Archive for the 'Navy' Category

Women’s Equality Day is a commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting universal women’s suffrage on this day 95 years ago.

Today is also the start of “Women in Writing” Week at the Blog. Many of the authors that follow, from now until September 2nd, are either first-time writers, new to the blogging world, or writing on issues they are passionate about.

The idea to have this week came after I culled through all of the blog posts here one day, to get a sense of where we were, where we are, and where we’re going. What Mary Ripley began inauspiciously nearly 7 years ago has blossomed into an online forum that continues the proud traditions of the Naval Institute.

Yet as I read post after post, one thing was missing: the voice of female authors. In more than 500 posts, fewer than 10 were written by active duty or reserve female officers, and none were written by enlisted females. According to CDR Salamander recently, perhaps this is because “they do not feel that their point of view…would be ‘politically acceptable,’ and from their perspective, the cost/benefit ratio just [does] not make it worth it.”

If this is so, let us make this place one where all can come and constructively contribute without retribution. And let us stand up for one another when that retribution attempts to rear its ugly head. As the same CDR wrote at USNI Blog’s humble beginning, “Creative friction is good. A questioning mindset is good. Diversity of thought is good….and a little moxie doesn’t hurt.”

The timing of this “Week” is fortuitous, too, as major “firsts” throughout the military have brought the issue of patriotic women serving their country to the forefront. The first enlisted women submariners are beginning their training, and will report to their boats next year. And of course, the first two women graduated from the Army’s prestigious Ranger School last week.

But as we move past these firsts, we must ask ourselves an important question: “When is ‘celebrating’ women not all that good for women?”

In an article published last week at the Washington Post, Gina Glanz remarks that, “Something tagged exclusively for or about women is all too often a revenue generating strategy alongside a way to deflect criticism about the lack of attention to women and an opportunity for the powers-that-be to say, ‘look what we do for women.’ Unfortunately, often, what they ‘do’ is not much.”

Glanz goes on to recommend that when women are asked to be singled out—or “siloed”—for being women, they should just say no.

And that was a strong sentiment as we stumped for articles for this week. Women’s issues are Navy issues; pay, benefits, uniforms, deployment schedules, meeting—and defining—standards, doing more with less – these are issues that we all grapple with. Knee-jerk categorization of some issues as “female” and some as “male” cheapens the contributions of all Sailors and Marines.

What will follow during this week is writing by both women and men on daily life in the Navy, role models and mentors, uniform policy, retention and leadership, command, innovation, and hope for the future. These are not male issues nor are they female issues. They are Navy issues.

Will this be USNI Blog’s only “Women in Writing” Week? Should it be? Perhaps.

Someone once spoke of a dream, where we consider all human beings equally based on the content of their hearts. Today, we must similarly strive to be a service where all who are willing are considered equally on the content of their performance and their character. This space exists for us to write about it, and to come together as both “writers” and “doers.”

CDR Salamander asks, “Do we want writers, or only writing that is within certain defined boundaries?” The legacy of the Naval Institute has been constructive writing and debate on any topic. Let the existence of this week—anathema to some—be a signal that we welcome all voices and we will, as a community, stand up for all those willing to speak. We welcome all women and men to contribute equally—and often!—to the Naval Institute Blog.

We’ve got a great week shaping up, with both new and old authors alike–add your voice as a contributor! Please send your articles or ideas in by Wednesday, or contact the week’s editor if you would like more time.

Beginning on Women’s Equality Day (26 August), the Naval Institute Blog will be running a “Women in Writing Week,” highlighting the writing of female commissioned officers and enlisted personnel in the sea services.

Women comprise more than half of the US population and 18% of naval officers between O-1 and O-4, yet they make up fewer than 1% of writers at the Naval Institute Blog.

We invite ALL females–active, reserve, retired, civilian–to write for the Naval Institute Blog on any topic of their choice. We also invite all writers of any gender to write about their favorite female writers in the military, and those role models who have paved the way for others to follow.

Blogging is not a gender-specific sport. We invite all men and all women to participate, to share in their equal voice and contribute to our great naval debate.

Interested authors may submit their writing (whether it is a final product or simply a draft with which you would like a little help) to or Thanks for writing!

SpaceShipOne lands victoriously after a successful flight to space. Photo by Mike Massee. Courtesy of Scaled Composites, LLC.

SpaceShipOne lands victoriously after a successful flight to space. Photo by Mike Massee. Courtesy of Scaled Composites, LLC.

We are part of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, a group of junior personnel charged to bring rapid prototypes and emerging technology to the fleet. Part of the job is acting as agents for innovation, and as a result, we meet with organizations in the civilian world and government who are pushing boundaries, building new tools, and making the tech of tomorrow a reality today. When we visit new companies and organizations, we try to capture the principles and characteristics that make them effective.

On our most recent trip we visited Scaled Composites, a small aerospace engineering company based in Mojave, California that produces custom aircraft from concept to flight. Our key takeaway was that the company’s value proposition is built on a passion for aviation, and using bold materials and groundbreaking design engineering to overcome technical challenges. This has been the company’s passion since the beginning, resulting in a number of innovative projects, including winning the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for a suborbital space flight in SpaceShipOne, the first privately built manned spacecraft. We liked that they do not limit themselves to traditional aircraft designs and construction techniques, as shown by one of their ongoing projects, the StratoLauncher. Designed to launch a payload into low earth orbit with more flexibility than traditional launch systems StratoLauncher will be the biggest airplane ever built.

From the beginning, it was clear that we were dealing with something different. We met the President of the company, Kevin Mickey, early on a workday, and most of us didn’t realize who we were talking to, until he passed out his business card and showed us a company overview slideshow with his title on it. The contrast to our own naval culture was readily apparent. There was no entourage, no aide or executive assistant hovering around to serve his every need, and he insisted on talking on a first name basis, making us feel completely at home.

After an hour-long discussion on the company, its mission and culture, and how they are pushing the limits of aircraft material and design, we toured the factory floor and saw their unique corporate culture in action. The company’s corporate values showed through, from Kevin knowing his employees by first name and greeting every one we passed, to the close working relationships and collaboration we saw between the shop workers and engineers. This was clearly a company that places its people first, in pursuit of solving big technical challenges.

