Skip to content

Where’s Mike?

September 7, 2010

Some of you have been asking “what’s happened to Mike?”, and please forgive me for leaving you all wondering. I have been very busy lately with illness in the family as some of you may know, plus I recently lost a close friend and Pastor, whose life has had a great influence on me. I don’t think I am interested in doing the blog anymore, not out of any discouragement, as you know we have been doing gangbusters in the numbers (usually when I’m not around LOL)! Plus a lot of the problems I have been discussing seem to be handling themselves because of the budget numbers, which except for war has consistently been the impetus for change in historical militaries.

I will miss all the great people I have met and wish all the best to all of you! Thanks again for tolerating the occasional rant, plus silly ideas, and sorry if I have ever demeaned anyone’s opinion, as I promise it was unintentional. Take care and God bless!

Mike Burleson

LCS News

August 26, 2010

Because we have slowed down posting on the LCS Acronym page (though feel free to keep them coming as the creative juices flows!), I decided to make use of vital space and start posting any Breaking News on the littoral combat ship (LCS) here. Also feel free to post alternative LCS ideas and let the relevant discussion on this vital issue for the USN continue. Probably have an RSS feed on the home page.

Thanks as always for your continued patronage!


Deadly Chinese Missile Threats Pt 2

August 24, 2010
Pershing II missile

Pershing II missile

The principle argument rising of late is the questioning whether China has the capability to build a missile with the accuracy to strike a large warship maneuvering on the high seas. The idea is that since there is no clear evidence of China even deploying such a missile as the ASBM, the need for concern is evidentially remote. Read the following critique from In from the Cold:

First…there is the nagging issue of demonstrated accuracy. The DF-21D is still in testing, and so far, it has not proved its ability to strike a carrier-sized target over the horizon. True, the problem could be solved by placing a nuclear warhead on the missile, but that “solution” would invite a massive U.S. response, one reason that China emphasizes the conventional capabilities of the DF-21D.

It’s also worth remembering the first rule of precision strike: devastatingly accurate weapons require intelligence of comparable precision. Beijing is working hard to improve its intel, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, but (once again) there is inconclusive evidence regarding the PRC’s ability to develop–and deliver–such information for a time-sensitive target like an aircraft carrier at sea.

Yet the question should not be does China possess this technology but is there a possibility the technology could work. In fact there is clear proof in the viability of the ASBM. The following conclusion comes to us from Geoff at Arms Control Wonk:

(My) rather simple calculations have shown that both types of guidance and control for an anti-ship ballistic missile are possible.  But both would be pushing China’s technology considerably.

But what if China didn’t rely on its own technology, and the perhaps decades of testing required to deploy such a system. Recall that the US has advanced guidance systems of missiles and bombs for decades, and they have been proved dramatically workable in combat. Here is Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a very famous recent speech at the US Navy League:

At the higher end of the access-denial spectrum, the virtual monopoly the U.S. has enjoyed with precision guided weapons is eroding – especially with long-range, accurate anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles that can potentially strike from over the horizon.  This is a particular concern with aircraft carriers and other large, multi-billion-dollar blue-water surface combatants, where, for example, a Ford-class carrier plus its full complement of the latest aircraft would represent potentially a $15 to $20 billion set of hardware at risk.

Then there is the fear that some of our technology is already deployed on the DF-21 series of missiles, with stolen Pershing II Missile guidance. Strategypage has more:

As the story goes, the Chinese have reverse engineered, reinvented or stolen the 1970s technology that went into the U.S. Pershing ballistic missile. This 7.5 ton U.S. Army missile also had an 1,800 kilometers range, and could put its nuclear warhead within 30 meters of its aim point. This was possible because the guidance system had its own radar…This kind of accuracy made the Russians very uncomfortable, as it made their command bunkers vulnerable. The Russians eventually agreed to a lot of nuclear and missile disarmament deals in order to get the Pershings decommissioned in the 1980s.

Also, it is reported that Tomahawk cruise missiles, some of our most accurate and again well-proven weapons have fallen into Chinese hands:

China also continues developing long range cruise missiles, and adapting them to operate from aircraft. The latest missile to get this treatment is the DH-10. This weapon is similar to early U.S. cruise missiles, and has a range of 1,500-3,000 kilometers and uses GPS, along with terrain mapping. The DH-10 was first shown publicly in the recent 60th anniversary of the communists taking control of China, on October 1st.) The aircraft carried version is called the CJ-10. This is believed to be based on some American cruise missile technology.

