Thursday, July 27, 2017

EMALS Fixed ! - Again

You’ve undoubtedly heard by now that the Navy believes, yet again, that the EMALS catapult system is fixed and ready to go.  Supposedly, it can now launch aircraft with external fuel tanks.  Of course, it was previously ready to go until the issue with drop tanks was discovered and it was ready to go until the issue with the bouncing F-35’s was discovered.  I haven't heard anything about the bouncing F-35 issue being fixed but the Navy says the system is ready to go!

The Navy claims the system is ready because they’ve performed around 70 test launches.  Of course, they didn’t say how many of those tests were successful and how many failed.

Speaking of failure, you’ll recall that the last data we had from DOT&E reported mean time between failures of around 240 cycles – a critical failure every 240 launches – so that’s still a problem, presumably.

You’ll also recall that the Navy has refused to provide subsequent reliability data to DOT&E. 

But it’s ready to go, this time. 

I hope it is ready but history suggests it’s not.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ballistic Missile Defense - Operator Error

The Navy has concluded that a recent failed anti-ballistic missile test of the Standard SM-3 Block IIa was due to an operator who inadvertently input an identification of the target as a “friendly”, thus causing the SM-3 to self-destruct before hitting the target.

“A U.S. Missile Defense Agency review of a failed ballistic missile intercept test showed that a mistaken input into the combat system by a sailor on the destroyer John Paul Jones caused the missile to self-destruct before reaching the target.

A tactical datalink controller, in charge of maintaining encrypted data exchanges between ships and aircraft, accidentally identified the incoming ballistic missile target as a friendly in the system, causing the SM-3 missile to self-destruct in flight …” (1)

We’re building a vast network of sensors and weapons as the foundation of the Third Offset Strategy – a strategy that will give us an unrivaled edge over our enemies and assure us of maintaining combat superiority.  At least, that’s what we’re being told.

And now, we see that a simple operator input error can entirely negate a ballistic missile intercept.  What if that had been an actual intercept instead of a test and the missile had been a nuclear missile aimed at a US base or city?  Do we really want to base our entire military “advantage” on a system so prone to inadvertent and haphazard failure?

All of us understand that software systems, and their inputs/outputs are subject to bugs and glitches under the best of conditions, let alone in the middle of war when electronic countermeasures will be blitzing the system, cyber/hack attacks will be constant, and the stress of combat will guarantee that input mistakes and output misinterpretations (remember Vincennes?) will happen with regularity.  Do we really want to bet our military future on such a strategy and such systems?

It’s interesting to note that the Russians and Chinese, while investing heavily in electronic and cyber warfare, are also producing massive increases in traditional, raw, brutal, explosive firepower.  They seem to understand that electronic and cyber warfare will be useful but that firepower still rules the battlefield.

Recall the Vietnam war.  Recall the air strikes by US planes.  For all the sophisticated surface to air missiles, radar warning receivers, countermeasures, and high performance aircraft with computer controlled navigation and weapon delivery systems, etc., our aircraft were still shot down, all too often, by old fashioned ZSU-23 barrage gunfire.

There’s a place for electronic and cyber warfare, without a doubt, but it’s as a complement to explosive firepower not a replacement for it and certainly not as the foundation of an entire military strategy.


(1)Navy Times website, “Sailor error led to failed US Navy ballistic missile intercept test”, ”, David B. Larter, 24-Jul-2017,

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Navy Tactical Brilliance ... ... ... Escorts!

The Navy is loudly and proudly trumpeting its “new” up-gunned Expeditionary Strike Group concept which is a standard amphibious ready group (ARG) plus a Burke class destroyer and an Australian Perry class frigate.

“Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7 and amphibious forces in U.S. 7th Fleet (Task Force 76), told USNI News in a July 19 interview that the Upgunned ESG included the ships of the Bonhomme Richard ESG – USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), USS Green Bay (LPD-20), USS Ashland (LSD-48) and guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett(DDG-104).  The American ships added Australian frigates, with Adelaide-class guided-missile frigate HMAS Darwin (FFG-04) leading the air defense mission for Upgunned ESG.” (1)

Correct me if I’m wrong but adding destroyers and frigates to an amphibious group has, historically, been called “escorts” and the concept was developed many, many decades ago.  Hell, sailing ships provided escorts to transports.  This is not a new idea despite the not very clever marketing phrase, “up-gunned expeditionary group”.

