Friday, June 28, 2024

Constellation – Type 054B Comparison

The United States and China are both in the process of building a new class of frigate.  The US is building the Constellation class frigate and China is building the Type 054B which is an evolutionary advance on the Type 054A.  China has built/building 50 Type 054A and an unknown number of Type 054B for a total of, perhaps, 70 some Type 054 frigates.  In contrast, the US plans to build 20 Constellation class ships.
 
Let’s take a look at the cursory specs and see how they compare.
 





















Type 054B Launch


As the specs demonstrate, the Constellation is just a bit inferior in several respects with the only advantage being a greater number of anti-ship missiles.  The Chinese frigate has better stealth, a more powerful gun, ASW torpedoes, and an extra close in weapon.  Based just on these specs, the Type 054B is the superior vessel.  That’s a disappointing commentary on ship design and the underlying combat-mentality that went into each country’s design.
 
The US had an opportunity to produce a modern, state of the art, optimized frigate and instead opted for an obsolete base design some 20 years old.  As with the Burke Flt XXIV, or whatever they’re up to now, the Navy has opted for the illusion of a safe design instead of a modern combat capable and survivable design.  China, on the other hand, has opted for a state of the art modern frigate.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Do We Need Aerial Tankers?

Do we really need carrier based, aerial tankers?  Your immediate reaction is, of course we do!  However, let’s hold off before we make that our final answer and take a moment to look just a bit closer at the tanker question.
 
Let’s start by answering the most basic question:  why do we have tankers, currently?  This is not a trick question.  There are two general answers:
 
  • Overhead Tanking provides tanking for overhead aircraft who need a just a bit of extra fuel to get back aboard the carrier.  Perhaps the pilot had to execute one too many wave offs and go-arounds and has run just a bit low on fuel or maybe the aircraft came back from the mission low on fuel due to any number of possible reasons.  Those aircraft need fuel.
  • Mission Tanking extends the reach of a mission.  WWII aircraft were limited to a range of whatever their onboard fuel tank allowed them.  Tanking is a means of extending the range of an aircraft by refueling during the mission.
 
Understanding those two basic requirements, let’s look a bit deeper and bit further into the future of tanking.
 
 
Mission Tanking
 
Let’s start with the mission extension requirement.
 
Here’s a question you may not have previously considered:  what determines the maximum range of a mission?
 
Simplistically, the range is determined by the aircraft’s unrefueled range plus any aerial refueling provided as part of the mission … but is that the whole story?  Since we’re doing a post on this, you can assume it’s not!
 
If fuel were the only determinant of range, we could, in theory, have carrier aircraft fly global missions.  The carriers could stay in port, launch aircraft, and those aircraft could strike/fight on the other side of the world;  after all, it’s just a matter of sufficient refueling events, right?  However, a moment’s thought suggests that the pilot of a single seat aircraft can’t remain awake, alert, and combat effective beyond a certain number of hours in the cockpit.  Anyone who’s driven long hours in a car understands the debilitating effect of cramped quarters even with occasional pit stops for relief, food, rest, and just to stretch one’s legs.  How much worse must it be for a pilot who, literally, is strapped in and can’t move or stretch, and struggles even to relieve himself.  At some point, the pilot becomes combat ineffective.  It’s analogous to the infantryman who quickly becomes ineffective in a landing craft due to seasickness after a brief period.
 
What is the time period beyond which a pilot becomes combat ineffective?  I don’t know – and it will vary somewhat from person to person – but a reasonable estimate is around three hours.  Beyond that point, the pilot begins to lose effectiveness.  Sure, there’s nothing like the adrenalin surge of combat to wake one up but there’s no escaping the underlying decrease in alertness, reflexes, and mental agility (which declines precipitously with fatigue).  A less than completely optimal pilot is another way to describe a dead pilot.  This is not to say that a mission longer than three hours can’t be accomplished but you’re dipping into diminishing returns at that point.  Diminishing returns is another way to describe a dead pilot and failed mission.  Modern combat requires 100% efficiency in order to have a hope of survival and success.  This, by the way, is the main reason why modular ships are inherent failures – they’re not 100% optimized.  But, I digress …
 
Let’s set aside range limitations and consider enemy threats.  Submarines, cruise and ballistic missiles, supersonic aircraft, very long range SAMs, and the like have resulted in being forced to doctrinally move our carriers further and further back from the target.  We’re now talking about having to operate many hundreds of miles away or even out to a thousand miles or more.  What does that do to the mission time frame?  Using subsonic aircraft with, say, a cruise speed of 550 mph, it would take 3.6 hours to fly a thousand mile, straight, out and back mission.  Now, throw in realistic time delays for departure assembly at the carrier, tanking, non-linear routes, in-flight refueling, actual mission execution time (air to air combat or loitering), landing pattern time, etc. and that bare minimum of 3.6 hours becomes something on the order of five hours.  Wait … what did we say about cockpit time beyond which a pilot’s performance begins to degrade?  Yeah, something on the order of three hours.  Uh, oh …
 
Returning now to the tanker issue, we can see that simply adding tankers to provide longer and longer ranges is not a correct or viable approach.  Tanking is beneficial only until it extends the mission time beyond the magic three hour limit.  After that, it becomes counterproductive.  Thus, even if we had a tanker that could deliver infinite fuel at infinite range, it would be useful only within fairly narrow constraints. 
 
