Monday, August 31, 2015

MCM Module Failures Continue

As you know, ComNavOps prefers not to simply repeat another website’s posting information.  ComNavOps’ job is to add value through analysis but occasionally another website has information that is just too important and too self-explanatory and must, therefore, simply be largely repeated.  Such is the case with Defense News website’s reporting of the continued failure of the LCS mine countermeasures (MCM) module (1).

You’ll recall that the Navy bet all in on the LCS as the MCM platform of the future.  The existing Avenger class dedicated MCM vessels were literally allowed to rot pierside and the Navy has had to scramble to try to bring them back to operational status due to the failure of the LCS MCM module.  The module has been under continuous development since the beginning of the LCS program and has nothing to show for the effort. 

Hints of the problems have been available in the DOT&E annual reports as well as the relative scarcity of glowing public information releases from the Navy.  The Independence (LCS-2) has been the dedicated test platform for the MCM module and has been employed nearly full time testing the system.

The individual components of the MCM module have been documented to fail to meet their performance requirements and the overall module has never operated with the mandated degree of reliability.

Defense News now reports that the Director of DOT&E, Michael Gilmore, has issued a memo to Pentagon acquisition chief, Frank Kendall, detailing the continued failings of the MCM module and, worse, the Navy’s attempts to mislead concerning system reliability.

“Recent developmental testing provides no statistical evidence that the system is demonstrating improved reliability, and instead indicates that reliability plateaued nearly a decade ago.”

“The reliability of existing systems is so poor that it poses a significant risk to both the upcoming operational test of the LCS Independence-variant equipped with the first increment of the Mine Countermeasures (MCM) mission package, and to the Navy’s plan to field and sustain a viable LCS-based minehunting and mine clearance capability prior to fiscal year 2020.”

What is the actual reliability data?

“… reliability has improved since then, but continues to fall far short of the threshold of 75 hours’ mean time between operational mission failure (MTBOMF).

So, the standard is set at 75 hours between failures.  What is the actual reliability performance?

“But despite all the efforts to improve reliability, Gilmore assessed the RMS system’s current overall reliability at 18.8 hours between failure, and the RMMV vehicle at 25.0 hours.”

Wow!  That’s quite a failing.  The standard is 75 hours and the equipment is achieving 19-25 hours.  That’s not even close.  But it gets worst.  The Navy is attempting to mislead concerning reliability data.

He [Gilmore] took consistent issue with Navy reliability data, pointing out that in some instances, ‘the Navy inflated operating time estimates for the MTBOMF calculations by assuming that post-mission analysis time (when the vehicle is not in the water and not operating) could be counted.’ ”

So not only is the MCM module failing but the Navy is trying to hide the failure.  I’ve stated repeatedly that the Navy’s integrity is highly suspect, to put it as politely as I can.  This is all on CNO Greenert.  He is condoning this type of fraudulent reporting. 

Now, here’s the even more stunning part of this sad story.  Despite all this failure, the Navy is set to restart production of the module!  The module isn’t even close to working so the Navy’s response is to buy more.  This is stupidity at a staggering level.  Way to go Greenert.

There is one more aspect to this that caught my attention.  You’ll recall that the Pentagon recently ordered the Navy to conduct shock testing on the new carrier Ford even though the Navy was attempting to postpone the testing for several years until the next carrier or even indefinitely (see, “Shocking”).  The Pentagon, through the office of the acquisition chief, Frank Kendall, issued the order to the Navy directing the earlier testing.  At the time I wondered who had the authority and was pulling the strings on this.  Now, it appears we have an answer.  Michael Gilmore seems to be communicating directly with Frank Kendall and Kendall seems to be buying in to Gilmore’s thoughts on acquisition and testing deficiencies in the Navy.  This is about as good news as ComNavOps could hope for.  Gilmore has apparently gotten fed up with the Navy’s games and is taking his case to higher authority in the form of Kendall.  This can only benefit the Navy although it’s almost criminally shameful that the Navy has to be forced in this manner to do what’s right.

(1)Defense News, “Official: Minehunting System Shows No Improvement”, Christopher P. Cavas, August 30, 2015,

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fort Worth's Successful(?) Deployment

Here’s an example of why it is so important to dig into the Navy’s endless stream of glowingly effusive reports about the latest hugely successful accomplishment regarding whatever program is being discussed.  If one were to take the Navy’s reports at face value, one would assume that every weapon system was an unmitigated success with the only source of puzzlement being that fact that the weapons under discussion are consistently so much more effective than even the designers imagined. 

The Naval Institute’s website has an article about the USS Fort Worth’s (LCS-3) current Singapore/Pacific deployment.  The article raves about the success of the Fort Worth’s deployment from a maintenance perspective, citing statistics such as being underway for 96 days (89 planned) out of the first 180.  Fort Worth’s success is compared to the Freedom’s dismal deployment as evidence of the maturation and success of the current LCS program.  Certainly, Fort Worth’s deployment is a success compared to Freedom’s but the only way it could have been worse is if the ship sank – Freedom’s deployment was that bad.  Claiming success by comparing to a previous deployment that was a dismal failure is to grasp at a very low bar, indeed.

Still, though, meeting the entire planned days underway (plus an extra week) seems like a success, right?  Let’s dig a little deeper and see if the claim holds up.

