Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Quantity Has a Quality All Its Own

Quantity Has a Quality All Its Own

I don’t know who first said this but it’s been true in combat since the beginning of time.  Expressed even more succinctly,

Numbers Matter

Unfortunately, and unwisely, the US Navy has implemented the exact opposite philosophy in establishing and procuring its force structure.  The Navy believes wholeheartedly that quality trumps quantity; that technology makes up for numbers.  Every new weapons program results in smaller numbers than those it’s replacing.  When (if?) the JSF reaches squadron service, the Navy has stated that squadrons will be reduced by 2-4 planes each because the JSF will be so superior to the Hornets it will replace.  The Navy’s 14 ballistic missile submarines (originally 18) will be replaced by 12 new ones.  A single LCS replaces three ships (1 FFG, 1 PC, and 1 MCM).  And so on …

I think we can all readily understand the fallacy in the quality over quantity philosophy.  Any single platform, no matter how powerful, can only be in one place at a time.  Further, under this philosophy the loss of a single platform is much more damaging due to the limited numbers.  An advanced platform may enjoy a 10:1 kill ratio but if the enemy has an 11:1 advantage in numbers, they ultimately win.

Consider the LCS that is designed to replace a frigate, a patrol craft, and a minesweeper.  The LCS can only be in one place at a time doing one task.  The ships it replaced can be in three places at once, doing three different tasks.

Soviet Krivak - Quantity Over Quality?

Further, quality goes hand-in-hand with cost.  The more technologically advanced a weapon system is, the more expensive it is.  Aside from the general stress on the budget the real impact of the cost-quality phenomenon is that the platforms become so expensive and advanced that we are loathe to risk them in the very combat situations for which they were designed.  The Air Force’s B-1 and B-2 bombers are a good example of this.  They have been used only sparingly, if at all, due to the risk while the B-52 continues to fly combat missions.

Taken to its logical conclusion, the Navy will eventually only need one supremely technically proficient ship.  Of course, if that ship happens to be in drydock when a crisis occurs …

In modern times the quantity concept has been applied by the former Soviet Union and now China.  While both countries have made every effort to introduce modern technology, both also recognize(d) the value of numbers. 

The Navy understood this concept in WWII but has forgotten it.  Today, lip service is paid to a numerically larger fleet (the 313 ship fleet) but every action demonstrates the opposite behavior.  Our ships are getting ever more expensive and, as a result, fewer in number.  Our fleet is shrinking, not growing.

The Navy needs to relearn the lesson:  Numbers Matter!


  1. I'm far from a defender of LCS - but I don't think you can make much of an argument against it based on quantity procured.

    My understanding is Navy plans to buy 55 LCS to replace 30 FFG, 14 MCM, and 12 MHC. So basically 55 to replace 56.

    I don't think it was ever intended as a replacement for PC - although that's probably a more adequate comparison of its capability than an FFG!

  2. Ditto to what Anonymous said. His numbers are correct.

  3. The LCS is replacing the entire Perry FFG class of 55 ships (FFG-7 through FFG-61) which are in the final stages of being replaced, the 14 ships of the Cyclone PC class, the 12 ships of the Osprey MHC class, and the 14 ships of the Avenger MCM class. So, the 55 LCS are replacing 95 ships.

    Actual numbers aside, the intent of my writing was that the functions of three classes of ships (the Perry's were multi-functional, remember) were being replaced by a single class that can only perform one function at a time.

    Consider, further, that the Navy's long range procurement plans call for 64 LCS modules (16 ASW, 24 MCM, 24 ASuW). So, in terms of ASW capability, at most 16 LCS are replacing the 55 Perry FFG's that could perform ASW. In terms of ASuW, at most 24 LCS are replacing the 55 Perry FFG and 14 Cyclone PC that could perform ASuW. MCM is a better situation with 24 LCS replacing 26 MCM/MHC. Of course, this assumes that the modules ever exist and that they are at least as functional as the capabilities they're replacing.

    Does that make things clearer?

  4. I've never actually seen an 'official explanation' for why the Navy is buying 55 LCSseaframes, but the hyperlink below is to an article by Naval War College professor Milan Vego. He states exactly what I said earlier:

    "The planned force of 55 LCSs is intended to replace 30 FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates and 26 coastal mine hunters (14 MCM-1 Avenger- and 12 MHC-51 Osprey-class)."

    I've never seen a reference to LCS replacing the 14 Cyclone patrol combatants. Not that this would surprise me - the LCS story changes daily! Do you have a source?

    1. I've never seen where the 55 seaframe number came from, either. It's probably an interesting story and there's probably no good operational rationale. My guess would be that it was a budget driven number!

      Regarding the replacement of the FFGs. Does it make sense to you that only 30 of the 55 FFGs are being "replaced" when all 55 are being retired? Why not just claim that only one FFG is being replaced and then the Navy can claim a net increase of 54 ships? This is simply the Navy's PR attempt at playing with numbers to try to show that the fleet is not getting smaller. The FFG class, all 55, are being replaced by the LCS class.

      Regarding the PC replacement claim, that was stated by then CNO Roughead in several speeches. I'll try to dig an exact reference out of my files. In the meantime, here's a reference by Combat Fleets of the World that also suggests this.

      I agree with you that there have been so many widely varying speeches, articles, and whatnot about the LCS that one can find almost anything about them!

