Friday, December 4, 2015

AFSB and MCM

The Navy’s first purpose designed Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) is the USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB-3).  It was delivered to the Navy in Jun 2015 and is being readied for a Mid East deployment late next year.  As a reminder, the ship is a Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) with a flight deck added some 40 ft above the main deck (yes, that raises questions about stability).  The interesting thing about this ship is that it’s primary mission is mine countermeasures (MCM)(1).

“The baseline requirement, the threshold requirement, is MCM capability.”

Apparently, the ship will conduct MCM primarily through the use of helicopters, specifically the MH-53E.  The ship has space for two helo parking spots on the flight deck, two operating spots, and two in the hangar.  The article suggests that the Navy is looking at increasing the operational spots by converting the parking spots to operating.

The interesting aspect of this is the focus on helicopter MCM versus the LCS’ emphasis on remote unmanned underwater vehicles.  Previously, the Navy MCM focused on two main components:  helicopters and in-the-water operations from small MCM vessels like the Avenger class.  Now, the Navy seems to be attempting to use the LCS for the in-the-water ops and the AFSB for the helicopter operations.

Afloat Forward Staging Base


Of course, the AFSB could also operate in-the-water vehicles although this would, of necessity, place a very large ship very close to the minefield.  We’ll have to see how this develops.  Again, I get the feeling that the Navy is stumbling its way through mine countermeasures warfare rather than having a very clear plan developed from operational experience and wargaming analysis.  For instance, how will an AFSB conduct MCM against a peer in a contested environment?  I’d really like to see the Navy game out its MCM efforts, specifically in these scenarios:

  • Contested amphibious landings
  • Contested restricted passages
  • Lightly contested, wide area mine clearance
  • High speed movements (for example, a carrier group attempting a high speed transit through potentially mined areas)

Like so many Navy developments, this is a small piece of a much bigger picture and the piece is developed seemingly in an operational vacuum.  We’ll have to wait to see how the AFSB integrates into the overall MCM force and operations.


(1)USNI, “Expeditionary Mobile Base Chesty Puller May Receive SOF Upgrades Before 5th Fleet Deployment”, Megan Eckstein, November 2, 2015,


18 comments:

  1. "...with a flight deck added some 40 ft above the main deck(yes, that raises questions about stability)"
    Then again its displ fully loaded is given as 87,000t. Apart from the Nimitz carriers its the biggest ship in the navy, so the flight deck is well above the ( cut down) 'main deck', but as shown in the diagram is roughly where the continuous) main deck would be in Alaska class tanker design it was based on

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  2. If you'll look at a photo of an Alaska class tanker loaded, it has half the freeboard of the MLP or less. That's my concern. The enormous freeboard of the MLP is with standard load. The stability may be OK but it's suspect until someone can demonstrate it's OK.

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  3. why no form of UAV dirigible / blimp as MCM or Antisub ?

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    1. What would function would a UAV blimp perform?

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  4. It’s extremely unlikely that the US will ever conduct another opposed amphibious assault. Imagine if we formally abandoned that mission and re-purposed those assets to greater effect.

    We’d no longer have a “shortage” of amphibs. We’d have a surplus of versatile platforms (LHDs / LHAs / LPDs) to act as motherships for different missions: Sea Control, MCM, ASW, ASuW, special ops raids, etc.

    We’d save money by not buying new ships - AFSBs and questionably useful LCS’s - and we’d have much more capable and survivable ships to fulfill the same missions.

    Other USMC assets could be re-allocated as well. For instance - every CVN could deploy with a contingent of MV-22s and Marines. Instead of buying Navy V-22s for the COD mission, existing Marine MV-22s could fulfill that mission, as well as tanker and SAR duties.

    There’s too much sentimental attachment to the amphibious assault mission on the part of the USMC and their supporters in Congress for this to happen, but it’s interesting to think about how to put what we already own to greatest use.

    BTL

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    1. BTL, I happen to agree that large scale amphibious assaults are unlikely given the foreseeable opponents and scenarios. Your comments then follow logically from that. Well thought out. You also correctly note the inertia (attachment) associated with amphibious assault and the magnitude of its power on the process.

      Good comment.

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  5. Well, one of the stated mission for the AFSB was to support "small" craft, like minesweeper. And Given that the LCS is currently your only mine warfare ship, I guess that the AFSB were suppose to act as a support vessel for them. Now there is no reason for the USN to limit itself to just the small USuV currently design for use with the LCS, Several other nations we allied with already have larger remote mine hunters and minesweepers that USN can adopt and use with US built sensors and mine killers.

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    1. GLof, a nice observation about small craft support. I don't know whether the AFSB has the fuel tankage to support larger ships like the LCS. Do you have any information on that?

      I agree, in concept, with your suggestion that the Navy need not limit itself to just one small USuV although the practicalities of supply pipelines, training, etc. do limit the number of systems that can be realistically supported. Still, an assessment of other MCM vehicles would be a very worthwhile exercise.

      Good comment.

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    2. " I don't know whether the AFSB has the fuel tankage to support larger ships like the LCS."

      Yipes! Isn't this thing a former tanker? Tankage you'd think would be the least of its problems.

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    3. It's based on a commercial tanker design but obviously has been highly modified. I have no idea how much tankage it has.

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  6. I think you’ll be ok on stability provided she is suitably loaded. Underweight, it could be a problem.

    Obviously only part of her role is MCM.

