Monday, January 23, 2017

LCS-2 Variant Update

The Freedom (LCS-1) variant of the LCS has been quite well documented.  By comparison, the Independence (LCS-2) variant is much less known, at least publicly.  The DOT&E 2016 Annual Report sheds some light on the Independence variant.  Here are some of the findings.  All quotes are from the report and any emphasis is added.

The Sea Giraffe radar was found to have detection and tracking limitations.

“…the Navy-conducted non-firing radar tracking events against subsonic ASCM drones, the Sea Giraffe radar provided LCS crews with only limited warning to defend itself against ASCMs in certain situations.”

This illustrates the world of difference between manufacturer’s brochures and reality.  All of you who are so ready to jump on board foreign equipment based on the amazing claims by the manufacturer would do well to keep this example firmly in mind.  The only reason foreign equipment sounds good to us is because we don’t have access to actual test data for it.  If we did, we’d see all the same problems that plague US and Navy systems.

Closely related, the electro-optical detection and tracking system was found to suffer from substandard performance.

“The test events demonstrated that SAFIRE was unable to provide
reliable tracking information against some targets. Furthermore, the safety standoff requirements on Navy test ranges were so severe that they precluded meaningful live-fire gun engagements against these targets. Because of these problems and constraints, the program decided to cancel all subsequent live-fire events, including those scheduled for operational testing, conceding that the Independence variant is unlikely to be consistently successful when engaging some LSFs [Low Slow Flyers – meaning, helos and small planes] until future upgrades of SAFIRE can be implemented.”

More specifically, regarding SAFIRE,

“The ship’s electro-optical/infrared camera, SAFIRE, is the primary sensor for targeting the 57 mm gun. The system suffers from a number of shortcomings that contribute to inconsistent tracking performance against surface and air targets, including a cumbersome human-systems interface, poor auto-tracker performance, and long intervals between laser range finder returns. These problems likely contributed to the poor accuracy of the 57 mm gun observed during live-fire events, though the root cause(s) of the gun’s inaccuracy has not been determined definitively.”

The ship’s electronic support system (ESM) which provides direction finding and emitter detection and classification was also found to have problems.

“The ES-3601 [ESM system] detected the presence of the ASCM seekers in most instances but did not reliably identify certain threats.”


LCS-2 Variant


Surface warfare was a problem.  The Navy conducted 7 ASuW test events in which single boats were engaged and the ship was required to defeat the threat before the boat reached a prescribed range.  The ship failed to stop the boats in 2 of the events.  This is disturbing for a ship that was designed to defeat swarms.  The inability to consistently defeat single boats under ideal and unrealistic conditions does not bode well for the ship’s ability to successfully engage swarms.  Here’s DOT&E’s comments.

“The 57 mm gun demonstrated inconsistent performance even in benign conditions, which raises doubts about the ship’s ability to defend itself without the SUW mission package installed. The inaccuracy of the targeting systems, the difficulty in establishing a track on the target, and the requirement to hit the target directly when using the point-detonation fuze combine to severely impair effective employment of the gun, and limit effective performance to
dangerously short ranges.”


LCS-2 and LCS-4 were assessed for operational reliability and found to have problems in several areas.

“LCS 2 was unable to launch and recover RMMVs on 15 days because of four separate propulsion equipment failures involving diesel engines, water jets, and associated hydraulic systems and piping. These failures would also have limited the ship’s capability to use speed and maneuver to defend itself against small boat threats.”

“LCS 2 experienced multiple air conditioning equipment failures and was unable to supply enough cooling to support the ship’s electronics on several occasions. One or more of the ship’s three chilled water units was either inoperative or operating at reduced capacity for 159 days (90 percent of the period).”

“LCS 2 experienced failures of critical systems such as the SeaRAM air defense system (four failures and a total downtime of 120 days), the ship’s 57 mm gun (inoperative for 114 days), the SAFIRE electro‑optical/infrared system (inoperative for 25 days), and the Sea Giraffe radar (multiple short outages)  …  many of these failures left the ship defenseless against certain threats for days at a time.”

“Similar to LCS 4, LCS 2 experienced several Ship Service Diesel Generator failures during the period …”

“A Mobicon straddle carrier failure left the ship unable to conduct waterborne MCM operations for a period of 4 days until a  technician could travel from Australia to diagnose the problem and make needed adjustments.”

