Friday, January 20, 2017

LCS - Not All That Fast

Arguably, the second most important characteristic of the LCS, after the modular swap capability (now abandoned), is its speed, according to the Navy.  This is the Navy’s claim despite the fact that no one seems able to come up with any practical use for the ship’s high speed.  The LCS sacrificed much at the altar of speed, as you’ll recall, paying a steep price in weight, margins, internal volume, machinery noise, and fuel consumption.  In any event, as the LCS has developed, the vessel has grown heavier and its speed and range have been steadily downgraded.  Now we see this from testing reported in the DOT&E 2016 Annual Report:

“LCS 4 failed its sprint speed requirement of 40 knots, demonstrating a maximum sustained speed of only 37.9 knots in calm waters.”

So, the much vaunted speed, which cost the ship so much, can’t even be achieved.  You’ll recall original Navy claims that suggested the top speed would be near 50 kts.  Now we’re down to 37.9 kts.  That’s a horrific price the ship paid for 37.9 kts.

To sum up, the most important characteristic of the LCS, modularity, has been abandoned and the second most important characteristic, speed, can’t be achieved ……. and the Navy wants more of these vessels!

Well, at least the ship can go fast if it ever needs to.  Kind of.  But not without problems.

“LCS 4 has long-standing problems with her ride control system hardware, including interceptors, fins, and T-Max rudders, that affect the ship’s maneuverability at high speeds. The ship also had reported recurring problems with frequent clogging of the gas turbine engine fuel oil conditioning module pre‑filters and coalescers, and found it difficult to maintain high speed for prolonged periods. The crew found it necessary to station extra operators in the machinery room (normally an unmanned space) to
change fuel filters and manually control the fuel oil heaters to keep the gas turbine engines in operation during these high-speed runs.”

I repeat …….  and the Navy wants more of these vessels!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

LCS Alternative Uses

For better or worse, the LCS is in the fleet and, with 40-52 planned, it will make up a major portion of our combat fleet.  Now, including a toothless vessel in a count of the combat fleet is delusional but the Navy is, numerically, replacing frigates and Aegis cruisers with LCS so we need to deal with it.  Sure, for many of us the preferred solution is to terminate the LCS and move on but the reality is that the Navy is committed to the LCS.  Recognizing that, let’s ask ourselves, are there combat or combat related uses that the LCS could be put to, with suitable modifications, so that we can get some value from the class?  I’ve looked at this in previous posts but it’s worth a fresh look.  Here’s some possibilities.  Note that in most (all?) of the cases, the LCS would have to be modified to greatly increase its at-sea endurance in order to be useful – this in addition to whatever specific possibility is being discussed.  Note, also, that I’m ignoring the “frigate” version of the LCS since we have so little concrete information about it, as yet.

SigInt – The Navy had a dedicated signals intelligence aviation platform in the EP-3 and, later, the ES-3A Shadow (an S-3 Viking variant) but those have been retired without replacement.  The Navy also has a history of operating various intelligence gathering ships.   Unfortunately, there has also been a history of intelligence gathering ships and aircraft being attacked – Pueblo, Liberty, EP-3.  An armed LCS, fitted with a comprehensive suite of electronic intelligence gathering equipment and supplemented by UAVs, might be able to fill the role and provide its own protection against the kind of attacks and seizures that have happened in the past.

UAV Carrier – I’ve often talked about the need for large numbers of relatively small and cheap UAVs to conduct surveillance and targeting.  An LCS with its module space converted to hangar and UAV storage space and a large flight deck for UAV launch and recovery operations would make a suitable UAV carrier.  One such LCS UAV carrier with each surface/carrier/amphibious group might prove useful

Company Landing Team – The Marines have been experimenting with smaller, Company sized landing teams (referred to as CoLT, at one time) and the LCS might be a suitable platform for the hosting of such a unit.  For a variety of reasons, I don’t view this as a good idea but it is a potential use for the ship if the Marines are determined to pursue a bad idea.

Fire Support – Amphibious assault (and general ground support) naval fire support is a glaring gap in the Navy’s ground warfare support capability.  The Navy has made it clear that they will not risk operating Burkes close enough to shore to provide naval gunfire support.  The LCS could be modified to operate navalized rocket systems (MLRS/ATACMS).  The combination of standard rockets and long range ATACMS would actually offer greater strike range than the Zumwalt’s now non-existent LRLAP rounds.  By utilizing the flight deck space, several launchers could be mounted.  Making them reloadable along the lines of the Mk 112 ASROC launcher would offer a substantial capability with an extensive magazine.  Several LCS, each with several launchers, would provide a potent naval firepower support capability.  Adding a few extra SeaRAM AAW self-defense units to each ship would provide the ability to operate in close to shore with a reasonable chance at survival.

