Sunday, June 28, 2015


No, that post title is not a random assortment of letters.  The Navy has issued a Request For Information (RFI) to industry to solicit ideas for an over-the-horizon (OTH) missile system for the LCS.  The two obvious candidates are an upgraded Harpoon and Kongsberg’s Naval Strike Missile (NSM) was “test fired” from an LCS in an absolutely worthless test in which the missile launcher was simple placed on the deck of the LCS-4, USS Coronado, last year and launched with absolutely no tie in to the ship’s weapon systems.  The same test could have been equally well performed from a dock or a parking lot in a shopping mall. 

In any event, the assumption was that the test was paving the public relations way for selection of the NSM as the OTH weapon for the LCS.  It is unclear why the Navy is taking a step that could be construed as a step back by issuing this RFI.  Presumably, something has come to light regarding the NSM that renders it less than ideal for use with the LCS.  Aside from mundane issues like cost or production capacity, the only technical issue I can imagine is an inability to smoothly integrate into the fire control system.  Supporting this thought is the RFI’s language calling for industry information regarding complete weapon systems for the OTH role.

ComNavOps will continue to keep an eye on this.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pegasus Class Hydrofoils

Ever the historian, ComNavOps likes to re-examine ships, tactics, and campaigns to glean lessons learned.  In that vein, let’s take a look at the remarkable Pegasus class hydrofoils (PHM, Patrol, Hydrofoil, Missile).  These vessels are often cited as possible alternatives or adjuncts to the more conventional fleet assets.  Here’s a quick reminder of their characteristics.

PHM (Patrol, Hydrofoil, Missile)

Number:                   6
Cost:                        $870,000 each (1)
Service:                   1977 – 1993
Length:                    132 ft
Displacement:          240 tons
Speed, hullborne:    12 kts
Speed, foilborne:     48 kts
Sensor:                    Mk92 Mod 1 Fire Control
Armament:               8x Harpoon, 76 mm Oto Melara gun
Propulsion:              1 GE gas turbine (foil) and 2 diesel (hull) with water jets
Range:                     750 nm – 1200 nm, depending on propulsion mix
Draft:                        7.5 ft (foils raised), 23 ft (foils lowered)

For their size, the vessels had good range and excellent seakeeping with an ability to maintain high speed in high sea states.

The PHM was a bit of a pet project of then CNO Zumwalt.  The PHM was to be part of the hi-lo mix concept being championed by Zumwalt.  Costs were an issue, apparently, although the degree of unconventionality may have largely contributed to the price tag.  Regardless, upon Zumwalt’s retirement, funding was redirected towards more conventional ships and the project languished until Congress intervened and forced completion of six of the vessels.

The PHM program was originally envisioned as a NATO response to the numerous Warsaw Pact missile boats and included plans for around 30 ships and participation by Germany and Italy.  In the end, only six vessels were built and none for any foreign buyers. 

The PHMs were envisioned to be minimally manned and include a mothership for maintenance and support.  Manning and crew activities were to be limited to port/starboard watches.  Maintenance, logistics, and support were to be provided by a converted LST acting as the mothership.  We see, then, that the ships were designed to the same operational manning and maintenance concept as the LCS.

It was originally intended to operate the PHMs in the Mediterranean, Baltic, and North Seas with a homeport in Sicily.  In actuality, the PHMs wound up operating exclusively in the Caribbean, largely involved in the war on drug efforts where they were quite successful due to their high speed and maneuverability.

The class was eventually terminated and retired though no reasons were ever offered beyond vague cost issues that were not valid.  The real reason was, undoubtedly, that lacking the sponsorship of the CNO, the “big” Navy simply had no use for small vessels and no desire to attempt to integrate them tactically or operationally into Navy missions.

Pegasus Class Hydrofoil

The PHM packed a large punch for its size and represents the Hughes approach to distributed lethality.  The weakness in this approach is the lack of over the horizon sensing.  The weapon, the Harpoon anti-ship missile, outranges the sensor.  Such a vessel would either be dependent on off-board sensors or need to get much closer to the target, thus negating much of the standoff range of the weapon and increasing the risk to the launching vessel.  In littoral warfare where coastlines might offer concealment and ambush possibilities, the lack of sensor range might be acceptable.  The PHM offers a real world experiment in the Hughes distributed firepower concept.  Unfortunately, the vessels never had the opportunity to operate in their intended environment and this limits the ability to draw conclusions about their potential combat effectiveness.

