Friday, February 28, 2014

In Harm's Way

Our recent discussions about amphibious assault have highlighted a characteristic of the Navy that is a bit disappointing and that is the unwillingness to accept any degree of risk in combat.  In fact, it’s gotten to the point where it’s becoming codified in the form of doctrine.  Put simply, the Navy has become risk averse to the point where safety and preservation of assets has taken precedence over mission accomplishment.  Let’s look at some specific examples.

The Navy has decided that they can’t operate even remotely near an enemy shore.  This shows as a doctrinal move from horizon distance amphibious assaults to 25 nm - 50 nm or even greater.  Of course, as we’ve discussed, these kinds of distances have hamstrung the ability of the Marine/Navy team to conduct a successful amphibious assault. 

In fact, the Navy has gone so far as to design an entire LCS class around the concept that the blue water Navy couldn’t operate in littoral waters.  The littoral zone (whatever distance that is) is now accepted by the Navy as a forbidden area due to the threat of land launched anti-ship cruise missiles.

The Navy appears to have ceded the A2/AD challenge to the Chinese without a shot being fired.  The Navy now implicitly recognizes that they can’t operate within the A2/AD zone.  This is evidenced by the overwhelming focus on BMD.  Of course, the issue is not that they can’t operate but that they won’t.  They won’t risk ship losses and so they strive for a mythical and unachievable perfect defense that will allow them to operate in the zone.

At its most basic level, war is attrition.  To win, you have to inflict attrition on the enemy to the point where it becomes unacceptable to him and he quits.  The corollary to that is that you have to be willing to accept attrition of your own forces in order to accomplish your goals.  That doesn’t mean behaving recklessly but neither does it mean being so risk averse that you can’t or won’t accept losses.

If you want to conduct a successful amphibious assault you have to move to horizon range and accept some losses.  If you want to ensure no losses then you can stand 200 nm offshore but your assault will fail.

If you want to operate in the restricted waters of the Middle East during a war then you have to accept some losses.

If you want to press a war with China then you have to enter the A2/AD zone (long range blockade strategies not withstanding) and accept some losses.

Why has the Navy developed this risk aversion and what can be done about it?

The why is easy to answer.  The Navy has opted for a force structure that is continually shrinking while the individual ships are getting bigger, more expensive, and more capable.  In other words, we’re concentrating more and more firepower in fewer and fewer hulls.  We have so much money and capability tied up in each hull that the loss of one borders on catastrophic.  No wonder we’re risk averse! 

Consider the amphibious assault issue.  Aegis, and now AMDR, was designed specifically to deal with swarms of supersonic cruise missiles.  Yet now we’re refusing to approach an enemy’s shore closer than 50 – 100 nm because of the presence of anti-ship missiles.  Why are we spending a bazillion dollars on Aegis/AMDR ships if we don’t think they can stand in close and fight they way they’re designed?  Why are we spending billions on new amphibious ships that are going to stand so far off shore that we can’t conduct a successful amphibious assault which is their reason for being?

We have got to turn this trend around and the only way to do so is to stop concentrating so much capital and firepower in each hull.  We need to revert to a much more distributed firepower force structure.  We need greater numbers of less capable hulls.

I’m not arguing against having any highly capable ships.  There’s nothing wrong with having some highly capable ships that can act as the core of a group.  We just can’t have every ship be a very expensive, highly capable platform.  We can’t afford that approach, it’s gutting our fleet numbers, and it’s imposing a culture of risk aversion that conflicts with mission accomplishment.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Aegis Cruiser Replacement

As you all know by now, the Navy has announced that it will idle 11 Aegis cruisers.  These are the most powerful AAW vessels in the world.  The Navy says it only needs half the current number of Aegis cruisers given the budget constraints that currently exist.  OK, that’s fair.  But, if that’s the case, doesn’t that inexorably lead one to ask why we’re pursuing new Burke Flt III ships that are the intended replacements for the Aegis cruisers?  If we already have 11 extra of the most powerful AAW vessels in the world why do we need to build more?  Couldn’t we just skip the first 11 Burke Flt IIIs? 

Some will say that the Flt III’s BMD capability is what we need.  Think about that.  The Navy has already told us that Aegis ships can perform BMD and that many Aegis ships already possess that capability so what does the Flt III gain us?  The only real difference between the Tico/Burkes and the Flt III will be the AMDR radar.  As I understand it, the advantage of AMDR over Aegis/SPY is that it gives us the ability to perform AAW and BMD simultaneously which is something that Aegis/SPY can’t do.  OK, that’s fair.  But, does that alone justify scrapping (cause that’s what will ultimately happen to the 11 cruisers – once laid up, they’re never going to sea again) 11 of the most powerful cruisers in the world and spending billions for new ships? 

If BMD is that important and the AMDR is the key to that capability, then why are we skimping on the dimensions of the AMDR for the Flt III so that it’s not anywhere near as powerful as its statement of needs says it should be?  If BMD/AMDR is that critical shouldn’t we be building whatever size ship we need to gain the full advantage of the AMDR?

