Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stealth for Dummies

Continuing the highly acclaimed (according to ComNavOps' brother-in-law) “Dummies” series, we turn our attention to stealth in warship design.  Just as there was (there isn’t now since they’ve all read the Armor for Dummies post and have been educated !) a group of people who, misguidedly, believed that armor was pointless because it couldn’t totally stop every weapon in existence, so too, there is a group of people (probably the same group) who believes that stealth is pointless since it can’t make a warship completely invisible.  Such a belief could not be more wrong and we’ll now see why.

Most people believe that the purpose of stealth is to conceal the location of a ship – if you can’t find it you can’t attack it.  That’s great except that the naysayers will point out, correctly, that it’s not possible to completely hide a ship with stealth measures.  You can reduce the radar (or visible, or infrared, or electromagnetic) signature to some degree but any ship can be detected.  Let’s face it, we can’t completely mask aircraft and ships are many times larger.  Further, some aspects of ship design just don’t lend themselves to enhanced stealth.  The hull just plain has to be a big vertical chunk of metal.  We can slope the sides somewhat but the hull is still a big radar return.  The same goes for the superstructure.  The various sensors and weapons offer large radar returns and their signatures can’t really be reduced all that much without adversely impacting their function.  Ships need cranes, boats, and deck gear all of which increases the ship’s signature.  So, there’s no getting around the fact that a ship can’t be made invisible.

So, why do we even bother with stealth?  Well, we can reduce the ship’s signature and every bit of reduction makes the ship just that much harder to find.  For a ship attempting to penetrate an enemy A2/AD zone, every hour it can avoid detection is an hour less time the enemy has to attack it or reposition assets to deal with it.  Every hour undetected is an hour of safety making it more likely that the ship will be able to carry out its mission. 

Further, in order to overcome stealth, the enemy will be forced to employ more subs, patrol boats, AEW, and search assets in attempt to increase the density of their search coverage.  This soaks up assets that might otherwise be employed offensively.  So, stealth requires the enemy to assume a larger, more defensive posture than they would prefer.

Enough of a Good Thing or Too Much?

Sooner or later, though, the ship will be found.  What then?  Well, this is where stealth serves its second purpose - a purpose most people overlook.  When a ship is found, what is required to attack it?  The location is, by definition, now known but modern weapons require more than that.  They require a target lock for terminal guidance of the weapon.  That lock may take the form of radar returns, infrared, or whatever.  If the weapon can’t achieve a lock, it won’t strike its target.  It’s that simple.  We could park a ship ten miles off an enemy’s coast, broadcast its location, and, if the stealth measures were good enough, the ship would be invulnerable because the enemy weapons couldn’t lock on.

Is warship stealth that good?  Not hardly! 

So, again, what’s the point of stealth if we can’t totally prevent target lock?  Consider a group of missiles launched towards our ship whose location is reasonably accurately known.  The missiles will be spread out and some will approach the ship on the fringe of the missile’s detection radius.  Stealth reduces that detection radius so that some of the missiles that might otherwise have locked on will miss, never having seen a target.  Of course, some of the missiles will approach dead on and will achieve target lock.  Bad day to be on our ship, huh?  Not necessarily.  Even those missiles that achieve a target lock will have the strength of that lock reduced due to the ship’s stealth.  That allows the ship’s passive defenses such as chaff, flares, and ECM to be more effective.  In other words, a missile with a weak lock is more susceptible to being decoyed than one with a strong lock.  Of course, some missiles will still maintain a sufficient lock for a terminal attack and that’s why ships carry point defense weapons.  Nothing, including stealth, is perfect!

We see, then, that stealth serves not one, but two purposes:  making detection more difficult and degrading weapon locks.  It’s the second purpose, degrading weapon locks, that strikes me as the more important.  In combat, ships will be found.  It’s what happens after that that really matters.  Will the ship survive the inevitable combat to carry out its mission and, hopefully, return home?  Stealth increases the chances of survival.  The notion that stealth must completely hide a ship in order to be worthwhile is just as silly as the idea that armor must completely stop all weapons. 

Like armor, which carries a weight penalty, stealth carries a cost penalty.  Stealth designs are more complex, a bit harder to build, require some additional equipment, and, most significantly, reduce available deck space (look at any stealth warship and compare it to a WWII conventional ship and you’ll see what I mean – the LCS is an extreme example of a stealthy ship that has very little horizontal deck space for mounting weapons, sensors, and gear).  Still, the penalties are well worth it and can be compensated for.  Of course, there’s a balance point in the stealth cost-benefit relationship.  Where that point is, I don’t know.  Has the Zumwalt gone too far?  Only time will tell.

