Monday, July 31, 2023

Satellite Space

If you’re like me, you’re aware that GPS satellites exist as do various surveillance satellites but you probably have no idea where they’re located (orbital height above sea level) or what this means in terms of war in space and satellite survivability.
Most people assume that all orbiting objects exist at more or less the same altitude but this is not the case.  There are various bands of orbits at various heights out to around the geosynchronous orbit at 36,000 km (22,500 mi).  Further than that is the so-called graveyard orbit where satellites are parked at the end of their operating lives if they are not de-orbited.
The two main orbital bands of interest for us are: 
  • Low Earth Orbit (LEO) (<2000 km / 1,200 mi)
  • NavStar GPS Orbit (20,180 km / 12,540 mi)
As a point of comparison, the Earth is around 4000 miles in radius (center of the Earth to the surface of the oceans)
Space has become a crowded place. 
US Space Command, which currently is responsible for monitoring the heavens, is tracking some 41,000 pieces of space junk bigger than 10 centimeters … [1]
… NASA, tracks over 25,000 objects larger than 10 cm in LEO, the estimated number between 1 and 10 cm in diameter is 500,000. The amount of particles bigger than 1 mm exceeds 100 million.[3]
It’s becoming even more crowded by the debris fields of anti-satellite (ASAT) tests.  Russian and Chinese ASAT test debris accounted for 20% of orbital collision warnings in 2022.[1]
A National Interest website article suggests that China has the capability to achieve anti-satellite kills at orbits out to Geosynchronous altitudes (35,786 km / 22,236 mi).[4]
One of the implications of the crowding of orbits is that when war with China comes and anti-satellite weapons are used by both sides, the number of objects (debris) in orbit will increase by orders of magnitude likely resulting in a cascade of collisions (at orbital speeds, any collision is probably totally destructive) with surviving satellites resulting in ever more debris and ever more collisions.  In other words, at some point, a chain reaction will occur which will destroy all satellites in a given orbit.
Legitimate uses are also contributing to the crowding. 
… the 700 to 900 kilometer band of LEO, a region that is increasingly crowded due to advent of mega-constellations such as SpaceX’s Starlink communications satellites. That orbital altitude also is being used by the Space Development Agency for its planned Transport Layer of 300 to 500 high-speed, high-volume communications birds.[1]
LEO confers interesting capabilities and limitations. 
Unlike geosynchronous satellite, satellites in LEO have a small field of view and so can observe and communicate with only a fraction of the Earth at a time. This means that a network (or "constellation") of satellites is required to provide continuous coverage. Satellites in lower regions of LEO also suffer from fast orbital decay and require either periodic re-boosting to maintain a stable orbit or launching replacement satellites when old ones re-enter.[3]
As a reference and point of interest, the 20-Feb-2008 shootdown of satellite USA-193 by a SM-3 Standard missile launched by USS Lake Erie occurred at an altitude of around 250 km (155 miles).
Space is a lot more complex, in terms of military use and combat, than most of us realize and the implications of combat in space are poorly understood by almost all of us.

[1]Breaking Defense, “Debris from ASAT tests creating ‘bad neighborhood’ in low Earth orbit: Analyst”, Theresa Hitchens, 16-Jun-2023,
[2]Wikipedia, “Global Positioning System”
[3]Wikipedia, “Low Earth Orbit”
[4]National Interest website, “How China Could Win a War Against America: Kill The Satellites”, Zachary Keck, 3-Oct-2019,

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Reserve Fleet – Nuclear versus Conventional Power

In times past, we kept conventional ships in reserve after they concluded their active service but we never kept nuclear ships, as best I can determine.  This makes sense, I suppose.  I assume that leaving nuclear reactors unattended for years on end, as a reserve ship, is not safe or feasible.  This leads to an obvious question:  is this an additional argument against nuclear ships and for conventional ones?
Admittedly, the argument is moot as we no longer maintain a reserve fleet (see, “What Reserve Fleet?”) but, still, it’s an interesting question.
As an isolated example, the conventionally powered carrier USS Kitty Hawk stayed in various ‘reserve’ status from her retirement in 2009 to 2017 when she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register.  In contrast, the nuclear powered Enterprise (CVN-65) began defueling and scrapping almost immediately upon retirement and never spent time in any reserve status.
USS Kitty Hawk

We’re beginning to reach the retirement age of the Nimitz class.  With the rising threat of China, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a reserve fleet of supercarriers?  Unfortunately, even ignoring the Navy’s policy of no reserve fleet, it would appear that nuclear ships can’t be held in reserve status.
If we ever returned to maintaining a reserve fleet, the inability to include nuclear powered ships – carriers, obviously – might suggest that conventional power would pay an additional benefit upon termination of a ship’s active status and that future carriers should be conventionally powered.  What do you think?

