Tuesday, September 27, 2016

China War Strategy - Blockade

Various strategies have been put forth for conducting a war with China.  Why is having a strategy important?  Because the strategy determines what equipment, assets, training, and tactics we should be focusing on.  Is the LCS (or F-35 or Zumwalt or whatever) useful?  Well, that depends on the strategy that we envision using. 

One of the common China war strategies put forth is the distant blockade.  In simple terms, this strategy envisions a long range, stand off, world wide blockade imposed to deny raw materials.  Over time, China will lose the ability to continue waging war and will be forced to accept some sort of negotiated peace settlement.

Before I go any further, let me clearly state that this is simply an objective evaluation of one possible strategy.  It is not the strategy that ComNavOps would endorse! 

This strategy has the following attributes.

  • It ensures a very long term process.  China has immense natural resources available within its own borders and has many overland supply routes through other countries.  It is highly unlikely that the US would be willing to interdict many of the overland supply routes since they pass through other countries.

  • It minimizes large scale, direct combat in favor of small, lower end blockade actions and counteractions.

  • It requires world wide military actions and necessitates using a large number of ships and aircraft, possibly more than we have available.

  • It would be almost exclusively an Air Force and Navy action.

  • It would cause immense disruption of the world’s economy for an extended period of time (to be fair, any war between superpowers will disrupt the world’s economy – the time frame being the key issue).

  • It would result in a war of attrition.

Let’s examine the basic premise: that China could be “starved” into peace.  As stated, China has large amounts of natural resources within its borders.  Consider how long N.Korea and Iran have held out in the face of severe sanctions (an uncontested blockade, in essence) and neither of those countries has the resources that China does.  In WWII, Japan was able to continue feeding the homeland and securing sufficient raw materials to continue waging war for four years despite being a very small country and an easily isolated island nation.  Likewise, Germany was able to continue producing war materials right up until the end of the war.  Yes, each experienced shortages of various materials (as did the US) but the overall war production effort carried on and the populations were at least minimally fed.  China is many times larger and can’t be physically isolated.  How much longer could China hold out?  Does anyone think the welfare of its citizens is the Chinese government’s main concern?  We’re probably looking at decades before any serious degradation of war effort would occur.  Could the US and world economies withstand this?  Could we absorb decades worth of attrition?

In order to be successful in any useful time frame, the blockade would have to extend to China’s overland supply routes.  This would require very long range forays by aircraft to attack the routes, pipelines, etc. and would necessitate flying through other country’s airspace.  Many of those countries would be unlikely to allow such intrusions – Russia, notably, comes to mind.

The final and most important aspect of such a strategy is the end result.  What would the end result be?  Answering that starts with understanding the beginning of the war.  The US will not initiate a war with China.  Thus, the assumed start of the war would, undoubtedly, entail the seizure by China of islands, land, or, specifically, Taiwan in an initial “blitzkrieg”.  Then, after many years of blockade the end result would be a negotiated peace settlement demanded by a war-weary Western world that can’t match the long term willingness of China to continue the conflict.  The reality, in such a peace negotiation, is that China would offer to return a few pieces of land or allow a semi-autonomous governing of Taiwan under Chinese control (to be later, slowly, scrapped).  There would certainly be no return to the original boundaries and conditions.  Thus, a negotiated settlement would be a win for ChinaChina would have secured the vast majority of its war objectives.

In fact, if China were smart, they would grab a few extra pieces of land at the start of the war, that they don’t really want, to use as bargaining chips during eventual peace talks at which point they would “magnanimously” offer to return them, thereby demonstrating their commitment to, and extreme desire for, peace.

After the negotiated settlement giving China most of what it wanted, China would pause, rebuild its military and prepare for the next round of annexation and conflict.

We see then, that the net result of the blockade strategy is to allow China to achieve the majority of its wartime goals at a relatively small cost while leaving China with a fully functioning military and supporting defense industry and completely intact civilian infrastructure, thus ensuring that the entire cycle will be repeated down the road.


The blockade strategy is a flawed strategy that accomplishes nothing for the US.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Adaptive Electronic Warfare

Here’s an interesting project that caught ComNavOps’ eye.  DARPA is developing an adaptive electronic warfare (EW) software package (1).  The problem with EW in the past has always been that it was only effective against known, pre-programmed threats.  Today, however, many threats use frequency agile emitters with variable characteristics that we have no way of pre-programming for.  To counter this, DARPA is working with industry to create a software EW package that can analyze threats, determine their characteristics in real time, and produce a counter based on histories of what has worked in the past against similar threat profiles.  This is, potentially, a wonderful approach that offers a broad spectrum of counters without the need for perfect knowledge ahead of time. 