This demonstrates the fundamental flaw in the conceptual maintenance design which relegates all repairs to shore side.  This flaw surfaces many times in the DOT&E report where failures are unable to be repaired by the ship’s crew.

“Failure of a power conversion unit that supplied 400-Hertz power to the mission bay deprived the ship of MCM mission capability for 20 days while the ship was in port undergoing repairs. The ship also lost the capability to supply 400-Hertz power to the aircraft hangar, where it is needed to conduct pre-mission checks on the MH-60S and AMCM systems. The Navy never determined the cause of the near simultaneous failures of the two power conversion units, although technicians considered them related.”

“The mission essential equipment for conducting SUW on LCS 4 had poor reliability, with a failure that caused a partial loss of capability approximately every day and a complete loss of mission capability every 11 days on average. Based on these failure rates, LCS has a near-zero chance of completing a 14-day mission (the length of time LCS can operate before resupply of food is required) or a 30-day mission (the length of time prescribed by Navy requirements documents) without experiencing an operational mission failure.”

“LCS spent 40 days of the 136-day test period with one or more engines inoperative or degraded.”

“LCS 4 experienced numerous instances in which the flow of navigation data (heading, pitch, and roll) to the combat system was disrupted for short periods, which disabled the Sea Giraffe radar and the 57 mm gun and degraded SeaRAM’s performance.”

“SeaRAM, suffered from poor reliability and availability before, during, and after operational testing aboard LCS 4. Failures caused seven long periods of downtime (greater than 48 hours) between
May 16, 2015, and June 18, 2016. Each repair required the delivery of replacement components that were not stocked aboard the ship, and most required assistance from shore-based subject matter experts. These failures left the ship defenseless against ASCMs, and would likely have forced it to return to port for repairs if it had been operating in an ASCM threat area. In addition, the SeaRAM aboard LCS 4 had five short (less than 5 minute) outages during live and simulated engagements against aerial targets, each of which might have resulted in an inbound ASCM hitting the ship. The SeaRAM aboard LCS 2 has also suffered from several long-lived failures.”

“The ship’s ride control system, used for high-speed maneuvering, did not appear to be fully functional at any time during developmental or operational testing in FY15 and FY16.”

The DOT&E report contains much more.  You can read it if you’re interested.

The discouraging aspect is not the widespread problems and failures (well, yes it is).  Those are to be expected in a new ship class, especially a class built by yards that had little or no naval construction experience and attempted to utilize and integrate so many new technologies and vendor equipment that the Navy had no experience with.  The discouraging aspect is that, given the expected nature of the failures, the Navy opted to commit to a full production run before the first ship was even built.  That philosophy took us from one prototype to 50 some failures.  So many LCS supporters fail to understand this.  They see the LCS as worthwhile due to its [in their eyes] potential while failing to recognize that that unrealized potential is actually failure when applied to 50 some ships.  It’s that failure multiplied by 50 that so upsets LCS critics.  If the Navy had built a single prototype, no one would care whether it had problems.  That didn’t happen.  Instead, the Navy essentially built or is building 50 failed prototypes.  Even if no further problems are found and every existing problem is miraculously solved tomorrow, all the built and under-construction ships will have to be rebuilt to incorporate the fixes.  Remember what that’s called? – concurrency.  That will double the true acquisition cost.

Worse, all this discussion is before we even get around to talking about the modules and their failures.  It’s looking like many LCS will serve a significant amount of their service lives without any module.

Friday, January 20, 2017

LCS - Not All That Fast

Arguably, the second most important characteristic of the LCS, after the modular swap capability (now abandoned), is its speed, according to the Navy.  This is the Navy’s claim despite the fact that no one seems able to come up with any practical use for the ship’s high speed.  The LCS sacrificed much at the altar of speed, as you’ll recall, paying a steep price in weight, margins, internal volume, machinery noise, and fuel consumption.  In any event, as the LCS has developed, the vessel has grown heavier and its speed and range have been steadily downgraded.  Now we see this from testing reported in the DOT&E 2016 Annual Report:

“LCS 4 failed its sprint speed requirement of 40 knots, demonstrating a maximum sustained speed of only 37.9 knots in calm waters.”

So, the much vaunted speed, which cost the ship so much, can’t even be achieved.  You’ll recall original Navy claims that suggested the top speed would be near 50 kts.  Now we’re down to 37.9 kts.  That’s a horrific price the ship paid for 37.9 kts.

