Wednesday, October 18, 2017

GPS Vulnerability - Stupid Followed By Stupid

This blog has, for years, trumpeted the warning that we are critically overdependent on navigational technology, principally GPS, that will be unavailable or only sporadically available in a peer war.  Our navigational technology addiction has crippled and all but eliminated our fundamental navigational skills.  Our soldiers and sailors no longer know how to read a map, use a compass or sextant, or execute dead reckoning with a stopwatch. 

Once upon a time, we had mastered basic non-technological navigation skills.  The Marine Corps LAVs in Desert Storm navigated the featureless deserts with nothing but dead reckoning.  For years, pilots mastered the ability to achieve precise time-on-target with nothing more than a plotting board and a stopwatch.  Sailors were able to establish their position with a sextant.  All soldiers used to have to master map reading and overland navigation with a map, compass, and stride length.

Now, our Navy is lost without GPS and even has trouble navigating with radar fixes.  Ships are running aground in known waters.  The riverine boat crews that were captured by Iran were completely lost. 

We have an addict’s dependency on technology that is not going to be available in a peer war.  What’s our response?  How are we planning to address this vulnerability?  What will we do to eliminate our dependency on technology?

You guessed it!  We’re going to create new technology.  Why go back to mastering fundamentals when you can create expensive and unreliable new technology?

Seriously, I’m not making this up.  Our solution to our technology dependency is to create new technology.  From a Defense News website article,

“In the quest to provide positioning, navigation and timing to troops deprived of GPS, Army planners are developing an open-architecture system of plug-and-play sensors that could deliver such a capability.

… The potential PNT [positioning, navigation, timing] solution would use modular hardware and software on a tactical computer.

“It will be a sensor fusion filter that will allow us to hook up any sensor to the filter, and the filter will understand what the sensor is, what the data is and how to integrate that into a single PNT solution,” said Adam Schofield, the chief at the Emerging Technologies Branch of the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC.” (1)

So, rather than teach basic navigation, we’re going to develop a gazillion dollar technological solution that is, supposedly, omniscient, able to take any sensor, integrate it on the fly, and provide a totally flexible and instantly adaptable synthesized navigation solution.  I can’t see anything that could go wrong with that!

Best of all, it can fit and run on a standard laptop computer.  I can see it now – our soldiers leaping into battle, clutching their rifle in one hand and their laptop in the other.  Plus, we all know how reliable laptops inherently are.  I can’t see the dirt, mud, water, shock, vibration, and electromagnetic jamming on the battlefield having any negative effect on the laptop!

What’s more, we’re basing the whole thing on an open architecture scheme.  That’s great!  It offers complete flexibility and adaptability.  Of course, it also offers complete access to an enemy’s cyber attacks and hacking!

The Department of Defense must have a group whose job is to come up with idiotic ideas that the rest of us would just reject out of hand.


(1)Defense News website, “Army wants constant PNT capability for troops without GPS”, Adam Stone, 17-Oct-2017,

Monday, October 16, 2017

Neller's Mismatch

Marine Corps Commandant Neller offers some amazing views of future combat as reported in a Marine Times article. (1)

“… the next fight will be far more complex and deadly than the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan that have shaped the force and its leadership over the past 16 years.

“I don’t think the next fight is going to be a stability op/counterinsurgency: It’s going to be a violent, violent fight,” Neller said …”

Neller is saying the right thing but his actions, meaning the acquisitions the Marines are pursuing, the developmental path they are on, and the doctrine/tactics they are pursuing, all indicate the wrong things.  There is a mismatch between his words and the Corps’ actions.  Despite the Nellers verbal recognition of where the Corps needs to be, the reality doesn’t match.  Even Neller acknowledges this.

“In June, Neller told Congress that, right now, the Marine Corps is “not currently organized, trained and equipped to face a peer adversary in the year 2025.”

Further indicative of the mismatch between words and actions is Neller’s assessment of the strength of the Marines.

““The center of gravity that we have to protect is the network, and the network is dependent on space.”

“The opening salvos of future wars will likely be fired in space, Neller believes.”

Neller fails to grasp that future peer warfare will be incredibly brutal and violent and victory will go the side that can muster and apply the most explosives.  In contrast, Neller believes that victory will go to the side with the best network.  Ironically, he also acknowledges that space will be contested and compromised which means the network will fail and yet he believes this failure prone construct is the Marine’s center of gravity!  Unbelievable.

Consider further … Neller claims to see a “violent, violent fight” as the future of combat but the Marines are shedding tanks, artillery, and heavy vehicles, leaving tanks out of MEU/ARG loadings, emphasizing aviation, pursuing battlefield lightness over armor, and becoming a light infantry force.  How is that preparing for a “violent, violent fight”?  There’s a mismatch between words and actions.

