Thursday, June 30, 2016

Iranian Seizure of US Boats - Navy Report

This blog has been resolute in examining and laying bare the faults of Navy leadership.  This blog has also documented the significantly degraded state of the Navy as regards readiness, maintenance, training, warrior mindset, and tactics.  All of these were made manifestly clear in the recent Farsi Island incident in which the Iranians seized two US Navy boats and their crews that had incompetently transited into Iranian waters.  All of the faults and shortcomings that have been discussed in this blog came together to produce one of the most humiliating incidents in Navy history.  Here are just a few of the individual factors that led to this incident as detailed in the just released, heavily redacted, Navy investigative report (1).

  • Failed to conduct mission planning, produce a concept of operations, or review the route and navigational plan
  • Did not review the Plan of Intended Movement (PIM)
  • Upon departure, which was several hours late, deviated immediately from the PIM in an attempt to make up time
  • Failed to report the engine casualty to the Tactical Operations Center
  • Failed to report an unanticipated land sighting (Farsi Island) to the Tactical Operations Center
  • Tactical Operations Center failed to act when scheduled check-in was missed
  • Tactical Operations Center failed to note or act when tracking equipment showed the boats heading into Iranian waters
  • Lacked a communications plan
  • Lacked surface or air overwatch
  • Leadership tasked the boats and crew beyond the limits of their capability
  • Commander, Task Force 56 promulgated a “can do/will do” culture that frequently compromised risk management and procedural adherence
  • Crews had been up most of the night before conducting maintenance on one of the boats that had broken down.
  • Had to "cannibalize" parts from a third boat in order to have two working vessels.
  • Experienced problems with their satellite communications gear.
  • Crews were unfamiliar with the region, weather, geography, or threats
  • Had insufficient crew to both maneuver and man weapons at the same time
  • Failed to post lookouts or man weapons stations when the boats suffered the engine breakdown

The report makes a point of documenting command’s vision of how to handle Iranian interactions.  VAdm. Donegan, Commander Fifth Fleet, communicated his intent for handling interactions with Iranian forces in this message from Dec 2015.

“When we are approaching an interaction, fundamental to your plans should be the utilization of maneuver and knowledge of the battle space to open distance and/or time so that you have more options for de-escalation and to provide additional opportunity to determine intent of the Iranian units.”

This directive embodies what’s wrong with our policy of appeasement.  Why does only the US have a responsibility to deescalate?  Unilateral deescalation is another way of saying appeasement.  What did this accomplish?  It led to crews that were totally unprepared to fight and, worse, had no idea that a fight was coming or even possible.  The policy led directly to the state of unpreparedness for combat by the boat crews and, arguably, led directly to their seizure.

Here is another key point.  The report states that someone (the name is redacted) on boat 802, apparently the Boat Captain, disobeyed a direct order from the Patrol Officer on boat 805 to evade.  His refusal of orders caused boat 805 to return to try to assist and resulted, directly, in both boats being captured.  Thus, one man’s refusal of an order resulted in the direct seizure of two boats and their crews.  He jeopardized both crews given that there was every reason to believe that surrendering would not turn out well.  Iran’s history of handling prisoners is not one that lead to a reasonable expectation of safe return.  This was mutiny, pure and simple, and I fully expect this person to be harshly punished.

Section Update

The full report states that the boat 802 coxswain refused an order to accelerate away from the Iranian craft.

Update Ends

Another lesson to be had from this incident is that despite all our vaunted automation, sensors, networking, satellites, radars, data links, and sophisticated communications, we failed completely and utterly to monitor and control the boats as they inexorably violated Saudi Arabian and then Iranian territorial waters, became stranded, and were seized.  And yet we want to increase our reliance on these systems.  Well you know what?  No system can compensate for utter incompetence and total confusion.  All the data in the world is useless if you don’t know what to do with it.

Regarding the actual surrender by the boat crews, the report goes to the trouble of quoting the US Armed Forces Code of Conduct.  This is incredibly significant, I think.  Consider the first two items of the Code which, again, were quoted in the report.

1. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

2. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

           [Emphasis added]

Those who argue that the crews were right to surrender without resistance would do well to read and consider the Code requirements.  Military life does not come with a guarantee of safety – in fact, almost the opposite.

The report goes on to make innumerable recommendations which contain nothing that isn’t already supposed to be part of standard operations – a typical waste of a report, in that regard.

Every person in the chain of command from the boat crews on up to CNO Richardson and SecNav Mabus should be fired or court-martialed.

This is why I do this blog and why I’ve been so critical of Navy leadership.  Leadership’s failure is putting sailor’s lives at risk.

As an aside, many people have speculated about conspiracies related to this incident but reading the report makes it clear that there is nothing more nefarious, here, than simple, gross incompetence on a scale that defies belief.

I am unilaterally relieving CNO Richardson for loss of confidence in his ability to command.


(1)Memorandum For The Record, Executive Assistant, Chief of Naval Operations, 29-Jun-2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Wow!  Read these excerpts from a Fox News website article about the recent Iranian seizure of two US boats and crews (1).

“…when the order was given to evade the Iranian forces, the helmsman refused the order.”

The helmsman "refused the order" ?????

Are you kidding me?!  That’s mutiny.

“ ‘The story here is these guys had gotten so used to Iranians doing stupid s---, having weapons pointed at them all the time, they didn’t know they were being captured until the Iranians boarded their boats,’ one defense official said describing the lack of situational awareness by the Navy crew. ‘They messed up pretty bad.’ “

Are you kidding me?!  We’ve gotten so used to being threatened that we didn’t even know we were being boarded?  This is what happens when your default force posture is appeasement.  Sure, they’re pointing presumably live weapons at you but, hey, don’t respond.  That’s idiotic.  If someone points a weapon at you, shoot them!  Even in the civilian world, that’s legal.

At the moment, these are unsubstantiated snippets so I’ll withhold final judgment pending the release of the official report in a couple days but this doesn’t look good.