So the precision technology which has dominated American warmaking since the 1990s is now out of the box. Soon this proliferation of advanced targeting will be joined to the widespread ballistic missile stocks, if the history of warfare is any guide. The following info is via the DoD and American Forces Press Service:

(The director of the Missile Defense Agency) pointed out a proliferation of Scud missiles that originate from the old Soviet Union. According to intelligence, he said, more than 6,000 missiles are in countries other than NATO, the United States, China and Russia, as well as more than 1,000 launchers.
The United States has witnessed many failures in the development and testing of these systems. However, O’Reilly cautioned against complacency in the face of other countries’ efforts. The United States experienced failures as well in the 1960s and in missile defense in the 1990s, he noted.
“History shows that if they are persistent, they will be successful,” he said. “But history also shows that it is extremely challenging to be precise on when they will be successful.”

From yesterdays and today’s post, you can gather at least two conclusions concerning the Chinese missile threats:

  • Their launch systems would be extremely difficult to find and target.
  • Their own targeting and guidance systems, plus numbers might be a game-changer blunting our traditional tactic of power projection from the sea.

So what can be done to defeat the upcoming missile threats from China and her like-armed clients? I am a firm believer in fighting fire with fire. In other words, instead of seeking technological breakthroughs to maintain enormously expensive last century naval airpower viable, to use missiles to combat the enemy missiles. For instance, in the recent AirSea Battle by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments came the following idea:

The Navy should consider investing in conventionally-armed, relatively short-range sea-based IRBMs to further complicate PLA planning. Depending on missile technical characteristics, both submarines and surface ships (not necessarily combatants) could serve as potential firing platforms. Ballistic missile striking power should be distributed across a large number of platforms similar to the way Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles distributed Navy strike power that had previously been concentrated in a small number of aircraft carriers. An ASBM variant should also be considered.

The Navy then should proceed post-haste to strengthen its guided missile fleet, with more subs, including SSGNs and perhaps many surface arsenal ships. Another equalizer could come from land-based airpower such as USAF bombers and the new P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft, arming the latter with stand-off cruise missiles. Long-endurance UAVs such as the J-UCAS would also be necessary, which can loiter for extended periods and watch for missile launches. This to me sees the best way to counter mobile missile launchers, other than a land-based invasion which may be extremely difficult and could lead to escalation.


Deadly Chinese Missile Threats Pt 1

August 23, 2010
Arrow anti-ballistic missile system, developed...

Image via Wikipedia

The British Royal Navy appears set on deploying its first ever post World War 2 conventional catapult ships, if all goes well. There is a problem with spending small defense funds on a rather dated notion, that in the future large deck warships will be able to sail close to shore and perform the traditional duty of power projection, given the proliferation of guided missiles around the world. Greg Grant reports on what the Western powers would have to face in any confrontation with the world’s premier missile fleet since the demise of the Soviet Union, China:

China has the “most active” land based ballistic missile and cruise missile program in the world, the DoD report says. The PLA is building a huge missile arsenal for precision conventional strike because it lacks, so far anyway, a stealthy strike aircraft. The vast majority of China’s ballistic missiles are of the short range (under 600km) SCUD type and lack “true precision strike capability.” And the vast majority of those missiles are aimed at Taiwan.
In the anti-access arena, China is building or buying medium-range ballistic missiles (1,000–3,000km): “to increase the range at which it can conduct precision strikes against land targets and naval ships, including aircraft carriers, operating far from China’s shores out to the first island chain.”

The number of such missiles are debatable, but certainly in the thousands, as noted by the Pentagon Report and Taiwanese media sources:

The U.S. Pentagon’s just-released report on military and security developments involving China said that by December 2009, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had deployed between 1,050 and 1,150 short-range ballistic missiles targeted at Taiwan.

However, local news media cited a Ministry of National Defense (MND) magazine report in July as estimating that the number of Chinese short-range missiles targeting Taiwan will reach 1,960 by the end of this year.

