Sunday, June 25, 2023

Please join us at 5pm on 25 June for Midrats Episode 659: Keeping the US Undersea Advantage, with Bryan Clark

For generations, a great comparative advantage the United States has enjoyed at sea is the superiority of its submarine force.

It has become simply an assumption in our war planning to the point it is treated as almost a natural part of the environment.

Of course, nothing stands still in war. Time and technology usually finds a way to blunt any advantage, leverage any vulnerability.

As the challenge at sea grows, what can the US do to maintain the comparative advantage under the sea?

Returning to Midrats this Sunday is Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

The starting point for our conversation will be the recent report he co-authored with Timothy Walton this month at Hudson’s Center for Defense Concepts and Technology, Fighting into the Bastions: Getting Noisier to Sustain the US Undersea Advantage.

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.

Saturday Is Old Radio Day (even on Sunday): "Pretty Cousin Amy" from The Clock (1947)

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Father's Day

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” —Umberto Eco

Not a day goes by when I don't recall a lesson learned from those odd moments. 

Thanks, Dad!

Friday, June 16, 2023

Revisiting the DARPA "Sea Train"

About 3 years ago, I posted the following about a DARPA research project involving the transit of unmanned vessels across long ocean distances. I can envision the use of such vessels in a sustainment role for remote forces, as I will discuss later.

A recent CIMSEC thought piece by CDR Todd Greene has some interesting thoughts along these lines THE NIGHTTRAIN: UNMANNED EXPEDITIONARY LOGISTICS FOR SUSTAINING PACIFIC OPERATIONS:

Supplying widely distributed EABs of varying size, composition, and organic capability presents two sets of challenges – long-range transits across thousands of miles of contested open oceans, and last-tactical-mile delivery over an unimproved shoreline and into the hands of stand-in forces. Today’s systems mainly focus on one or the other, but there is nothing that can do both well.

Innovation must be directed at designing connectors that can bridge capability between these two distinct challenges. They must be able to transit oceanic spaces that feature hostile environments stemming from the open ocean environment and adversary capability. After traversing these many miles, the same system must somehow get supplies across a beach and into the hands of the stand-in force. Innovative connectors are necessary to provide the vital link between the stand-in forces and seabases or logistics hubs.

I think the good CDR is correct, but I also think the innovation connectors are being worked on today:

(Begin quote from my 2020 post)

[Back in 2000], the DoD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced the concept of a "Sea Train":

The Sea Train vessels independently depart a port under their own power to reach a sortie point notionally 15 [nautical miles, or nmi] from the pier. The four independent vessels then begin the Sea Train mission by assembling in Sea Train configuration and completing a notional 6,500 nmi transit through varied sea state conditions that might require re-routing to optimize travel times or vessel seakeeping. The Sea Train then arrives at a disaggregation point, where the four vessels begin independent yet collaborative operations consisting of transits, loiters, and sprints in varied sea state conditions. The vessels then arrive at a sortie point to begin the aggregation process and conduct a Sea Train sprint from the operational area. The Sea Train then returns to normal transit speed for the remainder of the transit in varied sea state conditions, disaggregates outside of port and the vessels self-navigate to a pier.
There has been research in this area as set out here (pdf) in a paper by Igor Mizine and Gabor Karafiath:

A sea train is an arrangement of multiple hulls connected together to form a longer assembly of vessels. The sea train configuration takes advantage of fundamental hydrodynamic principles to reduce the drag of the assembled train below that of the individual components proceeding separately. In some circumstances the sea train arrangement can also offer operational advantages.

What if we develop large numbers of these "sea train" modules, including several loaded with generators, sensors, and "missiles in a box," they can serve as "accompanying assets" to a battle force. Such vessels, arriving in an area of interest could decouple, spread themselves out over a wide area and allow for a very wide distribution of lethality. 

Other "Sea Trains" may be equipped with machine shops, cranes, additive manufacturing equipment, or replenishment munitions or fuel. These units could be held in "safe havens" and brought to the fleet as needed. None of them need be manned which makes them far less expensive to construct. Each could carry sufficient habitability containers to provide comfort for technicians or other personnel needed to operate equipment at their needed destination. 