The PHM was a remarkable vessel and the similarities and parallels between it and the LCS are interesting.  The PHM was intended to use the exact same manning and maintenance model that the LCS is now attempting to use.  The firepower (76mm and 8x Harpoon) of the PHM is, arguably, greater than the LCS and certainly far greater in terms of weapon density.  Further, the indifference of “big Navy” to both their uses is striking.

It is worth noting that the Chinese (and other countries) are developing the Type 022 Houbei class missile boat which is a functional equivalent of the Pegasus PHM.  Would squadrons of PHMs offer a viable counter to Chinese missile boats?  It’s something to think about. 

Here’s a nice summary of the class.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Anywhere, Anytime ... But Why?

USNI News website has an article about the Marines testing the feasibility of operating from non-traditional bases and ships including foreign ships, AFSBs, T-AVB aviation logistics ships, etc. in response to the Commandant’s Planning Guidance document (1).  For example,

“A few weeks ago, a crane on a T-AVB aviation logistics support ship – one of the original Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) ships from the 1980s – lifted onboard a LCM-8 “Mike boat” – which made its debut in the fleet in 1959.

Are these vessels intended to be the equivalent of the standard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) LHAs, LPDs, and such?  Of course not.

“But the ability to put them [Marines] onboard surface ships for select periods of time – an amphib can carry a Marine unit virtually indefinitely; you can’t do that with these other platforms, they’re not designed [for that] – but for select, short periods of time, yeah, you could put … units and aircraft onboard. Your biggest limitation with aircraft would be the maintenance and support capabilities that the ship has for the V-22.”

We see, then, some of the glaring limitations of such an approach using vessels that were not designed for the use.

Flight Deck Space – Flight deck space on these alternate vessels is generally pretty limited.  A T-AVB, for example, has space for only two helo spots and could probably handle only a single MV-22.  The vaunted AFSB has space for operating two CH-53 helos and parking two more.  Likely, it could operate only two MV-22s.  That’s not much aviation capability.

Limited Hangar Space – Similarly, alternate vessel hangar space is non-existent or quite limited.

Berthing – Ships that are not designed for hosting large numbers of troops lack the facilities to berth and support troops for more than a very short period.

Vehicle Storage – Again, most of these vessels lack the facilities to store and, more importantly, handle (meaning, move into and out of storage) vehicles in a combat timely fashion.

Maintenance – Alternate vessels generally lack the maintenance capabilities to support Marine vehicles and aircraft or even troop gear.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with alternate means of deploying Marine units, is there?  OK, that seems reasonable on the face of it.  Remind me, though, why are we doing this?

“ ‘A lot of these are just old ideas that are fresh and new. A lot of it’s back to the future. But we’re aggressively pursuing that because that’s what it says to do here,’ he [Jim Strock, Marine Corps Seabasing Integration Division director] said, referring to the Commandant’s Planning Guidance.

So, we’re doing it because the Commandant said so.  Fair enough … assuming he’s right.

Let’s think about this a bit deeper.  What is this going to accomplish?  Well, it could put Marines and a very few of their aviation units onboard a ship for a brief period of time.  The question is whether that’s a useful capability to have.  Alternate vessels will be ill-suited to the task and quite limited resulting in a Marine force that is very light (likely no tanks, artillery, or heavy vehicles) and has very limited aviation support available.

So, what can a force like that do that’s useful?  This is where the concept falls apart.  Aside from a very light embassy evacuation or hostage rescue operation, such a force can’t do much.  Even in those low end combat scenarios there will be a significant degree of risk due to the lack of aviation support.

Honestly, this concept feels a bit haphazard to me – like the Marines are floundering around in an attempt to look amphibious but without a serious purpose behind the effort.  Consider this statement from the article.

“What’s the right mix of non-amphibious ships to do that? I don’t know. Do you need three JHSVs plus an MLP plus a tug boat? What’s the right mix? And I think over time we’re going to have to sort that out. … The ARG/MEUs sail out with a pre-defined mix: a big-deck, an LPD and an LSD. That’s pretty routine. But if you are able to get three or four platforms together to support a 90-day patrol for the rotational force out of Darwin, if you did that a year from now with three or four ships, the time they did it after that I doubt if it’s going to be the same three or four types of ships. What’s the right mix? I think that will be exciting over time to capture the lessons learned and be able to go back to the operating forces with some decent data.”

