Friday, December 29, 2023

Again and Again

The current Israeli-Hamas conflict has perfectly illustrated one of ComNavOps’ themes:  a war with less than total victory is a war that will be repeated.  I covered this in detail in a previous post, “Ending War – True Victory”.  Read it.
For decades, Israel attempted to wage constrained, proportional, partial wars with Hamas and, as a result, kept having to refight the war, over and over, with the ultimate result that we see today.  Worse, each clash with Hamas, though technically victories for Israel, taught Hamas valuable lessons and allowed Hamas to come back stronger, wiser, more determined, and more experienced.  In other words, Israel kept strengthening their enemy through repeated conflicts that left their enemy intact and with lessons learned. 
Had Israel reacted initially, the way they are now, none of the subsequent endless conflict and deaths would have occurred.
The lesson is simple and obvious:  if you fight a war, fight it to win, totally and completely, so that you don’t have to fight it again.
It will be interesting to see whether Israel has finally learned the lesson and truly finishes this conflict or stops with some sort of partial victory (as the US did in Desert Storm) thereby guaranteeing that the war will be fought again and yet more people will die.
Also, if Israel doesn’t finish off Hezbollah when they’re done with Hamas, they’ll have to face yet another war in the future after more years of conflict and deaths.  Again, this is not a judgment on the politics of the situation, just a recognition of the military realities.
This conflict and the lesson from it should serve to influence and guide US geopolitical and military strategies. 
Note:  This is, emphatically, not a pronouncement about the politics of the situation.  It is purely about the military aspect of total versus partial victories and what the negative implication of partial victory is.  I will not tolerate any political comments, whatsoever.  We’re not going to debate who’s right or wrong.  Fair warning.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Russian SAM Systems

Ukrainian aircraft appear to have attacked and sunk a Russian Ropucha class landing ship docked at the Crimean port of Feodosia.[1]  The strike weapon was speculated to be either a Storm Shadow or SCALP-EG cruise missile.[1]  The incident seems to be confirmed by Russia.
It should be noted that the ship was docked and was, apparently, functioning as a warehouse for Iranian supplied Shahed drones.[1]  Thus, the ship was not operating as a warship at sea.  Of course, a landing ship is not a warship, to begin with, and the Ropucha class has no viable and effective anti-air sensors or defenses.  The attack was tantamount to striking a fixed, land based building.  Thus, this is not telling us something about naval warfare despite what many observers will attempt to say.
The noteworthy part of this incident is the fact that the Ukrainian aircraft appear to have flown some 170-250 miles through Russian controlled air and ground space, depending on where they took off from and what route they flew.  This brings into question the effectiveness of Russian anti-air SAM systems especially since Ukraine is not flying modern, stealth aircraft.
Prior to the Russian invasion, most observers seemed to credit Russian SAM systems with near miraculous capabilities bordering on invincibility.  Reality seems to have revealed that, like all previous Russian SAM systems, the current systems are vastly overrated.  To be fair, it is unknown what SAM systems are in place … if any.
Regardless, there are only two possibilities:
1. Russia had no SAM systems operating between Feodosia and Ukraine which would reveal operational stupidity of an almost unimaginable level, or,
2. Russian SAM systems are vastly overrated, as we said.
The incident also raises, yet again, the issue of port defenses.  Russian has had several ships hit while docked.  It is, again, unimaginable that ports in a war zone would not be heavily and effectively defended.  The degree of ineptitude and unpreparedness of the Russian military is staggering.
For the US, the issue of port/base defense is the key takeaway from this.  We don’t even pretend to make any serious attempt at port/base defense (looking at you Guam).  We haven’t had to fight to defend a port/base since … I don’t know when … maybe Guadalcanal?  Remember, base defense includes not only SAM systems but hardening, dispersal, decoys (both electronic and visible), layered sensors, redundancy, and repair capabilities.
Guam has addressed only ballistic missile defense and then, only to a small degree.  To the best of anyone’s knowledge, there is no layered cruise missile or anti-submarine defense or any of the other items we just listed.  Hardening?  What’s that?
The US military is drawing lots of incorrect, invalid conclusions from the Ukraine-Russia conflict and ignoring the few potentially valid ones.  We need to start thinking and acting as if we’re at war with China … because we are.  We’re being graced with a non-kinetic phase of the war that we should be using for serious preparations but we’re wasting it.  When the shooting starts, we’ll quickly realize what we should have been doing all this time.
[1]Redstate website, “Massive Fireball Marks the End of A Russian Ship After Ukrainian Missile Attack”, streiff, 26-Dec-2023,

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you and yours.  May God bless you, protect you, and guide you this coming year. 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Do You Believe the Navy?

