Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Break Up The Burkes

The Burke class destroyers are considered a marvel of modern engineering and have set the bar for all subsequent naval warship design and construction – at least, that’s the opinion of many.  The reality is that the Navy’s warship design has gotten so bad that we now consider a Burke to be “good”.  That’s lowering the bar, not setting it.

Consider, if a WWII ship designer had proposed building a cruiser size ship, which is what a Burke is, with no armor, thinner than normal hull and deck plating, and weaker than normal steel, he’d have been tossed out on his rear end and yet today we consider the Burke to be the gold standard of shipbuilding! 

This, however, is not the point of this post.  I covered that bit of historical comparison merely to set the stage for the main premise by pointing out that the Burkes are not the gold standard – they are, pathetically, the best of the worst in terms of warship design and construction.  With that in mind, we have now disposed of the fiction that the Burkes are a good design and we can move on to consideration of a better design.

To further set the stage, we all recognize the death spiral that the Navy is in.  As we try to make each ship more and more multi-functional, the ships become bigger and more expensive.  Because they are more expensive we can’t afford as many and numbers get cut.  As numbers decrease, unit costs increase and we try to compensate by making each ship even more capable and more multi-functional which further drives up the cost which further reduces the numbers which means we have to put more capability on each ship which drives up the cost which cuts numbers which … 

Ridiculously optimistic (and unfunded) projections of fleet sizes of 355 ships notwithstanding, the reality is that our combat fleet has been steadily shrinking in numbers for the last few decades and that trend shows no signs of stopping.  We have submarine and destroyer shortfalls programmed into our 30 year shipbuilding plan which, itself, is fictionally optimistic!  Our carrier fleet is steadily shrinking.  We’re down to 10 carriers and only 9 air wings.  Our logistics support and replenishment fleet is vanishing.  Our mine countermeasures ships and aircraft are nearly non-existent.  And so on.

How can we break out of this death spiral before we reach a fleet of one mega-ship?  How can we design better warships?  How are those two questions possibly related?

The answer, or at least a major portion of the answer, is the Burke.  The Burke is a poor design which is symptomatic of all that we just discussed.  It is a $2B+ (likely $3B+ for the Flt III) ship that has been designed to perform anti-air warfare (AAW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), long range cruise missile strike, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), helo-based aviation support operations, and a host of other functions.  Thus, the Burke has lots of capabilities which makes it a flexible and powerful vessel, according to proponents.  The reality is that the very range of capabilities makes the ship of limited use. 

If the Burke is to perform AAW escort for a carrier or amphibious group then, by definition, it can’t go sailing off to perform ASW twenty or thirty miles away.  Thus, the ASW is useless.  Conversely, if the ship is performing ASW twenty or thirty miles away, it can’t provide AAW protection to a group.  Thus, the AAW is useless.  This is a long winded way of saying that one ship can’t be in two places at the same time.

Further, do you really want a $2B+ ship playing tag with a diesel-electric SSK which has all the advantages?  Do you really want to risk the most capable AAW ship in the fleet (along with the Ticonderogas which the Navy is desperately trying to early retire) to be taken away from AAW escort duties to play submarine tag and run the significant risk of being sunk?

What makes the Burke “flexible”?  In large measure, it’s the vertical launch system (VLS) which allows the ship to mix loads of Standard, ESSM, Tomahawk, and ASROC missiles.  The problem is that the more multi-purpose and flexible you make the loadout, the less capable the ship becomes in any one area.  For instance, if you opt to load 50 Tomahawks, you reduce the AAW VLS capacity to only 46 cells.  We see, then, that flexibility comes at a severe price.

So, again, how does all this relate to our death spiral solution?

The answer is to break up the Burkes.  We need to stop building multi-functional, uber destroyers and return the days when we built ships for a single specific purpose.  That’s not to say that a ship couldn’t perform multiple missions but each ship design had a clear, primary function that it was optimally designed for.

We had ASW destroyer escorts.  We had anti-ship destroyers.  We had escort cruisers.  We had strike (surface and land) battleships that also happened to be outstanding AAW escorts.  And so on.

Let’s list the Burkes main functions again.

  • AAW escort
  • Ballistic Missile Defense
  • ASW
  • ASuW
  • Long Range Strike

What would happen if we broke those functions out and allocated them to individual ships?  Here’s the separate ships/functions that would result.

AAW Escort – High value ships require dedicated AAW escorts and that’s what this ship is.  It’s a Burke minus the hanger, flight deck, ASW outfit, and cruise missile capacity.  It’s an Aegis equipped AAW barge that is “tethered” to the ships it escorts.  With no need for extra VLS cells devoted to cruise missiles, the entire VLS load is surface to air missiles (Standards and ESSM) which means we don’t need as many cells.  Burkes have 96 cells but a third or so are typically devoted to Tomahawks.  That means we can build a dedicated AAW escort with only around 60 cells and still match the Burke’s AAW capacity!

Cost.  If we take away the flight deck, hangar, and reduce the VLS capacity to around 60, we should be able to shorten the ship by around 30%.  That will make a significant cost savings.  Eliminating the ASW fit, hull mounted sonar, towed array, and torpedo tubes should save additional significant money.  Finally, the various reductions combined with the deleted helo pilots and maintenance personnel will significantly reduce the size of the crew and the associated berthing, galley space, food and water storage, waste management, and other hotel services which, in turn, further reduces the size of the ship.  Let’s put the crew size at 170 versus the standard Burke crew size of 270 or so.

Conceptually, this ship is akin to the WWII Atlanta class anti-aircraft CLAA.

Atlanta Class Anti-Aircraft CLAA

Cost.  Considering all the reductions, I’m going to put the cost of this ship at $1.1B versus the nominal $2B cost of a standard Burke.  The bulk of the cost is the Aegis/AMDR sensor fit.