Monday, July 24, 2023

Carrier Scouting

ComNavOps constantly harps on targeting (see, “Weapons Don’t Matter”).  As I always say, a million mile missile is useless with ten mile targeting.  Closely related to targeting is scouting.  You want to know where the threat is and is not.  In a sense, targeting is a subset of scouting; the final ‘phase’ of scouting before the strike. 
Unlike targeting which is purely offensive, scouting supports both offense and defense.  If you know where the threat is, you can prepare your defenses accordingly.  Scouting provides the commander with situational awareness and, as such, it is just as important to know where the enemy isn’t as where he is.
Let’s look a bit closer at carrier group scouting.  As always, we begin with historical examples.
Many of us don’t realize that the standard operating procedure of American carrier groups in WWII was to send a dozen or so scout planes (generally SBD Dauntless aircraft) out at dawn every morning to search the surrounding seas for any sign of enemy ships or aircraft.
SBD Dauntless

In the book, Queen of the Flat-Tops, Lt.Cmdr. Mort Seligman, executive officer of the Lexington (CV-2) had this to say about scouting: 
“We are under a handicap out here.  The limited range of our scouts makes it necessary for us to be forever on our toes.  If we want to find out what the enemy is doing we’ve got to move up to within easy range of his land-based aircraft to find out.
“On the other hand, the Japanese, by using these 3000-mile Kawanishi [flying] boats, can see a lot farther than we can.  They range out over the ocean and watch every movement within some 1,000 miles of their bases.  There’s little we do in daylight that they can’t know about.  It costs them a plane every so often because we shoot them down every time we come across them.  But with these clouds out here this isn’t always possible because even though we know they are there we can’t always find them.
Once their day patrols have come out and they know their waters are clear for 500 miles around, they can relax.  Even if they find us they have time to bring up air defenses before we can get in our poke.  That limits our attacks almost to early morning only after an all-night fast approach.  And it makes it very difficult for us to gain the advantage of the element of surprise which is a much more important factor in war than most people realize.”[1]
Lt.Cmdr. Seligman succinctly defines both the problem and solutions for the carrier group:
  • Problem:  Our carrier scouts were shorter range than the Japanese land based scouts.

  • Solution:  Seek out and destroy the enemy’s scout planes (counter-scouting) and conduct high speed, night run-ins to the target to launch dawn strikes before the enemy can get their scouts out and alert their defenses.
Of course, in the open ocean, out of range of land-based scouts, the enemy naval forces had the same scout range limitations we did and the scouting contest was even;  both sides had an equal chance of finding the other first.
Prior (or in addition) to carriers, one of the functions of cruisers was to operate floatplanes to conduct scouting.  The Brooklyn class cruiser, for example, operated four floatplanes using a pair of stern catapults and a recovery crane.
That summarizes the issue for WWII surface and carrier groups but how does the issue translate to modern times?
The same general issue and constraints apply today with the carrier at, perhaps, a somewhat worse disadvantage. Let’s consider some aspects of modern naval scouting.
Scout Planes – Part of the problem is that we have no carrier scout aircraft.  The E-2 Hawkeye is most emphatically not a scout aircraft and they are never deployed too far from the protection of the carrier.  We lack a dedicated scout aircraft with great range and great sensors (passive and active).  Instead, we would have to use F-18 Hornets as scouts and the Hornet simply hasn’t got the range (or sensors) to be an effective scout.  The F-35C offers a slight improvement in range and survivability but is still not an effective broad area maritime scout.
Conversely, China has very long range, land-based bombers, maritime patrol aircraft, and UAVs that can serve the scout function, just as Japan did in WWII.
Sensors – Enemy scout assets include land-based, very long range aircraft, satellites, UAVs, etc. which, in the aggregate, offer potentially multi-thousand mile scouting as compared to our few hundred mile range carrier scouting capability.  Of course, we also have the possibility of using satellites and UAVs as scouts but given that we’ll be operating far closer to China than to any US bases, we’ll be much more limited in the degree of scouting support we can expect.
Strike Range – WWII carriers only had to scout a couple hundred miles out to be assured of safety since that was the limit of carrier aircraft strike range.  Today, cruise and ballistic missiles have extended the potential strike range – and, hence, scouting range requirement - to thousands of miles.
Counter-Scouting – One of the F-14 Tomcat’s roles was counter-scouting.  Their job was to eliminate the Soviet Tu-95 Bears before they could find our carriers.  Counter-scouting, today, includes countering satellites, submarine surveillance, over-the-horizon radars, SOSUS-type listening arrays, aircraft, etc.  This can no longer be done just by the carrier’s organic assets.  For example, countering satellites is a strategic responsibility outside the carrier’s capability (barring ship launched anti-satellite missiles).  Countering sea bed listening arrays is, again, a strategic responsibility.
While we may optimistically hope that we can get land-based scouting support, the reality is that our nearest source of scout aircraft in the Pacific theater will be Guam or some such base that is thousands of miles from likely carrier operating areas and that makes any scouting support sporadic, at best, and utterly ineffective, more likely.  Our carriers need an organic scout aircraft that is available whenever and wherever needed
Night, and the corresponding dawn search from WWII, is no longer sufficient given that darkness is no longer the ‘shield’ it once was.  We need to be able to scout 24 hours a day and, again, land-based scouts simply cannot provide that capability on a sustained basis.
Interestingly, the F-35C could serve as an effective scout plane if it were given a dedicated set of effective passive and active sensors.  The F-35C has a useful degree of stealth, though not up to modern combat standards, and this would allow it to conduct scouting missions survivably and with a fair chance of not being spotted, in turn.
The F-35C can also effectively perform the counter-scout role against non-combat aircraft and would even have a chance against combat stealth aircraft, though not dominantly so.
It’s clear to see that counter-scouting must extend many hundreds of miles in all directions, on a continuous basis.  This last part is vital.  Given the speed of modern aircraft, it is no longer sufficient to scout/clear an area once a day.  We must have nearly continuous coverage.  An enemy scouting asset can appear far too quickly and cover far too much area to assume an area once cleared will stay clear of enemy scouting assets.  This suggests a heavy reliance on long endurance UAVs.  Ideally, we’d have long endurance, stealthy, UAVs operated by the dozens from a dedicated UAV carrier (a converted merchant ship).
The Navy has to start getting serious about combat instead of just being focused on new hulls.  We need to focus on mine warfare, mine countermeasures, logistics, large caliber naval gun support, long range fighters, small ASW ships, close in defensive AAW weapons, and scouting    you know, all the things that aren’t shiny and sexy but that win wars.
[1]Johnston, Stanley, Queen of the Flat-Tops, Bantam Books, 1942, ISBN: 0-553-24264-4, p.130

