Wednesday, October 18, 2017

GPS Vulnerability - Stupid Followed By Stupid

This blog has, for years, trumpeted the warning that we are critically overdependent on navigational technology, principally GPS, that will be unavailable or only sporadically available in a peer war.  Our navigational technology addiction has crippled and all but eliminated our fundamental navigational skills.  Our soldiers and sailors no longer know how to read a map, use a compass or sextant, or execute dead reckoning with a stopwatch. 

Once upon a time, we had mastered basic non-technological navigation skills.  The Marine Corps LAVs in Desert Storm navigated the featureless deserts with nothing but dead reckoning.  For years, pilots mastered the ability to achieve precise time-on-target with nothing more than a plotting board and a stopwatch.  Sailors were able to establish their position with a sextant.  All soldiers used to have to master map reading and overland navigation with a map, compass, and stride length.

Now, our Navy is lost without GPS and even has trouble navigating with radar fixes.  Ships are running aground in known waters.  The riverine boat crews that were captured by Iran were completely lost. 

We have an addict’s dependency on technology that is not going to be available in a peer war.  What’s our response?  How are we planning to address this vulnerability?  What will we do to eliminate our dependency on technology?

You guessed it!  We’re going to create new technology.  Why go back to mastering fundamentals when you can create expensive and unreliable new technology?

Seriously, I’m not making this up.  Our solution to our technology dependency is to create new technology.  From a Defense News website article,

“In the quest to provide positioning, navigation and timing to troops deprived of GPS, Army planners are developing an open-architecture system of plug-and-play sensors that could deliver such a capability.

… The potential PNT [positioning, navigation, timing] solution would use modular hardware and software on a tactical computer.

“It will be a sensor fusion filter that will allow us to hook up any sensor to the filter, and the filter will understand what the sensor is, what the data is and how to integrate that into a single PNT solution,” said Adam Schofield, the chief at the Emerging Technologies Branch of the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC.” (1)

So, rather than teach basic navigation, we’re going to develop a gazillion dollar technological solution that is, supposedly, omniscient, able to take any sensor, integrate it on the fly, and provide a totally flexible and instantly adaptable synthesized navigation solution.  I can’t see anything that could go wrong with that!

Best of all, it can fit and run on a standard laptop computer.  I can see it now – our soldiers leaping into battle, clutching their rifle in one hand and their laptop in the other.  Plus, we all know how reliable laptops inherently are.  I can’t see the dirt, mud, water, shock, vibration, and electromagnetic jamming on the battlefield having any negative effect on the laptop!

What’s more, we’re basing the whole thing on an open architecture scheme.  That’s great!  It offers complete flexibility and adaptability.  Of course, it also offers complete access to an enemy’s cyber attacks and hacking!

The Department of Defense must have a group whose job is to come up with idiotic ideas that the rest of us would just reject out of hand.


(1)Defense News website, “Army wants constant PNT capability for troops without GPS”, Adam Stone, 17-Oct-2017,

Monday, October 16, 2017

Neller's Mismatch

Marine Corps Commandant Neller offers some amazing views of future combat as reported in a Marine Times article. (1)

“… the next fight will be far more complex and deadly than the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan that have shaped the force and its leadership over the past 16 years.

“I don’t think the next fight is going to be a stability op/counterinsurgency: It’s going to be a violent, violent fight,” Neller said …”

Neller is saying the right thing but his actions, meaning the acquisitions the Marines are pursuing, the developmental path they are on, and the doctrine/tactics they are pursuing, all indicate the wrong things.  There is a mismatch between his words and the Corps’ actions.  Despite the Nellers verbal recognition of where the Corps needs to be, the reality doesn’t match.  Even Neller acknowledges this.

“In June, Neller told Congress that, right now, the Marine Corps is “not currently organized, trained and equipped to face a peer adversary in the year 2025.”

Further indicative of the mismatch between words and actions is Neller’s assessment of the strength of the Marines.

““The center of gravity that we have to protect is the network, and the network is dependent on space.”

