May 18, 2018

Millennium Challenge 2002

One issue that’s come up a couple of times in the comments to Naval Gazing is Millennium Challenge 2002. MC02 was a major exercise designed to test operational concepts that the US military was developing, using a combination of computer simulations and live exercises. But today it’s known primarily for the allegations that the OPFOR commander, Paul Van Riper, managed to sink most of the US fleet using asymmetric tactics such as small boat scouts and motorcycle couriers to keep the US from intercepting his communications, followed by a massive salvo of cruise missiles. At this point, the exercise was reset, and he was ordered to stick to a script that would guarantee a US victory. The obvious takeaway is that the USN is incompetent and vulnerable to an enemy using the same tactics.


Missile-armed Fast Attack Craft

As you’d probably expect, I’m of the opinion that the conventional narrative is deeply flawed. Unfortunately, I can’t offer a verifiable narrative to counter it, as deeper research into this has left me confused, with at least three different narratives as to what happened, and no real way to sort out the truth among them.

The first thing to understand is that a big exercise is not the military equivalent of a sports game. You don’t throw a bunch of men and equipment into an exercise area, then say “right, let’s see who’s best”. Millennium Challenge 2002 was intended primarily to test a set of operational concepts that the Rumsfeld DoD was pushing.1 Other exercises are intended more as full-scale training for the relevant forces, to teach people how the whole system works together at the same time. This is also a secondary goal of exercises like MC02. In no case are we simply trying to see who wins, so if one side does something unexpected that would bring a real operation to a premature end, as Van Riper did, it makes sense to learn lessons from it, reset, and continue on.

The second important point is that an exercise of this type is very artificial, and these artificial constraints can impact the results. Take a basic naval exercise. In a real war, a carrier group can move freely, hiding from the enemy and blending in to merchant traffic. In most exercises, though, safety concerns mean that the carrier is restricted to a much smaller area of the ocean. The OPFOR commander either knows these areas ahead of time, or can make educated guesses, which gives him a massive advantage over a real opponent in terms of finding the carrier. For a more concrete example, the Marines who were landed during MC02 were only available for a limited window of time. During a real war, the landing would not take place until the enemy’s ability to oppose it had been sufficiently degraded. Time constraints meant that the Marines in MC02 were sent ashore earlier than they would have been in a real war, and were thus “defeated”. To preserve training value, they were then ruled ashore, and the exercise continued.

Neither of these points is at all obscure within the military, and an early Red victory followed by a reset is not uncommon in exercises. In a few cases, I believe it’s even intentionally inflicted on the Blue force, to keep them humble. But Van Riper’s behavior in the aftermath of the exercise indicates that he appears to have been treating it as the military equivalent of the Super Bowl. The initial attack almost certainly took advantage of the artificial start conditions of the exercise to coordinate around a metagamed datum, and later on, he appears to have been much more concerned with winning than with fulfilling the purposes of the exercise, or with roleplaying the OPFOR appropriately. The referee had to essentially take command of the OPFOR to put a stop to this. A retired three-star general should have understood this, and I don’t know why Van Riper didn’t.

Everything up to this point has been based on a fairly conventional reading of the available information, and could apply to any exercise. But the nature of MC02 left it particularly vulnerable to problems. Besides the live aspects, much of the exercise was conducted using computer simulations. 42 different modeling and simulation programs from across the services were federated to create the digital environment for the exercise. Anyone who has even the most cursory knowledge of this kind of federated modeling will immediately tell you that this is a recipe for all sorts of interesting behavior, and I believe that MC02 was the first time this specific environment had been used.

This interview with several of the generals involve indicates that the infamous destruction of the Blue fleet was actually the result of two computer bugs. First, the naval defense systems model was unable to cope with an environment with heavy civilian traffic and kept trying to shoot down airliners, so it was turned off.2 Second, the actual amphibious exercise had to take place in a very restricted box, to avoid interfering with civilian traffic. As the ships entered the box, the simulation updated their digital positions to match their real ones, placing them much closer to shore than they would have been in a real war, and giving Van Riper a clean shot at them. Not resetting the exercise after a “victory” under such circumstances would have been horrifically stupid, and Van Riper has no basis at all to claim victory. That said, the official report makes no mention of this being the cause of the fleet’s loss. On the other hand, despite covering 752 pages, it’s surprisingly sparse on details.3 Even if this isn’t the case, I would be surprised if there weren’t bugs in a simulation of this complexity that a clever metagamer could exploit to “win”.

There's a third version, this one from naval analyst Stuart Slade of Forecast International. He claims that Van Riper simply cheated to win, essentially summoning the assets used to sink the Blue Fleet from nowhere. Stuart also claims that, among other things, the small boats used would have likely sunk under the weight of their missiles. This version is plausible, although probably slightly less so than the other two.

But what are we to make of the basic claim, that the USN is horribly vulnerable to attacks by small boats? In reality, this is perhaps the most exaggerated claim about the doom of the carriers. Small boats are dreadful weapons platforms. Most importantly, their size limits what systems they can carry. While a missile boat might be able to carry a few missiles, it doesn't have the space or weight to carry much of anything else. This means that it has to rely on offboard sensors for over-the-horizon targeting, and doesn't have any air defenses. A capable opponent will attack the communications responsible for targeting, and use helicopters to kill the boats. Even larger craft, which have a theoretical air defense capability, have been found to have serious trouble using their SAMs, as the pounding of a small craft at speed throws the radar off the target. The Battle of Bubiyan is a prime example of this, and helicopters used lightweight missiles, machine guns, and hand grenades to totally destroy the Iraqi boats. Small craft also lack the size and durability of proper warships, which makes them easy to kill.


