Category Archives: Military technology

Senator McCain’s White Paper Provides an Insightful Look at Current U.S. Force Readiness and Recommendations for Rebuilding

On 18 January 2017, Senator John McCain, Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), issued a white paper entitled, “Restoring American Power,” laying out SASC’s defense budget recommendations for the next five years; FY 2018 – 2022.

SASC white paper  Source: SASC

You can download this white paper at the following link:

The white paper starts by describing how the Budget Control Act of 2011 failed to meet its intended goal (reducing the national debt) and led to a long series of budget compromises between Congress and Department of Defense (DoD). These budget compromises, coupled with other factors (i.e., sustained military engagements in the Middle East), have significantly reduced the capacity and readiness of all four branches of the U.S. military. From this low point, the SASC white paper defines a roadmap for starting to rebuild a more balanced military.

If you have read my posts on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (18 December 2016) and the Columbia Class SSBN (13 January 2017), then you should be familiar with issues related to two of the programs addressed in the SASC white paper.

For a detailed assessment of the white paper, see Jerry Hendrix’s post, “McCain’s Excellent White Paper: Smaller Carriers, High-Low Weapons Mix, Frigates and Cheap Fighters,” on the Breaking Defense website at the following link:



The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Electronics, and More

Announced on 29 January 2013, DARPA is conducting an intriguing program known as VAPR:

“The Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program seeks electronic systems capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner. These transient electronics should have performance comparable to commercial-off-the-shelf electronics, but with limited device persistence that can be programmed, adjusted in real-time, triggered, and/or be sensitive to the deployment environment.

VAPR aims to enable transient electronics as a deployable technology. To achieve this goal, researchers are pursuing new concepts and capabilities to enable the materials, components, integration and manufacturing that could together realize this new class of electronics.”

VAPR has been referred to as “Snapchat for hardware”. There’s more information on the VAPR program on the DARPA website at the following link:

Here are a few of the announced results of the VAPR program.

Disintegrating electronics

In December 2013, DARPA awarded a $2.5 million VAPR contract to the Honeywell Aerospace Microelectronics & Precision Sensors segment in Plymouth, MN for transient electronics.

In February 2014, IBM was awarded a $3.4 million VAPR contract to develop a radio-frequency based trigger to shatter a thin glass coating: “IBM plans is to utilize the property of strained glass substrates to shatter as the driving force to reduce attached CMOS chips into …. powder.” Read more at the following link:

Also in February 2014, DARPA awarded a $2.1 million VAPR contract to PARC, a Xerox company. In September 2015, PARC demonstrated an electronic chip built on “strained” Corning Gorilla Glass that will shatter within 10 seconds when remotely triggered. The “strained” glass is susceptible to heat. On command, a resistor heats the glass, causing it to shatter and destroy the embedded electronics. This transience technology is referred to as: Disintegration Upon Stress-release Trigger, or DUST. Read more on PARC’s demonstration and see a short video at the following link:

Disintegrating power source

In December 2013, USA Today reported that DARPA awarded a $4.7 million VAPR contract to SRI International, “to develop a transient power supply that, when triggered, becomes unobservable to the human eye.” The power source is the SPECTRE (Stressed Pillar-Engineered CMOS Technology Readied for Evanescence) silicon-air battery. Details are at the following link:

On 12 August 2016, the website Science Friday reported that Iowa State scientists have successfully developed a transient lithium-ion battery:

“They’ve developed the first self-destructing, lithium-ion battery capable of delivering 2.5 volts—enough to power a desktop calculator for about 15 minutes. The battery’s polyvinyl alcohol-based polymer casing dissolves in 30 minutes when dropped in water, and its nanoparticles disperse. “

You can read the complete post at:

ICARUS (Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems)

On 9 October 2015, DARPA issued “a call for disappearing delivery vehicles,” which you can read at the following link:

In this announcement DARPA stated:

“Our partners in the VAPR program are developing a lot of structurally sound transient materials whose mechanical properties have exceeded our expectations,” said VAPR and ICARUS program manager Troy Olsson. Among the most eye-widening of these ephemeral materials so far have been small polymer panels that sublimate directly from a solid phase to a gas phase, and electronics-bearing glass strips with high-stress inner anatomies that can be readily triggered to shatter into ultra-fine particles after use. A goal of the VAPR program is electronics made of materials that can be made to vanish if they get left behind after battle, to prevent their retrieval by adversaries.”

With the progress made in VAPR, it became plausible to imagine building larger, more robust structures using these materials for an even wider array of applications. And that led to the question, ‘What sorts of things would be even more useful if they disappeared right after we used them?’”

This is how DARPA conceived the ICARUS single-use drone program described in October 2015 in Broad Area Announcement DARPA-BAA-16-03. The goal of this $8 million, 26-month DARPA program is to develop small drones with the following attributes

  • One-way, autonomous mission
  • 3 meter (9.8 feet) maximum span
  • Disintegrate in 4-hours after payload delivery, or within 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight
  • Fly a lateral distance of 150 km (93 miles) when released from an altitude of 35,000 feet (6.6 miles)
  • Navigate to and deliver various payloads up to 3 pounds (1.36 kg) within 10 meters (31 feet) of a GPS-designated target

The ICARUS mission profile is shown below.

ICARUS mission profileICARUS mission. Source: DARPA-BAA-16-03

More information on ICARUS is available on the DARPA website at:

On 14 June 2016, Military & Aerospace reported that two ICARUS contracts had been awarded:

  • PARC (Palo Alto, CA): $2.3 million Phase 1 + $1.9 million Phase 2 option
  • DZYNE Technologies, Inc. (Fairfax, VA): $2.9 million Phase 1 + $3.2 million Phase 2 option

You can watch a short video describing the ICARUS competition at the following link:

The firm Otherlab ( has been involved with several DARPA projects in recent years. While I haven’t seen a DARPA announcement that Otherlab is a funded ICARUS contractor, a recent post by April Glaser on the recode website indicates that the Otherlab has developed a one-way, cardboard glider capable of delivering a small cargo to a precise target.

“When transporting vaccines or other medical supplies, the more you can pack onto the drone, the more relief you can supply,” said Star Simpson, an aeronautics research engineer at Otherlab, the group that’s building the new paper drone. If you don’t haul batteries for a return trip, you can pack more onto the drone, says Simpson.

The autonomous disposable paper drone flies like a glider, meaning it has no motor on board. It does have a small computer, as well as sensors that are programed to adjust the aircraft’s control surfaces, like on its wings or rudder, that determine where the aircraft will travel and land.”

 Otherlab_SkyMachines_APSARA.0Sky machines. Source: Otherworld

Read the complete post on the Otherlab glider on the recode website at the following link:

The future

The general utility of vanishing electronics, power sources and delivery vehicles is clear in the context of military applications. It will be interesting to watch the future development and deployment of integrated systems using these vanishing resources.

The use of autonomous, air-releasable, one-way delivery vehicles (vanishing or not) also should have civilian applications for special situations such as emergency response in hazardous or inaccessible areas.



Columbia – The Future of the U.S. FBM Submarine Fleet

On 14 December, 2016, the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced that the new class of U.S. fleet ballistic missile (FBM) submarines will be known as the Columbia-class, named after the lead ship, USS Columbia, SSBN-826 and the District of Columbia. Formerly, this submarine class was known simply as the “Ohio Replacement Program”.

USS ColumbiaColumbia-class SSBN. Source: U.S. Navy

There will be 12 Columbia-class SSBNs replacing 14 Ohio-class SSBNs. The Navy has designated this as its top priority program. All of the Columbia-class SSBNs will be built at the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, CT.

Background – Ohio-class SSBNs

Ohio-class SSBNs make up the current fleet of U.S. FBM submarines, all of which were delivered to the Navy between 1981 and 1997. Here are some key points on the Ohio-class SSBNs:

  • Electric Boat’s FY89 original contract for construction of the lead ship, USS Ohio, was for about $1.1 billion. In 1996, the Navy estimated that constructing the original fleet of 18 Ohio-class SSBNs and outfitting them with the Trident weapons system cost $34.8 billion. That’s an average cost of about $1.9 billion per sub.
  • On average, each SSBN spend 77 days at sea, followed by 35 days in-port for maintenance.
  • Each crew consists of about 155 sailors.
  • The Ohio-class SSBNs will reach the ends of their service lives at a rate of about one per year between 2029 and 2040.

The Ohio SSBN fleet currently is carrying about 50% of the total U.S. active inventory of strategic nuclear warheads on Trident II submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). In 2018, when the New START nuclear force reduction treaty is fully implemented, the Ohio SSBN fleet will be carrying approximately 70% of that active inventory, increasing the strategic importance of the U.S. SSBN fleet.