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Lead Before You Ask Others To Follow

As you undoubtedly know, Iran has been increasing its attacks on international shipping in the Persian Gulf.  These attacks can be categorized in one of two ways: 
  1. Acts of war against the victim’s home (flagged) country
  2. Acts of piracy
In either case, the appropriate response, as allowed by international law and treaty, is, at a minimum, destruction of the attacking force.
Rather than taking legal, allowable, forceful action, the US Navy has stood by and watched, doing nothing.  An article by two retired Navy admirals, and others, calls for other countries to “accept greater responsibility”, whatever that useless phrase means, as the way to address Iran’s increasing lawlessness. 
In order to convince Tehran to stop its illegal activities in some of the world’s most important sea lanes, determined American leadership is necessary to convince our partners to accept greater responsibility for protecting freedom of navigation.[1]
So, rather than take forceful action, the authors would have the Navy beg other countries to do something.  What that something might be is left unarticulated. 
… the epicenter of US-led naval cooperation in the Middle East, Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), recognizes the need to more effectively encourage and integrate regionwide cooperation, including by leading the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). This 38-nation partnership includes five task forces addressing freedom of navigation, counterpiracy, counternarcotics, and, most recently, training for partner navies. However, amid this most recent bout of unchecked reprisals from Tehran, the United Arab Emirates suspended its voluntary contribution of maritime assets to CMF task forces.[1] 
The problem with begging other countries for help is that it sends the clear message that we, far and away the most powerful force in the region, are unable/unwilling to do anything.  The result of that is that other countries will wonder why they should contribute resources when the US isn’t willing to take any forceful, productive action.  As the authors note, 
Despite these admirable efforts, they are apparently insufficient to convince our partners that the United States is fully committed to countering Iranian aggression and, thus, will also be inadequate to deter or deny further Iranian aggression.[1] 
We’re attempting to substitute group hugs, meetings, and wishful thinking for forceful, effective action.  This is why no amount of forward presence can accomplish anything.  We could have ten carriers in the Persian Gulf and it wouldn’t deter Iran in the slightest since we clearly won’t take any action.  Iran is seizing ships and shooting at others and we merely watch.
Rather than calling for other countries to “accept greater responsibility”, perhaps we should try leading.  If we would exert some force then other countries might be more willing to contribute resources.
If we want others to follow us, we have to actually lead and that means taking forceful, effective action.  No one is going to follow a trembling coward.
This mindset, as evidenced by these two admirals, demonstrates the lack of courage endemic throughout the Navy today.

[1]Breaking Defense website, “To counter Iran at sea, US must sell partners on doing more”,Donegan, Miller, Ruhe and Cicurel, 12-Jul-2023,

