Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Warship "Survivability"



LCS-Inspired Frigate/Corvette Variants (Lockheed Martin)

     Much of the recent discussion of the current Littoral Combatant Ship (LCS) program and the proposed new frigate FF(G)X involves the “survivability” of both classes. Numerous senior civilian and uniformed officials have called for the FF(G)X to be “more survivable” than the current LCS. Casual observers may not know how much information goes into determining this feature of a warship design. Before the Second World War and for some time after, “survivability” was primarily concerned with how many “hits” of a certain size projectile a warship could sustain and still be mission capable. In the postwar era, the concept of survivability changed based on a new ethos in surface combatant design, the advent of nuclear weapons, and advances in detection, communication, weapons, and countermeasure technologies. In fact, a warship’s active and passive defenses against attack from aircraft, cruise missiles and underwater weapons have effectively replaced armor and other elements of physical resistance to damage, making a warship’s “survivability” more akin to a combat aircraft than past combatants.

      The current Navy "survivability" instruction promulgated in 2012 is relatively effective in measuring this new concept of “survivability”, but other so-called X factors can play significant roles. The geography of a theater of combat and the weather there can change the perception of a warship’s relative “survivability. Today’s reasonably “survivable” surface combatant can equally be tomorrow’s “iron coffin” if it sustains damage in a remote location or in a worsening sea state. Before moving forward with a design for a “survivable” successor to LCS, senior civilian and uniformed officers should specifically determine exactly what that concept means both for present classes of surface combatant, the projected FF(G)X and those designs that follow. The November 2012 instruction is a step in the right direction, but more must be done to accurately measure the survivability of current combatants. A first step would be upgrading the current Ship Self Defense Test Ship (currently the ex USS Paul F. Foster) to one of the current or former CG-47 class cruisers and conducting realistic weapon testing against its active and passive defensive systems. They are the heart of real warship survivability and ought to be rigorously evaluated against actual weapons.

     The present (November 2012) Navy instruction on warship survivability makes a significant change from its predecessor in that:

The previous version of this instruction, dated 23 September 1988, established the policy that “Survivability shall be considered a fundamental design requirement of no less significance than other inherent ship characteristics.” This basic premise has not changed although survivability is now considered in terms of capabilities vice characteristics.”

 Survival “capabilities” are divided into the categories of susceptibility, vulnerability and recoverability. While the physical structure of ships is still part of the survivability “triangle”, the ship’s capability to resist attack occupies a much larger part of its overall combat rating. This revision is a welcome change. Over the course of the Cold War and especially the last 20 years, weapons have grown more accurate and potentially lethal. A surface combatant’s survivability now rests more on active and passive systems to avoid or resist attack than physical structure or armor. This demand is reflected in the susceptibility component. The vulnerability and recoverability components still emphasize the ability of a ship to survive initial effects of attack, but the trend toward more powerful antiship weapons and more electronic rather than armor-laden warships makes avoiding attack the primary method of survival and continued mission accomplishment in a wartime setting.

HMS Sheffield
USS Stark
     Other factors that affect survivability are often omitted by experts. The geography and weather conditions of a naval battle can significantly impact survivability. The Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates are often cited by LCS opponents as more “survivable” as evidenced by recoverability of the USS Stark and USS Samuel B. Roberts after they sustained missile and mine damage. Both crews performed heroically in saving their respective ships, but the relatively calm waters of the Persian Gulf, and proximity to friendly bases significantly aided in the retrieval of both ships. Compare this with the experience of the British destroyer HMS Sheffield lost during the 1982 Falklands War. The ship’s firemain system was wrecked beyond immediate repair at sea as a result of battle damage, but remained upright and stable for 5 days until the weather deteriorated. The ship took on a severe list while under tow to South Georgia and sank soon after the weather worsened. Sheffield might have survived had she sustained the same damage in the Persian Gulf rather than the South Atlantic.

Ex-Japanese battleship Tosa

Ex USS Washington
     Tests conducted on incomplete modern battleships such as the ex-USS Washington (BB 45) and the ex-IJN Tosa in the 1920’s gave U.S. and Japanese naval leaders a good idea of the survivability of their capital ships. It is no longer useful however to merely fire weapons into dead hulks as a method of determining a warship’s ability to survive attack. That procedure was effective when a warship’s ability to resist attack was only resident in its physical construction and armor (if any). New methods must be used to assess a warship's active and passive defense capabilities. One example would involve replacing the present Ship Self Defense Test Ship (SSDTD) ex-USS Paul F. Foster with one of the retiring/refitting Ticonderoga class cruisers. The Defense Department Office of Test and Evaluation recommended the Navy build a new unmanned test ship in late 2013, but a retiring Ticonderoga would be a more accurate test platform. AEGIS cruisers  were designed to defeat saturation cruise missile attacks on carrier battle groups. Put an unmanned, fully armed AEGIS cruiser to the test. Take it to a deserted stretch of ocean and fire increasing numbers of antiship cruise missiles at the target until its defenses are saturated and overcome. Up to now this question has been one of dueling mathematical formulas. Salvo equations and estimates of single shot probability of kill (SSPK) go only so far in determining “survivability”. An accurate measurement of combat endurance would either build confidence in current U.S. warship performance or force significant change depending on what results were obtained in the test. This hypothetical test would be extremely expensive, dangerous, and violate a number of U.S. environmental statutes, but what is the price in determining the real “survivability” of a modern warship?  The overall goal remains deterring conflict if possible rather than actually going to war.  As several British admirals and American politicians have said over the course of the 20th century, “battleships are less expensive than battles.”
Ex-USS Paul F. Foster (SSDTS)