It is notable that the Trident II missile initial operating capability (IOC) occurred in March 1990. The Trident D5LE (life-extension) version is expected to remain in service until 2042.

Columbia basic design features

Features of the new Columbia-class SSBN include:

  • 42 year ship operational life
  • Life-of-the-ship reactor core (no refueling)
  • 16 missile tubes vs. 24 on the Ohio-class
  • 43’ (13.1 m) beam vs. 42’ (13 m) on the Ohio-class
  • 560’ (170.7 m) long, same as Ohio-class
  • Slightly higher displacement (likely > 20,000 tons) than the Ohio class
  • Electric drive vs. mechanical drive on the Ohio-class
  • X-stern planes vs. cruciform stern planes on the Ohio-class
  • Accommodations for 155 sailors, same as Ohio

Design collaboration with the UK

The U.S. Navy and the UK’s Royal Navy are collaborating on design features that will be common between the Columbia-class and the UK’s Dreadnought-class SSBNs (formerly named “Successor” class). These features include:

  • Common Missile Compartment (CMC)
  • Common SLBM fire control system

The CMC is being designed as a structural “quad-pack”, with integrated missile tubes and submarine hull section. Each tube measures 86” (2.18 m) in diameter and 36’ (10.97 m) in length and can accommodate a Trident II SLBM, which is the type currently deployed on both the U.S. and UK FBM submarine fleets. In October 2016, General Dynamics received a $101.3 million contract to build the first set of CMCs.

CMC 4-packCMC “quad-pack.” Source: General Dynamics via U.S. Navy

The “Submarine Shaftless Drive” (SDD) concept that the UK is believed to be planning for their Dreadnought SSBN has been examined by the U.S. Navy, but there is no information on the choice of propulsor for the Columbia-class SSBN.

Design & construction cost

In the early 2000s, the Navy kicked off their future SSBN program with a “Material Solution Analysis” phase that included defining initial capabilities and development strategies, analyzing alternatives, and preparing cost estimates. The “Milestone A” decision point reached in 2011 allowed the program to move into the “Technology Maturation & Risk Reduction” phase, which focused on refining capability definitions and developing various strategies and plans needed for later phases. Low-rate initial production and testing of certain subsystems also is permitted in this phase. Work in these two “pre-acquisition” phases is funded from the Navy’s research & development (R&D) budget.

On 4 January 2017, the Navy announced that the Columbia-class submarine program passed its “Milestone B” decision review. The Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) was signed by the Navy’s acquisition chief Frank Kendall. This means that the program legally can move into the Engineering & Manufacturing Development Phase, which is the first of two systems acquisition phases funded from the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. Detailed design is performed in this phase. In parallel, certain continuing technology development / risk reduction tasks are funded from the Navy’s R&D budget.

The Navy’s proposed FY2017 budget for the Columbia SSBN program includes $773.1 million in the shipbuilding budget for the first boat in the class, and $1,091.1 million in the R&D budget.

The total budget for the Columbia SSBN program is a bit elusive. In terms of 2010 dollars, the Navy had estimated that lead ship would cost $10.4 billion ($4.2 billion for detailed design and non-recurring engineering work, plus $6.2 billion for construction) and the 11 follow-on SSBNs will cost $5.2 billion each. Based on these cost estimates, construction of the new fleet of 12 SSBNs would cost $67.6 billion in 2010 dollars. Frank Kendall’s ADM provided a cost estimate in terms of 2017 dollars in which the detailed design and non-recurring engineering work was amortized across the fleet of 12 SSBNs. In this case, the “Average Procurement Unit Cost” was $8 billion per SSBN. The total program cost is expected to be about $100 billion in 2017 dollars for a fleet of 12 SSBNs. There’s quite a bit if inflation between the 2010 estimate and new 2017 estimate, and that doesn’t account for future inflation during the planned construction program that won’t start until 2021 and is expected to continue at a rate of one SSBN authorized per year.

The UK is contributing financially to common portions of the Columbia SSBN program.  I have not yet found a source for details on the UK’s contributions and how they add to the estimate for total program cost.

Operation & support (O&S) cost

The estimated average O&S cost target of each Columbia-class SSBN is $110 million per year in constant FY2010 dollars. For the fleet of 12 SSBNs, that puts the annual total O&S cost at $1.32 billion in constant FY2010 dollars.

Columbia schedule

An updated schedule for Columbia-class SSBN program was not included in the recent Navy announcements. Previously, the Navy identified the following milestones for the lead ship:

  • FY2017: Start advance procurement for lead ship
  • FY2021: Milestone C decision, which will enable the program to move into the Production and Deployment Phase and start construction of the lead ship
  • 2027: Deliver lead ship to the Navy
  • 2031: Lead ship ready to conduct 1st strategic deterrence patrol

Keeping the Columbia-class SSBN construction program on schedule is important to the nation’s, strategic deterrence capability. The first Ohio-class SSBNs are expected start retiring in 2029, two years before the first Columbia-class SSBN is delivered to the fleet. The net result of this poor timing will be a 6 – 7 year decline in the number of U.S. SSBNs from the current level of 14 SSBNs to 10 SSBNs in about 2032. The SSBN fleet will remain at this level for almost a decade while the last Ohio-class SSBNs are retiring and are being replaced one-for-one by new Columbia-class SSBNs. Finally, the U.S. SSBN fleet will reach its authorized level of 12 Columbia-class SSBNs in about 2042. This is about the same time when the Trident D5LE SLBMs arming the entire Columbia-class fleet will need to be replaced by a modern SLBM.

You can see the fleet size projections for all classes of Navy submarines in the following chart. The SSBN fleet is represented by the middle trend line.

Submarines-30-year-plan-2017 copy 2 Source: U.S. Navy 30-year Submarine Shipbuilding Plan 2017

Based on the Navy’s recent poor performance in other major new shipbuilding programs (Ford-class aircraft carrier, Nimitz-class destroyer, Littoral Combat Ship), their ability to meet the projected delivery schedule for the Columbia-class SSBN’s must be regarded with some skepticism. However, the Navy’s Virginia-class attack submarine (SSN) construction program has been performing very well, with some new SSNs being delivered ahead of schedule and below budget. Hopefully, the submarine community can maintain the good record of the Virginia-class SSNs program and deliver a similarly successful, on-time Columbia-class SSBN program.

Additional resources:

For more information, refer to the 25 October 2016 report by the Congressional Research Service, “Navy Columbia Class (Ohio Replacement) Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” which you can download at the following link:

You can read the Navy’s, “Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year 2017,” at the following link:


The Navy’s Troubled Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program is Delivering a Costly, Unreliable, Marginal Weapons System

The LCS program consists of two different, but operationally comparable ship designs:

  • LCS-1 Freedom-class monohull built by Marinette Marine
  • LCS-2 Independence-class trimaran built by Austal USA.

These relatively small surface combatants have full load displacements in the 3,400 – 3,900 ton range, making them smaller than most destroyer and frigate-class ships in the world’s navies.

lcs-1-and-lcs-2-web120502-n-zz999-009LCS-2 in foreground & LCS-1 in background. Source: U.S. NavyLCS-2-Indepenence-LCS-1-Freedom-7136872711_c3ddf9d43bLCS-1 on left & LCS-2 on right. Source: U.S. Navy

Originally LCS was conceived as a fleet of 52 small, fast, multi-mission ships designed to fight in littoral (shallow, coastal) waters, with roll-on / roll-off mission packages intended to give these ships unprecedented operational flexibility. In concept, it was expected that mission module changes could be conducted in any port in a matter of hours. In a 2010 Department of Defense (DoD) Selected Acquisition Report, the primary missions for the LCS were described as:

“…littoral surface warfare operations emphasizing prosecution of small boats, mine warfare, and littoral anti-submarine warfare. Its high speed and ability to operate at economical loiter speeds will enable fast and calculated response to small boat threats, mine laying and quiet diesel submarines. LCS employment of networked sensors for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) in support of Special Operations Forces (SOF) will directly enhance littoral mobility. Its shallow draft will allow easier excursions into shallower areas for both mine countermeasures and small boat prosecution. Using LCS against these asymmetrical threats will enable Joint Commanders to concentrate multi-mission combatants on primary missions such as precision strike, battle group escort and theater air defense.”