China and Russia, on the other hand, see the future of warfare quite clearly.  They’re developing families of heavy armored vehicles, massive artillery forces, advanced cluster munitions (while we are unilaterally eliminating our ours), mobile anti-aircraft vehicles, and battlefield electronic warfare.  They’re preparing to fight and win a “violent, violent fight”.  We’re still preparing to fight another insurgency.

Neller needs to heed his own words, end the mismatch, and start preparing the Marines to fight and win a “violent, violent fight”. 


(1) Marine Times website, “The Next Fight: The commandant is pushing the Corps to be ready for a ‘violent, violent fight’”, Jeff Schogol, 18-Sep-2017,

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bold Alligator Scaled Back

The Armed Forces of the United States and the Navy, as our focus on this blog, exist to fight wars.  There is no other mission.  Everything else is a secondary, time wasting exercise.  If we aren’t fighting a war then we should be preparing for war.  Instead, the Navy’s time is filled with useless tasks that detract from the main mission.  A case in point is the humanitarian assistance that is being provided to hurricane areas at the expense of combat training.  As USNI News website describes it (1),

“The Navy and Marine Corps’ Bold Alligator 17 international amphibious exercise will still take place this month but will be scaled down due to ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.”

“However, due to ongoing HA/DR missions in Puerto Rico, many of the forces set to participate in the major live exercise will not be available anymore.”

So one exercise had to be scaled back a bit.  What’s the big deal?  Well, the big deal is that Bold Alligator is not just a small exercise.  It is the main amphibious exercise for the Marines/Navy. 

“Bold Alligator … is now the East Coast’s premiere amphibious force training exercise.”

Worse, the exercise, despite being the main training exercise, is only occasionally conducted as a live exercise so it is absolutely vital that the opportunity for live work be taken.

“Bold Alligator was last conducted as a live exercise in 2014, with the 2015 installment meant to be a simulated event. Last year’s live exercise was postponed a year, with the services opting instead to conduct a pierside live, virtual and constructive event to prepare for this year’s highly integrated exercise between traditional amphibious forces and the carrier strike group needed to help set the conditions for amphibious operations.”

Does it really matter if a ship or two misses the exercise?

“Expeditionary Strike Group 2 leadership was set to serve as the Commander of the Amphibious Task Force aboard amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3). Now, ESG-2 and Kearsarge are no longer available for BA 17, along with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), amphibious transport dock USS New York(LPD-21), dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD-50), hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), aviation logistics support container ship SS Wright (T-AVB 3), and elements of Naval Expeditionary Combat Command and 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing – all of which are tied up with the ongoing HA/DR response, according to a U.S. Fleet Forces Command statement.”

That’s a lot of assets that will miss the premier combat training exercise of its type and a rare and vital chance for live training.  The very reason for the existence of the exercise is being curtailed.

“On the Marine Corps side, without Kearsarge and other amphibious ships, many planned amphibious landing events have been canceled … “

So, a vital and rare opportunity, which only comes once every two or three years, is going to be watered down and many units will miss it entirely so that the Navy and Marines can deliver food and water?  Let me repeat.  The Navy has only one mission – war or training for war.

The U.S. government has many assets and organizations at its disposal that can provide humanitarian assistance but the military should not be one of them.  Humanitarian assistance missions degrades the readiness of our forces, puts unnecessary wear and tear on equipment, and racks up precious flight hours on aircraft. 

This is a shining example of the failure of the Navy to say “no” to a non-mission essential task request.  The Navy’s failure to say no is why we have ships and crews sailing with lapsed certifications.  Instead of training and perhaps learning basic seamanship, navigation, and combat, we have crews spending their time delivering supplies.  Instead of providing our ships and aircraft with maintenance to restore readiness, we’re sending them to deliver supplies – a job that any commercial cargo ship can do far more cost effectively and efficiently.

We are tasking our Navy with gender issues, sensitivity training, diversity programs, biofuel experimentation, climate change planning – in short, everything but war and training for war.


(1)USNI News website, “Bold Alligator 17 Exercise Scaled Down Due to Ongoing Humanitarian Assistance Mission in Puerto Rico”, Megan Eckstein, 13-Oct-2017,

Thursday, October 12, 2017

COBRA Description

We just recently saw that the Navy declared initial operating capability for the LCS' Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (DVS-1 COBRA) system.  We expressed severe doubt about that and wondered about the rationale behind the plan to order 30 of the systems despite only having 8 LCS MCM platforms (see, “COBRA Declared Operational”).  That aside, COBRA is a rarely discussed system and there is not a lot of information about it that is generally available so let’s take a brief look at what we do know.

COBRA is intended to detect and localize mines in the surf and beach zones as well as provide visual reconnaissance of the zones.  The system is carried on an unmanned MQ-8 Fire Scout UAV deployed from an LCS and consists of the sensor package and data collection station on the UAV plus a mission control and planning package on the host LCS (3).

