Friday, March 29, 2024

Stealth UAVs

ComNavOps has long stated that conventional UAVs are useless in high end combat against a peer enemy because they’re not stealthy which means they’re not survivable.  Worse, being non-stealthy, their operation will lead directly back to the controlling unit’s location.
The lack of stealth means that they can’t be used for naval recon and targeting because they’ll be spotted and destroyed long before they can find the enemy.  Some have claimed that, being UAVs, they can fly at wave top height to avoid detection.  This is true but it also means they can’t see anything.  If you want a useful field of view (range), you have to operate at some significant altitude.  If a non-stealthy UAV is at a significant altitude, it will be spotted and destroyed before it can accomplish anything.
All of this changes, however, if the UAV is stealthy.  Stealth, in this context, refers not just to reduced radar signature but also to reduced infrared and visible signatures. 
Let’s briefly consider the known stealthy UAVs in the US inventory.  I’m only aware of two: 
  • RQ-170 Sentinel
  • RQ-180 ?White Bat?
Let’s look at a few of their specifications in the following table.

a The RQ-180 specs are speculative with estimates putting the size in the RQ-4 Global Hawk category so specifications have been adapted from that.  Photos have fairly accurately determined the wingspan and length.
RQ-170 Sentinel


Both the RQ-170 and RQ-180 have the now common stealthy ‘bat’ shape of the B-2 bomber.
The key specification is the size.  The RQ-180 is huge!  Even the RQ-170, while smaller, is far too big to operate off surface ships.
The existence of the stealth UAVs likely explains the Air Force’s loss of interest in the more conventional UAVs such as Predator, Global Hawk, etc. as the Air Force has publicly stated that such UAVs are not survivable over the battlefield.
Let’s turn our attention to naval UAVs.  The Navy seems to be counting on the P-8 Poseidon and MQ-4 Triton for maritime surveillance, distributed lethality (is that still a thing?) targeting, and anti-surface targeting which seems unwise in the extreme.  As the Air Force has noted, large, non-stealthy aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, are not survivable.
ComNavOps has called for large numbers of small UAVs for the surface group surveillance and targeting mission.  The caveat is that these UAVs must be stealthy in order to survive long enough to accomplish their mission.  Losing them is not a concern but they must survive long enough to find targets and transmit their findings back to the host ship.
The naval UAV mission calls for a stealthy UAV with the following characteristics:
Cheap – The mission is high risk and calls for the use of many UAVs to establish and maintain situational awareness and target detection.  Affordability is a mandatory requirement.
Small – These UAVs will operate off various surface ships so they must be small enough to be operational in limited deck space and be stored in large numbers.  The size goal is something on the order of RQ-21 Blackjack (8 ft long x 16 ft wingspan)  or Scan Eagle (5 ft long x 10 ft wingspan) which can be launched with mini-catapults.
Range – A useful scouting range is a minimum of 200 miles on out to 500 miles.
Conceptual UAV Size for Surface Group Surveillance

As we’ve discussed in the past, the vast majority of the sensing capability would be passive (EO, IR, SigInt) in keeping with the stealth and survivability requirements.
A small, stealthy UAV would give surface ships the ability to establish situational awareness and conduct surveillance without automatically giving away their own presence.
Consider what small, stealthy UAVS can do.
  • They can extend the situational awareness out to 200+ miles.
  • They can act as early warning detectors of attacking aircraft and missiles.
  • They can act as fire control spotters for naval guns and missiles.
  • They can provide targeting for anti-ship missiles.
And, they can do this survivably with a reasonable chance of not being detected.  Isn’t that exactly what we want in a naval surveillance asset?
The concept of operations (CONOPS) would be to continually operate a dozen or more (work out the effective number in exercises) UAVs in all directions while concentrating on the expected threat axis.  As needed, a UAV could be sent on a one-way mission which would double its range.
The major challenge in this concept is communications and I simply don’t know enough to offer a solution.  Satellite communications are an option if we have sufficient surviving satellites.  High altitude communications relay aircraft using line-of-sight is another option.  As I said, I just don’t know.  Communications experts would have to work that out.
Larger UAVs, on the order of the RQ-170, can be operated from dedicated UAV carriers and thought should be given to routinely integrating a UAV carrier with every surface group.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Battleship Accuracy

