Thursday, April 27, 2023

How Many Shots?

The Iowa class battleship of WWII had a bit over 1200 16” shells of various types in its magazines.  In addition, it carried several thousand 5” shells.
Cruisers had some 1400 8” shells depending on class.
The Fletcher class carried around 575 5” shells per gun for a ship total of nearly 3000 shells.
That’s a LOT of striking power! 
Well, sure, you say, but given the accuracy of the time, most of the shells fired were doomed to miss so they had to have large magazines.  WWII naval gun accuracy against ships was generally something on the order of 5%-10%, depending on a host of factors.  Of course, in the land attack/bombardment mission, every shell was a hit against something (that’s what area bombardment is!). 
Today, we have precision guided weapons and we like to believe that almost every shot is a hit.  We don’t need large inventories of missiles and we certainly don’t need large magazines of shells for our 5” guns since we just don’t use them and, if we do, we have advanced, precision fire control systems to ensure amazing accuracy.
Um …    Why?  Why do we think we don’t need large inventories of weapons?  Why do we think our weapons will hit with unerring accuracy?  It’s certainly not because of any realistic live fire test or exercises that have proven the effectiveness of our weapons because we flat out don’t do those.  It’s not because of the extensive history of actual combat use because there isn’t much and the existing data (Hughes) demonstrates that the accuracy of offensive weapons is actually pretty poor.[2]  It’s not because of calm, objective, reasoned analysis because, except for this blog, no one attempts that.  It’s not because of an objective analysis of modern defenses that our weapons would face because if we did that we’d have to admit that it’s highly unlikely our weapons would be very effective.
It turns out that we believe in our weapon’s accuracy because that’s what the Navy and the manufacturers tells us and because that’s what we want to believe.  Of course, the defensive weapon manufacturers also tell us that their weapons will defend with unerring accuracy and invincibility.  Wait, what now?  How can offensive and defensive weapons both have unerring accuracy and flawless performance?  One of the two – or both – has to be wrong.  Elementary logic dictates that you can’t have 100% successful offensive strikes against 100% successful defensive platforms.
Uh, oh.  I don’t like where this is going.
Is it possible that our vaunted, unerring, offensive missiles may be less than 100% accurate and successful?  If so, that would suggest we need bigger magazines/inventories.  I wonder how much less than 100% effective our attacking missiles will be?  10%?  50%?  80%? 
Uh, oh.  I really don’t like where this is going!
Maybe we’d better take a brief foray into the font of wisdom … historical data.
Unfortunately, there is very little direct, relevant, historical data regarding the accuracy of modern offensive weapons.  That being the case, why, then, do we so firmly believe our weapons will perform as advertised?  Here’s some of the data that I’m aware of, in no particular order:
Vincennes – The Vincennes tragedy saw the cruiser fire around 100 5” shells at Boghammer vessels with no recorded hits.
Praying Mantis – The April 1988 attack by the US against Iranian forces demonstrated that 5” gun attacks against oil platforms were almost totally ineffective with almost all shots missing.  This may have been due to the lattice-like nature of the target more than any inherent inaccuracy of the guns.
INS Hanit – A Hezbollah launch of two (some reports say three) C80x missiles against the unsuspecting Israeli Sa’ar 5 frigate resulted in only a single glancing hit that did little damage.
HMS Sheffield – The Sheffield was hit by one of two Exocet missiles fired by Argentine aircraft.
SS Atlantic Conveyor – The merchant ship was hit by two Exocet missiles after they reportedly were decoyed away from HMS Hermes (or HMS Ambuscade or transport Regent, depending on sources) and subsequently locked onto the merchant vessel.[1]  That’s zero strikes on the initial target and two strikes on a subsequent, fortuitous target.
HMS Invincible – A single Exocet was launched at the Invincible but missed.
USS Mason – The Burke class destroyer, USS Mason, was supposedly attacked several times by missiles (C-80x?) fired from Yemen.  No hits were recorded.  It should be noted that the attacks are unverified (see (“Yemen Missile Attacks”).
Latakia and Baltim - Israeli missile boats engaged Syrian and Egyptian boats (see, “Missile Boat Battles –Latakia and Baltim”).  Exact missile numbers for launches and hits are unavailable but the overall missile performance of the Gabriel Mk1 and SS-N-2 Styx missiles appears to have been around 10% effective though far more effective on the Israeli side than the Syrian/Egyptian side.
Hughes[2] (compiled by John Schulte) presented the data for every known anti-ship missile attack (222 ASCMs from 1967 to 1992), broken down by the defender’s status at the time of attack.  For defenseless ships, primarily large commercial vessels, the probability of hit = 91%.  Against defendable targets (ships capable of defending themselves but that did not), the probability of hit = 68%.  Finally, against defended targets (ships that attempted some form of defense), the probability of hit = 26%.
Noting the 26% probability of hit against defended targets and noting that very few defensive missile intercepts have ever been attempted, we can conclude that most defensive efforts are electronic warfare (EW) in nature.  Thus, the vast majority of that diminished 26% hit probability is likely due to EW defensive efforts.  When actual, active, surface to air missile defenses are added to that, the 26% probability of hit is going to drop substantially to something on the order of 10% or less.  Those 8 rack mounted anti-ship missiles that the US is so fond of, then, are going to be very, very lucky to generate even a single hit.
Iran-Iraq Tanker War – This would provide an interesting data set for missile effectiveness against unresisting targets but I’ve been unable to find any data on the number of hits/launches.
We see, then, that the historical record across multiple generations of offensive weapons shows that none are particularly effective.  That should tell us something about our habit of providing ships with just two 4-missile, bolt-on, racks of anti-ship missiles (Mk141 Harpoon launcher or similar) as our main offensive firepower.
As our fathers in WWII understood, large magazines are necessary to ensure success (reminder – we’re talking about offensive weapons; large magazines are not indicated for defensive weapons). 
So, what does all this mean on a practical basis?  It means that we need much larger offensive magazines and inventories if we’re to be combat effective.  Specifically,
  • We need more SSGNs due to their large missile inventory.
  • We need more offensive missiles, particularly anti-ship missiles on Burkes/Constellations.
  • This demonstrates that the Marine’s tiny missile shooting units are worthless since they lack the salvo density to be combat effective.
We need to remember that offense wins wars, not defense.  We’ve become a defensive Navy (see, “Defensive Mindset” and “MoreOffense, Please”) and we need to refocus on offense which means significantly increasing our offensive magazines and inventories.
The truism, ‘Attack Effectively, First’, reminds us what’s important but we can only attack effectively if we have sufficient offensive weapons.
[2]”Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat”, Wayne P. Hughes Jr., Naval Institute Press, 2000, ISBN 1-55750-392-3, p.275-276.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Hughes Great Battle