Both competing firms met a Congressionally-mandated cost target of $460 million per unit, and, in December 2010, Congress gave the Navy authority to split the procurement rather than declare a single winner. Another unique aspect of the LCS program was that the Defense Acquisition Board split the procurement further into the following two separate and distinct programs with separate reporting requirements:

  • The two “Seaframe” programs (for the two basic ship designs)
  • The Mission Module programs (for the different mission modules needed to enable an LCS seaframe to perform specific missions)

When the end product is intended to be an integrated combatant vessel, you don’t need to be a systems analyst to know that trouble is brewing in the interfaces between the seaframes and the mission modules somewhere along the critical path to LCS deployment.

There are three LCS mission modules:

  • Surface warfare (SUW)
  • Anti-submarine (ASW)
  • Mine countermeasures (MCM)

These mission modules are described briefly below:

Surface warfare (SUW)

Each LCS is lightly armed since its design basis surface threat is an individual small, armed boat or a swarm of such boats. The basic anti-surface armament on an LCS seaframe includes a single 57 mm main gun in a bow turret and everal small (.50 cal) machine guns.  The SUW module adds twin 30mm Bushmaster cannons, an aviation unit, a maritime security module (small boats), and relatively short-range surface-to-surface missiles.

Each LCS has a hanger bay for its embarked aviation unit, which is comprised of one manned MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter and one MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, a small helicopter). As part of the SUW module, these aviation assets are intended to be used to identify, track, and help prosecute surface targets.

That original short-range missile collaboration with the Army failed when the Army withdrew from the program. As of December 2016, the Navy is continuing to conduct operational tests of a different Army short-range missile, the Longbow Hellfire, to fill the gap in the SUW module and improve the LCS’s capability to defend against fast inshore attack craft.

In addition to the elements of the SUW module described above, each LCS has a RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) system or a SeaRAM system intended primarily for anti-air point defense (range 5 – 6 miles) against cruise missiles. A modified version of the RAM has limited capabilities for use against helicopters and nearby small surface targets.

In 2015, the Navy redefined the first increment of the LCS SUW capability as comprising the Navy’s Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) teams. This limited “surface warfare” function is comparable to the mission of a Coast Guard cutter.

While the LCS was not originally designed to have a long-range (over the horizon) strike capability, the Navy is seeking to remedy this oversight and is operationally testing two existing missile systems to determine their suitability for installation on the LCS fleet. These missiles are the Boeing Harpoon and the Norwegian Konigsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM). Both can be employed against sea and land targets.

Anti-submarine (ASW)

The LCS does not yet have an operational anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability because of ongoing delays in developing this mission module.

The sonar suite is comprised of a continuously active variable depth sonar, a multi-function towed array sonar, and a torpedo defense sonar. For the ASW mission, the MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter will be equipped with sonobuoys, dipping sonar and torpedoes for prosecuting submarines. The MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV also can support the ASW mission.

Use of these ASW mission elements is shown in the following diagram (click on the graphic to enlarge):

asw_lcsSource: U.S. Navy

In 2015, the Navy asked for significant weight reduction in the 105 ton ASW module.

Originally, initial operational capability (IOC) was expected to be 2016. It appears that the ASW mission package is on track for an IOC in late 2018, after completing development testing and initial operational test & evaluation.

Mine Countermeasures (MCM)

The LCS does not yet have an operational mine countermeasures capability. The original complex deployment plan included three different unmanned vehicles that were to be deployed in increments.

  • Lockheed Martin Remote Multi-mission Vehicle (RMMV) would tow a sonar system for conducting “volume searches” for mines
  • Textron Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) would tow minesweeping hardware.
  • General Dynamics Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle would hunt for buried mines

For the MCM mission, the MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter will be equipped with an airborne laser mine detection system and will be capable of operating an airborne mine neutralization system. The MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV also supports the MCM mission.

Use of these MCM mission elements is shown in the following diagram (click on the graphic to enlarge):

lcs_2013_draft_MCM-624x706Source: U.S. Navy

Original IOC was expected to be 2014. The unreliable RMMV was cancelled in 2015, leaving the Navy still trying in late 2016 to define how an LCS will perform “volume searches.” CUSV and Knifefish development are in progress.

It appears the Navy is not planning to conduct initial operational test & evaluation of a complete MCM module before late 2019 or 2020.

By January 2012, the Navy acknowledged that mission module change-out could take days or weeks instead of hours. Therefore, each LCS will be assigned a single mission, making module changes a rare occurrence. So much for operational flexibility.

LCS has become the poster child for a major Navy ship acquisition program that has gone terribly wrong.

  • The mission statement for the LCS is still evolving, in spite of the fact that 26 already have been ordered.
  • There has been significant per-unit cost growth, which is actually difficult to calculate because of the separate programmatic costs of the seaframe and the mission modules.
    • FY 2009 budget documents showed that the cost of the two lead ships had risen to $637 million for LCS-1 Freedom and $704 million for LCS-2
    • In 2009, Lockheed Martin’s LCS-5 seaframe had a contractual price of $437 million and Austal’s LCS-6’s seaframe contractual price was $432 million, each for a block of 10 ships.
    • In March 2016, General Accounting Office (GAO) reported the total procurement cost of the first 32 LCSs, which worked out to an average unit cost of $655 million just for the basic seaframes.
    • GAO also reported the total cost for production of 64 LCS mission modules, which worked out to an average unit cost of $108 million per module.
    • Based on these GAO estimates, a mission-configured LCS (with one mission module) has a total unit cost of about $763 million.
  • In 2016, the GAO found that, “the ship would be less capable of operating independently in higher threat environments than expected and would play a more limited role in major combat operations.”
  • The flexible mission module concept has failed. Each ship will be configured for only one mission.
  • Individual mission modules are still under development, leaving deployed LCSs without key operational capabilities.
  • The ships are unreliable. In 2016, the GAO noted the inability of an LCS to operate for 30 consecutive days underway without a critical failure of one or more essential subsystems.
  • Both LCS designs are overweight and are not meeting original performance goals.
  • There was no cathodic corrosion protection system on LCS-1 and LCS-2. This design oversight led to serious early corrosion damage and high cost to repair the ships.
  • Crew training time is long.
  • The original maintenance plans were unrealistic.
  • The original crew complement was inadequate to support the complex ship systems and an installed mission module.

To address some of these issues, the LCS crew complement has been increased, an unusual crew rotation process has been implemented, and the first four LCSs have been withdrawn from operational service for use instead as training ships.

To address some of the LCS warfighting limitations, the Navy, in February 2014, directed the LCS vendors to submit proposals for a more capable vessel (originally called “small surface combatant”, now called “frigate” or FF) that could operate in all regions during conflict conditions. Key features of this new frigate include:

  • Built-in (not modular) anti-submarine and surface warfare mission systems on each FF
  • Over-the-horizon strike capability
  • Same purely defensive (point defense) anti-air capability as the LCS. Larger destroyers or cruisers will provide fleet air defense.
  • Lengthened hull
  • Lower top speed and less range

As you would expect, the new frigate proposals look a lot like the existing LCS designs. In 2016, the GAO noted that the Navy prioritized cost and schedule considerations over the fact that a “minor modified LCS” (i.e., the new frigate) was the least capable option considered.”  The competing designs for the new frigate are shown below (click on the graphic to enlarge):

LCS-program-slides-2016-05-18Source: U.S. NavyLCS-program-slides-2016-05-18-austalSource: U.S. Navy

GAO reported the following estimates for the cost of the new multi-mission frigate and its mission equipment:

  • Lead ship: $732 – 754 million
  • Average ship: $613 – 631 million
  • Average annual per-ship operating cost over a 25 year lifetime: $59 – 62 million

Note that the frigate lead ship cost estimate is less than the GAO’s estimated actual cost of an average LCS plus one mission module. Based on the vendor’s actual LCS cost control history, I’ll bet that the GAO’s frigate cost estimates are just the starting point for the cost growth curve.

To make room for the new frigate in the budget and in the current 308-ship fleet headcount limit, the Navy reduced the LCS buy to 32 vessels, and planed to order 20 new frigates from a single vendor. In December 2015, the Navy reduced the total quantity of LCS and frigates from 52 to 40. By mid-2016, Navy plans included only 26 LCS and 12 frigates.

A lot of other resources are available on the internet describing the LCS program, early LCS operations, the new LCS-derived frigate program, and other international frigates programs. For more information, I recommend the following recent (all in 2016) resources listed below.

2016 Congressional Research Service report to Congress

On 14 June 2016, the Congressional Research Service released their report, “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)/Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress.” You can download this report at the following link:

2016 General Accounting Office (GAO) report

Also in June 2016, the GAO issued their report, “Need to Address Fundamental Weaknesses in LCS and Frigate Acquisition Strategies.” You can download this report at the following link:

2016 Breaking Defense e-book

The website Breaking Defense ( is an online magazine that offers defense industry news, analysis, debate, and videos. In November 2016, they offered a free eBook that collects their coverage of the Navy’s LCS program.


