Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CNO's Position Report 2012

I am great.  You are great.  The Navy is great.

At the risk of sounding like an episode of Star Trek, I've just summarized the Position Report for 2012 that has been released by CNO.  Those of you who enjoy a good sales brochure that says nothing specific ought to check it out.  Those who like actual and useful information ...  Move along.  Nothing to be seen here.  Return to your homes.

I report the existence of this document just for the sake of completeness.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Amphibious Connector Update

Here's a quick supplemental update to our previous post on amphibious ship to shore connectors.

Defense Industry Daily (1) maintains an ongoing article about the Navy’s future Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) hovercraft landing vehicle.  The SSC appears to be a beefed up version of the venerable LCAC.  Interesting tidbits from the article include:

  • Initial plans call for a build of 72 production craft
  • Specifications cite a 25 mile delivery range
  • Same length and beam as the LCAC
  • Textron (New Orleans) has a $213M contract to produce the first craft.  The contract includes design and training among other things so this is not a representative production price.  The contract includes options for up to 8 hovercraft at a total contract price of $570M ($71M each) which gives a better idea of the production cost.

SSC - LCAC's Successor

Note that the original LCAC production run was 91 compared to the planned run of 72 for the SSC.  Does this reflect a decreased emphasis on waterborne delivery, a recognition of fewer well deck capable ships (LHA-6, for instance) in the future, or something else?  On the face of it, the smaller production run suggests less waterborne assault capacity but I’m unsure what the Navy/Marines reasoning is.  Yet another program we'll be keeping an eye on.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ticonderoga Class Replacement

The Ticonderoga CG class Aegis cruisers are tasked with anti-air warfare (AAW) as their main function.  They provide area anti-air and missile protection using the combination of Aegis radar system and Standard missiles.  The ships of the class were built from 1980 -1994, making them 18-30 years old with a design life of 35 years.  The class is ready to begin retiring.  Indeed, the five non-VLS ships have already been retired and several others have been announced for retirement in 2013.

The Navy originally intended to replace the Ticos with the new CG(X) but that program has been cancelled.  It now appears that the DDG-51 Burke Flt III will be the Tico replacement with the new AMDR (Air and Missile Defense Radar) being substituted for the Aegis arrays.

Let’s take a closer look at the main capability of the AAW cruisers.  Looking strictly at missile capacity, the Ticos have 128 Mk41 VLS cells compared to the Burke’s 96.  That’s 25% less VLS capacity!  While it is possible to increase the length of the Flt III Burkes so as to accommodate more VLS cells, that does not appear to be the current stated intent of the Navy.  As reported in the recent CRS report (1) on the Navy’s destroyer programs,

“The Flight III DDGs will utilize the same hull and major systems as current Flight IIA DDGs including LM 2500 propulsion gas turbines, Mk 41 Vertical Launch System, Mk 45 five inch Gun Weapon System, Mk 15 Phalanx Weapon System (CIWS), AN/SQQ-89 Undersea Warfare System and Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control System. The principle dimensions and hull form will be unchanged from Flight IIA DDGs. The AN/SPY-1D(V) radar will be replaced with the AMDR-S radar and the ship’s power and cooling systems will be upgraded to support the new radars. The deckhouse will be modified to accept the new radar arrays.”  
[emphasis added]

Fewer VLS on the Ticonderoga Replacement?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with replacing a 128 cell AAW ship with a 96 cell one, however, the anti-air capacity, the vessel’s main function, will be significantly reduced.  That seems unwise for the primary AAW ship in the fleet.  If anything, more VLS cells ought to be added.  Of course, multiple ships could pool their weapons to compensate for the individual reductions.  Unfortunately, history and budget limitations have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that each class of ship is smaller than the one before it so this scenario is extremely unlikely to play out.  Instead, we appear headed towards fewer ships with reduced AAW capacity at the same time we’re headed towards a more challenging A2/AD (Anti-Access/Area Denial) requirement.  Does this make sense?

To be fair, there are no solid, published design specs for the Flt III yet so who knows what the VLS capacity will be.  However, without increasing the length of the Burke, it will be very difficult to squeeze more VLS cells into the design.

This is an issue worth keeping a close eye on.