 The larger the number of sea train modules, the great the the likelihood of needed components reaching the fleets on a timely basis. With enough units, even the expanse of the Pacific can be "shrunk."

As with WWII merchant shipping, some elements of a sea train could contain self-defense detection and weaponry, remotely monitored, but capable of self protection when authorized by a "human in the loop." Such equipment might include ASW-capable drones, or ASuW assets. 

Further, the use of unmanned but armed surface and subsurface could take the place of manned convoying ships.


A key issue in discussing using unmanned vessels in the manner described above is communicating with those vessels to direct their positioning and, in the case of combat. controlling their weaponry. 

Obviously, with the towed missile barge such communications could be done through a cable connection piggy-backing on the tow line. 

With vessels within line of sight of the controller ship, the comms may be done through lasers or line of sight radios.  It is also conceivable that light weight fiber optic lines could connect units even several miles distant.

In certain environments, satellite links may be available. If those are blocked, manned or unmanned aircraft may serve as relay platforms. Indeed, the concept of solar powered high-altitude communications air systems placed to create an continuous link along the projected sea routes is not far-fetched. AeroVironment, among others, has been working along these lines for almost four decades. 

Explained in their video concerning their HAPS project - which could obviously be modified for military use, if needed:

The point is that we currently have the technology to distribute lethality at a much lower cost than the cost of new ships. We just need to get moving on experimenting with these technologies to find the right mix to provide the tools needed by our Navy and Marine Corps. 
UPDATE: DARPA "Sea Train" concept image:

DARPA offers up contract bid info here:
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Tactical Technology Office (TTO) seeks to enable extended transoceanic transit and long range naval operations by exploiting the efficiencies of a system of connected vessels (Sea Train). The Sea Train will demonstrate long range deployment capabilities for a distributed fleet of tactical Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs).
(End quoted post)

UPDATE 2023: DARPA has continued its Sea Train work. Technology and software is being worked on DARPA’S SEA TRAIN TO MAKE WAVES WITH TEXTRON SYSTEMS AUTONOMY ENGINE AT THE HELM

If these "No Manning Required Ships" are developed, their configuaration is up to the Navy, not DARPA, see DARPA Updates On Its Sea Train And NOMARS USVs:

DARPA: “NOMARS is not a barge; it is a MUSV [medium-sized unmanned surface vessel]. However, to the other part of your question, we are attempting to develop a next-generation MUSV class that has significantly higher reliability and availability, and carry significant payload for its size. Leveraging any existing design would defeat the purpose of the DARPA program.”

Ultimately what payload the US Navy would have future generations of USVs carry is part of their decision space, but there is nothing unique to the NOMARS philosophy that makes it more compatible with warfighting payloads vs. logistics payloads.”

As set out in Expeditionary Autonomous Transports, the Navy is experimenting with developoing an automous Expeditionary Fast Transport. Though the EFT is not "Sea Train," the technology is not all that different.

There is no reason not to develop "sea trains" composed of various sized units which can contain feature that would meet the two challenges CDR Greene discusses above - including an asset to cover the proverbial "last mile"delivery. If the need is there, a tool can be found to make it work.

Friday Film- "A Ship Whose Time Has Come" (1977)

Perhaps its time will come again.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

One Reason We Can't Afford the Ships We Need for the U.S. Navy - "The Great Grift" of the COVID-19 Panic

Do you feel like your pocket has been picked? You should. In the rush to get money out for COVID-19 relief, we rang up the US debt levels and, maybe, $280 billon of that money ended up in payments based on fraud, The Great Grift: How billions in COVID-19 relief aid was stolen or wasted

An Associated Press analysis found that fraudsters potentially stole more than $280 billion in COVID-19 relief funding; another $123 billion was wasted or misspent. Combined, the loss represents 10% of the $4.2 trillion the U.S. government has so far disbursed in COVID relief aid.

That number is certain to grow as investigators dig deeper into thousands of potential schemes.


“I think the bottom line is regardless of what the number is, it emanates overwhelmingly from three programs that were designed and originated in 2020 with too many large holes that opened the door to criminal fraud,” Gene Sperling, the White House American Rescue Plan coordinator, said in an interview.

“We came into office when the largest amounts of fraud were already out of the barn,” Sperling added.