Riverine/PC Mother Ship – An LCS might make a suitable mother ship to a group of riverine or PC (Cyclone class) vessels.  The extensive modular storage spaces of the LCS could be converted to maintenance shops and food/fuel/munitions storage.  This would allow the smaller vessels to operate farther from bases and for a longer period of time.

Torpedo Ship – This option is less of a dedicated ship type than a specialized function that could prove useful.  One of the tasks in any war and a possible (though not preferred by ComNavOps!) specific strategy is blockade and the need to destroy enemy merchant shipping.  The LCS could be used around the world as a commerce raider of sorts except that it lacks a ship killing weapon.  Even the addition of a handful of Harpoon-ish weapons won’t sink large tankers and cargo ships.  Adding a bank of standard 533 mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes would go a long way to providing a ship sinking capability for relatively close range encounters.

At the higher end of this concept, what weapon is the Navy most afraid of?  Well, there’s a few possible answers but the large Russian wake homing torpedoes are certainly one of them.  If the Navy would develop their own version, it could be mounted on a torpedo-LCS and offer a potent anti-ship capability.  The Russian Type 65 torpedo is reported to have a range of 30-60 miles depending on speed.  That’s approaching Harpoon anti-ship missile range!

SURTASS – The Navy currently operates the USNS Victorious class T-AGOS SURTASS ships which stream very long towed arrays and are used for very long distance detection of targets.  These ships are not active combat ships and their role in war would be peripheral, if at all.  A suitably modified LCS might be able to provide a degree of SURTASS capability to combat surface groups and/or provide detection capabilities to amphibious groups conducting assaults.  This is a questionable use.  The LCS itself might be too loud to effectively operate a SURTASS array or the presence of surrounding ships might provide too much noise interference.  I just don’t know enough about the T-AGOS function to say.  Still, it’s a possibility.

Consider these as just conceptual ramblings.  Any or all might prove infeasible.  On the other hand, any or all might prove to be feasible and allow us to gain some value from an otherwise currently useless ship.

How about it?  Got any ideas of your own for the LCS?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Stop Building Burkes

The Navy is on a seemingly endless path of Burkes, Burkes, and more Burkes.  Yes, they’ve upgraded the design but they’re bumping up against inherent limits in internal volume, power, cooling, utilities, weight margins, etc.  The Burkes are unable to properly support the new Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) system and so we’re going to build Flt III Burkes with sub-optimally sized radars that, by the Navy’s own admission, won’t meet the desired performance.  That’s idiotic to build a brand new ship with initial sub-optimal performance and no growth margin!

We’re also bumping up against cost.  How many multi-billion dollar ships can we afford?  The fleet is steadily shrinking as we continue to build ever more expensive ships in ever fewer numbers.  The Flt III Burke is likely to be 50%-100% more expensive than the Flt IIa.

That aside, how many Burkes do we need?  Well, we have 62 Burkes currently built with up to 76 planned and no end in sight.  Let’s look at our needs and see if we can figure out how many Burkes we actually need.

Given that Burkes are intended as escorts, primarily, we can roughly calculate how many we need.  In war, let’s assume we would have six Burkes per carrier (twice what we use during peacetime).  We have a maximum of 9 active carriers so that would be a requirement for 54 Burkes.  However, even during war we would only have 3-6 carriers out on operations at a time.  That equates to a steady need for 18-36 Burkes.  Of course, some Burkes would be unavailable due to refits at any given moment so we would need a few more (the peacetime model of three ships to keep one deployed would be abandoned in war).  This suggests that we already have more Burkes than we need.  Let’s generously round the numbers up and say we have a need for 50 escort Burkes.  Compare that to the 62 built and 76+ planned and you immediately see that we don’t need any more Burkes!

Surely, though, we need more ships than a handful of carriers and 50 Burkes?!

Yes, we do – but they don’t have to be Burkes and should not be Burkes.  Okay, if not Burkes, what then?

ASW – We have a desperate need for small, cheap, dedicated ASW vessels.  While the Burkes have a theoretical ASW capability, the realities of limited training time and limited budget preclude them from being competent at ASW.  You can be good at only one thing with limited training time and the Navy chooses to have the Burkes be good at AAW/BMD.