Monday, July 17, 2023

Submarine Shortfall

You’re probably heard, recently, that the attack submarine (SSN) force is declining in numbers and is projected to reach a low of around 40 (versus the publicly stated, desired target of 60-70) over the next decade and naval observers and Congress are suddenly worried.  However, this is not a new development.  The shortfall was predicted at least two decades ago.  For example, the 2014 Navy 30-year shipbuilding plan noted that the SSN level would fall from the 2014 level of 55 to less than 50 in 2020 and ultimately down to a low of 42 in 2029 and would not recover to 50 subs until 2038 and would stay at that level through 2043. 
The looming shortfall was not only anticipated but embraced by the Navy in 2005. 
The Navy announced in late March 2005 that it planned to reduce its attack submarine fleet to 41 from its current level of 55.[1]
Thus, the SSN shortfall was not a surprise event.  In fact, it was long anticipated and intentionally inflicted.  The Navy actually planned the shortfall !
In fact, given that we just noted that 18 subs are sitting in extended idle status awaiting maintenance (see, “SSNMaintenance Backlog”), the predicted low point could be closer to 30 deployable subs!
How did this happen?  It’s not a trick question.  For the last couple of decades we’ve been retiring subs faster than we’re building them.  For example, the 2014 30-year shipbuilding plan called for 52 retirements versus 47 launches.  That’s a net decrease of 5 subs over that time period … hence, a decrease and a shortfall. 
Despite anticipating the shortfall decades ago, the Navy allowed a several year gap in submarine construction between the last Los Angeles and the first Virginia.  The last Los Angeles class submarine was launched in 1995.  The first Virginia class submarine was launched in 2003.  That’s an 8 year gap.  Yes, there were two Seawolf class subs mixed in there but it was an 8 year gap between major submarine classes.
Even when the Virginia class began production, construction was limited to 5 launches, less than one per year, from 2003-2008, inclusive. 
So, facing a known shortfall, the Navy’s response was to program in an 8 year gap in production and build less than one per year for the 6 years subsequent to the gap.  Clearly, the Navy was unconcerned about the looming shortfall.  Now, however, the Navy is attempting to deflect by placing the blame and responsibility on industry for somehow failing to have adequate production capacity.
And still the Navy is not serious about mitigating the shortfall.  For example, the current 5-year plan calls for 10 retirements which is two per year.  Compared to the build rate of 1.2 subs per year, it’s obvious why we have a worsening shortfall.
According to industry, US submarine production capacity is currently limited to a theoretical maximum of two subs per year, however, the actual production rate is barely more than one per year.  The entire Virginia class has, thus far, seen 25 launches in the 21 years from 2003-2023, inclusive.  That’s a sustained production rate of only 1.2 subs per year.
In comparison, the Los Angeles class saw 62 subs built in the 22 year period from 1974-1995, inclusive.  That’s a build rate of 2.8 subs per year, nearly three per year!  Now, we’re down to barely one per year.
The Navy talks publicly about building three subs per year but that’s clearly a fantasy that’s entirely disconnected from reality.
The Navy had two decades to address the shortfall and consciously chose not to address it.  They are only now attempting to address it because a panicking Congress is beginning to ask questions and, even so, the only real effort the Navy is making is to try to place blame on industry instead of themselves.  That’s not addressing the shortfall, that’s addressing the public relations.
So, what could have been done over the preceding two decades and what can we currently do to mitigate the shortfall?
Retirements - The obvious, immediate, short term solution is to stop retiring subs.  We early retired a dozen Los Angeles class subs with less than 20 years service (see, “Los Angeles Class Overhauls and Retirements”)!  Many more have been retired with less than 30 years.  Even subs nearing the end of their scheduled service life can be retained in an idled status against the advent of war.
Operational Patterns – We could have, and still should, stop deploying subs on extended cruises.  Going to a home-port maintenance and training concept, as we’ve frequently discussed, would reduce the ‘dive cycles’ and full power nuclear use which depletes the nuclear fuel and would extend the life of the subs.
There is value in submarine missions that map out the underwater battlefield, determine water conditions (salinity, density, currents, thermoclines, etc.), monitor and collect intel on foreign submarines, monitor enemy ASW capabilities, etc. but they do not require full combat submarines.  A much reduced capability submarine could be built for the specific purpose of monitoring, as just described.  Non-combat SSKs would be a cheap and highly effective platform for the types of data collection just listed while the bulk of the SSNs remain in a home-port training/maintenance condition, preserving and extending their life spans.
Capacity – The Navy had two decades to promote and develop additional production capacity and, perhaps, an additional shipyard but opted not to.  Programming in an 8 year production gap followed by 6 years of one sub per year is the opposite of building production capacity.  Instead, the Navy allowed industry’s production capacity to decrease as shipyards adjusted to lower production demands and allowed skilled workers to retire without replacement.  As industry noted, 
The presidents of both shipyards [General Dynamics and Newport News] recently said they believed they could handle three SSNs a year but that they and their suppliers would only invest in the additional infrastructure, machinery and people if the Navy sent a clear demand signal and committed to higher shipbuilding rates for a long duration.[2]
The Navy’s haphazard production program does not give industry the confidence to increase production capacity.  You may recall the 29-boat Seawolf class that was truncated to just three?  Not exactly confidence-inspiring.
The incompetence and willful disregard by the Navy in addressing the shortfall has been nothing short of stunning and constitutes dereliction of duty by a succession of CNOs, each of whom should be recalled to active duty and court-martialed.
Finally, let’s close this out with an hysterical lie by the Navy.  Referring to production capacity, Rear Admiral David Goggins had this to say, 
He said the Navy would not build the ships if they couldn’t properly maintain them … [2]
That’s hilarious!  Hey, Admiral … I’ve got some bad news for you.  The Navy isn’t properly maintaining any of their ships!

Thursday, July 13, 2023

SSN Maintenance Backlog

We just read about the USS Boise (SSN-764), which has been idled since Jan 2015 awaiting dry dock availability and is finally beginning its maintenance period.  The optimistic unrealistic hope is that Boise returns to service in late 2023 or sometime in 2024 which would be an 8-9 year period of idleness.  You would hope that this is some sort of sick April Fool’s joke but it isn’t.  This is the sad reality of our naval maintenance effort.
Was Boise just a bad luck, bad circumstances, fluke?  How is the rest of the SSN submarine fleet doing as regards maintenance?
According to a just released CRS report, 37% of the SSN fleet is currently idled in, or awaiting, depot maintenance, overhauls, and dry dock availability and are non-operational.[1]  That’s 18 of the 49 SSN subs in the fleet that are sitting idle, leaving just 31 operational SSNs in the US fleet.
China doesn’t need to worry about our submarine fleet … it’s sitting idle.
Sure, we couldn’t keep SSNs, arguably the most lethal component of our military, in service but we made sure we kept building LCS so that we could retire them as they completed construction and we made sure that we built all the Zumwalts and we pushed the Ford through despite having utterly unreliable catapults, traps, and weapon elevators.
New hulls … yes!
Maintenance … no.

Our Submarine Force?

