Monday, October 30, 2023

Worst Developments Ever

Focusing on the equipment side of things as opposed to policy debacles such as minimal manning, here are the worst modern naval developments.  I’m defining ‘worst’ as something that initiates a harmful trend and whose negative impact is felt across decades and multiple ship classes.  Thus, the LCS, for example, does not qualify.  It was an unmitigated disaster but it did not propagate across time and classes. 
All of these will be surprising to the reader and most will be controversial.  Nonetheless, they are true.
Mk32 Triple Torpedo Launcher – deprived surface ships of heavy torpedo, ship-killing capability and ended any effort towards a ship launched heavy torpedo
Aegis – ushered in the era of electronic systems that are too complex to be maintainable and, almost by definition, are perpetually degraded
Spruance – initiated the practice of industry design of ships and resulted in the elimination of in-house ship design expertise in the Navy
Surface Ship Nuclear Power – offers no overall tactical or operational benefits, imposes a severe battle damage risk, and initiated (or significantly contributed to) the spiraling runaway costs of ship construction
VLS – significantly reduced ship’s ability to stay in a fight due to the extreme risk of clustering all weapons in one or two tightly packed, unarmored locations
Burke Class – has frozen naval surface ship development and instituted a decades long slide into obsolescence (see, “Burke – The Anchor Around the Navy’s Neck”);  impact includes the Constellation class which was obsolete from the moment it was conceived as an attempt to produce a safe mini-Burke
GPS – ushered in a culture of technology dependency which has cost lives, caused collisions and groundings, rendered a generation of weapons suspect, and neutered the basic seamanship skills of the Navy

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Armored Sensors

One of the arguments against armor on ships is that the ship’s sensors can’t be armored and allow for an easy mission kill so what’s the point of any armor?  This train of thought is illogical and idiotic but that’s not the point of this post so …
It is taken as an article of faith that ship’s sensors can’t be armored.  How could they be?  If they’re armored, the sensors will be blinded, right?  As we do with so many widespread beliefs, let’s examine this and see if it’s really true.
Where do we always start when examining anything?  That’s right: history, of course!  What can history tell us about sensors and armor?
Land combat
Historically, sensors, meaning eyeballs and optical aids, were protected by placement behind trees, rocks, walls, bunkers, etc.  This was highly effective armor (armor being any object or material that protects the sensor).  The sensor needed only a tiny opening in the armor to observe the relevant field of view.  A mere slit or hole was sufficient to allow the sensor to function.  If the observer wanted hemispherical sensing then he merely turned around and “re-aimed” the sensor, poking a new hole in the armor, if necessary.  We see, then, that sensors have always been ‘armored’ and their field of view unimpeded by the armor.
Tank sensors
Tanks offer a specific and more applicable example.  Tank sensors, originally eyeballs and optical aids but now including infrared, low light, radar, laser rangefinders, etc., are embedded inside heavy tank armor with, again, small openings aimed at the field of view.  Many tank sensors are able to rotate to allow the sensor to cover large arcs or 360 degree fields of view.  Alternatively, many tank optical sensors (eyeballs) have armored, reflective/mirrored observation blocks arranged in a circle around hatches thus providing 360 degree observation and alleviating the need to stand up in the hatch to observe the surroundings.  In addition, most tank sensors can be sealed with armored covers when not directly in use thus making the sensors highly survivable.  Finally, some sensors are duplicated around the tank so as to provide continuous 360 degree coverage (active protection radar systems, for example).  Thus, tank sensors are both physically armored and ‘armored (made survivable)’ by duplication while allowing unimpeded sensing.
As seen in the photo below of an Israeli Merkava tank, the optical sensor is protected in an armored box-like housing with a closeable shutter to completely protect the sensor.  The optical sensor needs only a small vertical slit opening to function.
Also visible is a small radar array for an active protection system.  The array face is not armored but the location ensures that the array is protected on the back and sides by the bulk of the armored turret while being able to scan the 120 degree or so field in front of it.  Thus, siting the sensor next to an armored structure (the turret) provides ‘neighborly’ protection regardless of whether the sensor housing itself is armored.  On a ship, this suggests that sensors could be similarly mounted near/next to other armored structures and gain indirect armor protection.
Merkava Optical Sensor with Shutter and Slit Opening,
Note Radar Array at Far Left
Ship sensors
WWII large caliber naval guns included armored, optical rangefinders as part of the structure of the turrets.  These were typically housed in the ‘ears’ that stuck out from the rear sides of the turrets.
Note the armored ‘ears’ sticking out the sides
 of the turret near the back which housed
the local, optical rangefinder components

