Saturday, September 24, 2016

Adaptive Electronic Warfare

Here’s an interesting project that caught ComNavOps’ eye.  DARPA is developing an adaptive electronic warfare (EW) software package (1).  The problem with EW in the past has always been that it was only effective against known, pre-programmed threats.  Today, however, many threats use frequency agile emitters with variable characteristics that we have no way of pre-programming for.  To counter this, DARPA is working with industry to create a software EW package that can analyze threats, determine their characteristics in real time, and produce a counter based on histories of what has worked in the past against similar threat profiles.  This is, potentially, a wonderful approach that offers a broad spectrum of counters without the need for perfect knowledge ahead of time. 

Of course, at the early developmental stage, like this, every project sounds great.  The reality is that few such projects actually make it to production.  Still, this is a technology that is well worth pursuing.

The next step is for DARPA to step away and one of the services to adopt and fund the program.  Unfortunately, this is where many potentially worthwhile projects die – not necessarily for lack of technical worthiness but because of politics.  The services each look at the potential project and play poker against each other.  Who will fund it?  If one service wants to use their money for another project, they may pass on it, hoping that another service picks it up, pays to develop it, and then they can hop on board when it’s mature.  Of course, politics means that they may all pass in favor of funding less deserving pet projects that they think have a better chance of getting funded by Congress regardless worthiness.

For example, the Navy has made it clear that they are going to fund the LCS no matter what.  If they come up short on budget because of that, they will not fund this EW project.  Sad but true.

Something like an EW package would be useful across all the services and should be funded at a DoD level, not at the individual service level.

Anyway, this is a potentially useful project.  It’ll be interesting to see if it gets fully developed by anyone.



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(1)Defense News website, “Pentagon Looks To Adaptive EW Systems To Thwart Future Adversaries”, Valerie Insinna, 29-Aug-2016,


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

LCS Readiness

Over at his blog, Cdr. Salamander poses the question

“If we had to go to war, exactly what would the LCS we've commissioned over the last eight years be able to contribute?”

I don’t like repeating someone else’s blog post but this is simply too good to pass up.  I’ve kept you apprised of the mechanical failings of the LCS but when you see it summarized, it’s breathtaking (1).

  • USS FREEDOM (LCS 1): Unavailable due to mechanical failures from Jul 16.
  • USS INDEPENDENCE (LCS 2): Available.
  • USS FORT WORTH (LCS 3): Unavailable due to mechanical failures from Jan 16.
  • USS CORONADO (LCS 4): Unavailable due to mechanical failures from Aug 16.
  • USS MILWAUKEE (LCS 5): Unavailable due to mechanical failures from Dec 15.
  • USS JACKSON (LCS 6): Unavailable due to post-shock test repairs.
  • USS MONTGOMERY (LCS 8): Unavailable due to mechanical failures from Sep 16.

LCS-7, PCU Detroit, is built but won’t be commissioned until 22-Oct.

That’s impressive, isn’t it?  We’ve commissioned 7 LCS warships and only one is available for combat and it’s been designated a non-combatant training and test ship!

The good amphibian posed the question about the LCS and war but only provided an immediate, snapshot picture by way of an answer.  Let’s examine the question and answer a bit deeper and see if we can’t expand and expound on the Commander’s post.

A commissioned warship is supposed to be ready for war.  We’ve commissioned 7 LCS so we should have 7 LCS warships ready for war.  Setting aside their mechanical unreliability and unavailability, what do we have in the way of combat capability from our 7 LCS?

Currently, there is no functional mine countermeasures (MCM) module or anti-submarine (ASW) module.  That leaves only the anti-surface warfare (ASuW) module which consists of two 30 mm machine guns a rubber boat and a helo.  Not exactly an impressive combat capability, is it?  Worse, as best I can tell, only a few ASuW modules have been purchased and are available so only a few ships can even carry a module.

So, here we are with 7 commissioned LCS and all they can contribute to a peer war is the ability to shoot small boats?  The problem is that it’s not going to get better, to any appreciable extent, with time.

The LCS was intended to replace,

  • 55 Perry class frigates
  • 12 Avenger class MCM
  • 14 Cyclone class PC

According to the Navy’s latest LCS plan, we’re going to wind up with,

  • 8 LCS-ASuW
  • 8 LCS-MCM
  • 8 LCS-ASW

Further down the road, we may acquire an additional several LCS “frigates” to get to a total build of 40.

