Thursday, June 29, 2023

Burke Flt III Delivered

The Navy has taken delivery of the first Flt III Burke destroyer, USS Jack H. Lucas, DDG-125.  Photos and concept drawings show that the ship’s entire close in defense consists of a single CIWS mounted aft of the rear stack, on top of the helo hangar.  That’s it.  One CIWS.  That’s either an extraordinary faith in the long and medium range AAW missiles or an incredible display of stupidity.  I’ll let you decide which.
There is also an open spot forward of the superstructure which I’m guessing is reserved for a laser of some sort.

USS Lucas DDG-125

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Seagull USV – Yet Another Miracle

The Navy (Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific (NIWC Pacific) has contracted with Elbit Systems of America to develop an autonomous, unmanned boat to track maritime targets clandestinely.
Elbit Systems of America (Elbit America) has been awarded a prime contract by the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific (NIWC Pacific) to develop and demonstrate an autonomous maritime target tracking capability as part of the United States Navy’s Information Warfare Research Project (IWRP).
Elbit America’s autonomy prototype will extend the reach of those forces by leveraging attritable systems to covertly find, fix and track maritime targets … [1]
I keep reading about the Navy’s pursuit of systems like this (Sea Hunter, Saildrone, Mantas, etc.) and they all have a few common characteristics:  they’re small and they’re useless for the claimed task of persistent, survivable surveillance.
Why are they useless?  Consider this Elbit drone which appears to be based on the 12 meter Elbit Seagull unmanned surface vessel with an EO/IR sensor atop the cockpit and a towed array or VDS.
Elbit Seagull

Now, consider what that means in terms of sensing capability.  The EO/IR sensor sits, perhaps, 8 ft above the water which gives the sensor a horizon of around 10 miles.  That’s the limit of the sensing capability – 10 miles.  That’s not exactly broad area maritime surveillance, is it?  Similarly, the array/VDS is a low power (on a 12 meter unmanned boat it’s probably running off a battery of some sort) sensor with limited range and little or no sophisticated analysis computing.  That’s not going to find much!  This is the epitome of the looking through the soda straw analogy.  You just can’t see much.  The sensor just won’t see much of an area.  Given that the mission is area surveillance, it’s an automatic failure!
Consider further, a 12 meter boat is going to have endurance measured in hours and no open ocean sailing capability.  How will that allow for broad area maritime tracking?
Despite these obvious limitations, the Navy apparently believes that this small boat with small, short range sensors is going to roam the oceans, finding all the enemy's assets  ...  a miracle of surveillance.  Not only that, but the Navy believes that this drone will operate in contested waters.  Just out of curiosity, how will this tiny drone get to the contested operating area?  It's certainly not going to cross an ocean unattended.  Will it be carried by a cargo or amphibious vessel?  I guess the Chinese won't see that any more than they'll see the Marine's large, slow,  non-stealthy, Light Amphibious Warfare (LAW) ship, right?  But, I digress.  Let's just hand wave that concern away and move on.

To be fair, this boat could have some use in a small area, harbor defense scenario but that’s for the Coast Guard not the Navy.

Why are we pursing a small, limited endurance, low power, short sensor range boat?  Other than pursing unmanned technology for its own sake, there’s no use for such a boat.  Bafflingly, we continue to throw money at concepts that have no practical combat application.  If it doesn’t benefit our naval combat capability we shouldn’t be wasting time, money, and resources on it.  Everything we do should have to pass through the filter of, ‘how does this enhance our combat capability?’.  If it can’t pass the filter, we shouldn’t pursue it.  This doesn’t pass. 
[1]Naval News website, “Elbit America Selected For U.S. Navy Information Warfare Research Project”, Staff, 26-Jun-2023,

Monday, June 26, 2023

Yokosuka Pearl Harbor

The US Navy has, for several decades, maintained a permanently forward deployed carrier at Yokosuka, Japan.  Here’s the sequence of carriers that have been based at Yokosuka:
1973  Midway
1991  Independence
1998  Kitty Hawk
2008  Washington
2015  Reagan
2024  Washington
To have maintained a carrier at Yokosuka for so many decades, the Navy must perceive some value in it.  What is that value?  I ask because I’m not seeing it.  Let’s examine some possible benefits and risks.
The obvious potential benefit – and the one that I’m sure the Navy believes - is deterrence of the Chinese.  In general terms, we’ve discredited forward presence as a deterrent.  Let’s look at the history of China’s actions over the last several decades and see whether deterrence has worked.  Note, this is attempting to prove a negative which is not possible so we’ll try to discern a pattern to see whether we’re succeeding at deterring China.  Consider the following Chinese actions:
  • China has annexed every unclaimed or disputed island/reef in the East and South China Seas.
  • China has built and militarized several artificial islands, illegally and in violation of the UNCLOS treaty of which they are a signatory.
  • China forced down and seized a US EP-3 surveillance aircraft in international airspace.  They then held the aircraft and crew, stripped the aircraft of equipment, and dismantled the aircraft before eventually releasing the crew.
  • China seized a US underwater drone vehicle.
  • China has routinely violated Philippine and Vietnam territorial waters.
  • Chinese fishing fleets have routinely encroached on the territorial waters of various countries.
  • China has routinely threatened Taiwan and violated its territory and air defense zones.
  • China has interfered with US military operations in international waters (McCain towed array incident near Subic Bay, Philippines, for example).
Does this sound like we’ve deterred China?  Does this sound like a pattern of deterrence?  Not in the least!  It sounds like a pattern of unrestrained, non-kinetic conquest!
Some of you are going to attempt to claim the fact that China hasn’t initiated a war demonstrates that deterrence must be working.  Of course, there is absolutely no indication that China had any intention of going to war with the US, prior to now.  You can’t deter someone from doing something they weren’t going to do anyway. 
Even now, why would China want to go to war with the US?  They’re getting everything they want without needing a war!  They’ve annexed and fortified the entire East and South China Seas.  For all practical purposes, they’ve kicked us out of the E/S China Seas.  They’re expanding into the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, South America, and Cuba.  They’re in the process of annexing the Philippines through a combination of emigration, intimidation, and foreign assistance.  They’re isolating Taiwan and working to encircle Japan.  They’re attempting to intimidate Australia and gain control of various strategic resources via financial and business manipulations.  And the list goes on and on.
They don’t need or want a war when they can get everything they want thanks to our policy of appeasement.
Is a single carrier in Japan deterring China from anything?  No.
USS Reagan at Yokosuka