Larger guns also used armored directors.  The Iowa class battleships, for example, used a pair of Mk38 directors.
As built, all three turrets on the Iowa class had 25 power, 46 foot (14 m) rangefinders, with Stereoscopic Mark 52 used in Turrets II and III and Coincidence Mark 53 in Turret I. The Mark 52 weighs 10,500 lbs. (4,763 kg) and cost about $100,000 US during World War II. Near focus for the Mark 52 is 5,000 yards (4,570 m) and the maximum range is 45,000 yards (41,150 m). Mark 53 was a coincidence type with a special astigmatic lens which allowed it to range in on a single point source, such as a searchlight.[1]

While lacking a reference for an exact armor description and thickness for the Mk38 battleship fire control director, US Naval Weapons notes:
The principle of protection for fire control may be noted;  the main battery fire controls, and particularly the main battery rangefinders, were all under armor, consistent with the armored protection of the main battery itself.[3]

This suggests that the rangefinder shared the turret’s armor of 9-19 inches.
Mk38 Director

Even the secondary directors were armored.  The Iowa class 5” secondary mounts were controlled by 4x Mk37 secondary fire control directors.
The Director was enclosed in a Shield made of 3/4 inch thick armor plate that rested on a Carriage at the bottom of the Director. The Carriage turned on roller bearings in the Roller Path on the Base Ring. The Base Ring was attached at the top of a 9 foot 4 1/2 inch diameter, 14 foot 3 inch high cylindrical Barbette of 3/4" thick specially treated steel armor plate. The mating surface of the Barbette was machined in place, after installation on the ship, to be parallel to the Turret and Mount roller paths to minimize alignment differences between the rotation axes that could affect aiming accuracy. A 22 inch diameter internal cable tube hung from the bottom of the Carriage to carry cables to the ship below. Beneath this was another 22 inch dimeter cable tube fixed to the O5 Level deck. Below this was a 31 1/2 inch diameter Director Tube of 3/4 inch thick steel that descended to the Third Deck to carry the cables down to Gun Plot.[2]

Mk37 Director

We see from this description that rotating, armored sensors were a common item on ships.
When radars were added to the directors, the radars were, of course, not armored.  Their locations, high atop the superstructures did provide a measure of protection from shrapnel but the exposed radars were susceptible to damage.  This vulnerability was mitigated by duplication;  multiple directors greatly increased the odds on director survivability.
On a more modern note, the Swedish Visby class corvette incorporates a retractable navigation radar.  Visby’s superstructure is not armored but there is no reason why it could not be and then the radar would be protected within the ship’s structure until needed.
Another example of hidden, protected sensors is the San Antonio (LPD-17) class which has its sensors enclosed in a composite mast.  The mast enclosure is not armored but does prove that sensors can be enclosed given a suitably emission-transparent surrounding material.
Ship Weapons
While not sensors, modern weapons have been armored or hidden from exposure without compromising their performance.  For example, the defunct Advanced Gun System (AGS) on the Zumwalt had its gun barrel hidden inside a stealth housing from which it would elevate when in use.  Similarly, several warship designs have placed missile rack launchers behind and below elevated ship sides (in a “pit”, essentially) which could easily be armored.
Ambassador MkIII - note missile launch 
racks in 'pit' amidships

It is clear from history that sensors have commonly been protected and armored by various means without impeding the sensor’s function.  That’s just common sense.  Firepower without sensors is nearly useless so it makes sense to protect and armor the sensors, if at all possible.  It is only in recent decades that we’ve stupidly abandoned armor and protection for our weapon sensors.
It is clear that there is no reason why sensors can’t be housed inside armored enclosures, one way or another.  Let’s consider our current sensors. 
The common US Navy sensor is the flat panel radar array.  There is no reason why panels can’t be equipped with armored shutters that can slide into place when the sensor is not in use. 
The America class LHA uses SPS-48/49 radars but they serve no real purpose since the LHAs will always be accompanied by Burke class escorts with their Aegis SPY panel radars.  A smaller TRS-3D/4D would be perfectly appropriate for the LHAs and could easily be mounted inside rotating and/or retractable armored enclosures.
Ship mounted Infrared and optical (IR/EO) sensors are small and readily lend themselves to tank-like armored enclosures with small, shuttered openings for their field of view.  The sensors can be either fixed and mounted at multiple points around the ship to provide hemispherical coverage or mounted inside rotating armored cylinders for complete coverage.  Retractable mounts would be equally effective.
So, with a combination of armored covers, retractable sensors, rotating armored enclosures, and tank-like enclosures we could easily armor our sensors, preventing cheap mission kills from simple shrapnel.  This would be a major step towards keeping our ships fighting while taking hits – a presumed goal of every WARship design.
[3]Norman Friedman, US Naval Weapons, Naval Institute Press, 1985, ISBN 0-87021-735-6, p.36

