January 12, 2016

Thoughts About That Unexpectedly Underwhelming Blast

As we mentioned earlier, the North Korean government announced that they had successfully detonated a fusion warhead. Given the apparent small yield of the warhead, (6-10 kilotons) there has been considerable skepticism expressed. This skepticism is not unfounded especially given that getting such small yields are hard to get from what we normally think of as an H-bomb. There has been further speculation that the weapon is what is called a "boosted fission weapon". This does not get the majority of its explosive force from fusion, but it does set off a fusion reaction which causes the fission reaction to burn much more completely. This can as much as triple yields on fission warheads, or reduce the amount of fissionable material necessary for any given yield. This alone would be a big breakthrough as it would allow North Korea to make more bombs for the same amount of fissile material. An increase of 2 or 3 times the number of bombs in the arsenal is a very substantial benefit. 

Of course there is the problem of the very low yield. which has led many to conclude that this was a fizzle. That's possible, but the last three North Korean bombs have had very similar yields, in the 6-9 kiloton range. Small nuclear explosions are actually HARD. This was a problem the US had with the W-54 program, where some of the intended the applications (a bazooka!and short range AAM) called for a sub kiloton yield but the tests kept overshooting it. 

The North Korean's first test was very small and may well have been a fizzle, but the subsequent three have been very comparable in yields. Given the difficulties of getting a reliable nuclear yield below 10 kilotons this indicates extraordinarily consistent incompetence....or that it's by design.

It is possible that the North Koreans have had a string of fizzles, but this would mean that they thrice duplicated a design flaw that did not befall the Americans, Russians, Brits, Frenchmen, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis South Africans* and (presumably)Israelis.

Furthermore, given that a good deal of this program is aimed at chest thumping and deterrence, it seems logical that the North Korean's, if they were experiencing difficulties with an implosion system, would, have at least one very simple gun type weapon like Little Boy. Such weapons are so reliable as to not strictly need testing, so a respectable 10-20 kiloton blast could have been had for propaganda purposes easily.
They have not done this, and after their first detonations their tests have been fairly consistent in yield. 

Doctor Jerry Pournelle has a discussion of this on his site...
There’s some speculation that this is an attempted enhanced EMP weapon. There’s other speculation. Add to that that I have never worked in weapon design, and the last time I seriously needed to know about the minutia of nuclear weapons was more than thirty years ago, and you will understand that I am not going to speculate. We know that North Korea tested something, and they call it a sophisticated fission weapon; what they tested was low yield, and the last time I looked, low yield was harder to do than higher yields: particularly lower than 10 kt....[/quote] 
Pournelle, caries on a discussion with Stephanie Osbourne (a retired rocket scientist who also worked on nuclear planning in the cold war) and they both reference, but do not link to speculation that this is fission boosted weapon designed to utilize the Compton Effect in conjunction with the Earth's magnetic field to produce a powerful electromagnetic pulse.

The Compton Effect

The yield of the tests is actually in the ballpark of the yields that are expected from a first generation EMP optimized nuke. Jerry Emanuelson, who appears to be an electrical engineer, has a very extensive page on what is publicly known about EMP optimization in nuclear weapons. This is part of his larger site on EMP in general. His conclusions seem to be quite consistent with those of Nigel Cook, a former physics professor who has a very heavily researched blog on the effects of nuclear weapons. Mr. Cook posted an extensive (to the point of rambling) post on this possibility after the North Korean tests and included patent data as well as multiple links. He has an earlier more general overview of the problem here.

Note that both sources indicate that this kind of small fusion assisted warhead could allow a 10 kiloton warhead to produce comparable EMP effects to a more conventional warhead in the megaton range (with the tradeoff that it would have to be detonated lower and therefore cover a smaller area). 

This tradeoff would double the number of weapons needed to blackout most of the U.S.A. and southern Canada.

"Well, maybe the Norks just want us to appreciate the night sky like they do."

This of course solves their targeting problems as the target area for this weapon is measured in states rather than meters. Additionally, it would make a small device of the type they can already deliver anywhere on earth (they can launch small satellites) an actual strategic threat. 

A total power failure involving hundreds of transformers blowing up (that requires replacement from France, Finland or China)  would take years to recover from. Add to that occasional widespread fires from overloaded wires and the collapse of the internet as well as the ancillary effects of no power, refrigeration, or heat and this could become a very bad thing. 

If this is in fact what the DPRK is doing (and we have little way of knowing)  it would be quite logical as it would give them a credible counter-value strategic capability that a few nukes, even very big ones would not provide. 

Fortunately, the North Koreans have modest goals (clinging to power by the throats of their citizenry, possibly conquering the south, and killing every Japanese male on earth) . While the regime is odious, it's not like they want to return the whole planet to the 6th century...like some people.

Amongst the ranks of THOSE PEOPLE naturally are included the Iranians, who are working very closely wth the DPRK in the advancement of SCIENCE as part of their general pattern of good behavior in the wake of the nuclear deal that solved everything. One probably ought to assume assume that much of the North Korean nuclear expertise is shared by Tehran now. 

