Monday, August 21, 2017

Loss Of Confidence

The Navy has always operated under the principle that the commanding officer is always responsible for whatever happens regardless of whether he had any direct involvement or not.  The Navy has been hair-trigger quick to relieve commanders for “loss of confidence in their ability to command”. 

Isn’t it about time that the ultimate commander, CNO Richardson, be held accountable for the tragedies that are occurring under his command?  Isn’t it about time that he was relieved for loss of confidence in his ability to command?

USS McCain Rammed - Distributed Lethality Sinking

You all know about the recent USS Fitzgerald collision with a merchant ship that heavily damaged and nearly sank the destroyer.  Now, another collision has occurred between the USS McCain and a merchant tanker.  Several sailors are reported missing or injured.  Damage appears to have been severe.  No further details are available at this time.

What I would like to comment on is the Third Offset Strategy and the Navy’s much-hyped distributed lethality plan.  Both depend on absolute and extensive knowledge of enemy activities and locations.  Somehow, almost magically, we’ll know where all of their assets are and what they’re doing while remaining hidden, ourselves.  That sounds great on paper but is going to fail miserably in war.  How do I know?  Because we can’t even keep track of giant merchant ships that sail right up to us and ram us!!!!!!!  So, how are we going to find and track small, stealthy military assets that are using intentional deception, stealth, electronic warfare, jamming, and decoys?  We aren’t!!!!!!!!!  Our offset strategy and distributed lethality plans are idiotic and we’re being rammed with proof of that on a recurring basis.

The Next Pearl Harbor - Shipyards

We recently discussed carrier losses in a future war and noted the need to be able to “quickly” replace those losses.  I say “quickly” because carriers take a long time to build even on an expedited wartime basis.  The current 5-7 year construction time frames might be condensed to 3-4 years but that’s still a long time.

Currently, we have only one shipyard capable of constructing carriers and that is Newport News Shipbuilding yard in VirginiaNewport News is also one of only two yards that build our nuclear submarines and the only yard that refuels nuclear carriers.

If we were to somehow lose the use of that shipyard during a time of war, it would be a monumental loss.  Does this suggest a likely Pearl Harbor scenario to you?  If an enemy could destroy Newport News Shipbuilding yard, they’d effectively destroy all future carriers and half of all new submarines for the foreseeable future.

Yes, you reluctantly admit, that would be disastrous but it would be very difficult, likely impossible, for an enemy to destroy a facility that large without resorting to a nuclear bomb or a naval fleet so large that it would have no hope of assembling and sailing undetected to the east coast of the United States, you say.  Well, that’s probably true but there is no need for an enemy to resort to nuclear bombs, huge fleets, or wholesale destruction of the yard.  The yard has a few key points of failure, the most noteworthy and vulnerable of which are the enormous cranes that lift and move the subsections of a vessel.  Nowadays, ships are built in “lifts”, or subsections, and if you can’t move the subsections, you can’t build a ship.  It’s that simple.  Destroy the cranes and you destroy the yard, for all practical purposes. 

Specifically, there is only one crane that services aircraft carriers.  It is referred to as “Big Blue” and it is the largest crane in the Western Hemisphere

“Big Blue is a gantry style crane that stands 233 feet tall, and has a span of 540 feet from leg to leg. It weighs 4,600 metric tons (10.1 million pounds). It was built in 1976 by the German company Krupp. The two legs straddle the huge dry-dock at Newport News Shipbuilding, where the first Ford-class aircraft carrier is currently being assembled. On each side of the dock are a pair of rails, so the entire craned can move up and down the ship's length, and the payload is attached to a carriage on the main girder that can translate side to side.

As originally installed, it could lift 900 metric tons (just under two million pounds), but in preparation for building the Ford-class carriers the shipbuilders needed to increase that.  …  Now, each of the three hooks can carry 350 metric tons, bringing the crane's lifting capacity to 1,050 metric tons (that's just over 2.3 million pounds). Each hook has over a mile of 1-5/8-inch diameter wire rope behind it.” (1)

Similarly, Newport News submarine construction facility depends on cranes to move subsections and transfer “cars” to roll entire submarines out of the construction building and to a drydock for subsequent fitting out.  Destruction of the crane or transfer systems would cripple submarine construction for years.