Walking the floor and observing the manufacturing process, the group asked whether given the name, the company and its employees had a special passion for building with composites. Surprisingly, the answer was no. The materials used by Scaled Composites are actually conventional in the world of composite engineering. The company uses composites for the simple reason that building with them is the quickest pathway from design to flight, and allows rapid progress in short timelines.

Mojave is a desolate place. The town is dry, windswept, and has a population of fewer than 4,000. Scaled Composites attracts employees by giving them interesting problems to solve, and keeps them by continuing to challenge them with rewarding projects. Of the 550 employees in the company, over 60% are pilots themselves, and work on aircraft as a hobby. After building and fling aircraft all day, it is very common for employees to then go home and continue building and flying their own personal projects. Project teams are purpose-built around customer problems, and deliberately small and collaborative. There is a large amount of latitude for individual employees, based on a trust that they are trying their best to work for the company and to deliver a high quality product for the customer.

The company’s management exists to keep barriers away from the employees on the factory floor doing the actual work of the company, and serving the needs of its people, in order to put out a better product, more quickly. An interesting concept we discussed was the idea of the company being successful because of all the things it is not doing. This includes eliminating unnecessary process and oversight, preventing too much of an employee’s time from being spent in meetings, and undue reporting requirements to the corporate management. They quickly get rid of anything that gets in the way of employees designing and building aircraft.

In discussing oversight, questions of risk tolerance and failure came up. Kevin related that in building inventive aircraft and in providing latitude to engineers and floor workers, failure does occur. But what differentiates them from traditional development processes in, say, the government, is that they focus not on elimination of failure, but rather on ensuring they fail early in a project, and for the right reasons. An honest mistake is not punished, with the idea that an employee who makes a mistake for the right reasons is actually very unlikely to fail that way again. Negligence can’t be tolerated, but whole-scale risk aversion is toxic for a group. A key reminder for us was that if progress is going to be made, a healthy culture of risk tolerance is critical. At Scaled Composites, the atmosphere is anything but “zero defect.”

Overall, what lessons did we learn, and how can we in the Navy and Marine Corps apply them? This is an interesting question, since Scaled Composites is a for-profit company, with a mission of financial gain through deliverance of the best product it can. Meanwhile the military exists to win our nation’s wars, without a commercial profit motive. But there is one overriding commonality we observed: in both of these seemingly disparate missions, the people should come first. If you encourage a culture that questions boundaries, provides an intellectual challenge, is willing to reward boldness and even encourages failure in the pursuit of overcoming challenges, you attract and develop the kinds of people who dare to fail and drive outsized success when they win. This culture develops boldness, creativity and audacity that lead to considering more and bigger ideas, and cultivates people willing to try these ideas. As a result of this focus on people, Scaled Composites has been able to deliver a consistently high level of quality and breadth of products. For a military organization, a focus on people will result in enlisted and officers who aren’t afraid to act boldly and accept risk in accomplishing a mission. This will enable the capability and capacity to ensure we are building combat-ready forces in peacetime in order to win decisively in times of conflict.

In the military, we put our people first. Said another way, our people are the most important tool for winning wars, ideas are next, and the technology we use serves both. This is an oft-repeated paradigm, and while we aren’t perfect in following it, it has been proven true time and time again, throughout history. We must ensure we keep this focus. Wars are won by commanders with the vision and boldness to make hard decisions, and by Sailors, Airmen, Soldiers and Marines with the courage to carry those actions out. This paradigm is hardly unique to the military however, and we can learn much from people and organizations outside the DoD who share this commitment. In Scaled Composites, we saw just that. The company’s bold vision, failure tolerant and risk accepting culture attracts, and more importantly, develops and retains the type of employees who are comfortable with risk. Inculcated in a “dream big” culture, employees are encouraged to think boldly and pursue radical ideas. From this milieu of people and ideas, new technologies and airplanes are born, with many failures, but with enough successes that the company remains on the leading edge of the aeronautical field. The big successes that have put the company on the map, such as introducing manned spaceflight to the private market, are a testament to the philosophy of supporting and challenging their people. Scaled Composites is a model that is hard to ignore, and a valuable example to the Navy.

CommandAt lunch yesterday, I had the pleasure of being involved in a scintillating conversation among “millennial” peers. Shockingly, we didn’t spend the better part of two hours adhering to our generational stereotype and discussing important issues like how to work “only the bare minimum number of hours required,” (apologies, but CDR Cunningham’s article is the gift that keeps on giving).

We did, however, discuss the leadership changes ongoing throughout the Army and the Navy, and the concept of aspiration to command.

In 2014, the DoD Retention Survey gave us a valuable look at junior officer viewpoints, so I dusted off the data set. The following statistics jumped out:

“One of the most pointed and straightforward questions in the survey was whether or not Sailors aspire to have their boss’s job. 49.4% of Sailors overall report they do not want their bosses job, a significantly negative response when compared to the 38.8% who say they do. A plurality of enlisted Sailors (46.5%) desire their boss’s job, while a majority of officers indicate they do not want their boss’s job (52.6%).”

While having your boss’s job doesn’t necessarily equate with aspiring to command, when not even 50% of junior officers seek said job, it’s probably time to have a discussion on what that means.

But what the JOs in our lunchtime discourse yesterday really wanted to know is, does our generation aspire to command, because as CAPT Sean Heritage points out, we are told that we ought to; but the DoD retention survey indicated otherwise. This engendered a broader discussion about aspiration to command versus a desire to lead.

And as discussion of this important distinction and resulting question progressed, we enjoyed and were informed by it so much that we wished that we could put a broader group of our peers in a room in order to have this same conversation with viewpoints from across the fleet. So we put our millennial, tech-savvy heads together and figured out how we could do so.

The result was the following brief survey that we are circulating (unofficially and informally) to our peers regarding junior officer command aspirations (and yes we understand that the chosen survey domain name is ironically synonymous with a specific archetype of naval service.)

If you are an actively-serving junior officer, to take the survey, click here:

We will leave the survey available through Thursday and publish the results whether we have two entries or two thousand. It will be interesting to see what we find out.


Can-Do Generation

August 2015


The millennial generation follows in the footsteps of some awesome predecessors, learning from the example—and the mistakes—of the “Greatest Generation,” Baby Boomers, Generation X, and others. As we set our sails for the horizon, millennials often wonder: what will our legacy be?CRS-3 Conducts Interdiction Training with Indonesian Naval Special Forces

At a recent meeting of junior and senior officers on innovation, a discussion arose about funding innovative projects. All involved recognized the elephant in the room as one senior leader said, “Clearly, we can’t solve the acquisition problem.”

Being a big fan of marginalia, I wrote that quote down on the side of my pre-brief material. Underneath it, I hurriedly scribbled, “We all want reform. Show me the person who doesn’t? Do the work! Steel the wool!”

That statement—“We Can’t”—underscores the shared intra-generational frustration over our military’s “wicked problems.” The defense-industrial-congressional complex looms large as the source of these problems. This is widely recognized, and while a few brave souls have tried to slay the beast, the masses have been content to live within its shadow according to its rules.

But it does not have to be this way, and the millennial generation is already actively involved in tackling these seemingly insurmountable problems. Under Secretary of Defense Brad Carson’s “Force of the Future” initiative and Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Admiral Bill Moran’s efforts aim to overhaul the antiquated, inefficient personnel systems throughout the DoD. Providing some revolutionary solutions—and volunteering to implement them—are members of the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum (DEF) and similar JO-heavy organizations. These are millennials not willing to take “we can’t” as the final answer.

Paraphrasing a line from the founding text of our nation, though, “prudence, indeed, will dictate,” that disruptive servicemembers must not break apart the seams of the sea services “for light and transient causes.” As CDR Harrison Schramm recently wrote in the August 2015 issue of Proceedings, this generation must “do [our] homework and understand why we are where we are, and how to move forward.”

If we are to have any sort of enduring legacy, the millennial generation must eliminate the “Can’t” from responses to those who ask “How?” or “Why?” This will require millennial leaders to find their way into every corner of the defense-industrial-congressional complex, and be willing to translate reforms into lasting institutional overhaul.

We must also consider that retention in the active duty Navy may not be the end-all-be-all. Our service requires committed individuals capable of critical thinking not just in uniform, but also in elected office (particularly the “Big 4” committees in Congress: The House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees) and in defense industry. When jobs for congressional districts, profit margins for defense industry, and programmatic victories for OPNAV N-codes trump naval strategy, agility, and innovation, we are on a perilous path. It is increasingly becoming unsustainable.

Our “Can-Do” generation will lead the way. By remaining actively connected through organizations such as the Naval Institute, DEF, CIMSEC, and others, we will ensure that the capricious winds of personnel placement do not silence the ideas and spirit of our generation’s thinkers, writers, and doers. We will not allow cynicism and disillusionment to erode our fighting spirit. We will tackle all problems—no matter how large or protracted—and we will solve them.

The Naval Institute will continue to be the forum where we bring these discussions—in real time—for perspective, refinement, and support. Now more than ever, we require a strong Institute with a robust online presence and a chorus of writers to diversify the debate.

As Winston Churchill once said, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

We are now entering that period of consequences. Our sea services must either move forward or, as Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote so many years ago, fall “into insane contempt.” The legacy of the Can-Do Generation will be the difference.

Please join us at 5 pm (EDT) on 9 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 292: The Force of the Future w/Acting Under SECDEF Brad R. Carson:

If people are your most important asset, as the hardware people look to a future of F-35s, SSBN(X), and the FORD Class CVN, what are the steps being taken to set of the personnel structure to address future requirements?

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Brad R. Carson, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

Mr. Carson was appointed by President Obama to serve as the Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness on April 2, 2015. He currently serves as the 31st Under Secretary of the United States Army and Chief Management Officer of the Army.

He has previously served as General Counsel of the Department of the Army Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, member of the U.S. Congress representing the 2nd Congressional District of Oklahoma, academia, and a lawyer in private practice.

His military service includes a deployment in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM December 2008 until December 2009, as a United States Navy intelligence officer.

Mr. Carson holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Baylor University, Phi Beta Kappa. He received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Mr. Carson also holds a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. The show will also be available for later listening at our iTunes page.

Cleared by comnvacent/5th fleet, CDR BRASWELLThe following essay was submitted to the 2015 Capstone Essay Contest by MIDN (now ENS) T. Holland McCabe and is published as submitted. This is the second of several essay contest submissions that will be published in the coming weeks.

In line with Vice Admiral Rowden’s model of distributed lethality for the surface navy, today’s changing maritime security environment will require a shift in the core focus of the composition of our fleet. Distributed lethality demands that “if it floats, it fights,” according to N96 Director Rear Admiral Peter Fanta.[1] To adequately meet modern challenges, the Navy must invest in a more robust fleet composed of a larger number of small surface combatants (SSCs), in addition to the traditional capital ships. Over 50 years ago, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt first made the same argument in respect to the role of destroyers in the 1960’s Navy. In a 1962 Proceedings article, then-Captain Zumwalt argued for a mix of “complex” and “simplified” mainstream surface combatant designs.[2] Later as Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Zumwalt continued to implement his vision of what has since been called the “high-low” mix of a variety of platforms intended to keep the Navy equally capable in the high-intensity environment of full-scale war, and in the low-intensity peacetime operations of maritime security and partnership building. For a variety of reasons, today’s surface navy remains composed mainly of the “complex” mainstream Zumwalt described as, “the exotic upper spectrum destroyers, which make the heart of every true destroyermen skip a beat.”[3] In 2015, a variety of traditional and non-traditional threats faces the surface navy, and a more diverse surface fleet is needed to meet these challenges.

SSCs may not have the firepower or survivability of the fleet’s larger assets, but they provide a fiscally-responsible solution to a wide spectrum of modern threats and missions. Many day-to-day naval operations fall within the “simplified” spectrum of operations Zumwalt described, and increasingly the constant presence of forward-deployed naval forces is becoming more important to building and maintaining international partnerships. SSCs such as Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), Patrol Coastal ships (PC), and inexpensive, low-tech platforms like Joint High Speed Vehicle (JHSV) and Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) are perfect candidates to be the primary assets in the Navy’s “simplified” mainstream.[4] In times of peace they can provide a persistent, forward maritime presence without the large political footprint of traditional capital ships. In modern asymmetrical engagements they can operate in confined areas commanders may be unable to send larger platforms, or perform missions commanders may be reluctant to dedicate to a more expensive capital ship. Across the range of military operations, distributed lethality can only be administered by including SSCs in the high-low mix of distributed capability.

