case, the Chinese phrase embodies both the scale of the conflict and the key methods by which it would be fought. The PRC’s assessment is that wars will be “local,” not global; as important, they would not be nuclear or total wars. (1)


What should worry China’s neighbors and competitors is that the Chinese strategic assessment is so pessimistic. A PRC that sees the global situation as fraying is one that is likely to conclude that conflict is not only more likely, but may be inevitable. (1)


Where the US abhors war at any scale and only reluctantly enters into it (despite the contrary evidence of the last two decades!), the Chinese, viewing war as inevitable, may not only not shy away from war, especially smaller, localized conflicts, but may embrace the opportunity for conflict and may actively seek it out, creating the circumstances for such a conflict and hoping that it blossoms into a localized conflict.  By pushing the limits beyond any reasonable point, in an attempt to foster a localized conflict, China would either gain their objectives without combat if their opponent opts for appeasement – as has been the case thus far - or achieve the conflict that they desire.  From their perspective, it would be a win either way.


One could make an argument that the construction and militarization of illegal artificial islands in the South China Sea was an example of this philosophy.  China pushed the limits beyond all norms, hoping for a localized conflict and, instead, achieved all their objectives without combat when the US opted for appeasement.


Why did this happen?  Because the Chinese had no fear of our firepower (criteria 1. from above) and were absolutely certain that we would never use it since we lack the willpower (criteria 2. from above).


So, how do we prevent future small wars?  The answer is almost ageless ...


If one desires peace, one must prepare for war. 


This means we must embrace firepower and willpower.  Potential enemies must have the certain knowledge that we will crush any small war in short order.  To convince them of this, we must begin demonstrating both our firepower and willpower.  The next time Iran harasses us with their swarm boats or UAVs, we need to destroy them.  The next time a Russian aircraft buzzes our ship, we need to shoot it down.  The next time NKorea tests a ballistic missile, we need to shoot it down.  The next time China focuses a laser on our aircraft, we need to destroy the laser source.  For the squeamish among you, this is not escalation, it is a response to provocation.


If someone points a weapon (rifle, UAV, aircraft, whatever) at us, we have the right to assume deadly intent and respond with instant, overwhelming, deadly force.  Again, squeamish, that’s response, not escalation.  Every person and country in the world should know with unwavering certainty that you don’t threaten US forces.  Period. 


With that belief firmly in mind, the number of small wars will drastically decrease because the instigators will know with absolute certainty that will lead to total destruction.


Now that we understand how to prevent a small war from happening, let’s consider the reverse … a textbook example of how not to prevent and contain a small war:  the rise of ISIS.  The US was so consumed with the desire to avoid collateral damage and potential bad publicity that we refused to unleash our firepower and put a short, violent end to ISIS.  Thus, ISIS grew, captured huge areas, and slaughtered many thousands of civilians.  Our reluctance actually caused much greater death and destruction, in the long run … that continues to this day.



There you have it.


1.     Firepower

2.     Willpower


It’s really that simple.






[1]Breaking Defense website, “How China’s Thinking About The Next War”, Dean Cheng, 19-May-2021,