(1) Congressional Research Service:  “Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O'Rourke, August 10, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012


A decade or two ago the Navy embarked on an ambitious stupid program of minimal manning intended to reduce one of the major costs associated with operating ships, the crew size.  Driven exclusively by financial spreadsheets, this effort totally ignored the impact on shipboard maintenance, onboard skillsets, morale, combat, and damage control.

Consider the example of the Perry class frigate, USS Stark (FFG-31), which was hit by two Iraqi Exocet missiles in 1987.  The initial hit caused 37 deaths and 21 injuries.  Only heroic damage control efforts by the crew kept the ship afloat.  Follow up interviews and reports made it clear that the number one attribute that saved the ship was the size of the crew - the number of bodies available to conduct damage control for an extended period.

Here's a list of the crew size for several surface warship classes, expressed as the ratio of crew to ship displacement - in other words, how many crew per ton of ship.  The higher the number, the larger the relative crew size. 

Perry FFG,     205 crew,   4200 t,   0.049 crew/ton
Burke DDG,    281 crew,   6900 t,   0.041
Ticonderoga,   400 crew,   9800 t,   0.041

Intuitively, one might expect the ratio to be a constant;  the expectation being that it takes a fairly constant number of crew per ton of ship to operate the ship.  Indeed, that appears to be the case with a constant ratio of 0.04 crew per ton of ship.

By comparison, here's the LCS core manning.

Freedom LCS,   40 crew,   3000 t,   0.013

That's a 67% drop in relative manning!  Admittedly, modern automation has reduced the crew requirements but that's still a huge drop.  One cannot help but wonder about the impact of such a drop on maintenance and fatigue levels.  Sure enough, the Navy acknowledged that the crew size was too small and has increased the core crew to 60 which gives the following,

Freedom LCS,   60 crew,   3000 t,   0.02

That's still half the traditional relative manning.  One is still left to wonder about the impact on combat operations and damage control.  There just won't be enough sailors to absorb combat casualties and conduct effective damage control.  Perhaps that's one reason why the LCS is not built to be survivable - because the Navy recognizes that the crew is insufficient to fight the ship and conduct damage control?  Still, treating a half billion dollar (or more with modules) ship as a throwaway is not exactly being fiscally responsible, is it?

Crew Size - More Important Than the Navy Realizes
 Well, presumably the Navy has learned it's lesson about minimal manning.  Before we conclude, though, let's look at the announced manning of the Zumwalt, DDG-1000, as reported in Wikipedia.

Zumwalt DDG,   142 crew,   14500 t,   0.01

That's 75% lower than traditional and 50% less than even the beefed up LCS!  Yikes!  Zumwalt will be the least manned ship in the fleet.  As with the LCS but even more so, one wonders about the ability of the crew to conduct combat operations, absorb casualties, and conduct effective damage control.  Does the Navy view a $4B, 600 ft, 14500 ton cruiser as a throwaway like the LCS?  Did the Navy really learn a lesson from the LCS, or not?

Now, let's be fair - the Navy may well increase the manning of the Zumwalt as they did with the LCS but let's also be fair and acknowledge that a one minute thought exercise about crew size would point out the absurdities of crew size this small.

In a peacetime world with no possibility of combat or damage, manning could be significantly reduced with no negative impact.  Merchant ships run with very small crews, for instance.  However, there's no such thing as peace - the Stark has hit during peacetime, as was the Cole.  Warships, as the name implies are built for combat and are always a moment away from combat and damage even in peacetime.

The Navy needs to start recognizing that they aren't a business trying to turn a profit.  They're a combat organization that doesn't lend itself to analysis by spreadsheet.  Come on, Navy, learn the lesson and man up!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why No Frigates?

A reader on the previous post posed the seemingly simple question,

Why isn’t the Navy building frigates? 

I’d like to take a shot a answering that.  The simple answer is that with the Navy firmly committed to the LCS, building frigates now would be an embarrassment and an admission of failure.  No way the Navy will consider new frigates, at this point.  I don’t think that even needs to be discussed further.

However, I think the reader is really asking why didn’t the Navy opt to build frigates back before the LCS program was irreversibly entrenched?  There must have been a point in time when the LCS was just a drawing and the Navy could have gone either way.  What made them choose the LCS over the frigate? 