The message of distributed lethality – that the surface navy is once again on the offensive in a leading role – is a welcome message to a prospective division officer.[5] That being said, the Navy’s acquisition budget will be severely constrained in coming years by programs like the Ford-class carrier, the carrier-based F-35C strike fighter, Flight III of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and the monumental Ohio-replacement. Debate and discussion has focused largely on how the Navy will overcome the budgetary challenges of these projects, all of which are high-end, high-cost assets. Relatively little discussion has focused on how the Navy will continue to meet the variety of low-end missions it faces day to day, the solution to which the author believes to be low-cost SSCs. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert recently acknowledged that the Navy is facing extreme budgetary constraints in the coming decades, and “repurposing and reusing existing capabilities” will be the way forward to keep the Navy capable of meeting operational demands.[6]

More than changing mentalities and repurposing existing assets, new platforms and force structures must be developed to keep capabilities distributed across the surface fleet to meet the full potential of the distributed lethality concept. SSCs must continue to have a prioritized place in the future ship building budget in order for the Navy to maintain its forward presence and alleviate the burden of low-intensity peacetime maritime security operations from high-end surface ships. LCS has fixed its importance with the recent re-designation of later hull numbers to an up-gunned Fast Frigate (FF) configuration, as well as its innovative mission modules. However innovation inevitably comes with the price of delays, cost overruns, and growing pains as design flaws are corrected. To this end, programs like JHSV, AFSB, and a renewed PC fleet using proven, current designs can produce excellent returns on the initial investment. SSCs represent the best intersection between capability and cost in the current maritime environment. In a quick comparison, the recent Proceedings article, “Nobody Asked Me, But … – PCs are Small Ships with a ‘Big Navy’ Wake,” highlighted that a fleet of PCs is roughly comparable in size to the crew of a current DDG, operates at a cheaper cost, and requires less port infrastructure to operate.[7] If current geopolitical trends are anything to go by, the littorals represent the most-likely location of any future maritime conflict. Large carrier and expeditionary strike groups are still vital to the core capabilities of the Navy, but too often assets from these high-value units are relegated to tasking that could more efficiently carried out by smaller craft at a significantly reduced cost.

Platforms like JHSV and AFSB have avoided most of the costs of innovation by simply not being terribly innovative in the individual systems they utilize. What they do present is a cheap platform that can mount a variety of weapon systems and equipment. Everything from electromagnetic railguns, to mine warfare drones and aircraft, to small Marine detachments can be embarked aboard JHSV or AFSB. Additionally, a variety of platforms exist that could be acquired to augment or replace the existing PC fleet. Corvette-type vessels are a favorite among many navies around the world, and an excellent candidate to augment the PC fleet has already been developed and produced in the U.S. under the Foreign Military Sales Program. The Egyptian Navy Ambassador IV-class patrol craft was developed and produced in Mississippi by VT Halter Marine, and uses existing sensors and weapon systems to produce a powerful small combatant. Indeed, this article is not the first to advocate for the acquisition of the Ambassador-IV, or some other corvette-equivalent to augment the U.S. Navy’s littoral operations, but it is worth mentioning again.[8] The Ambassador-IV possesses up to eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles, a large 76mm cannon, rolling airframe missiles, and a Phalanx close-in weapon system. While this vessel actually outguns the LCS while remaining smaller and cheaper, it is again not the perfect solution for the Navy’s low-intensity missions. Keeping distributed capability in mind, a mix of vessels can provide a wide, cheap baseline across a variety of missions that LCS’s modularity can augment depending on emerging threats. A future forward deployed task group composed of JHSVs carrying Marine raider units, AFSBs engaging in mine countermeasures, PCs conducting maritime security operations, and LCSs capable of supporting any one of these missions could be an incredibly capable force for a significantly reduced cost compared to a traditional carrier or expeditionary strike group.

Many senior Navy leaders recognize the importance of building partnerships and engaging regional powers to advance American interests. To this end, a number of current Navy operations are centered on conducting bilateral and multilateral training with foreign partners. The first rotational deployments of LCS to Singapore have already demonstrated the capability of SSCs to be highly effective tools of U.S. foreign policy, participating in a number of Combined Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises in 2013, with more planned in the coming year. Increasing the number of forward deployed LCS to four in Singapore and four in the Persian Gulf in the coming years will be a step in the right direction, but more platforms creates a more persistent presence. Despite modular mission packages, the planned flexibility of LCS seems like a much more remote reality. Each LCS hull remains limited to conducting a single mission at any given time, and must return to port to exchange modules. The nature of mission modules themselves makes them less than optimal as the sole solution to low-end operations, as each module requires dedicated manning and training that goes unused when the module is not deployed, and each crew must undergo work-up training to integrate a new mission module. 3-2-1 manning somewhat mitigates this drawback, but LCS’s flexibility is increasingly looking like a slower-adapting, strategic advantage capable of responding to theater-wide trends, rather than a fine-tuned tactical advantage. LCS can remain the premier, scalable asset for low-intensity operations, but other platforms like a new PC, JHSV, and AFSB have the potential to fill gaps in LCS’s mission coverage.

Forward-deployed minesweepers (MCM) and PCs have provided similar international engagement and maritime presence abroad in other parts of the world. For several years MCMs have been operating closely with foreign nations in the Persian Gulf and in the waters off East Asia. In the past months, several large mine countermeasures exercises concluded in Bahrain, Korea, and Japan. In Bahrain, the 2014 International Mine Countermeasures Exercise was the largest mine warfare exercise in the world and was hosted by U.S. Fifth Fleet. MCMs were in a leading role building partnerships for all of these exercises. In a recent Proceedings article, several officers who have served in the PC community highlighted the advantages of SSCs for building international trust and cooperation as “an unobtrusive and complementary member of the local civilian and maritime community.”[9] Capital ships carrying large caliber guns and dozens of missiles, or fleets of amphibious assault vehicles and hundreds of marines, can be an intimidating presence the U.S. may not always want to project. The same article points to the vital maritime security operations the PC fleet is currently conducting among the oil fields and merchant traffic in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. Southeast Asian archipelagoes and sea lanes present another environment ideal for SSC operations. Roughly 40% of world trade passes transits the Malacca Straits alone each year. Local navies are rapidly expanding, mainly with SSCs of their own, to police this lucrative trade and assert the bewildering number of competing maritime claims in the region. As China asserts greater power in the region, so too should the U.S. make its presence felt with more than four rotationally-deployed LCSs and several larger ships.

