Thursday, September 28, 2023

Old Ironside's Lesson for Today

The US sailing frigate, USS Constitution, nicknamed Old Ironsides, is the most famous ship in US naval history (USS Enterprise, CV-6, is a close second!) and for good reason.  In addition to her notable victories, she established the pattern of building ships that could stand in a fight, absorb hits, and keep fighting.
The Constitution was unique in its construction, for the time, using a system of diagonal beams to support the ship’s structure, thus lending far greater strength to the structure and allowing much heavier planking (armor) to be carried.  This heavy planking and strong structure earned the ship its nickname when enemy cannon balls supposedly bounced off the sides of the ship.
In addition to the ship’s heavy planking (armor), she carried a heavy weapons fit.  Nominally rated for 44 guns, Constitution typically carried 50 or more.  For example,
During the War of 1812, Constitution's battery of guns typically consisted of 30 long 24-pounder (11 kg) cannons, with 15 on each side of the gun deck. Twenty-two more guns were deployed on the spar deck, 11 per side, each a short 32-pounder (15 kg) carronade. Four chase guns were also positioned, two each at the stern and bow.[1]

Constitution’s heavy firepower and strong planking (armor) allowed her to stay in fights and win.
USS Constitution - Firepower and Armor

That original US Navy tradition of heavy arms and armor continued through to WWII where ships such as the New Orleans class cruiser, approximately the same size as a modern Burke, carried heavy armament and armor.
New Orleans Class Armor
Belt                              3-5 in
Deck                            1.25-2.25 in
Turrets                          1.5-8 in
Barbettes                      5 in
Conning Tower              5 in
Inexplicably, the Navy abandoned armor after WWII.  I don’t know what the last ship built with traditional armor was but it would be interesting to know.  Maybe someone has some data?
We had conceptual ship design figured out in the 1700’s and, after proving its worth in WWII, we promptly abandoned it.  How’s that for illogical?  How’s that for failed leadership?
Go Navy!
[1]Wikipedia, “USS Constitution”,

Monday, September 25, 2023

Lesson Learned?

A cursory recall of the Navy’s recent failed surface ship programs includes the LCS, Zumwalt, Ford, MLP, etc.  That’s a lot of data and opportunities for lessons learned, right?  The Navy, through trial and [mostly] error should be getting pretty good at managing ship acquisition programs by now, right?
One of the major lessons learned has to have been that concurrency (simultaneous design and construction) never works.
I wonder how the new Constellation class frigate program is doing?
The GAO annual report has this to say, 
Program officials stated that over 90 percent of the FFG 62 functional design and 80 percent of the detail design—which adds 3D modeling to show the configuration of equipment on the ship—were completed when construction began on the lead ship in August 2022. They noted that these results align with the Navy’s general expectations for design maturity needed before construction begins. However, beginning construction with an incomplete functional design is inconsistent with leading practices and increases the risk of costly design changes and rework.[1][emphasis added]

So, defying all logic, common sense, and bitter, costly experience, the Navy began construction of the Constellation before the design was complete.  Way to learn a lesson, Navy.
Constellation - Which will be finished first, the ship or the design?

[1]U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Weapon Systems Annual Assessment”, Jun 2023, GAO-23-106059, p.148

Thursday, September 21, 2023

LCS Organization Update

As you know, the LCS program has been in a state of disarray – to put it politely and mildly! – for quite some time.  LCS vessels – the Freedom variant, in particular – are being slated for retirement almost as fast as they’re being built.  Further, the Navy has cancelled the anti-submarine (ASW) module and eliminated that function from the LCS mission (to the extent the LCS has a mission!).
You may recall that the Navy had organized the LCS into two groups, one on each coast, with four ships dedicated to each mission (ASW, ASuW, MCM).  Each group of four were to consist of one dedicated training ship and three deployable ships.  Thus, in total, there were to be six dedicated ASW ships, six dedicated ASuW ships, and six MCM ships.
The elimination of the ASW mission and the [very] early retirement of a dozen or more LCS has thrown that organization out the window.  Now, the 2023 GAO annual report offers some partial clarity on the new plan for task organization of the LCS.
.. 24 MCM packages will support 15 MCM-assigned LCS and nine will deploy from shore and other ships. Ten SUW packages will support eight SUW-assigned LCS and two MCM-assigned LCS.[1]
This raises some interesting points:
- It appears that the Navy will have only 15 MCM vessels as the total fleet mine countermeasures capability as the current Avengers and MH-53E helos retire shortly.  That’s a pitifully small number against the hundreds of thousands of mines in the Chinese (and NKorean, Iranian, and Russian) inventory.
- It appears that the Navy will have only 8 dedicated ASuW LCS which is surprising since anti-swarm was, arguably, the main function of the LCS.
- There is some confusion about the meaning of the statement that two of the ASuW packages will support two MCM LCS.  Does this mean the Navy will attempt to double up on modules on two ships?  Given the critical weight limits, that seems not to be feasible.  Perhaps it means that those two LCS will be ‘swappers’ even though the Navy officially abandoned the module swapping concept?
- It appears that the Navy will be left with 25 active LCS out of the original 38 that have been built with 5 already retired and around a dozen more slated for retirement over the next two years.
A program in disarray has become even more confused!
[1]U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Weapon Systems Annual Assessment”, Jun 2023, GAO-23-106059, p.148

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

What We Once Were

 What we once were ...

Carrier Group

Count 'em!

1 carrier
4 submarine escorts
13 surface ship escorts
3 logistic support ships

Now, imagine four such groups combined into a single carrier combat task force.  And many of you doubted my stated requirement for 30+ escorts for a carrier group?