Wayne Hughes is one of the foremost proponents of small vessel naval forces and has spoken and written extensively about it.  Before I go any further, let me commend Capt. Hughes for his willingness to formulate, publicize, and discuss a point of view.  It takes courage to put one’s opinions into the public realm where they are open to criticism.  Whether I agree or disagree with Hughes’ theories, I respect him for holding and publicizing his thoughts.
In Hughes’ book, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, he presents his theories and then, in conclusion, offers a naval combat scenario to illustrate their application [1, p.321].  I’d like to examine his combat scenario as a means of describing the limits and constraints of his theories.  There are many naval observers and commentators who ascribe to his theories so this exercise is well worth the effort.
In brief, the combat scenario involves a conflict between Greece and Turkey with the US stuck in between, using naval force to, ironically, keep the peace by attacking docked Turkish amphibious transport ships.  The US attack force consists of several small missile boats that are transported undetected, by a mothership, to a location near the proposed battle and then dispersed, again undetected, to their launch points where they will attack docked Turkish troop transports thereby preventing a widespread Turkish amphibious assault on several Greek islands.
Interestingly, Hughes does not conclude his naval battle scenario.  Instead, he ends his narrative at the moment of engagement.  His purpose was setting the stage for the battle to demonstrate the value of his small combatants.  Whether the outcome is successful or not is irrelevant for what he is trying to accomplish and whether he successfully demonstrates the value of his theories is up to the reader. 
In order to make an assessment of Hughes’ scenario and the principles he applies, it is necessary to clearly understand the conditions he sets for the scenario.  As with any wargame, the input conditions determine the result (garbage in, garbage out) and this combat scenario has a number of constraints built into it, to the point of rendering the scenario nearly irrelevant.  I’ve long maintained that Hughes’ theories and conclusions are of very limited value and applicability and his battle scenario clearly illustrates this.  Following are some of the conditions Hughes sets for his scenario.  Judge for yourself the validity and usefulness of the overall scenario in light of the constraints imposed on the scenario. 
  • The scenario is tailor made to fit his theories.  In other words, Hughes’ theories are not applied to the scenario;  the scenario is applied to his theories.  That’s backwards and unrealistic!  There’s nothing wrong, per se, with doing that but the reader needs to recognize what was done and be very wary of extrapolating the success – or lack thereof – of a very specific scenario to other, perhaps more likely scenarios such as open ocean combat or combined arms (aviation) naval combat.

  • The scenario forbids attacks on the enemy homeland, land bases and airfields, land sensors, etc.  In other words, a foolish way to conduct a war.  Of course, historically, we generally do limit ourselves in combat to the point of harming ourselves so this may not be a totally ridiculous constraint!

  • Electronic warfare (EW) is ignored and networks are assumed to be flawless and unimpeded with the US having perfect communications, command, and control.

  • Land based strikes by enemy aircraft against naval targets are not included.

  • US Air Force and Army assistance is ignored so no friendly air strikes, reconnaissance, intel, tanker, or EW support.

  • Carrier air strikes on ships are ruled out due to fear of a hypothesized 200 enemy fighters.
  • It is assumed that no Greek or Turkish surveillance will detect the US small combat vessels.