One of Van Riper's missile boats (Artist's impression)

One of the themes of this blog is that the defense world is almost always making decisions for good reasons. Millennium Challenge 2002 is often cited as an example of serious problems with the US military, and how it will easily be defeated by a clever opponent. A careful examination shows that it was a complicated and messy situation, and one that says a lot more about an ego-tripping general than the world's most powerful fighting force.

Edit: In the comments, Some Guy points out that I may be being unfair to Van Riper, and on reflection he's right. It seems likely that Van Riper was very concerned about US vulnerability in the littorals, not entirely without reason, and took the exercise as an opportunity to demonstrate his point. There was probably a breakdown in communication between him and the people setting up the exercise, which lead to the breakdown in relations. If this is the case, then Van Riper is personally innocent of more than bad communication, and my ire is more accurately directed at the people pushing the “Local General discovers One Weird Trick, Pentagon Hates Him” line.

1 No, I’m not going to explain these concepts. They’re potentially fatal to anyone who hasn’t built up a tolerance to DoD Buzzword Speak, and it’s irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make. Also, they didn't work that well.

2 This was just the analysis model, not an actual problem with Aegis.

3 If you don’t believe this is possible, read it yourself. Yes, this is typical of military writing.

Comments

  1. May 18, 2018Suvorov said...

    I'm skeptical that small boats are as defenseless against helicopters as you've implied several times now. Missile boat-sized craft have adequate room to carry a decent IR sensor and MANPADS, or even a surface-launched AIM-9 type weapon or a Kashtan-type CIWS system, which can defend the ship against missiles and threaten helicopters. You could quite easily put MANPADS on a stealthy semi-submersible, too. A really innovative peer might even use anti-radiation missiles to target helicopter radars like the ones used on the Longbow, Ka-27, or Sea Lynx. You don't need these on the same vessels that have anti-ship missiles, either; you can have a mix of anti-air and anti-ship small vessels.

    Even if your anti-ship missile has superior range to a surface-launched AIM-9 analogue AND your helicopter radar can reliably pick out small fast-moving craft at sea at ranges beyond surface IR engagement, unless you want to sink fishing boats indiscriminately, your helicopter is going to have to move in close enough to positively ID the vessel with its own IR sensors, at which range it's likely within the reach of whatever nastiness you want to throw at it.

    Hence the need for comprehensive maritime surveillance capabilities, I suppose.

  2. May 18, 2018bean said...

    A small boat at speed is a really nasty environment. Remember how much trouble they had shooting off heavy guns due to the movement of the ship? A small boat moves more than a big one, and while weapon guidance solves some of the problem, it's not that useful if you can't hold it on the target long enough for the seeker to lock on. Again, I have several published sources talking about small boats with actual radar-guided SAMs (I don't remember which ones offhand, but these are clearly bigger than a typical speedboat) that proved ineffective in combat because their radar couldn't hold a lock. The motion of the ship was too much for the stabilization system, and this wasn't in some sort of massive storm. As for MANPADS, a typical MANPADS range is maybe 5 km. A Hellfire is more like 8 km, and the heavier anti-ship missiles like Sea Suka and Penguin are 25 km+.

    A really innovative peer might even use anti-radiation missiles to target helicopter radars like the ones used on the Longbow, Ka-27, or Sea Lynx.

    That's not a horrible idea, although it has the same problem as all anti-radar missiles, in that it stops working when the radar switches off. You could try combined ARM and IR, but how well that works depends on a bunch of details that would take a major study to solve. And it's the sort of thing which isn't easy to just knock together, so you're looking at someone who could afford a proper navy.

    You don’t need these on the same vessels that have anti-ship missiles, either; you can have a mix of anti-air and anti-ship small vessels.

    True, but that just means that the other guy picks off the anti-air boats with long-range weapons, and then closes. You could try to make them look the same, but at very worst, you eat slightly more expensive missiles from range.

    unless you want to sink fishing boats indiscriminately, your helicopter is going to have to move in close enough to positively ID the vessel with its own IR sensors, at which range it’s likely within the reach of whatever nastiness you want to throw at it

    Modern electro-optical systems are really really impressive. Fitting a helicopter with the equivalent of a Sniper pod means that you can do identification from well outside the range of the sort of nasty stuff you speak of. This has been an area with a lot of progress over the last couple of decades, so it's not that widely known.

  3. May 18, 2018Suvorov said...

    Thanks for the response.

    (I don’t remember which ones offhand, but these are clearly bigger than a typical speedboat)

    Maybe a Nanuchka-class corvette or Asheville-class gunboat? They carried Osas and Standards respectively. The Asheville is fishing trawler sized, I think.

    "True, but that just means that the other guy picks off the anti-air boats with long-range weapons, and then closes. You could try to make them look the same, but at very worst,you eat slightly more expensive missiles from range."

    I think this just shows that small boats/helicopters are subject to the same cat-and-mouse dynamic as other weapons systems, though, especially if the other guy is using CIWS to (attempt to) intercept your long-range weapons and threaten your helicopters that want to approach with shorter-ranged missiles or cannon. A modernized Komar-sized vessel could theoretically have the ability to carry a Kashtan or Rolling Airframe Missile.

    "Modern electro-optical systems are really really impressive."

    Doesn't this cut both ways, though? Anything you can put on a pod that can be carried by a tactical fighter or helicopter can also be put on an anti-air missile that can be carried by a small boat.

    "And it’s the sort of thing which isn’t easy to just knock together, so you’re looking at someone who could afford a proper navy."

    It seems like this is the real problem with small boats; by the time you get enough of them with the self-protection and offensive firepower you want, you're probably better off going all in and buying corvettes.

  4. May 18, 2018bean said...

    Maybe a Nanuchka-class corvette or Asheville-class gunboat? They carried Osas and Standards respectively. The Asheville is fishing trawler sized, I think.

