Wednesday, October 29, 2014


A word of explanation:  This post is inspired by discussions of the BAMS aircraft in a previous post.  It is in no way an attempt to slam the commenters or embarrass them.  Quite the contrary.  Their input, whether I agree or disagree with any particular point, is valued and, in this case, is directly contributing to a better blog and more interesting and educational reading.  I thank all who commented on BAMS.

The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program is described in the FY15 Budget Highlights book from the Navy,

“MQ-4 Triton system development and demonstration continues in FY 2015 to provide a High Altitude-Long Endurance Unmanned Aircraft System designed to provide persistent maritime ISR of nearly all the world's high-density sea-lanes, littorals, and areas of national interest. Envisioned as an unmanned adjunct to the P-8A MMA, and crucial to the recapitalization of Navy's airborne maritime ISR capability, the system will seek to leverage maritime patrol and reconnaissance force manpower, training and maintenance efficiencies. The Triton UAS air vehicle features sensors designed to provide near worldwide coverage through a network of five CONUS and OCONUS orbits, with sufficient air vehicles to remain airborne for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, out to ranges of 2,000 nautical miles. Onboard sensors will provide detection, classification, tracking and identification of maritime targets and include maritime radar, electro-optical/infrared, and Electronic Support Measures systems. Additionally, Triton will have a communications relay capability designed to link dispersed forces in the theater of operations and serve as a node in the Navy's FORCEnet strategy.”

The annual GAO assessment of weapon systems (GAO-14-340SP) offers this description of the BAMS program.

“The Navy's MQ-4C Triton is intended to provide a persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability even when no other naval forces are present. Triton will operate from five land-based sites worldwide as a part of a family of maritime patrol and reconnaissance systems that recapitalizes the Navy's airborne ISR assets. Planned improvements include a signals intelligence capability and an upgrade to the systems communication relay. The Triton is based on the Air Force's RQ-4B Global Hawk air vehicle.”

The same GAO report cites a program unit cost (including R&D) of $193M per aircraft with a total acquisition of 70 aircraft planned.

The specific sensor package and range is unknown.  Given the small size of the aircraft and its radar compared to, say, an E-2C Hawkeye, it can be surmised that the sensor range is on the order of a hundred miles or less.  The Air Force Global Hawk from which the Triton is derived, is credited by Wiki with a radar sensor range of 62 miles.  If someone has a definite source for the sensor range, let me know.

BAMS - What Role In War?

The key to the rest of this discussion is my assessment of the sensor range.  If I’m significantly wrong and the sensor range is significantly greater (meaning on the order of 250 nm or more) than the premise of this post is wrong. 

So, with that general description, the question now becomes, what will the aircraft provide during war?  What is it’s Concept of Operations?  It’s clear that such a surveillance capability would be useful during peacetime activities (I’m ignoring the cost-benefit aspect, for the moment) but what can the aircraft provide during war?

For starters, consider that the aircraft is not particularly stealthy, fast, or maneuverable and it has no air-to-air defense capability.  Thus, it’s what we might call a target drone if an enemy detects it.  So, how does this aircraft operate during war?  If it has to approach within one or two hundred miles of an enemy asset in order to detect it, it will have a very short lifespan for the reasons listed above.

We could provide an escort of F-22s or F-35s but what would be the point?  Supposedly the F-22/35 can provide the required sensing if they’re in the area anyway.

We could keep the BAMS safely behind our “lines” but, again, what’s the point?  We know what’s behind us.  What we want to know is what’s in front of us.

We could restrict the usage to within areas protected by airbases or carrier coverage but we already have AWACs and Hawkeyes in those areas so what’s the point.

We could attempt to provide saturation coverage of enemy airspace through sheer numbers under the philosophy that the enemy can’t find and shoot down every BAMS if we have enough of them.  However, at $193M per copy, we won’t be able to afford that approach for very long.

You see the problem?  I can’t come up with a wartime scenario in which the BAMS will prove useful and survivable.  So, what is the concept of operations (CONOPS) for this aircraft during war? 

I’m opening this up to readers.  Anyone have any ideas how to utilize this aircraft during war?