  • Complete US satellite coverage is assumed.
You can draw your own conclusion but my assessment is that Hughes constructed a scenario that perfectly fits his theories so as to illustrate and extoll them.  As such, my conclusion regarding his theories is that their ‘window’ of applicability is so small and so unlikely as to render them nearly irrelevant.  For example, the US small missile boats, the heart of Hughes’ envisioned fleet structure concept, are almost magically transported to the perfect placement on the naval battlefield with no possibility of detection by the enemy.  He also ignores the issue of fuel and logistical support for the small combatants.  A single enemy helicopter would wreak havoc on the small, defenseless missile boats but enemy air activity was excluded since its presence would turn a nice, neat scenario into a disaster for the US and Hughes.
As I was reading the description of the scenario, I was struck by the thought that there was a far easier and far more assured, alternate battle plan available.  Hughes hypothesized a single US carrier with four Aegis escorts.  He limited their involvement to some minor scouting but he could, instead, have assigned the four Aegis escorts to deal with the enemy air forces while the carrier’s aircraft swiftly dispatched the nearly defenseless Turkish amphibious and naval forces.  That, however, would not have served the purpose of illustrating his theories or, rather, would have pointed out a preferred alternative to his theories.
Hughes’ theories of small combatants have numerous flaws but the book serves as an excellent Navy 101 or primer on naval combat.  It is a starting point for the study of naval combat, not an endpoint.  As a starting point, it is well worth reading and studying.  Simply identifying the flaws in Hughes’ concept is an invaluable education in itself.
For those of you who opt to read his book or writings, the biggest overall flaw is that his theories all begin with his favored small combatants already in position, perfectly poised for the salvoes that are the basis of his theories.  He neglects the logistics, basing, detection, lack of anti-air defense, EW, etc. that are all crucial to, and precede, any successful naval engagement.  As you read his writings, keep that in mind and recognize the weaknesses.  It will help you assess the validity – or lack thereof - of his theories.
[1]”Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat”, 2nd Ed., Wayne P. Hughes Jr., Naval Institute Press, 2000, ISBN 1-55750-392-3, p.321.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Armored Fleet

We’ve talked, in general terms, about ship armor (see, “Armor Compendium”) and have acknowledged that it was a grave mistake to have abandoned armor protection.  We discussed how modern armor should be applied, conceptually (see, “Conceptual Armor forModern Ships”).  Now, let’s get specific and lay out a detailed armor scheme for a modern fleet based on the fleet described in the ‘Fleet Structure’ tab/page listed at the top of the blog.
General Considerations
Armor is not a random characteristic.  It exists for a specific purpose and to counter a specific threat and on today’s naval battlefield that threat is missiles.  Of course, shell/bomb effects would be mitigated as well by whatever armor we apply but those are far less likely threats and do not drive the armor configuration.
Each ship class’ armor fit is proof against a specific threat while offering mitigation against all others.  This was true of WWII ship types where, as a general statement, a type’s armor was designed to be proof against the enemy’s corresponding weapons.  Thus, a cruiser was designed to be armored against a cruiser’s weapons, a battleship’s armor was designed to be proof against a battleship’s big guns, and so on.
Obviously, there is no direct data available on missile effects against armor so what follows is speculation, however, it is semi-informed speculation as we do have data on heavy, high velocity (supersonic) naval shells versus armor (see, Okun’s writings at the NavWeaps site).  For example, the muzzle velocity of a typical 16” battleship shell was 2500 ft/sec = Mach 2.3 which is, essentially, a supersonic, heavy missile and battleships were armored to be largely immune to those shells.  Another piece of data is the early tests by the Navy using Harpoon(?) missiles against plates of battleship armor and the result was nothing but scratched paint.  From those kinds of data, we can apply a bit of common sense and extrapolate.  So … semi-informed.
Armor sets consist of ‘trigger layers’ (used to be called de-capping) to ignite the missile and make it explode outside the main armor and interior compartments.  The trigger layer is applied to the horizontal deck and, differing from WWII design, the vertical hull.
Interior to the trigger layer is the main armor which is the ultimate protective layer, encompassing the critical areas of the ship.
Transverse bulkheads are part of all ships with the number and thickness appropriate for the class of ship.
Void spaces are an integral facet of the overall armor set and offer torpedo resistance, in particular.
We won’t consider more advanced armors like reactive, bubble, flexible, spring, composite, slanted, etc. as they do not yet exist in the naval world.  We’ll consider only existing armor which mainly means traditional plate, structural thickness (transverse bulkheads, for example), and supplemental anti-fragmentation (Kevlar).  Kevlar is included in every armor set, as appropriate, but I have no information on thickness or effectiveness so I can’t offer any specifics beyond ‘it’s there’.

The table below lists the specific threat types that each armor set is intended to provide immunity against.  Note that ‘immunity’ doesn’t mean that a ship so armored can stand against an infinite number of missile hits with nothing more than scratched paint.  Armor provides theoretical immunity to a specific threat under specific conditions.  Move outside those specific conditions and damage may/will occur.  There may also be secondary damage.  For example, the missile may not penetrate and cause any direct damage but the explosive shock may cause electronics to fail, pipes to burst, electronics to become misaligned, etc.  There are also weak points in any ship, unintended but existing, that may allow unforeseen damage (Hood, Arizona, Bismarck, etc.).  Thus, ‘immunity’ means that the ship has a pretty good chance of avoiding serious damage from the specified threat or, at worst, can greatly mitigate the damage.

 Understanding the threats, we can no lay out specific armor sets for each ship type.

Obviously, the listed armor thicknesses would not necessarily be uniform.  The hull belt might vary depending on exact location along the length of the hull or the gun mount might vary between top and sides.  The thicknesses are meant to give a sense of the degree of armor rather than being an exact blueprint for construction.
Before anyone has a chance to make a fool of themself by claiming that armor will slow the ships down and decrease their range, note that EVERY combat ship in WWII had appropriate armor, 30+ kts speed, and great range.  If you doubt this, look it up.
Build a fleet of ships armored as described and we’ll have a fleet that can stand and fight and keep fighting while taking hits.  No navy in the world can currently do that and it would give us an enormous combat advantage. 
The next step after this basic armoring is to begin armoring the sensors, as described in many previous posts.  The sensors would be placed in retractable/closing armored cylinders/compartments.
This would get us off the path of cruise ships and back on the path of WARships.

Note:  I’ve added this post to the “Armor Compendium” post to keep the compendium complete and up to date.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Faith in Networks?