This is what we once were ... combat ready and capable.  We need to return to that.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Goodbye Triton?

As you may recall, the MQ-4C Triton UAV was going to solve all the Navy’s surveillance monitoring requirements.
The Triton is a large, high altitude, long endurance (30 hrs) UAV derived from the Global Hawk.  It was intended to team with the P-8 Poseidon under the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) concept.  Triton would conduct high altitude surveillance and the P-8 would focus on anti-submarine and anti-surface surveillance.
MQ-4C Triton

The first demonstration aircraft flew in 2013 and, ten years later, Initial Operating Capability was just announced.  Plans called for 70 aircraft to be produced.  Groups of 4 aircraft were planned to operate from 5 sites, keeping 20 aircraft in active operations at any one time. 
A USNI News article notes the wonders of Triton,
… Triton is poised to bring significant improvements that will increase its effectiveness in the battlespace, enabling our manned-unmanned team to maintain awareness in the maritime domain,” Rear Adm. Adam Kijek, the commander of the Navy’s patrol and reconnaissance group, said in the service news release. “The Indo-Pacific theater is the ideal arena to demonstrate the advanced capabilities that Triton brings to our Fleet Commanders and the nation.”[1]

This would certainly sound like amazing news if it weren’t for the fact that the Navy, having just declared IOC, is halting production and severely cutting the Triton inventory.
The IOC benchmark comes as the Navy looks to halt the MQ-4C line. The Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal sought to buy the final two MQ-4Cs in the next fiscal year, drastically cutting the program of record from an original 70 airframes to 27, according to service budget documents.
“The MQ-4C Triton inventory requirement has been re-assessed by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), which has modified MQ-4C Triton’s Capability Development Document (CDD) to reduce total inventory requirement,” the budget books read.
“The total number of aircraft are attributed to the program as 22 production, and 5 development … ” [1]

So, the Triton inventory is being cut from 70 to 22 production airframes.  In addition, the number of operating sites has been reduced from 5 to 3.
No explanation has been given.  My speculation is that the Navy has concluded, as has the Air Force, that large, slow UAVs are not survivable in the modern aerial battlefield – something they should have realized before development even began!
Does this sound eerily reminiscent of the LCS which the Navy is retiring almost as fast as they’re being produced?  Or, perhaps it reminds you of the Zumwalt which went from being the absolutely vital, future of naval warfare to being deemed entirely unneeded by the Navy in a matter of months?  Or, maybe it sounds like the brand new Mobile Landing Platforms (MLP) which the Navy attempted to retire, was thwarted by Congress, and was, instead, placed in Reduced Operating Status (retired in all but name)?
This is what happens when you produce assets without any Concept of Operations (CONOPS) – you quickly realize that they have no use and then you’re forced to dump them. 
[1]USNI News website, “MQ-4C Triton Reaches Initial Operational Capability, UAV on 2nd Guam Deployment”, Mallory Shelbourne, 14-Sep-2023,

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Single Hits

During WWII, Guadalcanal witnessed some of the most brutal and devastating naval battles in history.  Ironbottom Sound acquired its nickname for good reason.  Allied battleships, cruisers, and destroyers absorbed many dozens of torpedo and shell hits.  Despite this onslaught, all the ships remained combat effective right until they either sank or the battle ended.  These were unbelievably tough ships.
In contrast, we’ve long noted that modern naval vessels are no longer WARships but glorified cruise ships.  They’re thinly and weakly built with no significant armor and small crews for damage control.  They lack separation and redundancy among other survivability flaws. 
Let’s just verify that our belief is correct (or not?) by examining the modern record of naval ships that have taken hits of various types.  The table below lists the ship, the number of hits, and the result.

The obvious observation that jumps out is that only one ship was able to continue its mission and the bomb that hit that ship failed to explode.  Note, also, the very small number of hits that were required to achieve a sinking or mission kill.  Contrast this with the WWII examples where the ships around Guadalcanal sustained many dozens of torpedo and shell hits and continued fighting.
For example, at Savo Island the USS Astoria received 65 shell hits, the majority being 8”, and continued to fight though the end of the battle (no mission kill !) before, eventually sinking the following day (see, “Battle Damage – Savo Island”).
Another interesting observation is that ship size (displacement) seems to offer no enhanced survivability or resilience, contrary to what one might expect.  This is likely a massive condemnation of the thinness and weakness of modern ship construction materials and design.
Also note the large number of bombs and missiles that failed to explode.  This should serve as an eye opener for those who believe, against all of history, that modern weapons are unerring, infallible, certain-kill, wonder weapons.  The reality is that most modern weapons will perform surprisingly (surprising only to those who do not follow this blog) poorly.
I had intended to include some examples of ships that took a hit and continued to function but I was unable to come up with any.
It seems obvious that, just as we believed, modern ships are weak and unable to sustain even the slightest degree of damage without being sunk or immediately rendered a mission kill.  Modern navies have completely forgotten how to design WARships.  The US is not alone in this ill-considered trend.  This is a perfect example of the entire world agreeing about how to build a modern navy ship and the entire world being wrong (similar to the pre-WWII battleship debate – everyone agreed and everyone was wrong).
Note:  It is likely that I’ve inadvertently omitted some examples.  Feel free to offer them in the comments.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Is The E-2 Hawkeye Still Needed?

