Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Nuclear Carrier Refueling Cost

There are certain naval topics that are guaranteed to spark arguments and debates and one of them is the question of nuclear versus conventional power for carriers.  Proponents and critics toss ‘data’ back and forth at each other, each proclaiming that the data unequivocally supports their side of the debate.  How can that be?  How can each side muster seemingly incontrovertible data and arguments?  Shouldn’t the data provide a straightforward, clear cut answer?  Well, it all depends on what you include or exclude in your data set.  Does the cost of the extra tankers needed to support conventional powered carriers get included?  What about the cost of the crews that have to man those tankers?  Or the cost of the fuel storage tanks at some land base that the tankers refuel from?  Or the cost of the refineries that supply the fuel?  And on and on.  The same kinds of questions apply to nuclear power, as well.

From the many studies I’ve read, the costs of conventional versus nuclear power tend to be a wash when all the pertinent factors are included.  For that reason, ComNavOps is ambivalent on the issue.  I have a slight leaning towards conventional power, not for any cost reasons but for the damage control aspects and repairability in battle.  But, I digress …

The point of this post is not to settle the issue but to offer one semi-relevant data point.

One of the major costs for a nuclear carrier is the mid-life Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH).  Costs seem to run around several billion dollars, if the Navy is to be believed.  Common sense, however, suggests that this kind of oft cited cost is not true.  Unfortunately, we have no itemized breakdown of the refueling costs to look at.  Remember that carrier refueling is always combined with a massive overhaul effort, the total of which is the cited cost but no one knows how much of the cost is direct nuclear refueling costs and this leads, inevitably to a large part of the ambiguity about nuclear refueling costs.

Well, here’s a related data point.  It’s the SSBNs which also undergo a mid-life refueling overhaul (Engineered Refueling Overhaul – ERO).  As an example, the USS Louisiana (SSBN-743) is currently at the start of a 2-1/2 year refueling overhaul at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

The project is expected to finish in 2022 and will take approximately 729,000 man-days to complete with a cost of around $400 million. (1)

Note that the $400M includes both conventional overhaul work and the nuclear refueling work.  The non-nuclear refueling portion of the work – the overhaul  portion – will include hull/tank preservation, a modernized reverse osmosis system, and modifications to accommodate female crew.  Thus, the nuclear refueling costs are something less than $400M.  The overhaul work does not seem terribly extensive or complex so I’d venture a guess that the nuclear portion of the costs is, perhaps, $300M.

That cost, $400M, is immensely less than the RCOH cost of multiple billions of dollars.  Why the enormous cost discrepancy?

One major reason is the sheer scope of the overhaul work – work that has nothing to do with the nuclear refueling.

During the dry dock phase of the RCOH, George Washington underwent significant upgrades and repair work both inside and outside the ship. In addition to defueling and refueling its power plant, Newport News shipbuilders have re-preserved approximately 600 tanks and replaced thousands of valves, pumps and piping components.

On the outside, they performed major structural updates to the island, mast and antenna tower; upgraded all aircraft launch and recovery equipment; painted the ship’s hull, including sea chests and freeboard; updated the propeller shafts, and installed refurbished propellers.

During the next phase of the complex engineering and construction project, shipbuilders will finish up the overhaul and installation of the ship’s major components and test its electronics, combat and propulsion systems before the carrier is redelivered to the navy. This period also will be dedicated to improving the ship’s living areas, including crew living spaces, galleys and mess decks. (2)

It is obvious from that brief description of the non-nuclear overhaul work that the scope and, therefore, cost is enormous. 

What is the split between overhaul and nuclear refueling cost for a carrier RCOH?  Is it 50% each?  Is it 90% nuclear?  Is it 90% overhaul?  Unfortunately, I’ve never seen even a crude breakdown of the cost split and that leads to the aforementioned arguments and suspect data.

On the surface of it, the SSBN ERO cost suggests that the actual nuclear refueling cost is not the major portion of the carrier RCOH and that the overhaul work is, instead, the major portion.  I would go so far as to venture a guess that the overhaul cost is on the order of 70% of the total RCOH cost.  If that’s even remotely correct, that drastically alters the financial arguments that are typically used to debate the nuclear power question.

Of course, a submarine ERO and a carrier RCOH are not directly comparable, even for the nuclear refueling portion of the work.  A carrier’s immense size means that the reactor is buried much deeper in the vessel and access is more difficult.  A carrier presumably has larger reactors and two of them as opposed to the single reactor in a submarine.  And so on.  Presumably, those factors add to the nuclear refueling cost but how much they add to the cost is unknown.  I would guess, perhaps, a 10%-20% premium?

The takeaway from the submarine ERO is that nuclear refueling costs are not inherently obscenely expensive which is the impression so many critics of nuclear power would have us believe.

As I said, this post makes no attempt to settle the nuclear versus conventional power debate.  It only adds a related data point to help guide discussions. 