Lastly, and closer to the author’s concerns as one of the newest junior officers in the Navy, SSCs provide great leadership responsibilities on junior sailors who are pushed to step into roles generally above their pay-grades. Again, this point has been raised in Proceedings by other officers, but it is worth mentioning again.[10] From enlisted sailors pushed to take on the responsibilities of non-traditional positions, such as standing officer of the deck, to junior officers placed in command, SSCs provide invaluable experience to upcoming generations of Naval leadership. Early Command has been one of the hallmarks of the surface navy – no other designator provides so much responsibility so early in an officer’s career – and this opportunity should be given to more officers who seek it.

As the Navy moves forward into an increasingly complex political and fiscal environment, the service as a whole should do well to remember 50-year-old advice from a former service chief. Admiral Zumwalt’s high-low mix of distributed capabilities must be considered to bring the new doctrine of distributed lethality to its fullest potential. While this article advocates for the place of SSCs in budgetary and strategic discussions, do not mistake that the author seeks to discount the “complex” portion of distributed capability at all, simply that they not be the sole focus. Both sides must exist in a balance for the Navy to operate effectively against the wide range of modern challenges.

[1] Sydney Freedberg, “’If It Floats, It Fights’: Navy Seeks ‘Distributed Lethality,’” Breaking Defense, 14 January 2015, accessed 13 April 2015,

[2] CAPT Zumwalt, “A Course for Destroyers,” Proceedings 88 (November 1962).

[3] Ibid.

[4] While not necessarily combatant vessels, for the purposes of brevity this article will generally combine all “low-end” assets like JHSV and AFSB with references to dedicated small combatants when referring to “SSCs.”

[5] VADM Rowden, RADM Gumataotao, RADM Fanta, “Distributed Lethality,” Proceedings 141 (January 2015).

[6] ADM Greenert, “Service Chiefs’ Update Panel,” 2015 Sea Air Space Exposition, National Harbor, MD, 13 April 2015.

[7] LT Hipple, LCDR Follet, and LCDR Davenport, “Nobody Asked Me, But … – PCs are Small Ships with a ‘Big Navy’ Wake,” Proceedings 141 (April 2015).

[8] Luke Tarbi, “US Navy Needs Fast Missile Craft – And LCS – in Persian Gulf,” Breaking Defense, 14 April 2014, accessed 16 April 2015,

[9] LT Hipple, LCDR Follet, and LCDR Davenport, “Nobody Asked Me, But … – PCs are Small Ships with a ‘Big Navy’ Wake,” Proceedings 141 (April 2015).

[10] Ibid.

President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China shake hands after their joint news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing November 12, 2014.

President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China shake hands after their joint news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing November 12, 2014.

As the Iran nuclear debate rages in the halls of Congress and the backrooms of Sepah’s leadership, skeptics point to this agreement as another piece of evidence that proves the United States (US) has lost its way in foreign policy. Meanwhile, they contend China has not only jockeyed into position as the clear cut number two world power in an increasingly multipolar system, but is arguably squaring off with the United States to ascend to pole position. Projections indicate that China stands to surpass the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) within a decade, a startling outlook as the US plunges deeper into debt. With this follows US trepidation in terms of economic and military power as China continues to expand its physical territory on islands in the Pacific and establish diplomatic agreements elsewhere in the world. The ongoing pivot, or rebalancing of resources, assets and military forces to Pacific Command (PACOM) places the focus of the world’s dominant military force squarely on Chinese motive and intention.

How the United States and China avoid outright conflict, or the dynamic Graham Allison has termed Thucydides Trap, merits a closer examination of historical lessons of statecraft in order to deal with challenges unprecedented in scale. There are two lessons of leadership that would prove useful in avoiding escalating conflict between the US and China. First, President Nelson Mandela and his vision for transforming South Africa and charting a new course for his people through and beyond the next generation. His consideration of progress not only drove him to develop policies that would have an immediate impact, but also provide increasing stability beyond the present issues. Second, we can look to the George H.W. Bush Administration’s tasking of capable public servants in critical positions of responsibility during the end of the Cold War and reunification of Germany. There were a variety of challenges to overcome in Europe, yet President Bush had the wisdom and foresight to trust his team as they considered inclusive policy recommendations that incorporated interests on both sides of the equation. Both lessons provide important perspectives for current and future leaders seeking to protect national interests, but also improve stability of the international system in the long-term.

Thucydides Trap and Avoiding Conflict

Graham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School, argues that the US and China ought to seek a way out of what he has termed Thucydides Trap; or the increasing probability of conflict between a dominant power and an ascendant power. Indeed, Chinese President Xi Jingping has embraced this as a goal of Beijing’s foreign policy: “We all need to work together to avoid the Thucydides trap – destructive tensions between an emerging power and established powers … Our aim is to foster a new model of major country relations.” Both Allison and Xi have identified nationalism as an incendiary ingredient that could spark hostilities. This follows the historical lessons from Aristotle and Hobbes to Machiavelli, Niebuhr, and Morgenthau as putting reason and pragmatism above raw emotional drivers.
Similarly, Sino-US relations are disconnected and are growing antagonistic. The antagonism is sponsored in part by the US’s rebalance to PACOM. Dr. Ely Ratner, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security explains: “U.S. efforts to expand its military force posture in Asia, to strengthen security ties with allies and partners, and to enhance the role of regional institutions are viewed by many in Beijing as directly aimed at constraining China’s rise and as the principal cause of regional instability as well as the deterioration of China’s strategic environment.” Ratner goes on to note that China is plagued by an inferiority complex and that Chinese citizens routinely produce low US approval ratings, adding fuel to China’s acrimony. How these social, economic, political, and military factors shape ongoing relations between the two most influential countries in the world requires adept stewardship able to navigate the dangerous waters of national rhetoric and realpolitik competition.