Alternatively, and most logically, given the very limited applicability of the BMD mission, wouldn’t it make more sense to develop a dedicated BMD sensor vessel and keep the Aegis/SPY ships as more general purpose combat ships?  I’m thinking, of course, of the proposal to base a BMD sensor suite on an LPD-17 derivative.  A handful of LPD(BMD) vessels to sail with carrier/amphib groups would take care of the BMD mission without requiring that we scrap 11 Aegis cruisers while simultaneously building Aegis cruiser replacements that only partially meet the stated need. 

I just don’t understand the Navy’s ongoing path of early retirements to fund ever-decreasing numbers of new construction vessels.  This is a classic death spiral in action.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Taylor CO Fired

Navy Times website reports (1) that the Captain, Cdr. Dennis Volpe, of the frigate Taylor has been relieved of command following the grounding of the ship in the Black Sea during the Olympics.  The article states,

“The investigation hasn’t turned up any egregious mistakes by Volpe.”

And yet he’s being relieved.

I have no further information about the incident and it may be that the Captain was negligent in some way and should be fired but it’s starting to look like another case of zero-defect mentality.  Even if the man was, in some way, at fault where’s the harm in allowing people to make mistakes if they can learn from them.  I’d rather have a Captain who once grounded a ship and learned from it than a man who’s scared to handle the ship aggressively when needed. 

All this zero-defect mentality does is encourage a zero-aggressiveness mentality – not exactly what we want from our combat leaders.

The Reality of the Next Frigate

I can’t tell you how many comments, texts, and emails ComNavOps has received since the new budget announcement came out that the LCS was dead and a frigate would be pursued.  They all start with, “Here’s what I think a new frigate should have,” followed by a list of favorite weapons.  Many reference foreign frigate designs.  In short, everyone has their idea of what a new frigate should be.   And, taken in isolation (meaning divorced from strategic and force structure needs), they’re all fine.

Here, though, is the reality.

The Navy is not going to buy a foreign design.  If for no other reason, the Congressional outcry about job loss prohibits that approach.  There is a very remote possibility that the Navy could obtain license rights to a foreign design for production in America, I suppose, but, for better or worse, that’s just not how the Navy works.  Sure, we’ll buy a foreign radar or something but not a foreign ship.

The Navy could build a scaled down Burke but there’s one important part of a Burke that would not scale down and that’s the cost.  This would be a fiscal non-starter.

The Navy could build a modernized Perry and, to be honest, there’s a lot to be said for this approach.  It’s a proven design and would require somewhat less development, one would hope.  A modernized (stealth’ed) superstructure and some VLS cells would make for a pretty fair frigate.  However, the Navy is never going to take this approach because doing so would be an admission that the Navy was wrong all along about the LCS issue and the Perrys.  You’ll recall all the statements from the Navy that the Perrys couldn’t be modernized in any useful manner.

OK, that covers what the Navy won’t do.  What will it do?

The Navy is going to build a frigate-ized version of the LCS very similar to the export versions that the LCS manufacturers have proposed.  The hull designs already exist, the manufacturers have already done preliminary design work, and the industrial production base already exists.

The Navy is also going to do this because it’s the shortest route to getting hulls in the water.  You’ll recall that the original LCS impetus was hulls in the water as fast as possible (the end of the Cold War was threatening the Navy’s budget slice) and the Navy would figure out what to do with them later.  Well, the same motivation exists for the new frigate.  The Navy desperately wants a major construction program funded so as to ensure future budget slices.  If the Navy goes too long without building new, low end ships and the world doesn’t collapse, it may be difficult for the Navy to justify an increase in their slice of the budget pie several years down the road when a new design is finally ready.  For that reason, the Navy will go with whatever gets hulls in the water the quickest and will worry about what to do with them later (boy that sentence sounds familiar).  Unfortunately, the quickest route is an export LCS.

I say “unfortunate” because the LCS design is fundamentally flawed in so many ways.  I’m not going to bother listing them since we’ve covered them repeatedly.  Simply adding on a few VLS cells isn’t going to make the LCS a winner.

I could be wrong about this. 
I hope I’m wrong about this. 
I’m rarely wrong about things like this.

Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Official: Goodbye LCS, Hello Frigate

Aviation Week provides this look at DefSec Hagel's budget preview.  I’ve omitted a reference link because the link was too long for blogger to accept.  You’ll have to trust me on this one!

“In order to help keep its ship inventory ready and modern under the President’s plan, half of the Navy’s cruiser fleet – or eleven ships – will be “laid up” and placed in reduced operating status while they are modernized, and eventually returned to service with greater capability and a longer lifespan.”

On the face of it, I can’t argue with this plan.  It reduces costs in the near term while modernizing ships for the longer term.  In reality, though, these 11 cruisers will be prime candidates for further budget cutting since they “won’t be operational, anyway”.  We’ll have to watch closely to see whether modernization funding is actually forthcoming.

And here’s the news you’ve all been waiting for:  the LCS.

“Regarding the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, I am concerned that the Navy is relying too heavily on the LCS to achieve its long-term goals for ship numbers. Therefore, no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward. With this decision, the LCS line will continue beyond our five-year budget plan with no interruptions.

