Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Farsi Farce Continues

The Farsi Island incident in which Iran seized two US Navy riverine boats has been an embarrassment of epic proportions and continues to defy logic and reason.  The latest development is the Navy awarding a Navy Commendation Medal to the only female crew member in that collection of misfits for exhibiting “extraordinary courage” in activating an emergency beacon while being held captive (1).

This is ridiculous.  After failing to do her job (gunner) and protect her crewmates and boats, she manages to do the least possible good thing and the Navy falls all over themselves to give her an award. 

If she had exhibited “extraordinary courage” she would have fired her gun prior to being captured. 

If she had exhibited “extraordinary courage” she would have ensured that her gun station had a full load of ammo, was loaded, and ready for combat before beginning the mission. 

If she had exhibited “extraordinary courage” she would have jumped the three  Iranians who took the ten sailors captive and inspired her pathetic fellow sailors to resist.

This is the Navy trying to make lemonade out of lemons while also kowtowing to the women’s movement.

I’ll give her this much credit – she attempted to do one tiny thing right while the remainder of her inept, cowardly crew sat and did nothing other than, in some cases, literally, cry.  So, good for that, but a medal for “extraordinary courage”?  What a farce.


I can't help but wonder if this entire episode reflects the pacification of our society at large.  We've eliminated the ability to resolve one's problems - everything must go through the courts, we're told.  Once upon a time, a good old fashioned butt kicking was sufficient to deal with a bully.  Now, we have to respect their life choices, work to understand them, appeal to their good nature (they probably don't have any), seek counseling for our own misguided impulse to physically stop the bully, and, ultimately, appeal to the courts for restraining orders.

We've prevented boys from playing dodgeball.  We've eliminated man to man fights.  We've demonized aggression among males while extolling the virtues of female feelings.  We've gender-downed our military standards.  We've eliminated aggressive, insensitive mascots from athletic teams.  We're turning football into touch football.  The list goes on.

Now, our military won't fight.  Their first, instinctive response is to surrender and cry.  Is it any wonder why?

Once upon a time our heroes were men of action; hard fighting men; aggressive men.  Have you noticed that now many of our military "heroes" are people who were captured?  Remember Jessica Lynch?  She got a Bronze Star, among other medals, for doing absolutely nothing other than being captured.  Remember the hero's welcome the crew of the EP-3 received after being released by the Chinese? 

We've pacified our society and now wonder why our military won't fight?


(1) website, “Female Sailor Recognized for Bravery During Iranian Detention Incident”, Hope Hodge Seck, 10-Aug-2016,

Monday, August 22, 2016

Why The Navy Needs A Really Large Tanker Aircraft

Once again, we are honored to have a timely guest post from Mr. Bustamante with his thoughts on Navy tanker aircraft needs.  Please be sure to read his bio at the end of the post.


Why the Navy Needs a Really Large Tanker Aircraft

Some Unruly Thoughts on Strike Warfare Against a Peer Competitor [1]

Figure 1. S-3Bs Conduct Aerial Refueling with the Hose-and-Drogue System

Source: open source

If the U.S. Navy expects to employ carriers against peer competitor who can establish substantial Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2/AD) defenses, it will need large tankers, much longer ranged tactical aircraft, and long-ranged standoff weapons.  The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has published several excellent analyses papers making the case that we face adversaries with A2/AD defenses designed specifically to counter American naval and air-superiority extending from 1,000 nm, to1,500 nm or more from a hostile coast.[2]  It is important to note that ships, submarines, aircraft are not automatically destroyed when they enter into an area protected by a sophisticated A2/AD network, but they do risk detection and ultimately destruction that is directly related to the time exposed to the enemy maritime strike-reconnaissance network.  This presents a formidable range requirement for naval aircraft designs built in the last four decades and one that seems unlikely to be met satisfactorily with external fuel systems like conformal fuel tanks.[3]  Ironically, a typical 1960s carrier task force had both long ranged attack aircraft (A-3s, A-6s, and A-5s), and the tanker assets necessary to support escorting fighters for long range strike missions.[4]  The USN today, however, finds itself without long ranged aircraft due to decades of aircraft procurement policy favoring sortie generation over “deck load strike”, failure of the A-12 program, and retirement of long-ranged legacy aircraft.  The requirement for a long range attack aircraft and a big tanker is driven by the physics of fuel consumption and the relatively short range of carrier aviation.  Tanker aircraft allow strike packages to launch with maximum weapons load, but minimum fuel loads, then aerial refuel to maximize fuel load, while simultaneously reducing stress on airframes and extending the life of aircraft.  Large tankers are not only more efficient at delivering fuel, they are also a welcome savior for aircraft returning with combat damage, or Combat Air Patrol (CAP) aircraft returning from an extended mission.  While the F/A-18 is criticized for its relatively short combat radius, the reality is that the longest ranged carrier-based fighters would be challenged by today’s A2/AD defenses.[5]  The current solution to this dilemma is provided by U.S. Air Force, which operates the core of U.S. military aerial refueling fleet, largely consisting of ~460 KC-135 and KC-10 aircraft.[6]  These aircraft have performed yeoman service for naval aviation, but the USAF tanker fleet is prioritized for USAF requirements: delivery of large volumes of fuel to a single large bomber.  USAF tankers are primarily configured to use a unique “flying boom” fuel delivery system, a rigid, telescoping tube that the tanker aircraft extends and inserts into a receptacle on the aircraft being refueled; however, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft refuel using the “hose-and drogue” system, which is a flexible hose that trails from the tanker and drogue (windsock) that stabilizes it in flight.[7]  The USAF also uses JP-8 fuel, while the Navy uses JP-5.  In order to fuel USN and USMC aircraft, Air Force tankers generally have to flush their tanks and install a modified hose-and-drogue system, the inventory of which is sufficient to equip about a third of the tanker fleet.[8]  The new KC-46A is equipped with both the flying boom and the hose-and-drogue systems built into the airframe, but aircraft fuel compatibility remains an issue. 