Monday, October 27, 2014

CO Relieved

Another CO has been relieved.  As reported by Navy Times website (1),

"A week after the Philippine media reported that the destroyer Stethem had run over a small canoe near Subic Bay, the ship’s skipper has been fired."

"According to Philippine media reports, the unlit canoe crossed Stethem’s course around 8:36 p.m. The boat’s occupants dove into the ocean to avoid the collision and were rescued uninjured by Stethem’s crew."

An unlit canoe?  At night?  That’s grounds for relief?  Wow, that’s got to have a chilling effect on ship captains.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Swedish Submarine Search

You’re probably all aware that Sweden has been conducting a search for a foreign (presumably Russian) submarine in their waters for the last week or so.  That search has now been terminated, apparently. News website published an Associated Press article with some interesting comments about the Swedish operation (1).

"'It's been a while since we conducted this type of operation.... We are a bit rusty,' Rear Adm. Anders Grenstad, chief of operations, told The Associated Press.

One of the major threats to Sweden is submarine activity and it’s been awhile since they’ve conducted this type of operation??  A bit rusty??  You do get that war is a come as you are affair?  The US Navy needs to take a lesson from this and start treating ASW seriously both in procurement and, more importantly, training.

"'The odds of us locating and taking action against a foreign underwater vessel is, due to the reduction of our capabilities and the complex environment in the littorals of the Baltic Sea, relatively small,' said retired navy Commander Christian Allerman, a task group chief in Sweden's anti-submarine warfare force in the 1990s.

This statement reinforces the conclusion that we’ve stated here on multiple occasions – that ASW is a very difficult mission and one that must be practiced tirelessly in order to be proficient.  The USN practice of running a ship through a scripted exercise once a year as a check box on a pre-deployment workup is not the way to acquire proficiency.

"Sweden phased out its anti-submarine helicopters in 2008 and isn't expecting replacements until 2018.”

Outstanding!  Way to prepare.  Thank goodness the US Navy would never do something that foolish.  Oh wait …  We sank an entire class of Spruance ASW destroyers!

“Apart from cutting defense spending, Sweden has shifted its focus from territorial defense to international peacekeeping operations ..."

Does that sound somewhat familiar?  The US has shifted its focus from high end combat to “presence”, crisis response, and humanitarian assistance.  Well, guess what?  Countries like Russia and China are shifting their focus to exactly the high end combat that we’re abandoning.  What’s the likely outcome when those two trends ultimately collide?

By the way, the much vaunted Visby was involved in the ASW search and produced nothing.  To be fair, there may have been nothing to find.  On the other hand, it should be clear that there is nothing magic about that ship, either. 

(1) News, "Submarine Hunt Exposes Swedish Readiness Gap", 22-Oct-2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Kill Chains or Mistake Chains?

One of the recent buzzword bingo entries that has caught on is “kill chain”.  In simple terms it’s the sequence of events that lead to ordnance on target.  The simplest kill chain is,

see the target
pull the trigger

Simple.  Easy to understand.  Reliable.

A more common kill chain as envisioned by today’s Navy is,

sense the target via multiple sensors
transfer the data to a common data processing location
fuse the sensor data into a common tactical picture
assess the tactical picture against overall objectives
obtain Command and Control (C2) guidance and approval
assign a specific weapon
transfer targeting data to the shooting platform
hand off mid-course guidance to another platform

Think I’m making up a complex chain like that just to make a point?

Consider the recently discussed kill chain involving the LRASM guided by a chain of F-35s transmitting and retransmitting data back to a central fused tactical data center, then to the shooting platform and back out to the F-35 for guidance and possible re-programming.  The chain might also include data relay stations in the form of satellites or other aircraft.

Still not sure this is realistic?

Consider the Navy’s Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC).  Multiple platforms share data to assemble a common tactical picture which is evaluated by the air defense command function which then assigns weapons and launch platforms.  Mid-course guidance may come from any platform.  That’s an actual, existing chain.  How well it works is unknown.

Want one more example for the future? 

USNI website has an article discussing the Virginia class SSN replacement and a 200 nm range replacement torpedo.  See if you can discern the kill chain in the following description of torpedo usage from the article.

“… to employ a 200-mile torpedo …  Connor [ed. VAdm. Mike Connor, COMSUBLANT] said that while an attack boat like the Virginia or SSN(X) might launch a torpedo, the targeting data might come from another platform.