    Maybe a Nanchuka. It wasn’t an Asheville, because I know who had those, they weren’t involved, and I’m pretty sure that their Standards were actually surface-to-surface weapons, not SAMs. (SAMs make pretty good SSMs, and the US at the time didn’t have any dedicated SSMs of the appropriate size.)

    I think this just shows that small boats/helicopters are subject to the same cat-and-mouse dynamic as other weapons systems, though, especially if the other guy is using CIWS to (attempt to) intercept your long-range weapons and threaten your helicopters that want to approach with shorter-ranged missiles or cannon. A modernized Komar-sized vessel could theoretically have the ability to carry a Kashtan or Rolling Airframe Missile.

    Keep in mind that what you can hang on the hull, hopefully without capsizing, and what you can usefully use are not the same thing. Even the performance of something like RAM depends a lot on the combat system driving it. For instance, the SM-1s on the Perrys weren’t that much better than the RAMs on the LCSs because of how terrible the electronics were, even though the missile itself was much more powerful. And there’s also concerns like missile blastback or how much motion the system itself can handle.

    Doesn’t this cut both ways, though? Anything you can put on a pod that can be carried by a tactical fighter or helicopter can also be put on an anti-air missile that can be carried by a small boat.

    Not really. A Sniper Pod is 450 lbs, 100″ long and 12″ in diameter, and not cheap. You couldn’t really miniaturize it into a missile. The boat itself could carry such a system, but you still have problems because of spray, which is a serious concern on some bearings.

    Again, I can only emphasize for those who haven’t been there how rough something in this size range can be at speed. I rode the Catalina Flyer from Newport Beach to Catalina and back a year ago, and it's about the same size as an Osa. It was a lovely day. The sea wasn’t particularly rough, but with the ferry at full speed, standing up without holding onto anything took concentration, and I still fell over occasionally. This is a vessel presumably designed with passenger comfort in mind, too.

    It seems like this is the real problem with small boats; by the time you get enough of them with the self-protection and offensive firepower you want, you’re probably better off going all in and buying corvettes.

    Very much so.

  5. May 18, 2018Suvorov said...

    "It wasn’t an Asheville, because I know who had those, they weren’t involved, and I’m pretty sure that their Standards were actually surface-to-surface weapons, not SAMs."

    Interesting. I was aware Standards had a secondary surface-attack capability, but I guess I didn't realize they might deploy it entirely for that purpose. Is there anything that missile couldn't do? I know they used it for anti-radiation, and wasn't there a proposal for an air-to-air variant as well?

    "Not really. A Sniper Pod is 450 lbs, 100″ long and 12″ in diameter, and not cheap. You couldn’t really miniaturize it into a missile."

    The Termit is, like, ten times as heavy, and they carried a pair on Komars! But I believe the poor Komars had all the trouble with seaworthiness and crew discomfort that you allude to, and then some.

    Thanks for clarifying your perspective on this. It's been very helpful.

  6. May 18, 2018bean said...

    Interesting. I was aware Standards had a secondary surface-attack capability, but I guess I didn’t realize they might deploy it entirely for that purpose. Is there anything that missile couldn’t do? I know they used it for anti-radiation, and wasn’t there a proposal for an air-to-air variant as well?

    Standard is one of the great overlooked missile designs, probably because it has just about the most boring name possible. Wiki suggests that the Ashevilles were carrying the ARM version, which could well be the case. I'd have to check later. And I think there was an AAM proposal in the 70s, although it didn't go anywhere.

    The Termit is, like, ten times as heavy, and they carried a pair on Komars! But I believe the poor Komars had all the trouble with seaworthiness and crew discomfort that you allude to, and then some.

    That's not the issue. You could absolutely fit a boat with a Sniper pod, and it would work. The problem is that you can't fit the same capability into a missile economically, because it would be too big and too expensive for the target you're shooting it at. The pod might be able to help target SAMs, but helicopters are a lot more maneuverable than boats, so physics is working against you there. I don't think you're going to fit a really effective anti-helicopter suite on anything under 2-3 thousand tons.

    Thanks for clarifying your perspective on this. It’s been very helpful.

    You are most welcome.

  7. May 18, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    I realize this is a naval blog, but the later stuff like the motorcycle messengers seemed more damning to me than the fleet attack. Our navy being that vulnerable never really passed the sniff test, but ground forces being poorly prepared for communications they can't intercept seems more within the realm of possibility.

    Also, it's van Riper, with one 'p'.

  8. May 18, 2018bean said...

    the later stuff like the motorcycle messengers seemed more damning to me than the fleet attack. Our navy being that vulnerable never really passed the sniff test, but ground forces being poorly prepared for communications they can’t intercept seems more within the realm of possibility.

    I've heard that there were problems on that end, too. At least some sources claim that the motorcycle messengers were traveling at the speed of radio or the like. I genuinely don't know, and there doesn't seem to be a good way to find out, either.

    Also, it’s van Riper, with one ‘p’.

    My bad. Fixed.

  9. May 18, 2018John Schilling said...

    The smallest warships equipped with air defense systems that even pretend to outrange e.g. the Hellfire missiles on an MH-60FUBAR, are the Israeli Saar-4.5 missile boats, at 430 tons standard, and some of the later Russian Tarantul-class corvettes, 480 tons standard. Anything much smaller or cheaper than that, is going to be destroyed en masse without the ability to shoot back. And OPFOR's sailors are going to have words with OPFOR's commanders about the master action plan where they sacrifice boatloads of men until the USN runs out of missiles.

    If it matters, there's a new ~30 pound, ~$30k missile qualified for the MH-60 and ideally suited for cheaply satisfying an enemy's desire for martyrdom.

  10. May 18, 2018RedRover said...

    @bean and @ADA

    I’ve heard that there were problems on that end, too. At least some sources claim that the motorcycle messengers were traveling at the speed of radio or the like.