The pilot’s combat effectiveness is the limiting factor, not fuel !
 
Thus, bigger, better, longer ranged tankers are not the answer beyond a certain point.
 
Note:  An almost semantic variation of the range extending, mission tanking is station time extension where we want to keep an aircraft on station for an extended time at a shorter range.  For example, an aircraft flying cap at, say, 300 miles, might need refueling to enable it to loiter on station for a couple hours even though it has sufficient onboard fuel for the 600 mile round trip.
 
 
Overhead Tanking
 
Not much to say about this.  Overhead/recovery tanking is a mandatory aspect of carrier operations.  There’s no getting around the need.
 
 
Conclusion
 
Single seat aircraft are constrained by the physical and mental fatigue limits of the pilot.  As we noted, a thousand mile mission is about the limit of a pilot’s combat effectiveness.  Thus, our attempts to design and build aircraft with combat radii greater than a thousand miles and/or to provide tankers that can extend missions beyond a thousand miles are pointless.
 
Of course, if our aircraft have only an inherent combat radius of, say, 200 miles then, yes, we need to provide tanking to accomplish a thousand mile mission.  However, we have, in the past, built aircraft with unrefueled, thousand mile radii, or nearly so, so that should be our design goal.  An aircraft with a thousand mile unrefueled radius pretty much eliminates the need for mission tanking except in the extreme of, say, maximum range, air-to-air combat which requires full power/afterburner once arriving on station.
 
The conclusion is that, yes, we most definitely need tanker aircraft but we need to be careful to recognize that we’re bumping up against pilot limitations, not fuel limitations.  This recognition should impact our tanker needs (number, size, capacity, etc.) and design.
 
 
 
__________________________
 
Note:  I selected a value of three hours as the point beyond which a pilot becomes ineffective.  It could be two hours, or four, or 3.187.  The exact value doesn’t change the premise and there is no exact value, anyway, since it would vary from pilot to pilot and would depend, in part, on the circumstances of the mission.  Therefore, I’m not going to entertain debates about the exact value.  Fair warning!

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Intellectual Property

We’ve previously noted that intellectual property (IP) rights have become an obstacle to maintenance and development, as well as contracts and costs.  An example is the manufacturer’s data and IP for the LCS radars without which the Navy cannot develop simulation models.  Whether simulation models are a wise idea or not (they’re not!) is a topic for another time.
 
Some readers have expressed doubts that IP is really an issue.  Well, here’s yet another example, straight from the Army horse’s mouth.  Regarding the Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS) for cruise missile defense, Brig. Gen. Frank Lozano had this to say about difficulties in implementing the Norwegian system,
 
… the Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS) …  The cost of supporting a foreign system that the US does not hold intellectual property rights to, he added, is also a hindrance.[1]

 
There’s no particular point to this post other than documenting yet another example of IP issues impacting maintenance and development.
 
 
 
______________________________
 
[1]Breaking Defense, “Switching course: Unhappy with options, US Army considers developing new IFPC interceptor”, Ashley Roque, 19-Jun-2024,
https://breakingdefense.com/2024/06/switching-course-unhappy-with-options-us-army-considers-developing-new-ifpc-interceptor/

Monday, June 17, 2024

Gaza Pier

ComNavOps has been keeping an interested eye on the Gaza aid pier (or causeway) as a moderately realistic simulation of a combat unloading operation involving one component of the Joint Logistics Over-The-Shore (JLOTS).  Would it work as advertised?  How effective and efficient would it be?
 
Surprisingly, the pier has already been shut down. 
… Pentagon announced the "Gaza pier" will be dismantled due to damage.[1]
Here’s a time line of the pier:
 
  • Mar 7 – Biden announces Gaza pier plan
  • Mar 9 – U.S. Army support ship General Frank S. Besson leaves to begin construction
  • May 17 -  pier opens
  • May 28 - pier ops suspended after piece breaks off
  • Jun 8 - operations resume after repairs
  • Jun 15 – Pentagon announces pier will be torn down
  
So, what can we learn from the Gaza pier effort?
 
The first noteworthy aspect of the pier was how long it took to build.  President Biden announced the pier on 7-Mar-2024 and construction was completed 17-May.  That’s around a 70 day time frame.  As a point of comparison, the Normandy Mulberry Harbors were put into operation in less than two weeks despite being hugely larger and more complicated and despite being done under combat conditions.
 
It appears that the pier was in operation approximately 18 days out of its 30 days of existence.  That’s disappointing.  That would not effectively support an amphibious operation.
 
The next noteworthy aspect is the pier’s apparent fragility.  While weather can be severe on any body of water, the Mediterranean is not exactly the North Atlantic or a Pacific typhoon.  I never heard a detailed description of the weather conditions that disabled the pier but there were no reports of any major storms.  One would have expected that such a key element of an amphibious assault would be a good deal more robust. 
 