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard all about the recent massive leak of US military documents.  On the off chance that you haven’t, here’s a brief summary from The Guardian website, 
The man believed to be responsible for the leak of hundreds of US defence documents that have laid bare military secrets and upset Washington’s relations with key allies is a 21-year-old air national guardsman based in Massachusetts. 
Jack Teixeira was arrested at his home in the town of North Dighton, Massachusetts, by FBI agents on Thursday. 
Teixeira was the leader of an online chat group who uploaded hundreds of photographs of secret and top-secret documents, according to the New York Times. The online group called itself Thug Shaker Central, made up of 20 to 30 young men and teenagers who shared their love of guns, racist memes and video games. 
Members of the group have told the investigative journalism organization Bellingcat, the Washington Post and the New York Times that the documents were shared on Thug Shaker Central in an apparent attempt to impress the group, rather than to achieve any particular foreign policy outcome. 
The Times said it had seen about 300 of the documents, only a fraction of which have so far been reported, indicating the national security damage could be worse than has been acknowledged.[1] 
Do you grasp the meaning of this?  Our finest military security protocols couldn’t stop an amateur group of video gamers from accessing hundreds of secret documents.
Moving on to a seemingly unrelated note, our military continues to accelerate their complete and total commitment to, and dependence on, network and data based warfare in lieu of firepower.
I’m going to pause a few moments, here, to allow you to make the connection between those two pieces of information.
Dum de do … ta da da … yawn … boop de doo …
Okay, that’s long enough.  You see the connection, right?  Again, on the off chance someone (likely a US officer of flag rank) has failed to make the connection, I’ll spell it out.
We’re basing our entire future warfare capability on networks and data which can be – and are – breached daily.  If rank amateurs can do this what do you think China, Russia, Iran, and NKorea are doing to us?  We’re just not hearing about it because they don’t release the information they’ve obtained.  I doubt we have a single secret in our entire military that’s unknown to our enemies.
What’s going to happen when the war with China starts and we suddenly find that they know every specification on every weapon system we have?  Every strength, every weakness?
What’s going to happen when the war with China starts and we suddenly find that they know every battle plan we’ve ever developed?
What’s going to happen when the war with China starts and we suddenly find that they’re inside every network and monitoring our intel and communications in real time?
What’s going to happen when the war with China starts and China begins inserting fake intel and data into our networks and we can’t tell the difference between real and fake and we don’t know what data to trust and what to avoid?
If we can’t keep some amateur video gamers out, do we really think we can keep China out?  And, if we can’t keep China out, why are we basing our entire future military capability on an unsecured, wide open network(s)?
The most vulnerable aspect of our military is our networks so, of course, we’re building our entire future warfare capability around them.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Ask Battlestar Galactica what’s wrong with networks!
At this moment, some of you are still in denial and believe that our networks are secure.  Well, can you name a single major network that hasn’t been hacked recently?  How many times have you received notice that your personal data may have been compromised?  The conclusion is inescapable:
There’s no such thing as a secure network.
Definition of a network:  An electronic information system that aids hackers in the access and theft of information by organizing and storing it in large, central, easy to access data files.
[1]The Guardian website, “Pentagon leaks: US air national guardsman, 21, identified as suspect”,Julian Borger and Manisha Ganguly, 13-Apr-2023,