Another potential benefit is combat.  Can a single carrier conduct initial, forward, combat operations to disrupt Chinese operations and buy time for a more forceful US response?
Unfortunately, as we’ve repeatedly proven, a single carrier is not an effective combat force.  It’s a ship waiting to be sunk.  A single carrier is incapable of effective self-defense let alone able to simultaneously mount any kind of useful offense.  A single carrier serves no purpose other than to provide China with a live fire, carrier SINKEX.  So, if a single carrier is not survivable in combat and serves no useful combat purpose … why are we maintaining one there?
Okay, so a Japan-based carrier offers no benefits but what’s the harm?  Why do we care whether there’s a carrier in Japan?  The answer is that we care because of the concomitant risk of losing that carrier.
There are only a couple of possibilities for a Japan-based carrier at the start of a war with China:
  • The carrier is sunk in the first hour of the war.  China is not going to pass up a free sinking of a carrier.
  • Japan opts to remain neutral and the carrier is interned for the duration.
Neither of those options provides any useful combat capability and both result in the loss of the carrier.  The inescapable conclusion is that a Japan-based carrier is a certain loss in a war with China.  Is the loss of a hideously expensive carrier and air wing for no positive return really what we want?  I would hope not!
A carrier in Japan is a ‘Pearl Harbor’ waiting to happen.  You might be tempted to say that we’ll simply pull the carrier back to the US if war seems likely.  That’s possible but history suggests that’s unlikely.  We had ample warning about the actual Pearl Harbor and opted to do nothing.  China is all but telling us they’re just about ready to initiate the invasion of Taiwan and we haven’t pulled our carrier out of danger.  History – and our current inactions – strongly indicate that our carrier will still be sitting, docked in Japan, when war starts.
So, if a single Japan-based carrier isn’t providing any discernible deterrent effect, isn’t survivable in combat, can’t contribute any useful offense, and is certain to be ‘Pearl Harbored’ in the first hour of a war    why do we have a carrier there?  There are two answers:
  1. Inertia – we’ve always had one there so we’ll continue to do so.
  2. Stupidity – our so-called professional warriors are too stupid to understand the situation and change it.  As we’ve repeatedly documented on this blog, the extent of stupidity by Navy leadership is staggering and this is yet another example.
The conclusion is obvious – we need to end the Japan-based, forward deployment of a carrier and bring the carrier back home.

Friday, June 23, 2023

This is NOT How You Prepare for War

The Independence variant LCS-18, USS Charleston, just completed a 26 month overseas deployment.  That’s incredible!  More than two years at the tip of the spear.  They must have done lots of realistic exercises and live fire events to demonstrate their readiness and maintain the honed edge of readiness. 
… the ship successfully launched a Rolling Airframe Missile (SeaRAM) during an at-sea, live-fire exercise … [1]
While deployed, Charleston was embarked with the Naval Strike Missile …  “We do have a typical load-out that we maintain throughout the deployment,” Knuth [Cmdr. Matthew Knuth, gold crew commanding officer] said of the NSM. “That said, we did not do any live fire testing of the missile.”[1]
Let’s add up the live fire testing of the various weapon systems over the 26 month period.  This involves high level math and large numbers so, don’t worry, I’ll do it for you.
1 RAM + 0 NSM = 1 launch
That’s the raw data.  Let’s do some analysis and calculate the average weapon firings per year.
1 launch / 2.2 years = 0.4 launches per year
There’s your Navy.  Prepared for anything and, why not?  They did enough live fire exercises to be supremely proficient at combat launches and utterly confident that their equipment and systems would work under any of the 1 or 0 conditions that were tested.
The LCS, as you know, operates with a 2-crew, Blue-Gold, manning system wherein the crews rotate on and off the ship.  Just out of curiosity, I wonder which of the two crews got to do the 1 RAM launch?  The other crew, of course, would have spent two years with the ship and never fired a weapon.  How’s that for readiness and training?!
At the end of the 26 month deployment, this ship and its crews were the epitome of trained maritime warriors based on all the live fire exercises they did.
Idle thought:  Did anyone even look inside the NSM canisters to see if there were actually missiles there?  They didn’t do any test launches so one can’t help but wonder …  German soldiers have trained with broomsticks instead of rifles so is it really that much of a stretch to wonder if we really have missiles on board the LCS?  Just saying …
On a seemingly unrelated note … WWII US torpedoes …  Am I the only one who can see the parallels?
[1]USNI News website, “Littoral Combat Ship USS Charleston Completes 26-Month Deployment to Western Pacific”, Gidget Fuentes, 21-Jun-2023,

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

New Dry Dock Construction

It is not often that I can offer good news about the Navy so I relish the opportunities when they come along.  One such bit of good news is the announcement that Austal is beginning construction of a $128M[2] Auxiliary Floating Dry Dock Medium (AFDM) for the Navy. 
It has a 18,000 LT lifting capacity and a clear deck working area of 90,800 square feet. The craft has an overall length of 694 feet, overall pontoon breadth of 157 feet, and a height of 65 feet from baseline to wing deck.[1]
Dry Dock AFDM-5 Resourceful
Built 1943, sunk in Subic Bay 2018

Now, build another ten or fifteen of these and the Navy will have taken a legitimate step forward in ship maintenance and repair!
[1]Naval News website, “Austal USA Starts Construction On Navy Dry Dock”, Staff, 12-Jun-2023,
[2]Naval Technology website, “Austal to build US Navy’s auxiliary floating dry dock medium”, 21-Jun-2022,

