Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I don't know more than anyone else here, but I think that some are getting a little too excited over what happened with the USS CHANCELLORSVILLE (CG-62). Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; a training incident is a training incident.

Most you need to know will come out in the investigation - but for those who need a refresher;
An aerial target drone malfunctioned and struck guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) off the coast of Southern California at approximately 1:25 pm local time today, Nov. 16, while the ship was conducting a radar tracking exercise during routine training at sea.
Our friend Galrahn over at ID really got a bone in his teeth on the incident the week after;
Based on where the rogue drone hit the ship, had it been a real ASCM - it could have easily been a mission kill for the ship. This is a very serious incident involving the most advanced AEGIS warship in the US Navy, and the Navy has started the incident with a press release that intentionally omits a critical detail - that the ship tried to defend itself and the specific technology designed to defend the ship for this specific situation failed.

This incident is a big deal, and on the first day there is already a deception effort underway to conceal key details of the incident - an omission that only serves to cast doubt upon the reputation of sailors for purposes of protecting the reputation of a piece of technology. Why did the Navy conceal from the public that the point defense system of the most advanced AEGIS ship in the US Navy failed to protect the ship from a direct hit from a rogue drone?
He raises some good points, but I hesitate to see any kind of malicious deception going on. I am willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and there could be very good reasons why there is conflicting information out there. We don't know what we shouldn't know.  

Training accidents happen all the time - I've been in the middle of them as have many of you - accidents where people die or are disfigured. That didn't happen here and I don't see the upside to hide anything, especially with so many people who will eventually know the truth. I'm going to go with my favorite cliche mash-up on Occam's Razor: don't contribute to conspiracy what is best explained by human incompetence. 

David Axe over at WiB decided to pick at the scab a bit too;
But there’s a more frightening possibility. BQM-74 drones are tailored to simulate different kinds of enemy anti-ship missile. If Chancellorsville’s Phalanx did indeed fully fire at the robot and failed to hit, it could mean the drone—either by design or by accident—found a gap in the gun’s fire control. Perhaps the drone was moving too fast, too slow or too low. Any enemy missile matching the drone’s physics could dodge American ships’ defenses.
I may owe someone beer over this, but let me put this out there; everyone take a powder. This isn't frightening, it is interesting.

I'll say here what I said SEPCOR to a few people after the pics came out, specifically the one above. Look where it hit and how it hit. I looks just like a perfect early-MOD Harpoon targeting algorithm hit. The drone hit wings level. Odds are this was a controlled hit. Wasn't planned by the humans to do that - but the drone thinks it did everything perfectly.

Now, all sorts of questions come up from here, many really don't need to be discussed or answered on this medium.

First up; where was range control? Was that link down?

Second, we don't know what profile this was programmed for .... or they thought it was programmed for, and that deserves more thought than most. Even drones are subject to human error either in their programming or their maintenance.

Third, so what if this were a live fire exercise? Let's discount that this might just be a standard-issue human screw up. Not all offensive and defensive weapon systems work as advertised all the time. Nothing is perfect or 100% guaranteed. Even if you have everything working, everyone qualified, and not a single CASREP on the ship - there is always blind stupid luck; good or bad. Sometimes you can make it through the SM-2, the ESSM, and CIWS on a clear, calm, beautiful day.

If this was a just a TRACKEX, when things start to go sideways with seconds to react, you really cannot expect a ship to respond as if they expected a regiment-sized formation of Tupolev Tu-22M3 coming over the horizon. It just doesn't work like that.

Either way - I don't think there are any larger lessons here about our defensive capabilities that we didn't already know. I'm not willing to place any bets on the cause right now - but I do like this effect; it is causing people to think again if we are doing what navies have done since the threat first appeared from the air; shortchanging defensive systems and defense in depth due to money issues and a faith in "magic bullet" technology that in peace promises easy war.

After WWII started in earnest, shipyards festooned all ships with as many anti-air weapons as possible - as in peace it was determined they weren't needed. In San Carlos Water four decades later, in addition to Sea Dart, Sea Wolf, Sea Cat, and 4.5" guns - the rails were full of Sailors and even civilians with all manner of side-arms, crew served weapons, and long guns shooting at A-4 and Mirage aircraft scooting down the sound. Why? Because, you see, modern systems were so good that you didn't need all those messy extras.

We all know that SM-2/3/6 are not really perfect even with RAM, 5" guns, ESSM, CIWS, and others backing them up. Very good and almost without peer? Sure - but not perfect. Shoot-Shoot-Look-Shoot; Shoot-Look-Shoot etc all are based on nice pretty assumptions in peace and the right things packed in the MK-41 VLS tubes when you need them. In war, WINCHESTER will be heard a lot. SHOOT-SHOOT-LOOK-OHSHIT-SHOOT-SHOOT-HOLYSHITIDONTCAREKEEPSHOOTING will happen; just ask the ASW Commander in the Falkland Islands Battle Group.

Does any of the above have anything to do with the CHANCELLORSVILLE? No, not really - but - it is a good excuse to ponder if our "perfect" systems really are that perfect. Before they were needed in war, did the homing torpedo, depth charge, 30-cal guns on aircraft, or AAA on the CV really worked as advertised? No. Is our AAW - untested in combat BTW - as good as our PPT say?

No. Not even close; you can take that to the bank.

Even when systems in the past were honed to almost perfection after years of war - did they still fail? Of course, as the crew of the USS FRANKLIN (CV-13) can tell you.

This is a tough business where things can go wrong even when you do everything right. If you can learn something from those occasions without anyone getting killed - like we did here - then be happy. 

In the final evaluation, you really can't buy training like that. I look forward to reading what the investigation finds - even if I can only read the low side now. Hopefully, we will have something of value to come out of it.

UPDATE: The shorter SJS comment;

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