Does the Navy really think that they’ve developed a brand new concept in naval warfare?  Are they really that stupid?  That was a rhetorical question because they’ve repeatedly demonstrated that, yes, they are that stupid!

By the way, did you catch that bit about the Perry class frigate leading the air defense mission for the group?  I guess that’s because the Perry has a superior radar system, better command and control facilities, better communications capability, SM-3 and SM-6 missiles, and cooperative engagement capability.  Oh wait, it doesn’t have any of those things so that must be why it was leading the air defense mission.

Is the Navy comfortable with this revolutionary new idea of escorts?  Well, they’re not rushing into it.  After all, it’s just an experiment.

“Dalton made clear that the Upgunned ESG concept is still in development right now, but he said that Talisman Saber 2017 created a lot of confidence in the idea …” (1)

So, based on one exercise, the Navy now has “a lot of confidence” that escorts can help an amphibious group?  The entire history of WWII up through the Cold War didn’t give the Navy confidence in the idea of escorts but a single tiny exercise with a Burke and an Australian frigate suddenly did?

Just how eye-opening was the idea of escorts to the Navy Admiral?

“The addition of the surface combatants – in this case the destroyer and frigates – and their added air-defense and sea-defense capabilities has “enabled us to operate in a higher-threat environment where there was more risk to the force …”

Apparently, the Admiral was stunned to find that the group could operate in a higher threat environment with escorts than it could without.  Uhhh ……  Isn’t that what escorts do, Admiral?  What an idiot!

I understand the concept of positive spin and marketing but this is just embarrassing.  What are we going to discover next – that bigger engines make ships go faster?

China has to be pooping their pants over our tactical brilliance and innovations.

These are our professional warriors?  Blithering idiots.  Get rid of every Admiral in the Navy and start over.  


(1)USNI News website, “Australian Frigates For ‘Upgunned ESG’ Rehearsal in Talisman Saber 2017”, Megan Eckstein, 24-Jul-2017,

Monday, July 24, 2017

Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar

The Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) is the radar system that is replacing the ill-conceived Dual Band Radar (DBR).  EASR is intended to replace the DBR on the Ford class carriers and the older rotating SPS-48/49 systems on a variety of ships.  It appears that the Navy intends the EASR to become the standard for non-Aegis ships such as amphibious ships, carriers, LX(R), and others.  Aegis SPY-x will remain the primary anti-air radar system for Burke class destroyers. 

Unfortunately, information on the EASR is scarce but website offers a glimpse of the system (1).

Raytheon is developing the EASR and the Navy has conducted a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the system.

As with any new system, Raytheon/Navy claims that the new radar will perform better, be easier to maintain, require fewer personnel to operate, be more reliable, and cost less.  Of course, history assures us that most of these claims will turn out to be marginal improvements or totally false but at this stage of development, claims are typically unlimited and bordering on magical so this is nothing new or noteworthy.

The interesting aspect of this radar system is that it will be modular and scalable.

“The new air surveillance radar is designed on Radar Modular Assembly (RMA) technology, which has been matured through development and recent test successes of the US Navy’s AN / SPY-6 air and missile defence 3D radar for the DDG 51 Flight III destroyers.

Each RMA is a self-contained radar housed in a 2ft by 2ft by 2ft box, and the systems can be linked together to form radar chains of various sizes.

The EASR will be offered to the US Navy in two variants: Variant one, which will be a single face, rotating radar, and Variant two, which is a three face, fixed-array unit.” (1)

The concept of a rotating version is fascinating and leads one to wonder how and why it will be a significant improvement over the older rotating SPS-48/49 units?

EASR Variant 1 - Rotating

The system is, apparently, derived from the SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) (2).  In fact, Raytheon claims that the AMDR and EASR are built with the identical AMDR cubical 2 ft. building blocks which leads one to wonder how and why the two systems are different and why we’re spending more money on an AMDR with a different name?