Before I go any further, let me say that aside from a few conversations with people connected with the Navy but not in any significantly relevant position to answer the question, I have no inside information as to what the Navy’s thinking was.  In other words, this post is just speculation.

Further, I’m largely opposed to the LCS and highly critical of the way the program has been executed.  That said, I’m going to attempt to answer the question as objectively as I can.

On with the answer …

Let’s go back in time to around the late 1990s or so when the LCS was still just a concept.  The Perry class FFGs were in the final third of their lifespan, budgets were beginning to feel the pinch of fiscal reality, shipbuilding costs were escalating out of control, and people were questioning the Navy’s mission since the Cold War was over and China was not yet taken seriously as a naval competitor.

Why No Frigates?

The Navy was very concerned about their share of the defense budget.  With no readily recognizable naval enemy on the horizon, the Navy was deathly afraid that their slice of the defense budget pie would shrink.  Studies and papers were commissioned to attempt to spell out and “sell” the role and importance of the Navy.  Unfortunately, the Navy failed to convey a convincing rationale for continued huge expenditures on new ships.  It looked as if the fleet was going to shrink.  What to do?

The Navy’s solution was to put forth a new enemy.  Of course, there was no actual, specific enemy but that didn’t matter.  Lacking an actual enemy, the Navy came up with “LITTORAL” – a vague place that the non-specific enemy would reside and create all kinds of havoc.  Thus, the Navy reasoned, they could sell Congress on more ships if they pushed the idea of a magical LITTORAL combat ship that could do things that no other ship could do.  We’ve already debunked that idea in previous posts but at that time it was a simple public relations exercise to push the LCS as the savior that would do battle with the littoral monster.  Thus, the LCS was born rather than a frigate which Congress might reject, citing all the existing Perrys and the cheapness of upgrades relative to new construction.

Further, I think the Navy convinced themselves that the LCS was going to be the new age frigate.  Indeed, on paper (or Powerpoint, as the case may be!) the LCS was going to be an effective MCM, ASW, ASuW platform able to transform from one role to the next in a matter of hours.  Of course, none of those paper technologies and capabilities panned out and now we have neither a frigate nor the envisioned LCS.

The insightful reader will note the zeal with which the Navy went about retiring and giving away Perry FFGs once the decision was made to go the LCS path.  Skeptics among us might suspect that that was done to pre-empt the possibility of Congress or critics suggesting that the Perrys be upgraded.  You may recall the way the entire Spruance class was Sinkex’ed to eliminate possible competition with the Aegis program.

So, there’s your answer as to why we aren’t building frigates.  The failure of the LCS is so blatantly obvious, at this point, that one can’t help but wonder where the Admiral Harvey of the LCS is.  Where’s the Admiral who will stand up and say that the Emperor LCS has no clothes and that a basic frigate would better serve the Navy and the Nation?

Monday, October 15, 2012

More LCS Spin

I continue to be dismayed, disappointed, and disgusted by the statements that come from Navy leadership.  The latest example is a passionate yet misleading defense by Rear Adm. John Kirby, US Navy Chief of Information (2), in response to a post criticizing the LCS, written by John Sayen, Lt. Col. USMC(Ret), for Time (1).  Links to both posts are available in the footnotes at the end.

The disappointment starts with the Adm. Kirby’s opening statement in which he complains that Mr. Sayen’s criticism is based on “old, misconstrued or simply bad information”.  Certainly, there are a lot of misconceptions floating around about the LCS.  However, the Navy is doing nothing to dispel them.  Accurate, up to date information is hardly forthcoming from the Navy.  What little information the Navy volunteers is just public relations spin.

Following are several of the specifics of Mr. Sayen’s comments and Adm. Kirby’s responses.  Let’s see which party was the more factual.

Mr. Sayen charges that the LCS program has been manipulated by the Navy to make it too big to fail so as to protect the program from possible cancellation.

Adm. Kirby’s response:

“That’s a pretty bold charge…and unfair. He’s basically saying we tried to steamroll the system to get what we want, to get so deep into a program that no lawmaker or leader would dare shut it down.

Actually, selecting both designs was the consequence of trying to encourage competition between the two builders and drive costs down. And we succeeded. We saved $2.9 billion in projected procurement costs, enough to buy five more LCSs, a DDG, and a Mobile Landing Platform.

