Tag Archives: navy

First Flight of the Intruder

Spill was kind enough to remind me that today marks the anniversary of the first flight of the Grumman A2F-1 Intruder, more popularly known by its post-1962 designation, the A-6.

Given that our dad was flying in an A-6A the very day we were born, we’ve always had a strong affinity for the Intruder.

And as someone not overly blessed in the looks department, we’ve also liked that the Intruder may have been ugly, but it got the job done.

To borrow a pic from Tailspin Tommy

And of course, there’s plenty of videos of the old gal.

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The Return of the Flying Dorito? Or “What the heck was that over Texas?

Planespotters in Texas and now Kansas have recently been seeing some very unusual looking aircraft overhead. The shape of these high flying mystery jets is similar too, but NOT the same as, the B-2 Spirit bomber, better known as the Stealth Bomber.

These sightings have, of course, cranked up the rumors and theories.

Today we have new pics that are the clearest yet.

A mysterious flying object was snapped flying over Wichita, Kansas by Jeff Templin. It resembles a similar unidentified aircraft streaking across the skies of Texas last month

The triangular shape certainly calls to mind one of the biggest procurement failures of the latter half of the 20th Century, the Navy’s failed A-12 Avenger II program.

The A-12, planned successor to the fabled A-6 Intruder attack aircraft, was eventually cancelled before the first was ever built due to staggering cost overruns and the massive weight gain of the design.


But you can see from the picture above, the triangular shape of the mystery jet is certainly very, very similar to the A-12.

Who knows if the jet over Texas is manned or a drone, or what?

What say you?


Filed under Air Force, navy, planes

The Navy Needs a New Anti-Ship Missile- Here’s What They Are Looking At.

The Harpoon family of anti-ship missile has been in US service since the late 1970s. At the time of its introduction, it was cutting edge technology in small sized, sea skimming cruise missiles. But today, it is rapidly becoming obsolete.


Harpoon missile

It’s range of roughly 100 nautical miles is a good deal less than the 150nm minimum that the Navy needs to stand off from enemy missile armed ships. The Harpoon’s radar seeker was pretty advanced when introduced, but today is increasingly vulnerable to jamming or deception. And while the canister launch system is quite compact, ships such as the Flight IIA DDG-51 Burke class destroyers don’t have space for even such a small mount. Ideally, any next generation anti-ship missile will fit inside the existing Mk41 Vertical Launch System that houses all the other missiles these ships carry.

Also, the Navy would like any future Anti-Ship missile to also be able to be carried and launched by existing strike aircraft like the F/A-18 Hornet family, and ideally the F-35C.

Rather than starting from scratch, the Navy has been looking around at what else is already available.

And coincidentally, the Air Force began a replacement for its air launched cruise missiles a few years ago. And the fruits of that program recently entered service as the AGM-158 JASSM, or Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile.  A longer ranged variant has even more recently entered service as the JASSM-ER, or Extended Range.

(also counts as Daily Dose of Splodey)

Accordingly, the Navy, via DARPA,  has begun developing a variant of the JASSM-ER as a next generation Anti-Ship Missile. This program is known as LRASM, or Long Range Anti-Ship Missile.

Unlike a cruise missile designed to attack targets ashore, Anti-Ship Missiles need to attack moving targets. That means they need an autonomous seeker capability to detect and track the target. Traditionally, this has meant a radar seeker. The Lockheed Martin, the contractor, advertises the seeker as having a multi-mode capability, which, just guessing here, includes a radar seeker, possibly a passive electronic seeker, and most likely an imaging infra-red and possibly a ultraviolet spectrum seeker.

The LRASM is powered by a small jet engine for cruising to the target. But to get it up to flight speed, it needs a rocket booster. To save development costs, the LRASM is using the Mk114 booster rocket currently used by the Vertical Launch ASROC anti-sub weapon.

Leveraging existing weapons and technologies allows for the relatively low risk development of a weapon system that is cheaper than starting from a fresh sheet of paper, and yet still provides a significant improvement in capability over the currently fielded Harpoon family.

The Navy hasn’t made any announcements, but it is quite possible that the LRASM will also be developed into a land attack variant to replace the existing Tomahawk cruise missiles.

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Today I Learned…

Or, as they say on Twitter, “TIL.”

The Grumman EA-6B Prowler is a four place electronic warfare plane that specializes in jamming enemy radars and communications.

Like virtually all tactical jets, the crew rides on ejection seats.


In the video above, you’ll see all four seats fire at intervals of about half a second. If you look carefully, you see that they fire the back seats first, then the front seats. Additionally, the seats fire at a very slight angle outboard from the aircraft to generate separation between the seats. To cause the seats to angle outboard, the rocket motor is very slightly off centerline of the seat. Having the thrust line off centerline causes the angle of flight.

Here’s a picture of a test of the S-3B Viking, with a similar 4 seat ejection.


What I learned today was that the firing handles of the various seats in the Prowler were color coded so the seat maintainers could ensure the proper seat was installed in the proper location in the cockpit.

  The GRUEA-7 Ejection Seats are simply superb—all I did was attach brass handles.  On the Prowler, the firing mechanisms on top of the ejection seats are color coded to help the aviators ensure that the correct seat has been installed.  The seats were painted the appropriate colors, (white for the left rear seat; orange for the right rear seat; purple for the right front seat; brown for the left front seat) and installed.

Sadly, in the video above, the pitching motion of the Prowler as it went off the bow caused the pilot’s seat to collide with another seat, killing the pilot. The three Electronic Countermeasures Officers (ECMOs) were recovered.


Filed under navy, planes

LCS First Deployment- Too Pooped To Party

Singapore is renowned through the Navy as one of the best liberty ports in the  world. And the Concept of Operations for the Navy’s new LCS class of ships sees them deploying across the Pacific to operated forward deployed to the city-state for six to nine months at a time, cruising for three or four weeks, with a week or so in port for upkeep and liberty.

But Breaking Defense brings us the news that the extremely small crew size of the LCS means simply running and maintaining the ship wears the crew to the nub, in spite of massive contractor support while in port.


WASHINGTON: Some spectacular glitches marred the first overseas deployment of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, including an electrical failure that left the USS Freedom“briefly” dead in the water. Now Breaking Defense has obtained an unpublished Government Accountability Office study of Freedom‘s Singapore deployment that raises more serious questions about a long-standing worry: whether the small and highly automated LCS has enough sailors aboard to do up all the work needed, from routine maintenance to remedial training.

By now, the Navy brass have surely gotten tired of GAO taking shots at LCS. But according to GAO, LCS sailors are getting literally tired of the ship: They averaged about six hours of sleep per day, 25 percent below the Navy’s eight-hour standard, and key personnel such as engineers got even less. That’s in spite of

  • extensive reliance on contractors both aboard and ashore, with a “rigid” schedule of monthly returns to Singapore that restricted how far from port the LCS could sail;
  • the decision to increase Freedom‘s core crew by 25 percent, from 40 to 50 — the maximum the ship can accommodate without a “significant” redesign; and
  • the 19-sailor “mission module” crew, who are supposed to operate LCS’s weapons, helicopters, and small boats, pitching in daily to help the core crew run the ship’s basic systems.

None of this was unforeseen by critics of the program. Comparably sized conventional ships might have a crew of from 150 to almost 200. Of course, one of the major design goals of the LCS was to use automation to reduce crew size drastically, as personnel costs are one of the highest life-cycle costs of a ship. And to be sure, to a certain extent, using automation to reduce the workload is a good idea.

But much as the Army found that increased automation and networking might increase awareness across a battlespace, there still remains a requirement for a certain critical mass of people.  It’s the same thing at sea.

While the engineering failures of the LCS-1 were embarrassing (especially since the ship has been in commission for years before its first deployment), to some extent, that’s typical teething trouble of a new class.

But that mechanical unreliability is also greatly troubling, in that a central part of the Concept of Operations is to have large scale contractor support forward in the theater where LCS will operate. Now, the LCS isn’t designed to operate with the battle fleets of our Navy, but rather to fulfill many of the presence missions that every navy spends a great deal of time performing.  That’s fine when the LCS is patrolling the waters of the Straits of Malacca. Singapore is a modern city, with the infrastructure to support the LCS, and finding qualified contractors willing to spend considerable time there isn’t terribly difficult.

But when LCS class ships begin deploying to less pleasant spots around the globe, the infrastructure to support them will be lacking, and finding contractors willing to support them will be more difficult (and hence, expensive). If for any reason, contractor support is unavailable, either the ship’s crew will have to do required work, or the ship will simply be unavailable to perform its mission.