The E-2 Hawkeye has long been recognized as the most important aircraft in the carrier air wing.  In fact, the Ford program manager stated exactly that.[1]  The E-2 provides detection of enemy aircraft and, more importantly, directly manages the aerial battle.  It is the battle management function that makes the E-2 so important and provides naval aircraft with their most important tactical advantage in air combat – the ability to avoid radiating.  It is also this function, by the way, that precludes any other radar-equipped aircraft from filling the E-2 role because no other aircraft can perform the battle management function.  Those who think an F-35 can be an E-2 simply don’t understand what the E-2 does.  But, I digress …
The lack of an E-2 is also why the British carriers are so limited in their combat usefulness.  Again, I digress …
Until the advent of stealth, the E-2 was able to monitor the location of every aircraft in the aerial battlefield and direct our planes in combat without those planes needing to radiate and reveal their own locations.  The ability of a Tomcat or Hornet to maneuver and launch missiles without revealing themselves was an enormous advantage. 
Now, however, stealthy and semi-stealthy aircraft have taken over the aerial battlefield.  What impact does this have on the E-2’s function and usefulness?  Well, let’s consider what we know about the E-2 and related issues. 

  • The E-2 radar is credited with a detection range of around 200 miles. 
  • Stealth aircraft are credited with golf ball size radar returns and detection ranges limited to a few miles or so, according to manufacturer claims.
  • Current long range A2A missiles are credited with many dozens to multiple hundreds of miles range.
  • The E-2 is non-survivable in the presence of enemy aircraft due to its immense radar return, active radar emissions, slow speed, and poor maneuverability.
Now, let’s assemble and analyze the individual facts and see where that leads us.
We have, seemingly, conflicting claims.  The E-2 radar is credited with a 200 mile detection range.  Stealth aircraft are credited with mosquito to golf ball size radar returns and detection ranges limited to a few miles or so, according to manufacturer claims.  Both claims can’t be simultaneously true.  If an E-2 radar can detect stealth aircraft at 200 miles, what’s the point of stealth?  On the other hand, if an E-2 radar can’t detect stealth aircraft until a few miles, what’s the point of having an E-2?
What we have to recognize is that the E-2 radar detection claims of 200 miles are based on detecting large, non-stealthy aircraft like Russian Tu-95 Bears.  On the other hand, stealth aircraft manufacturer’s claims of being nearly non-detectable are exaggerated just like all manufacturer claims. What is the actual detection range of stealthy and non-stealthy aircraft?  Well, anyone who knows isn’t saying so we’re left to guess.  My best estimate is that semi-stealthy aircraft (Fulcrum and Flanker derivatives, Chinese J-16 for example) can be detected around 30-50 miles and full stealth aircraft (Chinese J-20, J-31, Russian Su-57 for example) can be detected around 10-20 miles, depending on conditions and circumstances.
E-2 radar detection and sustained tracking of stealthy or semi-stealthy aircraft is likely on the order of 10-30 miles which means an E-2 would have to operate within 10-30 miles of enemy aircraft in order to be effective in the battle management role and that is well within range of almost all modern A2A missiles.
Given that modern A2A missiles have ranges of many dozens or hundreds of miles, the concept of a non-survivable E-2 operating within 10-30 miles of enemy aircraft is a non-starter.  The conclusion is that stealth has rendered the E-2 ineffective as a battle management asset.  The E-2 can still function, to a somewhat degraded degree, as an elevated radar platform for carrier defense but that is a limited subset of its traditional role.
So, where does that leave us?
Institutional inertia and a total lack of realistic field exercises guarantees that we’ll continue down the traditional E-2 path for many decades to come.  Wouldn’t you love to see the results of a stealth (F-22) ‘attack’ against a carrier/E-2?  My bet is that the F-22 would never be detected.  If I’m correct, that’s the end of the E-2 as an effective platform.
Are there alternatives to the traditional E-2?  Yes!  Here’s a couple of possibilities we’ve covered:
Unless the E-2 Hawkeye has stealth detecting capabilities that have never even been hinted at, the E-2 Hawkeye is no longer survivable or effective when facing a peer with stealthy or semi-stealthy aircraft armed with long range A2A missiles.  We have alternatives but we need to stop our unthinking inertia and stop building E-2s just because they once were effective – the same goes for the endlessly produced Burkes but, I digress …
We need to conduct realistic air battle management exercises using B-2 bombers and other aircraft as surrogates for future ‘Hawkeyes’ and start defining the requirements for the next Navy AEW aircraft.
Consider this … if we develop very long range fighter aircraft, as I’ve called for, we also need to develop an accompanying, survivable AEW aircraft to support the fighters and manage the far away aerial battle.  Failure to do so means we enter the future air combat area on equal footing with the enemy and a fair fight means you haven’t done your job planning and preparing.  You don’t limit yourself to bringing a knife to a knife fight, you bring a gun!  We need AEW battle management support and the E-2 is no longer it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

What is ‘Combat Effective’?

