Category Archives: navy

JS Izumo joins the fleet.

The largest Japanese naval vessel since World War II, the JS Izumo, has joined the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force.

An undated photo of JS Izumo (DDH-183) underway. The ship commissioned on March 25, 2015. JMSDF Photo

Sam LaGrone, as always, brings us the news.

A 24,000-ton helicopter carrier has formally entered the fleet of Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) on Wednesday making the ship the largest warship Japan has fielded since the close of World War II.

The commissioning ceremony JS Izumo (DDH-183) — the first of two for the JMSDF — was held in Yokohama and attended by Defense Minister Gen Nakatani.

Billed by the Japanese as a platform to assist in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) operations, the ship has flared regional tensions in neighbors— China especially — who view the ship as a power projection platform with a historically aggressive name.

I suppose it is theoretically possible for Izumo and her sister ship to serve as power projection platforms, but they’re certainly not optimized for it.

The ships really are configured as anti-submarine helicopter carriers (though for political reasons, they’re designated Helicopter Destroyers).

This is the second class of helicopter carriers the Japanese have built in recent years. The earlier, slightly smaller class of two Hyugas weighed in at around 19,000 tons full load. Interestingly, the Hyugas carry a more robust self defense fire control system and weapon suite. The Izumo appears to carry only the most basic self defense systems. Both classes carry impressive sonar systems.

Of course, large ships like this aren’t intended to operate independently. Instead, they form the centerpiece of an escort group with other surface ships, destroyers and frigates, to provide a “bubble” of ocean that is denied to enemy submarines, surface ships, and air assets. The Japanese actually built a class of destroyers specifically to provide escort to these larger helicopter destroyers.  Add in one of their formidable Kongo or Atago class Aegis destroyers, and a couple of conventional destroyers or frigates, and you have a very potent surface force.  But it is a sea control force, one that can deny an enemy use of a particular portion of the sea. The JMSDF lacks the ability to project power ashore and influence the enemy there. And that is, of course, by design, and in accordance with the Japanese constitution drawn up by MacArthur after World War II.


Filed under navy, ships

Destroyer Escort

Here’s a training film from World War II days as the DE program was ramping up. It’s apparently intended as an orientation for new sailors assigned to new construction.

The DE program was really almost wholly a result of Franklin Roosevelt. The Navy didn’t have a prewar plan for mobilization construction of the DE type, unlike many other combatants. It intended to use 173’ PCs and full size DD ships. Roosevelt helped the Navy change its mind. The DE program was hugely successful, with several hundred being commissioned between 1942 and the end of the war.

Further, the wartime DE program led to the further development of what we today call frigates. Quartermaster will tell us in the comments about his days aboard USS Courtney, a direct descendant from the wartime DE design.

With the exception of the extremely austere Claude Jones class, pretty much every post-war ocean escort class was quite successful. The various classes shared a few common traits. First, they were not intended to sail with the main striking force of the fleet, the carrier battle groups (though shortages of escorts meant they often did). They were balanced general combatants intended to escort amphibious shipping, replenishment groups, and merchant convoys. They emphasized anti-submarine warfare, but did not ignore anti-surface and anti-air warfare, if only for self defense.

They also tended to fill those seemingly endless extra missions that the Navy finds itself tasked with, but not requiring a more robust warship.

The last of the FFG-7 Oliver Hazzard Perry class frigates will be leaving the fleet shortly, to be replaced by the LCS, bringing to a close a 70 year history of ocean escorts in the US Navy.


Filed under navy, ships

Wargaming- The original think tanks.

BJ Armstrong, one of the more vibrant thinkers in the public naval sphere, has a great post at USNI arguing for a return to the Navy’s historically strong habit of wargaming.

Under the auspices of the Defense Innovation Initiative, announced by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel before he left office, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work has sounded a call to revive the practice of wargaming in the Department of Defense. In a memo issued Feb. 9, Work announced plans to “reinvigorate, institutionalize, and systematize wargaming across the Department.”

This memo is a vital first step, and should instigate a Navy wide re-examination of when, why, and how we conduct these evolutions across the force. Lessons learned a century ago demonstrate that the Navy should take the memo’s intent on board, but must go even further than Mr. Work’s suggestions in order to maximize the warfighting ability and innovative spirit of the fleet.


BJ mentions in the full article the tendency of late for wargames to be conducted at ever higher levels. These “echelons above reality” diminish the actual value of wargames. Of course, if you look at our post today on nuclear targeting, you might discern one of the reasons for the shift to higher levels. Nuclear war can only be wargamed. And since any nuclear war is a political act, rather than a truly military one, it of course has to be conducted at a political level. That such a level has filtered back to the conduct of wargames at the operational and tactical level of conventional warfare is not such a good trend. One suspects it is also a function of the modern era of communications, where we talk about the Strategic Corporal, but in fact face the Four Star Squad Leader.