Monday, June 19, 2023

Demystifying Naval Matters

One of the reasons I started this blog was that I had observed far too many misconceptions involving naval matters.  I’m not talking about differences of opinion but factually incorrect beliefs that had taken on an air of ‘truth’ and acceptance due to sheer repetition with no one challenging the fallacies.  One of my goals for this blog is to remove the mystery and misunderstanding from these commonly accepted but incorrect beliefs.  Doing so allows us to have discussions that are based on fact and can, therefore, be more logical and productive.
Here’s a partial list of some of the misconceptions we’ve corrected, so far, along with links to the relevant posts - a compendium of myths, so to speak.  In no particular order,
Torpedoes – Most people believed that torpedoes were miracle weapons that would sink any ship, instantaneously, with a single hit by breaking the ship’s back by suspending the ship over a giant bubble of air.  Torpedoes, while seriously dangerous weapons, cannot one-shot kill a ship much larger than a corvette and the bubble-back-breaking phenomenon is purely a myth and does not exist even for a small vessel.
See, “Torpedo Lethality Myth”
Explosive Effects – Most people believe that explosive filler weight is the only thing that determines damaging effects.  In reality, containment, in the form of thicker walls, determines the degree of damage for a given weight of explosive filler.
See, “Explosive Effects”
Armor -  Most people seemed to believe that armor would sink a ship under its weight or, if not, would slow the ship to that of a drifting barge.  We demonstrated that every WWII warship had armor appropriate for its class while maintaining 30+ knot speed and fantastic range.  We also dispensed with the belief that the main function of armor was to provide total immunity to every weapon, past, present, and future.  In reality, the purpose of armor is to mitigate damage and allow the ship to stay in the fight, effectively, for longer periods.
See, “Armored Ship Misconceptions”
See, “Armor for Dummies”
Escorts – So many people have grown up never seeing more than three escorts for a carrier that a common belief had sprung up that that was all that was needed for a carrier in war.  We analyzed the historical escort requirements and the current escort needs and determined that we need around 38 escorts for a carrier group.
See, “Escorts”
Kinetic Energy – There was – and still is! – a widespread belief that kinetic energy, alone, will vaporize a target.  This belief has been applied to supercavitating torpedoes, Mach+ missiles, naval shells, and any other weapon that ‘goes fast’.  We’ve analyzed the kinetic energy effect of several of these weapons and found that the kinetic energy contribution ranges from insignificant to present but not terribly damaging.  Kinetic energy is, typically, simply not all that much of a factor.
See, “Supercavitating Torpedo Kinetic Energy”
Rail Guns – Related to the kinetic energy misconception, most people believed that rail guns would instantaneously vaporize anything they hit.  We demonstrated that rail guns actually have a very small and limited target set that they could be effective against.  We noted the bullet and paper analogy which applies to soft targets and renders rail gun projectiles nearly useless against such targets.  Even a modern, unarmored ship is likely a soft target for a rail gun and nearly immune to significant damage from a rail gun.
See, “Rail Guns in Combat”
Helicopters – We disproved the common assumption - almost article of faith -  that every ship must have helicopters, a flight deck, and hangar.  We noted that helos require a 1/3 larger ship to accommodate flight deck, hangar, and support facilities.
See, “Does Every Ship Need aHelicopter?”
Deployments – Most people believed that ships would conduct deployments during war, just as in peacetime, and that we would need the traditional 4 ships to support 1 deployed ship.  We debunked that belief by examining the conduct and missions of the Enterprise during the first full year of war.
See, “War Deployments”
Sequestration – The Navy tried to sell us on the idea that sequestration was the root cause of the Navy’s problems and we thoroughly debunked that notion.
See, “Sequestration is Not theProblem”

Looking at the list of myths and misconceptions we’ve debunked and corrected, it’s amazing how much misinformation and erroneous beliefs were impacting naval discussions and preventing us from reaching correct and logical conclusions.  Fortunately, we are now better equipped to examine and discuss naval matters.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Groundings and Collisions

For no particular reason or point, here’s a partial list of US Navy collisions and groundings in recent years.  I say, partial, because I’m sure there are more.  These are just the one’s I’ve been able to find documentation for.
Does this seem like a lot, a little, or just expected frequency for our operations?
Oct 1999 – USS Underwood ran aground in Egypt
Feb 2000 – USS Shreveport grounded in the Suez Canal
Feb 2000 – USNS Yukon collided with civilian ship
Jul 2000 – USS Denver collided with USNS Yukon
Aug 2000 – USS Detroit and USS Nicholson collided
Sep 2000 - USS La Moure County ran aground off Chile
Feb 2001 – USS Greeneville collided with Japanese trawler
Nov 2002 – USS Oklahoma collided with LNG tanker east of Gibraltar
Oct 2003 – USS Hartford ran aground in Sardinia
Jul 2004 – USS Kennedy collided with a dhow
Jan 2005 – USS San Francisco collided with seamount
Sep 2005 – USS Philadelphia collided with merchant ship in Persian Gulf
Jan 2007 – USS Newport News collided with Japanese tanker in Strait of Hormuz
Feb 2009 - USS Port Royal ran aground off Hawaii
Mar 2009 – USS Hartford and USS New Orleans collided
May 2012 – USS Essex and USNS Yukon collided
Oct 2012 - USS Montpelier and USS San Jacinto collided off Florida
Jan 2013 – USS Guardian ran aground in Philippines
Jan 2013 – USS Jacksonville collided with trawler in Persian Gulf
Feb 2014 – USS Taylor ran aground in Turkey
Aug 2016 – USS Louisiana and Military Sealift Command vessel Eagleview collided
Oct 2016 – USS Montgomery collided with a tug causing a hull crack in the LCS
May 2017 – USS Lake Champlain collided with South Korean fishing vessel
Jun 2017 - USS Fitzgerald collided with cargo ship
Aug 2017 - USS McCain collided with cargo ship
Jan 2017 - USS Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay, Japan
Jun 2019 – USS Billings collided with a moored freighter in Montreal
Oct 2021 – USS Connecticut collided with seamount in South China Sea