MCM – We have a desperate need for Avenger-type MCM vessels and MCM motherships.

Strike – We have a need for a dozen cruise missile (and short/med range ballistic missile) shooters.  These can be submarines (recall that we’re retiring the

SSGNs with no replacement) or surface ships.

Fire Support – We need a dozen or so naval fire support ship to support amphibious assault operations and general land actions.  These ships can be some combination of large caliber naval guns and navalized Army rocket systems (MLRS/ATACMS).

UAV Carrier – We need a dozen small, dedicated UAV carriers to operate hundreds of UAVs in the surveillance role. 

Carriers – These are our most powerful and flexible platforms and we need to get the numbers back up to around 15.

Patrol – We have a need for a large patrol vessel to maintain control of littoral areas, mainly the Middle East.  These should be upsized and uparmed versions of the Cyclone PC’s.  These would be what the ASuW-LCS should have been.  They would be heavily armed for their size.

Logistics – We desperately need many more replenishment and supply vessels, especially if we’re going to operate in the Pacific.

Submarines – We already have a looming shortfall of subs and they are probably our stealthiest, most effective naval platform.  We need many more.

Not only do we not need more Burkes but the basic seaframe is a 1980’s era design.  It’s time to terminate the Burkes and design a new destroyer and cruiser utilizing the latest propulsion, armor, stealth, internal networks, electrical generation, etc.

The Navy has failed so badly at new ship designs that I completely understand their desire to stick with something that works but the answer is not to stick with an old design but to improve how you build new ones.

We need to stop building Burkes.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Kwajalein Raid

At the onset of WWII, the Navy found itself short of ships and saddled with a defensive mindset.  Adm. Halsey and the USS Enterprise corrected the latter problem, at least, by conducting the Marshal Islands raid on Kwajalein, Taroa, Wotje, and Roi.  The following description comes from the website (1) and Steve Ewing’s book about the Enterprise (2).

Initially, in late December 1941, Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander In Chief, US Fleet directed Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, to protect US shipping between the United States and Australia.  While arguably prudent, this was a defensive posture.  Nimitz advocated strikes against the Gilbert and Marshal Islands.  However, there was strong opposition to this plan due to fear that the carriers would be lost in addition to the battleships that had just been lost at Pearl Harbor.

On 7-Jan-1942, Enterprise and Halsey arrived at Pearl Harbor.  Halsey immediately demanded that the Navy take the offensive and his opinion carried the day.  Enterprise would meet up with Yorktown to escort reinforcements to Samoa, then proceed to raid Japanese bases in the Gilberts and Marshalls while Lexington hit Wake Island.  The Navy would conduct its first offensive operation of the war.

Enterprise quickly reprovisioned and left Pearl Harbor January 11.  Enterprise was escorted by:

  • Northampton CA-26
  • Salt Lake City CA-25
  • Chester CA-27
  • and six destroyers

This meager escort was not an operational choice but, rather, an operational necessity due to the lack of available ships.  Escort groups later in the war would be much larger and more powerful.

By January 25, the escort mission was completed and Enterprise and Yorktown moved to conduct their raids.  On January 31, 1830 hr, the Enterprise group began its run in to Kwajalein and surrounding targets at 30 kts.  At 0430 hr, Enterprise began launching aircraft for the planned coordinated strikes at 0700 hr.  It is interesting to note that the cruisers were integrated into the strike plan with Northampton and Salt Lake City bombarding Wotje and Chester and several destroyers hitting Taroa.

USS Enterprise, CV-6

Throughout the day, the group hit the various targets.  Pilots flew several missions each.  Airfield facilities were destroyed, the fields were bombed, aircraft were destroyed on the ground and in the air, a transport and two smaller ships were sunk, and several ships were damaged.

Around 1330 hr, five twin engined bombers attacked the Enterprise group but failed to hit their targets, causing only minor damage from a near miss.  One of the bombers, intentionally or not, appeared to attempt to dive into the Enterprise but missed and struck the tail of an aircraft parked on deck and caused no damage to the ship.  Throughout the rest of the day, a few straggling enemy aircraft appeared but did no damage.

Clearly, the attacks on the airfields had the desired effect of suppressing enemy aerial counterattacks.

By 1902 hr, the last of Enterprise’s aircraft were recovered and the group retired at high speed, returning to Pearl Harbor on February 5.  The raid cost the Enterprise one Wildcat and five SBDs.