Monday, October 23, 2023

Passive Hemispherical Sensing

ComNavOps has long called for greatly enhanced emphasis on passive detection, tracking, and fire control for ships.  The benefits of passive sensing are blindingly obvious (the enemy can’t detect you from your emissions because there aren’t any and homing weapons have nothing to home on), however, there are equally obvious drawbacks to the system such as weather effects and difficulty automating the real time image analysis.
Radar provides 360 degree hemispherical sensing so, to be useful, a passive sensing system should be capable of the same.  For passive sensors, this would, currently, consist of several sensors distributed around the ship to provide complete coverage (and, one would hope, redundancy in the event of battle damage!).
The need for a hemispherical passive sensing system has been obvious for a couple of decades, at least.  The F-14 Tomcat, among other aircraft, had long range passive sensors so it’s not as if the need and the technology haven’t existed for many, many years.  Despite this, the Navy has made no real effort to develop full passive systems.
Finally, however, it now appears that the Navy has opted to move forward with a hemispherical EO/IR system, the L3 SPEIR/SPATIAL system.
From a Navy contract award announcement,
L3 Technologies Inc., Systems Company, Camden, New Jersey, is awarded a $205,899,580 cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-reimbursement, firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee, and fixed-price incentive (firm target) contract for engineering, manufacturing, and development; engineering support labor; low rate initial production systems, and spares for the Shipboard Panoramic Electro-Optic/Infrared (SPEIR) program.

A Naval News website offers a brief description of the SPATIAL system which meets the SPEIR system requirements:
Above decks, the SPATIAL system has been designed around two separate camera systems and associated mountings. The ‘staring’ WFOV [Wide Field of View] system uses three mid-wave infrared cameras and three colour visible cameras mounted on a single three-axis stabilised [sic] pedestal. Each ship fit will comprise a minimum of two WFOV pedestals, the exact number being dependent on the vessel size and ship fitting constraints.
The NFOV [Narrow Field of View] camera system, which will slew to cues, has three different payloads – a mid-wave imager, a colour visible camera and a laser rangefinder. Again, there will be a number of NFOV systems on each ship.[1]

WFOV on the left and NFOV on the right

It is unknown to what degree the passive system will be integrated into the ship’s combat suite software, if at all.  For example, EO/IR detectors have been fairly standard equipment on Navy ships for some time but have been limited to isolated, limited tasks (for example, optical fire control for a single gun) rather than main ship’s sensing responsibilities.  Hopefully, this signals the attempt to establish complete hemispherical passive sensing capability.
In addition to the previously mentioned, obvious benefits, there are others:
Cost.  Passive sensors are hugely cheaper than radar systems.
Complexity.  Passive sensors are infinitely simpler than radar systems which makes them easier to maintain and repair/replace in the event of battle damage.
Weight/Volume.  Passive systems are far smaller and lighter than radar systems which helps with ship’s topweight, stability, internal volume, and so forth.
Power.  Being passive, very little power is required relative to radars which have enormous electrical requirements to power their emissions.
Stealth.  Passive systems are unaffected by radar stealth with consistent reports that optical systems can detect stealth aircraft at great distances.
Range.  Radars, depending on type and power can provide detection from several miles out to a hundred miles or more, depending on target size and type.  It is unknown what effective range a passive sensor can reliably achieve.  As one interesting data point, F-14 Tomcat electro-optical camera systems were claimed to be able to detect bomber size aircraft out to 70-100 miles.
Automation.  Radars offer largely automated detection of targets which is a great benefit to the operator. In contrast, a small boat or drone appearing and disappearing in waves is a very difficult target to detect by eye and even harder to detect via real time, automated image analysis.  Without reliable automated detection, passive systems will be reliant on operator alertness and, therefore, much less reliable.  This is a software development effort whose status is unknown.  Manufacturer claims are, as always, unreliable and nearly worthless.
Protection.  Current passive systems on ships are mounted in the open, unprotected from even simple shrapnel.  If passive sensors are to be utilized in combat, they must be armored and highly redundant.
Integration.  Ship combat systems integrate sensors and weapons.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no comprehensive, passive sensor based, ship combat system.  One would need to be developed and, as we have repeatedly seen, large, complex software development efforts are problematic in the extreme.
The potential benefits of a passive, main sensing system are enormous, however, the drawbacks and challenges are equally enormous.  Still, given the role of stealth and the difficulty in countering radar stealth makes the effort to develop a full passive system well worth the effort.

