Saturday, December 14, 2013

LCS ASW

The LCS was originally tasked with three missions:  mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and anti-surface warfare.  We’re going to take a closer look at the ASW mission.

To review, in the ASW role the LCS was originally intended to be a stand-off vessel that would launch a variety of remote, unmanned vehicles and deploy a sensor net.  As such, the ship did not need its own sonar systems or anti-submarine weapons.  Unfortunately, the Navy scrapped the ASW module when it was found to offer no improvement over existing capabilities (Navy-speak for less capable than existing systems, but I digress).  The current module consists of a ship mounted Variable Depth Sonar (VDS), towed array, torpedo decoy (presumably Nixie or something similar), and a helo.

Thus, the LCS is now an up close and personal participant in the ASW mission.  However, the fact that the ship was not designed for active involvement in the ASW process leads to several issues.

Helo Coverage – As we’ve demonstrated, helos are maintenance intensive and a single helo (LCS-1) or two helos (LCS-2) can only provide very spotty coverage.  In addition, the MH-60 series helos can only carry two torpedoes which severely limits the number of shots and rearming is not a quick process.

Towed Array – The planned towed array is a major issue.  First, a towed array can’t be deployed in shallow water which was the LCS’ entire rationale for existence!  Second, the towed array presents a major problem as it impacts the ships speed and performance.  Some say that the LCS was intended to use its speed to “dance” around subs and torpedoes (though that’s most likely an after-the-fact rationalization rather than a designed intent).  Accepting that premise for the sake of discussion, one can see that a towed array severely limits the ship’s speed.  With an array deployed, the ship can’t use its speed and becomes an easy target.  On the other hand, if the array isn’t deployed the ship can’t detect submarines and becomes an easy target.  Bit of a Catch-22, there, huh?

Sonar – The ship’s size and shape seem to preclude addition of a typical hull-mounted sonar, especially for the LCS-2 version.  I’ve read reports that suggest that the water jets and ship’s internal machinery noises preclude hull mounted sonar due to severe self-noise masking.  I consider that unconfirmed though plausible.

Acoustics – While some reports claim the LCS water jets are quieter than conventional propulsion systems, the majority of documents seem to indicate that the water jets are enormously loud acoustic beacons.  Anyone who’s seen film of the jets in operation would find it hard to believe that the system is quiet enough for ASW work.  Further, the ship was not built with acoustic quieting integrated into the design.  Unlike the Spruance class which was built from the keel up as an ASW platform, the LCS lacks sound isolating machinery mounts, internal acoustic insulation, a Prairie/Masker type quieting system, and the other acoustic features built into the Spruances.  So, in addition to the water jet issue, the ship’s internal noise is not quieted.  The ship is an acoustic beacon for enemy submarines.  It’s hard to be the hunter when you’re louder than the prey!

ASW Weapons – Like the dog that chases the car (what’s he going to do with it if he ever catches it?!) the LCS has no ASW weapons if it ever finds a sub.  Yes, the helo might be available but that’s not a likely scenario and the helo is limited to two shots.  The LCS, itself, has no ability to defend itself or initiate an attack and certainly no capability to react to a surprise, close range encounter.

VDS – The Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) is potentially a useful sensor although, because of the need for complete automation due to the insufficient crew size, the VDS model being acquired requires 20+ minutes to deploy or retrieve.  While ASW is a slow game, this still limits the ship’s movement and response time especially if a torpedo is inbound!

In summary, ASW requires a platform built from the keel up with integrated acoustic quieting features, on-board weapons and sensors, and torpedo countermeasures, none of which the LCS has because it was never intended to be intimately involved in the ASW fight.  This also illustrates the flaw in the modular philosophy but that’s an issue that we’ve already covered in a previous post.  Trying to force the LCS into a role it isn’t optimized for is going to result in an ineffective platform that makes a better target than attacker.

Employment of LCS squadrons and the use of good operational tactics can mitigate some of the problems but the flip side of that is that clustered numbers of LCS’s will simply provide a loud, target rich environment for enemy subs.

To be fair, I’ve advocated a low end, less than optimal ASW platform that can be built in numbers, however, the key feature of that type of vessel is cheapness and the LCS doesn’t even come close to meeting that requirement.

All of this leads to the question of whether the LCS could be successfully adapted to ASW?  The answer is that it’s possible but it would require extensive redesign of the basic seaframe.  The ship needs all the quieting measures I’ve described, probably quieter conventional engines, a rapidly deployable VDS (adapt an over-the-side helo dipping sonar?), a short length multi-function towed array, hull mounted sonar, torpedo decoys, anti-submarine torpedoes, and a Russian style (RBU series) short range depth bomb as well as an integrated ASW combat control software suite.  If all this was done the LCS would no longer be an LCS, meaning that it would no longer be a modular platform.  Instead, it would be a dedicated shallow water ASW vessel.  Ironically, in that form it would offer a credible purpose and functionality to justify its existence as opposed to the useless vessel it now is.

By the way, does a vessel with two helos, a towed array, hull mounted sonar, anti-submarine torpedos, Prairie/Masker quieting, and torpedo decoys sound familiar?  It should - it's called a Perry.  If only we had had dozens of those that could have been updated a bit ... 

70 comments:

  1. I think it was on SNAFU, I suggested everyone who thinks the LCS is a functional ASW platform be put on a dozen of them, on those dozen LCSs be pitted against a single Seawolf.

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  2. Depth charges and over-the-side torpedoes haven't been particularly relevant to ASW in some time. It's almost a given that sub will have targeted and shot it's (longer range) heavyweight torpedoes well before the ship can fire.

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    1. Given the generally terrible acoustic conditions in shallow water, there's a definite possibility of both sides "stumbling" on each other with no warning. Regardless, would you want to be on a ship that had no self-defense capability?

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    2. LCS has a torpedo altertment and a lightweight tow. That's it's self-defense capability. And from what I understand, it's probably a bit more capable than what FFGs had.

      Aircraft killed far more enemy submarines in WW2 than surface combatants. And the only Argentinean submarine knocked out during the Falklands War was via a RN helicopter.

      Bottom line: I think you're drastically overstating the importance of ship-launched weapons, and dramatically undervaluing the helicopter's role as a hunter-killer.

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    3. "And the only Argentinean submarine knocked out during the Falklands War was via a RN helicopter."
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      False.

      The British never held contact on the sole Arentine submarine, let alone tracked her. This in spite of dozens of surface ships, and two RN SSNs searching.

      Nor was the Argentine SS evading: she got into firing position on at least two occassions, but was never able to shoot due to casualties.

      The RN expended dozens of torpedoes on false contacts.

      GAB

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    4. GAB,

      What war are you talking about?

      1. The ARA Santa Fe (S-21) was found and attacked by a Westland Lynx from HMS Antrim near South Georgia on 25-April. The attack caused extensive internal damage.

      Further attacks by Lynx and Wasp helicopters from HMS Brilliant and Illustrious eventually led to Santa Fe's grounding and eventual surrender.

      It's hard to argue with history. The only Argentinean submarine knocked out during the Falklands was via RN helicopter. Surface ships were not involved other than launch platforms.

      2. The reason that the Royal Navy never made contact with submarines is because RADM Woodward expressly forbid his SSNs to conduct ASW tasks. He was worried about blue-on-blue.

      I would once again encourage you to read the Naval War College paper "Submarine Operations in the Falklands War" (LCDR Steven Harper, June 1994).

      Happy reading!

      Matt

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    5. GAB,

      One last thing:

      You are factually incorrect that ARA San Luis did not take torpedo shots at RN forces. She did on at least three occasions.