The LCS was designed to perform certain missions – such as mine sweeping and anti-submarine warfare – in a relatively permissive environment. But we need to closely examine whether the LCS has the protection and firepower to survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia Pacific. If we were to build out the LCS program to 52 ships, as previously planned, it would represent one-sixth of our future 300-ship Navy. Given continued fiscal constraints, we must direct shipbuilding resources toward platforms that can operate in every region and along the full spectrum of conflict.

Additionally, at my direction, the Navy will submit alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, consistent with the capabilities of a frigate.”

There it is.  An end to the LCS and pursuit of a frigate.  Many of you are, undoubtedly, jumping for joy! 

I thought it was interesting that Hagel identified the same issue ComNavOps has been harping on for years:  the LCS was going to make up a third of our combat fleet without having any combat capabilities.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Zumwalt Cost Update

We’ve previously noted that the Zumwalt has received a bit of a free pass regarding public analysis and oversight (see, Who's Watching Zumwalt).  Compared to the poor LCS, the Zumwalt is a complete unknown.  ComNavOps, however, is keeping an eye on things.  Here’s a quick update on the program costs.

GAO (1) lists the program costs as of August 2012 as

R&D:  $10.3B
Procurement:  $11.1B
Additional R&D and Procurement Funding Needed for Completion:  $1.9B
Total Cost:  $23.3B

Given that the complete program build is three ships and there’s nowhere else to spread the R&D costs, the unit cost for the Zumwalts is an average of $7.8B.  Of course, this optimistically assumes no further cost overruns. That is a whopping lot of money to spend on a ship with a very limited mission set! 

(1) Government Accountability Office, “DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS
Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs”, March 2013, GAO-13-294SP

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Throwaway UAV

ComNavOps had a discussion with regular reader B.Smitty in the offensive Navy post (see, The Best Defense Is A Good Offense) which concerned my proposal for a simple, affordable, throwaway UAV.  B.Smitty asked for more information and, due to the space limitations in the comments, I’m placing the answer here, as a post.  While this post is a response to B.Smitty’s inquiry, the post is not, by any means, an attack on him.  Quite the opposite.  His questions inspired the idea for this post and I thank him!  He also provided a fascinating link that I’ve copied and will refer to.

Briefly put, I see a need for an attack capability between the 1000 nm Tomahawk and the short range Hornet, especially for riskier missions.

Hopefully, we’ll develop a longer ranged Tomahawk replacement as well as Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles so that would cover the very long range, high risk, heavy hitting, deep penetration strike mission.  Carrier aircraft can cover the shorter range, less risky missions.  That leaves the 300 nm – 1000 nm range, higher risk missions that don’t warrant a costly Tomahawk/IRBM or need a degree of man-in-the-loop control that a UAV offers.

Let’s suppose we want to attack shipping in a harbor (Tomahawks can hit the fixed facilities) but not indiscriminately.  We want to arrive at the target and evaluate what’s there:  civilian/military, moving/docked, ready/refitting, or whatever other criteria.  We need the ability for a man-in-the-loop to make an assessment before committing to the attack but the target is outside the effective range of carrier strike aircraft and/or is too risky.  We need an affordable, throwaway UAV that we’re willing to lose to accomplish the mission.

The same concept applies to a fluid battlefield where legitimate targets are mixed in with off-limits targets.

Well, wait a minute.  We have, and continue to develop, strike UAVs.  Why does ComNavOps think we need yet another?  The answer is simple.  The UAVs we have or are developing as strike platforms are, or will be, far too expensive to use as throwaways.  We’re developing the UAVs because we see a set of targets and scenarios that are too dangerous to risk manned aircraft.  Everyone wants to trumpet the ability to send UAVs on deep penetration, high risk missions. Well, that's a great use for them but what no one appreciates is that, by definition, most of them won't come back.  At a hundred millions dollars or so per UAV, we won't be able (or willing) to throw them away and we won't have many even if we were willing to expend them. 

If you think the cost is wrong and that long range strike UAVs will be cheap, consider what a manned aircraft would cost for the same capability.  A thousand mile combat range, stealth, strike fighter would cost $200M or so.  Look at what the much shorter range F-35 costs.  A strike UAV would cost exactly the same, less the pilot support costs which isn’t much and is offset by adding in the remote control equipment.

We need to rethink our approach to UAVs. Right now, when the Navy starts a UAV design, it starts with complex, sophisticated, and multi-functional requirements. Well, bang, there goes affordable before the first design sketch is made. We need to start with simple and affordable as our initial criteria. No bells and whistles, just a single purpose executed as simply as possible. The Scan Eagle is an example of a simple but useful UAV. Of course I understand that a Scan Eagle can't carry a 2000 lb bomb over a thousand miles!  It just illustrates the concept of simple and basic functionality.

We need a simple, basic UAV that isn't designed with complex stealth, state of the art sensors, sophisticated countermeasures, high performance, a 50 year lifespan, etc. Just a simple long range engine with a basic guidance/sensor package sufficient to get it from point A to point B.