You can get this free e-book by completing a short form and placing your order at the following link:

2016 Top Ten Most Powerful Frigates in the World

To see what international counterparts the LCS and FF are up against, check out the January 2016 article, “Top Ten Most Powerful Frigates in the World,” which includes frigates typically in the 4,000 to 6,900 ton range (larger than LCS). You’ll find this at the following link:

There are no U.S. ships in this top 10.

So what do you think?

  • Are the single-mission LCSs really worth the Navy’s great investment in the LCS program?
  • Will the two-mission FFs give the Navy a world-class frigate that can operate independently in contested waters?
  • Would you want to serve aboard an LCS or FF when the fighting breaks out, or would you choose one of the multi-mission international frigates?

Modernizing the Marine Corps Amphibious Landing Capabilities

The U.S. Marine Corps is taking a two-prong approach to ensure their readiness to conduct forcible amphibious landing operations: (1) modernize the fleet of existing Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAVs), the 71A, and (2) select the contractor for the next-generation Amphibious Combat Vehicles (ACVs). The firms involved in these programs are Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and BAE Systems.

Both the existing Marine AAVs and the new ACVs are capable of open-ocean ship launch and recovery operations from a variety of the Navy’s amphibious warfare ships, such as a landing ship dock (LSD) or landing platform dock (LPD). These ships may be as much as 12 miles (19 km) offshore. After traveling like a small boat toward the shore, maneuvering through the surf line, and landing on the beach, the AAVs and new ACVs operate as land vehicles to deliver troops, cargo, or perform other missions.

AAVs_preparing_to_debark_USS_Gunston_HallCurrent-generation AAV 71As in an LPD well deck. Source: Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Navy091016-N-5148B-052Current-generation AAV 71A disembarking from an LPD well deck into the open ocean. Source: U.S. Navy

The Marine Corps plans to maintain the ability to put 10 amphibious battalions ashore during a forcible landing operation.

Let’s take a look in more detail at the Marine Corps AAV 71A modernization program and the new ACV competition.


The AAV SU is upgraded version of the existing, venerable Marine Corps AAV 71A, which can carry 25 embarked Marines. The AAV SU incorporates the following modernized systems and survivability upgrades:

  • armor protection on its flat underbelly
  • buoyant ceramic armor on the flanks
  • blast-resistant seats replacing legacy bench seating
  • new engine & transmission; greater horsepower & torque
  • improved water jets propulsors yielding higher speed at sea
  • external fuel tanks, and
  • upgraded vehicle controls and driver interface

Marine AAV 71ACurrent-generation AAV 71A after landing on a beach. Source: okrajoeSAIC AAV SU unveilingUnveiling AAV SU. Source: SAIC

In January 2016, SAIC unveiled the modernized AAV SU at its facility in Charleston SC and delivered the first prototype for testing at U.S. Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA on 4 March 2016. A total of 10 AAV SUs will be tested before the Marine Corps commits to upgrading its entire fleet of 392 AAVs.

Even after ACV deployment, the Marine Corps plans to maintain enough AAV SUs to equip four amphibious battalions.

You can view a Marine Corps video on the AAV survivability upgrade program at the following link:

Next-generation ACV

On 24 November 2015, BAE Systems and SAIC were down-selected from a field of five competitors and awarded contracts to build engineering and manufacturing development prototypes of their respective next-generation ACVs. Both of the winning firms are offering large, eight-wheel drive vehicles that are designed to be more agile and survivable on land than the current AAV, with equal performance on the water.  The ACV is air-transportable in a C-130 Hercules or larger transport aircraft.

Under contracts valued at more than $100 million, BAE Systems and SAIC each will build 16 ACVs to be delivered in the January – April 2017 time frame for test and evaluation. It is expected that a winner will be selected in 2018 and contracted to deliver 204 ACVs starting in 2020. The new ACVs will form six Marine amphibious battalions that are all scheduled to be operational by the summer of 2023.

At the following link, you can view a Marine Corps video on the ACV program and its importance to the Marine’s “service defining” mission of making amphibious landings in contested areas:

BAE Systems ACV: Super AV

In 2011, BAE Systems teamed with the Italian firm Iveco to offer a variant of the Italian 8-wheeled Super AV amphibious vehicle to the Marine Corps.

The BAE version of this diesel-powered vehicle has a top speed of 65 mph (105 kph) on paved roads and 6 knots (6.9 mph, 11 kph) in the water. Its range is 12 miles (19 km) at sea followed by 200 miles on land. Two small shrouded propellers provide propulsion at sea. On land, the “H-drive” system provides power to individual wheels, so the vehicle can continue operating if an individual wheel is damaged or destroyed.

The armored passenger and crew compartments are protected by a V-shaped hull. Individuals are further protected from blast effects by shock-mounted seats.

On 27 September 2016, BAE Systems unveiled their 34-ton Super AV ACV, which normally will carry a crew of three and 11 embarked Marines, with a capability to carry two more for a total of 13 (i.e., a full Marine squad).

BAE Super AV unveiledBAE Super AV ACV unveiled. Source: BAE Systems

You can view a 2014 BAE Systems video on their Super AV at the following link:

SAIC ACV: Terrex 2

SAIC partnered with ST Kinetics, which developed the Terrex amphibious vehicle currently in use by Singapore’s military. This vehicle currently is configured for a crew of three and 11 embarked Marines.

The basic configuration of SAIC’s Terrex 2 is similar to the BAE Super AV: V-shaped hull, shock-mounted seats and other protection for occupants, propeller driven in the water, independent wheel-driven on land, with similar mobility. SAIC’s Terrex 2 can reach speeds of 55 mph on paved roads and 7 knots (8 mph, 12.9 kph) in the open ocean. A Remote Weapon System (machine guns and cannon) and 10 “fusion cameras” allow closed-hatch missions with day/night 360-degree situational awareness.

SAIC Terrex 2 landing on beachSource: SAICSAIC ACVSource: SAIC

You can see a short 2014 SAIC video on their AAV SU upgrade program and their Terrex 2 ACV at the following link:





Update on North Korea’s Sinpo (Gorae) Submarine and KN-11 SLBM

In the presentation files from my 5 August 2015 talk, 60 Years of Marine Nuclear Power, I noted that, while North Korea has a program to develop nuclear-armed submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), it appears that their current focus is on installing these missiles on conventionally-powered submarines. The particular conventional missile-launching submarines (SSBs) identified were a refurbished Russian-designed Golf II-class SSB and a new, small indigenous SSB provisionally named Sinpo, for the shipyard where it was observed, or Gorae. Both the refurbished Golf II and the new Sinpo (Gorae) have missile tubes in the sail and are capable of launching missiles while submerged. You will find my presentation files on the Lyncean website under the Past Meetings tab. The direct link to the file containing information on the North Korean program is listed below:

On 24 August 2016, North Korea launched a KN-11 ballistic missile from a submerged launcher, likely a submarine. The KN-11 missile flew 500 km (310 miles) downrange from the launch point into the Sea of Japan.

KN-11 launchSource: An undated photo from North Korean Central News Agency, “underwater test-fire of strategic submarine ballistic missile”

Range of the missile actually may be considerably greater because it appears to have been launched on a “lofted trajectory” that achieved a much higher apogee than normally would be associated with a maximum range ballistic flight. A similar higher-than-normal apogee was observed in the 21 July 2016 flight test of North Korea’s BM25 Musudan land-based, mobile, intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), which flew 402 km (250 miles) downrange, but reached an apogee of 1,400 km (870 miles). The extra energy required for the KN-11 and Musudan to reach an unusually high apogee would translate directly into greater downrange distance on a maximum range ballistic flight.

You can see a summary of North Korea’s KN-11 test program on the Wikipedia website at the following link:

For the best analysis of the Sinpo (Gorae) SSB and the KN-11 SLBM, I refer you to H. I. Sutton’s Covert Shores website at the following link:

Sinpo_Gorae SSB_SuttonSource: H. I. Sutton Covert Shores

Sutton comments on the small size of the Sinpo (Gorae) SSB:

“It seems that she is built to the requirement of being the smallest possible boat to carry an NK-11……This reinforces the view that she is only a test boat with limited operational capability at most.”