Clearly, stealth enhances the survivability of warships and does so at relatively little cost.  Hey, throw in some armor and you’re on your way to a good ship design!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Stormy Weather for Carriers

The latest CRS report on the Ford class carriers (1) reveals that the construction schedule for new carriers, historically one every five years, is being stretched.  In the data below, the first date listed for each carrier is the procurement date, the second is the actual or projected delivery date, the years from procurement to construction is shown, and, as an interesting sidelight, the final number is the construction cost.  CVN-78 is, of course, the USS Ford, the first of the new Ford class.  CVN-77, the last of the Nimitz class is listed for comparison.

CVN-77  2001  2006  5 yrs
CVN-78  2008  2015  7 yrs  $12.8B+
CVN-79  2013  2022  9 yrs  $11.4
CVN-80  2018  2027  9 yrs  $13.9

Costs are in FY13 dollars

We see that while the procurement frequency is still scheduled for every five years, the delivery dates are going to be stretched out to nine years.  With that in mind, there is almost no chance that the procurement frequency will remain at five years.  It’s just a matter of time, and soon, before the procurement dates are stretched out, as well.

We’ve discussed before that, for a 50 year lifespan, we need to build a new carrier every 4.5 years to maintain the Congressionally mandated level of 11 carriers.  Even the 5 year procurement frequency only gives a force level of 10 carriers.  If the procurement frequency gets stretched out to more closely match the announced delivery frequency, the carrier level will shrink to only 6 (for a nine year frequency).  How this would be reconciled with the Congressionally mandated force level remains to be seen. 

Rough Seas Ahead for Carriers?

 As a reminder, the current carrier force level is 10, one less than the mandated level, due to the retirement of Enterprise and the construction delays for the Ford.  The Navy obtained a waiver from Congress specifically for this situation and the waiver will remain in effect until the Ford enters service in 2015 or 2016.

What is the rationale for stretching out the delivery times, you ask?  Well, as anyone who has ever financed a home or automobile knows, the longer you stretch out the payment time, the lower the payments.  Of course, the longer the payment period, the greater the total payment, in the end.  As best I can tell, the Navy's accounting structure doesn't care about total costs, only yearly budgeted costs.  Hence, the push to stretch out the delivery time.

Now, on to the cost figures.  We see that there is no economy of scale for carrier construction.  Taking into account the first of class one-off expenditures, it’s clear that each succeeding Ford class carrier will increase in cost (dollars are constant FY13 so inflation is accounted for).  Compare the magnitude of the construction cost, around $12B, to the Navy’s entire annual shipbuilding budget of $15B.  When a carrier is built, almost an entire year’s shipbuilding budget is consumed by one ship.  No wonder the fleet size is shrinking!  Regardless of the value of the carrier, they are simply becoming unaffordable and that’s reflected in the stretching out of the delivery dates and why the procurement dates are sure to be stretched out, as well.

Proponents and detractors of carriers can argue all they want but the simple fact is that the carrier is pricing itself out of existence.

Despite this, the Navy is embarked on a logically inconsistent path.  Air wings are approaching half the size they were when we started building supercarriers which would seem to suggest that somewhat smaller carriers would suffice and, yet, the Navy is building the Ford class which is even bigger than the Nimitz class.  Huh??  How does that make sense?  Logically, the Ford class should have been closer to the modernized Midway in size.  This is just like the new SSBN which, despite carrying several fewer missile tubes, will be bigger than the Ohios.

The Navy is embarked on an unsustainable carrier construction path.  Something is going to have to change and soon.  I think we’re going to see the carrier force level drop to around 8 in the fairly near future.  I predict that one of the next couple of upcoming carrier mid-life nuclear refuelings is going to be cancelled and the ship is going to be pre-maturely retired.  Time will tell.

(1) Congressional Research Service, “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier
Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O'Rourke, March 13, 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

30 Year Shipbuilding Plan

The Navy has released data tables from its FY2014 long range, 30 year, building plan.  There are plenty of interesting bits of information contained therein. 

The construction/retirement numbers by class are revealing.  The “+” numbers are new construction and the “-“ numbers are retirements.  The number following that is the net change over the period, either positive or negative.

CVN  +6 / -6 ; 0

DDG/CG  +70 / -61 ; +9

LXX (amphibs)  +19 / -20 ; -1

LCS/FFG  +66 / -50 ; +16

SSN  +47 / -52 ; -5

SSBN  +12 / -14 ; -2

SSGN  +0 / -4 ; -4

We see that major surface combatants, DDGs and CGs will increase by 9.  All other classes of ship except the LCS/FFG will either remain unchanged or decrease.  Discounting the LCS which has no credible combat capability, the net change across all ship classes is -3.  The Navy is banking heavily on the LCS to maintain ship numbers.  What that means is that Ticos and Burkes will be retired and replaced, numerically, by the LCS.  That seems like a reasonable swap, doesn’t it?

