January 07, 2022

Open Thread 95

It is now time for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War.

Now that 2021 is behind us, it's time for the year's William D. Brown Memorial Award, for the biggest naval screwup that didn't kill anyone. This year's winner is Iran, who took a cue from the USN and decided that the best way to win was to set one of their own ships on fire. They chose the replinishment ship Kharg back in June, which had been key to their plans to deploy globally. While this seems like it obviously would have been enough, they were committed enough to make a second effort in December, when they capsized a new frigate in drydock.

The USN was less dedicated, and its attempt to repeat its victory last year by running a submarine into an underwater mountain merely gave it runner-up status.

2017-2018 overhauls are Armor parts three and four, the Spotter's Guides to warships of the world wars and the modern era, Carrier Doom Part 1 and Reactivation. 2018-2019 overhauls are Great White Fleet Parts two and three, Commercial Aviation Part 4, Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 2, Auxiliaries Part 4 and my review of the Stafford Air and Space Museum. 2019-2020 overhauls are warships with Christmas lights, Anti-Radiation Missiles, New Years Logs and The Range of a Carrier Wing*. 2020-2021 overhauls are SYWTBABB Leftovers Part 2, Naval Bases from Space - Hawaii, NWAS - Cruise Missiles Part 2 and The Ticonderoga Class.

Comments

  1. January 07, 2022Ian Argent said...

    Continuing on with the "But What About The DRONES!" argument from last thread: I'm entirely sure that someone testified to Congress, honestly, that "they needed" a couple gigabucks to develop an anti-COTS-Drone system, simply because a gigabuck is very nearly the minimum buy-in for anything in US military procurement today.

    But I'm trying to figure out what non-trivial problems would need to be solved for the US Military's modus operandi. Someone (@Blackshoe?) noted that the Aegis's SPY radar will cook a small drone at range, even if it doesn't notice it; assuming the drone can even get that close through the "noise." Now, the SPY is Quite Powerful, but that means we are not Tim Taylor and do not need Moar Power.

  2. January 07, 2022bean said...

    It seems worth pointing out that not all ships have SPY-1, and drones are also a threat to the other branches, so having an anti-drone system is still rather important. And even ships with SPY-1 don't run it at full power all the time, because that burns a lot of fuel (enough to have a substantial impact on range) and because it tends to make those nearby annoyed when their TVs blow up.

    As for non-trivial problems, it's less a matter of "how can we do this" and more one of "what is the best way to do this given the constraints we're under". Detection and discrimination are obvious issues, because you don't want to shoot down birds. And you have to make sure that whatever weapon you use isn't going to cause too many problems for the neighbors. (Note that ship-based systems will have a much easier time of this than land-based ones.) And it needs to be rugged and easy to use by a 19-year-old. None of these are impossible, but it's going to take time and engineering work.

  3. January 07, 2022Johan Larson said...

    Might be time to create a separate post for the William D. Brown Memorial Award, if only to have a place to keep the full list of winners.

  4. January 07, 2022bean said...

    Maybe down the road. This is only the 3rd year it's been awarded (I didn't have a good candidate in 2019).

  5. January 07, 2022Johan Larson said...

    Have you checked this list for 2019?

    Some plausible entries, if it needs to be a naval screwup: CB90 Saluang LCT Maruni Pratama Chita PD-16

  6. January 07, 2022bean said...

    None of those reach the level of excellence the Brown Award is looking for. It needs to be seriously embarrassing, and none of those are.

  7. January 07, 2022Neal said...

    Tucking into David Hobbs' work The British Pacific Fleet. Hobbs, a former RN aviator, describes the efforts to stand up, in mid to late 1944, a force to augment the USN in the Pacific

    I'm not that far past his description of Victorious's deployment in '43 to the USN and the naming in '44 of Admiral Bruce Fraser as the British commander, but it is shaping up as an interesting description of what forces were arrayed from the western side of the Pacific/Indian Ocean/Australia and the logistical challenges involved.