Wotje Atoll During the Kwajalein Raid

 Regarding the impact of the raid on the overall war effort, website notes,

“The real significance of the raid was not found on the balance sheet of damage inflicted and suffered, but in the lessons learned. Halsey's action report repeatedly notes the poor performance of the ship's anti-aircraft batteries, stating:

‘The inability of the 5" AA battery to knock down the formation of enemy twin-engine bombers ... is a matter of grave concern. ... AA Gunnery Practices [should] be scheduled when opportunity offers, with ship steaming at not less than 25 knots. If adequate safeguards can be introduced, ship should be required to make radical changes of course.’

In their first encounter with their Japanese counterparts, the Air Group came away less than impressed, noting the Japanese fighters seemed easily discouraged when faced with two or three SBDs working together defensively. Both the Air Group and the ship's company gained valuable combat experience, making them much better prepared for the carrier-vs-carrier brawls that would mark the late spring and fall of 1942. And though hardly enough to stall the Japanese offensive, the raid served notice to both sides that the striking arm of the U.S. Navy was not lying broken on Pearl Harbor's muddy bottom.” (1)

This raid offers lessons for us, today.

1. Offense wins wars, not defense.  An offensive mindset is vital to an effective military.  The US Navy, today, has completely lost that mindset.  Our weapons and platforms are mostly defensive in nature.  Our most powerful surface ship, the Burke class, is primarily defensive.  Our air wings have shrunk and attack range and lethality has diminished.  Our vaunted LCS has no offensive capability whatsoever.  We must regain an offensive mindset.

2. Combat leaders must be bold and willing to take calculated risks.  This goes hand in hand with the previous point about having an offensive mindset.  Currently, our leaders are selected using criteria that have nothing to do with combat performance.

3. Carrier based aviation is a potent weapon when equipped and used properly.  The mobility of the carrier allows the ability to mass localized and temporary superior force.

4. Risk must be accepted in order to accomplish anything.  Carriers that are too expensive to risk are useless.

5. Large caliber naval gunfire is a powerful weapon.  The cruisers in the raid were able to accomplish as much as a carrier when used properly.  Today, we completely lack the ability to apply cheap, effective firepower from ships.

6. Losses in the air wing are a part of combat and must be accepted.  This means that we should not be building aircraft that are too expensive to replace.  F4F Wildcats and SBDs were highly effective and lethal and were easily and cheaply replaced.  Losing trained aircrew is, of course, another issue.  In WWII, we were able to produce hundreds of aircraft per day.  Today, we would struggle to produce a hundred aircraft in one year.

7. As Halsey noted and recommended, extensive and realistic training is needed to ensure success in combat.  The more realistic, the better.  Today’s set piece, utterly unrealistic training borders on worthless.  We need to establish highly stressful, realistic training even at the expense of a degree of risk to equipment and personnel.

8. Weapon systems must be tested extensively and realistically.  As the raid revealed,

“The first occasion under fire was memorable for reasons other than just being a first.  The event called attention to the inadequacy of both the antiaircraft guns in use at the time (eight 5-inch-.25 caliber, sixteen 1.1 inch “Chicago Piano’s”, and numerous .50 caliber Browning machine guns) and the marksmanship of the gunners.” (2)

Despite having the means and opportunity to thoroughly test the antiaircraft weapons pre-war, the Navy failed to adequately do so and, thus, found itself insufficiently equipped to counter the aerial threat.  Today, we are still failing to adequately and realistically test our weapon systems.

History “exists” to teach us about the present and future.  Another way to express it is the old adage,
“Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The Navy’s first raid of WWII offers plenty of lessons for us, today, if we will but heed them.


(2)USS Enterprise (CV-6), The Most Decorated Ship Of World War II, Steve Ewing, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 1982, ISBN-0-933126-24-7

Monday, January 9, 2017

Why DOT&E?

ComNavOps has long preached that weapon system performance in combat will never even remotely approach the manufacturer or Navy’s claims.

Further, ComNavOps has long preached that only the existence of DOT&E (Director, Operational Test and Evaluation), the Pentagon’s weapon and system testing organization, ensures even a modicum of weapon performance (see, "DOT&E", for a refresher on what the group is and does).  Without DOT&E, the Navy would conduct only cursory and simplistic testing before fielding systems and calling them done.  For example, the Navy’s reluctance, almost refusal, to conduct ship shock testing proves the Navy’s near total disinterest in testing.

