Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Future Navy - Part 2

We previously looked at what the future Navy will look like based on the current trends, funding, and direction.  As we said, not a pretty picture.  Worse, though, is that the future Navy would appear to be ill equipped to deal with the foreseeable threats.  We can reasonably anticipate massive mine warfare challenges, Anti-Access/Area Denial threats, very long distance engagements, expanded submarine warfare, and deep penetration strikes, among other threats and requirements.  That leads to the question, what should the Navy of the future look like?  Forget about budget issues for the moment.  Just from a pure requirements point of view, what platforms, equipment, and capabilities should the future Navy have?  This is a chance to engage in out and out speculation.

In no particular order, here are some platforms, equipment, and capabilities I’d like to see our future Navy have.  Note that these are just “fun” concepts in some cases.  For this exercise, I don’t particularly care about the practical realities, budget constraints, or, within limits, the technical difficulties.  I say within limits so as to rule out invisibility, anti-gravity, photon torpedoes, and other simply ridiculous ideas.  The ideas that follow are reasonably achievable while still being unconstrained by an overemphasis on reality.  I don’t have rail guns or lasers on the list because they’re already being developed but, honestly, I almost rank them as ridiculous, at least for the next few decades.

Expanded SSGN Force.  The submarine is the ultimate in stealth and will continue so for the foreseeable future.  We should take advantage of that and expand our deep penetration strike capability by not only replacing the soon to be retired SSGNs but adding to their numbers.  There is no more survivable and potent attack platform than the SSGN.

Tactical Anti-Ship and Land Attack IRBMs.  China is continuing development of Intermediate Range Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (IRBM’s).  These large, powerful, supersonic ballistic missiles will present a difficult to defeat threat.  We should develop our own and add a land attack version as well.  Some might argue that IRBMs are too risky to use because they might be interpreted as a nuclear attack.  Of course, the Chinese have already clearly indicated that they have no compunction about using IRBMs so why should we hesitate?  This will give us a much needed, very long range anti-surface and land attack capability.

Midway Sized Carriers.  Air Wings are getting ever smaller and the aircraft are not very large.  We don’t need Ford sized carriers that cost $15B apiece.  Midway size carriers (small carriers by today’s standard!) can accommodate a modern air wing at a fraction of the cost.

Battleship Armored LSTs.  Currently, we have no good means of landing an assault force safely.  Heavily armored LST craft can transport large numbers of troops and, more importantly, heavy equipment directly to the beach with safety.  LSTs armored to battleship standards would be able to resist any artillery or missiles short of giant supersonic cruise/ballistic missiles.  Add in purpose built anti-mine armor and you’ve got as safe a means of delivering an assault force as possible.

Very Long Range Fighters and Strike Aircraft.  We’re anticipating 1000 nm or greater A2/AD zones.  Land attack and anti-surface warfare is going to have to be conducted over vast distances.  We need 1000+ nm range strike, fighter, and EW aircraft in order to operate effectively in the Pacific theatre.

Exo-Atmospheric Strike UAVs.  Where’s the safest place for an aircraft in future combat?  Well, that would be the same place ballistic missiles go – to the edge of the atmosphere or beyond.  Why not develop strike UAVs that can follow a ballistic path on their way to their targets?

Expanded SSN Force.  Submarines are the ultimate in stealth and it’s one of the growth areas for our enemies.  We should be expanding the size of the SSN force.

Submarine-Based MCM and Mine Warfare.  One of the problems plaguing mine countermeasures platforms is that they’re vulnerable to attack while performing their task.  Why not develop dedicated submarine based MCM vessels.  The Navy is moving towards remote unmanned underwater MCM vehicles anyway.  Simply size the vehicles to launch from a submarine torpedo tube (or develop a dedicated, larger launch “tube”) and let subs do the work.  This would also offer the advantage that the enemy would not know if their minefield was being cleared.  We also need to add much greater offensive mining capability than we currently have.  Dedicated submarine mine warfare vessels would fill both offensive and defensive needs.

Submarine “Aircraft” and “Carriers” for ASW.  OK, here’s my fanciful one!  I could see a use for the undersea equivalent of aircraft to conduct ASW.  Specifically, one-man craft that would be launched and used much like airplanes.  Each would carry 2-4 torpedoes and a small sonar suite.  Employed like aircraft, they would perform CAP and search-and-destroy against enemy subs.  A specialized “carrier” would operate the craft.  Cool, huh?!

"Fighter" Sub

Long Loiter UAV Comm Relays.  In a major conflict, we’re going to lose our satellite communications.  We need a long loitering UAV communications relay that can be deployed as needed to make up the loss.  We’re developing all kinds of UAVs that are going to be lost without secure communications.  This is an inherent weakness in UAVs that I hope the Navy is recognizing and addressing.

As I said, some of these ideas are practical and just amount to rebalancing current capabilities, some are logical developments of existing technology and would be quite practical, and some are just fanciful ideas for fun.  Have some fun and feel free to describe your own pet ideas or practical developments that will address the foreseeable needs.


  1. Fun topic. Responses,

    Expand SSGN force: Meh. SSGNs based on SSBNs are MASSIVELY expensive, and they can’t hold a candle to long-ranged bombers in delivery of cruise missiles over the course of a conflict. They fire their 150 odd cruise missiles and then are worthless until they sneak home for a reload and come back. Eight B-52s can deliver the same war load in a single sortie, then turn around and do it again a day or two later. They are a handy first strike weapon, but VPM tubes on enlarged Virginias can get you part way there.

    IRBMs: Hmm. Not sure about this. Given a new air and ship launched cruise missile and the rest of our PGM inventory I think we’re ok with anti-ship munitions. IRBMs are an expensive way to attack a limited set of land targets, but could be useful for fleeting “targets of opportunity”.

    Midway-sized carrier: I’m on board. I’ve proposed building a carrier along the lines of the French PA2 on a number of occasions. Just make sure it’s conventional. Buy Fords not Ferraris.

    Battleship Armored LSTs: Not a fan for a number of reasons. First is price, which drives down numbers. This reduces the amount of troops and equipment you can land, which is the primary point of an LST. Second is size, battleship armor weighs a lot. This will limit the number of beaches this ship could land on, again defeating its primary purpose. I’d go with more numbers over more armor.

    Very Long Range Fighters and Strike Aircraft: The Navy desperately needs a long-range, top-end strike fighter. I don’t know about 1000+nm, but 800nm definitely. It needs F-22-level stealth and performance though. F-35C is a wheezer. This aircraft needs to not only strike targets, but clear the air for other USAF and Navy strike systems.

    Exo-Atmospheric Strike UAVs: Hmm. Sounds like an interesting long term goal, but will be pricey.

    Expanded SSN Force: Sounds good in theory, but how to pay for it? Virginia SSNs are coming in at $2.8+ billion and growing. I’d really like to see the Tango Bravo program bear fruit and allow us to build a ~5k ton, <$2 billion SSN with similar capabilities.

    Submarine-Based MCM and Mine Warfare: We are doing this, but again SSNs are expensive. Maybe a good use for an SSK? Still expensive, but less so. MCM cries out for numbers because it’s such slow work. So developing an inexpensive surface ship (not LCS) that can take an MCM module may be needed too.

    Submarine “Aircraft” and “Carriers” for ASW: Not sure about this. Small subs are VERY limited in payload, range, endurance and speed. Large UUVs might make more sense.

    Long Loiter UAV Comm Relays: Makes sense and we are building/investigating these.

    I’ll throw out some of my pet ideas later.

