Monday, January 22, 2018

WWII LVT(A) Amphibious Tank

In WWII, the military quickly realized that amphibious assaults would require efficient and effective means of getting men, machines, and supplies ashore.  More to the point, they quickly learned from bloody experience that they needed to get heavy firepower ashore in the initial wave and they needed to provide better protection for the assault troops than the open and unarmored Higgins boat, the iconic landing craft.  The solution to both needs, firepower and protection, was found in the Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) family of amphibious, armored vehicles.

I’d like to examine the armored firepower version, the LVT(A), of which there were several evolutionary variants.  The end result was the LVT(A)-4, essentially an amphibious light tank.  Take a look at the specifications.

LVT(A)-4 (1)

  • Armament – M8 turret with 75 mm M3 howitzer or Canadian Ronson flamethrower plus 1x 0.50 cal machine gun or 3x 0.30 cal machine guns
  • Armor – 6-38 mm
  • Weight – 20 tons
  • Speed – 20 mph land, 7.5 mph water
  • Range – 150 miles land, 75 miles water
  • Length – 7.95 m
  • Engine – gasoline radial, 250 hp; 12.5 hp/ton

Around 1890 LVT(A)-4’s were built during the war and continued in service until the mid-1950’s.  They were first used in combat at Saipan in June 1944.  Being in the initial assault wave and then used at the front line of combat once ashore, the LVT(A)-4’s often experienced high loss rates.


A few things jump out when looking at this vehicle.  First, the LVT has essentially the same specifications as today’s Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV).  That we have been unable to produce a significantly better vehicle in seventy some years is depressing and disturbing. 

For comparison, here are some specs on the AAV.

AAV (formerly LVTP-7)

  • Armament – turret with Mk19 40 mm grenade launcher and M2 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) machine gun
  • Armor – 45 mm
  • Weight – 29 tons
  • Speed – 20 mph land, 8.2 mph water
  • Range – 300 miles land, 20 miles water
  • Length – 7.94 m
  • Engine – diesel, 400 hp; 13.8 hp/ton

Now, before anyone starts pounding out replies disputing some specification, just relax.  The exact specs are all over the map depending on exactly which version of the AAV we’re talking about and which upgrades it’s had.  The point of this comparison is not to discuss exact specs but to note the lack of significant improvement since WWII.

The most notable aspect of the comparison lies in the armament.  The LVT(A) had a heavy 75 mm howitzer whereas the AAV has only machine guns and grenade launchers.  To be fair, today’s AAV is not intended as a “tank” whereas that was exactly the purpose of the LVT(A).  The AAV is simply an armored personnel carrier and is not meant to provide heavy firepower.

LVT(A)-4 at Okinawa

While today’s military continues to flounder around with the dilemma of firepower in the initial assault wave the WWII military solved the problem with a light amphibious assault tank.  Today, China has developed light amphibious assault tanks and the US military views that as cutting edge and a controversial concept.  Hey, it’s just reinventing the WWII wheel.

We also need to keep the role of a light amphibious tank firmly in mind.  It's role is not to stand toe-to-toe with main battle tanks - no light tank can prevail in such a match up.  The role of the amphibious light tank is to provide heavy infantry support with suppressing fire and to reduce enemy strongholds, fortifications, and emplacements.  Thus, an amphibious light tank does not need to be a water-going Abrams - though figuring how to get an Abrams ashore in the initial assault wave would be great!

LVT(A)-4 Providing Infantry Support

We lack any kind of significant firepower in the initial assault wave and the Navy has doctrinally stated that they will not risk ships close enough to shore to be able to use even the small 5” guns.  Airpower, against a peer, will be only sporadically available and, in any event, is unable to provide the sheer volume of sustained heavy firepower needed to support an assault. 

The only viable solution is to provide heavy firepower in the assault wave and the only way to do that is with a tank of some sort.  We would do well to consider the lesson of the WWII LVT(A)-4 as we continue to ponder our amphibious assault doctrine and operations.


(1)World War II Database,

Friday, January 19, 2018

What The National Defense Strategy Should Have Said

As you just read, ComNavOps reviewed the National Defense Strategy and found it to be “absolute garbage”, to quote myself.  Seriously, though, how bad was the unclassified version of the National Defense Strategy?  Well, the best way to answer that is to point out the things it should have addressed and then you can see the magnitude of the deficiency by the absence of those items in the document.