The Navy claims to have successfully completed a 30-day test of a diesel generator in connection with the large unmanned surface vessel (LUSV) program. 
The generator test was mandated by a congressional requirement inserted in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, directing the Navy to achieve the 720-hour test milestone before the Large USV could proceed into formal development. The congressionally directed testing included 100 hours of pre-testing before the 720-hour demonstration phase commenced. During the demonstration phase, no human intervention and no preventative or corrective maintenance on the equipment was allowed.[1]

Note that it was Congress that mandated the testing not the Navy.  Well done, Congress.
The question is, do you believe the Navy?  Given the nearly endless list of deceptions and outright lies we’ve documented on this blog, do you believe the Navy?
I don’t.

[1]Naval News website, “U.S. Navy Completes Large USV Testing Milestone”, Staff, 21-Dec-2023,

Monday, December 18, 2023

False Lessons and Fighting the Last War

Despite my constant warnings against - and cautions about - drawing conclusions from the Ukraine-Russia war, governments and militaries around the world – the US prominent among them – are leaping to conclusions without considering the context of those conclusions.  The context, of course, is that this is an incredibly unique war that is unlikely to resemble any future conflict, most especially the one we care most about which is war with China.
Consider the lessons/conclusions that are being cited.  I’m not going to bother citing references as this is an assembly of many articles, statements, and reports from many sources.  What follows are commonly claimed conclusions and lessons.
Asymmetric warfare can beat a conventional military.
Asymmetric warfare can most certainly beat a conventional military if that military opts to be stupid.  The US fell victim to exactly that in Vietnam by restricting attacks on critical military targets, allowing North Vietnam safe havens, allowing free and unhindered resupply from the Soviet Union, etc.  Failing to learn any lessons, we repeated many of those same mistakes in Afghanistan with the same result.  However, if a conventional military fights smart (or merely competently), asymmetric tactics will be nothing more than a minor annoyance.  Conventional militaries can cut off supplies, out-mass, and overwhelm any asymmetric force with relatively little effort. 
Surface drones have rendered conventional naval operations and ships obsolete.
This is flatly false.  We just did a post on the extremely limited effectiveness of Ukraine surface drones against the Russian navy (see, “Ukraine-RussiaNaval War”) and yet so many observers have proclaimed the era of conventional navies to be finished due to drones.

Aerial drones have rendered conventional tanks, artillery, and troops merely targets waiting to be destroyed.
While aerial drones certainly appear to have been instrumental in targeting for artillery and have, to some degree, been able to directly destroy vehicles and infantry, it is erroneous in the extreme to draw any conclusions from this.  The utter lack of tactics, joint support, and operational expertise being displayed in the employment of vehicles and infantry accounts for the success of drones rather than any inherent effectiveness or lethality of the drones themselves. 
Add to this the apparent total lack of any mobile anti-air defenses tailored to anti-UAV combat and the explanation for drone success is clear;  it’s ineptitude.
The era of the tank is over.
There has been a rush to pronounce the demise of the tank when, in reality, there’s nothing wrong with tanks.  There is, however, everything wrong with how both sides are using their tanks.  The level of operational and tactical stupidity on both sides is stunning.  Tanks are being expended in individual, slow moving operations with no coordinated, joint support.  The proper use of tanks is in fast moving, massed operations overwhelmingly supported by infantry, aviation, and artillery.  The entire world learned how to do this in WWII but now seem to have forgotten every lesson learned.

Anti-air defenses have totally negated aircraft operations.
Once again, it is the complete lack of coordinated air/ground operations that have rendered aircraft only marginally useful.  Aircraft need support from electronic warfare (EW) aircraft, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) aircraft, AEW (Airborne Early Warning and battle control) aircraft, and ground forces in order to be survivable and effective.  None of that has been on display in this conflict.