While North Korea’s SSBs and SLBMs are works in progress, I think we are seeing substantial evidence that significant progress is being made on the submarine and the delivery vehicle. A big unknown is the development status of an operational nuclear warhead for the NK-11 missile. On 6 January 2016, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test. It has been reported that the yield from this test was in the 10-kiloton range. For comparison, the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of about 15 kilotons. You can find a summary of North Korea’s nuclear tests on the Wikipedia website at the following link:

In the 29 Aug – 11 Sep 2016 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association is quoted as saying:

“North Korea’s accelerated pace of ballistic missile testing is definitely worrisome,” Kimball says. “They have not necessarily perfected some of these systems to the point where they are effective military systems. That said, if nothing is done to halt further ballistic missile testing, they’re going to eventually – and I mean within a few years – develop a rudimentary long-range capability to deliver a nuclear warhead.”

For quite some time, there has been speculation of technical collaboration between Iran and North Korea on development of long-range missiles, and perhaps nuclear weapons. North Korea’s credibility as a technology partner has been enhanced by their January 2016 successful nuclear test and the more recent tests of the KN-11 and BM25 delivery vehicles.

Modern Airships

Lighter-than-air ships are common sights over many major sporting events; the most common being the Goodyear blimp. In 2011 Goodyear replaced its aging fleet of GZ-20A non-rigid airships (blimps) with Zeppelin model LZ N007-101 semi-rigid (hybrid) airships. However, the name “Goodyear blimp” still applies.

Goodyear new_blimpGoodyear’s new blimp – Zeppelin LZ N007-101. Source: Goodyear

You can read a very good illustrated history of the Goodyear blimp at the following link

There is a resurgence of interest in the use of lighter-than-air craft in a variety of military, commercial and other civilian roles, including:

  • Persistent optionally-manned surveillance platforms
  • Maritime surveillance / search and rescue
  • Heavy cargo carriers serving remote, unimproved sites
  • Disaster relief, particularly in areas not easily accessible by other means
  • Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) / unmanned air system (UAS) carrier
  • Commercial flying cruise liner

In this post, we’ll take a look at several of the advanced airship designs that have been developed, or are under development, to perform these types of missions. These airships are:

  • Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) Skybus 80K
  • Aeros Aeroscraft Dragon Dream
  • Northrop Grumman / Hybrid Air Vehicles HAV-304 (LEMV)
  • Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander 10 & 50
  • Lockheed Martin P-791 & LMH1
  • Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) Carrier
  • Commercial Flying Cruise Liner

 SAIC Skybus 80K

 The Skybus 80K was a proof-of-concept, non-rigid airship designed to carry a significant payload and fly autonomously on long duration missions. The goal of this program was to demonstrate greater persistence over target with a greater payload than was possible using an unmanned drone aircraft. Lindstrand USA was responsible for the Skybus 80K vehicle primary envelope and flight structure.

SAIC Skybus 80KSkybus 80K. Source: Lindstrand USA

Flying out of Loring Air Force Base in Caribou, Maine, the Skybus 80K met its program objectives for carrying 500 pounds to 10,000 feet for 24 hours without refueling. While these may seem to be modest objectives, Skybus 80K was granted the first U.S. certificate for an unmanned experimental airship. This was an important milestone in the development of optionally manned airships.

You can see a short 2010 video of the Skybus 80K rollout and flight at the following link:

An SAIC concept for an full-scale optionally manned airship is shown in the following figure.

SAIC optionally manned airship conceptOptionally manned surveillance airship. Source: SAIC

Aeros Aeroscraft Dragon Dream

In 2013, Worldwide Aeros Corp. (Aeros) tested their half-scale proof-of-design demonstration vehicle, Dragon Dream, which embodied the following design features that are shared with other Aeroscraft rigid airships:

  • Control-of-static-heaviness (COSH) system for variable buoyancy control
  • Rigid structure, with hard points for mounting the cockpit, propulsion system, aerodynamic control surfaces, and the cargo compartment
  • Ceiling suspension cargo deployment system for managing cargo with minimal requirements for ground support infrastructure
  • Landing cushions for operation on unimproved surfaces, including ice and water
  • Vectored thrust engines for improved control at low speed and hover
  • Low-speed control system for maintaining position and orientation during vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and hover in low wind conditions

Aeros claims that, “these technologies enable the Aeroscraft to fly up to  6,000 nautical miles, while achieving true vertical takeoff and landing at maximum payload, to hover over unprepared surfaces, and to offload over-sized cargo directly at the point of need.”

Aeros Dragon Dream 1Source: AerosAeros Dragon Dream 2Source: Aeros

The aeroshell defines the boundary of the helium envelope. Within the aeroshell are Helium Pressure Envelopes (HPE, blue tanks) and Air Expansion Vessels (AEV, grey bladders):

Aeros Dragon Dream cutaway

Aeroscraft cutaway showing HPE and AEC. Source: Aeros

The COSH variable buoyancy operating principle is as follows:

  • To reduce buoyancy: The COSH system compresses helium from the aeroshell volume into the HPEs, which contain the compressed helium and control the helium pressure within the aeroshell.   The compression of helium into the HPEs creates a negative pressure within the aeroshell, permitting the AEVs to expand and fill with readily available environmental ballast (air). The air acts in concert with the reduced helium lift to make the Aeroscraft heavier when desired.
  • To increase buoyancy: The COSH system releases pressurized helium from the HPEs into the aeroshell. This creates a positive pressure within the aeroshell, causing the AEVs to compress and discharge air back to the environment. With reduced environmental ballast and greater helium lift, overall buoyancy of the Aeroscraft is increased when desired.

Operational Aeroscraft airships will be designed with an internal cargo bay and a cargo suspension deployment system that permits terrestrial or marine (shipboard) delivery of cargo from a hovering Aeroscraft, without the need for local infrastructure.

Aeroscraft cargo delivery systemAeroscraft cargo handling. Source: Aeros

For more information on the Aeroscraft rigid airship and advanced concepts for heavy cargo carrying airships, visit their website at the following link:

Northrop Grumman / Hybrid Air Vehicles HAV-304 (LEMV)

In partnership with Northrop Grumman, Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) developed the HAV-304 hybrid airship for the U.S. Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program, which intended to deploy a large optionally manned airship capable of flying surveillance missions of up to three weeks duration over Afghanistan.

The HAV-304 first flew on 7 August 2012 from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. Operations were terminated when the LEMV contract was cancelled in February 2013.

Hybrid Air Vehicles bought the airship and associated materials back from the Army and returned to the UK to continue developing airships for civilian use.

Northrop Grumman LEMV 2012LEMV. Source: Northrop Grumman

Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander 10 & 50

The Airlander 10 airship, manufactured by Hybrid Air Vehicles, is the commercial reincarnation of the HAV-304 LEMV airship. This hybrid airship that files using a combination of buoyant lift from helium, vectored thrust lift from its engines during takeoff and landing, and aerodynamic lift from its airfoil shaped hull during forward flight.

Helium lift nominally provides about 60% of the lift required for Airlander 10 to fly, with the balance coming from vectored thrust and/or aerodynamic lift depending on the flight mode.

In Airlander 10, helium lift is controlled much like in a conventional blimp, using multiple ballonets located fore and aft in each of the hulls. A ballonet is a gas volume that can be inflated with air inside the main helium volume of the airship’s hull. Inflating a ballonet with air increases the mass of the airship and compresses the helium into a smaller volume, with the net result of decreasing buoyant lift. Inflating only the fore or aft ballonet will make the bow or stern of the airship heavier and change the pitch of the airship. These operating principles are shown in the following diagrams of a blimp with two ballonets shown in blue.

Blimp ballonetBlimp with ballonets (blue). Source:

Airlander 10 currently is the world’s largest aircraft, measuring 302 feet (92 m) long and 143 feet (43.5 m) wide. HAV describes the airship’s construction as follows:

“There is no internal structure in the Airlander – it maintains its shape due to the pressure stabilization of the helium inside the hull, and the smart and strong Vectran material it is made of. Carbon composites are used throughout the aircraft for strength and weight savings.”

Maximum payload capacity is 22,050 pounds (10,000 kg), which must be suspended externally from a centerline payload beam. Maximum speed is 80 kts (148 kph), maximum altitude is 16,000 feet (4,880 m), and manned mission duration is up to 5 days. Unmanned missions can be significantly longer.

Airlander 10 made its first two flights on 25 August 2016 from Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire, England. While the first flight went well, the second ended with an inauspicious soft crash landing with some damage to the airship, but no injuries to the crew.

Airlander 10 first flightAirlander 10 first flight. Source: CNNMoney.

Airlander 10 second landingAirlander 10 soft crash landing after second flight. Source: Sky news

A larger version known as Airlander 50 is being designed with internal cargo bays capable of carrying up to 132,300 pound (60,000 kg) payloads. An concept drawing for Airlander 50 is shown below.

