Saturday, November 22, 2014

Offset Strategy Follow Up

We just recently discussed the CSBA proposed offset strategy but it warrants a bit of a follow up.  It’s become clear in recent days that Hagel and Work are going to commit the US to exactly this offset path and that greatly worries me. 

Setting aside the asymmetric punishment aspect that is highly questionable and renders the entire strategy suspect, the execution of the strategy seems to be focused on information, networks, data, and surveillance at the expense of high explosives.  Consider where the armed forces are already heading. 

  • The Marines are shedding tanks and artillery in favor of lighter weight, mobile vehicles.
  • The AF wants to drop the A-10.
  • The Navy has terminated production of Tomahawk missiles with no replacement.
  • The mainstay of future aviation is a lightweight, short ranged surveillance and communications node rather than a kick-butt combat aircraft.
  • The AF has only 19 B-2 bombers and 180 F-22 fighters.
  • The Navy is prematurely retiring combat stores ships that are needed to support sustained combat operations.
  • The Navy has dropped another air wing, down to 9 now.  That’s effectively dropping a carrier since a carrier is useless without an air wing.
  • The Navy is retiring the SSGN submarines with no replacement.
  • The Army is being gutted in terms of personnel.
  • And so on …

The trend is clear.  The armed forces are getting lighter and moving their emphasis away from high explosives and towards information and mobility.  Don’t get me wrong, information is extremely valuable – critically so, in fact.  The problem is that at some point you still have to blow things up.  Taking the current trends to their logical conclusion, we’re running the risk of having a force that can observe with perfect awareness while the enemy crushes us because we don’t have enough armor and big enough explosives.

Now consider where the rest of the world is going.  Not a day goes by without reading about another country buying/developing main battle tanks, supersonic missiles, more and larger artillery, theatre ballistic missiles, long range bombers, highly capable frigate/destroyers, etc.  The rest of the world is gearing up for serious, high end combat.  We’re gearing down for information, mobility, crisis response, and humanitarian assistance.

Lastly, bear in mind that this offset strategy and implementation is being overseen by Hagel and Work.  I would be hard-pressed to name two less competent people.  Work, in particular, has demonstrated that he will ruthlessly crush any opposition.  As we proceed down the offset path and it becomes evident that there are flaws in the strategy and implementation, will we or the military leadership hear about them or will people in the military be so intimidated that they’ll meekly and quietly go along while our military capability goes down the drain?  This is exactly what happened with the LCS which was Work’s pet project.  He demonized opposition despite the overwhelming evidence that the program was badly flawed.  Is this the leadership we can depend on to take us down an already suspect path?

The risk in all of this is that we wind up with an entire military that’s essentially the LCS.  Remember all the things the networked, nodal, information-centric LCS was going to do?  It was going to dominate littoral combat for generations to come.  The reality is that it turned out to have no combat power, whatsoever.  Now, we’re looking to strip down our military combat power in favor of information, networks, and surveillance.  Do you see the parallel?

Let’s be fair, here.  The offset strategy is not an official program, yet, and even if it were there are no specific details published.  Perhaps I’m jumping the gun and worrying about nothing or worrying about things that aren’t going to happen the way I’ve laid out.  Perhaps we’ll talk about this for a year or two, not much will happen, and then new leaders will take over and things will go in a different direction.  On the other hand, what if I’m right?  Time will tell. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Triton Sense and Avoid

From Janes website, an interesting tidbit about BAMS (1) 

“The US Navy (USN) is revisiting the sense-and-avoid (SAA) capability of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) after previous efforts have failed to produce a system that works to the service's satisfaction.

The navy's efforts to develop and field an SAA system for the MQ-4C have proven to be more challenging than was first anticipated.

This issue has proven to be so problematic that the navy issued a stop-work order to Exelis, which was developing the SAA sensors under contract to Northrop Grumman, while it evaluates alternatives.”

There’s nothing special about this.  Developmental challenges are to be expected but it does remind us that even the seemingly mundane features can prove difficult and that should give us pause as we leap into our assumptions about the ease of development of rail guns, lasers, anti-gravity, and telepathic networks. 