Is this technically achievable? I don't see why not but who knows. The point is that we've never tried this approach. Instead, we want to build ultra-sophisticated aircraft that can't help but cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Throwaway UAV?

Hey, what about survivability?  If we build a simple UAV it won’t survive to reach its target.  Well, survivability takes many forms. One is ultra-stealth. Another is sophisticated countermeasures. Yet another is super/hyper sonic speed. Or ultra-maneuverability. These are the survivability forms that the Navy is pursuing.

Survivability can also take simpler forms. Flying at literally wavetop heights makes an aircraft very hard to detect or engage. So what if some crash into the sea if we can build them cheap enough. Numbers is a form of survivability, too. Launching a thousand (to use a ridiculous number to make a point) simple UAVs at a target guarantees some will get through to accomplish the mission.

Enough background.  Here’s the requirements that I see for a simple, affordable, throwaway UAV.

Range:  600 nm with recovery (in true throwaway mode that’s 1200 nm)
Speed:  Mid to High Subsonic
Payload:  1000 lbs
Stealth:  Moderate (shaped body only – no coatings or other extraordinary measures)

The UAV would be cheap enough to be throwaway but designed for recovery if they do survive.  Bear in mind, though, that recovery doesn’t have to be a carrier recovery.  It can be diversion to a land base, drop in the sea near a recovery ship, barrier arrestment on the launching ship, or some other non-sophisticated means.
How would these UAVs be operated?  Being cheap, I would envision these to be readily available in large numbers and launched from converted commercial cargo ships via a simple catapult.  The ship would basically be a UAV carrier with hangar/storage space and control stations for the remote pilots.

B.Smitty provided a link to an interesting starting point for such a UAV, the Low Cost Autonomous Attack System that was investigated and dropped.  A suitably modified and scaled up version might be in the ballpark of what’s needed.

As far as cost, I would like to believe we could build such a UAV for $100K - $500K each.  Can we?  Who knows? 

So, there you have it.  A simple, affordable fairly long range strike UAV that is cheap enough to build in large numbers and, when necessary, used as a throwaway platform to accomplish the mission.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Missile Inbound

ComNavOps occasionally offers a recommendation on a book of naval interest.  Today’s offering is Missile Inbound by Jeffrey Levinson and Randy Edwards (1).  The book describes the Iraqi Exocet missile attack on the USS Stark in May 1987.  Stark was hit by two Exocet missiles, killing 37 crew, and nearly sank.

One of the enduring questions surrounding the incident is why the Stark failed to defend herself.  The ship and command element certainly had every reason to anticipate danger.  As the book notes, in the months prior to the attack, Iraqi aircraft flew around 340 missions, launched 90 or so Exocet missiles and hit around 40 ships.  The Iraqi pilots were not exactly known for their discriminating targeting skills.  Thus, the Stark had ample warning that they were sailing in dangerous waters.

USS Stark

The status of the various sensors and weapons is extensively discussed and documented as well as the mental mindset of the CIC crew. 

The damage control efforts by the crew bordered on miraculous and the events are told in great detail in the form of individual crew member’s stories.  As has been repeatedly stated in this blog, the number one attribute for successful damage control is adequate (meaning excessive) numbers of crew and the book’s descriptions drive that point home.  As noted,

“… the ship did not have enough men to support critical “reflash watches” until the first rescue-and-assistance teams from the Waddell and Conyngham came aboard at approximately 0400.  Consequently, previously extinguished fires would flare up again, creating an unbearable work burden for the crew and threatening the ship.  The crew were bone-weary from fighting the conflagration, and by early morning the intense 100-degree heat and humidity of the Persian Gulf were having a debilitating impact as well.  By midmorning the crew’s effectiveness was rapidly waning as a result of exhaustion.”

The legal aftermath and subsequent investigations are explored in depth and are every bit as fascinating as the attack and saving of the ship.  Rules of Engagement are described and the conflicting requirements of self-defense and politics are spelled out.

In summary, the book is a highly readable and entertaining (if such a word can be used to describe a tragedy) writing.  It paints a compelling picture of a ship operating in a war zone with a peacetime mentality.  The various lessons from the incident should serve as pointed reminders to us, today, as we sail into unfriendly ports (Cole), go eye to eye with China, and design ships that have neither the structural strength nor manning to fight and survive in combat.

I highly recommend this book especially to readers who wish to better understand the reality of combat, ship design, damage control, ROE/politics, and how all these factors relate to our current Navy.

(1) Missile Inbound, Jeffrey Levinson and Randy Edwards, Naval Institute Press, 1997, ISBN 1-55750-517-9

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Best Defense Is A Good Offense

The Navy has a proud tradition of carrying the war to the enemy.  From the frigate Constitution to the Enterprise and submarines of WWII and on up to the A-6 Intruder, the Navy has always had a seek-and-destroy offensive mentality.  In contrast, though, the Navy’s design philosophy over the last few decades has become almost totally defensive.

The mainstay of the surface fleet is the Aegis system which is completely defensive.  The only anti-surface capability is the nearly obsolete Harpoon which is far too slow, short ranged, and non-stealthy for modern combat.  The upcoming Burke Flt III is a purely defensive design intended to provide AAW and BMD. 

