Tag Archives: navy

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 We fielded this capability in the early 1980s, but by the early 1990s, the TASM was withdrawn from service.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

Carrier Think Pieces Today

We first saw this looooong piece at USNI from Professor Moore.

Just four days ahead of the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy announced its intention to award Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc (HII). approximately $4 billion to construct the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) super carrier, the second vessel of the new Gerald R. Ford-class of carriers. The cost has raised eyebrows, as the Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) experienced cost overruns of 22 percent.

Additionally, debate is raging over the utility of the aircraft carrier and whether it’s even relevant anymore in the face of China’s new, lethal anti-ship missiles. It’s a debate worth having, but it needs to be rooted in realistic naval principles and war precedents, not politics and hype.

And addressing that piece is none other than Bull Halsey! We suspect that might be a nom de plume.

“The New Strategic Realities of U.S. Carrier Operations.”  As much of the East Coast naval establishment sits at home with their Snuggies and bottles of craft beer (or for some, sitting in a tree stand freezing your keester off), this is sure to be heavily forwarded around the web (thanks, Al Gore).

Moore’s piece touches a particular nerve with me:  the American aircraft carrier and how Americans use her.  It is no longer self-evident and requires a generation of both young and old aviators and ship-drivers to safeguard.

First, our ability to justify the existence of the aircraft carrier beyond the battles of WWII is essential.  It’s great to talk about Coral Sea and Midway, but those events took place more than seven decades ago, and for a force that pegs itself as an innovative one, able to counter the threats of today and tomorrow, it strikes as unimaginative.  There are at least hundreds of examples of CVNs providing critical support or comprising the sole option for offensive or defensive American military operations in the many decades that have followed WWII.  Let’s talk about them candidly.

For the most part, US aircraft carriers have been used as supplemental airfields for power projection in our nation’s wars since World War II. What they haven’t much been called to do is act in the sea control role. Or, if you will, fighting a war at sea. Some, but not much.

The primary reason for that is not that carriers are bad at war at sea. Instead, they’re so good no one has realistically been able to challenge our fleet for many years. The Soviet Union was the only nation to come close to mounting a credible threat of parity, and that was through a sea control fleet that couldn’t realistically project power to our shores, whereas the whole point of the Lehman/Watkins Maritime Strategy was to project power against the Soviet Union itself.

Moore spends a good deal of time discussing the threats to modern carrier operations, and not surprisingly, Halsey adds a rebuttal:

Second, the author paraphrases Robert Haddick’s dire swarm supposition of hundreds of Chinese ASCMs descending upon an unsuspecting aircraft carrier.  The problem with Haddick’s logic–and Moore’s, by association–is that it presupposes a sort of inevitable willingness on the part of the People’s Republic to launch such costly attacks that would result in unquestionable war.  Though we all remember Pearl Harbor, we also remember the children’s tale of the “boogeyman” in the closet.  We must not allow the fear of a missile whose very use would be loaded in incredible geopolitical meaning to be the tail that wags the dog.

Of course, that’s a political consideration, a subject that Halsey spends a fair bit of time on, rightly.

What isn’t sufficiently addressed, to my lights, is the actual difficulty China (or anyone else) would have massing missile attacks on a fleet. Probably no other organization in the world has as robust a maritime ISR capability for targeting a surface fleet than the US Navy, and even we can have trouble finding our own carriers.

Alfred Thayer Mahan would find this debate about the threat of shore based ASCMs and missile armed fast attack craft little different than the Jeffersonian vision of gunboats and coast artillery defending the shores from the line of battle of the Royal Navy. The technology has changed much, and the ranges are greater, but the fundamental concept of a fleet in being able to sail to the enemy shore at the time and place of his choosing to impose his will is very much still the case.

And while our skills seemed to have diminished somewhat from lack of practice, it’s not like we didn’t used to know how to place entire carrier task forces well within the range of an opponent shore without them even knowing it.