    Apparently this was one of the problems leading up to Russia's invasion of Crimea. They knew NSA was listening to their radio communications and some other stuff, so they ended up coordinating it via mail and face to face meetings, or otherwise avoiding NSA. Obviously this is hard to do on a tactical/minute by minute level, versus strategically, but it also seems like something that might be more effective than it seems if used intelligently.

  11. May 18, 2018RedRover said...

    @John Schilling

    And OPFOR’s sailors are going to have words with OPFOR’s commanders about the master action plan where they sacrifice boatloads of men until the USN runs out of missiles.

    If it matters, there’s a new ~30 pound, ~$30k missile qualified for the MH-60 and ideally suited for cheaply satisfying an enemy’s desire for martyrdom.

    It seems like you need something that threatening enough that it presents a real threat, but also cheap enough that the OPFOR can send them in such masses that they get through, either by depleting stores or simply because 0.95^N means at some point you get below 50% survival.

    I'm not sure how you'd go about doing that, but my idle thought would be lots of cheap Predator knockoffs. In series production, I bet you could get an airframe under $20k a pop without electronics but with actuators and things. Guiding it, especially in a jam resistant way, would be harder, but for going after a fleet/convoy with a rough idea where it is, perhaps you just say "fly heading 257 magnetic for an hour, then start looking for visual signature X Y Z and attack." These would of course be sitting ducks on a number of levels, and super easy for any weapons system to shoot down, but that's why they're cheap. However, instead of sending a few missiles at 500k a pop,* or corvettes at 8M each, why not send a 150 Predator knockoffs? (Assuming you have a decent base to launch them from)

    *A Russian Kh-35 was 500k in 2010, so with inflation it's probably a bit more today, but maybe not. A Tarantul costs 9.5M according to what I could find online.

  12. May 18, 2018bean said...

    @John Schilling

    The Tarantuls are armed with a naval variant of the SA-7. That does not outrange a Hellfire. And given the way the Israelis design ships (add weapons until the prototype capsizes, then put all but the last thing on the rest of the class) I wouldn't be at all surprised if the crew's iPhones jam the control system or something of that sort. And even if they can shoot down helicopters armed with Hellfires, they still die to helicopters armed with Penguins, and they definitely don’t fare well against jets.

    APWKS is not completely revolutionary, but it’s the final nail in the coffin, particularly for the really small boats. Keep in mind that these things have less space for systems than bigger ships, so any hit is more damaging. And when a single helicopter can carry a few dozen, each of which is probably a mission-kill against a small boat, then it’s pretty much curtains.

    @RedRover

    I’m aware that there are games the bad guys can play to make life harder for our SIGINT people. I just have doubts about Van Riper’s use of them. I’ve heard that some of those motorcycle riders must have been hypersonic to deliver their messages in time, but have no proof of this.

    There are a couple of problems with your mass predator system. First, it’s big and that makes it easy to notice. There are only so many good hiding spots, and the rest are just an invitation for a Tomahawk with submunition warhead from a submarine offshore. Second, something like that is really vulnerable to cheap countermeasures. The fighter pilots will love racking up gun kills. I suspect that the same is true of the Gunner’s Mates on the escorts, who finally get to do something exciting with their 5″ guns. And then when the US figures out what stuff you’re looking for, behold, the giant banner of a US warship slung between two MH-60s. And the bit where the “missile” is only 3x the speed of the ships, which makes it easy for the ships to be somewhere the drones aren’t.

    To emphasize this, the Predator trying to ram would be considered a pretty easy target by the standards of the beginning of WWII. The modern last-ditch answer would probably be to fit the machine guns and autocannons used for defense against small boats with better sights and shoot them down that way. Assuming it isn’t easier to cook them in the air using the SPY-1s of the escorts. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. Unless you harden everything, that’s probably the easiest way to deal with it.

  13. May 18, 2018RedRover said...

    There are only so many good hiding spots, and the rest are just an invitation for a Tomahawk with submunition warhead from a submarine offshore.

    Indeed! Unless you have very hardened shelters, its a first strike only kind of a deal. I think you might be able to reduce the footprint by having a primitive catapault/RATO rail on a semi with a few Predators, but that would still be vulnerable to Scud-hunter type attacks, and drive up the system cost.

    The fighter pilots will love racking up gun kills. I suspect that the same is true of the Gunner’s Mates on the escorts, who finally get to do something exciting with their 5″ guns.

    I can see the fighters being a problem. Heck, at Predator speeds you might even have to worry about a helicopter getting them in their downwash or putting the door gun on them or something. However, since you're optimizing for speed, rather than endurance, you can probably get away with a high enough wing loading and cruise speed that you could marginally outrun a helicopter, though not a V-22 or a real fixed wing.

    And then when the US figures out what stuff you’re looking for, behold, the giant banner of a US warship slung between two MH-60s.

    On this I'm not so sure. Optics obviously have their limits, but when operated within those limits, and with modern image processing software it seems like they're potentially harder to spoof than radar/IR type sensors.

    And the bit where the missile is only a bit faster than the ships, so there’s a good chance they can simply be somewhere the drones aren’t looking.

    This is true, especially if you're trying to strike at a distance. You would definitely need some kind of targeting before launch, and ideally about 60nm from the target.

    I guess my point is that if you can't fight the US on a quality basis, because high quality missiles are prohibitively expensive but still likely to get shot down, your only other options are deceit/abusing the RoE, or quantity. If quantity is your chosen option, then you need lots and lots of the minimum viable missile and hope a few of them get through.

    Maybe a Q-ship would work to get your missiles in range and beyond a lot of the defensive rings?