Thursday, April 13, 2023

What Have Our Carriers Done For Us? – Follow Up

Well, that post certainly didn’t go well.  Few people were able to grasp the ‘what if’ nature of the premise.  So, instead, I’ll offer my take on it.
Beginning around 1950, we would have recognized that the Air Force (AF) was the guarantor of our national security and sovereign existence. 
The untold billions that have gone towards carriers, carrier aviation, maintenance, nuclear operations, annual operating costs, etc. would, instead, have gone to the AF.  Plenty of money!  With that recognition of the AF’s core mission, would have come the realization that we needed a worldwide network of bases.
So many people started the basing question from today’s reality.  We don’t have bases.  We have no territories.  No host country is going to allow us to operate freely.  Well, in this alternate reality, recall that we started with possession of most of the bases, post WWII, and didn’t give them up so today’s reality is null and void (that’s what a ‘what if’ is, right?).  Perhaps this might have consisted of retaining ownership of a single island from amongst a group for basing purposes and allowing the remainder of the territories to revert to self-governship.  We could have established wholly owned, sovereign US bases across the breadth of the Pacific.
The process of base acquisition would have continued throughout the world.  Methods of acquisition would have covered the gamut of soft, friendly, mutually beneficial arrangements to hard core threats and coups.  We have done all the above at various times in our history.  It would have just been more of the same.
One of the conditions for forming and joining NATO might have been inclusion of independent bases in each member country?  Don’t like it?  Don’t join.  Fight Russia on your own.  That’s hardball but that’s the way the game is played, if necessary.
For any specific potential base location, ask yourself, what was the status of that location immediately after WWII?  Odds are we either had control of it or could have with little effort.
Finally, for those who extoll the virtues of the mobile, sovereign airfield that is an aircraft carrier, note that we have only about nine functioning, combat-capable carriers right now.  Surely, in our alternate reality, we could have had many dozens/hundreds of bases (we already do and could have had many more!).  Doesn’t that seem significant?
In short, basing doesn’t seem like it would have been a problem.  It’s become a problem in our reality because we never prioritized it like we would have if the AF were the only source of aircraft.
By the way, one astute reader noted that an base can be repaired easier than a carrier.  If a carrier is sunk, it takes us 5-7 years (optimistically) to get a replacement.  We can repair a base in hours or days, depending on the type of damage (fuel being the biggest vulnerability).
With a hugely increased budget, the AF would have developed many more types of aircraft and acquired many more of them.  For example, instead of a fleet of just 180 F-22 stealth fighters, we might have acquired several hundred.  Instead of a fleet of 21 B-2 bombers we might have acquired two or three hundred.  Larger aircraft numbers would have required a greatly expanded fleet of tankers, AWACS, ISR, and cargo aircraft.
Imagine fleets of B-2 bombers sitting at bases around the world instead of just 15 or so flyable B-2’s sitting in one location back in the continental US.
Imagine squadrons of F-22 fighters based all around the globe.
In addition to numbers, the AF would have developed additional types of aircraft to carry out its mission.  Imagine fleets of arsenal bombers or converted commercial airliners carrying 70 anti-ship cruise missiles, each!  There’s your ‘naval’ battle!
Imagine squadrons of gunships of various sizes and capacities supporting our low end endeavors.
Imagine a follow on F-22 fighter with truly epic range to cover the Pacific area.
Now, imagine swarms of AF aircraft operating from a global network of bases, each base being capable of air defense, short range strike, and very long range strike.  There would be no areas of the world where we couldn’t bring major firepower to bear.
Imagine multiple divisions of Army troops operating in conjunction with local AF bases.  We already have Army airborne units but imagine many more such units, dispersed around the world so that combat response is always just a matter of hours away instead of a Marine Corps MEU being, likely, days or weeks away.
Imagine joint Army/AF units operating in an integrated fashion with armor, troop, heavy transport, fighter cover, and strike support, all available from the same base.  There’s your truly effective MAGTF!
Imagine swarms of bombers able to launch several hundred anti-ship missiles against any naval force anywhere in the world and doing so with fighter and EW support.
Imagine base defense with layers of very long range interceptors and short/medium range fighters.
Imagine being able to put hundreds of fighters into the air over, say, Taiwan.
We opted to go the carrier route but consider the alternate reality that I’ve described above and ask yourself whether carriers have accomplished the same or more, in our reality?  It’s far from a sure thing that they have.  Had we fully (and intelligently!) committed to AF aviation instead of carriers, could we have accomplished more than we have with carriers? 
Aside from fun, one of the practical uses of this thought experiment is to highlight potential beneficial changes to our current reality, going forward.  Should we be emphasizing the AF more?  Should we be expanding our carrier fleet instead of shrinking it?  Should we be far more aggressively acquiring bases?  Should we be altering our operations and doctrine one way or the other?  Should we be developing some of the aircraft types that were mentioned?  Should the AF have a bigger role in a naval battle?  And so on.
The potential is certainly there although the devil is in the execution.  We could easily have screwed up the alternate reality just as much as our current reality.  Still, it’s intriguing to think about.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

What Have Our Carriers Done For Us?

A reader recently posed a ‘what if’ type of scenario in which aviation had never attained ascendency in the Navy.  Inspired by that, I’d like to pose the question, what have our carriers done for us in modern times?
Here’s the reader’s comment and alternate history scenario: 
(Jjabatie April 8, 2023 at 7:56 AM) 
The second no-or minimal-carrier scenario would sprout from the historical Navy/Air Force fight surrounding the USS United States. In the alternate, not only is the new supercarrier torpedoed, but future ones are as well, when the Air Force achieves a much larger victory in their push for primacy with their bombers. Long range bombing is somehow pushed through and overwhelmingly accepted as the nations primary system of conventional and nuclear attack. The Navy is punished/penalized for the fight and loses a massive percentage of their funding. Most of the Essexs dont get upgrades, angled decks, etc. New jet aircraft development lags behind for the Navy, as they have neither the funding to stay current, nor the platforms capable of carrying them. It becomes circular, as later cries for supercarriers are countered by the lack of capable aircraft needing such a platform, and requests for new aircraft and ships are dismissed. The missile age solidifies the Air Forces budgetary grip, as they hold all the nuclear forces. They conspire with the Army to massively expand airlift capabilities, yet another way to deprive the Navy of a mission and funding, by claiming theyve replaced sealift. SSBNs do arrive, but  nearly a decade later than in actual history, again due to budgetary constraints and opposition to the need for a triad from the Air Force dominated Pentagon. SSGNs become the naval strike arm, and become the USNs most numerous platform. As the Vietnam era comes and goes, the Essexs start to age out. The handful of angled deck conversions have become CAS platforms, the unaltered ones, helicopter platforms to support Marine Corps operations- precursors to the LH platforms that eventually appear as the Navys newest, largest warships in the 70s...
Suppose we had gone down the path the reader postulates?  Suppose we had no significant carrier aviation component?  Or, posing the question in a different manner, what have we gained by having a fleet of modern carriers instead of a massively larger Air Force bomber/fighter inventory and capability? 
Well, let’s consider the historical events that involved modern carriers and see how they would have differed if we didn’t have carriers.  For this discussion, modern carriers are defined as those from the USS Forrestal (CV-59) on.
Vietnam War – While our carriers sat offshore and conducted daily bombing attacks, those attacks were ineffective in the overall conduct of the war.  I know this will offend many but the truth is that carrier aviation didn’t alter the course of the war or produce a definable achievement.  Alternatively, a much larger Air Force presence and capability could have accomplished the same thing.
Desert Storm – Carrier aircraft flew many sorties but did not materially affect the course of the war and could have easily been replaced by Air Force aircraft.
Kosovo War (1998-99) – NATO forces generated something on the order of 40,000 sorties and the carrier Roosevelt generated 3000 sorties – a minor role.
Afghanistan/Iraq – Carrier aviation was reduced to truck plinking and contributed little of value that an increased Air Force presence couldn’t have easily handled.
One notable contribution of carrier aviation was Operation El Dorado Canyon (1986).  Ironically, the Navy was not, originally planned to play a major role.  The strike was assigned to F-117 stealth aircraft but they were removed from the mission at the last moment due to security concerns.  Instead, Air Force F-111 and Navy A-6 Intruders flew the strike.  Even then, the Navy A-6 attack aircraft were unable to meet the mission requirements.  From Wiki,
Although the F-111s would be required to fly from distant bases, they were essential to mission success, because the eighteen A-6 available aboard USS Coral Sea (CV-43) and USS America (CV-66) could not carry enough bombs to simultaneously inflict the desired damage on the five targets selected.
It seems clear that there have been few tangible benefits from having a fleet of modern carriers.  Of course, the real question is not what have the carriers done but what could they do?  Many of the weapons and capabilities in our military have never or rarely been used and yet we find value in them for what they could do, if needed.  For example, our nuclear arsenal has not actually accomplished anything, never having been used in modern times, but we find it to be very valuable because of what it could do. 
Thus, the question becomes, what can our carriers do in the future that makes them worth the cost, as opposed to the carrier budget being routed to the Air Force, instead?
I see great value in carriers but only if they’re used correctly and, unfortunately, I see zero evidence that the Navy has any strategy for effectively utilizing carriers in combat.
It is fascinating to ponder what the Air Force could have done with all the Navy’s carrier and aircraft budget.  How many more bombers would we have?  How many more bases?  How many more types of aircraft?  How much more globally dispersed would the Air Force be?  And so on.
Note that I am not advocating eliminating carriers.  This is just a fantasy, speculative post although it offers the opportunity to assess how we’ve used (or misused) carrier aviation and what our proper position should be in the future.  It’s an open-ended post in the sense that I’m not offering any conclusion.  I leave it to you to draw your own conclusion and maybe share your thoughts in a comment.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Fight the Way You Train