Those other platforms could include an aircraft like an unmanned aerial vehicle launched from the submarine or something like a Boeing P-8 Poseidon. In fact,  the submarine might not even guide the weapon to its target in the terminal phase of the engagement, Connor said.”

OK, so kill chains are getting longer and more complex.  What’s the point?

We stated in a previous post that

Complexity = Unreliability

Consider a kill chain as a series of events, each with its own probability of failure.  It stands to reason that the more links in the chain, the greater the chance of one of them failing.  If a single link in the chain fails, the entire chain fails.  It turns out that there is a mathematical description of such a chain.  Briefly, the probability of success for the entire chain is the multiplicative product of the probabilities of the individual events (links).  If you didn’t follow that, don’t worry.  What it means is you multiply the individual probabilities.  For example, if there are two steps in a chain and each has a 95% probability of success, the total probability of success is,

.95 x .95 = .90   or  90%

In the example I offered at the start of the post, there are nine steps (links).  If each step has a 98% chance of success, the total chance of success is only 83%. 

Of course, each step is not uniform in its probability of success.  Some will be very high and some will be less so.  Regardless, the point is that the greater the number of steps (links) in the chain, the less likely the entire chain is to function correctly.  Hence, again,

Complexity = Unreliability

The other aspect to a kill chain composed of high value units, as in this example, is that the units are tied up performing routine, mundane tasks.  In the F-35 example, only the first one or two F-35s need stealth.  After that, each F-35 is a colossal waste of resources.  Of course, if the target is of sufficiently high value then the use of multiple F-35s performing nothing more than communications relay functions may well be worth it.  However, for general surveillance the F-35s would mostly be wasted.

This doesn’t even begin to address the issue of maintenance as a function of complexity.

Back to the main point of unreliability as a function of complexity.  We’ve looked at a simplistic example of a chain.  Now, throw in the added complexity of the networks, nodes, displays, and software, all of which have to work correctly to receive the data, reduce it to an understandable tactical picture, and retransmit both the data/images and resulting actionable commands and we’ve added many more steps to the chain, each with their own failure rates.

Everything we’ve discussed so far has been idealized and the individual step (link) failure probabilities are those inherent to the step.  Now layer on the effects of deliberate enemy disruption in the form of electronic countermeasures, jamming, false signals, etc. and many of the step failure probabilities increase significantly.

Lastly, top it off with natural disruptions such as weather effects, atmospheric ionization, solar flares, curvature of the earth, and whatnot and the failure probabilities further increase.

So, what is ComNavOps suggesting?  Simply that we need to carefully balance complexity against reliability.  Further, I’m suggesting that we’ve gone too far down the path of complexity.

Consider the F-35 targeting chain.  Someone, on day one of conceptual design of the F-35, should have said, “Hey, we don’t want to set up a chain of multiple F-35s just to handle communications.  Instead, let’s make a longer ranged communications capability an inherent part of the design so that a single F-35 can communicate with the controlling station.  In fact, while we’re at it, why don’t we make sure that the F-35 can communicate directly with other platforms, like the Hornet or Hawkeye, without needing a conversion step.”

In combat, confusion will reign.  The simpler our weapons and systems are, the more likely they are to work.  It’s as simple as that.

See the target.  Pull the trigger

USNI, “Navy Starting Work on New SSN(X) Nuclear Attack Submarine”, Dave Majumdar, October 23, 2014,

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Manufacturer's Claims

ComNavOps has pointed out in previous posts and numerous comments that manufacturer’s performance claims are almost always significantly over exaggerated.  History guarantees this with near 100% certainty.  Despite this, many people continue to latch onto manufacturer’s claims while discussing weapons and systems. 

The LCS was the poster child for this phenomenon for the longest time.  Supporters would continually fall back on PowerPoint-ish claims of capabilities to defend the program.  Of course, the LCS has now gotten to the point where even the most ardent defender has pretty much admitted that the LCS isn’t ever going to do all those wonderful things that were promised.

Historically, we’ve noted the abject failure of the USN’s WWII torpedo, the Sparrow missile, Soviet SAM systems, and so on.