Control of the air is a prerequisite for success in battle today, and only the carrier can provide that for substantial naval forces far from our shores. Further, the carrier remains the centerpiece of our ability to execute both sea control and power projection in the maritime space. Carriers alone are not sufficient to successfully challenge the Chinese or any other near peer power at sea, but absent the carrier, the any challenge is simply impossible.


Filed under history, navy, ships


Take a look at these three ships sunk as targets for torpedoes.

None of the ships was actually struck by a torpedo. Rather, the torpedo passes beneath the target, exploding under the keel of the ship. The first blast wave does significant damage. But an effect known as the bubble jet is the true shipkiller.  The explosion causes a bubble in the water. As the bubble collapses, it pushes water upward, in effect shooting a massive water hammer into the hull of the ship. This effect has long been known, since the early days of naval mines.

You’re probably familiar with the troubles US submariners (and to a lesser extent, destroyermen and torpedo bomber pilots) had with torpedoes in the first year and a half of World War II in the Pacific. One of the major problems was that the US torpedoes were designed to operate just like those in the video, that is, explode under the target’s keel. First, the magnetic exploder was tested in unrealistic conditions before being fielded, and turned out to be wholly unreliable. Further, the depth control mechanism of US torpedoes also consistently sent torpedoes about 10 feet deeper than set, further exacerbating the unreliability of the magnetic exploder.

The remedies for those problems were relatively simple; the depth would be set with the inaccuracy in mind, and the magnetic exploder was removed, relying instead on a contact exploder to detonate the warhead along the side of the ship. This method would not produce the same terminal effects, but an explosion alongside was better than no explosion at all.

That, however, turned out not to be the answer after all. It turned out, the contact exploder was itself flawed. Sub skippers would patiently, and with great skill, stalk their targets to achieve the perfect shot into the enemy flank, only to hear a thud, or worse, a series of thuds, as torpedoes slammed into the side of Japanese ships… and failed to explode. The faulty contact exploder relied on a firing striker that was too thin, too flimsy to withstand a solid hit. A glancing blow would usually yield an explosion. It would be late in 1943 before an improved contact exploder would be fielded.


Filed under navy

HMS Caroline

On the cusp of World War I, Great Britain and Germany were engaged in a naval arms race. Battleships and battlecruisers usually receive the bulk of attention when historians look at this. But cruisers were a major component of the fleet. Cruisers were armored warships designed both to serve as the scouts of the fleet and to screen the line of battle from enemy scouts and other light forces.

Just on the eve of World War I, Britain laid down what was to become the first of an eventual 28 “C Class” light cruisers, HMS Caroline.

File:HMS Caroline.jpg

HMS Caroline’s greatest claim to fame is that she participated in the Battle of Jutland, the great clash of the British and German fleets that, while indecisive, would do so much to shape naval theory in the interwar years.

Obsolescent even by the end of the war, HMS Caroline was shunted to the reserves in 1924. Used as a moored training vessel for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves, she would function in that role until 2011! During World War II, she served as the headquarters for the Royal Navy in Belfast Harbour before returning to her reservist training duties post-war.

File:HMS Caroline 1914.jpg

Now the HMS Caroline has stepped into her well earned retirement, she’s slated to become a museum ship. For one thing, she’s known to a great number of sailors. Secondly, she’s the only surviving ship that was present at Jutland. Indeed, she’s one of only three British ships dating from World War I.

And so…

A £15 million-plus restoration project plans to turn HMS Caroline into a visitor attraction in time for next year’s centenary commemorations of the 1916 First World War battle off the coast of Denmark.

But before the refit could begin on the derelict vessel, which is docked in Belfast, urgent steps had to be taken to ensure it stays afloat long-term.

We can think of many sailors that would like to see any number of ships kept as museums. Sadly, however, there is only a limited market for such ships. And not only must the ship itself be of historical interest to make a go of it. Much of the success or failure of a museum ship has to do with the accessibility of the ship. The Midway in San Diego and Intrepid in New York are doing well, in large part because those cities are already prime tourist destinations, which greatly increases the traffic they get. Given that, one hopes HMS Caroline manages to stay afloat, both physically, and fiscally.


File:HMS 'Caroline', Alexandra Dock Belfast - geograph.org.uk - 660308.jpg


Filed under history, navy

TACTOM synthetic guidance- now with video!

We mentioned the use of offboard guidance to guide a TACTOM Tomahawk missile against a moving naval target. Here’s the video.

That’s not a warhead, by the way. That’s simply leftover jet fuel from the Tomahawk’s engine burning. For test shots like this, the warhead is replaced with ballast and telemetry. First, you want to gather as much information as possible. Second, you want to do as little damage to the (relatively expensive) target as possible.  A warshot would have a 1000 pound blast/fragmentation warhead. While that likely wouldn’t sink the target, hitting so far above the waterline, it would certainly do a good deal of damage to any warship, likely rendering it a “mission kill” where it could not be expected to continue to operate in a threat environment.

And yes, pigeons is misspelled.

Comments Off

Filed under missiles, navy

Brown vs. CIMSEC

You’ll recall we linked a rather puerile piece of writing from a Brown University student yesterday. One can be forgiven for thinking that the intellectual depth of today’s youth is somewhat comparable to a rain puddle on an Arizona sidewalk in August.

But that isn’t quite the case. One reason we shared Mr. Makhlouf’s screed was because it was such a poorly written piece.

On the other hand, there are young Americans who can write quite well. CIMSEC, the Center For International Maritime Security, sponsored a high school essay contest. And lo, Mr. Templin, a senior at South Lake High School in Groveland, Florida, has won the prize.

One can find a few grammatical errors, and questionable word choices. One could also find fault with his conclusions and proposals. But overall, this is a well thought out piece that correctly identifies a problem, the environment that causes the problem, and possible corrective courses of action.

Well done, Mr. Templin.

The nations of Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore all share a unique strength. Despite being third world countries and overall economically weak, they have strength in their geographic position; each are located on crucial waterways. These waterways consist of some of the most heavily traveled commercial shipping routes in the world. In terms of crude oil alone, the strait of  Malacca in Southeast Asia has an estimated 15 million barrels a day, while the strait of Hormuz that links the Arabian Gulf to the Indian Ocean has an even larger amount of oil cargo, estimated at 17 million barrels per day.

Do read the whole thing.


Filed under navy

LRASM Program Notes

We’ve discussed US Navy offensive Anti-Surface Warfare a bit here lately. One program the Navy is pursuing to rebuilt its offensive capability is the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM. It hopes to equip both aircraft and ships with LRASM in the next few years, starting with aircraft first, and a shipboard model later.

The LRASM is essentially the Lockheed Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (AGM-158 JASSM) with an anti-ship seeker in place of the land attack guidance system. Interestingly, the first platform expected to actually field the LRASM is the Air Force’s B-1B. Given the efforts the Navy and Air Force have made toward integrating their warfighting capability in the far Pacific, this makes some sense. It makes even more sense in that the B-1B is the prime carrier for the JASSM, so integrating it and training crews is a lower hurdle. After the B-1B, the Navy expects to integrate LRASM on the F/A-18 Hornet, and eventually the F-35C.

As for a shipboard version, tests are already underway to use a booster rocket to launch LRASM from the missile cells of Vertical Launch Systems such as the Mk41 aboard Aegis destroyers and cruisers. No full up guided tests have been done yet, but booster test launches have.

Earlier this week, the third successful LRASM flight from a B-1B took place.

On February 4, the Navy, Air Force and DARPA completed another successful flight test, marking a significant step in maturing key technologies for the future operational weapon system. The joint-service team, known as the  LRASM Deployment Office (LDO), conducted the test to evaluate LRASM’s low-altitude performance and obstacle avoidance as part of the program’s accelerated development effort.


Lockheed and the Navy haven’t released any video of LRASM launches yet, but here’s some JASSM splodey to tide you over.


Comments Off

Filed under navy