Again, none of these problems were unforeseen. Critics of the program have, from Day One, bemoaned the extreme measures reducing the crew size drastically. They’ve noted that tying the ship to peirside support means the ships lack strategic mobility, as they will be unable to suddenly shift from one theater to another (say, from the Red Sea to the Levant). And as crews wear themselves out, many will make the decision to leave the service, reducing the numbers of qualified, experienced sailors, and increasing the spiral of overworking crews.


Filed under logistics, navy

China Commissions First Type 052D Destroyer

25 years ago, the Chinese Navy (or more correctly, the People’s Liberation Army Navy) was a joke. Crudely build ships with fire control and armament little more advanced than what we operated in World War II would have been easy pickings for our Navy. But China, leveraging the vast increase in GDP, set out to build a quality navy, and has used both domestic development, and reverse engineering of western systems to field ever increasingly capable warships.

One of the first truly modern warships the Chinese fielded was the
Type 052, a class of two ships entering into service in 1994.

Designed prior to the Tiannamen Square massacre, they were built with western powerplants and electronics, though they used largely Chinese armaments.

Type 052.

File:Chinese destroyer HARIBING (DDG 112).jpg

Next step in development was the confusingly designated Type 051B, which looked nothing like the earlier Type 051 series.

File:Chinese destroyer Shenzhen DDG167.jpg

The Chinese only built one Type 051B, and it was apparently not considered terribly successful. But clearly the clean modern hull lines and general layout can be likened to such western types as the British Type 23 frigates (though the Type 051B was considerably larger). Interestingly, the Type 051B reverted from gas turbines and diesels to a steam plant. Chinese technology wasn’t quite capable of using indigenous marine gas turbines to power a destroyer yet.

That would change with the next series, the Type 052B.

One of the problems with the earlier series was the lack of an effective area anti-air weapon system. Earlier series carried the HY-7 missile, which was in effect a reverse engineered French Croatale short range missile. Roughly equivalent to our RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missile, it was a point defense system, capable primarily of self defense, and not area coverage.

That lack of area air defense effectively restricted Chinese operations to areas that could be covered by friendly land based air-power.

With the Type 052B, the Chinese installed the Russian SA-N-12 Grizzly Surface to Air Missile. Each ship had two single arm launchers, similar to the old US Mk13, with a total capacity of 48 missiles. For the first time, a Chinese destroyer could provide decent area air defense over a battle group or convoy.

File:Type 052B Guangzhou in Leningrad.jpg

While the 052B was a big improvement, it still relied on mechanically rotated radars, and the single arm launcher system for the Grizzly SAM limited its ability to deal with saturation raids. Entering service in 2004, they were a generation behind US (and even Russian) warships which had long switched over to Vertical Launch Systems, or VLS, and phased array radar systems. The two ships of the 052B class were clearly an interim design.

Using the hull and machinery of the 052B, the next series introduced two major changes. The Type 052C introduced an Active Electronically Scanned Phased Array radar, and the HHQ-9 long range surface to air missile in a Vertical Launch System.

File:Luyang II (Type 052C) Class Destroyer.JPG

The US has operated phased array radars at sea for over thirty years, but the SPY-1 radar is a “passive” array, meaning that a handful of transmitter/receiver modules feed the phase shifting elements of the array that steer the radar beams. In an active array, each phase shifting module is its own transmitter/receiver.

48 HHQ-9 SAMs in a unique vertical launch system gives the 052C a potent very long range anti-air capability. The HHQ-9 is derived from the Russian S-300 SAM system.  It’s theoretical range of 200km is overstating its capability, but it is still one of the more formidable sea based anti-aircraft missiles around.

The Chinese were pleased enough with 052C to proceed to series production, with six hulls being laid down. The need for area air defense, especially as escorts for the new Chinese aircraft carrier, meant building a credible blue water escort was important.

But there was still considerable scope for improvement. And so, even while 052C hulls are fitting out, the next iteration has been built and is being commissioned.

The Type 052D is roughly the same size at the 052C. And it too has an actively scanned array. But improvements in the cooling system have changed the appearance of the array. And rather than a VLS that can only launch the HHQ-9 SAM, the 052D has a new VLS that can, much like the US Mk41, accommodate a variety of different missile types. The 100mm gun of earlier classes has been replaced by a new 130mm design.

The 052D is the “objective” design, and is in series production, with one in commission, three others fitting out, and an additional 8 units planned, for a total of 12.

The obvious analog in the US fleet is the Flight IIA Burke class destroyer.



The Burkes are a good deal larger than the 052D, by about 2000 tons. Part of that is likely to the US tendency to build their ships for greater endurance and seakeeping. While China may seek to improve their blue water capabilities, they also are unlikely to routinely undertake the kind of world wide deployments US warships have made for the last 70 years.

While we can count gun mounts and missile cells, and look at antenna arrays, much of the capability of a modern warship is actually resident in the combat data systems, the computers that manage the weapons and sensors. And it is very difficult to draw an accurate conclusion as to their capability from the open source press.  We should avoid imbuing them with a lethality beyond what reason dictates, but we should also beware of discounting the ability of others to field technologically advanced and effective weapons.

The Chinese fleet of my youth, a collection of rustbuckets and antiques, is rapidly becoming a modern blue water, power projection fleet. They may not be our peer yet, but they’re certainly a force to contend with.

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Filed under China, Defense, navy

Youthly Puresome

Growing up in a NavAir family, one of the pleasures every quarter was the arrival of The Hook, the magazine of the Tailhook Association. A collection of sea stories, historical monographs, and updates on people, places and goings on in the world of carrier aviation, it had fantastic pictures and interesting news.

And for about 20 years, it also featured the Further Adventures of Youthly Puresome, the humorous tales of derring do of Jack Woodall, as a young carrier pilot. Sadly, in a reshuffle of the Tailhook site, the archives were lost. But Jack finally has a website, and the archives of his fantastic sea stories is available for all.

They’re in .pdf format, but don’t let that stop you from some great writing.


Filed under navy, planes

Carriers, Mobility, Stealth and Initiative

Think Defence today has a post on the difficulty a potential foe faces in finding a carrier at sea. It is (like virtually all content there) well worth reading the whole thing.

Aircraft carriers are difficult to detect.

Perhaps more importantly, they are difficult to identify. Regarding the difficulty of detection, the seas are very big and, in comparison, even the biggest of aircraft carriers are very small. Modern maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) have radars that have ranges of hundreds of nautical miles (nm) but oceans extend for thousands of nautical miles.

Moreover, radar impulses can be detected by electronic support measures (ESM) systems at significantly greater range than the radar can detect the platform (air or surface or even submarine) carrying the ESM. In wartime, an MPA using its radar gives itself away, opening the way to it either being intercepted and shot down before it can locate the carrier, or to the carrier simply altering course and avoiding the MPA.

Of course, MPAs also have ESM, but this works only if the carrier and its task group (Carrier Battle Group: CBG) are emitting electromagnetically.

But if the CBG has adopted strict electromagnetic silence (and it can do so & this is exercised), then there is nothing to detect. So the MPA is reduced to the Mark 1 eyeball as its only useful sensor.

When I think of most post-World War II significant carrier operations, I generally consider their use in Korea, Vietnam, and of course, operations in the Persian Gulf, where they essentially stayed in fixed positions, and acted like additional airfields. The lack of significant enemy ability to interdict our forces at sea allowed us to sacrifice one of the carrier task forces’ greatest assets, mobility, at little risk.

Prior to World War II, it was widely assumed that operating carrier forces within range of enemy land based airpower was a recipe for disaster, and that shore based airpower would quickly sink or damage any carrier force. The first clue that this wasn’t quite so true came December 7, 1941.

Successful, if not highly fruitful, US attacks against Japanese outposts in early 1942 showed that by choosing the time and place to attack, carriers could operate to impede or suppress shore based airpower, and retire out of range before an effective Japanese counterstroke could be brought to bear.

The Fast Carrier Task Force (TF38/TF58) would often operate in wide ranging support of amphibious landings in the Pacific War. While FCTC would of course raid the target of a landing, it would also strike enemy installations far afield, to deny the enemy the ability to reinforce the defense of our objective, and to a degree, to conceal our objective. The ability of the FCTF to move hundreds of miles each day, to attack in unexpected places, meant the Japanese often struggled to counterattack. It was only at times when the fast carriers were tied to an objective that the Japanese were able to mount large scale raids to attack our fleet. The most obvious example of this is the horrible attrition imposed on the fleet while supporting operations at Okinawa.

After the Vietnam War, the Navy looked at what it might be required to do in a World War III scenario versus the Soviet Union. The primary task was to secure the sea lanes to Europe. The primary Soviet threats to the sea lanes were submarines, and long range land based bombers armed with cruise missiles.  We’ll leave the discussion of the submarine threat to another time, but the Navy realized it would be called upon to stop the long range bomber threat, both as a threat to merchant shipping, and to the carrier forces themselves.  Soviet long range aviation had a much longer strike range than the organic airwing of carriers. To charge in and raid the Soviet bomber bases, the carriers would have to be able to avoid detection. And so they spent a fair portion of the coldest days of the Cold War learning to do just that.