For many, many years, the Naval War College at Newport, RI focused on wargaming. The games looked at likely (and a few unlikely) scenarios the fleet might face, and gamed out what current and proposed platforms could do. They tested tactics and future capabilities. They tried foreign tactics and platforms. The results of games at Newport were used by the General Board in deciding on characteristics of both the fleet composition, and the characteristics of individual ship classes. When the Navy went before Congress and begged for money, they had reasonable answers to why they needed what they were asking for. Newport was, in effect, a think tank.

Unlike many think tanks today that are comprised of analysts, however well educated, the Naval War College consisted of both a faculty with stability to provide institutional knowledge, and a student body that constantly brought new ideas and perspectives from the fleet- that is, the actual operators, and ultimate customers of the College’s product.

Finally, wargaming allowed for a wider interaction with, and testing of, innovations in the whole of the Fleet. Concepts first developed at the gaming tables were evaluated by the CNO’s staff, and the General Board which advised the Secretary, and then taken through practical tests in tactical exercises at sea. The results of the exercises were fed back to the games in a virtuous cycle which refined and perfected the ideas and methods. This was the system used in the inter-war years to develop naval aviation and undersea warfare: concepts central to American victory in World War II.

Wargaming is more than simply a simulation, or a tactical training scenario. There’s a large number of milbloggers today talking strategy. The problem with that is, politicians will either set the strategy, or screw up your planned strategy. Wargaming is the bridge between techniques and strategy. The tactical and operational level is the realm of the military (or naval, in this case) art.

It’s expensive to actually operate a fleet, and actually fighting one isn’t really practical for training purposes. Most simulations and exercises today are focused on current doctrine. Pre-deployment workups are focused on certifying that the ships and other units involved are trained and ready to accomplish their next deployment, using current accepted doctrine. Wargaming, be it at the War College level, or at the fleet, or lower level, can and should be an incubator for discerning what our next tactical doctrine should be.


Filed under navy, training

The Final Countdown- 1980


Filed under navy

Sea Skua

Elizzar mentioned the Sea Skua missile’s use in the Falklands war in the comments of an earlier post. And it’s one of my favorite little missiles.

Developed in the late 1970s to give Royal Navy helicopters an Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) capability against smaller ships such as patrol boats, the Sea Skua had a remarkably fast development time from the first test firings, on the order of about three years, and was fielded and operational in time for the Falklands in 1982.

The helicopter it was designed for, the Westland Sea Lynx, is a fairly small helicopter, so the Sea Skua was designed to be fairly small itself, with an all up round weighing in at around 300 pounds. Each Sea Lynx could carry up to four missiles.

Most anti-ship missiles use either active radar homing (that is, they carry their own radar to search for a target) or infra-red homing, seeking the heat of the target. The Sea Skua, somewhat unusually, uses semi-active radar homing. That is, the launching Sea Lynx shines its radar on the target, and a radar receiver in the missile homes in on the reflected radar energy. This has a significant drawback in that the launching helicopter has to keep its radar locked on the target for the entire time of flight of the missile. But the choice of guidance systems also has some advantages. First, it was likely cheaper and faster to develop. Second, with the decent range of Sea Skua (roughly 15 miles) the launching helicopter is out of range of most small ship defenses, so tracking the target isn’t an unduly risky proposition. Third, semi-active homing means that the launching helicopter can be sure the missile attacks the correct target, and will not be spoofed to attack either a neutral or lower value target. As a contrast, the Argentine Exocet that destroyed the MV Atlantic Conveyor was (probably) targeted as HMS Illustrious, but was spoofed by chaff, and stumbled upon Atlantic Conveyor afterwards.

The Sea Skua has a small warhead, by anti-ship missile standards, just 62 pounds. And given that it strikes above the waterline, it’s highly unlikely for one missile to sink any but the smallest of targets. But the warhead is sufficient to render most small vessels incapable of continuing the fight. That’s called a “mission kill.” For the most part, simply taking a ship out of the fight is sufficient.

In its introduction to combat in the Falklands, Sea Skua was used to damage an Argentinian patrol boat. Its next foray into combat was during Desert Storm, where considerable numbers were expended against the Iraqi navy with good effect, sinking or badly damaging about a dozen ships.

Just as the Westland Lynx has enjoyed considerable export success, so naturally has the Sea Skua. Users beside the Royal Navy include Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, India, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Korea.