While the West seems to be making progress on numerous anti-missile devices, including some hope with the long-promised deployment of lasers, the Chinese buildup along with historical evidence suggest the odds are stacked in favor of the missiles. It has been 66 years since the first primitive guided missiles were used in warfare, the dreaded V-1 and V2 Vengeance weapons of Nazi Germany. From Wikipedia we get an idea of how difficult it was to contend with these weapons of the future, back when the West enjoyed complete air superiority in traditional manned planes:

Unlike the V-1, the V-2’s speed and trajectory made it invulnerable to anti-aircraft guns and fighters, as it dropped from an altitude of 100–110 km (62–68 mi) at up to four times the speed of sound (appr. 3550 km/h). A plan was proposed whereby the missile would be detected by radar, its terminal trajectory calculated, and the area along that trajectory saturated by large-caliber anti-aircraft guns. The plan was dropped after operations research indicated that the likely number of malfunctioning artillery shells falling to the ground would do more damage than the V-2 itself.

The defence against the V-2 campaign was to destroy the launch infrastructure—expensive in terms of bomber resources and casualties—or to cause the Germans to “aim” at the wrong place through disinformation. The British were able to convince the Germans to direct V-1s and V-2s aimed at London to less populated areas east of the city. This was done by sending false impact reports via the German espionage network in Britain, which was controlled by the British (the Double Cross System).

There is a record of one V-2, fortuitously observed at launch from a passing American B-24 Liberator, being shot down by .50 caliber machine-gun fire. The limitations of any countermeasures can be understood by two facts: 20 seconds after starting, a V2 was out of reach; the time from start to impact in London being merely 3 minutes.

Ultimately the most successful countermeasure was the Allied advance that forced the launchers back beyond range.

In other words, the only really effective defense was to physically occupy the ground where the missiles were launched. That was nearly 70 years ago, however, and times have changed right? Well, even the passage of time hasn’t been able to fully secure the West from rocket and missile attack, as proved during the Gulf Wars. While more accurate than Germany’s V-2 could hope to be, the Scud missiles of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, proved deadly illusive for America’s space age military in 1991. More from Wikipedia:

The USAF organized CAPs over areas where Scud launchers were suspected to operate, namely western Iraq near the Jordanian border, where the Scuds were fired at Israel, and southern Iraq, where they were aimed at Saudi Arabia. A-10 strike aircraft flew over these zones during the day, and F-15Es fitted with LANTIRN pods and synthetic aperture radars patrolled at night. However, the infrared and radar signatures of the Iraqi TELSs were almost impossible to distinguish from ordinary trucks and from the surrounding electromagnetic clutter. While patrolling strike aircraft managed to sight their targets on 42 occasions, they were only able to acquire them long enough to release their ordinance three times.[32] In addition, the Iraqi missile units dispersed their Scud TELs and hid them in culverts, wadis, or under highway bridges. They also practiced “shoot-and-scoot” tactics, withdrawing the launcher to a hidden location immediately after it had fired, while the launch sequence that usually took 90 minutes was reduced to half an hour. This enabled them to preserve their forces, despite optimistic claims by the coalition. A post-war Pentagon study concluded that relatively few launchers had been destroyed by coalition aircraft.

Here is the Rand Report that the above article was based on. Also, there is evidence only about 10% of the Scuds were shot down by the much-herald Patriot missile batteries. You get the idea from recent experience that anti-missile defenses are “feel good weapons”. In other words they aren’t very effective, but gives the impression  we are doing something to defend ourselves.

Add the relatively low tech Scuds to modern precision targeting systems,  used so dramatically also in that First Gulf War, plus the ability of their launchers to avoid detection and the portent is an ominous one. It could be that the game changer so feared might actually come about. With the West continuing to expend excessive amounts of funds on last century manned airpower, it seems we are missing the boat on the real revolution. UAVs can loiter for days in hunter-killer missions to seek out and destroy missile launchers, without the vast naval and airborne logistical chain required to support manned aircraft.

We could also be restoring our shrinking number of warships by building small ships and submarine which might actually survive the impending missile onslaught. We may also need many fast amphibious craft, carrying Marine Raiders which can destroy coastal missile batteries at the source.  Know also that these smaller vessels can also carry missile weapons themselves, allowing for a counterstrike using the same new weapons to threaten our enemies, the same arms we ourselves are threatened by today.

Today-Us finding them.
Tomorrow-Them finding us


Breaking:LCS Contract Lags

August 20, 2010
MARINETTE, Wis. (Aug. 4, 2008) The first U.S. ...