    1. B.Smitty, you did catch the repeated mentions in the post that budget constraints were not part of this, right? ; )

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Understood, but since numbers are central to the overall capability discussion, I have a hard time putting aside budget. Capability, numbers and budget are inextricably linked

      For example, if a single battleship-armored, nuclear-powered, railgun-armed monster ship eats 80% of your budget, you won't be able to buy enough to make it worthwhile.

    4. B.Smitty, you also caught the word "fun" in the post, right? This is the leave-the-fiscal-reality-behind moment. You've been following my posts for some time. You know that I'm a huge believer in fiscal responsibility and painfully aware of the impact that has on procurement plans but this is the just-for-fun post.

      Loosen up and throw out your ideas!!!

      From a practical perspective, this is how the military should be thinking about things. They should be asking this very question - what do we need to meet future capability gaps? - and, as an initial pass, putting forth exactly this type of unconstrained answers. From the list of unconstrained solutions they would then decide which are technically feasible, which are affordable, and so on which would then lead to actually moving ahead with some. But, we're stopping at just the unconstrained, fun part of the process!

      Did you read the Tom Swift books as a child? This is that moment!

    5. If we're going to go no budget, then the best solution to the LST problem is a shallow submersible solution. Just need to be able to stay at ~25-50m below surface and you're pretty much immune to everything outside of depth charges and torpedoes.

      As far as Exo-Atmospheric UAVs, we already actually have those, we just to our knowledge haven't fitted them out with weapons: X37.

    6. ats, fascinating idea for a submersible LST! That would also eliminate some of the dibilitating surface effects (rocking/seasickness). Would it be shaped like a submarine or more like a surface ship? I assume it would surface just short of the beach and discharge from the bow?

    7. Realistically it would likely be shaped somewhat like the Soviet SSBNs, that rectangular with rounded corners shape. I'm imagining it basically surfacing at the beach or right before it and the front opening for vehicles/etc to come out. Max depth as I said would be relatively shallow do the pressures involved would be pretty reasonable.

    8. SSGN? Why the need for nuclear? These are some kind of sneaky arsenal ship. You can make them cheaper by going conventional and stealthy. The SSG will profit from UAV with long loiter time that transmit information. Additional this ship is for inserting commandos that direct the explosive effect on the right spot and exploit the opportunities it creates. A guided missile submarine works best with commandos and these need mobility, thus delivery with motorization or at least bicycles is very important. The bombers can outgun the SSGN, but they do not have the same integration with commandos and can not approach as close. This leads to the next issue, the missiles don't need outstanding range, because they operate within the radius of the commando. Less range can be traded for cheaper delivery systems that are not cruise missiles and rely on external information input - making the whole thing affordable.
      Going for cheap, it's questionable whether deep diving is worth the effort. Have a submerged arsenal ship that inserts motorized commandos in cooperation with stealthy long loiter surveillance UAVs instead of an SSGN.

  2. I agree with most of what B.Smitty wrote.

    I'm not sure why one would think rail guns are "almost ridiculous". They work fine now except for rate of fire and maintenance intervals. I expect testing at sea within a decade. Let's keep in perspective that a 76mm Otobreda is about 2.5 MJ, a 5" Mk 54 is about 10 MJ, and the rail guns the Navy is working on are 30+ MJ. I would prefer to see the Navy first develop and deploy a rail gun in the 5-10 MJ range before trying to develop one in the 30-50 MJ range.

    1. MC, what's ridiculous is the expectations, not the technology. People who have been raised on Star Wars movies expect that rail guns will launch projectiles at 0.9c and instantaneously blot out targets hundreds of miles away and lasers will instantaneously vaporize planes and missiles forming an impenetrable shield of protection. Hey, maybe some day that will be the case but not in our lifetimes.

      The laser has been under "modern" military development since around the mid-70's or so and at that time was just 10 years from being fully developed and fielded. Every year since, we've remained just 10 years away. Well, here we are 60 years later and we've got nothing. However, the technology has come a long way and we're probably only 10 years away from a fully functioning, devastating laser weapon just like Star Wars. You caught the sarcasm in that last sentence there, right?

      Similarly, the first rail gun patents were filed in the mid-1940s, IIRC, and the rail gun has been under more or less continuous development since. We've gotten to the point of being able to generate a single relatively low power launch pulse from a very large, prototype installation. Now we have to figure out how to cool the things so that we can generate multiple pulses in a useful time frame and how to provide the needed power. That's well beyond our current capability. However, it looks like we're within 10 years of fielding a fully functional weapon of awesome destruction!

      Regardless, the point of this post was not to debate technological feasability or progress but to generate a "fun" list of weapons and systems that would meet future needs.

      Got any ideas you want to throw out?

    2. In the 1970s, there were programs to develop lasers to shoot down missiles in boost phase. The requirement was to be able to put 1200 joules per square centimeter on the skin of a missile.

      In the early 1980s, the requirement was changed from 1200 joules / sq cm to 100,000 joules / sq cm. That stopped the laser development programs dead in their tracks and replaced them with "research forever, deploy never" programs. Essentially, it became a welfare program for well-connected physicists.

      For those who have difficulty imagining 1200 or 100,000 joules / sq cm, the total energy flux on the surface of the sun is 7000 joules / sq cm. Tests done in the late 1970s using real lasers and real missiles found that less than 1000 joules per sq cm was required to kill actual missiles.

      As for fun ideas, since this is a Navy forum rather than a missile defence forum, I note that the Ford class carriers have all new systems integrated into ancient technology hulls. If we take a trimaran like the Independence class, get rid of the superstructure, increase the size by 2-3 times in each of the three dimensions, and make it from steel or CFRP or a combination instead of aluminum, we could have exactly the same flight deck we have now with a hangar deck at least 50+ more capacious. The shape would be faster, more stable, turn faster into the wind, and be more survivable if damaged.

    3. MC, I'm guessing that you've seen the purported Chinese carrier drawing that's been floating around? Love the unconventional thinking! You lost me with the 2-3X size increase. Do you mean of the individual hull portions or of the overall carrier dimensions (that would be huge!!!)?

    4. I mean 2-3 times the dimensions of an Independence class trimaran to bring it up to carrier size. Imagine an Independence class trimaran made carrier size. Remove the superstructure and extend the flight deck forward. Add the lifts, island, etc. Scaled up to have the same flight deck, hangar deck height, etc. as the Nimitz or Ford class, such a trimaran carrier would have a hangar deck at least 50% wider (and about the same length) compared to the Nimitz or Ford class, which would greatly simplify and speed up aircraft operations.

    5. MC, OK, I see what you mean now. Fascinating. What's the biggest trimaran ever built, that you know of? The LCS is the biggest that I know of but I don't follow commercial designs very closely.

    6. I think the Independence class (and the Fred Olsen on which they're based) are probably the largest so far. There would be some engineering needed to scale them up. An amphib would be the next logical step.

    7. Aircraft carriers already have an asymmetric hull, going one step further would be the drua, a synonym for warship. It's less complicated than a trimaran. I fully agree with you on such a ship design being the future.
      The amount of energy per square inch depends on the amount of time during which the laser can be kept on target and the degree of reflection a missile can have as armour.

  3. How does anyone feel about SSKs, AIP capable like the Swedes and Germans are making? Certainly less costly to put more hulls in the water.

    1. A514, I'm all for SSKs. What role or future need do you see them filling?

    2. SSKs are interesting and problematic. My biggest issue with them is their painfully slow deployment speed (often 6-10kts). This means they spend a lot of their deployment time transiting to and from their base, unless they are based VERY close to their operating area.

      So I think if you can secure rights to base them in Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, and/or South Korea, we could use them in the Pacific theater. But they would be tied to that theater. They couldn't quickly surge elsewhere. Their bases would be within range of Chinese IRBMs, cruise missiles and aircraft.