Big Blue Crane - The Next Pearl Harbor?

Destruction of these couple of vulnerable pieces of equipment is a perfect mission for your basic sabotage and/or special forces.  Given the porosity of our borders, it’s quite plausible for China to slip a special forces unit into the country and target the cranes and transfer cars.

This blindingly obvious shipyard Pearl Harbor vulnerability suggests several measures we should be taking to prepare for, and mitigate, the impact of such a loss.

  • We ought to be be considering construction of conventional, non-nuclear, “basic” carriers with no frills, especially in light of today’s reduced air wing sizes.  These carriers would be complements, not replacements, for Nimitz/Ford class carriers.  Hopefully, such a basic carrier would be markedly cheaper and quicker to build and able to be built in yards other than Newport News.

  • We should begin qualifying additional yards to build carriers.

  • We should greatly beef up security around our critical yards.

  • We should acquire and stockpile replacement components for critical pieces of equipment such as cranes and transfer cars.

  • I’m never in favor of government run enterprises because they are, inevitably, inefficient and far more costly than private enterprise but, given the lack of yards qualified to construct major warships, thought should be given to re-establishing government owned and run ship construction yards.

There are “Pearl Harbors” all around us, waiting to happen, that would be far more devastating than the actual Pearl Harbor attack in WWII and we need to begin recognizing them and taking defensive measures.


(1)Gizmodo website, “The 233-Foot Tall, 4600-Ton Crane That Builds Aircraft Carriers”, Brent Rose, 26-Sep-2012,

Friday, August 18, 2017

Australia Unlikely To Support U.S.

ComNavOps has long opined that spending time, money, and effort into cross-training with friendly nations is largely unproductive and unlikely to ever be of future benefit.  The basic rationale behind this position is that most friendly countries lack the military resources to be of any actual benefit in a conflict and/or they lack the will/desire to join the US.

Countries whose entire navy consists of few frigates or patrol boats just don’t have the resources to make any difference in a war so what’s the point of spending time and money training with them?  Examples include any African nation, Canada, Philippines, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, etc.

One of the rationales put forth for the LCS was that it was small enough to train with other countries navies and not intimidate them.  If their navies are that small, what possible benefit can they offer in a war?

Similarly, countries who have demonstrated a reluctance to actively side with the US are unlikely to suddenly side with us in the future so what’s the point of spending time and money training with them?  Examples, include most South American countries, France, Turkey, Philippines, Italy, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, etc.

We can now add Australia to the group of countries that would be unlikely to support the US, according to a survey reported by Submarine Matters blog (1).  Without going into the details of the survey, the results indicate that around 70% of Australian citizens would opt to remain neutral and not support the US or Japan in any conflict.  The blog notes that the survey was funded by a grant from a Chinese citizen which instantly makes the data suspect.  Nevertheless, the general thrust of the survey probably captures the prevailing desire of Australia to remain neutral.  You can see the tabulated data by following the link below (2).

Further evidence for this neutral stance comes in a recent speech in which Australian PM Turnbull described China as a “good friend and partner” (3).  If Australia believes that China is a good friend and partner then their neutral stance makes perfect sense.  Australia is naively wrong about this but that’s another topic.

There’s nothing wrong with the US working to get basing rights in Australia, if we think that will benefit us, but to spend time cross-training with a country that is unlikely to actively support us in the region is a waste of time.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Australia is a good friend to the US but is unlikely to be a military partner in any conflict.  So, I’m not saying we should cut ties with Australia – far from it! – just that we should not spend time cross-training with them.  Further, when you factor in their meager military resources, there is even less reason to spend time cross-training.

I know some people are going to get upset over this but it’s just a simple question of where best to allocate our military training time and money – nothing more sinister than that.  Also note that this discussion pertains to war, not anti-pirate patrols and other peacetime activities - many countries will support us during peace.  The proof is what happens to that support during combat and history and surveys of capabilities demonstrate that few countries have both the capability and willingness to support the US in combat.  As I said, this is just a training and budget priority issue, nothing more.