While going through old posts and comments, I came across the following comment from ‘Ray D’ [1] about battleship accuracy in a post about battleship and carrier throw weights (see, “Carrierand Battleship Throw Weights”).  He’s responding to a comment that denigrated the accuracy of a battleship’s big guns.  The comment is so interesting that it deserves a post of its own for wider dissemination since not everyone reads all the comments. 
Note:  I have no way to verify the accuracy of the reader’s comment but I have no reason to doubt it, either.  I have not seen either of the two referenced reports/sources.  You can assess the validity for yourself.
I’ve copied his comment with just a couple of minor changes for grammar and readability.
In the comment, the author makes the distinction between precision and accuracy.  Some readers may not be familiar with the distinction so here’s the difference.  Precision is the grouping of several shots from a gun.  The tighter the grouping, the better the precision.  However, a tight grouping (high precision) does not necessarily mean good accuracy.  Accuracy is how close to the intended target the shot is.  Precision is how tight the grouping is regardless of the accuracy.  A series of shots may have very good precision (tight grouping) but very poor accuracy (a tight group that’s way off the target).  Conversely, the accuracy could be good but the precision might be poor.
The statement the reader is responding to declared the following about a battleship’s accuracy.
"estimated accuracy of 2.7% at max range"
The reader’s response was the following:
With all respect (and I mean a lot of respect), this comes from probably the most misrepresented report about US Navy WW2 era equipment of all time and the claim ignores the myriad of patently ridiculous assumptions that the report made about the hypothetical target given exactly what naval targets existed at the time.
To keep it short, their assumed target was a mythical Iowa-class counterpart that was performing rapid evasive maneuvers and somehow NEVER dropped below its assumed maximum speed of 35.4 knots.
I hope it doesn't need to be explained that this was and is physically impossible!
Furthermore, the only Battleships in the world (ever) that were capable of performing such radical evasive maneuvers and maintaining a targeting solution of their own were American; all others would have had to either choose shooting or evading due to their lack of stable verticals; so in real terms the report itself is entirely worthless unless the US Navy was expecting to fight the US Navy.
Against a Yamato acting according to Japanese doctrine, ergo attempting to maximize its own gunfire efficiency, the predicted accuracy for the Americans would be closer to 8% at that range, or over three times higher.
That aside, in the context of shore bombardment this entire argument is disingenuous and built around an obvious categorical error: at the last I checked, most strategic military targets such as bases, ports, airfields, factories, and governmental offices do not in fact move.
So, instead of accuracy assumption against moving targets, it's better to speak of the raw dispersion values of the guns in question.
According to live combat data taken from WW2 and Korea, the Iowa-class Battleships during those periods had range errors of only 0.6% of range, or 254yds at their maximum range of 42,345yds, making them the most accurate battleships to ever be built even then. Deflection error was usually negligible in comparison, as range error is always the larger number.
Of course, that's just the WW2 figures. Just by the 1980s reactivations advancements made to fire control and propellants saw a ~29% decrease in dispersion, again drawn from live combat data. During firing trials, the USS Iowa produced a range error of 0.3% of range (or ~127yds at maximum).
To put this in context, the blast effect of the Mk14 HC shell was significant enough that it was reported to incapacitate infantry within 500yds, defoliate trees within 300yds, kill exposed infantry within 250yds, level trees and light structures within 200yds (also destroy most aircraft), and even destroy MBTs within 100yds. This is roughly comparable to a WW2 era 2000lb bomb (or a modern 1000lb bomb).
Or, in other words, the USS Iowa during the mid-1980s had a greater than 50% chance of destroying a tank at 42,345 yards with a single shell; or if it fired all 9 guns at the same target, greater than a 99.987003826% chance.
By all measures that was absolutely excellent accuracy, even if the guns were not as precise as one may desire.  That's just with 1980s technology.  Today, since you already would have to make all new guns and the ships to carry them, you could utilize developments such as Polygonal Rifling and ETC cannons to not only further increase the accuracy of the guns, but decrease time of flight or drastically increase the effective range of the guns well beyond 50 nmi without sacrificing payload; and that's without using science-fiction technology such as rail guns. Of course, it goes without saying that guided 16in shells would be essentially child's play to develop as well, considering they did it with the 8in MCLWG program to great success in the '80s.
But I digress, my point was that the Iowa's guns in their final configurations were accurate enough for all targets they were within range of. They were imprecise, yes, but VERY accurate.

