Thursday, September 29, 2022

Satellite Survivability

There are a lot of misconceptions about satellites in war.  So many people believe that they can be used to instantaneously target and attack ships at sea, as if the satellites are directly connected to the firing button of every missile shooting asset we – or the enemy – has.  That’s not even remotely true but that’s not the point of this post.


Another widely held belief is that every satellite in orbit will be destroyed in the opening hours of a war.  However, while the US and China have both demonstrated the ability to destroy satellites using missiles or orbital ‘seeding’ of debris, there is no evidence that either side possesses sufficient satellite destruction capacity to completely eliminate the other’s satellites in a matter of hours.  How many satellites will be destroyed in the opening days of a war?  5%?  50%?  90%?  No one knows, at least not in the public domain. 


What is certain is that many satellites will be quickly destroyed and that, due to depleted numbers, surviving surveillance satellites will be tasked with high priority surveillance, meaning nuclear monitoring and mass troop movements.  Individual ship movements will be a much lower priority, bordering on unavailable.


Everyone is focused on the physical destruction of satellites but what gets overlooked is that satellites are extremely vulnerable to being rendered inoperable (mission kill, in a sense) via software and communication attacks. 


All satellites depend on software control systems for guidance, movement, alignment, operation, data transmission, and data interpretation.  That represents a lot of opportunities for software disruption via cyber attacks, hacks, viruses, etc.  Every satellite that can receive a ground control signal (and that’s all of them) is susceptible to software attacks.  Just from the cyber attacks that have been publicly acknowledged, we know that China has thoroughly penetrated our industrial and military networks.  It is elementary logic to assume that China knows our satellite software systems and is prepared to cyber-disrupt our satellites the moment war begins.  Unlike the limited degree of physical destruction, cyber-destruction has the potential to eliminate nearly all our satellite capabilities.


The other vulnerability is communications.  After all, a fully functioning satellite is useless if its data can’t be transmitted and received.  Satellite data transmissions are vulnerable to communication link disruptions, jamming, false signal injection, etc.  We’ve seen examples of this for years with Russian interference and manipulation of GPS signals.  As with cyber-destruction of satellites, the potential for communications disruption is likely greater than the potential for physical damage.


It seems likely that the predictions of massive satellite ‘destruction’ in the opening hours of war are correct, however, the method of that destruction is likely to be software cyber attacks and communications disruption more so than physical destruction.  Nevertheless, the end result is the same.  We’ll have few remaining functioning satellite assets and those that survive will be tasked with only the highest priorities.  Searching for individual ships on the ocean will not be one of those tasks.


Satellite survivability is of immense importance for both offensive and defensive operational planning.  We have to know to what degree we can depend on satellite surveillance, if at all, and we have to know to what degree our forces will be susceptible to enemy satellite surveillance.  Hopefully, the Navy, who ought to have a much better informed grasp of all this, has taken satellite survivability into account in its planning … not that I’ve seen any evidence of war planning.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Carrier Aircraft Land Attack Weapon Ranges

Many people still believe that carrier aircraft constitute a land attack strike force.  This is incorrect.  Let’s see why.


Any attacking asset must be able to survivably overcome layered defenses consisting of both surface to air missiles (SAM) that can range out to a few hundred miles and land based defending aircraft that can range out to several hundred miles.  Thus, a survivable launch point must be further out than the defensive range, meaning a launch point several hundred miles from the target. 


Obviously, an aircraft with free fall, gravity bombs cannot survivably and successfully penetrate to the required one mile launch range.  Thus, in order for carrier aircraft to conduct a survivable, successful land attack strike, they must have weapons with ranges greater than several hundred miles.  Every extra mile that the aircraft has to penetrate the layered defenses in order to reach an inadequately short range launch point increases the risk and decreases the likelihood of success.


The following table lists the ranges of common carrier aircraft strike weapons.[1, and various Wikipedia entries]




Range, miles

AGM-158D (alt. AGM-158B-2) Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile – Extreme Range (JASSM-XR)a


AGM-158B Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER)b


AGM-158A Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM)


AGM-84H/K Standoff Land Attack Missile – Expanded Response (SLAM-ER)




AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW)


GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB)


GBU-31/32/35/38/54 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM)


AGM-65E/F Maverick


AGM-179 Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM)b


Hydra 70 2.75” rockets


GBU-10/12/16 Paveway Laser Guided Bombs


Mk 80 series free fall bombs


CBU series cluster bombs


M61A1/A2 Vulcan 20mm cannon



a Developmental, does not yet exist

b Not yet fully in service




The table makes it clear that the Navy does not operate weapons with sufficient range to keep the launch aircraft out of range of land based SAMs and intercepting aircraft.  It might be possible to safely and successfully attack lightly defended targets but major, well defended targets will have layered SAM defenses and nearby air bases supporting intercepting aircraft.