Worse, the Navy and DOT&E have an adversarial relationship with the Navy fighting DOT&E every step of the way and only grudgingly agreeing to testing when forced into it – witness, again, the mandated shock testing of the Ford.  This relationship is simply insane.  The Navy should be the biggest possible supporter of DOT&E.  It’s DOT&E that is attempting to ensure that the Navy gets what it pays for and that the Navy’s weapons and systems maximize their performance.  Isn’t that what the Navy wants?  Or should want? 

Consider this bit about the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) Block 2 testing from the DOT&E 2015 Annual Report.  RAM has been around in one form or another for many years.  You wouldn’t think there’d be anything left to test and if the Navy had their way, they’d probably skip any additional testing.  However, …

“Deficiencies in RAM Block 2 integration with the SSDS-based
combat system caused several RAM Block 2 missiles to miss their target during one of the IOT&E missile firing scenarios. The Navy has initiated a formal Failure Review Board to determine the required corrections.

The CVN and LHA 6 class ships defend themselves against
ASCMs by first using the medium-range Evolved SeaSparrow
Missile (ESSM) and then the shorter-range RAM. RAM uses radio frequency and/or infrared terminal guidance to home on ASCM threats. Hot debris from prior intercepts and warhead detonations can therefore interfere with RAM’s infrared guidance. While the SSDS is designed to schedule RAM and ESSM engagements to avoid this type of interference, it failed to do so during testing.”
[emphasis added]

This is just one small example of why DOT&E testing is so vital.  The Navy needs to stop viewing DOT&E as an impediment and start seeing them as the thin line standing between combat success and failure.

This small example also illustrates another common occurrence during weapon discussions.  There are a group of people who completely buy into manufacturer and Navy claims about performance.  Those claims never materialize – never even come close.  History conclusively proves this and this blog has presented that data on numerous occasions.  Despite this, there are always a group who insist that, despite all the previous failings for a given weapon type, the next one will be the miracle system that revolutionizes warfare.  This testing is a tiny example of why that will never happen.  There are always problems.  The more complex and fantastic the system, the greater the problems.  The problems may be with the weapon itself, the software that runs it, the integration of the weapon with the ship’s systems, lack of operator training, or whatever.  None of that changes the fact that weapons never work as claimed.  See it - accept it.

Of course, it is this realization that adds even more importance to the need for testing – and that’s the point of this post.  Weapons never work so let’s find out how and why during testing rather than during combat.  The Navy (and too many readers!) needs to abandon blind faith in manufacturer’s claims and put their faith and support in DOT&E.

Here are a sampling of the reasons why DOT&E exists.  From the DOT&E 2015 Annual Report,

“The system tested in OA 1 could not detect and track targets well enough to support weapons employment in an environment that reflects realistic fighter employment and tactics.”

“The JHSV ramp cannot handle the small, but continual, relative movement of the two ships when moored skin-to-skin. Although vehicles were successfully transferred inside a protected harbor, transfer operations at-sea failed.”

“The Navy began operational testing of the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) C-1 in April 2015. Problems identified during FY12-13 integrated testing resulted in follow-on integrated testing in late FY14 and pushed operational testing to FY15.”

No greater example of the value of DOT&E exists than the entire LCS fiasco.  If the Navy had had their way, we would have already built 55 ships and none would have any functional value.  As seen in multiple posts on this blog, it is only the DOT&E that is finding problem after problem with the LCS.  The Navy is oblivious or, more likely, just doesn’t want to know about problems out of fear that problems will lead Congress to question the funding of the ships. 

DOT&E is all that prevents us from fielding a Cold War Soviet fleet of non-functional capabilities arising from criminally irresponsible Navy policies.  The Navy needs to embrace DOT&E as the watchdogs and guardians of combat effectiveness that they are.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

GPS Anti-Jamming

We’ve discussed the vulnerability of US military platforms and weapons to GPS denial (see, "GPS Jamming").  Now, here’s the flip side of the discussion – the GPS anti-jamming capability which may enable GPS signal utilization even in the face of GPS jamming.

Here’s an interesting summary of the GPS problem.

“On Earth, the GPS satellite signal is received about 30 decibels below the background noise level. This translates to a signal strength of about 1,000 times weaker than that of thermal noise normally inherent in electronic equipment. Conventional GPS digital signal processing allows receivers to pluck these signals out of the background noise. When interference raises the level of background noise, however, a receiver may be unable to track the GPS signal.