A Congressman (I can’t recall who it was) who had been briefed on this incident, stated in an interview a week or so ago that we weren’t going to believe what would be in the report on this.  If these snippets are any example, he was more than right.

If these incidents are proven to be true in the official report, CNO Richardson should resign for having allowed the Navy’s readiness and discipline to fall to such a low level.  Of course, to be fair, the bulk of the blame lies with his predecessor, Adm. Greenert, but he's now untouchable.  Still, the blame always lies with the Captain and the Captain of the Navy is CNO Richardson.  He's got to go.

I can’t wait for this report to come out.


(1), “Navy commodore to be relieved of command over Iran's capture of his sailors”, Lucas Tomlinson, June 24, 2016,

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Island Showdown

Here's a change of pace.  I'd like to describe some non-lethal ways that the Navy can counter Chinese land reclamation efforts.  Rather than dryly list various methods and equipment I've opted to describe them in the form of a short story.  So, settle back and enjoy.

Remember, this is intended to illustrate various systems and tactics.  It is not intended to be a balanced or "fair" simulation of an encounter so don't read it as such.

Island Showdown© (2016)

As far as the Captain could tell, it was just another reef with occasional bits of coral and rock protruding above the water.  Of course, it was exactly these kinds of navigational hazards that the Chinese had turned into several air and naval bases already, here in the South China Sea, he reminded himself.  Until the recent election and change in administration, the US had been content to acquiesce to the Chinese in a policy of unofficial appeasement.  As a result, artificial island bases had begun springing up all over the South China Sea.  Now, however, a new President was demanding an end to this kind of illegal construction and territorial grab and the USS Steadfast had been sent to stop this latest island building effort before it could really get going.

Nice to have a new ship, the Captain mused as he observed the rocks.  Steadfast was the first of her class – a new kind of patrol ship developed for a new kind of patrol philosophy.  Appeasement was over.  The Captain’s orders had been clear.  Confrontational patrol was to be the new norm and Steadfast was eminently equipped for that role – in theory.  That theory was about to be put to the test.

Turning away from his observation, the Captain decided that now was as good a time as any to begin.  A Chinese ship, probably a dredging vessel was standing about 200 m off the principle rock while a small boat occasionally shuttled back and forth unloading and setting up gear.  The land reclamation project had just recently begun so there wasn’t much set up yet but the Chinese had already demonstrated an amazing ability to build an artificial island in a very brief period.

“All right,” the Captain said, “let’s facewash that rock. Give me a powersquat pass at 50 m.”

Steadfast was built for power rather than speed and specially modified to create enormous wakes.  The ship’s stern contained ballast tanks and those now flooded to drop the stern deeper into the water as the ship’s engines and three propellers came up to full power.  As the ship began to build up speed, the wake grew larger and larger.  At 25 kts, the ship passed by the target rock at a distance of 50 m. 

The Captain leaned out over the bridge wing, looking back to observe the effect of their passage.  It was everything he could have hoped for.  The immense wake broke over the rock, obscuring everything on it.  When the wall of water passed, there was nothing left but the rock and a few pieces of equipment that had been anchored into the rock.  Everything else was gone – washed away in a mini-tidal wave. 

Turning back to look at the Chinese ship, now also rocking violently, the Captain could only imagine the angry reactions Steadfast’s passage had caused.

“Transmit the message,” the Captain ordered.  A pre-recorded message was transmitted to the Chinese ship telling them that they were to leave the area immediately and that they had 10 minutes to acknowledge and begin complying.  The Captain harbored no illusions that the Chinese would obey.

“While they waste 10 minutes, let’s get set up for smoke herding”, he said.

Steadfast turned and began to maneuver to a position upwind of the Chinese vessel.  As they did, the Chinese ship began transmitting furious protests and threats which the Captain ignored other than to smile slightly.  This wasn’t combat, he thought, but, still, it did have an element of adrenaline-pumped excitement. 

More ominously, the Chinese vessel also began transmitting what the Captain assumed was calls for help.  There was a Chinese “Coast Guard” vessel in the area, about 20 nm away.  Help was undoubtedly already on the way.  We’ll deal with that shortly, the Captain thought.  For the moment, though, there was an uncooperative Chinese vessel to move out of the area.

By this time, 10 minutes had passed and Steadfast was in position, upwind of the Chinese vessel, and with her bow pointed in the same direction as the Chinese ship.  At the Captain’s order, the Steadfast moved in on the Chinese ship which was now beginning to move to evade.  Smoke began to pour from exhaust vents situated along the side of the US ship.  The smoke was a tear gas derivative designed to be thick and cloying.  Steadfast began to herd the Chinese ship, matching its maneuvers while maintaining a 20 m offset and staying upwind.  It wasn’t too difficult as the Chinese ship wasn’t built for speed or maneuverability.  This had the effect of keeping the Chinese ship continuously covered in a blanket of tear gas smoke.

The Chinese ship continued to broadcast angry messages and dire threats but to no avail.  After several minutes, the Chinese ship turned directly away from the rocks, bent on their best speed, and began to retire from the area.  Steadfast broke off from the herding exercise and began to circle away.  As the Chinese ship pulled away, the crew could be seen leaning over the rails, vomiting into the ocean.

That had gone well enough, the Captain reflected, but he knew that the main event would come when the Chinese Coast Guard vessel arrived.  About 45 minutes later, the Chinese vessel appeared on the horizon and began broadcasting demands for the American ship to leave the area. 

Steadfast’s Captain immediately replied with another prepared message instructing the Chinese ship to leave the area immediately and stating that there would be no follow up message.  This would be the first and only warning.

Knowing that the warning would be ignored, the Captain put Steadfast on an intercept course.  As the two ships neared each other, the Chinese vessel suddenly veered sharply into the path of the oncoming American, forcing it to abruptly turn away.  That was predictable, the Captain thought and, indeed, he had anticipated it and been prepared to sheer away.