UAVs have replaced manned aircraft in military effectiveness.
UAVs have filled in the gap created by ineptitude in the use of manned aircraft and shortages of manned aircraft.  I would speculate that there is also a cost consideration component.  I suspect Russia is carefully husbanding its supply of aircraft due to their cost.  If so, perhaps there is a valuable lesson, here, about risk avoidance associated with overly expensive assets (looking at you Ford, Burke, B-2/21).
Every one of these supposed lessons is wrong in the sense that they are so severely limited in application as to be useless in terms of predicting the future of warfare and developing equipment, strategies, and operations for that future.  Despite the evident wrongness of these conclusions, military professionals, both uniformed and civilian, have leapt to embrace them and are guiding their militaries down false paths. 
One of the worst offenders is the US Marines who have latched on to examples that they feel support their isolated, missile-shooting concept.  One can somewhat forgive civilian military observers but professional, uniformed Marines should know better.
Another problem with leaping to these conclusions and lessons is that none of them are being tested in exercises representative of the conditions in which we intend to apply them, namely, a peer war with China.  There’s nothing wrong with thinking one of these conclusions is valid (well, yes there is since it shows you’re an idiot) as long as you’re willing to thoroughly test the conclusion under the conditions you anticipate fighting and are willing to accept the results that will, invariably prove them to be wrong.
We are literally watching a live fire tutorial on how not to conduct a war by both sides.  Why we would leap to draw conclusions and lessons from that is a baffling mystery.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Tamp Down????!

As you are no doubt aware, there have been a recent flurry of reports of drones and missiles, fired by Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen, against various naval and merchant ships.  Multiple US Navy ships have reportedly downed several drones and missiles in self-defense.  A normal response would be to destroy the attackers.  Instead – and unbelievably - , the administration’s response is to attempt to create some sort of international group to “tamp down” the attacks. 
Last week, White House officials said they were working to create an international force to tamp down attacks.[1]

Our response to direct attacks is not to destroy the attackers but to “tamp down” the number of attacks????  So, apparently, there is some number of attacks that we consider acceptable as long as they’re “tamped down”?  And we wonder why our forces aren’t deterring China, Iran, Russia, or NKorea? 
History tells us with absolute certainty that appeasement only begets more attacks. 
[1]USNI News website, “Lethal Drones from Yemen Attacked French Frigate in Red Sea, Say Officials”, Heather Mongilio and Sam LaGrone, 11-Dec-2023,

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

New Threat Upgrade and Aegis

From a certain perspective, the Aegis combat system was one of the worst developments in the history of the Navy.  It directly led to the [literal] sinking of an entire class of the best ASW destroyer ever built and has resulted in expensive ships with permanently degraded radar systems.  Worse, there was an alternative to Aegis which was the New Threat Upgrade (NTU) program which would have modernized the existing conventional radars and combat systems, providing much the same capabilities.  Let’s take a closer look at NTU and Aegis.
It became apparent to the Navy that the existing aerial (meaning, mostly, missiles) threat of the time would only grow more lethal and that this would happen sooner rather than later.  Prior to this, incoming targets had been engaged one at a time in an almost leisurely manner.  Now, however, the Navy could foresee sea-skimming, saturations attacks and they recognized that a much more flexible, rapid defense was needed with the ability to engage multiple targets simultaneously or nearly so.  The situation was made worse by the fact that each defensive missile needed a dedicated illuminator radar for guidance and each ship had only two or three such illuminators.
The solution that the Navy envisioned was to develop a system that would allow multiple defensive missiles to be guided against multiple targets simultaneously.  Thus was born the concept that eventually led to Aegis. 
However, Aegis was not the only solution.  An alternative method using conventional radars was also devised, the New Threat Upgrade.
As the shortcomings of the initial Standard SM-1 missile and its guidance system became apparent, a series of upgrades were developed culminating in the SM-2 which would be paired with NTU along with two new radars, the SPS-49 and SPS-48 which would have replaced the common SPS-40 and SPS-55 sets then in use.  In fact, the SPS-48/49 combination is still in use on big deck amphibious ships such as the Wasp and America classes and the SPS-48 is standard on the San Antonio class.
SPS-48, -49 on Wasp Class

Other new NTU-related equipment included [2]:
  • SPS-64 navigation radar
  • SLQ-34 electronic warfare
  • SRQ-4 data link for SH-60 helicopters
  • SYS-2 Integrated Automatic Detection and Tracking (IADT) system
  • SYR-1 telemetry receivers (missile in-flight position data)
All of these new pieces of equipment were to feed directly to the NTDS (Naval Tactical Data System) combat system, the combat management system equivalent to Aegis.
The main improvement offered by NTU was the ability to time-share the few SPG-51 illuminators so that multiple missiles could be controlled by a single illuminator.  In addition, the NTU ships Kidd and Scott demonstrated cooperative engagement capability (CEC) during tests in 1989 using Link 11.
SPG-51 Illuminator