Of course the notion that a nation using slave labor to put together a nuclear bomb might bollox it repeatedly should not be utterly dismissed, but the consistency of the yields and the potential payoffs, mean that this option ought to not be rejected out of hand.


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October 29, 2014

Not Really Effective, but Surprisingly Good

While looking for info on the Ukranian situation I blundered into this, 
 It's an interesting post on penetration tests that the Soviets did matching their 14.5mm anti-tank rifles against captured German tanks. 

First is a "heavy tank". I have no idea what it is, aside from that it's German. Here are the results with a 14.5 mm AT rifle:
  • Lower front plate (45 mm at 10 degrees): does not penetrate
  • Turret rear (28-30 mm at 10 degrees): penetrates at 200 meters, 100 meters at a 30 degree angle
  • Turret platform side (28-30 mm): penetrates at over 300 meters, 100 meters at a 30 degree angle
  • Lower hull side (28-30 mm): penetrates at over 400 meters, 100 meters at a 30 degree angle

This is a bit better than I would have thought. 

The performance against what are described as medium and light tanks is correspondingly better. I would not want to face these in a Panzer2 or even some modern APCs, and certainly not in a Humvee.

The"rifles" are beasts of course, with the lighter, single shot version weighing nearly 41 pounds and being 79 inches long. I suppose if one put a bayonet on one it would be a serviceable pike. These were obsolescent later in the war, but it is apparent that they were still quite effective weapons if used well.  I knew these guns were still in use around the world as antimaterial rifles, but the linked post gives a much greater appreciation of how fearsome they can be.

 "That just ain't right!".

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April 07, 2013

Asking the Important Questions

I did not realize they were so resilient.

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March 27, 2012

The Medicine Gun

I blundered into information on Meriwether Lewis's air rifle.

The gun is important to U.S. history because it served to deter attacks on the Lewis and Clarke expedition (they demonstrated it to the tribes they met...and implied that they had quite a few more than they did). It also reportedly took down a Grizzly bear at one point, though its unclear how many shots this took.

I had known vaguely about the Austrian use of repeating air guns, but I had not realized just how impressive their performance was.

It was equivalent to a .45ACP carbine, had 22 shots and carried enough air for ~30 shots in each flask! (There were generally three flasks per soldier) The flasks could be charged by hand with an ingenious pump the soldier carried with him (although it took 1500-1800 pumps to do so).

This is seriously impressive performance for 1790. Something like this would be a really cool survival gun today.

More here and info on the whole family of weapons can be found here here. The second link is particularly thorough and has this interesting tidbit as well.

Made in the 1940s during WW2, this gun doesn't look like a Girandoni, but examination shows that it clearly was built by someone familiar with the Girandoni repeating airgun system. Purchased in Europe, the story is that this gun was built somewhere in occupied Europe by a partisan bicycle maker during the Nazi occupation in WW2


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February 17, 2011


This takes 'Optimal Manning' to a whole new level.

I'm sure nothing whatsoever can go wrong.

Nothing at all...

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August 08, 2009

At the Ship Shopping Bazzar

Over at The Marine Forum there is a very large collection of pictures from the 2008 Euronavale, a European defense contractor convention with a naval focus.

A few trends are visible, and others have commented upon some of them at length. The poster/photographer at MF was obviously drawn to the frontline ship offerings,  in the distance there seem to be a lot of OPVs and similar vessels.

This is understandable as such vessels are the most important vessels in most navies, doing the sort of gunboat tasks that often are ignored by many but are absolutely vital.

There are a lot of logistics and force projection vessels too, which ought to come as no surprise. There are many reasons for this, they are versatile vessels in everything short of a balls out war (The Boxing day Tsunami put the utility of such vessels in the spotlight)...and they can be useful auxiliaries in a major conflict as well.

Submarines seem to be particularly well represented, particularly interesting are small relatively cheap costal units like the Andrasta shown above. There seem to be a lot of Air Independant Propulsion designs as well

There are several export designs from US firms particularly LockMart which is not only offering yet another aegis equipped export version of their LCS (this time retaining the 57mm gun) but also an Aegis corvette that may be aimed at an Israeli requirement. Then there is this...

...The Chuck Norris of FACs...Yes...it appears to be a fast attack craft about 200-220 feet long that has a 5"62 caliber gun on its bow. This is an extreme example of what seems to be a mini trend, larger guns on surface vessels from corvettes on up. Even the French, are offering frigates with the US weapon.....

...and the Russians appear to be offering  100 and even 130mm guns on what appear to be some fairly small corvettes and frigates.

 ( the 3 furthest from the camera in the picture above). Such weapons are good for costal bombardment, but it may be that they are intended for close range antiship use as well. A few 100-130mm shells might well provde a mission kill on a corvette or smaller ship and lots more shells than missles can be carried.

The natural predator of the small costal surface warship is an aircraft but SAMs might make this untenable in some circumstances. So the guns may be a hedge as well as being potentially usefull against small boat swarms,

One other thing needs to be mentioned, though it is not a trend...behold the solar powered Offshore Patrol Vessel (with force projection capability!)


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July 14, 2009

A Fashionably Late Debutante

Although there have been cost overruns and delays, the second of the competing designs for the Litorral Combat Ship has started sea trials.

Over at Information Dissemination, Galrhan provides the world with the first pics of the sea trials of LCS-2, which will be named USS Independence.

It appears that Austal and General Dynamics have successfully weaponized 'bad ass'

Good grief that thing is maneuverable!

One of the reasons this ship has hit so many time and budget snags may be that it was designed by Aussies, who are the world leaders in the trimaran hull form it uses and aluminum-smithing. I have heard that there was a very steep learning curve for the US Yard in these areas. This is a riskier design and it pushes US shipbuilding to the limit, but I strongly suspect this design will be more stable at all speeds and most sea-states than the Locheed Martin designed LCS1. It ought to have more room for growth and be more fuel efficient too, all other things being equal (which they may well not be).

As always there is a highly informed and interesting discussion in the comments of this post over at Information Dissemination. If this sort of thing interests you, then you should be stopping by there every day.

UPDATE: Gahlran  has a bunch of gorgeous high res pictures of the trials.

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July 13, 2009

The Natural Preadator of the Submarine

January 29 2009 was a dark day for the US Navy.

On that date the last active squadron of S-3 Vikings, once one of the USN's  primary antisubmarine aircraft was retired. It does not currently have a replacement, which is a cause for some concern. This happens as the main surface ASW platform, the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates are nearing the end of their useful lives. As the last of those go, the helicopters that operated off their decks go away. The Destroyers with helicopter assets are not very numerous and in any event as they are effectively combination battleships and anti air pickets..... and ABM platforms....are likely to be stretched thin with their other duties. This unhappy state of affairs coincides with an explosion of the number and effectiveness of diesel boats in the  worlds submarine forces.

Worse still, is the fact that the USN is saddled with a broken procurement system. Ships and even planes can now take years if not DECADES to reach operational capacity. This will take years to fix. Thus any replacement aircraft that are to be acquired quickly and cheaply must be more or less off the shelf, preferably Commercial off the shelf...unfortunately there just is no carrier capable aircraft sitting on a shelf right now.

Topping off this perfect storm of grief is the current financial crisis which is only going to get worse in the near term and the horrific debt the US has incured in the last few months that threatens to bankrupt us...thus any replacement MUST be relatively cheap.

It would be unwise to postpone such a program.
The Second World War experiences of the US and Britain in the Atlantic and Japan in the Pacific demonstrated the price a nation can face when antisubmarine warfare is put on the back burner. Japan did not survive. Its ASW was an afterthought and the island nation was cut off from supplies of both food and industrial materials. Its navy instead put a huge ammount of their maritime industrial bandwidth into building comparitively small numbers of huge, expensive ships that were designed to be qualitatively superior to their foes....and which now litter the Pacific seafloor.

The US and the UK did beat the submarine menace in no small part because at the UK's urging the United States built over 100 escort carriers thanks to its massive industrial capacity...a capacity that has deteriorated. Now to a large extent such capacity exists only in....China.

That is, therefore, a lesson that is non-applicable in the short term.

There was one other interesting and generally unsung weapon that was unique to the USN in WW2. It may fit the requirements of cheap, off the shelf and effective airborne antisubmarine assets.

Dirigibles like the K class airship were astonishingly effective.

USS K-2 gets ready to kick DasBooty

Equipped with sonabuoys, radar, magnetic anomaly detectors, depth charges, and bombs, these little ships became one of the U-Boat commanders worst nightmares. They were actually much smaller than was thought necessary but they still had an endurance of a day and a half at ~60 kts and could hover to boot. There utility can be measured by the fact that not a single merchant vessel escorted by a U-Boat was lost to enemy action during the war.
After the war airships of improved types served as antisubmarine craft, and, increasingly, in the airborne early warning role. In the early 1960's, as part of a larger overall policy of making bad descisions, Robert MacNamera oversaw the dismantling of the Navy airship program. A few years later, it was discovered that hovering and being able to dunk sonars were very useful ASW traits and helicopters were pressed into service as ASW platforms.

Now the lack of any naval blimps today might make one think that there is no way to get this off the shelf. That is not necessarily the case.

The Viking, the plane we want to replace has a payload of about 4,000 pounds of ordinance.

The Zeppelin NT, a rigid airship has a useful payload of about 4100 pounds, so we are in the ballpark. Note though that sensors, like a good radar and a magnetic anomaly detection boom will eat into this, not to mention crew quarters.

 The Sentinel 1000 was originally designed with the Navy in mind. It has a payload of 6,000 pounds which allows a bit more leeway in installing sensors.

Endurance of most off the shelf designs  would be low, between 12 hours and two days , but they would have far more loiter time than a helicopter or even the Viking they replace. They could replenish at sea vertically like a helicopter to extend their range.  Larger airships could be developed incrementally with lessons learned and applied in small construction batches. All of these are smaller than the frontline airships the Navy was operating in the 1950's, so in a few years we could incrementally build up at least to that capability.

Airships are not perfect. Because of their large sail area they have difficulty handling typhoons, or hurricanes  and they tend to react badly to nuclear ordinance...

Yes, we nuked a blimp...because...well, we just HAD to know.
Click here for supahsize

...but as a quick and dirty solution to ASW aircraft they do seem to have some promise.

This post would not be complete without a brief mention of Aereons, hybrid airships and other developments of the airship concept that promise far greater performance...and have been promising since the early sixties....but have gotten no results. Military Airships is a very comprehensive site dedicated to these craft and Darrell Campbell is quite an ardent and eloquent proponent of their capabilities. His arguments are valid up to a point, namely that the hybrid airship he advocates have vastly greater potential than regular blimps. Specifically these designs combine a lifting body airframe and modern materials to greatly increase performance. However, while the tech is not unsound, it only works on very large ships and, more importantly it is, not mature technology. It will require considerable integration efforts as well as trial and error. These take time and money that we don't have. Rather than letting the best be the enemy of the good, it seems prudent to me to go with what we have and develop the ideal capability through trial and error.

There are many promising technologies that might aid us in hunting submarines, USV swarms, or small craft with dipping sonars using sprint and drift tactics for instance. But the good old blimp is here now, has a proven track record and might be had rather economically. It certainly warrants a look.


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June 09, 2009

The Wreck of HMS Victoria

When commissioned in 1890, HMS Victoria was one of the most powerful ships in the world. A test bed for several new technologies she nevertheless represented in some ways a technological and tactical dead end being intended to fight end on with an eye towards ramming. To that end her main armament was concentrated forward and consisted of two huge experimental 16.25 inch guns in a massive armored Coles turret.  There was also a very heavy secondary armament of 6 inch and smaller weapons as well as some torpedo tubes. Finally there was a massive armored ram below the waterline. All that armor and armament forward on a 10,000 ton ship meant that freeboard was low at the bow and the ship was considered best suited to the Mediterranean squadron. She was very well equipped as a flagship however and as such bore Admiral George Tryon's flag on 22 June 1893 when, off the coast of Syria, the Mediterranean fleet was engaged in maneuvers.

  A miscommunication via signal flags resulted in the battleship HMS Camperdown ending up on a collision course with Victoria. The Helmsmen of both vessels waited to get permission to change course, by which time it was too late to avoid a collision and Camperdowns fearsome ram pierced Victorias bow. Damage control efforts were hampered in part by Watertight hatches that were unable to be fully dogged due to paint and rust as well as bulkheads being pierced for ventilation and wiring. HMS Victoria sank in 13 minutes with the loss of 358 men including Admiral Tryon.

The Wreck  has now been found 500 feet beneath the Mediterranean.

Its in surprisingly good shape.

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May 03, 2009

This is a Destroyer

A Japanese destroyer.
There is no such thing as a Japanese aircraft carrier...

Nope nosirree .

Nothing to see here move along.

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March 22, 2009

More Ideas for Naval Numbers on a Budget

As has been mentioned here before, the combination of increasing unit costs, aging hulls in need of replacement an increase in the numbers of units needed and the unforced budget debacle facing the treasury has created a procurement conundrum for the US Navy and Coast Guard. 

We need ships, lots of ships in a decade or less but given the economy we are likely to have have very little money

Given the high tempo 'medical diplomacy' operations pioneered by the Bush administration as well as the need to respond to disasters such as typhoons, volcanoes, plagues and tsunamis at least some of the vessels we build ought to have some sort of cargo capacity and a larger than average medical facility.

A converted or redesigned merchant design would seem to be the logical choice but if these are to replace the FFGs then it is important to ensure that such a vessel be capable of providing something in the event of a hot war other than terrible ways for bluejackets to die.

This is not unheard of. The Flower class sloops of world war one were built to commercial standards, had a modest cargo capacity and were intended to serve as minesweepers, troopers, escorts, picket vessels, gunboats and light replenishment ships. They were not frontline ships but they were not helpless either and provided sterling service as convoy escorts and on gunboat duties between the wars.

The challenges of modern warfare mean that an electronics fit is needed of course so such a ship will bear no relation in cost to whatever merchant ship it is designed from, but it might cost something akin to a modern corvette.

Lets take a standard American containership design, the Philidelphia Class, and assume the aft deck is used for helicopter operation and the aft holds are used as a flex deck for small craft and Littoral combat ship modules. The holds forward of the bridge have ample room for containers that can contain everything from food to hospital or war supplies. I'd use the midships below decks space (where pitching would be minimized )for a big hospital and a secondary helipad (if only to directly service the hospital). This would not have the capability of the Mercy or Comfort but it could conceivably approach that of the LHAs and could do a LOT of good on mercy missions.
It might be less threatening as well. Note that while such a vessel would not be a hospital ship, and would therefore be targetable by law, most people we are likely to lock horns with  are unpersuaded by appeals to human decency anyway. Forward of the hospital area, even  2-400  containers would be an impressive ammount of relief supplies in peacetime and still leave room for 16-32 VLS cells for ESSM. The large helideck would give a decent helicopter borne ASW and possibly even minesweeping  capability in wartime especially if during a major war something like SCADS or the old ARAPAHO concept were put into place along the lines of this....