Airlander 50 concept drawingAirlander 50. Source:

More information on Airlander airships is available on the Hybrid Air Vehicles website at the following link:

Lockheed Martin P-791

The Lockheed Martin P-791 was one of the competitors in the U.S. Army’s LEMV program, which was won by the Northrop Grumman team with the HAV-3 hybrid airship.

Like the HAV-3, the P-791 tri-lobe airship files under the combined influence of buoyant lift from helium, vectored thrust from propellers during takeoff and landing, and aerodynamic lift from the airfoil shaped hull when the airship is in forward flight. The first flight of the P-791 took place on 31 January 2006 at a Lockheed’s facility in Palmdale, CA.

Lockheed Martin P-791P-791. Source: Lockheed MartinLockheed Martin P-791_2P-791. Source: Lockheed Martin

You can see a short video on the P-791 at the following link:

Lockheed Martin LMH1

LMH1 is a hybrid airship based on the P-791 design, but intended for commercial applications. The LMH1 is designed to carry a crew of 2, up to 19 passengers, and 20 tons (18,143 kg) of cargo at a maximum speed of 60 kts (111 kph) over a range 1,400 nautical miles (2,593 km). This airship design can be scaled to carry much heavier cargo.

Lockheed Martin LMH1LMH1. Source: Lockheed MartinLockheed martin LMH-1_2LMH1. Source: Lockheed Martin

In November 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved Lockheed’s certification plan for the LMH1. Lockheed Martin has engaged sales firm Hybrid Enterprises to market the LMH1 and current plans call for initial deliveries in 2018.

Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) Carrier

Small, unmanned air vehicles (UAV), now commonly called UAS, can carry advanced sensors and weapons, but generally have short range. In spite of their range limitations, UASs can provide valuable and cost-effective capabilities for military planners and war fighters. At a recent conference is Washington D.C., Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Deputy Director Steve Walker asked the following question: “With the ranges we are looking at in the Pacific Theater, how do we get our small UAS to the fight?” Actually, he already knew the answer.

In March 2016, DARPA awarded the first contracts in support of its Gremlins program, which DARPA describes as:

“Gremlins (program)…… seeks to develop innovative technologies and systems enabling aircraft to launch volleys of low-cost, reusable unmanned air systems (UASs) and safely and reliably retrieve them in mid-air. Such systems, or “gremlins,” would be deployed with a mixture of mission payloads capable of generating a variety of effects in a distributed and coordinated manner, providing U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at a lower cost than is possible with conventional, monolithic platforms.”

While the primary launch / recovery vehicle for this phase of the Gremlins program is a C-130 Hercules turboprop transport aircraft, the UAS launch and recovery techniques developed by the Gremlins program may be adaptable to other types of air vehicles, such as airships. Read more on the DARPA Gremlins program at the following link:

SAIC and ArcZeon International, LLC have proposed a UAS carrier airship for this type of mission. A concept drawing for such an airship is shown below.

Airship launching UAS swarmAirship deploying UAS. Source: SAIC / ArcZeon

Commercial Flying Cruise Liner

Dassault Systems posted an evocative advertisement in the a July 2016 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, with the following tag line:

“If we go on a cruise, does it have to be at sea level?”

Dassault flying cruise liner 1e Source: Dassault Systemes /

The image of a lighter-than-air cruise ship flying over snow-capped mountains looks like an airship builders dream from the mid-1930s, but with a distinctly modern airship design. The print ad concluded with the question:

“How long before the sky becomes the destination?”

While Dassault Systemes is not in the business of building airships, they have developed an integrated system called the 3DExperience platform to assist clients in developing “compelling consumer experiences.” I hope one of their clients likes the idea of a flying cruise liner. Let’s take a closer look.

Dassault flying cruise liner 2 cropSource: Dassault Systemes /

Very nice!!

The closest you can come to such an adventure today is a short commercial flight aboard a Zeppelin NT airship from Friedrichshafen, Germany, home of the Zeppelin factory. You can book your flight at the following link:

Zeppelin NT 2View of German countryside from Zeppelin-NT. Source:


Bio-fuel at Less Than Half the Price

1.  New process for manufacturing bio-fuel

The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) is a Department of Energy (DOE) bioenergy research center dedicated to developing advanced bio-fuels, which are liquid fuels derived from the solar energy stored in plant biomass. Such fuels currently are replacing gasoline, diesel and jet fuels in selected applications.

On 1 July 2016, a team of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) scientists working at JBEI published a paper entitled, “CO2 enabled process integration for the production of cellulosic ethanol using bionic liquids.” The new process reported in this paper greatly simplifies the industrial manufacturing of bio-fuel and significantly reduces waste stream volume and toxicity as well as manufacturing cost.

The abstract provides further information:

“There is a clear and unmet need for a robust and affordable biomass conversion technology that can process a wide range of biomass feedstocks and produce high yields of fermentable sugars and bio-fuels with minimal intervention between unit operations. The lower microbial toxicity of recently developed renewable ionic liquids (ILs), or bionic liquids (BILs), helps overcome the challenges associated with the integration of pretreatment with enzymatic saccharification and microbial fermentation. However, the most effective BILs known to date for biomass pretreatment form extremely basic pH solutions in the presence of water, and therefore require neutralization before the pH range is acceptable for the enzymes and microbes used to complete the biomass conversion process. Neutralization using acids creates unwanted secondary effects that are problematic for efficient and cost-effective biorefinery operations using either continuous or batch modes.

We demonstrate a novel approach that addresses these challenges through the use of gaseous carbon dioxide to reversibly control the pH mismatch. This approach enables the realization of an integrated biomass conversion process (i.e., “single pot”) that eliminates the need for intermediate washing and/or separation steps. A preliminary technoeconomic analysis indicates that this integrated approach could reduce production costs by 50–65% compared to previous IL biomass conversion methods studied.”

 Regarding the above abstract, here are a couple of useful definitions:

  • Ionic liquids: powerful solvents composed entirely of paired ions that can be used to dissolve cellulosic biomass into sugars for fermentation.
  • Enzymatic saccharification: breaking complex carbohydrates such as starch or cellulose into their monosaccharide (carbohydrate) components, which are the simplest carbohydrates, also known as single sugars.

The paper was published on-line in the journal, Energy and Environmental Sciences, which you can access via the following link:!divAbstract

Let’s hope they’re right about the significant cost reduction for bio-fuel production.

2.  Operational use of bio-fuel

One factor limiting the wide-scale use of bio-fuel is its higher price relative to the conventional fossil fuels it is intended to replace. The prospect for significantly lower bio-fuel prices comes at a time when operational use of bio-fuel is expanding, particularly in commercial airlines and in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). These bio-fuel users want advanced bio-fuels that are “drop-in” replacements to traditional gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel. This means that the advanced bio-fuels need to be compatible with the existing fuel distribution and storage infrastructure and run satisfactorily in the intended facilities and vehicles without introducing significant operational or maintenance / repair / overhaul (MRO) constraints.

You will find a fact sheet on the DoD bio-fuel program at the following link:

The “drop in” concept can be difficult to achieve because a bio-fuel may have different energy content and properties than the petroleum fuel it is intended to replace. You can find a Department of Energy (DOE) fuel properties comparison chart at the following link:

Another increasingly important factor affecting the deployment of bio-fuels is that the “water footprint” involved in growing the biomass needed for bio-fuel production and then producing the bio-fuel is considerably greater than the water footprint for conventional hydrocarbon fuel extraction and production.

 A.  Commercial airline use of bio-fuel:

Commercial airlines became increasingly interested in alternative fuels after worldwide oil prices peaked near $140 in 2008 and remained high until 2014.

A 2009 Rand Corporation technical report, “Near-term Feasibility of Alternative Jet Fuels,” provides a good overview of issues and timescales associated with employment of bio-fuels in the commercial aviation industry. Important findings included:

  • Drop-in” fuels have considerable advantages over other alternatives as practical replacements for petroleum-based aviation fuel.
  • Alcohols do not offer direct benefits to aviation, primarily because high vapor pressure poses problems for high-altitude flight and safe fuel handling. In addition, the reduced energy density of alcohols relative to petroleum-based aviation fuel would substantially reduced aircraft operating capabilities and would be less energy efficient.
  • Biodiesel and biokerosene, collectively known as FAMEs, are not appropriate for use in aviation, primarily because they leave deposits at the high temperatures found in aircraft engines, freeze at higher temperatures than petroleum-based fuel, and break down during storage

You can download this Rand report at the following link

After almost two years of collaboration with member airlines and strategic partners, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published the report, “IATA Guidance Material for Biojet Fuel Management,” in November 2012. A key finding in this document is the following:

“To be acceptable to Civil Aviation Authorities, aviation turbine fuel must meet strict chemical and physical criteria. There exist several specifications that authorities refer to when describing acceptable conventional jet fuel such as ASTM D1655 and Def Stan 91-91. At the time of issue, blends of up to 50% biojet fuel produced through either the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process or the hydroprocessing of oils and fats (HEFA – hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) are acceptable for use under these specifications, but must first be certified under ASTM D7566. Once the blend has demonstrated compliance with the relevant product specifications, it may be regarded as equivalent to conventional jet fuel in most applications.“

You can download this IATA document at the following link:

In 2011, KLM flew the world’s first commercial bio-fuel flight, carrying passengers from Amsterdam to Paris. Also in 2011, Aeromexico flew the world’s first bio-fuel trans-Atlantic revenue passenger flight, from Mexico City to Madrid.