By awarding two contracts for 10 ships each, we will be able to better analyze the two variants in fleet service, build up fleet numbers faster than expected, and save a bundle. And we always retain the option to down select to one variant should circumstances dictate.

Never did we have anything but the taxpayers’ — and our national — interests foremost in mind.”
Kirby’s response actually has little to do with the charge.  As it happens, the Navy has, at best, been guilty of some highly questionable manipulations such as presenting Congress with options at the very last moment so that Congress had no time to render due consideration.  For instance, a Congressional Research Service report (3) states,

“… the timing of the Navy’s announcement nevertheless put Congress in the position of being asked to approve a major proposal for the LCS program—a proposal that would determine the basic shape of the acquisition strategy for the program for many years into the future—with little or no opportunity for formal congressional review and consideration through hearings and committee markup activities.

A shortage of time for formal congressional review and consideration would be a potential oversight issue for Congress for any large weapon acquisition program, but this might have been especially the case for the LCS program, because it was not be the first time that the Navy put Congress in the position of having to make a significant decision about the LCS program with little or no opportunity for formal congressional review and consideration. As discussed in previous CRS reporting on the LCS program, a roughly similar situation occurred in the summer of 2002, after Congress had completed its budget-review hearings on the proposed FY2003 budget, when the Navy submitted a late request for the research and development funding that effectively started the LCS program.”
Examination of the Navy’s timing of submissions to Congress does, quite clearly, suggest that the Navy manipulated Congress, essentially forcing them into a corner with little choice but to agree thus creating a program “too big to fail”.

Also, consider Kirby’s statement that the $2.9B savings (a highly suspect claim but let’s go with it for the sake of further discussion!) represent enough to build “five more LCSs, a DDG, and a Mobile Landing Platform”.  The LCS costs around $0.5B each even using the Navy’s convoluted cost accounting methods which translates to $2.5B for five more LCSs.  The last DDG-51 built cost around $1.9B.  I have no idea what a Mobile Landing Platform costs.  The total for the ships Kirby claims could be purchased is around $5B.  Note that Kirby claimed that all the ships could be built from the savings, not that one or the other could.  Kirby’s claim is not only wrong by a wide margin, it’s an out and out lie.

Mr. Sayen stated that the LCS program had experienced cost overruns resulting in a doubling of the price tag per ship.

Adm. Kirby’s response:

“Yes, there has definitely been cost growth. Can’t deny that. The Navy initially established an objective cost of $250 million per ship and a threshold cost of $400 million per ship (seaframe and mission modules included). The first two seaframes of the class, which were both research and development ships of two different variants, cost $537 million (LCS 1) and $653 million (LCS 2), respectively.

But that was then. This is now. We have 20 LCSs under fixed price contracts. The average price for LCS will be below the congressionally mandated cost cap.

And the tenth ship of each production run will beat the cost cap by several tens of millions of dollars. That will allow us to inject added capabilities, if desired or required, without breaking the bank—just as we have done in the Arleigh Burke DDG program for the past 20 years.

On balance, for the LCS’s size and capability, we believe the Navy — and the taxpayers –are getting one heck of a bargain.”
Mr. Sayen was being quite generous with his accusation that the LCS had only doubled in cost.  The original cost estimate was $200M per ship which quickly grew to $250M and then on up to around $600M for the first two.  That’s more like tripling in cost!

Further, the Navy has engaged in out and out fraud regarding the cost of the LCS.  The fixed price contracts for the LCS are for the empty seaframe (the hull) only.  The sensors, weapons, electronics, and most other equipment is being provided as “government supplied equipment” from another account line which has never been made public, as far as I know.  The modules which are essential to the LCS are being paid from yet another account line and range in price from around $30M for the ASuW module which has nothing in it, at the moment, to around $200M for modules closer to the envisioned final products.  Thus, the true cost of the LCS is the seaframe ($500M) plus government supplied equipment ($200M??) plus module ($30M to $200M).  This gives a low end cost of around $730M and on up to $900M for a fully outfitted ship.  And yet the Navy tries to make us believe that the LCS costs only around $400M (the original contracted seaframe cost unadjusted for inflation). 