We fixate on the pursuit of bleeding edge technology because we think that will make us more combat effective but is bleeding edge technology really combat effective, even if it works perfectly?
Let’s make sure we understand what ‘combat effective’ means.  It means that a system is: 
  • lethal (or contributes to lethality) – if something doesn’t kill/destroy, it’s useless
  • affordable – the greatest system in world is useless if you can’t afford to procure it in sufficient quantities
  • reliable – the greatest system in the world (I’m looking at you, Aegis, M16 rifle, and F-35) is useless if it can’t stay operational
  • repairable – things get broken in combat and if you can’t repair it on-site, it’s useless
Consider some examples of items/systems that were/are cutting edge technology but not combat effective: 
  • M16 – The M16 rifle, when introduced, was unreliable, prone to jamming, and inaccurate and uncontrollable in full auto.
  • LCS – The LCS was state of the art in automation, predictive maintenance, remote mechanical monitoring, modularity, advanced unmanned systems, and networked loitering munitions and yet was totally combat ineffective due to unreliability, unrepairability, and non-lethality.
  • Aegis – Bleeding edge technology that was so complex it could not be maintained and was found to be degraded fleet-wide without anyone even recognizing it.  It is so delicate that a gentle grounding (Port Royal incident) was enough to render it inoperable.  It failed in the few combat situations it’s been in.
  • KC-46 Tanker – A simple tanker requirement became too complex, unreliable, unaffordable, and unfixable.
  • Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) – This AAV replacement was unaffordable.
  • Ford – Poster child for the stupidity of bleeding edge technology.  Everything about it is wrong.  Unaffordable, unreliable, unrepairable. 
Not only does cutting/bleeding edge technology not guarantee combat effectiveness, it almost guarantees the opposite – that the item will be combat ineffective.
Now consider a few systems currently being developed that are likely to be combat ineffective:
  • Adaptive engine – too complex, unreliable, unrepairable, unaffordable
  • Hypersonics – unaffordable
  • Unmanned – non-lethal
  • Artificial Intelligence – unreliable, too complex, unrepairable
We’re pouring money into these technological black holes despite them having all the characteristics of ineffective combat systems.
In contrast, consider some of the historical weapon systems that were, possibly, state of the art but not cutting/bleeding edge technology:  Fletcher class destroyer, Essex class carrier, Iowa class battleship, F6F Hellcat, etc.  They were state of the art but not beyond.
Having considered all this, let’s now ask ourselves a hypothetical question.  Which is the more combat effective system:  a mechanical, rotating radar that routinely works at 100% of its design capability and is affordable, easily maintained, and easily repaired or a flat panel, cutting edge radar that combines multiple radar bands and functions into one but is hideously expensive, difficult to produce, impossible to maintain, cannot be repaired in the field, is unbelievably sensitive to misalignment, and requires Ph.D scientists to operate, program, and analyze but when it is working perfectly provides unparalleled results?  I know which one I’d want to take into combat – what about you? 
Put it another way, would you rather have Tiger tanks or Shermans?  Which one was actually more combat effective?
Sherman and Tiger - which was more combat effective?

A system that’s combat effective only when conditions are perfect is not combat effective.
A system that’s combat effective when everything goes wrong is truly combat effective.
Cutting edge technology belongs in the lab until it becomes combat effective.
We need to stop our pursuit of cutting/bleeding edge technology and begin pursuing combat effectiveness.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Ford Costs

As we know, the Navy’s ability to produce reasonably accurate cost estimates is on par with my ability to fly like a bird.  Just for fun, let’s review the Navy’s cost estimating for the Ford.  Below are the Navy’s cost estimate figures for the four Ford class aircraft carriers as they changed over the years.[1, adapted from Table 2., p.10] 



These are bad and, what’s worse, they’re fake because the Navy simply cut off the cost accounting when they reached the Congressionally mandated cost cap limits.  After that, they kept racking up construction costs but buried the costs in other accounts that are not publicly discernible.
For example, despite being delivered in May 2017 and commissioned in Jul 2017, the Navy continued funding continuous weapons elevator construction and repair until Dec 2021.  Various reports suggested that as many as 200 contractors were working on the elevators at one time.  None of that has been included in the ship’s cost.  Similar work took place – and is still taking place! – on the EMALS catapult, Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), Dual Band Radar, and other systems. 
The Navy may play word games with what they classify as construction costs but the true construction costs continue to accumulate and are no longer being recorded in any publicly visible accounting.  The true construction cost is likely around $16B+ to $18B+ range.
It is also instructive to examine the Congressionally mandated cost cap limits.[1, p.8]


Look at the magnitude and frequency of those cost cap changes.  It’s not really a cost cap when Congress increases the cap as the Navy exceeds the cap, is it?
Demonstrating just how toothless the cost caps were/are, here are some accompanying language describing the caps.[1, p.8]
FY07  “plus adjustments for inflation and other factors
FY14  “plus adjustments for inflation and other factors (including an additional factor not included in original cost cap)

FY16  “plus adjustment for inflation and other factors, and with a new provision stating that, if during construction of CVN-79, the Chief of Naval Operations determines that measures required to complete the ship within the revised cost cap shall result in an unacceptable reduction to the ship’s operational capability, the Secretary of the Navy may increase the CVN-79 cost cap by up to $100 million

FY18  “The provision also amended the basis for adjusting the caps for inflation, and excluded certain costs from being counted against the caps

FY20  “The provision directs the Navy to exclude from these figures costs for CVN–78 class battle spares, interim spares, and increases attributable to economic inflation after December 1, 2018.

There’s not a lot of ‘capping’ going on, is there?
[1]Congressional Research Service, “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, August 16, 2023