As it happened, the NTU upgrades were applied to the 4-ship Kidd variant of the Spruance class, USS Mahon, and the Leahy class.  Elements of NTU were applied to USS Long Beach but it is unclear whether the entire, formal NTU upgrade was applied.  USS Texas, CGN-39, was retired in the midst of its NTU upgrade.  NTU would have made the Virginia class cruisers quite formidable. 
NTU, when it first came out, was generally considered superior to Aegis which would spend quite some time working out its bugs, as documented in ref[1].  See the side note at the end of this post for a more detailed description of Aegis’ early problems. 
In the event, the Cold War ended shortly after NTU came to fruition and the resulting budget restrictions led to fierce competition between NTU and Aegis for funding.  Recognizing the teething problems of Aegis and the fact that many believed NTU to be a viable (superior, at the time) and hugely cheaper alternative, the Navy decided to, literally, sink the entire Spruance class to eliminate the possibility of a Spruance-NTU fleet threatening Aegis funding.
NTU Alternate History
Where would NTU have gone in its subsequent development?  It is fascinating to contemplate the course of US naval history had NTU been the winner of the combat system ‘war’.
One can only imagine the altered path of ship development if the Virginia-NTU and Spruance-NTU had come to pass.  It is likely that the compromised Ticonderoga class (10 lbs of ship in a 5 lb can) would never have come about and the Burkes might have, initially, been designed as the pure AAW ships they always should have been.  This could have given us two focused ship classes: the ASW Spruances and the AAW Burkes instead of trying to make the Burkes a do-everything design.  One could imagine that, having specialized ASW and AAW destroyer classes, a true cruiser class, with an emphasis on offensive firepower, might have replaced the Virginia class instead of the badly compromised Ticonderogas.
As for NTU, itself, it is likely that, as radar development progressed, the conventional lattice radars would have given way to something akin to the TRS-3D/4D, rotating panels.  This would have been a hugely significant development in that it would have resulted in reduced size, reduced complexity, no alignment issues, reduced weight, reduced top-heaviness (stability) issues, and less utility demands in all subsequent ship designs.  Arguably, it would have produced more resilient radar setups by allowing multiple units, each providing 360 degree, and taking up far less external space and internal volume than Aegis flat panel arrays.  In short, the follow on ship classes would have been cheaper, simpler, and more combat resilient than what the Navy actually developed.
The one drawback would have been reduced maximum range, however, given the close range encounters that I believe most likely to occur in modern combat, much of Aegis’ performance claims are have been rendered moot.  Remember that Aegis was developed to counter high altitude, massed bomber and missile attacks.  For that, maximum radar range was required and, thus, the development of Aegis was understandable.  However, that requirement was fairly quickly abandoned in favor of low level attacks and NTU would have been equal or superior in that case.  Further, as it turns out, current advances in radar technology have seen small, rotating flat panel radars with claims of range equaling or exceeding the Aegis SPY claims.  Whether any of those claims are accurate is, of course, unknown.
In short, Aegis imposed all manner of severe penalties on the Navy and subsequent ship designs.  NTU might well have avoided most/all of those.
Aegis Cost
One of the main disadvantages of Aegis was that it was hideously expensive for the time (still is!).  The CIMSEC report makes note of the high cost of Aegis development and fielding. 
… [Aegis] critics noted the cost of fielding Aegis was consuming much of the Navy’s budget for engineering development. At the same time, ADM Zumwalt was committed to replacing the Navy’s World War II-era surface escorts which were still in service. To make this escort replacement program affordable, ADM Zumwalt planned to asked Congress to fund a “high-low” mix of ships, which featured low capability, less expensive escorts for convoy protection and high capability, higher speed escorts for work with carriers. The projected high cost of Aegis made ADM Zumwalt’s task of obtaining funds for large numbers of both “high” and “low” capability ships just that much more difficult.
At that stage ADM Zumwalt considered cancelling the whole project. He was angry because there was no AAW development plan to integrate the various ongoing AAW projects, and he correctly anticipated that Congress would resist funding sufficient numbers of an expensive, nuclear-powered Aegis ship.[1]