Let’s start with the days underway claim.  OK, they met the planned days underway.  Hmm …  Days underway?  On deployment, isn’t almost every day a day underway?  Consider a typical surface ship deployment.  Subtracting a few port calls, every day is a day underway.  Fort Worth was planned to be underway for 89 out of 180 days.  That’s 49%.  So, 51% of the time the ship was not planned to be underway.  Well, sure, that seems kind of low but maybe that just means that they had a lot of port calls scheduled.  They can’t be faulted for that, right?

Recall that the manning and maintenance concept for the LCS requires that they return to port for around 5 days every few weeks for maintenance and that they return to port for around 14 days every four months.  So, for a 180 day deployment (6 months), that would require around 44 days of scheduled in port repair and maintenance.  Thus, right off the bat as the deployment is being planned, before any other commitments or before anything has gone wrong, the ship is required to sit out 44 days of 180 or 24%.  That’s right, 24% of the deployment is planned to be unable to function and that’s just the minimum.  Obviously, unplanned repairs will occur as things break and since the LCS can’t repair even the simplest things at sea, that’s another chunk of unavailability that must be counted on even if it can’t be planned for.  What other ship, by concept, can’t be available for operations 24% of the deployment?  None.

Now, consider the LCS’ endurance.  For the current expanded crew size, the ship is only sized and fitted to support the crew for about 14 days at sea without needing to return to port to resupply.  Thus, unless the ship’s operating area is just a few miles outside port, the LCS will spend a few to several days transiting to the operating area and a few to several days returning to port out of every 14 day cycle.  That only leaves around 7 days actually operating in each 14 day cycle.  So, while the ship may be underway for 14 days, it’s only doing its assigned task half the time, at best.  Of course, resupply affects all Navy ships but not to the point of requiring a return to port every two weeks.

We see, then, that the Navy loudly and proudly trumpets the Fort Worth’s days underway without noting that the ship is, by design, limited to only about 50% time-on-task availability on deployment.  That’s an atrociously poor performance compared to any other ship.  The Navy didn’t tell you that in their glowing report, did they?

Let’s look closer at the Fort Worth’s maintenance as reported by the Navy.  The vast improvement over the Freedom must mean that problems have been eliminated, right?  I mean, the Fort Worth incorporated design improvements and lessons learned from Freedom so the maintenance and problems must be better.

The article presents a table of data about Casualty Reports (CASREP) for the deployment.  Before I give you the actual data, here is the descriptive wording accompanying the data:

For Freedom:  “Higher severity average”, “Longer average time to correct”
For Fort Worth:  “Lower severity average”, “Shorter average time to correct”

Well, that seems clear enough.  Freedom’s CASREPs were obviously more numerous, more severe, and required more time to correct.  Now here’s the accompanying data provided by the Navy.  For those not familiar with the CASREP system, all CASREPS are reports of equipment malfunctions severe enough to impact the ship’s ability to perform its primary and secondary missions.  Category 2 is the least severe and the Category 4 is the most severe.  The first figure is the number of events for that category and the second is the average time the report was open which is another way of saying the number of days required to fix the problem.

Freedom                    Fort Worth

Category 2     58        36 days          61        35 days
Category 3     9          23                    8          22
Category 4     1          14                    0          -

The data shows that Fort Worth had 3 more Cat 2 incidents than Freedom and 1 less Cat 3 & 4.  The days open were virtually identical.  Thus, Fort Worth had nearly the exact same maintenance issues as Freedom and yet Fort Worth’s deployment is a raving success according to the Navy.

In summary, we see that, while the Fort Worth had more days underway, the LCS’ entire availability concept is poor in the extreme with around 50% availability being the MAXIMUM that can be attained.  Further, Fort Worth’s successful deployment has been identical to Freedom’s in terms of maintenance Casualty Report numbers, severity, and time required to fix.  No improvement at all.

This is why you have to dig deeper into the Navy’s ridiculous reports and this is why ComNavOps offers this blog and this level of analysis – so you can see the reality, good or bad.

(1)USNI, “LCS Fort Worth Integrates Fire Scout UAV, RHIBs Into Bilateral Exercises For First Time”, Megan Eckstein, August 26, 2015 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tailhooks and Helmets

As we discuss various aircraft and ship construction options, we often fling around opinions about the supposed ease, or difficulty, of the associated technology.  Most of us are of the opinion that adding existing, understood  technology to a ship or plane should be relatively easy and relatively inexpensive.  Let’s consider a few specific examples and see if that assumption holds up.

First, let’s consider the higher end of the technology spectrum.  The F-35’s magic helmet is, arguably, the key component which enables the power of the F-35 (to the extent that one believes the F-35 has combat power – but that’s not the point of this post).  Stunningly, F-35 production began before the helmet even existed.  Today, after a couple decades of development, a functional helmet still does not exist.  Well, OK, that’s to be expected.  Non-existent technology doesn’t spring into being overnight.  Everyone except the military seems to understand that.

We can cite innumerable additional examples of cutting edge technology that proved too difficult to apply.  Remember, NLOS, for example?  Or, the entire original LCS ASW module?  Enough said.

Let’s look at the other end of the technology spectrum because, surely, basic, almost primitive technology should be easy to incorporate, right?

The technology, such as it is, of the tailhook has been well understood for decades.  Adding a tailhook to an aircraft design should be child’s play.  And yet, the F-35 managed to botch it, totally.