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

A Pacific [Baby] Step in the Right Direction

In 2011, then President Obama announced the Pacific Pivot to address the growing Chinese threat.  This led to … well … almost nothing.  Instead, the US watched as the Chinese continued to expand their holdings and influence, annexing the entire East and South China Seas, and making inroads on various Pacific countries and island nations. 
Notably, China established military agreements with Solomons Islands and others.  This was not particularly surprising as the US had made very little effort to confront China diplomatically.  The Solomons agreement seemed to finally awaken the US and spur at least some effort, minimal as it’s been.
Now, however, there are some small but potentially positive developments for, and by, the US. 
The United States signed a new agreement with Palau that gives American ships the authorization to unilaterally enforce maritime regulations in the tiny Pacific island nation's exclusive economic zone, the U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday.[1] 
It is unclear whether this is an extension of the previous Compact of Free Association or whether it is an entirely new agreement. 
In the agreement, concluded a week ago, U.S. Coast Guard ships can enforce regulations inside Palau's exclusive economic zone on behalf of the nation without a Palauan officer present … [1] 
This would appear to give the US the right (and responsibility?) to confront China when it violates Palau territorial waters and economic zones.
In other developments, 
The U.S. has countered with diplomatic moves of its own, including opening an embassy in the Solomon Islands.
The agreement with Palau is similar to one concluded with the Federated States of Micronesia at the end of 2022, following which the U.S. Coast Guard has conducted boardings for the Pacific nation.
The U.S. also signed a bilateral defense agreement in May with Papua New Guinea, which will allow the U.S. Coast Guard to conduct boardings alongside its local counterparts in Papua New Guinea's exclusive economic zone for the first time later this year.[1] 
These recent agreements could be good, however, it depends on whether we’re willing to actually take action.  Will we forcibly remove Chinese ships that are violating protected waters or will we just stand by and do nothing as we’re doing in the Middle East where we just stand by and watch the Iranians attack and seize merchant ships?  Will this be another red line in the sand which, when crossed, we do nothing about?  Agreements mean nothing without force and action backing them up.  This is an opportunity for us to begin standing up to China with concrete, meaningful actions (unlike the worse-than-useless Freedom of Navigation exercises).
This is potentially a good step but I’m highly dubious that we’ll use the ability effectively.  This is most likely a tool that will remain in the toolbox, unused, as so many of our tools do.
[1]Newsmax website, “US Given OK to Enforce Maritime Law Around Palau”, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press, 29-Aug-2023,

Saturday, August 26, 2023

A Prototype, Subsidized, Convertible, Merchant Ship

Logistics will be a major issue in a war with China.  Of course, logistics are a major issue in any war so that wasn’t exactly the world’s most earth-shaking statement, was it?  Nevertheless, it’s true.  Now, what does the Navy/nation lack in regards to China war logistics?
Well, we lack a large, ready merchant fleet to carry supplies to Guam, Taiwan, Japan, etc.
Moving on to a seemingly unrelated topic (which you know we’re going to directly relate to shortly!), we’ve discussed ship prototypes and the Navy’s near total unwillingness to explore ship designs, tactics, and CONOPS via the use of prototypes (see, “Prototypes”).
So, to summarize … we lack a merchant logistics fleet and we don’t make use of prototypes.  Could those two things be related?  Of course they are!
One major advantage China has over us is that all their merchant ships are constructed with military adaptations built in.  In a war, China will have an easily convertible merchant fleet available for military use.
Here’s thought … why don’t we copy China for once and build a military-convertible merchant fleet?
Let’s start with a single prototype, funded by the government.  It would be a merchant ship that has military adaptations and ‘convertibility’ built in.  We could try it out by practicing rapidly converting it to military use (troop transport, military supply transport, military vehicle transport, oiler, or whatever other use we might need). 
Once we debug and prove out the concept, we can embark on a production program in which the government subsidizes (or totally pays to build) a convertible merchant ship and then loans/leases it to commercial shipping companies with the agreement that they maintain it to acceptable standards.  If war arises and we need it, we have a well maintained, readily convertible, military logistics fleet and if war does not occur during the ship’s lifespan, the commercial shipping company gets a nearly free ship to use.  Win, win.
Logistics Fleet in Waiting?

This potentially solves multiple problems. 
  • We establish a well maintained, readily convertible logistics fleet.
  • We strengthen our commercial shipping industry.
  • We increase demand for new merchant ships and encourage the growth of our shipbuilding industry while possibly gaining new shipyards to meet the increased construction.
  • The Navy/government gets a fleet of ready logistics ships while off-loading the yearly operating costs to the shipping industry.
Note:  I have no idea what the exact degree of subsidies or specific loan arrangements would be.  That would require an economic analysis that I lack the data to conduct.  Someone would have to work that through to see what makes sense.
Thus, for a minimal initial outlay (subsidy or total construction cost), the Navy gets a modern, ready, reserve fleet of logistic ships and our shipping and shipbuilding industries get a much needed boost.  Ideally, we’d simultaneously revamp our shipping-related laws and regulations to further encourage domestic shipping but that’s another topic.
Here’s some example merchant ship construction costs in FY22 dollars.
Dry bulk                        $49.6 million
General cargo               $17 million
Container                      $68.2 million
As you can see, these are almost free relative to typical Navy ship costs!  We could buy 71 container ships at $70M apiece for the cost of a single $4B Zumwalt.
The key to this concept is to build a single prototype and use it to learn how to best design a ship for rapid wartime conversion.  With that knowledge in hand we can then begin a production program that benefits both the military and the shipping industry.  That’s a lot of benefit for very little money!
Of course, none of this addresses the issue of manning those ships during war but, again, that’s a different topic.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Vice CNO Franchetti - Another Failed CNO in the Making

Vice CNO Franchetti, in her position as acting CNO, just issued her first message to the fleet.  Any incredibly faint hope I held that she might be an improvement over the recent string of inept, failed CNOs has been dashed.  Her message was a vague collection of buzzword garbage that contained only one worthwhile piece of information and that was that all previous policies would remain in effect.  Thus, she apparently sees all the problems and is content with the status quo.  Very disappointing.
To be fair, she’s only acting CNO pending Congressional approval so maybe she’ll change once approved but I think that’s highly unlikely.  She’s showing her colors right now.

Another Failed CNO?

Monday, August 21, 2023

Why the Last Post?