USS Long Beach was considered for an AEGIS conversion but the $800M (then year dollars) cost was prohibitive.[1]
NTU, in comparison, used modifications of existing radars and required no great redesign of ships in order to accommodate it and certainly did not require that a new class of ship be built just to ‘hold’ it.
History’s Judgment
Some might argue that even if Aegis was not all it was claimed to be, initially (what is?), it has now developed into the most advanced radar-combat system in the world.  However, this is simply not true.  As mentioned, Aegis is degraded fleet wide and this is, apparently, a permanent condition.  The degree of degradation is unknown as is the actual capability of the system since it has never been tested under realistic conditions.[3]
Recent events have also demonstrated that Aegis’ claims far exceed its actual capabilities as the entire USS Mason incident demonstrated (see, “Yemen Missile Attacks”).  The Navy has claimed to have shot down some drones and missiles recently, related to the Israeli-Hamas conflict, but, again, no details have emerged.
History also notes that conventional, rotating radars have become quite advanced with manufacturers claiming performance equal to or exceeding Aegis.  Of course, manufacturer claims are invariably greatly exaggerated.  Still, to those who would suggest that all the pain and cost of Aegis at least led us to a point we could not have otherwise reached, I would point out that current hybrid, rotating panel radars prove we could have reached this same point without going the Aegis route.
This post is emphatically not a debate about which system, NTU or Aegis, was or would become the better system.  As it turns out, Aegis has never lived up to its full hype.  The system is so complex that it is perpetually degraded, fleet wide, as stated by the Navy.  Whether that degraded state is superior to what would have been a modernized NTU system is, as I stated, unknown and not the point of the post.  The point of the post is that Aegis imposed heavy costs and penalties on the Navy by eliminating an entire class of the best ASW destroyer the world has ever seen just to ensure that Aegis had no funding competition.  In addition, Aegis permanently altered the course of Navy ship design and force structure for the worse.  That is the true cost of Aegis.
Aegis also ushered in the continuing era of unworkably complex technology which now infests our ships.  Far too many ship systems are beyond the ability of Navy technicians to maintain and repair.  In short, the systems are not combat-resilient.  On paper – or when they have been exquisitely tweaked by Ph.D. manufacturer tech reps – the capabilities are impressive but in real life they fall well short.  For example, in the early years of Aegis, the systems were supported by on-board crews of manufacturer’s tech reps but, as time went by, the tech reps left and Aegis fell into a degraded state as documented in a past Proceedings article by an Aegis ship captain.
Even if one were to stipulate that Aegis would have been theoretically superior to NTU, the question has to be asked whether it is better to have a theoretically superior Aegis that is perpetually degraded and impossible to repair at sea or a theoretically lesser NTU that routinely works at 100% efficiency and effectiveness?
It is also important to note that the strengths of Aegis were long range, high resolution sensing which was a desirable characteristic when facing large, high flying Soviet bombers but today’s threats are sea-skimming missiles in short range (horizon) engagements for which NTU would have been well suited.
All things considered, it appears that NTU may well have been the better path.  Of course, hindsight is 20/20!
As a related side note, Aegis performed poorly in its early years.  For those interested in the early trials and tribulations, here is an excerpt from a CIMSEC report.[1] 
In 1983, the newspaper headline war heated up again. CG-47 was put through qualifications trials that April. That summer, Representative Denny Smith (R-Oregon), a frequent critic of high-cost military procurement programs, alleged that CG-47’s Aegis combat system had failed operational evaluation. His criticisms were echoed in the Senate by Gary Hart of Colorado, a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. As Senator Hart told The Wall Street Journal, “Do we have a testing and reporting system that is fundamentally dishonest?” To head off speculation, the CNO acknowledged that there had indeed been software system failures in the April trials and he pledged further tests in September.
After the September 1983 tests, both Watkins and Secretary Lehman wrote to Representative Smith, assuring him (as Lehman did on 11 October) that “Aegis is the most carefully tested combat system ever built.” But Smith did not stop his criticism of Aegis. That winter, he found an ally in Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In February 1984, Grassley grilled Secretary Lehman and CNO Watkins on CG-47’s performance. The Navy Secretary accused Grassley of “grandstanding” and said that CG-47 was performing splendidly off the Lebanese coast in her first tour overseas. One week later, unnamed Pentagon and Congressional sources told The Washington Post that the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering had informed the Secretary of Defense that Aegis had serious design problems, and the Secretary of the Navy admitted to reporters that “actual missile kills … have not been that impressive.” At the same time, Secretary Lehman officially (and privately) directed PMS-400 to supervise “a fully challenging test series,” which it did with CG-47, April 23-29, 1984, near Puerto Rico.
ADM Watkins praised the results of the trials at a public press conference, and the May 1985 Naval Institute Proceedings carried a glowing description of the Aegis system and also praised the performance of CG-47 during the ship’s tour of duty off of the Lebanese coast the previous fall. A later issue of the same journal, however, carried a long letter from an officer who claimed that the ability of CG-47’s radar to monitor contacts against the backdrop of the Lebanese coast had been exaggerated. The ship had been approached by a light plane while patrolling near Beirut’s harbor, and, by his account, CG-47 never detected it. The question of Aegis’ operational performance was therefore left somewhat unresolved.[1]