[1]Congressional Research Service, “Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O’Rourke, 6-Jul-2023, RL32418

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

Marine Corps Commandant Berger’s term of office has ended.  While that is cause for celebration, the celebration is exceedingly short lived and subdued due to the fact that his presumed successor, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Eric Smith, is almost certainly a clone of Berger.  Berger’s number two is assuredly a near carbon copy of Berger or else he wouldn’t have been Berger’s number two.
I hope Smith will be a better Commandant but the odds on that are vanishingly low.  We’ll see …

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Wartime Production Plan – Part 2

Continuing the theme of pre-war production planning …
We previously discussed wartime production planning (see, “Wartime Production Plan”) and noted that our war plans should not focus on the number of ships and planes we currently have but, instead, the ability to quickly produce more ships, planes, and everything else we need during a war.  Indeed, the pursuit of large fleets of ships and aircraft can easily become counter-productive as noted in the landmark Army Green Book series, 
… preparedness may take one of two forms. A nation may choose to maintain an aerial fleet-in-being or, as an alternative, it may choose to rely upon its capacity to build an air fleet in time of emergency. The fleet-in-being or "Big Stick" form of preparedness has certain advantages. It can be used as a diplomatic weapon to terrorize an opponent into surrender without a fight, as Hitler found. But at the same time, the fleet-in-being has serious limitations. Obsolescence in aviation is so great that large numbers of old aircraft rapidly become relatively vulnerable to fewer aircraft of newer design and superior performance, as France found to her sorrow after the outbreak of World War II. In the United States, officers of the War Department in general and the Air Corps in particular were firmly committed to a policy that emphasized the importance of capacity to build, the importance of industrial potential, the power to create and replenish an air force, rather than a fleet-in-being.[1, p.158-9] [emphasis added]
Consider a couple of example issues about pre-WWII planning, as documented in the Army Green Book report on pre-WWII planning for aircraft procurement and see what lessons it offers.
One lesson was that people get so caught up in the minutiae that they lose sight of the big picture.  The pursuit of minutiae then delays the effort to the point that the effort is no longer useful.
For example, 
In 1936 Air Corps officers were still computing the aluminum requirements for the 1933 mobilization plan … [1]
Those officers were given a task and were determined to pursue it to its bitter end no matter how irrelevant the passage of time rendered their task.  They were unable to see the larger picture and adjust.
Another lesson is that people tend to focus on the wrong aspects of planning.  For example, there was a pre-WWII mobilization plan but, 
War Department General Mobilization Plan," which was "based on personnel and not upon supply and equipment."[1, p.158]
This was a fundamental flaw since personnel are useless without equipment.  Planning has to be for both.
One of the best ways to plan for, and enhance the ability of, wartime production is to establish a set(s) of standardized construction programs that are fully detailed, fully resourced, and ready to go.  For example, a basic destroyer that has been prototyped, debugged, and is ready to put into mass production would be an invaluable aid to have on the shelf.  As the Green Book notes, 
An educational order is an order designed to familiarize a manufacturer with the item he will be expected to produce in an emergency.  In its simplest form, an educational order might involve little more than acquainting the contractor with the item he is to make. In its most complex form it might even include the construction of jigs and fixtures as well as tools and dies to be held on a stand-by basis.[1, p.159]
Another critical pre-war planning issue highlighted by the Green Book is that of expansion of existing industries to meet increased war demand versus conversion of industries from a non-war product to a war product.  An example of the latter would be the conversion of the auto industry to tank production.  As with most things, a mix of the two approaches is probably preferred. 
Regardless of the approach, pre-war planning is required.  A survey of industries to see which can be usefully and efficiently converted, and to what product(s) is required along with plans for doing so.  Sets of construction/modification blueprints for facilities should be maintained and resources should be identified.
And the list of issues and lessons goes on and on …
As in sports, you win because of the planning and effort you put in before the game.  We can win the war with China by putting in the planning and effort now, before the actual shooting starts.  Instead of directing our budget towards new ships – that lack CONOPS or usefulness and are being retired decades early – we should be budgeting the planning of industrial capacity and logistics.

[1]Irving Brinton Holley, Jr., United States Army in World War II, Special Studies, “Buying Aircraft:  Materiel Procurement for the Army Air Forces”,

Sunday, July 9, 2023

“We’ve Run Out Of Ammunition”

Here's an exact quote from Joe Biden:

"We’ve Run Out Of Ammunition”
Yes, Joe Biden just confirmed that the US cannot win a peer war with China by stating, on camera, that the US has run out of ammunition.[1]  I know half of you don't believe me so go to the link and listen to the video for yourself.  It’s only a few seconds long.  Here’s the direct link to the video:
This means that the US lacks the inventory of weapons to even supply a minor (not even regional, as it’s only two countries) conflict between Ukraine and Russia, let alone sustain a war with China.  Far, far worse, we’ve been draining our munitions inventories since the start of the Ukraine-Russia conflict and we’ve been unable to produce enough new munitions to even replace what we’re giving away.  At this point in WWII, we were well on our way to gearing up and factories were churning out vast quantities of weapons. 
The damning conclusion is painfully obvious:  we lack the infrastructure and industrial capacity to produce the quantities of arms necessary to sustain a war with China.
Just as we beat Germany and Japan by outproducing them, it would appear that China can outproduce us in a sustained war.  They’re already demonstrating on a daily basis that they have more industrial weapons production capacity than we do and we’re supposedly well over a year into gearing up for production.  In other words, China is outproducing us while we’re in the midst of stepped up production!!!!! 
Now, obviously, ‘running out of ammunition' doesn’t mean that every munition is we have is down to near zero levels but we’ve already heard, publicly, that many types are down to a third or less of their pre-Ukraine inventory levels.  One example is the ubiquitous 155 mm artillery shells, as noted below. 
Biden told Zakaria that the cluster munitions were being sent as a “transition period” until the US is able to produce more 155mm artillery.[1]
I’ve stated repeatedly that you don’t win a war with what you have to begin;  you win with what you can produce during the war.  Terrifyingly, it appears that we have only a very limited capacity to produce enough to win a war.  This isn’t really all that surprising.  We’ve been talking about it for years.  Consider our front line ships and aircraft.  When war starts, how many replacement ships and planes can we produce per year?  The answer is … almost none.
We did a post on how much our munitions orders have increased in the last year and it was … almost none (see, “2024 Weapons Procurement Increase”) – not because we don’t want to produce more and don’t want to fund more but because we lack the production capacity.  Manufacturers are publicly stating that their capacity is max’ed out.
The United States is no longer the arsenal of democracy.

