Friday, February 16, 2018

Australian Hobart Class Destroyer

Australia’s HMAS Hobart class destroyer has generated a lot of interest from naval observers.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

The Hobart class is intended as an anti-air warfare destroyer.  The ship is 483 ft long with a displacement of around 6200 tons.  Relevant weapons include a 48 cell Mk41 VLS, two Harpoon quad launchers, two triple torpedo tube launchers for lightweight torpedoes, a single Phalanx CIWS, and one 5” gun.  The main sensors include the Aegis/SPY-1, SPQ-9B for low level detection, two missile guidance illuminators, hull-mounted sonar, and a towed array/variable depth sonar.

Just as a frame of reference, here’s a brief comparison of the Hobart’s characteristics and the Burke, as another example of an anti-air warfare ship.



              Hobart            Burke

Length        483 ft            509 ft
Displacement  6200 tons         9200 tons
Range         5000 @ 18 kts     4400 @ 20 kts
Speed         28 kts            30 kts
VLS           48 cells          96 cells
Harpoon       8x                8x
Torpedo       2x Mk32 Triple    2x Mk 32 Triple
Gun           1x 5”/54          1x 5”/62
Close In      1x CIWS           1x CIWS
Illuminators  2x                3x
Helos         1x Seahawk type   2x Seahawk type


It is clear that the Hobart is a slightly smaller version of the Burke with the main difference being the Hobart’s VLS capacity is half that of the Burke and one less illuminating radar for missile guidance.  That reduced capacity classifies the Hobart as a frigate, at least in comparison to the Burke.  Unfortunately, this also illustrates the problem with frigates – they tend to be 80% of the cost of a Burke with half the capability. 

In this case, for the vessel’s main function, anti-air warfare, the Hobart has half the capacity on a hull that is 95% of the Burke’s length.

Hobart Class Destroyer


A cost comparison between countries borders on pointless but Wiki lists the cost as A$8B (US$6.2B) for 3 ships (US$2.1B per ship versus the $1.8B per Burke).  Wiki also reports that the program is A$1.2B over cost.  Thus, the Hobarts are as expensive as Burkes or more expensive.  As I say, take the cost figures with a huge grain of salt.  It’s hard enough getting accurate US Navy cost figures, let alone Australian costs.  While the Hobart’s capability is decent, though limited, the ship appears to be poor value for the money.  It would seem that Australia could have simply purchased full Burke for the same cost.  I won’t pretend, however, to understand Australian acquisition policies since I can barely explain our own!

US naval observers and commentators tend to ascribe near miraculous characteristics to foreign ship designs but, inevitably, when the designs are examined more closely their luster tends to fade.  The Hobart is a decent ship but a poor value for the money.  It offers nothing for the US Navy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Navy Budget History

Here is the inflation adjusted budget for the U.S. Navy presented in FY17 dollars and the corresponding fleet size (number of ships) for the indicated year.

1980  $149B (1)  530 ships
1985  $231B (1)  571 ships
1990  $194B (1)  570 ships
1995  $126B (1)  392 ships
2000  $130B (1)  318 ships
2005  $159B (1)  282 ships
2010  $201B (1)  288 ships
2015  $156B (2)  271 ships
2017  $165B (3)  275 ships

Note:  The 2015 and 2017 fleet size numbers are misleading because they count the non-combat-capable LCS as warships but the trend of shrinking ship numbers relative to the budget is still quite evident.

We see from this that the budget, with some bouncing around, has remained fairly constant and that the 2010/15/17 budgets are in the upper half of historic values and even compare well with the 1980-90 buildup to the 600 ship fleet.  

In fact, the ratio of budget to ships has increased markedly!  We have the same amount of money and far fewer ships yet the Navy, and many observers, claim that the Navy is somehow budget constrained and can’t afford more crews, more training, more ships, more maintenance, more whatever.  This is patently untrue.  Relative to the number of ships we have, we have more money than ever.  We’re just spending it unwisely.

We’re just spending it unwisely.