      San Luis took all three of its shots based on sonar only. And all three attacks were unsuccessful - due to combination of poor underwater fire control and torpedo failure. One shot apparently impact HMS Arrow's countermeasure gear but did not explode.

      My thoughts on "Submarine Operations in the Falklands War":

      1. An ASW screen can be effective even if it does not kill the enemy sub. Lots of RN ships and helos blaring away with their active sonars and dropping torpedoes made San Luis unwilling to expose his scope.

      2. The ASW screen was an effective deterrent because it had a large number of small ships and helos spread out over a fairly wide area. Concentration would not have worked.

      3. In any sort of an ASW fight, we can reasonably expect to lose a few screening ships to enemy torpedoes. So would you rather risk losing an LCS or a DDG?

      Matt

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    6. As Harper points out in his paper, the Santa Fe was running on the surface, in broad daylight, in water too shallow to submerge. That a helo spotted the sub hardly constitutes ASW. Let's be objective. The sub did something incredibly stupid. It was not ASW that got the sub. It was the stupidity of the sub.

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    7. An inappropriate comment has been removed.

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    8. Matt,

      As ComNavOps noted, the WWII Santa Fe was effectively operating as a surface ship landing commandoes; the only Argentine submarine in the Falkland Islands War was a type 209 boat (San Luis) and she was *never tracked* by the British.

      As Harper notes: “…the submarine San Luis was free to patrol and this caused the British task force to be on the defensive at all times. The British expended "most of their ordnance on suspected contacts - most of which were false contacts caused by the ocean's many anomalies.' 7 The British ships present to counter the Argentine submarine threat were: one carrier, eleven destroyers, five nuclear powered submarines, one diesel submarine, and over 25 helicopters. 8”

      But the key takeaway is summed up by Captain Wayne Hughes: "Over two hundred anti-submarine, often with expensive torpedoes, were made against … one Argentine submarine.”

      Your quip about losing an LCS or a DDG is invalid because an LCS with a container launched VDS or TACTASS is not a capable ASW platform.

      GAB

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    9. A duplicate post was deleted.

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  3. 1st contact almost always goes to the submarine. The submarine's in the acoustic medium, and thus doesn't suffer the same environmental penalties as the surface ship. The submarine also has a periscope. Visual cueing is a very likely scenario in the littorals.

    If the surface ship is shot at and survives, the smartest thing is to run away as fast as possible, attempt to re-establish contact, and then prosecute at arms length with the helicopter / P-8A / etc.

    Fighting a submarine with depth charges and short-range torpedoes is an extremely bad idea. It made sense in WW2, but doesn't make sense now.

    LCS has speed, good organic sensors, 1-2 MH-60Rs, torpedo altertment and a lightweight anti-torpedo tow. It's actually not a bad package. See below for the official list.

    http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2100&tid=412&ct=2

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    1. You read the post, carefully considered all the points, and came to the conclusion that the LCS is not a bad ASW platform? Fascinating.

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    2. I read the post, realized you are badly misinformed, did my own research using official Navy sources, and then came to my own conclusion.

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    3. LCS has *no* organic sensors, no shock mounted machinery, and lacks a proper CIC. If the ASW module works, LCS will have an after thought towed array/VDS sonar.

      It is hard to make the case that LCS will approach the capabilities of a conventional warship with hull mounted sonar, VDS or TACTASS, and proper CIC filled with full watch teams to execute a 24/7 ASW fight.

      GAB

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    4. GAB,

      We already established that LCS *will* have organic capability. It will have a VDS and a MFTA, which should be quite capable.

      And I'm not exactly sure what you mean by an "after-thought". Building sensors organic to the ship is not necessary the best approach. Sonar technology changes quite rapidly.

      Folks who have served on FFGs would likely tell you that they did not have a 'proper' CIC either. It's sensors were also widely disparaged. FFGs were often called 'deaf, dumb and blind.'

      It strike me that you are trying to make the argument that an LCS is not as good an ASW platform as a DDG. Am I correct?

      If so, I'd tend to agree. You get what you pay for -- and a DDG costs more than twice what an LCS costs.

      Matt

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    5. Matt: “We already established that LCS *will* have organic capability. It will have a VDS and a MFTA, which should be quite capable.”
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      LCS lacks a hull-mounted sonar - hence it lacks an organic sensor.

      The capability of the ASW package has yet to be seen, but essentially a VDS and towed array system that comes in an ISO container. That is not an *organic sensor*. That same module could be mounted on a towed barge that is not organic sensor either.

      The upshot of this is that there are conditions where neither VDS or towed array systems will do the job and a hull mounted sonar is desireable.

      You may not accept this argument, but the Japanese are both technologically advanced and tactically proficient. They have chosen to put both bow mounted and side array sonars on their state of the art DDH in addition to a towed array sonar.

      GAB

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    6. Matt: ”It strike me that you are trying to make the argument that an LCS is not as good an ASW platform as a DDG. Am I correct?

      If so, I'd tend to agree. You get what you pay for -- and a DDG costs more than twice what an LCS costs.”
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      A DDG 51 cost well in excess of $2 billion, but most of the cost is in Aegis. The base hull DDG 51 without Aegis costs $650 million.

      A base hull LCS cost $500 million. See where this is going?

      So yes, I would take a DDG 51 without Aegis, over an LCS and be quite happy paying the $150 million dollar difference for a platform that brings a hull mounted sonar, towed array, 96 VLS cells, a 5” gun; not to mention a proven, reliable, and durable hull with the appropriate machinery isolation to do ASW.

      GAB

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    7. According to the SCN budget justification docs, AEGIS only runs in the $225-380 million range.

      https://www.ncca.navy.mil/FMB/13pres/SCN_BOOK.pdf

      Page 9-15

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    8. Smitty,

      You are looking at multi-year procurement funding on long-lead items (Aegis).

      Without looking at the actual contracts (or GAO/CRS/CBO reports) you cannot break that price out looking at single year dollars.

      Nor does this account for funding type. In this case you are only looking at SCN funding, there are many other pots. For example, LCS 1 and LCS 2 were built with RDT&E funding - if you looked only at SCN procurement, you would miss their cost entirely.

      I will track the numbers down, but the base DDG-51 is *only* about $650 million on a $2.5 billion dollar hull. I say only, because a modern 30+ knot container ship like the Maersk B-class costs about $350 million. Apples to oranges (?): yes, but 90% of the cost of a modern warship is not in hull and machinery, but in sensors, communications and weapons.

      GAB

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    9. Time to put on my engineers hat.

      Another fact to remember about the cost of any modern control system, is that the installation is often more expensive than the cost of the hardware. I expect this is especially true on warships where space is limited, and wiring is costly. This explains why the hardware is far less than the priced pay for the ship.

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    10. GAB,

      I'll be interested to see what you come up with.

      From that SCN budget book, if you just subtract the line item for AEGIS you'll still have remaining line items that total $1.3 billion or more per ship.

      So I don't see how you could build a Burke without AEGIS, but with the rest of its combat systems and equipment, for half of that. Now obviously, without the weight, power, cooling and space required for AEGIS, you could significantly reduce the hull and deck house size, which would save on construction costs, but I still don't see how you get down to $650 million per ship.

      The numbers in the SCN book appear to add up to roughly the published price for a Burke mentioned in GAO and CBO documents I've seen. If you add up the "Total Ship Estimate" line from FY05-FY13 and divide by nine, you get $1.63 billion per ship.

      There very well may be additional costs hidden elsewhere, but the SCN doc does appear to account for most of the costs needed to build a Burke.