Also, the “fixed” price contracts aren’t really fixed, at all.  The contracts contain language allowing the contractor to recover some or all of any cost overruns.  This was added because both the contractors and the Navy knew they couldn’t build the LCS for the stated amounts. 

The Navy’s statements about cost border on fraud.

Mr. Sayen notes that the LCS has been rated as not survivable in a hostile environment.

Adm. Kirby’s response:

“Like all warships, LCS is built to fight. It’s built for combat.

Nobody ever said this ship can — and no engineer can ever design a ship to — withstand every conceivable threat on the sea. But the LCS is significantly more capable than the older mine counter measure ships and patrol craft it was designed to replace, and stands up well to the frigates now serving in the fleet.

It is fast, maneuverable, and has low radar, infrared, and magnetic signatures. Its core self-defense suite is designed to defeat a surprise salvo of one or two anti-ship cruise missiles when the ship is operating independently, or leakers that get through fleet area and short-range air defenses when operating with naval task forces.

Its 57mm gun is more than capable of taking out small boats and craft. Its armed helicopter gives the LCS an over-the-horizon attack capability and is lethal against submarines. LCS will stand outside of minefields and sweep them with little danger to its crew—and be able to defend itself while doing so. The ship has extensive automated firefighting systems and can remain afloat after considerable flooding damage.   

We’re more than comfortable that the ship can fight and defend itself in a combat environment, especially when acting in concert with larger multi-mission cruisers and destroyers, exactly as we designed it to do.”
The Navy, itself, has stated that the LCS cannot survive in a hostile environment.  Further, a Congressional Research Services report also makes that exact statement.  According to the Navy, the LCS has been designed to survive a hit long enough for the crew to safely abandon ship.

The LCS appears to have been designed to Level 1 standards which is what non-combatants are designed for.  In fact, there is some doubt that the LCS even meets those minimal standards.

Adm. Kirby’s statements are, at best, a case of excessive spin coupled deliberate attempts to mislead.  Most of his response discusses offensive operations rather than survivability. 

Mr. Sayen states that the LCS modules have proven to require many days or weeks to swap out.

Adm. Kirby’s response:

“Each LCS will deploy with the Mission Package (MP) required to accomplish directed missions. If a commander directs a mission package swap, equipment staging and personnel movement will be planned and coordinated in advance.

The physical swap of mission package equipment can occur, as advertised, in less than 96 hours … just like we “originally envisaged.” Getting the ship ready for a new mission may take a little longer. But the fact is this ship is more flexible than any in the fleet.

Consider this: with three crews assigned to every two LCS hulls, the Navy will keep 50% of the entire LCS fleet deployed or ready for tasking. That means up to 27 ships might be “out and about” at any given time, with a mix of anti-submarine, anti-surface, and counter mine mission packages already aboard. With the LCS’s high speed, this force will be able to quickly concentrate in any theater with exactly the right packages needed for the job. When coupled with the ability to change out modules in theater, you have an extremely agile force.”
The Navy’s own studies have demonstrated that the LCS’s design goal of rapidly swappable modules won’t be achieved and that swap out times will be on the order of many days to weeks.  This is simple fact as reported in publicly released Navy reports.  Again, Kirby’s response is highly misleading.

Adm. Kirby concludes his response to Mr. Sayen:

“I thank Mr. Sayen for his interest. I really do. And I hope we can have a conversation with him moving forward. I don’t mind the criticism. I just want the opportunity to help inform it. 

I don’t expect the LCS debate to cease anytime soon. As I said, I welcome it. It’s healthy for us and for the country. But I do expect the criticism to be based on facts — current, relevant facts.”
Well, Adm. Kirby, you could start by “informing” the discussion with factually correct information, yourself.   Mr. Sayen’s comments were generally on the money and your responses were factually-challenged and deliberately misleading.  The Navy complains about the people criticizing their programs and yet fails to offer useful and accurate information, preferring instead to spin and lie even in the face of their own comments to the contrary.