[1]Naval News website, “SPEIR To Improve Passive Situational Awareness And Ship Self-Defense”, Richard Scott, 11-Jan-2023,

Friday, October 20, 2023

Ripped from the Headlines

I just read a single headline that blindingly exposed the idiocy of the US (and the West, in general) military’s fascination and obsession with information, networks, and artificial intelligence as the basis for future warfighting capability.  From a Newsmax article, this headline perfectly sums up the situation [1],
Hamas Attack Shows Limits of AI, Tech for Global Security
Despite the cumulative monitoring by the entire Western world and, specifically, the intensely focused monitoring by Israel, Hamas managed to utterly surprise Israel with a massive attack that included parasails, thousands of rockets, hundreds of vehicles, boats, etc.  Despite one of the world’s most extensive and sophisticated sensor systems of radar, optics, ground vibration sensors, observation towers, and human intelligence backed by the West’s satellite and signals intelligence, the Israelis and the West completely missed the preparations involved in a massive assault by Hamas.  All of that high tech, state of the art (state of the universe?) surveillance focused on one tiny strip of land and we completely missed the months/years long assault preparations
    and the US wants to base its entire future military capability on that demonstrably ineffective technology. 
Despite all evidence to the contrary, the US military has placed its bet for future warfare on the pursuit of perfect situational awareness.  Armor has been ignored.  Firepower has been relegated to an afterthought.  Logistics is a distant tertiary concern, if even that.  Our entire concept of future warfare is based on perfect sensing:  large, all-encompassing, regional sensor networks that see everything.  Of course, no one has yet explained how, even if this could be achieved, that would destroy the enemy.  Destruction requires overwhelming amounts of firepower and we have no interest in firepower.  But, I digress.
So, despite the fact that some of the most concentrated and intense surveillance and data collection the world has ever seen was focused on a tiny strip of land and failed, utterly, we’re betting we can flawlessly monitor all of China, the entire East/South China Seas, and all of the surrounding areas, thereby assuring our victory over a hapless and helpless China?  That’s some world class fantasy, there.
Just to remind ourselves that the Hamas assault was not some sort of one-off, fluke occurrence, let’s examine some other well known, real world examples of the failure of perfect situational awareness.
Afghanistan Drone Strike – During the US’ Afghanistan evacuation, the US executed a drone strike on terrorist leaders in a vehicle based on perfect observations from a UAV.  The only problem was that the target was actually an innocent family.
USS Mason – Despite their own Aegis radar system, scores of regional surveillance assets, nearby ship sensors, overhead satellites, and extensive signals intelligence, the USS Mason falsely detected three separate missile attacks and launched defensive missiles.
Malaysia Flight 370 – A Malaysian Boeing 777 vanished from one of the world’s most heavily travelled and monitored regions despite multiple radars, IFF, an established flight plan, regular communications, and satellite surveillance.
Vincennes – Despite their own Aegis radar system, scores of regional surveillance assets, nearby ship sensors, overhead satellites, and extensive signals intelligence, the USS Vincennes mistakenly shot down a commercial airliner.
Riverine Boat Seizure – Despite GPS navigation, regional fleet surveillance assets, and unhindered communications, two riverine boats obliviously got lost and wandered into Iranian territorial waters where they were promptly seized.
Port Royal Grounding – Despite GPS navigation, regional fleet surveillance assets, established charts, automated navigation software, and visible landmarks, the USS Port Royal got lost and grounded.
McCain and Fitzgerald Collisions – Despite Aegis radar, navigation radars, EO/IR sensors, regional surveillance assets, and IFF systems on both the Navy and commercial ships, the destroyers managed to run into giant, hulking commercial ships in known, well defined, shipping lanes. 
Helo Shootdown – In 1994, two F-15C aircraft misidentified and shot down two US Blackhawk helicopters enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq.  This occurred despite the sophisticated radars and sensors on the F-15s as well as concentrations of regional sensors aimed at the no-fly zone. 
I can continue with example after example but these should suffice to make the point.  In each case, there was overwhelming surveillance technology and situational awareness assets and yet they failed spectacularly.
Making the failures worse is that none occurred in the face of cyber or electronic opposition as would be the case in a war.  Whatever degree of surveillance success we enjoy now (none?) will be greatly reduced in a real war when the enemy applies cyber, electronic, and kinetic attacks against our surveillance and network systems.
The only possible conclusion is that surveillance technology is highly unreliable and ineffective.
On a closely related note, we’ve talked at length about the dependency and vulnerability that inevitably develops when technology replaces human skill.  Discussing the Hamas assault, a senior Israeli reserve officer clearly pointed out the problem with technology and dependency:
“We were living in an imaginary reality for years,” …“We became over-reliant on the sophisticated underground barrier, on technology.[2]

