Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Burke Upgrades Cancelled

The Navy has cancelled planned ballistic missile defense (BMD) upgrades for five Burke class destroyers due to budget constraints (1).  The ships will not receive the Baseline 9 Aegis combat system upgrades.  The cuts in modernization funding will save around $500M over five years.

The cuts also impact the ship's networking and target data sharing capabilities.

"Additionally — without the Baseline 9 upgrade — the ships will not be wired into the Navy’s emerging Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA (pronounced: nifk-kah)) that would allow destroyers to download targeting information from assets outside of the range of their SPY-1D radars to attack air and BMD threats with the Raytheon Standard Missile 6 (SM-6)."

Well, that’s very unfortunate that we can’t afford those upgrades but as CNO Greenert said,

"When asked about the reductions following a House appropriations hearing on Thursday, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert told USNI News the cuts were a result of hard fiscal choices and reflected the service’s priorities."

Well, CNO Greenert is right.  When you have a limited budget, you have to make hard choices based on your priorities and …  wait … let me go back to that cost number …  $500M ?!! … to get 5 BMD and network capable Burkes? … $500M – isn’t that the cost of a single LCS?  So, CNO Greenert is telling us that the Navy’s priorities are that they would rather have an LCS than five BMD/network capable Burkes?  Does that make sense to you?!  I’ve said all along that Greenert is completely focused on low end and peacetime activities at the expense of warfighting and readiness and this just proves it.

I recently posted that, for reasons totally obscure to me, the Navy considers the LCS untouchable and this yet another example.  The Navy would rather pass on five BMD/network capable Burkes than give up one LCS. 

However, according to the article,

"Currently, the Navy’s number one priority is the $100 billion design and construction effort for a new nuclear ballistic missile submarine to replace the aging Ohio-class boomers (SSB)."

I'm not sure if the Navy's internal top priority really is the replacement SSBN.  As I’ve pointed out, the LCS looks to be the Navy’s top priority.  Still, it demonstrates the domino effect that occurs when a program, the SSBN replacement, in this case, is so expensive that it not only limits itself but cripples other programs.  The F-35, for example, is gutting the Marines and Air Force by forcing those services to cancel other badly needed programs to pay for the F-35.  Similarly, the SSBN has long been predicted to gut Navy shipbuilding, operating, and maintenance funding and now we're seeing the first concrete results.

We’ll continue to watch the SSBN funding play out but I predict that we’re going to see many more examples of early retirements, deferred maintenance, cancelled upgrades, and truncated shipbuilding to pay for the SSBN unless the Navy can get the funding shifted to a higher DoD level (of course, that just means that every service will have its budget cut a bit more to pay for the SSBN – there are no free lunches).  This is further evidence that the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding plan is pure fantasy.  Many future ships will have to be cancelled to pay for the SSBN.

Seriously, how do you defend prioritizing the LCS over five Burke BMD/network upgrades?  Every time I think the Navy has hit rock bottom in decision making they dig a trench and lower the bar a bit more.

(1) USNI, "Navy Again Reduces Scope of Destroyer Modernization, 5 Ships Won’t Receive Any Ballistic Missile Defense Upgrades", Sam LaGrone, 3-Mar-2015,

Monday, March 2, 2015

Let the Games Begin

Regular readers know that ComNavOps has been highly critical of Bob Work, now Deputy Defense Secretary, for a variety of reasons.  However, ComNavOps is fair.  Defense News website reports that Mr. Work is spearheading an effort to reinvigorate wargaming in the Department of Defense (1).  The report describes a memo from Work on the subject as an,

"... ambitious wargaming plan to rescue a skill set that has 'atrophied' in recent years ..."

ComNavOps has frequently stressed the need for wargaming to explore strategic and tactical scenarios and fully supports any efforts to increase usage of this valuable tool.  Hence, full credit to Mr. Work.