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(1)navaltoday.com website, “Ballistic missile submarine USS Louisiana docks for refueling overhaul”, 17-Sep-2019,
https://navaltoday.com/2019/09/17/ballistic-missile-submarine-uss-louisiana-docks-for-refueling-overhaul/

(2)navaltoday.com website, “USS George Washington undocks during nuclear refueling overhaul”, 1-Oct-2019,
https://navaltoday.com/2019/10/01/uss-george-washington-undocks-during-nuclear-refueling-overhaul/

Monday, November 18, 2019

Navy Again Threatens Congress

If there’s one thing the Navy is consistent about, it’s their desire and ability to manipulate Congress and they’re at it again.  As described in a USNI News article, the Navy is now threatening Congress with all manner of doomsday scenarios if Congress opts for Continuing Resolutions (CR) instead of full budgets.

… the Navy is looking at having to cancel as many as 14 ship maintenance availabilities and shutting down carrier air wings and expeditionary squadrons not heading into a deployment despite the relatively healthy budget the service would have under a full-year CR. (1)

The Navy is threatening to cancel 14 ship maintenance availabilities.  However, the CR would give the Navy $9.758B for ship depot maintenance (the amount it received in FY 2019) instead of the $10.426B it requested.  The difference is $688M which is a 6.4% reduction.  So, according to the Navy, a 6.4% reduction necessitates cancelling 14 ship maintenance availabilities.  There is no possible way that a 6.4% reduction requires the cancellation of 14 maintenance availabilities.  That’s attempted blackmail/extortion of Congress, pure and simple.

Wait, it gets worse.

Under a CR, the Navy would receive $5.712B for flight hours versus the $5.682B it requested.  That’s an INCREASE of $30M !!!!!!  Despite the increase, the Navy claims it would need to shut down all non-deploying air wings.  They get more money for flight hours and claim that means they have to shut down air wings?????  That’s blackmail/extortion but it’s not even competent blackmail/extortion.  That’s just stupid.

I would ask where the Secretary of the Navy is while this is happening but he has already demonstrated his utter and total lack of integrity when he told the President to fire him if the Ford sailed without its elevators fixed and then he failed to resign when it happened.  He further demonstrated his disdain and disregard for Congress when he blamed Congress for asking questions about the Ford.  So, it’s no mystery why the Navy seeks to blackmail/extort Congress.  The rot starts at the top.

Of course, if the Navy really needed money they could simply cut a handful of Admirals and their staffs to help make up the funding shortages.  Well, to be fair, I’m not sure that’s technically doable under CR rules – something about not being able to reprogram budgetary line items?  Still, it’s emblematic of the Navy’s failure to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money and preference to cut maintenance rather than bloated bureaucracy.




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(1)USNI News website, “Continuing Resolution Forcing Navy to Delay Ship Maintenance, Curtail Training”, Megan Eckstein, 15-Nov-2019,
https://news.usni.org/2019/11/15/continuing-resolution-forcing-navy-to-delay-ship-maintenance-curtail-training

Friday, November 15, 2019

Frigates in the US Navy

Despite ComNavOps’ indifference, nay, disdain, for the idea of frigates in the US Navy, the Navy, in its infinite wisdom idiocy has opted to go ahead and acquire 20 frigates.  Of course, this was done without any Concept of Operations so no one has yet given any thought to how these frigates would be used. 

What does the US Navy have to say about the role of the frigate?  From USNI News we get this,

The RFI [frigate program Request For Information from industry] states that one of the FFG(X)’s two main purposes is to “relieve large surface combatants from stressing routine duties during operations other than war.” It goes on to say later that “this ship will reduce demand on high-end cruisers and destroyers that currently conduct [anti-submarine warfare], [surface warfare], and theater security cooperation missions, allowing for an increase of more capable assets to maintain a stabilizing presence in regions where tensions with nations that have highly capable naval forces may exist.” (1)

Unfortunately, this is just a bunch of gibberish that says nothing and doesn’t even mention actual combat use.  Total, pointless garbage.  As with the LCS, I guess we’re on our own to figure out how to fit the frigate into combat operations.  So, why don’t we lead the way and engage in some speculation about frigate use?

In order to assess and ‘fit’ the frigate into the US Navy scheme, we need to recognize and bear in mind a few key aspects and characteristics of the frigate:

  • The frigate will be a mini-Burke with 50% of the capability and 60%-70% of the cost (let’s face it, no one believes the Navy’s cost estimate and history guarantees that the cost will be much greater than current estimates!).
  • Only 20 will be built.
  • The design appears to have a bit of an ASW focus.
  • It will carry one helo (MH-60R) and one UAV (MQ-8C).
  • The Navy has around 70 Burkes in service.

So, what can we do with a frigate that will be procured in small quantity, is very expensive (likely $1.5B each), and has a bit of an ASW focus?

One of the obvious uses is as part of a surface group escort. 

