Monday, April 24, 2023

A War with China? Fleet Size and Other Options

Sam Tangredi, writing in USNI Proceedings January 2023 issue sends a warning shot across the bow of some current naval thinking by looking at history Bigger Fleet Win:

Using technological advantage as an indicator of quality, historical research on 28 naval wars (or wars with significant and protracted naval combat) indicates that 25 were won by the side with the larger fleet. When fleet size was roughly equal, superior strategy and substantially better trained and motivated crews carried the day. Only three could be said to have been won by a smaller fleet with superior technology. (footnotes omitted)

As set out at CNN,

Alessio Patalano, professor of war and strategy at King’s College in London, praised Tangredi’s work.

“His research is a very good way to push back on the silly assumption that mass doesn’t matter in war at sea,” Patalano said.

He stressed two key points.

A larger size means more leaders looking to gain the edge in their commands.

“A larger fleet tend to be more competitive, in training personnel development, and operational capacity,” Patalano said.

And he said a large industrial base is essential, especially in being able to build new units after incurring casualties in battle.

“In naval war, attrition is a real thing, so the ability to replace is vital,” Patalano said.

But wait, there's more - concern over the ability of U.S. Defense industry to gear up to produce the quantity of ships (and weapons) needed:

“Most analysts doubt that the US defense industry — which has consolidated and shrunk since the end of the Cold War — could expand quickly enough to meet wartime demand,” Tangredi wrote.


Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander of US Fleet Forces Command, last week called on the nation’s defense industries to step up their game, saying “you’re not delivering the ordnance we need.”

“It’s so essential to winning. And I can’t do that without the ordnance,” Caudle said at a symposium in Washington, adding that the US is “going against a competitor here, and a potential adversary, that is like nothing we’ve ever seen.”

In an online forum last week, Caudle’s boss, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, also noted the numbers problem the US faces in a potential Pacific conflict.

“The United States Navy is not going to be able to match the PLAN missile for missile,” Gilday said.

And if the US Navy can’t match China’s missile for missile, or ship for ship, Tangredi wonders where it can find an edge.

“US leaders must ask themselves to what extent they are willing to bet on technological — without numerical — superiority in that fight,” he wrote.

The CNN reporting, though surprising good, leaves out some key parts of Tangredi's USNI article, referring to Wayne Hughes and Robert P. Girrier:

Inspired by Professor Hughes’ work, my decades of research have brought me to this conclusion: In a naval struggle between near-peers, mass (numbers), and the ability to replace losses bests technological advantage. As the mass of one opponent grows, the chance of its defeat reduces. At a certain point of imbalance in mass, the larger naval force cannot be defeated, even when the opponent attacks effectively first in any one engagement.


One might assume that superior ship capabilities rather than mass can provide this effectiveness. But that is not what operations research indicates. As Naval Warfare Publication 3: Fleet Warfare notes: “Hughes’ salvo equations indicate that twice as many shooters beats half as many equivalent shooters firing twice as fast.”


If the United States wants to retain global influence, maintain deterrence in multiple regions, and conduct combat operations against a near peer that is expanding its global military footprint, it needs a large number of naval platforms. Today, the peacetime demand of the regional combatant commanders overwhelms the availability of deployable Navy ships.

In addition, a reserve of naval platforms is necessary to replace losses. In World War II, the reserve was the ability to build ships at speed. Today, most analysts doubt that the U.S. defense industry—which has consolidated and shrunk since the end of the Cold War—could expand quickly enough to meet wartime demand. To replace losses in a protracted conflict, the United States would need numbers of ships already in commission.


The United States can fund a significant fleet that matches the growth of the PLA Navy—or not. Whether the fleet is 250 or 500 ships is for elected officials and the Navy to decide, but those leaders must identify, acknowledge, and own that risk. There is risk in all choices. But there is particularly higher risk in making choices based on unproven assumptions.


A naval war against China in the western Pacific in this decade would pit a smaller U.S. naval force against a larger PLAN, on China’s home turf, within range of the PLA’s air and rocket forces. U.S. leaders must ask themselves to what extent they are willing to bet on technological—without numerical—superiority in that fight.