The current Block 1 version can detect surface laid mines and obstacles in the beach zone and has a more limited capability to do the same in the surf zone.  It is limited to daytime use only due to the need for illumination for the imager, much as a regular camera needs a light source.  Data is collected and analyzed post-mission after recovery. 

A developmental Block 2 version is intended to enhance the surf zone capability and add a nighttime illuminator.  The developmental Block 2 illuminator is a new technology effort.  It is, essentially, a flashlight that is required to provide illumination for the COBRA camera.  The problem is that current electro-optical illuminators cover only a single wavelength band and cannot support the 6-band COBRA multi-spectral sensor (2).

COBRA uses a passive, multi-spectral sensor which covers 6 wavelength bands from near UV to near infrared. The sensor is capable of providing 4 frames per second (4 Hz) for the 6 bands with a 16M camera (4896x3264) yielding a Ground Sample Distance (GSD) of 2.4" which translates into 6.1 Gigabits per second (Gbps) of data (1).

Military and Aerospace website states that the COBRA payload includes stabilized step stare digital gimbal and high-resolution multispectral imaging digital camera with a spinning six-color filter wheel, a processing unit, and a solid-state data storage unit which collects six different color-band images across a large area using a step-stare pattern (4).

The system appears to be effective mainly in the beach zone with little water depth penetration in the surf zone – not surprising given that it is, essentially, just a camera with a wavelength expanded beyond just the visual.

COBRA Surf and Beach Zone Reconnaissance

One of the weaknesses of the system is that the data is not available in real time and requires post-mission analysis which means the UAV must survive in order for the data to be available.  Thus, a UAV could complete an entire reconnaissance mission only to be shot down at the end and all the data would be lost.

Another weakness is the operational concept.  A good sized, low, slow flying, non-stealthy, non-maneuvering (has to remain reasonably steady during its recon run) helo passing back and forth across the shore line just can't have much of a life expectancy.  This is the classic definition of a target drone!  In combat, we're going to go through these like candy!  As with so many of today's operational concepts, the success of the system depends on the enemy cooperating by not shooting down this sitting duck of a target and allowing us to recon the beach unimpeded.  Does that seem like a reasonable assumption to base a combat operational concept on?  Seriously, who comes up with these things?

The coverage area of the system depends on the sensor being raised above the beach/surf.  This is the same as a regular camera being able to “see” more of an image the further back it is held from the scene.  Thus, COBRA is not applicable to, for example, an unmanned surface vessel.  It could, presumably, be deployed from any aircraft large enough to carry the system.

COBRA is intended to complement the AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) which is operated from the MH-60 helo and provides laser detection of surface and near-surface mines past the surf zone.

As stated, I have severe doubts that the system is operational, reliable, and effective.  I’ll wait to see a DOT&E assessment before accepting the system as combat effective.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

COBRA Declared Operational

Apparently, the Navy quietly declared the LCS MCM Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system operational during the summer as just reported in a USNI News website article (1).  COBRA is an aerial mine detection system that has been under development for many years.

Before we go any further, does anyone believe the Navy’s declaration of operational capability?  How many systems have we see declared operational and nothing short of magnificent only to find out the reality, as actually measured by DOT&E, falls far short?  To put it bluntly, I don’t believe the Navy and I don’t believe the COBRA system is operational.

Setting that aside, something else caught my eye in the article.  Apparently, the Navy plans to purchase a total of 30 COBRA systems. 

“… the Navy bought two systems in Fiscal Year 2017 and will continue to buy more as quickly as budgets allow.  … the plan is to buy 24 additional COBRAs, for a total of 30.” (1)

Now, you’ll recall that after the recent reorganization of the LCS fleet, there will be three functional squadrons of four ships each on each coast, one squadron for each type of module/function: ASW, MCM, and ASuW (see, “Navy Surrenders”). 

Thus, there will be a total of 8 MCM type LCS vessels.  Therefore, 30 COBRA systems is way beyond the minimum required.  For one system per ship, only 8 are needed.  Even with two, the maximum possible per ship, only 16 are needed.  Throw in a few for backups or maintenance unavailabilities and that still leaves a bunch extra.  Is the Navy planning for combat attrition?  That would be wise and very unlike the Navy.

MQ-8 Fire Scout

Recall that the COBRA system is intended to search for mines along the shore.  The host platform for the COBRA is the MQ-8B/C Fire Scout unmanned helo.  In an opposed scenario which, by definition, any mined shore would be, a large, slow, non-stealthy, hovering helo is going to have a very short life expectancy.  Additional COBRA systems will be required, for sure!  However, I’m unaware that the Navy is planning to procure additional UAVs so having extra COBRA systems would be pointless.