That’s exactly what happens when technology replaces human skill – we become blind, unaware, and dependent and, like any addict, we lose the ability to function and reason.
Of all the things we could possibly base our future military capability on, information, data collection, and networks is the least effective or desirable. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I Believe

I believe!  Say it with me, brothers.  I believe!
I believe that simulators provide all the training I need and that chaos, shrapnel, smoke, power outages, and noise are just stories told to frighten the untrained.  Say it, brothers.  I believe!
I believe that GPS will be with me always, to comfort and guide me.  Say it, brothers.  I believe!
I believe that air superiority is my birthright.  Let the Air Force bear witness.  Say it, brothers.  I believe!
I believe that minefields can be cleared through the Power of Point and True Belief.  Wish with me, that we may pass untouched!  Say it, brothers.  I believe!
I believe that although I jam the heathen’s electronic systems, their jamming shall pass me by.  Say it, brothers.  I believe!
I believe that manufacturer’s claims are true and right.  So sayeth Lockheed.  So sayeth Raytheon.  So say we all.  Say it, brothers.  I believe!
I believe that stoutness of heart will armor my ship.  The purity of Aluminum will transcend damage.  Steel is the Devil’s Material.  Say it, brothers.  I believe!
I believe that the Accountants of Optimal Manning will be my strength and my Damage Control.  Praise be the Minimal Crew.  Say it, brothers.  I believe!
I believe that “F” is the Holy Letter and “35” is its Number.  Long has my faith been tested as I have awaited its coming and though it be longer still till I shall see it serve, I remain steadfast in my belief.  Say it, brothers.  I believe!
Finally, and most importantly, I believe that, though all else be lost, I will still build new ships as shrines to the Gods of Acquisition.  Let me not blaspheme by walking the false paths of Upgrade or Maintenance.  Keep me true to the Way of the New Build.  Say it, brothers.  Say it with faith and fervor.  I believe!  I belieeeeve!
OK, fine, I’m mocking the culture of blind faith that all too often substitutes for objective and analytical thinking in the Navy.  Blind faith is only way to explain so many of our obvious shortcomings and capability gaps.  As you ponder various Navy matters, continually ask yourself if they are grounded in logic and reality or, instead, blind faith.

Note:  This is a re-post from July 2014.  There are a lot of new readers since then and, although it's the responsibility - and privilege! - of new readers to be familiar with the archives, I know that some are not.  This post was just too good not to share it with newer readers.  Amazingly, and disappointingly, the post is still completely relevant today.  I guess that shows how little progress the Navy has made over the intervening nine years.

I'm considering making re-posts (possibly slightly updated?) of old posts a regular occurrence.  What do you think?

Monday, October 16, 2023

Bykov Corvette and Warship Design

We’ve extensively discussed the flawed designs of modern ships as regards firepower and survivability.  Here’s a bit of data from actual combat involving the Russian Bykov (Project 22160) class corvette which, on paper, was nearly the dream design of a modern small ship:  small, fast, cruise missile armed, helo equipped, unmanned capabilities, complementary diesels and gas turbines, and flexible modular capabilities to accommodate any imaginable mission.  Truly, the epitome of modern naval design.  The reality of combat, however, revealed the flaws in the design sufficient to curtail further production of the class.  From a Google-translated TASS article,
"The series of patrol ships of project 22160 will not be continued and will end with the delivery of the last corvette of the series to the Black Sea Fleet next year," the agency's interlocutor said, noting that the customer intends to abandon an additional six units of project 22160 due to the discrepancy between their tactical and technical qualities and combat operating conditions.
He explained that military sailors are not quite satisfied with the characteristics and equipment of corvettes tested in the course of their combat use - insufficient seaworthiness, light armor and vulnerability of power plants, as well as weak anti-aircraft weapons.[1][emphasis added]