Another issue is the weapon carrying capacity for carrier aircraft.  For example, the F-18 Super Hornet can carry several smaller – meaning shorter range – weapons (acknowledging that every weapon carried reduces the aircraft’s flight range due to weight and drag) but only a couple of the larger weapons.  While publicity photos may show an aircraft decked out with every weapon the Navy has, an F-18 can only, practically, carry two JASSM on a realistic mission.  Other hard points are occupied by fuel tanks and defensive air-to-air weapons and even those are minimized in the interest of not negatively impacting the aircraft’s range more than necessary.  Thus, with two weapons per aircraft, it would require a strike force of, say, fifty aircraft just to mount a minimal strike of 100 weapons.  Recall, that the US used around sixty Tomahawks to strike a small, undefended Syrian air base in 2017 and only targeted a portion of the base (see, "Syrian Tomahawk Strike").  A realistic strike on a major, defended base would require something approaching two hundred missiles or more.  That would require 100+ strike aircraft (neglecting escort, EW, SEAD, etc. aircraft) which represents around five carrier air wings worth of strike aircraft under any realistic combat scenario.  The point is that the large, longer range, weapon density is so low as to nearly preclude carrier aircraft strikes even without consideration of enemy defenses and aircraft survivability.


One or Two Large Weapons is a Full Load

As I’ve often stated, the role of a carrier, today, is to escort and provide protection for the Navy’s true strike assets which are Tomahawk-launching Burke destroyers with their thousand mile range cruise missiles. 







Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Baby Step In The Right Direction?

ComNavOps has criticized and mocked the Navy’s headlong, uninformed leap into unmanned vessels and for good reason.  The movement is unsupported by realistic experimentation of any type.  The odds that uninformed, unsupported actions will lead to a good outcome are very poor.  However, the faintest glimmer of hope has emerged from the Navy in the form of some comments by CNO Gilday about the Navy’s unmanned plans.


As you recall, the Navy’s current path is to develop both a large (not very large actually;  corvette size) unmanned vessel (LUSV) which will be a mini-arsenal ship and a medium (pretty small actually; patrol boat size) size unmanned vessel (MUSV) which will be a sensor platform.  Now, however, CNO Gilday has hinted that plans may change and is backtracking on the MUSV.


I don’t know if we’ll have a medium unmanned or not. The stuff that [Vice Adm. Brad] Cooper’s doing right now with CTF 59 – using small unmanned [vehicles] on the scene in the air to sense the environment … in order to yield a common operational picture for allies and partners, as well as 5th Fleet headquarters, has changed my thinking on the direction of unmanned.[1]


Gilday said the service might be rethinking buying the MUSV after a series of exercises and experiments in U.S. 5th Fleet with Combined Task Force 59 … [1]


Instead of an MUSV,


However, the Navy might be able to get the sensor capability it wanted from MUSV through fused data from networked commercial systems to get an accurate maritime awareness picture more affordably. The 5th fleet started experimenting late last year with a 23-foot Saildrone Explorer out of Jordan and MARTAC’s Mantas T12 USV out of Bahrain.[1]


 Did you catch the reference to small, networked commercial systems?  This reveals a peacetime mindset – one unhindered by enemy actions or countermeasures.  I’ve pointed this out many times in the past.  The Navy simply does not appear to believe war with China will actually happen despite having publicly proclaimed that war was highly likely within the next several years.  I say they do not believe it because none of their actions show the slightest concern or desire to produce a combat fleet.  But, I digress …


 Gilday’s comments appear to be a reference to the tiny unmanned sailboats the Navy was playing with (see, “Pointless Drones”).  I’ve already mocked the sailboats but using small, cheap, expendable UAVs – though not tiny sailboats - as sensors could be an excellent option and one I’ve suggested many times.  If this is what Gilday was suggesting – and it’s far from clear that he was – then the Navy could be on a very good path to developing a viable situational awareness solution.