“The opening salvos of future wars will likely be fired in space, Neller believes.”

Neller fails to grasp that future peer warfare will be incredibly brutal and violent and victory will go the side that can muster and apply the most explosives.  In contrast, Neller believes that victory will go to the side with the best network.  Ironically, he also acknowledges that space will be contested and compromised which means the network will fail and yet he believes this failure prone construct is the Marine’s center of gravity!  Unbelievable.

Consider further … Neller claims to see a “violent, violent fight” as the future of combat but the Marines are shedding tanks, artillery, and heavy vehicles, leaving tanks out of MEU/ARG loadings, emphasizing aviation, pursuing battlefield lightness over armor, and becoming a light infantry force.  How is that preparing for a “violent, violent fight”?  There’s a mismatch between words and actions.

China and Russia, on the other hand, see the future of warfare quite clearly.  They’re developing families of heavy armored vehicles, massive artillery forces, advanced cluster munitions (while we are unilaterally eliminating our ours), mobile anti-aircraft vehicles, and battlefield electronic warfare.  They’re preparing to fight and win a “violent, violent fight”.  We’re still preparing to fight another insurgency.

Neller needs to heed his own words, end the mismatch, and start preparing the Marines to fight and win a “violent, violent fight”. 


(1) Marine Times website, “The Next Fight: The commandant is pushing the Corps to be ready for a ‘violent, violent fight’”, Jeff Schogol, 18-Sep-2017,

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bold Alligator Scaled Back

The Armed Forces of the United States and the Navy, as our focus on this blog, exist to fight wars.  There is no other mission.  Everything else is a secondary, time wasting exercise.  If we aren’t fighting a war then we should be preparing for war.  Instead, the Navy’s time is filled with useless tasks that detract from the main mission.  A case in point is the humanitarian assistance that is being provided to hurricane areas at the expense of combat training.  As USNI News website describes it (1),

“The Navy and Marine Corps’ Bold Alligator 17 international amphibious exercise will still take place this month but will be scaled down due to ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.”

“However, due to ongoing HA/DR missions in Puerto Rico, many of the forces set to participate in the major live exercise will not be available anymore.”

So one exercise had to be scaled back a bit.  What’s the big deal?  Well, the big deal is that Bold Alligator is not just a small exercise.  It is the main amphibious exercise for the Marines/Navy. 

“Bold Alligator … is now the East Coast’s premiere amphibious force training exercise.”

Worse, the exercise, despite being the main training exercise, is only occasionally conducted as a live exercise so it is absolutely vital that the opportunity for live work be taken.

“Bold Alligator was last conducted as a live exercise in 2014, with the 2015 installment meant to be a simulated event. Last year’s live exercise was postponed a year, with the services opting instead to conduct a pierside live, virtual and constructive event to prepare for this year’s highly integrated exercise between traditional amphibious forces and the carrier strike group needed to help set the conditions for amphibious operations.”

Does it really matter if a ship or two misses the exercise?

“Expeditionary Strike Group 2 leadership was set to serve as the Commander of the Amphibious Task Force aboard amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3). Now, ESG-2 and Kearsarge are no longer available for BA 17, along with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), amphibious transport dock USS New York(LPD-21), dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD-50), hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), aviation logistics support container ship SS Wright (T-AVB 3), and elements of Naval Expeditionary Combat Command and 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing – all of which are tied up with the ongoing HA/DR response, according to a U.S. Fleet Forces Command statement.”

That’s a lot of assets that will miss the premier combat training exercise of its type and a rare and vital chance for live training.  The very reason for the existence of the exercise is being curtailed.

“On the Marine Corps side, without Kearsarge and other amphibious ships, many planned amphibious landing events have been canceled … “

So, a vital and rare opportunity, which only comes once every two or three years, is going to be watered down and many units will miss it entirely so that the Navy and Marines can deliver food and water?  Let me repeat.  The Navy has only one mission – war or training for war.