    Anyway, he mentions degaussing vessels. Unfortunately, neither his extensive notes nor Google is helping much here. I thought ships had degaussing wiring/cabling built into the structure and that submarines of that era were degaussed by passing through a fixed area where equipment was set up...sort of like how they hadlocations to service craft before they crossed over to Dunkirk. I didn't imagine the latter requiring actual sea-borne craft.

    What then were degaussing vessels? Were they deployed outside of port or coastal areas? Are there such things today?

  8. January 08, 2022bean said...

    A degaussing vessel is a ship set up to run a portable degaussing range. Onboard degaussing coils do something different from a degaussing range (I don't remember the details, having not looked into it for several years). As a result, they used to need ships to do it in forward areas. Don't think that is needed these days, though.

  9. January 08, 2022Blackshoe said...

    Degaussing vessels can also do deperming, which is basically the big version of degaussing. A ship should do deperm only a few times in her life, tops.

    Don't think the USN has any active degaussing vessels, but I know some other countries do (actually saw a PLAN degaussing vessel once, in company with one of their KILOs).

  10. January 10, 2022bean said...

    The latest and finest in Congress Logic:

    F-35 software development is expensive and behind schedule. We should buy fewer F-35s and spend the money on other planes.

  11. January 12, 2022Kit said...

    Maybe more correctly stated:

    F-35 software is super expensive, and has been behind schedule for over a decade. Every time there is a plan to make it better it fails. We've already up'ed the budget several times and it's still bad. Maybe we should buy fewer F-35s and spend money on other planes.

  12. January 12, 2022bean said...

    Kit, the problem is that we still have the F-35s, and are still going to need to buy software for them. I suppose we could decide to cancel the entire thing and just use the ones we have for now, but that is a bad idea for many reasons. Just buying fewer F-35s will not cut software costs by a single cent.

  13. January 13, 2022Kit said...

    Understood and agreed. I just didn't think you were stating the absolute disaster horribleness of the problem. It's nightmare bad. It's write textbook bad.

  14. January 13, 2022bean said...

    I work in aircraft software development. To me it seems Tuesday bad. OK, maybe not quite that normal, but I've worked on at least one program that was that bad. And I mostly wanted to point out the absurdity of how the thing being done had nothing to do with the problem.

  15. January 13, 2022Kit said...

    I'm a C.S. Prof with a pilots license, so I'd love aviation software stories.

    The thing that triggered my on the F-35 software ... "The Pentagon’s newest stealth jet, the nearly $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, won’t be able to fire its gun during operational missions until 2019, three to four years after it becomes operational.... the jet’s software does not yet have the ability to shoot its 25mm cannon." And that's a 2019 story which seems ridiculous for a plane that had ioc in 2015.

  16. January 13, 2022bean said...

    I'm going to avoid giving any details in public, and as I'm on the systems side instead of the software side, I probably can't speak too much to what you're interested in. But I can speak on the F-35's gun, as I don't work on that plane.

    Basically, it's not just writing some code to say "turn the gun on when the pilot pushes the button". Obvious issues include things like the "gunsight" and the masses of testing they'll go through to make sure that they don't fire the cannon by accident. But there's probably a lot of other stuff going on. Gun management, to keep it from overheating or whatever. Maybe smart targeting, things like making sure that the gun doesn't fire until it will hit the target. I'm sure there's other stuff I'm not thinking of. And again, testing all of this. At some point, it came down to, "yes, we could have the gun operational for IOC, but it will come at the cost of something else", and that something else was undoubtedly more valuable than the gun. (In fairness, I think that the value of the gun is close to 0, but that's a different discussion.)

  17. January 13, 2022Kit said...

    I agree and understand with everything you wrote (including valueofgun < 0.05).

    I'm gonna guess "firing the gun" is something every other plane has been able to do, and that the F-35 is literally the first plane since they started computerizing things that couldn't get this done. If they cannot get this done, then somewhere in the ~800 software problems must be something even worse.

    If the Rafale/Typhoon/Gripen had such software problems they kept them hidden.

    There's a documentary where the British pilot is trying for his first solo, but cannot log into the plane. They had to shut down the engine and reboot the aircraft.