Mulberry Causeway


 
Conclusion
 
So, what are we to conclude from this ill-fated exercise?  Well we see that the concept has not been exercised nearly enough and under nearly realistic enough conditions for nearly sufficient periods of time.  In other words, we’ve established a key piece of our amphibious concept without sufficiently testing it.  Some might be tempted to try to defend the pier/causeway by claiming that it just encountered some bad luck but … hey … isn’t that what war is?  If you can’t weather some bad luck and difficult conditions (to the extent there were any?) then you haven’t got a combat-robust system.
 
Therefore, we conclude that the pier/causeway is not a viable component of the JLOTS system and this must, in turn, make us question the entire JLOTS system.
 
The only way to prove otherwise is through extensive testing.  Come on, Pentagon.  How about a long term, realistic test?  It would seem mandatory, now, since the system failed its actual use test quite badly.
 
 
______________________________
 
[1]Redstate website, “RIP to Biden's Gaza Pier As He Chalks Up Another Foreign Policy Disaster”, Bonchie, 15-Jun-2024,
https://redstate.com/bonchie/2024/06/15/rip-to-bidens-gaza-pier-as-he-chalks-up-another-foreign-policy-disaster-n2175519

Friday, June 14, 2024

MQ-25 Control

The Navy’s new, not yet active, MQ-25 unmanned tanker is a fascinating control scheme case study.  You may recall that it began life as a combat UCAV concept which then morphed into a combined strike/ISR, then a pure ISR, then a combined ISR/tanker, and, ultimately, into a pure tanker … with occasional rumors of ISR or strike capabilities still being possible with minor modifications.  That convoluted development path alone makes for a fascinating story but there’s another aspect of the MQ-25 that is equally fascinating and, as best I can tell, completely ignored and that is the control scheme required to operate the tanker and how that control scheme impacts the concept of operations (CONOPS).
 
The closest I’ve seen to a CONOPS is the vague, general requirement that the tanker should be capable of delivering 14,000 lbs of fuel at a distance of 500 miles (variously reported as 15,000 lbs at 500 nm, depending on the source).  Of course, that’s not even remotely a CONOPS;  it’s a capability and an ill-defined one at that.
 
Moving on …
 
The MQ-25 consists of two main components: the MQ-25 air vehicle and the MD-5 Ground Control Station (GCS).
 
In a bit of a first for a major program, the government is acting as the lead integrator.  I applaud that, however, there won’t be any manufacturer to blame if it does not go well!
 
The Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program office (PMA-268) is moving forward with integrating its two key elements—the MQ-25 air vehicle and the MD-5 Ground Control Station (GCS) at the program’s System Test and Integration Lab (STIL) at Patuxent River.[1]
 
PMA-268 is the lead systems integrator, working closely with its two prime industry partners, Boeing  and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works … [1]
 
“This will be the first time we are integrating an air vehicle and GCS from two different prime contractors,” said T.J. Maday, MQ-25 labs and integration manager.[1]

 
Airframe development aside, the challenge is to integrate the aircraft and the GCS with the various control ship’s sensors and software.  Many levels of integration are required – no easy task.
 
 
Control Scheme
 
There is no direct ‘pilot’ control of the MQ-25.  A ground ‘pilot’ does not fly the aircraft as is done with other UAVs.  Instead, the MQ-25 will be controlled via general commands which the aircraft’s software will attempt to implement … eventually … as the immediate situation allows.  The analogy would be someone telling you to buy milk from the grocery store but they don’t give you exact, second by second instructions.  You’re given a general command and left to figure out the details and exact timing of how to go about it yourself.
 
… the AVO [air vehicle operator] is never intended to directly input singular controls to the AV, combined with the expected signal delay, this is omitted … [2]
 
AVOs will input large scale commands such as a flight path or holding pattern, an altitude or direction change while running concurrent systems like the Stingray’s fuel pod or landing gear. “The logic within the aircraft will resolve [these] requests as compatible with its current phase of flight … [2]
 
This kind of ‘execute when you can’ control is fascinating.  Consider the simple example of a command to turn to a new heading, say, 90 degrees off.  Seems simple enough, right?  But, what if an aircraft is being currently refueled?  The UAV might be wise to delay execution of the heading change until after the current aircraft finishes tanking.  On the other hand, what if the turn command is the result of an enemy threat dead ahead?  Maybe the UAV should turn very soon and very sharply?  In fact, maybe it should terminate the refueling?  Maybe there’s another friendly aircraft that needs refueling on a fairly high priority but not an emergency?  Should the UAV continue tanking or break off and disrupt the current aircraft’s plan and timing?  What’s the current aircraft going to do with the fuel it receives?  What’s the priority?  And so on … 
 
As you see, the variations to even this ‘simple’ command are infinite.  Can we write software that can correctly assess and evaluate all the possibilities?  That strikes me as no easy task considering that, for example, we’ve been working on the ‘simple’ F-35 logistics software (ALIS) for decades and have failed miserably and the F-35 Block 4 software has been largely abandoned due to failure to complete it.
 
Alternatively, what if the UAV receives no command but there is a threat dead ahead?  Does the UAV have the sensors and software to detect and interpret a threat on its own and then make an intelligent response?  While we’d like to believe that the person controlling the tanker will be omniscient and aware of all threats and command the UAV accordingly, that’s pure fantasy in actual combat.  Some threats will be detected but others will be missed or detected too late.  What if an aircraft in distress needs fuel but can’t contact whoever the UAV controller is?  With a manned tanker they might be able to contact the tanker pilot directly and request help but you can’t talk to a UAV.
 