For all you fanboys of [fill in the blank], remember ComNavOps rule of thumb:  a program will be fortunate to achieve half its claimed capabilities at twice the cost.

(1) IHS Jane's Defence Weekly , “US Navy seeks new sense-and-avoid solution for Triton UAV”, Gareth Jennings, 5 November 2014,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who's Running the Military?

ComNavOps has a simple question to ask.

Who is running the military?

That should be simple to answer.  Let’s just check to see who has produced the influential documents that are guiding the military.

First up would have to be the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) concept that has driven so much of the military’s efforts for the last few years.  This concept has been the basis for the entire naval amphibious assault concept changes (stand-off distances, high speed connectors, modified amphibious assault vehicles, etc.), the Pivot to the Pacific, the focus on longer range aircraft and missiles, and the termination of the LCS, among other notable actions and trends.  The author of that concept was the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

Next would be the current offset strategy that Hagel and Work seem to be committing the military to.  In simplest terms, the offset consists of using networks and unmanned platforms to compensate for lack of numbers.  The author of that concept was the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

So, the answer to who is running the military would seem to be the CSBA. 

I have nothing against using outside consultants to assist the military in its various planning efforts but wouldn’t you think the bulk of the high level “strategic” analysis should come from the professional, uniformed ranks?  If not, what are we paying them for?

After the CSBA, there is a second level of reports that shape the military and they are provided by GAO, CRS, DOT&E, and others.  These reports are usually narrowly focused on specific topics and help shape the implementation of the higher level CSBA guidance.

Finally, there is a third level of reports.  The military cranks out regular documents but if you’ve read any of them you know that they’re worthless, generic platitudes that are neither useful in concept nor used in practice and which offer no specific guidance.

Throw in the DoD’s near total reliance on industry to tell the military what it needs and what capabilities it can have and you have a picture of near total abdication of the intellectual guidance of our armed forces.  [Rant :  You don’t ask industry what the next “LCS/Small Surface Combatant” will do, you tell them what you want based on your strategic, operational, and tactical needs.]

What are our Admirals and Generals doing all day?  Clearly, they’re not producing any significant strategic thinking.  When did the military give up its role as the architect of professional military analysis?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Maintenance Lessons

Navy Times website had an article about fleet maintenance that absolutely infuriated ComNavOps (1).  The article begins with a note about the Navy having to switch carrier deployments because one carrier is taking longer than expected to repair.  Here’s the relevant quotes.

"The problems that drove the carrier switch — extended maintenance after years of high deployment pace and smaller crews — also plague other carriers and ships. Two attack submarines are more than six months late in their yard work and two guided missile subs are more than a year late, officials said."

"The attack boats are ‘the lowest priority in the shipyard,’ said Vice Adm. William Hilarides, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command. ‘They are not doing well at all and are significantly late to their schedules.’ "

Hmm …  So, the submarines, arguably the most valuable warship in the Navy, have the lowest priority.  What’s wrong with this picture?

"The Navy often paints a rosy picture for overhaul schedules. But the fleet needs work, and the Navy’s top shipfixer says its time to ‘deal with the facts’ and set realistic goals for overhauls."

OK, that sounds like someone understands the problem but why is the rest of the Navy painting a rosy picture?

" ‘We started avails that were notionally six months long that we knew in our hearts were going to take nine or 10 months,’ Hilarides said in an Oct. 6 phone interview. He recalled telling fleet bosses that many 2014 overhauls were going to be late. They did not like the news ..."

"Navy officials estimate that 40 percent of preventative maintenance work is not getting done, or is not done right. Not following procedures is also a growing problem, especially in the surface Navy, and has caused more than $50 million in damages this year alone.”

So, the Navy knows what the problems are.  I wonder if they know why the problems occurred?

“Hilarides places much of the blame on the failed ‘optimal manning’ initiative, which the Navy moved to reverse by adding back ship billets in 2011 after years of cuts that hollowed crews. Personnel officials still estimate the fleet has 7,000 gapped jobs."