Tomahawk provides a long range land attack capability but every VLS cell it occupies is grudgingly subtracted from the AAW inventory.  Tomahawk, like Harpoon, is aging and will prove far less capable than it so far has if used against a capable enemy.  The Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM) has been eliminated from the inventory.

Carrier strike has become short ranged (relative to the threats and strike targets) with small payloads.  One has only to compare the A-6E Intruder to the current Super Hornet or even F-35 to see what’s happened to ranges and payloads.  As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, the airwings are continually shrinking.

Our offensive mine warfare capability has been minimized and seemingly relegated to a forgotten warehouse.  We are focused exclusively on the defensive mine countermeasures aspect of mine warfare.

The only real semblance of offensive capabilities and mindset is the submarine force and even that’s borderline.  While we are building newer and more effective subs, the corresponding weapons are not keeping pace.  The Mk48 torpedo is capable but pedestrian given modern technology.  Tomahawk is, again, capable but unremarkable and is susceptible to capable defenses.  Further, the most potent strike platform, the SSGN, is being retired without a direct replacement.  Tomahawk capability will be distributed among the Virginias if funding holds up.

Given the preceding observations, one must ask, why do we have a Navy?  The answer is, ultimately, we have a Navy to conduct offensive operations – to strike the enemy.  Otherwise, we have a Navy that exists only to defend itself – that’s pointless.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly the direction we’re headed.

The best defense is a good offense.

Better to kill archers than arrows.

The Navy can’t ignore defense but the purpose of defense is to get the strike force into an offensive position.  The best way to defend is to attack the source of the threat.  Hit the bases that the enemy’s aircraft are launching from.  Destroy the missile sites.  Attack harbors that the ships and subs use.  And so on.

By all means, we should be working on ballistic missile defense, for example, but we should equally, if not more, be focused on attacking the source of the threat.  As a general statement, that means long range targeting and attack.

Here are a few things the offensive Navy should be pursuing.

  • Intermediate range ballistic missiles for both anti-ship and land attack
  • Long range, supersonic anti-ship missiles
  • Tomahawk replacement with greater stealth, supersonic speed, greatly enhanced countermeasures and ECM, and enhanced autonomy
  • Mine delivery system capable of rapid delivery over vast distances (fully mine enemy harbors on day one)
  • Simple, affordable, very long range, “throw away”, stike UAVs for high risk missions
  • Mk48 follow on torpedo with greater range, speed (super cavitating?), and enhanced targeting and counter-countermeasures capability.  Let the Chinese face a carrier killer!
  • Dedicated long range electronic warfare aircraft capable of accompanying long range, high speed strike aircraft
  • Long range, hard hitting large gun (8”)
  • Dedicated SSGN replacement
  • Long range (1000+ nm useful combat radius) air superiority fighter

You’ll note that I purposely left out lasers (purely defensive) and rail guns (still technically unachievable though worth continued R&D).

This list is hardly all-inclusive but would serve as a good starting point for rebuilding the Navy’s offensive capabilities.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why Is The Navy Still Building The LCS?

The recent back and forth about whether the Navy’s 52 ship buy of the LCS will be terminated early raises the question, why is the Navy so determined to keep building the LCS?

By now, even the most ardent and blind supporter of the LCS acknowledges that the LCS did not turn out the way it was hoped.  The magic modules never panned out and even a bare minimum module is still years away.  The ship is acknowledged by the Navy to require the protection of an Aegis ship to have any hope of survival in a combat zone.  The vessel has no credible offensive capability, little defensive capability, and is not survivable in the event of a hit.  I won’t go on with a litany of problems because they’re well known and that’s not the point of this post.

The question is, against the backdrop of all that evidence of a failed program, if not concept, why is the Navy still adamant about continuing to build these failures?  Common sense would suggest that the Navy would use the recent “termination” memo as cover, acquiesce grudgingly (to demonstrate that they were right all along but are being forced into termination by circumstances outside their control – a PR move to save face), and eagerly move forward with the next generation of “new and improved” LCS utilizing the lessons learned.  And yet, they’re not.  Is this just stupidity on an almost unimaginable scale?  Is it hubris beyond belief?  Is it incompetence of monumental proportions?

Or, is it something else?

I have no inside information so what follows is pure speculation. 

I think the answer to the previous questions is, yes, to all.  Navy leadership is stupid, arrogant, and incompetent.  However, I think under that layer is an actual perceived need for the LCS in two of its roles:  MCM and ASW.  I think the Navy recognizes that the ASuW role is pointless barring the development of some seriously improved weaponry.

ASW, on the other hand, is an existing weakness.  The LCS could be a competent, though not great, ASW platform with suitable modifications.  We’ve talked about some of the needs to be successful in this role:  a short-tailed array, variable depth sonar, on-board torpedo launcher, ASROC, rapid response depth charge (Hedgehog-ish type or Russian RBU), dipping sonar, etc.  The ship has some shortcomings that either can’t be overcome or would require extensive redesign:  inability to carry hull-mounted sonar due to self-noise and lack of quieting being the main culprits.  Still, the ship could be a competent ASW platform and the equipment required to achieve that level of performance are the least risky of the various pieces of equipment being developed for any of the modules.