More recently, the JSF has taken over as the poster child for manufacturer’s claims.  The list of things the F-35 will do is simply amazing, bordering on magical.  Of course, at the moment, after two decades of development, the plane can barely (and only sporadically) get off the ground and then only utilizing a multitude of workarounds to get past the maintenance software fail safes.  Despite an unbroken history of weapon systems failing to live up to their billings the JSF true believers still cite the wonders of the future JSF.

Here’s the most recent example – the Mk110 57mm naval gun that’s mounted on the LCS.  You remember the glowing claims about this gun, don’t you?  It would singlehandedly decimate scores of small boats and transform littoral warfare.  Of course, ComNavOps noted long ago that the only publicized tests involved shooting a land mounted gun at a fixed, unmoving small boat on what appeared to be an isolated lake or inlet.  The result was a bunch of pinholes appearing in the boat which seemed totally insufficient to sink the boat.  Still, the Navy bought in on the hype and outfitted the LCS with the Mk110 without even providing radar fire control for it – just EO guidance. 

Mk110 - Debunked

Anyway, it turns out that the Mk110 has significant reliability and performance problems on the LCS as documented by various reports.  As if that’s not bad enough, it turns out that the Mk110 is rendered ineffective due to vibration when the LCS is at any speed.  To be fair, that’s probably more of an LCS structural design issue than a gun failing.

Now, though, it turns out that the Zumwalt program looked at the Mk110 and decided that it lacks the lethality needed to stop small boats and they’ve opted, instead, to select a smaller 30 mm gun.  So, the main claim of small boat lethality turns out to have been vastly overstated – just as the history of manufacturer’s claims have shown.  Who could have seen that coming?  Well, anyone who reads this blog, I guess.

Is my point to beat up on the Mk110?  No.  My point is that here is yet another example in an almost unbroken chain of examples where the manufacturer’s claims were significantly overstated.

We must begin to recognize this phenomenon as we discuss weapons and systems.  We have to stop blindly citing claims with no allowance for reality.  For example, the F-35 isn’t going to do all those wonderful things.  It may, eventually, do some of them to a partial degree – and that’s the best case.  ComNavOps offers this blog, in part, to educate readers about the realities of war and weapon systems.  This phenomenon is one of those realities.

As bad as it is when outside observers, like us, opt to wholeheartedly and blindly believe manufacturer’s claims, that’s just an irrelevant side issue.  The real impact is when our professional, uniformed military leaders wholeheartedly and blindly buy in to manufacturer’s claims.  Someone in the Navy bought into the manufacturer’s claims about the Mk110 without looking critically at the claims and the testing.  Along comes the Zumwalt program and their folly is exposed.  [A salute to someone in the Zumwalt program, by the way.  Now, I hope they’re carefully scrutinizing the 30 mm claims!]  The Navy bought into the LCS claims.  The Navy bought into the JSF claims.  And so on.

Whatever the next great program is, ComNavOps can already predict with near 100% certainty that it won’t work as claimed.  I don’t even need to know what the program is.  There’s a simple lesson to be learned here that’s supported by overwhelming historical evidence, right up to current events, and yet the Navy refuses to learn.  If you hit me on the head 37 times in a row with that board you’re holding after promising each time that you wouldn’t, isn’t it kind of stupid of me to believe you the 38th time?  And yet the Navy keeps believing!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

LRASM and Targeting

Let’s follow up on the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) a bit, shall we?  For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that we now have a 500 nm, ship launched (VLS), high subsonic missile that doesn’t, yet, have complete and fully functional autonomy.  In other words, it’s a missile like all the rest of our missiles.  It requires a destination (target) and then it can use it’s own on-board sensors (short range radar and/or EO) for final guidance.  That’s exactly what ComNavOps suggested ought to be produced in the previous post as an interim product while the fantasy autonomy was being perfected.

So, we have a missile.  Somewhere out there we think there might be a surface target.  How do we find the target (the right target!) and generate a shooting solution? 

Well, the first possibility is the ship’s own radar, Aegis/AMDR.  Unfortunately, the detection range will be on the order of 50 nm (the Navy has declined to tell me the exact detection range in this scenario).