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    11. Smitty: "From that SCN budget book, if you just subtract the line item for AEGIS you'll still have remaining line items that total $1.3 billion or more per ship."
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      As I stated earlier you cannot "just add up the numbers," in the SCN budget because you are dealing with multi-year procurement!

      Multi-year procurement means that the item(s) in question are paid for over multiple years and those costs are generally different for each year - ergo you must track the cost for each item over the procurement cycle, and this still does not address funding pots. You cannot make any assumptions about costs, you must read the contract!

      On the cost of a base DDG-51 hull: “The price per hull comes to $660 million for HII [Huntington Ingalls Industries] and $700 million for BIW [Bath Iron Works]. The cost for the hulls does not include so-called government furnished equipment like radars or combat weapon systems.”

      http://news.usni.org/2013/06/04/navy-awards-6-1-billion-in-nine-destroyer-deal

      I have seen better figures than this from GAO and CRS, but these are in the ball park.
      I again note that commercial industry builds much bigger ships for far lower costs and arguably better quality. A good example is the Maersk B-class costs about $350 million for a 30-knot, 53,000 DWT 4,000 TEU containership. Again, a containership is not a DDG, but neither is LCS and it boggles the mind that a 3,000 ton LCS which is built to neither naval vessel rules, or commercial standards cost more than a 53,000 ton commercial hull which exceeds ABS and international classification standards.

      GAB

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  4. Given that the LCS is one miserable Failure, I would think to make the LCS work, I would consult Corvette ship operators, designers and builders. At the Same time hire a Consultant who has vast experience in operating Naval Corvette ships and pay him or her to redesign the LCS into a Conventional Corvette that you see in other Navies such as Israel, Sweden, Finland and Malaysia.

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  5. OK, here are some points too consider.

    1) All other USN ASW ships use Sea Hawks too hunt a kill subs. I don't see how using them on the LCS would be a disadvantage.

    2) The idea of using drones to hunt submarines is not dead. DARPA has a contract to develop the ACTUV, a long range drone craft designed to hunt for submarines. They carry both TAS and hull mount sonar, and use satellite communicate to home base. I don't see why this drone can't operate with a LCS as the sub hunter.

    3) If you want to have a lightweight ASW system for close in work, how about Mousetrap, the rocket propelled version of Hedgehog.

    4) And there is always my idea of an encapsulated version of the MK48 torpedo, that can be left behind as a mine or deployed after it dropped and attack what ever submarine is in the area.


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    1. GLof, I didn't say that helos are a disadvantage. I said that a single helo (or two) has the inherent disadvantages of any helo. This applies equally to a Burke. The difference is that the Burke has a tail, hull mounted sonar, anti-sub torpedoes, Nixie, an integrated ASW combat control suite, Prairie/Masker, etc. The Burke can, to a degree, compensate for the inherent shortcomings of the helo. Further, the Burke is generally part of a group and can count on help in the form of additional helos, ships, and, possibly friendly subs. The LCS has few of those features and the LCS' ASW tactics have yet to be elucidated although I did point out that squadron tactics could mitigate some of the LCS' weaknesses.

      Drones may someday be an effective part of the LCS toolbox. Currently, they are a non-existent wish list item.

      That's exactly what a Russian RBU is. I'm all for that.

      Interesting idea about the encapsulated torp. Worth considering. Is anyone working on it that you know of?

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    2. The LCS ASW module does include a towed decoy, but I agree with you CNO, the LCS seaframe is less than ideal for traditional ASW. A separate seaframe that emphasizes quieting and has a hull-mounted sonar would be preferable (aka, a frigate). Hull mounted sonars are not nearly as capable as towed arrays, but they are always available, unlike towed arrays and VDSes.

      I would like to see if Fire X can carry and operate a dipping sonar. It could relay sonar data to an MH-60, or bounce it off another Fire X, acting as a sensor relay, back to the ship.

      LCS could use some VLS cells for an extended range VL-ASROC. Then, at least it would have a few extra shots. Of course the cost of adding a VLS on either LCS is reduced aviation capacity, which is a bad trade.

      Once again, this points to the need for a larger, 32-cell frigate.

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    3. B.Smitty, your comment that VLS cells would lead to loss of aviation cpacity it interesting. On the face of it, you're right. However, this brings up a point about stealth that I've long wondered about. The reason VLS would eat into aviation space is because the LCS has very little open deck space on which to mount a VLS module. Compare the LCS to any WWII era ship and you'll see that WWII ships had LOTS of deck space. In our movement to stealth, we've latched onto slanted superstructures and, further, superstructures that span the width of the ship, presumably to avoid non-stealthy flat deck spaces although I've never read that explanation anywhere. The LCS could have been built with much smaller slanted superstructures that would have opened up deck space for VLS cells. Burkes and San Antonios have much the same issue though not to quite the same degree. There's a tradeoff between stealth and functionality and I wonder if we've gone too far with the stealth. I also wonder about the impact of flat deck surfaces on stealth. As I say, just speculation on my part.

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    4. In this case, I think interior volume and weight are bigger constraints. They just weren't designed for a full-sized VLS plus a mission module.

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    5. B.Smitty, from what I can see in photos and conceptual drawings, the internal mission bay and cargo spaces seem more than adequate to add a VLS if the deck space were available. Remember, in this instance we're talking about conversion to a dedicated ASW vessel so the flexibility of a reconfigurable bay wouldn't be needed.

      Weight could, indeed, be an issue but part of my proposed ASW conversion was to probably convert to conventional propulsion which would eliminate the high speed requirement thereby freeing up large amounts of machinery, intakes, exhausts and whatnot that are dedicated to getting the last few knots of superspeed. That would free up additional volume and weight. The manufacturer's proposed export versions, which I believe incorporate conventional propulsion, show lots of weapons so they must believe that they can deal with the weight issue.

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    6. I afraid the VLS will have to wait for the next generation of LCS follows the current designs. Of course the VLS used won't be the Mk 41, as they will be either Mk56 or similar unit that can be fitted according to the mission intended.

      Still I expect the next generation LCS will be larger, so it can carry heavier mission modules, larger crew, more fuel and stores, and possible(I hope) space for Marines (and a few EFV.) But this will allow plenty of weight and space for whatever VLS system will be developed for them in the future.


      As for using drones for submarine hunting, that was all going to be they way any LCS will search for submarines, and the future of all close ASW. It is just too dangerous to send ships like classical frigates and corvettes into littoral water to hunt submarines with their hull mounted sonar. The only safe way to look for submarines in those water is with sensors and drones.

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  6. I generally would think that depth charges and such aren't very useful in open water and pretty much gone by the wayside since the end of WW2/Cold war but since LCS is in shallow water with in all likelihood the sub being close by also in shallow water, why is everyone so quick to dismiss depth charges or that even LCS shouldn't have it's own capability to launch a torpedo? Seems to me USN is making a lot of assumptions that a sub or LCS will never get close to one another......As for LCS, everything I found on Google doesn't inspire a lot confidence that this will be some great hunter killer of subs...

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    1. Heavyweight torpedoes far outrange the distance to which a depth charge can be employed.

      The reasoning is akin to why we took tail guns out of B-52s.

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    2. "Heavyweight torpedoes far outrange the distance to which a depth charge can be employed.

      The reasoning is akin to why we took tail guns out of B-52s."

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      We also took guns out of fighters (prematurely), and replaced 7.62mm machineguns with 5.56mm weapons in our infantry squads - only to find that the cannon still had som use in a fighter, and have scrambled to re-introduce the 7.62mm weapons at the squad level.

      The point is that there is a place for the ASW grenade launcher.

      GAB

      GAB

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    3. GAB,

      I'm not arguing against guns or short-range firepower altogether...