Another noteworthy item is that over the next two years, FY14 and FY15, the Navy proposes to build 16 ships of all types and retire 31 for a net change of -15.  Yikes!  That will drop the fleet size from the current level of about 285 to 270.

The Navy is saying that over the next couple years when we have a pretty solid idea of what budgets and costs will be, the fleet will shrink significantly due to lack of construction funds.  During the out years in the 2020’s and beyond, when we have no idea what budgets and costs will be, the Navy rosily forecasts growth from 270 ships back to around 306.  Hey, Navy, as long as you’re making stuff up, why not forecast growth to 400 or 500 ships?  You won’t have to actually do it and it will sound way more impressive for public relations and political purposes.

We’ve already demonstrated that the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding plan isn’t even remotely achievable, financially.  Indeed, the next two years, which most accurately reflect the fiscal realities, clearly show that the fleet will shrink significantly.  The Navy is, at best, engaging in wishful thinking with the 30 year plan and, more realistically, is engaging in misinformation, misdirection, and fraud.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Modules for the LCS !!

Inspired by a comment from Anon in the last post, ComNavOps is offering the following module concepts for the Navy’s consideration.  Unlike the worthless ASW, MCM, and ASuW modules the Navy is pursuing, these modules will truly be useful.  Enjoy!

To deal with the lack of food storage capacity, the Fishing Module is the first truly useful mission module for the LCS!  A remote operated semi-submersible vehicle tows a fishing net and is guided by the vehicle's on-board fishfinder sonar.  Finally, a mission worthy of the LCS!!!

Given that the LCS has been deemed not survivable in a hostile environment, the Post Combat Abandoment Module (PCAM) acknowledges the inevitable result of combat by mounting a combination life raft/personnel cannon in the former NLOS pits.  The cannon will shoot life rafts off the ship at 12 rpm (rafts per minute).  After the rafts have been deployed, the ship’s on board radar sensor suite (with automatic EO backup) will precision launch crew members from the cannon (think circus!) onto the rafts until the ship has been completely abandoned.  Once abandoned, the automated system will issue a Navy Public Relations message to all wire services describing the heroic actions of the ship and crew and stressing that the ship exceeded all mission parameters and that a further 55 vessels are needed.

Due to the lack of a weapon with sufficient range to deal with the small boat and swarm scenarios, the LCS now has an Anti-Swarm Swarm (ASS) module.  The module will offer much greater engagement ranges by launching a squadron of one-man combat kayaks.  Each combat kayak will mount a prototype slingshot powered rail gun and a bag of rocks with moderately sharp edges.  The kayak squadron will swarm toward the enemy swarm and engage at a greater distance than the Griffon missile is capable of.  In addition, each rock is estimated to have about 2X the hitting force of a Griffon warhead.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Don’t Join For The Food

Here's an interesting tidbit.  From the most recent CRS report (1), we note that the LCS was designed to be able to deploy for at least 21 days, however, the ship only has food storage for 14 days.  Assuming a few days sailing to and from the area of operation, the functional deployment of the LCS is limited to around 8-10 days.  Of course, a mothership or replenishment ship could always tag along with the LCS and replenish it every few days but that seems highly inefficient.

One of the aspects of operating small vessels that seems not to have been understood by the Navy or by  proponents of small vessels when they look at foreign navies and their small vessels is that most (all) foreign navies operate their small vessels in home waters where ports are just hours away.  Trying to operate small vessels half way around the world, as the U.S. Navy does, presents significant logistical challenges.  As I just said, the LCS is either limited to very short deployments or must have a replenishment ship tagging along at all times.

Of course, ComNavOps notes that the 14 day food storage capacity was for the original crew size.  The Navy has since increased the core crew size by 20 berths (50% increase) which drops the food storage to around 10 days or less!

(1)Congressional Research Service, “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program:
Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O'Rourke, April 5, 2013, p. 21

Friday, April 19, 2013

I Feel The Need, The Need For Speed !

ComNavOps continually analyzes naval performance and the features and characteristics of the Navy’s ships and planes.  One of the characteristics I’ve long wondered about is the requirement for high speed in our surface combatants.  As best I can tell, our requirement for 30+ kts came from the operating doctrine developed for fleet carriers during WWII.  Carriers would make a night run-in towards a target (a Japanese island), launch a dawn strike, recover, and vanish before an effective counter-strike could launch.  This was an effective tactic because long range radar (both land and airborne) and satellite surveillance did not exist.