This should scare the pudding out of us but there seems to be little reaction from the military or government.

Note:  This is not a post about the geopolitics of supporting Ukraine.  It’s about our industrial weapons capacity.  We’re not going to discuss politics.
[1]Red State website, “Foreign Policy Genius Joe Biden Openly Proclaims 'We've Run out of Ammunition,' and That Seems Like a Problem”, Bonchie, 9-Jul-2023,

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Naval Gun Accuracy

It’s discouraging to see how many people believe that modern fire control systems guarantee unerring accuracy.  I’ve seen claims that the Oto Melara 76 mm only needs three rounds per engagement against anti-ship missiles.  That’s absurd!  When the head of Oto Melara, in a live fire test, agrees to stand on a target protected by one of his guns that has only three rounds in the magazine, I’ll begin to believe the claim.
So many people seem to think that modern guns can’t miss.  I guess this is an example of a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing.  People understand just enough about computers to know that we can write a program that predicts where a round should go to impact/intercept the target and they assume that the program can’t be wrong, therefore, the shot must hit with unfailing accuracy. 
Reality, however, is much different.  Yes, a program can make a prediction – that’s just simple mathematics and that’s child’s play.  What the program can’t do is account for the hundreds of factors that actually affect the accuracy of a naval gun.  Let’s briefly consider some of the more obvious factors:
Stabilization – One of the most blatantly incorrect beliefs among naval observers is the myth of stabilization.  People forget that both the firing platform and the target are continuously pitching and rolling, among other movements.  Yes, we have stabilization (of the firing platform, not the target!) but stabilization is not even remotely perfect.  The guns are large, heavy chunks of steel and have inertia.  Just because the stabilizer computer signals the gun to move doesn’t mean it can instantaneously accomplish that movement.  There is a lag and in the world of micro-deviations (we’ll address that shortly), which is what we’re discussing, that’s a problem.  Stabilization is a gross phenomenon, not a micro phenomenon and it does not, indeed cannot, assure accuracy – it just reduces gross inaccuracy.
Let’s consider some other common factors that impact accuracy:
  • Barrel Wear – wear is a constantly changing phenomenon and is not uniform along the length of the barrel
  • Barrel Temperature – changes on every shot and is not uniform along the length of the barrel
  • Wind – constantly changing and changing throughout the length/time of the shell’s flight profile
  • Barrel Movement – the barrel is moving (pitching, rolling, and attempting to stabilize) while the round is traveling through it!
  • Shell Uniformity – every round has minute (and no so minute!) differences in weight, shape, smoothness, dents, etc. and each one affects accuracy
  • Friction – this is a factor of the shape of the round, density of the air, humidity, wind, etc. and, of course, there’s always friction between the barrel and the shell
  • Humidity – this is constantly changing on the micro scale as the shell encounters wind currents, spray, fog, rain, etc.
  • Density – the density of the air is constantly changing due to temperature, humidity, altitude, etc. causing changes in friction and speed of the projectile
  • Temperature – changes with elevation, wind currents, and wave behavior causing updrafts and downdrafts
  • Target Movement – the target is constantly moving in all three dimensions while the intercepting shell is being fired and traveling through the barrel and the target continues to move during the entire travel time of intercepting shell;  some of the movement is due to physical factors (wind, friction, etc.) and some is due to intentional terminal maneuvering;  when we take a radar ‘fix’ on the target, the implicit assumption is that the target will continue on its path and that’s utterly false, as we just noted
What program has the slightest hope of accurately modeling those factors especially since we have no means of measuring most of them other than in the grossest sense?
So, we’ve now acknowledged that there are too many factors that impact accuracy for us to account for all of them and we lack the sensors to do so even if we could program them into the fire control algorithm.  But, you say, the deviations are minor.  Well, let’s examine the magnitude of the effect of the cumulative ‘minor’ deviations.
Projecting a straight line from the shell in the barrel, waiting to be fired, to the predicted intercept point, gives us a travel path that we think/hope will meet the target.  Any deviation will cause an angular change from the predicted travel path.  That angular deviation can be considered in degrees.  If the shell perfectly follows the predicted path, that would be 0 degrees deviation.  If the shell were to, ridiculously, take an immediate right angle turn off the predicted path, that would be a 90 degree deviation.  Realistically, the deviation will be on the order of 0-10 degrees or so.  Let’s see what impact small degrees of deviation have on the difference between the actual intercept point as compared to the predicted point.