Figure 2.  USAF KC-135A Refueling a B-52D1

Source: open source
1.  The flying boom system designed specifically for fast, efficient refueling of very large aircraft like bombers.

The KC-46A is also just entering production and the current procurement plan is for only 179 aircraft.[9]  The balance of the USAF tanker fleet is also old and shrinking.[10]  Moreover, the USAF is likely to need every tanker to support a long-range bomber campaign in a high end conflict and these aircraft will be based to support USAF missions.  This is likely to leave Navy aviation without desperately needed aerial refueling capability in war.  This article will first examine the long range strike mission, review the aerial refueling requirements needed to support strike packages, and then show why current naval aircraft are not well suited the role.  Finally we will suggest some solutions to the issue.

Figure 3.  USAF KC-46A Refueling a Pair of F/A-18s1

Source: open source
1.  The KC-46A has both the flying boom system; and the hose-and-drogue system.

We should ask ourselves, does the USN have a requirement to conduct long range strike operations using carrier based aviation?  Dollars are tight - a large tanker, and possibly a large tactical aircraft program, must fully justify the additional expense.  We could accept the status quo where long-ranged naval strike missions are tied to the availability of USAF tanker assets.  After all, the USN, and USMC used USAF tankers to support long missions to Afghanistan following 9/11.  Besides, the USAF is tasked with deep inland strikes; the USN has plenty of RGM/UGM-109 Tomahawk missiles for long-range strikes and highly capable submarines for clandestine launches.  Finally, there is the argument that carrier aviation exists to provide local air superiority for naval task forces – thus an alternate strategy for carrier employment might call for blockade, minelaying, and commerce raiding instead of deep strike.  In the end, none of these propositions are entirely acceptable; particularly given that the Navy had a plethora of tankers and long-range attack aircraft in the middle of the last century.  This is a problem with a readily definable technical solution that was worked out in the 1950s and then fielded.  Large organic tanker capability is incredibly useful, even when conducting strikes well within the range of strike aircraft.  USAF tankers are not always going to be conveniently based to support naval strikes, especially if the Navy pursues operations outside the USAF’s primary theater of operations.  In practice, USAF aircraft flying from known, geographically fixed bases may prove to be more vulnerable to attack than an aircraft carrier.  The submarine launched deep strike mission is in direct competition with the use of submarines for the critical anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission and the commerce raiding missions, which I give much higher priority.  Further, an operational shift, or technological breakthrough favoring ASW might dramatically affect submarine survivability or effectiveness.  Finally, a good military policy is to retain redundancy and flexibility with weapon systems and units where possible. 

Modern tactical air operations place a premium on Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD); the ratio of aircraft actually delivering steel on target might only be one out every three or four planes.  Most of the aircraft in a strike package will be fighter escorts, electronic warfare aircraft, SEAD aircraft, command and control aircraft, and other air frames, just to make sure the bomb droppers get to their weapon release points.[11]  During the Gulf War, strike packages of up to 50-60 tactical aircraft were generally required to assure the penetration of 12-16 aircraft with ground attack munitions!  The proliferation of advanced SAMs and advanced fighter aircraft gives us little hope that the situation will dramatically improve.  Additional considerations are the extensive fortifications constructed by many potential adversaries to protect key military and civil infrastructure to complicate U.S. strike operations.  This will demand larger ordinance loads, and also gives us little hope of using external fuel tanks extensively as a solution to extending aircraft range.

So what would it take to support the fuel needs of a carrier task force (TF) strike package of 60 or so aircraft?  I am assuming the TF is willing to risk a high speed dash at 30 knots to penetrate 240 nm into the A2/AD network (~8hrs), and that stand-off weapons range is 60+ nm, so the strike package needs to penetrate (fly) about 900 nm get to weapons release point for stand- off weapons   The key determinants are based upon the combat radius and fuel capacity of the aircraft flying in the strike.  Table 1 below gives us a quick summary of open source data in very rough approximation of the fuel and combat radius characteristics of selected naval aircraft.  Aside from the F/A-18E and F-35C, several historical aircraft are included as “place holders” to approximate potential performance of future aircraft. 

Table 1.  Fuel and Combat Radius Data for Tactical Naval Aircraft

Source: open source data is approximate and are for illustrative purposes.
1.  Combat radius is a very complex and qualified figure, see end note 2.
2.  F-35C figures are yet to be demonstrated.