(1)Submarine Matters blog, 6-Jun-2017,

(3)Defense News website, “Prime Minister Turnbull Dismisses Notion That Australia Must Choose Between China And US”, Mike Yeo, 2-Jun-2017,

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MV-22 Assault

The Marine Corps has been rapidly moving away from the traditional over-the-beach amphbious assault using landing craft to an aviation based assault concept using helos and MV-22’s.  ComNavOps has questioned the feasibility of this approach in numerous posts.  Let’s continue to examine the issue.

Defense Update website has a fascinating article describing numerous helo shootdowns.  Here are some numbers to get a feel for the magnitude of the problem.

“The U.S. Army has lost more than 120 helicopters in the war on terror, about 25 percent of them due to enemy engagements. According to recent official statistics, some 57 U.S. helicopters had been downed in Iraq until Feb. 4, resulting in 172 deaths, or about 5.5 percent of total American deaths since the conflict began in March 2003. According to U.S. Army General Simmons, the U.S. Army has lost 29 helicopters to enemy fire since March 2003.” (1)

How have these losses occurred?

“The majority of the firefights involve machine-gun and heavy-machine-gun fire, categorized as up to 23 mm, Simmons said. But, he added, some surface-to-air missiles, such as SA-7s, SA-14s and SA-16s, have been used to shoot down Army helicopters.“ (1)

While that may seem like a lot of losses for a semi-war, we have to recognize that helos have heavy workloads and fly a lot of hours and missions.  It is simple statistical probability that some will be shot down or damaged.

“Army helicopters average 100 enemy firefights monthly and are hit about 17 times a month. Most times the helicopters are able to fly back to base. Simmons said that is a testament to the quality of pilots, crews and equipment. The number of flight hours for the Army has nearly doubled in the past two years. In 2005, pilots logged about 240,000 hours. This year, Simmons said, he expects that number to reach nearly 400,000 hours. In 2006, pilots and crews flew 334,000 hours.” (1)

On the other hand, highly sophisticated helos should be quite successful against ill-equipped and ill-trained terrorists so any losses should be viewed with a degree of alarm.

What about countermeasures and defensive tactics?

“As result [of losses due to SA-18 type missiles], U.S. military helicopter pilots in Iraq tried flying low and fast, hoping to elude heat-seeking missiles fired by insurgents. But the insurgents responded with heavy weapons such as machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, and the loss rate of American helicopters soared. So the pilots went high again and insurgents replied with lethal surface-to-air missiles. The vicious circle continued.” (1)

It’s not just newer surface-to-air (SAM) missiles that threaten helos.

“What is still more vexing to Helicopter pilots flying combat missions in Iraq is the constant threat from RPGs. U.S. military helicopters are equipped with long-range sensors and devices to jam radar and infrared technology, but they have proven vulnerable to intense gunfire, as well as rocket-propelled grenades.“ (1)

American pilots learned to fear good old fashioned barrage fire in Vietnam and the threat remains just as valid today as then.

Helicopters are particularly vulnerable when landing.  At that time they have no choice but to be low, slow, and non-maneuverable – they have to be in order to unload and to maintain flight control in the inherently “unstable” hover mode.  Consider what this means for aviation assault.

“… pilots …  "yank and bank" in a corkscrew motion when approaching a dangerous or "hot" landing zone, dropping with a gut-churning, nose-high descent. Hovering, a helicopter is at its most vulnerable… Brig. Gen. Robert Milstead, a Cobra pilot who recently returned from commanding a Marine air wing in Iraq claims: "Above about 2,500 or 3,000 feet you are out of small arms range but you've got to worry about the MANPADS threat, by all means avoid 500 to 1,000 feet because you're hanging out there like a grape, to be picked!"

This is bad enough for conventional helos but now consider the MV-22, envisioned by the Marine Corps as the backbone of aviation assault.  The MV-22 is not a helo.  It is a conventional aircraft that can temporarily, carefully, and cautiously enter helo/hover mode for brief periods while landing and taking off.  However, it is even more unstable than helos while in hover mode and cannot even remotely “yank and bank” during its landing.

In Vietnam, helo assault pilots learned to come in fast and hard, hit the ground in a tightly packed grouping, unload the troops in seconds, and haul out.  Now, watch any MV-22 “combat” landing video – there’s plenty on YouTube.  MV-22 landings are the complete opposite of what I just described.  The MV-22 requires large spaces – there will be no such thing as tightly packed landing groups, slow, careful maneuvering to deal with the inherent instability of hover mode and the poor visuals that the pilot has, and a relatively slow rate of unloading.