(2)Navy Live: http://navylive.dodlive.mil/2012/10/10/lcs-lets-talk-facts/, Rear Adm. John Kirby, US Navy Chief of Information, 10-Oct-12

(3)Congressional Research Service, Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program:
Background, Issues, and Options for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, April 6, 2012, p.61

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Long Range Antiship Missile (LRASM) Update

We previously discussed the Navy's developmental Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) during a brief discussion of future anti-ship missiles.  This month's Proceedings (1) has a short update article about the progress of the LRASM.  The LRASM is intended to be a subsonic, long range, autonomously targeting missile.  According to the article, the missile's target recognition sensor suite has been tested and "exceeded all objectives".  Of course, I think that exact quote has been used to describe every weapons program ever tested despite the fact that most turn out to be failures, ultimately!

Regardless, the most interesting tidbit from the article is a statement that the missile will use an electro-optical (EO) sensor for terminal target identification and precision targeting.  Why is this interesting?  If EO is the only terminal targeting sensor, this suggests a recognition on the part of the designers that radar/IR jamming and decoys are too effective to be worth "dueling" with.  In other words, why continue to put ever bigger, more powerful anti-jamming counter-measures electronics into missiles when a much less susceptible EO sensor will work (assuming it works!).  A note of caution, as you read this - the article doesn't explicitly state that there won't be a terminal radar and/or IR seeker - however, it only describes the EO sensor.

In the bigger picture, this suggests a recognition by the Navy that jamming in all forms is a serious and growing threat.  The Navy has already acknowledged that the GPS system is susceptible and the features of the LRASM acknowledge that mid-course guidance communications and remote targeting will be unreliable in a jamming environment - hence, the autonomous nature of the LRASM.  Of course, this relates to our previous discussion of BVR (Beyond Visual Range) issues.  Will the Navy be willing to use an autonomous targeting anti-ship missile in a crowded environment and trust that it won't incorrectly target a friendly/neutral/civilian ship?

On a closely related note, the recognition of the effectiveness of jamming has huge implications for UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) development efforts.  How will UAVs operate if their remote command links are electronically interrupted?  The future of the Navy, we're lead to believe, is UAVs of various types and yet the foundation of UAVs is command communications which are susceptible to jamming.  That issue is going to have to be addressed before the Navy moves too far along the UAV path.  But, I digress ...

I'm pleased to see the Navy moving on with development of a more capable anti-ship missile and recognizing the real difficulties the weapon will face.  I'll be watching this one closely.

(1) Naval Institute Proceedings, "Antiship Missile Moves Toward Flight Test", Edward Walsh, October 2012, p.86

Friday, October 12, 2012

Letter of Marque and Reprisal

On occasion, I'll offer a recommendation for a book if it concerns the Navy and offers some insight into naval matters.  Such a book is Balance of Power by James Huston (Avon Books, 1998, ISBN: 0-380-73159-2).  The plot involves a terrorist confrontation in Indonesian waters.  What makes the book noteworthy is that it postulates the use of a Letter of Marque and Reprisal, issued by Congress to an American carrier battle group in order to authorize and force retaliatory action when the President refuses to take action after American citizens are killed and an American merchant ship is sunk.

For those who might not be familiar with it, a Letter of Marque was, historically, a document issued by a government to an armed merchant ship authorizing the ship to seize enemy ships on behalf of the government.  The ability to issue a Letter of Marque is one of the enumerated powers of Congress specifically granted by the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 8.  While no longer used, the power still resides in the Constitution, never having been repealed.  Indeed, use of a Letter of Marque was brought up in Congress as recently as the 9/11 attacks and again in 2007 though in neither case was it acted upon.

The book examines the concept of a Letter of Marque as applied to a modern setting.  It notes that in the absence of armed merchantmen the Letter is issued to a Navy carrier battle group.  While this was not the traditional application, nothing specifically prohibits it.  The book explores the legal aspects, though not in depth, as well as the dilema confronting the Admiral of the carrier group who is presented with the Letter as well as an order from the President to stand down and must choose which to obey.  Even without the plot twist of the Letter, the book is a good naval action story and well worth reading.

In addition to the specific issue of the Letter of Marque, the book prompts a consideration of the role of Congress relative to that of the President in declaring war and operating the military.  I think it's safe to say that few would argue that the Presidency has co-opted Congress' power to regulate war ever since the Korean War.  This is a power and responsibility that Congress has shamefully abdicated with the result that the Presidency now has virtually unlimited ability to wage war.  Congress needs to reassert its authority and re-establish the balance of power between the branches of government.

Do yourself an enjoyable favor and read this book!