ASW Escort – This ship must be cheap enough to be acquired in numbers and cheap enough to be considered expendable since ASW is a high risk mission and we’ll lose a number of these. 

Buckley Class DE
The ship will be optimized for ASW with acoustic isolation of all internal machinery, multi-frequency hull mounted sonar, towed array, variable depth sonar, Hedgehog/RBU, flight deck and hangar for two helos, ASROC launched from either the old Mk112 deck launcher or an 8-cell VLS (I’ll leave it to naval engineers to decide which is preferred – I’m thinking the old Mk112).  Additional capabilities will be short range AAW in the form of SeaRAM/CIWS and a Mk 110 57 mm gun.  Radar will be a TRS-3D or equivalent.  The ship will be around 300 ft long or less, if possible, although the flight deck/hangar probably dictates 300 ft.

Conceptually, this ship is a combination of the WWII Buckley class destroyer escort and the Spruance class ASW destroyer.

Cost.  The ship is significantly smaller than the Freedom class LCS and does not waste space on expansive flight decks or worthless high speed engineering plants.  Thus, the cost should be less than an LCS.  I’ll put the cost at $350M.

ASuW / Land Attack – This ship is a Burke without the AAW fit and somewhat fits the generic destroyer classification.  It has only a medium/short range AAW (ESSM/SeaRAM/CIWS).  Additional VLS cells carry Tomahawk cruise missiles and ASROC.  Let’s call it around 60 VLS cells.  Three to five 5” guns provide additional firepower along with 24 Harpoon/LRASM plus two dozen shorter range surface to surface Hellfire, or equivalent, missiles.  Six 21” torpedo tubes add to the surface attack capability.  Sensors are limited to TRS-4D or equivalent plus 360 degree EO/IR.  A modest ASW fit is included as a secondary function.  There are no helos or flight deck/hangar.

Conceptually, this ship is somewhat akin to a modernized Fletcher class DD.

Cost.  A Burke without AEGIS/AMDR, no flight deck, no hangar, and fewer VLS should cost around $800M.

Ballistic Missile Defense – This could either be combined with the dedicated AAW escort ship or split out as a separate ship.  In this case, as a separate ship, it would be fitted with a specific, optimized, ballistic missile defense radar like the SBX-1 Sea Based X-Band Radar and two dozen SM-3 missiles.  The ship would be a small, cheap, low performance, commercial based vessel.  It would have no flight deck/hangar/helos, no generic AAW defense other than two SeaRAM, no guns, and no ASW.

Cost.  A small, simple, minimally manned, commercial based ship would be very cheap.  Given that we can build a commercial large tanker/cargo ship for $100M or less, let’s call this ship’s cost $100M.  Of course that excludes the SBX-1 radar for which I have no cost estimate whatsoever.


We see, then, that the broken up Burke consists of the following ships:

AAW Escort                $1,100M
ASW Escort                $  350M
ASuW Land Attack          $  800M
Ballistic Missile Defense $  100M

Total Cost                $2,350M ($2.35B)

So, for the cost of a single Burke, we can build four single function ships that perform each of the single functions as well or better than a Burke and can be in four places, performing four functions at once.

Four single function ships that perform their functions better than a Burke increases the overall capability of the fleet, allows four missions to be performed simultaneously in four different locations, increases fleet size by a factor of four for each Burke not built, generates more work for the industrial base, employs more naval architects/designers/construction workers, increases fleet presence by increasing ship numbers, and reduces risk aversion by making each ship cheaper and more expendable – hence, more likely to be committed to the actual task for which they are intended.

There is overwhelming historical precedence for this from WWII.  We didn’t build single, massively multi-functional ships that were too valuable and too expensive to risk in combat.  No, we built multiple, single function ships (yes, they had secondary functions but they were built with a primary function for which they were optimized), that were affordable, could be risked in combat, increased our fleet numbers, and could be in multiple places, performing multiple tasks at the same time.

This makes overwhelming sense.  We need to drastically rethink our fleet composition and start down this distributed functionality path immediately.

Note:  No one, myself included, knows what a non-existent, conceptual ship will cost.  I’ve described how to build focused, affordable ships in previous posts and comments so I’ll stand by my cost guesstimates until something better comes along.  What I won’t do is engage in cost discussions – it would be pointless.  Even if I’m off on the numbers, the concept remains.  Maybe I’ve overestimated the costs and we can build 5 ships for 1 Burke instead of only 4 as I described.  Or, maybe we can only build 6 or 7 ships for every 2 Burkes, instead of 8.  Who cares?  The concept is valid.  Unless you are a naval procurement specialist who deals exclusively with major ship purchases and can factor in my previously described affordable acquisition practices, don’t waste my time debating costs.  It’s pointless and I won’t allow it.  If you care to discuss this post, focus on the overall concept.


  1. Excellent Post!

    You nailed it right on the head. This is a problem in many areas, some examples I see are:

    Aircraft have been undergoing this for years - Do everything but nothing well as the cost skyrockets.

    Personnel - more generalists vice specialists that are experts.

    Armored Personnel carrier - the Bradley was to do anything and safety and effectiveness were compromised.

    There is a reason complex systems have parts that specialize. But we seem to have forgotten that because of the bean counting approach to things.

    A $2-3B ship that can do 4 functions seems a bargain because no one multiples the resulting reduced effectiveness in each warfare area.

    And of course with no real operational testing, there is no measure of the actual effectiveness.