Hey, stop picking on the F-35.  OK, let’s look at galvanic corrosion on ships.  Galvanic corrosion (oxidation due to dissimilar metals) has been understood since the time of Nelson’s sailing ships.  Every ship built since the age of sail has had galvanic corrosion protection measures.  Nothing new about this.  And yet, the LCS managed to botch it, totally.

Again, we can cite many examples of basic technology that failed to be successfully incorporated into new designs.  Remember the missing LCS bridge wings?

So, what’s the point, here?  There are two, related points, actually.

The first, and incredibly obvious point, is that non-existent technology belongs in the realm of reseach, not production.  The military insists on repeatedly attempting to apply non-existent technology to production programs with utterly predictable results.

The second, and equally obvious point, is that existing, well understood, basic technology is only understood and basic if you have engineers who know it.  The Navy has abdicated their in-house design expertise to manufacturers.  When less than knowledgeable people, whether Navy or manufacturer, begin making design decisions, problems and costs will follow regardless of how simple the technology is.  Unfortunately, for those of us who argue for the construction of aircraft and ships using proven, basic technologies, this means that even such a design may well turn out to be costly beyond any reasonable estimate.  Thus, the assumption that we can produce good, solid designs based on existing, understood technology is suspect.  It shouldn’t be but given the Navy’s demonstrated incompetence even with basic technology, it often is.

This leads to the question, how can the Navy so consistently fail to recognize the need for basic technology and then fail so completely to properly implement it?  I’ve answered this one before – it’s the loss of in-house expertise.  Unfortunately, that means that even solid, basic designs may be beyond the Navy’s ability to produce.  That, in turn, means that every developmental/acquisition program may be doomed to massive cost overruns and performance failures.  The Navy really needs to take a long, hard look at its internal design expertise and try to honestly recognize why almost every program is deemed a failure by any rational criteria.  Or, if that intellectual exercise is beyond them, and it certainly seems to be, then they can simply cheat and read this blog to find out what’s wrong.  The answers are free!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy

The Department of Defense has released its Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy (APMSS) document.  We just recently reviewed the DoD’s National Military Strategy (NMS) document and decided that it was an utter waste of time and effort, contained absolutely nothing of value, totally failed to even meet the definition of a strategy, and was an embarrassment to our so-called professional military leaders.  Now, let’s take a look at this strategy document.

Let me give you the broad view right up front.  This document is a vast improvement over the NMS.  It contains most of the elements of an actual strategy and, largely, refrains from the PR marketing that was the hallmark of the NMS.  It describes the problems in a succinct and yet thorough manner, lays out some fairly clear and definite goals though still a bit generic, and then lists methods for achieving the goals.  The flip side of this is that the goals and methods are still a bit on the generic side, are extremely passive, and some are what I would consider political rather than military.

So, while I disagree with the goals and methods the document does, at least, meet the minimal definition of an actual strategy. 

That said, let’s get into a bit of the details.

First, a strategy should lay out the problem and this is probably the strength of this document.  With a bit of tiptoeing around the China issue, it still does a very nice job of describing the problems and challenges we face in the Asia-Pacific (AP) region.  The document is worth a read for this section if no other.  It clearly and concisely describes the challenges in the region related to the multitude of conflicting territorial claims.  I wish it would have tied the region’s challenges into the US national and strategic interests a bit more.  The US dependence on regional commercial shipping and the related rights of passage are pointed out but not much more.  Why does it matter to the US who claims which islands?  That’s the key question and it went largely unanswered.  I suspect this is part of the tiptoeing around China aspect.

Second, a strategy should lay out the goals and objectives.  The document lists three main objectives:

  • safeguard the freedom of the seas
  • deter conflict and coercion
  • promote adherence to international law and standards.

Those are still a bit generic but do offer at least some degree of usefulness.  Their main failing is that they are supposed to be a means to solving the described problems and they don’t.  At best, they can be said to preserve the peace while doing nothing to actually solve the problems in a manner beneficial to US interests.

Third, a strategy must lay out the methods to accomplish the goals and objectives.  This is the weakest part of the document. 

  • Strengthening our military capacity
  • Working with allied and partner nations to build their maritime capabilities
  • Leveraging military capacity to reduce risk of conflict
  • Working to build regional security organizations

These are fairly generic and the specifics that are described as pertaining to these are non-specific and have little demonstrable connection to, or impact on, the stated method.  Some of these, such as building regional security organizations, are more political methods than military.

Now for my biggest criticism ...  The overall theme of the strategy is one of conflict avoidance at almost all costs.  The strategy notes but does nothing specific and effective to address China’s creeping land (and air/sea) grab efforts which have, thus far, proven highly successful and are inexorably solidifying China’s claims (possession being nine tenths of the law).  This borders on appeasement and that’s an approach that has failed every time throughout history that it’s ever been used.  As I stated in the previous post, a better goal would have been,

“Contain China’s expansionist activities and prevent any Chinese territorial gains in the South and East China Seas using military confrontation to augment diplomatic efforts.”

The very passive nature of this strategy calls into question the degree of need for the military and its many new weapon systems and associated huge expenditures.  We could accomplish all that’s called for in the strategy with nothing more than an ocean-going coast guard.  See?  That’s the problem (and strength) of having a strategy.  The strategy will tell you what military needs you really have and this is saying that we already have far more than enough.  If the DoD really believes this strategy, as written, they should be making major, across the board cuts (some would say they are, I guess).