MCM is an even more pressing need and here lies, probably, the main rationale for continued production.  The Navy bet all-in on the LCS as the MCM platform of the future, allowing the existing MCM ships to degrade and retire.  The only other option at this point is to start over on a new MCM platform.  On the plus side, the LCS is fairly well suited for MCM, assuming the various off-board, remote vehicles eventually pan out.  The ship itself is fairly well designed to launch and recover vehicles although the actual launch/recovery equipment seems to have been designed as a pre-school class project.  That, however, is a fairly easy fix.  The LCS also offers the possibility of being able to provide at least a small amount of self-defense during the MCM activity which is a key requirement.  MCM work is going to take place in contested waters and a minimum level of self-defense will come in very handy. 

I think even the Navy realizes that all the other lofty claims for the LCS are dead but the MCM, and to a lesser degree, the ASW versions offer a valid, if less than optimal, use for the LCS.  Of course, if this is the case, we should see an accompanying shift in the planned module procurement quantities to emphasize the MCM and ASW modules and eliminate or de-emphasize the ASuW.  Further, it would make more sense to stop building the LCS as modular and shift to dedicated vessels with a single function, either the MCM or ASW, and allow the ships to be optimized to the degree possible.

Also troubling is the realization that, regardless of the rationale, the LCS is someday going to make up a third of the combat fleet if the full 52 vessel buy is pursued to completion.  When a third of the battle fleet is MCM and ASW vessels, you’ve got a problem. 

As I said, the preceding was pure (though quite logical) speculation on my part.  At least this line of thought offers some valid rationale for the Navy’s continued pursuit of the LCS.  Is this what the Navy is actually thinking?  I don’t know but the alternative is incompetence beyond belief.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gen. Amos at West 2014

General Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, spoke as part of a panel discussion at West 2014 (1).  One of the topics he touched on was connectors and sea basing which is highly relevant given some of our recent post discussions.

Referring to our relationships with foreign countries over the next couple of decades, he stated,

“… they’re not going to want us to build bases.  Those days, for the near term, are gone.”

Amos went on to explain that this means that sea basing will be the focal point of operations. 
That’s a fascinating statement of belief.  I tend to believe he’s right.  If so, consider what that means in relation to future operations in the South/East China Seas and how it will impact our dealings with China.  We aren’t going to have any more bases than we have now and what we have now are few and far removed from the area of interest.  The challenge of operating forward from vastly removed bases will be enormous.  Imagine if we had had to conduct the Pacific war in WWII strictly from Pearl Harbor, without the benefit of intermediate island bases.

This means that all of our equipment had better be long range and long endurance.  Platforms like JSF and LCS are going to prove only marginally useful.  Short range weapons like Harpoon are going to be nearly useless.

Amos suggested that the most useful ship in the next couple decades is the amphibious ship, in whatever form.  He notes that the missions will be partner training, humanitarian assistance, presence, etc.;  he specifically does not mention high end combat.  He’s clearly viewing the fleet through the lens of peacetime activities.  He says,

“The truth of the matter is we don’t have enough amphibious ships right now.  We’re meeting less than half the needs of the Combatant Commanders.”

He then goes on to discuss connectors.

“We need connectors that can not only haul a lot of stuff but we need connectors that can actually go to high speed.”

“… the sea base that’s 75-80 miles off the coast …”

“… we need to change the paradigm.  We tend to think of a connector as something that we carry in the bowels of a ship.”

Referring to a large amphibious force and sea base,

“You’re not going to have enough connectors that you’re just going to be carrying organically with your shipping that you have.  But if you had some connectors that would go high speed when required but would perhaps fold up and perhaps be able to stack these connectors on some type of gray bottom ship, excuse me, black bottom ship and then just at the signs … something bad is going to happen… then you sail that ship.”

Clearly, this is a reference to the LCU-F or a remarkably similar vessel.  He goes on to describe a vision of 20-30 of these connectors folded and stacked on the deck of a cargo ship and transported to the area of operation just as the Marines and their equipment would be.  The connectors would have a speed of 25-30 kts, according to Amos.  He further states that the Corps is going to allocate money to R&D of such a connector and concludes by saying that this is an area that we’ve missed the mark on.

His statements support the conclusion that we drew from the previous post on transport attrition (see, Amphibious Assault Attrition).  The amphibious ships just don’t have enough organic connectors to support a sustained, opposed assault and would be hard pressed to support even an unopposed, sustained assault.

These comments, interesting enough on their own, again highlight the meandering direction of the Corps, right now.  There was no mention of the F-35, MV-22, or aviation assault.  To be fair, that was not the topic, however, this demonstrated that the Marines are trying to be all things (expeditionary air force, light infantry aviation assault, conventional amphibious assault) in a time of severely constrained budgets.  While they may want to be all things, the budget won’t allow it and the budget choices that the Marines are making show the path they’re committed to.  The acquisition of the MV-22 and F-35, the cancellation of the EFV with no replacement on the horizon, the drawdown of personnel, the reduction of tanks and artillery from the heavy end of things, and the multi-billion dollar price tag for new amphibious ships all show that the Marines are going to be a light infantry, expeditionary air force for the foreseeable future.  The Marines can talk all they want about traditional amphibious assault but the money simply isn’t there.  By committing everything to the F-35 they’ve cemented their path, for better or worse.

(1) U.S. Naval Institute West 2014 Conference, 11-13 Feb 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Mk54 Torpedo and UONS

In Mar 2010, Fifth Fleet issued an Urgent Operational Need Statement (UONS) to address an emerging submarine threat.  I’ve never found an actual detailed description of the threat but given the Fifth Fleet’s area of operation, the Mid East, the threat is presumably diesel-electric submarines operating in shallow water.  The Navy’s standard anti-submarine torpedo, the Mk48 is not shallow water capable and the smaller Mk54 torpedoes were, apparently, inadequate.  The Mk54 lightweight torpedo Block Upgrade (BUG) was the Navy’s answer to the threat.

The Mk54 has been in production since 2004.  The BUG program began testing in 2011 and continues today with persistent problems.  The program’s focus has been software development, presumably to allow better interpretation of shallow water sonar performance.  The sonar seeker is also being replaced, again, presumably, to allow better shallow water performance.

DOT&E (1) has been quite critical of the Navy’s test program, citing unrealistic target surrogates among other problems.  On the plus side, the test program has uncovered numerous documentation, maintenance, and training issues which have been present since the torpedo’s introduction and which prevent operators from achieving full benefit of the weapon system’s capabilities.  As DOT&E notes in the 2013 report,

“In preparation for the May 2013 test, Navy operational testers uncovered inconsistencies in tactical guidance, documentation, and training for the employment of the Mk 54 BU torpedo, some of which date from the introduction of the Mk 54 Mod 0 to the fleet in 2004. These problems could prevent fleet operators from effectively presetting and employing the Mk 54 BU.”


“Testing also discovered some required weapon presets were not selectable by crews using the MH-60R combat control system introduced to the fleet in 2010. The Navy’s early fielding and Quick Reaction Assessment processes did not identify these critical shortfalls. The Navy investigated and found it had a problem in communication between the torpedo developers, platform fire control system developers, tactics developers, the training community, and the fleet users.”

Note that the Navy’s test processes failed to identify critical problems.  This is why the independent DOT&E group is so vital.  The Navy has insufficient technical competence to even spot obvious and critical problems.

Mk54 - Urgently Needed

DOT&E’s 2013 assessment included this,

“Almost two years after the early fielding, the Navy has not yet provided fleet operators and trainers adequate employment guidance or completed required operational testing.”

Two years!  And this is for an URGENT Operational Needs request.  Thank goodness it wasn’t a normal request or they’d still be in the paper study phase.

The 2011 DOT&E report has this to say about the Navy’s test protocols,

“To date, the Navy’s emerging threat test scenario execution was structured and attacking crews had perfect knowledge of the target’s location. Also, the Navy conducted testing in a relatively benign area where torpedo interactions with the bottom or false contacts were minimized.”

DOT&E also notes that there are leftover problems with terminal homing, among others, from the Initial Operation Testing & Evaluation (IOT&E) when the Mk54 entered service.

As part of the test program, the Navy has developed a Steel Diesel Electric submarine surrogate target.  Unfortunately, the surrogate does not have the characteristics of the actual threat and is used as a static target – hardly realistic.  Even today, going on four years after the UONS, DOT&E notes,

“The Navy continues to investigate possible surrogates; however, the proposals are unfunded.”

We have an urgent need and nearly four years later we still don’t have a realistic threat surrogate target or even a plan to obtain one.  Who’s responsible for this?

As of 2012, DOT&E reported that,

“… based on completed testing, crews employing the Mk 54 have a limited capability against the UONS threat under favorable targeting and environmental conditions. DOT&E also reported that the Navy’s testing was completed under best-case scenarios, and the Navy did not have an adequate threat surrogate for the UONS threat.”

DOT&E summarized the 2012 testing with these comments,

“Three weapons were fired by an Arleigh Burke class destroyer and five were dropped by MH-60R helicopters. Another five weapons were intended to be dropped by P-3C aircraft, but those events were cancelled due to aircraft material problems. After the testing, the Navy declared the MH-60R runs invalid due to testing irregularities.”

“The Navy conducted the second phase of BUG operational testing off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in August 2012. The P-8A aircraft delivered eight weapons; MH-60R helicopters dropped another six weapons. Three more planned torpedo runs were not completed.”

Seriously?  Who’s supervising this testing – Wile E. Coyote?  Is this a Road Runner cartoon?  While there are unknowns associated with any test that may cause problems, this level of failure to even complete the tests is gross incompetence.

DOT&E also threw out this gem,

“The time constraints associated with Mk 54 exercise torpedo employment and recovery often do not allow sufficient time for fully operationally realistic events.”

I have no idea what time constraints they’re referring to but given that this is a UONS program, I would think that whatever time is needed is should be allocated.