  14. May 18, 2018bean said...

    I think you might be able to reduce the footprint by having a primitive catapault/RATO rail on a semi with a few Predators, but that would still be vulnerable to Scud-hunter type attacks, and drive up the system cost.

    The other problem is concentration. That sort of setup is just begging for defeat in detail. Your comms are probably not great, because the US is running around jamming everything and blowing up the telephone grid. So only maybe half get any given launch order, and they don’t all get it at the same time. This gives the US time to reload the guns, refill the CIWS, and generally get ready for the next wave.

    I can see the fighters being a problem. Heck, at Predator speeds you might even have to worry about a helicopter getting them in their downwash or putting the door gun on them or something. However, since you’re optimizing for speed, rather than endurance, you can probably get away with a high enough wing loading and cruise speed that you could marginally outrun a helicopter, though not a V-22 or a real fixed wing.

    Granted. But at the sort of performance you can get really cheaply, even things like Hellfires or APWKS become a viable weapon against you. The easiest way would probably be to modify a CIWS for a lower burst size.

    On this I’m not so sure. Optics obviously have their limits, but when operated within those limits, and with modern image processing software it seems like they’re potentially harder to spoof than radar/IR type sensors.

    The specific suggestion was a bit sarcastic, but a weapon that is easily foiled by anything other than a sunny day isn’t that useful. The serious countermeasure answer is smoke. Drop smoke pots out of helicopters to screen the fleet, and also a bunch of others to make sure that “fly into the smoke” isn’t a viable targeting option, or at least cuts the number you have to deal with down to manageable proportions. Also, there's laser dazzlers, which could probably burn out the relevant optics.

    This is true, especially if you’re trying to strike at a distance. You would definitely need some kind of targeting before launch, and ideally about 60nm from the target.

    The second targeting is going to be really tricky, given the Growler set to “on” flying loops around these things.

    If quantity is your chosen option, then you need lots and lots of the minimum viable missile and hope a few of them get through.

    I don’t think that this is likely to work well. The really cheap missile is also really easy to counter. Again, the Predator missile is a pretty easy target by the standards of the beginning of WWII. Lots of 20mm guns could do the trick.

    Maybe a Q-ship would work to get your missiles in range and beyond a lot of the defensive rings?

    That’s about the best option I could come up with, but it’s going to take an awfully clever commander to make it work. The CVBG commander isn’t stupid, and is going to be scaring off/avoiding civilian traffic that isn’t known good.

  15. May 18, 2018RedRover said...

    The second targeting is going to be really tricky, given the Growler set to “on” flying loops around these things.

    Assuming you're not trying to transmit a lot of information, and you have a big transmitter on land (which the HARM missiles from the other Growler will be targeting, but I digress...), can't you burn though most of it? I'm no EE, but you're only trying to transmit eight or ten bytes of data over a few seconds, so you can apply a lot of padding/error correction/DSP stuff, I assume.

    The serious countermeasure answer is smoke. Drop smoke pots out of helicopters to screen the fleet, and also a bunch of others to make sure that “fly into the smoke” isn’t a viable option.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_EdgP57l1Q

    That being said, I still think dollar for dollar optical is more likely to get you somewhere than radar. I suppose you could go for a sort of primitive HARM+radar design, but that also seems easy to spoof.

    The CVBG commander isn’t stupid, and is going to be scaring off/avoiding civilian traffic that isn’t known good.

    Depending on where the field of combat is, you'd have to get them in a confined space like the Straight of Malacca or coming out of the Red Sea or something like that, where there are lots of other freighters from third parties. Doubly so if you can put some actual innocent ships out there to clutter the situation. (Was it People's Grain Freighter 103 or People's Soy Freighter 105 that has the missiles?) Or maybe pretend to be a ferry/cruise ship and really play up the human shield element?

  16. May 19, 2018John Schilling said...
    The Tarantuls are armed with a naval variant of the SA-7. That does not outrange a Hellfire.

    The latest Tarantuls are armed with the Kashtan system whose missile component does outrange the Hellfire. Maybe it doesn't work, but I'd be reluctant to take a helicopter within range and find out.

    Happy to have the helicopter stand off outside of range and call in a salvo of Harpoons or whatever, if we've still got the Harpoons on our destroyers and frigates.

    A Tarantul costs 9.5M according to what I could find online.

    I'm going to guess the ones with Kashtan are at least twice that, probably more.

  17. May 19, 2018bean said...

    @RedRover

    Assuming you’re not trying to transmit a lot of information, and you have a big transmitter on land (which the HARM missiles from the other Growler will be targeting, but I digress...), can’t you burn though most of it? I’m no EE, but you’re only trying to transmit eight or ten bytes of data over a few seconds, so you can apply a lot of padding/error correction/DSP stuff, I assume.

    Not an EE either, but I see two problems. First, the jammer is a lot closer than the transmitter, and modern airborne jammers are very powerful. I don't know how the math on this works out, but that just means the real answer is classified. Second, you need a lot more than eight to ten bytes to counter spoofing.

    That being said, I still think dollar for dollar optical is more likely to get you somewhere than radar.

    Quite possibly. I think the takeaway is more that cheap seekers won't work well.

    Depending on where the field of combat is, you’d have to get them in a confined space like the Straight of Malacca or coming out of the Red Sea or something like that, where there are lots of other freighters from third parties. Doubly so if you can put some actual innocent ships out there to clutter the situation.

    There are seven freighters in the area. Four of them are owned and operated by friendly powers, and the analysts assigned to run down their records say they're clean. The other three get visits from helicopters, with a pair of F/A-18s orbiting overhead. At worst, we lose a helicopter, which is bad, but not as bad as losing a warship.

    @John Schilling

    The latest Tarantuls are armed with the Kashtan system whose missile component does outrange the Hellfire. Maybe it doesn’t work, but I’d be reluctant to take a helicopter within range and find out.