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(1)Naval History and Heritage Command,



Monday, February 12, 2018

Hyper Velocity Projectile

The Hyper Velocity Projectile (HVP) from BAE Systems is the latest fad that military observers have latched onto.  The HVP can be fired from any gun, travel several times around the Earth, has a speed of Mach 328, cost nothing (might even generate a small profit per shot?), and is a guaranteed one shot kill against any target on land, sea, or air …  At least, that’s the impression one gets from the unbounded hype surrounding this technological wonder.  Let’s look a bit closer and see where the reality lies.  Note that it is difficult to separate reality from claims in the literature and to determine what actually exists versus what is just proposed or planned.

To refresh, the HVP is a kinetic (meaning non-explosive) projectile that can, indeed, be fired from multiple weapons such as a rail gun, the Army 155 mm howitzer (with suitable modifications to the gun), and the Navy 5” gun.  The BAE product brochure claims that the HVP can be fired from the currently useless Zumwalt Advanced Gun System (AGS).  That is an unproven claim, at the moment.  Aside from the unique and non-standard barrel of the AGS which seems to preclude any round other than the LRLAP, the entire automated ammo handling system would have to rebuilt or the HVP would have to be packaged in an exact duplicate of the LRLAP round – doable, presumably, but expensive.

The projectile is a common, dart-like body that is fired from various weapons via specialized sabot adapters unique to each weapon.  The flight body is 24 inches long and weighs 28 lbs.  The payload is 15 lbs. (2)

HVP


The HVP is claimed to travel at speeds of around Mach 7 (5000 mph or so).  This presents both benefits and drawbacks.  Presumably, the speed is less when fired from a conventional gun as opposed to a rail gun.

The HVP is transitioning to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for additional development.

Now, let’s look at some specific aspects and features of the HVP.

Firing Rate.  From the BAE product brochure (2), here are some projected firing rates for various weapons.

Mk 45                    20 rounds per minute
AGS                      10 rounds per minute
155 mm Tube Artillery     6 rounds per minute
EM Railgun               10 rounds per minute

Range.  From the BAE product brochure (2), here are some projected ranges from various weapons.

Mk 45                   40+ nm
AGS                     70  nm
155 mm Tube Artillery   43  nm
EM Railgun             100  nm


Guidance.  The HVP is claimed to be guided but that’s true only in a limited sense.  The guidance is GPS and is applicable only against fixed, land targets with known GPS coordinates.  Useful guidance is not possible against moving land targets or aerial targets due to the extreme speed of the projectile. 

One of the “side effects” of speed is inertia.  The faster an object moves, the slower and harder it is to alter its course.  Faster means a larger turn radius.  A WWI Fokker Triplane has immensely greater maneuverability than a modern F-16 because the F-16 has such high speed.  An HVP traveling at Mach 7 cannot easily change course.  An incoming cruise missile traveling at high subsonic speeds, for example, would be far more maneuverable than a Mach 7 HVP which is, for practical purposes in that scenario, ballistic and non-maneuverable.

Warhead.  The HVP is currently a kinetic weapon with no explosive warhead.  It must hit to kill.  Various reports have suggested that an explosive warhead could be developed that would enable proximity fuzed projectiles for anti-air defense.

Cost.  One of the much-ballyhooed claims about the HVP is the low cost per round compared to missiles.  This is true but only in an unrealistic sense.  The original cost of an HVP round was claimed to be around $25,000.  The current cost estimate is $86,000 per round (1) though it is unclear what version and capabilities that cost represents.  This is still much less than, say, a Standard missile but only in a one to one comparison.  In a realistic engagement scenario the costs are much closer.  For example, Breaking Defense offers an example in which each HVP is assumed to have a kill probability of 10% (pK=0.1) and 22 shots would give a 90% chance of killing the target.  Well, 22 x $86,000 = $1.9 million dollars which is the same realm as a Standard missile.  Thus, cost is not a clear cut advantage and it could turn out to be more expensive over the course of an engagement.  Note that the 10% pK was a number made up by Breaking Defense for illustration purposes.  There is absolutely no data for actual kill probabilities.  Personally, without a proximity fuzed warhead, I’d estimate the pK to be 1%-5%, at best.  If true, the cost “benefit” is even less.