Learning from Historical Precedent

Leaders should be mindful of historical parallels that can inform policies as new generations ascend to positions of influence. Avoiding predominantly raw emotionally driven policy should be of primary concern for leaders in Washington and Beijing as bad policies often emerge under the pressures of unexpected crisis. Existing mechanisms of internal cooperation, public debate, and information exchange should be strengthened to better understand partner motive and intent not only at the leadership level, but among political classes and citizens of both countries. A more thorough understanding of security concerns, education with respect for great power status, steeped in reasonable and rational national interests, are the best remedies to public paranoia, heightened rhetoric, and fear of the unknown.
If the US and China are inevitably moving toward a bi-polar world, lessons from the past can be invaluable in shaping an environment where cooperation and competition coexist. Studying leaders who have successfully managed the complexities of transformation can be useful now and in the future. In Nelson Mandela’s ending of apartheid in South Africa, and George H.W. Bush policy on German reunification, we see two positive examples where consensus, communication, and trust all played a role in shaping positive transformation. More importantly, these policies fostered long term stability in times that could have just as easily trended toward catastrophic upheaval.

South African President Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s legacy in South Africa transcends generations in the same way that Abraham Lincoln’s legacy transcends American lore. The transformation of the country is well known and will not be too detailed here. However, we will consider his critics as their most frequent criticism reflects the importance of time and generational change as it relates to the question of implementing new policies.
John Campbell, senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations wrote an article published in Foreign Policy: “Think Again: Nelson Mandela”. He makes many valid points articulating that South Africa is not the iconic multiracial state that Mandela had set out to create. He highlights the continued segregation:

An astonishing 43.5 percent of South Africans rarely or never speak to someone of another race, according to one 2012 survey. Only about half reported interacting with people of a different race frequently on weekdays, and less than 20 percent regularly socialized with people of other races. As in the United States, racial interaction does increase as you climb the socioeconomic ladder. The black middle class interacts with other races, but largely because whites continue to control the economy. Many of those who rarely speak to people of differing races are rural or township dwellers with limited mobility — people whose social isolation simply mirrors the country’s starkly racial geography.

Apartheid has been abolished yet cultural barriers remain and hinder South Africa’s societal progress. Upbraiding Mandela is unreasonable because historically it takes generations to cure the wounds of violence and oppression. This was true following the US Civil War, and it is arguable that time represents a similar challenge in US-Sino relations. Societal change will not occur over night, over the term of a single PACOM Commander or even one presidency. Refining US-Sino relations will take generations, but action must be taken now to show future generations that partnerships can be built despite previous rivalries.
Nelson Mandela left South Africa with a legacy of peace, equality, economic growth and moral prosperity. Though here, he stands before Sino-US leadership as nothing more than a single model of how historical successes can effectively guide modern decisions. The decisions that we make, for better or for worse, we bequeath to our beneficiaries. Therefore, one of two fates awaits our bipolarizing world: one where we have left our fate to chance by continuing down the path of ignorance; or we learn from our mistakes and break from cyclical patterns of self-destruction.

The Bush Administration and German Unification

At the end of the Cold War there was a high potential for instability over the question of German reunification. Many leaders within East and West Germany were uncertain about the wisdom of bringing together two different states that had coexisted with different economic models, political systems, and divergent trends in development. Much of the public in West Germany was concerned over the prospect of unifying with a less developed East German economic model that would weigh as an anchor on a prosperous and successful West.
Yet President George H.W. Bush threw America’s full support behind the idea of one Germany, and tasked his best and brightest advisors to manage that policy portfolio and complexities of a transformative moment. Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft were supported by a fluid and capable team fully committed to identifying, developing, and managing policy solutions to the concerns of leaders on both sides. Furthermore, behind the scenes reassurance to allies, adversaries, and defining this mutual interest for European powers provided important clarity for everyone involved. Open and honest communication on the big picture importance of a stable and prosperous Germany was not only an interest of the United States and Germany, but one that transcended the two parties to include both Europe and the wider international system.

As we look back through the lens of history, it becomes readily apparent the Bush Administration’s full commitment to the prospect of a stable Germany remains one of the most important case studies of wise statecraft in recent times. Despite surprisingly little fanfare and a careful framing of the debate, with mindful stewardship and inclusion of leaders from all sides, German unity became an interest for the world over. What can be even more appreciated is the lesson of trusting qualified, capable public servants to develop pragmatic, inclusive policies lasting a generation and beyond.

Remaining Stable and Balanced in the 21st Century

Fortunately, anxieties of an absolute American decline are quelled by the prospect that polarization will be jointly US-Sino in makeup. Yan Xuetong, Dean of Institute of Modern International Relations of Tsinghua University in China, substantiates this point that “in the next decade, no country other than China will be able to narrow its power gaps with the US. With the other major powers likely to be left behind farther than ever by both of China and the US, these two giants will probably serve as two poles in the coming world order.” While competition is inevitable in a bipolar world, history has shown that competition can be managed and balanced. Moreover, continued joint prosperity creates an environment where stability becomes a paramount goal for both sides. Stewards must be capable of managing lesser disputes before they spiral out of proportion and escalate into outright conflict. Provided the shift in global poles is an unstoppable force, the next generation of leadership in Washington and Beijing must make pragmatic application of historical lessons a top priority.


VLS At-sea Reloading

July 2015


picture 1

Figure 1: The Donghaidao is the PLAN’s new MLP-like vessel

Last month, the People’s Liberation Army Navy held its first drill simulating the resupply of missiles in a combat environment. Live-fire exercises featured the firing of missiles and torpedoes, followed by maritime missile combat resupply[1]. In addition to developing advanced new anti-ship missiles, the PLAN has also commissioned a new maritime logistics vessel[2]. The PLAN is equipping its forces, and now rehearsing, for complex logistical coordination for sustained combat operations. At-sea replenishment of stores and fuel is routine for the United States. However, for all of its power projection capability, the Navy does not practice ordnance resupply. Given the increasing capabilities of the PLAN, and the imperative of Sea Basing, the US Navy must replenish this skillset.

Distributed Lethality calls for the surface fleet to go on the offensive.[3] Ships and Surface Action Groups (SAG) should operate forward, seize the initiative, confuse the adversary through battlespace complexity, and strike targets both at sea and ashore. But to carry out this strategy, surface ships face a critical limitation: munitions capacity. The primary weapons of large surface combatants like the ARLEIGH BURKE Class DDG and the TICONDEROGA Class Cruiser include the STANDARD missile, Tomahawk, Vertically Launched Anti-Submarine Rocket (VLA), and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). Those missiles are launched from the Vertical Launching System (VLS). Cruisers have 122 cells, Flight I and II DDGs have 90, and Flight IIA DDG have 96.