     Survivability is a loaded term with many possible definitions given the large numbers of potential variables used to determine this vital warship capability. Those seeking to use survivability as term of discussion should be careful in its employment. Furthermore, the U.S. Navy should be given the funds and legal latitude necessary to conduct the live fire testing needed to adequately measure this feature. While expensive and time-consuming, such testing is necessary in measuring the survival of equally expensive modern surface combatants. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Past and present of China/Russia military cooperation

Two recent articles about military exchange between China and Russia. The first one is Robert Farley's article about 5 ways Russia could help China's military. The second article is about Russia looking to buy Chinese electronic military/aersopace components.

I have written on numerous occasions about what China is still interested in buying from Russia and what China would be interested in buying from Europe if the embargo is lifted. The reason is that the balance of military technology prowess has changed so much between Russia and China in the past 20 years that we have gotten to the point where Russia is looking to now buy Chinese military components. Back in 1990, the gap between the collapsing Soviet Union and China was so great that China had to pick which area of its military it had money to import. In the end, despite the army's overwhelming influence in PLA, the much greater gap in air force and navy led to purchasing Su-27s, S-300s and Sov destroyers instead of MBTs and IFVs. People talk about post TianAnMen square arms embargo as the reason that China turned to Russia, but it's quite obvious to me they would've turned that direction regardless of whether or not an embargo was in put. By 1990, China had already experienced how tightly US and other Western companies safe guarded their technology and IP after numerous projects like the J-8II Peace Pearl project. In the end, China spent $500 million without really getting any kind of industrial boost, while US got a thorough look at what was China's most advanced plane at the time (without being very impressed by it). It was with that backdrop that China turned to Russia for help after warming of the relations in the late 80s. It quickly found that Russia had very lax protection of technology compared to Western countries. On top of that, most of Russian military hardware were on fire sale after the Soviet collapse with pretty much anything available to anyone who had money for it. From there, China got a lot of support from Russians in not only the J-11 project, but all of China's indigenous projects. It's hard to imagine that China could've paid $2.5 billion to anyone else and got anywhere close to the amount of technology transfer, industrial help and advanced fighter jet that China got here. It wasn't until early 2000s that Russia started to catch on top how much China's military industrial complex was improving and how much success it was copying a lot of what Russia was showcasing at the time. By that time, China had already noticed that Russia was increasingly pitching non-existent projects requiring China to pay for development cost, so it was already slowing down purchases even though it seemed like the trade was still booming to the outside world. By 2007, the failed IL-76 purchase stopped all ongoing military cooperation between the 2 side. After that was resumed, China continued to purchase more aerospace engines and helicopters from Russia, but not many other major items. Even the much discussed Su-33 deals never came to fruition as China managed to build J-15s with Ukrainian help.

That brings us to the current state of cooperation between the 2 countries. The most recent deals have been AL-31FN/RD-93 engines, Mi-171E/26 helicopters and refurbished IL-76 transports. The 5 items in Farley's article are aerospace engine, Tu-22M bombers, leasing of Akula subs, S-400 SAMs and ballistic missiles. Outside of Tu-22M, I would agree with all of the other items, although China would be interested in the more advanced Tu-160. Aerospace engines and S-400 have already been proposed to China and have high likelihood of been purchased. The other items are all strategic and Russia have been reluctant to share them with China in the past. With the current international climate, Russia is relying more and more on China as it becomes isolated, one wonders if Russia would change it's mind. China would certainly gain a lot from a similar Akula II leasing deal like India got. I would imagine Tu-160 and Yasen class attack subs are completely off limits.

I have been reading for a while that China has been trying to sell electronic components to Russia for it's military products. One of which was T/R modules for Russia's AESA radar. According to the article, the Russian space agency is looking to purchase several billions of dollars of such components from China, which would be a wide range of products. Maybe this could start military export from China to Russia in other areas where Russian manufacturers have simply fallen behind like in building naval ships. Although, I would say it's far more likely that Russia would purchase subsystems and components.