To sum up, the most important characteristic of the LCS, modularity, has been abandoned and the second most important characteristic, speed, can’t be achieved ……. and the Navy wants more of these vessels!

Well, at least the ship can go fast if it ever needs to.  Kind of.  But not without problems.

“LCS 4 has long-standing problems with her ride control system hardware, including interceptors, fins, and T-Max rudders, that affect the ship’s maneuverability at high speeds. The ship also had reported recurring problems with frequent clogging of the gas turbine engine fuel oil conditioning module pre‑filters and coalescers, and found it difficult to maintain high speed for prolonged periods. The crew found it necessary to station extra operators in the machinery room (normally an unmanned space) to change fuel filters and manually control the fuel oil heaters to keep the gas turbine engines in operation during these high-speed runs.”


I repeat …….  and the Navy wants more of these vessels!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

LCS Alternative Uses

For better or worse, the LCS is in the fleet and, with 40-52 planned, it will make up a major portion of our combat fleet.  Now, including a toothless vessel in a count of the combat fleet is delusional but the Navy is, numerically, replacing frigates and Aegis cruisers with LCS so we need to deal with it.  Sure, for many of us the preferred solution is to terminate the LCS and move on but the reality is that the Navy is committed to the LCS.  Recognizing that, let’s ask ourselves, are there combat or combat related uses that the LCS could be put to, with suitable modifications, so that we can get some value from the class?  I’ve looked at this in previous posts but it’s worth a fresh look.  Here’s some possibilities.  Note that in most (all?) of the cases, the LCS would have to be modified to greatly increase its at-sea endurance in order to be useful – this in addition to whatever specific possibility is being discussed.  Note, also, that I’m ignoring the “frigate” version of the LCS since we have so little concrete information about it, as yet.

SigInt – The Navy had a dedicated signals intelligence aviation platform in the EP-3 and, later, the ES-3A Shadow (an S-3 Viking variant) but those have been retired without replacement.  The Navy also has a history of operating various intelligence gathering ships.   Unfortunately, there has also been a history of intelligence gathering ships and aircraft being attacked – Pueblo, Liberty, EP-3.  An armed LCS, fitted with a comprehensive suite of electronic intelligence gathering equipment and supplemented by UAVs, might be able to fill the role and provide its own protection against the kind of attacks and seizures that have happened in the past.

UAV Carrier – I’ve often talked about the need for large numbers of relatively small and cheap UAVs to conduct surveillance and targeting.  An LCS with its module space converted to hangar and UAV storage space and a large flight deck for UAV launch and recovery operations would make a suitable UAV carrier.  One such LCS UAV carrier with each surface/carrier/amphibious group might prove useful

Company Landing Team – The Marines have been experimenting with smaller, Company sized landing teams (referred to as CoLT, at one time) and the LCS might be a suitable platform for the hosting of such a unit.  For a variety of reasons, I don’t view this as a good idea but it is a potential use for the ship if the Marines are determined to pursue a bad idea.

Fire Support – Amphibious assault (and general ground support) naval fire support is a glaring gap in the Navy’s ground warfare support capability.  The Navy has made it clear that they will not risk operating Burkes close enough to shore to provide naval gunfire support.  The LCS could be modified to operate navalized rocket systems (MLRS/ATACMS).  The combination of standard rockets and long range ATACMS would actually offer greater strike range than the Zumwalt’s now non-existent LRLAP rounds.  By utilizing the flight deck space, several launchers could be mounted.  Making them reloadable along the lines of the Mk 112 ASROC launcher would offer a substantial capability with an extensive magazine.  Several LCS, each with several launchers, would provide a potent naval firepower support capability.  Adding a few extra SeaRAM AAW self-defense units to each ship would provide the ability to operate in close to shore with a reasonable chance at survival.

Riverine/PC Mother Ship – An LCS might make a suitable mother ship to a group of riverine or PC (Cyclone class) vessels.  The extensive modular storage spaces of the LCS could be converted to maintenance shops and food/fuel/munitions storage.  This would allow the smaller vessels to operate farther from bases and for a longer period of time.

Torpedo Ship – This option is less of a dedicated ship type than a specialized function that could prove useful.  One of the tasks in any war and a possible (though not preferred by ComNavOps!) specific strategy is blockade and the need to destroy enemy merchant shipping.  The LCS could be used around the world as a commerce raider of sorts except that it lacks a ship killing weapon.  Even the addition of a handful of Harpoon-ish weapons won’t sink large tankers and cargo ships.  Adding a bank of standard 533 mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes would go a long way to providing a ship sinking capability for relatively close range encounters.