Image via Wikipedia

Expected before the end of summer was the long-anticipated award of who would build a projected 55 littoral combat ships (LCS) for the USN. The frigate which wants to be a shallow water speed boat is the Navy’s only attempt to join the ongoing fight for the coastal waters in an age lacking a peer Blue Water threat. No surprise the oft-delayed program, now pricing 3 times its original estimate is facing further hurdles. Story is from Reuters:

The U.S. Navy is expected to miss its target this summer for awarding a multibillion contract for new warships after reopening discussions with the two bidders, Austal USA, a unit of Australia’s Austal Ltd (ASB.AX) and Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), sources following the issue say.
A contract award for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program is not likely now until this fall, several months later than expected, according to the sources who were not authorized to speak on the record…

…the Navy has now reopened the process and posed further questions about cost and technical matters, delaying a possible contract for some time, the sources said.

The article also gave another reason for the delayed decision-a Navy attempt to avoid a lawsuit and further delays by the losing bidder:

The Navy’s decision to ask more questions so late in the procurement process was “highly unusual” and was probably aimed at ensuring it would prevail if the losing bidder filed a contract protest, as is widely expected, said Jay Korman, an analyst with the Washington-based research group Avascent.

Perhaps a bit premature to say this is a done deal? The Burleson Plan is still on!


Sea Links

August 20, 2010

The Canadian navy Victoria-class long-range patrol submarine HMCS Corner Brook (SSK 878) arrives at Naval Submarine Base New London for a scheduled port visit.

US Navy

U.S. Navy Leverages DDG-51 Work.

Buying Better Burkes.

Future Navy Submarine to Stick With Nuclear Mission.

Slated U.S. Carrier Visit to Yellow Sea Irks China.

Opinion:Worries over US aircraft carrier overstated.

Automation Fatigue On LCS Class Ships.

Little ship, big job: LCUs offer opportunities.


Warships of the World

Tensions rising over China’s aircraft carrier quest.

Pentagon: China Bolsters Projection, Anti-Access Systems.

China to Test-Fire New Anti-Ship Missile.

Is a DF-21 Anti-Ship Missile Possible?

Destroyer to sail to South Atlantic to protect Falklands.

Royal Navy’s Sea Viper missile system hits its target.

HMS Astute: Relic or Revolution for the Royal Navy.

New catapults could save Britain’s carrier force.

Taiwan Comes Up Short On Frigates.


New Wars at Sea

Canadian USVs to imitate fast attack craft.

US judge drops piracy charges against captured Somalis. More. More.

Pirates rob American ship in U.S.-guarded Iraqi waters.

Thai Navy plans Somali mission.

Epic Fail In The Straits Of Hormuz.


From the Navy Vaults

Venice and the Papacy. (Cog and Galley)

Battle of Cyzicus. (Cog and Galley)

German Naval Airship Division. (War and Game)

Operation ‘Rutter’ and the Second Front. (American Military and Naval History)

Tales from the Cold War. (The Day)

VTOL on a boat. (The Unwanted Blog)

Passing for Lieutenant. (Pauline’s Pirate’s & Privateers)

Books: Morgan, Avery, Teach And The Lafitte Brothers. (Pauline’s Pirate’s & Privateers)

What’s the point of the RAF? (Daly History Blog)

Italian David vs. British Goliath: Decima MAS and the Alexandria Raid. (The Year in Defense)

Efforts in Philadelphia to Save Showpiece Ships. (New York Times)

LST 325 gets ready to set sail. (Evansville Courier & Press)

Old Ironsides: U.S.S. Constitution vs. H.M.S. Guerriere. (Naval History Blog)


Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead walks with Chief of the Royal Norwegian Navy Rear Adm. Haakon Bruun-Hanssen after getting underway aboard HNoMS Skudd.

Strykers Depart Iraq

August 19, 2010

Seven years after Operation Iraq Freedom began in 2003, the US Army for all sense and purposes have left off combat operations there. While problems remain, there is no arguing Iraq is a different place, as Broadside Blog contends:

Today, seven years after the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the last American combat troops are departing. But the country they are leaving behind is different. Its people are no longer at the mercy of a despicably cruel dictator who took pleasure in torturing, raping and murdering its citizens. They have voted. They have glimpsed the promise of a brighter future.

It is no longer Saddam Hussein’s country.

Well done troops, God Bless, and good luck on your next assignment.

The Virginia Destroyer Solution

August 19, 2010


An artist's rendering of a Virginia-class submarine underway.