      One thing I wonder is if one could combine a relatively fast surface transit speed with decent subsurface performance. If they were fast enough, they could deploy with with a CVBG on the surface, then submerge when they got to the operating area.

      Or, consider building a class of smaller, cheaper, somewhat slower SSNs. Maybe Permit-sized (4-4500t) with a top speed of 20-25kts. Permits only required 11MW to go 28kts submerged. With advancements in reactor design, I bet a modern version would be much smaller.

      It would still be faster than any SSK out there, and could still make long deployments at reasonable speeds.

    3. Actually, for SSK deployment, the logical approach is to load them onto MLPs and use the MLPs to get them into deployment location. An MLP deck should be able to easily fit 8-10 of the largest AIP submarines (Sōryū-class) or more of the smaller European AIP submarines. An MLP would easily act as a movable, floating sub-marine pen for a fleet of AIP submarines. The more I think about this the more sense it makes. MLPs would make a great deployment method for a fleet of SSKs. I'm generally a fan of using MLP like ships as ferry and motherships for fleets of smaller vessels as a way of forward deployment. The MLPs are relatively cheap and provide a way to forward deploy a variety of vessels that are relatively difficult to move around otherwise.

      As far as surfaced speeds, the Sōryū-class can travel at 20 nmi/h when using its diesels semi-submerged. Surfaced they can only manage, 13 nmi.

      For the small nuclear subs, we'll probably have to wait for the results from the Tango Bravo submarine project which is designed to significantly reduce the size of future Virginia-class replacements (electric drive propulsion, hull mounted sonar, unpressurized torpedo launchers, reduced crew via automation, etc). Right now we're limited in size of SSNs by the drive shaft and reduction gearing as well as the conventional sonar sphere and pressurized torpedo systems.

    4. Seems somewhat risky.

      For one thing, the MLP-tender would be an enormous target in wartime - and thus require significant escort (AAW, SUW, and even ASW).

      It also degrades to an extent one of the main advantages of a submarine - operational stealth. An MLP parked within a few hundred miles is a sure sign that US AIP subs are on the prowl.

      I'm in favor of US AIP subs, but think they should be used as Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) vessels in relatively enclosed, shallow-water environments.

      A few AIP subs homeported in say Bahrain or Sigonella would be very useful in the Gulf or Med. And would free up SSNs for the open-water Pacific.

    5. I was thinking a bit more than a couple hundred miles from the action. Thinking more in line with 500+ miles. I'm more thinking of being able to reasonably deploy a fleet of SSKs from say japan to the south china in a rapid time frame along with the support infrastructure required.

      I think the stealth advantage is still there. The SSKs have a reasonable range of over 1000 nmi from the deployment point. A fleet of SSKs based in Japan has a relatively small area they can work in with stealth. To get from Japan to the South China sea for instance would require them to run on diesel engines which isn't exactly stealthy. In addition, it isn't hard to mask an MLP to look like a civilian ship from an airborne perspective.

    6. B.Smitty, I kind of like the Permit size SSN idea! I could see those as a specialized ASW sub as opposed to the generic Tomahawk/ASW/ASuW/SOF/etc. SSNs that we have. If the Navy could grasp the idea of smaller and cheaper, that could be a winner! Great idea!

    7. ats, the MLP/SSK idea is interesting. At the risk of asking a dumb question, how would the SSKs be loaded/unloaded on the MLP?

    8. Let's remember that SSKs can deploy. The WWII Gatos deployed across the Pacific from Pearl Harbor.

    9. Yes, but those WW2 US subs were also able to conduct most of that transit on the surface. And this was only because the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) completely neglected to develop/field an effective ASW system.

      If the IJN had developed ASW capabilites similar to US/UK, it would've made surface transits incredibly risky. Look at what happened to U-Boats in N. Atlantic in 1942-3.

      A modern SSK with AIP maxes out at about 15 kts submerged. It's a power limitation - the batteries just can't generate enough power to go much faster.

      Consider that it's 3,000 nm from Pearl Harbor to Japan. At 15 kts, that's 9 days just to get there, and 9 days to get back. That's not particularly responsive.

    10. Anon, responsive to what? Trying to pounce on a surface target that suddenly appears, no that wouldn't be responsive. However, the role of a SSK would be to stake out a choke point or some other tactically important, relatively small area and patrol for several weeks. The transit time becomes unimportant then. Again, similar to WWII sub deployments. When one sub leaves the area, another can take its place to provide continuous coverage, if that's what's needed.

    11. If deployment is closer to 10kts (as it appears to be for most SSKs), then you're looking at almost 25 days of it's patrol just getting to its operating area and back.

      It would be interesting to see a price and performance comparison between a large US SSK (e.g. Soryu class) and a small SSN like a modern Skipjack or Permit. If you're paying $700-1000 for the SSK, and maybe $1.2-1.5 billion for a small SSN, it may be worth it to go nuke.

    12. Responsive was probably the wrong word. Efficient would’ve been better.

      Transit time and endurance are EXTREMELY important -- particulary when you are estimating the number of submarines you'd need to provide continuous patrol coverage at extended distances.

      - A Los Angeles class SSN can transit at 30+ knots -- and can stay on-station 6+ months. Food is really the only limitation.
      - A U-212 SSK transits at 15 knots -- and can stay on-station for 12 weeks. Half the speed and less than half the endurance of an SSN. And a lot less patrol capability once on-station.

      Perhaps a good historical analogy would be the US submarine operations in the Pacific, circa ’42-43 - when we were still operating mainly from Pearl Harbor. Recall that it is about 3,000 nm from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay.

      On any given day in ’42-43, the USN could maintain 15-20 submarines on patrol in the Pacific. Yet there were about 100 subs assigned to the Pacific Fleet. This equates to a wartime force generation cycle of roughly 6-to-1. Six diesel submarines in transit or in dry-dock to maintain one on-station.

      Read some of the accounts of USN submarine skippers during that timeframe. They spent an awful lot of ‘patrol time’ just going to and from Japanse waters. And once they got on-station, they were constantly monitoring their fuel supplies.

      The submarine campaign in the Pacific started to turn around only after we seized forward operating bases. The seizure of Majuro in the Marshalls (4/44) cut the transit distance to Japanese home waters to < 2,000 nm, while the seizure of Saipan (7/44) cut it to < 1,000 nm.

      Unless you are prepared to buy literally scores of diesel subs to sustain a mere handful on-station, it just doesn’t make sense to attempt to operate conventional-type submarines at Pacific-like ranges.

      The solution is to set up bases close to yoru patrol areas, but those could prove to be incredibly vulnerable in wartime. See Philippines 1941-42.

    13. Anon, a good overall point and you point to some good conclusions, as well. Perhaps the SSK is not suitable for long distance, open ocean work. To be fair, no one believes it is. However, your point about basing and proximity to patrol areas is a good one. That, in turn, suggests the possibility of submarine tenders as an alternative basing option. The MidEast would appear to be a suitable area of operations for SSKs as well as the chokepoints around the Pacific if basing can be addressed. We forget that the countries that operate SSKs tend to be focused on home water operations where basing is not an issue.

      Basing in Korea or Japan would offer attractive options though the viability of those locations in a conflict with China would be questionable.

      Regarding costs and numbers of vessels, SSKs are generally in the $200M-$400M price range compared to the $2.5B cost of a Virginia. That's around 5 SSKs for the cost of one Virginia. That has the makings of a valid case for SSKs under the right conditions.

    14. The problem with submarine tenders is that they are inherently vulnerable. They have very limited self-defense and evasion capability, and are obvious targets.

      We'd either have design a tender capable of self-defense; assign dedicated escorts (i.e. a DDG), or fold them into the existing carrier strike groups.