Of course, at the early developmental stage, like this, every project sounds great.  The reality is that few such projects actually make it to production.  Still, this is a technology that is well worth pursuing.

The next step is for DARPA to step away and one of the services to adopt and fund the program.  Unfortunately, this is where many potentially worthwhile projects die – not necessarily for lack of technical worthiness but because of politics.  The services each look at the potential project and play poker against each other.  Who will fund it?  If one service wants to use their money for another project, they may pass on it, hoping that another service picks it up, pays to develop it, and then they can hop on board when it’s mature.  Of course, politics means that they may all pass in favor of funding less deserving pet projects that they think have a better chance of getting funded by Congress regardless worthiness.

For example, the Navy has made it clear that they are going to fund the LCS no matter what.  If they come up short on budget because of that, they will not fund this EW project.  Sad but true.

Something like an EW package would be useful across all the services and should be funded at a DoD level, not at the individual service level.

Anyway, this is a potentially useful project.  It’ll be interesting to see if it gets fully developed by anyone.



_________________________________

(1)Defense News website, “Pentagon Looks To Adaptive EW Systems To Thwart Future Adversaries”, Valerie Insinna, 29-Aug-2016,


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

LCS Readiness

Over at his blog, Cdr. Salamander poses the question

“If we had to go to war, exactly what would the LCS we've commissioned over the last eight years be able to contribute?”

I don’t like repeating someone else’s blog post but this is simply too good to pass up.  I’ve kept you apprised of the mechanical failings of the LCS but when you see it summarized, it’s breathtaking (1).

  • USS FREEDOM (LCS 1): Unavailable due to mechanical failures from Jul 16.
  • USS INDEPENDENCE (LCS 2): Available.
  • USS FORT WORTH (LCS 3): Unavailable due to mechanical failures from Jan 16.
  • USS CORONADO (LCS 4): Unavailable due to mechanical failures from Aug 16.
  • USS MILWAUKEE (LCS 5): Unavailable due to mechanical failures from Dec 15.
  • USS JACKSON (LCS 6): Unavailable due to post-shock test repairs.
  • USS MONTGOMERY (LCS 8): Unavailable due to mechanical failures from Sep 16.

LCS-7, PCU Detroit, is built but won’t be commissioned until 22-Oct.

That’s impressive, isn’t it?  We’ve commissioned 7 LCS warships and only one is available for combat and it’s been designated a non-combatant training and test ship!

The good amphibian posed the question about the LCS and war but only provided an immediate, snapshot picture by way of an answer.  Let’s examine the question and answer a bit deeper and see if we can’t expand and expound on the Commander’s post.

A commissioned warship is supposed to be ready for war.  We’ve commissioned 7 LCS so we should have 7 LCS warships ready for war.  Setting aside their mechanical unreliability and unavailability, what do we have in the way of combat capability from our 7 LCS?

Currently, there is no functional mine countermeasures (MCM) module or anti-submarine (ASW) module.  That leaves only the anti-surface warfare (ASuW) module which consists of two 30 mm machine guns a rubber boat and a helo.  Not exactly an impressive combat capability, is it?  Worse, as best I can tell, only a few ASuW modules have been purchased and are available so only a few ships can even carry a module.

So, here we are with 7 commissioned LCS and all they can contribute to a peer war is the ability to shoot small boats?  The problem is that it’s not going to get better, to any appreciable extent, with time.

The LCS was intended to replace,

  • 55 Perry class frigates
  • 12 Avenger class MCM
  • 14 Cyclone class PC

According to the Navy’s latest LCS plan, we’re going to wind up with,

  • 8 LCS-ASuW
  • 8 LCS-MCM
  • 8 LCS-ASW

Further down the road, we may acquire an additional several LCS “frigates” to get to a total build of 40.

MCM vessels, while vital, are not part of the combat fleet.  They are auxiliaries.  That leaves us with a total of 16 LCS-ASuW/ASW that might, using a very relaxed definition, be construed as frigates with an additional 8 or so possible in the future.  We retired 55 true frigates and we’re going to get 16-24 pseudo-frigates to replace them and none of those will be even remotely close to a true frigate in terms of capability.

Similarly, we’re going to retire 12 Avenger MCM ships and get 8 replacements (assuming a workable MCM module is ever developed).

