Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Marine Corps in Desert Storm - The Great Diversion

In the 1991 Desert Storm campaign, the Marines threatened, but did not conduct, an amphibious assault.  Their efforts created a diversion that tied up large numbers of Iraqi troops (60,000 – 80,000 depending on the source) defending against an assault that never materialized.  This reduced the numbers that the Coalition faced during the actual ground assault.  Most people believe that the diversion was a brilliant example of the value of amphibious forces.  To some extent, that’s true, however, in this case, the diversion was never a serious, viable threat due to the presence of mines.

“At the inception of Operation Desert Storm, it was unlikely that amphibious operations would take place, because of the minefields that lay along the Kuwaiti and Iraqi coast, and the threat posed by Iraqi antiship-missile capabilities.” (1)

Coalition planners did, indeed, consider the possibility of an amphibious assault with the goal of seizing the port at Ash Shuaybah, on the Kuwaiti coast.  However, when the Tripoli (LPH-10) and the Princeton (CG-59) struck mines on 18 February 1991, any thought of an actual assault was abandoned.  The U.S. and Coalition lacked the capacity to clear mines in a combat assault scenario.

“The force planners estimated any assault would need ten days of concentrated mine clearance to clear a path and three to five days of naval gunfire support to clear Iraqi beach defences. Air strikes and naval gunfire would also have to be used while the mines that were within range of Iraqi artillery were cleared. Before then, the amphibious force would have to stay over 70 miles from the coast.” (2)

Ten days to clear a path for an amphibious assault – and this did not include clearance of the more widespread minefields that prevented the amphibious ships from even reaching the area – as Tripoli and Princeton found out.

Had Saddam Hussein realized this, and he should have, he could have dismissed the amphibious possibility as the non-existent threat that it was.  However, no one ever accused Hussein of being a strategic or operational genius and he treated the non-existent threat as real.  Of course, in the end, it made no difference either way.

The salient point from this is that the presence of mines completely removed the realistic possibility of amphibious assault from the operational table.  Not only has nothing changed today but our mine countermeasures (MCM) capability has atrophied even further.  We have no realistic possibility of conducting amphibious assaults or port seizures when mines are present.  Given the vast inventories of mines possessed by all our likely enemies, those enemies are effectively immune from amphibious assault. 

The Marines and Navy can talk all they want about amphibious assault but until they begin to acquire the basic, non-glamorous capabilities like MCM, naval fire support, C-RAM, functional first wave connectors, etc., amphibious assault will remain just talk.


(1)United States Naval Institute Proceedings magazine, “Marine Amphibious Force Operations in the Persian Gulf War”, 2nd Lt. Michael Russ, USMC, July 1997, Vol 123/7

(2)History of War website,

Monday, December 11, 2017

Zumwalt Power Casualty

I thought the Zumwalt class was supposed to be the ultimate in electrical and propulsion technology and combat resilience insofar as power was concerned.  The ship is supposed to be able to cross-connect any power source to any powered equipment, including propulsion, and to be able to do so via an infinite number of redundant, cross-connected cabling.  In short, this ship was supposed to be immune to power outages and highly resistance to combat damage to its electrical, power, and propulsion systems.  That makes the following announcement quite disturbing. (1)

“The second stealthy destroyer being built for the U.S. Navy cut short its first sea trials because an equipment failure prevented testing of propulsion and electrical systems under full power, officials said Friday.

“The Monsoor’s problem was electrical in nature, with the loss of an induction coil causing the failure of another system.

So, the Monsoor experienced a major power problem on its first trial?  What does that say about the class’ ability to absorb battle damage?  This was the ship that was supposed to have unlimited and “unbreakable” electrical/power systems.  Any electrical casualty was supposed to be able to be bypassed, rerouted, and resupplied from other electrical sources.  Apparently, that’s not quite working out.

I have no particular problem with issues arising during trials – that’s what they’re for! - but, this was supposed to be this class’ strength.  This was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the resilience and flexibility of the ship and it failed.

I also note that almost every new ship over the last several years has experienced serious power failures during trials and initial operations.  Almost all of the LCS’s have had major power problems.  The Ford was delivered with a major power casualty unresolved.  Now the Zumwalts (Zumwalt, itself, suffered propulsion failures due to seawater in the lubricating oil).  What’s going on?


(1)Navy Times website, “Equipment failure cuts short stealthy destroyer sea trials”, Associated Press, 10-Dec-2017,

What Have I Been Saying?

ComNavOps has been harping relentlessly on the theme that the Navy has lost its warfighting mentality and capability, that we no longer train effectively for warfighting 

And now, here’s proof from some former ship captains and former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work as described in a Breaking Defense article (1).

“The fleet, argues former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, is demonstrating presence at the expense of training for high-intensity warfighting.”

The Navy’s mission is warfighting, not presence and DepSecDef Work is confirming that the Navy has lost its warfighting focus, just as ComNavOps has been saying all along.

“When officers join the Naval War College’s elite Halsey Group that studies high intensity warfighting, Work said, they need remedial briefings on the full capabilities of the very systems they’ve been using at sea.”

Remedial briefings on the systems they’ve been using and are supposedly proficient with?!  That’s more proof of loss of focus.

