Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Reality of the Next Frigate

I can’t tell you how many comments, texts, and emails ComNavOps has received since the new budget announcement came out that the LCS was dead and a frigate would be pursued.  They all start with, “Here’s what I think a new frigate should have,” followed by a list of favorite weapons.  Many reference foreign frigate designs.  In short, everyone has their idea of what a new frigate should be.   And, taken in isolation (meaning divorced from strategic and force structure needs), they’re all fine.

Here, though, is the reality.

The Navy is not going to buy a foreign design.  If for no other reason, the Congressional outcry about job loss prohibits that approach.  There is a very remote possibility that the Navy could obtain license rights to a foreign design for production in America, I suppose, but, for better or worse, that’s just not how the Navy works.  Sure, we’ll buy a foreign radar or something but not a foreign ship.

The Navy could build a scaled down Burke but there’s one important part of a Burke that would not scale down and that’s the cost.  This would be a fiscal non-starter.

The Navy could build a modernized Perry and, to be honest, there’s a lot to be said for this approach.  It’s a proven design and would require somewhat less development, one would hope.  A modernized (stealth’ed) superstructure and some VLS cells would make for a pretty fair frigate.  However, the Navy is never going to take this approach because doing so would be an admission that the Navy was wrong all along about the LCS issue and the Perrys.  You’ll recall all the statements from the Navy that the Perrys couldn’t be modernized in any useful manner.

OK, that covers what the Navy won’t do.  What will it do?

The Navy is going to build a frigate-ized version of the LCS very similar to the export versions that the LCS manufacturers have proposed.  The hull designs already exist, the manufacturers have already done preliminary design work, and the industrial production base already exists.

The Navy is also going to do this because it’s the shortest route to getting hulls in the water.  You’ll recall that the original LCS impetus was hulls in the water as fast as possible (the end of the Cold War was threatening the Navy’s budget slice) and the Navy would figure out what to do with them later.  Well, the same motivation exists for the new frigate.  The Navy desperately wants a major construction program funded so as to ensure future budget slices.  If the Navy goes too long without building new, low end ships and the world doesn’t collapse, it may be difficult for the Navy to justify an increase in their slice of the budget pie several years down the road when a new design is finally ready.  For that reason, the Navy will go with whatever gets hulls in the water the quickest and will worry about what to do with them later (boy that sentence sounds familiar).  Unfortunately, the quickest route is an export LCS.

I say “unfortunate” because the LCS design is fundamentally flawed in so many ways.  I’m not going to bother listing them since we’ve covered them repeatedly.  Simply adding on a few VLS cells isn’t going to make the LCS a winner.

I could be wrong about this. 
I hope I’m wrong about this. 
I’m rarely wrong about things like this.

14 comments:

  1. Too bad our friends down-under already proved the Navy wrong by upgrading the Perry's to the Adelaide-class!

    And you are right... the LCS will live on. And we will be the worse off for it.

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    1. It's a pity that internal politics preclude an upgraded FFG-7, especially since the Turkish Navy followed the lead of the Aussies and gave their Perry's a similar refit. The Adelaide and G class frigates are very impressive looking ships for their size and a Perry derivative built for the USN could probably be produced for considerably less than an LCS while being much more capable. I understand other allied navies are considering similar refits for their Perry's as well. Too bad...

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  2. The way I see it, I think the US navy will have many have 3 options such as buying a Frigate Design & license rights from Europe and have it built in American Shipyard. The other is to build a Burke frigate based on the Spanish Navy's The Álvaro de Bazán class Frigate & the Norway's Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate design. The last resort would be to take the US Coast Guard's National Security Cutter design and build a Multi Role Frigate.

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  3. So that we get off to a good start do what Joshua Humphreys did for the US Class frigates, start with what is needed or makes a great frigate.

    So all you Navy Types what are the top 10 attributes of a GREAT Frigate? Not nit noid, but top ten big features. List them without numbers so that the competing designers have to iterate and trade-off to hit the sweet spots. Maybe things like:

    1. Range
    2. Speed
    3. Manning
    4. Weapon types
    5. Supported Missions
    6. Max operational Sea State
    7. Battleforce integration
    8. Survivability
    9. Independent Action
    10. Area of Ocean (littoral, deep water, etc.) suitabiltiy

    Make the sharpest minds in the Country/World give you designs that give you different trade-offs of the above (or what ever makes sense).

    This worked on the F-16 and the A-10 in Modern times and it must be better than what we have done on LCS, DDG-1000, LPD, and Ford.

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    1. Anon, I'm not sure I completely understand your comment or the meaning of a few of your listed items. That said, there's only one characteristic that makes for a great frigate (or any ship or weapon system, for that matter): meeting operational requirements. Will this frigate (to be specific to the matter at hand) meet the operational needs of the fleet in the context of the Navy and the military's overall strategic needs?

      Everything else is secondary and flows logically from the needs.

      To look at trading off characteristics in isolation from operational needs is just arbitrary designing that may or may not meet any needs.