Let’s circle back to Cdr. Salamander’s question about what the LCS’s can contribute to war?  The answer is, next to nothing.

Worryingly, the Navy considers (and counts) the LCS as part of the combat fleet and is betting our future naval combat capability on these floating piles.  You do not want to be an LCS sailor if war comes!




__________________________

(1)cdr salamander website, “LCS - Annus Horribilus”, 20-Sep-2016,


Navy To Accept and Commission Damaged Ship

The Navy continues to fail to learn the most fundamental lessons concerning ship buying.  The latest example is the Ford which has suffered major main turbine generator (MTG) failures (a June explosion of the No. 2 MTG and a similar, more recent event with the No 1 MTG) which have crippled half the the ship’s main generators.  This post is not about the generator problems but, rather, about the Navy’s stunningly idiotic decision to accept delivery of the ship in a damaged state.

“Several repair options were developed, including whether or not to completely repair the MTGs before sea trials and delivery – causing further delays -- or wait until a post-commissioning shipyard period to finish the work.

On Sept. 14, the Pentagon source confirmed, Navy officials decided on a partial fix now and a permanent fix later.  The No. 2 MTG rotors will be removed while repairs are made to No. 1, and full repairs to No. 2 will wait for the post-shakedown availability (PSA) overhaul sometime after the ship is commissioned.” (1)

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. 

Would any of us buy a damaged car?  Of course not!  The Navy, though, sees no problem with accepting a damaged ship.  I don’t know the details of the purchase contract but once the Navy accepts delivery, the ability to get the manufacturer to fix problems at their own expense becomes severely limited.  Remember, as we’ve noted before, unbelievably, the Navy has no warranty on the ship!!!!

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.  There is no valid justification for accepting a damaged ship.


_________________________________

(1)Defense News website, “Carrier Ford Has Serious Power Problem”, Christopher Cavas, 18-Sep-2016,


Monday, September 19, 2016

Super Tomcat Today

I mentioned in a previous post that with maintenance upgrades the Tomcat could have stayed around and we could have skipped the entire F-18 Hornet family.

Many people, myself included, have lauded the Hornet but only in comparison to the F-35 train wreck.  As a stand alone aircraft, the Hornet is woefully short ranged for today’s missions and is poorly suited for either air to air combat or strike.  The lack of suitability is a function of trying to be a multi-role aircraft and, therefore, being outstanding at neither.

A far better alternative would have been to perform the maintenance upgrade we previously discussed (see, "Maintenance Upgrades") combined with the Super Tomcat upgrades.  That would have given us a high performance fleet interceptor with vastly improved maintainability.  Let’s take a closer look at what we might have had if the Navy had opted to go the Tomcat upgrade route instead of the Hornet route.

To review, the sequence of proposed Tomcat upgrades (maintenance and performance) was, in order,

  1. F-14D Quickstrike
  2. Super Tomcat 21
  3. Attack Super Tomcat 21
  4. ASF-14 (Advanced Strike Fighter)

The first three modifications would have preserved the basic F-14 to the degree possible while the final version, the ASF-14, would have incorporated new materials and technologies and produced an essentially new aircraft similar to the way the Super Hornet is largely a new aircraft compared to the original Hornet.  The first three versions would have been remanufactured while the last version would have been new construction.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of the various technologies proposed for inclusion in the Tomcat upgrades.