Another possibility is a carrier AEW Hawkeye.  Two problems here, though.  One is the range is still limited to probably around 150 -200 nm.  Yes, the claimed detection range of the APS-139/145 radar is 300+ nm but that’s for large airborne, non-stealthy targets.  A semi-stealthy ship (and every ship built today is semi-stealthy) in the “ground clutter” of the ocean’s surface is not going to be detected at anywhere near those ranges.  The second problem is that if we’re going to be dependent on a Hawkeye then that means that our LRASM is only effective as part of a carrier group.

Of course, we could always postulate that we extend the Hawkeye’s location out a couple hundred miles in the direction of the anticipated threat.  However, since we’re going to launch a missile, presumably we’re at war.  That means that the enemy will be busy doing pesky little things like shooting down Hawkeyes that stray away from the protection of the carrier group.  In fact, the reality is that the Hawkeye may actually operate somewhat behind the group for greater protection.  So, I guess that option is out. 

Satellites?  They don’t generate shooting solutions despite what popular belief might hold.

Submarines?  Possible, though that’s a very unreliable, hit and miss proposition complicated by the difficulty the sub would have transmitting targeting data without giving up its location.

The ship’s own helos?  Helos have relatively short ranged radars and extending their location carriers the same risk as the Hawkeye.  It’s just not realistic to send a helo a few hundred miles out to attempt targeting.

UAVs?  That’s a possibility.  I don’t think we have a surface ship launched UAV with the requisite range, sensors, and stealth but such a UAV could possibly be developed.

Passive sensing?  That’s a very real possibility but would involve triangulation of multiple sensor sources.  This is, at least partly, what I believe the Navy’s OUBOARD/COBLU system is designed to do.  The actual capabilities of the system are not public knowledge so I have no basis to comment further.

F-35?  Well, here’s an option that has some possibility.  A stealthy, survivable aircraft that can operate on its own and penetrate enemy air coverage and defenses would be just the ticket for this type of targeting challenge.  This may be a mission the F-35 could excel at.  Of course, as with the Hawkeye, this ties the LRASM to F-35A land bases or F-35C carriers and limits our ability to operate our surface ships offensively on their own.  This also assumes that the F-35 works as advertised which it does not, as yet.  Aside from stealth and flight issues, the F-35 apparently lacks a “stealth” means of communication to transmit targeting data, as we’ve discussed in previous posts (see, "Can Anyone Talk To The F-35?").

Hopefully, by now you’re getting the idea.  A weapon is only half the problem.  The other, and more important and more challenging, half is targeting (see, "Weapons Don't Matter!").  There’s no point having a 5,000 nm missile if you can’t reliably target beyond 50 miles.  [that’s why the Chinese “carrier killer” is a joke]  So, am I suggesting that we only design short range missiles and abandon the LRASM?  No!  I’m suggesting that we give equal thought to development of targeting capabilities and development of appropriate tactics that will enable long range targeting.

The astute among you will have noticed that I haven’t addressed target discrimination.  It’s not enough to simply detect a “blip” a few hundred miles out.  You also have to know whether that blip is friendly, neutral, or hostile.  Generally, that means getting the detecting platform and sensor even closer to the enemy – a difficult problem becomes even more difficult.

I’ve also not addressed the use of air launched LRASM.  That’s a separate topic with its own considerations.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Network Contradiction?

As ComNavOps has perused the reports about various weapon systems, one common aspect has stood out and that is the Navy’s heavy betting (all in?) on networks, data links, sophisticated communications over long ranges, common tactical pictures, mid-course guidance, and, in general, all forms of electronic networking.  In short, the Navy’s vision of warfare is a completely networked battle force where every asset is a node and all nodes know everything that any node knows.  The corollary to this is that any weapon or system can control any other weapon or system.  This leads to seemingly idiotic statements of conceptual capability such as submarines guiding AAW missiles launched from some other platform.

What are examples of the Navy’s obsession with network warfare?  Well, you’ll recall the recent post discussing electromagnetic maneuver warfare in which the Navy would develop a fleet wide electromagnetic battle management network?  Or, how about the LCS which was supposed to have utilized a rapidly deployable sensor net?  Or, how about the oft-repeated descriptions of the LCS as nodes in a battle management network?  Or, the entire Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC)?  Or, the brilliant NLOS munitions that were supposed to have dynamically networked themselves to allocate targeting in real time?  I won’t bother citing any more examples as the media is full of stories of various Navy weapons and systems being described as networks or components of networks.