I have nothing to add to this other than it further illustrates the amazing capabilities of the US battleship.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Navy 2024 30-Year Plan

Let’s take a look at the latest (FY2024) Navy 30-year plan (30YP).[1]
Submarine Cruise Missiles - The main weapon of the Navy is the Tomahawk cruise missile.  It’s not even really debatable.  It’s been the weapon of choice for decades.  The 30YP shows that the imminent retirement of the four SSGN submarines with their 154 missiles each will result in a dip from the current 1100 submarine missiles to 500 missiles – a 54% drop in capacity.  The capacity will not recover to current levels until 2037 according to the Navy’s plan.  With a Taiwan invasion and a war with China looming, according to the Navy, does this seem wise?
Nuclear Construction Shipyards – The 30YP points out that there are only two nuclear shipbuilders.
Nuclear powered ship production, a unique capability with little to no opportunity for commercial or dual use production, is provided by two private shipyards that are currently facilitized and certified to construct nuclear powered ships and will be at capacity for the next 15-plus years building Columbia class SSBNs, Virginia class SSNs, next generation SSNs, and Ford class CVNs.[1]

One can’t help but think that a Pearl Harbor-ish sabotage strike on one or both of these facilities would effectively eliminate future shipbuilding of all US carriers and submarines – essentially ending the future US Navy for all practical purposes and eliminating any chance of building replacement ships in a war with China.
Shipyards – The Navy offers a mea-culpa of sorts related to the woeful state of the shipbuilding industry.
The Navy recognizes the “boom and bust” profiles of the last 60-plus years resulted in
sharp peaks followed by significant valleys, and sometimes breaks, in production. Today’s shipbuilding and ship repair industrial base is at a level of fragility in the supplier and labor force, amplified by COVID and inflationary impacts, such that without consistent and continuous commitment to steady and executable acquisition profiles the industrial base will continue to struggle and some elements may not recover from another “boom/bust” cycle.[1] 
Five Year Shipbuilding Plan - The following table shows the planned new ship construction for the next five years.


The table shows that in the next five years the Navy plans to retire 45 combatants and build 29 … with a war with China looming.  Does that seem wise?
LCS - The 30YP provides some clarity on the Navy’s intentions for the LCS.  The Independence-LCS will be dedicated to mine countermeasures (MCM) with 15 ships.  The remaining Freedom-LCS will be dedicated to anti-surface (ASuW).  Anti-submarine (ASW) has been dropped as an LCS mission set.
Funding - This brings us to money.  The Navy is requesting obscene amounts of money for new construction and yet I don’t hear a whisper of remorse or apology to Congress and the American taxpayer for having completely mismanaged the LCS, Zumwalt, JHSV, Ford, MLP, AFSB, etc. procurement programs after Congress entrusted the Navy with money for those programs with the expectation that the Navy would be good stewards of the taxpayers money.  I would like to see Congress put a hold on all Navy construction funding until every flag officer has been fired, the existing fleet has been made fully operational and ready with no maintenance backlog, and the Navy develops a viable plan for maintaining all existing and new ships.
Even though the Navy doesn’t intend it as such, every 30 year plan is a testament to, and documentation of, the total ineptitude of Navy leadership.  Congress should use the plan to eliminate Navy leadership and start over.
[1]“Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year 2024”, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, March 2023

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Book Review – Ironclaw

Desert Storm saw the advent of a slew of first person books by various service members.  Ironclaw[1] is one such and is the story of then Lt.(j.g.) Sherman Baldwin who flew an EA-6B Prowler (VAQ-136) off the USS Midway during the conflict, having joined the ship mid-cruise, straight out of training, at the start of the air war.  The book offers a refreshing change from the usual fighter pilot story and gives a different perspective of the Desert Storm air war and carrier flight operations.
The book opens with a detailed, first person account of his first night cat, tank, and trap experience after arriving on the Midway.  The descriptions of the terror and techniques are riveting.  You’re in the cockpit with him, helping him balance stick and throttle.

Baldwin describes the challenge of attempting to be a Landing Signal Officer (LSO) for the first time and recognizing and grading landing approaches.  He also notes the challenges and, occasionally, the risks in handing out landing grades to pilots who may not appreciate the candor.
You get a good feel for the constant awareness of fuel level that hangs over a pilot during a mission.
He describes a night rendezvous with an E-2 Hawkeye that suffered a navigation failure in bad weather and was lost.  In the process, his Prowler suffers its own sensor failure (icing) and he has to fight off disorientation and loss of instruments.
Other highlights include:
  • Recovery of a Hornet with a fuel leak that required an emergency deck clear with seconds to spare.
  • A night mirror-image practice strike during the days immediately prior to the start of hostilities.
  • His first SEAD combat mission of the war and the seeming wall of AAA as well as SAMs.
  • Confusing his own chaff and flares with exploding anti-aircraft fire and frantically trying to evade the decoys.
  • The tension of a jamming mission with enemy aircraft in the air and fighter cover leaving to engage.
  • The constant challenge and difficulty of aerial refueling.
  • The unique challenge of landing on Midway which had much more pitch and roll than other carriers.
  • The danger of maneuvering an aircraft across a slippery deck whose coating has worn away.