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Passive Sensors and Aerial Combat

An Anonymous reader (please, everyone, add a username to the end of your comments;  there are too many anonymous commenters to keep straight who’s who and to give proper credit for good comments, such as this;  no, it’s not a requirement, just a plea!)  posed the following question in a comment: 
“Will losses of high end radiating sensors or reluctance to use them bring us back to aircraft that fight primarily with passive E/O [electro-optical] sensors?”[1]
As the anonymous commenter noted, ComNavOps has often stated that ships in combat will not radiate (EMCON) until an attack is actually incoming.  To do otherwise betrays one’s own location and invites destruction.  We have passive electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensors but we need to fully develop them into a complete, hemispherical sensor system (with extensive redundancy, of course!) that is fully integrated into the ship’s combat software system.  In other words, we need to be able to scan, detect, identify, track, and establish firing solutions/fire control using purely passive sensors just as we now do with radar [question: how will we provide guidance for missiles requiring illumination?].
The ability to fully engage using only passive sensors would be a significant advantage as it would eliminate the enemy’s ability to detect and target our radars – no more ‘free’ guidance for the enemy and no more concern about anti-radiation (ARM-type) missiles!  The enemy would have to earn his targeting and if he uses active radar, as most current missiles do, that would give us the ‘free’ detection and engagement.
Returning to the main topic … will/can aircraft fight primarily with passive sensors and, if so, what would that look like?  How would it differ from what we do now?  What new tactics would we need?
As you know, passive aerial sensors are nothing new.  WWII aircraft fought using optical sensors (Mk1 eyeball) almost exclusively.  In more modern times, the F-14 Tomcat had truly impressive EO/IR capabilities (see, “Tomcat Eyes”) although the Navy then promptly abandoned those capabilities with the advent of the F-18 Hornet and only now, weakly, is claiming to have developed a never before seen Infrared Search and Track (IRST) capability that the rest of the world has had for decades.
Before we can go any further in describing a passive-only aerial battle, it is necessary to recognize some characteristics of passive aircraft systems and operations.
Field of View – This is the soda straw issue.  Aircraft are limited to small sensors and, therefore, have limited fields of view as compared to radar.  Some aircraft, like the F-35, have attempted to address this with total spherical coverage but with only limited success.  As far as I know, the F-35 remains incapable of using its ‘see through’ sensors effectively in a combat scenario.  Of course, the AF sends me surprisingly little classified combat information on the F-35.  I have to get most of my detailed, classified information off video gamer’s websites!  (Couldn’t resist that one! LOL)
The salient point, here, is that an aircraft using passive sensors is not capable of ‘sweeping’ the sky like radar.  The aircraft can see a fairly limited section of sky at any given moment.  This greatly increases the likelihood that detection and encounters will occur at much close ranges than we anticipate and that impacts doctrine and tactics.  The F-35, for example, was never intended to be an up-close dogfighter but was, instead, intended to stand off and be an aerial sniper.  With limited sensing, this is likely to mean the F-35 will find itself engaged in visual range dogfights, all too often.
Stealth – Stealth is completely negated by passive optical sensors and significantly negated by infrared (IR) sensors.  Thus, in a pure passive environment, stealth aircraft will possess no advantage over non-stealth aircraft as regards detection, tracking, and targeting.
Concealment – With radar, the traditional tactics of hiding in the clouds, flying low, etc. are largely useless.  Radar is relatively unaffected by weather, clouds, or terrain (look-down radar is pretty much the standard, today).  However, with passive sensors many of those tactics are once again effective.  Optical sensors are significantly degraded by clouds, IR sensors are somewhat affected by clouds depending on density and moisture content, optical and IR sensors are affected by terrain, and so on.
What this is suggesting is that passive-only aerial combat is likely to be much closer range affair than current doctrine and tactics envision.
AEW Control – Aerial combat is generally controlled by ground and/or airborne radar systems and controllers.  This can still take place, however, AEW active control has become a major risk, with active emitting AEW aircraft being susceptible to very long range A2A missiles (see, “GoodbyePoseidon and Hawkeye”);  I’ve proposed passive AEW (see, “Passive Hawkeye”) but that has not yet been implemented.
The US Navy and Air Force rely heavily on AEW for detection and battle management and that will be significantly impacted if not nearly eliminated.  In fact, one could envision aerial combat devolving into back and forth attempts by both sides to alternately attack and defend their high value AEW and EW aircraft.  Whichever side can establish AEW control of the battle will have a significant advantage.
BVR (Beyond Visual Range) – BVR combat, the ideal of the US military and exactly what the F-35 was designed to do, becomes a difficult, if not impossible scenario in passive-only aerial combat.  Radar is the sensor of choice to implement BVR combat and passive sensors simply can’t provide reliable 50-100+ mile detection and targeting against fighter size aircraft – large bombers or support aircraft, yes … fighters, no.
With the above discussion in mind, one can envision various aerial combat scenarios:
1. Low altitude combat with aircraft trying to get lost in the visual and IR ‘clutter’ of the ground.
2. High altitude combat with aircraft making use of the clouds as cover to hide from optical sensors although IR sensors would mitigate some of that advantage.
3. Fighter sweeps wherein one accepts the lack of long range sensing and compensates with sheer numbers of aircraft.
4. Aircraft might not even carry long range missiles such as AMRAAM, preferring to carry a larger number of shorter range heat seeking missiles.
What’s disturbing about all this is that the US military does not appear to have given this even a moment’s thought.  We believe that aerial supremacy is our birthright and AWACS/AEW control of the skies is an article of faith.  What will we do when China starts routinely shooting down our AWACS/AEW and we lose control of the aerial battle?  Are we training for it?
What will happen when the Chinese conduct fighter sweeps against us and achieve aerial superiority?  Are we developing alternate doctrine and tactics?    
The enemy gets a vote and we may not like their vote.
The future aerial battle will be a battle for control of the long range sensing capability.  With long range sensing comes the prize of control of the battle by airborne combat controllers.  The side that can establish and maintain long range sensing and, thus, control of the aerial battle will, most likely, win that battle.
Both sides will attempt to remain silent by using passive sensors and this will result in close range encounters likely involving the scenarios described above.  The close ranges will shift the emphasis from long range, radar guided missiles to short range, heat seeking missiles.  Aerial combat will return to optically-based (EO or eyeball), close range dogfights.
The exception to this will be the specialized hunter-killer (H-K) aircraft that will be tasked with finding and destroying the other side’s AEW aircraft.  The H-K aircraft will be armed with the longest range, fastest, air-to-air missiles the enemy has.
[1]Navy Matters blog, “More Incorrect Ukraine Lessons”, Anonymous, March 26, 2023 at 6:23 AM,