The Sea Skua can also be installed and launched from small surface ships too small to accommodate other larger anti-ship missiles.


The US Navy, finding itself in need of a missile system to equip its own SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, opted instead for the Norwegian designed Penguin missile. Unlike Sea Skua, Penguin uses an infra-red seeker. In addition, for even smaller threats, most Seahawks can now carry four or eight Hellfire semi-active laser guided missiles, with a range of about 5 miles. The much smaller Hellfire is quite sufficient for attacking the very small fast boats that would constitute a swarm type attack.

Sea Skua itself, after an admirable career over three decades long, is slated to be replace by a newer missile, Sea Venom, sometime around 2020.

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Filed under missiles, navy

Lay Aloft! Climbing the foremast of USS Constitution

Which, wow, that’s a fair bit of cordage involved.

The caption from YouTube:

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (Oct. 29, 2014) Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Pablo Solano climbs to the top of USS Constitution’s foremast during the crew’s final climbing evolution prior to Constitution being de-rigged in preparation for her entry into dry dock 1 in Charlestown Navy Yard scheduled for spring 2015.

I always get a tad queasy and dizzy watching stuff like this. Do note that our cameraman climbs the foremast, and the foretopmast, up to the crosstrees, but doesn’t climb the next segment, up the foretopgallant. Which, when making sail in the old days, not only would our sailor climb that, he’d be accompanied by quite a few others. And no safety harnesses back then. And while the weather this day in Charlestown was just about perfect, many a time sailors laid aloft in less than pleasant conditions. At night.

Yo ho, no wonder a bottle of rum was needed for the sailor’s life!


Filed under history, navy, ships

Offensive ASuW- Range and the Kill Chain

So, the surface navy side of the US Navy is starting to get serious about reestablishing a credible offensive capability against enemy surface forces. ‘bout damn time.

It should be noted that offensive ASuW is currently, and will continue to be, primarily the province of  tactical airpower and submarines. One great strength of our way of war is our ability to fight asymmetrically, using our system of systems against enemy platforms. Why get into a toe-to-toe slugfest with enemy surface ships if you have better ways of doing business?

But that approach presumes that an individual ship or small task force has immediate access to either airpower or a submarine. If that’s not the case, our notional force must be able to defend itself, and take the offense. The goal of a military force, after all, is to make his life miserable, not to make yours safe.

Jon Solomon, who’s been doing some great stuff at Information Dissemination, writes about one aspect that has been getting a lot of press, but not so much deep thought- the range discrepancy between most US anti-ship missiles, and those of potential enemies

The U.S. Navy is clearly at a deficit relative to its competitors regarding anti-ship missile range. This is thankfully changing regardless of whether we’re talking about LRASM, a Tomahawk-derived system, or other possible solutions.

It should be noted, though, that a weapon’s range on its own is not a sufficient measure of its utility. This is especially important when comparing our arsenal to those possessed by potential adversaries. A weapon cannot be evaluated outside the context of the surveillance and reconnaissance apparatus that supports its employment and the overall size of its inventory.

One of the original variants of the Tomahawk missile was the TASM, or Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile. It could deliver a 1000lb warhead to a range of about 250 nautical miles at about 500 miles per hour. We fielded this capability in the early 1980s, but by the early 1990s, the TASM was withdrawn from service.


Because even though we had a missile that could fly 250nm, what we didn’t have was a reliable way to detect, localize, classify, identify, and track a target at that range. Oh, sometimes, use of SH-60B LAMPS III helicopters could make it theoretically feasible. But for the most part, it wasn’t practical. Most of the time when a potential target was found at 250nm, it was found by tactical air. And that brings us right back to tactical air being a preferred ASuW system.

Mr. Solomon uses some math in his post to illustrate some of the challenges that mean the maximum range of a missile isn’t the same as the maximum effective range, yet less the optimum engagement range.

Suffice it to say, the side that generally has the better ability to leverage Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets to line up its targets is likely to prevail in any missile duel.

We’re reminded of an early criticism of the Spruance class destroyers- that they looked very lightly armed compared to their Soviet counterparts bristling with missiles and guns. What that overlooked was that the SpruCans were instead heavily laden with sensors, such as onboard helicopters, that gave them a better ability to see the battlespace, while still carrying sufficient weapons to dominate that battlespace. The Soviet counterpart, by contrast, was a deadly threat if, and only if, it could find the enemy.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union (and its fleet) the Navy has stressed the sensor side of the sensor to shooter relationship. With the resurgence of a potential blue water foe, the Navy is again attempting to balance that relationship with a boost to the shooter side.



Filed under navy, ships