As a reminder, here are some of the general objectives of the administration’s geopolitical National Security Strategy (NSS) as described in a previous post and review. (1)  Included with them are some of the specifics that should have been addressed in the military’s NDS.

  • Deploy a layered missile defense aimed at Iran and NKorea – How?  Land based in neighboring countries?  Sea based?

  • Control weapons of mass destruction – What military options are there for controlling weapons of mass destruction?

  • Strengthen border control and immigration policy – How will the military contribute to border control? 

  • Eliminate terrorist safe havens – How?  Establish a lower tier military force (Super Tucanos, for example) for these lower threats?  What forces will we use?  Does this mean incursions by us into harboring countries?

  • Reestablish military overmatch – How?  What forces or capabilities will we focus on strengthening?

  • Improve readiness – How?

  • Reverse the decline in size of our military forces – How?  Will the Navy stop retiring ships before their service life has expired?  Will the Navy stop deferring maintenance?

  • Modernize the military – In what areas?  What weapons will we pursue?

The NSS, as you’ll recall, addressed specific regional concerns and stated,

“The United States must tailor our approaches to different regions of the world to protect U.S. national interests.”

The military strategy should have addressed those specific regions and threatening countries.  For example,

China – What are the military options to oppose China’s illegal militaristic expansionism?  What military options exist to counter China’s proliferation of illegal artificial islands?  What force structure is needed to penetrate China’s A2/AD zone?  What forward presence can actually be an effective deterrent, if any?  How will we respond to China’s seizures of our military assets?  How can we prevent our assets from being seized?

NKorea – What military options exist to eliminate the threat of NKorean nuclear weapons?  What can the military do to impede NKorea’s nuclear missile development, such as shooting down NKorean test missiles?  What force structure and size is needs to be stationed in SKorea in order to counter NKorea?  Where and how will we resupply our forces in SKorea in the event of war?

Taiwan – How will we protect Taiwan?  What military support can we offer?  Do we have a plan to defend or retake Taiwan when the inevitable invasion occurs?  What force structure do we need to defend Taiwan?  How will we effectively employ the Air Force given the scarcity of bases in the region?

Russia – What military options exist to counter Russia’s militaristic expansionism?  What force level do we need to maintain in Europe to provide an effective counter to Russian’s forces?  How will we respond to Russia’s unsafe harassment of our military forces?

Iran – What military options are there to prevent Iranian harassment and seizures of vessels in international waters?   What military options exist to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat?  What force structure and size is needed to defeat Iran?

And the list goes on …

All of these questions and many, many more should have been addressed but none were.  That should illustrate just how worthless the NDS is.  I understand that detailed, specific information has to be kept secret – besides, that’s operational level planning, not strategy.  For example, the strategy should  say something like, “we will curtail NKorea’s nuclear missile development by stationing ballistic missile defense ships off the coast and shoot down all missile launches”.  That’s a strategic level statement.  The operational level would deal with the number of ships needed, where to place them, how to sustain them, what backup they need, etc. and much or all of that would, appropriately, be classified.  However, the basic, strategic statement of intent should be public knowledge – partly to inform our citizens who are being asked to support and pay for all this and partly to let NKorea know what they can and cannot do.  The NDS should have been packed with those kinds of statements and it had none.


(1)Navy Matters, “National Security Strategy”, 20-Dec-2017,

National Defense Strategy Summary Review

The military’s 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) summary has been released. (1)  This is the document that flows from the recently released National Security Strategy (NSS) and describes how the military will support the NSS.  Let’s take a closer look.

The NDS starts with a promising premise – that we conduct our international affairs from a position of strength.

“…the Department provides military options to ensure the President and our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength.”

This is a time-proven and common sense maxim that, unfortunately, previous administrations forgot and abandoned.  Our attempts to conduct our affairs from a weak position have proven to be abject failures.

The NDS next highlights an important observation and truth about today’s world – that lawlessness is on the rise.

“We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the
long-standing rules-based international order …”

China is flouting international norms, laws, and treaties with unbridled glee.  Terrorism knows no behavioral bounds and recognizes no system or morals or ethics.  Russia is engaged in militaristic expansionism.  Iran consistently flouts international law.  NKorea ignores international law by launching missiles into Japanese territory.  And so on.

Why is it important that we recognize this movement away from the rule of law?  It’s important because it provides a moral and ethical justification for more aggressive action on our part.  When a person commits a criminal act, they forfeit any ethical considerations we would otherwise extend to them.  A burglar breaking into your home forfeits any expectation of a polite reception and accepts the fact they are subject to being killed with no discussion, notice, consideration, or trial.

So, too, with nations and terrorists.  When a country flouts international law, it forfeits the protections that those same laws would otherwise provide.  This is the basis for pre-emptive strikes, territorial incursions, clandestine military strikes, or any other action we deem necessary to ensure our national security.  Recognizing this concept opens many more military options.

As the NDS puts it,

China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea. Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors. As well, North Korea’s outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue despite United Nation’s censure and sanctions. Iran continues to sow violence and remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability. Despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate, threats to stability remain as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly.

There it is – all the justification that is needed to pursue more aggressive military actions.

Moving on, the NDS recognizes that we have become complacent.

America’s military has no preordained right to victory on the battlefield.”

The consequences are also laid out.

“Failure to meet our defense objectives will result in decreasing U.S. global influence, eroding cohesion among allies and partners, and reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living.”

And, the ultimate risk is bluntly stated, as well.

“It is now undeniable that the homeland is no longer a sanctuary.”

So much for the introduction to the strategy.  To this point, it is an excellent document.  Now, to the meat of the strategy – the specific goals and actions that the military will take.     ………….   And, now it all falls flat on its face.

The rest of the document, the heart of the document, is a collection of vague generalities along the lines of, “we will become more lethal”, with no specifics about how that will occur or, “we will be more agile”, with no specifics or definition.  The document consists of nothing but this type of vague, generalized, useless PowerPoint babble.

Honestly, this concludes my review of the document since there is nothing of any substance to review.  What a disappointment, especially after the fairly good NSS and the excellent introductory portion of the NDS.  This document was not worth the time it took for the military to write it and not worth the time it took for me to read it.

Absolute garbage.  I could not be more disappointed in our professional military.

Note:  This is the public summary.  One can only hope that the classified version has much more in the way of useful specifics but, somehow, I doubt it and, if it does, the military is making a huge mistake by failing to offer a better public description of the strategy.  I’m not advocating giving away secrets but a basic description is necessary if the public is to buy in to the military and provide financial support.  Further, there is a benefit in letting other countries know that we are preparing for them and, to an extent, how.  This is called deterrence.


(1)National Defense Strategy Summary, 2018,

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

UAV Swarm Attack Against Russian Base

It’s being reported that a Russian airbase in Syria was attacked by a UAV drone swarm and that the attack destroyed or damaged Russian aircraft.  I’m not going to offer a link because the event can easily be found with a simple Internet search and, frankly, there is no reliable information to refer to.  Further, for the purposes of this post, it doesn’t even matter whether the event actually occurred or how.  What I want to discuss is the concept of a drone swarm attack in a land attack setting.

Let’s start by imagining the possibilities!  It boggles the mind.  Swarms of small, cheap drones attacking in perfectly coordinated precision, putting on an aerial display of pure wonder, and then either suiciding into their targets and/or dropping small mortar type bomblets.  Why, you could blanket an area with such an attack!  Yes, against an alerted, defended base many of the drones would be shot down, thereby reducing the amount of “weapons” that get through but it would be difficult or impossible to stop them all.  Sure, we’re not talking 16” battleship shell fire but it only takes a small explosive to ruin an airplane, right?  Plus, this attack could come from many miles away and it would only take, maybe, 30-60 minutes of flight time, depending on the distance.  That’s not instantaneous response to a fire call but it’s fairly quick.  Yes, it’s got to take a fair amount of time to set up the attack, get everything organized, and get all the drones into the air and assembled but the effort is worth it for the results.  This is the future of warfare, without a doubt!

Boy, if only such a technology had existed in the past, wouldn’t that have revolutionized warfare?  That kind of ability to drop explosives over a wide area from many miles away would have been something military commanders would have loved to …  to … ah …

Hey, now that I think about it, didn’t we used to have a system that could launch unmanned, ballistically guided, aerial systems that could drop small explosives over a wide area?  Yeah … yeah, we did!  It was called “artillery”, wasn’t it?  They used launchers that fired small, aerodynamically shaped, unmanned craft that carried payloads of explosive submunitions that the aerial craft would scatter over a wide area before suiciding themselves into the target area.  If I remember correctly, they called the unmanned craft, “shells”, and the explosives were called, “cluster” munitions.  I think they referred to the unmanned launch process as “firing”.  They would “fire” the “shells” from many miles away and they were unstoppable in flight, unlike swarm drones, and traveled at speeds immensely greater than swarm drones.  What’s more, I seem to recall that the “shell” attacks could go on and on for extended periods as opposed to the one-and-done nature of a drone swarm.  Furthermore, the “artillery” system could respond within seconds to a call for fire and the “shells” would arrive over the target in minutes.