In the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyer, first launched in 1989, the American Navy finally had an ASW escort to match the large, fast, and deep-diving Soviet submarines of the late-Cold War. Unlike the preceding Spruance class in its initial configuration, the Burke possessed powerful armament, radar, and even armor to match its immense price of $1 billion in 1980s dollars. Aegis, Standard and Harpoon missiles, Seahawk helicopters, anti-submarine rockets (ASROC), torpedoes, and numerous guns, all added up to create the most powerful surface combatant built since World War 2.

Ironically, just as the DDG-51 entered service, its particular foe vanished from the waves almost overnight. The vaunted Red Navy which kept much of the West in dread for decades was now tied to port, left rusting by a bankrupt communist empire.

Without a peer enemy to contend with, a lesson might have been taken to transform the Burke and her successors, from the Seawolf submarine program. The massive and expensive SSN-21 boat was designed in the post Rickover era to compete with Russian supersubs like the Akula. Afterwards it seemed so much overkill, and far too expensive for keeping up numbers within the silent service. Naval-Technology notes:

The Seawolf was a product of the Cold War, conceived to maintain the USA‘s acoustic advantage over Soviet submarines. With the end of the Cold War and the change of emphasis to littoral operations, the cost of the Seawolf submarines was judged prohibitive and the programme was curtailed in favour of the smaller and cheaper Virginia Class New Attack submarines.

In its place came the Virginia class submarine. Compared to the Seawolf, these boats were not small but smaller, they were not cheap but cheaper. Previously known as the NSSN in its development stage, explains:

The Secretary of Defense in his October 1993 bottom-up review determined that production of the Seawolf class submarine would cease with the third submarine, and that the Navy should develop and build a new attack submarine as a more cost-effective follow-on to the Seawolf class, with construction beginning in fiscal year 1998 or 1999 at Electric Boat…

Compared with the Seawolf, the NSSN is slower, carries fewer weapons, and is less capable in diving depth and arctic operations. On the other hand, the NSSN is expected to be as quiet as the Seawolf, will incorporate a vertical launch system and have improved surveillance as well as special operations characteristics to enhance littoral warfare capability.

Just as the Seawolf submarine was considered unnecessary and too expensive for a new environment, the question remains, why wasn’t the same logic applied to the DDG-51 Burke destroyers? Instead, production continued for the world’s most expensive surface combatant, with its advanced Aegis and ASW weaponry geared for a foe that no longer existed. In this time period starting in the early 1990s, we see the Navy shrinking drastically from nearly 600 ships to its current below 300 number, with no realistic sign of halting the decline.

With no adequate replacement for the Burke planned, except more Burkes, the 60+ in service or on order have been used in roles never envisioned by the 1980s naval planners. They can be seen everywhere, escorting amphibious ships and aircraft carriers, performing disaster relief, counter-narcotics, even taking down pirates in lifeboats! All these duties which are the domain of small frigates or patrol vessels are being performed by the new battleships, whose abilities include shooting down enemy ICBMs or projecting power  up to 1000 miles ashore with cruise missiles.

Yet when the time came to start thinking of a Burke replacement, all the Navy could come up with was something bigger and more expensive. So enamored were they by amazing abilities of the DDG-51, they wanted more only better, which gave us the DDG-1000 Zumwalt dinosaur, as I noted yesterday which we will now procure a grand total of 3. Logically though, something smaller is needed to deal with many smaller threats, as I wrote earlier:

Thanks to increased accuracy, brilliantly displayed by our ballistic missile warships on numerous occasions, it should be possible to carry only 45 such phenomenal weapons on a single end hull, about 4500 tons light. The same Aegis radar that makes the Burke so superior to any existing surface combatant, will keep it at the forefront of destroyer development for many more years.

America, while seeking to possess a global fleet, has a small-navy mindset. In other words, it builds individually impressive vessels which are too costly to build in adequate numbers. So instead the new destroyer should be the frigate, replacing the frigate with the corvette, and corvettes should be supplemented with fast attack craft. The Navy should also think about getting Aegis out of the hull, since the world’s most advanced radar also makes the ship the world’s biggest target for cruise missiles. Some alternatives would be placing it on specialized Aegis motherships, or depending more or airborne radar and satellites.


DDG-1000:Defying Expectations or Reason?

August 18, 2010

Artist's conception of DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyer, slated to enter service in 2016.