The force transits to its objective area in complete electronic silence. Deceptive formations are used dispersed over a broad area to ensure any detection system does not see the classic “bullseye” formation made famous in countless Public Affairs shots and never used in operations. Broad surveillance systems are known so any detection method is countered either by denying sensor information, misleading, or providing expected results consistent with something else. For example, ESM systems rely on active emissions from radars or communication systems. So nothing is radiated. Overhead systems are in known orbits, are predictable, and their sensing capabilities known. So the track is varied, weather is sought out to hide in when vulnerable, blending into sea lanes (while staying out of visual detection range of ships) and such techniques. Deceptive lighting is used at night so that the obvious “blacked out warship” is instead thought to be a merchant or cruise liner. Surface search radar identical to commercial ones are used. Turn count masking is used by the ships. Aircraft maintenance on the CV and other helo equipped ships is limited to prevent transmissions.

In NORPAC 82 using these and other tactics the CV force operated close enough to support each other, but far enough and randomly dispersed to avoid identification by anyone. One night in bad weather a man went overboard when the ship was within 200nm of a Soviet airfield in the Kuril Island chain. Despite launch of helicopters and active search methods by several ships in the successful SAR, including clear voice UHF transmissions, the force is not detected because no Soviet asset was above the radar horizon. No overhead system was cued. The force continued on.

The Chinese have spent the last 20 years developing anti-access/area-denial tactics, techniques, and procedures. And to be sure, any operations against China would be significantly different than operations in the northern reaches of the Atlantic or Pacific.

But to blithely dismiss the ability of a carrier strike group to avoid detection (or at a minimum, to avoid being recognized as a carrier group) is to overlook the long history of carrier groups successfully approaching enemy shores.


Filed under China, Defense, history, navy

M/V Cragside

I really hate it when I actually learn something from a David Axe post.

The Navy’s Military Sealift Command has taken a lease on a container ship. The Motor Vessel Cragside was built in Denmark as a combi container ship with a Roll-On/Roll-Off capability (or Combi-RO/RO).

The U.S. Navy is quietly converting a 633-foot-long cargo ship into a secretive helicopter carrier with facilities for supporting a large contingent of Special Operations Forces and all their gear, including jet skis.

Yes, jet skis.

And here’s the really weird thing: almost nobody is talking about the new “mothership” vessel, even though it could significantly expand America’s at-sea commando footprint.

In November, Military Sealift Command—America’s quasi-civilian fleet of more than 100 specialized but lightly armed vessels—awarded an initial $73-million contract to shipping giant Maersk to convert one of its cargo ships to a so-called “Maritime Support Vessel” standard.

Maersk tapped the 30,000-ton displacement M/V Cragside, built in 2011. After enduring a legal protest by rival Crowley, in January Maersk sent Cragside to the Gulf of Mexico for military modifications, most likely at the BAE shipyard upriver in Alabama.

The contract, extendable for up to four years, could be worth up to $143 million. The militarized Cragside could deploy as early as November this year.


As container ships go, 633’ isn’t very big. But the basic layout makes it very suitable for conversion to an afloat base. Indeed, the Brits operate several very similar ships, though primarily in the logistics role.

What caught my eye in David’s post was the bit about OSVs being used. I knew MSC operated several OSVs for submarine escort. When subs leave port, say from Bangor sub base in Puget Sound, WA, they transit surfaced through some extremely busy shipping lanes. And subs are hard to spot either visually or on radar. So an escort vessel accompanies the sub until it is clear of the shipping lanes and ready to dive for its patrol.

What I didn’t know was that MSC operates three OSV’s “MV Dolores Chouest, MV C-Commando and MV C-Champion supported Naval Special Warfare Command requirements.” That’s a pretty vague description. And from the pics I’ve seen, they remain vanilla OSVs. If I had to guess, I’d say they probably support swimmer delivery vehicle operations.  All of these ships are operated by civilian crews under contract with the MSC.


But the utility of OSVs bolsters my long standing argument that surplus OSVs (or converted merchants like MV Cragside) could profitably be used as tenders for forward deployed elements of the fleet. After all, that’s what  the vast majority of the fleet auxiliaries in World War II were- converted merchantmen.



NextGen China Carrier?

@SteelJawScribe found a little gem in a Chinese newspaper:

I can’t read any Chinese, so I can’t find the correct link, but the article is about (I guess) the future Type 055 Guided Missile Destroyer. That would be the ship in the foreground. And if you say to yourself, “Whoa, that looks a lot like a USN DDG-51!” you’re not alone.

I’d like a better look at the hull and the deck layout of the notional carrier but a couple things popped 0ut to SteelJaw. First, the carrier is a nuke. No stacks, ergo, nuke. Second, a closer look at the birds on the roof show what looks like the J-20 stealth fighter, and clearly shows the rotodomes of an Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

Mind you, it’s tough to really know what the Chinese are planning just by looking at pics found on the internet. There’s a ton of stuff floating out there, but until there are hulls in the water, it is often just speculation. The Chinese are a bit more tight lipped about their procurement process than we are.

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Filed under Around the web, China, Defense

Surface Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapons- Stand-Off Weapons- 2 of 2

The need for standoff weapons for surface ASW is largely tied to improvements in sensors and detection ranges against enemy subs.

Most of our very brief mention of sonar has  been focused on the classic-hull mounted active “pinging” sonar. Familiar to everyone who’s ever seen a submarine, the sonar sends a pulse of sound into the water, and  patiently waits for a return echo.

We’ll save the details of sonar development for a later series of posts, but for now, suffice to say that deep diving submarines can dip under a rapid change in the temperature of seas, known as a thermocline. That rapid temperature shift changes the density of water, and tends to reflect active sonar waves, effectively shielding a submarine from active sonar at medium and long ranges.

The first response to this was Variable Depth Sonar, in which a second active sonar transducer was lowered from the fantail of an escort to a depth below the thermocline. Quite often, this thermocline had the effect of channeling the “ping” of the active sonar to effective ranges beyond what any surface sonar could provide. To effectively target contacts at that range would require even more range than the 5 or so miles the original RUR-5 ASROC could provide.

About that time, gas turbine engine technology was beginning to catch on in helicopters. And remote control of drones was being seen as a mature technology. Coincidentally, the huge numbers of Sumner/Gearing class World War II destroyers were slated to be modernized to extend their service lives, and to upgrade their ASW capabilities from their obsolete WWII fit to cope with their new mission of protecting carrier battle groups from fast, deep diving Soviet subs. And so DASH was born- Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter.

The QH-50C was a coaxial rotor unmanned helicopter that would fly under radar control to the range and bearing of a sonar contact, and drop one or two Mk 44 torpedoes.


QH-50C DASH. The winch and reel for the associated Variable Depth Sonar can be seen on the ship’s fantail.

It was less than a rousing success. The aircraft was unmanned, and so lacked much of the redundancy that any manned aircraft would have. But for a ship’s Captain to lose an fairly expensive asset like a DASH looked bad, so many were reluctant to operate them very much. Nor, at the extended ranges of sonar contacts, was the location of the target precise enough to ensure the torpedo had a reasonable expectation of acquiring its target.

While DASH wasn’t a rousing success as an anti-submarine weapon, it did show that operating helicopters from smaller ships was quite possible. As an aside, modified QH-50s equipped with television cameras did admirable work as naval gunfire spotters on the gun line off the coast of North Vietnam. All the accuracy of a spotter, with no worries of a POW if it was shot down.

The second major sonar technology that came to prominence was the passive towed array. Rather than blasting sound energy into the water and waiting for a return, a passive array is a series of hydrophones in the water that simply listen for the distinctive sounds of a submarine.  By towing them at a distance from the escort, most of the ship’s self-noise could be avoided. Advances in signal processing in the 1960s and 1970s made the passive towed array a viable method of detecting enemy submarines at quite long ranges.  Detection at ranges of 50 or even 100 miles were possible.

The problem was, detection was all that was possible. Only the  most general range and bearing information could be derived at extended ranges by a towed array sonar. The challenge was to localize, identify, track, attack and destroy said contact.

The Navy, having learned that small ships could operate helicopters, and with a large number of escorts modified to carry DASH, decided that the best way to prosecute a distant contact would be a manned helicopter. The Sumner/Gearing destroyers of World War II were too small for manned helicopters, but the Brooke/Garcia/Knox classes of escorts could be modified to carry a single mid-sized helicopter. The Navy modified its standard shipboard utitlity helicopter, the Kaman UH-2A SeaSprite. Adding a radar, sonobouy dispenser, a tactical navigation system, and a datalink resulted in the SH-2F.