So things have certainly changed in the past 20 years and the recent change in Russia's isolation around the world has seemingly pushed military cooperation even further in China's direction.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Adults are Heard From: National Defense Panel 2014

Last week brought with it the release of the National Defense Panel's Assessment of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) entitled "Ensuring a Strong U.S. Defense for the Future".  It is well-written, straightforward, and quite readable.  Most importantly though, it represents the CONSENSUS view of a bi-partisan group of defense and national security experts that we are moving toward a "high risk" military force as the result of dangerous cuts in defense spending.

First, a story.  Back in the olden days when I was part of a team writing strategy for the Navy, we were exposed to a quiet study done by an outside organization on how the Navy was viewed by policy elites on both sides of the political spectrum.  Interviews with a few dozen former Deputy, Under, and Assistant Secretaries from State, Defense, and Treasury revealed a high level of convergence on America's role in the world and the view of the Navy's importance to it.  I remember reading the study and making the comment to colleagues that "the adults are in charge" when it comes to these matters, irrespective of political party.  Such were the quality of those who served on this year's NDP.

What the study in part reflected was what many view as the "Post WWII security consensus" that has guided this nation's national security policy.  The NDP Panel describes it thusly:

"Consistently now for nearly seventy years, no matter which party controlled the White House or
Congress, the United States has followed a policy of deep global engagement and leadership
undergirded by a military capable of forward defense and effective global power projection.
Americans judged that such a policy was the best way to preserve and protect this favorable
international order that served their interests. We believe this logic still applies in an enduringly
uncertain and increasingly hazardous world. This is because an international order favoring
American interests and values – and those of our allies and partners and indeed all nations who
wish to join – is not simply self-generating and self-sustaining. It cannot be left to the mercies of
states and non-state groups that have different agendas. Rather, it requires leadership, global
engagement, and military strength – and the only country with the power, credibility, and
dynamism to play that role is the United States." (p.10)

Increasingly, that consensus is fraying. On the right, some treat the defense budget as if it were simply another domestic spending program worthy of cutting--rather than the organizational product of a sworn Constitutional duty.  On the left, some view the defense budget as a bloated anachronism in our modern, global, networked, world, worthy of raiding to fund ever-increasing social outlays.  In the past, these were fringe views, and the above consensus dominated.  Not so much today.

What the NDP Assessment does is bring into sharp relief the sizable mismatch between that seven decade consensus and the resources programmed to achieve it.  More specifically, the study states simply that the strategic aims of the Quadrennial Defense Review it was impaneled to assess are unattainable within current budget levels. Apportioning responsibility in equal measure to Capitol Hill and the White House, the Panel advocates AS A START a return to the Gates 2012 budget baseline while repealing the 2011 BCA and its pernicious offspring, the Sequester.

Our nation's fiscal crisis was not caused by defense spending and it will not be solved by raiding it.  Worse yet, doing so will only exacerbate the crises underway.  The NDP puts it so:  "Attempting to address America’s budget woes through defense spending cuts is dangerous and ultimately self-defeating. In this economically interdependent but poorly integrated and unstable world, an America less capable of global leadership will soon become a poorer America less capable of meeting its other federal priorities."

In a nation that seems to want bi-partisan approaches to policy making and problem solving, the NDP report reaches common sense conclusions and reminds us of the symbiotic relationships among security, military power, and economic prosperity.  This report should serve as the entering argument for the next administration's national security team, no matter who is in charge.

Bryan McGrath


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Israeli Naval Forces Coastal Combat in Gaza

Global demographics shifts will increasingly drive wars towards highly-populated, urbanized coastal areas. Israel's ongoing Operation Protective Edge demonstrates a number of lessons for future littoral warfare in this environment.  As learned in over a decade of COIN operations, perhaps most important is a need for significant intelligence assets - eyes on target - required to engage aimpoints precisely in cities where the enemy is closely embedded with the population.

Despite a large volume of coverage on the conflict in Gaza, very little attention has been paid to the naval side of the war. The IDF has released some interesting combat footage, though.  The first video below demonstrates some of the unique cooperation between the ship (which appears to a be a Sa'ar 4.5 Hetz missile boat talking to its HQ) and Southern Command ground forces as the vessel engages an enemy mortar site with its 75mm gun.