ComNavOps has also harped on the unrealistic and nearly worthless training that the Navy provides.  Well, here’s a former ship captain’s take on that.

“Every time a ship gets prepared to do a SM-3 shot, quite literally, a team of rocket scientists comes on board and they groom the system,” Eyer [retired Capt. Kevin Eyer, former skipper of the cruisers Shiloh, Chancellorsville, and Thomas Gates] said.”

Where’s the value in having a team of experts come on board and prepare a ship for a test?  What does that tell us about the state of the weapon system or the crew’s training?  Nothing!  That team of experts is not going to be on board when war comes.

More on unrealistic training from Capt. Gerry Roncolato, who commanded the destroyer Sullivans and Destroyer Squadron 26.

“… when was the last time we had an unconstrained ASW exercise, (where) you go with an unalerted sub, an unalerted surface ship, you’re given a mission, you can fire as many torpedoes as you have, you have to win. We don’t do that.”

“Same thing goes for air defense exercise that is unconstrained and unalerted — we don’t do it,”

You’ll recall that I’ve described the fleet wide degradation of the Aegis system?  Here’s part of the reason why.

“The Navy used to have a special Aegis training command to help sailors learn how to get the most out of the complex system, recalled retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly. That command is gone now, and key training for the task has been truncated.”

ComNavOps has called for greater live fire exercises.

“Live-fire training has also been cut back, Daly said … We’ve done things in the fleet like eliminate the proficiency missile firings.”

Loss of focus on the main mission is further addressed by Work.

“Since 1991, Work said, the Department of Defense evolved into a “Department of Shaping,” more concerned with “shaping” the environment to avoid a war than preparing to fight a war.”

There’s nothing wrong with trying to prevent a war but not at the expense of being prepared to fight one because, ultimately, wars start despite our best efforts to avoid them.  Germany and Japan didn’t care about our peace efforts and Russia and China are shaping up to be the same.  We can promote peace but we’d better be prepared for war – and we’re not.

Work goes on to nicely sum up,

“All ready forces were committed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or counterterrorism and partnership exercises around the world, with no surge force in reserve and ready to react instantly to aggression.

“We could accept that in a period with no great power competition,” Work said, but not now. “In this period of time, we have to rededicate ourselves to (being) a warfighting navy.”

ComNavOps has a very low opinion of Mr. Work but, on this topic, he’s correct.  We have little or no surge capability to respond to a sudden need with.  If China were to take advantage of our situation we’d have no way to stop them.  What are we going to do, send 7th fleet ships that can’t even navigate?

We’ve given up our surge capacity to support highly questionable active deployments.  Worse, our supposed surge units have cross-decked personnel and equipment/aircraft to deploying ships just to meet immediate needs.  Our surge personnel, equipment, and aircraft are already “surged”.  There’s little left at home and none of it’s surge capable.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “US Navy Is NOT Ready For Major War: Ex-Skippers, Bob Work”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 5-Dec-2017,

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Chinese Navy Live Fire Exercise

ComNavOps has long argued for much more realistic training and live fire exercises than the Navy currently does.  The U.S. Navy has not listened but the Chinese may have.  From the China Defense Blog comes this description of a Chinese Navy live fire exercise involving 40 ships that sounds much more realistic and challenging than our own. (1)

“According to Chen [Chen Shengqi, staff officer at the staff department of the PLA Navy], the participating vessels were randomly selected from the three fleets of the PLA Navy. They had to continuously fight against multiple targets at ultra-low altitude, judge the air defense effects by themselves, and organize intercept operation again based on the actual situation.

”The assessment yielded concrete results and also revealed some problems of the commanders' judgment on battlefield status and of the sailors' skills in operating weapon and equipment," said Cheng Dewei, deputy director of a bureau of the PLA Navy's staff department.”

Yes, Chinese statements must be viewed with suspicion but the bulk of routine naval and military announcements have proven to be fairly accurate and I accept this at face value with the caveat of language differences which, despite translation, may have different meanings.

The exercise appears to be much less scripted than our own.

If the exercise involved 40 ships and they all fired missiles, the Chinese are launching many more missiles than we are! 

The Chinese appear to be training harder and better than we are.


(1)China Defense Blog, “PLAN conducts a 40-warship drill near North Korea”, 8-Dec-2017,

Friday, December 8, 2017

F-35B Landing Considerations

Here’s a little more information relevant to those hidden, secret bases deep inside enemy territory that F-35Bs will supposedly use to wreak havoc on the enemy from within.  We all understand that Harriers and F-35Bs are not really vertical takeoff aircraft, at least not with any useful range and payload.  They require a rolling takeoff.  According to Aviation Week website (1), the runway needs to be 3000 ft long.

“… the Pentagon bought the F-35B for two reasons: it can land on an LHA/LHD-class amphibious warfare ship, and it can operate from an improvised forward operating location (FOL), created around a 3,000-ft. runway.”

A 3000 ft runway hardly supports the concept of a secret base “carved out” of enemy territory and hidden from the enemy.  I don’t think any enemy is going to have trouble spotting a 3000 ft runway in its territory!

The problems extend beyond the mere size of the runway.  The heat from the downward directed exhaust is immense and melts or tears up normal runways.

“The main engine exhaust, the engineers said, was hot and energetic enough to have a 50% chance of spalling concrete on the first VL [vertical landing]. “Spalling” occurs when water in the concrete boils faster than it can escape, and steam blows flakes away from the surface.”

“And what Navfac calls “standard airfield concrete” is military-grade, made with aggregate and Portland cement. Many runways are built with asphaltic concrete—aggregate in a bitumen binder—which softens and melts under heat.”

There are solutions.  Protective pads can be used.

“At the Navy’s Patuxent River, Md., flight-test center, F-35Bs perform VLs on a pad of AM-2 aluminum matting, protecting the concrete from heat and blast.”

“The Marines could use AM-2 landing pads. But AM-2 is not a friend to the agility that justifies the F-35B over other forms of expeditionary airpower. An Air Force study calls it “slow to install, difficult to repair, [with] very poor air-transport-ability characteristics.” A single 100 X 100-ft. VL pad weighs around 30 tons and comprises 400 pieces, each individually installed by two people.”

AM-2 Runway Under Construction

Rolling takeoffs and landings can spread the heat and blast load somewhat but comes at the expense of requiring longer runways.  A recent comment suggested the use of barges to act as refueling pads for F-35Bs.  This would be problematic in terms of physical damage to the barge although it is undoubtedly possible to protect the barge sufficiently to allow such operations.  The bigger problem is that a true vertical takeoff from a barge would limit the aircraft to very small fuel and payload weights – an unacceptable and useless scenario.

We see these same concerns even in the attempt to use the F-35B on amphibious ships – ships designed for vertical and short takeoff  and vertical landing operations (VTOL/STVOL) and helo/Harrier operations.  Our entire amphibious fleet has to be modified to handle the added heat from the F-35B exhaust.  It was originally assumed that the F-35B could land anywhere a Harrier could but, like so many aspects of the F-35 program, that turned out to be a false assumption.

“Lewis [Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy (OPNAV N3/N5)] added that the amphibious assault ships are spending more time in maintenance than planned due to the F-35B LIghting II Joint Strike Fighter interoperability upgrades taking more time than anticipated. The upgrade is meant to boost the ships’ computers and communications to keep up with the sophisticated new fighter, and to strengthen the flight deck to withstand the extreme heat of the exhaust in the vertical-landing jet.” (2)

All of these landing concerns and requirements are proof that the concept of basing F-35B’s on unimproved landing strips hacked out of the jungle and a complete and utter fantasy even neglecting the unsustainable logistical aspects.

All you “jungle flyers” out there …  let it go.  Your fantasy is just that.


(1)Aviation Week website, “Opinion: F-35B Vertical Landings In Doubt For U.K.”, Bill Sweetman, 26-May-2014,

(2)USNI News website, “Exacerbating Shortfall in Available Ships for Marines’ At-Sea Training”, Megan Eckstein, 1-Dec-2017,

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Forged By The Sea

Forged By The Sea.

The new Navy slogan. 

Pure marketing bilgewater. 

Yes, it’s probably better than “A Global Force For Good”, which sounded like the Peace Corps, but it’s still worthless.  Why is it worthless?  Because it doesn’t reflect any core value of the Navy.

The Marines used to have this right with their “The Few, The Proud, The Marines”.  That reflected their core belief, and actuality, that they were an elite fighting organization and that ethos not only supplied the slogan but it transcended petty concerns like marketing.  Marketing???  That’s hilarious.  The Marines not only didn’t care whether they appealed to a mass market of recruits, they actively discouraged potential recruits and stated that they didn’t think any potential recruit was good enough or tough enough to be a Marine.  As is true with human nature, the Marine’s very exclusivity and disdain for the average potential recruit ensured that they would attract the best and toughest potential recruits – those who relished a challenge and were determined to prove themselves worthy of being one of the very best.

Of course, sadly, the Marines have now abandoned their core.

The Navy’s new slogan is just a marketing jingle.  It has no underlying meaning or value.  It doesn’t relate to any core Navy value because, frankly, the Navy has no worthwhile core values at this time.  Fat Leonard, surrendering to Iranians, ceding the South China Sea without contest, whining to Congress, lying about the LCS, waiving required basic seamanship certifications – these are the “values” that the Navy espouses now.

It doesn’t matter how brilliant or relatable or catchy or memorable or inspiring the Navy’s new slogan is because it has no meaning.

Ironically, "forged" also means to copy fraudulently or to fake.  Apropos, wouldn't you say?

The Navy hired a marketing firm to develop this slogan and paid a great deal of money for someone to write a slogan for them.  Hey Navy, establish some core values and the slogan will write itself.  Live some core values and you won't have to recruit, the recruits will come to you begging to be allowed in.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Henderson Field

A recent article about the Marines, sea control, and HIMARS cited Henderson Field (Guadalcanal – WWII Solomons campaign) as an example of an expeditionary base.  This is an interesting case that warrants a bit of examination.

Many military observers and, apparently, many professional military thinkers seem to have a vision of austere, hidden jungle bases from which a handful of F-35B’s wreak havoc on the surrounding enemy, immune from discovery.  I swear, most people seem to have this image:  the chirping and chatter of jungle life will momentarily pause, the jungle canopy will rustle, the branches will part, and an F-35B, dripping with all manner of weaponry, will rise, vertically, out of the jungle, undetected, and fly off to decimate enemy forces and return to repeat the cycle until the enemy is brought to their knees.