MCM vessels, while vital, are not part of the combat fleet.  They are auxiliaries.  That leaves us with a total of 16 LCS-ASuW/ASW that might, using a very relaxed definition, be construed as frigates with an additional 8 or so possible in the future.  We retired 55 true frigates and we’re going to get 16-24 pseudo-frigates to replace them and none of those will be even remotely close to a true frigate in terms of capability.

Similarly, we’re going to retire 12 Avenger MCM ships and get 8 replacements (assuming a workable MCM module is ever developed).

Let’s circle back to Cdr. Salamander’s question about what the LCS’s can contribute to war?  The answer is, next to nothing.

Worryingly, the Navy considers (and counts) the LCS as part of the combat fleet and is betting our future naval combat capability on these floating piles.  You do not want to be an LCS sailor if war comes!




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(1)cdr salamander website, “LCS - Annus Horribilus”, 20-Sep-2016,


Navy To Accept and Commission Damaged Ship

The Navy continues to fail to learn the most fundamental lessons concerning ship buying.  The latest example is the Ford which has suffered major main turbine generator (MTG) failures (a June explosion of the No. 2 MTG and a similar, more recent event with the No 1 MTG) which have crippled half the the ship’s main generators.  This post is not about the generator problems but, rather, about the Navy’s stunningly idiotic decision to accept delivery of the ship in a damaged state.

“Several repair options were developed, including whether or not to completely repair the MTGs before sea trials and delivery – causing further delays -- or wait until a post-commissioning shipyard period to finish the work.

On Sept. 14, the Pentagon source confirmed, Navy officials decided on a partial fix now and a permanent fix later.  The No. 2 MTG rotors will be removed while repairs are made to No. 1, and full repairs to No. 2 will wait for the post-shakedown availability (PSA) overhaul sometime after the ship is commissioned.” (1)

What is the point of sea trials and inspections if you’re going to accept the ship no matter what condition it’s in?  They may as well just cancel trials and inspections and save some money. 

Would any of us buy a damaged car?  Of course not!  The Navy, though, sees no problem with accepting a damaged ship.  I don’t know the details of the purchase contract but once the Navy accepts delivery, the ability to get the manufacturer to fix problems at their own expense becomes severely limited.  Remember, as we’ve noted before, unbelievably, the Navy has no warranty on the ship!!!!

Not only will the Navy accept delivery of a badly damaged ship but it will also commission a badly damaged ship.  A commissioned ship is supposed to be combat ready.

This is just stupidity beyond belief.  There is no valid justification for accepting a damaged ship.


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(1)Defense News website, “Carrier Ford Has Serious Power Problem”, Christopher Cavas, 18-Sep-2016,


Monday, September 19, 2016

Super Tomcat Today

I mentioned in a previous post that with maintenance upgrades the Tomcat could have stayed around and we could have skipped the entire F-18 Hornet family.

Many people, myself included, have lauded the Hornet but only in comparison to the F-35 train wreck.  As a stand alone aircraft, the Hornet is woefully short ranged for today’s missions and is poorly suited for either air to air combat or strike.  The lack of suitability is a function of trying to be a multi-role aircraft and, therefore, being outstanding at neither.

A far better alternative would have been to perform the maintenance upgrade we previously discussed (see, "Maintenance Upgrades") combined with the Super Tomcat upgrades.  That would have given us a high performance fleet interceptor with vastly improved maintainability.  Let’s take a closer look at what we might have had if the Navy had opted to go the Tomcat upgrade route instead of the Hornet route.

To review, the sequence of proposed Tomcat upgrades (maintenance and performance) was, in order,

  1. F-14D Quickstrike
  2. Super Tomcat 21
  3. Attack Super Tomcat 21
  4. ASF-14 (Advanced Strike Fighter)

The first three modifications would have preserved the basic F-14 to the degree possible while the final version, the ASF-14, would have incorporated new materials and technologies and produced an essentially new aircraft similar to the way the Super Hornet is largely a new aircraft compared to the original Hornet.  The first three versions would have been remanufactured while the last version would have been new construction.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of the various technologies proposed for inclusion in the Tomcat upgrades.