Okay, I had a little fun with the writeup, there, but it illustrates the idea that in our blind and fanatical pursuit of technology we tend to overlook simpler, more effective, existing technologies.  Artillery puts to shame any drone swarm and yet we’re downsizing our artillery, have stopped developing cluster munitions, and are pursuing drone swarms with a zealousness that is obsessively fanatical.  Does that really make sense?

Our technology obsession is blinding us to the reality of far more effective methods just because they’re older.

Here’s an amusing story that illustrates the issue.  I was talking to some of my nieces and nephews at a family get together and they were all comparing notes about their new smart phones and all the latest features that each had.  Well, not to be outdone, I told them that my phone had a just-released new app that allowed flawless conversational verbal text messaging  on a real time basis.  They were amazed and they all wanted to know what the app was so that they could download it.  Of course, I told them that each of their phones had the app built in – it’s called “talking on the phone”!

The pursuit of technology can blind us to what we already have.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Third Zumwalt

There’s been an interesting discussion going in a recent post about the fate of the third Zumwalt, currently under construction.  The Navy has stated that they are no longer pursuing a replacement munition for the cancelled Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP).  Thus, the Zumwalt’s have no functional main armament.  Their guns, the very reason for their existence, are just paperweights.  The magnitude of the stupidity that led to this situation is staggering but typical of the Navy.  We’ll leave that aspect alone, however, for the time being.  Instead, the situation raises an interesting problem and opportunity. 

The problem is the obvious one:  it makes no sense to complete the third Zumwalt with a non-functional gun.  To do so would create a $4B+, 15,000 t ship that carries only 80 VLS cells and a limited radar system.  That's the equivalent of a super-sized frigate or a partially neutered Burke.  That would add almost nothing to the fleet's combat power.

The opportunity is the chance to complete the third ship as a prototype – the question being what kind of prototype?  Here are a few possibilities:

  • Complete the ship as a heavy (by today’s standards) naval gunfire support vessel by installing 8” guns.  The guns can be either the old, already tested, Mk71 or some new design.  Yes, it would probably take a year or so to design a new gun but, who cares – the ship isn’t needed.  This would give the Navy a chance to re-acquaint themselves with heavy guns and begin the process of regenerating actual, effective naval fire support.

  • Install a navalized version of the Army’s MLRS/ATACMS in place of the guns.  Again, this would give the Navy a chance to explore another form of naval fire support and one with potentially much more range than the original Advanced Gun System would have had – potentially a major improvement!

  • Complete the ship as a UAV “carrier” by repurposing the hangar and flight deck to exclusive UAV operations.  This would give the Navy a chance to explore operational integration of UAVs into task groups.

  • Complete the ship as an advanced intelligence and surveillance vessel.  Unlike the Pueblo or Liberty, this ship would be able to defend itself and could be sent into high threat areas such as the South/East China Seas, off the Russian coast, or near NKorea.

  • Complete the ship as an advanced electronic warfare (EW) ship.  Load it up with every electronic warfare piece of equipment and see what a dedicated EW ship can do.  This would allow the Navy to explore offensive and defensive EW and see if a single ship can provide effective area EW protection.  The ship has plenty of electrical power for the equipment.

We’ve discussed the need for diversity in the fleet and the need for prototypes to promote that diversity.  Well, this a golden, if unwanted, opportunity to prototype something new and potentially useful.  Knowing the Navy, however, they’ll complete the ship with a non-functional gun and waste the opportunity.