      The first approach would cost lots of money. The second would stretch our diminishing pool of CRUDES. And the last will limit the overall flexibility of the concept: if I can only send SSKs where I send carriers, what's the point?

      I do agree the SSKs could have a place as an SSN 'fill-in' in areas where the transit distances are short and our bases aren't really threatened. The Med and Arabian Gulf would be good choices in my opinion.

      If the transit range is short enough, you can get to a point where you can sustain one sub on patrol indefinitely with a pool of say 3-4 SSKs. Then the costs start to equal out or even beat an SSN from CONUS.

    15. The SSKs you're speaking of are the small, coastal ones like the Type 212 and Gotland. We'd need bigger boats like the Collins or Soryu classes.

    16. But even those boats aren't really built for very long-distance 'station keeping'. Probably because neither country does long-distance patrolling like the US.

      COLLINS has a maximum range of 9,000 nm at 10 knots (snorkeling). It's 4,300 nm from Pearl Harbor to Taiwan, You'd eat up 95% of your fuel just getting there and back -leaving little for patrol.

      SORYU is somewhat smaller than COLLINS, and has a maximum range of only 6,100 nm at 6.5 kts (AIP). Using the same scenario (Pearl to Taipei), you actually couldn't even get there and back in a SORYU.

      Cruising on the surface -- as the US Navy did in WW2 -- might impact that range slightly. I say might since modern subs are generally more 'fuel-efficient' submerged than they are on the surface.

      And given China's growing maritime surveillance capability (satellites, MPA, ships, shore-based radar), transiting on the surface is probably a non-starter in wartime.

      I don't know enough about submarine design to say that a conventionally-powered submarine which can operate submerged over 'Pearl-to-Taipei' ranges is impossible. But it does seem like no one has ever built one.

    17. An issue that might be somewhat erroneous in this conversation is the presumption of equivalent capability between an SSK and SSN.

      Thjey are a handful of scenarios where an SSK on-station will provide you the same capability as an SSN. And in a one-on-one fight, an SSN will eat an SSK for breakfast.

      An SSK is of course smaller and less detectable on batteries than an SSN. It's also slower; has less crewmen; has less size/weight/power/cooling (SWaP-C)for sensors and computers; and fewer torpedoes.

      An SSK is a lot less responsive and flexible than an SSN. If you want to move an SSN to a new patrol area or run away to escape a threat, you just crank up the reactor and go. An SSK simply can't do that.

      Individual capability matters. I look at it as a basketball team. Would you rather have one guy who can jump ten feet; or ten guys who can jump one foot? On paper, they can be made to look the same...

    18. Typo: THERE are a handful of scenarios...

    19. Anon, I don't think anyone is asserting that an SSK is directly equivalent to an SSN although modern SSKs are getting closer all the time. The question is whether SSKs can play a useful role in the US Navy given the roles/missions that need to be filled and the staggering costs of new SSN construction. Another comment put it nicely by stating that an SSK may well be able to fill appropriate niches which would then free up SSNs to go do the stuff they can do better.

      We all tend to fall into one-or-the-other battles. Just because I like (or don't like) SSKs doesn't mean I want to replace all SSNs (or not use any SSKs). To extend your basketball analogy, you not only need a very tall center but a small point guard, as well. Same game, different roles by the different players. An SSK can, potentially, control shallow water traffic areas and chokepoints just as well as an SSN and at a much reduced construction cost. Whether this makes sense in the big picture is the question. I think it does but let's be honest here, none of us know enough about the actual details of construction, supply, basing, training, strategic and tactical requirements, etc. to make a fully informed choice. Heck, I'm not sure the Navy does, either. So many of their decisions seem illogical!

    20. No disagreement on any of that. I'm in favor of an SSK-SSN mix - although I'd imagine conviving the 'nuclear mafia' would be highly problematic.

      My point was really that we don't want to lose sight of the differences in capability when we're talking about SSKs vs. SSNs. Particulary in the Pacific - where unfriendly and increasingly capable near-peer submarines roam.

      I really see the SSK as doing coastal surveillance, choke-point control, SOF insertion, etc. Niche roles - but as you said, would be valuable if it could free up the SSNs to do work for which they are better suited.

    21. This is why I have trouble discussing individual concepts in isolation. You have to see how it fits in an overall fleet architecture and budget to understand the value and impacts.

      My suggestion: Get a Google Drive account, copy the spreadsheet below, adjust your numbers and/or line items until you come up with a ~$15 billion/year fleet, post it. Then we can talk about how things fit and the merits of the overall architecture.


      I provide three tabs: a rough guesstimate at what a Navy fleet looks like, the Jerry Hendrix "355" fleet, and the New Navy Fighting Machine fleet, for reference.

    22. CNO, re:how to fit SSKs onto an MLP, you do it diagonally. Ideally you would have some sort of make-do docking between them for convenience. Simple bolted down scafold type structure with decking and a couple steel poles with docking rigging. ingress and egress would be via float on/float off.

      Part of the reason for going with the MLP tender route is that you basically have a fully mobile base for the operation of submarines at that point. The Base can pretty easily pick up and move to wherever you want it to. In addition, an MLP design is fairly easy to camouflage as it looks exactly like a large number of ships that currently operate throughout the world (being based on a commercial oil tanker design, though the MLP would need some faux structure work to great the correct deck dimensions.

      As far as open ocean protection, It would require fleet defense resources, but the MLP was designed to go with various fleets anyways.

      The big advantage it that the crew would be able to actually stretch their legs during transit to/from theatre and since we're going to have to have supply ships anyways, it can simply tuck in with them. Being able to roll into anywhere with a fleet of 10-12 SSKs would be pretty impressive and would present an asymmetric capability that we don't have. An MLP plus 10-12 SSKs could be purchased for the cost of 2 Virginia class which seems like a reasonable trade. An adversary would certainly think a lot more about attacking an CSG with naval resources if there were 10-12 SSKs prowling about vs just 1-2 SSNs.

    23. Anon,

      Can any modern SSK actually transit for a useful strategic distance at 15kts? Look at the chart on Page 3 of this doc,


      If true, it means that most SSKs can only maintain 15kts submerged for 3-5 hours before exhausting their batteries. Maybe we could push it for a large SSK up to 5-7 hours, but even that seems like far too short. At 10kts, they still may have to snorkel twice a day or more to recharge.

      AIP won't help here because the skipper won't want to waste what little AIP fuel he has on board just to transit to his patrol area. And AIP systems don't provide enough power to go fast anyway.

      So, IMHO, we could design an SSK that can run "fast" (15+kts) on the surface or snorkeling. We could buy smaller SSKs for VERY forward deployments and risk getting them killed when their bases are hit. Or we look at a cheaper class of SSN.

      I'm leaning more towards the small SSN. They have the most flexibility.

      IIRC, the Collins-class replacement boats are projected to be anywhere from A$1.4-3.2 billion each. So SSKs aren't necessarily cheap.


      I've thought about using an MLP or some other form of semi-submersible to carry SSKs, but I think the logistics and vulnerability would be hard to swallow.

    24. B.Smitty,

      Yes, I was being extremly generous with proposed future SSK capabilites. I'd think a current diesel sub can make an efficient underwater speed of about 6-8 knots.

      AIP doesn't help much with transit speeds, but is more to reduce vulnerability (snorkeling) once onstation.

      A long-range surface running SSK wouldn't be much good in wartime. U-Boats in the North Atlantic were ultimately denied surface transits by Allied airpower.

    25. There are lots of systems that lose a great deal of value if they lack air cover. If we could get these surfaced SSKs from Guam to the First Island Chain safely, they could submerge for the remainder of their patrol.