So, the Navy knows why the problems occurred.  I wonder if they’ve learned any lessons?

“‘If there is one thing I’ve learned, we shouldn’t take this apart again,’ Hilarides said. ‘We should rebuild it and keep it strong. This is part of the cost of running a world-class Navy.’ "

So, the Navy has learned their lessons.

Well, the entire multi-decade maintenance debacle has been painful and expensive but now we recognize the problems, the reasons, and we’ve learned our lessons.  OK, the history of the problem is discouraging but at least the Navy is moving forward with a newfound clarity of thought and understanding of what needs to be done.  We won’t see these problems crop up again.

And then, after all that, there’s this,

"Truman will begin a maintenance period at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in October to ensure the carrier is prepared for its expedited deployment. The availability will be about one-quarter of the 200,000 man-days originally planned, said Rear Adm. Richard Berkey, who heads fleet maintenance for FFC."

The availability will be one-quarter of what’s needed.

One-quarter of what’s needed.


What happened to understanding the problem?  What happened to recognizing why the maintenance problems got to be so bad to begin with?  What happened to lessons learned?

Are you kidding me?  Are you serious?  Is Navy leadership really that stupid?  This is why I started this blog.  I saw a caste of leaders that were devoid of intelligence and integrity and were violating the trust of the sailors under their command and the trust of the American people.  This absolutely infuriates me.

CNO Greenert, where are you?  You are abdicating your responsibility.  Get out of my Navy.

(1)Navy Times, "Flattop flip-flop: Repair problems force schedule change-up", Oct. 18, 2014,

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bold Alligator 2014

The Marine Corps is returning to the sea, they tell us [why did we leave?  But, I digress …].  OK, let’s take a look at the premier amphibious exercise of the year, the annual Bold Alligator (BA) exercise.  It’s been conducted since 2011 although two of those years the exercise was mostly simulation.

So, with the renewed focus of the Corps on amphibious operations and the Pivot to the Pacific (read China, even though no one will say it) the 2014 exercise would, undoubtedly, have focused on major amphibious assault operations, you would think.  That makes sense.  If we’re going to kick in the Chinese A2/AD zone, or invade Iran or N. Korea, or launch assaults on Russia we need to be prepared to conduct major amphibious operations, right?

As a point of interest, the US contingent of the exercise included 14 USN ships:  6 amphibs, 1 CG, 3 DDG, 1 JHSV, 1 T-AKE, 1 T-AO, and 1 T-ATF.  Not exactly a major amphibious assault force, is it?  -no carriers -no bombardment group -no mine clearing task force.  Conspicuous by their absence is the LCS.  Wasn’t the LCS going to be the kick-the-littoral-door-down force that would secure the littoral region, remove the mine threat, neutralize the submarine threat, and spread democracy?  As best I can determine, the LCS has yet to participate in any of the BA exercises.  That’s odd considering that this is exactly the mission the LCS was designed for.

Anyway, as best I can piece together from numerous sources, the 2014 BA is a series of small, crisis response exercises.  Here are some of the pieces of the exercise.

  • provide security for humanitarian assistance (HA) operations
  • exercise a riverine team providing security for the HA ops
  • raid on a terrorist camp
  • embassy protection
  • aerial assault
  • Company size, unopposed landing
  • JHSV loaded 16 Humvees

So, what are we practicing? A bunch of low end, small events. Heck it's based on a humanitarian assistance mission! It's not an exercise to practice getting divisions ashore and demolishing an enemy - it's a scripted series of crisis response, mobility exercises, from what I've read. We're wasting a premier event on peacetime and low end tasks. That's not what the Chinese are practicing!

Here’s an interesting statement from one of the articles.

"'Coming into this event, there was a substantial amount of repair, cleaning and preservation work done to get the ship ready,' said Bossert [Capt. David Bossert, commanding officer of Kearsarge, LHD-3]. 'There was an untold amount of work done by Sailors and Marines assigned to USS Kearsarge, and they have done a phenomenal job.'" (1)

The ship had to undergo extraordinary basic maintenance to be ready for this exercise???!  That says quite a bit about our level of readiness, doesn’t it?