I’m a little puzzled by this.  Could the Navy be planning to mount the COBRA systems on some other platform in addition to the LCS/Fire Scout?  Alternatively, does the Navy already know that the reliability is such that 30 units will be required to keep 8 in service?

I’ll have to continue looking into this.


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Declares COBRA Coastal Mine Detection System Operational After Successful Test”, Megan Eckstein, 10-Oct-2017,

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Unhappy Ship?

Navy Times website just published an article describing a command leadership crisis on the USS Shiloh and rock-bottom morale coupled with safety and combat effectiveness shortcomings.  Shiloh, by the way, is attached to the 7th Fleet – the same fleet that has experienced multiple collisions and groundings recently.  It all ties in, doesn’t it?  You read this article and can’t help but come away with the impression of a ship on the verge of mutiny being run by an incompetent despot of a captain backed up by wholly incompetent fleet leadership.

However, before we form up the lynch mob, let’s take a brief moment and look just a little bit closer at this.  If you actually read the article and look at the survey results, you'll note that roughly a third of the crew respondents indicted that they were motivated, proud of their ship, and trusted their leadership.  That doesn't quite jibe with a ship on the verge of mutiny and crew being uniformly oppressed by their Captain.  How do we explain the contradictory results?

The situation may be just as portrayed by the article - a ship being badly lead and falling into despair and ineffectiveness.

On the other hand, an alternative explanation might be that the previous Captain was far too lenient and the crew came to believe that low standards, lack of discipline, and lack of performance were acceptable and normal and now, with a new Captain demanding actual performance and holding the crew accountable, we see a bunch of whiny, spoiled malcontents.  The third that responded as motivated, proud, and trusting are the ones who had wanted to do a good job and now have a Captain that is trying to whip a poor performing ship into shape and they fully support that effort.  People who have been cruising along with little expected of them will naturally rebel when forced to perform to standard again.  It’s human nature.  We get lazy and resist attempts to make us better.

As a general statement, most people will not perform to the highest expectations but will, instead, perform to the lowest standard.

No, you say!  Our crews are highly motivated, gung-ho perfectionists who aspire to the highest levels.  Well, some are but most are human and will perform as I’ve described.  No, ComNavOps, we don’t believe you.  You’re wrong!

Perhaps.  But consider the bits of evidence we have.

Recall the Iranian incident in which Iran seized two of our boats and crews without a fight even though we heavily outnumbered and outgunned them?  Clearly, those crews were not performing at a high level.  Heck, they weren’t even performing at a minimally acceptable level.  The list of things they did wrong is almost endless.  They had been skating by for quite some time.  Even when faced with a potentially life-threatening situation they failed to perform.  The same applies to the entire chain of command above them.

Recall the recent collisions.  Clearly multiple people at all levels failed to meet even the minimal standards of performance.

I’m not going to bother reciting more examples.  The point has been made.  There is more than ample evidence that our personnel are not performing to standard and are not being held accountable.

With that in mind, is it all that hard to imagine a situation in which a Captain takes over a lazy ship, tries to whip it into shape, and is perceived by two thirds of the crew as a tyrant just because he now expects minimal standards of performance?

The article could be completely right in their take on the situation.  On the other hand, my alternative explanation is potentially just as valid.  Without being there, I have no basis to make an assessment and that is not the point of this post.  The point is that we need to read these articles with an objective perspective while being mindful of the relevant background (the widespread failures of performance that have been documented). 

You’ll note that the article presented lots of survey quotes from disgruntled sailors but not one quote from any of the third of the crew that was happy.  Is that a balanced article, informative, investigative article or a hit piece?  There was no comment from the ship’s Captain although to be fair, he was presented the opportunity and declined for obvious reasons.  This was a lazy, one-sided, slipshod article that made no effort to actually investigate the situation.  The article went straight for sensationalism.  Again, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong but it does cast doubt.

I have insufficient information to make a judgment about this incident but I do note the one third of respondents who claimed to be motivated, proud, and trusting of leadership and I can’t reconcile that with the situation as the article paints it.  I remain non-committal but dubious about the article as it’s written and presented – and so should you.

I’ve written this post because I witnessed exactly the scenario I described occur in an industrial setting and a good leader was punished for demanding performance rather than making his people happy.  I’d hate to see that happen in this case, if that turns out to be the case.


(1)Navy Times website, “‘I now hate my ship’: Surveys reveal disastrous morale on cruiser Shiloh”, Geoff Ziezulewicz, 9-Oct-2017,

Sunday, October 8, 2017

MQ-9 Reaper Shootdown

By now, you’ve probably read about the shootdown of a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper UAV over Yemen.  The event has been confirmed by U.S. military officials (1). 