      I'm still in favor of a small SSN though. Other than cost, my biggest questions are can it keep a level of stealth comparable to the Virginias, and will its sonar and combat system be "good enough" for the intended mission. Would 2+ "Permit II"s be more cost effective than 1 Virginia for non-strike missions (i.e. ASW, ASuW, MIW)? And can you build one for <$1.5 billion?

    26. Few systems are as defenseless against enemy air as a diesel sub. An enemy MPA patrolling in the area can essentially immobilize it.

      The question also remains as to where/how a diesel submarine 'runs' after he takes his shot. Once that first torpedo hits, everyone knows you're in the area. And unlike an SSN, you can't scoot away at 30+ knots.

      I'd be interested in the small SSN as well. Seems like there could be some reasonable tradeoffs to an VA class.

    27. Few systems are as defenseless against submarines as surface ships. I don't know that an SSK would necessarily want to run after an engagement. It might want to sit and wait for someone to come investigate and then kill them, too. Air assets are not magic ASW platforms. They'd have a hard time finding and killing an SSK, at least that's what all our exercises indicate. An SSK in its natural environment is a tough target.

    28. No one said air assets were magical ASW systems. However, aircraft (both land and ship-based) did kill more German U-boats in WW2 than any other method.


      But I think you're missing the point wrt the overall effect ASW aircraft can have on a diesel submarine operations. A well-handled MPA can throw a lot of uncertainty into a diesel skipper's plans.

      By 1943, Nazi U-Boat skippers in the N Atlantic were so scared of wary of detection by US/UK patrol aircraft (equipped with radar and depth bombs) that they spent most of their time submerged.

      Since they could really only charge in brief spurts at night, this effectively reduced their speed to 3-4 knots -- which allowed many Allied convoys (8-10 kts) to slip right past.

      Killing the submarine isn't simply the only measure of success. If you can slow him down or keep him away from the high value unit, that's a 'win' as well.

      It's been my experience that those sort of tactics don't get played in exercises, mainly because they only last a few days. A truly successful ASW campaign takes time and requires a lot of patience.

    29. Your observations are correct for WWII. The U-Boat was a surface ship that could briefly submerge. A modern SSK is a submarine that must occasionally surface - a complete reversal. Air assets are a potential threat to an SSK but one to be handled in stride. As I recall, some of the SSKs even have anti-air weapons.

      You are on the money concerning the time and patience required for ASW. That also suggests that the most effective ASW platform may be another SSK which has the time and endurance to do the job right. Good comment!

    30. Long term - an SSK will still has to come up quite a bit for targeting and communications.

      And in terms of threat from aircraft, the only Argentinian sub found/sunk during Falklands War (ARA Santa Fe) was initially attacked and damaged by a Brit Lynx helicopter.

      My readings on Germany's IDAS indicate that it's largely a low-altitude weapon of last resort. It wouldn't do much good against a high-altitude MPA. And it gives away the sub's position.

      An SSK really doesn't have the "legs" (speed/endurance) to effectively search for another submarine. Look at the WW2 data - it implies that sub-v-sub encounters in the deep ocean were extremely infrequent.

  4. I like the SSGN's. I also like the SSN's. Though I'd like to figure out a way to make them cheaper (does anyone remember when the Virginia's were supposed to be the 'Cheap' option?

    An SSGN with LRASM's and Tomahawks makes a very powerful ship.

    I'd like to revamp the air wing. Keep the Superhornets, maybe with the conformals and the new engines, for strike duty (superduperhornets). Ditch the F-35. Find something new. I'm frankly not super sold on stealth. I'd like to see more of a high/low mix. I'd like to see something like a SuperTomcat for fleet defense. Fast. Great range. Capable of carrying JASSM-ER or LRASM maybe. Don't bother trying to make it super stealth, because frankly I think that newer tech and radars are going to 'burn through' conventional stealth sooner than later.

    JASSM-ER has a range of 620nm. So a longer range SuperTom or SuperDuperHornet might be able to penetrate and deliver their ordinance a long ways off.

    Make a carrier tanker.

    Make a carrier ASW craft.

    Figure out a way to try to counter the Dong Feng. Either electronically, using ABM's, or having the air force and Navy zap their satellites that they'll need.

    Love the long range loitering UAV's as communications backups.

    Build a nice ASW frigate.

    Essentially, work towards having Carriers be less vulnerable from IRBM's, and be able to practice sea control when we want. At the same time, have them aid in the A2/AD area's by parking outside them and launching long range strike aircraft. Those, coupled with the air force and the SSGN's give us a heck of an ability to pierce those areas. It won't be cheap, and we'll lose ships, but it will be a legitimate threat.

    I'm cool with the midway sized carriers, but I thought studies had shown they weren't as cost effective? I don't know, I'm just dredging up memory.

    Subsurface MCM, I like it. But, for homegrown stuff (maybe China tries to mine Tokyo somehow) could we build a cheap, wooden, flower class type MCM that is basically a tender for an MCM robot? LCS idea without a 700 million price tag mother ship.

    Ditto a cheap, flower class DE type vessel to help guard shipping vs. Subs.

    Okay. There's my thoughts. I had fun. I didn't worry about the cost. :-)

    1. I just wondered, what is the state of the Tomahawk? Does it need a replacement or can the tactical Tomahawk handle it?

      Oh, and I want a pony too. :-)

    2. Only reason to replace the Tomahawk would be to either go super-sonic or get a bigger payload. Right now the tomahawk has a 1000lb payload and reasonable subsonic speed. And imagining seeker could be added as required and its reasonable that minor range/payload increases could be done with an electronics package redesign or via a more efficient engine.

    3. Jim, carrier size has been studied repeatedly and the conclusion has been that large carriers are more cost effective than smaller carriers in terms of sortie rates and whatnot. A Midway would be considered a large carrier as it pertains to the studies. Small carriers would have air wings of 20-40. Also, the studies were looking at large carriers with air wings of 90+. Today, we only operate 60+ on the Nimitz class. I'd like to see someone revisit the studies with a 60+ air wing in mind and a Midway size carrier. The Midways did operate today's full size air wings. They just consisted of Hornets because it was felt that the Tomcat was too big for routine ops. Today's air wing is all Hornet so it's technically feasible. Throw in some automation to reduce crew size and it ought to be reasonably cost effective.

    4. "Only reason to replace the Tomahawk would be to either go super-sonic or get a bigger payload."

      I guess I'm not questioning the ability of the Tomahawk to blow stuff up if it hits it, I'm wondering if the same issues that make older missiles like the older Harpoon less effective (better radars, better air defenses, etc.) are affecting the Tomahawk. Or is it more survivable because, unlike the ocean, it can get into the nape of the earth and fly through the nooks and crannies to avoid being seen until the last minute.

    5. Jim, you're concerns are valid. The Tomahawk is, on a relative basis, slow, not stealthy, easy to shoot down, has little or no on-board ECM or decoy capability, and can't maneuver defensively (it can do waypoints). On the other hand, it's unmanned and "only" costs around $1.5M so who cares if some don't make it to the target?

      It would be nice to have a supersonic, stealthy, maneuverable missile with on-board ECM/decoy capability but the cost would probably be many times a current Tomahawk. Would it be worth it? Don't know.

  5. Good Lord! Could an SH carry a conventional version of this:


    2000 NM range? If its an effective missile you could park the carrier well out of harms way while the air wing takes it in farther and still launches a ways out. Then go back for more.

    1. We don't have the AGM-129 anymore. They were all destroyed as part of the nuclear arms reduction treaties. The AGM-129 were removed from service because of their reliability issues and their extreme maintenance cost.

  6. The problem I have with most of US cruise missile and ASM is they are all subsonic. AGM129 has good range and is discrete but it is still kind of slow, we need to start looking for something faster. Also Harpoon is getting long in the tooth, it also need to be replaced.