We’ve all heard this adage,
Train the way you fight, fight the way you train.
Truer words could not be spoken and yet we ignore them.  We do not train the way we’ll fight although, to be fair, lacking a strategy, we have no idea how we’ll fight (China) so it’s a little tough to train for it. 
In contrast, China has a very clear military strategy and are training diligently to execute it.  From a Newsmax website article, 
China's military simulated precision strikes against Taiwan in a second day of drills around the island … 
Chinese state television reported that the combat readiness patrols and drills around Taiwan were continuing. 
"Under the unified command of the theater joint operations command center, multiple types of units carried out simulated joint precision strikes on key targets on Taiwan island and the surrounding sea areas, and continue to maintain an offensive posture around the island," it said.
Taiwan's defense ministry said that as of Sunday midday (0400 GMT) they had spotted 58 Chinese aircraft, including Su-30 fighters and H-6 bombers, as well as nine ships, around Taiwan.[1] 
We hesitate to even name China as an enemy.  The Biden administration refused to contest China at any level.  Our training, to the extent we do any, is non-specific, generic, set-piece, checkbox type training rather than anything aimed at any actual enemy or realistic scenario.  Contrast this with the Fleet Problems we ran every year prior to WWII (see, “Fleet Problems”).
It’s difficult to see how we’ll win a war we refuse to train for.
[1]Newsmax website, “China Simulates Striking Taiwan on Second Day of Drills”, 9-Apr-2023,

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Opportunity Cost

A reader (username = ‘cheezit’) recently posed an insightful question about mine countermeasures (MCM): 
I wonder what sort of advancements might have been made in combat sweeping had we (anybody?) bothered for the last thirty-five years or so.[1]
In a sense, the user is asking what the opportunity cost has been resulting from the Navy’s focus on areas other than MCM.  For those who may not be familiar with the term, ‘opportunity cost’ refers to the ‘things’ that might have been procured/developed instead of whatever actually was procured/developed.  In simplistic terms, if I spent a dollar on something, the opportunity cost refers to all the things that I might, alternatively, have purchased with that dollar if I had spent it on something other than what I did.  There is an opportunity cost associated with every purchase/development because there are always alternatives.  Opportunity cost is not inherently good or bad;  it’s just alternatives.  What one wants to do is ensure that the opportunity cost doesn’t have greater value than whatever is actually procured/developed.
If I may rephrase the reader’s question, what advancements in MCM could have been achieved if the Navy had not been so myopically focused on new hulls, regardless of their usefulness … or lack thereof?
It only takes a moment’s consideration to realize that this excellent question could be applied to so many other areas besides MCM.  Let’s consider some of those other areas and engage in a bit of speculation about what might have been achieved (the opportunity cost) if the Navy had not been so focused on new hulls (the shiny, sexy toys).
Here is the reader’s question applied to other areas along with some speculative answers:  Note, the proposed alternatives are by no means intended as a comprehensive list.  There could be an almost limitless number of opportunity cost alternatives.  Feel free to offer your own in the comments.
"I wonder what sort of advancements might have been made in combat sweeping"
Modern Avenger MCM Vessel – A modern, affordable minesweeper would be invaluable.  Instead, we opted to spend our money on the LCS which we’re now retiring almost as fast as we build them!
MCM Mothership – A mothership would immensely improve our MCM capabilities and capacities by bringing large numbers of helos, surface drones, underwater drones, and centralized command, control, data analysis, and coordination to MCM instead of the haphazard assets we currently have.
Intelligent Sweep Capability with Signal Modulation – The biggest weakness in our MCM efforts (aside from the lack of numbers!) is the inability to conduct effective, large area, rapid sweeps.  We need sweeps with programmable, variable signal outputs to mimic actual target ships.  This capability exists, to some degree, in the naval world but not in the US naval MCM world.