Why is this of significance to a Navy website, you ask?  Well, I’ve repeatedly harped on the theme that our planned surveillance and targeting platforms such as UAVs, P-8s, and other large, slow, non-stealthy aircraft are not survivable and, as such, will be unavailable to perform their tasks in a peer war.  If some low end threat in Yemen can shoot down a top of the line UAV, what will China or Russia do to our UAVs and patrol aircraft?

MQ-9 Reaper

I’ve repeatedly told you to turn this situation around.  If Chinese or Russian large, slow, non-stealthy UAVs or patrol aircraft were attempting to surveil or target our forces, would we allow it?  Of course not!  And yet we think we’ll be able to conduct surveillance and targeting of them, unimpeded. 

We need to recognize this inherent flaw in our thinking and rectify it or we're going to be fighting the next war blind.


(1)Defense News website, “US MQ-9 drone shot down in Yemen”, Shawn Snow, 2-Oct-2017,

Friday, October 6, 2017

Frigate Budget

Let’s continue our budget data examination.  Here’s some budget numbers on the new LCS frigate from the 2019 initial frigate construction.  It’s interesting that the budget data is included in the LCS account line.  Is that telling us what ship the Navy will select as the basis for the new frigate?  Hmm …  Anyway, here’s the budget numbers for the first frigate scheduled to be funded in 2019 (1).

Net Procurement                $822M
Cost To Complete                $84M
Total Obligation Authority     $906M
Outfitting and Post-Delivery   $218M

Total                         $1124M

Thus, we see that while the Navy will report some lesser cost, the “true” cost, if there is such a thing, is $1.1B for the first frigate.  Bear in mind that there is no finalized set of requirements, no design, and no company has been selected to build the ship so the cost is just the Navy’s estimate, based on almost nothing.

What do we know about Navy estimates?  We know that they’re always ridiculously underestimated.  Thus, the first frigate will likely cost around $1.5B or more!  This is the dilemma that has been pointed out before.  We’re likely to get a ship that has 50% of the capabilities of a Burke at 80% of the cost – not a good deal.


(1) Dept of Defense 2017 SCN Budget, Exhibit P-40, LCS, FY2019 data column

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Burke Class Cost Breakdown

Here’s an informational post on ship construction costs as typified by the Burke class.  Data is taken from the Navy’s Shipbuilding and Conversion budget submission for 2017 (1).

Burke Class Cost Breakdown

Planning                        $40M   2%
Basic Construction             $739M  44%
Change Orders                  $114M   7%
Electronics                    $173M  10%
Hull, Mechanical, Electrical    $81M   5%
Ordnance                       $508M  30%
Other                           $40M   2%

Total                         $1697M

From the detailed cost category breakdowns in the document, here are examples of the kinds of items included in each broad category.

  • Basic hull and superstructure construction

  • SQQ-89 ASW
  • SLQ-32 SEWIP
  • CEC
  • Navigation
  • SLQ-25 Nixie
  • Exterior Communication Systems
  • Internal Networks

Hull, Mechanical, Electrical
  • STC 3 IVCS
  • Main Reduction Gear
  • Machinery Control System
  • Integrated Bridge Navigation System

  • Aegis
  • SPY-6 AMDR
  • Mk 41 VLS
  • Mk 45 5” Gun
  • Mk 37 Tomahawk Control System
  • CIWS
  • SPQ-9B
  • Mk 32 Torpedo
  • EO System
  • Mk 160 Gun Fire Control System

We see that the major cost, by far, is the basic physical construction of the shell of the ship, meaning the hull and superstructure.  This makes up 44% of the total shipbuilding cost.  This also gives lie to the oft repeated “truism” that “steel is cheap and air is free”.  In fact, it’s clear that steel is not cheap and air is not free – not even remotely.  All the people who casually call for a little bigger ship because the added steel is cheap, are wrong.  We’ve already discussed this topic (see, “Steel Is Cheap and Air Is Free”) and disproved it and this data simply adds more support to the recognition that steel is not cheap and air is not free.  Another “truism” dies!

Hand in hand with the claim that steel is cheap and air is free, is the claim that electronics make up the major cost of a ship.  As we see, electronics accounts for only 10% of the ship cost.  Aegis, oddly, is grouped under ordnance and costs around $220M.  That's around 13% of the ship's cost - not an insignificant amount but nowhere near the major portion of a ship's cost.  Another “truism” dies!

As a sidelight, from the same document, here are the Burke class unit costs for the last several years.  It is interesting to see the very wide variation in unit cost.  There is a very loose relationship between quantity and cost but I emphasize loose.  For example, the highest cost is not associated with the lowest quantity.  Of course, over that time frame the Navy has been tinkering around with the Flt III modifications so some variation could be due to that.  There were also restarts and partial technology insertions.  My tentative conclusion is that there likely is a quantity-cost relationship but that other factors outweigh and obscure the quantity effect.  The Navy’s recent practice of deferring major portions of construction until after delivery also obscure the true construction costs.