Also, the very concept of deterrence is indirectly called into question by this strategy.  We’ve been engaged in deterrence for years and if this is the result of our efforts (China slowly annexing the entire South Pacific) then deterrence has failed miserably as a policy and that should be acknowledged and addressed in the strategy with an alternate approach spelled out (see my previous offering of a better objective).  Instead, the strategy essentially calls for more of the same failed deterrence and, thereby, implicitly cedes the entire South and East China Seas to China.

Let me sum up by saying that the document is head and shoulders above the NMS in terms of laying out an actual strategy and is well worth the time to read.  I urge you to do so.  It’s readily available on the Internet.  The goals and methods are suspect and unwise but at least they’re spelled out.

Let me close by offering the absolute standout statement in the document.

“China’s actions are having the effect of increasing uncertainty about its intentions, and this is shrinking space for diplomatic solutions to emerge.” [emphasis added]

Now, if the DoD would read their own statement and take heed …

Saturday, August 22, 2015

National Military Strategy

The US Department of Defense has finally released its national military strategy document, the first such since 2011.  At last, we have a coherent, viable strategy to guide us in the development of our force structure, force size, and tactical and operational planning.  No longer will we flounder in a sea of haphazard acquisitions without guidance.  No longer will we pursue technologies that may not lend themselves to the accomplishment of our national and service-specific goals.  No longer will we dither trying to decide what course of action to take as we attempt to balance needs against budgets.  No longer will we downsize forces on a random or, worse, equitable, basis. 

I tell you, a bright new day is dawning for the military, America, and the world!

Let’s dig into this new strategy and see where it will be taking us.

As a reminder, a valid strategy should define the problem, lay out the goals, and describe a path to achieve those goals.

The National Military Strategy of the United States, 2015, (NMS) begins by listing the problems.  Specifically, it names Russia, Iran, North Korea, and terrorists (quaintly referred to in the document as Violent Extremist Organizations (VEO) ) as our potential enemies and, ever so briefly, describes what they are doing that makes them potential enemies.  It also names China as a potential enemy though in a very backhanded, passive way by describing our intentions to welcome them warmly to the world stage while noting in passing that some of their actions may lead to tensions.  That’s tiptoeing around the China issue but at least the DoD has finally named China so that’s a start.  Likewise, the failure to name the source of terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, dramatically weakens the rest of the document’s discussion on terrorism.

The document states that none of the suspect state actors are seeking conflict with the US.

“None of these nations are believed to be seeking direct military conflict with the United States or our allies.”

Well, they may not be seeking direct conflict but none of them are shying away from it, either.  It would serve us well to recognize that our previous, and current, policies of deterrence seem not to be working!  The NMS ought to recognize this and factor it in but fails to do so.

The NMS then proceeds to define the military environment.  That’s not really part of a strategy and demonstrates that those writing the strategy don’t really understand what a strategy is. 

On the plus side, the document notes that our previous decade of conflict has been exclusively against terrorists and that we must now begin to pay attention to state actors.  That’s a wise, if somewhat painfully obvious and belated recognition.

The role of technology is discussed as it pertains to terrorists.

“VEOs are taking advantage of emergent technologies as well, using information tools to propagate destructive ideologies, recruit and incite violence, and amplify the perceived power of their movements. …They use improvised explosive devices (IED), suicide vests, and tailored cyber tools to spread terror while seeking ever more sophisticated capabilities, including WMD.”

The document fails to understand the relationship between terrorists and technology.  Terrorists are not seeking ever more sophisticated capabilities.  They are seeking ever more explosive (literally) capabilities.  If those capabilities require more capable technology, the terrorists will embrace it but technology is not a prerequisite for more explosive power.  IEDs, for example, represent an alternative approach to the employment of explosive power, often relying on very primitive levels of technology.  Beheadings with a sword require no great leaps of technology.  Failure to recognize this principle will lead us to believe that the path to the defeat of terrorism is paved with technology and nothing could be further from the truth.  The path to the defeat of terrorism is paved with intelligence, explosives, and, mainly, willpower (such as the willingness to inflict larger amounts of collateral damage when necessary and the willingness to engage wholeheatedly).

The NMS goes on to list some National Security Interests derived by the military to support the Enduring National Interests from the 2015 National Security Strategy. 

·        The survival of the Nation.
·        The prevention of catastrophic attack against U.S. territory.
·        The security of the global economic system.
·        The security, confidence, and reliability of our allies.
·        The protection of American citizens abroad.
·        The preservation and extension of universal values.

That’s a nice list but is so generic and high level as to be useless. 

In any event, the NMS finally lists three National Military Objectives – presumably the heart of the strategy!

·        Deter, deny, and defeat state adversaries.
·        Disrupt, degrade, and defeat violent extremist organizations.
·        Strengthen our global network of allies and partners.

What?!!  Again, these are utterly useless.  They are so broad as to be worthless in providing any military guidance.  Taken at face value, the first objective, for example, would suggest that the military take any action ranging from send an occasional patrol boat with a strongly worded message to a misbehaving state, on up to a pre-emptive, all-out attack to overwhelm and defeat the state.  The objective says nothing.  It doesn’t tell us whether we need a bigger Navy or a smaller one.  It doesn’t tell us whether the LCS is the right vessel for the task or not.  It doesn’t tell us whether the F-35 is appropriate for the situation.  It tells us nothing.