  • GE-F110-129 engines for super-cruise at Mach 1.3 and increased acceleration
  • Upgraded APG-71 radar including an Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar mode and a 20% increase in target acquisition range. (3)
  • Modified and enlarged control surfaces to provide 33% greater low speed lift around the carrier and enlarged all-moving tailplanes. (3)
  • Enlarged leading edge root extensions (LERX) that would house more fuel and enhance the jet's low speed handling capabilities
  • Thrust vectoring nozzles tied directly to a new digital flight control system.  Even without thrust vectoring, the aerodynamic enhancements found on the ASF-14 would allow the jet to reach over 77 degrees of sustained AoA, but thrust vectoring was also to be part of the new design which would have made it the most maneuverable fighter of all time. (3)
  • Significantly greater range
  • The Quickstrike version would have had provision for up to 24 munitions points, fewer for heavier munitions. (3)
  • Modified radar with Forward Air Controller (FAC) mode
  • Integrated Defensive Avionics Package (IDAP)
  • FLIR targeting and Terrain Following Radar housed in front of the Phoenix missile mount's aerodynamic fairings under the fuselage
  • Infra Red Search & Track system (IRST) and Television Camera System (TCS) mounted in under-nose pods
  • Upgraded cockpit avionics including a new wide angle heads up display (HUD) that would be capable of projecting the navigational FLIR's imagery
  • Increase in internal fuel from 16,200 lbs for an F-14D to 18,500 lbs for the SuperTomcat 21. (2)
  • Further increase in internal fuel over the Super Tomcat 21 via thicker wings in the ASF-14.
  • Use of carbon fiber structural components to save weight and volume
  • 1960's era sub-systems that were heavy and complex would be replaced with modular components
  • All of the jet's hydraulic and electrical systems that gave legacy Tomcat maintainers such headaches over the years would have been replaced with greatly simplified systems
  • Many structural components would be made out of carbon fiber instead of aluminum or titanium. This would allow the new Tomcat to be only slightly heavier in gross weight (about 1000 pounds empty) than its predecessor, while gaining 2200 lbs of fuel in each glove area. (2)
  • Some stealthy characteristics would be applied to the ASF-14, this may have included radar baffles over it engines' fan faces and "edge-aligned" gear doors and access points. (1)
  • A mammoth active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar would have been fitted and provided with immense amounts of power for interlaced air-to-air and air-to-ground operations or even standoff electronic attack. You can see how incredible the ASF-14s AESA capability would have matured into by looking at the current APG-63V3 AESA radar upgrade program for the F-15. The APG-63V3 is actually more capable in some respects than the F-22A's APG-77 AESA radar because it is larger in diameter, allowing for more transit/receive modules to be utilized, and it is newer in its design. The Tomcat was built originally for the massive Hughes AWG-9 fire control radar, the largest radar ever deployed on a US fighter, so there is a LOT of real estate up front for the mother of all fighter jet AESA radar arrays to have been fitted. (1)

And, of course, any new technologies that have been developed and incorporated into the current F-18E/F would also have been capable of being added to the SuperTomcat.

In addition, if we had gone the SuperTomcat route, we would undoubtedly have upgraded the Phoenix or developed a new, better replacement – perhaps something like a longer ranged AMRAAM which we essentially now have, anyway.

So, what would be the specs of a Super Tomcat compared to the Super Hornet and F-35?  Obviously, the Super Tomcat’s specs are speculative and are my own assessments.


 Super Tomcat              Super Hornet                      F-35

Combat Radius                     750 (4) nm                   390 nm                       490 nm (5)
Speed                                    Mach 2+                      Mach 1.8                    Mach 1.6
Hardpoints                             10                                11                                2 (6)
Weapons Load                      17,750 lbs(7)               17,750 lbs                   3,000 lbs (6)


(4)Wiki credits the F-14D with a 500 nm combat radius.  Given the increases in fuel and wing area, combined with newer, more efficient engines, I’m estimating 750 nm combat radius.