Steadfast, after turning away, used its exceptional maneuverability to come around to a course parallel with the Chinese ship and offset by about 100 m.  Both ships held a steady course for several minutes but, after continued threats from the Chinese which the Captain ignored, the Chinese ship began edging closer – unsafely closer.

“He’s going to bump us,” the Captain announced.  “Sound the collision alarm.”

As the Chinese ship edged even closer and its bow began to swing towards Steadfast, the Captain smiled and muttered to himself, “He’s got a surprise coming.”

The Chinese ship angled towards the US ship, committed now to a bump maneuver. 

“Deploy the starboard spikes!”, the Captain ordered.  Along Steadfast’s side, six giant, solid metal rods, 2 m long and 15 cm thick, and capped with a pointed end, snapped out from their inboard resting cylinders to present a line of sharpened spikes.  Already committed to the bump, the Chinese ship was unable to avoid them.  As the ship’s hulls came together, the spikes, in rapid succession, punctured the Chinese ship’s hull and, because the two ship’s speeds were not identical, the spikes began tearing a horizontal line along the hull as the Chinese ship slipped slightly astern. 

The Chinese ship veered off, pulling free of the spikes and sporting several deep gouges in its side.  They wouldn’t be fatal, by any means, but they weren’t intended to be.

Furious threats came across the airwaves at Steadfast but the Captain simply laughed.  The encounter was developing nicely and he was quite satisfied.

“He’s mad now,” the Captain called.  “Let’s be alert.  He’s going to take his best shot at us, now.”

The Chinese ship, now well clear, began to accelerate to move out in front of Steadfast

“Let’s let him take the lead, if that’s what he wants, and see what he’s got in mind,” the Captain said.

The Chinese ship passed Steadfast, pulled about 60 m directly ahead and then, with no warning, went from full ahead to full astern.  Steadfast would have to react very quickly to avoid a collision.

“All engines ahead full,” the Captain calmly ordered.  “Hold course.”

Instead of veering off, Steadfast accelerated straight for the Chinese ship’s stern.  In moments, Steadfast’s specially armored and reinforced bow sliced into the stern of the Chinese ship, cutting a deep “V” into it and riding up on the vessel’s fantail. 

As Steadfast came to a halt several meters into the Chinese ship’s stern, the Captain ordered full astern and the two ships grindingly and grudgingly separated to the sound of screeching metal.

Steadfast backed away and began to circle around the stricken Chinese vessel, while the Captain ordered the next message which was a very insincere apology for not being able to stop in time in response to the unsafe ship handling of the Chinese.  The message also politely asked if the Chinese needed assistance.

The airwaves rapidly filled with threats from the Chinese which Steadfast’s Captain took to mean that they did not require assistance.

“I think we’ve accomplished our mission, here, for the moment,” the Captain said.  “Let’s head back to our patrol area.”

As Steadfast began to pull away from the Chinese ship, the Chinese bow gun pivoted towards the American ship and a shot fired, missing Steadfast’s bow by no more than 20 m.  Steadfast’s Captain held his breath, waiting to see if the Chinese were going to initiate combat, which he was fully prepared for, or whether the shot was just a petulant parting shot across the bow.  After several seconds without a second shot, the Captain had his answer.  Apparently, the Chinese were simply trying to establish dominance and were not concerned with safety margins in their warning shot across the bow. 

“I guess we’re not quite done,” said the Captain.  “Give me a full volley of Bats.”

A small, 20 cell box launcher erupted with 20 flashes of fire, each two seconds apart.  The projectiles, called Bats, cleared the launcher and small wings deployed converting the objects into miniature UAVs.  The UAV swarm quickly formed and then, as a coordinated group sped towards the Chinese ship at their maximum speed of about 50 kts.  As the UAVs neared the ship, they dove sharply down and, just before impacting the ship, a small warhead burst open, releasing a fist sized glob of thick, extremely sticky gel that, along with the now inert UAVs, impacted across the Chinese ship.  Aside from multiple dented equipment and one unlucky sailor who happened to be in the path of one of the UAVs and suffered a broken arm as he tried to fend off the mini-aircraft, the only other damage was the deposition of 20 globs of gel that were not going to come off without some extraordinary effort.

That, apparently, was enough for the Chinese vessel as it began to limp away at a few knots.

Satisfied, now, that they really had accomplished their mission, the Captain knew that there would be many more encounters to come.  The US had been passive far too long for the Chinese to be thwarted by a single encounter.  Still, it was a start.

Monday, June 27, 2016


There is a persistent misunderstanding about what DOT&E (Director, Operational Test and Evaluation), the Pentagon’s weapon and system test group, is and does.  As incredulous and unbelievable as it seems, there are actually some who view DOT&E as an obstacle or impediment to fielding weapon systems.  This can only stem from a complete failure to understand what DOT&E is and does.  I’ll now make clear what they do.

Let’s start with what DOT&E does not do.

  • They do not approve or disapprove projects, weapons, or systems.  If they did, the F-35 and LCS would have been cancelled long ago! 

  • They do not set criteria or specifications for weapon systems. 

  • They do not decide when a system can be fielded.  The Navy routinely fields systems that have not been completely or successfully evaluated by DOT&E.

Now, what do they do?

At its simplest, DOT&E takes specifications that are established and provided by the Navy and implements test programs to verify that the system under consideration meets those specifications.

This is important enough to say again.  DOT&E takes specifications that are established and provided by the Navy and simply verifies that the system meets those specifications.

Some people believe that DOT&E mandates unnecessary tests and becomes an obstacle to progress.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

How does DOT&E determine what tests are needed and how many?  DOT&E testing, as in industry in general, is based on statistics and experimental design.  There is an entire field of mathematics devoted to figuring out how to set up experiments to obtain the maximum amount of data from the minimum amount of test runs.  I won’t even attempt to describe how this is done.  Suffice it to say that this is pure mathematics.  There is no personal opinion involved.  The experimental design does not care what the designer thinks of the system being tested.  In other words, DOT&E’s opinon, if they even had one about a given system, does not enter into the design of the experiment and has no influence on the type or number of tests required.  See reference (1) for a brief discussion of statistical experimental design.