    Ah. Missed that. I have doubts, but I also wouldn't want to try it out. But we do have longer-range missile options.

    Happy to have the helicopter stand off outside of range and call in a salvo of Harpoons or whatever, if we’ve still got the Harpoons on our destroyers and frigates.

    We could mount the Harpoons on airplanes, too. Or use Penguins, or NSMs, or any number of other weapons.

  18. May 19, 2018john.schilling@alumni.usc.edu said...
    We could mount the Harpoons on airplanes, too. Or use Penguins, or NSMs, or any number of other weapons.

    I've heard reports that the Penguins have gone away, and I don't think replacing them with NSMs is really a priority. Which leaves us with aircraft carriers, or whichever Burkes still have Harpoons. Or the Littoral Combat Ships that have had missiles kitbashed onto their decks, if that actually works. There will be zero or one aircraft carrier in the area, and lots of demand on its bandwidth.

    I'm not terribly worried about the "boat swarm" threat, for reasons amply discussed here and elsewhere, but I do worry that the USN is losing focus on the part of its mission where it has to engage the enemy's actual warships, even if it doesn't have a spare carrier within reach.

  19. May 19, 2018bean said...

    Harpoon is really easy to install. AIUI, you just need some deck space, power, and chilled water. The console is a self-contained unit, too. You're looking at a couple of days in the shipyard at most. Alternatively, you just use an SM-2 on them. Not quite the same range, but a lot harder to shoot down.

  20. May 19, 2018Some Guy said...

    I think the biggest thing you are missing about understanding Paul Van Riper's actions is the political climate at the time.

    Over the last few years, the Navy had realized that the existing fleet, being designed for deep oceans and the cold war, was critically vulnerable in the littoral zone where they expected future operations to favor. Of the two concepts to solve the problem, one was discarded more-or-less out of hand (small, single-use ships in /Streetfighter/). The other solution, develop a new destroyer, was being perused as the DD-21 program.

    But immediately after assuming office, the Bush administration was doing their damnedest to cancel the DD-21 for being a Clinton idea. This would leave the littoral problem with no solution.

    Since Van Riper was retired he didn't have the keep the boss happy when political concerns were driving a move that he felt could damn well get sailors killed. Whether or not he was exploiting the simulation architecture or not is mostly beside the point; he was making the point that there is a real problem that needs solving and that he was prepared to make it a political problem for the administration if they didn't take it seriously. And "flaws in the simulation" is a really poor political response to "scrappy retired general proves the administration is totally incompetent and is going to get our service-members killed in droves."

    We ended up getting both the LCS and the Zumwalt.

  21. May 19, 2018bean said...

    That’s an interesting take, but it doesn’t quite work. The littoral issue was foremost in the surface warfare community’s mind from the early 90s on. Norman Friedman devotes a full chapter to this in the second edition of US destroyers, and Millennium Challenge isn’t even mentioned. Zumwalt was a Clinton program that Rumsfeld had tried unsuccessfully to kill, but Northrop Grumman won DD(X) several months before MC02. Streetfighter was a Rumsfeld concept that eventually evolved in LCS, and for all that I think LCS was a stupid program, Streetfighter would have been far worse. The big problem with small networked boats is that they’re totally useless if the network goes down. Bigger ships are still capable of fighting in a network failure, even if not as effectively.

    I also believe that the LCS was well on its way to frigate size before MC02. The study contracts were placed in July of 2003, almost exactly a year after the exercise. Unfortunately, Friedman doesn't go into the detail that he does on the Zumwalt, and my 2005 Ships & Aircraft doesn't add much to the timeline. I may have to order the 2001 edition to see if it has more details.

    And “flaws in the simulation” is a really poor political response to “scrappy retired general proves the administration is totally incompetent and is going to get our service-members killed in droves.”

    So we should humor someone who tried to wreck a very expensive simulation to prove his point? Particularly when he may not have been right. Note that the results were totally ignored within the service, as best I can tell. There was nothing at all in Proceedings about it.

    We ended up getting both the LCS and the Zumwalt.

    Ships that don’t work and ships that don’t float? Yes, thank you, Paul Van Riper, for not only wasting a bunch of money with your games in 2002, but also leading us to waste orders of magnitude more money on useless ships.

  22. May 19, 2018Some Guy said...

    I didn't actually realize that Streetfighter was a Rumsfeld idea; that probably explains why it is so stupid. And the fact that Rumsfeld hadn't managed to kill Zumwalt yet is not particularly reassuring when your hobby horse is concerned.

    Moreover, it isn't surprising at all that the result was ignored inside the service. It was a known problem. No self respecting officer would take his ship into the littoral zone because they all know they are vulnerable there, so when a simulation bug teleports the whole fleet and they get summarily destroyed it seems like a nothing burger. We know this already, and the solution is easy: just don't do that. (Or at least, don't do that until the enemies capabilities are sufficiently degraded.)

    But for a Marine, the solution isn't so simple. You're whole job depends on crossing the littoral zone before you can start kicking ass on land. More importantly, how do you know the enemies capabilities are sufficiently degraded before you send in the Marines? Especially when they can turn off their targeting radars, hide their missiles, and use motorcycle messengers and wait for you to get bored blowing stuff up at standoff and send in the Marines. From that perspective, it seems pretty straightforward why it might be a hobby horse.

    And it is also obvious why the service ignored it: he exploited a bug (intentionally or not) and everything after that, which is actually the interesting part, was just him being as ass after the fleet was re-floated.

    But I actually haven't found any particular reference to him being upset they re-floated the fleet. And, any general is going to know that of course you're going to move onto the next phase of the operation. There is a huge amount of time and effort at stake. What I have seen is reference to him being really pissed of that they were exploiting the simulation to ensure that his capabilities were degraded, which is why he eventually resigned.