UH-1 Huey Assault

We previously discussed helo operations and losses in Vietnam where over 5000 helos were destroyed – a 43% loss rate (see, “Helo Assault”).  Consider the helo assault losses in Vietnam and then compare the physical size and performance of the UH-1 Huey versus the MV-22.  As a reminder, here are a few relevant specifications.

UH-1 Huey
-          Size:  57 ft long rotor tip to tail
-          Fuselage:  20 ft x 8’7” approx fuselage =  170 sqft
-          Troop Capacity:  around a dozen troops with wide exits from both sides

-          Size:  57 ft long x 85 ft rotor tip to tip
-          Fuselage:  50 ft x 15 ft approx fuselage = 750 sqft
-          Troop Capacity:  around two dozen troops with one exit at the tail

As seen, the MV-22 fuselage, the major targeting mass, is 4.5 times the size of the Huey when viewed in profile.  Combine that with the greatly reduced combat landing performance of the MV-22 and the loss rate in a contested assault will soar even over the shocking Vietnam loss rates.

MV-22 - Compare the Size to the Huey!

Let’s look at more recent evidence.  Consider the Karbala battle:

2003 – Karbala, Iraq – During Operation Iraqi Freedom, ambush barrage fire from the Iraqi Medina division routed 31 US helos of the 11th Regiment / 3rd Infantry Division.  Two helos were lost (one to a non-combat crash) and all but one were heavily damaged.  The helo unit was effectively wiped out.

Recognize that all these helo losses were under best-case scenarios where the US had total control of the sky and the enemy was generally ill-trained and ill-equipped.  What will losses be against a peer, under contested skies, and against well trained troops with state of the art weapon and sensor systems?

So, with all that said, I have to pose the question,

How are we going to conduct a successful helo/MV-22 aviation assault?

The answer seems pretty obvious:  we aren’t.

If that’s the case, why are the Marines basing so much of their doctrine and acquisitions around aviation assaults?


(1)Defense Update website, “Deadly Scourge of the US Helicopter Pilots in Iraq”, Colonel David Eshel, 2007,

Monday, August 14, 2017

How To Build A Cheaper Carrier

Here’s a companion piece to the recent post describing how to build a better, cheaper aircraft and in only five years (see, "How To Build A Better Aircraft").  In this post we examine how to build cheaper carriers that still operate a full combat air wing.

We’ve noted the precipitous decline in air wing size and the corresponding, if utterly illogical, increase in carrier size (??!!!!).  We’ve also noted the exploding cost of carrier construction (yikes!!!!).  The logical implication of these observations is that we can get by perfectly well with a smaller, cheaper, carrier.  The overarching attribute of such a carrier would be simplicity.  Simplicity is the foundation that leads to size and cost reductions.  The simpler the carrier, the smaller and cheaper it should be.  With that in mind, let’s design a smaller, cheaper, simpler but still highly effective carrier.  Bear in mind that when I’m talking about a smaller carrier, it’s smaller only relative to a Nimitz/Ford supercarrier.  I’m, emphatically, not talking about the usual escort type carrier that so many people seem to want.  That kind of mini-carrier is of very limited use in combat.

As I’ve long harped on, the secret to a good ship design is a solid concept of operations (CONOPS).  With that in mind, the carrier I’m going to describe would operate paired with a regular supercarrier and two such pairs would constitute a carrier task force in combat.  I’m not going into any great detail on the CONOPS because that’s not the point of this post.  I mention the general usage simply to provide a context to understand where and how this ship fits into the overall fleet structure.

Anyway, here are the design points.

  • Ship size target should be the Midway of the 1980’s.

Length = 960 ft (vs. 1100 ft Ford)
Displacement = 50,000 t (vs. 100,000 t Ford)

  • Air wing size and composition should be a full size wing less helos other than a couple for Search and Rescue.

F-18/35 = 44
EA-18G = 6
E-2D = 4
Non-existent Tanker = 6

  • Catapults = 2 at the waist positions
  • Elevators = 2 or 3
  • Radar = TRS-3D or equivalent
  • SeaRAM / CIWS = 4
  • Power will be conventional rather than nuclear.  Naval engineers can determine whether we need 2 or 4 propeller shafts.