Disclaimer:  I have absolutely no connection whatsoever with any person or company associated with this book.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Off the Shelf Warship

The Navy loves to build new ship classes that push the technology envelope.  The LCS, DDG-1000, Burke Flt III, and Ford class CVN, among others, all incorporate advanced and unproven technology.  Unfortunately, history has shown that that approach results in cost and schedule overruns along with excessively long lead times due to drawn out R&D requirements.  Certainly, new technology has to be incorporated into the fleet periodically but what’s wrong with building an off-the-shelf (OTS) ship class, especially to increase numbers and fill the lower end of the mission spectrum?  Why not design a ship that uses nothing but existing technology?  Remember, existing technology doesn’t have to mean obsolete technology.  Consider the Mk41 VLS, the Mk45 5” gun, TRS-3D radar, RAM, ESSM, and so on.  Those are state of the art technologies that have many years of service life still ahead of them.  Sure, some of those technologies may not remain state of the art for the next 30 years but so what?  Especially if the OTS concept is applied to low end ship designs, no one would reasonably expect that the ship would have a 30+ year lifespan and if OTS can give us a true low cost platform, who cares if it doesn’t last 30+ years?

I don’t have access to line item construction cost breakdowns for Navy ships so I don’t really know the impact that OTS could have but from the scattered costs that I’m aware of it seems pretty clear that we could build significantly cheaper low end OTS ships.

VLS - Nothing New Here!

Consider a frigate-ish ship of 300-500 feet in length with a small VLS, 5” gun, Harpoon, TRS-3D, RAM, towed array, and so on.  This would be a balanced, capable, low end ship using nothing but proven components.  R&D costs would be non-existent, on a relative basis, and construction costs ought to be on the order of an LCS or even less, if the Navy would apply some fiscal and programmatic discipline.  In short, an OTS approach offers the possibility of a modern, useful, cheap ship that could be built quickly and in numbers.

The “built quickly” aspect is particularly important.  New naval ship classes suffer from very long lead times from concept to construction which results in rapidly mounting costs and borderline obsolescence by the time they reach fleet service.  This is simply a result of trying to design, develop, test, and incorporate brand new, unproven technologies.  It’s unavoidable, in fact.  Contrast that to an OTS design.  There’s nothing new.  Nothing to be developed.  Nothing to test and prove.  It’s just an exercise in where to mount the equipment.  A competent ship designer ought to be able to take an OTS design from concept to construction in six months;  a year at most.  That, alone, would save significant amounts of money.

We don’t need to continually build cutting edge, futuristic ships.  Let’s occasionally build just a basic, modern, competent warship.  Sometimes, that’s all that’s needed. 

Where Is The Royal Navy?

This is a US Navy blog, however, I’m going to wander just a bit afield for this post.  I’d like to discuss the Royal Navy, their purpose, and their relationship to the US Navy from a US perspective.  I know there are a lot of readers of this blog who hail from the other side of the pond and I both welcome and thank them.  I’d also like to challenge them just a bit.

Despite being a born US citizen, I grew up on stories of England’s Royal Navy along with the exploits of the US Navy.  Nelson, the great fleets of WWI, the sinking of the Bismarck, the Battle of the Atlantic, and even the Falklands conflict were the stuff of inspiration and pride in our closest ally.

As I move into this discussion, please understand that I am not, by any means, an expert on the Royal Navy.  I am not well informed about fleet matters and I’m not intimately familiar with numbers and types of ships or their capabilities.  So, please grant me a bit of leeway in this discussion.  What you’re going to read is my perception of the state of affairs of the Royal Navy and some of what I’ll say may be incorrect, as a result.  Don’t hesitate to challenge my perception.  That’s kind of the point of this particular post.  So, to get on with it …

Global Force or Home Waters?

I’m a little bothered (no, let’s be fair – I’m greatly bothered) by the trend I see in the Royal Navy.  The Navy seems to have abdicated its role as a global force and appears to be trending rapidly to a home waters defense force.  From what I gather, the Royal Navy would be hard-pressed even to muster an equivalent to the Falklands force today.  I’m puzzled by this trend.  It’s not as if Britain’s strategic interests or territorial possessions have diminished over the last decade or two.  If anything, her strategic interests have increased in importance (oil, for example) and vulnerability (piracy and terrorism, for example) which ought to dictate an increase in global capability, not a decrease.