Still, small UAVs, of whatever type, have significant problems to overcome in order to use them as effective sensor platforms: 

  • Limited field of view
  • Constant communications requirement
  • Limited range
  • Low survivability
  • Requirement for large numbers


Gilday specifically mentioned the small sailboats but he is overlooking some serious problems and limitations with them: 

  • Seakeeping in open ocean
  • Sensor operation in open ocean will see very erratic and fragmented sensor readings due to very low sailboat height operating in waves and troughs
  • Very limited sensor range due to very low height;  horizon will be around 12 miles which is not much of a field of view relative to the area of the ocean
  • Very low speed which requires a very long time to get a sensor boat out to a useful position or to reposition it


Looming over all of the problems is the notion of using commercial unmanned vessels.  While this is appealing on the face of it, there is a potential problem with security.  Being a commercially developed system, intended for a civilian, commercial market, the controlling software and communications are highly unlikely to be able to withstand the effects of cyber attacks, cyber takeovers, emission controls, jamming, GPS disruption, etc.  It is quite likely that an enemy could commandeer these vessels, electronically or via software attacks/hacks with little effort.  It is a near certainty that China, and other unfriendly countries, already have the specs and software source code for any product with military potential.  They appear to have all our highly protected military information so why would we think they don’t have less secure, civilian information?


As CNO Gilday ponders the future of unmanned based on field experiments, the incriminating question is how come we weren’t conducting these experiments years ago before we jumped into unmanned?  We need to use surrogates and develop the concepts first, then the equipment.  We’re doing the reverse by developing the equipment first and then the concepts.




The other major question is whether these field experiments are valid or whether they’re scripted exercises designed to produce a desired result … as most military experiments are? 


Unmanned assets can be a viable and valuable means of conducting surveillance but only with very strict constraints and only with very specific and well defined concepts of operations.  Unfortunately, I see no evidence that we’re following this path.  We seem to be grasping every unmanned idea that comes along, hoping something will work.  This is why we’re changing our unmanned plans on an almost daily basis.






[1]USNI News website, “Navy Rethinking Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle After Middle East Tests, Says CNO Gilday”, Sam LaGrone, 28-Apr-2022,

Monday, September 19, 2022

Kings Bay Dry Dock Repair

Arguably, the Navy’s biggest shortcoming is adequate repair and maintenance facilities and capacity.  A major part of that is the system of aging and inadequate dry docks.  A few years ago, the Navy committed to a 20 year, $21B overhaul of its public shipyards and dry docks and, in a somewhat surprising development, has been following through on that commitment by issuing contracts for repair of facilities and dry docks … at least, for now.


I desperately like to give credit where credit is due – an all too rare occurrence regarding the Navy – and one such example is the repair work for the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay dry dock in Georgia.


From the Department of Defense contract award announcements website,


Alberici-Mortenson JV, St. Louis, Missouri, is awarded a $12,969,452 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N69450-20-C-0016. This modification provides for the recapitalization of the dry dock at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. Work will be performed in St. Marys, Georgia, and is expected to be completed by April 2023. This modification brings the total cumulative value of the contract to $625,470,806.[2]


Dry Dock - Kings Bay, GA

 Here's some detail about the work.

Under an IDIQ contract, the joint venture team of Burns & McDonnell and Moffatt & Nichol have been awarded a series of task orders with Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast (NAVFAC-SE) for a $474 million repair project at the Trident Refit Facility, Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia.


Alternately titled “Dry Dock Recapitalization,” “TRF Dry Dock Repair,” and simply “Dry Dock Repairs,” the massive effort at the East Coast home of Trident nuclear-powered submarines began with a study, moved into design, and is now in Phase A of construction. NAVFAC-SE’s scope of work encompasses repairs to the massive structure—the largest covered dry dock in the Northern hemisphere—inclusive of building structure and envelope, power, lighting, fire protection, HVAC, plumbing, and support equipment and infrastructure. All existing training and maintenance facilities will be retrofitted, and some new facilities will be constructed to support the next generation of submarines.[1]


Dry dock maintenance and repair is desperately needed and far too long overdue.  From a Heritage Foundation report,


“The Navy’s attack submarines have also evolved, but the dry docks that service them have not: 17 dry docks can service older Los Angeles-class submarines, but only 12 can accommodate their replacement, the Virginia-class submarine, and only seven can service the newest Block V Virginia-class submarine, which is 83 feet longer than earlier variants and displaces an additional 2,400 tons,” the report reads.[3]


The Navy should be ashamed of the state of its maintenance and dry dock facilities and many CNO’s should be recalled to active duty and subjected to courts martial over the decades long neglect but at least the Navy is belatedly beginning to address the problem.  If they’ll diligently and aggressively continue to pursue the repair program then credit is due.  Well done, Navy.  Keep it up.










