Monday, February 10, 2014

Modularity

CNO Greenert likes to emphasize payloads over platforms.  We’ve already debunked that idea (see Payloads Over Platforms?) but that’s not the point of this post.  Let’s play what-if.  What if CNO is correct?  What if payloads are the only thing that matters?  What if the platform is immaterial and irrelevant?  Let’s look at the logic of the concept.

If the payload is the important part and the platform is irrelevant then we could and should be placing the LCS modules on commercial cargo ships that cost a tiny fraction of what an LCS hull costs.  It’s all about the module, right?  There’s a contradiction here.  The Navy insists we need a highly capable LCS vessel built to military standards.  Why?  It’s the payload that matters, according to CNO.  All sarcasm aside, if CNO is right and truly believes his own philosophy, why are we building the LCS?  What does the LCS hull provide in the way of capabilities that justifies its existence and can’t be obtained from a cheap commercial vessel?

We could place MCM and ASW modules on a cheaper cargo vessel and still carry out all the needed functions.  In fact, the cargo vessel would have greater room (multiple modules at the same time?), longer endurance, better crew accommodations, and lots of weight growth margins, among other benefits. 

There’s no requirement for self-defense.  The Navy has stated that the LCS is not intended to operate in a hostile environment without the protection of a Burke.  A cargo ship would be no more at risk than the LCS. 

According to the Navy, the ASuW module would work on any vessel.  The Griffon missile is being tested and used on Cyclone PCs so it’s clearly independent of the platform.  Why not mount a single 57 mm gun, two 30 mm guns, and a Griffon launcher on a cargo ship?

The entire fleet could be built on, perhaps, two sizes of cheap, commercial cargo vessels:  a small one for patrol, littoral, corvette, frigate modules and a larger one for destroyer and cruiser modules.  Perhaps we still need a specialized carrier although a cargo vessel with a flight deck module ought to work just fine.

What about aviation?  Using CNO’s logic we don’t need the JSF, we need cheap, C-?? whatever cargo planes with modules for strike, air-to-air, ASW, AEW, and surveillance. 

I think CNO is on to something here.  We can cut the Navy’s construction budget by 80%.  All I ask is that CNO lead the first combat mission aboard one of his platform-irrelevant, payload vessels or aircraft.

5 comments:

  1. ComNavOps,

    I think you're somewhat misinterpreting Admiral Greenert's message - perhaps for effect. I do not think he was saying that payloads are the only thing that matter, nor that the platform is irrelevant.

    I happen to believe that for some missions, getting the platform design right is critical. Air-to-air comes to mind. If a jet fighter is slow, has poor acceleration, or is unmaneuverable, it’s not going to stack up particularly well against an enemy jet. And it will be pretty hard to overcome such inherent shortfalls with a better radar or missile.

    But for other mission areas, the raw performance of the platform is not nearly as important as the payload that it carries. I would say a good example of this is air ASW.

    Many of the key performance characteristics of say a jet fighter are immaterial to the maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) mission. You don't need (much) speed, nor (much) acceleration, nor even (much) maneuverability. All you really need from the platform is payload and range.

    The platform is simply a mechanism for carrying, delivering and employing highly specialized sensors (radar, sonobuoys, etc.) and weapons (torps, etc.). And if you follow the trends in air ASW sensors and technologies, you might see that sensors and mission systems change constantly.

    We've been flying essentially the same P-3 airframes for 40+ years. It’s served us really well. And if you were to compare a P-3A in 1962 to a P-3C in 2012: the outside is almost indistinguishable. But the insides are essentially unrecognizable! We've swapped out the avionics, sensors and weapons scores of times, to the point that we've run out of size, weight, power and cooling margins (SWaPC).

    I don’t think anyone in 1962 could predict what was going to be put on P-3 in 2002. Similarly, I doubt anyone in 2012 could predict what’s going to be put on the P-8A in the 2050s. But I’d be willing to bet it won’t be small, light or low power! And what I really hope is the designers put enough margin in the design of the P-8A truck to accept varying payloads over its lifetime.

    Matt

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    1. Matt,

      I think the USMC Harvest Hawk C-130s are an even better example of the CNO's pyayload over platform argument - turn a tanker into a gunship.

      Another example was the old A3d - originally concieved as a strategic bomber, it turned out to be an extraordinary EW aircraft, with tanker capability exceeding a KA-6, and still had the ability to carry 6,000 pounds of ordinance at the same time.

      GAB

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  2. GAB,

    Agreed! Harvest Hawk is a very good example. Virginia payload module might be another. (P-3 just happens to be one that is close to my own experience).

    I really do think that Adm Greenert is fundamentally correct wrt to the concept of a payload truck. My point to COMNAVOPS is that you just can't take the concept to ridiculous extremes.

    Matt

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  3. You could probably zero in on perhaps 5-6 standard combatant hulls, in sizes going up from 200-tons patrol-craft to 100,000tons CVNs, with enough 'give' in their lay-out and accessibility of systems to indeed focus on preserving the steel for 50 years or more, while the given stimulus for the given equipment-change would allow for rapid exchange of respective suites.

    If borne in mind in the hull-design/structural-design phase, you could also plan on fairly readily insertable 'plugs' to add displacement cheaply and most effectively.

    For instance, the volumes-&-weight challenges around the growth of systems on the DDG-51 hull would be readily addressable by putting in a 50 or a 100-foot plug and immediately gain a lot of displacement, added stability, actually greater speed/or efficiency at lower speeds etc.

    Post LCS-1 and -2 types, we have most likely reached a plateau with very little left that remains 'unknown' in mil.-ship hull-design and matching drive-train geometries.

    Therefore a moderate range of tonnage-defined 'standard hulls' designed to a given maximum speed and mil-spec structural levels would then serve a rich range of purposes, some with full-speed massive drive-trains, while other purposes would use that same hull to move at much lower speed via much smaller propulsion-systems, and yet essentially ready to be up-graded if and when. NAVSEA folks have discussed this.

    On the other hand, there are ship-design interests eager to endlessly re-invent 'new' shapes the way Detroit offered you annual model-changes via different grilles, tail-fins etc. But during its world-leading peak even self-satisfied Detroit usually used the same - here it comes ! - platform to bolt sometimes unexpected 'pay-loads' (yes!) to. Thus came to be a hohum FORD midsize family-sedan whose unaltered platform was then also sold as the "Mustang" via a very different-looking 'payload-module' above it.

    The CNO is correct to make this thinking one (potential) source of serious life-cycle economies. Will this thinking overcome the strong economic interests of ship-designers and -builders typically wanting to start from scratch - in part to correct past mistakes (!) - for maximum 'yield' per opportunity via maximum number of 'classes' ??

    P.S.: Agreed on the various uses of the C-130 Hercules - "the plane that opened the Antarctic" (turbo-props did not freeze up like piston-engines...) . But I'm still looking for her on amphibious floats to really support the Marines...
    Just keep that 105mm howitzer for big-&-close air-support.

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  4. http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2011/08/a-ship-that-is-not-a-frigate-part-1-introduction/

    http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2012/03/a-ship-for-all-seasons-or-the-return-of-the-auxiliary-cruiser/

    http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2012/09/the-airbus-a400m-atlas-part-3-a-multi-purpose-platform/

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