Friday, January 12, 2018

AGS-Zumwalt Colossal Failure

The Navy has now confirmed that the Zumwalt’s Advanced Gun System (AGS), the entire reason the Zumwalt class was built, will not be getting any new ammunition round.  After the gun’s Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) was cancelled due to the cost per round reaching $1M (see, "A Ship With No Ammunition"), the Navy indicated that they would adapt the Army’s 155 mm Excalibur artillery shell for use in the AGS (see, "Excalibur - LRLAP Replacement").  This would have provided a range of around 20 miles or so – woefully short compared to the LRLAP’s reported range of 70+ miles.  Now, even this option has been dropped by the Navy.  Instead, the Navy will monitor industry over the coming years and wait to see if some new, suitable round happens to appear.  Unfortunately, given the AGS gun barrel’s unique twist arrangement, that’s a pretty unlikely occurrence. (1)

“A year after the Navy decided to abandon the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) for the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer, there is no plan in place for a replacement round for the Advanced Gun System (AGS) the ships are built around, service officials said on Wednesday.” (1)

What will the Navy do with the Zumwalts?

The Navy’s new plan is to focus the Zumwalts on deep strike land attack (Tomahawks) and anti-surface (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile – LRASM, maybe?) warfare by using the ship’s 80 Mk54 peripheral VLS cells.  I guess that makes the Zumwalt’s each an $8B+, lightly loaded arsenal ship?

Also, recall that the Zumwalt’s unique tumblehome hull form has some inherent sea keeping problems due to its shape (see, "Zumwalt Tumblehome Tests").  That was considered acceptable since the ship’s mission was intended to be shallow water littoral warfare rather than open ocean sailing.  Now, with the mission switched to largely open ocean work, the ship will have significant sailing issues to deal with.  The Navy had previously issued limitations on sailing in certain quartering seas.  This may be a mission that the ship has difficulty executing.

So, the Navy has built a $24B+ class of three ships whose entire reason for existence was the AGS and now the AGS is a non-functional, ocean-going, paperweight and the fall-back mission is one that the ship’s flawed sea keeping may render difficult or impossible to execute in common sea conditions.  Just plain, WOW !

Someone has got to be fired!  - or, as the Navy refers to it, promoted.


(1)USNI News website, “No New Round Planned For Zumwalt Destroyer Gun System; Navy Monitoring Industry”, Sam LaGrone, 11-Jan-2018, retrieved 11-Jan-2018,

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Frigate News

Here’s some interesting news about the Navy’s proposed new frigate.  As regular readers know well, ComNavOps is dead set against a traditional frigate.  However, I’m going to set that aside for the duration of this post and simply address the new frigate information that the Navy has provided.

From USNI News website we get the following bits (1):

  • The Navy has set a maximum average cost of $950M per ship for ships 2 through 20.  The first in class is, apparently, exempt from imposed cost limits.

  • The Mk41 VLS will consist of a minimum of 16 cells and a desired target of 32 cells of the full length strike variety.

  • The vessel will mount a minimum of 8 deck launched over-the-horizon anti-ship missiles and a desired target of 16.

Depending on what you believe the Burke Flt IIa cost, this gives us a price comparison.  Let’s go with the Navy’s value for the Burke of $1.8B.  This isn’t real but neither will be the frigate cost so at least we’re comparing fake apples to fake apples.  Thus, we see that the frigate, at $950M will be 53% of the cost of the Burke.

Of course, no one believes that the frigates will actually come in at the target price.  A more likely cost will be about $1.3B, I would guesstimate, which puts the cost around 72% of the Burke.

One might reasonably expect, then, that the weapons load of the frigate would be half that of the Burke.  As a reminder, the Burke carries 96 VLS cells and 8 deck mounted anti-ship missiles (though rarely actually carried).  Thus, the frigate’s 16-32 cells is well under half the Burke’s weapon load.  On the other hand, the anti-ship missiles will equal or surpass the Burke.

On the plus side, this is a significant upgrade in weapons load over the LCS and the LCS versions may have difficulty achieving the higher target levels.  This might, then, favor a foreign design.  On the minus side, this is still a somewhat light weapon load for a vessel that is likely to be around 70% of the cost of a full Burke.  This is the fear I’ve had from the beginning on this – that we would get a vessel costing 80% of a Burke with 25% of the weapon load – not a good value and one of the reasons I don’t want a frigate.

Now, the weapons load could be excused and might even be considered quite acceptable if the ASW capability was emphasized.  In other words, if the main emphasis of the frigate were ASW rather than AAW/ASuW then the cost and light weapon load might be fine.  However, I’ve not yet seen any specifications that lead me to believe that ASW will be particularly emphasized.  We’ll have to wait and see.


(1)USNI News website, “NAVSEA: New Navy Frigate Will Cost $950M Per Hull, More Than Double LCS Cost”, Sam LaGrone, 9-Jan-2018,