What sort of advances could have been made if the Navy had focused some effort on offensive mine warfare?
Mobile Mines – We’ve almost abandoned the Submarine Launched Mobile Mine (SLMM) and we could have done much more with that:  longer range, waypoints/navigation, etc.
Intelligent Mines – We could use a mine with sophisticated target discrimination and the ability to regulate its own actions (skip a target, choose the optimum target, sense and shut down in the face of sweeping, etc.).

Autonomous Limpet Mines – How about a mobile, self-attaching mine?

Cruise Missile Mines – Perhaps we could have developed a simplified cruise missile mine that simply travels to a coordinate and then dives into the sea to become a mine.
Mine Inventory – Simply building tens of thousands of basic mines would have been a huge step in the right direction of cheap, incredibly effective firepower.  The US Navy is terrified of mines – and rightly so – so imagine what kind of offensive mine warfare capabilities we could have now if we had put some effort into it.

What kind of advances could have been made if the Navy had focused some effort on ship armor?
Reactive Armor – Reactive armor, among many other types of land vehicle armor, could have been adapted to ship use, providing a significant degree of protection.  While it might not be possible to adapt every type of land vehicle armor to ships, it is certain that many types could have been.  Reactive armor, composite armor, bubble armor, spaced armor, layered armor, etc. would all have been worth investigating.
Missile Immunity – Proper armor design could have provided a degree of immunity to the most common anti-ship missiles and provided damage mitigation in the face of any missile.
Fight Hurt – The ability to absorb damage, stay in the fight, and fight hurt effectively is an ability totally absent in the fleet despite being self-evidently invaluable.  We should have been developing ships that could absorb damage as was routinely done in WWII.  Imagine a Burke with armored VLS and capable of shrugging off Exocet/C80x type anti-ship missiles.
Torpedo Armor – Torpedoes, along with mines, are major threats to ships and yet torpedo armor development has been totally ignored.  New concepts of armor, armor shaping (slanted lower hull and keel armor), structural optimization (flex versus rigid, shock absorption, etc.), and void usage could have been developed to provide much greater protection from underwater explosions.

What sort of advances could have been made if the Navy had focused some effort on large caliber gun support?
8” Gun - The Navy could have adapted a modern version of the Des Moines 8”/55 Rapid Fire Mk16 gun, the best 8” gun ever developed.  The gun was capable of a sustained rate of fire of 10 rds/min and, in the Des Moines class, had magazines of 150 rds per gun for a total of 1350 rds per ship.  These triple gun turrets could have provided the Navy with an overwhelming anti-surface and land attack shell capability.
The Zumwalt, in particular, could have been provided with a full 9-gun fit of three triple turrets which would have gone a long way towards providing effective naval gun support.
Alternatively, the 8”/55 Mk71 lightweight gun could have been fully developed, providing a large caliber gun capable of being mounted in the Burke and Zumwalt classes.
These options would have provided true amphibious assault gun support as opposed to the total absence of any such effective support today.
Imagine a fleet of large caliber-gunned ships capable of supporting an amphibious assault, decimating an enemy fleet in close range combat, or laying waste to enemy shore facilities and doing so with cheap shells instead of multi-million dollar missiles which will be in vanishingly short supply by the second week of a peer war.

What sort of advances could have been made if the Navy had focused some effort on torpedoes?
Wake Homing – It’s inexplicable that we don’t yet have a wake homing torpedo like our enemies.  The Japanese Long Lance torpedo was devastating in WWII and a wake homing version would be many times more effective if ship combat reaches that range.
Range – We could have had a much longer range torpedo which, combined with various forms of guidance and homing, would make both surface ship and submarine torpedo attacks frighteningly effective.
Larger Warhead – WWII Japanese Long Lance torpedoes had a warhead weight of 1080 lbs.  Our biggest Mk48 torpedo, today, has a warhead of 647 lb.  We need a true ship-sinker warhead.
Supercavitating – The underwater equivalent of hypersonic missiles is the supercavitating torpedo which Russia has developed.  It would be nice to for us to have an unstoppable, supercavitating torpedo.
AI – Artificial intelligence could have been applied to torpedoes.  Just as missiles have been given the ability to sense and self-allocate targets using rudimentary AI, so could torpedoes do the same.  With AI self-targeting, salvos of torpedoes could be fired at general target clusters and the torpedoes could self-target.
These kinds of advances could have made surface ship torpedo use extremely effective.  Instead, we are left with no anti-surface ship torpedo capability.

What sort of advances could have been made if the Navy had focused some effort on long range COMBAT surveillance?
UAV Surveillance Swarms – We’ve discussed the need for small, cheap, numerous UAVS for surveillance, situational awareness, and targeting.
Cruise Missile Based Surveillance – Imagine a surveillance asset based on a stealthy cruise missile.  Instead of a warhead, the payload would be sensors and communications.  We could have thousand mile surveillance capability today, thus solving the long range surveillance/targeting problem!