As an escort, frigates would offer almost nothing extra in the way of group AAW defense since we already have more than enough high end, AAW focused Burkes and Ticonderogas with Standard missiles having ranges of hundreds of miles. 

What a frigate could offer is extended, outer zone ASW screening.  Several frigates, pushed well out along the group’s front and sides could extend the ASW awareness significantly.  That would relegate the Burkes to inner zone ASW and their main function which is, of course, AAW.  The frigates, with their own self-defense AAW, are capable of surviving when pushed out a bit from the group especially if they remain under the Burke/Ticonderoga Aegis umbrella.  Obviously, a concerted, focused attack on an individual frigate would overwhelm it but that’s where the Aegis umbrella comes in.

The limitation of carrying only a single helo for ASW is a problem and a design flaw in an ASW frigate (recall that the Perrys were designed to carry 2x Seahawk helos) but it’s better than nothing and the Burke’s helos could stage through the frigates to supplement the outer helo screen although the response time operating that way would be a problem.  What we need is to pair the frigates with a long range, high speed, persistent ASW aircraft like the S-3 Viking.  The frigates would provide initial detection and the S-3 would confirm and prosecute.  But … we don’t have S-3 Vikings so the frigates and their single helo will have to suffice, if poorly.

Regardless of the helo limitation and lack of an S-3, frigates could effectively extend the ASW screen.

The other obvious use for frigates in war is as convoy escorts.  The Perrys were intended to act as escorts for the US-to-Europe resupply convoys in the event of a war with the Soviet Union.  Similarly, we will have need of regular convoys from the US to Pearl Harbor, Guam, and whatever other bases we might operate in a China war.  In this role, the frigates would be providing limited area AAW protection and ASW coverage. 

The limitation in these concepts is numbers.  We are only building 20 frigates.  A war time carrier group of 3-4 carriers would require around 8 frigates to effectively extend the screen given the vast area that a carrier group occupies.  That means that there would only be enough frigates to provide screening for 2 surface groups at a time and, if we use frigates in this role, there won’t be any available for the typical frigate missions of convoy escort and patrols of peripheral combat areas.  Again, recall that we had 71 Perrys!  The reverse is also true – if we assign frigates to convoy escort, we won’t have any available for surface group escort.

Before we leave the ASW application, let’s also briefly consider what this means for the Burkes.  Nominally, the Burkes have ASW capability.  In fact, they are the only surface ASW capability we have!  Even at that, Burkes rarely train for ASW and are not even remotely proficient at it.  If we introduce frigates as our ASW assets, it is only reasonable to believe that Burke ASW training will be further de-emphasized.  If we had, say, 70 ASW frigates that might be acceptable.  However, with only 20 frigates we can’t depend on just the frigates for ASW.  We will still need Burkes to provide ASW and I don’t see our Burke ASW training being able to meet that continued need.  It’s a concern and a capability gap due to training issues. 

We’ve discussed war uses for a frigate but what about peace?

As far as peacetime uses of the frigate, the Navy has suggested that the frigate will ‘free up’ Burkes for more pressing duties.  However, with 70 some Burkes running around, how many more do we need to ‘free up’?  Are we short of Burkes somewhere?  No, we’re not.  As far as the claim that the frigates will ‘relieve’ the Burkes for more pressing duties, we’ve already demonstrated that there’s nothing more pressing for the Burkes to do since we’re following a policy of non-confrontation and appeasement.  Further, there’s no significant, practical difference between a $2.5B Burke chasing pirates in a skiff and a $1.5B frigate chasing pirates in a skiff.  Both are a colossal waste of time and resources.

What’s more, if we assume the usual peacetime ratio of three ships rotating to keep one deployed, that means that the 20 frigates will only generate 6 deployable ships at any given moment.  Six useful frigates.  Six.  That’s not a lot and it’s certainly not going to ‘relieve’ the Burkes from much of anything.

So, what did this thought exercise tell us?  It tells us that a frigate can be an effective ASW escort but the lack of numbers means we have to choose between surface group escort or convoy escort.  We don’t have enough numbers to do both.  It also tells us that in peacetime the frigates won’t accomplish anything since we have more than enough Burkes and there’s no difference between an expensive Burke and an expensive frigate when it comes to showing the flag, chasing pirates, participating in the many ‘exercises’ with third rate navies, or hanging around during humanitarian assistance and handing out a few meals.  A Burke and a frigate are both huge overkills for peacetime work.

Did anyone really think through the balance of costs, numbers, deployable numbers, and missions?  In other words, did the Navy develop a Concept of Operations for these frigates to see if they could actually be useful?  It doesn’t seem like it.  Once again, it seems as if the Navy simply jumped on whatever they thought they could get funding for with no thought, whatsoever, as to how to use them.

Twenty frigates simply aren’t all that useful.  I’d much rather have 60 dedicated ASW corvettes.




