Thursday, June 22, 2017

Armored Ship Misconceptions

It’s obvious from the preceding post (see, "Fitzgerald Collision") that there is a lot of misguided and incorrect thought out there about ship size and the impact of armor on a ship’s performance.  I’m reading consistent statements that modern ships can’t bear the weight of armor without seriously impacting endurance, range, and speed.  That’s just absolute bilgewater and betrays a lack of knowledge about previous ship designs – WWII, in particular.  So, to help put ships and armor into an actual and factual context, let’s look at WWII ship designs versus today.

In the following discussion, I’m going to generically refer to “armor” as the total of hull plating and any add-on armor that may have been present.

Here’s the relevant specifications for the Burke class DDG.

Burke Class Flt IIa

Length  509 ft
Displacement  9200 t
Range  4400 @ 20 kts
Speed  30+ kts
Armor  5/8” – 7/16” hull plating, 7/16” – 1/2” deck (1);  no additional external armor

Now let’s look at some WWII designs.

Portland Class Cruiser (ex. USS Indianapolis)

Length  610 ft
Displacement  10,000 t
Range  13,000 @ 15 kts
Speed  33 kts
Armor  “The ships were completed with belt armor 5 inches thick over the magazines and 3.25 inches elsewhere.  Armored bulkheads were between 2 inches and 5.75 inches, deck armor was 2.5 inches, the barbettes were 1.5 inches, the gunhouses were 2.5 inches, and the conning tower was 1.25 inches  …”  (2)

We see that the Portland class cruiser, armed with 9x 8” guns and 8x 5” guns, carried armor ranging up to 5.75” and still managed to make 33 kts with a range of 13,000 nm.  I guess WWII ship designers didn’t realize this was impossible.

Okay, you say, a large cruiser could carry armor but how about a smaller ship – a ship the size of, or smaller than, a Burke?  How about the Fletcher class destroyers?

Fletcher Class Destroyer (4)

Length  376 ft
Displacement  2500 t
Range  5500 @ 15 kts
Speed  36 kts
Armor  1/2” – 3/4” hull and deck

The Fletcher class, much smaller than a Burke, had its thinnest plating equal to the Burke’s thickest and had heavier, thicker 3/4” plating in many locations, in addition.  So, the Fletcher, despite being significantly smaller than a Burke, carried more armor and had as good range and speed.  I guess WWII ship designers didn’t realize this was impossible.

Let’s take a look at one more, the Atlanta class light cruiser.

Atlanta Class Light Anti-Aircraft Cruiser

Length  541 ft
Displacement  7400 t
Range  8500 @ 15 kts
Speed  33 kts
Armor  1.1” – 3.5” belt, 1.25” deck (3)

Hmm ……..  Yet another example of a ship slightly longer than the Burke, significantly lighter, and yet has larger amounts of armor, greater range, and equal speed.  I guess WWII ship designers didn’t realize this was impossible.

I can go on with example after example but the point is made.  For a properly designed ship, there is no range, endurance, or speed penalty.  Those who believe that modern ships can’t carry armor without significant performance penalties are just ignorant of what was common practice decades ago.  Every US surface combatant of WWII had far more armor than a Burke and yet had equal or superior range and speed.

There is no reason not to armor our ships commensurate with their size and purpose.


(1)Unpublished cross sectional construction drawing for Burke class

(2)Wikipedia, retrieved 21-Jun-2017,

(3) Wikipedia, retrieved 21-Jun-2017,

(4)United States Navy Destroyers of World War II, John C Reilly, Jr., Blandford Press, 1985

The Sacred Cow

If there’s a sacred cow in the Navy, it’s got to be the LCS.  Come hell or high water, the LCS will continue.  The latest example of the sacred nature of the LCS comes courtesy of reader Delmar Lewis who put me onto this article from Bloomberg.

It appears that the Navy is going to procure a second LCS in FY18 even though it was not originally budgeted.  The Navy “found” the funds by delaying the nuclear refueling of the aircraft carrier Stennis for about a year and shifting funding from the Infrared Search and Track (IRST) program for the F-18 Hornet.

“About $325 million will be freed up because the Navy has delayed the overhaul of an aircraft carrier that involves refueling its two nuclear power cores …  An additional $100 million will be shifted from the Navy’s Infrared Search and Track program for installation on its F/A-18E/F fighters, and the rest from smaller programs.” (1)

I truly am baffled by the gushing stupidity of the Navy when it comes to the LCS.  That they would value the useless, toothless, short-legged LCS over developing an IRST or refueling a nuclear carrier just boggles the mind.


(1)Bloomberg website, “Navy Finds $500 Million for a Second Littoral Combat Ship in '18”, Tony Capaccio, 19-Jun-2017,

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fitzgerald Collision

You’ve all read about the recent collision between the 505 ft long, 9000 t, Burke class destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, and the 730 ft long, 40,000 dwt, Philippine-flagged container ship ACX Crystal.  I’ve had no comment, thus far, because there has been insufficient factual information to comment about.  There was no information on the circumstances of the collision, the exact extent of damage, or even the specific damage control measures beyond general statements about some flooding. 

Now, however, some snippets of information are becoming available.

