Thursday, September 28, 2023

Old Ironside's Lesson for Today

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

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

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

Monday, September 25, 2023

Lesson Learned?

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

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

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

Thursday, September 21, 2023

LCS Organization Update

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

What We Once Were

 What we once were ...

Carrier Group

Count 'em!

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2023

Goodbye Triton?

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Single Hits

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

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

Monday, September 11, 2023

Is The E-2 Hawkeye Still Needed?

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

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

What is ‘Combat Effective’?

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

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

Monday, September 4, 2023

Ford Costs

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



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


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

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

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

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

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