OK, what would be an example of an appropriate objective?  Here’s one,

·        Contain China’s expansionist activities and prevent any Chinese territorial gains in the South and East China Seas using military confrontation to augment diplomatic efforts.

Whether you happen to agree with that example or not, it leaves no doubt about what the military is tasked with doing and that is what a strategy should do.

In any event, the NMS goes on to describe a host of generic military responsibilities which, while both obvious and nice, relate in no specific way to any strategic objectives beyond the generic “let’s be strong and protect the country” type of statements.  You can’t argue with them but they are not strategic objectives nor do they constitute a path to implementing the strategy, such as it is.

As the document moves on, it devotes a lengthy section to a discussion of personnel support needs, leadership, and organizational culture.  Again, nice (not really – it’s worthless bureaucratic ass-covering), but totally irrelevant to a military strategy document.

And, finally, the document discusses innovation, global agility, quality, joint interoperability, industrial business relationships, and resource informed planning (huh??).  These sections are utterly divorced from any strategic usefulness and simply represent bureaucratic buzzword bingo.

Again, to recap, the characteristics of a strategy should include a problem definition, a goal(s), and a path to achieve that goal(s).

The NMS offers an extremely cursory definition of the problem although the mere fact that specific enemies were named is a vast improvement over any previous document or discussion (ignoring the kid glove treatment accorded the Chinese and Islamic terrorists).  The three listed objectives are so broad and generic as to be useless and have absolutely no specific relationship to the defined problem.  Finally, the document is utterly devoid of a useful and specific path to achieving the objectives – not surprising given the generic nature of the objectives.

Thus, as a military strategy, this document fails completely to deliver an actual strategy.  It is clear that the authors had no idea what the definition of a strategy is.  This is a failure at the Strategy 101 level and is an embarrassment coming from our highest professional military leadership.  This will leave our military floundering around, grasping at the next technological marvel that captures their fancy in the hopes that it will prove useful when some future conflict occurs. 

The lack of a valid and viable military strategy is exactly why we’re pursuing an F-35 that does not meet our operational needs, why the Marines can’t seem to decide what kind of amphibious assault vehicle they want, why we’re buying 52 LCSs that don’t seem to fit any useful naval scenario, why we’re building ever bigger carriers while the air wings continue to shrink, why there is no agreement about the characteristics of the Navy’s UCLASS, and why, in general, our military seems so lost today.

This “strategy” was an opportunity to right the military ship but is, instead, an opportunity squandered.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Foresight Is 20/20

Recent reports indicate that the new version of the LCS (I refuse to call it a frigate) will use a single combat control software system even if the Navy continues with the procurement of two different versions of seaframe (which would be further compounding the stupidity).  The combat system will be that used by the Freedom version, the COMBATSS-21, manufactured by Lockheed Martin.


As an aside, for those who like to speculate, this also suggests that if the Navy down selects to a single LCS design for the new versions it would likely be the Freedom version.

I don’t know how good or bad the COMBATSS system is but it’s at least an improvement to select a single system for the LCS versus the two currently in use.  Do I really need to list all the reasons why two different systems on the LCS cause problems (training, parts, compatibility, etc.)?  Reports suggest that the COMBATSS will be retrofitted to the LCS-2 versions as budget permits.

This brings up the issue of hindsight, one of my pet peeves.  Too many people use the excuse of hindsight to explain away some pretty obvious failings.  Sure, they’ll say, in hindsight there may have been some problems with the design of the LCS but no one could know those issues at the time.  Thus, we shouldn’t blame anyone.

Horse droppings!  It didn’t require hindsight to know that having two different combat systems on the two LCSs would cause problems.  It didn’t require hindsight to know that the LCS was undermanned.  It didn’t require hindsight to know that the vast majority of the module technologies wouldn’t work.  I can go on with hundreds of hindsights throughout the Navy but you get the idea.

Hindsight is an excuse only for the truly unforeseeable.  Go back to the writings of the day and you’ll see that all the LCS and JSF problems were readily foreseen by everyone except the Navy.  Either the Navy has the stupidest people on the planet or they simply ignore the warnings.  By definition, if you ignore realistic warnings that makes you stupid so I guess we have our answer.

Hindsight may be 20/20 but, very often, foresight is too.  All that’s needed is to listen to those who can see which is almost everyone outside the Navy.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

You're Lying!

Here’s a Navy item I never dreamed I’d cover. 

Where are our taxpayer dollars going?  Apparently, to polygraph (lie detector) exams in support of Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) counter-intelligence efforts. 

Potomac River Group LLC, Ashburn, Virginia, is being awarded a $35,300,000 fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to obtain certified contractor support to administer polygraph examinations for Naval Criminal Investigative Service counterintelligence in support of the Navy Insider Threat program.  The contract is good for 5 years.

Let’s do the math on this one.  That $35M contract is for 5 years so that’s $7.06M per year or $19,342 per day!!! 

That’s $19,342 per day of polygraph exams, every day of the year.  Do we really have that many polygraph exams to administer or does that cost seem just a tad excessive?