      The point is that the threat (fighters armed with modern sensors and air-to-air missiles) far outranges the defensive capabilites of bomber tail guns.

      I believe the same paradigm holds true for depth charges versus submarines. Heavyweight torpedoes can reach out 10-12 nm. An enemy submarine can kill a ship several times over before it could close to depth-charge range.

      Matt

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    4. Matt,

      You have have unique way of twisting things - I said: "We also took guns out of fighters (prematurely)..." I certainly was not talking about a 21st century engagement between F22s and SU37s, but Vietnam.


      Though limited, there are situations where ASW grenades (a type of depth charge) is useful, while other weapons like ASROC, or aerial delivered weapons. cannot be employed due to hydrography.

      An example is bottomed SS in shallow water; possibly detectable only by active sonar and at relatively short range.

      This is why the this type of weapon has not disappeared yet, and a reason why infantry still carry bayonets along with $50,000 Javelin missiles.

      GAB

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    5. GAB,

      Not attempting to "twist" anything. Your comment was very open ended, so I attempted to fill in the blanks.

      I will reiterate my point that if a ship is close enough to drop a depth charge, an enemy sub will long since have killed it.

      The utility is quite limited.

      Matt

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    6. Matt :“I will reiterate my point that if a ship is close enough to drop a depth charge, an enemy sub will long since have killed it.”

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      In a blue water scenario I strongly agree, but we are talking about littoral ASW where the enemy submarine is likely bottomed and assigned to a barrier patrol mission are we not?

      How effective are our ASW weapons against bottomed submarines? What is the minimum depth of water for an aerial delivered torpedo, or ASROC? How often have we tested them in this environment against a modern bottomed boat – say a type 212? What do the FOM numbers tell us about the probable detection ranges for surface ships versus an SSK in coastal shallows?

      The truth is that the USN has not faired well in exercises against modern, well-handled SSKs in blue water, and has even less experience against these SSKs in shallow water scenarios. Our Northern European allies - the ones who make our life miserable when we train against their SSKs, and the Russians still maintain ASW grenade, rocket launched depth charge, and so forth. Perhaps we should at least consider these weapons?

      I find it ironic that LCS was informed by the Streetfighter concept, which was based on the idea of a small combatant operating as part of a flotilla would present an enemy submarine (likely bottomed) with a tactical dilemma: expose itself to attack a low value ASW asset and be destroyed in retaliation by the surviving flotilla units, or remain hidden and be unable to prosecute an attack on a high value unit like a carrier, LHD, or cruiser.

      When LCS had a projected cost of ~$220 million dollars it was a reasonable concept. With the current cost growth of the LCS platform, any professional analysis has to consider the value of simply fielding SSKs rather than LCSs.

      A type 212 submarine costs on order of $525 million dollars, has a range in excess of 8,000 miles, a crew of ~30, and can carry everything from tomahawk missiles, to mines, drones, and of course heavy weight torpedoes. The SSK has advanced sonar, is extremely stealthy, and can operate independently.

      An LCS costs ~$500 million dollars (without most of its sensors and weapons which are contained in yet-to-be-fielded mission modules), has a range in excess of 4,000 miles, a crew (blue/gold) in excess of 100, and cannot carry heavy weapons like tomahawk, harpoon, ASROC... The LCS has add-on sonar confounded by lack of machinery isolation and is not stealthy, and requires support to operate against even modest threats.

      GAB

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    7. Depth charges can also be dropped by helicopters and aircraft.

      Imagine a fuse kit for the GBU-38 with depth and proximity sensors. The cost should be modest, compared to a LWT.

      A B-52 could carry a couple dozen of these and deliver them from high altitude on potential submarine contacts located by ship or helicopter.

      GAB,

      I too have wondered about the comparative value of an SSK vs an LCS. Certainly a sub can't do all of the missions that the LCS can perform. It's not going to counter the small boat threat (though perhaps it could contribute with a munition like the German IDAS missile). It could piggy-back tethered or autonomous UUVs for covert MIW. It has obvious ASW capability, though the typical SSK search speed is not great. Not the best MIO/VBSS asset, but German subs did it in WWII. It won't carry a helo.

      SSKs are obviously vastly more survivable.

      Deployment speed is a major issue for current SSKs. I wonder if we could build one that could transit snorting or on the surface at 20+kts but then retain its undersea performance and signature?

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    8. Smitty,

      You bring up some great points, and I agree that SSKS cannot do all of the missions that LCS is supposed to do.

      That said, I not that SSKs can do the critical A2/AD missions far better than an LCS: ASW and launch MCM drones.

      For the counter small boat threat, apart from destroying boghammers at their piers (arguably the best way to deal with the threat), SSKs are of little use. That said, LCS is not an ideal counter boghammer or missile boat platform. The ideal way to deal with small boats and missile craft is with MPA armed with small cruise missiles (NSM is ideal for missile boats and corvettes), cluster weapons, and hellfire or griffin.

      Deployment speed is an issue for LCS, with the added concern of unrefueled range. A type 212 cruises at about the same speed as LCS (10 kts), but has an 8,000 mile range at that speed. LCS cannot really use its high speed without exhausting her fuel supply in shor order. The painful reality is that LCSs resorting to their most economical speeds cannot deploy faster than avenger class MCM vessels or SSKs, and only have a 4000 mile range or so.

      GAB

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    9. The glossy LCS brochures say Independence can go 4300 nm @ 18kts. The SAR says 3,777nm @ 14kts.

      The German Type IXD U-boat could go 20kts on the surface, so in theory we could build an SSK that could transit with a task force on the surface until it reached its operating area. If a modern variant could hit 25kts or so, we could use it for MIO/VBSS. Perhaps a return of the deck gun?

      Of course this would compromise its underwater performance, but it may still be more survivable than an LCS.

      Don't think it needs to go 38kts, but DCNS had a similar idea.

      http://en.dcnsgroup.com/innovation-technology/smx-25/

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    10. Smitty,

      I think the SSK debate should be limited to modern boats, and I do not believe that any modern submarines are going to be particularly fast on the surface.

      The endurance/range issue for LCS remains, while the SSK, typified by the type 212, will still go from Hawaii to Guam (~4,000 nm) with 50% remaining fuel, while LCS will arrive on fumes. This also ignores two critical considerations: weather and replenishment capability. An SSK can dive to avoid the ravages of a typhoon, where LCS will have to fight them, and if the LCS is operating away from the combat logistics force she will have to fuel from ports.

      In short, an SSK will arrive pretty much ready to fight, but the prospects for LCS are less assured.

      I am not sure that any submarine is capable of the VBSS mission.

      GAB

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    11. I wonder about how well an SSK can perform ASW. It can't search an area quickly. It can't get to an area quickly.

      Finding another modern SSK may require active sonar sweeps, which would give away the friendly SSK's primary advantage, stealth. It could be used as a passive receiver in a multi-static system, where another vessel, helo or buoy acts as the active source. However it may need to stay at periscope depth for significant periods to coordinate with the rest of the system.

      If we wanted to adopt a sea denial strategy for dealing with A2/AD threats, an SSK may make sense. But if we need to do sea control, we will need surface ships.

      So a better comparison for the LCS might be with another, similarly sized ship like the South African Valour-class. Wikipedia says it can go 8,000nm @ 16kts.

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    12. B.Smitty, as you suggested, I see the SSK in the denial role more so than offensive. There will be an advantage to the side that can afford to wait patiently for the enemy to come to them or for the enemy to reveal themself in the course of their offensive attempts. Practicing denial in chokepoints or regions where the enemy can be reasonably anticipated to enter is a good use for the SSK. A valid offensive use would be things like mining and harbor strikes where the premium is on silence and avoidance rather than one-on-one combat.