    When he turned off the radars and started using motorcycle messengers, they looked in the simulation and noticed that his capabilities were not sufficiently degraded and, assuming he was just being an ass and operating under time pressure to fire the live action amphibious assault, they just went ahead and blew them up. Which seems reasonable if you're assuming that the amphibious action wont start until the capabilities are degraded, but it completely skips over the part where the only reason you know they are(/are not) degraded is because you looked in the simulation!


    I have to go and don't have time to edit this into coherence, and y'all know way more about it than I do. But to rush out the rest of the thought: the point is that I can come up with a reasonable sounding three step argument that Van Riper may have been trying to make:

    1. We are critically vulnerable in the littoral zone. Because, look, I just sank your whole fleet.
    2. And I realize doctrine is to not take the fleet into the littoral zone until the enemies capabilities are sufficiently degraded... but how do you KNOW they are because my Marines are heading into certain death if they are not. Because, look, try and find my missiles, suckers.
    3. The administration doesn't seem to be taking this problem seriously (re: attempts to kill DD-21), so I will make it a political problem if the administration doesn't take it seriously.

    But everyone stopped listening after step 1, because he's just sore we refloated the fleet, man, and being an ass about it.

    Just some thoughts.

  23. May 19, 2018bean said...

    And the fact that Rumsfeld hadn’t managed to kill Zumwalt yet is not particularly reassuring when your hobby horse is concerned.

    Given the ships we got, he would have done us a favor if he did. But even if we assume that the whole problem is Rumsfeld neutering it or something (I don’t think this was the case, although he probably made it worse) the ship still makes no sense for the announced mission. The basic land-attack concept behind the Zumwalts wasn’t entirely insane at the time, but a ship that’s almost twice the size of the previous class seems like it might be a bad idea for littoral warfare, and the land-attack specialization doesn’t look so good now that Russia and China have started making trouble again. Note that they’ve officially been re-rolled, although I suspect only to avoid charges of wasting taxpayer money.

    I can sort of see where you’re coming from on the best possible interpretation of Van Riper’s actions, but his actions are only justified if we assume he was right, and I don’t think that’s a safe assumption, even given what he did in the exercise. Sinking the fleet due to a computer glitch tells us nothing about how vulnerable the fleet actually is. And I suspect he may have been playing exercise games with the rest of the battle, too. The crude version is to telling his team “they don’t get the Marines until Thursday, so everybody just turn everything off until then, and don’t fire under any circumstances.” Which would work in the exercise, but obviously fails in the real world. Even the less metagamey versions are the sort of thing which could be carried off only by a very disciplined and competent force. I’m certainly not going to claim that those don’t exist outside of the US or our allies, but they’re not that common, and it's quite possible that "do nothing husband all of your forces while American aircraft roam the skies" doesn't work politically in the scenario he was placed in.

    I’ll admit it’s possible I’m being unfair to Van Riper personally, and that my ire is better directed against the various reporters and other idiots who read the lessons as “the US military is useless and stupid”. But I think my basic point, that it certainly wasn’t “Local General discovers One Weird Trick, Pentagon Hates Him” is still valid.

  24. May 19, 2018Some Guy said...

    I’ll admit it’s possible I’m being unfair to Van Riper personally, and that my ire is better directed against the various reporters and other idiots who read the lessons as “the US military is useless and stupid”. But I think my basic point, that it certainly wasn’t “Local General discovers One Weird Trick, Pentagon Hates Him” is still valid.

    The One Weird Trick Shtick gets pretty tiresome and deserves all ire that can be mustered, but we should still endeavor to use precision munitions where practical instead of just carpeting the gridsquare.

    And given the available evidence, I find "retired general with hobby horse interprets an explicit promise of 'free play' as license to demonstrate his point" to be far more plausible that either "retired general is total cheating prick and didn't get another star for a reason" or "retired general is so senile he doesn't remember how to do a thing he's been doing every year for the last thirty years."

    And, having been in a couple of large exercises, I have to say that the simulations are almost always so bad that it is practically impossible to not exploit them. This is one of the reasons exercises tend to be so scripted. Slight deviations or anything even close to innovation have an annoying tendency of totally breaking the sim.

    While Van Riper definitely ended up exploiting constraints of the simulation, cheating is a really bad way of proving your point. If we take proving his point as his motive and add a heaping spoonful of the "simulation is so completely terrible in unexpected ways that it is impossible to not break it," you basically end up with all the available evidence. But at the same time it would be implausible if he didn't fudge things, you know, slightly--nobody is that honest--so add in a dash of that as well and you're probably pretty dang close.

    I take the bad role-playing to be the most damning accusation.

    But... even there, if your entire strategy relies on your enemies doing exactly what you expect them to, even though your civilian and sometimes military leaders take great pains to explain at length exactly what your strategy is years in advance... you maybe have a problem. If a retired general thinks there is a flaw in that strategy, is it reasonable for him to assume that adversaries haven't noticed it as well?

    Given the fairly obvious observations: 1. Time is the enemy of an expeditionary force, for all the usual reasons, but in particular because of (2). 2. No matter how much they may like blowing up bad guys, the American public is extremely sensitive to having dead service members on their nightly news. Also, while it can be hit or miss getting them their, they hate civilian casualties on the news almost as much. 3. The Fog of War is totally a thing that can be exploited. Like, 90% of tactics is pressuring the enemy into diving too deeply into that fog.

    Exploiting time pressure to drive an invading force into an ambush where (while it may not result in a total massacre like it did to the fleet, and potentially would have again against the amphibious force if they hadn't kicked him out) you can inflict unacceptable levels of casualties to turn public opinion against the invasion, or, failing that, giving your propaganda machine more time to put dead civilians on American TV's is exactly the sort of thing you should expect adversaries to consider. Especially if they think they have discovered a flaw in American strategic doctrine, which is constantly being talked about on TV and freely available on the internet, that can be exploited to increase their chances of getting unacceptable levels of casualties.