The Ship That Couldn't Shoot Straight

The Navy has announced that the Coronado (LCS-4) has completed live fire tests of its major gun systems, the Mk110 57mm, and the Mk46 30mm.  I apologize for using the word “major” to describe a machine gun and a 2.2” gun but for the LCS, they’re considered major.  As usual, the Navy describes the tests as stunningly successful.  Given the Navy’s egregious PR spin efforts in the past, I’m not even going to bother offering a link to an announcement.  If you want to read made up rainbows and sunshine that badly, you can easily find it on the Internet.

So, why is this event of interest?  A couple of reasons, actually.

First, this is a rare sign of progress for the LCS-2 version which has, thus far, failed to deploy and failed to demonstrate any useful progress towards becoming  a functioning warship.  Again, I apologize, this time for using the word “warship” in conjunction with the LCS.  We’re stuck with these ships so it would be nice to see them at least achieve whatever functionality they’re capable of.

Second, and more important, you’ll recall that the LCS-1 version’s 57mm gun was found to be inaccurate at much above 10 kts due to the ship’s vibration.  The question is whether the -2 version suffers from the same problem.  On the one hand, you’d think not simply due to the fact that the two ships have nothing in common as far as the shape of their hulls or the way the move through the water.  On the other hand, both ships have been built extremely light with all signs pointing to woefully insufficient structural reinforcement in both classes.  The -2 version suffered cracking of structural members during heavy weather testing and has had restrictions placed on its operating envelope.

A 57mm gun is nothing to write home about.  You’ll recall that the Zumwalt program rejected the gun and switched to a smaller 30mm gun for close in protection – a fairly stunning commentary on the 57mm.  Still, the 57mm is what the LCS has so it would be nice if it could shoot straight.  The Navy certainly won’t tell us if the -2 version has gun problems so ComNavOps will keep an eye on the DOT&E reports.

Here’s hoping that the -2 version will begin to actually do something and that its gun will shoot straight!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Los Angeles Class Overhauls and Retirements

Submarines are, arguably, the most potent platform in the Navy.  Accepting that, you’d think the Navy would do everything they can to maximize the lifespan of submarines.  Indeed, some submarines undergo mid-life overhauls to maximize or even extend their service lives.  Currently, Los Angeles (688) class subs have a nominal service life of 33 years and studies have been done indicating that an additional 5-10 years is feasible with proper overhauls, maintenance, and upgrades.

The main overhaul in the life of a 688 occurs at around the half to 2/3 lifespan mark.  The overhaul is either an Engineered Refueling Overhaul for earlier subs which require nuclear refueling or an Engineered Overhaul for those that don’t.  The overhauls require a year and a half to two years and include structural and systems repair, replacement, and upgrades.  The cost is around $200M per boat.

As an example, Huntington Ingalls Industries just received a contract for $58M to conduct the planning portion of the USS Columbus (SSN 762) overhaul with options on the contract totaling $289M for the complete overhaul.

With all this in mind, you’d think that the Navy would be making every effort to maximize submarine service life, as we said at the start.  However, examination of actual commissioning/decommissioning dates reveals that many subs are being retired early.

Here is the service life data on the first 31 Los Angeles class submarines with their pennant numbers and years of service at decommissioning.

688  34 yrs
689  18
690  33
691  34
692  17
693  17
694  19
695  19
696  18
697  18
698  active
699  active
700  active
701  Inactive
702  17
703  17
704  16
705  active
706  active
707  22
708  23
709  23
710  23
711  active
712  17
713  active
714  31
715  active
716  22
717  active
718  22

The data is quite stunning.  The average age at decommissioning was only 21.9 years.  Only 4 subs made it to 30+ years and 11 didn’t even make 20 years – that’s more than 13 years short of the nominal lifespan.

This is bad enough on its own but, unfortunately, we’ve previously discussed and documented the anticipated submarine shortfall over the next decade or so (see, "SSN Shortfall").  While an early 688 class sub is no longer state of the art, it is still worlds better than any potential enemy sub out there.  We have a shortfall coming and we're throwing subs away?

The Navy is crying to Congress over budget limitations and the need for more submarines while at the same time throwing away perfectly good submarines long before their lifespans have been completed.  This is not good stewardship of the people’s money nor is it good use of military assets.  Congress should firmly send the Navy packing with its budget requests and a message to come back when they’ve learned how to use the resources they’ve got – and they’ve got a LOT if they’d quit retiring them early.  

The overhaul cost of $200M is a bargain to gain an additional ten to twenty years of service.  Remember, the cost of new Virginia class subs is around $2.5B.  For the cost of a single Virginia, we could have overhauled the 11 subs that didn't even make 20 years of service and gained, say, 15 years for each which makes a total of 165 sub-years of service life compared to the 22 sub-years of life we'd get from the one skipped Virginia (using the actual historical submarine lifespan).  

This is almost criminal irresponsibility.  This is our Navy.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

F-35 - Even Better Than We Believed!

We all knew the F-35 was an impressive war machine but it turns out that we didn’t know just how impressive it really was.  We thought it was simply the best 5th generation aircraft in the world but it turns out that it’s even better than that because it’s also a 4th generation aircraft!!!!!  That’s right.  It can transition between 4th and 5th by loading bombs on external pylons.  I can see you’re flabbergasted and disbelieving.  No aircraft can do that, you’re thinking, but it’s true.  This one can.  USNI News website is reporting this amazing capability (1).  Here’s a quote from Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation.

“No other airplane can go from fifth to fourth and back to fifth again. I’m buying pylons for the airplane.”