Monday, June 12, 2023

GPS Update

The US military is highly dependent on GPS positioning signals.  Weapons, vehicles, ships, aircraft, and individual troops all depend on GPS to the point where most are helpless without a GPS signal.  Many failures and accidents have been documented as being attributable to the loss of GPS.
It has long been recognized that the loss of GPS can render many weapons useless.  One response by the military has been to attempt to develop and deploy more resistant GPS satellites and systems. 
The Department of Defense (DOD) has worked for more than 2 decades to modernize GPS with a more jam-resistant, military-specific signal known as M-code. Space Force, part of the Department of the Air Force, is responsible for GPS modernization.[1]
M-code is a stronger, encrypted, military-specific GPS signal designed to meet military PNT [Positioning, Navigation, Timing] information needs. M-code will help military users overcome attempts to block the GPS signal, known as jamming, by using a more powerful signal with a broader radio frequency range. It will also protect against false GPS signals, known as spoofing, by encrypting the signal.[1]
The military appears to have a requirement for 27 GPS satellites. 
Space Force met its approved requirement for 24 M-code-capable satellites on orbit, but determined that it needs at least three more to meet certain user requirements for accuracy. Building and maintaining this larger constellation presents a challenge. GAO’s analysis indicates it is not likely that 27 satellites will be available on a consistent basis over the next decade. Unless the Air Force assesses its operational need for satellites to establish a firm requirement for a 27-satellite constellation, other DOD efforts could take priority, leaving the warfighter with GPS user equipment performing below the required capability levels.[1]
The first satellite able to transmit the M-code signal entered orbit in 2005 and 25 of the 31 satellites in the GPS constellation are M-code capable.[1]
One of the [many] challenges is procuring and equipping the military with untold thousands of M-code capable receivers. 
Eventually, the total number of GPS receivers purchased by the DOD could number up to 1 million.[1]
One of the challenges with ‘hardening’ the GPS system is that it has multiple nodes/links that can be disrupted:  ground control (cyber attacks), software (cyber attacks), satellites (disruption/destruction), ground receivers (cyber attack, spoofing, jamming, physical destruction), and the signal itself (jamming, spoofing).  Each node is vulnerable to disruption by a variety of means.
As with so many (all?) military systems today, software development has proven to be a (the?) major stumbling block (ask the F-35 program how software development has gone!).  Regarding ground control station software development, 
The contractor, Raytheon, faced unanticipated challenges during the software qualification testing of OCX [ed. operational control system] in 2022.   Raytheon discovered more deficiencies than anticipated during subsequent software qualification testing. These deficiencies included errors uploading navigation data to satellites in a simulated environment. The ability to upload this data is an essential function of the ground control system. As of September 2022, approximately 50 percent of software passed testing, lower than the program’s goal of 80 percent.[1]
Satellite Destruction - Twenty seven GPS M-code satellites is not a lot and may represent a vulnerability to physical destruction given that China has demonstrated an anti-satellite capability. 
China is progressing with the development of missiles and electronic weapons that could target satellites in low and high orbits, the Pentagon says in a new report released Sept. 1 [ed. 2020].
China already has operational ground-based missiles that can hit satellites in low-Earth orbit and “probably intends to pursue additional ASAT weapons capable of destroying satellites up to geosynchronous Earth orbit,” says the Defense Department’s annual report to Congress on China’s military capabilities.[2]
Cyber Attacks – China (and other actors) are demonstrating an ability to penetrate military networks on a near daily basis.  There is no reason to believe that when war comes, cyber attacks won’t continue and, likely, increase in frequency and intensity.  Presumably, China has identified vulnerabilities in our networks and software that it is keeping ‘in reserve’ for wartime use.
Spoofing – False signal injection is an insidious attack as it may not even be recognized as such for extended periods since we’ve become so accustomed to accepting GPS readings as gospel and have lost the ability or desire to conduct alternate/manual location checks (does any sailor, today, know how to use a sextant?).
Jamming – The GPS frequencies are not exactly secret.  Jamming will likely be successful albeit localized in effect.
Legacy/Inertia – Even if the ‘hardened’ GPS system works perfectly (it won’t !), there remains an enormous inventory of legacy GPS equipment in the military that are susceptible to the various forms of disruption.  It will take decades to completely switch over to any new system and, of course, by then the ‘new’ system will have, in turn, been rendered obsolete.
While any effort to ‘harden’ our GPS system is worthwhile, the fundamental problem is that the GPS system has too many nodes of attack and relies on a signal.  Any system that relies on an external signal is highly vulnerable to disruption (hence, my distrust of networks).  As we develop future weapons, systems, and equipment we need to make every effort to eliminate the use of external signals.  In the case of GPS, this can be accomplished by returning to local/manual methods of location determination (maps/compass, sextant, dead reckoning, etc.), using alternate navigation methods such as inertial navigation, and developing new methods that don’t require external signals (quantum positioning, for example).
The US military has become addicted to GPS and must wean itself off.
[1]Government Accountability Office, “GPS Modernization”, Jun 2023, GAO-23-106018
[2]Space News website, “Pentagon report: China amassing arsenal of anti-satellite weapons”, Sandra Erwin, 1-Sep-2020,