Air Wing.  The air wing will be a nearly full, standard wing.  Current air wings have 44 Hornets and so will ours.  We will also have 6 EA-18G Growlers, 4 E-2D Hawkeyes, and 6 non-existent tankers (if we have to pull S-3 Vikings out of the boneyard, we will).  The old Midway operated a larger air wing than this so we know we can fit this wing on a much smaller carrier than a Nimitz/Ford.

The reduced helo component means a significant savings in less maintenance space, parts storage, machine shops, magazine storage, and fuel storage.  The reduced pilot and maintenance tech numbers means less berthing, smaller galley, fewer heads, and less food and water storage.

Catapults / Elevators.  Carriers rarely operate all four catapults simultaneously.  Most of the time, only the two waist catapults are used and the bow is used for parking aircraft.  We’ll simplify and not even install bow cats.  We’ll go with two waist cats and call it a day. 

Without bow cats, we gain space under the deck at the bow that can be used for hangars or any other function.  Without the need for bow cats, we can also reduce the length of the bow and, thus, the overall length of the ship.  Further, with no bow cats, the bow deck space can be devoted exclusively to parking which “increases” the size of the carrier while actually making it smaller – meaning, that the parking area increases while the actual size decreases!

Sensors.  Carriers are always accompanied by Aegis escorts.  Further, carriers don’t radiate during combat.  Finally, carriers have no long range, advanced weapons that require sophisticated sensors.  Thus, there is no need for advanced radar suites.  The $500M Dual Band Radar and the $300M Enterprise Radar can be replaced by a simple TRS-3D, or equivalent – just enough for navigation and a bit more.  Both the SeaRAM and CIWS have their own radars so, again, there is no need for sophisticated ship sensors.

Weapons.  Carriers are always accompanied by Aegis escorts.  We’ll let the escorts do their job and provide the area AAW defense.  Our carrier will have only short range and close in self-defense weapons.  Four SeaRAM or CIWS will comprise the carrier’s weaponry.  Note that both SeaRAM and CIWS have self-contained radars which, again, is why we don’t need a sophisticated sensor suite for the carrier.

Crew.  The smaller ship size, less equipment, less complex equipment, fewer helos, smaller conventional power plant, etc. all translate to a smaller crew.  A smaller crew translates to smaller hotel services support staff – for instance, fewer cooks and food service staff will be needed.  Add in some judicious use of automation and crew size should be around 1/2 to 2/3 of the Nimitz.  Let’s call it 3000, total, including the air wing personnel.

Cost.  The ship will be 87% of the length of a Nimitz and have 50% the displacement which should significantly cut costs.  Admittedly, the basic hull components are the least expensive portion of the ship but the reduction in length and displacement still offers significant savings.  Let’s call it $700M in hull construction savings. 

The use of conventional power will result in significant construction cost savings and if we can get by with only two shafts/props we’ll save even more.  The 2002 Shipbuilding and Conversion budget shows a line item for “Nuclear Plant Propulsion Equipment” of $1.47B.  Let’s call it $1B in savings from the use of conventional power.

The minimal sensor suite will save hundreds of millions of dollars.  Let’s call it $300M.

The elimination of two catapults will save additional money.  Let’s call it $200M.

The various reductions in equipment will allow a reduction in crew size which means fewer berthing areas, smaller galleys, less food/water storage requirements, and generally less of all the ship’s hotel services which, in total, provides significant savings.  Some of that is reflected in the smaller overall size which we’ve already accounted for.  However, a great deal more savings comes from the reduced equipment, utility demands, hotel service equipment, etc.  Let’s call it $300M.

The various savings total up to $2.5B.  That means that compared to the cost of the last Nimitz built, we can build a smaller carrier for $2.5B less.  So, for $2.5B less than the last Nimitz, we can have a fully functional carrier that operates a full size air wing (less helos). 

Since you’re wondering, the last Nimitz class carrier, the Bush, was commissioned in 2009 and cost $6.2B in then year dollars, according to Wiki.  That’s $7.2B in 2017 dollars.  Thus, we can build our carrier for [$7.2B - $2.5B = $4.7B] versus the $14B+ for the Ford class.