    I am ok with building smaller carriers, our super-massive ones are leaving with about half the complement of jets they had in the 80s so we don't need that much real estate anymore.

    US Navy will never buy a SSK, they are just too married to SSNs. At that point, I would like to see maybe a smaller Virginia than what we have now for maybe 2/3 the price for the low end mix and a much larger/bigger Virginia to replace SSGNs. I think it could be done and pretty much all the SSNs remaining would be regular Virginia's, Virginia lite and Virginia heavy. Kind of what Boeing did with B787, you have the -8,-9 and -10 version. SSBN should also reuse as much stuff as possible from Virginia class. I agree we need more SSGNs, sorry but B52 is old as dirt and with sequestration and cuts to save F35, I would be surprised if it isn't next on the chopping block.

    1. The B-52 is actually the cheapest heavy bomber to operate and we plan to run them out to 2040. The USAF would much rather cut the B-1.

  7. What I am saying is after they cut A10s, KC10s and B1s, I wouldn't be surprised if they cut some B52s.

    1. Perhaps, but heavy bombers are still far more capable and cost effective cruise missile carriers than subs.

    2. In a permissive environment! If you have to penetrate hundreds of miles of a contested Chinese A2/AD zone in a B-52 to reach the launch point, you're not going to survive too many sorties.

    3. Build longer-ranged missiles. Or improve fighter cover. Or use a B-1, B-2 or NGB.

      154 Tomahawks on an SSGN is a drop in the bucket against the Chinese - just poking the hornets nest.

      And poking it once with a $4+ billion dollar sub that then will take weeks to reload and get back.

      It's a useful "sucker punch" capability, but that's about it.

    4. B.Smitty, we currently have four SSGNs for a total of 600 Tomahawks. That's a pretty good punch. How long and how many sorties would it take for bombers to launch 600 missiles? I'm asking sincerely, I haven't made the comparison and it would be interesting to know. I'm not an Air Force guy so I'm just guessing out loud - each plane can carry half a dozen or so missiles and fly a sortie every couple of days?

    5. B.Smitty, isn't the sucker punch, as you put it, a pretty useful thing, tactically? The initial strike that, hopefully, causes permanent degradation of the command and control, airfields, air defenses, radar, etc. paves the way for everything else that follows. The ability to get SSGNs in close and launch a 600 missile initial strike seems like a very good capability. We all, myself included, tend to fall into the one-or-the-other mode of discussion as opposed to remembering that multiple types of platforms are useful and each has their role. Bombers are fine and have their role as do SSGNs.

    6. CNO,

      If we assume a range-extended, ALCM-sized JASSM (ala the JASSM-XR proposal), a B-52 can carry twenty, a B-2 can carry sixteen and a B-1B can carry twenty four.

      So 600 shots can be accomplished by,

      - 30 B-52 sorties
      - 38 B-2 sorties
      - 25 B-1B sorties

      Those 600 shots would be needed strictly for C3 and primary air defenses. It's really a drop in the bucket.

      For comparison, we hit around 40,000 targets in Desert Storm in the six weeks of the air war. During the MCO of Op Iraqi Freedom, we hit around 19,000 targets. And that's just against Iraq. Probably increase that by an order of magnitude for the number of Chinese targets we could need to hit.

      Of course those bombers can also carry a much wider variety of munitions too.

      Recall, we hit some Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan '98? We used around 75 Tomahawks for that mission. That's half of an SSGN's war load. We could've done the same with a SINGLE B-2 sortie using 500lb JDAMs.

      The B-2 can also carry a pair of huge MOP bombs for hitting deeply buried targets, or up to eight 5,000lb GBU-38s penetrators.

      OTOH, the TLAM has a very limited warhead selection.

      BTW, the SSGN conversions were around a billion each.

    7. B.Smitty, I'm somewhat missing your point, I fear. A few thousand Tomahawks is, indeed, a drop in the bucket compared to all the ordnance used in a war. For instance, from your comment, we didn't launch 40,000 Tomahawks. I'm fuzzy on what you're saying. Try again?

      The Tomahawks, however many, are used for the initial "open the door" strikes and subsequent deep penetration, high value strikes. Bombers, excepting the B-2, are not survivable for day one strikes if they have to penetrate enemy airspace.

      You're making a point, here, but I missed it. Sorry!

      Regarding the SSGN conversion, that $1B is erroneous or, at best, misleading. For starters, the total conversion is reported by Wiki as $700M per vessel. More importantly, the conversion included nuclear refueling, ASDS conversion for special ops, revamped comm suites for use as a special ops command center, various means of special ops lockouts, housing for spec ops troops, and general upgrades. The actual SSGN conversion was only the missile tube modifications and was only $1-$200M or so. If we took retiring Ohios and just converted the tubes, it would be a very cheap modification, as these things go. Of course, if every conversion requires a refueling then the price goes up!

      Just a thought ... We currently have fourteen SSBNs and we're going to build only 12 replacements. Supposedly, the decrease is due to strategic needs rather than simple budget concerns (I don't believe that but that's another issue). If true, we currently have two SSBNs that we don't need. Those are available for conversion today. Again, if we keep the conversion simple, we could gain two cheap SSGNs.

    8. "Those are available for conversion today. Again, if we keep the conversion simple, we could gain two cheap SSGNs."


      I think you're overlooking a few factors:

      - All of the OHIOs are at least 20 years old. Most in the class are closer to 30 years.

      - The USS FLORIDA and GEORGIA conversions from SSBN to SSGN each took about three years.

      - They were the last two of four converted - so that time reflects a 'warm' production line. A 'cold start' would undoubtedly take longer and cost more.

      I just don't think we get enough useful service life to justify the expense. It was a good idea whose time has past.

    9. Edit:

      - All of the OHIOs are at least 15 years old. The average age of the remaining 14 OHIOs is 24 years old -- if measured from commissioning date.

      - The Navy's previous approach was to convert the oldest in the class. Assuming they did the same, that would be HENRY M JACKSON (1984) and ALABAMA (1985).

      - If you started converting ALABAMA today, by the time you finished (2016), she'd be 31 years old.

      - If you instead converted the two youngest SSBNs: WYOMING and LOUISIANA (1996, 19977) and could start today, they'd be closer to 20 years old.

    10. Anon, no, I'm quite aware of the age! The oldest Ohio was commissioned in 1984 and the newest in 1997 so they range from 29 years old to 16 years old. Those ages are not old by surface vessel standards but I do know that submarines have depth/dive limits in addition to simple age considerations. The first retirements of the SSBNs aren't going to start until around 2029 so that's still 16 years of life, at a minimum. If an SSGN could serve beyond that point in a less "stressful" capacity, that would add additional life. Whether that's feasible or not, I don't know. Whether it would be worth the effort, I don't know but it's still a valid idea.

    11. I could get on board converting additional Ohios, if they become superfluous due to strategic draw-downs.

      We would have to refuel them though, or you'd only have them for 10 or so more years (assuming we converted the earliest Ohios, as we did before).

      My point is we have a choice about how we spend that money. If it's $4-8 billion per new SSGN, maybe we should reconsider and put that money towards the USAF NGB instead, or more capable air/sea launched missiles, or additional VPM'd Virginias. Or something else entirely.

  8. The French developed the Rubis class SSN, from what I have read from French news, they haven't been very successful, they are a bit too small. I think I saw a video on FR3 (French TV) once about Rubis, it came across as very cramped.

    The French developed a newer, bigger class,still about 2/3 the size of a Virginia:

    I would like to see a shrink Virginia like the size of a Barracuda and a heavier, more cruise missile oriented version.