However, ComNavOps has an uneasy suspicion about this effort.  Wargames can be used for two purposes.  The first, the proper one, is to explore and validate friendly and enemy strategies and tactics using realistic capabilities and counters on the part of both sides.  The second, the faulty one, is to stage pre-determined set piece scenarios designed to “prove” a pet theory or technology.

Too often over the last couple decades, the wargames have been the later – contrived scenarios intended to prove the value of a favored piece of technology so as to justify procurement.  The LCS, for example, was the subject of a number of pre-determined scenarios intended to prove how wonderful it was.

This next quote hints at just such a focus on technology procurement and the use of wargaming to support that technology push.

"The memo stressed that as part of his desire to 'reinvigorate' wargaming in the department, 'effort must be made to incorporate commercial and defense industry expertise into the larger wargaming effort' in order to 'ensure its vitality and flexibility.' "

If incorporating commercial expertise means utilizing commercial simulation technology to improve the quality of wargaming then I’m all for it.  If, on the hand, it means to select certain favored technologies and incorporate them into a scenario with a pre-determined outcome to “prove” the benefits of that technology as a prelude to procurement then this is just further erosion of the trust and integrity of the DoD leadership.

A further, ominous note is this statement.

"The results of the summit and the swift rollout thereafter will directly affect the fiscal 2017 budget, Work wrote, 'to ensure that we have a strategy-driven budget.'"

This could be interpreted as trying to get useful results of wargaming onto a path to implementation and procurement or it could be interpreted as a mandate to get certain favored technologies onto a fast track procurement with the “proof” of wargames as cover for someone’s pet projects.

"Unlike his boss Bob Work, however, Welby [Stephen Welby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for systems engineering] isn't so sure about his program having much impact on the fiscal 2017 budget. While he said it may find a place there, his teams are looking longer-term for game-changing technologies that can impact the battlefield of 2030 and beyond."

That makes it clear that the focus of Mr. Work’s wargames is going to be technology over strategy and tactics and that’s a bit disappointing.  Still, is this push a push for valid wargaming or just a cover exercise for procuring pet technologies?  I don’t know.  What’s crystal clear, though, is that this push is not for wargaming strategies and tactics.  It’s obviously geared at technologies and procurement.  There’s nothing wrong with a general exploration of technology if the outcome isn’t pre-determined in favor of pet projects.  However, what we really need are wargames that are focused on realistic strategies and tactics rather than new-toy technologies.

The DoD’s approach to every problem and challenge is technology.  We’ve lost our ability and even our desire to develop strategies and tactics to deal with problems.  Are IED’s on the road a problem?  We deal with them by attempting to develop massive and expensive detection and neutralization technologies rather than simply modifying our tactics by, for example, driving off-road on unpredictable routes, thereby completely avoiding the problem.

Though I have strong misgivings about this wargaming push, I’m going to give Mr. Work the benefit of the doubt and full credit for re-emphasizing wargames.  However, I’ll be watching closely to see what use is made of the games.

Let the games begin!

(1) Defense News, "DoD Wargaming Push To Study Tech Capabilities", Paul McLeary, 28-Feb-2015,

Sunday, March 1, 2015

AAV and Amtrac

ComNavOps loves doing historical comparisons.

Let’s compare a WWII airplane to a modern one.  The Navy’s mainstay in WWII was the Hellcat.  Today’s mainstay is the Super Hornet.  That’s a vast leap in capability in 70 years.

Let’s compare a WWII Sherman tank to a modern M1 Abrams.  Not even remotely comparable!

Let’s compare a WWII amphibious assault vehicle, the LVTA4 Amtrac (and a few other names), to today’s version, the LVTP-7 AAV.  These are not as well known so let’s refresh our memories with a few relevant specs.