      There's no doubt that one-on-one combat between relatively equally matched SSKs is a risky business!

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  7. I guess the biggest failing, that I can see, with the LCS is that the 'payloads, not platforms' has ignored that the platform itself can be key.

    The LCS is a pretty good platform, for a big ship, for fighting swarm attacks. Its fast and turns well. The issues are that its A) really expensive for this mission and B) is going to be put into roles for which its seaframe isn't suited.

    Yes, the Helo's are great for ASW, but, while I haven't seen any comparisons between waterjets and screws, I have been on both. Waterjets are loud as hell. And, as stated before, this sea-frame isn't quieted like some other ASW designs. Its not going to be as effective at ASW as other dedicated ASW ships due to this. They have Helo's too, but they also have a ship better designed for the task.

    I don't know about the mine warefare part of it. But from what I've read about it the mission modules are still having problems, and at least from the outset won't be as efficient as the MCM's we have now.

    So, for well over half a billion dollars, we'll get a ship that is pretty good at swarm warfare; sub par at ASW, and sub par at mine countermeasures.

    But we'll have 50 of them. So we'll have to use them. Which means I see them being put (probably alone) in littoral situations where they can't fight well against other AShM armed Corvettes if they have to. Or they'll end up doing ASW work for the fleet, because the 'Burkes will be concerned with anti-air duty when the Tico's are on the way out, and the FFG's are gone. MCM duty they will probably be able to eventually do fairly well.

    But it seems we just spent a buttload of money on a ship that doesn't do much well. And we are making it a workhorse of our fleet. *sigh*.

    Honestly, I could take alot of its shortcomings, if only it was a bit cheaper. Make the LCS truly $350 million when its completely fit out and this ship looks alot different.

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    1. Jim, your observation about the LCS looking a lot different at $350, completely fitted out, is true. We wouldn't expect anywhere near as much for that price tag. Recall that the very first price target was $200M per copy.

      There is also a bit of a problem buried in your observation. The LCS is slated to become around a third of the entire battle fleet. Even if the LCS were perfect (flawless MCM, great ASW, and highly effective anti-small boat ASuW), that would leave us with a third of our combat fleet being peripheral in nature, unable to contribute to strike, anti-air, or any of the "big boy" missions. MCM, for example, while very important, isn't a combat fleet mission. We've designed an ancillary vessel and made it part of our combat fleet for political reasons so that the fleet numbers don't appear to be declining.

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    2. Good Point. I hadn't thought of that. Even if the LCS were a dream... its a dream that leaves a significant chunk of our Navy at below Frigate level; and does nothing to plug gaps that we have in terms of our current battle fleet.

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  8. Agree with you Jim, it's a lot of boat/expense with not a lot to show for it. I keep hearing from pro LCS how the helicopter will do this, will do that. What happens when the bird is being refueled or armed? Down for maintenance? They seem to be so sure that the helicopter will always be there to hunt/kill the sub. What happens when the sub gets in between the helicopter and LCS? Can the LCS provide ASW/escort for other boats? I doubt it. So we are buying it to do what? shoot at Iranian swarm attack and maybe do some pirate work of Somalia? Sure can't defend itself against anything heavier, that's for sure. Forget comparing to other navies corvettes/frigates, it would be laughable if I was just a joke and we, taxpayers weren't paying for it....

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  9. The only problem is that the US Navy doesn't know how to arm the LCS. They should look at Corvettes around the world and Arm the LCS in the same fashion as a Corvette ship. If were keeping the LCS, I would cap them at 24, split them between the MCM and Patrol force. Which means LCS-2's would go to the MCM force and LCS-1's would go to the Patrol force, supporting special ops. For LCS-1's I would Arm them in a conventional Corvette ship similar to the MILGEM project, Steregushchy-class corvette, Sigma Class Corvette, Visby class Corvette and the Braunschweig-class corvette. LCS-2 would be for MCM force with all the current off the shelf MCM gear.

    We all know the LCS will never, ever sail with the Big navy and the US Navy should start looking for a Frigate replacement or taking all the existing Flight I & II Burkes and turn them into Frigates that is similar to the Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate. Removing the aft VLS and replacing it with a Helicopter hangar for one MH-60 or UAV. The Flight I & II Burkes can C&C the LCS and the Flight I & II Burkes can be downgraded to a Frigate that is similar to the Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate.

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  10. I like the idea... but I don't know if we have the money. I don't know how much it would cost to convert the Flt I & II Burkes, but it would seem that your post assumes that we then would build a lot of Flt III Burkes to fill the void left by the converted Burkes. And IIRC the Flt III Burkes are slated to cost something like 2.8 Billion a pop... I don't know if there is money in the till today to do that. That is nearly the price point that doomed the Zumwalts.

    I think we are at a pretty dicey turning point in the Navy. I don't have the knowledge or experience to pinpoint why, though you all make pretty persuasive arguments for the politicization of the Admiralty being a huge problem. (Where is the Tomcat Admiral for the LCS? The F-35?). A former Navy friend of mine said he felt we haven't had a good CNO since Boorda.

    But we are facing a hollowing of the fleet due to bad decisions and a tightening budget. I've read a couple articles that we are facing similar issues to what Jackie Fisher did when he took over as first Sea Lord. Except we already have some $$$ tied up in bad designs that I don't think he did.

    Is there a way out for us? I don't think that the Navy is completely lost. I mean, the SuperHornet is a good plane by all accounts, and the Advanced Superhornet looks to be quite nice. It isn't an F-22, but I don't think it has to be.

    I see as our main issues:

    A) Bad procurement decisions/process
    B) Insane fleet wear and tear
    C) Dwindling money in a capital intensive part of the military
    D) Gaps in the fleet arsenal (ASW mainly, in my mind. Then AShM's. Then MCM's...)

    I guess I'm wondering if you guys agree, and where we go from here. CNO, would you mind doing a high level post saying what ills us, and potential ways forward? I mean short term stuff. I like the idea of creating a BuShips, but its going to take awhile to bear any fruit.

    Is first and foremost to cancel the LCS and F-35, freeing up that money for SLEP's for our current FFG's and maybe purchase of some new ones, or NSC's? As well as a Viking replacement for long range fleet ASW, and purchase/conversion of the SuperHornets to Advanced Superhornets? Or do we go with the F-35 and try to do something with it? (I'm a Superhornet guy...)

    Do we get the LRASM? Or bag it and buy the Taiwanese supersonic AShM? Would that even happen? (Isn't the Penguin a foreign purchase?)

    What about the SSN fleet? I don't see much more money for this, but maybe we try to keep the Ohio's around as long as possible as SSGN's.

    The days of the 600 ship Navy are long past. But could we fix our current issues and develop a very potent battle fleet that would give the Chinese pause in the South China Sea? Or do we say we'll control the blue water only, outside of their missile range?

    Just thinking out loud.

    Thanks!

    Jim

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    1. I simply think that that US Navy save itself if it did this. Cancel the F-35B and switch back to the Advanced super hornet, using the F-35 Technology. At the same time, see if we can make a COD, AEW and ASW out of the MV-22.

      Cap the LCS to 24 and split them between the MCM and Patrol force. I would send LCS-2 to the MCM force and LCS-1 to the PC force. LCS-1's would be modified to Corvette standard and putting all the weapons that are found on Corvette ships. LCS-2 would have all the current MCM gear and placed in the MCM fleet.

      As for replacing the Perrys, I would look at one of two options. The first would be to take all the Flight I & II Burkes and converting them to frigates in the same fashion as the Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate. That would mean removing the aft VLS and replacing it with a Hangar for one helicopter or UAV.