Some of the comments from the last post, “Defending Taiwan”, led me to believe that not everyone grasped the purpose of the post.  To be fair, I didn’t spell out the purpose although it’s been ‘spelled out’ throughout the blog.
The purpose of the post was not to provide a scenario that people could jump on and criticize (though that’s a favorite sport among readers of any blog!).  The purpose was to offer a likely scenario (Chinese invasion of Taiwan and US defense against the invasion) and a means (a strategy) of addressing that scenario (carriers, subs, locations, strategy, etc.) with the objective of examining the operational, tactical, and asset requirements to execute the scenario strategy.
The scenario gives us the specific requirements that should be driving our strategy, military force structure, doctrine, tactics, and procurement.
This is analogous to my constant harping on CONOPS, CONOPS, CONOPS which should drive ship design.
In this case, it’s OPERATIONS, OPERATIONS, OPERATIONS which should drive force structure and capabilities.
OPERATIONS, of course, are derived from STRATEGY, STRATEGY, STRATEGY.
Isn’t it neat how, if you do this correctly, each step flows logically from the preceding one?  But, I digress …
With a specific scenario and strategy defined, we can now proceed to examine force structure by examining the required operations.  For example, 
  • How many subs do we need?  Operations will tell us that.
  • What kind of aircraft do we need?  Operations will tell us that.
  • How big an air wing do we need?  Operations will tell us that.
  • What kind of ASW effort do we need?  Operations will tell us that.
  • How many carriers do we need to defend Taiwan?  Operations will tell us that.
  • How do we logistically support a Taiwan defense fleet?  Operations will tell us that.
And so on.
The Navy’s approach is to build something … anything … and then try to get it into the hands of the sailors so that they can tell leadership what the ship can do.  This, of course, is a heaping pile of stupid on a plate.  CONOPS tells you what to design and then you tell the sailors how to use it, not the other way around.  Similarly, Operations tells us what kind of force structure and capabilities we need.
Thus, scenarios like this give us the basis for intelligent discussion of force structure.  That was the purpose of the post.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Defending Taiwan

Let’s assume China makes an invasion of Taiwan part of whatever war they initiate.  In fact, this is an absolute certainty since they can’t allow an enemy base of operations to exist just a hundred miles off their mainland.  Let’s further assume that the US opts to defend Taiwan (by no means a certainty).  How would the defense play out from a US Navy perspective?

Carrier Activity
The main function of a carrier group would be to provide air cover for Taiwan.  Basically, this becomes a large scale battle for air superiority to relieve Taiwan’s forces from the threat of aerial bombardment and missile attack … an ambitious and exceedingly challenging effort!
The main invasion effort will likely be along the southern beaches due to Taiwan’s geography.  That dictates our carrier defensive location.  With aircraft only having, at best, a two hundred mile or so combat radius (remember, you have to include sufficient loiter/combat time!), our carriers will have to operate within two hundred miles or so  radius of the midpoint of the Taiwan Strait at the southern end of the strait.
Unfortunately, this ‘anchors’ the carrier group to a fairly fixed location.  Yes, the group would sail back and forth a bit but the necessities and constraints of aircraft range and endurance (loitering and combat time) dictate that the carrier remain in a very limited and predictable location.  A carrier constrained to a limited and predictable location is a good way to get a sunk carrier due to cruise/ballistic missiles and enemy subs.
The scale of air superiority action would demand all the carrier’s aircraft to operate in the air-to-air role.  There would be few, if any, available for ground support.
Surface Ship Activity
Aegis ships will be quite active – and one hopes successful – providing an anti-air ‘umbrella’ over the strait.  Standard SM-2/6 missiles are credited with ranges of 150-200 miles which, unfortunately, would suffice to cover, if barely, the strait from the eastern (seaward) side of Taiwan.  In conjunction with carrier aircraft, this would help establish local air superiority.
One should also note that the mountainous geography poses radar problems for ships operating on the eastern side of Taiwan and trying to exert anti-air influence over the strait and the western side of the island.
Submarine Activity
Offense – Our subs will attempt to attack Chinese naval forces at the northern and, most especially, the southern end of the Taiwan Strait.  Unfortunately, the strait is only a hundred miles wide or so which greatly restricts the submarine operations.  Only a single sub can operate at each end at a time without risking blue-on-blue engagement.  Thus, our large submarine force will be limited by geography to a minimal combat presence. 
Defense – As noted above, our carrier groups will be tied to a fairly fixed location and this will attract enemy subs.  Thus, one of the main functions of our submarine force will be to act as distant screens for the carrier group to intercept Chinese subs/ships approaching from around the southern tip of Taiwan or north from Philippines.  Again, though, only a relative few subs can operate in the area at a time before the crowding of subs becomes counterproductive.
It is obvious that the blue-on-blue concern will be a huge factor.  As described, that concern will severely limit the number of subs we can effectively employ in the fairly restricted Taiwan operating area.  We could have a thousand subs but if we can only safely and effectively employ four in the operating area, the remaining 996 are useless except as attrition replacements.  We need to begin addressing ways to safely and effectively operate more subs in the restricted area.  I cannot offer any specific thoughts on how to do that but I can and do raise the issue.  To be fair, this is an issue dating back to WWI and no one has satisfactorily solved it.
The importance of the Philippines cannot be overstated.  For the Chinese, control of the Philippines provides protection for the southern invasion force.  For the US, the Philippines provides the approach from which a counterattack can be staged and launched against the southern invasion force.  The key question, therefore, is which side will seize and control Luzon and surrounding air and seas?
Amphibious Landing
While not an opposed landing, per se, landing troop reinforcements from the eastern side of the island would be a likely scenario.  This would require Aegis ships to move very close to shore to provide anti-air protection for amphibious ships during the landing/unloading process.
We can’t even begin to successfully defend Taiwan without a functional Guam so defending Guam is part of the Taiwan defense.  Guam’s defense is, however, a separate topic so I’ll leave it at that.  Just be aware of the vital role Guam will play in terms of logistics, basing, staging, repair, etc.
ASW - Chinese subs will be a major threat and we lack effective ASW.  Large, slow, non-stealthy, defenseless, fixed wing P-8 ASW aircraft will be unable to survivably operate in the area.  Helos will be unable to operate at any great distance from their host ships due to survivability concerns.  Possibly, Burke/helo hunter-killer units could be effective, however, that places a multi-billion dollar, high value, Aegis vessel squarely in the enemy submarine operating area.  We lack a dedicated, expendable (cheap) ASW ship.
Aircraft – We have no useful airbases near Taiwan unless Japanese bases are viable.  This would require Japan to enter the war, offer the use of their bases, and be able to defend those bases well enough to keep them effectively operating – no sure thing!  This leaves only carriers as a source of aircraft.  Unfortunately, our carrier fleet is shrinking in numbers and our air wings are half the size they once were.
Further, the F-18 is not a state of the art fighter and will be hard pressed to hold its own.
Ground Support – We will have few, if any, carrier aircraft available for ground support.  The Air Force won’t have any bases within useful distance to provide support.  We might be able to base Air Force aircraft on Taiwan bases but the likelihood of Taiwan bases remaining operational is not good.
This might be a scenario where big deck amphibious ships, configured for pure ground support (maximize the F-35Bs), could be effective assuming we can establish local air superiority. I assume attack helos would be non-survivable due to Chinese anti-air weapons and contested skies.