Friday, September 16, 2022

USS Fitzgerald Returns

USS Fitzgerald, repaired after the Jun 2017 collision, recently completed its first deployment since the incident.  Fitzgerald completed three years, almost to the day, of repairs in Jun 2020.  Contrast this to the USS Yorktown that had extensive battle damage repaired in three days, as we just discussed.  Admittedly, this is peacetime and the urgency is not there but three years to repair a damaged ship does not bode well for war.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Define Progress?

We all know what progress is, right?  It’s when we can do things better, faster, with fewer problems, and using less manpower, right? 


Well, consider this case of apparent progress in trying to build ships in the face of labor (skilled trades) shortages.


HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding officials say a technology transition, years in the making, is helping them fight back against a difficult labor market.[1]


The national labor shortage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has been felt by most industries across the country, and shipbuilders are no exception. One of HII’s chief competitors in the world of US Navy shipbuilding, General Dynamics, told Breaking Defense in February that people were the company’s “biggest challenge” at its San Diego-based shipyard.[1]


So how is our shipbuilding industry dealing with labor shortages?  As one example, HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding claims that it is using computer technology to 3D design ships better, faster, with fewer problems, and using less manpower.  Of course, every ship and aircraft program for the last four decades has made that claim and yet each program has been over budget, delayed, and problem plagued, seemingly worse than the previous one, so where’s the actual progress?  In contrast, shipbuilding programs in the ‘40’s – ‘70’s had to crawl along without the benefit of computers and yet they were generally on time, on budget, and reasonably problem free.


So, what’s different about today’s Newport News Shipbuilding computer benefits claim?  Well, as they tell it,


When HII puts the latest USS Enterprise (CVN-80) in the water later this decade, it will be the “first time in our history, and I believe in the Navy’s history, that the ship isn’t just designed in a 3D [computer-aided design] tool, but now we’re taking that 3D information and putting it on to a digital device and allowing our shipbuilders to build with that,” said Brian Fields, NNS vice president for the aircraft carriers Enterprise and the next aircraft carrier to be built, the Doris Miller (CVN-81).


I think we’ve been doing exactly that for quite some time now and yet not only has nothing gotten better, our shipbuilding performance has gotten demonstrably worse. 


Setting the semantics, accuracy, and veracity of HII’s claim aside, what happens if we actually achieve our goal of being able to build ships with less people?  Has anyone thought that through?  What are the long term implications of adapting to, and even encouraging, smaller and smaller work forces?  What are the implications of that trend as it relates to war?


As we strive to build ships with greatly reduced labor pools, are we forgetting to ask ourselves what will happen when, after years of adapting to labor shortages and learning to build without people, we find ourselves in a war and suddenly need huge numbers of people to manually build and repair ships?


Repairing battle damaged ships is not something that can be done with computers and utilizing an automated, robotic assembly line.  Battle damage repair is mostly a manual exercise in demolition and creative, custom repair work.  It’s all about trying to figure out how to reach and cut out that damaged piece of equipment, remove it from the ship, and replace it.  It’s about trying to jury-rig a repair that was never part of the original design.  It’s about trying to route cabling and ducting around a damaged area.  None of that is in any computer program.  That’s on-the-spot creativity and manual labor that requires … bodies … lots of bodies … lots of skilled bodies.  It’s the exact opposite of trying to build ships with fewer people which is what we’re pushing for today.


If we can anticipate wartime scenarios where it will be critical to have lots of bodies, why are we trying to solve our shipbuilding challenges by adapting to smaller labor pools?  Shouldn’t our direction and focus, as a matter of national strategic imperative, be on significantly increasing the size of the work force in anticipation of wartime requirements instead of adapting to smaller labor pools?