The F-111 was included in the table because it was originally intended to be a joint USAF/USN carrier capable design and approaches the maximum size and weight of carrier capable airframes like the A-3D Skywarrior and A-5 Vigilante, arguably the closest aircraft to a strategic bomber that the USN has produced.[12]  The take away is that naval aviation, now based upon the F/A-18, is short ranged, and hugely dependent upon aerial tanking to conduct very long range strikes.  Even the “long-ranged” F-14 has qualifications.  A very rough estimate for an alpha strike package of 60 F/A-18 aircraft (to include F/A-18Gs) will require at least 36,750 lbs. of fuel, and three refueling operations per aircraft to reach 900 nm.  A strike package of 60 aircraft would require over 2.2 million lbs. of fuel!  This figure could overstate the actual fuel requirement because long-range missions may allow aircraft to operate at speed/altitude profiles that significantly enhance their fuel efficiency.  On the other hand, commonly quoted combat radii, do not address the inevitable delays that occur when aerially refueling dozens of tactical aircraft.  Also note, that this mission also requires tankers operate at least 600 nm from the carrier.  The situation improves slightly for an all F-35C strike package (27,990 lbs. per aircraft, 1.7 million lbs. of fuel for a 60 aircraft formation – but it still is a formidable requirement.  It is also questionable if the USN will buy a sufficient number of F-35s, and even if it does, the only tactical jammer currently in the U.S. inventory is the F/A-18G.  The F-35 is supposed to deliver many capabilities that promise to reduce the size of strike packages and increase survivability, but these have yet to be demonstrated.  A partial solution is of course to use external fuel tanks, but these come at a performance penalty and also increase the detectability of the strike force.  For these reasons, and to simplify what can be a very complicated analysis, the strike package fuel requirement assumes internal fuel loads only.

Having stated the requirement, what tanker assets are available to support the strike tanking requirements?  Table 2 below provides a summary of selected aerial refueling aircraft in the U.S. arsenal and matches them to the number of tankers required to deliver 1.7 million pounds of fuel to support a 60 aircraft strike.

Table 2.  Summary of Selected U.S. Aerial Refueling Assets

Source: open source data; approximations are for illustrative purposes.

1. Note that with the exception of the KC-135, all of the other aircraft options fail to provide fuel at useful ranges.
2. Figures are rounded up to the nearest whole number of aircraft.
3. The more common EKA-3B could deliver 21,000 lbs. of fuel at 460 nm, enough to fuel 2.2 full F-4Js, but it also retained significant stand-off jamming capabilities and could still carry ordinance while operating as a tanker.  The KA-3 and EKA-3B were far and away the best aerial refueling assets the Navy built.  They were also the largest carrier capable aircraft ever built with about 82,000 pounds maximum take-off weight.
4. With two 300 gallon tanks.
5. The KS-3A program was cancelled afte a single prototype was built.  Had it entered production,it arguably might have been the most capable dedicated Navy tanker.
6. The F/A-18E configured as a "buddy tanker".

What Table 2 really demonstrates is the huge load efficiency of very large, land-based tankers with maximum take-off weights exceeding 320,000 lbs. (the KC-46A has a maximum take-off weight of 415,000 pounds - over five times heavier than the largest carrier aircraft ever deployed, the KA-3).  This analysis also underestimates the tanking requirements of a long range strike package because with the exception of the KC-135, all of the other aircraft options fail the ability to provide fuel at useful range.  It also shows that the best tanker the Navy ever acquired, the KA-3, was still inefficient as a tanker, requiring an almost one to one ratio of tankers to F-35Cs to support a 900 nm strike.  The very worst tanker option is the F/A-18E operating as a “buddy tanker” due to the short intrinsic short range of the airframe.  In fact, the F/A-18E “buddy tanker” configuration will burn most of its transfer fuel capacity to reach 600 nm

Figure 4.  The Navy’s Best Tanker Ever - an EKA-3B Skywarrior Refuels an F-14

Source: A-3 Skywarrior Association

This is reminiscent of the U.S. Army Air Corps fiasco in WWII called Operation Matterhorn: an ill-conceived strategic bombing campaign against Japan by basing B-29s bombers in India and staging them from airfields in China.  Every gallon of fuel, every pound of ammunition and other military supplies had to be flown over the Himalayas to China.  Because the B-29 was inefficient as a tanker, it took seven round trip B-29 flights to build up enough fuel for a single B -29 mission against Japan; prompting General Curtis E. LeMay the commander of XX bomber Command to say: “The scheme of operations had been dreamed up like something out of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ...”[13]  Carrier aviation, lacking both a large tanker, and long ranged aircraft, is in danger of repeating this error.

Matching requirements to assets, suggests a number of options the U.S. Navy can, and should take to improve its strike capacity against first class adversaries with advanced A2/AD defenses.  Specifically:

1)     In the short term, the Navy should study the feasibility of returning some of the 100 A-6E aircraft in storage to service after refurbishment and conversion into KA-6Es.  The A-6E was given new composite wings shortly before retirement and could provide a great deal of relief to the air wings.  Conversion to unmanned or optionally manned operation should be considered.