This problem is especially acute with low-end receivers using omnidirectional antennas. These antennas lack the ability to provide directional discrimination away from sources of interference and toward satellites. Interference sources can be narrowband—affecting only a small part of the overall GPS frequency spectrum—or they can be broadband, affecting the full GPS spectrum. The civilian GPS arena is particularly susceptible to narrowband interference, as it occupies only 2 megahertz of spectrum. Military GPS is spread across 20 megahertz.” (1)

Thus, the fairly concentrated and very low signal power of GPS allows for easy, low power jamming.  So much for the problem.

One solution to defeating GPS jamming is to enhance the receivers signal processing, allowing it to directionally align with GPS satellites and to process the signal to enhance it.  An example of this approach is Lockheed Martin’s GPS spatial temporal anti-jam receiver (G-STAR).

“G-STAR currently is effective against a wide range of GPS jamming environments. Its software-driven nature also permits easier upgrades as new threats emerge. The version that is equipping JASSM consumes only 52 watts of power. It weighs 25 pounds and measures 10 inches by 15 inches by 2 inches.” (1)

“G-STAR also will incorporate the so-called selective availability and anti spoofing module (SAASM), which the Defense Department has made mandatory-beginning in October 2002-for all military GPS receivers that receive the encrypted precision satellite signal.

The SAASM module is a microelectronic device with a large number of digital components that allows an authorized user to receive the precision encrypted GPS signal.” (2)

Here’s a little more detail on GPS anti-jamming for those of you who are interested in a slightly deeper dive.

“Most anti-jam devices currently in use are either "nulling" or "beamforming systems," explained Kelly [James J. Kelly, director of advanced engineering at Telephonics Command Systems]. These two technologies refer to exploit techniques that can be used to counter jamming signals. Some GPS receivers have an antenna array, with up to seven receiving elements arrayed in a geometric pattern. Upon detection of jamming interference, part of the antenna pattern can be turned down, so the noise from that particular direction does not interfere with the rest of the system. That is called nulling the signal.
"A null means that I will not look in the direction in space that the jammer is coming from," Kelly said. The electronics protect the receiver by eliminating the interference signal. One problem with this nulling technique, however, is that "as you eliminate jammers, you eliminate your ability to receive signals from the GPS satellites," he said. "You could have a nulling system that kills off the jammers, but you no longer have enough satellites available for you to navigate."
The beamformer, meanwhile, "doesn't care where the jammers are." The beamformer selects and receives signals from at least four satellites and provides four anti-jam solutions. "The beamformer algorithm is more aggressive and you get a better result," Kelly said. Recent simulations conducted by Telephonics, he said, showed that beamformers performed better than nullers.
But these systems cannot be used with older GPS receivers. Because a beamformer produces four outputs directed at four selected satellites, it cannot interface with a standard GPS receiver that only has one input. "You need a receiver that is customized to accommodate the beamformer interface," said Kelly.
New missiles typically feature a tight package composed of an anti-jam device, antenna and GPS receiver. This makes them more adaptable for beamforming anti-jammers, Kelly asserted.” (2)

That the military is working on GPS anti-jamming is good news.  It offers the possibility that we may be able to continue to use GPS even in the face of electronic countermeasures.  Of course, we also have to recognize that the entire GPS satellite system is vulnerable.  Russia and China both claim to have anti-satellite weapons and China has pretty well demonstrated their capability.  If an enemy can destroy our satellites then having an anti-jamming capability won’t mean anything.

It’s also not enough to simply develop an anti-jamming device that can theoretically work.  We need to subject whatever is developed to rigorous testing – far more rigorous than the testing we’ve subjected our other weapon systems to.  We need to throw the best jamming capability we possess against it and see if it actually works in a combat environment.  Ideally, we would clandestinely test it in the real world in places like Ukraine, against actual Russian ECM.

Finally, we can’t simply develop a device, congratulate ourselves, and think that our navigation is secure.  Our enemies are continually working to develop new methods of GPS denial and we may find out the hard way that our anti-jamming isn’t as effective as we thought.  This means that we have to keep working on alternate navigation methods.  Every ship, plane, and missile should have multiple navigation systems so that if one is denied we have an alternate available.  In other words, we have to plan for failure – something we have not done in recent decades.

Inexplicably, not everyone is searching for GPS alternative capabilities.  Notably, the Air Force has limited interest.  Terry Little, Air Force program manager for JASSM, has this to say,

“In the JASSM program, we are not interested in an alternative guidance technology to GPS.” (2)

Well, that’s about as plain a statement as you could want.  Hopefully, that philosophy is not indicative of the military as a whole.

