Saturday, December 28, 2013

USS Galactica

Previous posts have addressed the declining fleet size, increasing complexity of individual ships, the movement away from single purpose ships, and escalating shipbuilding costs.  Setting aside the wisdom of these trends, the trend, itself, is clear.  We’re moving towards a much smaller Navy consisting of far fewer ships that are much larger and hugely multi-mission.  We’re moving towards the Battlestar Galactica. 

For those of you who may not be familiar with the reference, the Battlestar Galactica was a naval spaceship in a science fiction television series.  The ship was a combination of aircraft carrier, battleship, and amphibious assault ship.  It was insanely huge, massively armored against even nuclear weapons, and, in a possible nod to realism, existed in very few numbers. 

The Navy is heading in that direction.  We’re building fewer ships with each succeeding class generally being physically larger than the preceeding one and we’re pushing hard to make each ship unlimitedly multi-functional.


Battlestar Galactica

 Consider aircraft carriers.  They’re getting bigger (although the airwings are shrinking!) and acquiring new capabilities.  The Ford’s radar system is a dual band (X-band SPY-3 and S-band volume search) system despite the need to only control ESSM missiles.  The Ford appears to have power and provision built in for laser and/or rail gun systems.  Carriers have operated with Army aviation groups and proposals have been made to base up to Company size Marine units aboard.  The carrier of the not too distant future may well have a significant gun/laser capability, aviation, and Marine assault capability – not too far from the Galactica!

Consider the new America class LHA.  They appear to be an attempt to combine a medium capacity aircraft carrier with an amphibious assault.

How about the Zumwalt?  It’s a very large ship that currently combines naval gun support, deep strike (Tomahawk), and ASW and was intended for littoral warfare.  Given its size, it’s not hard to imagine adding Marine assault capability, mine warfare, and enhanced aviation in the form of larger hangars and flight deck.

Contrast our current and near future ships with WWII ships.  They were generally fairly single function and much smaller.  OK, that’s readily apparent but does that mean that the current trend towards the Galactica is a problem?  Not necessarily.  Muti-function ships are intuitively appealing for a variety of obvious reasons.  The main drawbacks are the death spiral that they define (bigger means more expensive so we can’t afford as many so we make them bigger which means even more expensive which means still fewer ...), the accumulation of risk in a single platform, the reduced numbers of ships at a time when the Navy is being asked to be in more places at once, and the risk aversion that naturally accompanies hugely expensive ships (are we really going to risk a $4B Zumwalt in an ASW duel with an SSK?).

So, while there is nothing inherently wrong with a large, multi-function ship considered in isolation, the movement of the entire fleet towards the Galactica model is a trend that needs to be reconsidered.

9 comments:

  1. The problem is the Oceans aren't space. The larger a ship gets the more it flexes and bends. Whats more the galactica has all of the advantages. The Russian Cruiser Carriers are a smaller version of the do everything ship. They are stunted in every area.

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  2. Multi-mission ships have several other problems

    1. Getting enough training time to train the crew in all the different functions.

    2. The multi functions overwhelming the ability of the command to take in all the information pouring in and making decisions.

    3. Systems interfering with each other. Spy radar at full power can fry a helicopters electronics if its is close enough.

    4. Different tactics needed for different systems at the same time, mine hunting is a slow hunt, surface attack may need max speed, ASW may need both slow and fast

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  3. You forgot to add the most important part, BSG was awesome! Sadly looking like the last good scifi show we are going to see on TV....

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  4. Yes we are heading the direction of the single ship Carrier Battle Group.

    The problem is if you loose one ship and there goes the entire task force

    I suspect the fact that with the exception of the UK, nobody has lost a capital ship since WWII is the problem.

    Unfortunately in real life unlike the movies we cannot write the script to make up for our short comings.

    Mark

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  5. Argentina losing the Belgrano?

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  6. Correct John I missed that one, the point is a combat loss is now such rare event that we no longer think of a combat loss is a possibility.

    Thus we no longer see a problem with putting all our eggs in the one basket.

    Mark

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  7. I see it both ways. And I think thats a fair way of looking at it.
    The UKs Daring class is pretty fantastic, in its niche.
    If you want to defend a Carrier, Amphib Group, supply group, or even other vessels, against an incoming aircraft or missile, you wont go far wrong.

    However.

    The UK deploys its Daring class as a single ship on a multitude of tasks, not the least being the AP(S) (that would be keeping an eye on Argies near the Falklands)

    And although Daring is fantastic at shooting down incoming jets and missiles, it has little to no ASuW or ASW capability

    If the Argentines could put a fleet to sea, at best, it would devolve to a gun fight, at worst, Daring would shoot down 90% of the incoming missiles.

    An AAW destroyer is a good part of a fleet, but utterly useless on its own.

    If you want ships swanning around solo, they need to be all purpose.

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  8. Perhaps they are thinking of the possible recruiting boost provided by Tricia Helfer? ;-)

    CNO, I'm working on my 'strategy' we discussed in a previous post. I'd like to send it to you to run it past you. Do you have a public email?

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  9. According to the backstory for the 2004-2009 TV series, the Battlestar Galactica and its initial 11 sister ships were hurriedly built as knee-jerk responses to the oncoming Cylon invaders during the First Cylon War.

    They were meant to be do-it-all combat starships (as demonstrated in the TV series), even capable of refining raw materials and constructing their own space fighters, the Colonial Vipers, in addition to launching and recovering them. Technically, this would make the Battlestars the spaceborne equivalent of the "Battlecarrier" type of warship, essentially battleships that can carry, launch, and recover their own air wing.

    The Galactica-class starships eventually proved to be insufficient in the face of the Cylon threat (most likely because the Human Colonials were simply outproduced by the Robotic Cylons), so eventually smaller combat starship classes took over during the 12-year First Cylon War. The Colonials didn't abandon the concept of the do-it-all big bad Battlestar, though, because you can see the Battlestar Pegasus (a "Mercury-class") in the 2004-2009 TV show, which fills a similar role to the Galactica-class but is larger and much more automated, and was constructed after the Armistice that ended the First Cylon War.

    I think in the Battlestar Galactica's case it worked as a good plot element because it could do a lot for its ragtag civilian fleet. It could fly CAP around them, manufacture ammunition, spare parts, and most important of all provide enough AAA (or point defense) fire to fend off the Cylon Missiles and Cylon Raiders from its civilian fleet to buy enough time for them to FTL jump out.

    By the way, what did you think of the Cylon Basestars from the BSG TV show in modern naval terms? Their enormous combat drone and missile complements make me think they were based on what the TV show's writers thought future naval warships might be like.

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