Later, high speed was found to be necessary to assist in the launching of planes.

All other ships had to be capable of 30+ kts in order to keep up with the carriers.

Now, however, we can launch planes from a motionless ship even with today's steam catapults.  Also, the existence of AEW, SOSUS-like arrays, satellites, etc. all provide long range detection and would generally negate the run-in tactic.  So, what is the tactical usefulness of 30+ kts of speed?  It won't let you outrun or outmaneuver a missile.  It won't even let you outrun an Iranian speedboat.  Now don't get me wrong.  I think speed is one of those things that's always nice to have.  It's just that I'm not able to come up with many tactical scenarios where 30+ kts provides a significant advantage over, say, 25 kts.  I assume most of you know what the power curve is like.  Once you get past 20 kts, each additional knot comes with a hefty power/weight/equipment cost.  I just wonder if 30+ kts is still worth the cost in weight/internal machinery volume/dollars/maintenance/fuel capacity?

The extreme example of this is the LCS which has a ton of speed but had to sacrifice enormous weight and volume margins to achieve it and it apparently has no tactical relevance that anyone has been able to elucidate.

The only scenario that seems even moderately plausible is attempting to outrun a torpedo.  Now, modern torpedoes are capable of well over 30+ kts (40-60 kts) so actually outrunning one isn’t an option, however, the ability to maintain a dwindling lead over a torpedo long enough for countermeasures to work or for the torpedo to run out of fuel is valid, if unlikely.  And, to be fair, maybe this scenario alone justifies the speed built into all surface combatants.  I just wonder, though, if we aren’t holding on to a requirement from the past that has only marginal usefulness today.  Could some of that weight and volume that's dedicated to generating the last few knots be put to better use, like armor, weapons, or electronics?

In short, I have mixed feelings about this.  Anyone want to make a strong argument for or against speed?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Lessons Learned and Forgotten

The Navy has learned many lessons throughout its history;  lessons that were generally paid for in blood.  Those lessons have served the Navy well.  Of late (on a relative basis, meaning the last few decades), though, the Navy seems to have developed a debilitating loss of memory and the lessons learned are being forgotten and ignored.  Consider, the following timeless lessons.

Aircraft operating over open ocean need two engines.  When there is no dirt below, the loss of an engine means the loss of plane and pilot if the aircraft does not have a second engine.  Despite knowing this, the Navy has committed to a fleet of single engine F-35 (JSF) aircraft.

WWII demonstrated that steel is cheap and armor is the most cost effective form of protection available.  Despite this, not a single Navy ship currently has any effective armor.  Multi-billion dollar ships are being hazarded for want of simple armor plating.

Aluminum is totally unsuited for naval ship construction.  The Navy witnessed first-hand the results of major fires on aluminum ships and, as a result, switched back to steel for the Burke class.  Despite this, the Navy has constructed one of the LCSs with all aluminum and the other with half.  Further, aluminum is creeping back into use as a major structural component of almost every class of ship.  The Navy claims it must use aluminum for weight reduction.  Really?  How did we manage to build every WWII combat vessel from destroyers to battleships not only out of steel but with heavier steel and added armor?  And now the Navy is using wood composites for its largest surface combatant, the Zumwalt.  The wisdom of that remains to be seen but a reasonable guess suggests that is going to be a mistake.

One Engine, No Guns

The Viet Nam war proved that the dogfight was not a relic of the past and will be around as long as aircraft engage in combat.  The Phantom was built with no gun and the aircrews paid the price.  The Navy learned the lesson and made sure that the Tomcat and Hornet carried guns.  Now, though, the F-35C is being built without a gun.

As seen throughout WWII and right up to today, the most important factor in successful damage control is manpower.  The larger the crew, the better the chance of saving the ship.  Knowing this, the Navy is nonetheless committed to minimal manning – as if our ships will never sustain damage in combat.  Again, multi-billion dollar ships are being hazarded for want of a sufficiently large crew to conduct effective damage control.

The Navy’s institutional memory is fading quickly and hard-learned lessons are being forgotten – lessons that will have to be relearned in blood, come the next conflict.

Any lessons you want to add to the list?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Armor For Dummies

OK, it’s happened.  You’ve committed the unpardonable sin of disagreeing with ComNavOps and for that you will be shot with a .50 cal bullet.  ComNavOps is not without compassion, though.  You will be given the option of standing behind a wall of ½” armor plate when the shot is fired.  Every one of you, without exception, will opt to stand behind the ½” armor wall.  Why?  Because even those of you who have been arguing against armor and claiming it does no good, understand in your gut what your brain has failed to grasp:  that armor is better than no armor.  Will the ½” armor save you from the wrath of ComNavOps and a 0.50 cal round?  Maybe not – but it offers a better chance than no armor.  And that, right there, is the value of armor - it offers a better chance to survive hits than not having armor. 