    I was under the impression that several parts of the LCS helicopter anti-mine were, let’s say, not as successful as they had hoped? The laser mine finder for instance.

    Perhaps there is further Helo MCM in the pipeline I don’t know about? Certainly it an idea with merit.
    Beno

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    1. Most (all?) of the MCM components are not meeting their performance specs.

      No, there is no dedicated MCM helo coming that I'm aware of. Airborne (helo) MCM is currently performed by the MH-53E Sea Dragon but there are only 28 (according to NAVAIR) in the inventory and they are reaching the end of their life.

      The Navy is really hurting for MCM equipment and, if faced with a major MCM operation, would be hard pressed to meet the need, to put it mildly.

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    2. The LCS MCM Mission Package was tested as a mission package, so the individual programs were not separately graded, even though some of those individual programs could be fielded independent of the LCS. For example, the mine detection and neutralization programs on the MH-60S performed adequately, and there is no reason those capabilities couldn't be fielded on any platform that currently embarks the -60 series helos.

      - interestedparty

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    3. IP, you might want to check out the DOT&E reports. They cover the individual components and the results are not good.

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    4. If this is the report that you're referring to (http://www.dote.osd.mil/pub/reports/FY2014/pdf/navy/2014lcs.pdf), there has been significant testing done since the report was compiled and published. The issues with RMS, particularly with regards to reliability, are well known, and there is the discussion of meeting area coverage rates, but there is promise in ALMDS and AMNS and hopefully the baby is not thrown out with the bath water. Even a limited capability fielded on an MH-60S is better than the current capability (ie, none) and the MH-60 platform is ubiquitous across multiple platforms, offering a capability (albeit limited) for a large number of platforms vice only MCM Mission Package equipped LCS platforms.

      Some of these capabilities could be poster children for a need to push the capability out, use the capabilities in a truly operational environment, see what works and what could use improvements, and then focus the improvements on those areas that the Fleet identifies as needs vice what developers and testers are identifying as needs. Sure, the developers and testers should be able to point back to the requirements, but many of those requirements were written well over a decade ago and those technical requirements may not perfectly translate to the operational need.

      - interestedparty

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    5. IP, there is nothing in the DOT&E report that offers the slightest promise for the MCM module. If you have data that shows improved performance since that report, please share it.

      You are also missing a key point. There is, and always has been, a viable alternative to the LCS and the MCM module. The combination of the Avenger class and the MH-53E represents a proven capability. Add in the potential use of a "mothership" like the AFSB which we just discussed and the potential for greatly increased MCM capability at a greatly reduced cost is at hand. If any of the LCS module technologies ever prove out, they can be added to the Avenger/helo mix.

      Is Avenger/helo the absolute best MCM solution possible? Perhaps not but it sure beats the hugely expensive and, to date, non-functional LCS MCM option.

      Please share your updated MCM test results. I'd very much like to know how improved the MCM module and components are.

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    6. The issue with the Avenger/MH-53E combination is how they are deployed. These are not issues that cannot be surmounted, but it limits the flexibility and effectiveness of the systems. The Avenger cannot self-deploy, so it is either pre-positioned or you have to wait for the ship to get to the area of need. The MH-53E are limited by basing options, including platforms. The AFSB and big deck amphibs can deploy the MH-53E but not smaller platforms like DDGs or LCS. Both legacy platforms are also currently limited in their capabilities for detection and neutralization. If you think the current area coverage search rates of LCS are low, it is still an improvement over the legacy Avenger / MH-53E clearance rates. Improvements can be made to the legacy systems, but it would require investments, and the Navy has a decision to make on investments in the legacy or next generation.

      The point I am trying to make is that while a dedicated MCM capability is required for dedicated mine hunting and clearance against all possible threats, a limited capability would be extremely useful for any platform that finds itself in the threat environment without an Avenger, MH-53E, or LCS with MCM mission package. Recent history has suggested a limited capability that would allow a ship to navigate itself out of a mine field could have prevented multiple ship losses. And that limited capability was proven in the recently conducted LCS MCM Mission Package TECHEVAL (completed in late FY15). There were certainly technical issues uncovered that I believe are being worked, but there is an opportunity to greatly expand deployment options with a limited but useful capability. The LCS mission package capabilities were intended to be a "come as you are" party, with capabilities developed under separate program of records and then integrated on the LCS. The airborne MCM capabilities for the LCS MCM mission package were originally started with the CVN being the planned platform - why not take those airborne MCM capabilities from the LCS MCM mission package and get them on other platforms without being limited to the Avenger and MH-53E?

      - interestedparty

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    7. IP, the official clearance rates for the LCS are like the official speed - unachievable. The MCM module component problems have reduced the clearance rate drastically. The Navy has now accepted that they will have to resurvey areas multiple times to compensate for the poor component performance. By the way I have a briefing slide presentation that pegs the LCS clearance rate as far less than an Avenger. I haven't been able to verify the source so I haven't published it.

      Regarding pushing a more limited capability out to the fleet, there's nothing wrong with that in concept. The reality is a bit more problematic. You seem to be suggesting that every (some, most?)helo deployed on a surface ship carry MCM equipment. OK. Those packages require pretty extensive training to operate competently. Do you really propose taking on the cost of duplicating that equipment across all the ships in the fleet against the remote possibility of finding themselves in a minefield? How will all these aircrews train? Adding yet another mission to what they already have is just going to ensure that they do none of them effectively.

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