The U.S. government has many assets and organizations at its disposal that can provide humanitarian assistance but the military should not be one of them.  Humanitarian assistance missions degrades the readiness of our forces, puts unnecessary wear and tear on equipment, and racks up precious flight hours on aircraft. 

This is a shining example of the failure of the Navy to say “no” to a non-mission essential task request.  The Navy’s failure to say no is why we have ships and crews sailing with lapsed certifications.  Instead of training and perhaps learning basic seamanship, navigation, and combat, we have crews spending their time delivering supplies.  Instead of providing our ships and aircraft with maintenance to restore readiness, we’re sending them to deliver supplies – a job that any commercial cargo ship can do far more cost effectively and efficiently.

We are tasking our Navy with gender issues, sensitivity training, diversity programs, biofuel experimentation, climate change planning – in short, everything but war and training for war.


(1)USNI News website, “Bold Alligator 17 Exercise Scaled Down Due to Ongoing Humanitarian Assistance Mission in Puerto Rico”, Megan Eckstein, 13-Oct-2017,

Thursday, October 12, 2017

COBRA Description

We just recently saw that the Navy declared initial operating capability for the LCS' Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (DVS-1 COBRA) system.  We expressed severe doubt about that and wondered about the rationale behind the plan to order 30 of the systems despite only having 8 LCS MCM platforms (see, “COBRA Declared Operational”).  That aside, COBRA is a rarely discussed system and there is not a lot of information about it that is generally available so let’s take a brief look at what we do know.

COBRA is intended to detect and localize mines in the surf and beach zones as well as provide visual reconnaissance of the zones.  The system is carried on an unmanned MQ-8 Fire Scout UAV deployed from an LCS and consists of the sensor package and data collection station on the UAV plus a mission control and planning package on the host LCS (3).

The current Block 1 version can detect surface laid mines and obstacles in the beach zone and has a more limited capability to do the same in the surf zone.  It is limited to daytime use only due to the need for illumination for the imager, much as a regular camera needs a light source.  Data is collected and analyzed post-mission after recovery. 

A developmental Block 2 version is intended to enhance the surf zone capability and add a nighttime illuminator.  The developmental Block 2 illuminator is a new technology effort.  It is, essentially, a flashlight that is required to provide illumination for the COBRA camera.  The problem is that current electro-optical illuminators cover only a single wavelength band and cannot support the 6-band COBRA multi-spectral sensor (2).

COBRA uses a passive, multi-spectral sensor which covers 6 wavelength bands from near UV to near infrared. The sensor is capable of providing 4 frames per second (4 Hz) for the 6 bands with a 16M camera (4896x3264) yielding a Ground Sample Distance (GSD) of 2.4" which translates into 6.1 Gigabits per second (Gbps) of data (1).

Military and Aerospace website states that the COBRA payload includes stabilized step stare digital gimbal and high-resolution multispectral imaging digital camera with a spinning six-color filter wheel, a processing unit, and a solid-state data storage unit which collects six different color-band images across a large area using a step-stare pattern (4).

The system appears to be effective mainly in the beach zone with little water depth penetration in the surf zone – not surprising given that it is, essentially, just a camera with a wavelength expanded beyond just the visual.

COBRA Surf and Beach Zone Reconnaissance

One of the weaknesses of the system is that the data is not available in real time and requires post-mission analysis which means the UAV must survive in order for the data to be available.  Thus, a UAV could complete an entire reconnaissance mission only to be shot down at the end and all the data would be lost.

Another weakness is the operational concept.  A good sized, low, slow flying, non-stealthy, non-maneuvering (has to remain reasonably steady during its recon run) helo passing back and forth across the shore line just can't have much of a life expectancy.  This is the classic definition of a target drone!  In combat, we're going to go through these like candy!  As with so many of today's operational concepts, the success of the system depends on the enemy cooperating by not shooting down this sitting duck of a target and allowing us to recon the beach unimpeded.  Does that seem like a reasonable assumption to base a combat operational concept on?  Seriously, who comes up with these things?