  9. Woe be me to be critical of someone proposing of new system, so I won't be critical. But I will my own suggestion, and ask for additional information about some of the proposals.

    SSGN, Instead of putting all our eggs in a few baskets. Instead add more missiles to each SSN. I think that what we are currently doing with next generation Virginias? This would reduce the risk of one hit taking out most of your missiles.

    IRBM, what is your purpose for these missiles, their intended targets, range, and basing options.

    Midway size carrier, again what is the purpose of these ships. Are they replacement for CVN? Are they support ships too enlarge a CVBG? Are they large LHAs. Are they swing vessels able to act as CVS or LHA?

    Submersible MCM, I also had this idea, but I would not go as far as think it would be cheaper than surface MCM. When exploring the idea, I realized that if developing specialized mine warfare system is expensive for surface vessels, then how much more expensive would it be to build them for use on a submarine. And of then there be all the extra equipment require to submerge the MCM, further increasing cost.

    Is the Very Long Range Fighter an interceptor/ air control fighter( which I personal think is a high priority) or a super strike fighter?

    1. The Virginia Payload Module upgrade will add 24 Tomahawks per boat. Unfortunately it will increase the cost by at least $350 million each. This will make it even harder to meet force level goals, let alone expand them. But of course we aren't talking budget. ;)

      IMHO, a medium-sized CVA would be used to increase the number of deployable CVBGs. I would like them to to swing role as an LHA if needed, but their primary focus would still be carrying fixed-wing aircraft.

      I want a long-ranged, multi-role fighter with strong air superiority capability. The bomb load and range of an F-35C and the kinematics and stealth and AAM capability of the F-22 would be a good starting point. I'd like to see more weapons bay flexibility though. Maybe one 8m long, central bay and two smaller side bays for missiles. This would allow it to carry one or two GBU-28 sized weapons or 2-4 2000lb LDJDAMs. It also opens up the possibility of carrying air-launched PAC-3s for BMD or larger cruise missiles.

    2. GLof, the SSGN is pretty survivable as regards the eggs-in-a-basket concern. It's a risk/reward balance. There's a benefit to being able to have a concentrated strike pulse in a single sub rather than having to have several subs conglomerate to carry out a strike. That said, I have nothing against the Virginia VPM other than affordability.

      The IRBM would be for anti-ship and land attack. I'm envisioning it being ship/sub launched (the Zumwalt's Mk57 peripheral cells come to mind). Range would be 1-2000 nm or so.

      Midways are a simple response to the Ford class costs that are going to result in us dropping to around 8 carriers in the relatively near future. There is no reason we shouldn't be able to build two Midways for the cost of one Ford. We're only operating air wings of 60+ and the Midways have already done that. It's just a more affordable way to retain a full air wing.

      My thought on the submarine MCM is not cost but stealth. The ability to carry out MCM in an active war zone seems like a good thing. Avengers or LCS can't operate in a war zone without massive protection. An MCM sub could.

      Hey, just ideas! Not saying they'd all be practical.

    3. Thank you Smitty, CNO for your replies.

      My first question is what would the cost /missile of the SSGN verse the cost of add VPMs to a Virginia class sub. If the SSGN was to be based on the Trident replacement, I can see that its cost/missile might be quit high. There is also the question of availability, the Trident replacement wont be ready for a decade while the Virginias are in production today, therefore they be available sooner.

      The saving of cutting steel from the carriers has a limited effect on cost of the carriers, it is the reduction require by reduction in the ship size that actually save money. The reduction is crew size, storage spaces, electronics, etc. where the real saving comes from building smaller carriers. Therefore instead , you be just as effective saving money by reducing the systems, an not cutting the size of the carriers. This will allow you to retain all the advantages of the larger ship's volume, which has proven useful in maintaining the sortie rates of on the current smaller air groups.

      As for submarine MCM, CNO, that what I also thought. Great mines thinking alike?

    4. I would go conventional power for a new CVA. Should reduce the price considerably. I'm also fine with two EMALS cats instead of four, and a reduced electronics fit (e.g. no DBR).

      Let the Ford-class be the Ferrari. ;)

      BTW, I would also consider developing a conventional Ford-class carrier and dumping nuclear power altogether for surface ships.

      I had a rather extensive debate on the subject here,


      The Navy estimated the VPM module will add around $350 million to the price of a Virginia SSN. So figure more like $400-450 million once you factor in Navy and contractor low-balling.


      It's hard to know what a new SSGN would cost, but if based off of a new SSBN, it could be north of $4.5 billion each.

    5. GLof, great "mines"?! Oh, that's bad! : ) How long have you been waiting to use that one?

    6. GLof, we've already covered the "steel is cheap" issue so I won't re-address it. There is a signficant savings. Consider this, though. The new American class LHAs are looking to cost around $3-$4B, IIRC and yet they're not that different in size from a Nimitz and fairly close to a Midway. Why the huge cost difference from a $12B or so new Ford? They perform much the same function and have similar layouts. I really don't know why the big cost differential but it leads me to believe that we could build Midway/Americas at half the cost of a Ford (2 for 1, in other words) but with a full air wing. What do you think?

    7. B.Smitty, you're right, there's no getting around the fact that the new SSBNs seem like they're going to be hideously expensive so a new SSGN would also be. The question is, would they be worth it? I think so but it's not an easy answer and may, simply, not be affordable no matter how useful they might be.

      I'm not sure why we can't continue to convert the Ohios into SSGNs as they retire. I know they have lifetime dive/depth limits but as an SSGN we wouldn't be asking them to perform to the same degree as SSNs so maybe with an upgrade they could serve? I think the original SSGN conversions cost around $100M or so (could be wrong). Even a $500M upgrade would be a cheap way to get an SSGN. Just a thought.

  10. Is it possible to add more than four VPM launch tubes planned for Virginia BlockV? Based on the drawing diagram, four tubes don't seem to take much space. Unlike the VLS tubes installed on Virginia BlockIII, Each VPM tube can store 7 TLAM versus 6 missile capability for the existing VLS cell.
    If Virginia BlockV can accept 6 VPM instead of 4, plus the two VLS units at the bow section, that's a total of 54 Tomahawks or equivalent missiles. It still not going to match the capacity of a Ohio SSGN, but at least it's a reasonable replacement candidate.

    1. ap, the Navy has looked at a stretched Virginia that could either accomodate more VPMs or become a dedicated SSBN. They've not opted for that route but they haven't really said why. The idea is certainly valid.

  11. Submarine “Aircraft” and “Carriers” for ASW.

    "OK, here’s my fanciful one! I could see a use for the undersea equivalent of aircraft to conduct ASW. Specifically, one-man craft that would be launched and used much like airplanes. Each would carry 2-4 torpedoes and a small sonar suite. Employed like aircraft, they would perform CAP and search-and-destroy against enemy subs. A specialized “carrier” would operate the craft. Cool, huh"


    ASW is by nature a search problem. And effective ASW search requires some combination of speed, endurance, and sensor range. Due to size/weight/power constraints, the proposed "submarine-fighter" would have to be fairly slow, low endurance, and likely very limited sensor capability.

    WWII data shows that they most effective search-to-kill asset against U-Boats (in terms of # of detections and kills) was not submarines. It was aircraft.

    Instead of 'reinventing the wheel', I'd recommend reintroducing a proven capability: namely an organic (to the carrier) fixed-wing ASW aircraft. S-3 Viking is a good template - but it could be a new platform.

    1. Anon, you caught the part about "fun" and "fanciful", right? C'mon, relax a bit!

      If you want to be a bit more serious, consider the Russian Type 65 torpedo with a range of over 50 miles at 30 kts plus various other speed/range combinations. That would be a pretty good basis for an underwater "fighter". Maybe two such torpedos mated for a single fighter? Sensor capability would be somewhere between a torpedo's seeker and an actual sub's sonar. Not bad for a fighter. Search would be effective due to the multiple number of units, similar to the use of multiple aircraft in attack or CAP roles. All in all, not so far out as to be totally ludicrous. Have some imagination and fun!