  • GE-F110-129 engines for super-cruise at Mach 1.3 and increased acceleration
  • Upgraded APG-71 radar including an Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar mode and a 20% increase in target acquisition range. (3)
  • Modified and enlarged control surfaces to provide 33% greater low speed lift around the carrier and enlarged all-moving tailplanes. (3)
  • Enlarged leading edge root extensions (LERX) that would house more fuel and enhance the jet's low speed handling capabilities
  • Thrust vectoring nozzles tied directly to a new digital flight control system.  Even without thrust vectoring, the aerodynamic enhancements found on the ASF-14 would allow the jet to reach over 77 degrees of sustained AoA, but thrust vectoring was also to be part of the new design which would have made it the most maneuverable fighter of all time. (3)
  • Significantly greater range
  • The Quickstrike version would have had provision for up to 24 munitions points, fewer for heavier munitions. (3)
  • Modified radar with Forward Air Controller (FAC) mode
  • Integrated Defensive Avionics Package (IDAP)
  • FLIR targeting and Terrain Following Radar housed in front of the Phoenix missile mount's aerodynamic fairings under the fuselage
  • Infra Red Search & Track system (IRST) and Television Camera System (TCS) mounted in under-nose pods
  • Upgraded cockpit avionics including a new wide angle heads up display (HUD) that would be capable of projecting the navigational FLIR's imagery
  • Increase in internal fuel from 16,200 lbs for an F-14D to 18,500 lbs for the SuperTomcat 21. (2)
  • Further increase in internal fuel over the Super Tomcat 21 via thicker wings in the ASF-14.
  • Use of carbon fiber structural components to save weight and volume
  • 1960's era sub-systems that were heavy and complex would be replaced with modular components
  • All of the jet's hydraulic and electrical systems that gave legacy Tomcat maintainers such headaches over the years would have been replaced with greatly simplified systems
  • Many structural components would be made out of carbon fiber instead of aluminum or titanium. This would allow the new Tomcat to be only slightly heavier in gross weight (about 1000 pounds empty) than its predecessor, while gaining 2200 lbs of fuel in each glove area. (2)
  • Some stealthy characteristics would be applied to the ASF-14, this may have included radar baffles over it engines' fan faces and "edge-aligned" gear doors and access points. (1)
  • A mammoth active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar would have been fitted and provided with immense amounts of power for interlaced air-to-air and air-to-ground operations or even standoff electronic attack. You can see how incredible the ASF-14s AESA capability would have matured into by looking at the current APG-63V3 AESA radar upgrade program for the F-15. The APG-63V3 is actually more capable in some respects than the F-22A's APG-77 AESA radar because it is larger in diameter, allowing for more transit/receive modules to be utilized, and it is newer in its design. The Tomcat was built originally for the massive Hughes AWG-9 fire control radar, the largest radar ever deployed on a US fighter, so there is a LOT of real estate up front for the mother of all fighter jet AESA radar arrays to have been fitted. (1)

And, of course, any new technologies that have been developed and incorporated into the current F-18E/F would also have been capable of being added to the SuperTomcat.

In addition, if we had gone the SuperTomcat route, we would undoubtedly have upgraded the Phoenix or developed a new, better replacement – perhaps something like a longer ranged AMRAAM which we essentially now have, anyway.

So, what would be the specs of a Super Tomcat compared to the Super Hornet and F-35?  Obviously, the Super Tomcat’s specs are speculative and are my own assessments.


 Super Tomcat              Super Hornet                      F-35

Combat Radius                     750 (4) nm                   390 nm                       490 nm (5)
Speed                                    Mach 2+                      Mach 1.8                    Mach 1.6
Hardpoints                             10                                11                                2 (6)
Weapons Load                      17,750 lbs(7)               17,750 lbs                   3,000 lbs (6)


(4)Wiki credits the F-14D with a 500 nm combat radius.  Given the increases in fuel and wing area, combined with newer, more efficient engines, I’m estimating 750 nm combat radius.

(5)Wiki credits the F-35 with a 625 nm to 760 nm combat radius which is patently false since the credited range is 1200 nm.  The best possible combat radius is half the range since the aircraft has to fly out and return.  So, to list a combat radius that is greater than half the range is not possible.  When one factors in the combat maneuvering (higher thrust) during the combat mission, the maximum value of half the range becomes significantly less than half.  One of the two numbers is incorrect.  Given all the lies told about the F-35 by the manufacturer and the Navy so far, I flat out don’t believe the listed combat radius.  So, I’ve estimated a combat radius that is likely far more correct.

(6)This is the F-35’s combat capability.  The aircraft has 6x additional hardpoints but those will not be used in combat because of the resulting degradation of stealth.  Further, the aircraft’s combat radius is predicated on a clean configuration (internal weapons only).  Any configuration with external hardpoints would severely degrade the combat radius as well as stealth and maneuverability.

(7)The Super Tomcat would, undoubtedly, have increased its weapon payload from the 14,500 lb of the standard F-14 but how much is a guess.  I’ve seen no published number.  I’ve opted to cite the same capacity as the Super Hornet although I suspect the increase would be much greater.  This is a debatable number.


Now, let’s look at today’s aircraft roles.  The Navy needs a long range fleet interceptor and air superiority fighter.  Given the existence of the Tomahawk-TLAM, there may or may not be a need for a long range strike aircraft – but that’s another post.  Clearly, an upgraded Tomcat would have given us a vastly superior long range fleet interceptor and air superiority fighter as compared to the Super Hornet we have today. 

