Category Archives: U.S. Navy

The Unmanned Iranian Revolution

The Unmanned Iranian Revolution

In an apparent reaction to the recently concluded multinational minesweeping exercise in the Persian Gulf and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance before the United Nations, Iran released film and video of its latest unmanned aerial system (UAS). Iran calls the new UAS Shahed-129 (or Witness-129). The Guardian news website provided the following transcript of Iranian television coverage of the Shahed-129 flight demonstration: “The new drone . . . can carry out combat and reconnaissance missions with its 24-hour non-stop flight capability.” The transcript goes on to report, “home-made aircraft is capable of hitting targets at a distance of 1,700-2,000 kilometers… [and] can be equipped with electronic and communication systems including cameras which can capture and send live images.”

Images from Iranian television of the Shahed-129.

Images from Iranian television of the Shahed-129.

While the Shahed-129’s flight performance claims may be exaggerated, the system nonetheless will join several other indigenously manufactured Iranian unmanned aircraft. For U.S. sailors operating in the Persian Gulf sightings of Iranian-built drones are a common. The fact is, Iran has been manufacturing reconnaissance drones since the 1980s, when they began building and flying the Mohajer systems during the Iran-Iraq War. The Mohajer was followed by a line of indigenously built systems such as the mass produced Ababil. The smaller Ababil UAS has been exported to Hezbollah forces, who used it against Israel in the 2006 conflict in southern Lebanon. More recent reports indicate that Syrian government forces may be using this system to locate and target rebel forces in Syria. The Ababil also made headlines in February 2009 when an Iranian controlled drone was shot down by a US F-16 after making an incursion into Iraqi airspace. So clearly then the, Shahed-129 is just the latest in a long line of Iranian built systems that Iran routinely operates. By all appearances, robotic systems have been part of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s military arsenal since the early days of the revolution.

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ABC's 'Last Resort' - Submariner Critique

ABC’s ‘Last Resort’ – Submariner Critique

The new ABC drama Last Resort puts the crew of the USS Colorado, a fictional Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, at odds with a secret conspiracy inside the U.S. government with aims of sparking a global conflict. News.usni.org asked Naval Institute Editorial Board member and U.S. Navy submariner Lt. Jack Walsh to assess the reality of what was on screen to how things really work on board a boomer.
Spoiler Alert: There are many.

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The show is Hollywood’s take on the end of the world with enough gaps in real naval procedure to make the entire plot impossible.
Here is what any qualified submariner would say the show did wrong:

Busy First Day
The crew of the fictional USS Colorado had an unbelievably busy first day on screen:
Colorado picked up a group of Navy SEALs in a hostile environment with a nuclear ballistic missile submarine; the boat received missile-launch orders out of the blue; spoke via phone with the deputy secretary of Defense; instantaneously watched TV news at sea (possible, but highly unlikely); disobeyed a launch order; had the captain relieved; dodged a cruise missile underwater; crossed the equator and then ended up off the coast of Pakistan; bottomed the submarine on the ocean floor; miraculously escaped the ocean floor; occupied a remote Pacific island harbor; hit a fishing vessel, took over the island; threatened the U.S.; went back out to sea; launched a nuclear missile at Washington D.C.; and were threatened by U.S. bombers.

Last Resort tried to combine Crimson Tide, The Hunt for Red October, U-571, Down Periscope into just not one show, but into one episode. Hollywood’s timelines for submarine movies are bad enough — this is just laughable.

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MRAPs On the Way Out

MRAPs On the Way Out

On Monday the Pentagon ceased production of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP), perhaps the most iconic acquisition program of the past ten years. The trucks were designed and built in response to the urgent need to protect service members in Iraq from the pervasive improvised explosive device (IED) threat. The vehicle went through five different iterations and the production lines produced 27,740 trucks. The total price tag came to $47.7 billion. For all the investment, what are we left with?