    2. Here's another, less authoritative reference.

    3. Thanks for the info. The thought of LCS as a PC replacement is a new one to me!

      I'm pretty sure when they 'snapped the chalkline' on LCS, we were sitting at a force of 30 FFGs. We may never know for sure - the history is so muddled on this program.

      I personally think an LCS wouldn't be that bad - if it were about half its current price and we could build twice as many and afford some attrition.

  5. The quote supposedly came from Stalin.

  6. An issue I have with the Quantity vs. Quality debate is the actual influence of numbers in naval warfare. I would argue that numbers and capabilities are not actually opposing ideas. If numbers had an intrinsic capability all that would be needed are thousands of unarmed rowboats.

    Since that is obviously not the case, I would argue that numbers represent a unique capability that must be considered alongside other capabilities. For example, building multiple attack craft would allow the capability to attack from multiple directions whereas a single vessel would have the capability to stay at sea longer. Now the debate goes from quantity vs. quality to which quality is more desirable.

    Secondly, I don't believe the USAF's limited use of B-2's is caused by a fear of loosing them but rather because their high operating costs aren't worth incurring when the enemy has no means of defending himself from bombers. You will note that B-2's were among the first aircraft deployed in Libya because of that nation's numerous air defense weapons.

    1. You are correct that numbers alone do not have sufficient quality to overcome any mismatch. What we're discussing is numbers when there isn't too big a disparity in quality. For example, 100 F-16s would probably overwhelm 10 F-22s. I'm not suggesting that a hundred rowboats could take out a Burke (though the example of the Cole comes to mind!). I think you get the idea, here.

      Your comment about the B-2s being witheld due to operating cost exactly supports my blog point about the cost-quality phenomenon.

    2. My point was that I do not see numbers as having an intrinsic quality. While this is certainly understood subconsciously, I wanted to bring it into the front. In your example, what specific quality would allow 100 F-16's beat 10 F-22's and is that quality unique to superior numbers? If the quality can be identified then it may be possible to replicate it more cheaply.

      While the costliness of the B-2's is a point worth debating, the specific quote in your post that I was refuting said: "They have been used only sparingly, if at all, due to the risk." I simply don't believe that that is the case.

    3. The intrinsic quality is statistical probability, if you want to think of it that way. Sooner or later, the F-22 pilot is going to make a mistake or the F-16 is going to get lucky and the technologically inferior F-16 will get a kill. It only has to happen one out of ten times. That's just simple statisical probability. Of course, the closer the technology levels, the more likely the event. Does that make sense to you?

      Every book and article I've read about the B-2 discusses their extremely limited use. I'm aware of four conflicts they were used in and even in those their use was limited to very few sorties against extremely high value targets due to the cost/risk. If you have sources that suggest a much higher use rate, I'm completely open to re-evaluating this example. The concept, however, stands.

    4. When two forces of the same type meet it is a question of one vs. one odds and numbers, the problem with relying on probability arises when a far more capable force enters the picture. Probability begins to fail because such a force will not engage its foes in a manner that they can counter. In the given example, the F-22's do not get their superiority by outperforming the F-16's within the latters' combat regime, but by engaging from a range at which the F-16's cannot respond. Similar results occur when missile boats are sent against aircraft carriers or older tanks against modern tanks.

      Secondly, the real issues lie behind the simulation. What are the morale effects of loosing dozens of your forces to every one of the enemies? What if their superiority allows them to not face you forces directly but take an indirect approach instead? And finally, how cost effective can these cheaper forces be if so many must be purchased to prevail against so few?

      With regards to the B-2's, I am not claiming constant, widespread, usage. There are only 20 of them and they are expensive to operate. I am challenging your statement that they have been kept out of harm's way for fear of loosing them. As far as I can tell, the B-2's have been among the first aircraft on the scene in every substantial fight since their introduction.

  7. One of the things about numbers vs quality.

    10 F-22's couldnt beat 100 F-16/18. Why? Because i would have half of those numbers taking out your base of operations while your F-22's flew into a flurry of EW, Light fighters, and SAMS. Meanwhile my mobil forces are attacking your airbases or secondary targets. Pretty soon those 10 super fighters are worn down trying to keep up with the enemy who keeps hitting everywhere you arent. So you split up the lose 2 f22's and kill 15 of mine. But i just built 30 more....

    We have become a tactical military. One the large scale weak but on the short scale very strong. The problem is modern warfare calls for strategic and tactical superiority. The US military cannot fight a protracted war agaisnt a numericaly superior foe like china if that foe doesnt lose in the begining of the the first week.

  8. James, I think you're addressing the issue of attrition? You are correct that the US military in general, and the Navy in particular, has insufficient numbers to win a war of attrition. Good observation!

    Worse, unlike in WWII where Industrial America was able to rapidly build overwhelming numbers of new tanks, planes, and ships, our platforms have gotten so expensive and so complex that it would take 5 years, at least, before the first attrition replacement platforms could be produced. Well, we'll just hire more welders and build things faster, right? Unfortunately, the days of Rosie the Riviter are gone. Unskilled labor can no longer build the highly complex, electronics intensive platforms in our modern Armed Forces. That's why Numbers Matter at the start of a war - once attrition starts, nothing new is going to come along in time to matter.