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Assault Carrier

Over the course of the blog, many commenters have suggested using the big deck LHA/LHD (LHx) as baby carriers.  We’ve discredited this notion in terms of traditional carrier operations (see, “LightningCarrier”) due to the limited size of the air wing and the complete lack of ability to operate E-2 Hawkeye AEW, tankers, and E/A-18G Growler EW aircraft that are crucial to combat effective air operations.
Other commenters have suggested using supercarriers for ground support to make up for the complete absence of naval gunfire.  This is a non-starter as the role of the carrier in an amphibious assault is interdiction of enemy strikes and reinforcements and the proper place to do that is hundreds or thousands of miles from the assault site.  It is suicidal folly to ‘tie’ a carrier to one location which is what would be required for a carrier to provide direct ground support for an amphibious assault.  And, lest we forget, we also lack a true ground attack naval aircraft.
However, the possibility exists that a dedicated, small, assault carrier could be useful in supporting amphibious assault operations.  Well, wait … don’t we already have ground support carriers in the form of our big deck amphibious ships (LHA/LHD)?
Yes, we do, but not effectively.  Consider, currently, the aviation component of an assault is housed on the LHx ships of which we only have a few (9 total LHA/LHD) and they have very limited air wings.  A typical LHx air wing consists of:


That’s a limited capability mix that lacks the number of aircraft to be effective in any of its roles.  Six strike aircraft can’t provide effective ground support, a dozen tiltrotors can’t transport a useful number of troops and gear, and four heavy lift helos can’t provide rapid, efficient heavy equipment transport.  Like most mixes, the air wing is a compromise that can do a little bit of everything but nothing well and ‘nothing well’ is not how you succeed in combat.  We’ve thoroughly analyzed the shortcomings of the LHx as regards aviation (see, “Aviation Amphibious Assault Ships”)  and provided the rationale for splitting off aviation from assault (see, “Separate Aviation FromAmphibious”) so I won’t belabor it any further, here.
The LHx came about because the Marines, institutionally terrified of being abandoned by the Navy (the Guadalcanal legacy) tried to combine the functions of both a carrier and an assault transport and, not surprisingly, managed to construct an unaffordable monstrosity that places too many eggs in one basket while performing neither function well.  So, why don’t we try separating the two functions into dedicated ships, each optimized for their role?  We previously discussed dedicated attack transports (see, “Attack Transport - APA”).
Having established the problems with an LHx and the rationale for separating the aviation and assault functions, let’s now consider what a dedicated amphibious assault aviation support ship (an assault carrier) would conceptually look like.
Focus – Separating the aviation component from assault allows us to eliminate the transport function leaving the carrier able to focus on ground attack/support.  This is crucial for a ship that will, hopefully, be substantially smaller than a full size carrier.
There is no need for transport helos.  They’re inefficient at their function and they’re non-survivable over a battlefield as amply demonstrated in Vietnam, Soviet Afghanistan, US Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  If we really think we need helos for some limited aspect of logistics support, we can easily provide a dedicated transport/cargo helo carrier by converting a merchant ship.
Aircraft – This is key to determining what an assault carrier would look like.  The choice of aircraft will determine the size and characteristics of the carrier.
Stealth aircraft are not needed and, indeed, stealth is largely useless when providing close range ground support (CAS).  The enemy can see you and the main threat is guns (ZSU-ish weapons) and small heat seeking, Stinger-type, shoulder launched anti-air missiles.  Radar stealth offers no benefit against either of those threats.
What is needed is an aircraft with the best possible combination of the following characteristics:
  • Inexpensive so that appropriate numbers and replacements can be procured
  • Armored for maximum airframe and pilot survivability
  • Redundant and manual control systems enabling the aircraft to absorb tremendous amounts of damage
  • Minimal IR signature to mitigate the main threat of Stinger-type missiles
  • Minimal complexity which allows for easy repair/maintainability for excellent availability rates and combat damage repair
  • Low maintenance per flight hour
  • High sortie rates
  • Excellent low speed maneuverability
  • Minimal carrier operating requirements such as no, or simple, catapults and arresting gear
  • Maximum number of weapons (hard points) as opposed to payload weight maximums.  In CAS, it’s far more useful to have a large number of weapons rather than a high payload weight.  To illustrate, it would be far more useful to have an aircraft with, say, ten weapon stations (hard points), each rated for a 500 lb bomb (5000 lb total payload) than an aircraft with four weapons, each rated for a 2000 lb (8000 lb total payload).
Having identified the desirable aircraft characteristics, let’s consider some candidate aircraft.
F-35B - The F-35B is often touted as a CAS aircraft but, in reality, is ill-suited for the ground attack/support role.  It is a large, fuel hogging, maintenance intensive, complex, non-damage resilient, limited hard point aircraft with staggeringly atrocious availability rates.  In addition, it is hideously expensive to procure and operate.
A-10 - The A-10 has many of the characteristics we’d like such as armor, redundant/manual flight controls, low maintenance, high sortie rates, and 11 weapon stations.  Of course, a naval version of the A-10 does not exist and would have to be developed.
F-16 – The F-16 is fairly maneuverable at moderately lower speeds but has only 6 (possibly 7?) weapon hard points and, like the A-10, does not exist as a carrier variant.  It also lacks any useful ground sensors, is unarmored, and lacks rugged, redundant controls.
A-1 Skyraider - A candidate you might not think of is the prop driven A-1 Skyraider.  It is incredibly simple (compared to a jet), free by current standards, easily maintainable and repairable (a wrench and duct tape), armored, highly maneuverable at low speeds, has very high availability rates, has 15 weapon stations, and can use simple catapults and arresting gear.  Further, it is a carrier aircraft and would need no development, whatsoever!
It is clear that high performance jets are not desirable for the aviation support role.  The best match to the desired aircraft characteristics is the A-1 Skyraider!  This, then, is the conceptual basis for an assault aircraft.  Having determined that, we can now focus on the design of the ship, itself.
Air Wing – Having chosen a conceptual aircraft, we now need to decide how many aircraft are needed in the air wing.  The answer, of course, is ‘as many as possible’.  Well, that’s not very helpful.  A better answer is that the number of aircraft is derived from a combination of factors such as the resultant carrier size/cost, combat effectiveness, dispersal of risk, etc.  A reasonable answer would seem to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 aircraft.  More than that and the carrier gets too large and costly.  Less than that and combat effectiveness drops precipitously.
Carrier – The first determination is whether we need a straight deck or angled deck.  Ideally, we’d like a straight deck, operated like WWII carrier, with no catapults and simple arresting gear.  If we could launch B-25’s off a Yorktown class carrier, I’d like to believe that we could design a Skyraider type aircraft that could launch unassisted.  Elimination of catapults would greatly reduce mechanical and utility (steam or electric) requirements which reduces the size and cost of the ship.  Assuming we can do this, we’ll be able to use a straight deck design which, again, reduces the size and cost of the ship.
As a point of reference, the US Navy WWII escort carriers were around 500 ft long and 10,000 – 20,000 tons with air wings of 30+ aircraft.  That seems like a good conceptual starting point for a design.
If we can keep the cost low enough, we can afford to build the carriers in sufficient numbers and be able to replace the inevitable losses of a vessel that is purposely placed in harm’s way.
The final consideration in this discussion is the fact that I don’t think there’s a strategic or operational need for amphibious assaults so the entire discussion is moot.  However, if we did want to maintain an amphibious capability, an assault carrier would be a step in the right direction though ultimately pointless without lots of large caliber naval guns.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Explosive Effects