According to Raytheon, the difference between the systems is simply the number of RMAs, with the AMDR having 37 and the EASR having 9 (2).  As Raytheon describes it (2),

AMDR is comprised of 37 RMAs – which is equivalent to SPY-1D(V) +15 dB in terms of sensitivity. To give this perspective, it means that SPY-6 can see a target of half the size at twice the distance of today’s radars.

EASR is a 9 RMA configuration – which is equivalent to the sensitivity of the current SPY-1D(V) radar on today’s destroyers, and at only 20% of the size of the legacy SPS-48. These are considerable enhancements over the radars in service on current (and future) EASR-designated ship classes.

Raytheon stresses the reliability and maintainability of the system, citing the commonality between the AMDR and EASR due to the identical radar modules.

Raytheon also claims that the system will be more affordable due to having only a single radar type across the entire fleet.  They claim that training, logistics, spares, etc. will be streamlined and cheaper.

Of course, what new system in history hasn’t made those exact claims?  Some pan out, to a degree, many don’t.

So, if the AMDR and EASR are identical, differing only in the number of RMAs, why are we paying for an EASR “development” program?  From USNI News website,

“Radar maker Raytheon has been awarded a $92 million contract to develop a new Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar for the U.S. Navy’s new Ford-class carrier fleet and big deck amphibious warships, company officials told USNI News on a Monday conference call.

Based on Raytheon’s SPY-6 S-band Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) planned for the services Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) guided missile destroyers, the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) will be the volume air search radar for most of the Gerald R. Ford-class carrier (CVN-78) — starting with John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and the planned LHA-8 amphibious warship.

“It’s using identical hardware, identical signal processing software, data processing software.  It’s as near identical as possible. The goal of the program to drive affordability and commonality,” Tad Dickenson [Raytheon company spokesman] told reporters.”

Again, if it’s identical, why are we paying for a new developmental program?  It seems like $92M is a lot of money to simply change the number of RMAs.  But wait, there’s more money coming!

“Following the EMD phase, there are up to $723 million in contract options to support 16 ship sets of the radar – 6 fixed face for the Fords and 10 for amphibious ships.” (3)

And, of course, there’s always the actual construction/purchase funds still to be had! 

Interestingly, the EASR does not completely meet the Navy’s radar requirements.

“The service also plans to procure a separate X-band radar to compliment the EASR for both the future carriers and the amphibs.” (3)

I believe the separate X-band radar is intended to cover the low level, short range (horizon) region, meaning sea-skimming anti-ship missiles.  Currently, the SPQ-9B performs this function.

Raytheon has a nice little gig going for itself.  They’ve managed to direct the Navy into a single radar, sole supplier situation in which they can dictate unlimited prices and exorbitant “developmental” costs.  That’s nice work if you can get it!  The Navy now has no choice but to keep shipping barges of money to Raytheon.

There’s always the more mundane aspects of this arrangement to consider, as well.  If Raytheon’s facilities should suffer a major catastrophe like a fire or sabotage, the Navy will have no source for radars for, potentially, years while Raytheon rebuilds.  A prime target for sabotage at the start of a war with China, huh?  But, I digress …

In summary, the EASR seems to be just a renaming and repackaging of the already developed AMDR.  That leads to questioning the need for additional developmental funding.  Raytheon can’t have it both ways.  They claim the EASR is identical to the AMDR and, therefore, offers all kinds of commonality benefits and yet they want barge loads of money to “develop” the EASR.  Which is it?  Are the two systems identical or not?  I think the Navy is being gouged and has, through mismanagement, backed themselves into a no-choice corner.


(1) website, retrieved 8-May-2017,

(2)Raytheon website, retrieved 8-May-2017,

(3)USNI News website, “Raytheon Awarded $92M Navy Contract for Future Carrier, Big Deck AESA Radars”, Sam LaGrone, 22-Aug-2016,

Friday, July 21, 2017

Navy Issues Tanker RFP

The Navy has issued a draft Request For Proposals (RFP) to industry for the planned carrier based unmanned aerial tanker, the MQ-25A Stingray, and the RFP has some interesting points and aspects to it.