Why is it important to understand how a Taiwan conflict will play out?  It’s because that will determine what capabilities and, therefore, what platforms and weapons we need.  Currently, the Navy designs ships in a complete vacuum with no consideration for strategic and operational requirements (CONOPS).  We need to stop this ‘blind’ design practice and begin designing to our specific needs. 
Consider the Navy’s obsession with unmanned assets.  Do we need unmanned assets?  Well, it all depends on how we intend to fight a war with China.  Unmanned assets may be useful or they may not.  We don’t know because we don’t have a war plan.
I’m offering this brief outline of how a defense of Taiwan will play out.  You can agree or disagree with my vision but it offers a concrete set of operational requirements which, in turn, allows us to design assets that will directly and effectively support the plan instead of designing assets that we just cross our fingers and hope can somehow prove useful but we’re not sure.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Ukraine-Russia Naval War

As I keep saying, we can’t draw any conclusions from the Ukraine-Russia war    and yet military observers continue to try to do so.  The latest batch of supposed lessons involves a burst of ‘naval war’ analyses following recent claims of a successful suicide attack by a Ukrainian unmanned surface vessel against a Russian Ropucha I LST landing ship.[1]
Previous reports claimed successful attacks on 29-Oct-2022 by USVs (and possibly UAVs) against a Russian Admiral Grigorovich class frigate and a mine countermeasure (MCM) ship.  It is also possible that the sinking of the missile cruiser Moskva was due to a USV as the apparent damage would be consistent with a waterline explosion caused by a USV.  There is also the 24-Mar-2022 sinking of a Russian Alligator class amphibious landing ship while docked in Berdyansk (see, “Port Seizure Example”).  The method of attack was never identified and a USV strike would fit the facts as well or better than artillery or missile strikes.
In addition to the successful attacks, there have been multiple reports of failed attacks.
From this, observers have concluded that the Ukraine-Russia naval war – to the extent there actually is one – is an asymmetric conflict between Ukrainian unmanned assets and conventional Russian ships.  Observers believe that the Ukrainians have demonstrated that the future of naval warfare involves small, unmanned assets and that large ships are no longer viable.  This is utterly incorrect but that’s not really the point of this post.
While we cannot draw any definitive conclusions from the Ukraine-Russia conflict, we can discuss certain aspects that have become apparent. 
Lethality/Effectiveness – One of the common misunderstandings is that unmanned assets are incredibly effective.  That is false or, at best, only semi-true. 
The actual sink rate for Ukrainian USVs against Russian ships is zero, as far as I know (excepting the possibility that Moskva and Alligator were sunk by a USV).  A few ships have, apparently, been damaged with the extent of damage unknown.
So, while the reported attacks have caused damage they have not been fatal (unless the Moskva or Alligator was a USV attack).  Thus, a single drone strike appears insufficient to sink a ship.  This is analogous to missile attacks which are not, generally, instantly fatal from a single hit.
The apparent effectiveness of the USVs (they have hit multiple ships) seems equally due to the appalling lack of awareness and tactical ineptitude of the Russians as to whatever effectiveness the Ukrainian USVs might have.  The Russians seem oblivious to, or incapable of, detecting USVs and seem to lack any organized defensive effort.
USV Detection
Why have Russian sensors failed to detect the USVs in time for effective countermeasures?  We claim to be able to detect periscopes at hundreds of miles.  This may reinforce one of ComNavOps recurring themes that all manufacturer’s/Navy claims are vastly overblown.  Unless one believes that Russian sensors are vastly inferior to those of the US, it would seem that sensors cannot reliably detect even speedboat size objects on the water.  Of course, it may well be that Russian sensors are vastly inferior or that Russian operators are insufficiently trained to use their sensors effectively.
Proximity – The attacks all seem to have occurred in port or very close to land which is understandable given the short legs and limited seaworthiness of an unmanned speedboat.  There are reports of some USVs attacking the Crimea bridge from a significant distance.  Of course, since we have no confirmed USV launch points, it’s impossible to say what the various attack distances were.  Regardless, relative to open ocean distances in, say, the Pacific theater, the attacks are limited to near land.  This suggests that USV speedboat type attacks are not a threat to ships operating in the open ocean.
There have been reports of successful defenses by the Russians against the USV drones.  This suggests that individual USVs are easily defeated – not surprising since they have no defensive weapons, whatsoever.  Reports also suggest that the drones have been used in bunches – a ‘swarm’ of sorts – which would increase the chances of one/some getting through the defenses.  Bear in mind that the defense has to be 100% effective whereas the USVs, due to their cheapness - only need an occasional success to be effective.
This suggests that effective defenses must be numerous, lethal, and rapidly responsive.  Small missiles, guided rockets, or CIWS-type weapons would be appropriate.  It also suggests that the defensive weapons ought to be harbor-based, controlled, and operated by a central harbor defense rather than depending on the individual ships to provide their own defense.  In other words, once a ship enters a port, the defense should be the responsibility of the port forces instead of the ship.  Ships come and go from a port but the port’s defenses ought to be consistent and on-going.  This provides continuity and consistency of defense regardless of the comings and goings of individual ships.  Sensors and weapons ought to be sited at the various approaches to the port and ought to be layered with multiple sensing and engagement zones.
There is no escaping the fact that the Russians appear utterly incapable or inept (or both) of detecting and defending against USVs.  They seem to lack any tactical doctrine for defense.  Given that, it is worse than pointless to draw conclusions.  This conflict seems almost totally inapplicable to a China-US war.  There is no more reason to believe that the naval aspects of this war offer valid lessons than do the ground combat aspects.
[1]The War Zone, ”Ukrainian Drone Boat Scores Direct Hit On Russian Warship”, Thomas Newdick, 4-Aug-2023,