The value of this book is that it presents the Desert Storm air war from a different perspective - that of a Prowler rather than the typical fighter pilot book.  It is written in a very easy to read, informal style that focuses on the feelings, fears, and uncertainties of a new pilot thrown into a war.  The author offers an intimate look at carrier and aircraft operations from a personal perspective.  If you enjoy ‘inside’ looks at military occupations and the ‘what’s it really like’ kind of writing, this is the book for you.

Disclaimer:  I have no connection, whatsoever, with the author, the book, or the publisher. 
[1]Baldwin, Sherman, Ironclaw, William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1996, ISBN 0-688-14303-2

Monday, March 18, 2024

Foreign Ships Are Magnificent

Without a doubt, the US has shipbuilding problems with every recent naval ship program coming in badly over budget, over schedule, riddled with quality problems and non-functional equipment, delivered in only partially complete condition, unfit for combat, and sometimes actually damaged and yet the Navy has accepted and commissioned every ship. In contrast, it is almost an article of faith among naval observers and commentators that foreign ships are magnificent wonders of naval accomplishment, being cheap, quick to build, and testaments to naval technology and quality.  In fact, one of the most commonly proffered solutions to US naval shipbuilding problems is to have our ships be built by foreign companies, either in foreign countries or by having foreign builders come to the US and establish facilities.
Are foreign ships and shipbuilders really miracles of modern naval construction, as so many believe?  Let’s dig a bit deeper and see.
The first problem in trying to assess foreign ship construction programs is that there is almost no information available.  The US publishes data on naval vessels in a variety of government reports, public forums, blog postings, and general news sources.  In contrast, there is almost no publicly available information on foreign ship acquisition programs.  That leaves us to reason out the situation from the snippets of information we can find.
Let’s look at some examples of foreign ships and shipbuilding problems and see if we can discern a pattern.
HMS Prince of Wales – The Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier Prince of Wales, commissioned in Dec 2019, suffered a propulsion system breakdown in Aug 2022 resulting in damage to the shaft, propeller, and rudder.  Repairs sidelined the ship until Jul 2023.
HMS Queen Elizabeth -  The Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, commissioned in Dec 2017, suffered a propulsion system breakdown in Jul 2019 and had to abandon a scheduled NATO exercise.
Helge Ingstad – The Norwegian frigate suffered a collision and subsequently sank due to faulty design and construction flaws that allowed flooding to pass from compartment to compartment through shaft seals.
HMS Triumph – In 1988 the Royal Navy Trafalgar class submarine, then under construction, had a large section mistakenly welded into position upside down.
Baden-W├╝rttemberg F125 Frigate – In 2017, the German frigate failed its trials and was rejected by the German Navy.  Problems included a permanent list, faulty radar, improper fireproof fuel tank coatings, excessive weight, subsystem interface defects, and hardware/software integration
New Zealand/Canada ANZAC Frigate Upgrade – The $375M original cost has jumped to $639M.  Project planning began in 2006 with contracts being awarded in 2014 and completion occurring in 2022/23.  That’s a 17 year upgrade project!  The work was performed in Canada.
Type 45 Destroyer - The Type 45’s advanced propulsion system was found in 2010 to be unreliable, especially when operating in the heat of the Persian Gulf.  HMS Dauntless was laid up in 2016 to undergo a major refit that would solve the propulsion problems.  The project took twice as long as estimated and was not completed until June 2022.
Digital modelling was used to de-risk some of the issues but in practice, the work proved more complex than expected.[2]
Soviet/Russian Ship Quality – Construction quality problems have been well documented by interior photos, tour observations, post-Cold War reports, etc.
For But Not With – Foreign ship builds widely use the ‘for but not with’ method of construction which delivers ships without necessary weapons and sensors but allows the builder/country to claim reduced costs.  Some foreign ships also are known to reuse weapons from a retired ship – not necessarily a bad thing but, again, it results in artificially low cost claims when compared to purely new construction.
Austal – The Australian shipbuilder, Austal, built a facility in the US to manufacture the Independence variant LCS and that turned out to be a disaster with cost overruns, schedule slippages, specifications not met, and a host of design and quality issues.
FREMM/Constellation – The US Constellation class frigate, based on the parent FREMM design, had to be extensively redesigned to meet US survivability standards.  This is especially eye-opening given how lax and minimal US standards have become!  This suggests that a significant portion of the supposed lower foreign costs may come from significantly reduced standards.
French Frigate Misfire – In 2018, a French frigate’s attempted cruise missile strike on suspected Syrian chemical weapon sites failed when the missile salvo failed to launch.  A second frigate had to take the tasking.
As noted, there is almost no information, good or bad, about SKorean and Japanese naval ship quality.  Unfortunately, SKorea and Japan are two of the commonly suggested foreign shipbuilders that we should use/emulate.
Any one of the above cited incidents could be explained away as a one-of-a-kind occurrence but the overall pattern clearly demonstrates that foreign shipbuilders suffer the same kinds of quality and design problems that American ships and shipbuilders do.  There is nothing magic about foreign ships or builders.
Claims of cost savings inevitably fail to account for extensive subsidies, reuse of equipment, ‘for but not with’ practices, lower standards, etc.  Thus, foreign cost savings claims are highly suspect, bordering on false.
The most interesting data point is the Austal manufacturing effort.  A foreign shipbuilder came to the US, supposedly bringing the many miracles of foreign shipbuilding, built a facility and, contrary to what so many expected, suffered the exact same problems that US builders do.  The main thing that changed when they came to the US was the degree of public scrutiny.  All their failures and shortcomings were publicized.  Thus, the idea of bringing a foreign shipbuilder to the US to construct a facility is almost guaranteed to produce no improvements.  A foreign builder in the US would be subject to the same laws, regulations, work force issues, and so forth that US builders are and those issues would have the same negative impacts. 
The pattern of incidents also suggest that foreign builders build to lower design standards than US builders which leads to impressions of lower cost.  Given the steady lowering of US standards, this is shocking that foreign navies/builders would have even lower standards.
In short, I would have no great objections to using a foreign shipyard for US naval construction but I would expect no improvement in quality, cost, or schedule issues.  There is nothing magic about foreign shipyards other than their greatly reduced public visibility.
There is also the issue of security.  One would have to assume that any technology or design specifications that were sent to a foreign builder would wind up in China’s hands and that’s a concern.  Of course, it’s not as if our home-grown security has prevented the Chinese from acquiring all the information they could want so maybe security isn’t that big of an issue!
A separate aspect of the consideration of foreign shipbuilders is that of competition.  The number of US naval shipbuilders has steadily dwindled to a precious few which, without a doubt, has led to non-competition and all its associated ills.  The use of foreign shipbuilders would, if nothing else, provide a degree of competition that has been lacking.  It’s not even debatable that competition is a positive that helps drive improvements and reduced costs.  I find this to be the most persuasive argument for foreign shipyards, by far.
As with so many things in life, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence but, upon closer examination, it isn’t really.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Preparing To Fight The Last War