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(1)USNI News website, “Navy Releases Details of New FFG(X) Guided-Missile Frigate Program in Request to Industry”, Megan Eckstein, 10-Jul-2017,
https://news.usni.org/2017/07/10/navy-releases-details-of-new-ffgx-guided-missile-frigate-program-in-request-to-industry






Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Commandant Berger - Lunatic or Visionary?

Recently ascended Marine Corps Commandant Berger has issued some documents that state that he is going to radically change the Marine Corps’ path away from its traditional mode of operation.  Instead of massed combat power and amphibious assaults, Berger envisions small, dispersed units operating from forward bases and engaged in aviation and sea control.  We’ve discussed the details in a previous post (see, “Commandant’sGuidance”).

To briefly review some of the key points from the Commandant’s Guidance document, the Commandant …

  • has made clear that he is willing to eliminate legacy assets to achieve his modernization goals.
  • is advocating abandoning the long standing 38-ship amphibious fleet and 2 MEB lift requirement.
  • has made clear his intention to control and influence more of the naval side of things by assigning more Marine Corps forces to the Fleet and putting Marine Corps experts in the fleet Maritime Operations Centers.
  • recognizes that China is our main threat.
  • recognizes that our forward deployed forces lack the combat capability to deter our enemies and persist in a contested environment.
  • advocates for an extensive role in land based, forward deployed, sea control.
  • desires affordable and numerous amphibious vessels over a few exquisite, large amphibious ships.
  • wishes to explore absorbing traditional Navy functions such as coastal / riverine forces, naval construction forces, and mine countermeasure forces.
  • sees expeditionary bases as a foundation of future war.
  • strongly advocates dispersal of forces (distributed operations).
  • will eliminate all Marine Corps wargaming efforts except for the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. (1, p.18)

Here’s the problem with all this: it’s one man’s opinion and it’s an opinion that is not backed up by much experience (the concepts, not his personal service record) or experimentation and he’s brooking no professional disagreement or diversity of thought.  It’s his way or the highway and alternative thinkers are not welcome.

If he’s correct about his vision and path then he’ll drag the Marines into a better future in one, sudden convulsion.  On the other hand, if he’s wrong he’ll set the Marines back for decades to come.

So, which is it?  Is he right or wrong?

Well, there’s only two ways to know.  One, is to have a war and see if he was right.  Two, is to conduct extensive wargame experimentation before implementation.  The problem with the first way, war, is obvious – if he’s wrong, it will be too late to change.  The problem with the second way is that he has already decided to fully commit without supporting evidence and experimentation and the experimentation he’s going to conduct is, without a doubt, going to be pre-determined.  He’s basically stated that.  He’s already determined that the experimentation will support his vision and all that’s left is to tweak the ‘how to implement’ issues around the periphery.

In short, the Commandant is Adm. Rickover but with even more power.  He has the vision and everyone else can shut up and join him or leave the service.

There is much to like about the Commandant’s vision but there is also much to question.  As a general statement, I like his recognition of the current problems.  He has a much clearer grasp of the problems than any of his predecessors.  What I have trouble with is his general solution which is to embrace distributed, penny packet, expeditionary forces.  It is very difficult to see how scattered, small units and fantasy expeditionary bases are going to defeat a peer enemy.  Honestly, it seems like this is a budget grab and an attempt to remain relevant in a Chinese/Pacific war.

Let’s look a bit closer at a few of the specific issues that are questionable.

I don’t have any particular problem in abandoning the traditional big deck, amphibious fleet since I’ve stated repeatedly that I don’t see any strategic or operational need for amphibious assaults in any reasonable scenario.  While I agree with the movement away from large amphibious fleets, I completely disagree with where the Marine’s redirected emphasis seems to be going which is towards distributed, small units.  I’ve repeatedly posted about the folly of small units in a peer war so I won’t belabor it further, here.

Berger wants to eliminate legacy systems that have little or no “demand signal”. (1, p.15)  The flaw in this logic is that many (most?) high end, peer war systems have no “demand signal” outside of actual war.  A system or asset may be of no use in the peacetime, low threat operations and conflicts we typically engage in but might be critically important in a high end, peer war.  To eliminate those systems based on lack of ‘demand signal’ is potentially foolhardy and shortsighted.

There is a strong sense that Berger will ruthlessly eliminate any alternative thinking or disagreement.  For example, the elimination of all forms of wargaming other than the single Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory is troubling in that it certainly seems as if the intention is to stifle alternative thinking, experimentation , and dissent.  This single, strictly controlled wargame effort suggests that outcomes will be pre-ordained to support his theories and philosophies.

He essentially says that all communications must strictly adhere to his published decrees.  As he flatly states,

We must communicate with precision and consistency, based on a common focus and a unified message. (1)

I interpret this to mean that no alternative thinking or discussion will be allowed.  While I recognize the importance of unity and focus of effort, there is a very fine line between unity and suppression of thought.  If Berger’s approach is wrong, who will speak out? 

The Commandant has made clear that he is intent on injecting the Marines into the Navy’s business.  The Marines have recently been telling the Navy how to design ships, what type of ships are needed, and how to fight and it appears that Berger intends to not only continue this trend but formalize it by inserting Marine officers into the Navy command structure where and when he can.  The only thing more disturbing than this trend is the Navy’s apparent acquiescence to it.  Further, Berger’s comments about absorbing Navy functions into the Corps is worrisome in the extreme and, again, smacks of empire building.

Berger strongly supports forward, dispersed, expeditionary forces and bases.  This is a very questionable approach, as we’ve discussed in previous posts.  This concerns me more than anything else because it is the foundation of how the Marines will structure their forces and how they will fight.  If this is wrong – and I believe it is – then the entire Marine Corps is wrong.  This ties back to the wargaming and free discussion, both of which appear as if they will be rigidly controlled and regulated.  Without any alternative thinking, erroneous approaches become impossible to correct and this is the path I fear the Marines are headed down.

To summarize and repeat, there is much to like about the Commandant’s guidance but also much to be concerned about.  If Berger is right, the Marines have a bright future but if he is wrong the Marines are in for decades of problems and irrelevancy in a war.  The check and balance on this kind of revolutionary change in approach should be free and open wargaming and discussion but Berger seems determined to eliminate any dissenting voices.  This is extremely worrisome.



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(1)“Commandant’s Planning Guidance, 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps”, General David H. Berger, Issued July 2019

Monday, November 11, 2019

Undersea - Some Good, Some Bad

USNI News website reports on the Navy’s path for future submarine warfare and it contains some good news and some bad news.(1)


Good

Virginia Payload Module (VPM)  – The VPM is not new news but the fact that the Navy is looking at adding additional missile types beyond the standard Tomahawk land attack missile is good.  An anti-ship Tomahawk is being contemplated as well as a possible multi-role Tomahawk.  Beyond that, the article describes “electromagnetic warfare kind of payloads” which, one would hope, might include Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapons, non-kinetic conductive missiles of the type used in Desert Storm which can short out electrical grids, and persistent jamming/decoy missiles among other possibilities.

Harpoon – The Navy is beginning to take delivery of refurbished sub-launched Harpoon missiles.  While the Harpoon is bordering on obsolete (slow, non-stealthy, limited maneuverability), it still gives submarines a longer range anti-ship weapon.

Networking – I have no idea how one could construct a high bandwidth undersea network but if the Navy thinks they have a technology that can do it, that’s great.  Communications isolation – and the associated command and control and operational isolation – has always been the weak link in submarine warfare.  If submarines can be made part of an overall shared tactical picture, that would be a tremendous accomplishment and significantly enhance submarine effectiveness.  Simply having the equivalent of an IFF type of information to distinguish friend from enemy would be a valuable aid by itself.  However, this is a technology that I’m going to put in the ‘highly skeptical’ column for the time being.  I’m unaware of any foundational technology that could even begin to approach these kinds of requirements.  Still, it’s well worth pursuing as an R&D effort.

Mk 48 Torpedo – The article describes an ongoing development of enhanced torpedoes, which is good, except that the Navy has been talking about this or many years and has done very little so I’m quite dubious about this.


Good and Bad

SSN(X) – The Virginia replacement submarine is being described as a revolutionary rather than evolutionary design. 

SSN(X) will be designed to have improved mobility, speed and stealth; greater magazine size and payload integration capability; artificial intelligence to increase warfighter decision space; and improved survivability, so the hull could take a hit and keep on fighting in a high-end battle.(1)

This is scary because the Navy has turned every attempt at revolutionary design into major debacles.  On the plus side, designing a hull that can take a hit and keep fighting is something that ComNavOps has been calling for, for many years.

If the Navy will do this intelligently and build a single prototype to work out the inevitable problems that accompany any revolutionary design, this could be a good effort.  On the other hand, if they do as they usually do and commit to a production run of forty subs before the first one is even designed then we’ll have yet another debacle to add to the Navy’s growing list of failures and yet more proof that the Navy is incapable of learning lessons about ship design and procurement.

Honestly, this feels like yet another attempt at leap ahead, transformative (curse you Donald Rumsfeld) development rather than putting in the hard work in the research realm that real progress inevitably demands.


Bad

Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) – The article describes the Navy’s embrace of large UUVs that can carry all manner of near-magical payloads to accomplish reality-defying missions – you know, the usual unmanned blather.

The larger problem with these UUVs is that, even in the best case, they aren’t geared at accomplishing anything significant in a war setting.  The vague applications that the Navy floats for these are all small scale, minor effects, even if they worked.  This is yet more evidence of the Navy’s dismissive attitude towards peer war.  They simply don’t believe a war with China is even possible, let alone inevitable.  Their efforts are directed towards, low end, peacetime work rather than high end, intense, combat.

A UUV is a minor effects, niche capability.  It might be nice, in peacetime, to use a UUV to plant a small signals sensor near a foreign base, for example, but that isn’t the kind of capability that’s going to change the outcome of a war.  Yes, data collection is always good and helpful but a single, small sensor isn’t significant.




While there are some potentially good elements to this submarine warfare path, there are some bad or pointless ones.  Worse, too many elements are wishful thinking, fantasy, or not geared at war.  This mixed assessment leads me to ponder what I’d suggest for a submarine warfare path and it would contain these elements:

Torpedo – We desperately need a significantly enhanced torpedo which is longer ranged, faster, quieter, and with about a 50% larger warhead.  What we need is the conceptual equivalent of the BrahMos cruise missile:  fast, large, and absolutely lethal – a one-hit killing machine.

SSGN – It is folly to abandon the Ohio class SSGN with its 150+ cruise missiles.  That’s significant firepower!  While the Virginia Payload Module somewhat helps mitigate the lack of firepower there’s no getting around the fact that it requires four Virginias to equal a single SSGN.

Numbers – We are facing a submarine shortfall that has been recognized for many years and yet the Navy has done nothing about it.  As much or more than any technological development, we simply need greater numbers – much greater.

Mine Laying – The Navy has almost totally ignored submarine mine laying despite that fact that it offers an immensely potent and stealthy means of laying mines very deep in enemy waters.  We need to greatly enhance and begin training for submarine mine laying.

Sensors – This is a purely research effort but we need to develop sensors other than acoustic.  There have been research efforts to develop chemical, electromagnetic, nuclear, turbulence, and other methods of detecting and tracking enemy subs and we should be sponsoring much more research along those lines.  The submarine that gains the first detection likely wins the encounter.



My path is heavy on practical firepower applicable to high end, peer war.  Along with the things we should be working on, there are some things that are distractions and should be dropped.  These include unmanned vehicles, widespread special forces support, networking, gender integrated crews, and the Columbia class (it should be redesigned as a smaller, more focused sub).




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(1)USNI News website, “Navy Undersea Warfare Priorities: Strategic Deterrence, Lethality and Networked Systems”, Megan Eckstein, 8-Nov-2019,
https://news.usni.org/2019/11/08/navy-undersea-warfare-priorities-strategic-deterrence-lethality-and-networked-systems

Thursday, November 7, 2019

LCS OTH Missile Procurement

An LCS recently sailed with the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM)(see, "Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile") and launcher aboard (see, "LCS Giffords Naval Strike Missile").  While that, alone, will not turn the LCS from a useless debacle to a mighty warship, it is, nevertheless, a step in a more useful direction.  The plan appears to be to mount 8x NSM on each LCS.  There are 32 LCS built or shortly due to enter the fleet.  Thus, the minimum total missile inventory would be 8x32 = 256.  Presumably, the Navy would want several reloads available in inventory for each ship, in the event of war, thus bringing the total inventory requirement to around 1800 NSM or so.

LCS Giffords and Naval Strike Missile


Of course, the Navy considers several of the LCS to be non-deployable, training vessels so that might affect the missile inventory requirements somewhat, depending on whether the Navy considers these vessels non-combat capable in the event of war.  Setting that aspect aside …

From the Navy’s 2020 Budget Highlights we see a procurement plan for NSM of 101 missiles from 2020-24 inclusive.(1)  That’s an average acquisition of 20 missiles per year.  That’s significantly short of the 256/1800 requirement!  Of course, there’s no reason to believe that the acquisition will stop after 2024 but even continuing at the average of 20 missiles per year – or even the max budgeted rate of 26 missiles per year – it would require 65+ years to reach the required inventory level.

On a related note, the FY19 weapons budget document lists the cost of 8 NSM as $18,156,000 for an average of $2.3M per missile.(2)  Not cheap!

_________________

*Update* - 

Here's projected quantities, costs, and unit costs from the FY20 weapons budget document: (3)

2020  18  $38,137,000    $2.1M
2021  15  $32,975,000    $2.2M
2022  16  $33,585,000    $2.1M
2023  26  $49,371,000    $1.9M
2024  26  $50,451,000    $1.9M

Still not cheap!
_________________


As with most of the LCS program, one is left wondering what's going on?  Is the Navy serious about arming the LCS for war or just making a token buy of missiles so that a handful of deployed ships can have photo ops that the Navy can use to deflect criticism of the LCS program?

Another possibility is that twenty or so missiles is the limit of the manufacturer's production capacity.  If so, this would be very disturbing when one considers the numbers of missiles we would need to quickly acquire in a war.

I'm at a loss to explain what's going on here.

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(1)“Highlights of the Department of the Navy FY 2020 Budget”, Office of Budget – Mar 2019, Fig. 4-4, p. 4-8

(2)Department of Defense Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Budget Estimates, Navy Justification Book Volume 1 of 1 Weapons Procurement, Navy, Volume 1 - xxii

(3)Department of Defense Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Budget Estimates, Navy Justification Book Volume 1 of 1 Weapons Procurement, Navy, Volume 1 - xvii

Monday, November 4, 2019

The First Battle

The Navy has announced its intention to construct a multi-tiered fleet of unmanned vessels to supplement and, to a significant degree, replace the Burke class destroyers.  Incredibly, this has occurred with no substantive validation of the concept.  This is very reminiscent of the commitment to an entire fleet of LCSes without a Concept of Operations (CONOPS) and before the first was even designed.  With that in mind, let’s examine how the Navy’s vision of future naval combat might play out.

As always (and always ignored by readers!), this is NOT intended as a complete and realistic combat simulation.  It is an ILLUSTRATION of various concepts in a more entertaining format.



The First Battle

The #8 MDUSV (Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessel) controller nodded slightly in satisfaction as he surveyed the picture and sonar display on his console.  The situation was shaping up nicely.  The MDUSV anti-submarine and surveillance screen of 14 vessels plus the two specially modified EA-18G Growler communications relay aircraft were arrayed to the sides and front of the carrier and its two Burke escorts (the last Ticonderogas had recently been early retired by the Navy to free up funding for the unmanned fleet) plus the four LDUSV (Large Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessels) arsenal ships and he and his fellow controllers aboard the USV control ship were receiving a steady flow of sonar, radar, and EO/IR data which, so far, had proven more than sufficient to detect and ward off the occasional probe by the Chinese as the group made its approach to Taiwan. 

Two Chinese patrol boats and a few ‘fishing’ vessels had been easily detected and dispatched with Naval Strike Missiles (NSM) from the LDUSVs.  A few Chinese long range patrol aircraft had also been driven off and one, that had approached just a bit too closely, had been shot down by a Standard missile launched from a LDUSV and controlled by a Burke.

Indeed, it appeared that the Navy’s vision of a multi-tiered unmanned fleet paired with just a few high end Burkes was paying dividends.  The Navy had gone all-in on the tiered, unmanned fleet concept and replaced (allowed to retire without direct replacement) many Burkes with combinations of unmanned vessels.  While many naval analysts had been uneasy about reducing the number of Burkes in favor of the smaller, more distributed, unmanned vessels, the argument for the unmanned vessels – mainly budget related - had prevailed.  The individual unmanned vessels were far less capable than a Burke or even a frigate but in the aggregate the unmanned vessels offered more capability, better distribution of risk, and more complication for the enemy …  at least, that was the theory.  Unbelievably, the Navy had never bothered to test the concept before wholeheartedly committing to the new fleet structure.  The concept was being put to the test now, though, in real combat.

The carrier group’s approach to Taiwan hadn’t been completely one-sided, though.  A pair of F-35s had ventured a bit too far forward and been ambushed by four Chinese J-20 stealth fighters resulting in one F-35 shot down and the other damaged but able to recover back on the carrier.

Predictably, the war had begun with an all-out Chinese assault on Taiwan and Chinese forces now occupied most of the militarily significant sites on the island.  Chinese aircraft were now operating out of hastily repaired airbases and Chinese naval forces were screening the eastern side of the island from the expected American counterattack.

The carrier group had been tasked with sweeping the seas on the eastern side of the island and taking station there to establish local air superiority for the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) amphibious assault force that was following a day behind.  The United States had chosen to stand with Taiwan and this was the first response and first battle between China and the US.

Following the newly established amphibious assault doctrine, the MEU would be sent ashore at various points along the Taiwanese coast to establish sea control which would allow the unhindered landing of the main, follow on Marine and Army forces – again, an untested and unvalidated concept.  First, though, the carrier had to do its job and set the stage.

As the MDUSV controller settled back in his chair with a satisfied shifting of his weight – you had to learn how to meld with these chairs because they weren’t designed for comfort! – the thought crossed his mind that it was a bit surprising that there had been no submarine contacts yet.  He’d have bet that the Chinese wouldn’t allow the carrier group to approach without challenge and the Chinese had a pretty impressive collection of both nuclear and conventional submarines.  Still, he wasn’t going to complain and, likely enough, the subs would show up eventually and when they did, the MDUSVs and their controllers would be waiting.

At the same moment the USV controller settled back, an airborne controller aboard an E-2 Hawkeye leaned forward, peering intently at his screen.  He had just noticed several faint, intermittent contacts, far beyond the MDUSV ASW screen.  After a few more minutes observation the contacts began to solidify and the controller made the call.  Small, high subsonic, wave skimming contacts – small anti-ship missiles, undoubtedly - were approaching the MDUSV screen vessels. 