The Marines are not immune to the lure of this vision. 

“The Marines would provide additional “distributed” firepower from Expeditionary Advance Bases. Carved out of hostile territory by landing forces, kept small and camouflaged to avoid enemy fire, EABs would support F-35B jump jets, V-22 tiltrotors, and drones, as well as anti-ship missiles for the fleet. It’s a high-tech version of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal (part of the Solomons) in 1942. Like Henderson Field, the EABs would provide a permanent presence ashore, inside the contested zone, to support Navy ships as they move in and out to raid and withdraw.” [emphasis added] (1)

Let’s look at the historical example of Henderson Field and see what we can learn from it that can be applied to today’s Marine Corps Expeditionary Advance Base concept.

-The most obvious characteristic of Henderson Field was that it wasn’t hidden or unknown to the enemy.  The Japanese knew exactly what it was and where it was!  The assumption that any airbase large enough to operate multiple modern aircraft, sensors, warehouses, fuel depots, munition dumps, etc. will remain hidden is pure fantasy.

-Henderson Field was bombarded on an almost nightly (and daily!) basis by both aircraft and ships.  Because the Navy didn’t control the sea, the Japanese were able to bombard the field almost at will.  The Marine’s concept of a base located in enemy controlled sea (or, at best, no man’s sea) that will be somehow immune from attack is delusional.  Worse, unlike WWII where the bombarding forces had to come near the field and were subject to counterattack, today’s enemy can simply launch ballistic and cruise missiles without ever exposing their own forces to direct counterattack.

-The regular bombardments, combined with the primitive conditions and lack of spare parts and skilled maintainers, meant that the field usually only had a handful of operational fighters at any given moment.  How much worse would this be with modern, finicky stealth aircraft that require advanced technology for diagnostics and maintenance and require pristine conditions to perform maintenance and maintain the stealth characteristics of the aircraft?  The very nature of a forward area, austere base guarantees that readiness rates will plummet.  Considering the F-35 is struggling to achieve 50% readiness under ideal conditions with highly trained factory service personnel and ample spare parts, it’s a certainty that aircraft readiness will be abysmal.

-Henderson Field was a very large base!  Now, the jump jet supporter’s response is that we’ll operate vertical landing and takeoff F-35B’s so we’ll only need ten feet of runway!  Of course, that’s incorrect.  With any useful weapon and fuel load, the F-35B won’t be taking off vertically.  It needs a runway.  It may not need a 10,000 ft runway but it will need a significant one in terms of visibility to the enemy.  Of course, there’s also the parking areas for each aircraft (you don’t park a modern aircraft in the mud, under a tree), hangars to perform clean maintenance in, computer facilities for diagnostics and mission planning, munition dumps, spare part warehouses, fuel storage tanks, barracks for all the pilots, maintenance personnel, and command staff, radars, control towers, aircraft support vehicle storage/parking, food facilities, and sanitary facilities.  On top of all that, an expeditionary base is, by definition, in enemy territory so there will have to be a defending force with vehicles, anti-aircraft vehicles/sites, radar, more housing, food, and sanitary facilities, etc.  How all of this is “kept small and camouflaged to avoid enemy fire” is a mystery that the Marines have yet to explain.

-Let’s also recall that because Henderson Field was in enemy controlled air/water space, we had difficulty resupplying it, especially early on.  Resupply and reinforcement was sporadic, at best.  A modern aircraft and expeditionary base needs immense amounts of fuel, munitions, computers, electronics, spare parts, etc.  Keeping a modern expeditionary base supplied would be even more challenging than in WWII.

-Trying to operate an expeditionary base in enemy air/water space is going to be costly.  Recall that we lost many cruisers, destroyers, and one carrier (Wasp) trying to defend Guadalcanal.  In WWII, ship losses were relatively quickly and easily replaced.  Today, with only a couple of shipyards in the U.S., we’ll be hard pressed to replace our losses and to believe that we’ll be able to “carve” out a base, equip it, operate it, and resupply it without being noticed and without suffering significant losses is pure fantasy.  Does it really make sense to lose dozens of ships to defend an expeditionary base?  It might, if it’s strategically beneficial.  The point is that any base large enough to be operationally beneficial will be noticed and we will have to fight to defend it and the heavy losses must be factored in rather than just blithely stating that we’ll “camouflage” the base and the enemy won’t see us.

-Recall that we lost many aircraft at Henderson Field to combat, bombardment, and poor ground conditions.  For example, from Wiki,

Between 21 August and 11 September, the Japanese raided Guadalcanal a total of ten times, losing 31 aircraft destroyed and seven more heavily damaged, primarily due to the defensive efforts of CAF fighter planes. …  During this same time, the CAF Marine Corps fighter squadrons lost 27 aircraft with nine pilots killed.”

Again, in WWII, aircraft were very easy to replace.  Today, F-35’s and MV-22’s can’t be as readily replaced.  Will the losses be worth it?  Again, perhaps but we need to acknowledge and factor in the enormous losses as we discuss these things rather than just hand-waving away the problems.