This is a common theme among the blog posts, isn’t it?  The lack of realistic testing, in particular realistic threat surrogates, for all programs, is putting the fleet at risk by fielding equipment that is needlessly flawed.  This is a consistent shortcoming by the Navy, spanning decades.  All systems will have flaws that can only be uncovered through combat but the tragic part of this is that many of the flaws can be uncovered simply with more realistic testing so that we don’t have to find them the hard way and pay for the knowledge in blood.

(1) Director, Operational Testing & Evaluation, Annual Report, 2011, 2012, 2013

Monday, February 10, 2014


CNO Greenert likes to emphasize payloads over platforms.  We’ve already debunked that idea (see Payloads Over Platforms?) but that’s not the point of this post.  Let’s play what-if.  What if CNO is correct?  What if payloads are the only thing that matters?  What if the platform is immaterial and irrelevant?  Let’s look at the logic of the concept.

If the payload is the important part and the platform is irrelevant then we could and should be placing the LCS modules on commercial cargo ships that cost a tiny fraction of what an LCS hull costs.  It’s all about the module, right?  There’s a contradiction here.  The Navy insists we need a highly capable LCS vessel built to military standards.  Why?  It’s the payload that matters, according to CNO.  All sarcasm aside, if CNO is right and truly believes his own philosophy, why are we building the LCS?  What does the LCS hull provide in the way of capabilities that justifies its existence and can’t be obtained from a cheap commercial vessel?

We could place MCM and ASW modules on a cheaper cargo vessel and still carry out all the needed functions.  In fact, the cargo vessel would have greater room (multiple modules at the same time?), longer endurance, better crew accommodations, and lots of weight growth margins, among other benefits. 

There’s no requirement for self-defense.  The Navy has stated that the LCS is not intended to operate in a hostile environment without the protection of a Burke.  A cargo ship would be no more at risk than the LCS. 

According to the Navy, the ASuW module would work on any vessel.  The Griffon missile is being tested and used on Cyclone PCs so it’s clearly independent of the platform.  Why not mount a single 57 mm gun, two 30 mm guns, and a Griffon launcher on a cargo ship?

The entire fleet could be built on, perhaps, two sizes of cheap, commercial cargo vessels:  a small one for patrol, littoral, corvette, frigate modules and a larger one for destroyer and cruiser modules.  Perhaps we still need a specialized carrier although a cargo vessel with a flight deck module ought to work just fine.

What about aviation?  Using CNO’s logic we don’t need the JSF, we need cheap, C-?? whatever cargo planes with modules for strike, air-to-air, ASW, AEW, and surveillance. 

I think CNO is on to something here.  We can cut the Navy’s construction budget by 80%.  All I ask is that CNO lead the first combat mission aboard one of his platform-irrelevant, payload vessels or aircraft.

Friday, February 7, 2014

EMALS and AAG Status

The new Ford class carrier will be introducing several new technologies, among them the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG).  The Navy insists that the EMALS and AAG systems will work as advertised and points to extensive land based testing as proof.  What the Navy isn’t pointing out is the failure rates.  Fortunately, DOT&E has provided that data (1).

EMALS is the replacement for the old steam powered catapults.  The system will use electric motors rather than steam to launch aircraft.  As DOT&E reports,

“At the Lakehurst, New Jersey, test site, over 1,967 launches have been conducted and 201 chargeable failures have occurred. Based on available data, the program estimates that EMALS has approximately 240 Mean Cycles Between Critical Failure in the shipboard configuration, where a cycle represents the launch of one aircraft. Based on expected reliability growth, the failure rate is presently five times higher than should be expected.”

Thus, the system looks perfectly capable of launching aircraft but the reliability is highly suspect at the moment.  I’m also not quite sure about the numbers.  If 201 failures have occurred in 1967 launches, that’s a failure every 10 launches – not great odds for the pilot!!!  I’m not sure how the 240 cycles between critical failure is calculated unless some of the 201 failures weren’t considered critical?  Regardless, that’s a severe reliability issue.

Similarly, the AAG replaces the older style arresting system.  Again, the report states,

“At the Lakehurst, New Jersey test site, 71 arrestments were conducted earlier this year and 9 chargeable failures occurred. The Program Office estimates that AAG has approximately 20 Mean Cycles Between Operational Mission Failure in the shipboard configuration, where a cycle represents the recovery of one aircraft. Based on expected reliability growth, the failure rate is presently 248 times higher than should be expected.”

As with the EMALS, the system appears functionally capable but highly unreliable.

The problems are not unusual for new technology and are fixable given enough time.  This, however, demonstrates the problem with concurrent research and production, as we’ve pointed out many times.  The Ford’s delivery, already way behind schedule, will slip still further, barring an unlikely miracle.

There would have been absolutely no penalty or problem with building one more conventional Nimitz carrier while the new technologies were undergoing development.  The carrier construction schedule could have been maintained, a new functional carrier could have joined the fleet, and a great deal of concurrency construction penalty costs avoided.  The Ford will have to sit idle for months or years after delivery while the bugs are worked out, anyway.  Frankly, it’s hard to believe that Navy leadership could be this irresponsible.

(1) Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, Annual Report, 2013