In March 2015, United Airlines (UA) inaugurated use of bio-fuel on flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). Eventually, UA plans to expand the use of bio-fuel to all flights operating from LAX. UA is the first U.S. airline to use renewable fuel for regular commercial operation.

Many other airlines worldwide are in various stages of bio-fuel testing and operational use.

B.  U.S. Navy use of bio-fuel:

The Navy is deploying bio-fuel in shore facilities, aircraft, and surface ships. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has established a goal to replace half of the Navy’s conventional fuel supply with renewables by 2020.

In 2012, the Navy experimented with a 50:50 blend of traditional petroleum-based fuel and biofuel made from waste cooking oil and algae oil.   This blend was used successfully on about 40 U.S. surface ships that participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise with ships of other nations. The cost of pure bio-fuel fuel for this demonstration was about $26.00 per gallon, compared to about $3.50 per gallon for conventional fuel at that time.

In 2016, the Navy established the “Great Green Fleet” (GGF) as a year-long initiative to demonstrate the Navy’s ability to transform its energy use.

Great Green Fleet logo          Source: U.S. Navy

The Navy described this initiative as follows:

“The centerpiece of the Great Green Fleet is a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) that deploys on alternative fuels, including nuclear power for the carrier and a blend of advanced bio-fuel made from beef fat and traditional petroleum for its escort ships. These bio-fuels have been procured by DON (Department of Navy) at prices that are on par with conventional fuels, as required by law, and are certified as “drop-in” replacements that require no engine modifications or changes to operational procedures.”

Deployment of the Great Green Fleet started in January 2016 with the deployment of Strike Group 3 and its flagship, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. The conventionally-powered ships in the Strike Group are using a blend of 10% bio-fuel and 90% petroleum. The Navy originally aimed for a 50:50 ratio, but the cost was too high. The Navy purchased about 78 million gallons of blended bio-fuel for the Great Green Fleet at a price of $2.05 per gallon.

C.  U.S. Air Force use of bio-fuel:

The USAF has a goal of meeting half its domestic fuel needs with alternative sources by 2016, including aviation fuel.

The Air Force has been testing different blends of jet fuel and biofuels known generically as Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ). This class of fuel uses triglycerides and free fatty acids from plant oils and animal fats as the feedstock that is processed to create a hydrocarbon aviation fuel.

To meet its energy plan, the USAF plans to use a blend that combines military-grade fuel known as JP-8 with up to 50 percent HRJ. The Air Force also has certified a 50:50 blend of Fisher-Tropsch synthetic kerosene and conventional JP-8 jet fuel across its fleet.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency (AFCESA), headquartered at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida is responsible for certifying the USAF aviation fuel infrastructure to ensure its readiness to deploy blended JP-8/bio-fuel.


Wave Glider Autonomous Vehicle Harvests Wave and Solar Power to Deliver Unique Operational Capabilities at Sea

The U.S. firm Liquid Robotics, Inc., in Sunnyvale, CA, designs, manufactures, and sells small unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) called Wave Gliders, which consist of two parts: an underwater “glider” that provides propulsion and a surface payload vehicle that houses electronics and a solar-electric power system. The physical arrangement of a Wave Glider is shown in the following diagrams. The payload vehicle is about 10 feet (305 cm) long. The glider is about 7 feet (213 cm) long and is suspended about 26 feet (800 cm) below the payload vehicle.

Wave Glider configurationSource: Liquid Robotics. Note: 800 cm suspension distance is not to scale.

The payload vehicle is topped with solar panels and one or more instrumentation / communication / navigation masts. The interior modular arrangement of a Wave Glider is shown in the following diagram. Wave Glider is intended to be an open, extensible platform that can be readily configured for a wide range of missions.

Wave Glider configuration 2Source: Liquid Robotics

The Wave Glider is propelled by wave power using the operational principle for wave power harvesting shown in the following diagram. Propulsion power is generated regardless of the heading of the Wave Glider relative to the direction of the waves, enabling sustained vehicle speeds of 1 to 3 knots.

Wave Glider propulsion schemeSource: Liquid Robotics

The newer SV3 Wave Glider has a more capable electric power system than its predecessor, the SV2, enabling the SV3 glider to be equipped with an electric motor-driven propeller for supplementary solar-electric propulsion. SV3 also is capable of towing and supplying power to submerged instrument packages.

Autonomous navigation and real-time communications capabilities enable Wave Gliders to be managed individually or in fleets. The autonomous navigation capability includes programmable course navigation, including precise hold-station capabilities, and surface vessel detection and avoidance.

Originally designed to monitor whales, the Wave Glider has matured into a flexible, multi-mission platform for ocean environmental monitoring, maritime domain awareness / surveillance, oil and gas exploration / operations, and defense.

More information and short videos on the operation of the Wave Glider are available on the Liquid Robotics website at the following link:

On 28 April 2016, the U.S. Navy announced that it was in the process of awarding Liquid Robotics a sole-source contract for Wave Glider USV hardware and related services. You can read the Notice of Intent at the following link:

As described by the Navy:

“The required USV is a hybrid sea-surface USV comprised of a submerged ‘glider’ that is attached via a tether to a surface float. The vehicle is propelled by the conversion of ocean wave energy into forward thrust, independent of wave direction. No electrical power is generated by the propulsion mechanism.”

Navy requirements for the Wave Glider USV include the following:

  • Mission: Capable of unsupported autonomous missions of up to ten months duration, with long distance transits of up to 1,000 nautical miles in the open ocean
  • Propulsion: Wave power harvesting at all vehicle-to-wave headings, with sustained thrust adequate under own propulsion sufficient to tow significant loads
  • Electric Power: Solar energy harvesting during daylight hours, with power generation / storage capabilities sufficient to deliver ten watts to instrumentation 24/7
  • Instrumentation: Payload of 20 pounds (9.1 kg)
  • Navigation: Commandable vehicle heading and autonomous on-board navigation to a given and reprogrammable latitude/longitude waypoint on the ocean’s surface
  • Survivability: Sea states up to a rating of five and winds to 50 knots
  • Stealth: Minimal radar return, low likelihood of visual detectability, minimal radiated acoustic noise

In my 11 April 2016 post, I discussed how large autonomous surface and underwater vehicles will revolutionize the ways in which the U.S. Navy conducts certain operational missions. Wave Glider is at the opposite end of the autonomous vehicle size range, but retains the capability to conduct long-duration, long-distance missions. It will be interesting to see how the Navy employs this novel autonomous vehicle technology.

Large Autonomous Vessels will Revolutionize the U.S. Navy

In this post, I will describe two large autonomous vessels that are likely to revolutionize the way the U.S. Navy operates. The first is the Sea Hunter, sponsored by Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA), and the second is Echo Voyager developed by Boeing.

DARPA Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV)

ACTUV conceptSource: DARPA

DARPA explains that the program is structured around three primary goals:

  • Demonstrate the performance potential of a surface platform conceived originally as an unmanned vessel.
    • This new design paradigm reduces constraints on conventional naval architecture elements such as layout, accessibility, crew support systems, and reserve buoyancy.
    • The objective is to produce a vessel design that exceeds state-of-the art manned vessel performance for the specified mission at a fraction of the vessel size and cost.
  •  Advance the technology for unmanned maritime system autonomous operation.
    • Enable independently deploying vessels to conduct missions spanning thousands of kilometers of range and months of duration under a sparse remote supervisory control model.
    • This includes autonomous compliance with maritime laws and conventions for safe navigation, autonomous system management for operational reliability, and autonomous interactions with an intelligent adversary.
  • Demonstrate the capability of an ACTUV vessel to use its unique sensor suite to achieve robust, continuous track of the quietest submarine targets over their entire operating envelope.