I understand that, from the shipbuilder’s point of view, it makes total economic sense to adapt to smaller work forces.  Indeed, a smaller work force means larger profits for the builder.  However, as pointed out, that drive is at odds with the larger national strategic imperative.  This is a case where we need to recognize the requirement and demand – and, if necessary, subsidize – larger work forces as a matter of national security. 


Of course, larger work forces won’t happen overnight but, if we don’t make it a priority, it won’t happen at all.  Our society has so thoroughly indoctrinated high school students and educators with the belief that if the students don’t go to college then they’re failures, that our students can’t even conceive of a career in the trades.  As a society, we have ignored the reality that college is not appropriate for everyone and not everyone is suited for college.  We need to implement robust trades programs (they used to be called vocational education) in our high schools with direct feeds into our shipbuilding industry.


Taking the manpower issue further, what happens when our vaunted 3D computer design software and computer networks are cyber attacked and rendered useless (you don’t think China is going to sit back and let us build warships unhindered, do you?)?  We’ll be back to manual labor, lots of it, and we’ll be lacking the required labor pool because we spent the preceding years learning how to build ships with fewer and fewer people, not realizing that we were creating future problems by accepting and embracing a shrinking labor force.  Instead of accepting a shrinking labor force we should be actively and frantically working to enlarge it.  We’ve discussed ways to do that would be successful.  No, it won’t happen overnight but it must be done.


We’re proudly congratulating ourselves on our ability to adapt to ever smaller work forces and, indeed, companies are pushing in that direction because they see it as a way to reduce labor costs.  But is that wise?  There are times when near term efficiency becomes counterproductive in the long run and this is an example of that.


It’s analogous to the Navy’s push for minimal manning.  It sounds good from a business case perspective but it’s a horrible policy as regards combat since minimal crews have no ability to absorb attrition due to combat casualties and no ability to perform damage control which has led to the recent development of intentional one-hit-abandon-ship designs.  It also negatively impacts ship maintenance which is a poor business case result – no one factored that totally predictable result into the business case, did they?


The manpower issue is similar to the shipbuilding industry consolidation that occurred over the last several decades.  Yes, the surviving companies became more efficient, however, that consolidation drive led to long term shipbuilding capacity limitations and lack of competitiveness which, ultimately, drove up ship prices.  Our short term consolidation solution led to long term capacity and cost problems.  We are solving today’s short term labor shortage problems with solutions which will lead to long term problems in the future.


Is it really progress when your short term solution is creating larger problems for the future?



Yorktown Battle Damage Repair


The USS Yorktown was badly damaged at the battle of Coral Sea.  The repair time was estimated at 90 days.  However, Yorktown was desperately needed for the looming battle of Midway.  Yorktown sailed for Pearl Harbor where a repair crew of over 1400 workers swarmed the ship and completed repairs sufficient for combat in 3 days.  Yorktown immediately departed for Midway.


For an excellent write up, see [2].


Some of Yorktown's battle damage.
You can't repair this with a computer program.





[1]Breaking Defense, “The labor shortage hit shipyards hard. Can technology help Newport News bounce back?”, Justin Katz, 31-Aug-2022,



Monday, September 12, 2022

MQ-25 Control Concept

The Navy’s unmanned tanker, the MQ-25, is supposed to be able to take off, fuel aircraft, and land, all autonomously.  That’s quite an accomplishment and, if successful, adds a vital tanking capability without adding remote pilots or requiring complicated control communications schemes which would add to the burdens of a carrier rather than subtracting from them.  It is the hands-off nature of the unmanned tanker that is appealing.


However, the latest rumblings from the Navy hint at a somewhat different story.


Boeing has successfully demonstrated for the first time the ability for the P-8A maritime patrol aircraft to take control of the MQ-25 Stingray drone mid-flight …


The event was a follow-up to a demonstration to one the company held last year which showed how the Stingray, the Navy’s new carrier-based, unmanned aerial tanker, could be controlled by an F/A-18 Super Hornet or E-2D Advanced Hawkeye pilot mid-flight while performing its core tanking mission.[1]


This is moving into dangerous territory.  Is this suggesting that a supervisory aircraft will need to be present in order for the unmanned tanker to perform its task?  That would be a very disappointing development – almost an overall negative for a carrier air wing that has few enough aircraft, as it is, and can ill afford to dedicate a control aircraft to babysit an unmanned tanker.