[1]CIMSEC, “The Politics of Developing The AEGIS Combat System, PT. 2”, Thomas C. Hone, Douglas V. Smith, and Roger C. Easton, Jr., 2-May-2023,
[2]Capt. Michael C. Potter, USNR, Electronic Greyhounds, The Spruance-Class Destroyers, Naval Institute Press, 1995, ISBN 1-55750-682-5, p.172-4
[3]Note that there were tests in Aegis’ very early development (after serious real world problems were revealed) that claimed to be extensive and realistic but the conditions of the tests are unknown and the Navy has a well earned reputation for lying about such matters.  Further, the tests were against very early missiles now multiple generations removed from today’s threats.  The testing has not been repeated against today’s threats.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Ukraine-Russia Naval War

So many people want to read miraculous changes in the future of naval warfare into Ukraine’s success with surface drones and anti-ship missiles.  Is this the case?  Is the future of naval warfare being rewritten as we speak?  Or, are false conclusions being drawn and propagated?  Let’s examine the situation and see what conclusions we can draw.
We’re going to focus on the Ukrainian attacks against the Russian fleet but it should be noted that, in terms of a Ukraine-Russia naval war, the Ukraine navy, such as it was, was completely eliminated at the opening of the war.  Thus, the war has not been as one-sided as media portrays it.
Following are some factors, characteristics, and considerations of the naval war.
Russian Ineptitude.  It cannot even be questioned that Russia has been stunningly inept in their operations, putting vessels in dangerous situations, and failing to protect their harbors or ships with any degree of competence.  The Moskva, for example, assuming it was actually sunk by Ukrainian actions, appeared from photos to have its air defense radars in fore/aft standby positions rather than actively scanning.
It is also clear that Russia did not grasp the magnitude of the threat until somewhat recently and did not, therefore, have proper and effective defensive weapons or tactics.  This is also a condemnation of modern warship design with its lack of short range defensive weapons.
Geography.  The Ukraine-Russia conflict is somewhat unique in that the naval incidents are taking place in a relatively very small, constrained area.  This geography permits Ukraine the fantastic good fortune of not having to search very far for targets and not having to transport their weapons very far.  Contrast this with the prospect of a naval war between China and the US which would be spread across unimaginable distances extending at least a thousand miles beyond the first island chain and, quite likely, encompassing far away areas of conflict in Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, and elsewhere.  Short range drone surface vessels would be nearly useless across those kind of distances.
The unique geography also allows Ukraine to wage the naval war without actually having any ships!  The constrained area of conflict allows Ukraine to stage and launch weapons from nearby land sites.  Again, in a China-US war, this would rarely, if ever, be the case for either side although the Marines seem to think they’ll dominate the Chinese navy from a few hidden bases.  I won’t bother ridiculing that wishful, fantasy notion any further. 
In an open ocean naval war, lacking land based drone launch points, some type of drone transport ship would be required to closely approach the target and no one is going to allow an enemy (or unidentified) ship to approach without being sunk.  Thus, ship launched surface drones seem an impossibility.
Effectiveness.  The Ukraine surface drones get a lot of frenzied hype in the general press but how effective have they actually been?  While solid information is difficult to come by, it appears that only one major ship, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, has been sunk along with, possibly, a couple small patrol boats.
As best I can determine, here is the list of sunk or damaged Russian ships:

The obvious conclusion is that for all the attacks and effort by Ukraine, very little actual damage has been done.  The one notable success, the sinking of the Moskva, is actually not a confirmed attack by Ukraine.  I’ve read theories that the sinking was the result of a drone surface vessel, anti-ship missiles, or a shipboard mishap on the Russian’s part.
The remaining couple of sinkings were minor tugs or patrol boats with the remainder of attacks producing unknown degrees of damage.  In terms of overall damage to the Russian fleet and resulting impact on the conduct of the war, the Ukraine efforts have been nearly insignificant.  Compare these meager results to the hundreds/thousands of vessels sunk in WWII.
It is also noteworthy that most of the Russian ships sunk or damaged were unarmed and defenseless which, again, speaks to Russian operational failures in putting defenseless vessels in harm’s way.
The Russians clearly either do not grasp the concept of defensive escorts or are unable to execute the concept properly and effectively.
A final question regarding effectiveness is what the success rate has been?  How many hits have been achieved compared to the number of attempts?  The media generally only reports a successful hit on a Russian ship.  We have no idea how many attacks have been unsuccessful.  Of course, given the minuscule cost of drones or small anti-ship missiles, if one can occasionally sink a major warship, the number of unsuccessful attacks is almost irrelevant.  Still, it would be informative to know the success rate.
One obvious conclusion is that the naval war is not really a naval war, at all.  It’s more closely akin to a navy versus land war with the Russian navy operating near and against the land and Ukraine trying to repel or neutralize the Russian maritime forces.  In essence, it’s the age old ‘ship fighting a fort’ scenario!  Russia is attacking Fort Ukraine from the sea.  That bit of near semantics aside …
Due to geographical considerations, if nothing else, it is impossible to imagine a Ukraine style drone war being even slightly successful in a China-US war.  Given a largely open ocean campaign, neither side would have recourse to land launched drones.  Anti-ship missiles are, of course, another story but that takes us to targeting which is an undeniable and, thus far, unsolved problem for both sides.
It is also difficult to imagine that either the US or China would be as inept as the Russians have been.  US naval doctrine heavily emphasizes layered defenses and escorts.
In short, it is difficult to imagine that the Ukraine-Russia naval war heralds any earth-shaking change in the future of naval warfare.
[1]USNI News website, “A Brief Summary of the Battle of the Black Sea”, Heather Mongilio, 15-Nov-2023,