The preceeding hypothetical example should be sufficient to resolve the armor question, however, this is the Armor for Dummies (I mean this only as a light-hearted take on the whole XXXX for Dummies book series;  it’s not an insult) lesson so I will now spell it out for everyone.

Armor is meant to mitigate (lesson the effects of) damage.  While it would be nice if the armor out and out stopped whatever the incoming weapon is, absolute stoppage is not the only purpose.  Simply reducing the amount of damage from a hit is worth the cost and weight of the armor.  If that 20 ft hole in the ship can be reduced to 10 ft that’s a “win”.  If the spray of shrapnel from a hit can be confined to one compartment rather than several, that’s a win.

One of the main arguments against armor and the one most often cited by the armor-is-pointless crowd is that a given thickness of armor can’t totally and completely stop a given weapon.  For instance, recent commentators have stated that ½” armor can’t even stop a 0.50 cal round so what’s the point of having armor.  Let’s look at this concept a bit closer.  I don’t know if ½” armor will or won’t stop a 0.50 cal but let’s accept that it won’t for sake of discussion.  Let’s stipulate that ½” armor will not stop a 0.50 cal round fired at optimum range and right angles to the armor.  OK, but what about a round that hits the armor at a 45 deg angle?  I’m betting that it will stop it and the round will ricochet off.  In combat, rounds will be impacting at all angles.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop some portion of those rounds rather than having every round tear through the ship?  Well sure that would be nice but what if the round does impact under perfect conditions and penetrates the armor?  Think about that for a moment.  What would happen if we had no armor?  The round would not only pass through the skin of the ship but through multiple compartments, equipment, electronics, and people until it eventually ran out of kinetic energy and stopped in something.  In short, it would do a great deal of damage beyond the initial penetration.  So, what happens if the round passes through our notional ½” armor?  Well, the amount of kinetic energy expended by the round in passing through the armor will be such that the round will have little left for further penetration deeper into the ship – damage will be greatly limited compared to not having armor.

He's No Dummy!

Speaking more generally, now, what if the torpedo that no modern armor can stop explodes a bit further away than optimum?  What if the incoming missile that laughs at armor is exploded by a CIWS and the debris strikes the ship?  What if a 5” shell doesn’t actually hit the ship but, rather, a near-miss occurs?  What if a proximity-fused anti-radar missile explodes nearby and sends out a hail of shrapnel?  In each of these cases, armor would greatly mitigate the resulting damage.

Remember, in combat a ship is far more likely to encounter near-misses, shrapnel, and off-angle hits than perfect hits.  The ability to shrug off, or greatly mitigate, the sub-optimal hits is what armor grants.  Will perfect hits by weapons whose explosive power exceeds the armor’s resistance cause damage?  Of course!  Even then, the damage will be less with armor than without.

There seems to be a belief that armor is totally incapable of stopping modern weapons and that’s completely false.  It’s simply a question of thickness (I’m simplifying a bit, here) versus the specific weapon.  I recall reading about tests the Navy conducted many years ago in which they launched missiles (Harpoons or Tomahawks – I can’t recall which) at battleship plate armor (I don’t recall the thickness) and all the missiles did was ruin the paint.  Armor will stop weapons if the thickness is sufficient.

That brings us to the other main objection that is commonly voiced:  armor is too heavy to carry enough to make a difference.  Well, we’ve just discussed how any amount of armor is better than none.  Setting that aside, there’s a school of thought that seems to believe that modern ships just can’t carry the weight of armor.  Nonsense!  WWII Fletcher class destroyers carried ½” – ¾” armor on a 376 ft hull of 2500 tons.  If a Fletcher can carry that, surely a 500 ft, 10,000 ton Burke class destroyer can carry at least the same.

A recent comment suggested that adding ½” to 1.5” of armor would add 180 tons to 540 tons (I have not verified those numbers) to a Burke and that that additional weight was unacceptable.  Bilgewater!  If designed in from the start, that amount of armor would have no deleterious effect on the ship’s performance, as WWII ship design proved, and would greatly enhance damage resistance.  We’re risking multi-billion dollar ships for want of an inch or two of armor.  Steel is cheap.  Armor is steel.  Therefore, armor is cheap.