Readers, what does Britain see, strategically, that suggests a decreased global posture is appropriate?

Attempting to answer my own question, I suspect that simple budgetary constraints are driving the trend rather than a strategic vision.  My impression is that Britain has opted for social investments at the expense of global defense capability.  If so, I can certainly sympathize – the US is headed down that very path.

Moving on …  What about the Royal Navy’s relation to the US Navy?  If the Royal Navy can’t provide the extent of global coverage it needs, is partnering with the US Navy a solution?  While the Royal Navy and the US Navy have a long history of co-operation would it be in each others interests to formally enter a naval partnership?  Both organizations have readily identifiable gaps in their capabilities that the other could fill.

The Royal Navy lacks aircraft carriers, amphibious force, and simple numbers of all types of ships.  These are all things that the US Navy has.  The US Navy, on the other hand, lacks ASW, mine countermeasures, offensive mine warfare, and small patrol vessels.  ASW, in particular, is an area the Royal Navy has prided itself on.  Could the two navies fill each other’s gaps? 

In other words, should the Royal Navy abandon any pretense at maintaining a carrier force and simply allow the US to fill that need?  In return, the Royal Navy could focus on ASW which is a capability that the US has allowed to atrophy to the point of embarrassment.  And so on with the other capabilities …

Of course, this approach would require unwavering political support both ways so that each country could trust that the other would respond in time of need.  Realistically, though, the two countries have always supported each other and it’s inconceivable that either would allow the other to come to harm so I don’t see this as a major issue.  A simple, two-country NATO-ish agreement is all that’s required.  The bigger issue is whether either country would admit to, and allow, a permanent shortcoming in their naval force structure.  Failure to do so, however, means continued shortcomings whether admitted or not.

Talk to me readers.  How do you see things from the other side of the pond?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS)

Here’s a little-known system that is critical to Navy ship survivability and yet is struggling to achieve effective and reliable operation – the Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS).  SSDS is intended to be the self-defense weapons control system for all carriers, amphibious ships, and LCS.  The system comprises software and networking which links existing, legacy sensors to existing and new weapons.  Supported weapons include, notably, Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) and Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM).  In concept, any sensor or any weapon can be added to the system through software modifications.

In their 2011 Annual Report, DOT&E stated the following.

“… the ability to effectively complete the self-defense mission against the types of threats for which the overall system was designed has not been successfully demonstrated. In addition, reliability problems further degrade the ships’ ability to complete this mission.”
ESSM - Part of a Troubled System

Several ship classes including the LPD-17 and CVN-68 carriers have been evaluated as unable to meet their self-defense requirements.  This doesn’t mean that the system is totally inoperable, only that aspects of the threat spectrum can’t be reliably countered, as yet.  For instance, the report describes the CVN-68 problems,

“The CVN-68 ship class combat system has several problems that keep it from successfully completing the ship self-defense mission. Specific problems include deficiencies in weapon employment timelines, sensor coverage, system track management, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) SeaSparrow Missile System performance, as well as deficiencies with the recommended engagement tactics provided for use against multiple ASCM threat classes.”
One of the common and continued problems is that the physical placement of some of the legacy sensors has proven to be sub-optimal, leading to detection difficulties in some scenarios. 

One of the major issues identified in the report is a lack of realistic threat surrogates which will allow meaningful testing.  This is a several year, standing criticism/recommendation to the Navy from DOT&E.  We’ve covered this general issue in multiple posts.  I find it disturbing that year after year the Navy somehow finds the funds to build new ships but makes little or no attempt to field realistically performing threat drones so as to test and develop the self-defense systems that will keep the new ships afloat.  The Navy’s internal priority is new construction at the expense of maintenance, training, testing, and so on.  Navy leadership has their priorities completely ass-backwards and they desperately need to wake up as Adm. Harvey urged in his farewell note to the fleet.

DOT&E issued a classified report to Congress on the SSDS program in March of 2011 describing details of the problems.

This is one of those posts about which I have no meaningful analysis beyond the Navy’s scrambled priorities.  Consider this simply interesting information that is worth keeping an eye on because it is the backbone of so many ships.