The US Navy has been on a downward spiral in terms of the number of ships it deploys, and things aren’t getting any better, except in some’s wildest fantasies. The expense of ships rises, while the budget shrinks. Is the future extinction of American naval power so hard to comprehend unless the trends are curbed? Writing in the Charleston Post and Courier, retired Navy commander R.L. Schreadley pins at least some of the blame on the Navy itself:

Where the Navy Department is particularly at fault is in its long-time mismanagement of shipbuilding and aircraft acquisition programs. Is it credible to spend a billion dollars for one destroyer? Fifteen billion (or more) for an aircraft carrier? Multi-millions for one fighter plane? No, it is not. Nor is it credible for the sea service to have two or more admirals for every ship in the fleet.

The statement “a billion dollars for one destroyer” should actually read “$6 billion” concerning the latest and largest American surface combatant since the nuclear powered USS Long Beach of the 1950s, the DDG-1000 Zumwalt. Even the original price tag of $3 billion proved too much for budget cutters, who subsequently dropped the purchase number from 29, to 7, and today’s only 3. Meant to be a shallow water battleship supporting troops ashore, it was soon discovered with all its high tech stealth, advanced tumble-home hull, and powerful electric drive, the designers forgot what was most important about a warship, its weapons. The DDG-1000 while perfect for fighting land battles, could not defend itself from air and maritime threats.

Despite all logic, the 3 super-destroyers are going ahead, and some are touting this as a major success story. Here is Christopher Cavas writing in the Navy Times:

Devoid of much fanfare and defying the expectations of critics, production of the Navy’s DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer program is steadily moving forward.

We, the public then are at fault for criticizing this much misunderstand program, which admittedly will deploy many wonderful gadgets, on the 3 lone hulls:

With work now proceeding on all three ships, program manager Capt. James Syring turned over his duties Aug. 6 after nearly five years at the helm of what is arguably the most complex surface warship ever built.
The program, according to Syring, is still meeting most of its cost targets — a claim he first made a year ago. But he declined to cite a figure for cost growth on the first ship, projected to cost about $3.3 billion.

More than doubled in price. Thats success? Let’s move on:

In the spring, the Navy deleted the Volume Search Radar from the ship’s Dual Band Radar during the program review triggered by the Nunn-McCurdy process.
Although the radar works, Syring said, “producibility problems” with the radome material protecting the S-band radar persisted, and the Navy’s 2008 decision to base future missile defense on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and its Aegis weapon system eliminated the needed growth path for the VSR on the Zumwalts.

Recalling that we have over 60 of the Burke destroyers, with production ongoing indefinitely, the question is what is there need for a $6 billion supership, but less effective?

Moreover, software modifications will someday give the X-band some volume search capability, although the development of that software is still some years off, he said.

Someday, maybe, perhaps…

Delivery is now scheduled for December 2013. Then comes combat system testing and other work, so Zumwalt won’t be ready to deploy until 2016.

No hurry, while the fleet shrinks…

Meanwhile, construction of various components for the 600-foot-long, 15,500-ton Zumwalt is moving right along, and the ship is about 20 percent complete. Syring detailed progress on a number of the ship’s systems.

20% complete, the plans for which have been ongoing since the 1990s! Oh yeah, break out the band.

The first of two 155mm Advanced Gun Systems for Zumwalt is complete, built by BAE at Fridley, Minn., and has been shipped for proof-firing to the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Testing continues for the Long Range Land Attack Projectile, the rocket-assisted bullet the AGS will fire. The shell has yet to reach its intended 87-mile full range, but the last test, in January, shot a LRLAP shell 63 nautical miles.

Why do I get the feeling the 14,000 ton battle cruiser is going to end up fitted with a standard 5 inch gun, as in all USN destroyers? Let’s not forget Navy promises of another wonder weapon, the NLOS rocket, supposed to be the primary armament for the littoral combat ship. Today we have another underarmed, overpriced wonder ship, and no main attack weapon other than a 57mm pea-shooter.


The point of all this, is the Navy expects too much from too few ships. The much touted reduced manning in the Zumwalt, 140 compared to almost 300 in the smaller Burkes, makes one think they are transferring this false logic onto the over-worked Navy personnel.  This mindset from the RMA debates of the 1990s claimed that fewer number of high tech wonders could perform the functions of the great many weapons required to win the Cold War. Warfare then would be cheaper yet more effective. That false hope has given us a $700 billion defense budget, yet they claim even this is not enough.