 
Signal Delay
 
Did you note the reference in the quote to ‘expected signal delay’?  This, too, is intriguing.  We’ve come to believe that any remote, unmanned control is instantaneous and this would appear not to be the case, at least not for the MQ-25.  I don’t know what particular component of the control scheme introduces delay or what the length of the delay is. 
 
This signal delay is similar to the widespread and misguided belief that satellites provide instantaneous detection and weapons launch control against ships.
 
Consider the example of a late detected threat described above.  The pilot of a manned aircraft can react instantly when the undetected threat eventually materializes.  A UAV, especially one with a signal delay built in, cannot react instantly.  We may lose tankers while the UAV flies blithely on, uncomprehending and uncommanded.
 
It is also unclear to me whether the expected signal delay is an inherent, unavoidable characteristic of the system components or whether it’s a conscious decision that real time control is not needed.  Fascinating, either way!
 
Regardless, the approach is a wise one, in the sense that trying to control a UAV in real time in combat is not consistently possible and it is probably counter-productive to even try.  Of course, this only works if the software can be made smart enough to resolve and manage the potentially conflicting or contradicting commands the UAV will receive.
 
It is significant that there is no official mention of MQ-25 control by other airborne assets although the Navy has expressed interest in such alternate control.  At the moment, the only control is via the GCS stations which will reside on the carriers.  However, consistent with its obsession with the ‘any platform/sensor/weapon can network with any other platform/sensor/weapon’ philosophy, it now appears that the Navy is trying to make the MQ-25 controllable by other aircraft.
 
Boeing is also working with the Navy so that an airborne platform can control the MQ-25 Stingray and not just from its aircraft carrier home. When speaking about this, Rear Admiral Telford said:  “MQ-25 needs to have the ability to talk and be managed by any airborne platform, including those of our allies and partners.”[3]

 
Communications Security
 
We noted in a previous post that the desire to control the MQ-25 from other airborne assets was rooted in a fundamentally illogical assumption about communications security (see, "MQ-25 Control Concept"). 
The value in pilots being able to task MQ-25s mid-flight lies within a core assumption the Navy — and more broadly the Pentagon — has about the future battlefield: all communications will be subject to attack. The shipboard controllers may not always have contact or permission to communicate with the MQ-25 depending on the situation. If that’s the case, then a pilot of a nearby manned aircraft may need to redirect the unmanned tanker without assistance from the ship.

Of course, this raised the question, if the shipboard controller can’t communicate with the unmanned tanker due to enemy disruption of communications, why would we think that we’ll be able to communicate with the manned aircraft to tell the pilot to redirect the unmanned one?  That’s a logical inconsistency.  Military thinking just teems with this kind of logical inconsistency.
 
 
Issues
 
Communications – Regardless of the degree of communications with the MQ-25, how secure are the communication links?  Will the regular, if not constant, communications, back and forth, betray the UAV, carrier/control asset, or both locations?  Every person I’ve talked to who knows anything about signals intercept states unequivocally that our comms are nowhere near as secure as we like to believe.
 
For that matter, what type of communication signal will the MQ-25 use?  Satellite relay?  LOS?  Omni-directional?  Multiple modes?
 
Cyber Security – Anything that can receive a signal can be cyber attacked and the MQ-25 certainly qualifies.  At a minimum, the aircraft will have sensors taking in external signals and dedicated communication and data link receivers.  We don’t want a Battlestar Galactica scenario but, as we’ve seen repeatedly, even the best protected network or computer can be hacked and on a fairly regular basis.  Hardly a month goes by that I don’t receive a letter from some company saying that my customer data has been compromised and that’s from major corporations who claim to have secure networks!  China is working every day to find and develop cyber vulnerabilities in our assets.  Can an unmanned platform function reliably in the face of cyber threats? 
 
Ground Control vs. Aircraft Control – Both approaches have pros and cons, as we’ve discussed.  One further aspect of the discussion is that if you need an aircraft to control the tanker, you’ve essentially turned the ‘one-man’ tanker operation into a multi-aircraft procedure.  Requiring two aircraft to enable one to be a tanker is horribly inefficient and, essentially, doubles the cost while requiring twice the resources.
 
CONOPS – I desperately hope the Navy has thoroughly worked through the CONOPS under realistic conditions before concluding that the MQ-25 was the best solution.  My fear (near certainty) is that they hopped on board the unmanned tanker in a technology-for-the-sake-of-technology move and that an unmanned tanker is not the best solution.
 
 
 
 
 _____________________________ 
 
Note:  Fleet service timeline has been pushed back to 2026 or later.
 