    How likely they are to actually try it is very much dependent on how advanced and disciplined their armed forces are. You have a point there. But another factor is how likely any other course of action is to result in America getting bored and going home; because let's face it, the kinds of countries we were talking about here have basically zero chance of actually winning the hard way.

    Now, having said that, this wasn't the role that Van Riper was hired to play. He was supposed to be a nice, compliant dictator acting predictably so that they could validate a bunch of other things that had nothing to do with survivability in the littoral zone. And in that light it was a massive fuckup to tell him he had free play. It is literally impossible to have free play in an exercise because the simulations just are not built for innovation, and by leading him to believe otherwise just guaranteed that he would break the simulation.

    When you go around telling someone that you're building the best and most advanced simulation ever, just so they can have free play to show you whateverthehellitis they've been harping on about... if exactly none of those things are actually true, they can maybe be forgiven for misconstruing how informative the exercise was to whateverthehellitis they were harping on about.

  25. May 19, 2018doctorpat said...

    Guys, this comments discussion is really as good, if not better, than the original article. Maybe it should be cleaned up and made into Part II?

    Meanwhile, as my knowledge of naval tech is based entirely on navalgazing, Binkov's Battlegrounds and Patrick O'Brien, I'm now in need of a idiot's guide to modern littoral combat ships.

  26. May 19, 2018bean said...

    @Some Guy

    I've edited the post to include a note about this conversation. I probably won't do a full cleanup, although if you're OK, I'd be happy to take doctorpat's suggestion and write it up as Part 2. I can only plead that I've spent several years believing the third version, where Van Riper was totally ego-tripping for no apparent reason, and only moved away from it as I was writing this post.

    Thanks for the details about exercises in general. I'm not in that world, so I don't have that kind of knowledge. Given the scale of what they were doing in MC02, (and the report is at least half modeling & simulation stuff) I suspect that it may have been an early example of that kind of glitch.

    But... even there, if your entire strategy relies on your enemies doing exactly what you expect them to, even though your civilian and sometimes military leaders take great pains to explain at length exactly what your strategy is years in advance... you maybe have a problem. If a retired general thinks there is a flaw in that strategy, is it reasonable for him to assume that adversaries haven’t noticed it as well?

    Yes and no. Seeing a flaw and being able to act on it are two different things. It's entirely possible that the best tactics for fighting the Americans are things that can't be done for political reasons, or because they just aren't set up for it. It's also quite likely that force structures will have other constraints, such as available equipment or the need to face powers that are not the US.

    @doctorpat

    Meanwhile, as my knowledge of naval tech is based entirely on navalgazing, Binkov’s Battlegrounds and Patrick O’Brien, I’m now in need of a idiot’s guide to modern littoral combat ships.

    The idiot's guide is the only kind you get to the LCS. I'm still not sure what they were thinking of with those. Well, I sort of know, but it doesn't make a lot of sense.

  27. May 20, 2018Philistine said...

    I wonder if institutional memory of Billy Mitchell and Ostfriesland also helped drive the service's reaction to Van Riper and MC02 - at a superficial level, at least, there are some parallels (especially the sensationalistic media responses).

  28. May 20, 2018bean said...

    That's a very interesting thought. And reminds me that I really need to look into talking about naval aviation. I have a lot of info on Mitchell, but never got around to doing a post on it.

  29. May 21, 2018MidwestBill said...

    I would be very interested in your take on Billy Mitchell.

    My take and I forget what book I read that led me to believe..

    1) The Battleship was not obsolete especially in the early years of WWII.

    2) High altitude bombing of battleships at sea even with no air support was ineffective. (See: Prince of Wales, Repulse and Bismarck)

    3) High altitude bombing of battleships at anchor, even with no air support was almost as ineffective. (See Tirpitz (Norway) and Schrarnhorst(Sp) at Brest?)

    4)The only really effective counter to the Battleship besides other Battleships was the torpedo bomber.

  30. May 21, 2018bean said...

    I’d agree with all of those, although it does bear pointing out that dive bombing was also a decent way of attacking ships (with the further caveat that it was rather iffy if you could get a dive bomber delivered AP bomb through the deck of a modern battleship.). I’d actually go further, and point out that aviation in WWII was powerful but didn’t always work. Particularly when flying from carriers, it was ineffective at night or in bad weather. The battleship was only truly obsolete when all-weather strike aircraft became available, and nuclear SAMs took over the surface defense role in the late 50s. In the 20s, airplanes simply didn’t have the speed, range, or load-carrying capability to credibly threaten a battleship that was underway and fighting back.

  31. May 21, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    Also, no amount of reasonable facts will dissuade me from thinking you could use this to write a cool novel.

    Imagine it: The US government has gone full Tyrranical, so the Resistance has to track down Paul Van Riper in a cabin somewhere and convince him to lead them in using low-tech asymmetrical tactics to triumph over the overwhelming odds...

  32. May 22, 2018Tony Zbaraschuk said...

    It's worth noting that Mitchell's success were against a virtually unmoving ship with no damage control or guns firing back. AA guns might not hit anything, but if they kept the bombers outside of mast-head range and forced them to drop from high altitude, it's a net win for the ship (at least until it runs out of AA ammunition, as the British found out off Norway and off Crete).

    Also it's worth noting that aviation technology was advancing at a dizzying rate through the 1920s and 1930s. Things that were the province of visionaries in 1919 were passe by 1939... it was not easy to tell, during those years, just where the advancing technology had gotten to, or what you needed to build into your ships to make them safe five or eight years down the line (as the British found out with PoW and Repulse).

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