2)     Long term, the Navy needs to procure a very large, carrier capable tanker aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of 80,000 pounds or larger, and an objective transfer fuel load of 40,000 lbs. delivered to 600 nm.  This aircraft should follow the “payload over platforms” design philosophy and provide a robust “pick-up truck” functionality over stealth and other features.

a)     The aircraft could be unmanned or optionally manned.
b)     A flying wing or blended wing design seems appropriate to maximize lift and internal fuel capacity.
c)      The tanker should have several "joint" features for maximum compatibility with the USAF and allies that use the flying boom (e.g.  Australia):

i)        Incorporate a flying boom receptacle to enable the new tanker to receive fuel very quickly from USAF tankers, while simultaneously refueling USN aircraft.[14]  This would open a number of tactical advantages, shorten refueling times, and allow strategic tanker aircraft to complete their missions more rapidly.
ii)      Incorporate certain USAF mounts for large capacity external fuel tanks. 
iii)    Possibly incorporate a flying boom for refueling USAF fighters.

3)     From a joint perspective, the Navy and Air Force must continue to integrate operations and ensure equipment interoperability. 

a)     The U.S. military needs to move to a single aviation fuel type to minimize logistics issues.  Given the number of aircraft in each service, this means that the Navy and Marine Corps should adapt JP-8, which is similar in chemical composition, but has a lower flashpoint than JP-5.

b)     The Navy must also seriously consider incorporating the USAF flying boom/receptacle compatible system into large aircraft like the P-8 or future attack aircraft.  It also means that the USAF must maintain sufficient numbers of Wing Air Refueling Pods for legacy tankers to support naval aircraft.  This is key, the Navy must support the USAF 100% in obtaining funding for these pods.

4)     Future naval aircraft must place a much higher emphasis on range and payload than the past three decades.  Plainly stated, this requirement greatly favors a large, long-ranged heavy attack aircraft; the same physics of moving large bomb loads over great distance was exactly what drove the procurement of the A-3, the A-6, and the A-5.  This aircraft will need to be larger than the X-47B - it could also be a drone or optionally manned.  It should incorporate certain USAF mounts for large stand-off weapons and large capacity external fuel tanks. 

5)     Improve stand-off ranges with a very long ranged (1,200 to 1,500 nm) air to ground weapon.  This also favors a large heavy attack aircraft in A-3/A-5/F-111weight class. Consider:

a)     Adapting Navy aircraft to carry long ranged USAF air-to-ground cruise missiles with conventional warheads to support strike operations.  This implies a large attack aircraft to carry them: for example an AGM-129A missile weighs over 3,500 pounds.[15]
b)     Procure a long ranged air-to-ground ballistic missile with a conventional warhead to support strike operations.[16]

These are appropriate actions for naval aviation but the Navy in general needs additional reforms to conduct strike warfare against modern a2/AD defenses.  First and foremost is the procurement of a very long ranged (1,200 to 1,500 nm) ship launched cruise missile and/or ballistic missiles for strike operations.  These weapons need not only greater range than BGM-109 tomahawk, they require more sophisticated warheads, for example anti-radiation seeker heads, earth penetrating warheads, and EW packages like jammers.  Serious consideration to stealth and hyper velocity propulsion is essential. 

[1] This article addresses high end war against a peer competitor, not COIN operations.

[2] See AirSea Battle: A Point-of-Departure Operational Concept, May 18, 2010 by Jan van Tol, Mark Gunzinger, and Andrew F.  Krepinevich and Jim Thomas.  Available at

[3] The details of combat radius are highly technical and dependent upon a number of factors (ordinance and fuel loads, ingress and egress altitude, dash speed, weapon drag, etc.), but typical tactical aircraft combat radii range from 350 nm to about 600 nm.  External fuel systems work well, but impose trade-offs in performance, particularly in maneuverability, radar cross section, and use, or interfere with, munition hard points. 

[4] This capability was developed because Admirals Mitscher and Sallada proposed a nuclear bomb capable attack bomber in 1945 with a 1,000 nm combat radius leading directly to the A-3 Skywarrior and later the A-5 Vigilante.  U.S. Aircraft Carriers, An Illustrated Design History, by Dr. Norman Friedman, 1983, pages 240 and 241.

[5] The F/A-18 does what it was designed to do, the problem is the carrier air wing lost the supporting cast of aircraft types.

[6] Formal Joint air refueling operations between the Air Force and Navy started in the early 1970s.  A 1988 memorandum of understanding (MOU) established joint air -refueling concepts.

[7] Congressional Research Service report RL32910,  Air Force Aerial Refueling Methods:
Flying Boom versus Hose-and-Drogue, by Christopher Bolkcom pages 2 and 3, June 5, 2006.

[8] The KC-10 is configured to allow the alternate simultaneous use of either the flying boom or the hose and drogue if equipped with Wing Air Refueling Pods (WARP).  This does not solve the issue of the services using different fuel types.  Only about one out of every three USAF KC-10s had Wing Air Refueling Pods (WARP), and these are low priority procurement items for the USAF.  Naval Air Refueling Needs Deferred in Air Force Tanker Plan by Hunter C. Keeter, Sea Power magazine, April 2004.


[10] GAO found that the average age of the KC-135 fleet was 35 years back in 2003.  GAO-03-938T, page 4.