“USS Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline. The collision resulted in some flooding.” (1)

Fitzgerald is under her own power, although her propulsion is limited.” (1)

Navy Times reported , “that Auxiliary Machine Room 1 and two crew berthings were completely flooded.” (1)

“A top Navy admiral acknowledged Sunday that the destroyer Fitzgerald was in danger of sinking …” (2)

“… Fitzgerald suffered an enormous gash in its hull under the waterline, causing both berthing compartments and the auxiliary machine room to flood rapidly …” (2)

However, one of the pieces of information that I’ve been waiting for has become available and I’ll offer an analysis.  That information is pictures of the damage to the ACX Crystal.

Look at the Fitzgerald and note the degree of visible damage.  From the comments and visible damage, it is clear that the ship was very badly damaged and was in danger of sinking.

Now, look at the ACX Crystal.  The only visible damage is the bent bulwarks above the deck line and a possible small tear in the ship’s plating at the bow.

How do you reconcile the extremes of the visible damage?  That the larger ACX Crystal would inflict more damage on the smaller ship is to be expected but that the Crystal would show almost no hull plating damage at the point of impact speaks volumes about the relative thickness and strength of the two ships construction, framing, and hull plating.  The Fitzgerald’s hull plating crumbled like tissue paper while the Crystal’s was barely dented other than the thin bulwarks above the main deck.  In other words, the container ship was, apparently, built like you’d expect a warship to be built and the warship was built …  well …  weakly.

Let’s be fair and acknowledge that we have no description of the Crystal’s damage other than what can be seen in the photos.  It could be that the ship suffered serious damage and flooding below the waterline but there is absolutely no indication that that is the case.

The Navy needs to seriously rethink its warship design philosophy and construction practices and standards.  From a construction perspective, this is embarrassing and ominous.  What will happen when missiles and torpedoes start impacting our ships in combat?  All historical evidence suggests that our ships will prove to be extremely fragile.


(1)USNI News website, “7 Sailors Missing, CO Injured After Destroyer USS Fitzgerald Collided with Philippine Merchant Ship”, Sam LaGrone, 16-Jun-2017,

(2)Navy Times website, “Fitzgerald Crew’s ‘Heroic Efforts’ Saved Their Ship From Sinking, Admiral Says”, David B. Larter, 18-Jun-2017,

Monday, June 19, 2017

Spin The LCS

You know what “spin” is, right?  In case you’re not familiar with the word, it means to present a piece of information in the best possible light.  In today’s usage, it generally connotes a distortion of the facts that borders on lying. 

Here’s a simple, classic example from the Cold War era.  A Soviet and a US runner race and the US runner wins.  The Soviets report that the Soviet runner came in second while the US runner placed next to last.  That’s spin!  It’s technically true but so distorts the truth as to border on lying.

Bear in mind the definition of spin as you consider this article posted by Defense News website about the Coronado conducting periodic maintenance in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. (1) 

Let’s look at the Navy’s proud claim about the LCS.

LCS Coronado conducted a required maintenance period while forward deployed and in Cam Rahn Bay.  As the Navy proudly states,

“…a demonstration of its ability to conduct maintenance while deployed.”

What the Navy didn’t say was that dozens of Burkes, and gators, and carriers simultaneously demonstrated their ability to not need a scheduled maintenance period in the middle of a forward deployment.  So, a ship that requires many times more scheduled maintenance stops than any other ship in the fleet can either be seen as a maintenance headache and having significantly reduced availability during deployments or it can be spun as a major accomplishment.

The Navy also didn’t mention the enormous amount of money it must have cost to fly Navy technicians, contractors, tools, parts, etc. to Cam Rahn Bay to conduct maintenance that no other ship in the fleet requires.

The Navy also didn’t mention that the LCS maintenance model only works during peacetime.  During war, the LCS isn’t going to be able to pull into Cam Rahn Bay or any other forward base for maintenance.  Even if the ship could, the maintainers, tools, and parts certainly couldn’t.

So, there was a lot of useful and relevant information the Navy could have presented about this maintenance PR stunt which demonstrated one of the many weaknesses inherent in the LCS design and maintenance model but they chose to spin it as an accomplishment, instead.


(1)Defense News website, “US Navy Littoral Combat Ship Shows Off Maintenance Capabilities Overseas”, Mike Yeo, 15-Jun-2017,

Friday, June 16, 2017

Chinese Fire Support Frigate

The Chinese Type 053H frigate, Jiujiang, is an absolutely fascinating vessel for multiple reasons but the main reason is that the vessel was converted to a multiple launch rocket (MLR) fire support ship.

As a bit of background, the class was built in the 1970’s-1990’s and traces its lineage back to the Russian Riga class frigates. The vessels are around 330 ft long with a displacement of around 2000 tons.  Jiujiang was launched and joined the Chinese fleet in 1975 as a surface warfare frigate before being converted into a fire support ship in 2002.

The fire support modification consisted of 5x50-tube 122 mm (~5”) rocket launchers for a total of 250 rockets.  The rockets had a range of 20-30 km.  In addition, the ship retained its two dual 100 mm (~4”) guns.

That’s right, while the US Navy has abandoned fire support or offered an ill-conceived and now impotent Zumwalt and dithered about the possibility of mounting MLRS launchers on ships, the Chinese went ahead and did it.  This illustrates a few things:

  • The Chinese recognize the need for ship based fire support.