      Another way to state this is to answer your question about what makes a great frigate. The answer, of course, is it depends on what you want that frigate to do.

      Does this make sense? I cannot overstate this principle. Design of a frigate in isolation is folly. To be fair, I don't think this is what you're suggesting. I am afraid, however, that this is exactly what the Navy tends to do. The Navy tends to build and incorporate new technology just because it's new rather than because it will fill an identified need. Witness CNO Greenert's statement that he can't wait to see what industry gives him next (documented in a previous post).

      If I've misinderstood what you were driving at, I apologize and please try again.

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    2. I didn't say do it in isolation. In fact one of the criteria is Battleforce integration.

      What I am trying to do is stop people from jumping on numbers only in specifications or oprational requirements. For example the LCS has a specific internal fuel distance requirement that they do not meet. So what good is that number?

      Also fixating on numbers leads you to focus on techncial aspects only. For example Zoomies are infatuated with High Mach speed when it has no bearing in Air Combat. Likewise look at the Sealth requirement on DDG 1000 that caused tons of issues for the placement of the Cells (forgetting the 80 MW heat signature).

      Humphreys' analyzed the resources of the New US and saw that a design that could out sail a ship of the line, out gun peer frigates would allow us to have a credible Navy. Then he set about analyzing that hogging was the issue with handling and fixed that. He didn't just bolt stuff on becuase there was a number in a spec.

      Likewise Pierre Sprey did the same thing on the A-10. What makes a great CAS plane?

      I have seen many Operational Documents, most are not worth the paper they are written on. Give me everything for nothing! We need to try a different approach.

      If you want to write a set of mission scenarios to define the behaviors you need fine. However, most requirements folks can't even begin to tell you what a scenario is. Sorry but I have seen it before on DDG-1000 and LCS.

      DO NOT follow the current failed approaches is all I am saying.

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    3. Anon, OK, I think I have better idea of what you were saying, now, and your points are completely valid. The folly of chasing arbitrary numbers is worth noting and you make the point well. Thanks!

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  4. CNO,

    I think there is a chance a foreign design could make it in if Bath and Navantia are still on good terms. Bath was hoping to build Spanish frigate designs here back in 2003.

    Here's the Wayback machine link to the now defunct AFCON website:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20070929003354/http://www.afconships.com/products.html

    If Bath/General Dynamics gets behind this again, they could convince Congress.

    I do agree though, an enlarged LCS has to be a front runner.

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  5. I agree, enlarged LCS is the front runner and will be the pick. If not the LCS I think it will be the NSC coast guard cutter although I would still call that a long shot. The LCS freedom proposal for Israel was a capable idea and what I would expect to be run with. The Triram version had potential but it will be dumped because it just doesn't have the depth to hold a VLS and like it or not billions of dollars and years of study are invested in navy VLS. Sad the triram config is actually more survivable against torpedo/mine attack, (maybe it will get designated specialty as mine/sub hunter).

    Very simply when you spend hundreds of billions developing and standardize your main weapons into a launching system aka VLS it is best to put said system on every single possible hull, you plan on fighting with. LCS was toothless because it had no VLS, without that the cool "network hub" crap was useless. With it it becomes the forward shooter, the war/blockade raider, escort, scout in peer war, and in the 3rd world even with a minor radar it becomes the anphib defender with the ability to make limited cruise missiles strikes.

    Bottom line the LCS with the VLS and radar still can do the ole LCS mission package stuff (if it pans out which I think it will IN THE LONG RUN LONG) yet bring VLS which opens the whole navy inventory to the LCS.


    Side prediction. I predict at the first refit all the current and proposed LCSS variants will be cut extended and refit to the LCSF useful configuration.

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    1. C-Low, now that's an interesting prediction. I hadn't given serious consideration to upgrading the existing LCSs. I assume the existing ones will all become dedicated MCM or ASW. An upgrade would cost as much as the original ship, or more, I suspect. Hmmm ... You've given me something to think about. Thanks!

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    2. Just and FYI, the LCS2 design can be fitted with VLS, it just doesn't have enough room to reasonably add Strike Length VLS. Which for a ship of the LCS size shouldn't be much of an issue. Currently, all Strike Length VLS gets you is Tomahawks and SM3s neither of which it would reasonably use. LCS2 can fit Tactical Length Mk41 VLS though which would allow it to use LRASM, SM2s, ESSM, Sea Ceptor, ASROC, etc.

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    3. Where can LCS-2 fit a VLS? IIRC, it has to lose a hangar spot to do it. The bow area isn't deep or wide enough.

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    4. Check the international config of the LCS2 design. They reduce the hanger width (basically to same width as LCS1) and fit 16 cells on each side.

      The Bow depth though should be enough for SDS length which is basically ESSM.

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  6. One thing that could derail all foreign designs is the need to conform to NVRs. Adding these mid-stream nearly ended the LCS program. Trying to retrofit an existing desing might be equally costly.

    This goes for an NSC frigate as well. I don't believe it was built to NVRs.

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