I’m encouraged that the military is recognizing the vulnerability of GPS and is working to protect the capability.  Given the ease of jamming and the physical vulnerability of the GPS satellite system to anti-satellite destruction, we need to continue working on alternate guidance systems. 


(1)Signal AFCEA website, “Jam-Proof Signals To Guide Navigation”, Robert Ackerman, November 2001,

(2)National Defense website, “Threat to Satellite Signals Fuels Demand for Anti-Jam Products”, Sandra I. Erwin, June 2000,

Saturday, December 31, 2016

LCS Assessment Update

Dr. Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E), revealed a great deal of previously unknown (at least to me!) information regarding issues with the LCS in a statement to Congress before the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee (1).  Here’s some highlights with my emphasis added.  This is a long post but worth the read.

Regarding survivability, we see what ComNavOps has been saying all along about the LCS’ lack of shock hardening and failure to meet even Level 1 standards, contrary to the Navy’s explicit lies on this matter.

“With respect to survivability, neither LCS variant is expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat because the Navy’s requirements accept the risk of abandoning the ship under circumstances that would not require such an action on other surface combatants. As designed, the LCS lacks the shock hardening, redundancy, and the vertical and longitudinal separation of equipment found in other combatants. … Thus far, the results of the LCS Live Fire Test and Evaluation (LFT&E) program confirm this assessment.”

“…the LFT&E program has already identified over 100 technical improvements that could be applied to improve LCS’s performance against threat weapons, although, given the ships’ fundamental limitations, none of these improvements will make the ships’ survivability comparable to that of the Navy’s other surface combatants.”

Moving on, Gilmore calls into question the very concept of the LCS - that it will free up larger ships for more important missions.

“… the Navy’s CONOPS require LCS, in some scenarios, to remain stationed near much slower units who are providing the LCS with dedicated air defense support to have any reasonable chance of surviving attacks using ASCMs… Moreover, this CONOPS implies that destroyers and cruisers will be required to provide this protection to LCSs, which is contrary to the concept that independently operated LCSs will free up the Navy’s destroyers and cruiser and “allow [them] to focus on the high-end missions,” which is what the Navy has touted in the past.”

DOT&E’s overall assessment is bleak.

“…DOT&E has sufficient data to conclude that both seaframe variants are not operationally suitable …”

“Not operationally suitable” – ouch!

Here’s some failures that weren’t widely known.

“During this last year, problems with main engines, waterjets, communications, air defense systems, and cooling for the combat system occurred regularly …”

It’s distressing that the listed problems occur regularly given that the ships have been in production and operation for several years.  They’re no longer first of class problems.  At this point, they’re systemic problems.

Gilmore had this to say about reliability,

“… when averaged over time, and accounting for both planned and unplanned maintenance downtimes, LCS 4 was fully mission capable for SUW missions just 24 percent of the 2015 test period.”


“Both variants … have a near-zero chance of completing a 30-day mission (the Navy’s requirement) without a critical failure of one or more seaframe subsystems essential for wartime operations.”

Crew size comes under fire.

“… the small crew size has limited the Independence variant from operating with sufficient watchstanders to maintain an alert posture for extended periods of time.”

The fundamental maintenance concept for the LCS whereby on-board maintenance is deferred is cited as a limiting factor in LCS effectiveness.

“An example of this limitation occurred during LCS 4’s operational testing during 2015 and 2016, where the ship’s primary air defense system, SeaRAM, suffered from seven long periods of downtime (greater than 48 hours).”

The inherent helplessness of the LCS was further highlighted.

“During the LCS 3 operational test period, the crew was unable to repair multiple critical systems, such as the ship’s navigation data distribution system, the air search radar, and Link 16 tactical link, each of which resulted in multiple days of downtime while awaiting assistance from contractors to troubleshoot and repair the systems.”

The LCS air defense capability is also questioned along with previously unreported revelations about SeaRAM problems.

“it is unlikely that LCS will be able to meet the Navy’s requirements for air defens … More recently, limitations in the SeaRAM system (currently installed on Independence variants) revealed some significant classified concerns.”

One of the oft called for “solutions” to acquisition problems is to buy foreign.  DOT&E, however, offers some practical warnings about problems with foreign purchases.