However, I think this suggesting that the Navy could, via an intermediary aircraft, take control of a tanker in order to issue new mission orders.


The value in pilots being able to task MQ-25s mid-flight lies within a core assumption the Navy — and more broadly the Pentagon — has about the future battlefield: all communications will be subject to attack. The shipboard controllers may not always have contact or permission to communicate with the MQ-25 depending on the situation. If that’s the case, then a pilot of a nearby manned aircraft may need to redirect the unmanned tanker without assistance from the ship.[1]


Of course, this raised the question, if the shipboard controller can’t communicate with the unmanned tanker due to enemy disruption of communications, why would we think that we’ll be able to communicate with the manned aircraft to tell the pilot to redirect the unmanned one?  That’s a logical inconsistency.  Military thinking just teems with this kind of logical inconsistency.


Here’s a bit of additional delusion and logical inconsistency:


“If you’re doing an ISR mission, you can be doing an ISR mission with this airplane [the unmanned tanker] 1,000 miles from the carrier,” he said. “You’re not going to be talking to the carrier to do that ISR mission. More than likely you might be talking to a P-8.”[1]


If you believe a large, slow, non-stealthy, broadcasting surveillance aircraft like the P-8 is going to survive to operate a thousand miles from a carrier, in enemy controlled/contested air and water, you’re deluding yourself.  And, in a bit of logical inconsistency, if you can survivably operate a P-8 in the area then you don’t need an unmanned tanker/surveillance aircraft because the P-8 can do it.


This attempt to redirect and repurpose an unmanned tanker into other missions is typical of the Navy.  Instead of developing a single function and getting it to work at an affordable price, the Navy is already attempting to add additional tasks and control schemes onto an as yet unproven aircraft.  Common sense says to develop the main functionality first before moving on to others.






[1]Breaking Defense website, “Boeing successfully demos MQ-25 control through P-8, autonomy software”, Justin Katz, 8-Sep-2022,

Friday, September 9, 2022

Air Force Loyal Wingman

Contract competition will begin soon for the US Air Force version of the Loyal Wingman unmanned UAV, the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA).


The US Air Force could kick off a competition for a drone counterpart for its sixth-generation fighter as soon as fiscal 2024, the service’s top leader said Wednesday.[1]


That makes sense.  After all, we have no Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for the drones so why not jump into procurement?  We have no field experimentation to demonstrate the capabilities of an unmanned drone so why not jump into procurement? What could go wrong?


Regarding cost,


In terms of cost, the Air Force wants drones that are no more than half the cost of an F-35 — which would put the most high-end CCAs at about $40 million — with Kendall [Frank Kendall, Secretary of the Air Force] stating that he would like to spend “a factor less than that” because some will be lost in battle.[1]


The number one characteristic of a drone in combat is that it will have a very short lifespan since we don’t have Terminator level Artificial Intelligence, yet.  Drones will be the equivalent of single digit IQ pilots – you know, as if Admirals were flying – with no ability to do anything but execute a very tightly defined set of actions (well, that rules out the Admirals).  They’re going to drop like flies in combat so they’d better be dirt cheap.  Very few will come back from a mission.


With that in mind, $40M drones seems insanely expensive for a drone that will need a precision Swiss watch to measure its lifespan.  Kendall seems not to appreciate that reality despite saying,


“The expectation is that these aircraft can be designed to be less survivable and less capable …[1]


How can Kendall acknowledge that the drones will be less survivable and less capable – that’s the definition of ‘throwaway’ in combat - and then set a price target of $40M?


I wish that were all that Kendall and the Air Force were confused about but it’s not.  Kendall, and the military, in general, has developed a serious case of delusion, manifested in the recent trend of believing the enemy will be ‘confused’ by everything we do.  This concept of enemy ‘confusion’ has been cropping up in everything, lately.  The Navy believes that the enemy will be ‘confused’ by individual, weak, distributed lethality ships.  The Marines believe that the enemy will be ‘confused’ by platoon size, missile shooting units hiding on small islands.  Now, the Air Force believes the enemy will be ‘confused’ by drones.