For this illustrative example, let’s consider a predicted intercept point at a distance of 1 mile (5,280 feet).  We’ll use the geometry of a right triangle to calculate the deviation.  Specifically, we’ll use the formula
     tan(deviation angle) = opposite/adjacent
     opposite = tan(deviation angle) * adjacent
opposite = the deviation from theoretical intercept point, in feet
adjacent = 5,280 ft  (distance to theoretical intercept point)
deviation angle = the angular deviation from the predicted intercept path, in degrees
Using the above formula, we get the following results for various degrees of deviation.
10 deg = 931 ft
5 deg = 462 ft
1 deg = 92 ft
0.5 deg = 46 ft
0.1 deg = 9 ft
We see then that even a miniscule 0.5 deg deviation will result in a 46 ft miss.  We have to be down around 0.1 deg or less deviation to hit our predicted intercept point close enough to be effective.  Of course, that assumes the target perfectly followed its predicted travel path and didn’t change course, altitude, or speed!
Wow!  That is not much allowable deviation before we have a clean miss!  From observations of video of live fire gun exercises, my estimate is that deviations of 0.5-5 degrees are normal.  That’s not encouraging.  I’m beginning to think that hitting a target with a naval gun is almost impossible.
Before we throw up our hands and give up trying to hit an intercept point with a naval gun, let’s recall that there are a few things that can help improve our odds.
Number of Shells – It’s a given that every shot we fire will have a deviation to some extent.  However, if we fire enough shells toward the predicted intercept point, one or some of them will, statistically, wind up being close enough to be effective.  This argues for smaller caliber projectiles that can be fired quickly and in large numbers.
Rate of Fire – This is another way of saying, number of shells, but it goes beyond that.  There’s a time lag between every shot and the greater the time lag, the fewer shells we can put into the predicted intercept point.  To illustrate, if we could fire a thousand shells in one second, we’d saturate the intercept point and compensate for the individual inaccuracies with numbers.  On the other hand, if we can only fire one shell per minute, then we can only ever have one shell in the intercept area at a time before the intercept point changes significantly and odds are it will miss due to the various factors we’ve discussed.  This argues for extremely high rates of fire.
Stabilization – The quicker our gun can respond to stabilization commands, the more accurate we’ll be.  This is accomplished by decreasing the inertia of the gun which is accomplished by decreasing the weight of the gun and/or increasing the power of the train/elevation motors.  This argues for smaller, lighter weight guns.
We see, now, why a 5” gun is very unlikely to be effective at hitting a cruise missile.  In fact, modern 5” guns have been proven to be woefully inaccurate even against slow moving (relative to a missile) Boghammer boats (the Vincennes incident).
Fragmentation - Yet another compensating measure is fragmentation.  If we have to have a direct hit on the target to kill it, our odds are extremely poor.  However, if we can just be in the general vicinity of the target and kill it via shrapnel (fragmentation), our odds increase.  The larger the effective fragmentation area, the better our chances.  This suggests using large shells that can disperse large quantities of shrapnel.  However, there is a limit because the fragmentation pattern takes time to spread out after the shell explodes and if too much time is taken the target has flown past before the shrapnel can spread out.  So, there’s an effective limit on how big a pattern can be effectively used but I have no idea what that limit is.
Guidance – Guided projectiles offer another way to improve accuracy but at a significant, literal cost.  There are companies who offer, or are developing, small guided projectiles but, as far as I know, there is no test data under remotely realistic conditions that demonstrates that they are effective.  They may or may not be.
It is clear that naval guns are inherently inaccurate.  For the case of fixed land targets, we can compensate for inaccuracy with explosiveness.  If we’re firing 16” battleship shells, accuracy is a lesser concern as the giant 50 foot craters will compensate for a lot a inaccuracy.  We can also substitute multiple salvos for accuracy knowing that statistical odds will ensure that if we fire enough rounds, some will hit the target.  Besides, it’s not as if a fixed target is going anywhere.
However, if we’re trying to shoot down an anti-ship missile, we need small, light, very rapid fire guns which is the concept behind 20-30 mm CIWS guns.  It’s clear that larger guns (5”, 57/76 mm) are ineffective for the anti-air role, barring dumb luck.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Happy Fourth of July