 
______________________________
 
[1]Navair website, “MQ-25 team preps for first air vehicle, control station integration test event”, 18-May-2022,
https://www.navair.navy.mil/news/MQ-25-team-preps-first-air-vehicle-control-station-integration-test-event/Wed-05182022-0715
 
[2]Forbes, “Developing The MQ-25’s Ground Control Station Means Thinking Like A Mission Commander - Not A Pilot”, Eric Tegler, 12-Jan-2021,
https://www.forbes.com/sites/erictegler/2021/01/12/developing-the-mq-25s-ground-control-station-means-thinking-like-a-mission-commandernot-a-pilot/?sh=643ac901557a
 
[3]Simple Flying website, “Pushing Boundaries: What Is The Boeing MQ-25 Stingray?”, Mark Finlay, 13-Feb-2024,
https://simpleflying.com/boeing-mq-25-stingray-guide/

Monday, June 10, 2024

Deadly Fish

Gotta get closer to shore, the Captain thought.  They were already dangerously, recklessly close with only a few feet of water under the keel but safety – and surprise – lay to the starboard, landward side of the ship, not the open ocean to port even though every sailor’s instinct told him to veer off and make for open water. 
 
A few whispered commands and more than a few discrete, disbelieving looks from the immediate crew and the ship inched closer to shore.
 
If any ship could carry out this mission, the Captain knew, it was this one.  The ship was a Fletcher II class destroyer – a true destroyer, not some unholy, underarmed, unarmored, cruiser size ship that was designated a destroyer to keep Congress from asking inconvenient questions.  This was a ship built to fight and kill.  The ship was designed with maximum radar, IR, and acoustic stealth to be as nearly invisible as was possible.  It mounted four 5” guns, dozens of CIWS and SeaRAM mounts, and a main battery of 10x 650 mm torpedoes in two quintuple, centerline, rapid reload launchers, one midships and one nearer the stern to provide separation in the event of battle damage.
 
Right now, the ship, and her five squadron mates were on their way to knock out the southern Chinese invasion fleet that, along with a middle and northern fleet, had been attacking Taiwan at three separate sites for the last five weeks.  The Taiwan forces had managed to absorb the initial assaults at great cost but were losing as the Chinese continued to pour reserve forces and supplies into the assaults.  Something had to give.
 
The preferred method of attack against the invasion fleet had been the anti-ship cruise missile but US stocks (and Chinese stocks!) had been quickly depleted in the first three weeks and had proven largely ineffective against the Chinese version of Aegis.  The US had believed in the effectiveness of their own Aegis system so it should have come as no surprise to US planners that the Chinese version (copied and improved from Aegis) would also be effective.  Yes, there had been several Chinese ships of various types sunk or knocked out of the fight but the Chinese pre-war numerical advantage and close proximity to the assault had allowed them to absorb the hits with almost no operational impact.
 
The US had targeted the amphibious and supply ships which, in hindsight, had been a mistake as it exposed the attacking cruise missiles to the full depth of the escort’s protective anti-air defensive layer.  Relatively few of the thousands of missiles launched over the weeks had gotten through.  The Navy’s Tomahawk Block V, while lauded by Navy leadership pre-war, was still, essentially, 1980’s technology with a few added enhancements mostly related to networking and remote communications which had no actual combat value.  It was, for all practical purposes, the 1980’s Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM).  While the range was impressive at 1000 miles, the missile lacked the supersonic speed, terminal maneuverability, and on-board countermeasures to successfully penetrate the Chinese Aegis defenses.  Range without lethality was pointless, as the Navy had found out the hard way.
 
The Navy’s air-launched Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) had had greater success but the Navy had unwisely cancelled production in anticipation of a Next Generation LRASM (NG-LRASM) and, thus, inventories were very small and the missiles were depleted in the first two weeks.
 
Thus, it was that the Fletcher II class squadron found itself skimming the southern shore of Taiwan, literally hugging the coast to blend their already minimal radar signatures with the returns from the land as they proceeded single file at 30+ knots with just 50 m bow to stern separation between ships.  This was insane sailing by any peacetime standard but was now the preferred tactic for this mission.  Only by getting lost in the land’s radar and acoustic clutter could the ships hope to survive long enough to reach their launch point.
 
The destroyers had broken off from escorting a resupply convoy as it pulled into Hualien during the early evening as darkness was descending.  Hualien was a major port on the central, east coast which was protected by mountains and had become a natural convoy destination.  It was 170 miles from Hualien to the southern tip of Taiwan – around five and a half hours sailing at the destroyer’s best speed.  The Chinese had seen convoys come (some badly battered, some largely untouched) and go from Hualien repeatedly and one more convoy went unremarked by Chinese infiltrators watching from the heights.  The appearance or disappearance of a handful of escort destroyers didn’t attract the attention of the Chinese army infiltrators who didn’t really know or care about naval matters.  The destroyers were just ships going about their convoy escort duties as they had done dozens of times before. 
 
Map of Taiwan
 

Now, the destroyer squadron rounded the southern tip of the island, just seventy or so miles to the Chinese invasion fleet.  Another five miles and the squadron reached the launch point.  Every additional mile from this point on significantly increased the risk of detection.
 
One after another, the destroyers pivoted away from the shore to unmask their centerline torpedo launchers and began the launch, rapid reload, launch cycle.  Each ship carried 40 torpedoes and the squadron launched a total of 240 torpedoes in under ten minutes before reversing course to had back the way they had come, their mission complete.
 
