We’re going to discuss ship design. Now I know that many of you are hunched over the keyboard ready to pound out a scathing reply the moment I suggest what gun to use (if it’s not your favorite!) or how many VLS cells to have (if it doesn’t agree with your idea). However, I’m not going to touch on any specifics. There’s a broader issue here.
In theory, ships are designed to meet a set of requirements which allow the ship to conduct a mission. Seems simple enough although the Navy has, lately, failed spectacularly to even define the missions for the ships that are being built let alone setting specific design requirements. We’ve discussed that at length and I won’t address it further, here. In conceptual terms, the designers apply various numbers and types of weapons, sensors, and characteristics so as to satisfy the requirements. The cost of the ship is then a simple sum of the parts plus the labor to build it (I’m grossly simplifying for illustrative purposes).
Of late, meaning the last few decades or so, the Navy’s ship designs have shown a marked tendency towards overdesign. Too many extraneous capabilities are being added that are not required to meet the ship’s intended purpose. This causes the cost to increase. With an unlimited budget, this may be acceptable. In tighter budget times, as we’re experiencing now, this is a problem.
Let’s look at an example. The Burke DDG, commonly hailed as a successful design, includes high end AAW, land attack (Tomahawk/VLS), anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and, for a while, mine countermeasures (MCM). As I said, most people consider this to be a highly successful design and we were able to pay for it so what’s the problem? Well, two things …
|Burke - Successful Design?|
Second, the more equipment and functions a ship has, the greater the size of the crew required to operate it. Consider ASW on a Burke. The ASW operators are carried at all times and yet the function is rarely used. That’s inefficient manning, at best, and serves to greatly increase the lifetime operating costs. If some other ship than the Burke were tasked with ASW we could eliminate most of the ASW operators, helo pilots, and aviation support crew as well as the crew that support them by providing mess, laundry, and similar functions. Quite a reduction!
OK, the point is, perhaps, somewhat valid, you say, but, hey, we already paid for the ships and having even a marginally competent capability is better than not having it, right? Those are sunk costs so no harm done, at this point, right? … Wrong! That approach has hurt the fleet badly and continues to do so.
Consider the Burke and what might have been. Suppose the Burke had been designed and built as an AAW platform with a credible but secondary land attack role; no ASW, no MCM, possibly not even a hangar (if you’re not doing ASW …). The resulting ship would have been somewhat smaller, hence cheaper, and had less crew since there would be no need for an ASW contingent or embarked aviation detachment. Let’s suppose, for sake of discussion, that the cost would have been 2/3 the actual cost. For a billion dollar ship (closer to $2B, now), the resulting savings would have been $300M. For the 70 ship run of Burkes, that’s $21B that could have gone towards small, specialized ASW vessels that we would be willing to risk in ASW. Thus, we could have had the same number of Burkes with their primary and secondary functions intact plus dozens of specialized ASW vessels.
Want to be even more extreme? Suppose the Burkes had been built with the New Threat Upgrade (NTU) instead of Aegis. We’d still have had highly capable AAW platforms (even more so when amplified by Co-operative Engagement Capability, CEC, linked to Aegis cruisers) with a credible land attack capability and even greater savings – meaning even more additional vessels.
Still not a believer? Consider the LCS with its 40+ knot speed requirement. That capability has added a great deal of cost and consumed huge amounts of internal volume and weight. All that despite the total lack of a tactical use for the speed. It was added to the design just to add more functionality – there was no tactical rationale.
Really? You’re still not seeing it? How about the Zumwalt? A $4B+ ship with an ASW function. Do you really believe we’re going to commit a $4B+ ship to something as risky as playing tag with a submarine? That’s a function that will never be used but has impacted size, cost, and manning.
We seen, then, that the Navy’s drive to load as many functions as possible onto a ship design is a false benefit. The secondary, and especially tertiary, functions are less effective and drive construction costs up as well as increasing manning.
The Navy needs to design ships that are capable of executing their main function and, perhaps, a secondary one but no more. The result will be more ships and more capabilities in the fleet at a cheaper cost and with smaller crews. Less is more!