Mine resistant ambush protected vehicles offloaded from the Military Sealift Command roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Pililaau in Kuwait in 2008. U.S. Navy Photo

Mine resistant ambush protected vehicles offloaded from the Military Sealift Command roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Pililaau in Kuwait in 2008. U.S. Navy Photo

The vehicle may be of use to the U.S. Army, but there is little place for the armored monstrosities in the Marine Corps. They are too heavy to be practical on the Navy’s amphibious warships. Marine Corps and Navy leaders rightly are concerned about the weight of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, so the weight issue is a red line for integrating the trucks into permanent service. Any MRAPs remaining on the Marine Corps rolls will most likely be stripped of their radios and mothballed.

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Naval Systems: Antiship Missile Moves Toward Flight Test

Naval Systems: Antiship Missile Moves Toward Flight Test

Proceedings, Oct. 2012
Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control business unit started a series of airborne “captive-carry” testing in May on the sensor suite planned for use for a long-range antiship missile (LRASM). It is being developed for fielding aboard Ticonderoga -class cruisers and Arleigh Burke –class destroyers.

The LRASM program is a science-and-technology (S&T) development initiative managed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Advanced Weapon Systems Initiative and the Office of Naval Research.

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Navy and DARPA officials say that the current UGM-84 Harpoon antiship missile, in service since 1977 and now on board theTiconderogas and Burkes , will in the future be less capable of penetrating advanced defenses on ships of potentially hostile navies. According to DARPA, without a new weapon, antiship operations against those defenses would require multiple launches and the use of overhead targeting assets.During an initial phase of the program, DARPA in July 2009 awarded Lockheed Martin a $9.9 million contract for demonstration of a new LRASM concept. The program aims at developing a low-signature subsonic missile that uses the airframe built for the AGM-158 joint air-to-surface standoff missile-extended range, also developed by Lockheed Martin and now in production for fielding aboard Air Force strategic bombers and USAF and Navy tactical aircraft.

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Navy, Marine Corps Reprogramming Clears Way for Nuclear Refuelings to Continue

Navy, Marine Corps Reprogramming Clears Way for Nuclear Refuelings to Continue

The future of certain Navy and Marine Corps programs remain in doubt while a temporary legislative funding measure takes effect on Monday. A little over a week ago, Congress approved a six-month spending package that will give the House and Senate until March of 2013 to decide how to meet the nation’s financial obligations, including funding for the Department of Defense (DoD).

The so-called Continuing Resolutions (CR), allow the government to remain open and operating but they also prevent DoD from starting any new programs and require funding levels for current programs to remain essentially the same. For the DoD overall, the funding continuation means a half-percent increase in the topline, but restrictions in the bill hit the Navy and Marine Corps especially hard. Shipbuilding programs could stall and multi-year buys of fighter and vertical lift aircraft could be put off, driving up costs and impacting readiness.

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) departs Naval Station Norfolk and begins a towing operation to Northrop Grumman Newport News Ship Building for a Refueling Complex Overhaul (RCOH) in 2009. U.S. Navy Photo.

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) departs Naval Station Norfolk and begins a towing operation to Northrop Grumman Newport News Ship Building for a Refueling Complex Overhaul (RCOH) in 2009. U.S. Navy Photo.

But the Navy’s two biggest issues in the CR were funding for a pair of aircraft carrier midlife maintenance projects called RCOHs or Refueling and Complex Overhaul. USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) is scheduled to finish its three-year, $2.5 billion rebuild in June 2013, but the CR funded only half of the expected costs. USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) is scheduled to start its downtime next year as well, but new programs are specifically prohibited under the CR.

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Trends in Hybrid and Irregular Warfare

Trends in Hybrid and Irregular Warfare

Proceedings, September 2012
Savvy adversaries are more capable than ever of using high-tech gadgets and social media against the United States.

From Tunisia to Cairo, Sanaa, Bahrain, Benghazi, Damascus, London, Wall Street, Berkeley, and the University of California, Davis, 2011 was the year of the social-media revolution. Smartphones and social media have enabled groups of like-minded individuals to share information, spread their messages, and upend traditional relationships between the public and authorities. These developments are part of a continuing trend in the democratization of information: the empowerment of groups and individuals by information technology. Combined with the democratization of destruction, or the expansion of access to destructive technology and tactics, small groups and individuals will have greater ability to counter traditional security forces in hybrid and irregular conflicts, where force-on-force military engagements may be blended with other operations aimed at influencing key populations.1

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The future operating environment will be one of contested domains—air, land, sea, space, cyber, the electromagnetic spectrum, and increasingly, the influence domain, where individuals and groups compete to spread their messages. U.S. military forces must be prepared for future challenges within these domains from nation-states as well as non-state groups or individuals. While the Department of Defense (DOD) is generally good at estimating and preparing for challenges from organized military forces, threats from non-state groups tend to be more diffuse and decentralized, more organic, and less predictable in nature.2 The continued diffusion of power to non-state groups will increase the challenges associated with irregular and hybrid warfare, with significant implications for U.S. forces.3

The Democratization of Information

The widespread availability of social media and Internet-capable smartphones has transformed relationships between the public and traditional authority. In the past few years, these technologies have helped non-state groups record and broadcast abuses of power, organize to form ad hoc collectives, and counter messages from authorities. In many cases, authorities have been slow to realize the implications of these changes. Even U.S. domestic agencies have repeatedly been embarrassed by incidents in which officials have been recorded using heavy-handed tactics. Images and video of peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, abused, or intimidated by law-enforcement officials in New York, Berkeley, UC Davis, the University of Maryland, and Washington, D.C., have led to outrage, suspension of offending officials, and in at least one case felony criminal charges.4

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U.S. Leading Largest Mine Exercise in Recent Memory

U.S. Leading Largest Mine Exercise in Recent Memory

Sea mines are historically the most dangerous threat to naval vessels. Since World War II, 15 U.S. Navy ships have damaged or destroyed from mines. Compared to torpedoes, small boat attacks and missiles, mines have caused more than four times more damage to U.S. Navy ships. Though the threat is well known, the mine countermeasure enterprise has suffered in recent years. Specifically, the U.S. Navy’s Avenger class minesweepers have had systemic maintenance and performance shortfalls. In the last year, the U.S. has moved the bulk of its minesweepers to its Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain and this month has started the largest mine countermeasure exercise of its kind in the last several decades. International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) 12 is currently ongoing, a partnership between the U.S. and almost 30 other countries. The U.S. Naval Institute spoke with Rear Adm. Ken Perry on Sept. 21 about the exercise, the health of the minesweeper fleet and what the exercise has to do with Iran.

Q: Could you give us a run down of the exercise?

A: The purpose is to demonstrate interoperability with our international partners to demonstrate our commitment to freedom of navigation and our ability to defend it against mine threats in particular. Our ability to conduct mine counter measure operations and mine clearance operations effectively. We had a very successful conference, a symposium, over the last couple of days it included naval leaders from the participating countries as well as industry representatives officials and other stake holders in freedom of navigation and maritime commerce and mine clearance and mine warfare capabilities. So with that symposium successfully conducted we transferred to the harbor phase where we have conducted a number of shipboard orientations for the participants including senior naval officials aboard the ships.

U.S. Avenger class minesweepers on manvuers with Royal Navy ships on Sept. 20. U.S. Navy Photo

U.S. Avenger class minesweepers on manvuers with Royal Navy ships on Sept. 20. U.S. Navy Photo

We are sailing now toward the at-sea maneuvers where we will conduct a number of at mine counter measure evolution involving aircraft and surface ships and under sea forces, divers unmanned and under water vehicles.

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A New Kind of Carrier Air Wing

A New Kind of Carrier Air Wing

Proceedings, September 2012
What types of aircraft will be deployed on tomorrow’s flattops?

What should the carrier air wing (CVW) of the future look like? This rather abstruse topic has taken on new significance of late as a consequence of the article in the July issue of Proceedingsby Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert. The title of the article, “Payloads over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” the discussion in it of the diminishing value of stealth, and the positive mentions of both the F/A-18 Hornet and unmanned systems such as the Scan Eagle and Fire Scout led some observers to accuse the CNO of somehow being secretly opposed to the carrier variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Under intense criticism, Admiral Greenert and his staff appear to be employing the “Humpty Dumpty” defense (“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”), asserting that the article did not refer in any way to the F-35 but instead to stealth in the future. 1

The F-35 non-controversy aside, Admiral Greenert made a profound statement that could have dramatic implications for the character of U.S. air power in general and the future CVW in particular. The CNO declared that “we need to move from ‘luxury-car’ platforms—with their built-in capabilities—toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection.” Why? Well, by definition “luxury car” platforms are expensive both to buy and maintain. In addition, they tend to look good and have great performance but can be of limited utility. A dependable “truck” has a wider range of uses, particularly if one doesn’t mind riding in the back. A payload-centric approach also allows for more rapid technological refresh at lower cost as well as the ability to tailor forces for the conflict du jour.

One conclusion to be drawn from the CNO’s assertion is that the value of the performance characteristics associated with so-called luxury-car platforms is declining. Those include stealth, speed, maneuverability, perhaps even survivability. There are several reasons for the Navy’s tastes in tactical aircraft to be changing. Obviously, two related ones are declining defense budgets and the high cost of advanced manned platforms. Another is concern regarding the anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) threat.

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False Flags: A History

False Flags: A History

The term False Flags has been used frequently related to the recent Taliban assault on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. We present other instances of False Flags in history.

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Sinking of the HMAS Sydney – Posing as the Dutch merchant ship Straat Malakka, the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran was challenged by the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney off the south west coast of Australia on November 19, 1941. The Kormoran continued to give signals that it was only a merchant ship in distress until the two ships were sailing parallel to one another at close range. After the Sydney demanded further proof of identification, the Kormoran raised the German Kriegsmarine ensign and uncovered its hidden guns so quickly that a German officer noted that the Australians were slow to react because they did “not seem to have grasped the spectacle of the transformed merchant steamer.” The Kormoran opened fire and scored several hits, but the Sydney hammered back. The encounter would prove fatal to both ships, but the Sydney was lost with all hands.

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Smaller U.S. Fleet Requires a Pacific Focus

Smaller U.S. Fleet Requires a Pacific Focus

This article is a response to “Atlantic Naval Forces Have a Future,” written on Sept. 10, 2012 by J. Randy Forbes.

The U.S. Navy’s shift in strategic emphasis in recent years provides the impetus for a closer examination of the options for both force structure and basing. These discussions must be frank and driven by strategic realities.

Last week’s assessment by Randy Forbes’ is absolutely correct when arguing that the number of ships available for service remains the most critical issue facing the Navy. An increase of more than 50 percent in operational ship-days combined with the smallest Fleet in almost a century has led to a rash of reports of ships suffering from degraded material conditions. The maintenance facilities in U.S. ports are unparalleled and represent the best answer to reversing those troubling trends. The assertions concerning the need to maintain a credible force in our Atlantic ports are also compelling. Southern Command, West African contingencies, and European Command requirements are all best supported from East Coast traditional homeports. Those arguments, while compelling, do not overcome the limitations of geography and history.

Historically, Middle Eastern contingencies have been well-supported by ships based in Norfolk, Virginia, and Mayport, Florida. Four of the seven aircraft carriers that supported Operation Desert Storm in 1991 deployed from the East Coast. Throughout the protracted confrontation with Iraq that continued over the ensuing decade, the homeports of the deploying naval forces alternated between the U.S Atlantic and Pacific Fleet. While that seems to suggest that continuing the existing basing arrangements would adequately support the needs of Central Command, there are political developments that may affect the deployment calculus. The viability of a strategy based on existing deployment patterns could be dramatically altered should access to the Suez Canal change.

Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams (DDG 95) participate in a replenishment at sea on Sept. 7, 2012. U.S. Navy Photo

Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams (DDG 95) participate in a replenishment at sea on Sept. 7, 2012. U.S. Navy Photo

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