  2. I like it. I have three big questions:

    A) In the short term, what do you think of re-assigning older 'Burkes, the ones whose Aegis hasn't been updated due to cost cutting, or whose plants aren't in the best shape due to cost cutting/INSURV failures, to one duty tasks, I.E. ASW or ASuW? These ships are still out there and still nominally the 'due anything' ships but functionally due to age and lack of maintenance might not be able to fit the 'do anything' bill anymore. We have a ton of burkes and more coming off the line. I'm thinking along the lines of taking older 'Burkes and making them do one thing well, I.E. ASW, almost like we took the old Ohios and made them SSGN's.

    B) "Mk 110 57 mm gun" - why that gun on the ASW ship? Aren't its vibration issues and jamming issues that we've seen on the LCS enough to DQ it?

    C) Is it time to revisit an arsenal ship concept? Anti-Air currently seems to rely on sensors and missiles. If we have a CVBG with a ton of do everything 'Burkes and their VLS cells and Aegis, it seems we have sensor overload. What if we had a 'Tico (or whatever follow on they come up with. Flt III 'Burke?) and a 'Burke handle the sensor stuff with AMDR/Aegis, and a cheap(er) barge filled with VLS that can keep up with the fleet handle to act as a floating magazine. Advantages are a lot of flexibility and maybe cheaper CVBG's because you are minimizing expensive electronics. Disadvantages are the 'most of the eggs in one basket' scenario.

    1. A. That might make sense if we removed or deactivated the no-longer-used functions. Otherwise, we'd still be paying sailors to man and maintain unused equipment.

      B. That's an absolutely trivial point. If a 76 mm gun makes more sense, that's fine. If some other gun is better, I'm all for it. The concept is what's important, not the minor details.

      C. I think you answered your own question - eggs in a basket. Besides, in my stipped down AAW escort ship, it essentially is an arsenal ship just not with a thousand missiles (which are useless in any single engagement).

    2. I think for it to make sense we'd have to remove/deactivate the things not used. I'm just thinking now we have a gap in hulls with equipment that (may not) be usable anymore but which still have some life in them.

      A buddy worked on a 'Burke and he said that they did ASW 'sometimes' but that 'The sub always won'.

      If you took an old 'Burke, deactivated the Spy and took out those guys, and dedicated it just to ASW you might get a good ASW ship with crews working on *just that* for the remainder of the life of the ship. Then when your new ASW ship comes online you have crews with training and institutional knowledge ready to go.

      Just a thought.

      Sorry, don't mean to be trivial about the gun. I'm just burned out on the Mk 110.

    3. You're correct about ASW. As the Cold War proved, ASW has to be a full time, 24/7 effort in order for a crew to become proficient at it.

  3. Jack of all master of none....Why?

    The people in charge of the Navy and other services became commanders during the 1990s when Clinton was extracting the "peace dividend" because the world was safe after the Cold War... Every decision and fitrep bullet generated by any of them told the story of how efficient they were and how much money they saved...Combat proficiency or operational expertise wasn't necessarily prized. They took for granted what came before that won WW@ and the Cold War, yet they thought they could do better...

    Concurrently, in the military industrial complex more drastic measures were taken in the 1990's also. Defense was gutted. Companies consolidated feverishly just to survive. What drove entire industries before was now a niche industry and top talent went into other industries. What the US had counted on for defense since the 1940's had changed forever. You all must know the details about this collapse two and 1/2 shipyards, 2 major aircraft manufacturers, etc etc..

    Now hire CEOs and chief operating officers from the first paragraph above who survived the 1990's and adapted to the peace dividend extractions and we have what? IMO, not much..

    I don't trust this crowd to propose, design or field anything new.


    1. "I don't trust this crowd to propose, design or field anything new."

      That's why I'm here - to propose and conceptually design our naval forces!

    2. b2; This started before the peace dividend, the 1990s may have locked into the commanders minds but we were building more complex, multi-mission, costly items, going way back to the 60s. Look at the F-111. Look at what was done to the F-16, look at the misnaming of the F-18 (to the F/A-18), look at the Bradley, and the Burke was designed in the 1980s.

      This has been a trend for a long time because the warfighters haven't figured out how to make their point to the bean counters so the bigger and more costly the item, while saying we need fewer, keeps winning.

    3. They did build an F-111 for the USAF but the Navy rejected that and built the F-14 instead. Following that allowing the A-18 (replacement for the light attack A-7) to be called the F/A- 18 started a trend for sure. the Burke was supposed to be a DDG at first. Am I right? All of these multifunctional (supposedly) platforms were jumped on to save $$ during "peacetime" after the Cold War by the Clinton crowd...

      My point is, as a result of this, the people in command of both Navy and the military industrial complex TODAY (open door policy) are the product of the new post cold war reality("it's the economy stupid") codified in the 1990's along with all the other doublespeak..... "Think small do small", I call it.

      BTW, I just read an article on USNI news they were going to break R&D from acquisition. That could help a little for your new ships...


  4. Yes, 100%, cant argue with your basic reasoning. I would quibble on the details slightly, but that's just symantics.

    My only enhancement is that you are a little carrier centric, as the US always is.

    There is a very valid place for a "Burke" in the form of single ship missions or small SAG's

    I would argue that 10-20% of the fleet should be general ships like Burkes, they are expensive, but can operate alone, or fill temporary holes in lines, counter indeterminate threats, or replace losses in a high intencity environments due to attrition.

    There is a VERY VALID place for Burkes, and future "Burkes"

    1. "I would argue that 10-20% of the fleet should be general ships like Burkes,"

      No. There is nothing a single Burke could do that my proposed combination of ships couldn't do better and with less overall risk.

      What you're suggesting is what I've previously proposed as an independent cruiser.

      Besides, with all due gentle respect, you're citing vague, nonsensical missions. A RHIB can operate alone. A RHIB can fill temporary holes in lines (lines of what?). A RHIB can counter an indeterminate threat - once the threat is identified the RHIB may or may not be appropriate; likewise, a Burke may or may not be appropriate.