The Seasprite wasn’t simply a helicopter that happened to be based on an escort. Instead, because of the datalink, it was an extension of the combat system of its parent ship. The sonobouys of the Seasprite would transmit their signals to the helicopter, which in turn retransmitted them to the ship, when an acoustical processor analyzed the signals. Installing a powerful enough computer on board the helicopter simply wasn’t practical. And the deeper diving, faster, quieter submarines meant that unprocessed sonobouy data was unlikely to be sufficient to prosecute the contact.  The processed signals were then transmitted back to the helicopter, where its AN/ASN-123 TACNAV system helped the helicopter localize the submerged contact.  Once the locale of the contact had been roughly determined, repeated passes with a towed Magnetic Anomaly Detector would precisely locate the sub, and a torpedo attack made.

The SH-2F was also equipped with an LN-66 surface search radar (which was not datalinked to the parent ship). This allowed the Seasprite to also provide Over The Horizon Targeting (OTH-T) and supported Anti-Ship Missile Defense (ASMD). The radar wasn’t really intended to pick up incoming cruise missiles. But early Soviet cruise missile subs had to surface to launch their missiles, making them vulnerable to radar detection.

Because it supported multiple missions, the SH-2F and its associated equipment shipboard was known as the Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System, or LAMPS.

Almost immediately after its introduction, the success of the program prompted calls for a more capable platform and associated combat systems.  The Seasprite was a relatively small helicopter, and at a range of 50nm from its ship, only had about an hour to prosecute a contact. The Seasprite soon came to be known as LAMPS I.

The existing ships of the fleet were mostly too small to accommodate any larger helicopters, but the new Spruance class destroyers, and the Oliver Hazzard Perry class frigates could be modified to carry a significantly larger helicopter. Even better, they could be built with hangar space for two helicopters. Larger helicopters would allow more equipment (and torpedoes) to be carried, and allow more time on station to prosecute contacts. Having two on board meant a handoff could be made to the second helo, so any contact could be pursued non-stop for considerable lengths of time.

The Navy first looked at trying to fit the carrier based SH-3 Sea King helo onto escorts, but that LAMPS II program was soon shelved.

The Navy had kept a close eye on the US Army’s  UTTAS competition to field a replacement for the UH-1 Huey, which eventually resulted in the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. Early on, the Navy asked for a proposed naval variant, with folding rotors, a folding tailboom, and extensive corrosion proofing (salty sea air is tough on airframes).

The resulting SH-60B Seahawk featured a more capable datalink, TACNAV system, and associated ASW equipment. Further, the datalink allowed the radar video to be transmitted back to the ship, allowing the Combat Information Center aboard to have a more complete picture of the tactical situation. Additional systems included an integrated Electronic Support Measures (ESM) suite. ESM detects, collects and analyses enemy radio and radar transmissions to passively sniff out enemy units.

In a first, the prime contractor for this LAMPS III program wasn’t the manufacturer of the SH-60B, Sikorsky. The need to integrate complex systems onboard the helicopter, and the host ship meant that IBM was the prime contractor, and the airframe was simply a product built by a subcontractor.

The SH-60B was a far more capable helicopter than the Seasprite. Bigger, with a longer range, and able to carry much more fuel and more torpedoes, the SH-60B was the primary ASW weapon of the destroyers and frigates it served aboard.  It is capable of prosecuting contacts up to 100nm miles from its ship for up to two hours.

About a decade ago, a modernization effort began to update the SH-60, resulting in the MH-60R that adds a dipping sonar, forward looking infra-red (FLIR)/laser rangefinder/designator and the option of carrying Hellfire missiles to improve its surface attack capability. The MH-60R is in production, and replacing the SH-60B.

In recent years, the emphasis has shifted from hunting Soviet nuclear subs in the open ocean at long ranges, and instead hunting quiet diesel electric subs in the shallow waters of the littorals, The MH-60R is better equipped to deal with this threat.

As sensors improve, the weapons of the surface ship will continue to evolve to provide the punch against subs. As the Navy deploys unmanned surface vehicles and unmanned underwater vehicles, it is likely that at some point, they will be weaponized to serve as the surface ship’s battery against the submarine threat.

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Surface Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapons- Stand-Off Weapons- 1 of 2

World War II sonars had a maximum effective range of roughly 2000 yards. Given that wartime submarine torpedoes were rarely effective past about  that range, and indeed usually used much closer, that wasn’t a terrible problem. But submarine sonars, and passive hydrophones, being submerged deeper, almost always provided better detection than surface escorts.

The trend in post-war escorts was to use more powerful, larger, lower frequency sonars, which gave better detection ranges. The first in wide use with the US Navy was the SQS-4 series, with a range of 4500-5500 yards. Later the SQS-23 series, a massive sonar housed in a dome at the forefoot of a ship’s bow, could, under ideal circumstances, achieve detection out to as much as 40,000 yards. More typically, the  -23 could reliably detect submerged targets from 10,000 to 20,000 yards.

While the lightweight homing torpedoes discussed in the previous post were quite capable, they had one glaring shortcoming. By the time an escort was in range to use them, they were already well within range of heavier submarine launched homing torpedoes. A means of extending the range of surface ASW weapons, both to protect the escort, and to take advantage of increased detection range, was a high priority.

The first, most obvious idea was to use large diameter torpedo tubes to fire heavy homing torpedoes.  But the challenges of accurate fire control at extreme ranges meant heavy torpedoes were less than optimal. Worse, any heavy torpedo would simply reach a parity with any submarine torpedo. Something better was needed.

The US Navy had the bright idea to use a rocket to lob the Mk44 Lightweight Torpedo onto a sonar contact. Originally the Rocket Assisted Torpedo (RAT) was hoped to be a lightweight, rather simple system. A parallel program also was started to lob a nuclear depth charge. The minimum safe range of about 5 miles (~10,000 yards) mandated a far more substantial rocket. The programs were merged, with resulting ASROC (Anti-Submarine Rocket) becoming the primary US Navy surface ASW weapon from 1961 well into the 1990s.

An 8-cell “pepperbox” launcher would elevate and train for a simple ballistic, unguided rocket to drop either a Mk 46 torpedo or a nuclear depth bomb onto the enemy submarine. The ASROC maximum range of about 19,000 yards, combined with the range of (then) modern sonars gave escorts a good standoff weapon.

ASROC was also used by a great many allied nations, and continues in widespread use with other navies. Ships equipped with certain guided missile launchers could fire ASROC from them, obviating the need for the 8-round launcher. Alternatively, the 8-round launcher could be modified to fire Harpoon Anti-Ship missiles, and even the Standard Missile.

If the above videos are a bit long, here’s a quick video of loading and firing ASROC from a Greek destroyer.


The nuclear depth bomb variant of ASROC was only live fire tested once.


With the introduction of the Mk41 Vertical Launch System on Aegis cruisers and destroyers, a new version of ASROC, after a surprisingly difficult development, entered service.

But ASROC wasn’t the only way of launching a lightweight torpedo to a distant contact.

The Australians developed their own approach, with a rocket boosted radio controlled glider used to deploy a homing torpedo. Dubbed Ikara, this weapon had the advantage that the water entry point of the torpedo could be updated during the flight of the rocket. Slaved to the sonar fire control system,  this meant maneuvers by the target during the time of flight could be countered.

Ikara served with the Australians, the New Zealanders, and with the Royal Navy.

The French Malafon system operated on a similar principle.

On the Soviet side, the SS-N-14 operated on a similar principle, but had a much greater range. The terminal guidance could be made by an helicopter operating from the parent ship.

We will address shipboard helicopters in our final post in this series.


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Surface Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapons- The Torpedo

The torpedo was the traditional main battery of the destroyer. But the straight running steam powered torpedo was an anti-surface ship weapon, with no ability to engage submerged targets.

To tell the story of the surface launched anti-submarine torpedo, we have to take a brief detour to an air launched ASW weapon.

Submarines in World War II were really more “surface ships that could dive for a little while to avoid radar or visual detection.”  As carrier based and long range land based patrol aircraft became available, they became the primary threat to U-boats. Ranging far ahead of a convoy, their mere presence could force U-boats to dive. With an effective speed of only 3-4 knots submerged, even a slow convoy with a speed of 7 or 8 knots could easily evade. But the allies wanted to kill as many U-boats as possible, obviously. So these airborne scouts would also attack, generally with the 325lb depth charge. As noted, the depth charge tended to have a low probability of success.

The Navy, in cooperation with Harvard, Western Electric, and General Electric devised a passive acoustic sensor developed a battery, electric motor (from a washing machine!) and steering system. Melded into one unit, it was the Mk24 Mine, code named “Fido.” The term “mine” was a deliberate ruse to conceal the fact that it was an air dropped passive homing anti-submarine torpedo.


The Mk24 had a 24% success rate (a phenomenal rate in ASW).

With a speed of about 12 knots, and a running time of about 10-15 minutes, when a patrol plane sp0tted a surfaced U-Boat, it would attack. If the U-Boat didn’t dive upon approach, an attack with guns or conventional bombs/depth charges would be made. When the U-Boat did submerge, the attacking plane would fly up the wake, and drop were the wake ended. That put Fido in the sweet spot to pick up the scent, as it were. To conceal that the subs were being attacked by a torpedo, pilots were forbidden to drop Fido until after the U-Boat submerged.

Mk24 was modified in a slightly larger version as M27 Cutie, for use by our submarines in an anti-shipping role. But oddly, neither variant was deployed by surface ships.

In 1950, an active acoustic sensor was introduced on what was essentially an improved Mk 24 body, introduced into service as the Mk 32. The Mk 32 had a greater range than the Mk 24. Rather than being launched from a tube, the Mk2 launcher simply flipped the Mk 32 over a ship’s side.


Eventually, the increased submerged speeds of submarines meant a new, much faster, deep diving torpedo would be needed.

As the Mk 32 entered service, development started on a “universal” lightweight homing torpedo, one that could be launched from surface ships, helicopters, and fixed wing ASW aircraft. The first was the Mk 43 Light Weight Torpedo. Rather confusingly, it was launched from the Mk 32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tube (SVTT).

The Mk 32 SVTT is usually seen as a trainable triple tube mount (and is typically installed port and starboard on a ship), but fixed twin tube mounts have been used. Compressed air is used to eject the torpedo.

The size of the Mk 32 SVTT essentially fixed the size of future lightweight torpedoes. The Mk 43 torpedo was quickly replaced by the Mk 44, in turn replaced by the Mk 46, which is still in service, and the later Mk 50 and Mk 54 torpedoes.

We’ve focused here US weapons, but as a practical matter, the US was the supplier to virtually all Western nations through the 1960s. Soviet lightweight torpedo was generally similar.

Next up, low frequency long range sonars demand standoff weapons.


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Navy Bringing Well Decks Back to Amphibs | DoD Buzz

The Navy has begun early design work, affordability studies and planning with industry partners for its third big-deck America-Class Amphibious Assault Ship, or LHA 8, slated to enter service in 2024, service officials said Jan. 15 at the Surface Navy Association Annual Symposium, Crystal City, Va.

Unlike the first two America-Class amphibs now in development, the USS America and the USS Tripoli designed as aviation-centric large-deck amphibs, LHA 8 will be built with a classic amphibious assault ship well deck designed to move personnel, vehicles and equipment from ship to shore, said Capt. Chris Mercer, amphibious warfare program manager.

via Navy Bringing Well Decks Back to Amphibs | DoD Buzz.

Years ago when the announcement came that USS America, LHA-6, would not have a well deck, we and many others were stunned. Yes, improving the aviation capabilities of the ‘Gator Navy is an important objective. But removing the actual “amphibious” part of the heart of any amphibious group was a terribly shortsighted decision.

Having to face reality, the Navy has decided to reincorporate what most of us insisted should be there in the first place. And of course, that will entail more costs in redesigning the ship, and likely delay delivery.

We love to say it. We told you so.


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Little Crappy Ship buy capped at 32

And rumor has it, the 24 already contracted is more likely to be the real final number.

Chris Cavas,

The office of the secretary of defense (OSD) has directed the Navy to limit its overall buy of littoral combat ships to a total of 32 ships, foregoing 20 more of the small, fast and controversial warships, Pentagon sources have confirmed.
The decision, in a Jan. 6 memo from acting deputy secretary of defense Christine Fox, came after the Pentagon received its final 2015 budget guidance from the White House.

With a hat tip to CDR Salamander, where the comments are always useful.

It’s actually something of a shameful indictment of our procurement system that we’ve got 24 of the damn things under contract, and here we are well over a decade into the program and one, ONE ship has made one, ONE deployment, which seemingly consisted mostly of pulling out from the pier to experience an engineering casualty, and spending a couple weeks keeping contractor maintenance teams employed.

You want to know what the replacement for LCS will be?

Nothing. The Navy had its chance to buy ships. The Bush administration was fairly tight fisted with construction dollars, but not utterly parsimonious. It’s the Navy’s own fault it didn’t come up with a good design to spend money on.

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The Jackstaff

I’m caring for my sister, who is recovering from an operation. So, it’s not that I don’t have stuff to write. I actually don’t have time to write.

Over/under on how long before I smother her will a pillow?


From the comments in the post on SWOGUN.

E:  I believe our humble host was on a certain ship one day when said certain ship hit a certain building, and it was definitely not in simulations. My only question is: was he on the bridge or in the engine room????


X:I was on the hatch cover on the main deck. If you recall, I was struck in the foot when the jackstaff snapped off and flew back toward us.


URR:Okay humble host. Out with it. Tell the story!!!


You may recall this post where we discussed the 65’ Army T-Boat, and my adventures aboard her as part of the Sea Explorers.


When Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was established in 1942, in addition to a conventional airfield with runways, a short distance south an air station for seaplanes was also established. Known colloquially as The Seaplane Base, it now serves mostly for base housing and the base exchange and commissary. But it originally had a huge tarmac, boat ramps for seaplanes to enter and exist the waters of Crescent Harbor, and hangars for maintenance.

In addition to strictly aviation facilities, a large number of small craft were required to support the seaplanes. And accordingly, a marina was build on the Seaplane Base to house and support them. After the Navy ceased seaplane operations, the marina was opened to use by rental small boats available from Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR), and slips leased to various private boats of service members and retirees in the area. In addition, spaces were made available for the Sea Scouts, and a slip in which to moor our ship.


On the far right hand side of the marina, there was a very small slip, awkward and barely large enough for our vessel.

With only a single screw, and with significant sail area forward, the SES Whidby required a deft hand at the throttle and wheel to maneuver in tight spaces. And normally, our Skipper, Roger, had just that hand.

I’m a little fuzzy on the specifics of just when the incident occurred. Mushdogs or Esli may be able to recall.  If memory serves, we were returning from a long weekend competition with other Sea Scout boats, a regatta. Not an actual regatta in terms of racing, but with various nautical tasks and events, such as marlinspike seamanship, close order drill, signaling, navigation skills, and such.

And so it was upon our return, we were faced with poor weather, and unusually high tide, and a wind setting us toward the slip (and the overhanging office attached thereto). Ordinarily, the technique would be to get the bow fairly close to the floating dock and put a man over. A spring line would then be tied off to allow the ship to leverage herself in under power.

But this time, the combined wind and high tide meant Roger gooned it. The jackstaff, a small flag pole on the very stem of the ship, was normally low enough to clear under the overhand. But the high tide today meant the jackstaff actually struck the overhang, bent back as far as its tensile strength would allow, and then snapped.

If memory serves, I was serving as the ship’s Bo’sun at the time, and was supervising the linehandlers. As such, I was standing on the hatchcover just forward of the bridge. And said jackstaff came aft at a goodly velocity. And struck me in my foot. Fortunately, while painful, no real harm was done, to me at least. Some clapboard  siding of the building was cracked. And of course, the jackstaff would need to be repaired.

In fact, if you look very closely at the picture above, just forward of the anchor davit, you’ll spot the repaired jackstaff. And you’ll note it is still very slightly bent aft.

Eventually the old marina was torn down, and replaced with a modern marina for private craft.



Filed under history, Personal

Surface Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapons- The Humble Depth Charge

In spite of submarine warfare causing the British and French great distress in World War I, it wasn’t until 1915 that anyone came up with an effective means of attacking a submerged U-boat, the depth charge.

You’ve seen enough movies to have a basic grasp of what a depth charge is. A cylindrical container full of explosives rolled off the back of an escort ship that detonates when it reaches a preset depth, as determined by a hydrostatic firing device (know in the business as a “firing pistol” for some reason).

But simply rolling a few depth charges off the stern of a ship over the likely position of a submarine is very unlikely to yield any real effects on the target. Most depth charges weigh between 300 and 600 pounds. Roughly 1/2 to 2/3 that weight is explosive. And to be effective, a depth charge has to detonate within about 30 to 40 feet of the submarine. Given the extremely poor state of sensors in those days, coming that close would be more a matter of chance than tactics. Indeed, between 1915 and 1917, only 9 U-boats were sunk by depth charge.1 The linear pattern of depth charges meant a simple turn by the U-Boat could easily remove it from danger. The solution for the escort was to widen area covered by a single attack. Perhaps two ships could make parallel depth charge attacks? But there was seldom enough ships to allow this, nor were two ships likely close enough to be able to quickly coordinate an attack. Instead, the Y-Gun depth charge projector was invented.