The specific quantities of each weapon loaded into VLS cells vary depending on mission and combat system configuration. Fully loaded, the large surface combatants pack quite a wallop, and are capable of destroying a broad array of aircraft, missiles, defended land targets and enemy warships. What they lack is magazine depth. 90 to 122 VLS cells is not enough. In the face of the sophisticated weapons that the PLAN has deployed to execute it anti-access strategy, one could easily conceive of scenarios where both the strike and defensive weapons’ cells on USN ships are quickly depleted. A day or two of combat operations may require several anti-aircraft weapons to be used against anti-ship cruise missiles and Tomahawks to be fired at targets ashore. After such operations, U.S. ships would have to travel hundreds, or possibly even thousands, of miles to a facility with weapons, equipment and people to re-arm. This takes our large surface combatants out of the fight for days, thus forcing the CSG and SAG to pull back, out of range of land-based opposing forces. That spells tactical victory for anti-access strategy.

Defeating the anti-access strategy may not require breaking into the defended bastion, destroying opposing forces, and commanding the seas right up to their shores. It could mean defending a regional status quo by preventing an anti-access actor from disrupting shipping, making claims on disputed territory, or invading another sovereign state. In many cases, the United States is the anti-access state. Today, credible military capability and capacity to impose localized sea control could make an aggressive violation of status quo undesirable[4]. Maintaining credible presence is a multi-faceted problem that touches everything: procurement, maintenance, manpower, and supply-chain. In order to counter these anti-access strategies, we must keep our major surface combatants on station with full combat capability through forward replenishment of weapons.

Unloading spent canisters, loading new weapons, and unloading weapons from damaged units will be critical to maintaining presence and keeping the pressure on adversaries in their anti-access bastions. Unfortunately, reloading VLS at-sea isn’t incorporated into the Navy’s logistical DNA in the same way refueling is. Reloading VLS cells in today’s status quo demands an industrially robust port facility with heavy equipment, trained rigging crews, and a large munitions storage facility. It is not uncommon to damage equipment, and people have been seriously injured during VLS loading and unloading evolutions. Experts at the Naval Weapons Stations and some Naval Support Facilities use cranes to unload spent canisters, move gas management system equipment, and place loaded canisters in cells. Can the Navy achieve similar results, sending ships back into action with fresh ammo, from more forward but less capable locations?

Figure 2USS FORD coming alongside USNS CARL BRASHEAR for RAS

Figure 2 USS FORD coming alongside USNS CARL BRASHEAR for RAS

To begin with, “at-sea reloading” is a misleading term. Swinging VLS canisters over the lifelines in comparable fashion to how it is accomplished at Seal Beach Weapons Station is not acceptable for Replenishment at Sea (RAS) at 13 knots. Since reloading during RAS is unachievable, I propose “forward” reloading, in a protected lagoon or calm harbor closer to the action. While out of the way locations may lack modern industrial equipment, many locations, with additional mobile support, could be used to reload magazines closer to the action.

A great deal of research and planning went into supporting supply chain management like this from 1897-1945, when Officers at Naval War College and OPNAV examined how to sail to victory against the Japanese Navy. Possible base locations were evaluated based on criteria such as ship capacity, number of entry passes, entry draft, and submarine protection to support operations in the Pacific Theater. Key requirements such as having a large lagoon and deep drafts were easily met.[5] The Navy may be able to use islands and atolls that failed to satisfy the early 20th Century requirements for forward operating for VLS reloading. Availability of numerous forward locations prevents bottlenecks, and reduces the vulnerability to enemy disruption. It is important to explore the feasibility of forward locations for VLS reloading. Crisis or time of war makes rapid munitions replenishment critical. A strategy that accepts greater risk will need to be employed. A pier that lacks every convenience except navigational draft, a calm anchorage, or even the lee of a volcanic formation far out at sea may be sufficient for VLS reloading. We should plan for using these feasible locations for VLS reloading before a crisis emerges.

Tomahawks, SM-3 and SM-6 missile canisters are over 20 feet long, weigh thousands of pounds, and are filled with fuel and explosives. They’re hard to pick up, and you certainly can’t risk dropping them. What will ships need to do to execute a transfer away from the robust facilities that normally conduct these operations?

Cruisers and Flight I and II Destroyers previously used a VLS strike-down crane that occupied space for 3 VLS cells. These had been certified to reload SM-2 missiles and Vertically Launched Anti-Submarine Rockets (VLA). Maintenance burden and crew training requirements, combined with the inability to reload some of the larger weapons in the inventory, led to the strike-down crane’s exclusion from Flight IIA Destroyers. The cranes have since been permanently laid up or completely removed from VLS systems.[i] Simply replacing those cranes is not a solution since they would require extensive redesign and engineering to load Tomahawk, SM-3, and SM-6 missiles. Rather than adding equipment to the CG and DDGs, the Navy could explore options to deliver the necessary equipment to the ship in conjunction with the missile transfer.

The size of the missiles and the distances replenishing units must cover preclude airborne delivery. The existing fleet of replenishment ships is a natural options for VLS rearming. For instance, The Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) has an open deck with ample room for containers and handling gear. Combined with low freeboard, and excellent low-speed maneuvering characteristics, it appears to be a useful platform for skin-to-skin mooring and weapons transfer. The MLP lacks dedicated magazine space and ordnance handling equipment, so development of ordnance storage containers and associated safety equipment would be necessary.

The T-AKE dry cargo and ammunition ship has ample ordnance storage capacity, however a high freeboard and large midship superstructure increases the risk of damaging mast electronics on the receiving ship during transfer operations. Moreover, though the T-AKE does have a crane, neither it nor the receiving ship has a crane capable of safely swinging VLS canisters across to set into VLS cells.

VLS reloading in sea states 1-2 is a critical requirement. During a routine RAS evolution, relative motion can exceed several feet, but during VLS reloading, the relative motion between delivery and receiving ships cannot exceed 6 inches. It will be necessary to maintain complete control of the missiles during transfer, not simply gauge the motion and use judgment to set it into place safely. Current research indicates that a specialized crane with a stabilizing system would be the best way to not only transfer missiles from one ship to the other, but to prepare the cells for ordnance. A crane with a stabilization system is the only way to ensure gas management equipment can be safely and securely placed, and that damage to cell openings and door mechanisms can be avoided while inserting loaded missile canisters into VLS cells.