One of the pieces of the exercise involved a Marine battalion providing rapid response embassy protection and security from protesters.  Consider this statement.

“Our biggest challenge was getting out of the combat mindset,” Rosales[Sgt. Richard Rosales, a squad leader with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines] said. “The Marines are new to embassy guarding, so we met up with the [personnel] at the embassy to learn about daily operations, and how they would normally utilize the Marines [at the embassy].” (2)

Wow!  The Chinese are gearing up for high end combat and we're working hard to get out of the combat mindset. 

Another piece involved having a Marine recon unit land and provide intel for a Company landing team to come ashore in an unopposed landing for the purpose of supporting the embassy protection mission.

We have the opportunity to conduct a major exercise and we opt to spend it on a minor, Company size UNOPPOSED landing whose purpose is to support an embassy security operation.  Way to maximize training opportunities!

This ties back to recent comments about the difference between the Chinese military preparations and our own.  As I’ve said, and as I’ll repeat,

The Chinese are preparing for war.  We are not.

What happens if we have to conduct a major amphibious operation tomorrow?  Are we prepared?  Not from this exercise, we aren’t!

Here’s the thing – if we want to be able to conduct a major, multi-division offensive spearheaded and enabled by an amphibious assault then we have to practice it.  We have to assemble a major task force and practice the operation.  If, on the other hand, we’re concluding that we aren’t going to ever need an amphibious assault on such a scale then why do we have 30 some major amphibious ships and an entire Marine Corps?  If all we’re going to do is embassy evacuations and humanitarian assistance ops and the like, we can make do with significantly fewer amphibious ships (they can be commercial vessels if we aren’t going to conduct opposed landings) and a much smaller Corps.  In fact, if we aren’t going to do amphibious assaults one can’t help but wonder why we even need the Marines.  The Army has Ranger and Airborne units that can do the security and evacuation and small scale raids and probably do them better.

We need to either get serious about amphibious operations or admit that we’re out of the business and turn the resources over to the Army and Air Force.  Bold Alligator 2014 was an embarrassment.  The Chinese have to be laughing about our military priorities.

Friday, November 14, 2014

National Defense Sealift Fund

ComNavOps stumbled across an interesting ship construction funding mechanism that isn’t part of the normal Shipbuilding and Conversion budget process.  Here’s a good description of the fund from Breaking Defense website (1).

“The legislation at issue is the decades-old National Defense Sealift Fund (NDSF), an account outside the regular Pentagon budget that pays for unarmed naval auxiliaries such as transports, supply ships, and oilers. Precisely because the NDSF operates outside the normal budget and procurement rules, it has always had its critics on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon. Now that the Pentagon is striving to get its books straight enough to audit, the Navy has decided it needs to get rid of this particular complication, so its 2015 budget request would zero out the fund. Instead, the proposed T-AO(X) oiler and future support ships would be funded out of the regular Shipbuilding & Conversion, Navy (SCN) account that pays for warships.”

No, I’m not suggesting that there’s anything nefarious about this.  It’s just one of those accounting oddities that abound throughout government acquisition.  I was curious, though, as to the size of the fund and how much it produced in the way of vessels.  A quick search of the Navy budget justification documents revealed that the fund averaged about $1B per year over the recent seven year period and funded T-AKE and MLP vessels among others.  Those are significant vessels and a billion dollars is a noteworthy amount.

The key point here is what happens if the Navy zeroes out this fund, as stated in the article.  If the funds are simply transferred to the regular SCN then this is a simple accounting exercise and worth no further attention.  On the other hand, with Congress enforcing sequestration and all manner of budget limitations, if the SCN is not increased to compensate for the loss of the NDSF then the Navy is faced with trying to fund additional ships with no more money or having to cut some currently planned ships to meet the budget.