  • The Chinese are willing to construct/modify one-off prototypes to test and evaluate concepts.  While the US Navy has floundered around and largely ignored the issue of fire support, the Chinese built a fire support frigate, evaluated it, and are now retiring it.

  • The Chinese are willing to put older ships to use as test platforms.  Contrast this use of older vessels with the US Navy’s tendency to EARLY retire completely usable ships.

  • The Chinese were able to mount a LOT of firepower on a small, cheap vessel.  Contrast this with the US insistence on making every vessel big, expensive, and do-everything.  Also, contrast this vessel and its firepower density with the LCS’ near total lack of combat firepower.

  • The Chinese are far more open and nimble than the US Navy in terms of willingness to embrace change and the speed with which they build and experiment.

One cannot help but acknowledge that the Chinese are putting us to shame when it comes to prototyping, variety of designs, firepower density, speed of construction, and rate of technological advancement of their navy.  At this rate, we’re going to have to start hacking them to get their technology and designs!

We should also note that mounting rocket launchers on ships is hardly new.  The US Navy did it extensively in WWII, for example, but seems to have completely forgotten that capability just as they’ve abandoned fire support altogether.  If you’re interested, do an Internet search for LSM(R) to see what kind of rocket fire support vessels the US used in WWII.

Check out these photos from China Defense Blog (1)

Fire Support Frigate Jiujiang - Note The Five Launchers On A Frigate Sized Ship

Rocket Launcher

Rocket Launcher

Launcher Close Up


The US Navy needs to look to the past while developing for the future and be more willing to construct one-off prototypes.  Older ships can be used for development purposes instead of being retired and sunk, scrapped, or sold.  The Navy and Marines need to continue to address naval fire support especially since the Zumwalt turned out to be a hideously expensive total failure.  We can learn a lot from the Chinese about how to develop a Navy!


(1)China Defense Blog, “PLAN decommission of the day: FFG516 "Jiujiang" China's only MLR fire-support frigate”16-May-2017,

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Comment Policy

I continue to get questions regarding comments so I've added a page that explains in detail my comment policy.  The page can be accessed through the new navigation bar above.  I encourage you to review it especially if you have any questions about deleted comments.

F-22 And Attrition

A passing remark by a commenter on the SNAFU website prompted the realilzation that we have a potentially serious problem regarding our air superiority capability during war.  What’s the defining characteristic of war?  It’s attrition.  Men, ships, and aircraft will be destroyed.  The key is being able to replace them.

What aircraft is the key to our future air superiority?  It’s the F-22.  The military has repeatedly admitted that the F-35 is not an air superiority fighter.  Various Air Force generals have stated that the F-22 is needed for the F-35 to succeed in war.  Further, those same generals have stated that a single F-22 is equivalent to several F-35s.  I apologize, I don’t have the exact quotes at hand.

The F-22 is out of production.  In a war, where do we get new F-22s to replace those that are lost?  The only combat aircraft that the military wants to produce is the F-35 which the Air Force acknowledges is not an air superiority fighter.  As the F-22s are lost in combat, where do we get replacement air superiority fighters?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Surface Ship Torpedoes

In a previous post, we touched on the subject of anti-surface torpedo tubes in surface ships.  Yes, many ships today have torpedo tubes but the majority are intended for anti-submarine use and utilize lightweight torpedoes.  The US Navy’s standard surface ship torpedo armament is the Mk32 triple tube launcher with Mk46/50/54 lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes.  These torpedoes may or may not have an anti-surface ship mode but they are not ship killers.  The ship killing torpedo in the US Navy is the Mk48 ADCAP (Advanced CAPability) heavy torpedo and even this is intended primarily as an anti-submarine weapon.

                 Mk 48        Mk54         Mk50         Mk46

Range, yds       35000        ?            16000        12000
Speed, kts       55 (63?)     40+          50+          45
Diameter, in/mm  21/533       12.75/324    12.75/324    12.75/324
Length           29’2”        8’11”        9’6”         8’6”
Weight, lbs      3450         608          800          508
Warhead, lbs     650          95           100          95
Cost             $2.4M(FY88)  $0.8M(FY14)  $1M(FY02)

For comparison, here are a couple of the main Russian Torpedoes.

                 Type 65      Type 53 UGST (2)

Range, miles     62@35mph     25
Speed, kts       50           26-45
Diameter, in/mm  25.6/650     21/533 
Length           30           24’  
Weight, lbs      10450        3800   
Warhead, lbs     990-1225     801                 

The Mk46 was designed for open ocean, deep water anti-submarine use and had problems in shallow water.  The Mk50 was developed as the replacement for the Mk46 but encountered problems.  The Mk54 was developed to rectify the problems identified in the Mk50 but does, itself, suffer from shortcomings against shallow water non-nuclear submarines.  A Mk54 Block Upgrade (BUG) program was initiated to address the problems but DOT&E still assessed the torpedo as not operationally effective in its intended role in a 2014 Annual Report and reiterated that assessment in the 2016 Annual Report despite additional upgrade efforts.

According to Polmar (1), US surface ships had anti-ship torpedo tubes until the late 1950’s.  During the 1960’s the Mk48 was intended to be fitted to surface ships for long range, wire guided ASW use but that never occurred.