I didn’t want to address this but it keeps coming up and people keep getting it wrong so I guess I’ll have to.
Does anyone believe that a Mk82, 500 lb (192 lb of explosive filler) aerial bomb has a 25% larger explosive effect than a 16” high explosive (154 lb of explosive filler) battleship shell?  Of course not, and yet the Mk82 has 25% greater explosive filler weight.  Despite that, a 16” battleship shell has a profoundly greater explosive effect as demonstrated by the gigantic 50 ft diameter craters they leave.[5]  A Mk82 bomb is not to be sneezed at but it does not produce anything approaching that kind of effect.
Similarly, a Naval Strike Missile (NSM) has a 260 lb warhead which is 69% greater than a 16” battleship shell.  Does anyone believe that a NSM has a 69% greater explosive effect than a battleship shell?  Again, of course not!
So, the 500 lb bomb, with 25% more explosive, has far less explosive impact than a smaller (by explosive filler weight) battleship shell.  How can that be?  Shouldn’t the 500 lb bomb, with more explosive filler weight, produce a much greater effect than a battleship shell?
The answer/explanation is a combination of chemistry and physics.  Note, this is not a doctoral thesis and few of us are chemists or physicists so I’m going to simplify the following discussion for general audience comprehension.
Explosive Effect Definition
To begin, we need to define what an ‘explosive effect’ is.  There’s nothing magical or complicated about it.  It is simply the degree of destruction caused by the explosion.  A hand grenade has a small explosive effect compared to a 500 lb bomb.  See?  Nothing complicated.  But, if it’s that simple, how do we explain the bigger destructive effect of the 16” shell versus a 500 lb bomb that has more weight of explosive filler?
Chemistry and Physics
This is where we begin to delve into the chemistry and physics of an explosion (see Ref [6] for a detailed discussion of explosive chemical and physical properties).  Explosive effect is the damage inflicted on the target via a combination of overpressure (an instantaneous pulse of pressure far above normal atmospheric pressure), heat (the exothermic chemical reaction of the explosive), and physical damage by bomb/shell fragments (shrapnel), among other mechanisms.  Of these, pressure is the main destructive mechanism for general explosive munitions.  So, how is overpressure (increased pressure) generated?
We’ll answer that with a couple illustrative examples that lie at the heart of the matter and which we’ll keep referring back to.
Gunpowder – Gunpowder explodes, right?  Well, sure.  We’ve all seen hundreds of movies where barrels of gunpowder are ignited and explode.  Before we move on from this seemingly obvious phenomenon, let’s recall that we’ve also seen hundreds of movies where a trail of gunpowder, sprinkled on the ground, is ignited and slowly burns (acting as a fuse) rather than explodes.  Wait a minute, I thought gunpowder explodes?  Why does it burn on the ground rather than explode?
Gasoline – Gas explodes, right?  Or does it?  If gasoline, spilled on the ground, is ignited, what happens?  Does it burn or explode?  It burns!  However, if gas in a confined tank is ignited, it explodes!
Do you see the pattern – the key - behind this explode or burn phenomenon?  It’s confinement (containment).  When ‘explosive’ materials are confined/contained, they explode.  When they’re unconfined, they burn.
Now, what is it about confinement/containment that makes something explode rather than burn?  Again, it’s chemistry and physics!
Burning is actually a chemical reaction (oxidation).  A material reacts with oxygen at a very fast rate (an example of an exceedingly slow burning reaction rate would be rust!).  An explosion is the exact same chemical oxidation reaction but occurring in a confined/contained housing (the bomb or grenade or missile).
Let’s dig deeper.
When something burns, it undergoes a chemical reaction that releases gas as a byproduct.  In an open (unconfined/uncontained) environment – like gunpowder or gasoline on the ground – the released gas is harmlessly dispersed.  No damaging pressure build up can occur.  Conversely, in a confined/contained environment – like the inside of a naval shell – the released gas has nowhere to go and, as the burn continues and more and more gas is released, the quantity and, therefore, pressure of the confined/contained gas increases until, eventually, the pressure of the gas exceeds the strength of the container (the shell, bomb, grenade, or missile) and causes the container to burst which is the explosion we see.  This burst instantaneously releases the pent up pressure (now an overpressure wave) and heat.  In addition, the released pressure wave scatters the bomb fragments (shrapnel) and damage occurs to the surrounding area and objects.
The longer the pressure build up is contained, the higher the pressure gets inside the container and the greater the magnitude of the pressure wave when the container finally bursts and releases the pressure.  This is the overpressure blast wave which causes so much damage.  The overpressure wave causes objects around the explosion to be fractured, bent, twisted, ripped loose, and flung about.
Interestingly, if the container is stronger than the ultimate built up gas pressure, nothing happens.  This is what a bomb disposal chamber does.  It remains intact and contains the entire explosive force, releasing nothing.  The explosive gas can then be vented in a slow, safe, controlled manner.
Of course, the actual chemical composition of the explosive is important (different reaction rates, for example) but that’s beyond the scope of this post.
Shell versus Missile Construction
Now that we understand the importance of containment in producing an explosive effect, let’s examine the construction of various munitions.
Naval shells are intentionally constructed of very thick walls with relatively small burst charges of explosive material.  As we just discussed, the burst charge is greatly amplified by the containment of the heavy wall. 
Battleship 16” shells have wall thicknesses of around 3+ inches.  A 9.3 in diameter naval shell (type/gun unspecified) had a 2.5 in thick wall.[2]  And so on.
16" Battleship AP Shell Cutaway