    1) Very weird you can start the engines without logging in 2) Very weird you need to log in 3) How much does a cycle on an F-35 engine cost?!

  18. January 14, 2022ike said...

    @Kit If you had to log in to start the engine, you would risk running the battery dry.

  19. January 14, 2022DampOctopus said...

    It seems to me that Initial Operating Capability should mean that the gun is working, in the sense that it will fire if (and only if) the safety is off and the trigger is pressed. The pilot can worry about targeting, overheating, etc. Those things can be automated later.

    And maybe that was the case. I can imagine someone telling a journalist

    "The gun software is 95% done, but we're working on a feature to cue the fuse on the round with a range from the aircraft radar, which we'd like to implement before it's used operationally."

    which becomes, in the story

    "won’t be able to fire its gun during operational missions".

  20. January 14, 2022bean said...

    I’m gonna guess “firing the gun” is something every other plane has been able to do, and that the F-35 is literally the first plane since they started computerizing things that couldn’t get this done.

    The F-35 is computerized like nothing else before it. Yes, all planes since the 60s have had computers, but there's a major change in how much of the F-35 is driven by software and how many capabilities the computers give it. And given how many of those capabilities are truly revolutionary and things that previous planes simply couldn't do, then from a capabilities perspective it was probably a very good idea to push the gun out of the IOC feature list instead of something else.

    1) Very weird you can start the engines without logging in 2) Very weird you need to log in 3) How much does a cycle on an F-35 engine cost?!

    1. Probably for maintenance work. 2. That way, it remembers your radio presets. 3. No idea. Generally worth pointing out that the F-35 logistics system has been a hot mess, but they've got a replacement that should start phasing in over the next year or two, and is reportedly much better.

    It seems to me that Initial Operating Capability should mean that the gun is working, in the sense that it will fire if (and only if) the safety is off and the trigger is pressed. The pilot can worry about targeting, overheating, etc. Those things can be automated later.

    IOC applies to the plane as a whole, not all of the plane's systems. Based on the statement provided, I'd guess that there's a version of the software with exactly the capabilities you specify, but it's for test flights, and not operational ones. It's just to make sure that the gun physically works, and doesn't shoot bits off the plane or anything. All the other stuff comes later.

    Re the journalist, if it's 95% of the way to operational and just missing one cool feature, then they'll ship it and pick that feature up in a future update. Particularly because this is an obvious point for critics who learned the wrong lessons in Vietnam.

  21. January 14, 2022Blackshoe said...

    In honor of bean's recent Norwegian Campaign series, a recent story about what to do with a shipwreck from that time

  22. January 14, 2022Neal said...

    @Kit

    The guys who have flown the F-35 are very impressed with it. The helmet is something to get used to and there are indeed a number of extant software issues, but in terms of being a solid weapons platform a good percentage of the piloting corps is finding it quite nice.

    The B and C models do not have the gun while the A does--with something like 180 rounds or so if what I am told by a Super Hornet pilot is correct.

    I asked on the pilot's forum about this and everyone of the respondents who have flown tactical aircraft like the idea of having the gun. Not that one would engage in a ground support role based on a gun action only of course, but there is at least one very good reason to have it.

    Say an engagement is set up as anything from 1 versus 1 (1v1) or 4v4. The simulations and training of the last 30 years show that even though missiles are going to be the first option, the scenario often devolves into at least one of the aircraft ending up in a tail chase with the opponent. Theoretically one would have thought the missiles would preclude it from ever coming to that, but that is indeed how it often ends up when there are many aircraft involved.

    With that in mind, since you have a gun you can pressure the opponent by making him maneuver to stay outside of the line of site of your nose--just as it has always been. This type of maneuvering however, takes mental bandwidth for the opponent and detracts from him getting set up to do something else.

    Now again, these guys are not saying that every engagement is going to end up with a possible gun shot, but it is a factor and one that the pilot wants to have in the quiver of options.

    One colleague even stated that, perhaps counterintuitively, with the thrust vectoring of an opponent a gun shot might be even more of an option than it ever was before. YMMV

    We all remember the F-4 issue in the mid-60s about not having a gun/cannon and then the scramble to reinstall it as the conflict in Vietnam progressed. Obviously 55 years ago and different tactics, but the F-35 guys want the option and so they are working to get it fixed.