      The other option would be to take the USCG's NSC design and build a patrol frigate based on the NSC design. I would install all current and of the shelf Frigate weapons and systems.

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    2. Jim, you ask about a post on short term fixes for the Navy ... In a sense, that's what most of the posts are about - recognizing specific problems and examining fixes. Could I produce a single, succinct post about short term fixes? Sure, if you can tell me a single, succinct strategy that the Navy needs to support. I'll keep harping on this theme. Without a coherent strategy, the Navy has no guiding blueprint to design against. Do we want a Navy whose mission is long range, inland strike? Do we want a Navy whose mission is large scale anti-surface warfare? Do we want a Navy whose mission is stand-off blockade? Do we want a Navy whose mission is massive amphibious assault? Do we want a Navy whose mission is massive aviation capability to make up for the lack of bases in the Pacific? Do we want a Navy whose mission is humanitarian assistance? And so on. The optimum force strucuture for each of those missions varies widely. Give me a strategy and I'll give you a force structure. Heck, with a defined strategy, most of us can come up with good force structure.

      I've proposed lots of changes but they're isolated; divorced from a coherent strategy. There's some obvious immediate changes that would be a benefit no matter what future we see: cancel JSF, cancel LCS, reinstitute the General Board and BuShips, focus on mine warfare, and so on.

      I've debated offering a geopolitical strategy but that gets beyond the scope of this blog. If you read through all the posts you can probably get a pretty good sense of my thoughts. Too many people want to jump right into the number of guns to put on a frigate without considering the missions the frigate would tasked with in the context of an overall fleet and military which is, in turn, operating within the context of an overall geopolitical strategy. Having the greatest frigate (or battleship or submarine or whatever) design ever conceived is pointless if our overall fleet and overall strategy doesn't call for frigate type missions.

      I have no problem whatsoever with discussions about theoretical ship designs - they're fun to consider! But, realistic designs have to be considered in the context of the fleet and strategic needs. Maybe we don't need any frigates (to pick on a popular topic). Maybe we hundreds of frigates. Define a strategy and then we'll have our answer.

      This isn't the answer you were looking for, Jim, but it's the only correct answer I can give under the circumstances. Does that make sense?

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    3. Yes, it makes perfect sense. Its frustrating that our Navy seems unable to articulate it.

      "Without a coherent strategy, the Navy has no guiding blueprint to design against. Do we want a Navy whose mission is long range, inland strike? Do we want a Navy whose mission is large scale anti-surface warfare? Do we want a Navy whose mission is stand-off blockade?"

      My personal opinion, feel free to blow it up, is that I think the Navy can focus primarily on one of those missions, but that those capabilities would 'bleed over' into other areas, if to a lesser degree.

      I.E, my personal thought would be that we want a Navy whose mission is large scale anti-surface warfare.

      The reason for this, to me, is that
      A) The Chinese are increasingly building a Blue water fleet
      B) The CHinese are using said fleet to help intimidate neighbors, who are our allies
      C) One of the primary missions of our Navy, as a maritime power, is to control the sea in order to control the sea lines of communication and shipping. Most of our more valuable sea lines are now in the Pacific
      D) even in the days of sail, having ships attack forts was possible, but risky as hell. We enjoyed a period where we could attack with impunity because AShM's weren't as advanced, and no one had much of a blue water capability. That has changed. So parking a Carrier off the Chinese shore isn't feasible anymore. Even if ABM technology works flawlessly you can only carry so many ABM's in your magazine when you don't have much room to manuever.

      To get to that end, I would:

      A) Cancel the F-35 and retrofit/buy the Advanced superhornet
      B) Cancel the LCS. Look at cost effective solutions for a replacement. National Security Cutter? I dont' know. But look for something that is very ASW focused, because I believe subs are a major blue water threat. SLEP the remaining FFG's. Maybe have SURTASS ships in the Pacific. Work, if we don't have one, on a SOSUS line around the South China Sea.
      C) Fix the Virginias (their coating issues) and try to increase production if possible.
      D) Cancel the Fords. I don't see a compelling need to go beyond the Nimitz class with efficiency improvements. Especially not worth the cash.
      E) Keep the 'Burkes for the time being. Soon they are going to be our only Anti-air.
      D) Mothball the Tico's when the time comes.
      E) Drop the number of carriers down to 9. 1 group of three for the Atlantic, the rest for the Pacific. Mothball the rest.
      F) Find a way to improve tanking, and aerial ASW. Maybe bring back the Vikings. Or use the Osprey's for that role. Something.
      G) Get a new AShM into the fleet. Either Harpoon Blk III, a Taiwanese model that's supersonic, or LRASM. But do it quickly as possible. And put it on all of the decks you can.

      My theory is this:

      Given: We aren't going to be able to keep our fleet the same size. We have to cut it down to what we can do, and do well. Deciding to move our fleet into close contact with the Chinese Coast close to the center of their naval power is a great way to wreck our fleet.

      Given: We can't have our fleet deploying all over the world independantly anymore. We don't have the ships, or the money for the wear and tear that would entail.

      Given: Ballistic and 'normal' AShM's make it very difficult to move close in in a hot environment.

      What can we do? Get an advanced SuperHornet for a reasonable price, and with proper tanking it gives us a great anti ship platform. Improve the ASW on our fleet because right now it seems to be really bad. Have our fleet control the blue water, where China can't easily extend. Make it a constant threat to Chinese shipping. 'You can go to war with us. But we can stop your commerce.' can rely on allies to help us in/around Japan the China sea. We can use submarines to get close and make the strikes we need.

      This still allows for land attack ability. This still allows for humanitarian missions in peace time. Just not as good.

      Let me know what you think.

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    4. Jim, you're getting closer but you're still missing the link to strategic goals. For example, you state, "... the Navy can focus primarily on one of those missions ..." Why? Why would the Navy want to focus on any of those missions? What strategic goal would any of those missions support? Answer that and you'll be able to easily decide which mission(s) the Navy should focus on.

      More specifically, you state we want a Navy whose focus is large scale anti-surface warfare and you offer reasons A-D as rationale. Look at the individual reasons you offer. For example,

      A. - Why do we care if China builds a blue water fleet? What strategic goal of ours dictates that we have to counter a Chinese fleet or conduct extensive anti-surface warfare? What if we opted to conduct a purely long range aviation campaign (B-2 bombers) supported by SSGN Tomahawk strikes? There would be no need to engage in extensive anti-surface warfare. I'm not saying this would be the preferred operational plan but without strategic goals why would think that anti-surface warfare would get us where we want to go? It might. It might not.

      You get the idea? Depending on our strategic goals we might or might not need to fight Chinese fleets. We might or might not need X number of carriers. And so on ...

      What you're defining is operational and tactical level decisions that are isolated from strategic needs. Granted, some of your decisions would probably be applicable regardless of overall strategy but many depend on strategic guidance. We have limited money. Should we invest in B-2s or Burkes? Should we increase the size of ground forces to garrison the outlying islands around China or should we decrease the size of ground forces in anticipation of a largely naval and air campaign? And so on ...

      Your "givens" are backwards. You're letting factors dictate strategy. Strategy comes first and then factors influence the means to accomplish that strategy. For example, you say it's a given that fleet size will decrease and that says we can't engage close to the Chinese coast. If our strategy calls for close engagement then we MUST have a larger fleet and it only remains for us to decide how to achieve that. On the other hand, if our strategy calls for only a long distance blockade then we don't need much of a fleet and probably not one with the force structure we currently have. So, which is it? Or something else?

      You're talking operations and tactics without a link to strategy. You're getting closer but not quite there yet.