Though I believe that any war with China will be very much one that is won or lost on the sea, it seems that there is at least some analysis of the effect of shore-based anti-ship missiles controlled by the U.S and its allies that needs to be added into the equation - for as Wayne Hughes and Robert P. Girrier suggest in Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations(3rd ed), battles in the open ocean are rare, but battles inshore are not, and with the current state of land based anti-ship missiles, naval forces do not just have to contend with opposing fleets but with "forts"

Today a "fort" can be an airfield or the launch site for a a missile battery. Either of these can be repaired or rebuilt quickly, but a warship cannot.(p26)

China has the potential home field advantage in that respect, but the U.S. can place more "shooters" ashore and create their own "forts" that create a threat to the PLAN - which is exactly what the U.S. Marine Corps is proposing to do with its Force Design 2030:



We will equip our Marines with mobile, low-signature sensors and weapons that can provide a landward complement to Navy capabilities for surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, air and missile defense, and airborne early warning. And in partnership with the Navy, our unit will possess littoral maneuver capabilities to include high-speed, long-range, low-signature craft capable of maneuvering Marines for a variety of missions.

The key to this is "Stand-in Forces."

Stand-in Forces Defined

SIF are small but lethal, low signature, mobile, relatively simple to maintain and sustain forces designed to operate across the competition continuum within a contested area as the leading edge of a maritime defense-in-depth in order to intentionally disrupt the plans of a potential or actual adversary. Depending on the situation, stand-in forces are composed of elements from the Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, special operations forces, interagency, and allies and partners.

Theory of Success

In day-to-day activity, SIF deter potential adversaries by establishing the forward edge of a partnered maritime defense-in-depth that denies the adversary freedom of action.12 The impact of working with allies and partners cannot be overstated; it is key to undermining the adversary’s plans and is a primary reason stand-in forces’ presence must be persistent. SIF also deter by integrating activities with the other elements of national power (particularly diplomatic and informational) to impose costs on rivals who want to use ways and means below the violence threshold to achieve their goals.

Stand-in forces’ enduring function is to help the fleet and joint force win the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance battle at every point on the competition continuum. Stand-in forces do this by gaining and maintaining contact (establishing target custody and identifying the potential adversary’s sensors) below the threshold of violence. This allows SIF to assist in identifying and countering malign behavior, and if armed conflict does erupt, the joint force can attack effectively first and prevent the enemy from doing so.

When directed, SIF conduct sea denial operations in support of fleet operations, especially near maritime chokepoints. SIF can perform sea denial through the use of organic sensors and weapon systems to complete kill webs, but also by integrating organic capabilities with naval and joint all-domain capabilities. SIF also possess sufficient organic maneuver and offensive capability to gain a position of advantage by securing, seizing, and controlling contested key maritime terrain in support of sea denial operations.

By doing the above, SIF become an operational problem an enemy must address to achieve its goals. SIF impose costs on the enemy by presenting operationally relevant capabilities that cannot be ignored, even as their low signature, high mobility, dispersion, and use of deception make them difficult for an enemy to find and target. Their small footprint and focus on partnership make SIF less burdensome on the host nation than larger U.S. formations.

I fully support the Marines in this concept. We could quibble some aspects, but the main thing is get them what they need - now - to make it a reality because it has the potential to change the equations of "fleet size." Add in the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Coast Guard and there may be way out of China's spider web. Heck, I can see the Army setting up "forts" too. The more the merrier.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

On Midrats 23 April 2023 - Episode 654: April Free For All!!!

Please join us a 5pm on 23 April 2023 for Midrats Episode 654: April Free For All!!!

It's a maritime and natsec free for all on Midrats!

No fixed topic, open chat room and open studio line for those who are joining us live.

From some rather strange comments in congressional briefing rooms to recruiting woes at home, to some rather interesting riverine amphibious operations in the Dnipro River in Ukraine, what it takes to fire a Russian Navy fleet commander, and whatever other topics come across the transom - a full hour of maritime excellence!

If you do miss the show live, you can pick up this episode and others and add Midrats to your podcast list simply by going to you use Apple Podcasts here. Or on Spreaker. Or on Spotify.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

War Plans and Sealift - What if we're not planning a land war in Asia?

I'm experimenting with Substack and put up a post on War Plans and Sealift What if we're not planning a land war in Asia? in response to arguments that our "sealift" capacity is much less than it should be. I assert that it depends on what sealift you need for the strategy you are pursuing.

I’d be looking a more submarines, more fast sealift for those island hopping Marines, more sustainment shipping to keep the fighting fleet at sea, and many more small, fast missile boats to augment the larger fleet.

Give it a read and let me know how it looks.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

U.S. Navy Ship Damage Control - Lessons from the Pre-WWII German Navy

Interesting read from a 2014 thesis written by LCDR Jeremy Schaub for his Masters in Military Arts and Science at the Army Command and General Staff School U.S. Navy Shipboard Damage Control: Innovation and Implementation During the Interwar Period

The United States Navy adopted the fundamentals of modern shipboard damage control from the Germans at the end of World War I. The tremendous survivability of German warships as seen at Dogger Bank and Jutland led the U.S. Navy to study the German model of damage control and ultimately implement changes in ship design, crew training, and shipboard organization to closely mimic the German model. These changes remain largely intact today.

With so much of the Navy’s heritage rooted in British tradition and influence, it is remarkable that such an effective force multiplier for survival at sea was learned from the German Navy. This was a time in U.S. military history in which emulation of a former enemy could lead to such widespread and enduring results. The most recent shipboard disasters, those of USS George Washington, USS Cole, USS Samuel B. Roberts and USS Stark were all met with herculean efforts of men and women organized, trained, and equipped based on a system of damage control copied from the enemy and implemented nearly a century ago.

U.S. Navy Shipboard Damage ... by lawofsea

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence Threat to Shipping (WTS) Report, 15 March - 12 April 2023

U.S. Navy Office of Naval I... by lawofsea

Update on tanker missing off Ivory Coast here:

The Success 9, a Singapore-flagged bunker tanker boarded by pirates off Ivory Coast on April 10, was found over the weekend with all crew reported safe.

And here:

The small oil tanker was attacked by pirates in international waters 600 kilometers (373 miles) south of the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s Army Chief of Staff Lassina Doumbia said in a statement Saturday confirming that the vessel was recovered.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

On Midrats 16 April 2023 - Episode 653: the Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts at 35, with Bradley Peniston

U.S. Navy photo by  PH1 Chuck Mussi 

Please join us at 8PM EDT, 16 April 2023, for Midrats Episode 653: the Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts at 35, with Bradley Peniston

History, heritage, ethos, and institutional culture are more than just books, lectures, static displays, songs, stories and rituals - they are part of a tapestry that define the characteristics of an organization and a people.

In a cold, neutral review of individual parts, it can be a challenge to see why they are important, what they really signify ... why we keep, remember, and practice them.

On occasion, events suddenly reveal how that tapestry creates a culture and the amazing things that culture can accomplish. Those events become in themselves a story and reinforce and expand the tapestry.

One such event took place 35 years ago this April, the mine strike of the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) on 14 APR 1988.

Returning to Midrats to discuss the events of that day and the very real legacy we see today from the ship and her crew will be Bradley Peniston, deputy editor of Defense One and author of the reference book on the mine strike; No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf (Naval Institute Press, 2006), which has been featured in the Chief of Naval Operations' Professional Reading Program.

Brad is a national security journalist for a quarter-century, he helped launch http://Military.com, served as managing editor of Defense News, and was editor of Armed Forces Journal.

If you do miss the show live, you can pick up this episode and others and add Midrats to your podcast list simply by going to you use Apple Podcasts here. Or on Spreaker. Or on Spotify.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Friday Film: Navy Training Film "Personal Cleanliness" (1945)

I seem to have heard that if you don't take care of your cleanliness some deck plate leadership might intervene.

Reflects steretypes of the time.

Sunday, April 09, 2023


Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Acts 10:34-43

Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
What are we charged for this forgiveness?

Nothing in gold or silver, nothing in conquest or the forced conversion of others.

No, we are simply asked to believe.

Monday, April 03, 2023

Protecting Sealift Ships in Transit

Back in 2018, there appeared this article in Defense News: ‘You’re on your own’: US sealift can’t count on Navy escorts in the next big war

In the event of a major war with China or Russia, the U.S. Navy, almost half the size it was during the height of the Cold War, is going to be busy with combat operations. It may be too busy, in fact, to always escort the massive sealift effort it would take to transport what the Navy estimates will be roughly 90 percent of the Marine Corps and Army gear the force would need to sustain a major conflict.

That’s the message Mark Buzby, the retired rear admiral who now leads the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, has gotten from the Navy, and it’s one that has instilled a sense of urgency around a major cultural shift inside the force of civilian mariners that would be needed to support a large war effort.

“The Navy has been candid enough with Military Sealift Command and me that they will probably not have enough ships to escort us. It’s: ‘You’re on your own; go fast, stay quiet,’” Buzby told Defense News in an interview earlier this year.

A great deal of gnashing of teeth and wailing followed this report.

Stinger missile launch

More recently, there has been a proposal of how to provide some sort of escort for such ships, Stinger Missile-Toting Drone Boats Could Protect Navy Logistics Ships:

The U.S. Navy wants to explore the idea of using small uncrewed surface vessels, or USVs, armed with Stinger missiles as a relatively low-cost additional layer of defense against various threats in the air and on the surface of the water. The service says it is particularly interested in the possibility of using the drone boats to help protect critical, but ever-more-vulnerable logistics vessels, as well as Marine contingents during future expeditionary and distributed operations.

This latter article goes on to note that the budget item is for experimenting with this concept, which is fine, as a "walk before run" development is a good idea. It also notes that the Stinger missile is an anti-air weapon and might require some modification before taking on the role of anti-surface weapon (although it appears the French already have dual-use weapon, the Mistral, which makes one wonder why we have to re-invent the wheel if we could just acquire an existing system).

All of which is fine and dandy, depending on what the potential threats are and where they might appear.

Most this begs the question of why we aren't simply arming the sealift ships with proven weapon systems that are already in our inventory. Weapons like Phalanx CIWS, SeaRAM, and armed helicopters exist. They can be installed on ships with a minimum of work and a small military detachment can maintain and operate them as required. The Military Sealfit replenishment ships (T-AOs, T-AKEs, T-AOEs) either have hanger or flight decks - the latter two classes usually carry a helicopter detachment already. The MH-60R/S helicopters are exceptionally versatile and can carry out protection against both surface and subsurface threats (MH-60R only) and perform vertical replenishment.

Further, updating the old ARAPAHO Sustainment Maintenance Facility concept would allow for spread helo assets to other types of sustainment shipping:

In the Arapaho program, the Naval Air Systems Command developed a portable, modularized aviation facility intended for installation aboard container ships. It can be installed in less than twenty-four hours and included all components necessary for V/STOL aircraft operations: flight deck, hangar, fuel, and crew accommodations. It was estimated to cost less than $20 million per set.


To provide nondivisional Aviation Intermediate Maintenance (AVIM) and limited depot support in an operational area, the Army established its Pre-positioned Sustainment Maintenance Facility (ARAPAHO) program. Operating as either a sea-based or land-based facility, ARAPAHO consisted of a designated nondivisional AVIM unit's personnel with equipment installed in shelters. Logisticians designed the unit for loading on board a C-5 Seawitch class or larger container ship within twenty-four to thirty-six hours of receiving movement orders, and they envisioned deployment at sea within six days. The unit can use on-board Operational Ready Float (ORF) and Forward Repair Activities (FRA) and will use extended prescribed load list/authorized stockage list (PLL/ASL). ARAPAHO's ability to deploy rapidly would hopefully save forces from waiting sixty days for a ground-based AVIM unit. As a self-transportable unit, ARAPAHO can also quickly redeploy after completing its initial mission.

Pictured nearby is HMS Reliant which tested the Arapaho concept for the UK after the Falklands War, though "The project was not found to be a particular success." However, my feeling is that it remains a good idea with the proper execution.

In addition to placing assets on the sealift ships, there is nothing barring the use of maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) to cover long transits across the Pacific or Atlantic as air escorts for them. Unlike in WWII, today's MPA have the ability to range ahead of the transit lanes and detect threats. In addition, long endurance maritime drones should also be used.

As set out above, these assets already exist, they just need a doctrine to be applied effectively in the face of any known threat.

U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence Threat to Shipping (WTS) Report, 1 - 29 March 2023

U.S. Navy Office of Naval I... by lawofsea

Sunday, April 02, 2023

On Midrats 2 April 2023 - Episode 652: If it Flies, it Dies - with Tom Karako

Please join us at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 652: If it Flies, it Dies - with Tom Karako

Two of the above-the-fold topics in the last year in the national security arena both in involve one of the most technologically advanced, complicated, and essential parts of modern warfare; ground based anti-air.

For over a year we have watched and evolving ongoing real world laboratory in the Russo-Ukrainian War. On the other side of Asia, when not looking in the sky for big balloons, America and her allies are sobering up to the very significant threat of the People’s Republic of China conventional ballistic missile putting almost all of our forward bases “under the gun.”

From small, slow, lawnmower sounding combat drones, to hypersonic missiles - how to you see them and kill them before they reach their targets?

For the full hour this Sunday we will address these and related challenges with our guest Tom Karako, senior fellow with the International Security Program and the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

If you do miss the show live, you can pick up this episode and others and add Midrats to your podcast list simply by going to you use Apple Podcasts here. Or on Spreaker. Or on Spotify.