An active video information campaign closely linked with combat operations is also vital in a world of instantaneous global communications where every citizen with a smart phone is a potential reporter. Something I find interesting in these videos is the dialogue.  For example, the line "mortars are being launched towards Israel" and similar language in other IDF videos seems to suggest that these units may have received some guidance on specifically articulating the threat as their footage would be used in information operations. Contrast this professional language to some of the unprofessional, profanity-laced gun-camera footage leaked early-on during OIF that embarrassed US forces.  I would hope by now that we've learned as a military that all radio/data transmissions are being recorded, at all times, and that if we do it right, communications incidental to combat can support overall campaign messaging. 
In the video below, a Hamas rocket launcher is engaged with some sort of electro-optically guided, ship-fired missile (Spike?).  Of interest is the verbal terminal guidance, "left, left, left, left" just before the missile hits its target. Clearly this sort of precise targeting - which was out of the visual line-of-sight of the ship - required close coordination with ground and air forces.  Press reporting shows that both UAVs and Israeli commandos have supported targeting for air and naval engagements during the current conflict. 
Dozens of strategic direct action missions into Gaza have been launched by the IDF's Shayetet (Flotilla) 13 naval commando force. In a politically-charged place like Gaza, occupation forces are not palatable and maritime raids, be they surgical special operations or larger scale punitive Marine operations, remain an important tool for ground-force commanders. 
The final video is a follow-up to a previous post regarding the failed Hamas naval commando unit infiltration. Apparently, Israel's Navy was also actively engaged in targeting at least some of the five intruders from the water. 

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the US Navy.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

More on US/China naval dialog and J-20 project

In my last post, I talked about China's participation in the Rim PAC 2014 exercise. As this was happening, Admiral Greenert, Chief of US naval operation, made a visit to China and was the first US (possibly first foreign) service member to visit CV-16 Dalian and speak to its crew member. You can see the DOD article here.

Admiral Greenert had what seems to be a good overview and very frank conversations with his Chinese counterpart Admiral Wu about the near future of Chinese naval aviation program. I don't think it's a surprise to Chinese naval followers that they are building another STOBAR carriers similar to CV-16 before moving on to a more modern design. And it's certainly not a surprise that he saw all of the Russian equipments ripped out and replaced with brand new Chinese ones, because that's what we've seen from all of the TV reports. Even so, I really do encouraged at the increased level of communication and discussion between the two sides even though they have feel like they are dealing with possible adversaries. That's the kind of discussions that will hopefully eliminate or at least reduce miscommunications in the future. Greenert also visit a 039B (Improved Yuan) class submarine and some other ships in the North Sea Fleet around where CV-16 is based. The 039B that he boarded was one of the most recently commissioned PLAN submarine, so it certainly seems like Chinese navy is not holding back. From that, I get 2 thoughts:

  1. China is certainly reciprocating US efforts for greater transparency. It is also showing greater transparency in general.
  2. Biggest factor to the greater transparency and willingness to show what they have could be their improved hardware and professionalism. A large part of China's secrecy is due to not wanting to be embarrassed with less advanced ships and non-professional crew members.

There has also been more news coming out on the J-20 project. The new prototype No. 2012 has made its maiden flight. From all the pictures I've seen so far, it seems to have minimal changes from Prototype No. 2011. The word is No. 2013 and 2014 will also be coming out sometime this year for test flights. So, I think they will now start comprehensive flight testing programs. On SDF, one of my fellow PLA watcher compared the first 2 flying J-20 prototypes (no. 2001 and 2002) to YF-22 while comparing this new batch of prototypes to the F-22 EMD program. It took over 5 years from the first flight of F-22 EMD prototype to the first production F-22 being delivered to Nellis AFB. I would say it will probably take similar amount of type for the first production batch of J-20s to be delivered (so around second half of 2019). Even though the Russians have been saying production version of PAK-FA will be delivered in 2016, I think there is a good chance that won't happen and we will see the 2 aircraft enter service at around the same time.

AEI/Heritage Project for the Common Defense (USMC) Weekly Read Board








Monday, July 28, 2014

AEI/Heritage Project for the Common Defense (Navy) Weekly Read Board









Saturday, July 26, 2014

Future of Surface Warfare Lethality

The Hudson Center for American Seapower had a discussion panel yesterday at the Capitol Visitor Center (with lunch!) on the Future of Surface Warfare Lethality.

Here's the video.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

AEI/Heritage Project for the Common Defense Weekly Read Board (Navy)











Monday, July 21, 2014

Seapower and the Interwebz

The Internet as we know it has only been around for a generation.  Pretty much everyone in the industrialized world takes the Web for granted by now, as it has become a ubiquitous component of business, government, and our social lives.  Yet, most of us probably don't give much thought to the 77 undersea fiber optic cables spanning nearly a million kilometers that carry 99% of the world's communications and data. Fortunately, one website has done the service of providing not only an amazing visualization of this vital, yet vulnerable infrastructure, but tied its importance to naval history and military operations.  Even the Air Force's UAV operations rely on undersea cables to reduce the latency inherent in satellite networks. Built Visible's Messages in the Deep page serves as a reminder that our daily lives remain inextricably linked to the oceans. (for even more details, see Submarine Cable Map). This overlooked aspect of seapower facilitates global commerce today much as surface shipping has done for centuries.

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