An upgraded Tomcat is even superior to the F-35 in all ways except stealth.  There’s just a limit to how much stealth you can “fit” on to an airframe that wasn’t designed and shaped for stealth from the beginning.  Of course, we don’t know how much stealth the ASF-14 would have had.  More importantly, we don’t know how much stealth is actually effective or needed.

The two-seat Tomcat would have also allowed a much greater degree of secondary tasking such as surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting, control of other aircraft, etc.

What we see from all this is the possibility that the Tomcat could have been upgraded and the entire F-18 line skipped while providing a vastly superior aircraft.  Going further, the improved Tomcat would, today, surpass not only the F-18 but the F-35, as well, in all ways except stealth.

It is likely that the cost of the overall upgrade path would have been less than the F-18 path simply due to bypassing the basic airframe development.  Of course, the upgrades, themselves, would have cost the same as the upgrades for the Super Hornet.

Having a vastly superior aircraft, today, would allow the Navy to skip the troubled F-35 and wait for the next generation fighter instead of having to accept a hugely expensive F-35 that does not even meet the Navy’s need for a long range interceptor and air superiority fighter.

It’s not as if all this has become apparent only with the benefit of hindsight.  The advantages of the Tomcat upgrade path were well known at the time and the mediocrity of the F-18 Hornet was also well recognized.  The Navy had every opportunity to make an informed, better decision and opted not to.  They have no one to blame but themselves for the current situation.



_________________________________

(1)Foxtrot Alpha website, “Top Gun Day Special: The Super Tomcat That Was Never Built”, Tyler Rogoway, 13-May-2014

(2)Home of M.A.T.S. website, 6-Aug-2016


(3)topedge.com website, “Advanced Tomcat Variants”, 6-Aug-2016



Saturday, September 17, 2016

LCS Shock Test

The LCS USS Jackson just completed shock trials.  Here’s the Navy’s statement about the results of the trial.

“The ship performed exceptionally well, sustaining minimal damage and returned to port under her own power.” (1)

On the other hand, there’s this.

“The Jackson came through the tests better than expected, according to several sources, and the Navy noted damage was not severe as some models had forecast. The Navy had planned a two-month repair period to address the damages, but in the event the work was completed in less than six weeks.” (2)

Six weeks to repair damage from a blast detonated around 100 yards from the ship seems a bit excessive but, to be fair, I don’t know what typical shock testing damage is to any ship.  This seems excessive but perhaps it’s not.  Maybe someone out there has some experience with this kind of testing and can tell us about it?

The repairs were conducted by LCS manufacturer Austal under a repair contract from the Navy.

“The work was led by Austal USA, the ship’s builder, working under an $11.2 million contract awarded in late June specifically to address anticipated post-shock trial repair issues. The ship was dry docked at BAE Systems in Jacksonville, Florida, Kent said, and was completed “within the overall funding of the awarded contract.

That’s $11.2M of repair work from a not very near blast.  Again, it seems excessive.

Now, here’s an interesting item.  It appears from the video of the test that the Jackson had the Mk110 57mm gun removed for the test.  I have no idea why that would be done.  Isn’t the point of the test to find out about the shock resistance of every piece of equipment on the ship?  Is this standard practice?  I wonder what else was removed?  Again, does anyone out there know anything about this?


LCS Shock Test


As you know, the Navy has a slight tendency to put a gargantuanly positive spin on even the worst incidents.  Before I pass judgment on whether the LCS performed well or not, I’ll wait to hear what DOT&E has to say. 



________________________________

(1)DoDBuzz website, “VIDEO: Littoral Combat Ship Withstands Wallops at Sea”, Brendan McGarry, 15-Sep-2016,

(2)Defense News website, “LCS Jackson Completes Repairs, Is Back at Sea”, Christopher Cavas, 1-Sep-2016,



Friday, September 16, 2016

Seriously? Another One?

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

Yet another LCS has suffered an engineering failure.  The USS Montgomery (LCS-8) suffered a pair of engineering failures three days after being commissioned and while transiting to its home port of San Diego (1).  The ship is now headed to Florida for repairs.

It is worth noting that every LCS that has put to sea for more than a few days has suffered an engineering breakdown and some have suffered multiple breakdowns.

I guess that engineering stand down that the Navy ordered for the LCS program didn’t do much good.



____________________________

(1)USNI News website, “UPDATED: Littoral Combat Ship USS Montgomery Suffers Engineering Casualty, Fifth LCS Casualty Within Last Year”, Sam LaGrone, 16-Sep-2016,