First, the RFP has only two key performance parameters (KPP) and both are generic to the point of useless.  They are:

  1. Carrier compatibility – the aircraft must be able to operate from a carrier and use existing catapult and recovery systems.  Duh.
  2. Mission tanking – the aircraft must be capable of aerial tanking.  Again, duh.

The Navy believes this will provide greater flexibility to industry and, ultimately, to the Navy when it comes to the design of the aircraft.  Personally, I think this approach is wrong.  I think performance parameters need to be specified – speed, range, endurance, reliability, fuel capacity, etc.  Without those specs, there’s no guarantee that you’ll wind up with an aircraft that can do the job.  Frankly, this is just the Navy passing design responsibility off to industry in an attempt to avoid accountability if the program tanks (no pun intended).

On the plus side, the Navy is indicating that development should be minimized by using nothing but existing technology.

“…the new airframe effort is less about developing new tech and more about mixing and matching existing systems to make unmanned tanking a reality on the carrier.” (1)

If the Navy can actually hold to this intent, this is a monumental leap forward in common sense acquisition practice.  There is nothing about aerial refueling that requires the development of new technology.  If the Navy can hold to this intent, the resulting costs and timeline should be quite reasonable.  Unfortunately, the Navy has a very hard time resisting gold plating programs after they’ve started.  It will be interesting to see whether they can restrain themselves.

On a related note, if the Navy can actually hold to this intent, it will make an interesting contrast to the Air Force’s tanker program (admittedly, the two programs are vastly different in scope and mission) which has been a dismal failure and this program could actually become an example for how to do acquisition.  As I said, we’ll take a wait and see approach.

I’m extremely ambivalent about an unmanned tanker.  Most of the claims for it are suspect or false. 

  • It won’t reduce manning much, if at all.  For every pilot removed from the cockpit, one has to take their place at a controller of some sort.

  • It offers no greater endurance because its endurance will be limited by the size of the fuel tanks it will carry.  Once the tanks are empty, the aircraft will have to return to the carrier just like a manned tanker would.

  • It offers no cost savings.  An aircraft is an aircraft.  If you want a plane that can travel x miles, at y speed it’s going to cost the same whether there’s a seat in it or not.  In fact, when the additional shipboard control stations are factored into the cost, it will probably be more expensive.

  • There will be inevitable in-flight aircraft failures, as with any aircraft, and without a crew to deal with it and attempt to remedy it, many aircraft may be forced to abort their missions.

  • UAVs have a solid historical record of crashing with some regularity.  The data on this is quite clear.  While losing a UAV is no big deal, losing a tanker affects many aircraft and missions.

Honestly, I don’t really see any concrete advantage to an unmanned tanker.  The only “advantage” is that the Navy gains experience in operating unmanned aircraft in preparation for the time when they try to operate unmanned combat aircraft and, to be honest, this alone may be sufficient justification for the unmanned tanker.

Overall, I like the start to this program.  I’m quite pleased that the Navy is going to at least attempt to produce an aircraft using nothing but existing technology for a routine mission.  If they can hold to the intent, it will be a major accomplishment and could set a pattern for future acquisitions.


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Issues New MQ-25A Stingray Draft RFP to Industry Ahead of Final RFP in the Fall”, Sam LaGrone, 20-Jul-2017,

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ship Superstructures

I’ve noted, over the years, the Navy’s trend toward larger and larger superstructures.  Much of this is due to stealth considerations but not all.  Let’s take a look at the trend and then we'll discuss the implications.

WWII early war Gato submarines had fairly large superstructures.  As the war progressed, these were steadily cut down until only the barest structure remained.  This was done to reduce silhouettes and the concomitant chance of visual detection.  Look at the Gato profiles below and note that the superstructure was reduced by around 50% which significantly lowered the profile and reduced the total visible superstructure bulk.

Gato - Early War

Gato - Late War

WWII ships in general and the Fletcher class destroyer, specifically, had narrow, small superstructures.  In the drawings below, note the relatively wide deck areas on both sides of the superstructure, stretching the length of the ship.  The superstructure was around 50% of the hull width for much of the length of the superstructure, widening out to around 80% at the forward end.  Also note that the height of the superstructure was fairly short.  Combined with a low lying hull, the overall profile was quite short.