Today:  AAV (LVTP-7)

58,200 lbs
1.8” armor
321” x 129”
Mk19 40mm Grenade Launcher / 0.50 cal MG
18 hp/ton
Crew:  3+21
8 kts in water

WWII:  LVTA4 Amtrac

40,000 lbs
1.5” armor
313” x 128”
75mm Howitzer / 0.50 cal MG / 0.30 cal MG
14 hp/ton
Crew:  6+18
7 kts in water

Ahh …  Is it just me or are those two vehicles virtually identical with the WWII version actually getting a slight nod in weaponry?  Seventy years and this is the extent of our progress in developing and improving the armored amphibious assault vehicle?

I love the Marines but this is a serious indictment of their institutional focus.  The main tool of an organization whose main purpose is assaults from the sea is virtually identical to what was used in WWII. 


WWII Amtrac LVT-A4

Wake up Marines!  Quit screwing around trying to be an expeditionary, third air force and go back to what you’re supposed to be doing.  Figure out how to get from ship to shore because, right now, you don’t have a clue.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Archers, Arrows, and Eyes

We’re all well aware of the conventional wisdom regarding Anti-Air Warfare,

It’s better to shoot archers than arrows.

For anyone who might not recognize this concept, the idea is that it’s easier and far more efficient to destroy a missile’s launch platform than to try to deal with the multitude of individual missiles after they’ve been launched.  An added benefit is that each launch platform that is destroyed is one less that’s available for future attacks.

Well, now there’s an amendment,

It’s better to shoot the archer’s eyes than the archer.

The world has quickly come up with very long range weapons that can cover many hundreds to thousands of miles.  However, as we’ve previously discussed, the ability to locate, identify, and precisely target objects at that range is an enormous challenge and is, essentially, non-existent today or in the foreseeable future.

Consider our own efforts at long range targeting.  Satellites have some utility for locating but, not being linked in real time to any weapon system, are unsuited for targeting.  AWACS assets are so valuable that they are held well back from any potential harm which means they have only very limited ability to provide long range targeting.  The P-8 is intended to be a front line ISR asset and could provide targeting but it is non-survivable in that it is not stealthy, fast, or maneuverable.  UAVs offer some possibility for long range targeting but, again, are only marginally survivable.

Note that we’re mainly talking about airborne sensors.  Ship’s sensors are just too limited in range.  Submarine sensors are also a serious threat but their presence and usefulness is a bit sporadic.  Their need to remain undetected tends to negate their value as real time targeting assets.

Note also that the relative number of targeting assets (the archer’s eyes) in any military are very limited compared to the number of available launch platforms.  Just as there are many more arrows than archers, so too there are many more archers than eyes.  The eyes are the weak link in the kill chain.  Destroying the few targeting assets can render the many launch platforms ineffective.

This should tell us something about the future of our own ISR targeting assets.  We need to develop very long range assets that have a reasonable degree of survivability, robust sensors (meaning long range), and strong communications (there’s no point collecting targeting data if you can’t transmit the information).  This sounds like an ideal mission for UAVs provided we can make them cheaply enough to use in large numbers because the enemy is going to find and kill many of them.  They need to be cheap enough to almost be considered one-way, throwaway aircraft.

All of this works both ways.  We need to focus on our enemy’s targeting assets and destroy them.  That requires a long distance ability to find and kill those platforms.  Given the long ranges of missiles and sensors, it is necessary to find and kill the targeting platforms as far away from their targets as possible.  We need a very long range air-to-air platform that is survivable and has sufficient electronics, both active and passive, to find the archer’s eyes and the ability to destroy them.  Some might suggest the F-35 but it is inadequate due to limited range.  In theory, if we knew precisely where an enemy targeting asset was and could provide tanking support, we could get an F-35 to the target and destroy it.  The reality is that we will not know where the targeting assets are – we’ll have to go looking for them which means we need very long range aircraft with significant loiter time.  It’s not enough to be able to make it out hundreds or thousands of miles – we have to stay there and conduct long searches with significant loiter times.  The F-35 can’t do this.  It would also be nice if such an aircraft were cheap enough to absorb losses.  An aircraft loitering for extended periods deep in enemy air space will eventually be found and killed.  Again, a good use for a focused function UAV – essentially a very long range, loitering cruise missile.

Of course, the best option is to destroy the targeting assets at their bases and, certainly, significant effort should be directed to that end.  Submarine launched Tomahawk missiles are well suited for that job and intermediate ballistic missiles can be effective against fixed bases.  However, we will still have to deal with airborne targeting assets.

We seem to not be on the right path regarding long range targeting, either offensively or defensively.  Our current ISR path is suited for peacetime patrolling but not war.  We need a survivable, long range targeting asset, probably a UAV.  On the other side of the coin, we need a survivable, very long range A2A killer to use against enemy targeting assets.

This is an example of the absolute necessity for having a comprehensive and coherent strategy, doctrine, and tactics and using those to drive procurement.  Instead, we’re allowing procurement to drive strategy and doctrine and the result is a collection of disparate, unrelated systems that do not support a common goal in a complementary fashion.  Worse, many of our random procurements are geared at peacetime operations and will be only marginally useful during combat.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Come Hell Or High Water

Consider ...

  • The Navy is looking seriously at early retirement of a carrier.

  • The Navy is attempting to lay up the Aegis cruisers.

  • The Navy left the Avenger class MCM vessels to rot pierside until it became painfully obvious that the LCS wouldn’t be ready for years to come.

  • The Navy early retired the entire Tarawa LHA amphibious class.

  • The Navy cancelled Tomahawk missile production with no successor in sight (though Congress restored some degree of production).

  • The Navy cancelled Fire Scout procurement (though, again, some degree of production has been restored, I think).

  • The Navy terminated the Seawolf SSN program after only three units.

  • The Navy did one of the most abrupt about-faces in naval history in terminating the Zumwalt DDG program after stating unequivocally the year before that it was the key to future naval combat. 

From the above historical listing it should be obvious that the Navy has no qualms about terminating, early retiring, or changing directions on major ship classes and programs.

Contrast that history of early retirements, terminations, and changes of direction with the LCS program.  The Navy is completely, totally, utterly committed to seeing the LCS program through to the full buy of 52 units.  Why?  Almost no one in or out of the Navy now believes that the LCS is, or will ever be, a successful platform.  Yet, in the face of severe budget constraints which have seen the Navy terminate and early retire many platforms, weapons, and systems, the LCS remains untouchable. 

Before you pound out a reply about the new LCS, no one considers the “new” LCS to be anything other than a public relations gimmick to continue building the same anemic LCS’s.

What makes the LCS untouchable when we’re perfectly willing to retire Aegis cruisers and carriers which are infinitely more valuable?  Is it just a case of institutional face saving?  I’m sure there’s a degree of that at work but the people who actually initiated the LCS program and might have the greatest stake in seeing it “succeed” are long gone.  Why would current Navy leadership care that much whether the LCS reaches the full 52 ship build?  ComNavOps has no answer.  The Navy’s position on this is truly baffling.

Setting aside the wisdom or doctrinal/tactical need for a small combatant, the logical path would be to terminate the LCS and initiate another small combatant program that incorporates the lessons learned rather than try to tweak an inherently flawed platform.  What’s the downside?  There isn’t one that I can see.  Worst case, we’d have a few less toothless, useless patrol boats for several years while the replacement vessel geared up.  Heck, if we wanted to build or buy one of the many excellent foreign design small combatants we wouldn’t even have to wait very long so the excuse of a gap in production isn’t even valid.

Shrink the fleet size so that we can continue building shiny new toys?  Yes, we’ll do that!

Drop a carrier so that we can continue building new Fords?  Yes, we’ll do that!

Early retire the most powerful cruisers in the world so that we can continue new construction?  Yes, we’ll do that!

Terminate or even reduce the procurement of a toothless, useless, short-legged, ship that has no valid mission?  Nope.  Come hell or high water, we’re going to build all 52 LCS.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Service Life Value

Here’s a cursory look at the cost of some ship classes relative to their expected service lives.  I’ve tabulated the cost of the ship, the expected service life in years, and the calculated “value” expressed as the number of years of service that each billion dollars buys.  Hence, the greater the number, the more”valuable” the ship is in terms of service life.  Some of the cost numbers are highly debatable, the Nimitz class being an example because the class was spread over so many years and changed so much, but they serve to illustrate the concept.

Class    Cost, $B Yrs   Value (yrs/$1B)
LCS        0.6     20    33.3
Burke      2       30    15.0
Nimitz     6       45     7.5
America    6       35     5.8
Ford      13       50     3.8
Zumwalt    8       30     3.7

We see that the LCS far and away leads the pack.  It’s a good value for service life.  At the other end, the Zumwalt and Ford are the poorest values.  Is it coincidence that the newest construction represents the poorest value or is it telling us that our program costs are getting out of hand?  I think it’s clearly the latter.

Our programs are getting more expensive on a relative basis and I believe the two biggest reasons are overhead related to build numbers and concurrency.  We’ve covered this in previous posts (see, "Shipbuilding Costs - Impact of Low Volume" and "Concurrency - Building Without a Design!").

Now before you all start pounding out replies, this little analysis is only for service life.  It does not take into account operational value.  Thus, while the LCS represents great service life value, it has no operational value and is an overall major disappointment.  The Zumwalt, which is a poor service life value, may well turn out to have little operational value – a double negative value!  On the other end of the spectrum, the Ford, with a poor service life value, may turn out to have a very good operational life value – it remains to be seen.

Take this for what it is – a simple ranking with an interesting underlying concept.  Don’t get worked up about the actual numbers. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Department of Anti-Weapon Development

We just discussed the Navy’s tendency to believe that the enemy will cooperate in their own defeat (see, "Thanks for Co-operating Mr. Enemy") and that all of our weapon systems will work exactly as intended, unhindered by any disruptive activities from our enemies.  Of course, that’s sheer lunacy! 

You know what we need?  We need an anti-weapon system group!  That would be a group whose mission is to develop counters to our own weapon systems throughout their fielded service lives but especially as those systems are being conceptualized, designed, and initially built.

Concurrently developing a weapon system and its counter(s) would allow early incorporation of fixes, modifications, and counter-counters rather than fielding a system and only finding out years later, the hard way, that the enemy has an effective counter that we didn’t think of or, more likely, opted to ignore so as not to paint a negative picture of the system while funding was being solicited from Congress.

For example, we’re aggressively developing UAVs, to put it mildly.  However, there are a number of potential ways to counter UAVs including jamming the communications and control links, attacking communication relay platforms, disrupting GPS signals, cyber (hacking) attacks, overriding the control signals with a higher strength signal, injecting false signals into legitimate control signals, overheating the UAV via directed but diffuse microwave and laser broadcasts, and so on.  And that’s just what I, a non-UAV specialist can think of.  What other ideas could an expert come up with?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a group dedicated to theorizing possible counters so that we could incorporate protections into the UAV designs before they’re set in stone?

Not every counter needs to be high tech, nor does it need to be directed very narrowly at a specific technology.   For example, an entire carrier group could be halted in its tracks by a plane, sub, or remote UxV seeding hundreds of false periscope decoys (maybe with a simple noisemaker to mimic an enemy sub’s sounds?) in the group’s path.  Imagine the convulsions the carrier group would go through prosecuting each decoy against the chance that it isn’t a decoy.  That would be a simple counter to an entire carrier group.  What’s our counter-counter?

You can bet the Chinese, Russians, and others have people dedicated to coming up with counters to our weapon systems.  Wouldn’t it be nice if those counters weren’t a complete surprise to us?