Monday, December 4, 2023

What We Had and Have Now Lost

We once had amazing capabilities that were considered routine.  Today, we’ve lost so many of those capabilities.  Far worse, we’ve somehow come to believe that those capabilities are no longer possible.  I constantly hear people argue that we can’t do something when the reality is that we did it, and did it routinely, decades ago.
For example, a common claim is that we can’t put armor on ships because it would slow them down or sink them under the weight or severely reduce their range.  The reality is that EVERY warship in WWII had armor, 30+ kt speed, and immense range compared to today’s ships.  We’ve forgotten what we had and now believe it’s no longer possible to achieve those things.
Let’s take a look at some of the other capabilities we once had and now believe are no longer achievable.
Long Range Interceptor – We no longer believe that we can have a long range interceptor or air superiority fighter because it would require too large an aircraft to operate from a carrier.  The reality is that we had a carrier-based, long range interceptor, the F-14.  Despite that we no longer believe that we can operate anything larger than a Hornet.
Specialized Aircraft – We no longer believe that we can afford to design, build, and operate separate, specialized strike and fighter aircraft.  The reality is that we operated both the F-14 fighter and the all-weather, A-6 strike aircraft, simultaneously
Manning – We no longer believe that it’s possible and affordable to man even a 300-ship fleet.  The reality is that we fully budgeted and manned a 600-ship fleet in the 1980’s.
Tanker - Interestingly, the A-3 had the most capacity of any Navy tanker, delivering 29,000 lb of fuel at 460 miles (see, “Navy Aerial Refueling”).  The Navy is currently struggling to develop a tanker with half that capacity (stated goal of 15,000 lb at 500 miles).
Armor – We no longer provide any significant armor for our ships.  Many people believe that ships would spontaneously sink under the weight of armor or, best case, be slowed to a crawl and have not enough range to make it out of harbor.  The reality is that every combat ship in WWII was heavily armored and yet managed 30+ knots with greater range than today’s ships.
Firepower – We no longer believe that it’s even possible to manufacture large caliber naval guns.  The reality is that we routinely manufactured 16”, 8”, and 5” guns.
Air Wings – The Navy no longer believes it is possible to operate air wings of 90+ aircraft.  Recall their triumphant statements when they cobbled together an air wing with one or two extra aircraft and bragged about pushing the boundaries of air wing size?  The reality is that we used to operate air wings of 90+ aircraft from WWII through the early Nimitzes.
IRST – The Navy has been working [unsuccessfully, thus far] on developing a IRST for the F-18 as a marvel of new technology.  The reality is that we had it on various aircraft of the F-14 era.
Fleet Without Helicopters – We now believe that it is impossible to operate a ship and fleet without every ship having a helicopter.  We’ve forgotten that we operated a 6,000 ship fleet in WWII without any helicopters.  We managed to replenish at sea without helos.  We managed to transfer personnel at sea without helos.  We’ve forgotten how to operate.
We’ve forgotten all the things that we used to routinely do and now either believe they’re impossible or we look on them with amazement.  We need to remember what we were once capable of and start bringing some of it back into the fleet.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Re-Post - Will To Win

There has been a huge influx of readers over time and new readers may not be familiar with the early posts, although it is the reader’s responsibility to do so.  That being the case, I will, from time to time, offer re-posts, possibly updated, that I feel are particularly relevant and worthy of additional attention.