Numbers still count. Despite the spectacular success of stealth bombers, M-1 tanks, and cruise missiles in the First Gulf War, the backbone of the force was still the Vietnam Era weapons. Today, the overworked arms from the Reagan build-up are being replaced by ever fewer numbers of super planes, vehicles and ships, like the less than 200 F-22 Raptors replacing over 1000 F-15 fighters. A further case in point is the Zumwalt destroyer. The so-called savings are only possible by keeping ancient weapons in service long beyond their prime. It is deceptive and cruel to the sailors who must work harder with less.

The fleet is headed steadily toward the 200 number, in the midst of immense resources and funding. So today we have 9 amphibious ships replacing 41. Currently 30 old frigates are performing the missions of over 100 during the 1980s. About 10 aircraft carriers with reduced airwings are also performing the mission where once it was thought 15 or more were necessary.

Now we have 3 destroyers entering service replacing an order for 29. This larger number was derived from the need to replace the Spruance class destroyers, the last DD’s or general purpose tin cans built for the Fleet. Strategypage shows us what was lost amidst the false promises of the Zumwalt:

Only a decade ago, the navy was so sure about the new DDG-1000, that it accelerated the retirement of a dozen of the 31 Spruance class destroyers, in order to save the $28 million a year it cost to keep each of them in service. These ships were not just retired, they were all either broken up, or sunk in training exercises. The dozen that entered service between 1979-83 could have been refurbished and been available until 2019. That was a lost opportunity.

In order to afford Zumwalt, they shrank the fleet. Now after a decade and many billions wasted, the Navy will return to its venerable 1970s Arleigh Burke design for new destroyers:

But the navy can afford more Burkes because this is a design that is the culmination of over half a century of World War II and Cold War destroyer design experience. Even after the Burke was designed, in the 1980s, the design evolved. The  first Burkes were 8,300 ton ships, while the latest ones, laden with more gear, and smaller crews, are 10,000 ton ships (what heavy cruisers weighed in World War II).  With a top speed of nearly 50 kilometers an hour, their main armament is 90 vertical launch tubes flush with the deck, that can contain anti-aircraft, anti-ship, anti-missile or cruise missiles. There is also a 127mm (5 inch) gun, two 20mm anti-missile autocannon, six torpedo tubes and two helicopters. The Burkes were well thought out, sturdy and they got the job done. They became irreplaceable, and thus this class of warships will last more than half a century.

I agree that it is a great design, one we are lucky to have. Yet, the reason the Burke is irreplaceable is not because there is nothing better, but because the Navy has yet to grasp the implications of new technology that is making weapons cheaper and easier to use. If the microchip has allowed computers to gradually become smaller, once they filled a warehouse, now many are the size of cell phones, plus allow tiny UAVs the ability to perform missions once the domain of whole airwings, or allow a guided bomb to sail down a smoke stack, why do USN warships get larger and cost-prohibitive?


Return of the Soldier-Farmer

August 17, 2010

The armies that set twentieth-century standards have been instruments of decision informed by a dynamic of closure. They have been intended to win wars as quickly as possible, and with minimal suffering to the states and societies that created them. In the twenty-first century military effectiveness may best be achieved by cultivating a sense of the long duration, evaluating results in a context of not merely years but decades. This would be a fundamental attitude adjustment.

But though military cultures have their own rituals and their own ways of doing things—often quite different from the national culture to which they belong—these are not immutable. The frameworks of warmaking are instrumental and customary, sustained by a mixture of pragmatism, habit, and fear of the consequences of change. Postmodern war will eventually produce postmodern armies whose exteriors might remain familiar, but whose internal dynamics will reflect the new challenges they face.

Dennis E. Showalter via War and Game

The all-Volunteer Army is for all sense and purposes an all-elite force. National practitioners such as the USA expects its troops to be highly skilled in all manner of arms, very near the “Hybrid Warrior” so needed in this day and age. Then there is the problem that these immaculately trained “perfect soldiers” are most often called on for sundry occupation duties, foot patrols, presence, nation building, even disaster relief in some of the most impoverished places on earth, where their intense skills are often wasted, though the need is still there.

The American Volunteer Army models its own training and tactics in large part on those of the Israeli Army, at least from the 1970s. Ironically, the Israeli’s do not possess a Volunteer force, save in some of its elite units, and is a conscript army which can mobilize most of the population in an emergency. The US Army, like the British are true volunteers, depending on its Reserve “Base Force” for many support functions, though not wholly. In other words, the reserve is not its heart and soul. With this you get one of the world’s best, most expensive, and very stretched and overworked armies.