16" Battleship HC (HE) Shell Diagram - note the shell wall thickness of 3+ inches

In contrast, a missile is, essentially, just thin sheet metal housing the fuel, motor, fuzing, and warhead.  For practical purposes, there is no amplification of the explosive weight.  The explosive weight is what it is.
Harpoon Missile Cutaway - note the thin sheet metal covering
We see, then, that the missile’s overall weight is consumed by fuel, guidance mechanisms, electronics, telemetry, sensors, fins and deployment mechanisms, and fuzes. A naval shell has nothing inside it other than a fairly simplistic fuze and, of course, the explosive chemical. All the naval shell's non-explosive weight goes into the wall thickness. Thus, a battleship’s 2000 lb weight is 154 lb of explosive filler and 1846 lb of wall.  That’s a lot of containment!  In contrast, the missile "wall" is nothing more than a sheet metal container.

Bombs lie in between shells and missiles and vary widely.  Some have heavy walls, though not generally approaching naval shells, and some do not.

Mk 82 Bomb Cutaway - note the reduced wall thickness compared to a naval shell
To sum up, missiles have thin walls that barely contain the burning gases before they burst. Thus, relatively less of the potential pressure buildup is achieved. Naval shells have thick walls that contain the burning gases and allow the pressure to build to its maximum potential before bursting. What's important is not the amount of explosive but the pressure at bursting.

Wall Thickness Effect
Understanding that, we’d now like to know how much of an effect wall thickness has on the explosive effect?  In a previous comment, a reader[a] offered this rule of thumb relating containment wall steel thickness to explosive effect[7]:
Body Wall of 1" to 1.5" : Bursting Charge x 10 = Effective Explosive Weight
Body Wall of 0.5" to 1": Bursting Charge x 5 = Effective Explosive Weight
Body Wall of 0.25" to 0.5": Bursting Charge x 2.5 = Effective Explosive Weight
Body Wall of <0.25": Bursting Charge = Effective Explosive Weight
[a]The reader offered this disclaimer:  “All figures are just from my memory, mind you, and shouldn't be taken as decisive fact (nor should any rule of thumb), but it is illustrative of the general idea.”
There are repeated references in discussions to equivalency charts between shells, missile, and bombs in terms of explosive/destructive effects but I’ve been unable to locate any.

Demonstrated/Explosive Effects
Here are some statements that qualitatively describe the destructive/explosive effects.  Of course, there are many factors that contribute to the observed effects of an explosion but these are illustrative, nonetheless.
The High Capacity (HC) [16”] shell can create a crater 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep (15 x 6 m). During her deployment off Vietnam, USS New Jersey (BB-62) occasionally fired a single HC round into the jungle and so created a helicopter landing zone 200 yards (180 m) in diameter and defoliated trees for 300 yards (270 m) beyond that.[5]
“The crater from a 500-lb. bomb with impact fuze (e.g., MK 82) is typically 30 feet in diameter and 15 feet deep (this obviously varies greatly with the terrain)” (Doleman Jr., Edgar C., 1984. Tools of War. Boston Publishing Company, Boston)  ;  note: this quote is unverified by me but the book exists and there is no reason to doubt it
A conventional 155mm artillery high explosive (HE) shell often produce a crater about 1.2–1.5 meters deep and 4–5 meters wide (4).  The M114 howitzer of WWII used an HE shell with around 15 lb of explosive.  The modern 155 mm M795 shell has around 24 lbs of explosive.
A 16-inch (406 mm) shell fired from an Iowa class battleship created a crater about 6 meters deep and 15 meters wide (4)
We now understand why a 16” battleship shell, despite having a smaller burst charge than a Mk82 500 lb bomb, produces a much greater explosive/destructive effect.  It’s all about containment!  The containment effect – or lack, thereof - is even more pronounced for missiles which, due to their almost non-existent containment, release their exploding gases at far less pressures and produce far less damage effects.
So, why don’t we build missiles with thick walls?  The answer is obvious.  The missile is a powered, flying object and every pound of extra weight decreases the speed and range of the missile.  A missile with, say, a battleship’s 3+ in thick walls would have a range of just ten feet!
Disclaimer:  I offered this disclaimer at the beginning and I’ll repeat it.  This was a simplified discussion to illustrate the basic concepts.  It was not intended to be a rigorous doctoral thesis or all-encompassing textbook.

[1]NavWeaps website,
[3]Maritime website, “U.S. Explosive Ordnance”, OP 1664 Vol 1, 28-May-1947,  BuOrd,
[4]Quora website, Duc Quyen,  retrieved 6-Sep-2018,
[5]NavWeaps website,
[6]Pacsci Emc website, “Properties of Selected High Explosives”, Robert Weinheimer
Published: 27th International Pyrotechnics Seminar, July 2000
[7]Navy Matters blog comment, Ray D., April 8, 2017 at 10:33 PM, Navy Matters comment, “Syrian Tomahawk Strike”,