Bykov Class Corvette - the epitome of modern design
and a failure in combat

This illustrates ComNavOps’ claim that modern ship designs do not incorporate the reality of combat.  We (meaning the US and the world) are designing to a hypothetical standard that is focused on business cases, extended cruise comforts, and peacetime tasks instead of actual naval combat.  We’ve abandoned firepower, lethality, and survivability.
This also illustrates the phenomenon of follow-the-leader in warship design.  One of the common counter arguments to many of ComNavOps’ tenets about warship design is to point out that every other country is doing it (whatever it is that’s under discussion), therefore, it must be right.  The reality is that follow-the-leader doesn’t ensure correctness, it only ensures uniformity of thought.  Everyone wanted battleships immediately prior to WWII but everyone was wrong, as the rise of carriers demonstrated.  Everyone now wants lightly built ships with extensive crew comforts, minimal manning, and maximum flexibility.  As the Russians are now finding out, everyone is wrong about modern WARship design.  We’ve already seen that modern warships are not built to fight and survive (see, “SingleHits”).
Follow-the-leader is not the right way to design a warship.  What’s needed is a solid understanding of the realities of naval combat leading to an effective Concept of Operations (CONOPS).  We need to stop playing follow-the-leader about unmanned assets, lightweight naval guns, minimal manning, no armor, modularity, etc.  These are incorrect, dead end failures in the evolution of WARship design.
We mastered the principles of WARship design in WWII and we need to return to them.  For the stupid among you, I’m not calling for a return to actual WWII equipment (though in many cases that might be superior to what we have now!).  I’m calling for a return to the principles of WARship design that we mastered in WWII.  The principles are timeless and proven successful.  We foolishly abandoned those principles and now desperately need to return to them.
The Bykov failed in combat and yet it represented the epitome of modern naval design.  Does anyone think the Burke or Constellation will fare better?
[1]TASS website, “The Russian Navy will refuse an additional series of six patrol ships of project 22160”, 14-Jun-2022,

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Characteristics of an Effective Military

A recent reader (‘Lutefisk’) comment inspired this post.  My thanks!
If I were building my own military, what organizational characteristics would I pursue and how would I prioritize them?  Here they are, in order:
  1. Motivation
  2. Combat Mentality
  3. Firepower
  4. Training
  5. Logistics
  6. Simplicity
  7. Industrial Support
  8. Technology
  9. Command and Control
Note where technology falls on the list.  Technology just isn’t that important and certainly doesn’t guarantee that one will win a war.  Consider the overwhelming technological advantage the US enjoyed in Vietnam and Afghanistan and look how those turned out.
Now, for the eye-opening part of the post, here’s the same list of characteristics in order of their priority as practiced by our military:
  1. Technology
  2. Command and Control
  3. Training
  4. Logistics
  5. Industrial Support
  6. Firepower
  7. Simplicity
  8. Motivation
  9. Combat Mentality
Note that technology is the military’s top priority despite the fact that technology does not win wars.  To be honest, most of the characteristics on this list aren’t even on the military’s real list of priorities.  Here’s a list of the US military’s actual priorities:
  1. Budget Size
  2. Technology
  3. Command and Control
  4. Diversity
  5. Environment (Climate Change)
  6. Politics
  7. Training
  8. Logistics
The mental aspects such as combat mentality aren’t even a consideration in today’s military and, in fact, are frowned on and discouraged by our military.  

Also, note the complete absence of firepower from the list.  The modern military just doesn't care about firepower, treating it as an afterthought, at best.  This is baffling.

Finally, note the conspicuous lack of simplicity as a characteristic.  To the contrary, the military emphasizes complexity which is why so many of our weapon systems fail.  In combat, simplicity rules and complexity (weapons, planning, whatever) invariably fails and yet this is what we're pursuing.  Yes, we're pursuing failure!

Examining the military's actual list of priorities reveals exactly why our military is hollow and failing.  It's not a mystery.  We're prioritizing the wrong characteristics.

Now you know how I’d build my military.  How would you build yours?  What’s your ordered list of priorities?

Monday, October 9, 2023

Constellation Land Based Engineering Test Facility

The Constellation frigate program is building a land based engineering test facility in Philadephia which will duplicate the ship’s power plant.  What a great idea!  The Navy deserves credit for this after the Freedom variant powertrain combining gear debacle, right?.  However, we can’t give the Navy any credit because they didn’t want the test facility.  It was mandated by Congress in the 2021 defense budget.[1, 3]
Well, regardless of who the credit goes to, it’s still a great idea.  The program can put the ship’s power plant through its paces and work out any problems before the ship is built.  Only … in true Navy fashion, the test facility will not be ready before the first ship is delivered and subsequent ships have been started.
The site should be ready around the time the first frigate is delivered and will continue to operate until the ship is ready for deployment.[1]

Uh … isn’t this backwards?  Shouldn’t the test facility be up and running long before the ship construction begins?
… the LBTS [land based test site] focuses on hardware, as a laboratory of different configurations to settle on a final propulsion system.[2]

Again, shouldn’t that testing to determine a final propulsion system be completed before the ship construction begins, not after the ship is delivered – at which point it is too late to matter?
Well, what’s the big deal?  The Constellation is, basically, the existing FREMM frigate so the propulsion system is already well proven.  Honestly, the land facility is a Congressionally mandated formality that isn’t really needed for an existing, proven propulsion system, right?
Unfortunately, the Navy did a bit of fraud bait and switch.  The Constellation is based only loosely and to a minor extent on the existing FREMM.
The propulsion system for the Constellation is a new configuration for the U.S. Navy, with a combined diesel-electric and gas turbine system. The CODLAG propulsion system takes a General Electric LM-2500+G4 and combines it with two MTU diesel engines to power the ship via an electric drive system.[2]