(5)Wiki credits the F-35 with a 625 nm to 760 nm combat radius which is patently false since the credited range is 1200 nm.  The best possible combat radius is half the range since the aircraft has to fly out and return.  So, to list a combat radius that is greater than half the range is not possible.  When one factors in the combat maneuvering (higher thrust) during the combat mission, the maximum value of half the range becomes significantly less than half.  One of the two numbers is incorrect.  Given all the lies told about the F-35 by the manufacturer and the Navy so far, I flat out don’t believe the listed combat radius.  So, I’ve estimated a combat radius that is likely far more correct.

(6)This is the F-35’s combat capability.  The aircraft has 6x additional hardpoints but those will not be used in combat because of the resulting degradation of stealth.  Further, the aircraft’s combat radius is predicated on a clean configuration (internal weapons only).  Any configuration with external hardpoints would severely degrade the combat radius as well as stealth and maneuverability.

(7)The Super Tomcat would, undoubtedly, have increased its weapon payload from the 14,500 lb of the standard F-14 but how much is a guess.  I’ve seen no published number.  I’ve opted to cite the same capacity as the Super Hornet although I suspect the increase would be much greater.  This is a debatable number.


Now, let’s look at today’s aircraft roles.  The Navy needs a long range fleet interceptor and air superiority fighter.  Given the existence of the Tomahawk-TLAM, there may or may not be a need for a long range strike aircraft – but that’s another post.  Clearly, an upgraded Tomcat would have given us a vastly superior long range fleet interceptor and air superiority fighter as compared to the Super Hornet we have today. 

An upgraded Tomcat is even superior to the F-35 in all ways except stealth.  There’s just a limit to how much stealth you can “fit” on to an airframe that wasn’t designed and shaped for stealth from the beginning.  Of course, we don’t know how much stealth the ASF-14 would have had.  More importantly, we don’t know how much stealth is actually effective or needed.

The two-seat Tomcat would have also allowed a much greater degree of secondary tasking such as surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting, control of other aircraft, etc.

What we see from all this is the possibility that the Tomcat could have been upgraded and the entire F-18 line skipped while providing a vastly superior aircraft.  Going further, the improved Tomcat would, today, surpass not only the F-18 but the F-35, as well, in all ways except stealth.

It is likely that the cost of the overall upgrade path would have been less than the F-18 path simply due to bypassing the basic airframe development.  Of course, the upgrades, themselves, would have cost the same as the upgrades for the Super Hornet.

Having a vastly superior aircraft, today, would allow the Navy to skip the troubled F-35 and wait for the next generation fighter instead of having to accept a hugely expensive F-35 that does not even meet the Navy’s need for a long range interceptor and air superiority fighter.

It’s not as if all this has become apparent only with the benefit of hindsight.  The advantages of the Tomcat upgrade path were well known at the time and the mediocrity of the F-18 Hornet was also well recognized.  The Navy had every opportunity to make an informed, better decision and opted not to.  They have no one to blame but themselves for the current situation.



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(1)Foxtrot Alpha website, “Top Gun Day Special: The Super Tomcat That Was Never Built”, Tyler Rogoway, 13-May-2014

(2)Home of M.A.T.S. website, 6-Aug-2016


(3)topedge.com website, “Advanced Tomcat Variants”, 6-Aug-2016



Saturday, September 17, 2016

LCS Shock Test

The LCS USS Jackson just completed shock trials.  Here’s the Navy’s statement about the results of the trial.

“The ship performed exceptionally well, sustaining minimal damage and returned to port under her own power.” (1)

On the other hand, there’s this.

“The Jackson came through the tests better than expected, according to several sources, and the Navy noted damage was not severe as some models had forecast. The Navy had planned a two-month repair period to address the damages, but in the event the work was completed in less than six weeks.” (2)

Six weeks to repair damage from a blast detonated around 100 yards from the ship seems a bit excessive but, to be fair, I don’t know what typical shock testing damage is to any ship.  This seems excessive but perhaps it’s not.  Maybe someone out there has some experience with this kind of testing and can tell us about it?

The repairs were conducted by LCS manufacturer Austal under a repair contract from the Navy.

“The work was led by Austal USA, the ship’s builder, working under an $11.2 million contract awarded in late June specifically to address anticipated post-shock trial repair issues. The ship was dry docked at BAE Systems in Jacksonville, Florida, Kent said, and was completed “within the overall funding of the awarded contract.

That’s $11.2M of repair work from a not very near blast.  Again, it seems excessive.

Now, here’s an interesting item.  It appears from the video of the test that the Jackson had the Mk110 57mm gun removed for the test.  I have no idea why that would be done.  Isn’t the point of the test to find out about the shock resistance of every piece of equipment on the ship?  Is this standard practice?  I wonder what else was removed?  Again, does anyone out there know anything about this?


LCS Shock Test


As you know, the Navy has a slight tendency to put a gargantuanly positive spin on even the worst incidents.  Before I pass judgment on whether the LCS performed well or not, I’ll wait to hear what DOT&E has to say. 



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(1)DoDBuzz website, “VIDEO: Littoral Combat Ship Withstands Wallops at Sea”, Brendan McGarry, 15-Sep-2016,

(2)Defense News website, “LCS Jackson Completes Repairs, Is Back at Sea”, Christopher Cavas, 1-Sep-2016,



Friday, September 16, 2016

Seriously? Another One?

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

Yet another LCS has suffered an engineering failure.  The USS Montgomery (LCS-8) suffered a pair of engineering failures three days after being commissioned and while transiting to its home port of San Diego (1).  The ship is now headed to Florida for repairs.

It is worth noting that every LCS that has put to sea for more than a few days has suffered an engineering breakdown and some have suffered multiple breakdowns.

I guess that engineering stand down that the Navy ordered for the LCS program didn’t do much good.



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(1)USNI News website, “UPDATED: Littoral Combat Ship USS Montgomery Suffers Engineering Casualty, Fifth LCS Casualty Within Last Year”, Sam LaGrone, 16-Sep-2016,

Just Because We Have The Capability ...

The US military has a fascination with technology – always has, always will – even to the detriment of maintenance, training, tactics, etc.  The problem with this fascination is that it completely violates the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle which rules the battlefield.  The combination of Murphy (Murphy’s Law) and KISS, roaming the battlefield, ensure that overly complex technology will fail or, at best, struggle to provide even halfway useful performance.

Let’s consider some examples throughout history. 

The sword was a lethal advance in close quarters combat over the club but when it first appeared it suffered from very poor performance.  Swords would break at the worst possible moment (are there good moments in battle?) and wielders struggled to keep a useful edge on the blades.  Many users were killed when their swords failed in battle.  This was because, initially, the metallurgy was insufficiently advanced to make the sword a practical battlefield weapon.  Eventually, of course, the technology of the sword advanced to the point where it became a viable weapon.

Steam engines offered a huge advance in naval propulsion.  However, the first steam engines were inefficient (to put it mildly), rarely worked, and were extremely difficult to repair and maintain.  The operators of the time, the sailors, simply didn’t have the technological understanding of the basic concept to allow them to maintain the engines and extract the potential performance from the engines.  Many ships were stranded, powerless, when their engines broke down.  Eventually, of course, the technology caught up to the point where we could produce fairly reliable engines.  Just as importantly, the education level of the operators also caught up.  Sailors came to understand the basic engineering concepts and were capable of repairing and maintaining the engines.

Radar revolutionized warfare, offering the ability to see things beyond the visual range.  The initial introduction of radar in WWII did not proceed smoothly, however.  The equipment was unreliable and the operators had no understanding of the fundamental principles and were unable to interpret the radar returns even when it worked.  The naval battles of Guadalcanal demonstrated the pitfalls of introducing technology that was too advanced.  Ship Captains didn’t trust the devices and either ignored the information or failed to properly utilize the capability.  As a result, many ships and sailors died when they needn’t have.  Eventually, of course, the technology improved and, more importantly, the operators came to understand the basic engineering principles and learned to correctly interpret and utilize the technology

Just because we have the technology doesn’t mean we should instantly put it on the battlefield.  Sure, crowds of manufacturer’s technicians, all with advanced doctorates in specialized fields, can make a given technology function in carefully scripted tests but what happens when that technology gets installed in the fleet and has to be maintained by 20 year old kids who don’t have the education to understand the basic principles?