Fletcher DD

Note the very small superstructure on the Baltimore class cruiser shown below.   On a relative basis, there is more deck space than on the Fletchers.  Note that the available horizontal deck space allows the placement of large numbers of weapons.  There is also a large section amidships that has no superstructure!

Baltimore Class CA

Now, let's take a look at a modern destroyer, the Burke class DDG.  In contrast to the WWII designs, note that the superstructure is massively large and in most areas spans the width of the ship.  Excluding the flight deck which is not usable space, the only available large deck space is the bow area or top of the hangar which is only usable for equipment if there is no deck penetration.

Burke Class DDG

Look at the LCS.  Note that the stealthy, slanted superstructure spans the entire width of the hull and covers the deck from just behind the forward gun, all the way aft to the hangar.  There is no horizontal deck space in the area of the superstructure.  Also, note the relative height of the superstructure compared to the overall height of the ship from the bottom of the hull to the top of the superstructure.  Finally, note the width of the superstruture even at the very top.  It's still quite wide at around 80% of the width of the hull.  That's a lot of weight to carry quite high on the ship.  The bulky superstructure also makes the ship quite visible.

Freedom Class LCS

Even with stealth shaping, size still equates to radar signature.  The smaller the superstructure, the smaller the radar signature for a given shape.  Just as WWII sailors understood that a smaller superstructure translated to a smaller visual signature, so too does a smaller superstructure, today, translate to a smaller radar signature.

Another issue with large superstructures is top weight and stability.  A large superstructure means a higher proportion of weight higher up which negatively impacts stability margins.(distance the vertical center of gravity can shift in response to weight growth before stability is compromised).  Typical stability margins range from 0.3 m for amphibious ships to 0.8 m for carriers.  The LCS, for example, with its overly large superstructure, has a stability margin of 0.15 m - a very low value compared to other classes (1).

Another aspect of superstructure size is its impact on deck space and deck working space.  If the superstructure gets too large, the available horizontal deck space for mounting guns, boat cranes and storage, underway replenishment equipment, etc. becomes very limited.  Similarly, limited deck space impacts the working space for the crew, be it line handling, weapons operation, resupply, boat handling, etc.  Take a close look at the Freedom LCS.  It has very little usable deck space relative to its size.

WWII ships had plenty of horizontal deck space and mounted large numbers of weapons and equipment.  With modern slanted superstructures, deck space is at a premium and negatively impacts the number of weapons a ship can carry.  Often, it is necessary to carve out platforms higher up or on top of the superstructure which, again, impacts stability.  

Take a look at the LCS, for example.  The weapon pits, 30 mm gun mounts, etc. are at the top of the superstructure.  The problem with this is that it places the weight high up which makes the ship top heavy.  People talk about adding weapons to the LCS to make it more useful but such discussions overlook the fact that adding such weapons would be difficult due to the lack of deck space.  Mounting the weapons on top of the superstructure worsens the already marginal stability.

The Burke has a VLS cluster mounted on top of the hangar due to the lack of main deck space and that elevated mounting negatively impacts the stability.  

The modern trend of larger superstructures also results in more functions being placed above the main deck, in less armored (to the extent that anything is armored on modern ships) and less protected spaces.  Remember, unlike torpedoes, anti-ship missiles tend to hit the superstructure.  We are going to lose combat functionality by having more of it "exposed" in the superstructure rather than buried in the hull where armor, tanks, and void spaces help provide a measure of protection.

The odd part about the entire trend towards slanted, stealthy superstructures that span the width of the ship is that I've seen no evidence that narrower superstructures with more exposed deck space are any less stealthy.  I've read that vertical sides and bulkheads generate a significant radar return but I've never read a word suggesting that horizontal deck space generates a significant return.  If the sending/receiving radar were positioned directly overhead then the deck would constitute a perpendicular surface and would generate a large return but any other angle will just scatter the radar wave away from the sending/receiving unit and if the unit is directly overhead then the ship has already been spotted!