This is not what Congress intended.
In accordance with the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, the Navy must finish the LBES site for the frigate before the lead ship in the class delivers in 2026. The site must include shipboard equipment for systems ranging from the main reduction gear and the main propulsion system, to the power control modules.[2]

Cognizant of the LCS debacle, Congress intended for the land site to be up and running before the ship was built, not after.  Congress wanted to eliminate the problems before the ship was built.
[1]Breaking Defense, “Navy Says Constellation Hull Change Won’t Affect Internal Design”, Justin Katz, 4-Aug-2021,
[2]USNI News website, “Frigate Land-Based Engineering Site Taking Shape in the Philadelphia Navy Yard”, Mallory Shelbourne, 20-Jun-2023,
[3]From Congressional Research Service, “Navy Constellation (FFG-62) Class Frigate
Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, 27-Mar-2023, p.8 : 
Section 125 of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 6395/P.L. 116-283 of
January 1, 2021) requires the Navy to commence, prior to the delivery of the first FFG-62, a landbased test program for the FFG-62 engineering plant (i.e., its propulsion system and related machinery). The provision specifies how the test program is to be conducted and requires the Navy to complete the test program not later than the date on which the first FFG-62 is scheduled to be available for tasking by operational military commanders.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Contractor-Led Maintenance

Some things just burn my behind because of their sheer stupidity.  Once such example is the LCS, specifically, the entire concept of shore-based, contractor supplied maintenance.  That was stupid on a plate with a side helping of idiotic fantasy spread with a delicious icing of combat impracticality.  From day one, in the entire universe, only the Navy didn’t instantly recognize that maintenance model as a failure waiting to happen.  Only someone as stupid as a Navy admiral could fail to see the flaws in that maintenance model.
Now, from a USNI News website article,
Industry experiments with direct contractors have been met with mixed success. In particular, the Navy is moving away from the contractor-led maintenance model that prevents sailors from servicing equipment on ships. In particular, Lockheed Martin’s Freedom-class littoral combat ship design relied on contractor maintenance.[1]

So, having thrown away a generation of naval ship development, an entire class of ship, and flushed billions of dollars down the drain, the Navy is finally recognizing that contractor-led maintenance might not be the best approach?  Well, welcome, Navy.  Welcome to what the rest of the universe has known for decades.  In fact, we’re throwing a massive ‘told you so’ party in your honor.
How many admirals does it take to screw in a light bulb?  No one knows because they’ve never yet done it successfully.
[1]USNI News website, “Lockheed CEO Pitches Pentagon on Subscription Software”, John Grady, 4-Oct-2023,

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Book Review – Electronic Greyhounds

The Spruance class destroyer (DD-963) was, arguably, the best ASW vessel ever produced but it had another, more impactful claim to fame.  It was the first ship designed by industry instead of the Navy/BuShips.  This practice of abdicating design capability and responsibility to industry has plagued become the standard Navy practice ever since.
The Spruance construction contract was awarded in 1970, prior to the advent of the digital age and widespread Internet use.  Thus, documentation on the class is sparse and limited largely to brief, repetitive entries in a handful of books.  This changed, however, in 1995 when Capt. Michael C. Potter, USNR, authored Electronic Greyhounds, the definitive book on the Spruance class design, construction, capabilities, and operations.[1]

The hardcover (roughly 8.5" x 11") book is a 270 page masterpiece of documentation with hundreds of references and citations from all manner of sources.  In fact, the note citation sources are nearly as fascinating and informative as the chapters themselves!
The book’s content can be best summarized by the chapter headings:
1.   Destroyers during the Cold War, 1948-1962
2.   Destroyers on Trial:  McNamara, Rickover, and Vietnam
3.   The Navy Adopts Total Package Procurement
4.   The DX/DXG Project
5.   The DD963 Design Competition
6.   Design Selection and Completion
7.   Construction and Controversy
8.   Fleet Introduction, Engineering, and Supply
9.   Gunnery, Electronics, and Antimissile Weapons
10. Strike Weapons
11. Antisubmarine Warfare
12. The Kidd (DDG993) Class
13. The Shield of the Fleet:  The Aegis Cruisers
14. Operations
Even the Appendices are fascinating:
Appendix A. Documents on the Origin of DX/DXG
Appendix B. A Tour of a Spruance-Class Destroyer
Appendix C. Name Histories
Appendix D. Specifications
Dozens of photographs and drawings support each chapter and illustrate key points.  The ship’s internal layout schematic is particularly interesting as is the profile photo with every electronic sensor/comm device labeled.  Understand, though, that this is not a coffee table ‘picture book’ by any means.
If there’s something you want to know about the Spruance class and it’s not in this book, it’s probably classified.  That said, be aware that this is not a lively, entertaining, near-fictional storytelling.  It is a deep-dive, scholarly tome with an emphasis on documented facts.  As such, it is not for the casual reader looking for adventure stories about ships although the chapter on ‘Operations’ is fascinating.  This book is a comprehensive reference for the reader looking for facts and details about the Spruance class and, as such, is very highly recommended.
Author:  Among Capt. Potter’s impressive and varied naval assignments, he served on a Spruance destroyer and as a defense contracting officer.  He also worked in industry as a systems analyst and project manager.  His background makes an ideal basis for researching and writing the history of the Spruance class.
Disclaimer:  I had a brief correspondence with the author suggesting that he write a similar book about the LCS.  Beyond that, I have no connection with the author, the book, or the publisher.
[1]Capt. Michael C. Potter, USNR, Electronic Greyhounds, The Spruance-Class Destroyers, Naval Institute Press, 1995, ISBN 1-55750-682-5