Polmar also notes that a dedicated anti-surface torpedo was proposed by the Navy in the mid-1980’s (1).  The torpedo was envisioned as a low cost ($200K in then year dollars vs. $2.43M per Mk48 in FY88), no frills alternative to the Mk48.  The program was cancelled in the late 1980’s.

As a brief historical reminder of the use of anti-surface torpedoes on surface ships, here’s a list of the post-WWII ships that have had large, anti-surface-capable torpedo tubes installed.

  • Garcia/Brooke Class FFG 2x 21” fixed, stern tubes, Mk37 Torpedo
  • Sherman Class DD 4x 21” tubes
  • Mitscher Class DL 4x 21” tubes
  • Gearing Class DD 10x 21” tubes, twin trainable quintuple mounts, Mk15 Torpedo

That brings us to today.  The US Navy has no surface anti-ship torpedo capability and only a marginally effective submarine launched anti-ship torpedo, the Mk48.

The next question, and the main point of this post, is, does the US Navy need a surface anti-ship torpedo launch capability?

To better frame the question, consider that currently the Burke class DDG probably cannot sink a large ship such as a tanker or large cargo vessel.  If the US attempted a blockade and wanted to sink enemy merchant shipping, the Navy’s surface ships would be hard pressed to accomplish the task.  Small 5” guns are incapable of sinking a ship bigger than a patrol boat and Harpoon or Standard missiles in anti-ship mode will only damage superstructure, not sink a sizable ship.  Smaller ships such as the LCS which would be expected to perform most of the blockade and merchant shipping attacks have zero ability to sink a large ship.  A heavy weight anti-ship torpedo would go a long way toward providing a credible anti-ship capability.

Thus, the main argument for a surface anti-ship torpedo capability is lethality.  Compare the warhead weight of the Mk48 (650 lbs) versus the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (276 lbs) which is, apparently, going to be the Navy’s standard anti-ship weapon for smaller ships.  The difference is significant and, while simply comparing warhead weights is fraught with irrelevance, it nonetheless gives some idea of explosive power and concomitant lethality.  Clearly, a heavy torpedo packs a much more potent explosive punch.  Add to that the fact that torpedoes explode on or under the hull and let water in while missiles let air in, and the lethality of torpedoes is accentuated.  Smaller ships such as the LCS would gain a huge increase in lethality by mounting heavy anti-ship torpedoes.

The Mk48 warhead is lighter than the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) (1000 lbs) which may become a standard anti- ship missile for larger ships.  Again, though, the underwater location and nature of a torpedo explosion magnifies its explosive effectiveness.  Thus, even a Burke equipped with the LRASM could benefit from a heavy anti-ship torpedo.  We should also note that the vertical launch version of the LRASM may or may not ever happen and, if it does happen, takes away VLS cells from the ship’s main purpose which is anti-air warfare.

Another argument for torpedoes is their inherent survivability.  Currently, there are no effective active countermeasures to destroy attacking torpedoes and it is debatable how effective acoustic decoys, such as the US Nixie, will be given the Russian development of wake-homing torpedoes.  Unlike anti-ship missiles which are susceptible to electronic countermeasures (ECM), decoys, anti-air missiles, and close-in weapon systems and, therefore, need to be launched in large numbers to ensure sufficient hits, torpedoes can be used in relatively smaller numbers since they are largely immune to countermeasures.

On the other hand, one of the drawbacks to anti-ship torpedoes in the past has been the limited range, at least compared to anti-ship missiles.  The standard WWII Mk15 torpedo, for example, had a maximum range of around 8 miles.  That kind of range is unsuitable for today’s long range, over the horizon type of warfare where anti-ship strike ranges need to be 20-100+ miles.  However, modern torpedoes have greatly increased ranges that bring them in to the low end of anti-ship missile ranges.  For example, while the actual range of the Mk48 is unknown, the often cited range is around 20 miles.  The Mk48 upgrades have increased the fuel load and improved the propulsion so it is reasonable to assume that the range has significantly increased.  30 miles?  60 miles?  Who knows?  The point is that the torpedoes’ range is beginning to approach, for example, the Harpoon range of 60 miles. 

Certainly, modern torpedoes outrange the ship’s onboard sensors which makes them effective to the limit of the ship’s sensors.

Speed is another drawback.  Torpedoes are very slow compared to anti-ship missiles.  A fast torpedo has a speed of 50-60 kts versus even slow anti-ship missiles which have high subsonic speeds.  Thus, the travel time from the launching ship to the target allows for a great deal of movement by the target which complicates the targeting probability of success.  Further, the long travel time allows the enemy the opportunity to strike the launch platform before the torpedoes arrive.  Even if the torpedoes arrive and sink their targets, the launching ships may be destroyed in the interim!

Some of the arguments against torpedoes are valid due to the limitations of US torpedoes whose design and development has languished for decades compared to the advances in Russian torpedoes.  If the US were to develop a completely new anti-ship torpedo, many of the limitations would be eliminated or reduced.

Consider these improvements to torpedo performance.

Range.  Range could be 60-90 miles, matching the low to mid range for anti-ship missiles.  The old Russian Type 65-76 had a range of 60+ miles at 35 mph (2).  The German Navy’s current DM2A4 Seehecht (export designation "SeaHake mod 4") has a reported range of 87 miles (2) with GPS waypoint capability and carries a warhead of 572 lbs.