Of course, there is another possibility whose contemplation requires a more cynical view of the Navy (and I’m just the guy for that!).  The funds may be transferred to the SCN but instead of using the money to buy auxiliary ships, as intended, the Navy may opt to stop building the support ships and use the “extra” money for the shiny new carriers and Flt III’s that the Navy so desperately prefers over the unsexy but absolutely vital supply ships.  You’ll recall some previous posts in which we pointed out that the Navy is already early retiring those very types of support ships.  Is this possibility really that far-fetched?

We’ll have to keep an eye on this.

(1) Breaking Defense, "Engine Maker ‘At Risk;’ Wants Navy Help", Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 14-Nov-2014,

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chinese Fighters

ComNavOps is not an expert on Chinese fighter aircraft by any means (is anyone, really?).  Still, it’s hard not to be impressed and concerned by both the range of aircraft being developed and the rate of progress.  The J-20 and J-31, for example, appear to be on par or better than the F-22 and F-35, respectively, at least on paper.  Honestly, if I had to choose between the J-31 or the F-35 at this point, I’d opt for the J-31.  It’s likely to reach operational service sooner!

Of course, we can’t discuss this any further without recognizing that the Chinese aircraft capabilities are all manufacturer’s claims.  None have been demonstrated or proven publicly.  The capabilities may or may not be achievable.  Just because an aircraft looks stealthy and lethal doesn’t mean it is.  The LCS was going to win wars single-handed – on paper.  The JSF was going to be the world’s greatest aircraft in service a decade ago and yet we still haven’t achieved Initial Operation Capability after two decades of development.

Nonetheless, the Chinese appear to have recognized that the area of interest to them, the first island chain, requires operating over a thousand mile distance and they’re developing very long range aircraft and missiles to do so.  The US, on the other hand, is saddled with a short range F-35 as the cornerstone of its future air power and has been very slow to recognize the tyranny of distance and limited basing.

As we discuss BAMS and carriers and A2/AD and LCS and whatever else, it’s obvious that we’re still mired in a very nonchalant mindset.  Vague statements like, “We’ll just provide protection for our high value assets.” Illustrate the lack of critical thinking being exercised in our combat discussions.  Conversely, the Chinese are clearly gearing up for a high end war and have recognized that that combat will occur over vast ocean distances.  The winner of that war will be the one who has developed the ability to conduct long range combat.

This nonchalant mindset is not just limited to civilian commentators, such as us.  It infects our professional military as evidenced by the continued pursuit of an F-35 that is already outclassed, a new LCS that has inherent structural flaws that no amount of additional weapons can compensate for, shrinking fleets, shrinking air wings, etc.  It’s also evidenced by the weapon systems that we aren’t pursuing such as a conventional Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, a truly long range air superiority fighter, a supersonic long range cruise missile, a powerful cruiser replacement, a useful modern frigate, a connector to get Marines ashore, and dozens of other high end systems needed for the A2/AD fight. 

China is serious about war.  We are not.

There’s another interesting aspect at play here with regards to Chinese fighter development and that’s developmental-OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act).  You may recall that OODA is the theory developed by USAF Col. John Boyd that states that the winner of an air-to-air engagement is the one who can get “inside” the other’s decision making process, the OODA loop (I’ll leave it to you to investigate the OODA loop for yourself). 

The OODA concept has since been applied to tactics and strategy, in general.  Consider, now, though, that China is “inside” our OODA aircraft development loop.  They’re producing more advanced aircraft in a faster cycle than we are (again, with the caveat that we’re talking about paper claims).  Being inside our developmental loop is potentially quite troubling.  The implication is that we can’t maintain a technological edge because they can produce the same technology in a shorter time frame.

Do yourself a favor and do some research into the Chinese fighter program.  I guarantee it will alter your view of the value and worth of our own efforts – and not for the better.

On a related note, the ground combat side of things is just as troubling and maybe more so.  China is gearing up for high end, armored combat while we are gearing down for police actions, crisis response, humanitarian assistance, light infantry, and mobility.  If those two ground forces meet, I’d want to in the high end, heavy armor force.  Unfortunately, my passport says I’m on the other side.

We can’t intelligently discuss our own weapons and systems without understanding our enemy’s.  I encourage everyone to take some time and do a bit of research.  You’ll find it a bit scary but necessary.