-Henderson Field was a very primitive base.  Huts, mud, rain, dust, dirt, insects, humidity and accompanying rust and corrosion, and disease were the hallmarks of the base.  An expeditionary base “carved” out of enemy territory won’t be any better.  Those conditions took their toll on pilots, maintainers, and aircraft alike.  How will modern, exquisite, stealth aircraft stand up to such conditions?  Not well!  The F-35 has only a 50% readiness rate now, at fully equipped, pristine bases with ample supplies of spare parts, manufacturer tech reps, and maintenance personnel.  What do you think it will be when mud, rain, dirt, and rust start working their magic?  Sure, we could pave the runways, taxiways, and parking.  We could build insulated buildings with climate controlled atmospheres to house the computers.  We could build filtered air hangars with moisture control to work on the aircraft.  We could set up advanced hospitals with extensive medical staffs to keep the pilots and maintainers healthy.  We could do all that but then it’s not an expeditionary base, is it?  And it certainly won’t be hidden with all that!

F-35 Operating Base?

Henderson Field is an example of a forward base but it certainly isn’t an example of a secret expeditionary base, small and camouflaged and hidden from the enemy. 

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a forward base, if the strategy requires it, but let’s be realistic about what that means.  It means a base that will be well known to the enemy, a base under constant attack, a base that will struggle to achieve aircraft readiness rates of 25%, a base that will consume unbelievable quantities of supplies, a base that will require the efforts of the entire Navy to defend and supply, and a base that will cost us almost as much as we gain from it.

Let’s drop this fantasy of hidden bases once and for all.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Marines Seek Anti-Ship HIMARS: High Cost, Hard Mission”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 14-Nov-2017,

Monday, December 4, 2017

Supertanker Frigate

An issue of Proceedings has a short article by Dr. William Stearman in which he proposes a new Navy warship based on a super tanker with a 250,000 long-ton, full load displacement, 1075 ft in length, 170 ft beam, and 80 ft draft (1).  Stearman’s proposed vessel is, in turn, based on a comment he quotes from Kenneth S. Brower, as follows.

“Very large supertanker hulls, that are well designed, approach being unsinkable.  I would bury a FFG/DDG combat system somewhere inside these vital hidden areas with advanced armor and would trade speed for survivability and reduced cost …”

The article goes on to describe some of the benefits of such a large ship

  • Greatly reduced vulnerability to under keel torpedo or mine explosions due to reduced likelihood of hull girder failure

  • Side structure with alternating layers of water and steel bulkheads would likely defeat even shaped charge missile warheads

The author then proceeds to describe a do-everything version of this ship which includes almost everything that has ever been installed or proposed for a naval vessel: a flight deck for MV-22, F-35B, helos, etc., 5” guns, 8”-12”+ guns, VLS, amphibious craft, and a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) – all in one ship!

Let’s set the do-everything ship aside as fantasy and instead contemplate the much simpler concept of a frigate/destroyer based on a very large commercial hull.  There is, actually, something to be said for such a ship.

The immensely large hull, if built to commercial standards and patterned after a tanker, would, indeed, be very, very difficult to sink.  The example of the mining of the SS Bridgeton in 1987 and the almost complete lack of relevant impact and damage from the explosion attest to the inherent resilience of large tankers. 

The idea of embedding the actual combat elements deep inside the ship’s internals and protected by additional localized armor, offer the possibility of a ship that could absorb immense amounts of damage and still continue to operate.


The flaw in this is that the sensors and actual weapons would have to be exposed and would be as susceptible to destruction and subsequent mission kill as any other ship.

In addition, the sheer size and non-stealthy nature of the ship would make it the equivalent of a beacon, proclaiming its location.  An enemy would have no trouble finding this ship – sinking it, however, would be a challenge. 

Taking the discussion a bit further, even if we didn’t want to actually build a tanker-frigate, we might want to consider modifying warship designs to incorporate some scaled down aspects of the design of a commercial supertanker such as the alternating water/bulkhead sides, increased beam and draft, etc., if those modifications can gain us significant survivability.

I’m not necessarily advocating this approach – a naval architect/engineer would have to evaluate the concept – but it’s interesting and worth a few moments of thought especially given the flimsy nature of today’s warships.


(1)Naval Institute Proceedings, “Revolutionary New Ship For The Navy?”, Dr. William Stearman, Aug 2017, p. 87

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Supercavitating Torpdeo Kinetic Energy

Recently, there have been a few comments asking about the kinetic energy of a supercavitating torpedo with the suggestion being that the kinetic energy, alone, makes the torpedo a one-hit killing weapon against any size ship – essentially vaporizing the target.  Well, kinetic energy is  easily estimated. Here's the calculation for the Russian Shkval supercavitating torpedo.

k.e. = 0.5 * m * v2

m = mass = 2700 kg; Russian Shkval torp

v = velocity = 100 m/s; 200 kts


k.e. = 0.5 * 2700 kg * (100 m/s)*(100 m/s)
k.e. = 13,500,000 (kg*m2)/s2 = 13,500,000 J

By comparison, a kg of TNT releases 4,184,000 J. Thus, the k.e. of the supercavitating torpedo is equivalent to around 3 kg of TNT. To put that into context, a U.S. Navy lightweight Mk54 torpedo has a warhead weight of 44 kg (we'll assume it's TNT even though it isn't). That means the supercavitating torp would have kinetic energy equal to 7% of the explosive energy of a Mk54 lightweight torpedo - not enough to even be noticed, by comparison and certainly not a one-shot kill/vaporize due to kinetic energy alone.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Torpedo and Mine Damage History - Part 2

In Part 1, we examined some of the historical examples of the effects of underwater explosions from mines and torpedoes on ships.  We found, as we did with our scholarly examination, that the myth about torpedoes breaking the back of ships is just that – a myth, at least for ships the size of large destroyers and above.  Further, we found that even significant structural damage – significant in the sense of threatening to sink the vessel – was rare to non-existent.  The next obvious question is, why?  Where does this torpedo damage resistance come from?  What is it about the structure of a ship that provides such resistance?