Plenty of blame to go around here, even if most of it happened before the current administration came in, some of it happened afterwards. In any event, the taxpayers are on the hook for the loans required to fund this debacle.

Even half of $280 billion would fund a lot of ships and infrastructure improvement for the Navy and the other services.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

D-Day- Operation Pluto Oil for the Landed Forces (first published 6/24/2007)

Out in Nevada, one road across the Great Basin Desert, Highway 50, is referred to as "the Loneliest Road in America." Gas stations on this 287 mile road are few and far between, which means that some planning is required to make sure that you have fuel enough to complete the trip.

What is true in the high desert of Nevada is also true in war-fighting. If you plan an invasion, perhaps of occupied Europe, you need to have a plan to get the fuel needed by trucks, tanks, aircraft and other machines of war. In World War II, the plan for providing the invading Allied armies with fuel was ingenious, far ahead of its time and known by its acronym Operation PLUTO:
The Pipeline Under the Ocean (PLUTO) was designed to supply petrol from storage tanks in southern England to the advancing Allied armies in France in the months following D-Day.
A reliable supply of petrol for the advancing Allied forces following the D-Day landings was of the highest priority. Planners knew that the future invasion of Europe would be the largest amphibious landing in history and without adequate and reliable supplies of petrol any advance would at best slow down and at worst grind to a halt. A loss of momentum could jeopardise the whole operation as German forces would have time to regroup and counter-attack. Conventional tankers and 'ship to shore' pipelines were in danger of cluttering up the beaches, obstructing the movement of men, armaments and materials and, in all circumstances, were subject to the vagaries of the weather and sea conditions and they were easy targets for the Luftwaffe. The idea of a pipeline under the ocean, (the English Channel), was an innovative solution.
The terminals and pumping stations were heavily disguised as bungalows, gravel pits, garages and even an ice cream shop!
... systems had to be capable of laying down their pipes on the sea-bed in a fast single procedure. The HAIS pipe would be coiled on board the cable laying vessel and fed out as the vessel progressed across the Channel and the HAMEL pipe would be coiled around huge drums towed behind a tug-like vessel and fed out as they drum rolled along.
These pipe-lines were vital arteries, which enabled the Allied Air Fleets and Land Forces to maintain the vital momentum needed to secure victory. Moreover Operation PLUTO made it possible to dispense with the fleets of tankers, which otherwise would have been necessary and spared them the ordeal of concentrated enemy attacks in congested waters, thus undoubtedly saving many hundreds of gallant lives.
That the pipelines experienced delays in installation which meant that they were not fully operational until a couple of months after D-Day does not in any way diminish their importance. The volume of petroleum product transported was vital to the war effort and required a pretty hefty group to make it work:
By the time the two HAIS flexible pipelines and two HAMEL steel pipelines were pumping petrol the Allied armies were well on their way to Belgium. The length of the supply lines needed to be shortened so 11 HAIS pipelines and 6 HAMEL pipelines were laid in a swept channel two miles wide between Dungeness and Ambleteuse near Boulogne. In all about 500 miles of pipeline were laid in an average laying time over the 30 mile stretch of about 5 hours. In January 1945 the system delivered a disappointing 300 tons but by March this had increased to 3000 tons and later still to 4000 tons. This amounted to over 1,000,000 gallons per day giving a total of 172,000,000 gallons delivered in total up to the end of hostilities. During the operation to lay the cables an HQ ship, several cable ships, tugs, trawlers and barges were employed on this specialised work - a total of 34 vessels with 600 men and officers under Captain J.F.Hutchings.

The CombinedOps site has much more, including many photos of the PLUTO Operation.

The map and the PLUTO joint image are from that site. See also here:
Along with the Mulberry Harbours that were constructed immediately after D-Day, Operation Pluto is considered one of history's greatest feats of military engineering. The pipelines are also the forerunners of all flexible pipes used in the development of offshore oil fields.

According to this site, the drum used to unreel the pipeline was nicknamed "HMS Conundrum." Photo of the drum from here. The ABS has a nice piece on PLUTO here.