The coverage area of the system depends on the sensor being raised above the beach/surf.  This is the same as a regular camera being able to “see” more of an image the further back it is held from the scene.  Thus, COBRA is not applicable to, for example, an unmanned surface vessel.  It could, presumably, be deployed from any aircraft large enough to carry the system.

COBRA is intended to complement the AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) which is operated from the MH-60 helo and provides laser detection of surface and near-surface mines past the surf zone.

As stated, I have severe doubts that the system is operational, reliable, and effective.  I’ll wait to see a DOT&E assessment before accepting the system as combat effective.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

COBRA Declared Operational

Apparently, the Navy quietly declared the LCS MCM Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system operational during the summer as just reported in a USNI News website article (1).  COBRA is an aerial mine detection system that has been under development for many years.

Before we go any further, does anyone believe the Navy’s declaration of operational capability?  How many systems have we see declared operational and nothing short of magnificent only to find out the reality, as actually measured by DOT&E, falls far short?  To put it bluntly, I don’t believe the Navy and I don’t believe the COBRA system is operational.

Setting that aside, something else caught my eye in the article.  Apparently, the Navy plans to purchase a total of 30 COBRA systems. 

“… the Navy bought two systems in Fiscal Year 2017 and will continue to buy more as quickly as budgets allow.  … the plan is to buy 24 additional COBRAs, for a total of 30.” (1)

Now, you’ll recall that after the recent reorganization of the LCS fleet, there will be three functional squadrons of four ships each on each coast, one squadron for each type of module/function: ASW, MCM, and ASuW (see, “Navy Surrenders”). 

Thus, there will be a total of 8 MCM type LCS vessels.  Therefore, 30 COBRA systems is way beyond the minimum required.  For one system per ship, only 8 are needed.  Even with two, the maximum possible per ship, only 16 are needed.  Throw in a few for backups or maintenance unavailabilities and that still leaves a bunch extra.  Is the Navy planning for combat attrition?  That would be wise and very unlike the Navy.

MQ-8 Fire Scout

Recall that the COBRA system is intended to search for mines along the shore.  The host platform for the COBRA is the MQ-8B/C Fire Scout unmanned helo.  In an opposed scenario which, by definition, any mined shore would be, a large, slow, non-stealthy, hovering helo is going to have a very short life expectancy.  Additional COBRA systems will be required, for sure!  However, I’m unaware that the Navy is planning to procure additional UAVs so having extra COBRA systems would be pointless.

I’m a little puzzled by this.  Could the Navy be planning to mount the COBRA systems on some other platform in addition to the LCS/Fire Scout?  Alternatively, does the Navy already know that the reliability is such that 30 units will be required to keep 8 in service?

I’ll have to continue looking into this.


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Declares COBRA Coastal Mine Detection System Operational After Successful Test”, Megan Eckstein, 10-Oct-2017,

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Unhappy Ship?

Navy Times website just published an article describing a command leadership crisis on the USS Shiloh and rock-bottom morale coupled with safety and combat effectiveness shortcomings.  Shiloh, by the way, is attached to the 7th Fleet – the same fleet that has experienced multiple collisions and groundings recently.  It all ties in, doesn’t it?  You read this article and can’t help but come away with the impression of a ship on the verge of mutiny being run by an incompetent despot of a captain backed up by wholly incompetent fleet leadership.

However, before we form up the lynch mob, let’s take a brief moment and look just a little bit closer at this.  If you actually read the article and look at the survey results, you'll note that roughly a third of the crew respondents indicted that they were motivated, proud of their ship, and trusted their leadership.  That doesn't quite jibe with a ship on the verge of mutiny and crew being uniformly oppressed by their Captain.  How do we explain the contradictory results?

The situation may be just as portrayed by the article - a ship being badly lead and falling into despair and ineffectiveness.