The answer is both obvious and largely unknown and unrealized, at least outside naval architect circles and possibly even within.  The answer is keels.  Note that the answer is in the plural – keels.  Few people realize that ships have multiple “keels”.  Now note the enclosure of the word in quotes, indicating that the word is not to be used literally.  Huh?  What are we talking about?

Ships have multiple “keels” (I’ll now stop putting the word in quotes, for ease of typing), most of which are unintended as such but are nevertheless present.

Consider …  A keel, without getting too technical, is the bottommost, main structural longitudinal member of the ship.  It runs the length of the ship and provides the backbone upon which all the other structural elements attach, either directly or indirectly.  For this reason, the torpedo bubble crowd believed that if the keel (the ship’s “back”, like the spine of a human) were broken the ship would automatically sink.

What few people realize is that there are other longitudinal structural members in a ship that act as keels. 

Armor belts on the side of a ship are complete, solid structures that run a significant length of the ship and are intimately attached to the ship’s structure.  Thus, they constitute two additional keels.

Armored (or even simply thick) decks also run the length of the ship and act as longitudinal structural members or keels.  There can be one or more, depending on the number of armored decks the ship has.

Some ships have longitudinal bulkheads which also act as keels.

Each of these keels has the strength to hold the ship together by itself.  Thus, even in the unlikely event of the failure of one keel, the others are sufficient to protect the ship from breaking in two and sinking.

Noted naval historian Robert Lundgren discussed this phenomenon in a NavWeapons website forum topic (1).  Here are some of his comments.

“A ship with a fully developed side protective system is not subject to the type of break-up a lesser vessel is due to under-keel explosions. No capital ship ever in history ever broke in half due to an under-keel explosion even when it was a nuclear explosion.”

“In a battleship, the ship has what they call a soft keel. Any longitude bulkhead that makes up over 50% of her length becomes a strength member of the hull girder. In an Iowa as an example, her four bulkhead system on each side gives her eight additional strength members and her third bulkhead is her armor belt which is extremely difficult to place into sheer. The side protection system is so strong it can support the weight of the ship even if the flat keel is destroyed. Each layer of the side protective system acts as an additional keel so in an Iowa she has 8 side keels and her flat keel and she actually has three upper strength decks with the second deck being an armored deck which is also difficult to bend. In the roughly 2 seconds an under-keel explosion has to work on the hull the side hinges that form on lesser ships never form on a battleship or even a fleet aircraft carrier. Therefore, the upper strength deck or decks are never placed in stress. What does occur is the under-bottom is either holed or crushed in and depending on the damage will depend on the amount of flooding just like a side hit by a torpedo. The ship will whip just like Tirpitz did but not break up.”

“The 4,000 lb warheads under Tirpitz were roughly equal to 4 x MK 48 torpedoes or a 1,500 lb warhead detonating 50 feet under her keel. All underwater explosions work the same. So if a MK 48 1,500 lb warhead gives X amount of force at 50 feet this can equal a 4,000 lb warhead at 100 feet and the 28 kiloton nuclear warhead may be the same at 2000 feet and so on. So the distance and the amount of ocean on top of the explosion is important. Even Arkansas did not break up at Bikini. She basically was flipped over and landed upside down on an empty sea bed as all the water had been blown out of the lagoon.  Her hull was crushed when all that water came back down. Her sides held her together while she was in mid-air and her armor is cracked in one place near her bow but she is intact.”

There you have it.  There’s the explanation (well, one of them) for the resistance of ships to underwater explosions.  Additional resistance is also imparted by the numerous other shorter, smaller structural elements, all of which function to spread the stress load throughout the entire ship’s structure rather than having it concentrate in one spot.  The spreading or dissipation of the stress helps to prevent structural breakage at the point of impact.  We’re wandering into structural engineering, now, and that’s well beyond the scope of a simple post so we’ll leave it at that.  Suffice it to say that ships have a greater inherent resistance to underwater explosions than most people realize.

This is not to say that underhull explosions are not powerful and damaging – they are and for smaller, lighter built ships they may well prove fatal.  But, as we proved in our examination of the torpedo myth, and in our examination of historical data, they are not the instant death that the torpedo myth crowd believes. 

This concludes our examination of the torpedo myth and puts it to rest, once and for all.


(1)NavWeaps website forum, Topic: “Threat: Torpedoes That Go Under The Keels31-Mar-2014, username: rlundgren,

Monday, November 27, 2017

Torpedo and Mine Damage History - Part 1

We previously examined torpedoes and their lethality and debunked the “broken back over a bubble of air” myth by examining available experimental data and applying simple logic (see, "Torpedo Lethality Myth").  However, it’s always worth looking at actual operational experience so let’s look at some historical examples of ships subjected to large underwater explosions due to mines and torpedoes and see what we can learn. 