Year    Qty.  Unit Cost
2010  1  $2.133B
2011  2  $1.561B
2012  1  $1.904B
2013  3  $1.437B
2014  1  $1.731B
2015  2  $1.497B
2016  2  $2.253B
2017  2  $1.697B

As I said, this is just an informational post that sheds a bit of light on the cost contributors to the construction of a ship.


(1) Dept of Defense 2017 SCN Budget, Exhibit P-5c, 2017 DDG-51, FY2017 data column

Monday, October 2, 2017

Modern Day Marine 2016

In the course of researching other posts, I happened across Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Neller’s speech at the Modern Day Marine Exposition 2016 and it offered some interesting insights into his views of the future combat and the role the Marines will play in it (1).  Here are some of the highlights.  Rather than transcribe long passages, I’ve summarized most of the salient points.  If you want to hear the speech, you can follow the link below.

Neller astutely noted that recent enemies have had very little modern combat capability.  This seems like a “duh” moment but I call it an astute observation because so many people in and out of the military have come to believe that we’ve been fighting actual wars against valid opponents.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Nothing we’ve done the last couple decades has been remotely like a real war.  Sure, there has been the odd firefight but, for the most part, it’s basically been a live fire exercise.  This is not to take anything away from those who served and especially those who gave their lives.  However, there’s no getting around the reality that our opponents, while deadly, offered no real military opposition.  Any success they had was because we foolishly allowed it – but that’s a topic for another time.  Thus, I give Neller credit for recognizing the basic truth about the utter lack of military competency in our recent enemies. 

Neller went on to describe future combat which, according to him, would involve the electromagnetic spectrum, space, complex terrain / urban sprawl, coastal regions, dense population centers, and slums.  This is superficially likely but completely fails to enumerate the fundamental characteristics of future peer combat which include, on our enemy’s part, if not our own,

  • Wanton destruction
  • Profligate use of high explosive and cluster munitions far beyond all pre-war estimates
  • Complete disregard for collateral damage including civilian casualties
  • Focus on explosives over technology
  • Shocking willingness to sacrifice troops to achieve objectives
  • Heavy use of artillery and armored vehicles
  • Military barbarism on a scale we will have trouble believing

Thus, we see that Neller, while recognizing that we haven’t been militarily challenged and therefore need to prepare for more challenging combat, then fails to correctly anticipate what those challenges will actually be!  You can see from his list of future warfare characteristics that he’s still anticipating the kind of nation building, anti-insurgency warfare that we’ve been fighting.  Reread his list of characteristics and you’ll see the complete lack of high end combat references.

He then goes on to describe what he feels are the future domains (I hate buzzwords!) of combat and notes that there are six:

  • Air
  • Sea
  • Land
  • Cyber
  • Space
  • Information (public relations - PR)

Note that he’s added PR to the common domains.  This, yet again, demonstrates that he is fixated on fighting a low end battle and replaying the “hearts and minds” nation building that we’ve been doing for the last couple of decades.  This is all the more baffling given that there is absolutely no evidence that “hearts and minds” works!

Neller devoted a significant portion of his speech to the subject of winning the PR battle in various ways.

His lack of acceptance or recognition of the reality of high end combat can be summed up in this phrase in which he referred to how we will deal with enemies.

“… defeat the enemy, destroy them, if necessary …”

Again, this betrays a mindset that has not recognized and accepted the reality of the sheer brutality of peer warfare.  Destroy them “if necessary”????  That’s the only way to defeat an enemy!

Gen. Neller  - No Grasp of Peer Warfare

Neller referred to Gen. Krulak’s three block war and cited the three blocks as humanitarian assistance, counter insurgency, and training partner nations and added a fourth block, the public affairs officer.  Note that this is a slight modification of Krulak’s concept which contained full combat as one of the blocks.  Again, though, note the utter lack of reference to full combat and destruction of the enemy.  He appears to believe that future peer warfare will be a “hearts and mind” PR exercise with isolated bits of low end combat.

To sum up, Neller correctly recognizes that the US military, and Marines in particular, have not been facing militarily competent opponents and need to begin preparing for more challenging warfare but then goes on to describe an only somewhat higher end combat.  He betrays his utter lack of understanding of what a peer war will really be like.  Thus, the Marines are going to be unprepared for peer combat.  We already see this with the Marine’s and Neller’s focus on light infantry, mobility, and flexibility at the expense of firepower and armor.

We will relearn what peer warfare is like and will pay a bloody bill doing so.


(1) website, Modern Day Marine Exposition 2016, Commandant Gen. Neller speech,

Friday, September 29, 2017

Let's 3D Print Some Stupid

The Marines are learning how to 3D print small quadcopters. (1)

“… Marines built an initial batch of 25 Nibbler UAVs – quadcopters with a dwell time of about 20 to 25 minutes, which can carry cameras or other intelligence payloads and cost about $2,000 apiece to print …”

Wow, you say!  What’s not to like about that?  Unlimited 3D quadcopter printing.  That’s fantastic! 