Southern Tip of Taiwan


As the wave of torpedoes approached the invasion fleet at their 30 kt cruising speed, they stayed near the shore where the surf noise helped mask their motor noise.  At around five miles, however, the torpedoes spread out along a ten mile front perpendicular to the shore.  This set up a ten mile wide sweep through the invasion fleet’s location.
 
At this point, the outlying fleet escorts began to pick up the acoustic signatures of the approaching torpedoes and, after a few more minutes of indecisiveness, confirmed the detection of the torpedoes and sounded the alarm.  The ships that were moving began to turn away and scatter to the north while those that were stopped or anchored began, frantically, to get underway.  Ironically, the initial reaction of the outer ships, which was to turn away from the threat, wound up bringing them closer to the main amphibious fleet and had the effect of concentrating the targets for the torpedoes.
 
With so little warning, there was no hope of escape as the torpedoes accelerated to their terminal attack speed of 60 kts.  The torpedoes began sensing individual targets and their simplistic programming resulted in them locking onto the nearest valid target, often multiple torpedoes per target.  The torpedo designers had purposely omitted any attempt at sophisticated target discrimination, acoustic imaging, networked smart allocation of targets, or any other worthless action that contributed nothing but cost to the torpedo.  These torpedoes were ‘dumb’.  They would go after the first target they saw that met some basic criteria.  This meant inefficient allocation of weapons but the designers realized that the solution to that was numbers.  If you could put enough weapons in the water, it didn’t matter how inefficient they were.  These torpedoes were the equivalent of area bombardment.  They would attack any target and amongst a Chinese invasion fleet, any target was a good target.
 
The Chinese ships frantically fled, twisting and turning to avoid the incoming torpedoes.  There were a few collisions and many near misses but, ultimately, it did no good.  A ship might evade one torpedo but the seeming endless wave of torpedoes ensured that another torpedo would lock on.  The first torpedoes began impacting and explosions and fires began dotting the sea.  The wave of torpedoes continued on.  Inevitably, by pure chance, some ships escaped being targeted and survived but the southern flank of the invasion fleet was devastated and disrupted.
 
The wave front of torpedoes continued on, passing through the escorts and impacting the largely motionless amphibious ships.  Ship after ship took hits, ripping the guts out of the invasion.  By the time the torpedoes passed through the center of the fleet and began approaching the northern escorts, there were few torpedoes left but even those few managed to completely disrupt the escorts, causing them to flee further north.
 
With the Chinese invasion fleet broken and the carefully networked Aegis-like air defense completely disrupted, a carefully timed B-2/21 bomber force, heavily supported by electronic warfare aircraft and led by an F-22 fighter sweep, hit the surviving ships of the invasion fleet with a barrage of various close range air dropped weapons.  This kind of close attack couldn’t have succeeded if the escort force was still intact, networked, and integrated.  The destroyers, however, had seen to that threat.  As the bombers and fighters pulled off their attack and headed home, the Chinese southern invasion fleet had, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist, providing some badly needed relief to the Taiwan defenders and allowing the defensive forces to concentrate on the middle and northern invasion sites.
 
 
 
 
_______________________
 
The Torpedo

Don’t believe the torpedo described in the story could exist?  Consider these range specifications for real torpedoes.
 
 
US Mk48 Torpedo
Range: 
38 km (24 mi; 21 nmi) at 55 kts
50 km (31 mi; 27 nmi) at 40 kts
 
Type 65 Soviet 650 mm Torpedo
Range:
50 km (31 miles) at 50 kts
100 km (62 miles) at 30 kts
 
Is it that big a leap to believe the torpedo described in this story could exist?
 
Story Torpedo
Range: 
137 km (85 miles; 74 nmi) at 30 kts with 60 kt terminal attack speed
 

 
Story Aspects
 
This story demonstrates, among several other things, the value of a very basic weapon.  The imagined torpedoes have been designed with none of the wire guidance, multi-mode seeker, acoustic imaging, etc. that drives up cost, consumes internal volume, increases production complexity which decreases production rates, requires complex software, and adds little combat capability improvements.  Thus, the internal volume savings can be devoted to additional fuel and/or a larger warhead.
 
Simpler, easier to produce, cheaper, and just as lethal – what’s not to like?

  
The story also demonstrates the value of an optimized, specialized weapon system, the destroyer, whose sole primary purpose was anti-surface/torpedo.  A multi-function ship with just a few torpedoes could never hope to achieve the kind of wholesale, efficient destruction described in this story.  The entire navy wouldn’t be composed of these ships, of course.  It would just be one or two squadrons worth.  The rest of the fleet would be a mix of various other ships, each with their own specialization.  This gives the operation planner a menu of specialized ships to choose from instead of being forced to use just one ship type which isn’t optimized for any one function (hi, Burke!).
 
 
Yet another aspect of the story is that it Illustrates the profligate expenditure of weapons (many readers will be shocked by the number of torpedoes used, having completely forgotten what real missions require in a true war) which is  characteristic of every real war in history and totally absent from every pre-war plan in history.
 
 
Missions
 
Additional mission examples for a torpedo destroyer might include:
 
  • Sinking merchant ships in a blockade scenario, something that the current Navy surface ships would have a very difficult time doing.
  • Launching specialized recon torpedoes (USV) for recon of harbors, shorelines, chokepoint passages, etc.
  • Land attack using torpedoes with suitable fuzing against docks, dry docks, shoreline facilities, etc.
  • Destruction of causeways being used to unload ships
  • Anti-ship attack from over the horizon using with the aid of spotter UAVs
  • Convoy escort
 
 
Fun Facts:
 
From Wiki:
  • The torpedo inventory of the U.S. Navy in 2001 was 1,046 Mk-48 torpedoes.
  • In 2017 Lockheed's production was approximately 50 per year.
  • Mk48 production ended in 1996.  Production restarted in 2016 with initial deliveries in 2022, as best I can tell.
 
Disclaimer:  As always (and always ignored!), this is not intended to be a true combat simulation.  It is intended to illustrate some concepts in a more readable - and hopefully enjoyable - format.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Weapon Selection Case Study

The Republic of Stupidia (formerly the Kingdom of Idiotonia) has been considering which of two competing weapons it should acquire.  Here’s a brief description of them:
 
1. Surface to Surface HARE missile
 
  • Guidance – combined GPS, terrain following, semi-active radar homing, laser guided, optical with mid-course guidance from any platform anywhere in the world
  • Targeting Sensor – combined electro-optical, infrared, infrared imagining, microwave, LIDAR, active radar, library image matching with individual rivet target selection
  • Terminal Maneuver – infinite maneuvering through subspace with interdimensional terminal popup
  • Networking – ‘on the fly’ spontaneous networking creating a mobile weapons cloud network automatically integrating with all regional networks for up to the nano-second data linking
  • Range – intercontinental with planned upgrade to interstellar
  • Speed – 70% lightspeed
  • Warhead – hyperfusion with dark matter enhanced antimatter core and selectable high explosive, fragmentation, or shaped charge modes
  • Cost – four million quadtrillion dollars (2024 $) each
  • Production Rate – one per century
 
 
2. Surface to Surface TORTOISE  missile
 
  • Guidance – inertial navigation
  • Targeting Sensor – active radar
  • Terminal Maneuver - none
  • Networking – none
  • Range – 1000 miles
  • Speed – cruise Mach 0.7, terminal sprint Mach 2
  • Warhead – TNT
  • Cost – $50,000 each
  • Production Rate – 1000 per week
 
 
Update Result:  Stupidia chose the HARE missile and subsequently lost the war against the neighboring godless heathens of Commonsenseica due to the one missile per century production rate and the HARE’s cyber vulnerability discovered by a teenager in Commonsenseica who was trying to program a video war game and wound up inadvertently taking control of the HARE missile.
 
 
 
Think this is silly?  Let’s take a look at what the US Navy is actually doing.
 
The US Navy is looking at a new anti-ship missile as described below
 
AGM-158C LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile)
 
  • Guidance – jam resistant GPS, Inertial Navigation, data link for mid-course guidance and updates
  • Targeting Sensor – Infrared thermal imaging with image reference library, passive RF, EO, automatic scene/target matching recognition with AI software guidance for target selection, passive electronic support measures (ESM), data-link for off-board real-time electronic picture of the enemy battlespace provided by other assets, on-the-fly missile-to-missile networking for data sharing and attack coordination
  • Networking – on-the-fly missile-to-missile networking for data sharing and attack coordination
  • Range - >200 nm
  • Speed – subsonic
  • Warhead – 1000 lb WDU-42/B HE blast fragmentation penetrator
  • Cost – $3M+ each
  • Production Rate – something on the order of 100 per year
 
 
Does the LRASM sound eerily similar to Stupidia’s HARE missile with its attendant high cost, complexity, and very poor production rates? 
 
Now consider what a non-existent, theoretical missile based on ComNavOps’ (K.I.S.S.) principles might look like:
 
Non-existent, Basic Missile
 
  • Guidance – inertial navigation
  • Targeting Sensor – active radar
  • Networking – none
  • Range – 1000 miles
  • Speed – cruise Mach 0.7, terminal sprint Mach 2
  • Warhead – high explosive
  • Cost – $50,000 each
  • Production Rate – 1000 per week
 
Does that sound eerily similar to the TORTOISE missile with its attendant simplicity, low cost, and ease of production?
 
So, which one is the Navy pursuing?  Yeah, the LRASM HARE. 
 
All four of our LRASM missiles should be finished with production in time for the coming war with China and I expect they’ll work just as well as the other weapons we’ve sent to Ukraine.
 
Are we selecting the right weapons?  TORTOISE or the HARE?

Monday, June 3, 2024

Same As Us

There is a large segment of naval observers and commentators who believe that all of our shipbuilding woes could be solved by contracting our construction to foreign shipyards.  The claim, with almost no supporting evidence, is that foreign builders build ships faster, better, and cheaper.  ComNavOps has refuted that belief, repeatedly, and pointed out that when all the ‘tricks’ of production and accounting are considered, foreign ships are not cheaper, have similar quality issues, and are not more likely to be on time.  The Belgian-Dutch new mine countermeasures ship program (see, “Dutch-Belgian MCMMothership”) provides yet another example.
 
At the request of Belgium Naval & Robotics, a Naval Group-Exail consortium, the delivery schedule of the first four of the twelve ships acquired in 2019 has been updated. The lead ship, BNS Oostende (M940), was originally expected on December 23, 2024. The Belgian Navy will have to wait eight more months.[1]

The delay is not just for the first ship of the class.  The next three will also be delayed.
 
The Dutch Navy’s first ship, the BNS Vlissingen (M840), was to be delivered in June 2025. Dutch sailors will to wait five to six more months. The BNS Tournai (M941) and BNS Scheveningen (M841) will arrive respectively one and two months late.[1]

So, a simple MCM vessel will be delayed nearly a year (and you know it will be later than that!).  Perhaps foreign shipyards/builders are not the miracle workers so many of us want to believe?  Perhaps they’re not really any different or better than we are?  Perhaps they do some things a bit better and some things a bit worse but, overall, they’re no different from us?
 
Dutch-Belgian MCM Mothership


Every time I’ve looked into foreign shipyards and builders in any detail, they come up no better than us.  You might recall a recent post citing many examples of foreign shipyard failures similar to ours (see, “Foreign Ships AreMagnificent”).
 
I have nothing against using a foreign shipyard under certain, limited circumstances but I doubt it will produce any real improvement in quality, faster builds, or cheaper costs.  On the plus side, it would add an element of competition which is conspicuously absent and that alone might spur some small degree of improvement.
 
 
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[1]Naval News, “Belgian-Dutch RMCM Mine Warfare Program Facing Delays”, Nathan Gain, 13-May-2024,
https://www.navalnews.com/naval-news/2024/05/belgian-dutch-rmcm-mine-warfare-program-facing-delays/

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Constellation Train Wreck Gathers Steam

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report on the Constellation class frigate construction program delays and it’s an eye opener even for ComNavOps who predicted exactly these kinds of problems long ago.
 
To review, the contract delivery date is April 2026.  Current estimates by the Navy put delivery sometime in 2029, three years late and seven years after the Aug 2022 start of construction (seven years to build a frigate?!), and you know that date is going to continue to be pushed further out with more delays.
 
As with all sizable ships, the Constellation is being built in sections, called blocks (although the Navy now calls them ‘Grand Modules’ in their typically PowerPoint-ish, pointless churn style;  someone undoubtedly got a promotion for coming up with the phrase, ‘Grand Module’) and, according to a diagram in the report, the Constellation has 31 blocks.  Of the 31 blocks, 11 are currently being manufactured despite not having completed design documents.  GAO lists the percentage design completion of the blocks under construction: 
 
3x   56-75% complete
2x   76-90% complete
6x   >91% complete
 
None of the block designs are complete despite being under construction.  How you build blocks (or anything!) with incomplete designs is a complete mystery and, as the report details, is a major reason why the Constellation is running around three years late already.
 
Worse, GAO cautions that the Navy’s method for estimating the degree of design completion guarantees that even these woeful achievements are overestimated and the designs are not really to the stated level of completeness.[1]  The designs have been ‘pencil whipped’ for reporting purposes.  GAO notes,
 
Now, over 18 months after lead ship construction start, the functional design remains unstable, which has undermined confidence in the accuracy and maturity of detail design products needed to construct grand modules—and construction progress has effectively stalled. The Navy and shipbuilder have resorted to correcting deficient drawings previously credited toward design progress, but the program continues to credit design progress based largely on quantity of deliverables rather than on the underlying quality of the document itself.[1][emphasis added]

The Navy has committed to fraudulent reporting to cover their failure to use best shipbuilding practices that are standard throughout the commercial shipbuilding industry.
 
In addition to design deficiencies, other problems are beginning to emerge. 
 
As of Oct 2023, the builder was reporting a 10% increase in weight growth over the June 2020 calculated weight.  Weight growth has both short and long term negative impacts, as GAO notes, 
Further, as we previously found in a July 2014 report evaluating the LCS program, unplanned weight growth during ship construction can compromise ship capabilities in the short term (i.e., upon delivery of the ship to the fleet) and in the long term, as the fleet seeks to alter and improve initial capabilities over the planned decades-long service life of the ship.[1]
And, 
The Navy disclosed to us in April 2024 that it is considering a reduction in the frigate’s speed requirement as one potential way, among others, to resolve the weight growth affecting the ship’s design.[1]

So, we can expect reductions in the ship’s specifications and performance requirements.  This is exactly what happened with the LCS.  Its specifications and requirements were continually reduced in response to weight increases and other problems that cropped up during construction. 
 
I thought the parent design concept was supposed to eliminate these kinds of problems?  Well, it might have if the Navy had actually used the parent design instead of hoodwinking Congress and designing, essentially, a brand new ship under the guise of a ‘parent’ vessel.
 
The Navy has learned absolutely nothing about ship design, acquisition, and program management from the lessos of the LCS, Zumwalt, and Ford fiascos. 
 
Well done, Navy.  Make us proud.
 
 
 
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[1]Government Accountability Office, “Navy Frigate - Unstable Design Has Stalled Construction and Compromised Delivery Schedules”, May 2024, GAO-24-106546