The Roman model, specifically the Byzantine, and also the fyrd as deployed by Alfred the Great way back in the 9th Century has me thinking on some solutions to the problem of deploying troops in an age of austerity. An article I read concerning the German armed forces made me realize the imperative of finding a more cost-effective way of deploying more personnel. This was in the Faster Times:

“Three proposals to shrink the armed forces have reportedly been tabled: the least severe would involve downsizing the force to 200,000 and keeping a degree of conscription in place; the “nuclear” option would be to cut the Bundeswehr to 150,000 troops and dispense with the practice of conscription completely. The middle proposal involves reducing the armed forces to 170,000 personnel and substitute conscription with an undetermined form of short-service volunteers.

The idea of trimming the armed forces resonates greatly inside the German MoD for the simple reason that just over half of the defense budget (EUR16.33 billion in 2010) is consumed by personnel costs.”

Just note that last sentence and realize the cost of training and deploying 21st century Hybrid Warriors to face myriad threats is getting worse, not better. So cut the number of regular elite troops, save them for the dire circumstances and fill out numbers for peacekeeping and standard missions with part-time warriors. Though this might seem a strange way to deploy forces in the age where the Blitzkrieg led by tank and airpower for the most part still reigns supreme, it beats extinction and as we say there is much historical precedent.


One problem the West is discovering in attempts to increase manpower is the immense cost of supporting and sustaining a single recruit. In just the past decade alone the price has increased shockingly, and seems to be rising in conjunction with the out of control prices of weapons systems. Here is David Wood, Chief Military Correspondent at Politics Daily:

The military’s “all volunteer force” concept, which replaced the draft in 1973, has been a resounding success, but at a resounding cost. In the past decade, the Army’s personnel costs have more than doubled, from $27.7 billion in 2001 to a projected $59.1 billion for 2011 — with an additional $11.9 billion in projected wartime personnel costs for next year.

Why? One reason is pay. Since 2002, military pay has risen 42 percent, while civilian pay grew by 32 percent.

America has used an all-volunteer army to fight a protracted war overseas, something unheard in its history as far as I recall (The Philippine Insurrection?). The funds now going for reenlistment bonuses and death/wounded insurances are phenomenal and frankly I think unsustainable for a large nation dependent on large numbers of troops. Below are a few solutions which I think are not only possible but also historical:

  • Selectively recruit from naturally combative populations, sportsmen, hunters, etc. In place of monetary compensation, why not excuse them from the high taxes induced on the population as a whole, or perhaps grants of property in exchange for service, or rights of citizenship in exchange for military service.
  • The US might foot the bill for the upkeep of European special troops, now endangered from extinction because of ongoing defense cuts by our allies. I think it would be a tragedy of the West to lose the capabilities of many of the ancient regiments now falling under the knife, which have fought and secured freedom around the world for centuries.
  • Accept lower quality troops, from reserve and militia forces. Note that such types are the backbone of Third World nations and are naturally adept, plus easier to train in irregular warfare. These are the types of troops giving the world’s best conventional armies the trial of their careers currently in the Middle East. It is more costly to put down insurgencies that it is to ferment one, so we should take advantage of such economical troops. Historically though, the US Military has always consisted of such forces, recalling the Minutemen of yesteryear.
  • A national draft is not an alternative as our country just doesn’t have the temperate for that. Plus it can easily be used for political purposes. What I would suggest is a greater dependence on militia. This would entail expecting a reduced quality of personnel, which currently is an outrageous idea to modern planners. They seem to think that all our forces must be highly trained, to the point of elite status, but historically this is far from normal.

The 21st century army would be composed of Regular Forces, as normal, but in smaller numbers and only deployed at strategic spots such as our nation’s capital and providing the core of overseas deployments. The rest would consist of soldier-farmers, who are not paid regular in money, but allowed to live in military colonies, placed on our border or other hot-spots. They could also be deployed overseas if only for short terms, as compensation for their enhanced rights and for free land, health care, etc.

Perhaps these military colonies might be the basis of a renewing of fellowship in our country, as a compromise between the arch-liberal and arch-conservative who increasingly can’t get along with one another. Learning to tolerate each’s particular belief’s like the Left’s socialism and the Right’s freedom of religion, bearing arms, etc., could be mutually beneficial and temper some of the more radical notions of revolution which are rising noticeably.


Photo by Stan Shebs