In August of 2023, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced a program to produce thousands of drones. 
… Department of Defense (DoD) Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks announced the Replicator initiative, … fielding attritable autonomous systems in multiple thousands across multiple domains.[1]
So, having seen what they believe to be the war-changing impact of drones in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the DoD is preparing to fight China using the methodology of the Ukraine-Russia war.  This, despite all the warnings and signs that the Ukraine-Russia war is highly unique and not applicable to future wars, in general, and a war with China, in particular.  I’ve extensively covered the reasons why this war has little bearing on, or lessons for, a China war so I won’t bother re-listing them.  Suffice it to say that there are few operational or tactical lessons to be had from this.  It would be like a professional boxer trying to draw lessons from a schoolyard fight between a couple of ten year old children.
I’ve also extensively covered the extremely limited suitability of most drones for combat operations.
Despite all that, it appears that we’re going to go ahead and base our war with China on the actions of a couple of militaries notable only for their stunning degree of ineptitude.
This is the very definition of preparing to fight the last war – one that has no relevance to a war with China.  
[1]Defense Innovation Unit, “Implementing the Department of Defense Replicator Initiative to Accelerate All-Domain Attritable Autonomous Systems To Warfighters at Speed and Scale”, 30-Nov-2023,

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Duty, Honor, Country … Gone

West Point has eliminated the phrase, ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ from its mission statement.
Is there anything more that needs to be said about where our leadership is taking us?

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Surface Drone Detection

We’ve discussed the combat utility of unmanned surface suicide drones (see, “Surface Drone Swarm”).  One of the conclusions was that drones are easily spotted and defeated, assuming any degree of competence and preparedness by the defender.  Here’s some real world data about drone detection from the recent Ukraine attack on the Russian patrol boat.
Just prior to the attack, a Russian merchant ship, the Ella, reported sighting four drones which, presumably, were the ones that wound up attacking the patrol boat.
Significantly the crew reported that they could only see the drones when they came within 2 nautical miles (2.3 miles / 3.7 km) of the ship. Their radar could only extend the detection range to 3 nautical miles (3.5 miles / 5.5 km).[1]

Assuming that ‘see’ means visual observation, this demonstrates that drones are easily detected even using simple visual means.  It is unlikely that a merchant ship would have sophisticated EO/IR sensors so ‘see’ likely means a man with binoculars.
Similarly, ‘radar’ undoubtedly means a basic navigation radar rather than a high powered, optimized, military grade radar.
Thus, if a simple merchant ship could spot and track drones at 2-3 nm, a warship should be able to, at least, do that and, likely, a good deal more.  An alert defender would have more than enough time to destroy drones given a 2-3 nm ‘head start’.  Of course, this assumes that the defender has appropriate weapons which neither the Russians nor the US Navy has to any great extent.
This incident also suggests that the ‘swarm’ was just four drones.  Destroying four drones with detection and engagement beginning 3+ nm out should be an easy task.  The Navy needs to begin working out the tactics and weapons required to do this.  As a reminder, we’re operating within easy reach of land off Yemen so we’d better be prepared.