We examine a lot of issues that are debatable.  This isn’t one of them.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

JSF Heats Up

There are a group of people in Internetland who view the F-35 (JSF) as a magic solution to virtually every problem the Navy faces.  I’ve read proposals to put F-35B(s), the vertical takeoff and landing version (VTOL), on just about every platform that has a flight deck and some that don’t.  The consensus of these people is that the F-35B can operate off the MLP, LCS, JHSV, logistics ships, commercial cargo ships that have a helo pad, and, in a pinch, lily pad off of Burkes, Ticos or any ship with a helo pad.  Mini-squadrons of F-35Bs will be scattered all over the Navy on any ship with a helo pad.  The day of the supercarrier is over!

The idea is appealing, I suppose, but it totally ignores the reality of operating a VTOL aircraft.  Aside from the mundane issues like maintenance, parts, manning, etc., the F-35B is unlike any other aircraft.  The downward directed jet exhaust is insanely hot - hotter than the Harrier by a wide margin. 

F-35B - Every Ship a Carrier?

As reported by DoD Buzz website (1), the F-35 is proving to be incompatible with existing big deck amphibious ships in a variety of ways.  The latest problems are heat and noise.

Thermion coatings will have to added to the decks of amphibious ships in order to allow them to operate the F-35B due to the extreme heat.  Baffling will have to be added to the substructure of the flight decks to reduce unacceptably high noise levels.  Testing has shown the F-35B jet exhaust causes warping and heat deformation of the existing decks – and these are decks that were built to withstand the downward exhaust of the Harrier which itself was a major problem.

Now, let’s reconsider the idea of operating the F-35B from the MLP, LCS, JHSV, and whatever other platform people have proposed.  Those decks would pretty much instantly burn up and be destroyed under the F-35B exhaust.  ComNavOps encourages out of the box thinking but it must be tempered by a bit of reality supported by a degree of research.  Keep thinking but do your homework before you propose an idea!

Monday, April 8, 2013

No Win Situation

You may recall an incident in July of last year in which a Navy oiler fired on an apparent fishing vessel approaching at high speed.  The fishermen were killed and the incident caused severe diplomatic problems.  Navy Times website has a writeup, here, that I encourage you to read.  This is a classic no win situation.  If the Navy ship doesn't shoot, it risks becoming the next USS Cole.  If it shoots, it risks becoming the next USS Vincennes which is exactly what happended, albeit on a smaller scale. 

I have no insight to offer other than the sad recognition of the conditions that terrorists have forced upon the world. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Test of Combat

At the start of WWII, the Navy’s main submarine torpedo completely failed in combat.  During the Viet Nam war, the F-4 Phantom was found to be deficient and ill-suited for aerial combat due to the lack of an internal gun, tell-tale high smoke engines, and unreliable missiles;  all this, despite extensive pre-war development and testing.  The Sparrow air-to-air missile was found to be nearly useless in its combat debut.  The Navy’s pre-WWII anti-aircraft weapons, the 0.50 cal water cooled machine gun and the 1.1” gun mount, were found to be totally ineffective against the threat when used in combat.  The Army’s main tank in WWII, the vaunted Sherman, was completely outclassed and “succeeded” only due to America’s ability to build it in vast numbers. 

The litany of weapons that failed their test of combat is a long one.  None of these weapons were designed to fail - quite the opposite.  Supporters loudly and proudly proclaimed that each and every one was a war-winning miracle of then modern technology.  All were extensively tested and judged a success. 

Despite all the development and testing, each failed in combat.  Why?  Well, a variety of reasons, I guess, but the two main ones seem to be a failure to anticipate the actual threat and a failure to test under realistic, near-combat conditions.

Failure to correctly anticipate the threat leads to design of a weapon that is ill-suited to its purpose.  For example, the F-4 Phantom was designed without a gun because the prevailing opinion was that dogfights were a relic of the past and would never be seen in modern aerial combat again.  As it turned out, dogfights are a constant of aerial combat.  The Phantom’s design assumptions doomed it to failure from the start.  Now, before any of you jump on me, yes, the Phantom was eventually able to serve successfully once better missiles and tactics were developed but it was still a failure, initially.

Failure to test under realistic conditions leads to a false sense of confidence in weapons that have inherent flaws.  The torpedo of WWII was never extensively tested under realistic conditions and its flaws only became apparent in combat.

Well, that’s a fascinating history lesson but what’s the point? 

As I read blog posts and comments, professional articles, and books from naval authors and observers, I’m struck by the near total confidence we have in our current weapons.  It’s an almost religious belief that our weapons will work exactly as advertised.  And yet, history suggests that most of our weapons will either fail totally or require extensive rework and re-development to eventually become even partially successful.  Has our technology risen above history?  Are we immune from technological failures now?  I don’t think so!  The LCS, for example, demonstrates clearly that our technological failures still abound.  So, why do we think that all of our weapons will work in combat?  Let’s consider some examples.