There you have it.  By adding external pylons to the F-35 we gain the entire 4th generation capability in addition to the already amazing 5th generation wonders the aircraft contains.  You’re asking, though, how will this affect our enemies and ourselves?  Gen. Davis describes exactly how this new capability will make our enemies and us feel.

“I think for our adversaries will be quite worrisome, for us should be a source of great comfort.” 

Great comfort!  Yes, yes, that's exactly what I feel when I think of the F-35.  He nailed it. 

But wait, there’s more!

The F-35 has been at the center of debate about close air support (CAS) with proponents (well, actually only the Air Force) and critics debating whether the F-35 could be an effective CAS aircraft.  Well, it turns out the AF was right and the critics were wrong.  The F-35 is not only suited for CAS, it’s optimized!!!

“The pylons optimize the F-35B for close-air support …”

An optimal CAS aircraft and all thanks to the pylons, those amazing pylons.

It’s a shame that they couldn’t hang pylons on, say, the A-10 to optimize it for CAS. 

Is there any way the F-35 could get any better?  No, you say?  It’s not possible, you say?  Well, I hesitate to even mention this for fear of giving away what may possibly be or become a top secret F-35 capability but if the canopy was removed for a flight and a machine gun was mounted to the rim for the pilot to operate by hand, the F-35 would be a 1st generation aircraft.  That’s right, we’d have an aircraft that could transition between 1st, 4th, and 5th generation.  Truly, no other aircraft in the world would have that kind of capability set.

All right, you’re thinking this is another of ComNavOps famous humor pieces.  Well, sadly, it’s not.  This is real.  Follow the reference link and read the article for yourself.  The quotes and the content are real and come from the Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation just as I’ve stated.  Yes, the mocking tone of the post is mine and the 1st generation bit was added to emphasize how ridiculous the hype on this aircraft has gotten.  And that’s the real story in this post. 

The hype surrounding this aircraft is out of control and the fact that the Marines feel the need to put out this kind of marketing pap tells me that they’re feeling the heat for declaring a demonstrably unready aircraft (50% availability during the trial period!) cleared for IOC.  If your product is so bad that you have to resort to made up attributes extolling a capability (pylons) that existed in WWI, you have a problem.  This Marine General has made a laughingstock of himself and the Marines.

As I said, I wish this was a humor piece but it’s not.  This is really sad.

Hey, I’m going to further risk national security and let you readers in on another amazing F-35 secret.  Program managers are developing round, rolling, rubberish things to place on the bottom of the landing gear.  They call them wheels (I think that’s how you spell it – not sure, it’s new technology) and, supposedly, it will give the F-35 unparalleled ground mobility.  Gen. Davis and I are on the same page.  The F-35 is an awesome machine.

USNI, “Davis: F-35B External Weapons Give Marines 4th, 5th Generation Capabilities in One Plane”, Megan Eckstein, August 13, 2015,

Friday, August 14, 2015

LSM(R) Fire Support Ship

History is the greatest source of lessons for the student of modern combat.  To that end, let’s see what history can tell us in today’s post.

WWII saw the evolution of amphibious assault culminate in the Pacific island invasions late in the war.  By the end of the war, the equipment and tactics had been as nearly perfected as possible.  Ironically, most of those hard won lessons have since been abandoned and forgotten.

One of the needs that was identified was for the ability to provide a massive pulse of explosives just ahead of the assault waves.  One of the ways this was accomplished was by the LSM(R) which was a specialized version of the Landing Ship Medium which mounted rocket launchers as well as 5” guns and mortars.

A typical, early LSM(R) was the -188 class,

LSM(R)-188 class , 200 ft, 1100 tons
5” gun
75 x 4-rail Mk36 rocket launchers
60 x 6-rail Mk30 rocket launchers

Further development of the LSM(R) culminated in the -501 class

LSM(R)-501 class , 203 ft, 1200 tons
5” gun
20 x Mk102 twin tube continuous loading 5" spin stabilizer rocket launchers
4 x 4.2” mortars


The Mk102 rocket launcher was an amazing weapon.  It was a twin tube, continuous fire launcher with train and elevation.  It was capable of a sustained rate of fire of 32 rockets per minute.  The latter LSM(R)s mounted 10 or 20 of these launchers – that’s 320 to 640 5” rockets per minute.

The rockets fell into three broad categories,

Mk7 5” Spin Stabilized Rocket, 10,000 yds, 2.8 lbs TNT
Mk10 5” Spin Stabilized Rocket, 5,000 yds, 9.6 lbs TNT
Mk12 5” Spin Stabilized Rocket, 2,500 yds, 12.0 lbs TNT

Mk 102 Rocket Launcher

A single LSM(R) could deliver amazing amounts of firepower and several ships operating together provided absolutely incredible amounts.  Of course, the LSM(R)s were only a part of the naval fire support.  Dozens of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and other specialized fire support ships also contributed to the massive delivery of explosives to the assault site.  Contrast that to today’s few ships armed with only 5” guns and relegated to operating beyond the gun’s range.  Tomahawk missiles are available but those are not really intended for area bombardment due to their expense and very limited quantity.  We have abandoned fire support for amphibious assaults which calls into question the viability of assault doctrine in general.