      A Burke can only replace losses if the mission is a fit. A Burke cannot effectively replace an ASW loss and no sane commander would risk a Burke playing tag with a sub. A Burke, with only 4-8 Harpoons, cannot effectively replace an anti-surface warfare ship. In short, a Burke can only effectively replace a Burke!

      Just out of curiosity, what "single ship" mission do you foresee in combat? There may have been one somewhere in history but off the top of my head I can't recall any single ship mission of any significance. No ship, even a battleship, has ever willingly engaged in a single ship mission! That's suicide.

    2. "No ship, even a battleship, has ever willingly engaged in a single ship mission! That's suicide."

      The Bismark? An exception that proves your point!?

    3. Bismarck's movements were in company with various cruisers and destroyers along with air cover. Bismarck's lone mission, to raid Allied shipping, was in company with the cruiser Prinz Eugen. As a result of the initial battle, Prinz Eugen was detached and Bismarck headed for occupied France for repairs. It was on that retreat from combat that Bismarck was tracked and sunk.

      Thus, no single ship willingly engages in missions and battles and those that are forced to are destroyed. Exactly what I said!

    4. Given we'll have about twice as many Burkes than LCS/FFG's and with the limited endurance of the latter, it's very likely we'll have Burke's hunting subs.

    5. Ok, time for a bit of a better explanation.

      I was bored last week and was playing with fleet figures, somewhat like you have been.

      By factoring in theoretical conflicts, low level and higher level peer to peer.

      And doing a “cost benefit” and fighting both sides, just for fun, nothing serious.

      Let’s skip the boring bits of that and go right to high intensity peer to peer, global naval warfare.

      Now the British army has an axiom “no plan survives contact with the enemy”.

      And this is important, you cannot assume you will know the position, capability or size of globally deployed enemy forces, and if you did.( Because we are talking about naval warfare, a medium of movement. ) you would not know 10 minutes later.

      A] when the war kicks off you don’t have all the correct assets in the right place and

      B] Even if you did, 10 minutes later it’s all gone wrong.

      In a fast moving dynamic global battlespace, with attrition conducted at length with significant losses that are again not defined, how do you counter this threat and compensate for localised losses. So you don’t end up with a line breach that is exploited and loses you the war!?

      Example : Say in the south Atlantic, the enemy ( Russian Chinese Alliance ) has amassed SSN’s based on intelligence about your ASW assets deployed, and wipes them out, by deploying temporarily quadruple the number of SNN’S they would normally for just a 2 weeks period.

      You lose 70% of the local ASW assets, and then the ASuW and Land attack and AAW assets in that area, and then they push on,

      Your now locally down dedicated ASW assets with no way to compensate without weakening your assets in all other global fronts. More importantly you can’t compensate quickly enough. You simply can’t deploy or redeploy fast enough and it all falls apart like a house of cards….

      A fleet with a decent mix of general assets buffers this scenario, not only can they self-escort as you have to pull them to compensate for the above, (as they singularly redeploy or in small SAG’s from several fleets), but they are good enough to present a threat, and slow an advance, without having to degrade your main battlegroups and your offensive fronts too significantly.

      They represent a STRATIGIC uncertainty, and hamper the planning of the enemy. And in sea control this can be crippling.

      Some general assets are important to this kind of modern warfare.

      Well that’s what I thought anyway ;)


    6. "Say in the south Atlantic, the enemy ( Russian Chinese Alliance ) has amassed SSN’s based on intelligence about your ASW assets deployed, and wipes them out,"

      That borders on absurd. Say meteors hit all of our ships. Say a giant typhoon sinks all of our ships. Say the enemy sinks every one of our ships in the first minute of a war. Come on, be realistic.

      How would an enemy amass a huge quantity of SSNs trailing all of our ships and we don't notice or take any action? Countries don't just spontaneously start wars. There is ALWAYS a lead up, build up, to war over a period of months and years.

  5. CNO do agree to your thinking but would like to add one proviso that there is none of the nonsense as in the FFG(X) RFI of a maximum range of 3,000 nm at 16 knots, minimum should be double at 6,000 nm to avoid the cost and dependency of relying on a fleet of support oilers.

    1. Yep, range is critical and you make a good point dependence on logistic support vessels which are in short supply.

    2. ARGH! I hate that.

      I've brought this up elsewhere and the answer is 'we have overseas bases'. SO WHAT?! We had the Phillippines as a great base in 1939.

  6. You could apply the same thinking in respect of the nuclear powered CVNs and SSNs. The state of the art conventional German and Japanese submarines appear to be in the $500 to $600 million range whilst a Virginia is costing $2.7 billion and the $20+ billion Ford.

    1. Submarines are a bit different. Yes, a Virginia costs quite a bit more than a SSK, which is what I assume you're referring to, but you gain quite a bit of capability for the money. While I have no problem with a small additional force of US SSKs, I would not advocate "breaking up" SSNs.

    2. The '$500 million/SSK' doesn't quite pass the smell test for me.

      Submarines are ridiculously complex. Even SSK's. Add in AIP and that goes up.

      Somehow countries are able to build AIP SSK's for around the price of an LCS?

      Sure, that may be the 'brochure price', but I bet alot of those SSK builders have subsidies hidden somewhere.

      I only bring it up because I don't believe that if we start building, or even buying SSK's we'd see the $500 million number after we were done with it so it worked with our Navy and systems.

    3. "Sure, that may be the 'brochure price', but I bet alot of those SSK builders have subsidies hidden somewhere."

      In general terms, you're quite correct.

      I've documented how difficult it is to find actual costs for US equipment given all the accounting gimmicks the military plays. Trying to generate foreign costs is almost pointless and trying to compare them to US costs is a waste of time.

    4. The problem with the SSK's is that they are slow and distances from the US to conflict areas are long. Most of the countries using AIP's use them in coastal or limited areas. The US does worldwide.

      There is also just the fact that with a nuke you can do full speed for a long, long, long time. AIP's have great performance but you are still limited.

    5. Costs of SSKs is a murky area, Wikipedia quotes "The eleventh Japanese Soryu-class submarine (4.200t submerged) with improved underwater endurance by mounting lithium-ion batteries as US$536.7 million under the 2015 Japanese Defense Budget."

      The cost of the 2017 Norwegian order four updated Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems (TKMS) an evolution of the current 1,800 t submerged U212A hulls which are likely to use lithium-ion batteries as does the Italian planned order for four in 2018 will be in the order of up to €560 million / $660 million depending on equipment.

      The new SSKs are at least as stealthy if not more so than nuclear-powered SSNs. It allows the ability to afford multiple buys of SSKs that can be built for the price of a single Virginia Block V, with the VPM now heading north of $3 billion each.

      The firepower advantage of the larger nuclear submarines is not clear cut and a mixed buy of SSNs and SSKs would allow the Navy, to paraphrase CNO, "break out of this death spiral before we reach a fleet of one mega-submarine?"

    6. Again, I might be wrong, but I have zero faith in these numbers. They might be the number given to the government that is subsidizing the shipyard behind the scenes.

      Is this the 'out the door' price?
      Is this the price for the government that is subsidizing costs and healthcare?

      If we could *really* buy an SSK for $500 million with all the sensors/weapons systems that work with our Navy then sure, its a no brainer. Skip 1 Virginia and buy 3 SSK's and a tender and base it in Guam or some small island we own and patrol.

      However, I bet that even if we got it through Congress by the time we got it done they look like 1.2 billion submarines.

      The Virginia's aren't perfect, but their price seems fairly stable.

      Should we look into an SSK? Absolutely! But only if we fan find a way in which it works with our overall strategy.

    7. The problem with SSKs are they are only useful at ambush points. They are useless for open ocean patrol. An example is when the Russians sent a couple of large warships toward Australian a couple of years ago when they hosted the G20. The prime minister Tony Abbott asked about Australia's submarines intercepting the Russian warships. He was told it was not possible as they couldn't get there in time and even if they could they would not be able to keep up with the Russians to trail them. So instead 2 Anzac class Frigates were sent. In short it makes no sense given the US Navy's mission to buy SSKs. Besides if it costs 500 mil to make one in Japan/Europe I'm sure the US Mil complex will find a way to make it cost over a billion.

    8. "it makes no sense given the US Navy's mission to buy SSKs."

      In general, I agree with you. There are some missions for which US SSK's would be suited: home harbor patrol is a very good one, first island chain chokepoints, Middle East confined waters, Mediterranean, etc.

      Sadly, but predictably, you're probably correct that the US would produce a billion plus dollar SSK!

  7. The fly in the ointment in breaking up the Burke is manpower. Is the US Navy able to adequately staff it's ships at the moment (asking)? Several other navies are having significant trouble finding enough sailors for the ships they do have without trying to fill berths on additional hulls. Would that be an issue in the proposed 355 ship Navy?


    1. Yes, manning and operating costs are a completely different issue. For the US, manning is not an issue,however, the costs of manning are by current standards though they would not be by rational standards - meaning that we're putting way too much of the Navy's budget into unproductive areas instead of into manning and maintenance.

      Excellent comment.

    2. We could handle the manning costs by cutting the admirals who gave us the LCS and ignored ASW. The cost savings there could easily man 3 or 4 new ships

    3. A nice side benefit to all this might be a partial revitalization of our ship building capacity.

      Make the ships less complex and more places can build them.

      Make them cheaper due to lower complexity and you order more hulls, which means its easier to get long term contracts which would encourage yards to invest in the infrastructure needed.

      More yards = more competition could mean even cheaper hulls.

    4. And you've just started the reversal of the death spiral. You understand the larger issues, here. Excellent.

  8. An interesting article. Multiple use platforms can only be in any one spot at any one time, even if they are more capable. So have single or primary and reduced secondary capability in more locations makes sense.

    But watch as I contradict myself...

    An interesting point of reference is what the Brits did after the Falklands. The Type 22 was given a better ASuW missile fit, a 4.5" gun for NGS, and improved combat data system - a leap from the designed ASW frigate.

    The Type 23 similarly went from a ASW frigate, originally planned with any air defence missile to more of a genera purpose design with the inclusion of Sea Wolf, enhanced radar and tracking and Harpoon for ASuW.

  9. With regards to your BMD ships. I suggest we reduce the 100 million dollar tag for the hull (the price increase for the Burke III's indicate a billion or more for the BMD version of Aegis) even more. We reduce it to 0 for the first dozen by not putting them on hulls at all, but using Aegis Ashore at Pearl, Guam, Diego Garcia, Japan, and a few other important overseas bases. For the homeland we save the Navy even more by joining with the Air Force (tasked already with US air defense) and Army (tasked with coastal defense) for BMD protection here. Then instead of dozens of BMD Burkes, we have a few (stripped of ASW as you have said) with ABM to escort carriers at sea in task forces. Now Naval bases will be protected from ballistic attack and the BMD crews can rotate from cushy base posts to sea and back which encourages retention as well.

  10. This is an interesting idea. I'd be interested to see ComNavOps full order of battle, including the modern BB and assault support ship that have been discussed in the past!

    I largely agree with the idea of developing more specialized vessels, but differ in some respects as to the capabilities of each of the vessels described above. My remarks/ideas are getting a bit long so I'll post them in segments.


    I agree that expecting a ship to be good at ASW and AAW is absurd. However, I think that with a few more years of UAV development, an AAW vessel could benefit from some aviation facilities, although I suspect they could be much reduced from those of the Burke Flight IIA..

    Mr Oliver explained this concept pretty well in his “The Shape of Things to Come” guest post. Something along the lines of the cancelled A160 Hummingbird with a horizon-scanning AEGIS in line-of-sight orbit of the AAW escort could extend the ship’s effective radar horizon significantly while minimizing the risk of loss of communications and minimizing susceptibility to jamming.

    An aerostat could provide a similar capability. For example, a tethered lighter-than-air or kite-based aerostat should be able to lift a decent payload and require very limited aviation facilities owing to the control authority provided by extending/winching in the tether, but I can foresee a couple of downsides with these: (i) they probably will not work well in anything but the fairest weather and (ii) if they are detected, the position of the ship/convoy will be easier to infer relative to a fixed or rotary wing UAV in a looser orbit. A third option might be a tethered, heavier-than-air rotary wing aerostat. Data, and maybe even electrical power, could pass through the tether but it would have more control power and/or less drag than a lighter-than-air or kite-based aerostat, which should allow it to operated in proportionally more adverse weather conditions. While powering the lift/propulsion system via the tether would increase the weight of the tether, which such a vehicle would have to lift (although it might be possible to design the tether to provide some lift), the vehicle would not be constrained by onboard fuel. Some energy might be extracted out of the air stream as well, as in an airborne wind turbine.

    I realize that this capability would not be needed if there are other ships nearby with aviation facilities (e.g., some flavor of carrier, LHD, or LPD), but an AAW ship could find itself escorting merchant convoys or AsuW task-forces without such ships.

    Maybe build a sub-class with limited aviation facilities and that would focus on convoy-escort during wartime?


  11. For the ASuW and land attack roles, let's bring back an 8-in gun like the 8"/55 Mk. 71. You'll get better range and 5" rounds could be used as sabots.

    1. Note that this was my proposal for disaggregating the Burkes. This was not my entire proposal for a complete fleet. I also advocate a heavy cruiser with 8" guns or larger. I've covered this in previous posts.

  12. ASW Escort:

    I would suggest equipping this with ESSM (maybe 4-8 VLS cells, quad-packed?) in addition to short-range defenses and a modest self-defense ASuW armament (8 harpoon-class missiles?). My reasoning is that this vessel might need to detach from a convoy or task-force to destroy/deter enemy subs. It could find itself out of the umbrella of the AAW vessel pretty quick as the rest of the formation hightails it out of the area. If I were aboard such a vessel, I’d want my AAW armament to extend to at least the horizon, and I’d want to have a credible deterrent to any ships that might be shadowing the formation, especially if that formation is a merchant convoy, while playing tag with a sub.

    According to wikipedia, the Buckley class DE was 306 feet long and had a beam of 36.5 feet. The Perry’s are 445/453 feet long, have a beam of 45 feet, and host two helos. Going off photos of the Perrys, the flight deck already seems uncomfortably small and I’m not sure you can lose that 8.5 feet of beam and accommodate two helos. You might be able to host 2 or 3 UAVS on a 300ish foot hull, but I’m not certain that’s an acceptable tradeoff in the ASW role. The Independence-Class LCS, however, *activate defensive shield* could probably lose 100 feet off the length of the hull, a proportional amount of beam, (418 feet long, and 104 feet of beam) and still comfortably host two helos. I want it made out of steel, less top heavy, and far more heavily armed and armored than the LCS, but I think the trimaran, catamaran, or SWATH configuration has some advantages in this role. Come to think of it, a version of RV Triton (311 feet long, with almost 74 feet of beam) modified for the ASW role, might be a great starting point for this vessel. Even if not designed for the highest speed possible, it would probably be a pretty fast ship for its length.

    I agree that speed is not necessarily essential for this ship, but it might be useful. I would like this ship to be able to catch up with a fast-carrier task force within a reasonable time period after dealing with a sub, so faster than a DE, but this (~30-32 kn?) needn’t be an exceptional degree of speed and, I imagine, is inline with the higher end of your range (i.e., something analogous to a Perry). LCS speeds (>40 kn) would be a luxury, but could be useful in the scenario above or if having to reposition around a convoy/task-force to further investigate a contact. I’m not advocating that we design a ship around the speed requirement, but I think this class would benefit more than others by wringing as much speed out of the hull as is reasonable.

    - Gripen

  13. What would you estimate the range of the four ships you propose? Seems like one reason the US favors larger ships is because geography demands it.

    1. Estimate???? The range is whatever we choose to design it to be. I refer you to my previous post comparing WWII ship ranges with today's. Eye opening.

    2. Maybe this is just my naivety, but it seems like the numbers you give in that post are too good to be true. How can the Fletcher Class Destroyer contain thicker armor than a Burke, be the same length as the Freedom variant LCS ship, yet displace several hundred fewer tons? Why is the LCS so much heavier even though it is made mostly from lighter aluminum?

    3. If you don't believe me, look up the specs for yourself.

    4. well, the intent of my question was more asking how it can be so as opposed to disputing the accuracy of the numbers. Assuming the numbers are true, how can it be so?

    5. The ships were designed differently. For example, the Fletcher has a length of 376 ft and beam of 39 ft versus the LCS with a length of 378 ft and a beam of 57 ft. So, in terms of enclosed volume, the LCS is something on the order of twice the size of the Fletcher. Quite a difference!

    6. That makes sense. I didn't see it addressed in the article, but I have often assumed missiles render armor largely ineffective. I am guessing you have considered this and disagree. Is there any evidence or data that suggests armor would still be effective? I don't know of any countries that still build heavily armored ships, so that suggests the conviction extends beyond the US Navy. Thoughts?

    7. Preponderance of thought does not equate to wisdom of thought. The entire world believed the battleship reigned supreme right up until 1941 when they were proved wrong. I can give example after example of this type of group thinking being wrong. So, the fact that the entire world thinks armor is unnecessary does not make it a wise thought.

      Read Armor For Dummies and you'll understand the purpose that armor serves.

    8. @ Joey Franks.

      ComNavOps has written at least a couple of posts on the benefits of armoring modern warships. He quite correctly explains that the armor is not only valuable in preventing penetration, but also mitigating damage. I agree that preventing penetration of large, supersonic anti-ship missiles is not practical because the necessary armor will be prohibitve on a per mass (e.g., steel alloys) or per volume basis (e.g., ceramics, spaced/reactive armor) because such missiles tend to be far heavier than large naval shells, at least as fast as large naval shells at long range, and have better L/D ratios and/or shaped charges for better penetration. Does it make sense to build ships with armored belts designed to resist modern supersonic missiles that can strike 3m above the water or come in at a 60 degree dive, probable not, but there are plenty of other ways in which armor can help mitigate damage.

      While I believe that traditional armor schemes are still a good idea to resist lesser threats (e.g., up to "ATGM"class missiles, 76mm projectiles, and maybe even 5" projectiles on destroyer-sized vessels), I think that we'd be wise to reinforce as many INTERIOR bulkheads as practical to help contain and absorb fragments and blast energy. Interior bulkheads should be made from ductile alloys to limit generation of dense, secondary fragments and reinforced with fiber-reinforced polymer matrix composites, which if shattered, can be more easily arrested due to their comparatively low density. Bulkheads designed with internal honeycomb structures could also help absorb blast energy. This design philosophy has much more in common with torpedo and mine defense systems than ballistic armor and would also help with these threats as well.

      The worldwide response to the mine/torpedo threat between WWI and WWII provides some interesting lessons for naval architects today. Naval architects of the time realized that it wasn't feasible, at least due to competing demands, to prevent underwater blasts from penetrating the hull. Instead, they sought out to design protections systems that would limit damage and allow warships to at least return to port, if not stay in the fight. This is a good read and might show a way forward:

      - Gripen

    9. CNO, You missed the logic of my point. I was not suggesting the consensus away from armor proves it as the right path. I was suggesting the consensus away from armor proves it not to be simply a function of US Navy incompetence.

      Gripen, thanks for the commentary and link. I will check it out.

    10. Also, turboelectric propulsion has advantages with respect to building more protected warships because long drive shafts are not needed between the propellers and reduction gears. Propellers and drive motors can even be podded for easier replacement in dry dock if they suffer damage (my preference would be for fixed pods in conjunction with a rudder arrangement, I'm not so sure azipods, i.e., rotating pods, are such great idea on a warship). Additionally, the generators are not coupled directly to the drive shafts and can thus be distributed and segregated throughout the hull. We were even doing this with the Tennessee and Colorado class battleships!

      We saw the sense in this arrangement without the benefit of gas turbines (perhaps including a supercritical CO2 bottom-cycle in the not too distant future), modern electric motors, and solid-state power and control electronics. Thankfully, this seems like one area in which the US Navy is making progress, even if for other reasons. (e.g., see the Zumwalts, Columbia SSBN/SSGNs, and testing of superconducting motors).

      - Gripen

    11. "consensus away from armor proves it not to be simply a function of US Navy incompetence."

      Oh, it's incompetence all right! Bear in mind that for many countries a ship's design is more a function of incredibly limited budgets than operational requirements. You might recognize that a dollar spent on armor is a dollar well spent but if you simply haven't got a dollar to spend then you simply won't have armor. The UK's RN is an example of this. They simply don't have the money to design warships the way they would like to and they wind up with compromised designs (their new carrier being a good example).

      For the US, we have the money but we consciously choose not to spend it on armor. That's simple incompetence in design.

    12. "I have often assumed missiles render armor largely ineffective."

      You assume incorrectly! Read the post, Armor For Dummies

    13. "I am guessing you have considered this and disagree."

      This indicates that you have not read and memorized every previous post. Most readers have the posts printed and bound into books that they carry for quick reference - the posts being that important!

      Seriously, most any question you might have has probably been addressed in some previous post. I encourage you to make use of the archives. Search the keywords and you'll find a ton of relevant information on most any topic!

  14. ASuW/Land Attack

    I wonder if the capabilities aren’t better divided between your modern BB at the high end and your assault support ship at the low end.

    If we go bigger than a Burke (9.600 long tons for Flight III), more along the lines of a Baltimore or Des Moines-class cruiser (14.5K-17K long tons and 17.2K-21K long tons, respectively) we could “delete” the superfiring turret and replace it with armored VLS cells, and have six eight-inch guns and significant armor for when the s#*% really hits the fan. As you propose, such ships could be the center pieces of their own task forces or escort high-value assets. They’d also be very useful in an amphibious assault. Personally, I’d like to see even heavier gun armament at the high end. While I think we would be justified in building a full-on Iowa-class type ship with 6 16-inch guns in two turrets, fore and aft, VLS cells in place of the superfiring turret, and perhaps 6-8 IRBMs, I think a similarly arranged ship with the size and armament of the Alaska-class cruiser, although with no ballistic missile capability, is a reasonable compromise. The 12-inch guns would also nicely differentiate these ships from the assault support ships that I envision.

    I initially envisioned your assault support ship as a 350-400 foot long, 60 foot beam heavily armed and armored brawler that only had to keep up with LPDs and LHD. I also envisioned six eight-inch guns in two turrets, fore and aft, and six five-inch guns in two superfiring turrets , fore and aft (i.e., a three gun turret above each of the 8-inch turrets), and VLS cells amidships, and/or dispersed in mk57 cells along the sides, for quad-packed ESSMs and a mix of quad-packed M26/30/31 (MLRS/HIMARS) rockets and unitary surface-to-surface missiles, such as the proposed ATACMS replacement coming out of the Long-Range Precision Fires program. Lengthen that to 500 feet or so and you have a Burke-sized ship with a heavy gun armament and without the helo hangars. Add the torpedo tubes, maybe additional VLS cells, and replace the artillery rockets with ASROC, anti-ship, and surface-to-surface cruise missiles and you have, in essence, your proposed ASuW/Land Attack vessel. It might be little bigger and complex than is strictly necessary for the assault-support role, but it could also escort faster formations and have better range due to the increased length with no change in beam.

    If we decide we don’t need or want that much naval gunfire, I think we have to consider whether or not we’re better off putting all those cruise and anti-ship missiles in an SSGN half the size of the SSGN Ohios (up to 154 cruise missile tubes) or the forthcoming Columbias (112 cruise missile tubes, projected at almost $5B in 2010 dollars). Yes, that’s going to cost AT LEAST an additional $1B over the Flight IIA Burkes, based on the costs of the and Virginias, and the sub can’t/shouldn’t be “showing the flag,” but you buy a whole hell of a lot stealth and capability in the process. It should also be more effective in it's secondary ASW role than the surface warship.


    No comment, too early to tell.

    - Gripen

    1. "I wonder if the capabilities aren’t better divided between your modern BB at the high end and your assault support ship at the low end."

      This post is specifically about not building any more Burkes and what we should be building in their place. In the larger scheme of things, I have proposed other types of ships and, in an integrated fleet structure, some of what is proposed in this post might be absorbed into other ship types.

      This post was a very limited, stop-building-Burkes-and-build-these-instead concept. It was not an overall, here's-the-optimum-force-structure post.

      As I've explained, I have a very limited amount of space (and reader attention spans) to write in. I can't write an entire book on every post subject.

      You are the type of informed, knowledgeable reader that I try to encourage. The down side to that is that you jump immediately into areas that I simply haven't got the space to cover. Nothing wrong with that, at all! That's what the discussion is for. I have to further hope that you understand that I have to leave out far more than I put in to a post.

    2. "I wonder if the capabilities aren’t better divided between your modern BB at the high end and your assault support ship at the low end."

      In WWII, fire support was split among destroyers (5"), cruisers (6" and up), and battleships (14"-16"). All provided fire support at various times in various situations. I see no reason why we would not do the same today so, yes, I agree completely that fire support can and should be distributed among various ships.

      I've given thought to producing a page with my overall, integrated fleet structure so that people can see where my various posts fit in. What do you think? Would that be helpful?

    3. I do understand your position. My goal is merely to help stimulate discussion for those of us with enough interest to follow the comments. I don't expect every post to be treatise (although I'd read them!). I also understand if you'd rather save your thoughts for future blog posts. As I said above, I'd like to see your "Here's-the-Optimum-Force-Structure" Post. I feel like you've kinda been building towards it for a while. ^_'

      And please, please don't take my comments as criticism, even if I happen to disagree with your point of view. I'm a pretty voracious consumer of all-manner of scientific and engineering literature, mostly with respect to defense because that were so much of the R&D money is. That said, my practical knowledge about these subjects is more limited than I'd like, and I'm always interested to hear the perspectives of people with experiences/knowledge that I lack.

      Thank you for your efforts,

      - Gripen

    4. My offer stands. If you'd like to take a crack at the other side of the blog and guest author a piece, let me know! It's a lot of fun.

  15. Maybe a light flat deck helo carrier like the Mistral as the center of your ASW groups, with Amphibious assault as a secondary mission?

    1. In this post, I described an ASW escort ship. However, I also favor ASW hunter-killer groups centered by a helo "carrier" capable of carrying 8 helos. Any more than that would just be adding expense with little gain in capability. Any less would not be effective. Such a "carrier" would be a good deal smaller than a Mistral.

      Consider the risk. A Mistral is a lot of ship to risk on highly dangerous ASW work. Wouldn't it be better to risk a substantially smaller "carrier" and save the Mistral for ... well, I'm actually not a fan of the Mistral as I don't see a good use for it but that's irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion.

      What do you think about the size of the "carrier" and the risk associated with the mission?

  16. Interesting post. There are two comments that spring to mind

    Firstly, I know you said you didn't want to get into debating specific costs and I'll abide by that but I'd be very surprised if you could afford four (worthwhile) ships for the same cost as one Burke. Getting two ships would be more likely, especially once you consider maintenance and manning costs. Would it still be worth it if you had to lose two Burkes to get the four ships you propose?

    Secondly, the Royal Navy has taken the opposite approach - more specialised ships to fit specific roles. Type 45 destroyers are specialised for the AAW role and aren't equipped with strike-length VLS or a towed-array sonar. Type 23 frigates are focused on ASW and are perhaps the best sub-hunters in NATO but have a less powerful radar and relatively little ASuW or land attack capacity. Their replacements, the Type 26 frigates, will have strike-length VLS but only a limited number. The Royal Navy are heavily criticised for this, with newspapers mocking the Type 45 for not being able to sink enemy ships and the Type 26 for not having a powerful enough radar. Ironically they're calling for a Burke-style capacity for Royal Navy ships...

    1. Regarding the exact number of ships we would get for each Burke, that's unknown but irrelevant. The main point is that multi-function is the wrong path. We already have 70 some Burkes that can only be in one place at a time and only perform one task at a time and are only competent at one task, period. What's the point of multi-functionality, then?

      To answer you question about how many Burkes for how many of the ships I propose, the answer is I don't want ANY more Burkes, period.

      The RN's force structure is based on severe budget constraints rather than any operational analysis and need. Ironically, that has pushed them onto the right path of specialization but the budget constraints have left them with insufficient numbers. Right path, wrong numbers!