    The other basic takeaway from the responses is that with the F-35 the hardware platform is fantastic but it is the software that needs to catch up. Granted this is a pilot's view and might not fully comport with all the data being produced, but it tells me that the operators are finding it be a platform with great potential that pilots are starting to get comfortable flying and employing.

  23. January 14, 2022Neal said...

    BTW, The counter argument against the gun is that some argue that these days, with missiles like the AIM-9x on the F-22 it really is a remote possibility that opponents will get that close for a gun shot. A debate that has not ended thus far but I do understand the argument that the technology of today minimizes the chance that an engagement will devolve into a knife fight.

  24. January 14, 2022Kit said...

    And maybe that was the case. I can imagine someone telling a journalist

    “The gun software is 95% done, but we’re working on a feature to cue the fuse on the round with a range from the aircraft radar, which we’d like to implement before it’s used operationally.”

    which becomes, in the story “won’t be able to fire its gun during operational missions”.

    And that's how I'd write it too. Because writing "There are 837 known problems with the airplane divided into 5 categories, 7 problems listed as critical" probably doesn't communicate with the public as well. If the gun doesn't fire, do you think the EW suite is at 100%?

    Or more seriously if I wanted I could quote the GAO report: "The GAO report found that the current 2027 goal for finalizing the Block 4 modernization is “not achievable.” GAO said that costs of the effort had ballooned by $1.9 billion between 2019 and 2020, bringing the overall cost to about $14.4 billion. Software development has been the primary driver of the problems, the report said"

    Block 4 development is $14.4B. Just block 4! And that's almost all software!

  25. January 14, 2022Kit said...

    Oops! Not "Kit said" but "bean said"!

  26. January 14, 2022Ian Argent said...

    "Won't be able to" is very provocative wording. One that could (simply) mean "will not be permitted to because the necessary paperwork has not been completed." which is the upshot of what @Bean said - all those things "check a box" and until the box is checked, no guns for you. In particular, "testing all of this." Those are all tasks that must be prioritized against other tasks, by various people and teams with limited time, limited budget, and limited people. Enough of the check-boxes being at the bottom of the priority list; the F-35 "won't be able to fire its gun until 2019."

    The on-board gun on an F-35 is an inconveniently-expensive and -placed ballast item. I'd be a lot more worried about the process if it didn't get assigned a priority of "0.0"

    Passing IOC without the gun gating IOC particularly suggests that "checking off the boxes for the gun" is way down several lists, and likely to stay there.

    One of my hats says "project manager" on it. I've got a couple of "nice to have" frills on a couple to-do lists that have been sitting on them for a while now because stuff keeps getting added to my to-do lists at higher priority. They all could be described as "won't be able to perform $TASK$" - and in the end, the platforms keep on trucking without being able to do those tasks.

  27. January 15, 2022bean said...

    I think the Navy/Marines made the right decision about the gun. Not because they're the Navy/Marines, but because the gun is mostly useless, and the plane is better off not carrying it unless they think they might need it. I'm sure the pilots will moan about this, because training for gunfights is a lot of fun, to the point that I'm pretty sure it skews their view on what actually makes sense to do.

    We all remember the F-4 issue in the mid-60s about not having a gun/cannon and then the scramble to reinstall it as the conflict in Vietnam progressed.

    See, here's the thing. We hear about the lack of a cannon. We hear about the mess that was air combat over Vietnam. We hear about TOPGUN, and the benefits it provided to the Navy in the later stages of the war. But what we don't hear about is that that was entirely with missiles, and the Navy chose even after Vietnam not to put a gun back on the Phantom. That was half a century ago. We have better missiles now.

    If the gun doesn’t fire, do you think the EW suite is at 100%?

    I think the gun doesn't fire because the EW suite was prioritized above it. Again, the gun is not a critical item. It's at the bottom of the priority list.

    Block 4 development is $14.4B. Just block 4! And that’s almost all software!