The LSM(R) provided a small, cheap vessel that could get in close to an assault site and deliver massive amounts of cheap firepower.  The proximity to the beach assumed a high degree of risk but the small size and cheapness of the vessels made the risk acceptable.  Today, we have $2B Burkes with a single 5” gun that are constrained by doctrine to remain so far from the assault site that their gun can’t even reach the beach!  Even if we wanted to place a Burke in close, who would seriously consider risking a $2B ship playing tag with shore based artillery and missiles.  Our ships have become too expensive to risk doing the very jobs they were built for!

So, is there a need for a modern LSM(R)?  If we’re seriously contemplating amphibious assaults, there is.  Current doctrine does not call for tanks and artillery in the initial landings (another lesson forgotten).  With no naval gun support and few aircraft (probably exclusively tied up defending the fleet), the Marines will have no heavy explosive firepower until they can get their own artillery and tanks ashore.  Of course, remember that the Marines are cutting tanks and artillery in their quest to get “light” so there’s not much coming ashore even if they could get it ashore.

Against a peer defender, trying to come ashore with only infantry and AAVs with 0.50 cal machine guns is a recipe for disaster.  A modern LSM(R) could help address the initial firepower gap.  Sadly, we have become so enamored with precision application of firepower that we have allowed our total firepower delivery capability to nearly vanish.  There is still a significant place for suppressive fires during the initial landing. 

History is talking to us but we’re not listening.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

New Gun Mounts

Here’s an interesting contract award.

BAE Systems Land and Armaments LP has been given a $80M contract to assemble 10 Mk45, 62-caliber, 5" gun mounts using older guns that will bevstripped for parts and/or refurbished.  The wording of the contract announcement makes it a little unclear exactly what is being done but I think that’s the scope of the work.  The contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of the contract to $130,076,871. Work will be completed by September 2016. 

So, between $8M - $13M per gun mount, if I’ve interpreted the contract correctly.  I wonder what a new mount costs?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


It’s not often that the Navy does anything that surprises ComNavOps.  Disappoints, yes.  Surprises, no.  And it’s absolutely unheard of that the Navy surprises ComNavOps in a positive way.  And yet, that’s exactly what has happened – well, kind of – and not by the Navy.

Navy Times website reports that the Pentagon has instructed the Navy to conduct full ship shock tests on the carrier Ford (1).  The Navy had attempted to put off the shock tests either indefinitely or until the next Ford class carrier, CVN-79, was ready which would be in 2023 or so.

You’ll recall that the Navy has thus far declined to perform shock tests on any LCS.  Also, I’ve not read of any plans to conduct shock tests on the Zumwalt DDG or the America LHA although, to be fair, there may be such plans and they just haven’t been made public. 

As a more general statement, the Navy has been trending towards less and less testing of ships with many tests being indefinitely deferred according to the various DOT&E reports.

This abrupt change in plan is good news.  Building an entire class of ship without doing shock testing is just asking for unexpected and unwelcome findings when damage actually occurs.  Waiting until several ships into a class to conduct the tests simply means that any required fixes will assuredly cost much more by having to be retrofit than if they were incorporated into the vessels during construction.  This is identical to the concurrency issues that help drive up costs on the F-35.  Plus, do we really want our sailors deploying on ships that may have structural and shock issues?  Don’t we want our warships to be as ready and resilient as possible?  Why has the Navy begun to defer shock testing?  But, I digress …

While good news, the directive was totally unexpected.  The Navy was firmly “committed” to not performing the test.  Something changed and for the directive to come from the Pentagon means that whatever changed had to have occurred at a pretty high level.  I can’t even begin to speculate who has sufficient clout and interest in the Navy to mandate this. 

The directive came from the office of Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official.  I had no idea he had the authority to order something of this magnitude if, indeed, he is actually the person behind this.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this and watching to see if this affects the Navy’s plans, or lack thereof, to conduct shock testing on other ship classes.

This is a very good development for the Navy.  It’s a shame that it had to be imposed rather than embraced.

(1)Navy Times, “Pentagon Directs Shock Tests on Carrier Ford”, Christopher P. Cavas, August 11, 2015

The Army Is Out Of The Conventional Warfare Business

ComNavOps rarely comments on Army issues but this item ties directly back to what we’ve repeatedly discussed about the focus of the Navy and the military in general.  I’ve stated that under CNO Greenert the Navy has become focused on the low end of the threat spectrum and peace time operations such as humanitarian assistance instead of the Navy’s primary responsibility which is to wage and win high end combat.  Well, here’s an example of that loss of focus in the Army.  From the DoD website (1),

“The NTC [National Training Center, Fort Irwin, CA] has changed its focus from conventional warfare, Work [Deputy Defense Secretary] said, to hybrid and counterinsurgency warfare.

That’s just stunning.  The Army is no longer focused on conventional warfare.  This at the same time that Russia is actively gobbling up countries using conventional arms and developing whole new families of heavy armor vehicles and China is building a massively capable conventional army and navy.  The rest of the world is gearing up for large scale, high end conventional combat and we’re focusing on counterinsurgency.  At some point, the world is going to hand us our heads if we don’t remember what a military is for.

Back to the Navy …  Converting a third of the combat fleet to the LCS is just insane.  We need hard hitting, hard fighting warships not glorified Coast Guard cutters.

Well, apparently the Navy is not alone in choosing the wrong path.  This is an indictment of our senior military leadership.

(1)US Department of Defense, “Work Observes Large-Scale Military Exercise at Fort Irwin”, Terri Moon Cronk, 7-Aug-2015