What sort of advances could have been made if the Navy had focused some effort on electronic warfare?
Dedicated EW Ships – We could have dedicated offensive and defensive electronic warfare ships similar, in concept, to Burke AAW escorts but for EW instead of AAW.
Aegis-like EW Capability – We could have total EW capability controlled by an Aegis-like, master software system. 
Cooperative EW Engagement - Imagine a networked, integrated EW capability using a system analogous to our Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) that would link and integrate the EW efforts of an entire task force.
Offensive EW – We could have offensive ‘attack’ EW capability using high power output signals for truly effective jamming or signal disruption.

What sort of advances could have been made if the Navy had focused some effort on supersonic cruise missiles?
Heavyweight Supersonic ASM – We could have a serious, credible, anti-ship capability using supersonic, heavyweight anti-ship missiles instead of the lightweight Naval Strike Missile (NSM).
Penetrating Missile – We could have a missile with a realistic chance of penetrating enemy defenses instead of the obsolete Tomahawk.  Such a missile would use supersonic speed and stealth and include versions that would disperse decoys and generate jamming signals.
Heavyweight Missile – We could have a true heavyweight missile (BrahMos or similar) capable of inflicting serious damage on Chinese carriers including the coming supercarriers.

What sort of advances could have been made if the Navy had focused some effort on aerial tanking?
Tanker – We could have a dedicated strike tanker which would extend the useful combat range of the air wing.  This would give us greater numbers of combat aircraft since they wouldn’t be allocated to tanking.  A tanker would give us less cumulative wear and tear on our front line combat aircraft which are currently being forced to fly endless hours of tanker duty.
And so on.
Instead, the Navy was totally focused on new hulls in the water no matter how useless they were (LCS, Zumwalt, Ford, MLP/AFSB, JHSV).  The opportunity cost has been enormous and demonstrates just how unwisely we have spent our money.


[1]Navy Matters blog, “Atlas Elektronik SeaFox”, February 13, 2023 at 7:42 AM, comment by username = ‘cheezit’,

Monday, April 3, 2023

Marines Are Now Totally Defensive

The changes the Marines have made over the last several years have all had one [unintended?] consequence;  they’ve converted the Corps from the forced entry, kick-down-the-door, offensive organization to a wholly defensive one.  Where once they were the tip of the spear, first-in combat force, they’re now a defensive, small unit, missile shooting, hold-the-line force.  Or, as the Marines now phrase it, a ‘stand-in force’.
The Marines even acknowledge their defensive nature.  From the Marine’s own website, 
Stand-in Forces are defined as small but lethal, low signature, mobile, relatively simple to maintain and sustain forces designed to operate across the competition continuum within a contested area as the leading edge of a maritime defense-in-depth in order to intentionally disrupt the plans of a potential or actual adversary.[1] 
What a garbage collection of buzzwords!  Note, however, the key words and phrases:  ‘small’ and ‘defense-in-depth’.  There is nothing offensive about that.
As listed in a Marine Littoral Regiment graphic, the missions are:[2]
  • Conduct air and surface defense
  • Provide early warning to allied forces
  • Set up FARPs for allied aircraft
There’s nothing offensive about those missions.  They’re purely defensive or service (gas station) oriented.  There’s no seizing ground.  There’s no forced entry.  There’s no attack.  There’s no hitting the enemy.
The Marines have also publicly and repeatedly stated that they are out of the frontal assault business (see, “TheFinal Nail”).
Aside from their own words, how else do we know the Marines have given up the offense and switched to purely defense?  From their actions, of course!  For example, the Marines have,
  • Eliminated tanks
  • Substantially reduced artillery
  • Eliminated heavy mortars
  • Eliminated bridging companies
  • De-emphasized large amphibious ships in favor of small LAW (Light Amphibious Warfare) vessels
Does that sound like they have any intention of being an offensive force?  If so, they’ll be doing it without any armor, engineering, or firepower!  As it stands, they can be offensive against a troop of angry Boy Scouts, perhaps, but that’s about the extent of it.
If the Marines aren’t going to be our offensive tip of the spear, why do we need them?  The Army can defend as well as the Marines – better since the Amy hasn’t given up its tanks and firepower!
If the next Commandant doesn’t reverse direction and get the Marines back on mission, we need to abolish them.  As it stands, they’re an unnecessary duplication of effort and waste of budget.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Marine Transgender Regiment Announced

In what can only be described as an inevitable development that is sure to generate controversy, SecDef Austin and Marine Commandant Berger today announced the formation of a dedicated Marine Corps transgender regiment as an extension of the Commandant’s Force Design 2030 effort.  From the announcement, 
This transgender regiment typifies the diversity which gives the US military a pronounced combat advantage on the battlefield, said Austin.  Diverse units have an inherent advantage over monolithic units, Berger added.  We expect to build on this historic achievement by adding other types of dedicated, diverse units over the next few years as we phase out the obsolete MAGTF construct.[1] 
The new regiment, which is already being derisively referred to as the Rainbow Regiment by some commentators, will be patterned after the Israeli dedicated female units.  Describing the training model, Berger said, 
Transgender Marines will form units during boot camp and stay together all the way through to their assignment to the field unit.  This will ensure that the individual Marine’s preferred pronouns will be well established by the time they reach the field, thus facilitating battlefield communications.[1]

The Few, the Proud, the Diverse!
[1]Stars and Rainbows website, “Austin and Berger Announce Transgender Regiment”, Robbie Boygerl, 1-Apr-2023,