China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter is a Force to be Reckoned With


Image: Wikimedia

It is safe to assume the plane isn’t as good as the F-35, but it still better than many fighters.

by Mark Episkopos July 10, 2020

Here’s What You Need to Remember: There is much that is still unknown about the J-20, including its launch mechanism and the final specifications of its WS-15 engine currently in development.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force made waves at the 2018 Zhuhai Airshow with the latest showing of their flagship fifth-generation stealth fighter, the J-20.

As is common with airshow coverage, large swaths of the ensuing commentary focused on the J-20’s handling and maneuverability as it performed a series of rolls and a climb. But this elides what is perhaps the most significant aspect of the J-20’s Zhuhai showing: its weapons system.

During the performance, the J-20 opened its missile bay doors to reveal four PL-15 missiles accompanied by two PL-10 missiles on either side. The PL-15 is a long range air-to-air missile slated to enter service in 2018. Outfitted with an active electronically scanned radar and featuring a reported maximum range of up to 300 km, the PL-15’s impressive specifications place it in the ranks of the top air-to-air missiles along with the European Meteor missile and Russian K-37M.

The PL-15’s effective range in actual aerial engagements is certain to be lower than the maximum range 300 km, but is nonetheless much higher than its American AIM-120 AMRAAM counterpart’s estimated 180 km or less. American general Herbert Carlisle voiced serious concerns in 2015 when the development of the PL-15 entered the public knowledge: “Look at our adversaries and what they’re developing, things like the PL-15 and the range of that weapon.” General Carlisle raised the same issue in an interview with FlightGlobal: “The PL-15 and the range of that missile, we’ve got to be able to out-stick that missile.”

The American F-22 and F-35 fighters are now equipped with the latest AIM 120-D missiles, but a massive range deficit remains nonetheless. The challenge of the PL-15 comes on the heels of questions about the uncertain future of the aging AMRAAM system. As Captain James Stoneman put it to the National Interest: “Currently there is no program of record for a follow-on… we’ve probably close to maxing it out.” Development of the latest Block III iteration of the short range AIM-9X was cancelled, and Raytheon struggles with a necessary AMRAAM refresh.

The J-20’s two side-mounted PL-10 missiles, while less conspicuous than their long range counterpart, are a key factor in the J-20’s operational versatility. A short-range infrared air-to-air missile, the PL-10 can be fired at off boresight angles of 90 degrees using the J-20’s Helmet Mounted Display (HMD). In other words, the PL-10’s on the J-20 can be fired in the direction that the pilot points their head.

Off boresight targeting is by no means a new technology. In fact, the PL-10 is China’s response to the AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder short range missiles that the United States is selling to Taiwan. There is no reliable information on the PL-10’s range at the time of writing, but it is expected to at least match AIM-9X’s reported maximum range of 20-22 km. Iterative performance differences aside, it is a bigger long-term concern is that the PL-10 and PL-15 are reportedly built with the latest anti-jamming technology at a time when the AIM- 9X and AIM-120D are perceived as increasingly vulnerable to modern digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jamming techniques.

There is much that is still unknown about the J-20, including its launch mechanism and the final specifications of its WS-15 engine currently in development. It remains to be seen if this particular armament configuration makes it into the regular production process, but the juxtaposition of the PL-15 and PL-10 inside the J-20’s frame can become a stark concern for the United States and some of its regional allies who continue to rely on aging AMRAAM technology.

Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor toThe National Interest and serves as research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University. This article first appeared in 2018 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Source: National Interest “China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter is a Force to be Reckoned With”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


China Is Building Two New Stealth Bombers (And We Have The Details)


In January 2018, two sentences in an annual report by the DIA on Chinese military power sent a minor shockwave rippling across the defense-related internet.

by Sebastien Roblin July 8, 2020

Here’s What You Need To Remember: If the JH-XX is truly under active development, then additional rumors and photos may eventually surface. Until then, the supersonic stealth-bomber’s development status must come with an asterisk, even if that won’t dissuade model-makers and defense writers alike from speculation.

In January 2018, two sentences in an annual report by the DIA on Chinese military power sent a minor shockwave rippling across the defense-related internet:

The PLAAF is developing new medium- and long-range stealth bombers to strike regional and global targets. Stealth technology continues to play a key role in the development of these new bombers, which probably will reach initial operational capability no sooner than 2025.”

Bombers, plural. In a separate chart, an un-designated next-generation “Tactical Bomber” is listed, denoted as being equipped with a high-resolution Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, precision-guided bombs and long-range air-to-air missiles.

In the last few years, China’s development of what appears to be a subsonic long-range heavy strategic bomber called the H-20 has become increasingly evident—especially in 2018, when the Chinese government began teasing a public unveiling to take place in 2019. The flying wing bomber, which apparently resembles the U.S. B-2 Spirit in form and function, is to be produced by Xi’an Aircraft Corporation, which already manufactures older H-6 strategic bombers and the chubby Y-20 transport plane.

However, the stealth “tactical” or “medium” bomber was news—sort of. The fighter-bomber in question is believed to refer to the JH-XX, a rival stealth bomber concept proposed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation believed to have been passed over in favor of the longer-range H-20. Shenyang is better known for producing fighters, including Chinese derivatives of the Russian Flanker jet and a J-31 stealth fighter which may be exported or serve on Chinese aircraft carriers.

The first image of this JH-XX concept was leaked at a convention in 2013. Then in May 2018, the prestigious Chinese magazine Aviation Knowledge flashed concept art on its cover of a futuristic-looking stealth jet measuring roughly thirty meters in length, with two huge turbofan engines atop the rear fuselage, canted tail-stabilizers near identical to Northrop’s YF-23 Black Widow stealth prototype, a big bomb bay in the belly and side weapon-bays for carrying long-range air-to-air missiles. This image has since inspired model kits and online fan-art. (One should bear in mind that speculative artwork of the “F-19 stealth fighter” in the 1980s ended up bearing little resemblance to the actual F-117 stealth jet.)

It’s not clear why the DIA believes the JH-XX is actively under development. Rick Joe of The Diplomat, who has written arguably the most detailed English-language profile of the JH-XX prior to the DIA report, expressed his skepticism in a series of tweets:

Regarding the DIA report ‘confirming’ a PLA stealthy medium bomber; the info hasn’t changed since last year when I wrote this piece: ‘To the best of our knowledge the JH-XX does not seem to be actively pursued…’”

Now, maybe the DIA report was based on classified intel the public is not privy to, but from the quality of the rest of the report I doubt it,” he said in a separate tweet. “Chances are they relied on some open source/public articles about JH-XX and interpreted them a bit over zealously.”

Thus, it may be prudent to wait for further evidence to emerge before taking the JH-XX’s active development as a given.

Why would PLA even order two types of stealth bombers? Effectively, the JH-XX would represent a different set of design compromises. The H-20 trades speed in exchange for greater payload, range and stealth. The ‘game plan’ is for such a bomber is to penetrate enemy airspace without being detected at all, as it doesn’t have the agility to evade enemy fighters or missiles. It’s projected range of five thousand miles would allow it strike targets across the Pacific, especially if combined with aerial refueling and long-range missiles.

The JH-XX would likely have shorter range (900-1500 miles) and a smaller payload than the H-20, but would be much faster at speeds up to twice the speed of sound. (Note, however, that friction generate at Mach 2 may erode the expensive coatings of radar-absorbent materials on stealth aircraft.) Thus, while an JH-XX might eventually be detected as it sprints towards its target, the combination of speed and reduced detection range would theoretically give interceptors and air defenses too little time to react.

Overall, the H-20’s long range and heavier payload is more useful to the PLA. However, the JH-XX would bring a different mix of capabilities and might be better for penetrating certain very dense air-defense networks where evading detection may not be possible even for a stealthy H-20.

The United States and the Australian Air Force formerly operated supersonic F-111 Aardvark regional bombers that had a similar mission profile, though lacking in stealth characteristics. Furthermore, in the early 2000s, the Pentagon considered procuring bomber variants of the Raptor stealth fighter and the YF-23 before passing on that idea in favor of the B-21 Raider strategic stealth bomber. In fact, Tyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevithick at The Drive speculate that the JH-XX concept may have been informed in part by technical documents possibly acquired by Chinese hackers for these aircraft.

Unlike the H-20, the JH-XX’s high speed would make it viable for carrying air-to-air missiles, not only for self-defense, but for hit-and-run attacks on vulnerable support planes, or to rapidly intercept incoming bombers. While the JH-XX likely wouldn’t be optimized for short-range aerial dogfights against highly maneuverable fighters, its stealth, speed and large payload could still make it a deadly delivery platform for beyond-visual range air-to-air missiles.

One last intriguing application of the JH-XX concept could be naval strike. The PLA Naval Air Force currently operates 250 JH-7 ‘Flying Leopard’ supersonic naval strike bomber. These non-stealthy planes depend on long-range anti-ship missiles and electronic warfare to overcome the formidable air defenses of modern surface warships. A stealth fighter bomber could conceivably get much closer to, say, an opposing carrier-task force, before being detected—giving the targeted vessels a much smaller window to engage their defenses. Of course, stealth capabilities might also make the JH-XX an especially survivable electronic warfare and spy plane in its own right. Naval analyst Robert Farley has speculated that the JH-XX might even be intended for carrier deployment.

If the JH-XX is truly under active development, then additional rumors and photos may eventually surface. Until then, the supersonic stealth-bomber’s development status must come with an asterisk, even if that won’t dissuade model-makers and defense writers alike from speculation.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

(This first appeared last year.)

Source: National Interest “China Is Building Two New Stealth Bombers (And We Have The Details)”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Yes, China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter Could Shoot Down an F-22 or F-35


Here’s how.

by Mark Episkopos June 28, 2020

Key Point: A massive missile range deficit makes American fighters more vulnerable.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force made waves at the 2018 Zhuhai Airshow with the latest showing of their flagship fifth-generation stealth fighter, the J-20.

As is common with airshow coverage, large swaths of the ensuing commentary focused on the J-20’s handling and maneuverability as it performed a series of rolls and a climb. But this elides what is perhaps the most significant aspect of the J-20’s Zhuhai showing: its weapons system.

During the performance, the J-20 opened its missile bay doors to reveal four PL-15 missiles accompanied by two PL-10 missiles on either side. The PL-15 is a long range air-to-air missile slated to enter service in 2018. Outfitted with an active electronically scanned radar and featuring a reported maximum range of up to 300 km, the PL-15’s impressive specifications place it in the ranks of the top air-to-air missiles along with the European Meteor missile and Russian K-37M.

The PL-15’s effective range in actual aerial engagements is certain to be lower than the maximum range 300 km, but is nonetheless much higher than its American AIM-120 AMRAAM counterpart’s estimated 180 km or less. American general Herbert Carlisle voiced serious concerns in 2015 when the development of the PL-15 entered the public knowledge: “Look at our adversaries and what they’re developing, things like the PL-15 and the range of that weapon.” General Carlisle raised the same issue in an interview with FlightGlobal: “The PL-15 and the range of that missile, we’ve got to be able to out-stick that missile.”

The American F-22 and F-35 fighters are now equipped with the latest AIM 120-D missiles, but a massive range deficit remains nonetheless. The challenge of the PL-15 comes on the heels of questions about the uncertain future of the aging AMRAAM system. As Captain James Stoneman put it to the National Interest: “Currently there is no program of record for a follow-on… we’ve probably close to maxing it out.” Development of the latest Block III iteration of the short range AIM-9X was cancelled, and Raytheon struggles with a necessary AMRAAM refresh.

The J-20’s two side-mounted PL-10 missiles, while less conspicuous than their long range counterpart, are a key factor in the J-20’s operational versatility. A short-range infrared air-to-air missile, the PL-10 can be fired at off boresight angles of 90 degrees using the J-20’s Helmet Mounted Display (HMD). In other words, the PL-10’s on the J-20 can be fired in the direction that the pilot points their head.

Off boresight targeting is by no means a new technology. In fact, the PL-10 is China’s response to the AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder short range missiles that the United States is selling to Taiwan. There is no reliable information on the PL-10’s range at the time of writing, but it is expected to at least match AIM-9X’s reported maximum range of 20-22 km. Iterative performance differences aside, it is a bigger long-term concern is that the PL-10 and PL-15 are reportedly built with the latest anti-jamming technology at a time when the AIM- 9X and AIM-120D are perceived as increasingly vulnerable to modern digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jamming techniques.

There is much that is still unknown about the J-20, including its launch mechanism and the final specifications of its WS-15 engine currently in development. It remains to be seen if this particular armament configuration makes it into the regular production process, but the juxtaposition of the PL-15 and PL-10 inside the J-20’s frame can become a stark concern for the United States and some of its regional allies who continue to rely on aging AMRAAM technology.

Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to the National Interest and serves as a research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University. This article first appeared in 2018 and is reprinted here due to reader interest.

Source: National Interest “Yes, China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter Could Shoot Down an F-22 or F-35”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Coronavirus Pakistan Business Opinion Culture Sport Magazines World Tech Prism Diamer-Bhasha dam ready for construction, PM Imran told Sanaullah KhanMay 11, 2020 Facebook Count Twitter Share 119 The premier was informed about the progress of all pending issues related to the project’s construction. — PM Khan’s Instagram/File Prime Minister Imran Khan was informed on Monday that all the prep work for the Diamer-Bhasha dam has been completed and the project was ready for construction. Taking to Twitter, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa called the announcement “historic news”. He said: “Announcing to start construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam today is historic news for all generations of Pakistan. A huge stimulus for our economy, [will] create 16,500 jobs, generate 4,500 MW hydel power and irrigate 1.2 m acres agri land, enhance Tarbela dam’s age by 35 years.” Article continues after ad Chairing today’s briefing on national water security strategy and the construction of dams to meet the country’s agricultural and energy requirements, the premier was informed about the progress of all pending issues related to the dam’s construction. The premier expressed satisfaction over the progress made so far and directed authorities concerned to begin construction work on the dam. “Ensuring water security is the government’s first priority,” he said, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office. “In addition to ensuring the optimum utilisation of available water resources for agricultural needs, the construction of dams will help meet energy requirements at affordable rates.” The prime minister directed that local materials and expertise be used during construction to provide the people with ample job opportunities. According to the statement, during today’s meeting, PM Imran was informed that “all issues related to this critically important project, including settlement, detailed roadmap for mobilisation of financial resources etc. have been resolved and the project was ready for commencement of physical work”. The meeting was informed that Diamer-Bhasha dam had remained in limbo for decades due to various reasons. “The construction of the dam will create 16,500 jobs and utilise a large quantity of cement and steel which will boost our industry, in addition to its main purpose of water storage and producing 4,500 MW of cheap and affordable electricity,” the press release said. “The 6.4 million acre feet (MAF) water storage capacity of the dam will reduce the current water shortage in the country of 12 MAF to 6.1 MAF. It will add 35 years to the life of Tarbela dam by reducing sedimentation. An area of 1.23 million acres of land will be brought under agriculture [use] due to this dam,” it added. The meeting was also informed that Rs78.5 billion will be spent on the area around the dam for its social development as part of the project. “[The dam] will also be a major source of flood mitigation and save billions in damages caused by floods each year,” the statement added. The chairman of Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) also briefed the meeting about the progress of the recently-commenced construction work that at Mohmand Dam. PM Imran was also informed about the Dasu hydropower project and the progress made so far. “The premier expressed satisfaction over the progress and directed to ensure expeditious commencement of the project,” the statement read. It added that the prime minister was also told that funds have been arranged for Naulong dam in Balochistan and that work on the project will commence next year. The premier stressed the need for starting the Sindh barrage project. “The project has huge benefits in addressing the agriculture needs of the province. It will stop soil erosion and also improve the drinking water situation for urban centres in Sindh,” he said. PM Imran also appreciated the efforts made by the water resources ministry and Wapda in pursuing the projects. He reiterated his emphasis on keeping a close eye on the quality of work and meeting timelines.


The premier was informed about the progress of all pending issues related to the project's construction. — PM Khan's Instagram/File
The premier was informed about the progress of all pending issues related to the project’s construction. — PM Khan’s Instagram/File

Prime Minister Imran Khan was informed on Monday that all the prep work for the Diamer-Bhasha dam has been completed and the project was ready for construction.

Taking to Twitter, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa called the announcement “historic news”.

He said: “Announcing to start construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam today is historic news for all generations of Pakistan. A huge stimulus for our economy, [will] create 16,500 jobs, generate 4,500 MW hydel power and irrigate 1.2 m acres agri land, enhance Tarbela dam’s age by 35 years.”

The premier expressed satisfaction over the progress made so far and directed authorities concerned to begin construction work on the dam. “Ensuring water security is the government’s first priority,” he said, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“In addition to ensuring the optimum utilisation of available water resources for agricultural needs, the construction of dams will help meet energy requirements at affordable rates.”

The prime minister directed that local materials and expertise be used during construction to provide the people with ample job opportunities.

According to the statement, during today’s meeting, PM Imran was informed that “all issues related to this critically important project, including settlement, detailed roadmap for mobilisation of financial resources etc. have been resolved and the project was ready for commencement of physical work”.

The meeting was informed that Diamer-Bhasha dam had remained in limbo for decades due to various reasons.

“The construction of the dam will create 16,500 jobs and utilise a large quantity of cement and steel which will boost our industry, in addition to its main purpose of water storage and producing 4,500 MW of cheap and affordable electricity,” the press release said.

“The 6.4 million acre feet (MAF) water storage capacity of the dam will reduce the current water shortage in the country of 12 MAF to 6.1 MAF. It will add 35 years to the life of Tarbela dam by reducing sedimentation. An area of 1.23 million acres of land will be brought under agriculture [use] due to this dam,” it added.

The meeting was also informed that Rs78.5 billion will be spent on the area around the dam for its social development as part of the project. “[The dam] will also be a major source of flood mitigation and save billions in damages caused by floods each year,” the statement added.

The chairman of Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) also briefed the meeting about the progress of the recently-commenced construction work that at Mohmand Dam.

PM Imran was also informed about the Dasu hydropower project and the progress made so far. “The premier expressed satisfaction over the progress and directed to ensure expeditious commencement of the project,” the statement read.

It added that the prime minister was also told that funds have been arranged for Naulong dam in Balochistan and that work on the project will commence next year.

The premier stressed the need for starting the Sindh barrage project. “The project has huge benefits in addressing the agriculture needs of the province. It will stop soil erosion and also improve the drinking water situation for urban centres in Sindh,” he said.

PM Imran also appreciated the efforts made by the water resources ministry and Wapda in pursuing the projects. He reiterated his emphasis on keeping a close eye on the quality of work and meeting timelines.

Source: DAWN “Diamer-Bhasha dam ready for construction, PM Imran told”

Note: This is DAWN’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


The Navy ‘Sunk’ Billions Into Stealth Destroyers (They Have No Purpose)


Despite the well-known difficulties of developing next-generation military systems, the Zumwalt had been sold to Congress based on unrealistic minimum-cost estimates. Eventually, program costs exceeded the budget by 50 percent, triggering an automatic cancelation according to the Nunn—McCurdy Act.

by Sebastien Roblin May 14, 2019

This surface warfare role may best leverage the Zumwalt’s stealth capabilities, allowing it to range ahead of the fleet and penetrate “anti-access” zones threatened by long-range anti-ship missiles. It could creep closer to enemy warships before launching its own missiles, giving adversaries little time to react.

In January 2019, the Navy will commission its second hi-tech Zumwalt-class stealth destroyer, the USS Michael Monsoor. The third and last, USS Lyndon B. Johnson was launched this December 2018 and will be commissioned in 2022.

(This first appeared several months ago.)

Traditionally, warships are tailored to perform specific missions. But the cutting-edge Zumwalt has been a ship in search of a mission, especially since procurement of hyper-expensive ammunition for its primary weapon system was canceled. Years and billions of dollars later, the Navy may finally have found one.

In the post-Cold War 1990s, the U.S Navy lacked peer competitors on the high seas, so it conceived its next-generation surface combatants for engaging coastal targets. As the Navy phased out its last battleship, it decided its next destroyer should mount long-range guns that could to provide more cost-efficient naval gunfire support than launching million-dollar Tomahawk cruise missiles.

In the 2000s, development proceeded for a DDG-1000 destroyer integrating every next-generation technology then conceivable. The Navy promised Congress a larger destroyer requiring only 95 crew instead of 300 thanks to automation, with adequate space and power-generation capacity to deploy railguns and laser weapons. The new warships would be stealthier to avoid enemy attacks and pack rapid-firing 6-inch guns with a range of 115 miles for the sustained bombardment of land targets. Thirty-two DDG-1000s were to succeed the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

The lead ship USS Zumwalt took shape sporting a futuristic-looking tumblehome hull—wider below the waterline than above—helping reduce the 190-meter long vessel’s radar cross-section to that of a small fishing boat. The ship’s induction motors generated a whopping 58 megawatts of electricity while cruising, enough to power the entire 17,630-ton ship thanks to an Integrated Power System. The electrically-driven motors and chilled exhaust also reduce the destroyer’s infrared and acoustic signature. The vessel’s new Total Ship Computing Environment networked all the destroyer’s systems, making them accessible from any console throughout the vessel.

In addition to rapid-firing 6” guns, the Zumwalt had eighty Mark 57 missile vertical-launch cells dispersed across her bow and stern to minimize secondary explosions. These could target and launch Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, ASROC anti-submarine rockets, or quad-packs of Evolved Sea Sparrow medium-range air-defense missiles. The Zumwalt’s spacious landing pad and hangar could accommodate up to three MQ-8B helicopter drones or two MH-60R helicopters, which can carry Hellfire anti-tank missiles or torpedoes. The destroyers also boast a capable dual-bandwidth sonar for hunting submarines, but lack the torpedo armament found in Arleigh Burkes.

The destroyer’s crew of one-hundred-and-fifty—plus a twenty-eight-person air detachment—exceeded by over 50 percent the originally promised number, but remained half that of an Arleigh-Burke destroyer. However, some analysts fear the super-trim crew complement leaves too little redundancy should the vessels sustain battle damage.

Indeed, by 2008, the Navy was no longer highly concerned with bombarding militarily weaker countries. Rather, it contemplated the challenge posed by China’s rapidly expanding surface and submarine fleets, and the proliferation of deadly anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles.

Worse, the Zumwalt’s Advanced Gun System didn’t even work that well, with two-thirds the forecast range (around 70 miles). Furthermore, its rocket-boosted LRLAP GPS-guided shells cost $800,000 dollars each—nearly as expensive as more precise, longer-range and harder-hitting cruise missiles. The Navy finally canceled the insanely expensive munitions, leaving the Zumwalt with two huge guns it can’t fire.

Downsizing and Downgrades:

Despite the well-known difficulties of developing next-generation military systems, the Zumwalt had been sold to Congress based on unrealistic minimum-cost estimates. Eventually, program costs exceeded the budget by 50 percent, triggering an automatic cancelation according to the Nunn—McCurdy Act.

Already by 2008, the Navy sought to ditch building more than two Zumwalts in favor of procuring Arleigh Burke Flight III destroyers with ballistic-missile defense capabilities. Maine Senator Susan Collins nonetheless wrangled a third destroyer to keep her state’s Bath Iron Works shipyard in business.

Each Zumwalt now costs $4.5 billion—in addition to the $10 billion spent on development. Like the troubled F-35 and Littoral Combat Ship, the Zumwalt’s spiraling costs were due to the Navy’s ambition to integrate completely new technologies still being concurrently developed. The final design was not even stabilized by the time construction began in 2009. The hybrid electrical system has proven especially challenging to integrate, leading the Zumwalt to break down while crossing the Panama Canal in November 2016.

Nearly decade after she was laid down, a 2018 Government Accountability Office report stated only five of the Zumwalt’s twelve key technologies was “mature.” Farcically, the ships were even officially “delivered” without combat systems. The lead ship, commissioned in 2012, won’t be ready for operational deployment until 2021.

The need to curb runaway costs led to crippling downgrades. Instead of fitting combining a powerful SPY-4 volume search radar with a SPY-3 hi-resolution targeting radar, the Navy ditched the former and rejigged the SPY-3 to handle volume-search as well. This saved $80 million per ship but significantly degraded air-search capabilities.

However, the Zumwalt currently only has Evolved Sea Sparrow air defense missiles with a range of thirty miles—adequate only for local coverage at best. Though the Zumwalt’s missile cells are compatible with longer-range Standard Missiles, those depend on the Aegis Combat System for guidance, which the Zumwalt lacks. And the Zumwalt’s last-ditch Close-In Weapon Systems were downgraded from 57-millimeter to much less capable 30-millimeter cannons.

Even the destroyer’s radar cross-section has been degraded to cut costs, with the adoption of cheaper steel for the deckhouse and the incorporation of non-flush sensor and communication masts.

Ship-Hunting Stealth Destroyers?:

What were merely three DDG-1000s good for, despite their nifty stealth features and propulsion? The advanced destroyers lacked ammunition for their guns, anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine torpedoes, and long-range area-air defense missiles. Furthermore, the Zumwalt had fewer cells to pack land-attack missiles than Arleigh-Burke destroyers (96), Ticonderoga-class cruisers (122), or Ohio-class cruise-missile submarines (144)—all of which were cheaper, and the last of which is stealthier.

Even the destroyer’s stealthy hull did not offer a clear advantage if it had to escort—or required an escort from—un-stealthy warships. And keeping a class of just three vessels operational meant very high overheads expenses in training and sustainment per individual ship. Thus, many analysts speculate the Zumwalt’s operational career could prove short-lived.

The Zumwalt needed a new mission—even if that meant tweaking its capabilities at an additional cost. Finally, in December 2017 the Navy announced the class would specialize in “surface strike”, i.e. hunting down other ships.

The destroyers will be modified to fire new Maritime Tomahawk Block IV subsonic anti-ship missiles and SM-6 active-radar-homing missile. The latter can provide longer-range air defense missile (up to 150 miles) and has a secondary ground or naval attack capability. Compared to the Tomahawk, the SM-6 has a much smaller 140-pound warhead, but its maximum speed of Mach 3.5 makes it much harder to intercept. Eventually, cheaper ammunition may be developed for the presently-useless guns, or they may be swapped out for additional missile launch cells or even future railguns or directed-energy weapons.

This surface warfare role may best leverage the Zumwalt’s stealth capabilities, allowing it to range ahead of the fleet and penetrate “anti-access” zones threatened by long-range anti-ship missiles. It could creep closer to enemy warships before launching its own missiles, giving adversaries little time to react.

The Navy is also working on networking sensors between its submarines, surface warships, helicopters, patrol planes and attack jets through “Cooperative Engagement” technology. Thus one strategy could see distant “spotter” generating targeting data using active radar, then transmitting it to a sensor-ghosting Zumwalt to perform the strike.

The cost of the current upgrades is reportedly $90 million—a sum which may prove worthwhile if it helps recoup some value after the $22 billion sunk into the ambitious but failed ship concept.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Source: National Interest “The Navy ‘Sunk’ Billions Into Stealth Destroyers (They Have No Purpose)”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


The U.S. Navy’s Real Problem


Too small? A naval expert gives us his take.

by James Holmes September 9, 2019

It turns out that this living-dead factoid refers to the total tonnage of the U.S. Navy fleet vis-à-vis foreign navies. On average American ships displace—or, roughly speaking, weigh—more than their counterparts overseas. Like numbers of hulls, tonnage is not a meaningless figure. Larger vessels can carry more fuel, armaments, and stores. Bigger is better—to a point.

The walking dead are ravaging Capitol Hill—again! I refer not to literal ghouls but to misleading ideas about navies that refuse to die in policymaking circles. The living dead shamble around during election season or just after—in other words, at times of political flux like this one, when one house of Congress has changed hands and the other is undergoing a leadership shakeup.

(This first appeared several months ago.)

Take out one zombie factoid with a shot to the head and ten or a hundred more just like it trample the fallen corpse to get at you.

The latest to traffic in undead ideas is Sen. David Perdue, representing my erstwhile home state of Georgia. He’s taking over as chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee, an arm of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. The new chairman exhibits a gratifying sense of urgency about America’s return to history after its post–Cold War strategic holiday, and about the need to bulk up the sea services to wage protracted strategic competitions against peer competitors.

That’s the good news. In stating his case, though, Senator Perdue uttered a factoid that is as manifestly incomplete as it is commonplace as an index of naval power. “Today we have the smallest Army since WWII, the smallest Navy since WWI, and the oldest and smallest Air Force ever,” he told Defense News. “At the same time, we face complex threats from China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran.”

That’s a dark picture to paint, and Perdue is correct in a strict factual sense: at 287-odd ships, there are fewer vessels in the U.S. Navy inventory now than at any time since the Great War. (Actually, the inventory has rebounded after bottoming out in the 270s—but only by a handful of vessels.) But the important question is whether the navy is powerful enough to accomplish the goals assigned it by senior commanders and their political masters. Naval power is not solely a function of hulls in the water. Think of ships as delivery vehicles. They deliver combat power to a particular scene of action at a particular time, in concert with friendly sea, ground, and air forces, to overcome the combat power a particular foe has staged there.

If the U.S. and allied force outguns the antagonist at the decisive place and time, it is sufficient regardless of how many or few ships take part in the engagement. If not, then U.S. naval commanders have a problem. So we should divorce calculations of naval might from brute numbers of hulls, which reveal little about whether a given fleet size is adequate to apply enough combat power at likely hotspots to fulfill U.S. strategic goals.

What U.S. maritime strategy calls on the navy to do matters a great deal to this calculus. For instance, a 287-ship force might well suffice to mount a hemispheric defense of the Americas, working alongside allied forces from Canada and Latin America. It would probably boast surplus capacity for such humble duty. Yet a fleet that size might be woefully understrength to take the fight to China in the South China Sea, Russia in the Black Sea, or Iran in the Persian Gulf. In short, reaching back to World War I to compare raw numbers reveals little about the outcomes of probable encounters in the here and now, and thus about the prospects for U.S. tactical, operational, and strategic success or failure.

Tallying up ship numbers, then, makes poor shorthand for U.S. naval power. Bean counting yields one datapoint, albeit an important one. There is some bare minimum of assets needed to concentrate strength at scenes of battle. But bean counting not only disregards the enemy, the surroundings, and the goals set by the navy’s overseers, it doesn’t differentiate among ship types. A century ago a battleship counted as a ship of war, and so did a winsome destroyer. A fleet made up entirely of battleships would have been the same as a fleet composed of destroyers by Perdue’s standard. It would have been an entirely different creature.

Today, similarly, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier bearing scores of warplanes counts as a ship. But so does a littoral combat ship with light armament and one-thirtieth the flattop’s tonnage. So does a lumbering amphibious assault ship that deposits marines and cargo on embattled shores rather than assail enemy fleets. Simple ship counts obscure elementary distinctions like these while making no judgment about the balance among ship types and missions within the fleet.

Statistics can lie. If you couple the “smallest navy since World War I” talking point with the results of realistic wargames showing that the U.S. Navy fields too few vessels vis-à-vis prospective foes under realistic circumstances, though, then you have the makings of a useful benchmark to gauge whether U.S. naval means are sufficient to advance U.S. strategic and political ends. And in turn you can bellow forth a rallying cry to lawmakers, administration officials, and the electorate to furnish more shipbuilding resources.

Apart from gamesters, you can consult scholarly work for informed opinion about these matters. For instance, back in 2010 a team of scribes from the Center for Naval Analyses compiled a study postulating that the U.S. Navy stood at a force-structure “tipping point” beneath which it would no longer be the globetrotting service it has been since Congress passed and Franklin Roosevelt signed the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 1940.

If the sea service dwindled much further in numbers and especially in capability, maintained the CNA team, it would possess too few assets to discharge the missions entrusted to it. The U.S. Navy would revert to the regional force it was before World War II.

The fleet still hovers around that tipping point nine years hence. At least Senator Perdue errs in the right direction by fretting over fleet numbers. In all likelihood the U.S. Navy is too small, even when you redefine ships as delivery vehicles for combat power and estimate U.S. battle strength through that unorthodox but illuminating technique. Still, friends of American sea power need more than soundbites to lend punch to their pleas for a larger fleet.

Now, so as not to pick on Senator Perdue too much, it’s worth noting that the World War I comparison is far from the most loathsome zombie to stampede through force-structure debates at times of political change. However flawed, Perdue’s talking point at least alerts Washington and the nation to danger. Taking other ubiquitous factoids at face value could induce America to relax its guard at a time when relaxing is the last thing it should do.

Two such fallacies come to mind. One holds that the U.S. Navy is “larger” than the next X navies combined, X usually being some double-digit number. That being the case, it should smash smaller rivals into kindling with ease, right? But this factoid makes no sense whatever when cross-referenced against numbers of hulls. Reputable estimates indicate, for instance, that China’s navy will boast over 500 vessels by 2030, even as the U.S. Navy struggles to field a 355-ship fleet. How could America’s navy constitute the larger force?

It turns out that this living-dead factoid refers to the total tonnage of the U.S. Navy fleet vis-à-vis foreign navies. On average American ships displace—or, roughly speaking, weigh—more than their counterparts overseas. Like numbers of hulls, tonnage is not a meaningless figure. Larger vessels can carry more fuel, armaments, and stores. Bigger is better—to a point.

But aggregate tonnage must also be taken in context. For one thing, the size of a ship says little about the armament and sensors installed aboard. A mammoth vessel could bear minimal armament. Combat logistics ships—transports for fuel, ammunition, refrigerated stores, and the like—are a case in point. Undefended by escort vessels, a large ship can make easy pickings for a much smaller foe such as China’s fleet-footed Type 022 Houbei catamarans. These lightweight 225-ton craft pack a heavy wallop in the form of eight anti-ship missiles. Offensive power need not correlate with tonnage, in other words.

For another, U.S. Navy men-of-war must carry more supplies than probable adversaries. After all, likely battlegrounds lie thousands of miles from North American shores. U.S. expeditionary forces must haul everything they need to fight in a China’s, Russia’s, or Iran’s backyard, or they may as well stay home. Meanwhile local defenders may get away with smaller vessels because they operate close to home—near their supply and operational bases—and because they’re backed by the combined firepower of shore-based air and missile forces. Antagonists, in other words, might make do with lesser craft and still attain their goals. The Type 022 is not a war-winning craft on its own. It is a formidable craft when integrated into a defensive thicket made up of ships and shore-based weaponry.

It’s a fallacy, then, to compare the tonnages of U.S. and foreign navies and conclude the battle result is a foregone conclusion. Doing so oversimplifies radically. In reality the bulkier U.S. Navy will square off not against a hostile navy but against a hostile joint force—a composite of sea, air, and ground forces operating close to home. In warfare as in sports, the advantage goes to the team making a home stand. Girth is no guarantee of victory for the visitors.

The second noxious factoid relates to budgets. All too often even knowledgeable pundits or officials cite the U.S. defense budget relative to likely competitors and conclude American supremacy is guaranteed. Because Washington spends more than the next Y powers combined—Y, like the X in tonnage comparisons, being some double-digit figure—then victory must be a sure thing. If you spend more you must have purchased superior strength. Right?

Not necessarily. He who spends the most may not win, just as he who weighs the most may not. Officialdom must not draw false comfort from budget comparisons suggesting that the United States holds a lopsided advantage over its rivals because it outspends them. Again, think about where likely sea fights will take place: in waters and skies close to hostile shorelines. The U.S. military must maintain pricey base infrastructure, not to mention those bigger, more expensive ships, planes, and armaments, merely to get into the battle zone. Fighting close to home is cheap by contrast. Advantage: red teams. Prevailing against distant opponents off their own coasts tends to cost you more than it costs them.

Factor in such disproportionate expenditures and the margin between U.S. and foreign spending doesn’t gape nearly so wide as budgeteering implies.

You would think the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had put paid to the conceit that the bigger, higher-tech, more expensive force inevitably triumphs. Substate enemies brandishing makeshift weaponry gave the U.S. and coalition armed forces fits during those conflicts. Afghanistan is sputtering to an indecisive conclusion at best. It’s hard to imagine that China, or Russia, or Iran would fare more poorly than the Taliban or Iraqi militant groups considering all the resources these martial states can tap.

That’s the trouble with the undead: you can’t reason with them. You have to shoot down ghoulish ideas one by one when the herd swarms. Looks like we’d better stockpile ammunition for a long siege.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College,

Source: National Interest “The U.S. Navy’s Real Problem”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


The U.S. Navy Should Watch Out: China’s Submarine Force Is On the Rise


“Not only would China likely be able to deploy more submarines to the western Pacific than the United States, but the Chinese boats also might be better-suited than the American vessels are to operations in the region’s shallow, crowded littoral zones.”

by David Axe  May 6, 2019

The Chinese navy is close to building up one of the world’s most powerful submarine fleet, according to the 2019 edition of the U.S. Defense Department’s annual report on Chinese military developments.

The U.S. Navy is struggling to stay ahead.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy is “the region’s largest navy, with more than 300 surface combatants, submarines, amphibious ships, patrol craft and specialized types,” the report explains. “It is also an increasingly modern and flexible force.”

Beijing deploys its submarines in order to “achieve maritime superiority within the first island chain” that runs from Japan to The Philippines “as well as to deter and counter any potential third party intervention in a Taiwan conflict.”

To that end, China by mid-2019 has acquired six nuclear-powered attack submarine, or SSNs, and 50 conventional attack submarines, or SSs. “The speed of growth of the submarine force has slowed and will likely grow to between 65 and 70 submarines by 2020,” according to the report.

The Chinese undersea fleet includes 12 Russian-built Kilo-class SS units, eight capable of launching anti-ship cruise missiles, plus 13 Song-class/Type 039 SS units and 17 Yuan-class/Type 039A diesel-electric air-independent power attack submarines. The Pentagon expects three more Yuans to join the fleet by 2020.

Beijing’s SSN feet includes two Shang I-class/Type 093 SSNs and four Shang II-class/Type 093A SSNs. “By the mid-2020s, China will likely build the Type 093B guided-missile nuclear attack submarine,” the Pentagon report notes. “This new Shang-class variant will enhance the PLAN’s anti-surface warfare capability and could provide a more clandestine land-attack option.

The Chinese undersea build-up is part of a wider, regional submarine expansion. “Potential adversary submarine activity has tripled from 2008 levels, which requires at least a corresponding increase on the part of the United States to maintain superiority,” U.S. Navy admiral Philip Davidson said in a March 2019 Congressional testimony.

“There are 400 foreign submarines in the world, of which roughly 75 percent reside in the Indo-Pacific region,” Davidson testified. “One-hundred and sixty of these submarines belong to China, Russia and North Korea. While these three countries increase their capacity, the United States retires attack submarines faster than they are replaced.”

In December 2016, the U.S. Navy announced it needed 66 attack submarines in order to meet regional commanders’ needs. But in early 2019 the fleet had just 51 attack boats. And that number is set to fall.

Owing to a glut of sub production during the 1980s and a years-long gap in submarine production in the 1990s, the Navy possesses large numbers of old submarines, very few middle-age boats and lots of newer ones. A new Virginia-class SSN costs more than $2 billion to build.

Once a sub’s nuclear reactor core wears out, usually after around 30 years of operation, the Navy must either decommission the boat or undertake an expensive refueling. Dozens of three-decade-old Los Angeles-class attack subs are likely to decommission in the next few years, shrinking the overall SSN fleet to just 42 boats in 2028.

“Numerically, SSNs remain the furthest from the inventory objective,” the Navy stated in its shipbuilding plan for 2020.

Not only would China likely be able to deploy more submarines to the western Pacific than the United States, but the Chinese boats also might be better-suited than the American vessels are to operations in the region’s shallow, crowded littoral zones.

The shallow Taiwan Strait, in particular, is inhospitable to big, deep-diving American subs. “While SSNs have enormous advantages over [diesel-powered] SSKs, shallow terrain partially limits the SSNs’ primary advantage: diving deep at high speeds after firing and thereby evade detection,” Henry Holst explained in an essay for the U.S. Naval Institute.

In order partially to compensate for its growing disadvantage in submarines compared to the Chinese fleet, the U.S. Navy is experimenting with new, more efficient ways of supporting its subs, and also is buying robotic submarines that could reinforce manned boats on certain missions.

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad.

Source: National Interest “The U.S. Navy Should Watch Out: China’s Submarine Force Is On the Rise”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


See This Russian ‘Stealth’ Submarine? It Terrifies the U.S. Navy For Lots of Reasons


An underwater terror?

by Sebastien Roblin September 2, 2019

After an expensive round of repairs, the Nerpa was ready to go—and promptly transferred on a ten-year lease to India for $950 million. Redubbed the INS Chakra, it served as India’s only nuclear powered submarine for years, armed with the short-range Klub cruise missile due to the restrictions of the Missile Technology Control Regime. In October 2016, Moscow and New Delhi agreed on the leasing of a second Akula-class submarine, although it’s unclear whether it will be the older Akula I Kashalot or never-completed Akula II Iribis—though the steep $2 billion price tag leads some to believe it may be the latter. This year, the Chakra will also be joined by the domestically-produced Arihant class, which is based on the Akula but reoriented to serve as a ballistic-missile sub.

The Soviet Union produced hot-rod submarines that could swim faster, take more damage, and dive deeper than their American counterparts—but the U.S. Navy remained fairly confident it had the Soviet submarines outmatched because they were all extremely noisy. Should the superpowers clash, the quieter American subs had better odds of detecting their Soviet counterparts first, and greeting them with a homing torpedo. However, that confidence was dented in the mid-1980s, when the Soviet Navy launched its Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarines. Thirty years later they remain the mainstay of the Russian nuclear attack submarine fleet—and are quieter than the majority of their American counterparts.

(This first appeared in 2017.)

Intelligence provided by the spies John Walker and Jerry Whitworth in the 1970s convinced the Soviet Navy that it needed to seriously pursue acoustic stealth in its next attack submarine. After the prolific Victor class and expensive titanium-hulled Sierra class, construction of the first Project 971 submarine, Akula (“Shark”), began in 1983. The new design benefited from advanced milling tools and computer controls imported from Japan and Sweden, respectively, allowing Soviet engineers to fashion quiet seven-bladed propellers.

The large Akula, which displaced nearly thirteen thousand tons submerged, featured a steel double hull typical to Soviet submarines, allowing the vessel to take on more ballast water and survive more damage. The attack submarine’s propulsion plant was rafted to dampen sound, and anechoic tiles coated its outer and inner surface. Even the limber holes which allowed water to pass inside the Akula’s outer hull had retractable covers to minimize acoustic returns. The 111-meter-long vessel was distinguished by its elegant, aquadynamic conning tower and the teardrop-shaped pod atop the tail fin which could deploy a towed passive sonar array. A crew of around seventy could operate the ship for one hundred days at sea.

Powered by a single 190-megawatt pressurized water nuclear reactor with a high-density core, the Akula could swim a fast thirty-three knots (thirty-eight miles per hour) and operate 480 meters deep, two hundred meters deeper than the contemporary Los Angeles–class submarine. More troubling for the U.S. Navy, though, the Akula was nearly as stealthy as the Los Angeles class. American submariners could no longer take their acoustic superiority for granted. On the other hand, the Akula’s own sensors were believed to be inferior.

The Akula I submarines—designated Shchuka (“Pike”) in Russian service—were foremost intended to hunt U.S. Navy submarines, particularly ballistic-missile submarines. Four 533-millimeter torpedo tubes and four large 650-millimeter tubes could deploy up to forty wire-guided torpedoes, mines, or long-range SS-N-15 Starfish and SS-N-16 Stallion antiship missiles. The Akula could also carry up to twelve Granat cruise missiles capable of hitting targets on land up to three thousand kilometers away.

Soviet shipyards pumped out seven Akula Is while the U.S. Navy pressed ahead to build the even stealthier Seawolf-class submarine to compete. However, even as the Soviet Union collapsed, it launched the first of five Project 971U Improved Akula I boats. This was followed by the heavier and slightly longer 971A Akula II class in the form of the Vepr in 1995, which featured a double-layer silencing system for the power train, dampened propulsion systems and a new sonar. Both variants had six additional external tubes that could launch missiles or decoy torpedoes, and a new Strela-3 surface-to-air missile system.

However, the most important improvement was to stealth—the new Akulas were now significantly quieter than even the Improved Los Angeles–class submarines, although some analysts argue that the latter remain stealthier at higher speeds. You can check out an Office of Naval Intelligence comparison chart of submarine acoustic stealth here. The U.S. Navy still operates forty-three Los Angeles–class boats, though fourteen newer Seawolf- and Virginia-class submarines still beat out the Akula in discretion.

However, Russian shipyards have struggled to complete new Akula IIs, which are not cheap—one figure claims a cost of $1.55 billion each in 1996, or $2.4 billion in today’s dollars. The struggling Russian economy can barely afford to keep the already completed vessels operational. Two Akula IIs were scrapped before finishing construction and three were converted into Borei-class ballistic-missile submarines. As for the Akula II Vepr, it was beset by tragedy in 1998 when a mentally unstable teenage seaman killed eight fellow crewmembers while at dock, and threatened to blow up the torpedo room in a standoff before committing suicide.

After lingering a decade in construction, the Gepard, the only completed Akula III boat, was deployed in 2001, reportedly boasting what was then the pinnacle of Russian stealth technology. Seven years later, Moscow finally pushed through funding to complete the Akula II Nerpa after fifteen years of bungled construction. However, during sea trials in November 2008, a fire alarm was triggered inadvertently, flooding the sub with freon firefighting gas that suffocated twenty onboard, mostly civilians—the most serious recent incident in a long and eventful history of submarine disasters.

After an expensive round of repairs, the Nerpa was ready to go—and promptly transferred on a ten-year lease to India for $950 million. Redubbed the INS Chakra, it served as India’s only nuclear powered submarine for years, armed with the short-range Klub cruise missile due to the restrictions of the Missile Technology Control Regime. In October 2016, Moscow and New Delhi agreed on the leasing of a second Akula-class submarine, although it’s unclear whether it will be the older Akula I Kashalot or never-completed Akula II Iribis—though the steep $2 billion price tag leads some to believe it may be the latter. This year, the Chakra will also be joined by the domestically-produced Arihant class, which is based on the Akula but reoriented to serve as a ballistic-missile sub.

Today the Russian Navy maintains ten to eleven Akulas, according to Jane’s accounting in 2016, but only three or four are in operational condition, while the rest await repairs. Nonetheless, the Russian Navy has kept its boats busy. In 2009, two Akulas were detected off the East Coast of the United States—supposedly the closest Russia submarines had been seen since the end of the Cold War. Three years later, there was an unconfirmed claim (this time denied by the U.S. Navy) that another Akula had spent a month prowling in the Gulf of Mexico without being caught. The older Kashalot even has been honored for “tailing a foreign submarine for fourteen days.” All of these incidents have highlighted concerns that the U.S. Navy needs to refocus on antisubmarine warfare. In the last several years, Russia has also been upgrading the Akula fleet to fire deadly Kalibr cruise missiles, which were launched at targets in Syria in 2015 by the Kilo-class submarine Rostov-on-Don.

Despite the Akula’s poor readiness rate, they continue to make up the larger part of Russia’s nuclear attack submarine force, and will remain in service into the next decade until production of the succeeding Yasen class truly kicks into gear. Until then, the Akula’s strong acoustic stealth characteristics will continue to make it a formidable challenge for antisubmarine warfare specialists.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Source: National Interest “See This Russian ‘Stealth’ Submarine? It Terrifies the U.S. Navy For Lots of Reasons”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


The U.S. Navy’s New Attack Submarine: The Most ‘Stealth’ Sub Ever?


We have an idea of what is to come.

by Kris Osborn June 3, 2019

The technical elements of undersea command and control, quite naturally, are being engineered with a mind to an expected increased use of underwater drones. The Navy is now moving quickly with efforts to build an entire new fleet of UUVs able to destroy mines, conduct lower risk forward surveillance, deliver supplies or even fire weapons with a “human-in-the-loop.” Capt. Pete Small, the Program Manager for Unmanned Maritime Systems, addressed this phenomenon at Sea Air Space and said the service’s now in development Orca XLUUV – Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle – is being configured to fire torpedoes.

The Navy has begun work on a new generation of attack submarines with never-before-seen weapons, quieting technology, undersea attack drones, sonar and communications networking… to emerge at some point over the next 10 years or more.

The U.S. Navy’s New Attack Submarine: The Most ‘Stealth’ Sub Ever

Will it be the stealthiest, most lethal attack submarine ever to exist? That ….is the Navy plan.

Plans for the new boats, referred to as a new fleet of Block VI Virginia Class-Attack Attack-class submarines, include launching long-range precision strikes, delivering Special Operations Forces on secret high-risk attack missions, conducting ISR missions, networking with platforms and — perhaps of greatest significance – operating undetected in high-threat waters.

Block VI will start in 2024. We are currently in the phase of looking at concepts and capabilities and determining their feasibility. Next year we will go through the decision points in terms of requirements of what we want to have in that block,” Capt. Christopher Hanson, Program Manager, Virginia Class Submarines, said at the Navy League’s 2019 Sea Air Space Symposium.

Speaking at a Naval Sea Systems Command location, Hanson specified that the new submarines will incorporate a specific emphasis upon Special Operations Forces (SOF), new weapons’ interfaces and payloads for undersea drones, Unmanned Undersea Vessels.

As part of the Block VI development, the Navy is now conducting a “SOF Optimization” Analysis of Alternatives to, among other things, find ways to engineer an attack submarine well suited for clandestine undersea SOF missions. These can include targeted attack operations, forward intelligence gathering or high-risk surveillance missions, among other things.

Hanson was clear to point out that it is not possible, at the moment, to know everything that a new submarine might include 10 years into the future. With this in mind, the service wants to architect the boats, with established standards and interfaces, so that they can easily integrate new weapons, undersea drones or networking technologies as they emerge.

Capability comes in two ways. One is the inherent design and how we build the submarine and the other piece is how we design the submarine with interface requirements for future payloads…that maybe right now are only in the power-point stage…. that can be accommodated in the future?” Hanson added.

This conceptual framework, focused on engineering “upgradeable” platforms, was anticipated in earliest days of the Virginia-class program more than 15 years ago. A 2005 Naval War College Review essay cites Virginia-class submarines as a platform benefiting from a modular, or “open architecture” approach. Since its inception, the Virginia-class was built with a mind to prepare for future upgrades, as evidenced in the essay.

One example referenced in the essay is a modernization effort called the Acoustic Rapid COTS Insertion (ARCI) program which, among other things, pushed “toward modularity for the Virginia-class, the SSGN and subsequent classes,” the essay states. The success of the ARCI program has continued for more than a decade since its beginning; the program’s success was cited in a 2015 DOT&E report. The DOT&E report recommend that the program begin to emphasize countermine missions, due to its track record of successful upgrades.

From a technical or engineering perspective, modularity means building a boat with a software and hardware foundation able to adjust as needed. For instance, while attack submarines currently fire Torpedoes and Tomahawks, it is entirely feasible, if not likely, that new submarine-launched weapons will exist 10 years from now. This kind of scenario is exactly what Hanson seemed to be getting at.

The Naval War College Review essay, interestingly, aligns with Hanson’s comment about the need to engineer for future technologies to permit quick integration of new systems. The essay describes it as “yet-unenvisioned equipment to be installed to counter unimagined threats, and an insistence that core enabling characteristics such as stealth never be compromised.” (From”The Submarine as a Case Study in Transformation: Implications for Future Investment,” James H. Patton Jr, 2005)

With this essay in mind, there is substantial precedent for of this kind of modular approach, looking at the multi-year trajectory of Virginia-class development; each Block has incorporated several impactful new technologies not yet present when the previous boats were built. For example, unlike Blocks I and II, Virginia-class Block III boats significantly increase firepower with the introduction of what’s called Virginia Payload Tubes adding new missile tubes able to fire 6 Tomahawks each. Block III also includes a new Large Aperture Bow “horseshoe-shaped” sonar, which switches from an “air-backed’ spherical sonar to a “water-backed” array, making it easier to maintain pressure, according to a 2014 report in “NavSource Online.”

The LAB sonar, which is both more precise and longer range than its predecessor, also advances the curve in that it introduces both a passive and “active” sonar system. Passive systems are used to essential track or “listen” for acoustic pings to identify enemy movements. This can help conceal a submarines position by not emitting a signal, yet can lack the specificity of an “active” sonar system which sends an acoustic “ping” forward. The submarine’s technology then analyzes the return signal to deliver a “rendering” of an enemy object to include its contours, speed and distance. In concept, sonar works similar to radar except that it sends acoustic signals instead of electronic ones.

When it comes to tailoring submarines for SOF missions, it would not be surprising if elements of Block IIIs “Lock Out Trunk” were built-upon or expanded for Block VI; the Lock Out Trunk introduces a new specialized area which fills up with water for departure, enabling SOF forces to more easily and quietly exit the submarine while remaining submerged.

BLOCK VI Technologies

So….. given that both future threats and future technologies are not yet known, as Hanson indicated, what might Block VI look like?

While particular technical details are often unavailable given the secret nature of these kinds of platforms, over the years senior Navy weapons developers have talked to Warrior about some of the key areas of modernization focus; these include new coating materials to make the submarines stealthier, new antennas for longer-range, more accurate undersea surveillance missions and new “quieting” engine propulsion technology, among other things.

All of these technologies, in fact, already exist in the USS South Dakota attack submarine — the most advanced submarine ever to be delivered to the Navy. The new boat, which is now operational, began as a prototype, test-bed platform to evolve these new technologies. What all of these USS South Dakota innovations amount to is that, Hanson said, they are informing current conceptual discussions now underway regarding Block VI.

Also, according to Congressional testimony in 2016, cited in a report from SeaPower magazine, former PEO Submarines Rear Adm. Michael E. Jabaley Jr., the USS South Dakota includes a DARPA-engineered Hybrid Propulsor “which brings new acoustic advantages.”

Yet another area of innovation quite likely to lay a foundation for Block VI includes Block IIIs “Fly-by-Wire” navigational controls; instead of using mechanically operated hydraulic controls, the Fly-by-Wire system uses a joystick, digital moving maps and various adaptations of computer automation to navigate the boat. This means that computer systems can control the depth and speed of the submarine, while a human remains in a command and control role. It seems almost self-evident, given rapid advances in AI and computer automation, that Block VI will include a new generation of these kinds of technologies.

The technical elements of undersea command and control, quite naturally, are being engineered with a mind to an expected increased use of underwater drones. The Navy is now moving quickly with efforts to build an entire new fleet of UUVs able to destroy mines, conduct lower risk forward surveillance, deliver supplies or even fire weapons with a “human-in-the-loop.” Capt. Pete Small, the Program Manager for Unmanned Maritime Systems, addressed this phenomenon at Sea Air Space and said the service’s now in development Orca XLUUV – Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle – is being configured to fire torpedoes.

From essentially a “lone wolf ” a decade ago, the submarine is now nearly universally accepted as a key node within network-centric warfare, the purveyor of “undersea dominance,” and an essential element of Sea Power 21 (a previously articulated Navy attack vision emphasizing information dominance),” the 2005 Naval War College Review essay writes.

Finally, the now underway Block V Virginia-class boats, known for its fire-power enhancing Virginia Payload Modules (VPM), are also contributing to Block V conversations. VPM, which increases the boats’ firepower from 12 to 40 Tomahawk missiles, changes the attack envelope.

Block 5 has some additional equipment we are developing, which will be added to the USS South Dakota. Our expectation is that that equipment is going to continue on into Block VI,” Hanson said.

Most of all, it seems apparent, plans for Block VI want to both remain flexible and explore a wide range of options.

We have a CONOPS *Concept of Operations” ground that brings in operators of other vehicles on a periodic basis so we can show them what we are looking at,” Hanson said.

Kris Osborn is a Senior Fellow at The Lexington Institute. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Source: National Interest “The U.S. Navy’s New Attack Submarine: The Most ‘Stealth’ Sub Ever?”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


The Navy Wants 32 More Nuclear Attack Submarines (But Will It Happen?)


Does Washington have the cash? 

by Kris Osborn

April 22, 2019

For Block V construction, the Navy is planning to insert a new 84-foot long section designed to house additional missile capability. “Virginia Payload Modules.” The Virginia Payload Modules, to come in future years, will increase the Tomahawk missile firepower of the submarines from 12 missiles up to 40.

Destroying enemy surface ships and submarines, “spying” close to enemy shores, bringing massive firepower to strategic areas and launching deadly undersea drones are all missions the Navy hopes to see more of in the future — as the service plans to add as many as 32 attack submarines in just the next 15 years.

The National Interest video

(This first appeared last month.)

Overall, the addition of attack submarines represents the largest overall platform increase within the Navy’s ambitious plan to grow the fleet to 355 ships.

Battle force inventory reaches 301 in 2020 and 355 in 2034,” Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Chambers, told Warrior Maven.

New Navy submarines are hosting an array of breakthrough technologies designed to carve a path into future maritime war; these include more firepower such as Tomahawk missiles and torpedoes, added electrical power for emerging systems such as drones and AI-enabled sensors, navigation and ship defenses.

As evidenced by the Navy’s most recent 30-Year Shipbuilding Plan, the Navy budget seeks to implement a new plan to build three Virginia-class attack submarines some years moving forward. This is, among other things, intended to address an anticipated future attack submarine deficit expected in the coming decade. For quite some time, Combatant Commanders have expressed serious concern that the availability of attack submarines continues to be dangerously lower than that is needed. Navy leadership has been working with Congress to rev-up production.

The previous status quo had been for the Navy to drop from building two Virginia-Class boats per year to one in the early 2020s when construction of the new Columbia-Class nuclear armed submarines begins. The service then moved to a plan to build two Virginia-class submarines and one Columbia-class submarine concurrently, according to findings from a previous Navy assessment.

The new Navy plan is to jump up to three Virginia-class per year when Columbia-class production hits a lull in “off years,” senior service leaders have told Congress.

There are many reasons why attack submarines are increasingly in demand; undersea vehicles are often able to conduct reconnaissance missions closer to targets than large-draft surface ships can. Forward positioning enables them to be “stealthier” in coastal areas, inlets or islands. As part of this, they can also move substantial firepower, in the form of Tomahawk missiles, closer to inland targets.

Not only is the Navy adding substantial firepower to its fleet of attack submarines, but the service is further emphasizing enhanced “spy” like intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance missions. By leveraging an ability to operate closer to enemy shorelines and threat areas than most surface ships, attack submarines can quietly patrol shallow waters near enemy coastline – scanning for enemy submarines, surface ships and coastal threats.

Improved undersea navigation and detection technology, using new sonar, increased computer automation and artificial intelligence, enable quieter, faster movements in littoral waters where enemy mines, small boats and other threatening assets often operate.

Virginia-Class submarines are engineered with a “Fly-by-Wire” capability which allows the ship to quietly linger in shallow waters without having to surface or have each small move controlled by a human operator.

With “Fly-by-Wire” technology, a human operator will order depth and speed, allowing software to direct the movement of the planes and rudder to maintain course and depth, Navy program managers have told Warrior Maven. The ships can be driven primarily through software code and electronics, thus freeing up time and energy for an operator who does not need to manually control each small maneuver.

The most important feature for maneuvering in littoral waters is the fly-by-wire control system, whereby computers in the control center electronically adjust the submarine’s control surfaces, a significant improvement from the hydraulic systems used in the Los Angeles-class,” a 2016 Stanford University “The Future of Nuclear Submarines” paper by Alexander Yachanin writes.

This technology, using upgradable software and fast-growing AI applications, widens the mission envelope for the attack submarines by vastly expanding their ISR potential. Using real-time analytics and an instant ability to draw upon an organize vast data-bases of information and sensor input, computer algorithms can now perform a range of procedural functions historically performed by humans. This can increase speed of maneuverability and an attack submarine’s ability to quickly shift course, change speed or alter depth positioning when faced with attacks.

A closer-in or littoral undersea advantage, Navy strategy documents explain, can increase “ashore attack” mission potential along with ISR-empowered anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare operations.

The US Navy’s published “Commander’s Intent for the United States Submarine Force,” published last year, writes – “We are uniquely capable of, and often best employed in, stealthy, clandestine and independent operations……. we exploit the advantages of undersea concealment which allow us to: , Conduct undetected operations such as strategic deterrent patrols, intelligence collection, Special Operations Forces support, non-provocative transits, and repositioning.”

The Navy is implementing elements of this strategy with its recently launched USS South Dakota, a Block III Virginia-Class attack submarine engineered with a host of new, unprecedented undersea technologies, Navy officials said.

Many of these innovations, which have been underway and tested as prototypes for many years, are now operational as the USS South Dakota enters service; service technology developers have, in a general way, said the advances in undersea technologies built, integrated, tested and now operational on the South Dakota include quieting technologies for the engine room to make the submarine harder to detect, a new large vertical array and additional “quieting” coating materials for the hull, Navy officials have told Warrior Maven.

The Block III Virginia-Class submarines also have what’s called a Large Aperture Bow conformal array sonar system – designed to listen for an acoustic ping, analyze the return signal, and provide the location and possible contours of enemy ships, submarines and other threats.

The Block III Virginia-Class submarines also have what’s called a Large Aperture Bow conformal array sonar system – designed to send out an acoustic ping, analyze the return signal, and provide the location and possible contours of enemy ships, submarines and other threats.

For Block V construction, the Navy is planning to insert a new 84-foot long section designed to house additional missile capability. “Virginia Payload Modules.” The Virginia Payload Modules, to come in future years, will increase the Tomahawk missile firepower of the submarines from 12 missiles up to 40.

The VPM submarines will have an additional (approximately 84 feet) section with four additional Virginia Payload Tubes, each capable of carrying seven Tomahawk cruise missiles, for a ship total of 40 Tomahawks.

Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has a Masters in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Source: National Interest “The Navy Wants 32 More Nuclear Attack Submarines (But Will It Happen?)”

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