Sparrow - It Should Have Worked

The LCS’ Mk110 57mm gun is widely attributed with the ability to decimate scores of small boats in an anti-swarm scenario.  This, despite the lack of a fire control radar and test results from the DOT&E that show the gun is unreliable.  Plus, the gun has never been tested in a realistic scenario.

Talk about an article of faith, the Standard/Aegis AAW system is accorded an almost mystical level of ability despite the fact that there has never been a single combat launching of a Standard missile, as far as I know.  Further, there have been relatively few test launches and none under realistic combat conditions.  Heck, the Navy doesn’t even have drone targets that provide a realistic threat substitute so how can realistic testing be performed?  And now we believe the system is going to perform ballistic missile defense against even higher speed and harder to hit targets?

Will the Phalanx CIWS work in combat?  Again, it has never been successfully fired in combat nor realistically tested.

The standard 5” gun of the Navy has been tested, once, in combat and failed miserably.  The Vincennes fired somewhere between dozens and hundreds of rounds at small boats during its infamous encounter and failed to record a single hit.  Despite this, the 5” gun is still the mainstay of naval gunnery and has not been improved significantly, as far as I know.

The Zumwalt’s AGS 155mm gun is going to provide pinpoint accuracy at ranges of 50-70 miles.  I have yet to hear anyone voice even the slightest doubt about that.

The military has a variety of GPS precision guided missiles and yet no one acknowledges that GPS is unreliable even in peacetime and will be significantly degraded in war. 

We’re developing various UAVs like Fire Scout and BAMS which are assumed will function perfectly despite the obvious difficulties in maintaining control communications in a combat jamming and ECM environment.  In fact, we’re apparently losing UAVs over Iran even now.

And the list goes on.

History suggests, with near 100% certainty, that most of our weapons will fail in combat.  The only unknown is to what degree they’ll fail and how much effort will be required to eventually make them somewhat successful. 

Am I suggesting that we pack up our foul weather gear and go home because none of our weapons will work?  No!  For one thing, the enemy’s weapons aren’t going to work any better than ours.  What I’m suggesting is that we acknowledge the reality that our weapons will perform far below expectations and make reasonable allowances for that in our designs and tactics.  Let’s beef up our point defenses in recognition that Standard/Aegis is going to allow more missiles through than we think.  Let’s recognize that mounting single guns on ships is woefully insufficient.  Let’s wean ourselves off of GPS.  Let’s assume the AGS will not be as accurate as we hope and look at methods for correcting the spot of gunfire at the kind of distances involved.  Let’s assume the LCS isn’t going to be a miracle minesweeper and develop some alternatives.  Let’s assume that one JSF can’t take on ten of any other plane.  I could go on but you get the idea.

Let’s believe in reality, as demonstrated repeatedly by history, rather than PowerPoint capabilities and manufacturer’s sales brochures. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Who’s Watching Zumwalt?

For some time now, I’ve been astounded by the lack of monitoring of the Zumwalt (DDG-1000) program by the general media.  At the equivalent stage of development the LCS had been thoroughly dissected and every hiccup in the program was analyzed in detail.  Not so for the Zumwalt which has progressed with little notice on a relative basis, despite being every bit as revolutionary as the LCS and many times more expensive on a per unit basis.  Of course, part of the reason for the lack of attention may be that the Navy hasn’t committed to buying 55 Zumwalts before the first one was built, as they did with the LCS!  Alright, so let’s focus a little attention on the Zumwalt and see what’s of interest.  In no particular order, here’s some items that deserve examination.

Wood Composite Superstructure – The upper three fourths or so of the superstructure is a wood composite material.  While I applaud the Navy for not using aluminum, I’m not sure wood composites are the answer.  It remains to be seen how it will hold up to the day to day stresses imposed by the natural and continuous motion of a ship at sea.  Will repairs be easy and can repairs be made at sea?  How will the wood composite behave in a fire?

AGS – The gun system is a giant black hole for internal ship’s volume and power.  The gun is limited to shore fire support and cannot function in an anti-ship role.  That’s a very limited use for a gun that expensive and with that kind of impact on the ship’s design.  In essence, the ship was designed around the gun, similar to how the A-10 Warthog was designed around its gun.

Zumwalt - Under the Radar?

Hull Form – The extreme tumblehome design on a ship of that size represents an unknown.  I’ve read reports that suggest the ship may have stability problems in all but very calm seas.  I’d like to believe that the Navy thoroughly investigated the hull stability before committing to the design but my faith in the Navy’s common sense is not great.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Survivability – Because of the tumblehome hull form, the waterline cross-sectional area decreases as the ship sinks.  This means that as the ship takes on water from flooding damage, the ship will have decreasing buoyancy.  This is the reverse of a conventional ship where the cross-sectional area increases.  Crew size also enters into survivability.  As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, the main factor in successful damage control is crew size and the Zumwalt has a very small crew (smallest in the Navy relative to its size).  Finally, as mentioned above, the wood composite superstructure remains an unknown in a damage/fire scenario.  Overall, I’m suspicious of the survivability of the Zumwalt.

Peripheral VLS – The Mk 57 peripheral VLS cells (PVLS) are significantly bigger than the Mk 41 cells.  However, there are no weapons either extant or in development that require the larger cells, as far as I know.  If, at some point down the road, larger cells are needed, the installation of the PVLS will be proven to be a wise measure.  On the other hand, if they aren’t needed in the lifetime of the ship they will prove to be a waste of space and money.  Only time will tell.

Narrow Mission – This ship has only one mission and that is shore bombardment.  It has no significant area anti-air capability, can’t engage surface ships with its guns, and is too large and expensive to be risked in an ASW role.  This is a very big and very expensive ship to have only one function.  The cost efficiency of this platform is poor.

Those are the issues I’ll be keeping an eye on.  At the moment, because of the lack of information I don’t really have an opinion on the Zumwalt.  It may turn out to be an amazing platform heralding a revolution in naval technology or it may turn out to be a dead end side street on the naval evolutionary road.  As I said, the truly amazing aspect of the Zumwalt thus far is the near total lack of attention it’s receiving.  Bet the LCS wishes its name started with a Z!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Offensive Aegis

As ComNavOps was reviewing some general naval history and pondering the Navy’s current force structure he couldn’t help but be reminded that the strength and backbone of the fleet (well, the surface fleet, anyway) is Aegis.  Any surface combatant that doesn’t start with the letters CVN (carrier) is an Aegis ship, either a Burke or a Tico.  I’m reminded that Aegis is a strictly defensive system.  True, that's not exactly headline news but thinking a bit further I realized that the entire might of the fleet was designed as a defensive force.  Now, by good fortune, VLS and Tomahawk have allowed the Aegis ships to project a bit of offensive firepower, as well, but it remains a fact that the Navy hasn't commissioned a purpose-built offensive platform since [not sure?].  If you care to look at it this way, the surface Navy consists of defensive Aegis platforms and carriers.

Still not earthshaking revelations.  Where's this going?  Well, it occurs to me that the Navy needs an offensive equivalent to Aegis.  I'm not just talking about a better anti-ship cruise missile than Harpoon or a bigger gun but a complete game-changing offensive system. 

Such a system should have several hundred mile to 1000+ mile weapons range.  The weapons should be stealthy, supersonic, and pack a punch with a range of weapons varying from one-hit, one-kill on the largest ships to Hellfire size weapons for small targets.

The most important aspect of a game-changing offensive system, though, would have to lie in the sensor and fire control systems (SFC).  A system should have the ability to detect and classify targets at several hundred to thousand mile ranges.  The fire control should be capable of not just guiding the weapons but assigning individual targets once in the target area. 

The problem, of course, is that current technology can't provide that kind of performance from the weapons launching platform.  So, what about launching the sensor/fire control system along with (or ahead of) the weapons?  The Soviets were working towards this but I don't know how far along they got.  Basically, large missiles whose payload is sensors and fire control rather than a warhead.  Several of these would form a line-of-sight SFC network for the accompanying missiles.  By definition, this would involve a significant degree of autonomy.  Basically, waves of missiles capable of reasoned search, target classification, and intelligent weapons allocation.

I could imagine waves of SFC missiles with accompanying anti-ship missiles sweeping the East/South China Seas.  Maybe we have a use for the Mk57 launch cells?

To an extent, UAVs could do this except that no UAV has anywhere near the speed, range, and payload to be effective.

Going further, launching platforms, meaning the ships themselves, that can detect and target at the required distances would be nice.  From what I can gather, the old Spruance Outboard system was attempting to do exactly that by collating passive sensor information from multiple sensors on multiple platforms – and not just sea based, either.  Land and air based sensors can contribute just as readily as ships.  The concept is that each individual sensor’s information is woefully insufficient by itself for targeting but that the combination of information from the multitude of sensors can be assembled into a targeting quality picture.  Think of it as triangulation on a vast scale.  If that could be refined, that might provide the hugely over-the-horizon detection that's needed.  If you think about it, it’s not all that different in concept from the Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC) that’s currently used for defensive anti-air warfare.

Well, enough rambling.  I don't know the specifics but I just know that we need an offensive system equivalent to what Aegis gave us defensively.

What do you think?  Anything to this or does ComNavOps need to up the dosages of his medications?