Lethality.  This is a difficult issue to quantify.  Yes, we can calculate kinetic energy for the projectile but that’s only part of the story.  Consider the example of a bullet fired from a handgun at a piece of paper.  Based on the kinetic energy calculation, the paper should be vaporized and yet the only damage done is a hole the size of the bullet!  Why?  Because the kinetic energy wasn’t transferred to the paper target.  More accurately, the bullet had POTENTIAL energy that wasn’t converted to actual kinetic energy upon impact (I’m grossly simplifying some physics here for sake of illustration).  In simplistic terms, the paper did not offer enough resistance to the bullet to allow the bullet to convert its potential energy into kinetic energy on the target.  The bullet passed through the paper, converting only a very tiny fraction of its potential energy, and retained most of its potential energy.

Similarly, if an HVP hits one of today’s thin-skinned warships or even thinner-skinned missiles, will the projectile be stopped, thereby converting all of its potential energy into kinetic energy and causing significant damage or will it pass through, like the bullet through paper, and convert only a portion of its potential energy to kinetic energy?  The astute observer will note that the impressive videos of rail guns and HVP rounds always show the damage done to targets that are several inches to many feet thick of steel or some such material.  What would happen if a rail gun HVP projectile impacted a 3/8” thick metal sheet, as is typical of a modern ship?  Undoubtedly, the projectile would pass through, almost unaltered, leaving behind only a hole the size of the projectile.  In other words, it would cause very little damage. 

Now, in an actual ship, there would be multiple bulkheads (even thinner!) and pieces of equipment (really thin!) that the projectile would encounter on its path through the ship.  Each would cause the projectile to “dump” some potential energy but would the cumulative effect be enough to achieve the massive energy conversion that would constitute significant damage?  I have no idea but I suspect not.  Of course, the projectile might also encounter flammable fluids leading to fires or sever pipes and electrical lines causing more damage.  I suspect, though, that if a HVP were fired at a ship, it would pass straight through and cause relatively little damage.  This is just semi-informed speculation on my part.  One would hope that someone in the Navy has thought this through before we commit to this weapon.  Of course, one would have hoped that we would have thought about galvanic corrosion on a ship (known about since the days of sail) and yet we failed to provide galvanic protection on the LCS so I make no assumptions about what the Navy should have considered.

Of  course, one could imagine using a HVP with a contact fuzed explosive warhead.  That would solve the problem of pass-through and provide localized damage effects.  The 15 lb payload, however, drastically limits the magnitude of the explosive effect.  It is also unknown whether the entire 15 lbs is available for explosive or whether a significant portion would be devoted to fuzing, electronics, etc.  While the 15 lb compares favorably to the 5” gun round burst charge of around 8 lbs, the 5” round is a heavier walled shell which contains the burst and amplifies the damage effects versus a thin walled, uncontained burst.  I have no idea what the wall thickness of the HVP is but I suspect it is not very thick.

All of this leads one to ask whether there is any actual gain in damage effects over those obtained from a conventional shell.

That takes care of anti-ship lethality.  Next, let’s look at land attack.

For a specific, hard target such as a building or hangar, the kinetic HVP will likely cause significant damage.  However, it has a significant limitation in that a near miss will cause no damage.  The projectile will simply bury itself in the ground.  There is no explosion.  It’s a case of exact hit or no damage.  Conversely, a conventional round with an explosive warhead may well cause damage from a near miss due to the explosive effects and shrapnel.  Of course, a warhead could be added to the HVP but with a payload of only 15 lbs, it wouldn’t be much of an explosion.  Thus, the HVP looks to be an excellent choice for a specific, hard target but of limited use in general bombardment and useless for suppressive fire (one of the major uses of naval gun fire).

I have been unable to determine which HVP warheads other than the kinetic (inert) version actually exist, if any.  My impression is that all are just proposed versions.

HVP Sabot Forms


In summation, the HVP appears to be a potentially useful weapon for a limited target set, primarily fixed, hard, land targets.  The projectile is very long on claims and proposals and very short on demonstrated performance, as is typical of new, developmental weapons.  It is well worth continued development but appears to be well short of being the miracle weapon that its hype would suggest.

This is one of those subjects that some readers may have more current information on than I do.  If so, feel free to add information via the comments.  Additions will be greatly appreciated.  Just be sure to offer supporting documentation.



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(1)Breaking Defense, “$86,000 + 5,600 MPH = Hyper Velocity Missile Defense”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 26-Jan-2018,

(2)BAE Systems website,


Friday, February 9, 2018

Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile Status

Thank goodness for the Pentagon’s DOT&E (Director, Operational Testing & Evaluation) group!  The Navy is pushing ahead, hard, with the AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) which is a replacement for the AGM-88B/C High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).  However, in their zeal to field the missile they are glossing over or ignoring serious performance issues although you wouldn’t know it from the speed with which they’re moving ahead with the program.

DOT&E, on the other hand, has found the AARGM Block 1 to be “not operationally suitable”.  Here’s some specifics, quoted from the DOT&E 2017 Annual Report.

·     The Navy evaluated the current version of Block 1 software for only 24.0 hours of the 234.09 hour test.

·     AARGM Block 1 software demonstrated improved capabilities over the previous Block 0 software version but also demonstrated effectiveness shortfalls in key capabilities of reliability and accuracy.

·     Of the eight live fire events, six were successful engagements and two were unsuccessful because the missiles did not impact anything of tactical significance. The analysis of the two unsuccessful events revealed classified deficiencies.  …  - The Program Office made adjustments to correct the problems but did not verify the effectiveness of the corrections with additional live fire events before fielding Block 1.

·     AARGM Block 1 demonstrated a slight decline in reliability compared to Block 0, which failed to satisfy reliability requirements during IOT&E

·     The Navy attempted to streamline the AARGM Block 1 FOT&E test design by conducting developmental and operational testing simultaneously …  - This is the same concurrency that has plagued every other Navy/Military program.  Why won’t they learn?  How stupid are they?

·     Cybersecurity testing was inadequate to assess AARGM survivability against cyber-attacks.


There’s more but you get the picture.


Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile


Now, here’s the damning statement (as if what you just read wasn’t damning enough!).

“The Navy released Block 1 software in July 2017 without completing operational testing and without adequately addressing performance and software stability problems discovered during Block 1 testing.”

There you have it.  The Navy has put untested software out in the field with known problems.  They just don’t care.  People are going to die using this weapon and the Navy just doesn’t care.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ford Problems Continue

Here’s an update on the Ford’s continuing problems as documented in the DOT&E 2017 Annual Report.  Some of these problems are stunning and strongly suggest that the Ford is not even capable of routine operations.

·    “As of June 2017, the program estimates that EMALS has approximately 455 Mean Cycles Between Critical Failures (MCBCF) in the shipboard configuration, where a cycle represents the launch of one aircraft. While this estimate is above the rebaselined reliability growth curve, the rebaselined curve is well below the requirement of 4,166 MCBCF. At the current reliability, EMALS has a 9 percent chance of completing the 4-day surge and a 70 percent chance of completing a day of sustained operations as defined in the design reference mission without a critical failure.”    -  This means that the Ford is currently unable to conduct high intensity – meaning war – operations.

·    “The reliability concerns are exacerbated by the fact that the crew cannot readily electrically isolate EMALS components during flight operations due to the shared nature of the Energy Storage Groups and Power Conversion Subsystem inverters onboard CVN 78. The process for electrically isolating equipment is time-consuming; spinning down the EMALS motor/generators takes 1.5 hours by itself. The inability to readily electrically isolate equipment precludes EMALS maintenance during flight operations, reducing the system operational availability.”   -   EMALS doesn’t work reliably and can’t be readily fixed.  That’s a disturbing combination.  How did a system that can’t be isolated and repaired on the fly ever get past the first conceptual design meeting?  This is Navy engineering design incompetence on an almost unimaginable scale.  Yes, I understand that the Navy didn’t design the EMALS but they did review it and failed utterly to spot a major, major flaw.

·    “In June 2017, the Program Office estimated that the redesigned AAG had a reliability of approximately 19 Mean Cycles Between Operational Mission Failures (MCBOMF) in the shipboard configuration, where a cycle represents the recovery of one aircraft. This reliability estimate is well below the rebaselined reliability growth curve and well below the 16,500 MCBOMF specified in the requirements documents. In its current design, AAG is unlikely to support routine flight operations. At the current reliability, AAG has less than a 0.001 percent chance of completing the 4-day surge and less than a 0.200 percent chance of completing a day of sustained operations as defined in the design reference mission. For routine operations, AAG would only have a 53 percent chance of completing a single 12 aircraft recovery cycle and a 1 percent chance of completing a typical 84 aircraft recovery day.”   -  Are you kidding me?!  A zero percent chance of conducting war operations and only a fifty/fifty chance of recovering 12 aircraft????  Who let this abomination get this far?  This, alone, renders the Ford non-operational even for routine operations.

·    “[Dual Band Radar] Current test results reveal problems with tracking and supporting missiles in flight, excessive numbers of clutter/ false tracks, and track continuity concerns.  …  In limited at-sea operations, DBR exhibited frequent uncommanded system resets, and has had problems with the power supply system.”


There’s a common theme to all these problems and that is concurrency.  The Navy, despite every previous failed attempt at concurrent production and development, has stubbornly and stupidly insisted on pushing ahead with concurrent development and production and the results, predictably, are distressing.  We now have a commissioned warship that is not only utterly incapable of combat but can’t even conduct routine peacetime flight operations.  Some of these problems, like the AAG reliability, are not just slight deviations from specifications – they’re huge!  The AAG is, for all practical purposes, non-functional. 


The Ford may wind up being less of a warship than the LCS or Zumwalt !

Monday, February 5, 2018

Anti-Ship Cruise Missile Characteristics - Follow Up

You undoubtedly recall the recent discussion about anti-ship cruise missile characteristics and how they impacted likely defensive engagement scenarios (see, "Cruise Missile Characteristics Related To Detection And Engagement Range")?  The conclusion was that intercept engagements were likely to occur much closer to the ship (radar horizon) than the Navy believes and that what is needed is an optimized medium/short range radar paired with ESSM.  Some people struggled to understand how demanding the engagement scenario would be due to the short engagement window, the need to immediately flood the skies with ESSM missiles, and the resultant need to be able to deal with the immense amount of targets, both incoming, outgoing, and engagement debris.  Well, here’s some bits of information from the recent DOT&E 2017 Annual Report that illustrate and support the conclusions from the post.

“Investigate means to mitigate the chances of an ESSM pre-detonating on debris before approaching its intended target.” (p. 213)

This is exactly what I described.  With a very short engagement window, we won’t be able to leisurely fire off one or two ESSM and then wait for the radar picture to clear to see what the result was.  We’re going to have to launch many missiles and the radars are going to have to be able to function in a debris-filled sky.

Correct the SSDS scheduling function to preclude interference with the RAM infrared guidance stemming from prior intercepts and warhead detonations.  (p. 213)

Again, this is the ability to distinguish valid targets from debris in a chaotic sky.

Investigate and correct the combat system time synchronization problem that prevented the launch of a full salvo of ESSMs.  (p. 213)

This acknowledges the need to be able to launch many missiles as nearly instantaneously as possible.

Improve SSDS MK 2 integration with the MK 9 Track Illuminators to better support ESSM engagements.  (p. 212)

This demonstrates that it’s not enough to just have a radar that is capable of the required resolution.  We need to be able to take that resolution and actually distinguish valid targets among large debris fields and outgoing missiles and do a much better job of integrating the radar with the combat fire control software.

As I stated in the post, an engagement that begins at the radar horizon will be over in 120 seconds for even a relatively slow 600 mph, high subsonic, incoming missile.  A 1200 mph, supersonic, incoming missile will have an engagement window of just 60 seconds.  Actually, that’s not true.  Those engagement windows are vastly overstated.  We can’t engage when the incoming missile is one second from impact.  The engagement window closes when the either the minimum safe arming distance of the defensive missile is reached or the defensive sequence can’t react in the flight time remaining for the incoming missile.  Thus, the engagement window is more likely from the radar horizon to about 10 miles (I’m purely speculating about these values).  Thus, the engagement window for ESSM against the 600 mph incoming missile is just 60 seconds and the 1200 mph engagement window is just 30 seconds.

Of course, the engagement windows assume that the threat is instantaneously identified and the defensive reaction also occurs instantaneously.  If there is any hesitation, like waiting for human command and control, the engagement window essentially is non-existent.  This mandates a purely automatic defensive mode.  This, in turn, raises some questions.

  • Have we developed fleet doctrine to safely operate our ships and aircraft in the vicinity of ships whose defensive systems are in full auto mode?

  • Can our full auto systems reliably distinguish incoming targets from our own decoys, flares, and countermeasures?  CIWS had this problem in the past.

  • Can our systems operate in full auto mode without hazarding our own ships to friendly fire?  The corollary to this is, do we know how to position and operate our ships so as not to interfere with our own defensive fires?  With engagement windows of 60 seconds or less, there won’t be time to reposition ships.

  • Do we know how to coordinate our countermeasures with our defensive sensors so as not to inadvertently confuse our own defensive fires?  Is it more effective to use countermeasures and risk disrupting our own active defenses or is it more effective to forego countermeasures in favor of a cleaner radar picture?

To summarize this post and its predecessor, there is every reason to expect that anti-ship cruise missile defensive engagements are generally going to start at the radar horizon (say, 20 miles or so) and will have a correspondingly very short window of opportunity.  The traditional shoot-shoot-look engagement sequence is not going to be feasible or effective.  We need to modify and upgrade our systems for the medium/short range, short time frame engagement scenario.  We need radars, both ship and missile, that can discriminate targets amid a debris filled sky and we need the ability to salvo lots of missiles in an incredibly short time frame.  To the best of my knowledge, we currently have little or none of this capability, as indicated by DOT&E test results and recommendations.  We also need a comprehensive set of operational and tactical procedures to enable full auto defensive modes.

Now is the time we should be testing and developing these capabilities, not when actual combat occurs.  We need to largely pull back from the many peacetime, worthless missions (partnership, show the flag, forward presence, deterrence, anti-piracy, etc.) and concentrate on bringing our ships and crews up to combat readiness and developing the capabilities well need to fight the next war.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Amphibious Assault Vehicle - Survivability Upgrade

The venerable Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) is undergoing a Survivability Upgrade (AAV-SU) while development of the Amphibious Combat Vehicle is proceeding.  The current plan is to upgrade 396 AAVs to the AAV-SU standard.

From the SAIC product brochure (1), upgrades include,

  • integral aluminum underbody and crew compartment armor
  • buoyant, ceramic-composite flank and roof armor
  • integrated spall liner
  • individual blast-resistant seats
  • upgraded engine with increased horsepower and torque
  • new, electronically-controlled transmission and Power Takeoff (PTO)
  • new axial-flow water jets
  • external fuel tanks
  • upgraded vehicle controls and driver interfaces

AAV-SU


Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is planned for 2019 with Full Operational Capability (FOC) following in 2023.

So, how is the project coming?  There’s some good and some bad.  Let’s take a quick look at the DOT&E 2017 Annual Report.

  • Test units demonstrated desert and littoral operability – not exactly a surprise as the legacy AAV could already do that.

  • Reliability is an issue with Mean Time Between Operational Mission Failures at 10.7 hrs versus the required 25 hrs.

  • The transmission rapidly overheats when the vehicle’s tracks are used for swimming.

  • The transmission operation requires the vehicle to slow and pause during the transition from sea to shore creating a vulnerability during a critical moment.

  • The braking system is subject to a condition that can cause loss of hydraulic power and lock the brakes which necessitates remedial action that takes place outside the vehicle – undesirable in combat!

  • The vehicle was able to accommodate 17 troops.

  • The troop commander could not egress with the troops, instead having to egress out a top-side hatch and then down the side.

  • The AAV-SU median egress time was 29 seconds, which exceeds the user requirement of 18 seconds.

  • The vehicle met its force protection requirements.

AAV-SU


Here’s an interesting recommendation from the DOT&E,

Reduce the troop capacity threshold …”

The legacy AAV supposedly carries 21-25 Marines, depending on the source.  Whether that’s true in practice, I don’t know but derating the AAV to 17 with a recommendation to further reduce that capacity is noteworthy.

In short, the survivability upgrade has some problems but nothing that appears unfixable in a reasonable time frame.

The biggest negative would seem to be the time frame for the project.  Five to six more years to get a relatively simple upgrade to full operational capability seems excessive.

There’s no particular point to this post – just informational. 



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(1)SAIC product brochure, “Assault Amphibious Vehicle Survivability Upgrade”,