Speed.  Speed could be 60+ kts.  Russia’s VA-111 Shkval is the extreme example of high speed, reportedly capable of 200+ kts via supercavitation although the high speed comes at the cost of a reduced range of about 9 miles.  The US Mk48 is capable of around 60 kts.

Guidance.  Currently, the US has no wake homing torpedo but there is no technical reason why we could easily develop one.  Thus, a new torpedo could use multiple modes of guidance including passive and active acoustic, wake homing, and GPS/Inertial.  Wire guidance is probably not feasible for a surface ship due to the ship’s maneuvering and near surface turbulence but it’s worth looking at.

WWII Destroyer Torpedo Tubes - Time To Return To The Past?

A modern, new design, anti-ship torpedo could offer a lethality option for surface ships that is currently lacking.  Heavy torpedoes would not negatively impact VLS inventories although deck space and/or internal volume would have to be allocated.  Such a weapon would offer a relatively low cost increase in tactical options to the ship commander and ought to be part of every surface ship’s standard armament.


(1)“The Naval Institute Guide To The Ships And Aircraft Of The U.S. Fleet”, 16th ed., Norman Polmar, Naval Institute Press, 1997, p.465-469

(2)Submarine Matters blog, 1-July-2015,

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Modern Hedgehog

ComNavOps has called for the design and construction of a dedicated anti-submarine warfare (ASW) ship instead of a frigate.  The reason for this is that our current ASW vessel is the Burke class destroyer which costs $2B each, conservatively, and is far too expensive to risk playing tag with submarines, especially small, silent, non-nuclear shallow water subs.  Further, the Burkes are primarily anti-air warfare (AAW) vessels and do not train for ASW enough to be effective at it.  That leads to the situation of a poorly trained and very expensive ship being asked to conduct ASW against an enemy that possesses most of the inherent advantages to begin with.  We need an ASW vessel that is dedicated to ASW so that the ship and crew will be thoroughly trained and cheap enough to be expendable when playing tag with submarines.

However, in order to be effective, an ASW ship must have effective weapons.  Currently, for close range encounters, the US Navy has only the standard Mk32 triple torpedo tube system (12.75”, 324mm) which launches lightweight Mk 46, Mk 50, and Mk 54 torpedoes.  Unfortunately, these torpedoes have problems with their shallow water performance.  The Mk 54, in fact, was developed in response to an urgent operational need resulting from shallow water performance problems demonstrated by the Mk 50.  The Mk 54 has had its share of problems with DOT&E assessing it as “not operationally effective” in its 2014 Annual Report and states in the 2016 Annual Report that the Mk 54 “will remain not effective even with the Mod 1 fixes”.

The US Navy also has the vertical launch ASROC system but it is not a close range system.  It has a maximum range of 15 miles.  The minimum range is unknown but given that the weapon is a homing torpedo, it figures to be substantial.

Thus, the Navy’s only shipboard, close range ASW weapons are torpedoes which have faulty shallow water performance, are subject to minimum engagement limits, and are assessed as “not effective”. 

As subs have grown quieter and more advanced around the world, and as US Navy ASW proficiency has atrophied, the likelihood that we will have more late detection, close range, unexpected encounters has increased.  Further, shallow water ASW with its attendant noisy (poor sonar) conditions almost guarantees much closer detections.  We need a quick reaction, anti-submarine weapon for those surprise, close range encounters.  The Navy has had such weapons in the past but abandoned them with the advent of the ASW helicopter which was supposed to keep the ship at arm’s length from the submarine.  In deep water, this is a reasonably valid concept but not in shallow water which is likely to be the more common ASW arena in the future.

Close range ASW weapons of the past include the iconic depth charge of WWII and the Hedgehog which was a mortar system that launched contact fused charges a few hundred feet in front of the ship.  These weapons were eventually abandoned in favor of helicopters and homing torpedoes.

WWII Era Hedgehog

Today’s version of the Hedgehog was developed by the Soviet Navy and is called the RBU.  The RBU is a short range rocket launcher which fires high explosive charges with either contact or depth fusing.  The charges can be fired singly or in salvo.  The launcher comes in various sizes which differ in the number of launching barrels, typically 6-12.  Maximum range is 1000 yds – 6500 yds, depending on the version.  The launcher is moveable in train and elevation and is rapidly and automatically reloadable from an integrated hatch at the base.  Magazine capacity is up to around 100 reloads, depending on version.  RBU’s were standard on all Soviet warships.

Russian RBU-1000

The RBU offers the capability of instantaneous attacks against very close contacts.  The charges are immune to countermeasures and, in contact fuse mode, offer positive feedback on hits.  The “dumb” nature of the free-sinking charges ensures that they offer no threat to the launching ship unlike homing torpedoes which can target the launching ship.  To prevent self-targeting, torpedoes have minimum safe distance arming limits.  Unfortunately, the minimum arming distance precludes engagement within that range.  Thus, the Navy’s short range torpedo is not really short range or, rather, short range is a relative term.  I’ve been unable to find a citation for the minimum safe arming distance for US torpedoes.  Thus, an RBU can fill the gap between the minimum arming range of the torpedo and the ship.