An illustrative example is Aegis.  Aegis was introduced to the fleet with the support of hundreds of tech reps sailing on every Aegis ship.  The system was carefully and lovingly maintained by the best technical support that manufacturing had to offer.  Over time, however, the manufacturer’s reps returned home and the maintenance of Aegis fell to the average sailor, trained through a Navy tech school.  Well, there’s a world of difference between a Navy tech school education and the manufacturer’s Ph.D engineers who built the system.  The predictable happened.  Aegis system performance degraded across the fleet.  Aegis performance got so bad that the Navy had to implement one of their infamous Admiral-chaired committees to address the problem. 

The really interesting part of the Aegis story is that the degradation was not even noticed at first.  Proceedings had an interesting article some years ago by an Aegis Captain who thought he had one of the best Aegis systems/ships in the fleet, only to find out that his system was markedly degraded when reviewed by the manufacturer’s team of true experts.  Neither the Captain nor his Aegis techs had any idea the system was significantly degraded.  Aegis was too complex for the operators to even know that it wasn’t working well.

Sidenote:  The Aegis improvement program was classified and I don’t know the status of the system, fleetwide, today.  I suspect that with the effects of minimal manning and manpower cutbacks it isn’t good.

Let me be clear, technology is not a bad thing.  What’s bad is forcing immature technology into service before the reliability and maintainability have caught up with the bleeding edge technology.  When war comes, we need technology that works and is robust enough to function under the dirty, maintenance deprived conditions of a battlefield.  Aegis is nice but if it breaks down 30 days into combat due to lack of sophisticated maintenance, wouldn’t we be better off with old fashioned rotating radars?  If the F-35 that, in peacetime, barely managed to function with the aid of Ph.D technicians working in sterile conditions resembling a hospital operating room can’t be maintained in a dirty carrier hangar and covered in salt water (have you seen some of the pictures of carrier aircraft? – they get awfully dirty!) then what’s the point of having it?

Here’s an example of a technology introduction that worked – the aircraft piston engine.  When revolutionary WWI aircraft took to the skies, the engines worked well.  Other aspects of aircraft design and construction did not but the engines did.  Why?  Because, by the time the aircraft was introduced, the engine itself was commonplace and mechanics understood the technology.

Technology can advance and succeed only when maintainability and reliability go hand in hand with it.  Just because we have a given technological capability doesn’t mean we should instantly use it.  In the long run it’s better to operate it as a prototype and gain valuable experience before introducing it into production. 

For example, this philosophy would have paid off in spades in the entire LCS module program.  Had we built just one prototype LCS and its modules, we would have realized that the technologies were too immature to introduce into production and we would have saved billions of dollars.

Remember the old Enterprise/Long Beach radar systems?  They were revolutionary but no one knew how to maintain and operate them and so they failed and had to be replaced.  If we had operated the system as a prototype, we would have saved a great deal of money and had alternate, functional radar systems installed on those ships.

The Navy is currently violating this philosophy repeatedly despite numerous failures.  The DOT&E annual reports are full of examples of the Navy pushing to waive testing to get brand new, immature technology into production rather than fully develop it and then introduce it as reasonably mature capability.

Consider the recent example of the LCS propulsion system.  The complexity of the dual engines and combining gears are clearly beyond the operating and maintenance capabilities of the crews (crews the Navy claims are the oldest, most experienced, and best trained in the Navy).  The propulsion system should have been part of a prototype LCS until the technology matured enough to be operated and maintained by the average sailor.  Instead, the immature technology was pushed into production and every LCS that has put to sea for any length of time has suffered catastrophic propulsion failures;  some of the ships have suffered multiple failures!

We need to return to the concept of prototypes.  We need to build them and operate them.  Prototypes allow us to learn from our mistakes and grow and mature the technology without jeopardizing our battlefield success.  Hand in hand with that is the opportunity to learn about the maintenance and operating procedures of new technology before it enters production.  The Navy’s rush to push the latest technology into production is unwise, costly in the long run, and dangerous in that it leaves us with production ships and aircraft that have failed and unmaintainable technology installed.  That F-35 that the Marines declared ready for combat, isn’t really – in fact, it’s not even close.

The Navy needs to relax, be patient, and let technology mature and allow maintenance to catch up.  The way to do this is prototypes. 

Just because we have the capability doesn’t mean we should try to use it.  If the average sailor can’t operate and maintain it, it shouldn’t be in the fleet.