On the other hand, an alternative explanation might be that the previous Captain was far too lenient and the crew came to believe that low standards, lack of discipline, and lack of performance were acceptable and normal and now, with a new Captain demanding actual performance and holding the crew accountable, we see a bunch of whiny, spoiled malcontents.  The third that responded as motivated, proud, and trusting are the ones who had wanted to do a good job and now have a Captain that is trying to whip a poor performing ship into shape and they fully support that effort.  People who have been cruising along with little expected of them will naturally rebel when forced to perform to standard again.  It’s human nature.  We get lazy and resist attempts to make us better.

As a general statement, most people will not perform to the highest expectations but will, instead, perform to the lowest standard.

No, you say!  Our crews are highly motivated, gung-ho perfectionists who aspire to the highest levels.  Well, some are but most are human and will perform as I’ve described.  No, ComNavOps, we don’t believe you.  You’re wrong!

Perhaps.  But consider the bits of evidence we have.

Recall the Iranian incident in which Iran seized two of our boats and crews without a fight even though we heavily outnumbered and outgunned them?  Clearly, those crews were not performing at a high level.  Heck, they weren’t even performing at a minimally acceptable level.  The list of things they did wrong is almost endless.  They had been skating by for quite some time.  Even when faced with a potentially life-threatening situation they failed to perform.  The same applies to the entire chain of command above them.

Recall the recent collisions.  Clearly multiple people at all levels failed to meet even the minimal standards of performance.

I’m not going to bother reciting more examples.  The point has been made.  There is more than ample evidence that our personnel are not performing to standard and are not being held accountable.

With that in mind, is it all that hard to imagine a situation in which a Captain takes over a lazy ship, tries to whip it into shape, and is perceived by two thirds of the crew as a tyrant just because he now expects minimal standards of performance?

The article could be completely right in their take on the situation.  On the other hand, my alternative explanation is potentially just as valid.  Without being there, I have no basis to make an assessment and that is not the point of this post.  The point is that we need to read these articles with an objective perspective while being mindful of the relevant background (the widespread failures of performance that have been documented). 

You’ll note that the article presented lots of survey quotes from disgruntled sailors but not one quote from any of the third of the crew that was happy.  Is that a balanced article, informative, investigative article or a hit piece?  There was no comment from the ship’s Captain although to be fair, he was presented the opportunity and declined for obvious reasons.  This was a lazy, one-sided, slipshod article that made no effort to actually investigate the situation.  The article went straight for sensationalism.  Again, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong but it does cast doubt.

I have insufficient information to make a judgment about this incident but I do note the one third of respondents who claimed to be motivated, proud, and trusting of leadership and I can’t reconcile that with the situation as the article paints it.  I remain non-committal but dubious about the article as it’s written and presented – and so should you.

I’ve written this post because I witnessed exactly the scenario I described occur in an industrial setting and a good leader was punished for demanding performance rather than making his people happy.  I’d hate to see that happen in this case, if that turns out to be the case.


(1)Navy Times website, “‘I now hate my ship’: Surveys reveal disastrous morale on cruiser Shiloh”, Geoff Ziezulewicz, 9-Oct-2017,

Sunday, October 8, 2017

MQ-9 Reaper Shootdown

By now, you’ve probably read about the shootdown of a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper UAV over Yemen.  The event has been confirmed by U.S. military officials (1). 

Why is this of significance to a Navy website, you ask?  Well, I’ve repeatedly harped on the theme that our planned surveillance and targeting platforms such as UAVs, P-8s, and other large, slow, non-stealthy aircraft are not survivable and, as such, will be unavailable to perform their tasks in a peer war.  If some low end threat in Yemen can shoot down a top of the line UAV, what will China or Russia do to our UAVs and patrol aircraft?

MQ-9 Reaper

I’ve repeatedly told you to turn this situation around.  If Chinese or Russian large, slow, non-stealthy UAVs or patrol aircraft were attempting to surveil or target our forces, would we allow it?  Of course not!  And yet we think we’ll be able to conduct surveillance and targeting of them, unimpeded. 

We need to recognize this inherent flaw in our thinking and rectify it or we're going to be fighting the next war blind.


(1)Defense News website, “US MQ-9 drone shot down in Yemen”, Shawn Snow, 2-Oct-2017,