An upgraded version of the RBU, the RPK-8, uses the RBU launcher with a 90R homing head charge which offers increased chance of a hit.  The homing search radius is 130 m and the effective range is 600-4300 m and effective depth is 1000 m (1).  Again, this demonstrates the drawback to homing capabilities in the form of minimum safe distance limits from the launch ship.  Still, this may represent a balance of close range and enhanced kill probability via homing.  The system is quick reaction with a combat ready time of 15 sec (1).

RBU rocket charges are also much cheaper and smaller than torpedoes which allows many more to be carried and used.  In combat, when many questionable contacts will be prosecuted (no Captain will risk not prosecuting a questionable contact that could turn out to be real), the ability to use cheap, plentiful charges rather than scarce, expensive torpedoes could be a welcome option.

Russian Parchim Class Corvette Firing RBU-6000

Surface ships engaged in shallow water ASW or merely operating in shallow water will likely find themselves in surprise, close range encounters with non-nuclear submarines and a short range, quick reaction ASW weapon could provide the defense needed to survive the encounter.  The small size and weight of the launcher makes it suitable for any ship and allows it to be added almost anywhere that a small deck penetration for the reloads can be accommodated.
The US Navy should give serious consideration to developing or obtaining such a weapon system.  The combination of a small, dedicated, cheap ASW vessel and basic, reliable ASW weapons such as an RBU-Hedgehog along with lightweight torpedoes and various sonar sensors would provide the Navy with a viable, effective, and expendable ASW vessel well suited for shallow water operations.

On a side note, a time-fused version could possibly be adapted to torpedo defense by launching a salvo timed to drop in front of an incoming torpedo and explode – the anti-torpedo equivalent of CIWS.

Note:  Russia offers the RPK-8 as an export weapon system – no development needed and it would be satisfying to “take” something from the Russians for a change!

Note:  This is not a replacement for anti-submarine torpedoes.  It is a complement intended to provide effective attacks in close range, surprise encounters.


(1)Russian Defense Export website, products/naval systems/shipborne weapons/RPK-8,

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Spencer For SecNav?

The Trump administration is, apparently, set to announce that they will nominate Richard Spencer for the position of Secretary of the Navy (SecNav).  Mr. Spencer is a former Marine Captain (1976 – 1981) and has since held various positions in the private financial sector mostly dealing with venture capital and investments along with serving on some military advisory boards.  Some reports indicate that he was a Marine aviator though I haven’t been able to confirm that and his short service time may indicate otherwise.  Helo pilot, maybe?

In any event, his nomination would be curious.  A Marine with limited service time and a private sector financial background seems like a weak resume, on the surface, for the position of Secretary of the Navy.  At this point, let me say that I know nothing about Mr. Spencer other than what I’ve just described.  He may be an outstanding candidate.  This post is not about his suitability for the job but, rather, the seeming oddity of choosing someone with such an apparently marginally relevant background given the tens of thousands of former Navy people out there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for a former Admiral because, if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I think Admirals, serving or retired, are worthless.  Surely, though, there must be some mid-level former Navy personnel who served for an extended period, have a good understanding of naval matters, and have a private background in something a bit more relevant such as technology, defense, electronics, computers, business management, etc.

I’m also not against a non-Navy person who has a strong management background in a large organization.  After all, the Navy is a large bureaucratic organization and an experienced, outside person who could cut through the traditional Navy games would be an invaluable asset in the SecNav position.

The point is that there must be thousands of people with better qualifications for the SecNav position.  This choice seems odd.  I’ll be curious to learn more about Mr. Spencer.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Navy Accepts Incomplete and Damaged Ford

The Navy has accepted delivery of the aircraft carrier Ford.

“The Navy accepted delivery of the first-in-class aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) on May 31, following the completion of acceptance trials on May 26 …” (1)

This continues the Navy’s practice of accepting substantially incomplete ships which began with the first LCS’s, continued with the LPD-17 class, included the Zumwalt, and now counts the Ford in this should-be criminal practice. 

The Navy issued a contract for the construction and delivery of a COMPLETE aircraft carrier.  The Navy is accepting delivery of a substantially INCOMPLETE aircraft carrier.  In fact, parts of the ship are not only incomplete but are actually damaged, as we’ve documented in previous posts.

Here’s a list of known incomplete or damaged items that the Navy just accepted.  I’m not going to document these in this post since I’ve extensively documented them in previous posts.

EMALS – cannot safely launch Hornets and Growlers with wing mounted external fuel tanks;  system cannot be electrically isolated for repairs; induces unsafe oscillations of the F-35 during launch; reliability is poor with Mean Cycles Between Critical Failure (MCBCF) – a cycle is one launch – of 340 versus the target of 4,166 – every 340 launches, you’re tossin’ a plane in the drink!

Main Turbine Generator - Ford has suffered major main turbine generator (MTG) failures (an explosion of the No. 2 MTG and a similar event with the No 1 MTG) which have crippled half the the ship’s main generators.  The No. 2 MTG is non-functional and will be repaired sometime after the ship is commissioned.

Advanced Arresting Gear – The Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) is essentially non-functional, having had to undergo recent fundamental redesigns due to equipment failures.  Further, the most recent reliability data indicates the AAG is non-functional.  The MCBCF requirement for the arresting gear is one every 16,500.  The actual MCBCF is 20.  That’s a critical failure every 20 recoveries!