Escorts were provided for the pipeline laying ships, as set out here:
In June of 1944 both the "Campanula" and the "Dianthus", together with the sloop "Magpie" acted as escorts to two ocean going Tugs (escapees) from Holland that were renamed the HMRT Bustler and the "Growler" and one other smaller Tug , but I can't remember her name (possibly the HMRT Marauder or HMRT Danube V), towed huge "spools" of two inch pipe from Ryde to Cherbourg, 72 miles give or take a few.
In the WWII Pacific Theater, the Army Quartermaster Corps was responsible for getting fuel to the equipment on the beaches, as set out here:
Class III products (or POL) consisted of various grades of gasoline, kerosene, aviation fuel, diesel oil, fuel oil, and an assortment of petroleum based lubricants. It is absolutely critical for sustainment of mechanized forces. More vital even than clothing and general supplies. For without it the engines of war – planes, ships, tanks, motorized vehicles, and all the generators for electrical use – would cease to operate. Neither fighting units, nor logistical support units, could accomplish their varied missions without POL. As General Patton once said: "My troops can eat their belts. But my tanks gotta have gas."

Class III generally had fewer problems in the Pacific than did other areas of Quartermaster supply. The high priority accorded POL usually kept shipping delays to a minimum, and helped with efforts to build up needed reserves. U.S. Quartermasters were also able to draw from private oil company reserves in Australia, and made full use of their excellent bulk storage and handling facilities. Also because petroleum is less fragile and does not deteriorate quite so easily as other materials, it suffered fewer storage hazards. Still there were problems.

Lack of Bulk Storage and Distribution. Allied Class III personnel found they could rely on Australian refineries and their excellent bulk storage facilities for support in the Southwest Pacific until the action moved to New Guinea in 1943. Thereafter their assault had to move forward with limited access to bulk storage facilities. Engineers in New Guinea constructed medium-sized tanks for a few grades of gasoline and diesel oil, and created special dumps and laid aviation fuel pipelines in the vicinity of airports. But even these medium- to small-sized temporary storage facilities failed to meet all needs.

The problem became more acute in later 1943 and early 1944 as the island-hopping campaign got into full swing, and a succession of new bases and sub-bases were built. Larger petroleum vessels had difficulty moving into shallow waters. And when they got in, they often found that hastily built storage tanks were too small to permit complete pacific unloading of petroleum. What they needed, but seldom received, were smaller vessels capable of hauling fuel between bases and to forward supply points.

In the South Pacific area, the Quartermaster Corps had a responsibility to provide POL to New Zealand ground forces, and land-based US Navy and Marine units, as well as the Army. They established massive POL storage areas on Guadalcanal when that became available, at Green Island, and Espiritu Santo.

The Packaged Alternative. The virtual absence of permanent type bulk storage facilities and pipelines throughout the Pacific meant that almost all POL was stored and distributed in containers – mostly in 55-gallon drums. This contrasted sharply with experience in Europe. There QM Gasoline Supply Companies received most of their POL from huge fixed storage facilities, barges or railroad tanker cars, and promptly decanted it into 5-gallon jerricans. These were stacked in warehouses, open dumps, and along roads. And moved to user units in 2 ½-ton trucks and ¼-ton trailers. In the Pacific, they found the use of the much smaller jerricans neither practical nor desirable.

The 55-gallon drums were bulkier, heavier, and more difficult to handle. But they got around that by using forklifts and winches to load drums onto cargo trucks. When these were not available, they simply used planks and manually rolled them onto the trucks. Petroleum Supply Companies also attached pipes and nozzles right on to the drums, and used them to fill vehicles directly. They found that nearly twice the amount of fuel could be loaded on a standard 2 ½-ton truck using 55-gallon drums rather than jerricans.