[1]Naval News website, “Vital Russian Supply Lines In Black Sea Cut By Ukrainian Drones”, H I Sutton, 10-Mar-2024,

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Gaza Aid Port

Biden has announced plans to build a port, of sorts, to enable ships to deliver aid to Gaza.  As noted in an Axios article, the aid effort has been thwarted by the lack of access to a deep water port. 
Efforts were already underway to coordinate shipments by sea but the biggest complication was the lack of a deep-water port to enable big ships to dock and off load aid.[1]
The U.S. military will establish a temporary pier in the sea off the Gaza coast with a causeway that will allow trucks to bring aid to shore … [1]
… it will be at least a few weeks before it's operational.[1]
Update:  Pentagon spokesman, Gen. Pat Rider had this to say about the timing,
Finally, in terms of timing, we're working to set this up as quickly as possible, but we expect that it will take several weeks to plan and execute.[2]
Several weeks???  This should be a canned plan, sitting in a planning book.  It's a basic operation, not even a combat operation.  This should be about a week to set up.  As an example, the American Mulberry was operational 12 days after D-Day and that was a much larger operation executed under combat conditions and in extremely unfavorable weather.

This operation illustrates a couple of points relevant to our military discussions:
  • It is not possible to logistically support a military operation of any size by air.  Support/supplies must come from ships.
  • A readily accessible port is a mandatory requirement for any overseas military operation and is often the purpose behind an amphibious assault (Normandy D-Day, for example).
This is as close to an actual combat amphibious assault logistics operation as you can get in peacetime.  It is going to be fascinating to see how the military goes about establishing this port.  In theory, this is exactly what the US military should be able to do in their sleep.  Can the US build a port/causeway in the time frame required?  Given our failure in recent logistic exercises and our failure to surge amphibious ships when required, this is by no means certain.

Mulberry Causeway at Normandy, WWII

On a related note, this places the US perilously close to becoming involved in the Israeli-Hamas conflict.  I hope someone has thought through the ramifications.  This also showcases the highly vulnerable state of a port in a combat action.  Either side, or a third party actor, could opt to launch an attack to disrupt the operation.  Will the US put any defensive assets and policies in place and what will our response be to an attack?
Warning:  It should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway:  this is purely a military analysis of the operation and does not indicate any political position, pro or con, towards either side in this conflict.  There will be no political comments allowed.  Period.
[1]Axios website, “Biden to announce "emergency mission" to build port in Gaza for aid shipments”, Barak Ravid, 7-Mar-2024,

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Reality or Fantasy?

Having largely failed to develop and field a new long range anti-ship cruise missile (LRASM), the Navy is now asking industry to develop yet another new missile with the capabilities of the LRASM for a small fraction of the price. 
The US Navy is seeking industry’s assistance to rapidly prototype and field a new air-launched, stand-off weapon inexpensive enough to manufacture en masse and perform on par with the service’s current anti-ship cruise missile.[1]
The Navy solicitation notice to industry states that the new missile “should be “complimentary” to the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile”.
In fact, the Navy’s notice suggests that the new missile should be even better than the LRASM. 
… the service posted a public notice earlier this month that it should have “increased range at lower costs” and “integrated a high-maturity propulsion system with proven payloads.”[1]
Note that it is not unambiguously clear from the notice that the ‘increased range’ refers to the LRASM although that is the Navy’s current air-launched anti-ship missile.
So, the Navy is asking for a better missile at a substantially lower price. 
Possible proposals from industry should aim for a cost no greater than $300,000 per all-up-round with a production capacity of at least 500 rounds per year, the notice states.[1]
For comparison, the LRASM costs around $3M per missile.  Thus, the Navy is asking for better performance at 1/10th the cost.  Does anything seem out of whack about this?  ComNavOps has long been calling for cheaper weapons that can be mass produced quickly and affordably but this goes well beyond the realm of reasonable and deep, deep into the world of pure fantasy.  Even allowing for some degree of profiteering by industry, if they had the technical capability to produce a missile with better performance than the LRASM for 1/10th the cost, they’d already be doing it.
But wait … the fantasy grows!
The Navy is looking to field this new missile in 2027.[1]  For comparison, the LRASM began development in 2009 and production began eight years later in 2017.  Even today, 15 years after beginning development, we’ve only produced a grand total of 258 missiles, as shown in the table below, and the Lot 4,5 missiles are not expected to be delivered until 2026.