The spokesman is describing a best case scenario using an ad-hoc group of mismatched vessels to conduct a short deployment.  What he doesn’t describe is a useful mission for such a group.  Simply sailing around aimlessly for 90 days is a waste of time.  I’m not an expert on Marine tasking, especially out of Australia, so maybe there is a useful mission that could be conducted by a very light force for a very short period of time.  If so, this is a good experiment.  However, I suspect there really isn’t much of a valid purpose for such a deployment other than to say it can be done.

I have no problem with experimenting with concepts.  In fact, I’m all for trying things out and I’m all for attempting to get maximum usage out of existing assets.  My concern is that this is not really an experiment but, rather, another step on the path of the new Marine Corps – Light.  This is cementing the notion of a fighting force that is entirely air-mobile (though few of those alternate vessels can host enough aircraft to “mobile” the troops) and lightweight. 

It feels like we’re giving up our heavy assault capability in favor of lightness for reasons that, frankly, escape me.  Instead of seeing how light a force we can briefly shoehorn onto an ill-suited vessel, we should be trying to figure out how to get M1 Abrams and artillery ashore in the initial assault waves.  As an interesting counterpoint, the Chinese have developed a family of Infantry Fighting Vehicles and 105mm light tanks that are completely amphibious along with modern LPDs and LCACs (see SNAFU website for an excellent pictorial look at a Chinese armored landing force).

(1)USNI, “Marines Testing Operating from Foreign Ships, Near-Forgotten Platforms to Bring Units Back to Sea”, Megan Eckstein, June 23, 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

Testing Reality

USNI News website reports that the Navy and Raytheon conducted a test of an over-the-horizon engagement of a supersonic target by an SM-6 missile (1).  No test details were released and there’s apparently nothing special about the test.  Navy tests are highly scripted and every effort is made to ensure test success.  The interesting part is the hype surrounding the data sharing using remote sensors linked through the Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA) system.  Even this is nothing particularly noteworthy.  This is just an outgrowth of the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC).

However, consider these comments.

“ ‘This weapon multiplies the amount of defended space the U.S. Navy can protect,’ Mike Campisi, Raytheon’s Standard Missile-6 senior program director, said in a company statement.

“ ‘The ships can now use data from remote sensors to support the engagement of targets. Sailors can now launch at threats much sooner than ever before.’ ”

So what’s the problem?  The ability to incorporate off board sensor data to allow engagements far beyond the horizon is a good thing, isn’t it?  Well, yes, it is.  If the enemy obligingly allows us to spread our sensor platforms all over the battlespace without hindrance and allows us to communicate between the various sensor platforms and the launch platforms without interference, jamming, ECM, or other electronic disruptions then we’ll be in great shape. 

On the other hand, if the enemy opts to shoot down our slow, marginally stealthy UAVs, BAMS, and defenseless E-2 Hawkeyes and sink our far ranging (almost didn’t get that one out without laughing) LCS network nodes or blanket our communications with electronic noise, jamming, and all manner of ECM and cyber disruption, then I can’t help but wonder how well our NIFC-CA dream will work.

The logical reality is that our sensor platforms won’t be able to penetrate very far in the direction of a likely enemy attack and their data relays will be severely degraded.  Thus, the peacetime promise of AAW intercepts occurring hundreds of miles away, cued by a vast network of sensors, will likely remain an unfulfilled promise.  Our engagement window will not be hundreds of miles away but will be not too far beyond the horizon.

The larger issue, here, is the constant focus by the Navy on highly unlikely scenarios in which advanced technology is allowed to operate unhindered by enemy action.  We’re becoming dependent on unrealistic scenarios that can’t and won’t be realized in actual combat.

Instead of conducting the test they did, the Navy and Raytheon would have been better served conducting the test in the face of an “enemy” that could find and eliminate the off board sensor platforms and apply the full spectrum of electronic countermeasures.  Let that be the test scenario and see what works.  I think we would quickly realize that we’re wasting our time on a lot of fantasy projects.

Now, the wasted time and money is bad but what’s worse is that we’re “growing” a generation of soldiers and sailors who believe that this technology is going to work just as they’ve seen it used in these unrealistic, scripted tests.  Our future combat leaders are learning tactics that are not based on reality.  We need to drastically increase the realism in our testing.

Consider this simple test.  Had we conducted it under realistic conditions, as I’ve described, we would probably conclude that we need to drastically alter our sensor platform approach (maybe many, many more smaller and shorter ranged UAVs flooding an area?), significantly enhance our electronic resistance and communications security, and, the big one, perhaps realize that long range intercepts may not be a realistic expectation and that medium to short range intercepts are what we should be concentrating on.