Admittedly, my understanding of ship radar stealth is rudimentary, at best.  However, until someone can demonstrate why a horizontal deck surface is bad, I've got believe that the benefits of additional deck space far outweight any supposed gain in stealth and the additional drawbacks to a slanted superstructure, such as top heaviness and lack of weapons mounting space, further reinforce that belief.  We need to re-examine the entire ship stealth concept as it relates to equipment, weapons, and sensor mounting.


(1) Government Accountability Office, "LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP - Additional Testing and Improved Weight Management Needed Prior to Further Investments", GAO-14-749, July 2014

Monday, July 17, 2017

Famous Naval Movie Remakes

Remakes of famous movies are a staple of Hollywood moviemaking entertainment.  I’ve just learned that a series of famous naval movies are scheduled for remakes with a modern take on them.  Here’s a list of the movies along with a brief synopsis of the plots. 

In Harm’s Way – The inspiring story of courage against all odds.  Fighting off green energy task forces, a courageous Captain risks all to continue using incandescent light bulbs on his ship even in the face of overwhelming bureaucratic odds.

Run Silent, Run Deep – Rig for silent running as the creators of the LCS slip silently away, ducking responsibility depth charges and gaining promotions in the process!

They Were Expendable – The true story of the Spruance class destroyers that were sunk by the US Navy in a desperate attempt to stave off criticisms of the new Aegis system and eliminate any possible alternative.

Mister Roberts – A plucky lieutenant tries to look out for his crew while waging a tireless campaign to get the ship’s Captain to approve his transfer to a naval hospital for a gender change operation.

Crimson Tide – Suspense abounds as a submarine Captain and his Executive Officer clash over the wording of the PowerPoint slides they’ll use to summarize the sub’s patrol.  Mutiny ensues and the crew must choose sides:  the Captain wants Arial font and the XO wants Times New Roman.

The Enemy Below – An American destroyer Captain engages in a battle of wits with an Iranian submarine commander.  Watch as the American destroyer fires off volley after volley of strongly worded protests until the Iranian simply orders the American destroyer to stand down and be boarded, at which point the heroic American crew comply and are eventually released to return home to a hero’s welcome and medals for all the female crew members for just being there.

The Caine Mutiny  – A ship Captain is relieved for “loss of confidence in his ability to command” after an anonymous complaint from a crew member to the Navy’s 1-800-SQUEAL phone line accuses the Captain of miscounting the ship’s strawberry inventory.  The subsequent court martial reveals that, indeed, one can of strawberries was short a berry and Navy leadership congratulates itself on weeding out yet another unfit Captain.

Top Gun – A maverick pilot breaks all the rules as he battles the Navy and a caricature enemy before passing out in his F-18 due to oxygen deprivation in the climactic scene.

The Final Countdown – A freak storm sends a Navy carrier back to WWII where they learn that warships used to have armor and heavy weapons.  Stunned, they return to their own time and vow never to speak of what they have learned.

G.I. Jane – In an absurd bit of movie making, a woman breezes through SEAL training.  Oh wait, that’s not a ridiculous remake – that was the original movie!

An Officer and a Gentleman – A young man attends Officer Candidate School where he learns what it really means to be a Navy officer.  Watch as he learns to smile and salute while extolling the virtues of a non-functional weapons program, thwarts Congressional cost caps, masters the art of micromanagement, rises through the ranks by taking no chances, and ultimately retires to a well earned position on the board of a major defense industry company.

Operation Petticoat – This lighthearted WWII movie sees a pink submarine with an all female crew rescue a party of helpless men from the Japanese advance.  The ensuing hijinks show why men don’t belong in a modern Navy!

The Cruel Sea – A taut psychological thriller of life at sea.  Witness the cruelty of life at sea as the ship crosses the equator and the Pollywogs in the crew are forced to endure unimaginable hazing cruelties when the Shellbacks in the crew make funny faces at them.  Warning!  Some scenes may be too graphic for younger viewers as Pollywogs are politely requested to eat Jello blindfolded while being told that it is dragon’s blood.

Down Periscope – A misfit Captain and his crew take a submarine into a wargame, sink all the blue ships, and the results are ignored.  Oh wait, that was Millenium Challenge 2002, not a movie.

How about it?  Seen any good movie remakes lately that didn’t make the list?