Weapon Elevators – cited in 2016 DOT&E Annual Report

Berthing – insufficient berthing for the CVN-78 Service Lilfe Allowance

Dual Band Radar - testing has uncovered tracking, clutter/false
track, track continuity, and engagement support problems, according to the 2016 DOT&E Annual Report

Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) – system has been indefinitely deferred for budgetary reasons
This is just a selection of the problems that have come to light.  There are, undoubtedly, many others.

What is the point of sea trials and inspections if you’re going to accept the ship no matter what condition it’s in?  They may as well just cancel trials and inspections and save some money. 

Not only will the Navy accept delivery of a badly damaged ship but it will also commission a badly damaged ship.  A commissioned ship is supposed to be combat ready.

This is just stupidity beyond belief.  The only justification for accepting a damaged ship is a feeble and fraudulent attempt to generate positive public relations.


(1)USNI News website, “Carrier Ford Delivers To Navy After 15 Months of Delays”, Megan Eckstein, 1-Jun-2017,

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Missile Training Should Not Be A Noteworthy Event

This little tidbit caught my eye and emphasizes one of my pet peeves.  The French frigate Forbin (Horizon class) conducted a missile firing exercise, launching an Aster-30

“This is the third Aster 30 firing by Forbin since it entered active duty.” (1)

Forbin’s first deployment was in 2009 so the vessel has been in service for 8 years and has fired 3 Aster missiles in that time.  That’s one missile firing every 2.7 years.  Is that sufficient to keep the crew trained, thoroughly exercise and debug the system, and establish a baseline of performance and reliability?

I don’t know how the French Navy works but in the US Navy a ship’s Captain could come and go during that 2.7 year interval and never fire the ship’s main weapon.  Crews can come and go during that interval and never see a live firing.  Is that really the degree of training that a WARship should have?

Before anyone jumps on me, I know little about the French Navy’s practices so if this article misrepresents the state of training to some degree, bear with me.  Perhaps the crew fires a thousand live missiles per year at some other training facility.  They don’t but the point is that the specific details don’t matter.  This article illustrates my theme that the Navy (I’m now talking about the US Navy) needs to engage in much more realistic and frequent training.

Yes, missiles cost money and there’s a limit on how many we can go flinging around in the name of training ……….  or is there?

A Standard missile costs around two million dollars depending on the specific version.  If every Burke were to launch a single Standard each month in training, that would be 12 missiles per year per ship.  Hey, let’s call it 10 per year because ships invariably are unavailable at times for maintenance and whatnot.  There are around 70 Burkes in the fleet so that equates to 700 Standard missile firings per year which would cost $1.4B in missiles. 

Hmm, that’s a lot of money, you say?  Well, consider these benefits – because it’s all a cost-benefit balance, right?

  • Hugely enhanced training quality with the crews operating actual systems with live missiles rather than simulations.  Crews become accustomed to the real thing. 

  • We’ll get a much better idea of the baseline reliability of the missiles and sensor/launch systems.  Today, a live missile firing is a major event preceded by days of preparation, tweaking of systems, inspections, etc. all designed to produce a successful launch.  That won’t happen in war.  Combat launches will be a little or no notice, come as you are event.  More frequent training launches will allow us to get a better feel for how the system works without a major workup period leading to the actual firing.

  • We’ll get a much better idea of the baseline performance of the missiles and systems.  What can we actually expect from the missile in terms of shoot-down effectiveness?  Of course, the Navy would probably still use simplistic, canned scenarios so the performance value would be vastly overstated but more launches would still give better performance data.

  • We would have to produce many more missiles per year which would increase the production capability of the manufacturer.  This would be vital in the case of war where would need large quantities of replacement missiles on a continuous basis.  This kind of training would force us to be better prepared for wartime production capacity.

  • Producing many more missiles per year would drive down the cost substantially, one would have to imagine.  That $2M figure becomes, perhaps, $1M per missile.  See, we’re saving money already!  So now this level of training only costs $700M per year.  That’s the cost of a single LCS and is almost insignificant compared to the overall Navy budget.

Is $700M per year still too much for you to consider?  Okay, how about cutting the launches in half and only doing 5 per year per ship?  Now we’re down to $350M per year.  That is insignificant.  That’s almost round off error in the Navy’s accounting ledgers.

The benefits of live fire training, especially if coupled with more realistic scenarios, are immense.  If even a single Burke is saved in wartime by being better trained and having missile systems whose reliability and performance are better understood, we’ll save the $2B cost of a lost ship and the $XB cost of its replacement.  That alone justifies the expense of the training.

Live fire training inevitably reveals the little things that aren’t accounted for in simulations.  Remember the Granada invasion when, despite all our military’s training, we discovered that none of the units could talk to each other?  Remember the Marines “return” to the sea and the first major amphibious exercise they attempted after decades of land combat?  They found hosts of “little” things that failed or that no one knew/remembered how to do.  You can simulate all the training in the world but until you do it live, you don’t realize that no one has the right size wrench to do the job.  And so on. 

Live fire training is absolutely vital and needs to become a commonplace event.  We need to find out how our systems perform without special tweaking prior to the event.  We need crews to be completely comfortable with the weapons and systems.  We don’t need to be able to make the system work with the most brilliant operator on the ship – we need to be able to make the system work with the worst operator on the ship.

It should not be noteworthy that a ship launches an AAW missile in training.  It should not generate an article read world wide.  It should not be the third time it’s happened in the eight year history of the ship.  Missile launches should be routine, commonplace events that evoke no particular notice.

The larger, overarching point is not the exact number of missile launches per ship per year but, rather, the incredible dearth of such events and lack of live fire exercise of all of our weapons and systems.  The Navy is supposed to be prepared to fight tonight, to use the latest buzz phrase, and the only way to ensure that level of preparedness is to conduct frequent, routine live fire exercises in as challenging scenarios as possible consistent with a reasonable degree of safety.

I’ve previously stated that the Navy should be largely non-deployed (I hesitate to use the word “homeported” because that has a different, inappropriate meaning) and should be spending its time training and this is exactly the type of training that the fleet should be routinely conducting.


(1)Navy Recognition website, 19-May-2017,

Monday, May 29, 2017

Freedom of Navigation - Trump Version

We’ve previously noted that the infrequent Freedom of Navigation (FON) actions by the US Navy in the South China Sea have done more harm than good, legally, by serving to reinforce China’s claims of sovereignty.  The actions were carried out as “innocent passage” which is a prescribed method (see the UNCLOS documents for the exact procedure) for warships to pass peacefully through the waters of another country.  By conducting the FON actions as innocent passages, they served to bolster China’s claims since innocent passage can only be applied to another country’s territorial waters.  Thus, the US was implicitly recognizing China’s claims.  Alternatively, some FON actions were conducted at greater than 12 miles from any disputed islands or lands which, again, bolsters China’s claims of sovereignty. 

Had the US wanted to dispute China’s sovereignty claims, the FON actions should have studiously avoided following innocent passage procedures or observing the 12 mile territorial limit. 

Interestingly, the Navy has just recently executed a FON action near Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands that explicitly ignores the innocent passage procedures.

“A U.S. destroyer sailed within six nautical miles of a Chinese artificial island on Wednesday in the strongest challenge of hotly debated Chinese claims in the South China Sea, USNI News has learned.

Around 7 P.M. EST on Wednesday (7 A.M. Thursday local time), USS Dewey (DDG-105) passed within six nautical miles of the Chinese installation on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Island chain, several U.S. officials confirmed to USNI News

The guided-missile destroyer operated normally and did not conduct the transit under the rules of an innocent passage – the restrictions that allow a warship to pass through another country’s territorial waters with no notice.

The ship was within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef for about 90 minutes zig-zagging in the water near the installation. At one point during the operation, the ship’s crew conducted a man overboard drill, a U.S. official told USNI News.” [emphasis added] (1)

This is good news in a minimalist sense.  At least this FON did no further legal damage.  Presumably, this change in policy is due to the new Trump administration.

On the other hand, this kind of FON serves no concrete purpose if the other side, the Chinese in this case, choose to ignore it.  It does not hinder development of artificial islands or bases.  It does not blockade any Chinese actions.  It does not lodge an official protest with the UN.  It does not establish a “counter-island” developed and controlled by the US.  In short, it does nothing but offer a silent, unspoken, token, symbolic protest in the mildest manner possible.

Previous FON actions have clearly done nothing to dissuade China from their expansionist policies and actions in the South and East China Seas.  FON actions, even this type, accomplish nothing but ratcheting up tensions.  We need to either back out of the area and concede the South and East China Seas as Chinese territories or begin taking concrete, productive actions along the lines we’ve discussed in previous posts and comments.

As a reminder,

“Unlike other Chinese artificial islands in the South China Sea, the Mischief Reef installation isn’t subject to overlapping territorial claims from any other country and is built on a low-tide elevation, as determined by the 2016 Hague tribunal ruling on Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention [UNCLOS], a low-tide elevation cannot be claimed as the territory of any country and does not command a territorial sea.”

China, you’ll recall, is a signatory to UNCLOS and, therefore, bound by it’s rules and regulations.  Despite this, China is actively violating several aspects and provisions of the agreement.

Setting aside the myriad political and economic actions that we could and should take, the following actions, which cover a range of intensity, should also be considered.

  • Close, high speed passes to attempt to cause wake damage to island facilities
  • Blockade of islands and bases
  • Physical hindering of resupply ships
  • Physical disruption of, and interference with, reclamation vessels
  • Covert disruption of island facilities (SEAL missions)
  • Electronic jamming of island communications

China is clearly on a militaristic expansionist path.  It is only a matter of time before China and US come to blows.  One can make a pretty compelling argument that it is better to do it now while China has not yet gained complete parity/superiority than to wait and do it under even less favorable circumstances.

If we’re not going to contest the South and East China Seas then we need to cede the area and retire from the region, diffuse tensions, and save the wear and tear on our ships and aircraft.  Of course, if we’re going to do all that, one can also reasonably ask why we need ships and aircraft.  We can cede entire regions without the use of our military!

Our policy of token resistance is having no positive effect whatsoever.  We need a new geopolitical and military strategy for the region.


(1)USNI News website, “U.S. Warship Came Within 6 Miles of Chinese Artificial Island in Toughest Challenge Yet to Beijing South China Sea Claims
”, Sam LaGrone, 25-May-2017,