The Y-Gun was basically a mortar with a single charge firing into two tubes arranged in a Y-shape. In each of the tubes was a piston that ended in a broad curved “lear” (leading to the pistons being know as arbors) that nestled a depth charge. Mounted on the centerline of a destroyer, when fired, a Y-Gun would send a depth charge about 40-50 yards to both port and starboard of the ship.  Even such a modest increase in the square area of a depth charge pattern greatly increased the likelihood of a successful attack.

By the end of World War I, most destroyer types had at least one and and usually two Y-Guns aboard.

By the beginning of World War II, active sonar had improved to the point that, while not terribly effective as an area search weapon, it provided decent bearing and range information for an attacking escort. But ASW planners failed to understand the importance of determining the depth of a target sub.  Some estimation could be made. The shape of the sonar beam and the way it angled through the water could provide a very rough trigonometric estimation of depth.  The other serious improvement in technology was the rather simple idea of splitting a Y-Gun in half. The K-Gun fired one charge to one side. The advantage of this was that K-Guns could be mounted along the sides of an escort without displacing other weapons from centerline space. Even relatively small escorts could carry four, six, even as many as ten K-Guns. Combined with two chutes of depth charges, a pattern of charges could be laid on the suspected position of the target sub.

The uncertainty of the depth of the target meant that in addition to charges being delivered along the path of the attacking escort, and to the sides via the K-Guns, the attack had to be delivered at varying depths as well.  Eventually the standard attack would evolve to be a “10 charge” attack. Essentially, two overlaying diamond shape patterns (with a fifth charge in the center) at two depths, above and below the suspected depth of the sub, to sandwich the target, or catch it as it attempted to turn away.

This double diamond attack was by far the most effective depth charge of the war. It had a whopping 5% success rate of sinking or seriously damaging its target.

One of the most serious shortcomings of the depth charge as an ASW weapon was that the attacking ship would lose contact with the target, depending on its depth, at a range of from 200 yards clear out to as much as 500 yards. Counting the time needed for the ship to travel that distance, and the further delay for the charges to sink, the target sub had significant time to maneuver to escape. And the explosion of the depth charges roiled the water, meaning reacquiring the target was problematic at best.

Later, we’ll look to weapons and sensors that addressed these shortcomings.


1. Indeed, between 1915 and 1917, only 9 U-boats were sunk by depth charge.


Filed under navy

A brief note on Navy airplane designations

Jason’s lovely pics of an FG-1 reminded me I’ve long, long meant to post on the arcane methodology of Navy aircraft designations prior to 1962.

Very briefly, the alphanumeric system was based on the role of the aircraft and it’s manufacturer, and how many previous types that manufacturer had produced, followed by numbers for variants on a basic type, and often additional letters for minor changes or specific mission equipment.

In this case, the FG-1 (probably an FG-1D) the “F” is for Fighter. “G” is for Goodyear. The “-1” is for the first variant produced.

Smart observers recognize that the plane is a Corsair. Well, yes it is. The basic Corsair was built by Vought, and designated the F4U. “F” again for Fighter, “U” for Vought (the manufacturer’s designator letter didn’t always make a lot of sense). The “4” tells us this was the fourth fighter type for the Navy designed by Vought.

Because of the incredible increase in demand for airplanes during the war, and limited capacity of the primary builders, many types were ordered to be built by other firms, many of which hadn’t built whole airplanes before. Hence, Goodyear was tapped to build Corsairs. As noted, while they were virtually indistinguishable from a Corsair off the Vought lines, they received their own designation. Brewster Aircraft also received contracts to build Corsairs (under the designation F3A), though poor quality control meant none of these actually entered combat.

One of the most famous Navy planes of World War II was the Douglas Dauntless SBD. In this case, “S” meant Scout, “B” for bomber, and “D” for Douglas.  It was replaced by the SB2C Helldiver. Scout Bomber, Curtiss, second Scout Bomber built for the Navy by Curtiss (the SBC was also named Helldiver).

In 1961, my dad was flying the R4D-8. In 1962, he’d climb into the same plane, but now it was a C-117D.

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Aviation is killing the Marine Corps

Don’t just take my word for it.

At its heart, the MAGTF’s importance within our defense framework rests on its ability to contribute to a range of potential military operations such as engagement and shaping, crisis response, access creation, extended combat, and high-end warfighting and its credible deterrent effects. This versatility is a product of a number of factors, but is particularly due to the dynamic balance within the MAGTF’s organization along with the ability to operate from the sea and exploit naval capabilities. However, the extremely high cost of the ACE threatens to undermine this organizational balance.

It’s a long read, but very good. Take the five or ten minutes needed.

The costs of acquiring the F-35 is roughly $66 billion dollars over the planned span of acquisition. Toss in the roughly $40 billion dollars for the MV-22 Osprey, and that’s more than the acquisition cost of ALL programmed amphibious shipping for the Navy. And the personnel costs of manning the Marine aviation side is higher than manning the ‘gator navy.

There’s a very good reason the Marines have always placed emphasis on aviation. Control of the air is critical to success in force on force warfare. Further, constraints on amphibious shipping will always mean any Marine landing force will be primarily an infantry force, albeit fairly motorized, with some, but not much, armor capability. The lack of amphibious shipping will also always constrain the amount of artillery any Marine force will have. Unlike an Army division that can count on entire brigades of artillery from higher echelons to supplement its own organic tubes, the Marines will have to turn to other sources for firepower, to wit, Close Air Support.   And because of the vulnerabilities of amphibious operations, the mobility of vertical lift is essential for the Marines.

But the costs associated with the F-35 and the MV-22 are simply far greater than previous programs, and threaten to suck dry the acquisition, manpower, and O&M budgets of the Corps. Given the choice between continuing with the troubled F-35 program, and the equally troubled (if less costly) Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program, the EFV was killed.

To be sure, there are reasons why the Marine Corps feels the need for the capabilities of both the F-35 and the MV-22, above and beyond simply wanting the latest and greatest. The increase in lethal threats in the littoral means the big amphibious ships are more vulnerable close inshore while unloading. Ideally, they could offload their cargoes from over the horizon (roughly 25nm is the rule of thumb). But the slow speed of current amphibious assault vehicles, and the poor range and speed of the CH-46 make that impractical. So the range, speed, and capacity of the MV-22 are seen as critical. Similarly, the proliferation of advanced small surface to air missile systems mean the older AV-8B Harrier is seen as increasingly vulnerable, and a more stealthy Close Air Support platform was imperative.

But the stupendous costs associated with both programs have come to be the cart before the horse. Programs designed to solve problems faced by the landing team are increasingly crowding out the very heart of the Marines, the landing team itself, and the very soul of the entire endeavor, the Marine infantry battalions and regiments. And there’s the rub. You can have virtually unlimited variations of combined arms, but the first building block of any combined arms organization is, was, and always shall be the infantry.

The Marines remain vehemently committed to both the F-35B program, and the MV-22. And both will continue to consume an outsized portion of the dollars available. What solutions to this we may find, I simply do not know.



A Notional Company Landing Team

URR’s post below (and the article it links to) are worthy of their own examination and discussion. By what caught my eye was the thought of company sized (150-200 man) elements deploying independently of the regular Battalion Landing Team that forms the heart of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

The concept of the Company Landing Team (CLT) has been knocked around for a couple years, and that got me to thinking, what type of ship should such a Team be deployed upon? Currently,  MEUs typically deploy spread across three amphibious ships, each with very different missions and capabilities. The LHA is the largest of these, and serves as the primary home to the Air Combat Element of the MEU, as well as the bulk of the manpower of the MEU. The LSD carries the majority of the MEUs vehicles as well as cargo for follow on resupply. The LPD serves to carry most of the tracked amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) as well as offering significant aviation capabilities, with a limited ability to conduct independent operations.

Of the three, the LPD would be best suited to fulfill the mission of carrying and deploying an independent CLT. The problem is, LPDs currently cost well over a billion dollars, and the Navy can’t afford to buy enough to fill its current requirement to support MEUs, let alone enough for extra, independent company teams.

As for the suggestion that the LCS might serve as a future home, that’s been an idea kicked around since supporters of the program had to start scrambling for ways to justify the flawed shipbuilding boondoggle.

You probably could fit a platoon sized element aboard, even if you had to use containerized berthing units. Maybe even a reinforced platoon. But fitting a reinforced rifle company onboard just won’t happen. You’d need to field at least three LCS to lift a single CLT.