“The expectation is that these aircraft can be designed to be less survivable and less capable, but still bring an awful lot to the fight in a mixture that the enemy has a very hard time sorting out and dealing with,” Kendall said. “You can even intentionally sacrifice some of them to draw fire, if you will, to make the enemy expose himself.”[1]


Options include adding weapons, sensors, electronic warfare systems or other effects, and there is a benefit to fielding CCAs with differing mission packages.


“That’s a way to keep the cost down,” he said. “It raises the uncertainty that the adversary has to deal with, because he doesn’t know which is in any given aircraft, he has to take each of them seriously as a threat. And so whether they all carry weapons or a subset carries weapons, he’s going to treat them all as if they do. He has no choice.”[1]


Merely swapping out payloads will plunge the enemy into the throes of debilitating uncertainty.  Kendall seems to believe the enemy will wind up in a corner, balled up in the fetal position, sobbing from the confusion and uncertainty we inflict on him.  When has uncertainty about a ship or plane’s payload ever been a problem for any enemy?  In war, you destroy everything of the enemy’s and you don’t give a rat’s ass what it was carrying.


Returning to the CONOPS issue, consider the following gem of damnation:


As the Air Force begins developing CCAs [Cooperative Combat Aircraft, the loyal wingman drone], the service also needs to take steps to begin learning how to use combat drones alongside fighter aircraft … [1]


As we begin developing drones (we’re already starting the production process!), we need to take steps to begin learning how to use them?  Pardon me, Air Force, but shouldn’t you know how you want to use them before you begin procurement?  That’s called a CONOPS and a CONOPS must precede design or you wind up with a useless product as we’ve seen with so many acquisition programs.


The Right Path

So, what should we be doing before committing to production?


1. We should be conducting actual exercises using some low level aircraft as a simulation for a drone and install whatever autonomy or control software we’re planning on using to see how it performs.  Oh wait … we don’t have any actual software yet, do we?  We’re going to procure the drone and then develop the software concurrently.  What could go wrong?  Hasn’t concurrency worked every time it’s been tried?


Can you imagine a ‘less survivable and less capable’ drone simulator, say, a T-6B Texan II Turboprop trainer or a T-45 Goshawk trainer, thrown into combat against Chinese equivalents to the F-15, F-35, and F-22?  What would the lifespan of those be?  What could they productively accomplish in combat?


2. Via demonstration exercises, we need to determine a realistic attrition rate of drones and balance that against cost to determine an affordable price point.  I guarantee you it isn’t anywhere near $40M.  By the way, when has any acquisition program come anywhere near its initial, hoped for price target?  Never!  The actual cost of whatever debacle we produce will be closer to $80M than $40M;  history guarantees that.


3. Based on the demonstration exercises, we should then – and only then – develop the CONOPS.  The CONOPS will then tell us exactly what performance requirements we need for the drone.  Without the CONOPS, we’re just randomly guessing.  That’s how you wind up with a Zumwalt with no mission, and LCS that has no use, and Afloat Forward Staging Base whose captain has orders to sail around and look for a mission (see, “AFSB– Looking For Something To Do”), a Ford that costs twice as much and offers no improvement, etc.



This Loyal Wingman / Collaborative Combat Aircraft is another in a long series of fads (see, “Fleeting Trends”) that the military jumps on with no supporting evidence or experience.  So far, none of those have ever turned out well but, hey, this one will be the exception, right Air Force?


No CONOPS, no demonstrations, no performance specs, no cost/attrition analysis, guaranteed runaway costs   what could go wrong?





[1]Breaking Defense website, “Coming soon: A US competition for sixth-gen drone wingman could begin in FY24”, Valerie Insinna, 7-Sep-2022,

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

LCS - Worse Than We Could Possibly Have Imagined

The LCS has been beat up by naval observers just about every possible way.  It’s not even fun anymore.  What’s left to criticize?  And yet … it seems as if the problems are even worse than we already knew.


USNI News website reports on the content of media remarks by Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, the commander of Naval Surface Forces, regarding the LCS ships in general and the Independence class, in particular.[1]


Bear in mind that the first Freedom LCS was launched in 2006 and the first Independence LCS was launched in 2008.  That’s 16 and 14 years ago, respectively.  One would think that a decade and a half ought to have been enough time to work out the bugs, right?  Well, consider these comments from the article:


While the Independence-class ships, based at Naval Station San Diego, have been deploying to the Indo-Pacific, the Navy in recent years has sent the Freedom-class LCS to U.S. Southern Command for counter-drug operations.[1]


That deployment pattern illustrates just how bad the Freedom variant’s propulsion problems are.  The Navy is forced to keep the ships within easy sailing (meaning recovery via tug/tow) distance of US ports.  It is also a tacit acknowledgement that they have no combat value.