This is the first of a two part post.  In this part, we’ll look at the historical data.  In the second part, we’ll examine an explanation for the historical data.

I’ve tried to pick a cross section of ship types, sizes, eras, and nationalities while working under the constraint of known data.  Many ships suffered mine/torpedo damage but the damage was too poorly documented to analyze.  The following examples are presented in no particular order.


Tirpitz is one of the most documented and relevant examples.  According to Wiki, X-Craft midget submarines laid four 2 tonne mines on the sea bed under the bottom of the target.

“first exploded abreast of turret Caesar”

“second detonated 45 to 55 m (148 to 180 ft) off the port bow”

A fuel oil tank was ruptured, shell plating was torn, a large indentation was formed in the bottom of the ship, and bulkheads in the double bottom buckled. Some 1,430 t (1,410 long tons) of water flooded the ship in fuel tanks and void spaces in the double bottom of the port side, which caused a list of one to two degrees, which was balanced by counter-flooding on the starboard side. “

The mines were massive explosions and caused extensive damage but no threat of sinking and no significant permanent structural damage.  In fact, the damage was repaired over the course of a few months.  These mines probably represented a worst case under-the-hull explosion of the type we’re interested in.

In a later attack, RAF Lancaster bombers attacked with 6-short-ton Tallboy bombs with 5200 lb Torpex D1 explosive.  A single hit on the ship's bow penetrated the ship, passed through the keel and exploded on the bottom of the fjord.  A thousand tons of water flooded the bow and caused a serious increase in trim forward but the ship did not sink.

Along with many bomb hits distributed over several aerial attacks which eventually sank the ship, Tirpitz absorbed three massive underwater explosions of the type we’re concerned with.  In fact, the explosions were probably much more powerful than a torpedo and yet they failed to inflict significant structural damage.

Prince of Wales / Repulse

-          torpedo hit on outer port propeller shaft exit causing extensive flooding and an 11 degree list to port
-          torpedo hit starboard bow
-          torpedo hit starboard alongside B turret
-          torpedo hit starboard alongside Y turret

-          Four or more torpedo hits

Note that Repulse lacked anti-torpedo blisters and modern internal compartmentation.


The Japanese battleship Yamato was subjected to multiple waves of attack.

First wave:

-          torpedo hit port side, forward which caused little damage
-          two torpedo hits port side near engine and boiler rooms
-          probably torpedo hit near auxiliary steering

Hits cause an initial list which was corrected with counterflooding.  Top speed was only slightly affected.

Second wave:

-          three or four torpedoes hit port side and one to starboard

This attack caused additional listing but did not put the ship at risk of sinking.

Third wave:

-          Three torpedo hits port side concentrated along the engineering spaces
-          Torpedo hit starboard

At this point, the ship began to sink.  In addition to the numerous torpedo hits, many bomb hits caused additional damage.


Musashi was a Yamato class battleship that was sunk on 24-Oct-1944.  The ship suffered numerous bomb hits and the following torpedo hits.

-          1 torpedo starboard amidships which caused some flooding
-          3 torpedoes port side
-          4 torpedoes, three of which hit the forward bow
-          3 torpedoes starboard bow
-          11 torpedoes various locations

The ship sank intact.

Belgrano (Brooklyn class light cruiser)

The Argentinean cruiser was a 44 year old pre-WWII ship, poorly maintained, served by an ill-trained crew, and sailing with all watertight doors open when it was hit by three British 21” torpedoes.  The first exploded just forward of the armor belt and damaged the bow but did not threaten the ship’s stability.  The second hit just aft of the armor belt and opened a large hole which caused severe flooding.  Reports suggest that the third torpedo hit but it is uncertain whether it exploded.

None of the torpedoes broke the ship’s back and the first didn’t even hazard the ship.  The second caused flooding beyond the ill-trained crew’s ability to handle and led to the ship sinking.  It is likely that a well maintained ship, sailing at combat readiness (watertight doors closed), and with a trained crew would have been able to contain the damage and save the ship.


Prior to the action that directly resulted in the sinking of the Bismarck, the ship had suffered shellfire damage though the damage appeared to have no direct impact on the ship’s survivability.

On the evening of 24-May-1941, Bismarck suffered a single torpedo hit which caused only superficial damage to her armored belt.  Other reports suggest several torpedoes hit but did no significant damage. (1)

On the evening of 26-May a torpedo struck Bismarck’s port side and jammed her rudder.

On 27-May, British battleships and cruisers eventually wrecked Bismarck’s upper decks with the Bismarck absorbing as many as 500 shell hits. (1)  Torpedoes were launched by the British ships but the number of hits, if any, are unknown.  Two possible hits were reported. (2) 

Dorsetshire fired two 21 inch torpedoes and both hit the starboard side with no appreciable effect observed.  Another torpedo struck the port side, again with no visible effect.

Bismarck settled deeper into the sea and eventually capsized and sank.

In all, Bismarck suffered at least 5 confirmed torpedo hits and possibly 7 or more.  Other than to contribute to the cumulative flooding, the torpedoes caused no catastrophic structural damage.