The aviation facilities can carry two H-60 class helos, so lift would be available, if a little light. But aside from small RHIB craft, no landing craft could be used to move the company. In sh0rt, the entire company cannot be moved from ship to shore in a single lift, which is generally considered a key element of success for a landing.  Basically, the LCS might prove useful for some very small special forces detachments, but it is a non-starter as an amphib.

There are some good precedents for landing craft sized to carry a company. The first to come to mind is the LCI, or Landing Craft, Infantry.



Sized to carry 200 troops in addition to its crew, it would beach itself, and discharge its passengers via ramps at the bow. But for our notional CLT, it has some pretty severe drawbacks. First, it was designed almost wholly with the idea of the cross Channel invasion of Normandy in mind. It was one thing to carry its load for 24-48 hours. That could be stretched to 72-96 hours in a pinch.  But it was completely incapable of supporting that passenger load much beyond that. Perhaps a more important disadvantage to the LCI is that it had no capacity to carry vehicles.

The other purpose build World War II era ship that immediately springs to mind is a far better fit- The Landing Ship, Tank, or LST.  At around 327’ long, displacing about 3800 tons full load, the wartime LST had a crew of about 110, and normally had berthing for about 140 embarked troops. More importantly, it was purpose built to carry large numbers of tanks and other combat vehicles.


In practice, LSTs routinely carried a larger number of troops. As for vehicles, the design was capable of carrying 1500 tons on ocean crossings, but was only designed to beach with a maximum of 500 tons of cargo. Of course, the Army quickly figured out that most beaches would actually allow beaching with loads of 1000 tons, and routinely overloaded the LSTs allocated to them.

The wartime LST was also a surprisingly inexpensive ship. Not cheap, or crude, but not gold-plated, either. And stunning numbers of them were built, over 1100 in just a couple years.

In fact, the only real shortcoming of the World War II LST was its deplorably low speed, with a maximum of around 11 knots, and a convoy speed of 7-8 knots. The low power of the installed diesel engines were part of the reason speed was so slow, but the flat-bottom design and the bluff bow section were the real reason the LST was a Large SLOW Target. Later variants with much greater shaft horsepower were somewhat faster, but still nothing to write home about, especially given the expense and complexity of their steam plants.

The Navy eventually took upon a radically redesigned LST, the Newport class, the did away with the traditional bow doors, and instead used an enormous ramp over the stem of the ship.


This allowed a respectable speed of 20 knots, but the additional complexity and resultant cost, coupled with the ability of modern LCAC landing hovercraft to move vehicle cargo quickly meant the Navy eventually allowed the LST type to pass from service. The trend has been for decades, fewer, larger, more capable, more complex and more costly ships.

So let us design a hypothetical modern version of the WWII LST. Our requirement will be for a troop lift of 150-200 troops, and roughly 20 armored vehicles, generally of between Stryker sized and AAV-7 sized. We should plan on another ten to fifteen 5-ton FMTV type vehicles as well, to carry the support for the CLT. We should figure 7-14 days of offloadable consumables for the CLT once landed, including POL, ammo, rations and spares.  Only the most limited command and control facilities, and austere self defense suite are needed.

The guiding principle for the design of the ship is to cut construction costs. You’ll hear various people tell you this feature or that will reduce lifetime operating costs. Maybe, but operating costs on a platform you didn’t buy because it was too expensive is zero. Cutting up front costs (and keeping the ship extremely austere) is the way to reduce costs.

What other requirements must our notional ship have. Not, really would be nice, but must.

And let’s take a look at the Company Landing Team itself.

I’ve found myself looking at a Stryker Infantry Company as the core in my mind (though I’m certainly open to suggestions to the contrary). Any independent CLT would almost have to be a mounted force simply because it would need organic transport to get off the beach. Organic helicopter support isn’t an option, since that would vastly increase the complexity, manning and costs of any solution. Our notional CLT would also need the organic firepower a mounted force has lest it be defeated by even the most marginally equipped opposing force. Equipping with heavy mech infantry such as the Bradley would similarly increase the size and cost of the CLT, and would actually reduce the numbers of dismount infantry so valuable in so many low intensity conflict situations.

What supporting arms should our Company Team have? For organic fire support, is the 81mm mortar enough, or should we poach a battery of the Marines 120mm EFSS? Or simply used the Army 120mm mortar system? Would the Stryker Armored Gun System be sufficient direct fire? What about engineer support, logistical support, maintenance, air defense, intelligence, signals? How do we balance between having sufficient combat power, and keeping the size and cost of a force within a manageable scope?



USS Constitution vs. HMS Java

On December 29, 1812, the frigate USS Constitution fought and captured the British frigate HMS Java.

USS Constitution vs HMS Java, 29 December 1812. Artwork by Anton Otto Fischer. Courtesy of Ms. Katrina S. Fischer. NHHC Photograph Collection

This battle would see the USS Constitution earn her moniker “Old Ironsides” and cement her place in history. To this day, she serves as a commissioned warship of the United States Navy.

To say the British were stunned would be an understatement. In 1812, the Royal Navy was the virtually uncontested master of every sea. By far the largest navy in the world, the Royal Navy had also attained a level of experience and proficiency few other fleets could hope to even approach.

The fledgling US Navy could never hope to directly contest the vast Royal Navy. But the original “Six Frigates” were excellent ships, and in general were well crewed, well drilled, and importantly, very well built and armed.

The US adopted a strategy of commerce raiding. Swarms of privateers were issued letters of marque to prey upon British commerce. And the frigates of the US Navy set out both to raid commerce, and when possible, to interdict British warships that were similarly attempting to interdict American shipping.

The strategy wasn’t to defeat the British, nor even to fully interdict British shipping, but rather impose an inconvenience and cost upon that British, already fully engaged fighting the French, that would encourage domestic political support for the war against American to wane.  The commerce raiding portion of the strategy was arguably fairly successful. But an argument could be made that the stunning series of victories of US frigates against their British peers caused the British to steel their resolve to punish the neophyte American fleet.

The series of frigate engagement of in the War of 1812 had little direct impact on the course of the war. It did give the US Navy a wealth of tradition to build upon, touchstones that still resonate to this day.


Theodore Roosevelt wrote a history of the Naval War of 1812, available for free.


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FJ-2 Fury

Around 1944, the Navy started to get interesting in a jet powered, carrier capable fighter. The advent of jets in the European theater, coupled with the diminishing  returns of increased horsepower of piston engines meant sooner or later then Navy would have to operate jet powered fighters simply to keep up.

North American Aviation (NAA), with little experience working on Navy products, put forward a proposal for what was essentially a jet powered P-51 Mustang. The Wings and empennage were very similar to its piston engined predecessor.

Designated the FJ-1 (Fighter, first type built by NAA, first model) and name Fury, it first flew in September of 1946. It was not a resounding success, and only 31 were built.

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FJ-1 Fury

But while the FJ-1 wasn’t terribly successful as a carrier borne aircraft, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with it structurally, and most of the basic design concept was quite sound.

So when the Air Force started to look for replacements for its first generation F-80 and F-84 jets, NAA took their experience with the FJ, and melded it with German World War II research in swept wings to provide higher speeds. The result was the legendary F-86 Sabre. Beyond the swept wing, the F-86 was pretty much an entirely new design, though the basic layout was similar, and the FJ experience also provided a great deal of experience in designing a jet fighter.

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F-86 Sabre.

The success of the F-86 prompted the Navy to take another stab at an NAA product, this time a virtual clone of the F-86 modified for carrier operations.

In spite of being a completely new design, this second attempt was still designated in the FJ series, being the FJ-2 Fury (being a completely new design, it more properly should have been designated the F2J-1).

This new Fury first flew 62 years ago today, on December 27, 1951. Low speed handling around the carrier was still less than wholly satisfactory. Additionally, production of the FJ-2 competed with the Air Force’s need for F-86s. Eventually, 200 FJ-2s would be built, with most serving with Marine Corps land based squadrons.

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FJ-2 Fury. It’s similarity to the Air Force F-86 is obvious in this pose.

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FJ-1 (Left), FJ-2 (Right)

The re-engined FJ-3 was externally very similar, but replaced the FJ-2’s J47 engine with the more powerful J65.  While the FJ-3 was still not a particularly good carrier aircraft, it was a significant improvement over the FJ-2, and eventually over 500 would be built, operated by both Navy and Marine fighter squadrons.

FJ-3s would eventually be equipped with the AIM-9/GAR-8 Sidewinder missile, and a fixed air-to-air refueling probe, in both cases, among the first Navy aircraft to be so equipped.


FJ-3 Fury equipped with Sidewinder missiles.

Even as the FJ-2/3 series was in testing, the Navy sought a further improved variant. With a completely redesigned wing, and a new internal arrangement that shared only the basic configuration, this final Navy version, the FJ-4 Fury, was really a new plane, and more properly should have been designated the F3J. Even so, the FJ-4 Fury clearly shared some of the DNA of its predecessors.

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FJ-4 armed with 2.75” rocket pods. Note the refueling probe on the port wing.

The FJ-4B would introduce a new, critical capability to Navy carriers. Mated with the new, second generation of “small” tactical nuclear weapons, the FJ-4B introduced an ability for the Navy to perform nuclear strikes that didn’t require huge bombers such as the AJ Savage or the A3D Skywarrior.

The FJ-3 and FJ-4 would serve into the 1960s, though mostly replaced in frontline service by F-8 Crusaders and A-4 Skyhawks. After the 1962 Tri-Service designation system was adopted, the FJ series became the F-1.

The introduction of the FJ-2 with its swept wing and near transonic speeds meant Naval Aviators would have to learn some new concepts about flying, particularly about critical Mach numbers. And so the Navy helpfully produced a video for the fledgling Fury flyer.

Incidentally, given the shennanigans with the FJ designation, you should know there was yet another FJ fighter. Back in 1944, there was interest in a “navalized” carrier capable version of the P-51.  A Mustang was modified and carrier trials were conducted but it was not adopted for production or use. The modified Mustang was designated the FJ-1 Seahorse, and so the FJ-1 Fury really should have been the F2J.  The Seahorse is a story for another day.


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*THIS* is what the Navy calls Hazing?!

Seriously, a Commander and a Command Master Chief see their careers ended over this?

An East Coast-based chief hazed his female shipmates by forcing them to march in formation to the end of a pier carting plastic bags of their own feces, a Navy investigation has found.

The Navy removed the executive officer and top sailor aboard the destroyer Jason Dunham on Friday after the investigation concluded they failed to examine or report the hazing of 13 female sailors. Each was forced to carry a bag of feces down the pier Oct. 15 at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., a case of collective punishment gone too far after a few sailors used inoperable toilets.

This demeaning march was observed by many, but Cmdr. Kenneth Rice and Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Stephen Vandergrifft failed to report or investigate the incident. They were fired by Capt. John Wade, the commodore of Destroyer Squadron 28, Fleet Forces Command said Friday.

That’s not hazing.

It may be collective “corrective training*” and it may or may not have been a good idea. But it wasn’t hazing.

The Navy (and to be sure, the other branches as well) are pushing hard for enlisted leaders to instill discipline and high standards in their enlisted charges.

So here we have a case where someone deliberately used toilets that were tagged out for maintenance. That screws up a lot of things. And so the unidentified Chief takes steps to fix the problem, and provide a little motivation to keep it from happening again.

You know why the XO and the CMC didn’t report it? Because there was nothing to report.

But apparently one of the ladies in this Butthurt Brigade dropped a dime to Squadron, and set off an investigation. Really? My investigation would have taken one phone call to establish that it did in fact happen, and then dismiss the complaint as frivolous. The next call would be to MY CMC telling him he’d better talk to the CMC’s of the ships in the squadron, and make it clear that life in the service isn’t always pleasant, but that cleaning shit beats the hell out of cleaning up blood and guts, and maybe they’d better get back to training for war, instead of playing poop games.

And if you’re going to fire the XO and the CMC, you need to fire the CO on general principles.

Cmdr. Michael Meredith, the ship’s skipper, was not disciplined because he was unaware of the hazing until DESRON 28 started its investigation Oct. 21, explained FFC spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Reann Mommsen. “We’re holding the CMC and the XO accountable because, hey, they didn’t even tell [Meredith] about it. So he didn’t even know.”

The CO is responsible, whether he knows or not. And the fact that no one in his command gave him a heads up that Squadron was coming down on him says that his Goat Locker (the ship’s Chief Petty Officers) weren’t looking out for him. That’s a firing offense in my book, far worse than anything the XO or CMC did.

I knew the rot of Political Correctness was strong in the Navy, butt this just stinks.

*Only commanders may award punishment. When a Chief or other Petty Officer or NCO gets up in your shit, if you’ll pardon the expression, it’s either corrective training, or motivating the troops.


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For decades, warships have carried mortar and rocket launched decoys to spoof anti-ship missiles. Some launch chaff (thin strips of highly radar reflective metalicized mylar) and some carry flares to defeat infra-red seekers. Usually these launchers are tied into a ship’s electronic warfare receivers. They’re also usually fixed tubes scattered about the ship.

Chemring has devised a trainable decoy launcher for use on Royal Navy ships, to better position any decoys based on the incoming vector of any particular threat. The really interesting thing about their Centurion launcher however, is that they’ve adapted it to fire a variety of munitions, including guided missiles, what appears to be the Javelin anti-tank missile, as a counter-swarm weapon.

With an effective range of about 2500 meters, the Javelin isn’t the best possible weapon. But it does have some things going for it. First, it’s a tried and true weapon with a very good service record. Second, it’s fairly cheap. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a “fire and forget” weapon, that requires no further guidance from the launching ship after it’s left the tube. That means the ship can quickly cycle to the next target. And the key to defeating a swarm attack is rate of fire. You have to be able to service all targets in the time it takes the enemy to transit between your maximum range, and his maximum range.

Given that as of today, the LCS sails with no effective anti-swarm missile (well, a very limited number of RAM missiles are aboard), at this point, I’d be happy to see half a dozen Gunner’s Mates on the aft helo deck shooting the land-based version of Javelin. 

Ideally, we’d see a missile with a bigger warhead and a better range. But better something than nothing.

Via: Wired

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Eaglespeak and PSVs.

Eaglespeak, our favorite sea-lawyer, jumps into Corvette Week at CIMSEC with some thoughts.

As former Under Secretary of the Navy Bob Work emphasized during his recent appearance on MIDRATS,  the Littoral Combat Ship is such a truck–a vehicle for delivering unmanned weapons system.

This post is meant to take that concept and cheapen it.

What is a corvette? Something smaller than frigate but larger than a patrol boat, I guess. The LCS in either of its variants is large at about 380 feet in length and displacing 2800 tons. A Gearing-class destroyer from post WWII measured in 390 feet and 3400 tons.  The Perry-class frigates are over 440 feet and 4100 tons.

Seems we have a lot of size and space to play with.

It occurs to me that we need to take the thinking that developed the WWII escort aircraft carrier (CVE) and model it down to a ship that is a “drone” carrier (and by “drone” I mean unmanned vessels of any type- surface, subsurface and aerial) – like the LCS only in the smaller economy version.

After all, if the real weapons systems toted by the LCS are its drones, then virtually any vessel capable of lowering said drones into the water or into the air and hosting their command and control system can be a “drone carrier,” too. Such a ship becomes a “mother ship” for the drones.

Are drone carriers are really “war ships?”  Remember, “payload over platform.”

We’ve long felt that the Navy could use Platform Support Vessels for any of a number of roles. PSVs, designed to support offshore oil drilling platforms such as those in the Gulf of Mexico or the North Sea, are something like the pick-up trucks of the maritime world. Relatively small, sturdy ships, their ability to carry a wide variety of loads is their true utility. PSVs typically have large tanks for carrying various liquid cargoes for the platforms, and a large open work deck that can either carry containerized cargo, drilling equipment, or any manner of general cargo. They’re also typically equipped with robust cargo handling equipment.

As Eaglespeak argues, relatively inexpensive second hand PSVs could serve as the motherships for offboard payloads such as Mine Counter Measures (MCM). In fact, this would be a very good fit for them.

PSVs could also serve as tenders for other small, forward deployed warships, either our own, or those of partner nations. Repair and maintenance facilities could be containerized and placed aboard, tailored to the specific ships supported. They would also provide logistical support for fuel, fresh water, food and ammunition to any supported flotilla.

If we were to embrace an substantially more involved modification of a PSV, we could even see one used to provide hangar and maintenance for helicopter detachments in support of MCM, Anti-Surface Warfare, or Anti-Submarine Warfare. Fitting a towed tactical sonar array for deeper water ASW in conjunction with embarked helicopters should not prove too daunting.

With good seakeeping and long endurance, PSVs could be fitted with light self defense weapons, a robust small boat capability and provide high endurance on-station assets in waters plagued by piracy such as off the coast of Somalia or near Singapore.

To be sure, PSVs are not warships. But the US Navy has a long history of adapting merchant vessels to fulfill auxiliary roles. Quite a few Liberty ships were commissioned into the Navy not as transports or cargo ships, but modified as repair vessels, and even as experimental minesweeping ships.

Any such low cost answer to the challenge of providing sufficient numbers of ships for the fleet would need to recognize that these ships would not be suitable for placement in the line of battle. Nor could they operate without support from other fleet assets or land based assets. But the purpose of such ships would be to free the high value assets of the Navy to fulfill their primary functions, while still enabling the Navy to execute the full range of missions in areas of maritime interest.

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