[11] A combat grouping of aircraft with different capabilities that are launched together to perform a single attack mission

[12] The C-130 is the largest aircraft to land and take off from aircraft carriers.  In October and November 1963, a KC-130F (BuNo 149798) made 21 landings and take-offs on the USS Forrestal.  It is important to note that the C-130 essentially shut down normal flight deck operations and was (remains) unsuitable for normal carrier operations.

[13] The Matterhorn Missions, by John Correll, pages 62-65, AIR FORCE Magazine, March 2009.

[14] Designed properly, a USN tanker could receive fuel from a USAF tanker via the boom, while also fueling two Navy aircraft.  In the case of a KC-10, or KC-46A, the possibility of fueling the Navy tanker (via the flying boom) and four tactical aircraft via hose and reel (two from the USN tanker, and two from the USAF tanker, is a possibility.

[16] The Douglas AGM-48 Skybolt Air-Launched Ballistic Missile from the 1950s suggests one possible weapon. It was very heavy weighing almost 11,000 pounds.


Mr. Bustamante is a retired naval officer who served the majority of his career as a Naval Special Warfare Officer, but also as a Surface Warfare Officer and Foreign Area Officer.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in Systems Engineering.  He also holds a Master of Science degree in Defense Analysis (Operations Research) from the Naval Postgraduate School in MontereyCalifornia. After retiring from the Navy, Mr. Bustamante worked for the legislative branch as an auditor and analyst, as a civil servant with the United States Department of State, and also in the private sector as an analyst in information technology project management.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Incapable of Learning

The Navy appears utterly incapable of learning.  What lessons have we documented on this blog that have simply and thoroughly smacked the Navy in the face?  How about this one, in particular,

Don’t try to combine disparate functions into a single platform.  That just leads to a platform that can’t do any of the functions well, costs a fortune to develop due to trying to reconcile contradictory requirements, and delivers years late for the same reasons.


So, what is the Navy trying to do now?  That’s right, they’re trying to combine intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) with tanking in the upcoming MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker.  From a USNI News article (1) we see that the Navy dimly recognizes the problem and the inherent design conflict.

“The problem that industry and the service are dealing with is the ISR and the tanking mission inherently requires two very different types of aircraft shapes or planforms, Shoemaker [Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker] said.

A primarily ISR UAV would be a high-endurance platform “probably not carry a lot of fuel, have a large wingspan,” to be an efficient platform, Shoemaker said.

For example, the highflying Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton UAV is built with a 131 foot wingspan and can fly unrefueled for up to 30 hours.

“If you’re going to be a tanker at range, you’re obliviously going to have to be able to carry a fair amount of fuel internal to the platform. That drives the different design for those two,” he said.”

Okay, so the Navy sees the problem. It’s the same problem they had when they tried to combine three radically different aircraft into a single F-35 and wound up with a gagstaggeringly (you like that word?) expensive aircraft that has only 20% commonality and isn’t optimized for any of the individual roles.  It’s the same problem they had when they tried to combine strike and fighter into a single F-18 Hornet and got an aircraft that was good at neither.  It’s the same problem they had when they tried to combine three completely different functions into a single LCS and wound up with a toothless waste of a ship class that has yet to put to sea with any meaningful capability.  And so on.

Having had these lessons stomphammered (I’m writing my own dictionary) home, what does the Navy decide to do about attempting to reconcile irreconcilable functions on a single platform?  Do they heed the lessons?  Do they do the smart thing?  Do they demonstrate that they’re capable of learning?  No, as evidenced by this,

”So the industry is working on an analysis of where that sweet spot is to do both of those missions.”

Sweet spot?  There is no sweet spot!  You’re combining ketchup and ice cream and thinking you’ll find the right mix that will taste good.  It’ll suck!

Since the Navy is too stupid to learn a lesson, here is the proper approach.

Build a single function, stripped down, dumb as dirt, basic as you can get, tanker.  It doesn’t need any military capability whatsoever.  It’s a flying gas station.  Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS).  Build these for next to nothing.

Build a dedicated ISR aircraft that does one thing only and does it exceedingly well.  Add no function that does not support ISR and keep it cheap.  When combat starts, these things will get shot down like Junior guys asking Senior girls to the prom so make them cheap enough to be readily expendable.

This is just simple common sense.  Don’t build a Formula 1 racer with a  pickup bed so that it can haul cargo when it isn’t racing.  It won’t do either job very well.  There’s a reason why we build separate race cars and pickup trucks.

The Navy’s ability to shrug off lessons and learn nothing never ceases to stunfound (I’m on a roll) me and this is just the latest example.  How the single digit morons running the Navy manage to get dressed in the morning is nothing short of a miracle – but I guess that’s what Admiral’s aides are for.


(1)USNI News website, “Navy, Industry Looking for Design ‘Sweet Spot’ for MQ-25A Stingray”, Sam LaGrone, August 18, 2016,

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why Is A Carrier The Size It Is?

Carriers are mammoth vessels.  Why? 


This isn’t a trick question but it’s one that we never think about.  The answer is that the carrier’s size is determined by its air wing. 

The air wing needs an immense flat area simply to park its aircraft on.  That area must also be able to launch and recover aircraft while not interfering with the storage (parking) of the aircraft.  That adds immensely to the area.  More flight deck room is needed to move aircraft in preparation for launch or maintenance. 