“… the Navy stopped work on the air defense modeling and simulation test bed because it did not have the intellectual property rights and detailed technical information for the ship’s air defense radar (AN/SPS-75). The lack of intellectual property for these foreign radars has been a problem for both variants of LCS, making it difficult for engineers to develop high-fidelity models and understand the capabilities and limitations of these radars or effect changes when problems are found.”

Although the Navy plans to eventually replace the Freedom variant’s RAM with SeaRAM, DOT&E notes an issue with the Navy’s related decision not to test the RAM system.

“… the Navy does not plan to test (at all) the existing Freedom-variant air defense systems installed on LCS 1 through 15. This is a high risk for deploying crews, given that many Freedom-variant ships will deploy between now and 2020 when backfits of the SeaRAM system on those hulls are scheduled to begin.”

Worse, the Navy has cancelled plans to test the Independence variant’s SeaRAM system.

“The Navy had planned to conduct the first of the planned operationally realistic live-fire events on the self-defense test ship in FY16, but postponed the test indefinitely because of anticipated poor performance predicted by pre-test modeling and analysis of the planned test event scenario.”

Setting aside RAM issues, the Freedom variant has additional AAW issues.

“For the Freedom variant, these tests revealed that because of the limited capabilities of the air defense radar, the crew was unable to detect and track some types of air threats well enough to engage them.”

The Independence variant also had threat detection issues.

“For the Independence variant, although the ships relies on the SeaRAM system, the ship’s air surveillance radar provided LCS crews with only limited warning to defend itself against ASCMs in certain situations.”

And more,

“In the Navy’s developmental test events, we learned that the electro-optical system used to target the seaframe’s gun was unable to provide reliable tracking information against some targets.”


“…the program decided to cancel all subsequent live-fire events, including those scheduled for operational testing, conceding that the Independence variant is unlikely to be consistently successful when engaging some of these threats until future upgrades of the tracking system can be implemented.”

The LCS’ cyber security is also problematic.

“Much of my assessment of the two seaframes’ cybersecurity posture and capabilities is classified and covered in detail in my recent operational test reports. However, I will state that the testing conducted in FY14 on LCS 3, testing conducted in 2015 on LCS 2, and finally the most recent test aboard LCS 4 have revealed significant deficiencies in the ship’s ability to protect the security of information and prevent malicious intrusion. …  the severity of the cybersecurity problems discovered on LCS will degrade the operational effectiveness of either variant until the problems are corrected.”

I have repeatedly discussed the shortcomings of the 57 mm gun and opined that reliance on it to stop swarm attacks was flawed.  Here is DOT&E’s thoughts.

“The inaccuracy of the targeting systems, the difficulty in establishing a track on the target, and the requirement to hit the target directly when using the point-detonation fuze combine to severely impair effective employment of the gun, and limit effective performance to dangerously short ranges.”

The electro-optical fire control has always been a source of puzzlement and DOT&E singled it out for criticism.

“The ship’s electro-optical/infrared camera, SAFIRE, is the primary sensor for targeting the 57 mm gun. The system suffers from a number of shortcomings that contribute to inconsistent tracking performance against surface and air targets, including a cumbersome human-systems interface, poor auto-tracker performance, and long intervals between laser range finder returns.”

The LCS’ single function limitation is noted.

“LCS will have no capability to detect or defend against torpedoes unless the ASW mission package is embarked … The lack of capability implies that a submarine could launch an attack on an LCS, without the crew knowing that they were under attack …”

The LCS’ single function limitation requires that multiple LCS be used to accomplish a given mission and, worse, may require the addition of an Aegis destroyer to provide the AAW capability that the LCS inherently lacks.

“The original vision, therefore, of a nimble, mission-focused ship has been overcome by the realities of the multi-mission nature of naval warfare combined with the multiple threat environments of high-intensity naval conflicts.

Providing additional warships for LCS protection means stretching already limited battle group air defense assets.”

What about ASW performance?  Apparently, the LCS sonar is not optimized for littoral ASW.  Wait, what now?  Doesn’t the “L” in LCS stand for littoral?

“LCS’s sonar system is specifically optimized for deep water and will not be suitable for some very shallow-water environments such as in the littorals.”

If the LCS does find a submarine, there’s not a lot it can do about it.

“LCS has no organic capability to engage submarines and must rely on a single embarked helicopter to deliver torpedoes …”

In summary, Dr. Gilmore’s assessment of the state of the LCS was brutal and paints a picture of a Navy that is blind and zealous in its pursuit of hulls in the water regardless of capability or lack thereof.


(1) “Statement By J. Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Before the  US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Program”, Dec 8, 2016