We might be able to build a dozen or more of these in commercial yards over the next few years. This would have the added benefit of propping up and stimulating our shipyard capacity during dark economic times in a way that dog parks in California are unlikely to do. Such a program might appeal to the current leadership in ways a more conventional naval procurement would not.

These would probably  not able to be procured in the same numbers that 600 ton corvettes might but they could ad a considerable complementary capability to the low end of the hi/lo mix.

At any rate it may bear considering. Any thoughts?

UPDATE: In the comments James Rummel takes the time to comment at length about the idea and makes some lucid points but also indicates that I may have been unclear about as few things.
These are not replacemtnts for our cruisers and destroyers, but a low end complement. If they replace anything they might best replace part of the production run of the LCS vessels....
IF they can be procured more economically and IF they would be a net improvement in capability . These are indeed big "IFs".
There are certainly all sorts of issues with this concept both political and practical. However, I am of the opinion that, if built, these would be warships with peacetime duties similar to a 19th century gunboat but with much greater utility to assist the main force.

Mr Rummel makes another comment that deserves mention.

You suggest that this is only a temporary change until economic conditions improve.  But anyone interested in military procurement will tell you in a heartbeat that it would be almost impossible to get Congress to pony up for actual, very expensive warships after a decade of building cheaper cargo ships.  Once the change is made, there is no going back.

This is a  very real concern.

It is probably one reason the navy doesn't build some smaller carriers to increase survivability through numbers. This was tried in the 70s ant the congress made it plain that it would ONLY buy the smaller carriers and not increase numbers...thereby gutting the navy but giving the impression that congress was providing modern ships.

It does not always work out that way though.

In the 1880's the UKs shipbuilding program was terribly screwed up, with problems that included cost overruns, excessively long build times, ships massively over budget as well as overdue, quality control issues, problems integrating new technologies and simple corruption (sound familiar?). The response was to, for a time,  order only second line vessels such as gunboats and auxiliaries as well as a few experimental technology test beds such as experimental high speed craft (the torpedo boats).

These were often ordered outside the usual defense procurement clique.
In the meantime the procurement system was overhauled, investment was made in physical plant improvements at the shipyards and  the procurement system was reformed, Concurrently, a determination of what sort of vessels were needed was made. Then rational, attainable requirements for the various types of vessels were drawn up that matched the then current technologies, the national strategy of the time as well as the gamut of potential scenarios.

After several years of building gunboats and finishing the dubious vessels that were already ordered, the Royal Navy began building ships under the Naval Defence Act. William Whites design team produced the finest ships that had been built up to that time and for nearly two decades, every subsequent class was an improvement on their design predecessor in some way.
From that point until WW1 the British Royal Navy built a balanced fleet and produced some of the best, most economical; and cost effective ships of their day.

So while the pitfall Mr Rummel points out is very real, it can in fact be avoided if care is taken and the legislature acts in good faith...another very big "IF".

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March 08, 2009

Warrior Queen Boudica and the Lost Art

Colleen Doran laments the disappearance into the publishers aether of the last of the "Big Books" the Big Book of Wild Women which would have featured a story illustrated by Ms. Doran about the warrior queen of the Celts. In fact she laments its disappearance so much that she went ahead and published her story as part of a long, informative post concerning the historical Boudica.

Anyway, read the whole thing.

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February 22, 2009

Sea Services...What Should we Build? What CAN we Build?

So what sort of ships should we be building the Navy, Coast Guard and Army Transport command to meet their future challenges?

This has been a point of interest on this blog off and on for some time, but the circumstances we are in and the challenges we face have both changed for the worse in the last month.

While I think the Bush administration gets a bit of a bum rap on many things,  one area where they certainly did not cover themselves in glory is in the realm of military procurement, particularly on the shipbuilding front. Focused on the various awful conundrums and unpalatable choices  the administration was presented with, they chose to leave the shipbuilding policies virtually rudderless in shoalwaters for 8 years, with the predictable result that the surface shipbuilding program is now on the rocks.

 This is exacerbated by the fact that the US is in a rapidly deepening financial crisis. With the US having the worst January since the Panic of '96 (That's 1896 btw). Whatever optimism about a short recovery period there may have been dashed...just as we are now saddled with an ill-conceived orgy of spending  that will stretch our budget terribly,  the challenges facing the current administration in this area are considerable. Money is tight, so tight that the repairs to a cruiser after a recent grounding may affect the preventive maintenance of many other ships.

But wait! There's more! The development of the EMALS catapult system is reportedly in doubt this actually jeopardizes the whole carrier program right now.  Other new ships are massively over budget and riddled with quality control problems. The congress wants to saddle the Navy with insanely expensive nuclear escorts that not only cannot be built in any numbers in the best of times, but are problematic from public relations and diplomatic standpoint, as they have a difficult time doing goodwill port calls as they will likely attract luddite green protesters like flies.

All this adds up to the fact that the most vexing questions facing the military may well be not what ought we to be buying...but what can we afford?

 We may have to cease carrier procurement for a decade if the 25% defense budget cut desired by many in congress is passed. Hell, destroyers may be off the table too (though that is not as big an issue near term as we have quite a few first class underage units).

Minesweeping, antisubmarine warfare, inshore work, antipiracy operations as well as various subsidiary duties are currently slated to be performed by the Littoral Combat Ships. These ships are designed to be fast, and are fitted to take a mission pack dedicated to whatever mission the ship is assigned at any one time. This was intended to make them cheap enough that a large number (70+) could be bought.

Unfortunately, the new kit cost a lot to develop and the hulls, designed for speeds approaching 50 knots (!?) require very high levels of skill to manufacture. One result is that they cost 450 million apiece with the modules to provide their "teeth" still under development (all that innovative cost-savings doesn't come cheap). They are interesting vessels, not without utility, but they are probably too expensive to acquire in the numbers needed.

Those numbers are not entirely clear but they are fairly large, as all of these procurement calamities coincide with a vast expansion of the number of submarines being operated by nations more or less unfriendly to the US, plus a worldwide increase in piracy as well as an international situation which places a premium on soft power efforts such as disaster relief, "showing the flag" and operations like Continuing Promise and Pacific Partnership....the high tempo humanitarian/diplomacy operations pioneered by the Bush administration .

All of this requires a large number of ships...just as our budget is busted. With many of our vessels at the end of their lives, speed is also of the essence, so it is probably not a good idea to start designing a vessel from scratch or fitting it with groundbreaking technologies.

There seem to be two schools of though amongst navy types as to what sort of vessel we need.
One school advocates something akin to a small frigate, another, a fast attack craft 5-600 tons.
 A proposal like the latter (inexplicably called Streetfighter) was the genesis of the Littoral Combat Ship, which, as mentioned, grew in both size and expense.What the FAC/Corvette advocates there fore are proposing is to do the LCS program again, but apply the lessons learned to get it right this time. The benefits perceived are as follows...

With a shallow draft, and small physical size, a FAC sized warship can, in theory, maneuver inshore easily. The physically smaller ship would be cheaper in theory, and because of this and its smaller crew could be more readily risked. For anti-piracy, ASW, patrol or minesweeping, 10 little vessels can be in 9 more places than 1 super-whamodyne Dreadnought. They would not be front line vessels but neither were the destroyer escorts of World War 2.

To be affordable in numbers, any vessel of this size will likely have to be given a rather more austere fit of weapons and sensors....which it is argued, should be fine for peacetime gunboat duties. If a helicopter hangar is not considered a necessity (a dubious notion IMHO) there have been numerous FAC designs from various countries over the years.

Italy in particular produced a family of light attack and patrol craft for export in the 70's and 80s of which the Ecuadoran Esmereldas , the high end of the series, is probably the most well known.

The ones presented here were never built but are included because all three are fairly austere but potentially useful.

They are also basically the same hull and thus show the potential of modular weapon and equipment swaps.

Patrol boat pics via the Secret Projects Board.

The rather precarious helicopter deck in the third design could just as easily be filled with ISO containers full of, relief supplies,some of the minesweeping or ASW modules intended for the LCS or....hospitals.

These are all 25-30 year old designs but still give a ballpark idea of what can be done on 5-600 tons.

The problem with this is that these 5-600 ton designs seem lightly equipped in comparison with their counterparts, particularly their Ecuadoran half sisters. This line of reasoning can lead to diminishing returns.

 The temptation to add "stuff" is strong. AAA missiles are nice to have and some sort of antiship punch seems silly not to include. Also, a helicopter hangar is high on the want list. This line of thought can easily bring us to what is probably the most extensively equipped FAC design right now, the French Combattante BR 70 and BR71 (article in French but also see here).

French naval architects at CMN are justifiably proud of this most pimped out of FAC's. For 800 tons, these are impressive (if tight) designs, carrying a helicopter hangar, a 3 inch gun, up to 8 Exocet's, as many as 32 Evolved Seasparrow AAA missles and 21 RAM point defense missiles at over 32 knots. Note that this is an export design though...and as such is likely to stress visible features ( the armament of a frigate) over less obvious ones (habitability, maintenance, redundancy, durability, seaworthieness ect.). Note also that the Marine Nationale is not buying the design. This vessel has little if any space for the sort of cargo one would need for disaster relief and no ASW capability.

Finally, putting all these systems on a small hull is unlikely to involve any significant cost savings over a frigate sized vessel.  The hull is the cheapest part of a warship. The missiles, fire control, C4I, ECM and ECCM systems all cost a lot and getting them to work on a small hull is problematic due both to having antennae mounted close together and the fact that a small hull pitches more. There are certain navies whose needs are met by such a tight design particularly if they use (like Sweden does) armored docking facilities, but for us, especially given the forced financial parsimony we face its probably better to go with a frigate sized vessel perhaps acting as a "leader"to carry helicopters and more elaborate systems.

One option is to modernize the remaining Oliver Hazzard Perry class, perhaps along the lines of the Australian's upgrade. This is potentially troublesome as the Perry's have been run very hard and likely have microcracks and other difficult to repair wear and tear. Also, the Australian upgrade has not been without problems, but at least the lessons have been learned. If an upgrade and refurbishment can be done cheaply then the vessels could have their life extended a decade or so which might get us over the financial hump. Reinstalling the MK 13 launcher would give the ability to 40 or so land attack versions of Harpoon and ESSM would take care of the AAA requirement.

As for new build frigates any such construction must have economies ferociously enforced as was done with the Perry (FFG7) class. Happily,  there is actually a US design that is viewed favorably and while it has had some minor problems these have already been found out and are being fixed*. The Coast Guards National Security Cutter is extraordinarily seaworthy,  reasonably fast and has very good helicopter facilities. It is lightly armed but there appears to be a space reserved for a VLS or something behind the 57mm gun....Put a VLS nest there. A 16 cell unit would look to be the maximum.  That gives you 32 ESSM and 8 ASROC or 64 ESSM. As for sensors, on the high end, fit SPY1-K (an austere export version of AEGIS). Bolt on HARPOON or PENGUIN to taste.

Fit a towed array sonar  in the area used for boat handling aft or modify it to a working deck for handling various mission kits and supplying the aforementioned little gunboats.
Fit as hull sonar a development of the same sets on the old FFG7's or refurbished FFG7 sets.

You then have a low end but still capable replacement for the FFG7s with more capability than they ever had.

And they'd be prettier too...even if they were grey.

Another even less expensive option for frigate/corvette sized vessels is to have the Navy involved in the design of the more austere **Offshore Patrol Cutters and, perhaps, subsidize their cost the way they did the old 110' cutters, possibly buying more than 25 of them. This might involve adding some shops and underway replenishment capability to tend smaller cutters and the modern version of the gunboats mentioned above.  Pirate fighting as well as many 'short of war' activities are a good fit for the Coast Guard (as has been mentioned here before).

Having the operational replacements for the Perrys current duties manned by the USCG would free their rather large crews for less subsidiary duties and ensure that bare bones Offshore Patrol Vessels not be counted on the navy list as full frigates or destroyers as some congresscritter would be tempted to do.

There are larger systemic issues involving the expense of getting things built in US shipyards that range from the cost-plus contracting system to limited competetion. These are topics for another post, but one potential benefit of the small 5-800 ton vessels is that they might be built in many more shipyards, thereby encouraging some competition and further cost savings.

There is a lot of stuff we can't afford in the near future, but if we avoid letting the best be the enemy of the good we can likely muddle through this period without loosing to much capability.

At least I hope so....

*The 2 main issues that the cutters have had both were rather overblown and I am ashamed to admit that I fell for the hype.As I understand it now, the issues stemmed from the fact that the Coast Guard changed the requirements after construction had started. First they went to a multi crew arangement so the cutter could stay at sea much more often....which consequently increased wear and tear and reduced maintenance time. This meant that the fairly extreme 30 year lifespan might not be achievable with the original design. Subsequent cutters are being built with reinforced scantlings and the lead ship will be refitted in due course. The ship is currently sound structurally...the newer ones will be better. The other issue involves the fact that TEMPEST grade electronics were fitted to a vessel not initially designed for it. Bertolf's comm systems are as good or better than any other cutter save perhaps the ex navy PC's. Subsequent vessels will be built to TEMPEST standards. There is more on that here....money quote

TEMPEST is the most overrated problem in modern defense spending history, and it isn't close... and the facts prove it.

** A post from last year on the OPC is here.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 02:00 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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January 04, 2009

Not Just Decietful...Risky

Over at Information Dissemination, Galrahn is tilting at the windmill of misleading nomenclature. It seems that some in the USN are determined to have everyone believe hat the Littoral Combat Ship...that 3,000 ton speedboat with the armament of a Coast Guard cutter...the one that is intended to act as a tender in time of war...is a Frigate.

Take it away Galrhan...

Words like warship and frigate matter, when the LCS is sold as a frigate or as a warship, it carries with the name an expectation the ship is best used as a warship or frigate. The LCS is neither best used or even well used as either. A modern warship that does not carry a single kill weapon of any kind is not a warship, and if the ship is intended to be used in theaters of war then it does so only as a support ship when it brings no offensive tactical capabilities during wartime. The function of the LCS is support, the tactical principles are exclusive to roles of scouting and C2, by every tactical metric as constructed and in CONOP when explained, the LCS is a support ship, not a warship. The intent to explain, describe, or sell the LCS as a warship is dangerous, dishonest, and deceitful.

The last sentence might seem an over the top reaction to what seems to a layman a simple bureaucratic nomenclature fight. However it is entirely correct when one is aware of the history and implications of misrating warships.

HMS Invincible...the first battle cruiser.

Although not entirely applicable to this problem the story of the UK's battlecruisers is illustrative. In the early 1900's the UK built a series of big, very fast cruisers with battleship caliber guns intended to scout ahead of the battleline and overwhelm more conventional cruisers and commerce raiders. They were armored like the preceding armored cruiser classes and had cruiser strength scantlings. The big guns were intended to outrange other cruisers and provide a means to fire back on scouting duties while they hightailed it from the sort of close combat they were not intended to meet. For domestic political reasons, they were, around 1911, designated BATTLE cruisers and the term "capital ship" was coined to give the impression that they were part of the battle fleet...thereby giving the impression to the public that the Royal Navy had more battleships than it really did. During WW1 they were thrown into the battle line at Jutland so their heavy cannons would not "go to waste"...with the result that 3 were sunk in quick succession with the loss of all but 30 of 3300 crew between them.

HMS Invincible...a double tombstone for over a thousand men.

Like the battlecruisers, the Littoral Combat ship is built to less stringent structural standards than other frontline ships, and like them it seems to be a very expensive solution to the problem it is intended to tackle.

However, it gets worse than that, because there is a major difference between the two types of ship.
Battlecruisers carried big guns and could (and did) damage the enemy. Invincibles career was quite distinguished right  up to her loss. HMS Renown and Japans (British designed) BC's gave a good account of themselves in the second world war. Although vulnerable to fire, they packed a punch (Churchill called them "...eggshells armed with hammers"). The LCS has a 57mm gun, some machine guns and, if the NLOS missile is not cancelled, some light guided artilery rockets (NLOS is basically a long range Hellfire). The remote vehicles it is supposed to carry have no ship killing weapon. Its most powerful ordinance will be carried by its 2 helicopters.  It is potentially a very useful support vessel and can complement the capabilities of frontline ships, but it is fragile and can't fight. In a hot war LCS is an eggshell armed with toothpicks and a multi-tool, fighting a bowling ball.

Galrhan is right, the vessel is certainly not a frigate. And this is an important distinction for reasons beyond it's vulnerability. Unlike the Battlecruisers, which brought battleship guns to the table, the LCS brings basically nothing to the frontline at all save an additional target (and a fragile one at that) Because of its lack of any serious weapons, no admiral is going to be inclined to use it as a combat asset because it can't add anything except perhaps electronic warfare capability. No, the danger for the navy is that CONGRESS decides that these vessels represent actual warships and orders them IN LIEU of more warships....which might leave an admiral with nothing else to send.

To a congresscritter, especially the sort of congresscritters we have in the majority now, calling the LCS a "frigate" is the same as saying its a destroyer escort. To them this makes requests for actual warships redundant. They would rather spend money on almost anything else and this nomenclature gambit gives them an out.

This is not to say the vessel is worthless necessarily....
It's capabilities are indeed useful and are well in line with a gunboat or "peace cruiser".

It has a modest armament geared to policing duties and the capacity to carry additional equipment. In the 19th century the additional equipment consisted mainly of marines and perhaps relief supplies, this ship can carry those and more.

While the USN's naming scheme for capital ships is haywire at the moment, it is clear from the naming convention announced for the the LCS (they are named after small towns...just like most of the old PGs and peace cruisers) that the Navy considers them basically Patrol Gunboats in function.

With their huge flex decks an impressive helicopter decks, these vessels can do the soft power activities like disaster relief and possibly even low end hospital ship missions and such. Like the old gunboats these could be useful auxiliaries in a hot war, being used as ROV support and mine countermeasures ships much as the old gunboats tended to be used as tenders and minesweepers....the big difference is that that capability is built into them from the start.

If there is a gripe about the LCS aside from those trying to classify it as a frigate, it is that they seem to be a very expensive solution to the problem. Better, more robust and versatile results might be obtained with an actual frigate but with a flex deck, something superficially along the lines of Denmarks Absalon class but with 4 rather than 2 diesels, a modest number of missile tubes and a full fire-control system. Such a vessel would be more expensive than  HDMSAbsalon, but not much more expensive than a regular frigate would be because all that would be added would be steel....which is cheap in comparison to electronics.

Note that HDMSAbsalon, while very austere, has, with her 5" gun, 36 ESSMs, 16 harpoons and 6 TTs, a somewhat greater punch than the Perry class frigates as built, and is in a whole different league from the LCS.

Such a vessel would broach some criticism as it would draw more water, but Absalon for instance carries 2 CB90s which can carry the fight into far shallower water than LCS (and with, say 2 NLOS packs could have almost the same armament).

For a variety of reasons put forth here I feel that most of the peacetime things that can be done adequately by a warship armed like the LCS can be more efficiently done by the US Coast Guard..however the cutters aren't going to have the support capability for minesweeping and such that the LCS designs do.

Now, it may be that the 50 kts speed and other less visible characteristics mean that one of the Litorral Combat ship designs is better suited to the subsidiary duties it is intended to do, but these duties don't include going into harms way and these vessels are not frigates by any measure. Referring to these interesting vessels as such officially threatens to displace real warships which the navy needs in addition to auxiliaries.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 01:56 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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November 28, 2008

A Thing of Beauty

That's a 60mm mortar....fired from the hip.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 07:17 AM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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