For example, the entire bow area of the carrier is there because that much room is needed for the catapults.  If the aircraft were all vertical takeoff, you wouldn’t need the bow of the carrier and you could lop off the entire area from the bow cats forward.  Relax, vertical take off is not where we’re going with this.  I’m just illustrating that the size of the carrier is determined by the requirements of the air wing.  The same reasoning applies to the huge recovery area that constitutes much of the aft half of the flight deck.

The air wing also needs to maintain itself.  Thus, we have a huge hangar for maintenance, many repair shops, lots of spare parts storage, etc.

The air wing needs munitions and lots of them.  So, a large chunk of internal carrier volume is devoted to magazines and munition handling areas and elevators.

The air wing needs fuel and lots of it.  The carrier, despite being nuclear powered, needs immense fuel tanks for the air wing’s aircraft.

The air wing also needs the mundane things like berthing, heads, showers, food and water storage, galley space, mess decks, laundry, waste treatment, etc.

Take away the air wing and all its requirements and what do you have?  A small, nuclear powered tugboat.

Okay, so now we’ve thought about why a carrier is the size it is.  So what?

Well, let’s keep going and think a bit deeper.  Having asked why a carrier is the size it is, let’s now ask why the air wing is the size it is.

Again, this is not a trick question but it is one that is examined even less than the carrier size. 

The air wing is the size it is because of the tasks it is asked to perform.  What are those tasks?  Here’s a list of a tasks and a typical air wing’s assigned aircraft to accomplish those tasks

  • Strike and Fighter – 38x  F-18 Hornets
  • Aerial Tanking - 6x F-18 Hornets
  • AEW – 4x E-2 Hawkeyes
  • ECM – 5x EA-18G Growlers
  • ASW/ASuW/Logistics – 12x MH-60(x) Seahawks

That gives us an air wing of 65 aircraft – our modern air wing.

Okay, so now we’ve thought about why an air wing is the size it is.  So what?

Well, do you recall the recent post on distributed costs and the resulting change in force structure?  We said that we need to reverse the trend towards ever larger, ever more expensive, ever fewer ships and go (return) to smaller, simpler, less individually capable, cheaper, more numerous ships.  Do you recall an overarching theme of ComNavOps calling for more numerous and cheaper, smaller, single function ships like dedicated ASW vessels and dedicated MCM vessels and narrowly defined AAW escort ships and so on?  Well, the same applies to, and is interlinked with, carriers or, more precisely, carrier air wings.

If we had a more numerous force structure of smaller, single function ships what impact might that have on carrier air wings?

Instead of the Navy’s current carrier escort of three or four Burkes, each with a single helo, providing ASW, imagine if we had 16 smaller, dedicated ASW vessels, each with a single helo for a total of 16 ASW helos.  We wouldn’t need the carrier’s helos.  The requisite number would be distributed throughout the escort.  So, the air wing’s helos could be reduced from 12 to 2 (for plane guard duty).

Suppose we were to distribute the air wing’s capabilities across two carriers instead of one.  That would mean each air wing would have 2 Hawkeyes instead of 4 and 2-3 Growlers instead of 5.

We don’t want to distribute the air wing’s strike/fighter capabilities, however.  Quite the opposite.  We’d like to increase the number of strike/fighter aircraft.  So, what if each of our notional two carriers had an air wing of 38 Hornets, 6 Hornet-tankers, 2 Hawkeyes, and 2 Growlers?  That would give us an air wing of 48 total aircraft with the exact same combat capability as a current air wing!

Because the air wing is only 48 aircraft, a 26% reduction in numerical size, the carrier needed to operate the air wing could be substantially smaller. 

Let’s go still further.  If we’re willing to accept a slight reduction in launch capacity, our notional carrier could be equipped with only 2 catapults instead of 4.  All four catapults are rarely (almost never) operated simultaneously.  They’re mainly useful for full strike launches which is less and less a viable operation.  A reduction of two catapults gives us a significant reduction in equipment and required flight deck space.  Remember earlier in the post when we noted that if it were not for the two bow catapults we could lop off the entire bow section of the carrier?  And with a wing of only 48 aircraft the bow flight deck area wouldn’t even be needed for parking. 

You can see where this is going.  A smaller air wing means less flight deck area, less hangar space, fewer repair shops, less personnel berthing, etc.  In short, it means we can have a much smaller carrier.  In this concept, we would actually have two carriers instead of one and they would pool their Hawkeyes and Growlers to have the capability of a full air wing today plus twice the strike/fighter numbers.   This would result in a force of 20 carriers as opposed to today’s 10, resulting in distributed cost, distributed and increased lethality, twice the combat aircraft, and, most importantly, distributed risk so that we would actually be willing to commit carriers to combat.

So, why is the carrier the size it is?  The answer is, for no good reason.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Distributed Cost

The Navy continues on its inexorable path to irrelevance – an irrelevance brought on by having too few ships that are too expensive and too vital to risk in combat which is the very task they are supposedly built for.  A force that’s too expensive to risk in combat is a force that’s irrelevant.  For example, a carrier that costs $15B (the equivalent of an entire year’s shipbuilding budget !!! ) and that is one of only nine or ten in the fleet is just too expensive and too vital to risk in combat.  That renders the carrier irrelevant.