What the controller didn’t know was that the Chinese had long ago detected the communications activity between the MDUSVs, their communications relay aircraft, and the control ships and pretty much pinpointed the USV locations – certainly well enough to launch anti-ship missiles with active seeker heads.  Line of sight (LOS) communications were not as secure as the US Navy believed.  With its vast sensor laden ‘fishing’ fleet and a host of various other air and land based sensors all peering intently at the eastern sea off Taiwan, it had not been difficult to pin down the exact location of each MDUSV.  While short burst LOS transmissions were very difficult to detect, the continuous, high volume, high bandwidth transmissions required to transmit sonar, radar, and EO/IR data in real time offered plenty of opportunity for the sophisticated, computer aided Chinese sensors to detect and localize the MDUSV communications.  No single Chinese sensor could directly and completely ‘see’ any individual LOS comm link, however, the plethora of sensors managed to pull together enough bits and pieces to assemble an accurate picture of the communications nodes which were the MDUSVs, the relay aircraft, and the USV control ships.  It was somewhat analogous to the multistatic sonar detection techniques employed in ASW.

With so little warning and with the MDUSVs so far out in front of the Burkes and LDUSV arsenal ships, there was no time to engage the incoming missiles.  The MDUSVs would have to face the missiles on their own.  Unfortunately, the MDUSVs had no defensive weapons nor even any electronic countermeasures.  It had been determined, correctly, that the minimal defensive weapons that a MDUSV could mount would provide no effective defense and would only drive up the cost of the vessels thereby making them less expendable.

The Chinese anti-ship missiles rapidly closed on the helpless MDUSVs.  With four missiles allocated to each MDUSV there was little the MDUSV controllers could do but to try to turn their vessels head on to the incoming missiles in an attempt to minimize their radar profile and break lock.  Unfortunately, the MDUSVs were not very maneuverable and their box-like superstructures were decidedly not stealthy and all the vessels were hit.  Of the 14 screening vessels, 8 were blown to pieces and sunk outright, 3 were severely damaged and mission killed, and 1 was damaged but, miraculously, still afloat and functional.

As this took place, a waiting ring of Chinese subs noted the time and, as planned, surged forward at high speed towards the carrier and the remaining escorts.  The carrier’s location had been extrapolated from the MDUSV locations and knowledge of US Navy tactics.  In other words, if you knew the location of the USVs, you could pretty accurately surmise the location of the carrier. 

In addition, the Chinese had, for years, been laying their equivalent of a SOSUS seabed listening array throughout the South and East China Seas and the arrays had no great problem picking up the noise of an approaching carrier.

With the MDUSVs out of action the ASW responsibility fell on the two Burke escorts, alone.  The LDUSV arsenal ships, of course, had no ASW capability.  Unfortunately, the Burkes only rarely trained for ASW operations and, even then, only in highly scripted exercises that served no purpose other than checking a training box on a list.  The situation had gotten even worse with the advent of the MDUSVs which had been given the responsibility for ASW.  AAW was the training priority for Burkes, not ASW. 

Now, though, there was no choice.  The Burkes, warned by the sudden acoustic ‘appearance’ of the surging Chinese subs at multiple points around the compass, attempted to localize and engage the subs.  However, the Chinese subs, using a variation of the tried and true US Navy tactic of sprint and drift, were able to close on the Burkes and the carrier with impunity.  No sooner would a Burke begin to localize a loud, sprinting sub then it would cease its cease its high speed run and another sub would ‘pop up’.  Being completely inexperienced and largely untrained in submarine and ASW tactics, the Burkes were ineffective to the point of helplessness.  The Burke’s helos were frantically directed and redirected from one transient contact to another with no time to properly find and fix any sub’s location.

In relatively short order, the submarines began reaching optimum attack points and spreads of torpedoes were launched from, essentially, point blank range.  The outcome was inevitable.  The carrier was hit by at least seven torpedoes and its fate was sealed.  The first battle of the Chinese War would end in disaster for the US fleet.


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Here are some issues/questions from the story:


Does it make sense to place defenseless unmanned vessels far out in front of a battle group where they cannot be supported?

Does it make sense to assign a vital function, like ASW, to defenseless unmanned vessels far out in front of a battle group where the entire function (ASW) can be eliminated in a moment, due to lack of support?

Are we so sure that our communications will be undetectable?

If MDUSVs are going to be our front line of ASW, what asset will do the actual attack since the MDUSV has no helo or weapons?

The MDUSV ASW sensor is fairly short range, being limited in power and size.  Is it wise to depend on only short range ASW sensing, given the long range of submarine weapons?  Are we wise to continue to ignore the long range ASW role that the S-3 Viking filled?

Is it wise to replace Burkes with small, individually weak, unmanned vessels?  Yes, this is the Navy’s stated plan.


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As a brief refresher, here are some basic specs for the Navy’s multi-tiered, unmanned vessels.


MDUSV

40-130 ft long
Function: ISR / unmanned scouts
Networked to each other and the main group

 LDUSV
300 ft, 2000 tons
Function: Arsenal barge
Networked and fire-controlled by Burke/F-35

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For those interested, here is a good general background article:

(1)The Drive / War Zone website, “Navy’s Budget Requests Two Huge Missile-Laden Drone Ships That Displace 2000 Tons”, Joseph Trevithick, 12-Mar-2019,
https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/26915/navys-budget-requests-two-huge-missile-laden-drone-ships-that-displace-2000-tons