While DARPA states that ACTUV vessel is intended to detect and trail quiet diesel electric submarines, including air-independent submarines, that are rapidly proliferating among the world’s navies, that detect and track capability also should be effective against quiet nuclear submarines. The ACTUV vessel also will have capabilities to conduct counter-mine missions.

The ACTUV program is consistent with the Department of Defense (DoD) “Third Offset Strategy,” which is intended to maintain U.S. military technical supremacy over the next 20 years in the face of increasing challenges from Russia and China. An “offset strategy” identifies particular technical breakthroughs that can give the U.S. an edge over potential adversaries. In the “Third Offset Strategy”, the priority technologies include:

  • Robotics and autonomous systems: capable of assessing situations and making decisions on their own, without constant human monitoring
  • Miniaturization: enabled by taking the human being out of the weapons system
  • Big data: data fusion, with advanced, automated filtering / processing before human involvement is required.
  • Advanced manufacturing: including composite materials and additive manufacturing (3-D printing) to enable faster design / build processes and to reduce traditionally long supply chains.

You can read more about the “Third Offset Strategy” at the following link:

You also may wish to read my 19 March 2016 post on Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “Superiority.” You can decide for yourself if it relates to the “Third Offset Strategy.”

Leidos (formerly SAIC) is the prime contractor for the ACTUV technology demonstrator vessel, Sea Hunter. In August 2012, Leidos was awarded a contract valued at about $58 million to design, build, and operationally test the vessel.

In 2014, Leidos used a 32-foot (9.8 meter) surrogate vessel to demonstrate the prototype maritime autonomy system designed to control all maneuvering and mission functions of an ACTUV vessel. The first voyage of 35 nautical miles (65.8 km) was conducted in February 2014. A total of 42 days of at-sea demonstrations were conducted to validate the autonomy system.

Sea Hunter is an unarmed 145-ton full load displacement, diesel-powered, twin-screw, 132 foot (40 meters) long, trimaran that is designed to a wide range of sea conditions. It is designed to be operational up to Sea State 5 [moderate waves to 6.6 feet (2 meters) height, winds 17 – 21 knots] and to be survivable in Sea State 7 [rough weather with heavy waves up to 20 feet (6 meters) height]. The vessel is expected to have a range of about 3,850 miles (6,200 km) without maintenance or refueling and be able to deploy on missions lasting 60 – 90 days.

Sea Hunter side view cropSource: DARPA

Raytheon’s Modular Scalable Sonar System (MS3) was selected as the primary search and detection sonar for Sea Hunter. MS3 is a medium frequency sonar that is capable of active and passive search, torpedo detection and alert, and small object avoidance. In the case of Sea Hunter, the sonar array is mounted in a bulbous housing at the end of a fin that extends from the bottom of the hull; looking a bit like a modern, high-performance sailboat’s keel.

Sea Hunter will include sensor technologies to facilitate the correct identification of surface ships and other objects on the sea surface. See my 8 March 2015 post on the use of inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) in such maritime surveillance applications.

During a mission, an ACTUV vessel will not be limited by its own sensor suit. The ACTUV vessel will be linked via satellite to the Navy’s worldwide data network, enabling it to be in constant contact with other resources (i.e., other ships, aircraft, and land bases) and to share data.

Sea Hunter was built at the Vigor Shipyard in Portland, Oregon. Construction price of the Sea Hunter is expected to be in the range from $22 to $23 million. The target price for subsequent vessels is $20 million.

You can view a DARPA time-lapse video of the construction and launch of Sea Hunter at the following link:

Sea Hunter launch 1Source: DARPA

Sea Hunter lauunch 2Source: DARPA

In the above photo, you can see on the bottom of the composite hull, just forward of the propeller shafts, what appears to be a hatch. I’m just speculating, but this may be the location of a retractable sonar housing, which is shown in the first and second pictures, above.

You can get another perspective of the launch and the subsequent preliminary underway trials in the Puget Sound in the DARPA video at the following link:

During the speed run, Sea Hunter reached a top speed of 27 knots. Following the preliminary trials, Sea Hunter was christened on 7 April 2016. Now the vessel starts an operational test phase to be conducted jointly by DARPA and the Office of Naval Research (ONR). This phase is expected to run through September 2018.

DARPA reported that it expects an ACTUV vessel to cost about $15,000 – $20,000 per day to operate. In contrast, a manned destroyer costs about $700,000 per day to operate.

The autonomous ship "Sea Hunter", developed by DARPA, is shown docked in Portland, Oregon before its christening ceremonySource: DARPA

You can find more information on the ACTUV program on the DARPA website at the following link:

If ACTUV is successful in demonstrating the expected search and track capabilities against quiet submarines, it will become the bane of submarine commanders anywhere in the world. Imagine the frustration of a submarine commander who is unable to break the trail of an ACTUV vessel during peacetime. During a period of conflict, an ACTUV vessel may quickly become a target for the submarine being trailed. The Navy’s future conduct of operations may depend on having lots of ACTUV vessels.

Echo Voyager Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV)

Echo Explorer - front quarter viewSource: BoeingEcho Explorer - top openSource: Boeing

Echo Voyager is the third in a family of UUVs developed by Boeing’s Phantom Works. The first two are:

  • Echo Ranger (circa 2002): 18 feet (5.5 meters) long, 5 tons displacement; maximum depth 10,000 feet; maximum mission duration about 28 hours
  • Echo Seeker (circa 2015): 32 feet (9.8 meter) long; maximum depth 20,000 feet; maximum mission duration about 3 days

Both Echo Ranger and Echo Seeker are battery powered and require a supporting surface vessel for launch and recovery at sea and for recharging the batteries. They successfully have demonstrated the ability to conduct a variety of autonomous underwater operations and to navigate safely around obstacles.

Echo Voyager, unveiled by Boeing in Huntington Beach, CA on 10 March 2016, is a much different UUV. It is designed to deploy from a pier, autonomously conduct long-duration, long-distance missions and return by itself to its departure point or some other designated destination. Development of Echo Voyager was self-funded by Boeing.

Echo Voyager is a 50-ton displacement, 51 foot (15.5 meters) long UUV that is capable of diving to a depth of 11,000 feet (3,352 meters). It has a range of about 6,500 nautical miles (12,038 km) and is expected to be capable of autonomous operations for three months or more. The vessel is designed to accommodate various “payload sections” that can extend the length of the vessel up to a maximum of 81 feet (24.7 meters).

You can view a Boeing video on the Echo Voyager at the following link:

The propulsion system is a hybrid diesel-electric rechargeable system. Batteries power the main electric motor, enabling a maximum speed is about 8 knots. Electrically powered auxiliary thrusters can be used to precisely position the vessel at slow speed. When the batteries require recharging,

The propulsion system is a hybrid diesel-electric rechargeable system. Batteries power the main electric motor, enabling a maximum speed is about 8 knots. Electrically powered auxiliary thrusters can be used to precisely position the vessel at slow speed. When the batteries require recharging, Echo Voyager will rise toward the surface, extend a folding mast as shown in the following pictures, and operate the diesel engine with the mast serving as a snorkel. The mast also contains sensors and antennae for communications and satellite navigation.

Echo Explorer - mast extendingSource: screenshot from Boeing video at link aboveEcho Explorer - snorkelingSource: screenshot from Boeing video at link above

The following image, also from the Boeing video, shows deployment of a payload onto the seabed.Echo Explorer - emplacing on seabedSource: screenshot from Boeing video at link above

Sea trials off the California coast are expected in mid-2016.

Boeing currently does not have a military customer for Echo Voyager, but foresees the following missions as being well-suited for this type of UUV:

  • Surface and subsurface intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)
  • ASW search and barrier patrol
  • Submarine decoy
  • Critical infrastructure protection
  • Mine countermeasures
  • Weapons platform

Boeing also expects civilian applications for Echo Voyager in offshore oil and gas, marine engineering, hydrography and other scientific research.

28 July 2016 update: Sea Hunter ACTUV performance testing

On 1 May 2016, Sea Hunter arrived by barge in San Diego and then started initial performance trial in local waters.

ACTUV in San Diego BaySource: U.S. Navy

You can see a video of Sea Hunter in San Diego Bay at the following link:

On 26 July 2016, Leidos reported that it had completed initial performance trials in San Diego and that the ship met or surpassed all performance objectives for speed, maneuverability, stability, seakeeping, acceleration, deceleration and fuel consumption. These tests were the first milestone in the two-year test schedule.

Leidos indicated that upcoming tests will exercise the ship’s sensors and autonomy suite with the goals of demonstrating maritime collision regulations compliance capability and proof-of-concept for different Navy missions