    This sounds fairly plausible to me. I've worked on programs in the tens of millions of dollars, and we were doing a small amount relative to what the F-35 is.

    Also, note that this is not a new problem. When South Carolina (DLGN) commissioned, it took them several years to get her computers talking to each other. I believe the word lengths weren't compatible.

  28. January 15, 2022Kit said...

    Block 4 development is $14.4B. Just block 4! And that’s almost all software!

    This sounds fairly plausible to me. I’ve worked on programs in the tens of millions of dollars, and we were doing a small amount relative to what the F-35 is.

    The amount spend on just developing the Block 4 upgrade is equal to about what was spent developing the whole aircraft for any one of the Typhoon, Rafale, or Grippen! (Yes, I know the F-35 is a better plane, but it's as much for just this software increment as for the whole of the other aircraft including software).

    I'd be curious if there is any plane anywhere on earth that has spent even 1/5 as much on software as the F-35. LM has been tens of billions of dollars, and they are still behind schedule, over budget, and not succeeding.

    Let me put it this way ... if this is success what would failure look like?

  29. January 17, 2022Ian Argent said...

    This is what success looks like when a megabuck is what you don't bother digging out of the couch cushions when you want some coffee, and don't have any better alternatives because we didn't choose to support more than one vendor in the field.

    Bean has obscurely implied once or twice that US military procurement might be a tad inefficient. But it doesn't always lead to the USS Zumwalt or the LCS.

  30. January 18, 2022bean said...

    Failure looks like the Zumwalts, where we spend a ton of money and get something that is essentially useless. It would be nice if we could get the F-35s software on budget, but I'll take getting it overbudget over not getting it at all. The F-35 is really a new generation in how much software defines what it does. So yes, it's spending way more on software than previous planes, but that's kind of to be expected.

    and don’t have any better alternatives because we didn’t choose to support more than one vendor in the field.

    I'm not sure a second vendor would have made sense here. Competition can help in a lot of places, but I don't think the combat system is one of them. It costs a lot of money to make, and you can reuse it for free. Note that the USN basically has one codebase for combat systems, even if the version that gets installed differs by ship. There's no alternative to Aegis.

  31. January 18, 2022Johan Larson said...

    If you liked "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific", you'll probably be interested in Masters of the Air, an upcoming miniseries about the 100th Bombardment Group of the US Eighth Air Force, which bombed Germany during WWII. The series is expected to appear on Apple TV+. Production began in the UK in February 2021. No one seems to know when it will premier, but late 2022 or early 2023 is a reasonable guess.

  32. January 18, 2022Philistine said...

    "... we didn’t choose to support more than one vendor in the field."

    Which alternative do you mean? The Boeing X-32? Do you think that would be going any better at this point, keeping in mind the difficulties Boeing has been experiencing in so many areas - and that at the time of selection the X-32 was much farther from being a production-ready aircraft than even the X-35?

  33. January 19, 2022Suvorov said...

    Not that one would engage in a ground support role based on a gun action only of course, but there is at least one very good reason to have it.

    I've heard guns can be better for suppression in a CAS environment like Afghanistan simply because if you only have bombs, once you've dropped them you're no longer a threat, whereas an aircraft with a gun can do a lot of strafing runs. But 180 rounds isn't a lot of cannon ammo compared to e.g. and F-15.

    We have better missiles now.

    But better countermeasures, too. How well do people think the X will perform against DIRCM countermeasures? (So far they haven't performed well against an Su-22 with flares but that might have been a fluke.)

  34. January 19, 2022cassander said...

    @kit

    The amount spend on just developing the Block 4 upgrade is equal to about what was spent developing the whole aircraft for any one of the Typhoon, Rafale, or Grippen! (Yes, I know the F-35 is a better plane, but it’s as much for just this software increment as for the whole of the other aircraft including software).

    By the end of 2022, there will be about as many F-35s in service as there are gripens, rafales, and typhoons combined. You've got to look at unit costs. And none of those aircraft have the integrated EWAR suite, AESA radar (except rafale), or sensor fusion, among other things. It's not surprising that software is a huge share of the development cost.

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