At the higher end of this concept, what weapon is the Navy most afraid of?  Well, there’s a few possible answers but the large Russian wake homing torpedoes are certainly one of them.  If the Navy would develop their own version, it could be mounted on a torpedo-LCS and offer a potent anti-ship capability.  The Russian Type 65 torpedo is reported to have a range of 30-60 miles depending on speed.  That’s approaching Harpoon anti-ship missile range!

SURTASS – The Navy currently operates the USNS Victorious class T-AGOS SURTASS ships which stream very long towed arrays and are used for very long distance detection of targets.  These ships are not active combat ships and their role in war would be peripheral, if at all.  A suitably modified LCS might be able to provide a degree of SURTASS capability to combat surface groups and/or provide detection capabilities to amphibious groups conducting assaults.  This is a questionable use.  The LCS itself might be too loud to effectively operate a SURTASS array or the presence of surrounding ships might provide too much noise interference.  I just don’t know enough about the T-AGOS function to say.  Still, it’s a possibility.

Consider these as just conceptual ramblings.  Any or all might prove infeasible.  On the other hand, any or all might prove to be feasible and allow us to gain some value from an otherwise currently useless ship.

How about it?  Got any ideas of your own for the LCS?



Monday, January 16, 2017

Stop Building Burkes

The Navy is on a seemingly endless path of Burkes, Burkes, and more Burkes.  Yes, they’ve upgraded the design but they’re bumping up against inherent limits in internal volume, power, cooling, utilities, weight margins, etc.  The Burkes are unable to properly support the new Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) system and so we’re going to build Flt III Burkes with sub-optimally sized radars that, by the Navy’s own admission, won’t meet the desired performance.  That’s idiotic to build a brand new ship with initial sub-optimal performance and no growth margin!

We’re also bumping up against cost.  How many multi-billion dollar ships can we afford?  The fleet is steadily shrinking as we continue to build ever more expensive ships in ever fewer numbers.  The Flt III Burke is likely to be 50%-100% more expensive than the Flt IIa.

That aside, how many Burkes do we need?  Well, we have 62 Burkes currently built with up to 76 planned and no end in sight.  Let’s look at our needs and see if we can figure out how many Burkes we actually need.

Given that Burkes are intended as escorts, primarily, we can roughly calculate how many we need.  In war, let’s assume we would have six Burkes per carrier (twice what we use during peacetime).  We have a maximum of 9 active carriers so that would be a requirement for 54 Burkes.  However, even during war we would only have 3-6 carriers out on operations at a time.  That equates to a steady need for 18-36 Burkes.  Of course, some Burkes would be unavailable due to refits at any given moment so we would need a few more (the peacetime model of three ships to keep one deployed would be abandoned in war).  This suggests that we already have more Burkes than we need.  Let’s generously round the numbers up and say we have a need for 50 escort Burkes.  Compare that to the 62 built and 76+ planned and you immediately see that we don’t need any more Burkes!

Surely, though, we need more ships than a handful of carriers and 50 Burkes?!

Yes, we do – but they don’t have to be Burkes and should not be Burkes.  Okay, if not Burkes, what then?

ASW – We have a desperate need for small, cheap, dedicated ASW vessels.  While the Burkes have a theoretical ASW capability, the realities of limited training time and limited budget preclude them from being competent at ASW.  You can be good at only one thing with limited training time and the Navy chooses to have the Burkes be good at AAW/BMD.

MCM – We have a desperate need for Avenger-type MCM vessels and MCM motherships.

Strike – We have a need for a dozen cruise missile (and short/med range ballistic missile) shooters.  These can be submarines (recall that we’re retiring the

SSGNs with no replacement) or surface ships.

Fire Support – We need a dozen or so naval fire support ship to support amphibious assault operations and general land actions.  These ships can be some combination of large caliber naval guns and navalized Army rocket systems (MLRS/ATACMS).

UAV Carrier – We need a dozen small, dedicated UAV carriers to operate hundreds of UAVs in the surveillance role. 

Carriers – These are our most powerful and flexible platforms and we need to get the numbers back up to around 15.

Patrol – We have a need for a large patrol vessel to maintain control of littoral areas, mainly the Middle East.  These should be upsized and uparmed versions of the Cyclone PC’s.  These would be what the ASuW-LCS should have been.  They would be heavily armed for their size.

Logistics – We desperately need many more replenishment and supply vessels, especially if we’re going to operate in the Pacific.

Submarines – We already have a looming shortfall of subs and they are probably our stealthiest, most effective naval platform.  We need many more.

Not only do we not need more Burkes but the basic seaframe is a 1980’s era design.  It’s time to terminate the Burkes and design a new destroyer and cruiser utilizing the latest propulsion, armor, stealth, internal networks, electrical generation, etc.

The Navy has failed so badly at new ship designs that I completely understand their desire to stick with something that works but the answer is not to stick with an old design but to improve how you build new ones.


We need to stop building Burkes.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Kwajalein Raid

At the onset of WWII, the Navy found itself short of ships and saddled with a defensive mindset.  Adm. Halsey and the USS Enterprise corrected the latter problem, at least, by conducting the Marshal Islands raid on Kwajalein, Taroa, Wotje, and Roi.  The following description comes from the cv6.org website (1) and Steve Ewing’s book about the Enterprise (2).

Initially, in late December 1941, Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander In Chief, US Fleet directed Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, to protect US shipping between the United States and Australia.  While arguably prudent, this was a defensive posture.  Nimitz advocated strikes against the Gilbert and Marshal Islands.  However, there was strong opposition to this plan due to fear that the carriers would be lost in addition to the battleships that had just been lost at Pearl Harbor.

On 7-Jan-1942, Enterprise and Halsey arrived at Pearl Harbor.  Halsey immediately demanded that the Navy take the offensive and his opinion carried the day.  Enterprise would meet up with Yorktown to escort reinforcements to Samoa, then proceed to raid Japanese bases in the Gilberts and Marshalls while Lexington hit Wake Island.  The Navy would conduct its first offensive operation of the war.

Enterprise quickly reprovisioned and left Pearl Harbor January 11.  Enterprise was escorted by:

  • Northampton CA-26
  • Salt Lake City CA-25
  • Chester CA-27
  • and six destroyers

This meager escort was not an operational choice but, rather, an operational necessity due to the lack of available ships.  Escort groups later in the war would be much larger and more powerful.

By January 25, the escort mission was completed and Enterprise and Yorktown moved to conduct their raids.  On January 31, 1830 hr, the Enterprise group began its run in to Kwajalein and surrounding targets at 30 kts.  At 0430 hr, Enterprise began launching aircraft for the planned coordinated strikes at 0700 hr.  It is interesting to note that the cruisers were integrated into the strike plan with Northampton and Salt Lake City bombarding Wotje and Chester and several destroyers hitting Taroa.


USS Enterprise, CV-6

Throughout the day, the group hit the various targets.  Pilots flew several missions each.  Airfield facilities were destroyed, the fields were bombed, aircraft were destroyed on the ground and in the air, a transport and two smaller ships were sunk, and several ships were damaged.

Around 1330 hr, five twin engined bombers attacked the Enterprise group but failed to hit their targets, causing only minor damage from a near miss.  One of the bombers, intentionally or not, appeared to attempt to dive into the Enterprise but missed and struck the tail of an aircraft parked on deck and caused no damage to the ship.  Throughout the rest of the day, a few straggling enemy aircraft appeared but did no damage.

Clearly, the attacks on the airfields had the desired effect of suppressing enemy aerial counterattacks.

By 1902 hr, the last of Enterprise’s aircraft were recovered and the group retired at high speed, returning to Pearl Harbor on February 5.  The raid cost the Enterprise one Wildcat and five SBDs.

Wotje Atoll During the Kwajalein Raid

 Regarding the impact of the raid on the overall war effort, cv6.org website notes,

“The real significance of the raid was not found on the balance sheet of damage inflicted and suffered, but in the lessons learned. Halsey's action report repeatedly notes the poor performance of the ship's anti-aircraft batteries, stating:

‘The inability of the 5" AA battery to knock down the formation of enemy twin-engine bombers ... is a matter of grave concern. ... AA Gunnery Practices [should] be scheduled when opportunity offers, with ship steaming at not less than 25 knots. If adequate safeguards can be introduced, ship should be required to make radical changes of course.’

In their first encounter with their Japanese counterparts, the Air Group came away less than impressed, noting the Japanese fighters seemed easily discouraged when faced with two or three SBDs working together defensively. Both the Air Group and the ship's company gained valuable combat experience, making them much better prepared for the carrier-vs-carrier brawls that would mark the late spring and fall of 1942. And though hardly enough to stall the Japanese offensive, the raid served notice to both sides that the striking arm of the U.S. Navy was not lying broken on Pearl Harbor's muddy bottom.” (1)

This raid offers lessons for us, today.

1. Offense wins wars, not defense.  An offensive mindset is vital to an effective military.  The US Navy, today, has completely lost that mindset.  Our weapons and platforms are mostly defensive in nature.  Our most powerful surface ship, the Burke class, is primarily defensive.  Our air wings have shrunk and attack range and lethality has diminished.  Our vaunted LCS has no offensive capability whatsoever.  We must regain an offensive mindset.

2. Combat leaders must be bold and willing to take calculated risks.  This goes hand in hand with the previous point about having an offensive mindset.  Currently, our leaders are selected using criteria that have nothing to do with combat performance.

3. Carrier based aviation is a potent weapon when equipped and used properly.  The mobility of the carrier allows the ability to mass localized and temporary superior force.

4. Risk must be accepted in order to accomplish anything.  Carriers that are too expensive to risk are useless.

5. Large caliber naval gunfire is a powerful weapon.  The cruisers in the raid were able to accomplish as much as a carrier when used properly.  Today, we completely lack the ability to apply cheap, effective firepower from ships.

6. Losses in the air wing are a part of combat and must be accepted.  This means that we should not be building aircraft that are too expensive to replace.  F4F Wildcats and SBDs were highly effective and lethal and were easily and cheaply replaced.  Losing trained aircrew is, of course, another issue.  In WWII, we were able to produce hundreds of aircraft per day.  Today, we would struggle to produce a hundred aircraft in one year.

7. As Halsey noted and recommended, extensive and realistic training is needed to ensure success in combat.  The more realistic, the better.  Today’s set piece, utterly unrealistic training borders on worthless.  We need to establish highly stressful, realistic training even at the expense of a degree of risk to equipment and personnel.

8. Weapon systems must be tested extensively and realistically.  As the raid revealed,

“The first occasion under fire was memorable for reasons other than just being a first.  The event called attention to the inadequacy of both the antiaircraft guns in use at the time (eight 5-inch-.25 caliber, sixteen 1.1 inch “Chicago Piano’s”, and numerous .50 caliber Browning machine guns) and the marksmanship of the gunners.” (2)

Despite having the means and opportunity to thoroughly test the antiaircraft weapons pre-war, the Navy failed to adequately do so and, thus, found itself insufficiently equipped to counter the aerial threat.  Today, we are still failing to adequately and realistically test our weapon systems.

History “exists” to teach us about the present and future.  Another way to express it is the old adage,
“Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The Navy’s first raid of WWII offers plenty of lessons for us, today, if we will but heed them.



_______________________________



(2)USS Enterprise (CV-6), The Most Decorated Ship Of World War II, Steve Ewing, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 1982, ISBN-0-933126-24-7

Monday, January 9, 2017

Why DOT&E?

ComNavOps has long preached that weapon system performance in combat will never even remotely approach the manufacturer or Navy’s claims.

Further, ComNavOps has long preached that only the existence of DOT&E (Director, Operational Test and Evaluation), the Pentagon’s weapon and system testing organization, ensures even a modicum of weapon performance (see, "DOT&E", for a refresher on what the group is and does).  Without DOT&E, the Navy would conduct only cursory and simplistic testing before fielding systems and calling them done.  For example, the Navy’s reluctance, almost refusal, to conduct ship shock testing proves the Navy’s near total disinterest in testing.

Worse, the Navy and DOT&E have an adversarial relationship with the Navy fighting DOT&E every step of the way and only grudgingly agreeing to testing when forced into it – witness, again, the mandated shock testing of the Ford.  This relationship is simply insane.  The Navy should be the biggest possible supporter of DOT&E.  It’s DOT&E that is attempting to ensure that the Navy gets what it pays for and that the Navy’s weapons and systems maximize their performance.  Isn’t that what the Navy wants?  Or should want? 

Consider this bit about the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) Block 2 testing from the DOT&E 2015 Annual Report.  RAM has been around in one form or another for many years.  You wouldn’t think there’d be anything left to test and if the Navy had their way, they’d probably skip any additional testing.  However, …

“Deficiencies in RAM Block 2 integration with the SSDS-based
combat system caused several RAM Block 2 missiles to miss their target during one of the IOT&E missile firing scenarios. The Navy has initiated a formal Failure Review Board to determine the required corrections.

The CVN and LHA 6 class ships defend themselves against
ASCMs by first using the medium-range Evolved SeaSparrow
Missile (ESSM) and then the shorter-range RAM. RAM uses radio frequency and/or infrared terminal guidance to home on ASCM threats. Hot debris from prior intercepts and warhead detonations can therefore interfere with RAM’s infrared guidance. While the SSDS is designed to schedule RAM and ESSM engagements to avoid this type of interference, it failed to do so during testing.”
[emphasis added]

This is just one small example of why DOT&E testing is so vital.  The Navy needs to stop viewing DOT&E as an impediment and start seeing them as the thin line standing between combat success and failure.

This small example also illustrates another common occurrence during weapon discussions.  There are a group of people who completely buy into manufacturer and Navy claims about performance.  Those claims never materialize – never even come close.  History conclusively proves this and this blog has presented that data on numerous occasions.  Despite this, there are always a group who insist that, despite all the previous failings for a given weapon type, the next one will be the miracle system that revolutionizes warfare.  This testing is a tiny example of why that will never happen.  There are always problems.  The more complex and fantastic the system, the greater the problems.  The problems may be with the weapon itself, the software that runs it, the integration of the weapon with the ship’s systems, lack of operator training, or whatever.  None of that changes the fact that weapons never work as claimed.  See it - accept it.

Of course, it is this realization that adds even more importance to the need for testing – and that’s the point of this post.  Weapons never work so let’s find out how and why during testing rather than during combat.  The Navy (and too many readers!) needs to abandon blind faith in manufacturer’s claims and put their faith and support in DOT&E.

Here are a sampling of the reasons why DOT&E exists.  From the DOT&E 2015 Annual Report,

“The system tested in OA 1 could not detect and track targets well enough to support weapons employment in an environment that reflects realistic fighter employment and tactics.”

“The JHSV ramp cannot handle the small, but continual, relative movement of the two ships when moored skin-to-skin. Although vehicles were successfully transferred inside a protected harbor, transfer operations at-sea failed.”

“The Navy began operational testing of the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) C-1 in April 2015. Problems identified during FY12-13 integrated testing resulted in follow-on integrated testing in late FY14 and pushed operational testing to FY15.”


No greater example of the value of DOT&E exists than the entire LCS fiasco.  If the Navy had had their way, we would have already built 55 ships and none would have any functional value.  As seen in multiple posts on this blog, it is only the DOT&E that is finding problem after problem with the LCS.  The Navy is oblivious or, more likely, just doesn’t want to know about problems out of fear that problems will lead Congress to question the funding of the ships. 


DOT&E is all that prevents us from fielding a Cold War Soviet fleet of non-functional capabilities arising from criminally irresponsible Navy policies.  The Navy needs to embrace DOT&E as the watchdogs and guardians of combat effectiveness that they are.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

GPS Anti-Jamming

We’ve discussed the vulnerability of US military platforms and weapons to GPS denial (see, "GPS Jamming").  Now, here’s the flip side of the discussion – the GPS anti-jamming capability which may enable GPS signal utilization even in the face of GPS jamming.

Here’s an interesting summary of the GPS problem.

“On Earth, the GPS satellite signal is received about 30 decibels below the background noise level. This translates to a signal strength of about 1,000 times weaker than that of thermal noise normally inherent in electronic equipment. Conventional GPS digital signal processing allows receivers to pluck these signals out of the background noise. When interference raises the level of background noise, however, a receiver may be unable to track the GPS signal.

This problem is especially acute with low-end receivers using omnidirectional antennas. These antennas lack the ability to provide directional discrimination away from sources of interference and toward satellites. Interference sources can be narrowband—affecting only a small part of the overall GPS frequency spectrum—or they can be broadband, affecting the full GPS spectrum. The civilian GPS arena is particularly susceptible to narrowband interference, as it occupies only 2 megahertz of spectrum. Military GPS is spread across 20 megahertz.” (1)

Thus, the fairly concentrated and very low signal power of GPS allows for easy, low power jamming.  So much for the problem.



One solution to defeating GPS jamming is to enhance the receivers signal processing, allowing it to directionally align with GPS satellites and to process the signal to enhance it.  An example of this approach is Lockheed Martin’s GPS spatial temporal anti-jam receiver (G-STAR).