HMS Belfast (light cruiser)

The cruiser Belfast struck a magnetic mine in November of 1939.  The ship suffered moderate damage and was repaired and returned to service.  Belfast was 613 ft long and around 11,000 tons displacement.

Photos of the ship in drydock suggest that the mine exploded under the hull, slightly offset to one side.  The explosion caused little direct damage to the hull, leaving a small hole, but did cause shock damage and warping of decks and structural members.  The keel was bent upwards by three inches.

The ship was, apparently, in no danger of sinking at any time.

This was a nearly classic example of the torpedo/mine exploding under directly under the hull and should have been a perfect example of the “broken back due to  suspension of the ship over a bubble” if the phenomenon were true.

Lexington (CV-2)

Two torpedoes hit the carrier on the port side but the ship was able to continue flight operations until a series of massive gasoline-sparked explosions occurred which eventually led to the ship being abandoned.  A US destroyer was ordered to sink the carrier and fired five torpedoes at which point the carrier settled into the sea on an even keel.

Princeton (CG-59)

During Desert Storm, Princeton suffered two bottom-moored influence mine explosions, one under the port rudder and the other under the starboard bow.  The explosions caused superstructure cracks and hull deformations along with various piping damage, shaft damage, and rudder damage but the ship’s weapons were back on line in 15 minutes.  The ship was able to leave the minefield under her own power.

Again, this was a near perfect example of the “explosion under the hull” and yet they did not break the ship’s back nor threaten the ship’s survival.  Further, this is a case of an explosion occurring under a modern, weakly built (as compared to a WWII ship of similar size) hull and yet still did not sink the ship.

Tripoli (LPH-10)

During Desert Storm, Tripoli suffered a mine explosion from a sub-surface moored mine which caused a 16x25 ft hole in the hull below the waterline.  The ship continued operations after damage control measures.

Again, this is a near perfect example of the underwater explosion effect and the results were negligible as regards ship survivability or even mission effectiveness.

Tripoli Mine Damage

Samuel B. Roberts (Perry class FFG)

A mine explosion blew a 15 ft hole in the ship and broke the keel triggering flooding and fires on multiple decks.  The mine is believed to have exploded in contact with the ship’s hull.  The explosion occurred on the port side at the forward end of the hangar.  Despite the near fatal damage, the ship was able to maneuver using thrusters at 5 kts and her combat systems and weapons remained operational.  The ship was saved, repaired, and returned to service.  Repairs took 6 months and cost $89M.

This explosion took place a bit to the side as opposed to directly under the ship and came as close to sinking the ship as any of the examples.  This is also the smallest ship in the examples and a modern, weakly built ship.  Despite this, the explosion did not break the ship in two.


The observation that leaps out from an examination of the historical data is that no large ship has ever had its back broken by a mine or torpedo in the popular “suspended over a bubble of air” scenario.  Yes, a sufficiently large number of mines/torpedoes can cause enough cumulative damage (usually cumulative flooding) to eventually sink a large ship but none has ever been broken and sunk with a single mine/torpedo shot which is the commonly cited claim by the “torpedoes are invincible” crowd.  In fact, not only has no large ship ever been sunk by a single torpedo/mine hit but most have absorbed at least several such hits prior to sinking along with, in most cases, many aerial bombs which contributed to the sinkings.

It is also notable and, frankly, a bit surprising, that even smaller ships have been able to absorb surprising amounts of underwater explosion damage.  The 450 ft long, 4200 ton displacement Samuel B. Roberts was an example of such.

It must be noted that WWII torpedoes were not designed as under-the-keel weapons.  Most WWII torpedo hits impacted the side of the target’s hull somewhere in the lower half of the underwater hull depending on the depth setting of the torpedo and the draft of the target’s hull.  As such, these are not direct representatives of a perfectly placed under-the-keel explosion but they are informative data points, nonetheless.

There is also a school of thought that WWII weapons were not as powerful as today’s.  This is nonsense, as least as far as torpedoes and mines are concerned.  Supersonic, heavyweight anti-ship missiles are another issue but that’s a topic for another time.  Mines haven’t appreciably changed in terms of their explosive power.  Yes, fusing mechanisms have gotten more sophisticated but the raw explosive firepower has not.  The same holds true for torpedoes.  For example, the standard US torpedo of WWII was the Mk14 with a warhead weight of 643 lb.  The current standard US torpedo, the Mk48 has a 650 lb warhead.  They’re identical.

We previously disproved the commonly held belief that torpedoes kill by suspending a ship over a bubble of air and breaking its back.  The empirical evidence in this post further proves that the belief is a myth.  In fact, the empirical evidence suggests that ships can absorb far more underwater explosive effects than anticipated and that even destroyer and frigate size ships are capable of absorbing tremendous damage without structurally collapsing and sinking.

This post should not be read as a claim that torpedoes are insignificant - far from it.  They are powerful and damaging.  The smaller the ship, the more damage an underwater explosion will inflict – no great surprise – and, for smaller ships, such damage may well be fatal.  Still, all ships seem to show a surprising inherent resistance to underwater explosions. 

In part 2 of this post, we’ll examine one of the main, but generally unrecognized, factors behind this resistance to underwater explosions.