As you recall, the entire LCS concept was predicted on a civilian-provided, forward (meaning foreign) based maintenance model.  Kitchener had this to say,


Again, still some things to look at and to work on as far as expeditionary maintenance … [1]


So, after 14-16 years, the Navy is still trying to figure out the maintenance model?  That’s bad.  That’s really bad.  It’s damning.


After 14-16 years, reliability is still an issue, according to Kitchener who had this to say about the Independence variant reliability:


The Navy has made progress on fixing the reliability issues on the Independence-class ships based in San Diego with the help of its Task Force LCS effort, Kitchener said.


We’ve had a lot of success with reliability fixes and maintaining those ships on station, operationally longer. We still have some challenges as far as some of them systems and part of that is an effort of making sure we have the right parts at the point of need.[1]


So, 14 years operating Independence variants and we’ve ‘made progress’ but we ‘still have some challenges’?  And you know he’s lying applying the maximum positive spin.  The reality is, without a doubt, much, much worse.


Regarding maintenance and parts issues, Kitchener said,


I’ve been pretty happy with that, but there’s a lot more work to do … [1]


Read that statement without the spin and he’s actually describing a still badly broken system … after 14 years!


Here’s a damning statement that Kitchener appears to be taking pride in,


The Naval Sea Systems Command LCS Strike team, led by Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants Rear Adm. Casey Moton, helped the service make fixes to USS Oakland (LCS-24) ahead of its deployment.


The work that the strike team did – the NAVSEA engineers – on reliability fixes, we pushed Oakland out, who’s our latest deployer, recently with about 20 to 25 of those fixes.[1]


This is telling us that LCS vessels are unfit to deploy unless they receive a focused set of reliability fixes … and lots of them!  This is worse than I thought.


More on maintenance:


While the Navy has sent the Freedom-class ships to U.S. 4th Fleet for counter-drug operations over the last few years, Kitchener said the service has only recently figured out how to perform maintenance on the ships during deployments.[1] [emphasis added]


Seriously?  The Freedom variant has been operating for 16 years and the Navy ‘has only recently figured out how to perform maintenance on the ships during deployments’.  This was the core concept of the ship.  What have you been doing for the last 16 years, admiral?


One of the problems the Navy faces, fleet wide, is the issue of data rights.  Kitchener addressed this for the LCS:


As we transition to more of the sailor-focused maintenance, we spent a lot of time on getting our sailors some specialized training, buying some of the – getting the rights to some of the gear – we continue to do that.[1]


This is demonstrating that we bought equipment without the corresponding data rights – thinking the manufacturer would perform the maintenance - and now that we’ve opted to have sailors perform the maintenance, we find that we lack the specifications, data, and manuals to successfully do so.


Kitchener also discusses problems with some seemingly mundane equipment.


He pointed to the crane at the back of the LCS that is used to deploy the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) and the rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) as an example of where the Navy had to train its sailors as part of the maintenance model shift.


Traditionally that’s been very problematic for us. There are some mechanical issues with it and there are also some training issues with it and some depth of knowledge issues, quite frankly.[1]


Kitchener is acknowledging that we’ve lost the ability, as a Navy, to operate and maintain a simple crane mechanism … and yet we believe we’ll be able to operate incredibly advanced radar  and combat systems?  But, I digress …


Kitchener’s general assessment:


While the Navy has made headway on LCS reliability and maintenance, Kitchener said the service needs to make more progress to ensure the ships are operating at full capacity.


I still get concerned over some of the system readiness. I think we’ve improved our ability to stay underway, though sometimes I think from a system perspective we have more work to do in making sure that not only are they underway, but they’re 100 percent fully redundant on some of their combat readiness.[1]


Read between the lines.  Kitchener is saying that the LCS still has massive problems.  If this is what he’s acknowledging, you can be sure there’s plenty more he’s keeping quiet about and the problems are worse than we could possibly have imagined.





[1]USNI News website, “SWO Boss Wants 6 Littoral Combat Ships in Western Pacific”, Mallory Shelbourne, 22-Aug-2022,