“G-STAR currently is effective against a wide range of GPS jamming environments. Its software-driven nature also permits easier upgrades as new threats emerge. The version that is equipping JASSM consumes only 52 watts of power. It weighs 25 pounds and measures 10 inches by 15 inches by 2 inches.” (1)

“G-STAR also will incorporate the so-called selective availability and anti spoofing module (SAASM), which the Defense Department has made mandatory-beginning in October 2002-for all military GPS receivers that receive the encrypted precision satellite signal.

The SAASM module is a microelectronic device with a large number of digital components that allows an authorized user to receive the precision encrypted GPS signal.” (2)

Here’s a little more detail on GPS anti-jamming for those of you who are interested in a slightly deeper dive.

“Most anti-jam devices currently in use are either "nulling" or "beamforming systems," explained Kelly [James J. Kelly, director of advanced engineering at Telephonics Command Systems]. These two technologies refer to exploit techniques that can be used to counter jamming signals. Some GPS receivers have an antenna array, with up to seven receiving elements arrayed in a geometric pattern. Upon detection of jamming interference, part of the antenna pattern can be turned down, so the noise from that particular direction does not interfere with the rest of the system. That is called nulling the signal.
"A null means that I will not look in the direction in space that the jammer is coming from," Kelly said. The electronics protect the receiver by eliminating the interference signal. One problem with this nulling technique, however, is that "as you eliminate jammers, you eliminate your ability to receive signals from the GPS satellites," he said. "You could have a nulling system that kills off the jammers, but you no longer have enough satellites available for you to navigate."
The beamformer, meanwhile, "doesn't care where the jammers are." The beamformer selects and receives signals from at least four satellites and provides four anti-jam solutions. "The beamformer algorithm is more aggressive and you get a better result," Kelly said. Recent simulations conducted by Telephonics, he said, showed that beamformers performed better than nullers.
But these systems cannot be used with older GPS receivers. Because a beamformer produces four outputs directed at four selected satellites, it cannot interface with a standard GPS receiver that only has one input. "You need a receiver that is customized to accommodate the beamformer interface," said Kelly.
New missiles typically feature a tight package composed of an anti-jam device, antenna and GPS receiver. This makes them more adaptable for beamforming anti-jammers, Kelly asserted.” (2)

That the military is working on GPS anti-jamming is good news.  It offers the possibility that we may be able to continue to use GPS even in the face of electronic countermeasures.  Of course, we also have to recognize that the entire GPS satellite system is vulnerable.  Russia and China both claim to have anti-satellite weapons and China has pretty well demonstrated their capability.  If an enemy can destroy our satellites then having an anti-jamming capability won’t mean anything.

It’s also not enough to simply develop an anti-jamming device that can theoretically work.  We need to subject whatever is developed to rigorous testing – far more rigorous than the testing we’ve subjected our other weapon systems to.  We need to throw the best jamming capability we possess against it and see if it actually works in a combat environment.  Ideally, we would clandestinely test it in the real world in places like Ukraine, against actual Russian ECM.

Finally, we can’t simply develop a device, congratulate ourselves, and think that our navigation is secure.  Our enemies are continually working to develop new methods of GPS denial and we may find out the hard way that our anti-jamming isn’t as effective as we thought.  This means that we have to keep working on alternate navigation methods.  Every ship, plane, and missile should have multiple navigation systems so that if one is denied we have an alternate available.  In other words, we have to plan for failure – something we have not done in recent decades.

Inexplicably, not everyone is searching for GPS alternative capabilities.  Notably, the Air Force has limited interest.  Terry Little, Air Force program manager for JASSM, has this to say,

“In the JASSM program, we are not interested in an alternative guidance technology to GPS.” (2)

Well, that’s about as plain a statement as you could want.  Hopefully, that philosophy is not indicative of the military as a whole.

I’m encouraged that the military is recognizing the vulnerability of GPS and is working to protect the capability.  Given the ease of jamming and the physical vulnerability of the GPS satellite system to anti-satellite destruction, we need to continue working on alternate guidance systems. 



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(1)Signal AFCEA website, “Jam-Proof Signals To Guide Navigation”, Robert Ackerman, November 2001,

(2)National Defense website, “Threat to Satellite Signals Fuels Demand for Anti-Jam Products”, Sandra I. Erwin, June 2000,