Remember how it all began …
… When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them …
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.  ...

Monday, July 3, 2023

When the Gloves Come Off

-A Predator UAV launches a Hellfire missile at a terrorist.
-A Ukraine unmanned surface drone attacks a Russian ship.
-A drone drops a grenade on Russian troops.
-A Russian base in Syria is attacked by a drone swarm.
-A US base in Syria is attacked by drones.
-Unmanned drones are being developed as ‘wingmen’ for manned aircraft.
-Turkey has built a UAV carrier and various unmanned aircraft to equip it.
-Russian UAVs attack Kiev.
The future of warfare seems clear and it’s all about unmanned assets, right?  The various conflicts around the world are proving the value of unmanned assets in combat every day, right?
Before we jump feet first into the deep end of the unmanned combat pool, let’s take note of one tiny, almost insignificant, detail that no one seems to be paying any attention to:  all the unmanned combat that supposedly proves the worth of unmanned assets is taking place in low intensity combat situations.
Many of you are already pounding out replies, screaming that the Ukraine-Russia conflict is anything but low intensity.  Thousands of artillery shells are being fired every hour.  How much more high intensity can you get?  Well, I’m sorry but you’re wrong.  The Ukraine-Russia war may be wasting using lots of artillery shells but the overall conflict is decidedly low intensity for a variety of reasons.  Neither side is fighting with any operational or tactical expertise.  The Russian air force is almost absent.  Top of the line Russian armor seems to have been withheld from combat.  Ukraine doesn’t have an air force.  There’s no naval combat.  Neither side is using electronic warfare to any great extent or effect.  Neither side is using concentrated armored divisions in maneuver warfare.  Neither side is exhibiting any semblance of joint warfare.  Infantry forces appear to be content with occupying whatever territory they have rather than conducting intelligent offensives.  The Ukraine-Russia conflict is much closer to WWI trench warfare than the WWII European combat of an all-out, high intensity war. 
I’ve made my point.  You can agree or disagree but I’m not going to entertain a debate about the intensity of the Ukraine-Russia war.  Be forewarned.  Moving on …
Other low intensity conflicts include Afghanistan, Iraq/Iran, anti-terrorist actions, Israel-Hamas, Syria, Yemen, and many others.  It’s not even debatable that these are low intensity.
So … low intensity.  How is this relevant to unmanned combat?
Low intensity, by definition, means that combat forces and effects are artificially limited, often severely so.  Avoidance of collateral damage takes precedence over achievement of military objectives.  Rules of Engagement (ROE) actively and intentionally limit the application of force and kinetic effects.  In short, the engaged force is fighting with one (or both!) hands tied and is only able to apply a fraction of its available capabilities.
The continuous Israeli conflicts with Hamas are an example of self-imposed ROE restrictions that, with occasional periods of reduced restrictions, severely hamper combat effectiveness.
The US conflict in Vietnam was another example of a low intensity conflict in that the US unilaterally limited its use of force.  Enemy forces were granted sanctuary across the Vietnam-Laos border.  North Vietnam was allowed to freely resupply via Haiphong harbor.  Hanoi was generally off-limits.  And so on.
The US anti-terrorist effort in Afghanistan was a low intensity conflict with terrorists allowed to escape into the sanctuary of Pakistan.
The battle against ISIS was decidedly low intensity as avoidance of collateral damage was the primary objective.
Let’s now consider the case of a true, high intensity conflict in which the ‘gloves come off’ and the engaged forces are free to use all of their capabilities (excepting nuclear, of course).  How does this impact unmanned asset combat use and effectiveness?
Sanctuary – As noted in the examples, sanctuary is one of the most ludicrous artificially imposed constraints imaginable.  Unmanned assets require a safe, calm, quiet location to prepare, maintain, launch, and control the assets … a sanctuary of some sort.  Once the concept of sanctuaries is eliminated, overwhelming force can be applied to the source of unmanned assets rather than trying to fight those assets individually, as they attack.  If the enemy is given no sanctuary, his ability to employ unmanned assets is drastically decreased.
Cost Ratio – turned loose, why not use a Standard missile to shoot down a UAV if it protects a multi-billion dollar ship?  Sure, we’d prefer to use a low cost method to stop a drone but when protection becomes more important than the defensive cost, a Standard missile (or ESSM or RAM) makes a very effective anti-UAV weapon.
Collateral Damage – Who cares if that unmanned asset is near a civilian structure?  Destroy it and ignore the collateral damage.  Unmanned assets lose a lot of effectiveness when they can’t ‘hide’ among non-combatant people and structures.
Pre-emptive Strikes – In low intensity conflicts, forces are often reduced to defensive stances.  In a high intensity conflict there is no need to sit on the defensive and, indeed, every reason to attack.  Rather than wait for the enemy to attack with unmanned assets, wipe out that base where the unmanned assets are being built, stored, and operated from and the unmanned threat vanishes.  Constant offensives will hinder the enemy’s ability to pause long enough to assemble and operate unmanned assets.  Unless co-located with some other type of heavily defended facility, an unmanned base would likely be an easy, highly vulnerable target requiring a minimum of missiles or artillery to eliminate.
Electronic Warfare – Currently, as best we can tell, the US keeps its electronic warfare capabilities under wraps.  In an all-out, high intensity war those capabilities get fully utilized and unmanned assets will be severely disrupted, I suspect.
Identification – In high intensity combat, you no longer care about identification.  There’s only ‘yours’ and ‘not yours’ and no one cares about identifying the ‘not yours’.  If it’s ‘not yours’, kill it.
A major part of the reason why unmanned assets are enjoying some success around the world is because they’re being used in very restricted conflicts where the defenses are constrained by hindering ROEs. 
Let’s also be honest and acknowledge that another reason for unmanned successes is that the defenders have largely been fairly inept and/or ill-equipped to deal with them.  This would not be the case for the US, one hopes.  We have plenty of effective weapons to deal with unmanned assets even if some of them would not be considered cost-effective.
It’s difficult to imagine unmanned assets having much success against a US or Chinese military that is fighting with the ‘gloves off’.  When the gloves come off in high intensity combat, unmanned assets will be found to be a minor, niche asset, at best.
So, imagine the US military operating with no restrictions and every capability in play.  Can you really see unmanned assets presenting any real threat?  Of course not!  Now, turn that imagination around.  If unmanned assets would present no real threat to us, do we really think they’ll present any real threat to China?  Again, of course not!  So, why are we so myopically fixated on unmanned assets if we don’t believe they can be effective in high intensity combat?
We need to pause our headlong pursuit of unmanned assets and take a serious look at how effective they can be in high intensity combat.  An honest assessment will leave us wondering why we’re pursuing unmanned technology.
Note:  I’m not advocating dropping all unmanned work.  Unmanned assets can certainly be useful in low intensity scenarios which is, after all, the bulk of the military’s efforts.  However, we cannot allow low intensity assets to filter into our high intensity combat doctrine and tactics.