      Ponder this, since you seem focused on the Chinese fleet: How is the Chinese fleet (even a future, bigger, more modern one) a threat to the US? They can't reach the US. Their capabilities are going to remain limited for quite a while, yet. We have no real land mass within their range that they can threaten. We can sail subs under them with relative impunity and launch missiles over them. Why is the Chinese fleet a threat? Answer that and you'll know to what degree, if any, you should counter them. Given our strategic goals (of which we don't have any!) maybe we can let them sail around accomplishing nothing. Or maybe not.

      I offer these thoughts not as criticism but as a guide for your thought process since you seem open to input. : )

      Have fun with this!

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    5. I very much appreciate your input (or anyone elses). I see what you mean. Instead of 'Here is the equipment to fit my assumptions' I need to step back and analyze the assumptions to see if they fit reality. This should be fun.

      As I've stated before, I've never been in the military. I've only read about it. And while to a certain extent I guess that makes me a fanboy, I do think its good for citizens to go through these thought processes because ultimately its us who help to decide to support what.

      Once I question those, and come up with a reason why we want to do something, I can think of the best ways to do that. And then I can decide how to shape the Navy to fit those missions.

      I have a question and a comment:

      One is... I agree with all of the above, but do wonder if we might be in a new state to a certain extent. The Navy can come up with a great plan that meets a national strategy. But I think its highly unlikely that Congress will increase funding no matter how cogent their argument. Sadly, I personally am afraid Congress will be more 'I don't want to spend more money and create political risk. So do all those cool things with your current funding...' If I am right, Doesn't the funding question then become part of the strategic thought? As a completely ad hoc example, Instead of 'China is a threat to our Maritime shipping due to this reason. We need to defeat China on the high seas because she threatens our Maritime trade, which is vital to our national interest' it becomes 'Within this fiscal environment we need to face China on the high seas...'

      The statement is:

      "Should we invest in B-2s or Burkes?" Burkes! Duh! I'm a Navy Nerd! ;-)

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    6. Jim, you're very close now!

      To rephrase your statement, funding doesn't become part of our strategic thought, funding becomes part of our implementation. If we determine that we need 500 B-2 bombers to implement our strategy but we can only afford 100, then we need to find a way to afford 500 (defund programs that aren't critical to strategic goals, increase funding, etc.). The overall military budget is mammoth. We can fund whatever we truly need. What we can't fund is dozens of insanely expensive programs that only marginally contribute to our strategic goals (again, assuming we had any!).

      Given a clear statement of geopolitical strategy and a clear statement of military needs to achieve that strategy, Congress will gladly allocate the money. What they're hesitating to do is continue to fund questionable programs (LCS, JSF, EFV, etc.). If we dropped the questionable programs we wouldn't even have to ask Congress for more money - there would be plenty of money freed up and Congress would love us.

      Half the weapons, systems, and programs we have don't directly support our strategic goals (as I see them). What they support is budget justifications for the individual services.

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    7. Some strategic guidance documents.

      http://www.public.navy.mil/donhr/Pages/StrategicDocuments.aspx
      http://www.navy.mil/maritime/

      Note, they speak in broad terms, which makes sense given that they must guide all Naval activities, not just in the Western Pacific or Persian Gulf.

      Some grand strategy links,

      http://www.cnas.org/files/documents/publications/CNAS_AmericasPath_FontaineLord_0.pdf

      http://research.policyarchive.org/12290.pdf‎

      http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/grandstrat.htm

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    8. CNO said, "Given a clear statement of geopolitical strategy and a clear statement of military needs to achieve that strategy, Congress will gladly allocate the money. What they're hesitating to do is continue to fund questionable programs (LCS, JSF, EFV, etc.). If we dropped the questionable programs we wouldn't even have to ask Congress for more money - there would be plenty of money freed up and Congress would love us."

      You clearly have a different understanding of how Congress works than I do. ;)

      IMHO, clear geopolitical strategy means next to nothing to Congress people. They vote for whatever helps them win their reelection. The F-35 has votes in nearly every state. The EFV did not.

      I think most of the weapons, systems and programs we have do support our strategic goals, but whether or not they are the most cost effective mix is debatable.

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    9. B.Smitty, you're correct that Congress acts in such a way as to win the next election (though I'd like to think that some of them act on priciple to some extent!). That includes things like voting for weapons and systems that promote jobs, voting for "stuff" the military wants because they want to be seen supporting the military, and voting for "stuff" just for sake of looking busy and important. While strategy alone may mean little to them, strategy as a justification for weapons and systems is ideal, in their minds. Overwhelming justification, jobs, patriotism, etc. all combine to make a very supportable program if we can provide the strategic need and tie the program in question back to that strategy.

      I suppose that a case could be made for most weapons and systems supporting strategic goals (assuming we had any) to some degree, however slight. On a practical basis and, most importantly, on a monetary value basis, LCS does not significantly support any strategic goal I have in mind. Neither does JSF or half the ampibious ships or JHSV or AAV or MV-22 or ... well, you get the idea. Of course, it all depends on what your strategic goals are.

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  11. Great comments! I have been wondering about the LCS platform vs Helicopter or drone weapon system. As far as I can tell and read about LCS, the helicopter really is the only offensive weapon on board. Actually, come to think of it, the helicopter is the only thing that makes the LCS dangerous to anything.

    My question then is, "are we buying the right platform?" If the helicopter is so important to just about all 3 missions given to LCS, wouldn't we be better off with a platform that can accommodate 2-4 helicopters instead of only 1-2 helicopters? Maybe LCS-1 version should be much smaller (maybe just operate drones?) and LCS-2 needs to be enlarged to operate 2-4 helicopters?

    Any thoughts? Just thinking out aloud....

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    1. Well, NICO, referring back to my previous post on the Tarawa, if you think helos are the key, the best helo platform available is an amphibious ship. Makes sense, doesn't it? If the helo is the key to the LCS effectiveness then an amphibious ship is a better LCS than the LCS!

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    2. Why an amphibious ship? Why not a DDH or a helo carrier? Amphibious ships have a lot of space "wasted" on the mission of carrying Marines. Obviously you wouldn't want to carry them while performing as an ASW flagship. They'd just be potential casualties.

      As said in other threads, the main disadvantage to this is putting your eggs in far fewer baskets. This has implications for mission survivability, and limits your ability to distribute capability around a theater and around the world.

      I've gone back and forth on having a pair of LCS's as NICO describes (a larger one carrying multiple helos and smaller one carrying only UAVs or no aviation at all). I don't know if you'll see a big advantage in doing this. Both LCS variants can carry a pair of H-60s or equivalent. So two can carry up to four helos. None of their mission packages have two helos in them, but there is space.

      If anything, I'd go the JMSDF route and have both surface combatants carrying 1-2 helos, and a larger DDH with as many as a dozen or more.

      Or build a much cheaper combatant that can be bought in larger numbers. Cebrowski wanted Streetfighters for this, but I'm thinking "combatish" OPV. Both can be relatively inexpensive, but OPVs are easier to sustain forward due to their higher endurance, accommodations and range. Call them Destroyer Escorts, if OPV sounds too wimpy.

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    3. B.Smitty, you'll note that I said an amphib was the best "available" choice. I'd be open to a DDH or helo carrier, in concept. The Tarawas or other amphibs already exist and are paid for.

      Choosing between a many-helo amphib and a 4-helo DDH or ?-helo helo carrier involves an evaluation of the benefits of many helos versus the eggs-in-a-basket risk. Where that balance lies, I don't know. My opinion is that we gain more from a many-helo ship than we risk but, as I said, I'm open to the alternatives.