Let’s check the reality-fantasy ratio on this.  Ideally, you’d like a 100% reality to 0% fantasy, right?  Common sense and history tell us with absolute certainty that when you start subtracting from reality and adding fantasy, you fail.  So …
The Navy wants a better LRASM at 1/10th the price.  Does that seem like reality or fantasy?
The Navy wants the new weapon fielded by 2027.  Even if you consider this year to be the start of development (and no development contract has yet been issued), that means the Navy is looking to field this weapon in just three years versus the eight years it took to field the LRASM.  Does that seem like reality or fantasy?
The Navy wants a production capacity of 500 missiles per year compared to the LRASM demonstrated production rate of 258 missile in 7 years which is a production rate of 37 missiles per year!  Does that seem like reality or fantasy?
We have to be a little bit fair, here, and note that the Navy is just exploring the concept. 
“The objective of this notice is to help the government determine if there are existing sources with the capability and experience to rapidly prototype, integrate, test and field a long-range, network-enabled weapon system capable of launch from a F/A-18E/F and F-35A/C,” according to the notice.[1]
They may find out that it’s utterly unrealistic and drop it but the point is that the stated desire is so far from reality that someone is wasting a lot of time and effort on something that should be patently obvious is impossible.
Now, as stated earlier, ComNavOps has long called for cheaper weapons.  However, hand in hand with that call is the call for simpler weapons … it’s the ‘simpler’ part that makes the ‘cheaper’ part a reality.  Could the Navy develop a cheaper and simpler anti-ship cruise missile?  Yes! 
How can we produce a simpler missile?  A good start would be to eliminate the network capability and all the mid-course handoff, pass back and forth, guidance by a Boy Scout in Utah capability that is total garbage and adds nothing to the combat capability.  Make a missile that flies to a spot, opens its sensor ‘eye’, looks for a target, and then attempts to fly into the target.  Eliminate the choosing a specific rivet to hit and just settle for a hit anywhere.  Modern ships aren’t armored.  A hit anywhere will be a mission kill or sinking (ask the Russians!).  Eliminate all the sensor imaging garbage that only increases the software complexity and cost and wrecks schedules.  You don’t need an image library on a missile.  In war, just let it hit anything that meets a few basic sensor criteria.  Anything you hit is going to hurt the enemy.
Let’s stick with reality and leave fantasy in the laboratory.
[1]Breaking Defense, “Navy seeking to rapidly prototype new air-launched, stand-off missile”, Justin Katz, 27-Feb-2024,

Monday, March 4, 2024

We’re Going To Fight With What We Have

One of the characteristics of WWII, which made the defeat of Germany and Japan a foregone conclusion, was the vast industrial capacity of the US and the ability to convert that capacity to wartime production needs.  In contrast, today we lack the sheer foundation of industry and, for a host of reasons, the ability to convert what we do have to wartime needs and to scale up the capacity that we do have.
Why, you ask, can’t we scale up and convert the industry that we do have to wartime needs?  As an illustrative example, recall that in WWII, auto manufacturers were able to convert from cars to tanks, aircraft, and other equipment.  Ford Motor Company, for example, produced B-24 bombers and M-4 tanks, among other items.  Conversion to wartime production was possible, in large part, due to the fact that civilian automobiles and military vehicles and aircraft used, basically, the same equipment.  An M-4 tank wasn’t that different from an automobile.  Bombers and tanks used radial engines which were, themselves, just automobile engines in a different shape than an in-line car engine.  And so on.
Now, consider a modern Abrams tank or a B-2/B-21 bomber as compared to a typical automobile.  There’s no comparison and little similarity!  Turbine engines have little in common with car engines.  Advanced armors have little in common with automobile sheet metal.  Exotic materials like titanium, composites, etc. have little in common with sheet metal and run of the mill steel and aluminum.  Forming, welding, and manipulating exotic materials requires exotic skills.  Stealth coatings have nothing in common with automobile paint.  Micron tolerances have nothing in common with automobile level tolerances.  And so on.
Yes, given years of time to retrain workers, revamp factories, master advanced production techniques, and so forth, we could convert but we aren’t going to have years of time in a war.  If we can’t convert quickly, we aren’t going to convert at all.
Let’s consider some other factors that impair our ability to convert industry to wartime needs.
Exotic Components – Much of military production incorporates and depends on exotic components such as computer chips.  There is almost nothing the military uses that does not use computer chips.  Unfortunately, our chip production capacity is maxed out, right now, as evidenced by the recent, severe chip shortage.  Even now, in peacetime, we desperately need additional computer chip capacity but a new chip factory takes a minimum of $10 billion and five years to build, according to the research firm, International Data Corporation (IDC).[1]  We have no hope of commissioning new chip production facilities in a useful time frame when war comes.
Exotic Materials – Many of our most advanced military components require exotic rare earths, metals, alloys, and composites that we have insufficient supplies of or lack entirely.  The bulk of our rare earth supply comes from China!  I think it’s safe to say China won’t be supplying us with rare earths during a war.
Factories – Over the last several decades, we’ve allowed (forced, through unwise legislation and tax regulations) much of our manufacturing to move overseas.  Even if we could convert existing factories, we simply don’t have enough factories remaining to meet wartime demands.  We’re currently trying to increase weapons production and failing badly and that’s just while trying to satisfy the needs of a minor, regional war between Ukraine and Russia.  How much worse will the weapon production deficiency be in a war with China?
Work Force – We currently have a severe shortage of skilled labor.  Our shortsighted attempt to force every high school student to go to college or be branded a failure has depleted our supply of skilled trades workers.  Once upon a time, we could train new people fairly quickly on basic welding, pipefitting, and electrical skills but the advanced nature of our technology now requires advanced capabilities.  Now, it would take years of training to produce a worker capable of producing our advanced technology.
The conclusion is short, simple, and painfully obvious.  We have little industrial capacity for war, at the moment, and even less potential to convert and scale up our industry for war.  The implication of this is that we’re going to have to fight a war with, essentially, what we have going into it.  We won’t be quickly converting and gearing up production capabilities and capacities.
This means that we need to rethink the type of weapons and inventories we’re maintaining and developing.  Complex weapon systems are the enemy of rapid production and, in war, rapid production is one of the most important keys to victory.  We need to ask ourselves whether somewhat simpler systems that can be rapidly produced is a better way to go than bleeding edge technologies that require decades to develop and produce?  Are hundreds of thousands of dumb bombs better than multi-million dollar precision guided missiles the inventory of which will be depleted inside a month of war?  Remember, the enemy will be facing the same problem although China seems to have a better industrial base to start with (courtesy, in large measure, of us!).
What can we do to put ourselves in a better industrial position?
Simplify.  We need to simplify our overly complex technology.  Every weapon system we develop needs to pass through the filter of rapid production.  It doesn’t matter how good a weapon is if we can’t produce useful quantities in short time frames.  Ask the Germans how the Tiger tank, Me-262, and other wonder weapons worked out for them.
Reclaim Production.  We need to bring production back to America by modifying our laws, regulations, tariffs, and trade relations so as to make it more profitable to produce at home than abroad.  If we do that, industry will return of its own accord.
Skilled Trades.  We need to vastly increase our reservoir of skilled trades workers.  We need to end the college push and, instead, push skilled trades as an honorable, rewarding, and lucrative career at the high school level and re-establish high school vocational education training.  Not everyone should go to college.
Foreign Dependency.  We need to eliminate our foreign dependency on raw materials.  For example, we have abundant rare earths but our regulations discourage the mining and refining of them.  We need to treat defense-critical raw materials as a national imperative and establish a special category of regulations that allow their production without undue concern about environmental issues.  Note that ‘undue’ does not mean ‘no’ concern.  We just can’t regulate critical raw materials out of existence, as we’ve done.

Friday, March 1, 2024

P-8 Contract

The Navy has awarded Boeing a $3.4 billion dollar contract to produce 17 P-8 Poseidon aircraft.[1]  That’s $200M each!  Yikes!
Hmm … What does that price tag do to the aircraft’s Concept of Operations (CONOPS)?  Is anyone really going to risk a $200M airplane anywhere near the battlefield … you know, where it would actually do some good?
Has the cost priced the P-8 out of the realm useful contributions? 
Given the cost-risk, will we relegate the P-8 to peripheral scouting, well away from any danger?  If so, couldn’t we make do with a much cheaper aircraft?
In a similar vein, does anyone really think we’ll risk a $20B Ford (yeah, that’s a lot closer to the real cost than the Navy’s fraudulent $12B cost cap claim) where it can be sunk?
Cost impacts operations and tactics.  It’s unavoidable. 
With $3B destroyers, $20B carriers, $177M F-35 unit costs[2], $200M P-8, and $1.1B frigates, among other examples, are we pricing ourselves out of viable combat operations and tactics?
Should a ‘combat-riskable’ cost point be a design criterion for future ships and aircraft?

[2]Per June 2023 GAO Weapon Systems Annual Assessment report, p.207.