We’ve seen this phenomenon play out.  For many years, the Air Force would not risk their (at the time) new B-2 bombers so the B-52 shouldered the work load.  The Air Force would not risk the F-22 until just recently.  The Marine’s combat ready (they told us they were) F-35s are not being used in combat even though a single F-35 is worth a hundred legacy aircraft, so they tell us.  Why?  Because of risk (and because they aren’t actually combat ready – they lied to us).

What can we do about it?  Well, the Navy has actually given us a model that can pave the way to a better force structure – a structure that we would actually be willing to risk in combat.  The model is the Navy’s woefully misguided “distributed lethality” concept.  We’ve discussed the flaws inherent in distributed lethality so I won’t repeat that, however, the underlying concept is exactly what’s needed to produce a force structure we’d be willing to commit to combat.  

The key is “distributed”.  For our purposes, what we need to distribute is not lethality but cost.  Instead of a single $15B carrier that we won’t even allow to go to sea in the event of war, two $7B carriers or three $5B carriers would be far better.  Or, instead of a $2.5B Burke that no one wants to risk playing tag with a submarine, despite ASW being a theoretical Burke capability, we need two $1B, pared down, generic destroyers or five $500M dedicated ASW vessels.

The concept is to distribute the cost so that when war comes we’re willing to risk using the ships for the jobs they were designed for rather than hold our ships back from combat because we can’t afford the cost of losing even one of them.  Wargame after wargame has shown that the commanders are unwilling to commit their high priced ships to combat because of the risk of losing a ship that is so expensive and contains so much capability.  Halsey would cry over this timidity but that’s another issue.

Now, here’s the truly ironic part.  If we pursued a distributed cost force structure, it would, inherently, give us a distributed lethality structure as well but without the idiotic failings of the Navy’s current distributed lethality concept.  Instead of putting Harpoons on tankers or supply ships and risking losing those very precious assets, we’d be distributing the fleet’s aggregate lethality across actual warships that are built to fight and built in sufficient numbers, at a low enough cost, to be able to afford losing some.

Make no mistake …  this is 180 degrees opposite the Navy’s current path of ever bigger, ever fewer, ever more capability-concentrated ships.  The Navy is knowingly heading down a death spiral of fewer ships that cost more which leads to fewer ships which cost still more which leads ... 

We must break that cycle and establish a new path and this is the way to do it.


Note:  Thanks to reader Jim Whall for the inspiration for this post.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Buck Stops Here

The Captain of a ship is a special position.  Historically and traditionally, the Captain is granted absolute authority but is also held to a standard of absolute accountability. 

The absolute authority began as a necessity in the days of sail when there was no ability to communicate with higher command.  The Captain had no choice but to make every decision on his own.  This included not only decisions about his own ship but could include interacting with foreign governments, making national policy, and negotiating treaties.

The flip side of this unlimited authority was absolute accountability.  The Captain was ultimately responsible for everything that happened on or to his ship, even if the Captain wasn’t on board at the time!  If a ship was sunk in action, the Captain was automatically tried by a board.  If the ship ran aground, the Captain was held accountable whether he was on deck or asleep in his cabin.

Every Captain has understood this unique arrangement and, by accepting the position, accepted the arrangement and acknowledged the ultimate accountability.  The accountability was sometimes not fair but it was understood and accepted.  Captains were men who rose to a higher level than ordinary men and accepted the burden of a higher accountability.

Disturbingly, in the last few decades we’ve seen an erosion of the Captain’s unique arrangement.  Micro-management, enabled by instantaneous, world-wide communications, has eroded the Captain’s absolute authority.  At the same time, we’ve seen more and more Captains refusing to accept the accountability that goes with the position.  More Captains are appealing punitive measures rather than accepting the accountability that goes with the position.

We see, now, that the captain (senior officer), Lt. David Nartker, of the riverine boats that were captured by the Iranians, is appealing his punishment (apparently, a punitive letter of reprimand) as determined by an Admiral’s mast proceeding.  Let’s think about that a bit.

First, the accusations, forum (Admiral’s mast), and punishment could have been a lot worse.  Given their actions, the Lieutenant and his fellow sailors could have been subjected to Courts Martial and charges ranging all the way up to mutiny.  That they were not, indicates the desire on the part of the Navy to make this incident go away as quickly as possible and the group was the beneficiary of that ill-considered desire.

Second, that the Lieutenant is appealing his watered down punishment indicates that he has no concept of what it means to be a captain in the Navy.  Of course, this is not surprising given the litany of failings he committed both prior to and during the course of, the incident.  This man was clearly unfit for command and should not have been in the Navy.  For him, the Navy was a job with a paycheck rather than a calling of high responsibility.

Third, the command elements above the Lieutenant had to have known (or, it should have been their responsibility to know) that he was unfit for his rank and yet they took no action.  They should be punished even more severely.  To be fair, the Navy did relieve the two command levels above the Lieutenant but that was, again, a half-measure.  Those commanders should have been kicked out of the Navy.