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    4. We don't have very many LHA/LHDs (~11) and the ones we have are overtasked with Marine missions. Pulling them off for ASW duty would be a difficult sell.

      IMHO, they are also too big for the job. A Tarawa was designed to carry as many as 26 CH-46s, which equates to around 40 H-60s, by spot factor. The Wasps could carry up to 64 H-60s.

      That's way too much concentration. They also require a thousand or more sailors to man.

      As a separate topic, we could consider the "right" platforms and organization for the amphibious fleet. IMHO, there's something to be said for going with an all LHD fleet. Just not the huge LHDs we have now. Something more like the Juan Carlos (~25-30k tonnes).

      It would require rethinking the MEU organization and maybe divesting it of huge, ungainly rotary assets like the V-22 and CH-53, for H-60s and maybe CH-47s (or keep the CH-53). Yes, the Marines would have a OMFTS/STOM cow, but really, is it THAT useful of a capability? It sure is expensive.

      Maybe instead of an all singing, all dancing Swiss Army knife, the MEU should be a leaner force. Use the 101st Air Assault Division Ready Force as a template, then add some AAVs and Tanks. The DRF is only around 1400 soldiers, including helo pilots and maintainers. Maybe 1500-1600 with an AAV platoon and a tank platoon and a bit more log back end vs 2200 Marines in a current MEU.

      Split them across two Juan Carlos LHDs.

      I think the Juan Carlos is a better size for an alternate ASW/Sea Control Ship. It could carry a mix of 12 F-35Bs and 10 H-60s in this role.

      If we were to buy JUST LHDs, we could have up to 30 of these flat tops available for various missions. With that many, you can justify using them outside their core ARG/ESG mission, IMHO.

      I know you don't buy into the economies of scale arguments, but I certainly do. We would achieve savings by not splitting our production and design capacity across multiple ship types (LHA/LHD/LPD/LSD). We could have multiple yards compete to build the same class, just like we did with the Burkes.

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    5. B.Smitty, just to be clear, I'm not advocating removing front line amphibs and coverting them to ASW/MCM motherships. I'm advocating taking retired/retiring amphibs and coverting them. While an amphib could carry a few dozen helos, depending on type, I would think an amphib in an ASW mothership role would not need nearly that many. Manning, with no need to support hundreds of embarked Marines and a reduced level of aviation, could be greatly reduced. Throw in some judicious automation and crew size would be further reduced.

      I like your speculation about the MEU/DRF. Care to write a guest post? It doesn't matter whether I agree with your premise or not - only that you have an interesting idea and can support it with facts and logic. The Marines are in the midst of a self-examination triggered by budget constraints and this would make a good topic. Unfortunately, I'm not enough of a ground expert to offer a well informed opinion. Let me know if you have any interest.

      My only problem with economy of scale is that I can't find many real world examples of it within recent naval history. Perhaps you'd like to guest a post investigating the issue and demonstrate that economy of scale does or does not occur in naval acquisition? Who knows, you might surprise yourself with what you find. Or you might surprise me. Either way, I'd be fascinated to see the outcome. Again, let me know.

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    6. The Tarawas are effectively gone (one left, one retired, the rest disposed of). The Wasps are all still in service and probably will be for at least another decade or more. I'm not sure there are many LHA/D candidate hulls available.

      All will require a lot of manpower to run, even if cut down to a minimum. They have old steam plants which would require a major effort to automate.

      There may be more LPD/LSD hulls, but they can't support much aviation.

      I've thought about writing up a series of posts as a conceptual response to the New Navy Fighting Machine. Just haven't had the time or gumption to write things down in a cohesive manner. I keep fiddling with my fleet model, pricing, service lives, and so on, and trying out new ideas. The project keeps increasing in scope. (e.g. I can't justify the fleet model without justifying the change to the MEU. )

      It fills my idle time though, so I guess there's still some value to it. ;)

      I've found it difficult to find objective, apples-to-apples pricing data to demonstrate economies of scale. I know the latest block buy of LCSs is cheaper per unit than the last buy. I know reinvesting in Virginia class SSN production has reduced construction times considerably. Also, buying two Virginias per year is said to reduce the unit price by a few hundred million. Same goes with the DDG-51s. I would like to point to a CBO, GAO or RAND report that distills this trend out from the accounting complexities, but I don't know of one. I'll keep looking.

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    7. B.Smitty, fair enough. If you decide you have something you'd like to post, let me know.

      Supposedly, the Navy is preparing for another round of amphibious early retirements. Tarawas are gone but more amphibs are going to become available shortly.

      I, took have looked at the LCS pricing for evidence of serial savings and what I've found is that there was a big drop after the first 2-4 but that appears to be mainly due to having somewhat finalized a design rather than serial production efficiencies. I was looking for a decrease in price over the next 20 and there isn't any. I've looked at Burkes and after adjusting for inflation there isn't any clear cut evidence of serial price reductions. Of course, it's complicated by the Navy switching from essentially full contracts to partial contracts with government supplied equipment and other accounting "tricks" over the course of the production run. Carriers not only don't have serial savings, they exhibit price increases even after adjusting for inflation. Of course, building one carrier every 5 years or so hardly constitutes serial production in the conventional sense so that doesn't necessarily prove anything. I looked at the Virginia costs and the "savings" did not appear to be due to serial production efficiencies but rather to redesigns that reduced the cost. Even there, the cost reductions were largely theoretical and the actual budget amounts didn't show any reduction, as I fuzzily recall.

      The only definitive conclusion I can come up with is that there is no clear cut evidence of serial production savings in naval acquisition programs, hence, my skepticism. It would take a more in-depth study than what I've so far attempted to definitively prove or disprove the concept.

      My personal suspicion is that there probably are serial production savings but that they're swamped by other factors such as continual redesigns, ever-changing requirements (for example, building in separate male/female accomodations), price increases due to ever increasing goverment oversight and regulations among suppliers, etc. Of course, even if that's what's happening, the net effect is that serial savings just never seem to materialize on the bottom line.

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    8. Just looking at the DDG-51 program, yes there appears to be a savings after the first few, but then the price appears to vary inversely according to quantity bought in that year more than over length of time.

      I agree, the accounting "tricks" and changes, design changes and other factors make it very difficult to quantify any trends.

      Committing to larger block buys in the LCS program also apparently contributes to cost savings.

      Relating back to my suggestion to switch to a single amphibious class type, the serial savings is not just from a larger buy. It's also from not having to design, develop and produce three-plus (LHA/LHD/LPD/LSD) different classes at one third or one forth the rate. You sink the development costs once and just stamp out copies. Obviously all of the other factors mentioned above will impact this unit price. And a one-size-fits-all amphib does not align with current USMC/Navy doctrine.


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    9. B.Smitty, your point about a common amphibious hull is intuitively appealing, however, the historical attempts to produce common hulls (or airframes, for that matter) have been generally less than successful. Have you thought through the requirements of the various classes/types and do you believe all can be accomodated in a common hull? Do you think the resulting common hull would be so large (to accomodate all the requirements) that it would negate any potential cost savings from commonality? Yet another great topic crying out for a guest post from a knowledgeable outsider!

      Consider the LCS. In a sense, it's an attempt to use a common hull (ignore the fact that there's actually two hulls!) for MCM, ASW, and ASuW and it's a failure because, at least in part, the hull is not optimized for any of the functions. Is this a lesson about commonality for us or do you see this as a unique situation and, if so, what makes it unique?

      I'm with you in concept but dubious in practice.

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  12. Multiple inappropriate comments were removed. This is getting tedious. If you can't keep the discussion impersonal and respectful, find another blog to frequent.

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