Uh, back the quadcopter up, for a moment, and let’s look at this a bit closer and make sure it’s as fantastic as we and the Marines seem to think.

Let’s start with capabilities.  A quadcopter with a 20 min endurance is very small, very light, and can carry only a very small payload.  This is not a battlefield roaming, omniscient, eye in the sky, see everything sensor.

“The Marines built, The Nibbler, a four- rotor UAV with a 20-minute flight time capable of looking over hills and around buildings …”

This is a peek-around-the-corner or look-over-the-next-hill type of capability.  That’s nice, I guess, but haven’t soldiers been doing that kind of recon for a thousand years?  Plus, a quadcopter stands a better chance of being spotted and alerting the enemy to our presence than a properly trained soldier who understands stealthy recon.  So, that’s a disadvantage to the quadcopter.  Still, I’m sure there are circumstances where it might be convenient to have a flying, pinhole camera.  That’s right, a pinhole camera – that’s about all a quadcopter this size could carry.  This size craft is not going to be carrying radar, FLIR, or anything else that might actually be useful.

Now, let’s look at logistics.  People tend to think that a 3D printer creates objects out of thin air.  It doesn’t.  It uses a print medium that has to be supplied in bulk.  If you want to print a 10 lb part, you need at least 10 lbs of print medium and that’s only if you have 100% conversion of the medium.  And you don’t.  Printers have a degree of waste.  The conversion is 50% to 90% depending on the printer and part.  So, to make that 10 lb part you actually need 11-15 lbs of print medium. 

Thus, the printer doesn’t actually save any weight or volume in terms of logistics.  If you think you’ll need 100 quadcopters printed, you’ll need to transport 150% more than their weight of print medium with you into the field.  You’ve gained nothing, logistically, and have likely increased your transportation weights and volumes.

How Many People Does It Take To Operate A Quadcopter?

Let’s look at personnel requirements.  A 3D printer is not quite like your home PC printer.  It requires some fairly sophisticated programming and operating techniques.  In other words, you’re going to have to pull riflemen off the line to sit somewhere doing 3D printing. 

“A total of 48 personnel were taught to run the 3D printers …”

We’ve pulled 48 riflemen off the line in order to create a very marginal recon capability.  Is that really the best use of Marines? 

Let’s look at cost. 

“…cost about $2,000 apiece to print …”

You can buy this kind of quadcopter from almost any retail store in America for around $125, ready to fly, with controllers and small cameras.  What are we saving?

Let’s look at time.  It takes a very long time to print an object.  People tend to think a printer can produce a complete, fully functional quadcopter that flies out of the printer and straight to the battlefield.  That’s not even remotely correct.  The printer produces individual components – each component can take minutes to hours to produce - that have to be tediously and laboriously assembled, wired, and tested.  More people, more time.  Why not just have a pre-purchased, complete unit boxed and ready to go?

I have no idea but I would guess that to print all the components for a small quadcopter would require many, many hours.  In contrast, you can open a boxed quadcopter and have it in the air in 15 minutes.  If you have a sudden, urgent need for a quadcopter in the field, printing is not the way to go.  Sure, you could have a supply of them printed up and sitting in a pile, ready to go but then why not have pre-purchased ones in boxes ready to go?  What have you gained?

Let’s look at firepower.  This kind of effort continues the Marine’s trend away from firepower and towards becoming a light infantry with only very limited use.  Quadcopters aren’t going to win a peer war with China, firepower and numbers are.

This smacks of technology for the sake of technology with no real warfighting benefit.  It costs more than buying the same item, it saves nothing logistically, takes far more time, and offers only a marginal capability, if that.  Personally, I’d rather have a scout-sniper do my recon.

The military is so caught up in the technology craze that no one bothers to ask how any of this will result in greater lethality on the battlefield.  Instead, the military seems like it’s desperately searching for some use for 3D printing just to be able to say they can do it. 


(1)USNI News website, “Marines’ 3D-Printed ‘Nibbler’ Drone Creating Lessons Learned on Logistics, Counter-UAS”, Megan Eckstein, 27-Sep-2017,

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

MV-22 Assessment Methodology

War Is Boring website posted an article a few years ago about the MV-22 that I managed to miss which is a shame because it offered some insights into the MV-22. (1)

The author’s main point is that people want to view the MV-22 as a one for one replacement for the CH-46 and, therefore, compare it to the CH-46 and this is not the correct way to look at it.  Here’s the author’s perspective,

“…the Osprey didn’t replace the CH-46—it displaced the CH-46. The older copter made way for an entirely new type of aircraft, not another helicopter.”