From Jun 2014, "Will To Win"
China has all but seized various islands and bits of land from the Philippines and Viet Nam and expanded and strengthened its claims on the entire East and South China Seas.  They have done this by establishing small outposts and oil rigs as well as by establishing the habit of regularly patrolling the disputed areas so as to establish the normalcy and, therefore, the acceptability and inevitability of their claims.  Add to this their use of air defense zones and their control over, and successful exclusion of, US ships and planes from areas of interest and the acquisition of the East and South China Seas is all but assured.
We must recognize this very clearly.  China is pursuing a policy of annexation through normalization.  Disputed territories are being patrolled on a regular basis so that over time other countries slowly come to accept the situation as normal.  The Air Defense Zone, while illegal in its implementation, is being enforced to establish the normalcy of the control.  The legal Economic Exclusion Zone is being illegally interpreted as a military exclusion zone with a goal of habitual enforcement to establish its legitimacy and normalcy.  Tiny outposts and oil wells are being established on disputed points of land (they barely qualify as islands) to establish normalcy of Chinese control over those points.  Eventually, most of these actions will come to be accepted (a fait accompli) and those that aren’t can be claimed to be legitimate through years of “ownership” (squatter’s rights or possession is nine tenths of the law) and presented to the court of world opinion as custom and tradition (common law).
The US appears to recognize that Chinese control over the region is undesirable and ought to be prevented.  Of course, we cannot hope to counter China’s expansionist movement alone.  The US must develop close ties with the Pacific countries in and around the East and South China Seas.  Ideally, we would also partner up with countries further away from the area but still invested in the events and results.  Together, this coalition may eventually be able to counter China’s moves.
Hmmm ….
Do you see the disconnect in the previous paragraphs?  China is able to pursue (successfully, so far!) its plans for regional domination with only its own internal forces and capabilities.  It is not part of a broad coalition of like-minded countries pursuing a mutually agreed upon conquest of the area.  It’s simply acting on its own.  The US, on the other hand, is seemingly paralyzed, unable to act without the backing of a coalition, despite having far greater military might, more resources, and a stronger economy (for the moment, anyway!).  Where is our will to act forcefully and, if necessary, unilaterally to achieve our goals?  Have we become so timid that we cannot and will not act alone?  Where is our will to win?  Lead, and others will follow - that's how you build a coalition.
I’m not going to address the political aspect of this (although recognizing that the political and military are intimately bound together!) since this isn’t a political blog.  Instead, let’s look at the military, specifically naval, actions that we can take, alone, to counter current Chinese moves.
The basis of China’s expansion is normalcy and the methodology is routine patrols and outposts in disputed areas to establish that normalcy.  We must counter that with our own routine patrols in disputed areas.  Ideally, every Chinese patrol ship should have a US ship sailing in close formation.  Ideally, the countries involved in the territorial disputes should establish their own tiny outposts with resupply and patrol support from us.  We should be routinely and heavily transiting the air defense zone and economic exclusion zone (EEZ) so as to invalidate Chinese normalcy and re-establish the normalcy of international rule and law of the sea.  We should emphatically re-establish our right of passage in international waters.

What we should not do is leave the 20-30 nm vicinity of a Chinese naval group in international waters when told to do so.  What we should not do is curtail flights and passages through illegal air defense zones and EEZ’s just to avoid confrontations.  What we should not do is allow the establishment of illegal outposts on disputed islands.
So, what do we need to accomplish these goals?  The overwhelming answer is numbers.  We need lots of ships and planes to establish routine patrols.  I can hear the whine, now:  “We can’t afford so many ships and planes.”  Well, that’s true in a sense.  On the other hand, can we afford to cede the entire East and South China Seas to China?  What will be the ultimate cost of that?  Can we afford to someday engage in a war with China in which they will have fortified the entire first island chain because we didn’t have enough ships and planes to prevent it?  Yeah, but even so, we just don’t have the budget to build additional ships and planes even if we wanted to.  Right and wrong.  We have the budget but we’re not spending it correctly.  Three Zumwalts aren’t going to appreciably help us with the Pacific Pivot but the $24B or so that they’ve cost would have bought a lot of aircraft and smaller ships (there’s a use for your frigate).  Even at a cost of $1B each, we could have built 24 frigates for the cost of three Zumwalts.  Which would be more useful in the Pacific Pivot, three Zumwalts or 24 frigates?  We could buy a lot of Super Hornets, UAVs, and patrol aircraft for what the JSF program is costing us.  The LCS could have been the patrol ship for this scenario except that it has no credible weaponry and insufficient range and endurance to operate for extended patrol periods.  Perhaps the coming upgunned LCS will have improved range and endurance and find a purpose, at long last.
The needs of a Pacific Pivot are fairly clear.  Now, we just need to align our procurement with our needs and muster the will to act.