Monday, October 2, 2023

The Heartbreak of Software

It has become painfully clear in recent decades that, more and more, the major stumbling block in weapon acquisition programs is software, rather than hardware. 
The F-35, for example, has failed on the software side of things rather than the hardware.  The all-encompassing, mission planning, parts inventory controlling, maintenance regulating, aircraft health assessing ALIS software has been a colossal, and to date, unrecoverable, failure.  Further, the F-35 was planned to be fully combat capable only with the advent of the Block 4 software upgrade which is now hopelessly behind schedule and has had many of its planned features deleted or deferred to some undetermined future time.
The F-35 program, now 4 years into its Block 4 modernization efforts, continues to experience cost increases and schedule expansion. Costs continued to rise during 2021 due to crucial hardware development and testing upgrades, among other things. In 2021, the program office added 3 years to its Block 4 schedule and now expects to extend Block 4 development and delivery into fiscal year 2029 …[2]
As of 2021, the program office now plans to complete Block 4 capability deliveries 3 years later than the original schedule due to software quality issues, funding challenges, and the addition of new capabilities, among others.[2]

If/when it ever happens, Block 4 will introduce over 75 major upgrades into the fighter.
So, the Block 4 upgrades enabled by TR-3 are quite imposing, increasing the range and diversity of weapons that can be carried, plus the sensitivity of sensors used to detect, track and engage targets. Most of the new weapons, 17 in all, are “kinetic” weapons such as missiles, but they also include non-kinetic systems that use clever software and waveforms to jam or confuse enemy warfighting systems.
Block 4 also enhances networking capability with other tactical systems to enable what the military calls integrated, long-range “kill webs.”[1]

However, before these changes can be implemented, the fighter’s core processor and memory unit must be improved. This is accomplished via an upgrade called Technology Refresh 3, or TR-3. The fighter’s previous computing system, TR-2, is not adequate to support the capability upgrades included in Block 4.
TR-3 is being installed in all new production aircraft including the Lot 15 aircraft being delivered today, and will be retrofitted onto fighters already in the fleet back to Lot 10.[1]

This would seem to imply that all aircraft delivered prior to Lot 10 will become ‘orphans’ and relegated to non-combat duties.  Thus, we see that software issues, not hardware, are going to relegate hundreds of aircraft to non-combat status.
Software issues not only impose schedule or ‘orphan’ penalties but actual cost penalties, as well.
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office noted that the cost of Block 4 upgrades to the F-35 fleet had risen to an estimated $15 billion across over a dozen years.[1]

That’s staggering and that’s just a minor software upgrade cost;  just one block of a planned four.
Much of the software delays and problems associated with weapon system acquisitions are self-inflicted in the sense that we create needlessly complex requirements.  For example, the entire faddish trend of wanting to be able to control any weapon from any platform is idiotic in the extreme.  In what real world scenario would this capability be required?  The answer is … none.  This is just the pursuit of technology for its own sake.  If there was no penalty for this it would be fine;  useless but harmless.  However, the reality is that every line of code that is added to a program takes time, costs money, increases the likelihood of unintentional interferences with other bits of code, and requires time to test and debug.  When we’re already struggling – and failing – to produce useable combat aircraft in less than two decades, needlessly complex software is the last thing we should be pursuing.


[1]Forbes website, “Inside Block 4—The Mostly Secret Plan For Making The F-35 Fighter Even More Lethal”, Loren Thompson, 14-Nov-2022,
[2]Government Accountability Office, “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Cost Growth and Schedule Delays
Continue”, Apr 2022, GAO-22-105128