The biggest obstacle to rapid assessments is the Navy.  The Navy routinely declines to make ships, aircraft, and systems available for timely testing.  Consider the Navy’s habit of putting off shock testing.  If the Navy would simply perform the shock testing with the first of class at the earliest opportunity, the testing would be over and the ship could get on with its service life and deployments.  Instead, for reasons unfathomable to me, the Navy spends more time fighting with DOT&E and trying to delay testing than the time it would take to simply do the testing.  The only explanation I can come up with for the Navy’s reluctance to perform shock testing is that recent ship designs are so structurally weak and poorly designed that the testing will reveal significant weaknesses and problems which will, rightly, make the Navy look bad, so they try to avoid the testing.

Further, the Navy routinely fails to fund the necessary threat surrogates that would conclusively verify weapon and system performance.  The Navy will spend several billion dollars on buying a ship but refuses to spend a hundred thousand dollars or a million dollars on simple, realistic threat surrogates to determine whether that ship can actually perform its duties effectively.  I think, by now, you can reason out the why of the Navy's reluctance to perform realistic testing.

If the Navy had their way, no testing would have been done on the LCS or its modules and we’ve seen how that turned out.  DOT&E is the only thing standing between badly flawed weapons and sailor’s lives.

The Navy’s adversarial relationship with DOT&E is inexplicable.  The Navy should be the strongest supporter of DOT&E since DOT&E is the group that ensures that the Navy will get what it wants in the way of weapon and system performance.  Indeed, the Navy’s history of being cheated and shorted by fraudulent manufacturer’s claims should be all the evidence needed for the Navy to be DOT&E’s most enthusiastic supporter.  Sadly, this is not the case.  The Navy’s reluctance to fund proper testing and perform said testing borders on criminal negligence and incompetence.  The next time we enter high end combat we’re going to look fondly back on the faulty torpedo episode of WWII compared to the failings we’ll find in today’s systems due to the Navy’s unwillingness to embrace proper testing.  Many sailors will pay with their lives for the Navy’s gross negligence.


Brief Background:  DOT&E was established by an act of Congress in 1983.  The organization reports directly to the Secretary of Defense which keeps it out of the chain of command of the services, thus ensuring its independence.  The current Director, Dr. J. Michael Gilmore has served since 2009.  Dr. Gilmore and his group have been nothing short of spectacular in their performance and are the saving grace of a badly flawed military acquisition process.  Countless service members undoubtedly owe their lives to DOT&E.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Torpedo Defense

Many people believe that torpedoes are the biggest threat to surface ships due to their combination of stealth delivery, large warheads, subsurface detonation effects, and the virtual absence of any effective defense.  Tough to argue with that although mines are equally devastating and ballistic missiles, if they hit, would be potent.

So, if torpedoes are such a threat, we must have put a great deal of research and development into anti-torpedo defense (ATD) over the years and we must, by now, have some pretty robust defensive measures in place, right?  Look at the massive effort that has gone into AAW/SAM efforts against cruise and ballistic missiles.  Surely, we must have been equally active and successful in our ATD efforts.  Well, let’s look at the Navy’s current state of the art in ATD.

There are two broad categories of defense, hard kill and soft kill.

Hard Kill

In the early 2000’s, the Navy attempted to develop a hard kill system which used a small, agile torpedo to intercept and kill an incoming torpedo.  From the Navy website comes this description of the Anti-Torpedo Torpedo (ATT) system (1).

“The Navy and Penn State University’s Applied Research Laboratory are also developing an Anti-Torpedo Torpedo (ATT) that could be launched from both submarines and surface ships to intercept and destroy inbound threats. … As currently configured, the 200-pound ATT is 6.75 inches in diameter, 105 inches long, and powered by a stored chemical-energy propulsion system similar to the Navy’s MK 50 torpedo. Advances in electronics miniaturization, significant increases in microprocessor computation rates, and sophisticated processing algorithms have overcome the shortcomings of the previous ATT program, which was cancelled in 1994. A capability to launch multiple ATTs simultaneously to defeat multiple, salvo-fired torpedoes is a required feature. Tests of the ATT have been planned for late 2006.”

The ATT system has apparently now morphed into the Surface Ship Torpedo Defense (SSTD) system with tests having been conducted in June of 2013.  The basic components remain unchanged and include the Nixie towed decoy and detection system, now called the Torpedo Warning System (TWS), and the anti-torpedo torpedo now being called a Counter Anti-Torpedo (CAT).  Additional testing is planned and initial operational capability is planned for 2019 with full fleet-wide adoption by 2035.  According to DOT&E, testing has, thus far, been conducted under fairly benign and unrealistic conditions (2).  Exercises were conducted at much deeper depths than the expected threat torpedoes would operate and the TWS and CAT were not, therefore, tested at the expected operational depth which would include significant surface water effects.

The CAT is an all-up round housed in a canister and ready for launch.  The round is designed for high speed and maneuverability and uses a stored chemical energy propulsion system.  The CAT safety/arming system has, apparently, encountered an unspecified major anomaly that the Navy is still working to overcome.

The overall system was, at one point, designated WSQ-11 (circa 2004) and was tested on USS Cleveland, LPD-7, in Apr 2006. 

Note that the development path has been convoluted and has intermixed with UK efforts, as well.  Some of the designations and incarnations are debatable but, for our purposes, the basic technology is correct.

Soft Kill

Nixie.  The Nixie SLQ-25 torpedo decoy is a towed device that emits acoustic signals intended to decoy and pre-maturely detonate torpedoes.  The device has been in use for decades and more recent versions incorporate add-on torpedo detection sensing devices and enhanced signal generators.  The latest version incorporates active sonar sensing.  Defense Industry Daily website reported a 2005 contract for 3 SLQ-25 sets for around $7M each.  A more recent order for 5 SLQ-25C systems was placed for a little over $1M each.  It is not clear whether that was for complete systems or just the decoy emitter, itself.

Of course, the Russian Type 53-65 torpedoes are wake homing and are not susceptible to acoustic decoys like Nixie.  Further, wire guided torpedoes are far less susceptible to decoys as the base submarine is able to use its more extensive and capable targeting capability.

A roughly equivalent system apparently exists in the Royal Navy as S2170 and is also known as Sea Sentor.

Submarine Decoys and Noisemakers.  Submarines employ various acoustic decoys such as Ultra Electronics Mk 2/3/4 Acoustic Device Countermeasures (ADC) which is a 3” or 6.25” diameter expendable acoustic decoy.

The old Mk 57 Mobile Submarine Simulator (MOSS) was a 10 inch diameter, mobile decoy that was launched from a torpedo tube.  MOSS has since been replaced by the six inch EX-10 Mobile Multi-function Device (MMD), which can be fired from a countermeasures tube.

LCS Multi Function Towed Array (MFTA).  The SQR-20 (now TB-37U) MFTA is a long 3″ diameter towed array for surface ships.  It has both active and passive sonar capabilities and is claimed to have improved better coverage, detection capability, and reliability than the SQR-19 TACTAS and includes a torpedo detection capability.  This is not actually an anti-torpedo system since it is not currently coupled to any defense mechanism.  It is a detection system, only.

A May 2015 contract for seven MFTAs was issued at around $4M per system.

A Light Weight Tow (LWT) Torpedo Decoy for LCS functions similar to a Nixie.  There have been claims that it is effective against wake-homing torpedoes although I have been unable to authoritatively confirm this and the mechanism for such a capability escapes me.

So there you have it.  That’s about the state of the art in ATD.  Not very impressive for all the years that we’ve had to work on it and the enormous destructive potential of the torpedo threat.  As with mines, the Navy seems to have largely ignored the threat in favor of building shiny new ships.

So, what could be done in the way of future ATD?  Here’s some ideas, unbounded by physics or reality.  Honestly, the liquid phase (water) physics are poorly understood by most of us so some of these ideas may be completely unfeasible.  Still, they’re worth a bit of thought!

  • Enhanced Decoys – mobile decoys already exist and are used by submarines.  There’s no reason why mobile decoys couldn’t be adapted to surface ships.  They would be launched from ejector ports just above, or under, the surface.

  • Torpedo Belts/Bulges – These were effective in WWII and can be today.  Today’s threat is the under-the-keel explosion but there is no reason why the belt/bulge can’t be extended around the keel.  Similarly, collapsible voids and shock absorbing plates would seem viable.  There is much that naval engineers can learn from land vehicles about absorbing shock energies.  Vehicle designers have learned how to absorb and redirect the explosive energy from IEDs and mines from beneath the vehicle.  There’s no reason similar technologies couldn’t be applied to ships.  Remember, while it would be nice if a torpedo belt or similar structure could completely shrug off a torpedo’s effect, that’s not really the goal.  The goal of such armor and structure is to mitigate the effects of a torpedo explosion.
Torpedo Belt / Bulge

  • Anti-Torpedo ASROC / SAM – Borrowing from the old ASROC concept, how about launching a rocket borne anti-torpedo torpedo to an intercept point far from the ship.  The distance would allow multiple intercept attempts just like the SAM AAW concept.

  • Super Cavitation Darts – Super cavitation allows torpedoes to achieve very high speeds of 100-200 kts.  Why not apply the principle to small “darts” that contain only a sensor head and explosive warhead?  The ship’s launch mechanism would impart all the speed necessary for intercept and the dart would have no need for an engine or fuel.  This would be a great application for a very small rail gun.  In any event, the darts would be launched at an intercept point and the dart’s small sensor/fuze would detonate the warhead if the torpedo were detected.  The main question would be what range could be achieved before the dart slowed to a stop.
Super Cavitating Dart

  • CIWS/RBU – The RBU is the old Soviet anti-submarine rocket launcher.  It’s somewhat analogous to the old US Hedgehog system.  If that were combined with a CIWS type system, it could launch a “wall” of exploding rockets on or just in front of the torpedo.  The CIWS aspect would guide the fall of rockets to meet the torpedo just as it guides the shells to meet the target aircraft or missile.  The system would depend on sheer volume of exploding rockets to destroy the incoming torpedo.
RBU ASW Rocket Launcher

As I said, some of these ideas will probably not be viable but they're worthwhile starting points for development of new anti-torpedo technologies.

Given the seriousness of the threat, the Navy needs to be equally serious about countermeasures.  It's baffling that ATD has been ignored the way it has.  We need to quit obsessing over new ships and start protecting the ones we have.


(2)DOT&E, 2013 Annual Report

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Upgrade Versus New Design Example

Many discussions about aircraft, in general, and the F-35, in particular, wind up debating the merits of upgrades to existing aircraft versus new designs.  People wind up throwing around claims, for and against each option, with little data or facts to back them up.

For example, here’s a collection of reasons why we “can’t” upgrade existing aircraft.

  • It would take just as long to do a major upgrade as to design a new aircraft.
  • Upgrades won’t be as effective as a new design.
  • It would cost as much to do an upgrade as a new design, if not more.
  • We need to do new designs to support the industrial base.

What data is there that supports or refutes upgrades versus new designs?  Well, there’s not a lot of directly comparable data and what there is, is often subject to interpretation.  There is, however, one directly comparable, contemporary case study for us to look at:  the F-18 upgrade from the Hornet to the Super Hornet versus the new design F-35.

For starters, both actually happened and they occurred at about the same time.  Here’s a quick review of the chronology.

Super Hornet F-35
Contract Award 1992 1996
First Flight 1995 2006
Low Rate Production 1997 2007
Full Production 1997 waiting
Entered Fleet 2000 waiting

The Super Hornet entered the fleet 8 years from contract award and has been serving on the front line of carrier aviation for the subsequent 16 years. 

In contrast, after 8 years, the F-35 was still a couple of years away from its first flight and has yet to enter the fleet, 20 years after contract award!  It’s 20 years since contract award and we have yet to get any service from the F-35.

During those 20 years, and counting, the Hornet has evolved, gained capabilities, provided actual service, and an even more advanced design, the Advanced Super Hornet, has been developed by the manufacturer without cost to the taxpayer.  Even better, the Hornet accomplished all this at a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of the F-35. 

In short, the Hornet has dropped bombs in combat.  The F-35 has simply bombed.

What is it that we’re waiting for from the F-35 that is supposed to make it so special?  Apparently, it’s the 360 degree sensing.  Had that been implemented and in operation 15 years ago, it might well have been special for that time.  Today, though, retrofits, add-ons, and pods are providing every aircraft with that capability to greater or lesser degrees.  In fact, the F-35’s EO/IR sensing is now considered to be behind the technology curve and will be solidly mediocre by the time the aircraft enters service in another five years or so (if then!).  This is what happens when a design, however good, takes 20-25 years to implement.  What was cutting edge technology when the design was first envisioned becomes pedestrian over [extended] developmental time.

What will be the result of the F-35 program when it eventually enters service?  The result will be an aircraft that is behind the technology curve, is matched or exceeded by enemy aircraft, is an ill fit for the intended mission (for the Navy, at any rate), and is rapidly approaching obsolescence.  The Navy is already looking for alternatives and the Air Force is already pushing the next generation aircraft. 

The F-35’s time came and went while it languished in development.

This is a clear case of the upgrade having proven to be the far superior path.  The latest Super Hornet provides 80% or so of the F-35’s theoretical capabilities and it’s been in service for 16 years.  I’d much rather have 80%, in service for 16 years than 100%, in service for zero years.

We talk about perfect being the enemy of good enough.  These two aircraft make up the poster for that saying.

This also illustrates quite clearly the wisdom of restricting non-existent technology development to the R&D realm.  Had we concentrated on the Super Hornet upgrade path and restricted the F-35 to R&D, we would have saved enormous sums of money, had an even more functional Super Hornet, and still could have had the F-35 if it ever pans out or we would have been willing to cancel the F-35 because it would have been just another R&D program that didn’t work out rather than a world wide jobs program that became too big to fail.

This kind of common sense wisdom is painfully obvious to most of us and it really speaks poorly of Navy leadership who not only made bad decisions but, unbelievably, continue to make the same bad decisions over and over again, in the face of all evidence that the decisions are wrong, regarding concurrency in production and the dependence on non-existent technology as the foundation of a production program.  Navy leadership is proving, on a daily basis, that they are truly incompetent on a scale that defies belief.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Our Networks Will Work - For 13 Minutes

This is slightly off topic but it’s too good to pass up.  The Pentagon apparently hosted a “Hack the Pentagon” event in which friendly hackers were invited to attempt to hack certain Pentagon computers and networks.  Hackers who successfully found vulnerabilities would be paid a bounty.

“Within 13 minutes of launching the first U.S. Government commercial bug bounty program we had our first submission. Just six hours later, that number grew to nearly 200. Hack the Pentagon shattered initial expectations for participation and vulnerability report submissions. By its end, more than 1,400 hackers were accepted to the program, and in total 138 [unique] valid bugs were resolved in Pentagon’s systems.” (1)

In total, 1189 bug reports were submitted with 138 being verified as unique.  The Pentagon paid out over $72,000 in bounties to 58 hackers as a reward for their efforts.

So, 1400 hackers found 138 holes in the Pentagon’s network security in just a matter of minutes and hours?  So what will Chinese, Russian, and NKorean military professional hackers be able to do by working full time on hacking Pentagon networks and with the resources of entire countries to back them up?  A lot more I would imagine!

I heartily applaud this effort by the Pentagon to find and fix network vulnerabilities but I really have to question the wisdom of basing our entire Third Offset Strategy on networks of various types.  It seems foolish in the extreme.  There is no such thing as a secure network.


(1)hackerone blog website, “What Was It Like To Hack the Pentagon?”, Marten Mickos, 17-Jun-2016,

Rail Gun Projectile Cost

Wait, what now?  I thought the rail gun was supposed to be able to fire rocks that cost pennies apiece?  Now we’re being told that the rail gun projectiles, filled with tungsten pellets, will cost $25,000 - $50,000 each (1).

One of the selling points of the rail gun was that the projectiles would be much cheaper than any existing munition because the projectile would be an inert lump.  Now, it seems that’s not the case

We’ve already talked about the limitations of a rail gun, chief of which is that it doesn’t explode which makes it useless as an area bombardment weapon.  It’s limited to pinpoint impact on fixed targets.

A second limitation is that the projectiles are unguided although a guidance package is being studied.  Thus, the projectile can’t track moving targets and can’t accept laser guidance.  The targets must be fixed and the co-ordinates known.

Now, we have another limitation and that is munition cost.  At $50,000 per projectile (it’s always the higher cost and you can safely assume that cost will go even higher) we can’t just go flinging these things around.

Could it be that rail guns not quite the miracle we were led to believe?


(1)Wall Street Journal website, “Faster Than a Speeding Bullet - A First Look At America’s Supergun”, Julian Barnes, 30-May-2016,

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The End Of The Marines

The Few.  The Proud.  The Marines.

An elite fighting force that only wants the toughest and best fighting men.  Their recruitment advertising basically said that they didn’t want you because you probably weren’t tough enough for them.  Their reputation was legendary and well earned.

And then they accepted women. 

And now they’re placing women in combat units. 

So much for the Marine Corps’ reputation.  You can’t claim to be the best, now, can you?  Even the Marines admit they’re just going to be average.

“The [gender equity] trainers often ask him [Lt. Col. Larry Coleman, integration branch head with Manpower Plans and Policies] why the service is opening all combat jobs to women if mixed-gender teams did not perform as well as their all-male counterparts during the service's Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force experiment.

“We tell them that, yes, the majority of the tasks they performed at a lower level; however, their performance was not unsatisfactory,” Coleman said. “Their performance and the attacks that they executed were not failures. They just were potentially slower, maybe it was less accurate – whatever the metric that was being used for that particular task.” (1)

Well, there you have it in a nutshell.  The Marines are now content to be “not failures” and “not unsatisfactory”.  Wow.  That’s a high bar to meet, huh?.  Not unsatisfactory.  Few people can rise to the level of not unsatisfactory.  Will medal citations now include the phrase “not unsatisfactory”?  Will our next generation of heroes be not unsatisfactory?

A proud fighting force brought down.  Not by the Chinese or Russians but by social engineering.  Someday I’ll tell my kids about things they’ve never seen and probably don’t believe ever existed like rotary dial phones, record players, floppy discs, and Devil Dogs. 

It’s getting harder and harder to see what the Marines bring to the table that the Army and Air Force don’t already have.  This is really sad.

The Commonplace.  The Not Unsatisfactory.  The Marines.


(1)Marine Corps Times website, “All Marines to undergo 2-day training as women join combat units”, Jeff Schogol, June 16, 2016,

A Lesson In Complexity

The Soviet Union was often criticized for having less technologically advanced weapons and systems than the US.  There were various reasons for this including less skilled maintenance personnel, poorer quality control in manufacturing, looser tolerances in design specifications, and, perhaps, a conscious desire to make systems more rugged.  In any event, the result was systems that were less finicky and better able to tolerate the dirty conditions of combat.  It was said that the Soviet aircraft engines didn’t care about foreign object (FOD) ingestion whereas US carriers are constantly conducting FOD walkdowns looking for the tiniest piece of debris that could destroy an entire engine in an instant.  Similarly, the iconic AK-47 is said to be impervious to mud, water, snow, or whatever whereas US rifles have, historically, needed to be meticulously cleaned and cared for.

As a general statement, complex systems are harder to construct, cost more to build, need more maintenance, require better trained personnel to maintain and operate, are more prone to breakdowns, are harder to repair, and less likely to be maintainable in combat.  The other side of the coin is that they offer greater capabilities. 

The trick in system design is to balance capability against maintainability.  It does no good to have the most advanced system in the world if it can’t be kept running.  Conversely, it does no good to have an utterly reliable system that is so lacking in capability that it adds nothing to combat capability.

The US has opted for the far, advanced end of the technology spectrum with systems that are mind bogglingly complex and often have poor reliability.  The Navy’s Aegis system is an example of this.  It offers stunning capability but suffers from fleet-wide degradation.  The F-22 is exceedingly complex and has great theoretical capabilities but the availabilities are around 60% and the goal is only around 70% or so.  Further, the aircraft has oxygen supply/contamination problems that have proven unsolvable, as yet.

So much for a general discussion.  Let’s look at a recent specific example.  The LCS uses a very complex propulsion system that utilizes both gas turbines and diesel engines to power water jets.  The selection and routing of the power source is regulated through a complex set of combining gears and accompanying lube oil system that has proven to be quite prone to breakdowns.  The most recent casualty due to this highly complex system is the USS Fort Worth which destroyed its combining gear in an in-port accident while conducting maintenance.  The ship is returning to the US for several months of repairs.

Is the turbine/diesel combination system with a very complex combining gear worth the gain in cost/performance?  The evidence thus far would suggest not.

If a system can’t operate reliably, can’t be easily maintained, and can’t be easily repaired then it’s not really a good choice for a combat system, is it?

Regardless of the rationale, the Soviets had the foundation of a better system that was based on simpler, more rugged designs that could stand up to the stress of combat. 

Do you recall what happened to the USS Port Royal (Aegis cruiser) when it gently nosed aground?  A WWII ship would have gently reversed engines and continued on its way, no worse for the wear.  Port Royal, in contrast, suffered apparently permanent damage to the radar arrays and VLS cells due misalignment from the gentle rocking of the ship while it was grounded.  Remember that the Navy tried to early retire Port Royal despite it being the newest Aegis cruiser and one of the ballistic missile defense-capable (BMD) ones.  That tells you everything you need to know about the severity of the damage the ship suffered.  Imagine what will happen to an Aegis cruiser that suffers an actual missile, bomb, mine, or torpedo hit and the ship is whipsawed violently.  An Aegis cruiser is a one hit mission kill waiting to happen.  The lesson is simple.  Complex systems can’t be maintained or repaired and certainly not during combat.  Would you rather have an old fashioned rotating radar that is rugged and might be repairable during combat or an Aegis system that is degraded going into combat, can’t tolerate any vibration, and can’t be maintained aboard ship?  Tough choice, huh?

We need to stop choosing the most complex, most delicate systems and start trying to balance capability and complexity.  A system that is simpler than the LCS combining gear would prove far better in the long run.  Who cares about a little fuel efficiency?  In combat, we should care about reliability.  A radar system that offers reasonable performance and rugged reliability would prove far better in the long run. 

The first combat design goal should be ruggedness and ease of maintenance.  Actual performance, oddly, is a secondary, though important, goal.  We need to find the proper balance point and, right now, it’s not where we’re currently designing!

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Past Is Prologue

The science fiction classic, Dune, set in a far distant future with weapons of unimaginable power, hypothesized a personal force field so effective that it forced a return to primitive knives and swords for combat (yeah, I’m glossing over a lot of stuff in the book but it serves to make the point).  ComNavOps has previously suggested that future naval combat with all its vast networks, omni-present sensors, data sharing, long range missiles, etc., will all too often devolve into WWII style gun battles.  Battles for which neither we nor our enemies are well prepared given that modern ships lack large caliber guns and armor.  To say that readers have been skeptical of this belief is to put it mildly.  That’s okay.  My purpose is to offer data and conclusions that are logical regardless of whether readers agree with them.  I’ll let my record of predictions stand for itself.

So, is ComNavOps alone in the belief that future warfare will devolve into more basic, primitive modes despite all our wonder-tech?  Well, the Army, at least, seems to be coming around to my way of thinking.

The Army desperately wants to regain relevance in the face of the Pacific Pivot’s seeming lack of use for ground forces (Russia, however, is making the Army relevant at a furious pace!).  One way to do that is to be able to provide long range, land based strike and anti-air weaponry.  Breaking Defense website offers an article on this Army vision (1).

“The crucial element of this vision isn’t any specific missile, McMaster said, but the joint network that connects the different services so they can assist each other.”

The goal is a network so flexible and all-encompassing that, for example, a US or allied aircraft can spot an enemy ship, then pass the targeting information to a land-based missile battery to sink it.”

However, as we’ve often pointed out, belief that our networks, distributed sensors, and data sharing will function flawlessly and seamlessly in an electromagnetically contested environment is foolish, at best.  As Breaking Defense says,

“In such a conflict, of course, the invisible war of electrons to deceive sensors, jam transmissions and to hack computers is at least as important as the physical battle. You can’t count on your network always working against a sophisticated adversary …”

Even upper levels of the civilian military leadership seem to be grasping at least a little of this.

“So our networks must be designed to degrade gracefully, Work [Deputy Secretary of Defense, Robert Work] said, and our minds must be able to cope with losing them. Local commanders must be ready to fight in the dark on their own initiative, guided by a common understanding of the mission and a deep trust in their comrades. “You can configure your network in different ways,” he said, “but you have to be ready for the network to kind of disassemble, and then people to operate on a local level.”

So, DepSecDef Work recognizes that our networks are vulnerable and we must be prepared to revert to basic, close up combat.  Of course, that leads one to question why we’re basing our entire Third Offset Strategy on exactly that belief in flawlessly functioning networks, data sharing, unmanned vehicles, and autonomous weapons but, I digress ...  The point is that the Army and senior military leadership can see the possibility (I call it a certainty) that combat will devolve to local levels, divorced from the grand, all-seeing, all-controlling network of co-ordinated, precision fires that we like to believe we will have.

Are we ready for such devolved combat?

“Right now, we’re not ready for such scenarios, McMaster [Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster] made clear. ‘We’ve developed systems that are exquisite and could be prone to catastrophic failures’ instead of degrading gracefully, he said. The fragility and complexity of existing networks is such, he added to rueful laughter, that some of them don’t need an enemy to break them. They just go down in day-to-day operations without facing hostile action of any kind.”

And yet we’re basing out entire Third Offset Strategy on these networks???  But, I digress …

Is that the limit of the devolution of combat?  No …

“ ‘Many existing systems also broadcast continually in all directions at high power, he [McMaster] said. Against a sophisticated enemy, that’s basically putting up big flashing neon arrows labeled “WE ARE HERE.” We need to relearn techniques for concealment, camouflage, and deception — in the visual, infra-red, and radio frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum — that our adversaries have been refining for years.

McMaster warned that, ‘our enemies have become more and more elusive, and we’ve become almost transparent.’ “

So, we need to relearn the age old basic techniques of warfare like concealment, camouflage, and deception. 

So, our networks are vulnerable?  I’d like further proof, please.  OK …

“Inspired in large part by Russian successes against Ukraine, McMaster said, ‘we’re doing a vulnerability assessment on our force. What are we vulnerable to? — (and) topping that list is cyber and electronic warfare.’

That vulnerability means you can never be sure your sensors won’t be blinded or your intelligence deceived — which means, in turn, that your long-range precision-guided weapons will sometimes go to precisely the wrong place. Then you need to send in the ground troops to ‘develop situational awareness in close contact with the enemy [and] the population,’ McMaster said. Even with the most advanced long-range technology, he said, at some point, ‘you’ll probably have a close fight.’ “

So, the Army sees a vulnerability in our dependence on networks, intricate sensors, data sharing, and so forth?  Isn’t that what ComNavOps has been preaching for years?

You caught the part about, “… at some point, ‘you’ll probably have a close fight’”?  For all our standoff, precision fires, Gen. McMaster believes we’ll wind up having close up battles?  Shades of WWII !!!

Having established that the Army believes it likely that we’ll lose our grand networks when combat starts – so why are we basing our Third Offset Strategy on networks? – we can pretty reasonably extrapolate that the Navy will also lose their networks, data sharing, co-operative engagement, distributed sensors, etc. which means that the Navy will find itself fighting much like our WWII fathers did:  mostly blind with only short range sensing and awareness.  Opposing naval forces will literally stumble upon each other at shockingly close range (remember to factor in IFF issues when your situational awareness only extends to the horizon).  Missiles will be spoofed by ECM.  Missile guidance signals will be disrupted.  In short order, the opposing forces will be within gun range and the result will be a WWII-style naval gun battle.  That’s a battle that the US Navy is ill-equipped to wage.

The Future Of Naval Warfare?

There’s nothing wrong with having missiles and networks and data sharing and co-operative engagement.  Hey, it may work some of the time!  However, we should be prepared for the inevitable high tech failure and have a basic, low end combat capability to back it up.  We need to re-equip our ships with larger caliber guns, heavy torpedoes, and armor.  We need to be able to wage a gun battle and win.

The Army agrees with me.  Now, I just need to get the Navy on board.


(1) Breaking Defense website, “What Lessons Do China’s Island Bases Offer The US Army?, Sydney Freedberg Jr., 5-May-2016,