Thus, says the author, to compare the MV-22 to the CH-46 on an exact one for one capability and performance basis is inappropriate.  Here’s an example from the article,

“To argue that an V-22 is junk because it doesn’t loiter like a CH-46 is to assume that the V-22 is a helicopter and should loiter like one.”


“…the Osprey’s fragility and susceptibility to heat are notable weaknesses. … It’s not a helicopter. It’s a tilt-rotor aircraft. It should act accordingly. … To prevent overheating, Osprey pilots avoid helicopter mode. They quickly transition to plane mode and move around their objective.”

This is a potentially insightful way to look at, and evaluate, the MV-22 or any new and different platform.  If it can accomplish the mission, just in a different way, then a direct point for point comparison is invalid and misleading.

Note:  The point of this post is not to evaluate the MV-22, it’s to note the author’s point about how to evaluate a new and different platform.

The author also goes on to acknowledge that there are missions and tasks that the MV-22 simply can’t do that the CH-46 can, and vice versa.  He also makes an interesting point about the combination of the MV-22 and the UH-1Y being able to fill all the needed missions.

The author’s point about not evaluating new and, especially, different platforms on a direct point for point basis comparison with the platform they are “replacing” is an excellent one and is my takeaway from the article.  I’ll attempt to factor that approach into my future assessments of platforms.  The LCS, for example, is not a Perry FFG and should be evaluated on its own merits rather than directly compared to the Perry.  Now, that doesn’t mean that the LCS is suddenly a good platform – it just means that there is a better assessment methodology.  That assessment may still reveal a substandard platform!

The F-35 is another example.  So many people want to compare the F-35’s air to air combat capability directly to an F-16/15/18 and that may not be appropriate.  F-35 supporters claim that the aircraft will perform air to air quite effectively, just in a different way.  If it can, that’s fine.  If it can’t, then it’s a failure.  Of course, there are other factors like cost, maintenance, reliability, availability, etc. that can render the aircraft a failure irrespective of any given mission/task performance.

The other takeaway from the article is the author’s more realistic “specs” for the MV-22.  He notes, for example, that the troop carrying capacity is not the commonly cited 24 but rather 18 or less under actual field conditions.  Similarly, he notes that the CH-46 never carried more than 12 troops, despite theoretical claims.

The author also notes that the MV-22’s range with a load of troops is around 233 miles on a single tank.  Compare that to some of the range figures floating around the Internet.

-          Navy Fact File:  860 nm (unstated fuel load) (2)
-          Air Force Fact Sheet for CV-22:  500 (one internal auxiliary fuel tank) (3)
-          Aviation Zone:  2100 nm (unstated but obviously with max internal fuel tanks) (4)
-          Global Security:  251 nm (24 troops; unstated fuel load) (5)
-          Boeing Website:  428 nm (24 troops, unstated fuel load) (6)

That’s quite a range (sorry about that!) of ranges!  It appears that 200 nm is about the actual field range.  Interesting.  I have no idea how that compares to the CH-46 actual field range with a load of troops.  The wide range of ranges further illustrates the points made in the recent post about combat radius (see, “CombatRadius”) 

The article was fascinating and I encourage you to follow the link and read it for yourself.  There was a lot more to it.  It was one of the more balanced articles I’ve seen on the MV-22.


(1)War Is Boring website, “Actually, The V-22 Ain’t Half Bad”, Vincent Mazzurco, 25-Jul-2014,

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

McCain and Fitzgerald Collisions and Repercussions

ComNavOps has called for a complete and total housecleaning by firing every Admiral and staff member in the 7th Fleet chain of command as one response to the rash of collisions and groundings the fleet has experienced.  While the housecleaning has not anywhere near approached that level, I do note that several figures have paid for their gross negligence.  Here’s the current list of personnel who have been fired.

  • 7th Fleet Commander VAdm. Joseph Aucoin
  • Task Force 70 commander Rear Adm. Charles Williams
  • Destroyer Squadron 15 commander Capt. Jeffrey Bennett
  • USS Fitzgerald CO Cmdr. Bryce Benson
  • USS Fitzgerald XO Cmdr. Sean Babbitt
  • USS Fitzgerald CMC Brice Baldwin

In addition, two admirals have put in for early retirement.  Reading only slightly between the lines, both were likely given the option to retire or be fired.

  • Naval Surface Forces commander VAdm. Thomas Rowden
  • Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift

I would like to see CNO Richardson accept responsibility for the avoidable deaths of US Navy sailors and resign.  Failing that, Congress and/or SecNav ought to fire him.

This is nowhere near the total housecleaning that is needed but it is more severe than the usual tepid Navy response such as after the Iranian seizure of our riverine boats.  I would like to see the entire chain of command stand trial for negligent homicide.  Absent that, hopefully, this will prompt other Navy leaders to take their duties a bit more seriously.