While the stabilized crane helps, the best way to ensure the weapons are safely lowered into place is with a positive-control system, secured to the ship. Navies that operate the MK 41 system have experimented with developmental systems to perform this task. Prior to lifting canisters, the delivering ship would hoist a loading device and set it atop the launcher. This device would be used to pull canisters up from the cells, then lay them flat, parallel to the deck. The missiles would be secured to the crane and released from the loading device for transfer to the replenishment ship. Then, replacement missiles would be craned back to the CG or DDG, secured in place on the loading mechanism, then raised vertically for loading into the VLS.

The use of a stabilized crane and secure loading system would ensure the careful control and transfer of missiles between ships, and is essential for VLS reloading in forward areas.

A final key consideration for VLS reloading that could consume another paper by itself is ensuring enough ordnance is on hand to support ongoing operations. Requirements emerge from data models, and missiles are procured and maintained based on assumptions of potential combat regions and the threats that could be encountered there. As a conflict evolves, ships will request the missiles they need based on their combat usage, or the missions to which they’ll next be assigned. Careful tracking of what is being fired and what is being reloaded will be necessary to ensure Combatant Commanders know their inventories so that they may transfer ordnance or ships from one region to another to support combat requirements.

The speed that ordnance information must travel will increase dramatically relative to the current peacetime information deliver rate. Exercises and war gaming of these scenarios will undoubtedly prepare for the people and ordnance tracking systems for wartime speed and complexity. Weapons stations will be issuing weapons to replenishment ships, DDGs and CGs will be demanding reload, damaged vessels will need to transfer weapons to combat ready ships, and the entire system must be tuned to put the right missiles on the right ships and in the correct cells. In total, it will be a fast-paced, hectic process likely involving significant improvisation. Keeping count, maintaining order, and reloading VLS cells must be practiced, and there is more to the weapons supply chain than just cranes and rigging gear. The difference between the right munitions at the right time and a miscalculation or misplacement could be a crew watching the screen helplessly for a couple of terrifying minutes until an anti-ship missile reaches CIWS range because STANDARD missiles were not available for reload.

Forward VLS reloading: It can be done

Technologies to facilitate forward reloading of VLS are mature, but the Navy has no stated requirement for integration, testing, and certification of specific equipment needed to support it. Funding for further development of the at-sea (or forward) reloading capability will be a hard sell in the current budget environment, and because the current peacetime status quo is satisfactory.

The proliferation of guided anti-ship weapons, and the rise of PLAN anti-access strategy have driven the US Surface Navy to adopt a Distributed Lethality mindset. To keep more warships on station for as long as possible, losing a DDG in the midst of combat to conduct a multi-day transit just for rearming is not acceptable. To paraphrase Eisenhower: plans are worthless, but planning is everything. Funding for final implementation of forward reloading systems may not seem worth the expense today, but it is critical to supporting Distributed Lethality warfighting. Forward reloading of VLS cells is a technical, operational, and supply chain challenge, and it must remain a priority for research & development, war gaming, and strategic planning processes for it to ever be employed successfully in wartime.

[1] Ben Blanchard, “China Navy Holds First Missile Combat Resupply Drill,” Reuters, July 2, 2015,

[2] Mike Yeo, “China Commissions First MLP-Like Logistics Ship, Headed for South Sea Fleet” USNI News, July 14, 2015,

[3] Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, Rear Admiral Peter Gumataotao, Rear Admiral Peter Fanta, “Distributed Lethality,” United States Naval Institute Proceedings (1/2015),

[4] Rowden, Gumataotao, and Fanta.

[5] Miller, Edward S. War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945. Naval Institute Press, 1991.

[i] Before decrying the removal of the knuckle crane for criminal shortsightedness, consider the implications of keeping those cranes in place. Cranes, like pallet conveyers and elevators, require considerable effort for upkeep. They also require manning consideration to include operation and maintenance classroom training for sailors, not to mention repetition of use to ensure that crews keep perishable skills sharp. It’s also ordnance handling equipment, which involves another level of inspections and certification. These are matters of personnel safety, where errors can cost lives. We can’t simply ditch the inspections and certifications of gear and the training and qualification of people because they sound like extra red tape. Rules that govern the operation and upkeep of these systems are written in blood. Occasionally, we are reminded that life at sea is dangerous, and we do not like to be reminded in peace time. Pile that onto manpower reductions, in-rate and professional training, and watch standing, and you may notice that sailors on afloat units are busy. In an era of fiscal austerity and manpower reduction, maintaining expensive gear and skills fell off the table. Something had to lose. This lost.


Much was made this week of the North Dakota employing a submarine launched drone (here, herehere , etc). Yes, “underwater DRONES[!!!]” as the Daily Mail exclaimed.

OK, great, what does that mean though? What value are we adding to a boat? Well, the North Dakota employed a REMUS 600, which is an autonomous underwater vehicle capable of achieving depths of over 4,900ft, speeds up to 4kts, and a battery life of up to 24 hours. It’s a little over 10ft long with an inertial navigation system and a lithium battery powering it all.

REMUS UUVSo what could you possibly do with this thing? How about finding the resting place for a WWII TBF Avenger and her crew? Here, a team from the Bent Prop Project and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography used a REMUS with an add-on side-scan sonar to localize a crash site and find the plane and her crew. Around 6:00 you can catch the REMUS in action.

I know we’re still rolling out Virginia class boats, but it’s not hard to envision the future SSNs acting as a mothership for drones.

Naval warfare, at the lowest level, revolves around destroying something before it can destroy you (an observation more akin to an utterance of John Madden than Sun Tzu, I know). So as result, we talk about warfare a lot in terms of ranges. How close can I get before something detects me? How far away can I detect it? At what range can I shoot it? When can it shoot me? The race to shoot the furthest led to the development of weapons systems (Phoenix air-to-air missile and Trident missile) before we built the platform to shoot it.

And while we often describe the range of a nuclear-powered submarine as unlimited, that doesn’t mean we can go just anywhere in the ocean. We’re constrained by water depths, and the minimum operating depth of a small, submarine-launched unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV/drones) would likely be shallower than the launching platform.

We’re expanding the area of where a submarine can make life miserable for the enemy. Check out that video again. Do you think we could put a submarine there to accomplish that task? We’ve now demonstrated that a submarine launched drone might able to access that territory. That’s why we should be excited about “DRONES.”

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