Despite a persistent shortage of drums, and the absence of modern bulk storage and distribution facilities, Quartermaster efforts to furnish Class III supplies to Allied troops in the Pacific can be judged an overall success.
Today planning for petroleum delivery to combat shore areas is on-going. As noted here, the basic system is the Offshore Petroleum Discharge System (OPDS). OPDS is defined as
Provides a semipermanent, all-weather facility for bulk transfer of petroleum, oils, and lubricants (POL) directly from an offshore tanker to a beach termination unit (BTU) located immediately inland from the high watermark. POL then is either transported inland or stored in the beach support area. Major offshore petroleum discharge systems (OPDS) components are: the OPDS tanker with booster pumps and spread mooring winches; a recoverable single anchor leg mooring (SALM) to accommodate tankers of up to 70,000 deadweight tons; ship to SALM hose lines; up to 4 miles of 6-inch (internal diameter) conduit for pumping to the beach; and two BTUs to interface with the shoreside systems. OPDS can support a two line system for multiproduct discharge, but ship standoff distance is reduced from 4 to 2 miles. Amphibious construction battalions install the OPDS with underwater construction team assistance. OPDS are embarked on selected ready reserve force tankers modified to support the system.
All of which means that the Navy runs a pipeline to the beach from a mooring buoy offshore to which product tankers can connect and pump their cargo to storage facilities operated by the Army on the shore. This system is operated by the Military Sealift Command:
The U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command awarded a $26.6 million contract with options to Edison Chouest Offshore, based in Galliano, La., for the time charter of one Offshore Petroleum Discharge System, or OPDS.

The OPDS consists of two ships -- a support ship and a tender -- that work together to pump fuel for U.S. military forces from a commercial oil tanker moored at sea to a temporary fuel storage area ashore.

To begin the process, the 348-foot support ship and 165-foot tender work together to install up to eight miles of eight-inch-diameter flexible pipe. Next, the support ship positions the tanker for safe off-load operations. While the tender holds the tanker in place, the tanker's lines connect to the flexible pipe through the support ship. Booster pumps aboard the support ship increase the pressure of fuel, pushing the fuel to shore.

The OPDS is especially valuable in areas where fuel piers are unavailable, and tankers are unable to tie up ashore to off-load fuel. The OPDS can pump up to 1.7 million gallons of fuel per day.
The system has been recently exercised. And, no, that ship is not sinking, it's just positioning itself to offload the Single Anchor Leg Moor component of OPDS.

All of which just reaffirms the original point - planning ahead matters, whether on the "Loneliest Highway" or getting ready for combat.

UPDATE: Comparison of "old" OPDS with new contract OPDS:

From PowerPoint presentations which can be reached from here and here.
The new system allows for use of other tankers, greater offshore distance and more flexibility.

D-Day - The Liberation of Europe Begins (first posted 6/6/2009)

So it began - a scared coxswain of a landing craft carrying troops to a heavily defended beach - or, as the caption from the Navy Art Gallery exhibit: The Normandy Invasion: D-Day, 6 June 1944 puts it:
Assault Wave Cox'n by Dwight C. Shepler - The landing craft coxswain was the symbol and fiber of the amphibious force. Exposed to enemy fire as he steered his craft to shore, the lives of thirty-six infantrymen in his small LCVP were his responsibility. If he failed in his mission of landing these troops, the strategy of admirals went for naught; the bombardment of a naval force alone could never gain a foothold on the hostile and contested shore. Prairie boy or city lad, the coxswain became a paragon of courageous determination and seamanship.
Hundreds of landing craft, carrying young men, operated by young Navy and Coast Guards men heading into harm's way.

From the U.S. Coast Guard a veteran's story:
Mr. Tommy L. Harbour began his service to his nation and community during World War II when he was sworn into the Coast Guard on July 5, 1943, and attended boot camp at Manhattan Beach Training Station in New York. Harbour was trained by both Coast Guard and Marine Corps personnel to become a motor machinist or "motor mac" (now known as a boat engineer) for the vehicle and personnel landing craft (LCVP), also known as the Higgins boat. He was then assigned to the Coast Guard-manned attack transport USS Bayfield (APA-33), where he served as a motor mac for one of the USS Bayfield's LCVP landing craft, PA33-4.

During the invasion of Normandy June 6, 1944, Mr. Harbour's landing craft had orders to land soldiers on Utah Beach. However, due to heavy losses, Harbour was instructed to land on Omaha Beach instead. After delivering troops to Omaha Beach, Harbour made several more landings on Utah Beach under heavy gunfire from German shore batteries.
Mr. Harbour returned to Normandy:
Mr. Tommy Harbour was 18 when he made three trips in LST PA33-4 delivering troops and equipment to the beaches of Normandy June 6, 1944. Mr. Harbour was a Coxswainmate in the U.S. Coast Guard whose job it was to lower the ramp on the boat and ensure the engine was full of fuel and in working order. Photo by John Tomassi
More photos from here: