Thursday, June 22, 2017

Armored Ship Misconceptions

It’s obvious from the preceding post (see, "Fitzgerald Collision") that there is a lot of misguided and incorrect thought out there about ship size and the impact of armor on a ship’s performance.  I’m reading consistent statements that modern ships can’t bear the weight of armor without seriously impacting endurance, range, and speed.  That’s just absolute bilgewater and betrays a lack of knowledge about previous ship designs – WWII, in particular.  So, to help put ships and armor into an actual and factual context, let’s look at WWII ship designs versus today.

In the following discussion, I’m going to generically refer to “armor” as the total of hull plating and any add-on armor that may have been present.

Here’s the relevant specifications for the Burke class DDG.

Burke Class Flt IIa

Length  509 ft
Displacement  9200 t
Range  4400 @ 20 kts
Speed  30+ kts
Armor  5/8” – 7/16” hull plating, 7/16” – 1/2” deck (1);  no additional external armor

Now let’s look at some WWII designs.

Portland Class Cruiser (ex. USS Indianapolis)

Length  610 ft
Displacement  10,000 t
Range  13,000 @ 15 kts
Speed  33 kts
Armor  “The ships were completed with belt armor 5 inches thick over the magazines and 3.25 inches elsewhere.  Armored bulkheads were between 2 inches and 5.75 inches, deck armor was 2.5 inches, the barbettes were 1.5 inches, the gunhouses were 2.5 inches, and the conning tower was 1.25 inches  …”  (2)

We see that the Portland class cruiser, armed with 9x 8” guns and 8x 5” guns, carried armor ranging up to 5.75” and still managed to make 33 kts with a range of 13,000 nm.  I guess WWII ship designers didn’t realize this was impossible.

Okay, you say, a large cruiser could carry armor but how about a smaller ship – a ship the size of, or smaller than, a Burke?  How about the Fletcher class destroyers?

Fletcher Class Destroyer (4)

Length  376 ft
Displacement  2500 t
Range  5500 @ 15 kts
Speed  36 kts
Armor  1/2” – 3/4” hull and deck

The Fletcher class, much smaller than a Burke, had its thinnest plating equal to the Burke’s thickest and had heavier, thicker 3/4” plating in many locations, in addition.  So, the Fletcher, despite being significantly smaller than a Burke, carried more armor and had as good range and speed.  I guess WWII ship designers didn’t realize this was impossible.

Let’s take a look at one more, the Atlanta class light cruiser.

Atlanta Class Light Anti-Aircraft Cruiser

Length  541 ft
Displacement  7400 t
Range  8500 @ 15 kts
Speed  33 kts
Armor  1.1” – 3.5” belt, 1.25” deck (3)

Hmm ……..  Yet another example of a ship slightly longer than the Burke, significantly lighter, and yet has larger amounts of armor, greater range, and equal speed.  I guess WWII ship designers didn’t realize this was impossible.

I can go on with example after example but the point is made.  For a properly designed ship, there is no range, endurance, or speed penalty.  Those who believe that modern ships can’t carry armor without significant performance penalties are just ignorant of what was common practice decades ago.  Every US surface combatant of WWII had far more armor than a Burke and yet had equal or superior range and speed.

There is no reason not to armor our ships commensurate with their size and purpose.


(1)Unpublished cross sectional construction drawing for Burke class

(2)Wikipedia, retrieved 21-Jun-2017,

(3) Wikipedia, retrieved 21-Jun-2017,

(4)United States Navy Destroyers of World War II, John C Reilly, Jr., Blandford Press, 1985

The Sacred Cow

If there’s a sacred cow in the Navy, it’s got to be the LCS.  Come hell or high water, the LCS will continue.  The latest example of the sacred nature of the LCS comes courtesy of reader Delmar Lewis who put me onto this article from Bloomberg.

It appears that the Navy is going to procure a second LCS in FY18 even though it was not originally budgeted.  The Navy “found” the funds by delaying the nuclear refueling of the aircraft carrier Stennis for about a year and shifting funding from the Infrared Search and Track (IRST) program for the F-18 Hornet.

“About $325 million will be freed up because the Navy has delayed the overhaul of an aircraft carrier that involves refueling its two nuclear power cores …  An additional $100 million will be shifted from the Navy’s Infrared Search and Track program for installation on its F/A-18E/F fighters, and the rest from smaller programs.” (1)

I truly am baffled by the gushing stupidity of the Navy when it comes to the LCS.  That they would value the useless, toothless, short-legged LCS over developing an IRST or refueling a nuclear carrier just boggles the mind.


(1)Bloomberg website, “Navy Finds $500 Million for a Second Littoral Combat Ship in '18”, Tony Capaccio, 19-Jun-2017,

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fitzgerald Collision

You’ve all read about the recent collision between the 505 ft long, 9000 t, Burke class destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, and the 730 ft long, 40,000 dwt, Philippine-flagged container ship ACX Crystal.  I’ve had no comment, thus far, because there has been insufficient factual information to comment about.  There was no information on the circumstances of the collision, the exact extent of damage, or even the specific damage control measures beyond general statements about some flooding. 

Now, however, some snippets of information are becoming available.

“USS Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline. The collision resulted in some flooding.” (1)

Fitzgerald is under her own power, although her propulsion is limited.” (1)

Navy Times reported , “that Auxiliary Machine Room 1 and two crew berthings were completely flooded.” (1)

“A top Navy admiral acknowledged Sunday that the destroyer Fitzgerald was in danger of sinking …” (2)

“… Fitzgerald suffered an enormous gash in its hull under the waterline, causing both berthing compartments and the auxiliary machine room to flood rapidly …” (2)

However, one of the pieces of information that I’ve been waiting for has become available and I’ll offer an analysis.  That information is pictures of the damage to the ACX Crystal.

Look at the Fitzgerald and note the degree of visible damage.  From the comments and visible damage, it is clear that the ship was very badly damaged and was in danger of sinking.

Now, look at the ACX Crystal.  The only visible damage is the bent bulwarks above the deck line and a possible small tear in the ship’s plating at the bow.

How do you reconcile the extremes of the visible damage?  That the larger ACX Crystal would inflict more damage on the smaller ship is to be expected but that the Crystal would show almost no hull plating damage at the point of impact speaks volumes about the relative thickness and strength of the two ships construction, framing, and hull plating.  The Fitzgerald’s hull plating crumbled like tissue paper while the Crystal’s was barely dented other than the thin bulwarks above the main deck.  In other words, the container ship was, apparently, built like you’d expect a warship to be built and the warship was built …  well …  weakly.

Let’s be fair and acknowledge that we have no description of the Crystal’s damage other than what can be seen in the photos.  It could be that the ship suffered serious damage and flooding below the waterline but there is absolutely no indication that that is the case.

The Navy needs to seriously rethink its warship design philosophy and construction practices and standards.  From a construction perspective, this is embarrassing and ominous.  What will happen when missiles and torpedoes start impacting our ships in combat?  All historical evidence suggests that our ships will prove to be extremely fragile.


(1)USNI News website, “7 Sailors Missing, CO Injured After Destroyer USS Fitzgerald Collided with Philippine Merchant Ship”, Sam LaGrone, 16-Jun-2017,

(2)Navy Times website, “Fitzgerald Crew’s ‘Heroic Efforts’ Saved Their Ship From Sinking, Admiral Says”, David B. Larter, 18-Jun-2017,

Monday, June 19, 2017

Spin The LCS

You know what “spin” is, right?  In case you’re not familiar with the word, it means to present a piece of information in the best possible light.  In today’s usage, it generally connotes a distortion of the facts that borders on lying. 

Here’s a simple, classic example from the Cold War era.  A Soviet and a US runner race and the US runner wins.  The Soviets report that the Soviet runner came in second while the US runner placed next to last.  That’s spin!  It’s technically true but so distorts the truth as to border on lying.

Bear in mind the definition of spin as you consider this article posted by Defense News website about the Coronado conducting periodic maintenance in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. (1) 

Let’s look at the Navy’s proud claim about the LCS.

LCS Coronado conducted a required maintenance period while forward deployed and in Cam Rahn Bay.  As the Navy proudly states,

“…a demonstration of its ability to conduct maintenance while deployed.”

What the Navy didn’t say was that dozens of Burkes, and gators, and carriers simultaneously demonstrated their ability to not need a scheduled maintenance period in the middle of a forward deployment.  So, a ship that requires many times more scheduled maintenance stops than any other ship in the fleet can either be seen as a maintenance headache and having significantly reduced availability during deployments or it can be spun as a major accomplishment.

The Navy also didn’t mention the enormous amount of money it must have cost to fly Navy technicians, contractors, tools, parts, etc. to Cam Rahn Bay to conduct maintenance that no other ship in the fleet requires.

The Navy also didn’t mention that the LCS maintenance model only works during peacetime.  During war, the LCS isn’t going to be able to pull into Cam Rahn Bay or any other forward base for maintenance.  Even if the ship could, the maintainers, tools, and parts certainly couldn’t.

So, there was a lot of useful and relevant information the Navy could have presented about this maintenance PR stunt which demonstrated one of the many weaknesses inherent in the LCS design and maintenance model but they chose to spin it as an accomplishment, instead.


(1)Defense News website, “US Navy Littoral Combat Ship Shows Off Maintenance Capabilities Overseas”, Mike Yeo, 15-Jun-2017,

Friday, June 16, 2017

Chinese Fire Support Frigate

The Chinese Type 053H frigate, Jiujiang, is an absolutely fascinating vessel for multiple reasons but the main reason is that the vessel was converted to a multiple launch rocket (MLR) fire support ship.

As a bit of background, the class was built in the 1970’s-1990’s and traces its lineage back to the Russian Riga class frigates. The vessels are around 330 ft long with a displacement of around 2000 tons.  Jiujiang was launched and joined the Chinese fleet in 1975 as a surface warfare frigate before being converted into a fire support ship in 2002.

The fire support modification consisted of 5x50-tube 122 mm (~5”) rocket launchers for a total of 250 rockets.  The rockets had a range of 20-30 km.  In addition, the ship retained its two dual 100 mm (~4”) guns.

That’s right, while the US Navy has abandoned fire support or offered an ill-conceived and now impotent Zumwalt and dithered about the possibility of mounting MLRS launchers on ships, the Chinese went ahead and did it.  This illustrates a few things:

  • The Chinese recognize the need for ship based fire support.

  • The Chinese are willing to construct/modify one-off prototypes to test and evaluate concepts.  While the US Navy has floundered around and largely ignored the issue of fire support, the Chinese built a fire support frigate, evaluated it, and are now retiring it.

  • The Chinese are willing to put older ships to use as test platforms.  Contrast this use of older vessels with the US Navy’s tendency to EARLY retire completely usable ships.

  • The Chinese were able to mount a LOT of firepower on a small, cheap vessel.  Contrast this with the US insistence on making every vessel big, expensive, and do-everything.  Also, contrast this vessel and its firepower density with the LCS’ near total lack of combat firepower.

  • The Chinese are far more open and nimble than the US Navy in terms of willingness to embrace change and the speed with which they build and experiment.

One cannot help but acknowledge that the Chinese are putting us to shame when it comes to prototyping, variety of designs, firepower density, speed of construction, and rate of technological advancement of their navy.  At this rate, we’re going to have to start hacking them to get their technology and designs!

We should also note that mounting rocket launchers on ships is hardly new.  The US Navy did it extensively in WWII, for example, but seems to have completely forgotten that capability just as they’ve abandoned fire support altogether.  If you’re interested, do an Internet search for LSM(R) to see what kind of rocket fire support vessels the US used in WWII.

Check out these photos from China Defense Blog (1)

Fire Support Frigate Jiujiang - Note The Five Launchers On A Frigate Sized Ship

Rocket Launcher

Rocket Launcher

Launcher Close Up


The US Navy needs to look to the past while developing for the future and be more willing to construct one-off prototypes.  Older ships can be used for development purposes instead of being retired and sunk, scrapped, or sold.  The Navy and Marines need to continue to address naval fire support especially since the Zumwalt turned out to be a hideously expensive total failure.  We can learn a lot from the Chinese about how to develop a Navy!


(1)China Defense Blog, “PLAN decommission of the day: FFG516 "Jiujiang" China's only MLR fire-support frigate”16-May-2017,

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Comment Policy

I continue to get questions regarding comments so I've added a page that explains in detail my comment policy.  The page can be accessed through the new navigation bar above.  I encourage you to review it especially if you have any questions about deleted comments.

F-22 And Attrition

A passing remark by a commenter on the SNAFU website prompted the realilzation that we have a potentially serious problem regarding our air superiority capability during war.  What’s the defining characteristic of war?  It’s attrition.  Men, ships, and aircraft will be destroyed.  The key is being able to replace them.

What aircraft is the key to our future air superiority?  It’s the F-22.  The military has repeatedly admitted that the F-35 is not an air superiority fighter.  Various Air Force generals have stated that the F-22 is needed for the F-35 to succeed in war.  Further, those same generals have stated that a single F-22 is equivalent to several F-35s.  I apologize, I don’t have the exact quotes at hand.

The F-22 is out of production.  In a war, where do we get new F-22s to replace those that are lost?  The only combat aircraft that the military wants to produce is the F-35 which the Air Force acknowledges is not an air superiority fighter.  As the F-22s are lost in combat, where do we get replacement air superiority fighters?