  12. Fair enough! My pet project would be to reimagine UCLASS as a sea-control platform with an emphasis on ASW search-to-kill.

    For discussion's sake, let's call this concept UCLASS-ASW. And let’s assume that UCLASS will look at least something like the X-47.

    The X-47 can stay aloft 12 hrs, at distances of up to 2,000 nm from the carrier. It has 2 bomb bays with a total payload of 4,500 lbs. Based on that, I would design the following UCLASS-ASW modular payloads:

    Bay 1: Search
    - Sonobuoy launcher @ 200 lbs
    - Sonobuoy receiver @ 100 lbs
    - 60 sonobuoys @ 30 lbs each
    TOTAL = 2,100 lbs

    Bay 2: Kill
    - Weapons racks @ 300 lbs
    - 3 Mk-54 lightweight torpedoes @ 600 lbs each
    TOTAL = 2,100 lbs

    My UCLASS-ASW would provide about half the capability of a P-8A - which can carry 120 buoys, 6 torps, radar and ESM. P-8A will be a very capable ASW platform -- but I don’t think we can always count on having land-bases close to the fight. At least in the initial stages of a conflict, the strike group commander may be stuck with whatever ASW capability he has on his decks.

    And because the Navy got rid of the S-3 Viking, the carrier is ‘stuck’ with a lot of short-ranged MH-60R helos. Helos are excellent for prosecuting contacts in close – but they’re lousy at wide-area search, and don’t have the range to prosecute contacts several hundred miles away from the carrier.

    An all-helo carrier air wing essentially forces us to fight the ASW battle in close. My concept would bring back at least some of the capability and range advantage we lost with the retirement of the S-3 Viking.

    1. Outstanding! I love it!! I don't know enough about the X-47. How many attachment points does it have in the bay(s)? The "brains" of the ASW would still be the pilot and one or more ASW experts back on the carrier, I presume, unless autonomous programming makes a huge leap forward?

      This seems quite plausible. Far more so than the LCS' module attempts, at least. To the best of my knowledge, though, the Navy is not pursuing this and has not even publicly looked at it. Any idea why the lack of interest for an idea that seems reasonable?

    2. I could be wrong, but I don't think the bays are large enough for 3x torpedoes. They are sized to carry a single 2000lb class weapon each.

      That being said, I'm all in favor of making an ASW UAV. UCLASS may end up being the General Atomics Sea Avenger instead of the X-47. It's not as stealthy and can't carry as much, but it could carry a pair of torpedoes in the bays, and underwing, podded sonobuoy dispensers.

      Keep one at medium altitude to act as the sensor relay back to the carrier, and a reactive shooter with a pair of torpedoes, and let others lay the fields of buoys.

  13. The X-47 weapons bay appears big enough to handle three torpedoes.

    The sonobuoys would probably have to be carried in some sort of podded launcher. No such launcher exists, but I don't see inventing one as a major challenge.

    Autonomy in ASW would be very difficult and probably unnecessary. You'd want to link the data back to a team of 1-2 acoustic operators on the carrier - so that they could monitor and ping the sonobuoys.

    There's no way to know if this concept is being examined. But I can think of at least three reasons why it wouldn't be:

    1. UCLASS is being driven by the "Hornet-mafia". All they care about is strike. They don't care (or even know!) all that much about ASW.

    2. There are very few S-3 Viking folks left to speak to 'what we lost' when we completely axed their community.

    3. The ASW helo and maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) communities might see UCLASS-ASW as a threat to their roles.

    I know these sound somewhat jaded. However, it's been my experience that when something sensible isn't being examined or pursued, the reasons are often bureaucracy and/or self-interest.

  14. You forgot the good old blimps. They are a wonderful tool for observation against submarines. The parasite aircraft tests demonstarted the capability of blimps to serve as bases for other aircrafts.
    Imagine unmanned blimps serving as parasite carriers to refuel and rearm fixed wing and rotary wing (cheap gyrocopter) UAV that provide sea control over vast areas of sea against mines, submarines and control transport. They won't stand a chance against surface combatants, but that's not their task, they are the all covering eyes in the soft back of the hard shell.

    Your submersible LST is a high stealth idea that can be realized by other means, towing something akin to a narco torpedo with a vehicle inside that surcafes, lands and leaves a cheap shell that can be towed back to sea. Other methods run the risk of being stuck at some hostile beach.

    The LCS is no bad ship, it delivers a lot of versatile combat power in a cheap and small package via the helicopters it carries. Give the navy some credit for getting this aspect right. other aspects of the LCS still need work like counterbattery, submarine detection and MCM. Maybe increasing the size of this ship by 50% would help, but add additional costs.

    Battleship armoured LST sound cool at first, but they have one weakness, the beach where they can land. The more narrow their landing area can be defined, the better prepared it can be and there's never enough armour to withstand all explosives.
    Looking at the opposed landing approach, you are right that it is two-pronged kill the shooters and stomach the damage. Stomaching the damage can be done on the exterior via thick armour plates or by structural resilence. You might consider a durable structure that has the armour integrated as amplifier of structural stability. Reactive armour might be worth a try because against ships very large projectiles are launched that might be better stopped by active defense, while the armour itself is for "small arms fire" such as normal artillery shells.
    My suggestion for your armoured LST are an armoured short range quick-loading hovercraft as very short distance ship to shore connector and an energy efficient high speed design.
    Looking at your LST demands, it does have communality with the theoretic LCS concept (not the actual execution), except for the needed armouring and size. It's a high speed design meant to operate in the littoral. This means it gets a large flight deck like an LCS (but larger for more aircrafts) and has a hull similar to the Independence class or a fast catamaran ferry. It will differ by having a well-deck for a connector for short distances over the surf via a ponton bridge of mexefloats or one heavy very short distance hovercraft with most rapid throughput of cargo.
    As it does go for opposed landing, it must clear obstacles on the run, such as minefields and needs a swarm of unmanned supporting vehicles. Thus it is pretty much what the theoretical idea of the LCS was. Minus the large transport bay and with less armour you get a better LCS with communality with the LST- making both types cheaper.
    However, I'm not convinced opposed landing is feasible instead of surprise landings, raids, and development from secured beachhead harbours via these raids.

  15. Using the SSGN right. I'm not sure the use of the SSGN for strike against land targets is its significant use. It has an amount of cruise missiles few groups of warships can muster together and it is hidden. Thus every single surface ship could have within call the firepower support of a SSGN that can launch a saturation attack on most groups of warships. This is a layer of insecurity about firepower capability assessment that will figure into each enemy claculation of engagements. Using this firepower for land attacks is almost a waste of resources and should only be conducted if other means fail or as life fire exercises.
    SSK do have a faster transit speed snorkeling, while their submerged speed is only a few knots. SSN are not faster, strange as it may sound, but running at 30 knots is very loud. Therefore SSK and SSN sneak at around the same speed due to noise, but the SSK must surface sooner than later while the SSN can endure. The SSN does grind rather than tear the SSK to pieces.
    As suggested, if you have the SSK as a commando and missile platform torpedo-use specific characteristics matter little. They can add the same insecurity about counterstrike capability at a fraction of the cost and thus in greater numbers, while being as well able to deploy commandos and support them with missiles. The SSK are not well suited for submarine on submarine combat outside of supportive fleet groups or coastal installations, but with these in their back the equation changes. The SSK does have a safe heaven for surfacing and recharging, while others take over.