Why wouldn’t we do this?

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Lockheed has let it be known that they are investing internal effort at packaging Patriot missiles onto naval vessels (1) – this despite the existence of Standard anti-ballistic missiles that already exist, do the same job, and already have integrated software tying the weapon into the ship’s sensors and fire control system – in other words, a complete and integrated package.  So, why is Lockheed looking at naval Patriots which would, at best, be redundant?  Self-interest.  They’re doing what’s potentially good for Lockheed.  If they can sell an existing product they can make money without any great development cost.

What’s wrong with that?  Nothing.  Self-interest is the foundation of capitalism and free markets.  However, Lockheed’s interests are not necessarily the same as the US military’s interests.  In fact, it would be rare and only coincidental if Lockheed’s interests and the military’s interests aligned. 

Lockheed’s interest is making money.  The military’s interest is combat.  The point is that we, and the military, need to recognize that when we turn to industry for products and support, we’ll get whatever the company believes will generate the most money for them rather than what will provide the best combat option.

When the Navy issues its final Request For Proposal (RFP) to industry for the new frigate, Lockheed Martin and Austal, the manufacturers of the LCS, are not going to respond with a brand new frigate design – they’re going to respond with a modified (to the smallest degree they believe they can get away with) LCS.  Why?  Because that’s what’s in their best self-interest.  It’s how they can make the most money.

When the government initiates the next F-35 program, the manufacturer isn’t going to respond with the most cost effective and efficient manufacturing program – they’re going to respond with the program that is the least likely to be able to be killed off just as Lockheed Martin set up the elaborate fifty sate/one hundred country disbursed manufacturing model that they knew Congress would be unwilling to kill due to the distributed jobs aspect.

When a manufacturer “tests” a developing weapon system, they’re not going to test it under combat conditions to see how it really works.  That’s not in their self-interest.  They’re going to test it in a contrived scenario carefully calculated to make the system appear as good as possible.

If Bath is asked about a potential new destroyer, they’re not going to propose a brand new design – they’re going to propose a modified Burke because that would be in their best self-interest.

Consider all the ship type variants that Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) has suggested for roles ranging from a frigate to ballistic missile defense (BMD) to amphibious assault, among others.  Each was based on – you guessed it – the LPD-17.  What’s the odds that the optimum frigate, BMD, and assault ship are all met by the same LPD-17 basic design?  Of course they’re not!  HII is proposing what they can make money on, not what would be the most combat effective solution.  HII’s interests do not align with the military’s.

LPD-17 Frigate/BMD/AAW/Assault

The point in this is that we, and the military, need to keep this self-interest concept firmly in mind as we deal with the defense industry.  We need to run everything we hear, see, or procure from industry through the cynical filter of “what’s in it for them?” and recognize that what we’ll get is a sub-optimum response or product that serves industry’s interests not ours.  That means that if we want an optimum service or product we have to drive the acquisition process and not leave it to industry.

When I hear comments like the those from former CNO Greenert, and now Richardson, saying that they can’t wait to see what industry “gives” us next, I cringe.  Industry will give us what is in their best self-interest rather than what we need.  Sure, industry will make some attempt to align their interests with the military’s just because doing so will increase the odds of them getting what they want: money.  That alignment, however, will be as minimal as possible.

There’s nothing wrong with inviting industry to make suggestions as long as that process of research and investigation is divorced from actual acquisition. 

On a related historical note, the Spruance was the first ship design that the Navy threw completely out to industry.  While the Spruance turned out to be a fine design, there was no guarantee that it would.  Witness the more recent LCS which was designed with minimal [useful] input from the Navy and wound up being an unmitigated disaster.

The military needs to stop throwing out open-ended invites to industry which allows industry to pick the product and, instead, start driving the acquisition process.  That means re-establishing in-house expertise, generating extensive and precise requirements, and demanding the exact product that will provide the best combat performance.  If the military doesn’t have a better idea of what’s needed than industry then we need to clean house on military leadership and start over.  The military needs to take back the acquisition process from industry.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Lockheed Studies Sea-Launched Patriot PAC-3 & New 6-Foot Missile”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 9-Aug-2017,