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Whale

The Douglas A-3 (originally, A3D) Skywarrior, known as the Whale, offers several insights to modern carrier and aircraft (in particular, a large, long range air superiority fighter) design.
To briefly review, the Whale was the largest aircraft to routinely operate from a carrier (the E-2 Hawkeye comes close depending on what parameter one looks at).  With a crew of 3-7, depending on the variant, it filled the roles of strike, nuclear strike, electronic warfare (EW), tanker, recon, and bomb damage assessment.  The ample room in the aircraft afforded great flexibility in design of the many variants.  The aircraft served from the 1950’s to 1991.
A-3 Skywarrior

Interestingly, the A-3 had the most capacity of any Navy tanker, delivering 29,000 lb of fuel at 460 miles (see, “Navy Aerial Refueling”).  The Navy is currently struggling to develop a tanker with half that capacity (stated goal of 15,000 lb at 500 miles).


What lessons does the A-3 Skywarrior/Whale offer for today’s ship and aircraft designs?
Aircraft Weight – A constant claim, today, is that we can’t operate large tankers, large air superiority fighters, or any large aircraft because we can’t launch/recover heavy aircraft.  This is patently false as the Whale demonstrated.  We not only routinely operated the Whale from carriers but we did so from post-WWII Essex and Midway class carriers![1]  The steam catapults of the day were sufficient to launch the 40,000-80,000 lb Whale which leads one to wonder why we felt we needed EMALS.  We could launch and recover heavy aircraft before.  We didn’t need EMALS and certainly didn’t need it until it was fully debugged and ready.
Aircraft weight, at least up to that of the Whale, is not a constraint on modern carrier or aircraft design.
Aircraft Size - There is a common misbelief that we can’t operate aircraft much larger than a Hornet from a carrier deck.  For example, this fallacy is used to argue against large air superiority fighters.  However, we see from the Whale’s operational history that this is not true.  The A-3 was 72 ft long with a 76 ft wingspan and we managed to operate them from post-WWII Essex and Midway class carriers up through the supercarriers of the Nimitz class.  This doesn’t mean we can have an air wing of 90+ Whale size aircraft but it means we can certainly operate larger aircraft than we have now (the Hornet).  Our carrier decks are barely half-full.  We can easily operate many more large aircraft.
Payload – Weapons were carried in an internal bomb bay which demonstrates that large amounts of weapons can be carried internally on a large fighter – how large, of course, is the question.  An AMRAAM is around 360 lbs so, in theory, a Skywarrior could have carried 33 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles (ignoring actual launch mechanisms and dimensional constraints).
Carrier Design – The A-3 initially operated from post-WWII Essex and Midway carriers thus demonstrating that the massive deck of the Nimitz/Ford is not a requirement to operate large aircraft.  We don’t have to constantly design larger and larger carriers.  We simply have to remember how to operate large air wings on moderate sized carrier decks.  Our current air wings are steadily shrinking while the carriers are steadily increasing in size.  What’s wrong with this picture?
Air Superiority Fighter
Let’s look at the specific case of the air superiority fighter.  As you know, ComNavOps has proposed a very long range, air superiority fighter and, due to existing paradigms among commenters, arguments have claimed that it’s not possible to design a suitably long range fighter and that, if it were possible, the aircraft would be:
-too large to operate from a carrier
-too heavy to operate from a carrier
-unable to carry enough weapons
and, finally, that if such an aircraft could be built, there’s no room on a carrier for such an aircraft.
As the Whale routinely demonstrated, we can, and did, operate large, heavy aircraft from a carrier – larger and heavier than anything we operate currently.  Combined with the nearly half-size air wings, we have lots of room for large aircraft such as a long range, air superiority fighter.
We’ve forgotten what we were once had and what we were once capable of doing and now believe those things to be impossible.  The only impossibility seems to be remembering what we once had.
Routine operation of large, heavy aircraft was long ago proven.  This invalidates the argument that we can’t operate a large air superiority fighter from a carrier.
The Whale proved that we don’t need EMALS or Advanced Arresting Gear to operate large, heavy aircraft.  The ancient steam catapult and landing gear were perfectly adequate.  We could revert to the Kitty Hawk carrier design and be perfectly capable of operating many large air superiority fighters. 
So says the Whale!