Finally, this exposes the badly flawed promotion process.  We have far too many officers achieving ranks that they are not qualified for.  The Navy’s steady and relentless drumbeat of firings of Captains clearly indicates that the Navy is consistently selecting the wrong people for command.

All of this can be summed up by recalling the saying popularized by President Harry Truman,

The Buck Stops Here

Clearly, this Lieutenant did not understand the concept of command and did not accept the ultimate responsibility and accountability that went with his command.  In his mind, accountability is a buck to be passed, rather than a responsibility to be accepted.  That is the definition of unfit for command.  Given that he is an officer, that is also the definition of unfit to serve.  He should be kicked out of the Navy.


(1)USNI News website, “UPDATED: Leader of U.S. Sailors Captured by Iran Appeals Punishment”, Sam LaGrone, August 11, 2016,

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Asiatic Fleet Lessons

I dislike repeating posts or articles from other authors if I can’t add value through analysis.  I’d much rather just recommend it and move on.  Occasionally, however, I come across an article so good that I have to largely repeat it because it makes such good points.  Such an article is “1941 Asiatic Fleet Offers Strategic Lessons” in the current issue of Proceedings (1).  I'll leave it to you to read up on the fate of the Asiatic Fleet if you're not already familiar with it.

The author draws parallels between the Asiatic Fleet at the outbreak of WWII and today.  He presents both the 1941 pre-war assumptions and the actual results

  • The Asiatic Fleet contained the largest single concentration of submarines in the world and Adm. Hart expected that they would operate inside the Japanese defensive zones.  Similarly, today, we believe that our submarine force will be able to operate inside the Chinese Anti-access/Area Denial (A2/AD) zone with great success.

  • The Asiatic Fleet depended on air support from the Philippines based Far East Air Force which consisted of 130 modern aircraft.  Similarly, today, we believe that we will be able to depend on air support from Guam, Okinawa, and various Japanese bases.  We are also attempting to establish bases in the Philippines.

  • Pre-war plans assumed that the Japanese would attempt to seize the Philippines and that the Asiatic Fleet’s submarines and Philippine base air power would blunt the Japanese effort.  Similarly, we assume the Chinese would attack our bases in Guam and, likely, Japan but that we will be able to defend them.

  • Adm. Hart assumed that the main bases of Subic Bay and Manila would be rendered inoperable leaving the fleet dependent on 4 large tenders.

  • The Asiatic Fleet would combine with the powerful British and Dutch battleships and cruisers at the outset of hostilities.  Similarly, we seem to be putting great stock in our allies in the Pacific region despite the fact that, with the exception of Japan, they have only very meager military resources.

  • The Philippines would be threatened initially but would be supported by reinforcements from Pearl Harbor.

Here are the actual results for comparison with the assumptions.

  • The surface ships and submarines operated without aerial scouting and accomplished little.  The failure of the submarines, in particular, was disappointing and unforeseen.  The well known US torpedo debacle negated what little success the submarines might have had.

  • At the Battle of Makassar Strait, at which Japanese air forces damaged the only two cruisers of the Asiatic Fleet, it was found that 20% of the fleet’s anti-aircraft shells failed to explode, possible due to age.  The problem was undetected, prior to combat, due to budget cuts which severely limited live fire testing.

  • The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor effectively prevented any reinforcement of the Philippines and ensured their loss.

  • The Japanese sinking of the British battleships eliminated any possible heavy surface ship actions.

  • Japanese attacks on various forward bases left the Asiatic Fleet with only their 4 tenders for resupply.

  • Most of the Philippines based air forces were destroyed on the ground.

The parallels and lessons are obvious and striking.

For starters, we have a piecemeal and limited forward naval presence.  LCS squadrons present no credible combat capability and will be cut off and annihilated at the start of hostilities, as was the Asiatic Fleet.  We have a carrier group forward deployed in Japan but, much like the British battleships, a lone carrier group cannot survive inside a powerful A2/AD zone.

Our logistic support ships are limited in number and type.  The Navy has only a single tender ship (submarine) in the entire fleet.  Worse, we cannot reload VLS cells at sea.

Our forward bases are few and vulnerable.  It is a certainty that they will be hit hard at the onset of hostilities and will likely be rendered non-operational.  This underscores the importance of logistic support ships that are mobile and more survivable.

We are extremely vulnerable to pre-emptive strikes.  The US would not initiate hostilities with China so that leaves China with the luxury of choosing the timing and location of initial strikes.  China will get the first hit in and it will be heavy.  We will lose any usable base in the opening minutes of a war.

Just as the Asiatic Fleet found out that its munitions were defective and its torpedoes were flawed, so too will we find out that our weapon systems have problems.  As then, we today are restricted by budget and policy from conducting sufficient live fire testing that could reveal problems now, in time to be fixed.  We will be hampered by flawed weapons in the initial months and years of war.  Somewhere in our weapons inventory is our version of the WWII torpedo debacle.  It would be far better to find it now and fix it rather than wait and find it in combat.

History offers valuable lessons to those who will heed them.  The Asiatic Fleet’s lessons are particularly pertinent as we head down a path of repeating their experience.


 (1)USNI Proceedings, “1941 Asiatic Fleet Offers Strategic Lessons”, Hunter Stires, Aug 2016, p.58-63.