The Navy desperately needs to begin injecting realism into their tests and stop obsessing over fantasy technology that won’t work in the face of enemy actions.  We need to start designing against the worst case instead of the ridiculously optimistic best case.

(1)USNI News, “Navy, Raytheon Test Standard Missile-6 Against Supersonic Over-the-Horizon Threat”, Megan Eckstein, June 17, 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Chinese Amphibious Assault Ships

We took a cursory look at Chinese surface combatants but what about Chinese amphibious assault ships?

China operates several types of amphibious assault vessels ranging from true LPDs to LSTs and LSMs.  Here is a brief summary of some of the recent amphibious ship classes.

Type 071  (Yuzhao-class LPD) – 6
20 armor vehicles, 500-800 troops, 4 LCAC

Type 072A  (Yuting III-class LST) – 13
5 tanks, 250 troops, LCAC well deck

Type 072III  (Yuting II-class LST) – 10
10 tanks, 250 troops

Type 072II  (Yuting-class LST) – 4
10 tanks, 250 troops

Type 072  (Yukan-class LST) - 3
10 tanks, 200 troops

Type 073  (Yudao, Yudeng and Yunshu-class LSM/T) – 13
4-6 tanks, 40 troops

Type 074, 074A (Yuhai-class LSM) – 18
2 tanks, 250 troops

What jumps out from this examination is the emphasis being placed on local/regional assault.  The LSMs and LSTs are suitable for short range transport and assault as opposed to the US Navy/Marine Amphibious Ready Group extended deployment concept.  Clearly, China sees the possibility of local assaults against neighboring countries.

Type 071 LPD

The other noteworthy aspect is that China is beginning to move from local assault capability to blue water, long range assaults. The Type 071 is a thoroughly modern and capable LPD, analogous to the Navy’s LPD-17 class.  China is clearly looking further afield and looking to operate amphibious forces on an extended deployment basis.

Further, China is reportedly designing and building an LPH/LHA type vessel.  This will cement China’s ability to conduct long range assaults and extended deployments.

ComNavOps is not a land combat expert by any means but China’s growing amphibious assault capability combined with their heavy armor emphasis in an assault means that someone is going to be facing a formidable assault force down the road, unlike the Marines who are heading down the path of light assault forces.

The US and regional countries need to keep a close eye on Chinese amphibious assault capabilities and ask themselves where they will be used.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hubris Follow Up

It's clear from the preceding post that either I failed to convey the problem with industry telling the military what to do or there are readers with an inaccurate understanding of the customer-company relationship.  I'll try to briefly clarify the issue.

A company, and its Board of Directors and CEO, have a legal fiduciary responsibility to the company's shareholders to wisely manage the company's finances and direct its performance.  A company cannot spend money in a manner that might lead to bankruptcy. If a company opts to "bet" a portion of its earnings on a particular piece of R&D, it does so with no more money than it can afford to lose.  In this respect, a military supplier is much like a customer in Las Vegas - don't bet more than you can afford to lose.

Further, it is vital to understand who a company is "working" for.  Boeing, for example, is not working for the United States or even the US military.  It is working for its shareholders. This is an incredibly key point.  What it means is that Boeing is not trying to develop and sell the product that best suits the military - instead, Boeing is trying to develop and sell the product that best suits Boeing, meaning the product that best fits their existing or desired product line and generates the greatest profit and cash flow.  Think about it - if Boeing and every other company were trying to develop the best product for the military they'd all agree on who's product was best and the other companies would drop out of any procurement competition. Well, of course they don't do that.  That means that in any given competition several of the competitors are knowingly putting forth sub-optimal products without saying so and are happily trying to take the taxpayer's money regardless.  There's nothing wrong with that. That's how the market system works and the onus is on the military to be able to distinguish between good and bad products (an argument for establishing internal design capability and technical expertise within the military!).

Let me summarize.  Boeing (and everyone else) is not investing R&D to help the military.   They are investing to help themselves.  Boeing (and everyone else) is not producing the best product for the military.  They are producing the best product for Boeing.

The mere fact that Boeing "bet" on a particular line of research and product development does not in any way, shape, or form obligate the military to pursue that path from some sense of responsibility (that's corporate welfare sponsored by the military) or in response to some veiled (or, in this case, explicit) threat from industry.  Response to a threat is extortion.

Those of you who worry that Boeing will fold because their product was not chosen are not grasping the Microsoft-IBM example.

Eisenhower warned us about this and some of you are buying into the very phenomenon he pointed out.  Think harder about this.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Industrial Hubris

Breaking Defense website had an article that just infuriated ComNavOps.  Apparently, Boeing has warned the Pentagon about pausing or reconsidering acquisition programs.  Boeing has threatened to spend less of their own money on military projects unless the military continues along Boeing’s designated path.  Read the relevant quotes for yourself,

“The Pentagon’s decision to pause as it reconsiders what path to pursue with the drone fighter known as UCLASS prompted Boeing to send a warning note today that the US military had better keep its commiitments if it wants companies to invest their own money in new technologies."

“Asked about the program today, Boeing’s Chris Raymond noted pointedly that his company ‘had spent a lot of time, and frankly, a lot of money on UCLASS over the years. We were — in our minds — in a great place,’ he told reporters at a briefing in the company’s headquarters … ‘It was disappointing to see them pause.’”

Where to start?

Well, first, the US military does not exist to ensure the profitability of Boeing or any other company.

Second, any company is free to spend their money on whatever internal projects they deem most likely to be of benefit TO THEMSELVES.  If spending money on potential military projects is helpful to Boeing then they’re free to do so.  If spending money would not be helpful, they’re equally free to refrain from doing so.  How they spend their money is of no concern to the US military.  Let’s be very clear, here.  Boeing does not spend money on internal projects out of a sense of patriotism or civic duty – Boeing spends money on internal projects because they believe it will give them a competitive advantage and enable them to make more money.

Third, the military needs to break the cycle of taking whatever new product that industry gives them rather than clearly defining a product and then asking industry to build it.  Boeing (and every other company, to be fair) offers the military products that are financially beneficial to Boeing.  That the product may or may not suit US defense needs is a side issue to Boeing.  Make no mistake, they would sell a useless product to the military if the military would buy it (anyone want an LCS or F-35?).

Fourth, the military issues untold millions of dollars to companies to conduct DIRECTED research.  If private companies opt to conduct research on their own, it’s on their own heads whether it ever pays off.

Fifth, this is a blatant example of precisely the type of unwarranted influence by the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex that Eisenhower warned us about.  When companies feel free to dictate to the military how to run their acquisition programs then those companies have become too powerful and need to be slapped down.  Perhaps the military should start focusing on smaller companies and let the larger ones die?

Sixth, the military should instantly stop issuing contracts to Boeing.  There are other companies that can do the same job.  Sure, the other companies are, undoubtedly, just as bad but they have at least had the good sense not to publicly demonstrate their hubris.

This demonstrates a very sad state of affairs.  Now, to be fair, the military is hardly blameless in this, having willingly gone along with the entire situation.  Unfortunately, the practice of Generals and Admirals retiring and then taking seats of the Boards of these companies precludes any attempt to break the stranglehold of industry on the military.

Well, this is all very unfortunate and ComNavOps has every right to be upset but does he have anything to offer other than handwringing?  Yes!

The military needs to immediately reestablish its own internal design competency.  For the Navy, that means reestablishing the General Board and BuShips (see, General Board and BuShips).  Breaking the stranglehold of industry starts with being able to generate internal designs rather than depend on industry to give us what best serves their needs rather than the military’s needs.  Once we can generate our own requirements and designs, we can then parcel out the actual building under much smaller, separate contracts rather than the single, massive contracts that are issue today.  This approach offers the ability to break the project into smaller packages and opens up competition to many other, smaller, specialized companies.

Now, before I get the usual bilgewater from industry apologists who insist that we can’t risk losing the industrial base or upsetting our industrial “partners” or losing our technical expertise, let me remind you of the example of Gates and Microsoft.  IBM wouldn’t, or couldn’t, respond to a market need so Gates simply started what would become a new giant of industry.  Similarly, if Boeing is no longer responsive to the military’s needs, let’s find the next up and coming Microsoft and start funneling contracts to them.

Jobs (and expertise) are neither created nor destroyed, they simply move.  If Boeing dies, all their personnel and expertise will simply move to the new company(s) that takes their place.  Sometimes drastic change is good.  Most of us agree that Microsoft was a good thing.  Perhaps it’s time for some drastic change in the defense industry.

(1)Breaking Defense, “Boeing To Pentagon: Be Careful When You Pause IRAD Programs”, Colin Clark, June 14, 2015,