The implied requirement in this approach is that the Navy must have totally uncontested command of the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

This brings the discussion to the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).  LRASM is currently in development under a DARPA research contract.  The contract concludes in 2016 at which time the Navy is expected to provide funding for production.  The LRASM is expected to be ready for use by B-1 bombers in 2018 and F/A-18E/F's in 2019.  A VLS-compatible ship launched version is also under development.  Developmental and initial production contracts have been, and are expected to continue to be, sole-sourced to Lockheed Martin (LM).

As a reminder, the basis for the LRASM is the JASSM-ER which is currently in production and approved for use by the Air Force's B-1 bomber.  The missile will use multiple RF and EO sensors for target location, missile navigation, and terminal guidance.  The business end of the missile is a "1000 lb penetrating blast/fragmentation warhead".  Missile range is stated as 500 nm.

As a point of reference, Military and Aerospace Electronics website has an excellent article summarizing the history and status of the LRASM (1).  Beware, though, and note that the article is full of glowing statements of success, all from a LM VP.  Here’s a quick example,

"... JASSM offers what some people have called 'eye-watering' stealth capabilities ..."

Anyway, back to the point of this post …  One aspect of the LRASM program stands out as related to subject of this post and that is the completely different approach that this weapon takes toward networks and communications.  Consider the following snippets describing the features of the LRASM.

"... mission effective in satellite-enabled, satellite-constrained, and satellite-denied environments ..."

"... network enabled, but not network dependant ..."

"... navigation and control with GPS denial ..."

The common theme is that they all recognize that communications, whether for networking, data links, or guidance may well be disrupted and that the missile needs to be able to operate in an electromagnetically contested environment.  This is exactly the opposite of most current and envisioned Navy programs.  It’s also the realistic view of war against a peer.  The Navy has Growlers and shipboard ECM capability designed to disrupt enemy communications, guidance, and networking.  Do we really think the enemy won’t apply similar measures against us?  An enemy will shoot down GPS satellites, disrupt GPS signals, disrupt communications, jam frequencies, initiate cyber attacks, and so on, just as we will.  To design weapons and systems that are dependent on electromagnetic dominance is folly.  Fortunately, in this case, someone has recognized reality and is designing a weapon that can deal with electromagnetic disruption. 

LRASM - Network Independent

Of course, the result of loss of communications is that the weapon or system must function autonomously.  For an unmanned system, be it missile or UAV, that’s quite a software challenge.  The risk in LRASM development is that the entire program may be delayed for inordinate amounts of time trying to prefect the required degree of autonomy.  It might be advisable to field fully functional increments of the missile that contain more sophisticated autonomy over time rather than try to achieve the final product all at once.  For example, a fully functional anti-ship missile with 500 nm range would be a welcome addition to the fleet right now, even without autonomous capability.  I don’t know the status of the programming effort or the developmental plans for autonomy so I can’t comment about whether it’s being developed wisely or not.  We’ll have to keep an eye on this aspect of the LRASM.

Networking is one of those ideas that is appealing on paper but generally results in an overly complicated and, as a result, unworkable system in real life. 

Complexity = Unreliability

It’s as simple as that.  Whether it’s an Aegis system that is degraded fleetwide because it’s too complex to maintain, a Ship Self Defense System that is unworkable after years of development, or an LCS whose every module has failed due to overly complex and unachievable technology, complexity leads to failure.

Now, am I saying that the Navy should abandon the LRASM because it’s complex?  No.  There’s nothing wrong with pursuing complexity as a research effort – just don’t do it as the cornerstone of a badly needed production program.  As I stated earlier, field the LRASM as an incremental program that delivers usable products along the way (unlike the F-35).

So, why is the Navy taking a realistic approach to the LRASM in the sense of not basing it on unrealistic, fantasy networks while pursuing exactly those types of networks for so many other programs?  I don’t know.  That’s the contradiction demonstrated by this program.

(1) Military and Aerospace Electronics, "Back into the blue: LRASM honed for extended reach, precision punch", 2-Oct-2014,