Sunday, July 8, 2012

Payloads Over Platforms?

CNO Greenert had an article published in the most recent issue of Proceedings espousing “payloads over platforms” (1).  His premise is that the Navy’s future lies in modular payloads rather than in tightly integrated ships and weapon systems due to the ability to modify payloads faster and cheaper than entire ships.  This is not an entirely new concept and he acknowledges that point with examples of weapon systems being modernized over the years on existing ships.  However, Greenert suggests that the Navy of the future will take the modular concept to the LCS level in which the payload (module) is totally divorced from the platform (the ship) other than drawing electrical and other necessary utilities from it.

While this sounds good, initially, there is an aspect to modular payloads that was overlooked in the article.  Not all payloads can be made totally independent of the platform.  In fact, most will be significantly dependent on the platform’s characteristics to achieve full effectiveness. 

Take, for example, an ASW module.  For the foreseeable future, any realistic module will be heavily dependent on the platform for movement, if nothing else, and will probably need to interface with the platform’s other sensors and weapons.  This means the platform will, by definition, be part of the overall weapon system.  That being so, if the platform is not optimized for the payload’s function then the overall function will be negatively impacted.  Specifically, if a ship is going to carry an ASW payload and be part of the search and prosecution the ship had better have built in quieting technology such as engine mount isolation, Prairie/Masker noise suppression, etc. or else the platform and the payload will become the hunted instead of the hunter.  Those design aspects don’t come with a modular payload;  they have to be built in from the keel up.

MEKO - The Right Way to Do Modules?
Alternatively, consider an ASuW (anti-surface) payload.  While any type of gun/missile can be built into the module, the platform becomes, by definition, part of the weapon system and without stealth, armor, and other features that can’t be part of the module the platform will be at a significant disadvantage fighting ships that have that type of integrated design.  Maximum effectiveness comes from the very integration of payload and platform that Greenert proposes to shun.

Of course, if we ever get to the point that all kinds of futuristic technologies are invented that allow the carrying platform to stand well off and simply launch other vehicles (manned or unmanned) to perform the search and prosecution than the carrying platform truly doesn’t matter and, in fact, could be a commercial cargo ship since it wouldn’t be involved in the combat aspect of the payload’s function and would be simply a payload cargo ship.  However, as the LCS module development debacle has demonstrated, this kind of technology leap is still decades away, at best.

For the foreseeable future, CNO Greenert is failing to heed the lesson of the LCS and wants to continue designing inherently weak platforms under the assumption that future wishful thinking payload modules will totally compensate for the platform’s weaknesses.  Payload and platform can’t be uncoupled unless we are willing to accept sub-optimal performance.

On the other hand, a scaled down version of modularity wherein standard size “pits” are built into the platform to accept varying sensor or weapon packages is, potentially, a useful idea and, indeed, has already been implemented in various ship classes such as the MEKOs.  This allows flexibility and upgradability in weapon/sensor selection without sentencing the platform to mediocrity.

The Navy needs good, solid ship designs with the ability to easily incorporate reasonable upgrades.  The Navy does not need more LCS-type designs that attempt to leapfrog the technology ladder and are doomed to failure.

(1) USNI Proceedings, “Payloads over Platforms:  Charting a New Course”, Greenert, July 2012


  1. First i've known some people who have gotten close to the meko....they werent impressed.

    Second i think your right. While Yes making them more modualar is a good thing and nessesary, the platforms are going to have to be atleast somewhat specific to the job.

    However i do believe alot of money, time and R&D effort could be spared if we made sure to try and use much the same equipment and systems on all of the ships.

  2. One consideration about modular weapons systems is the difficulty of loading & unloading individual modules into or from a particular 'well' on a warship.

    I think specifically of the tight constraints required in install a MK-41 VLS module on-board a CG or DDG. The VLS module must be installed within very precise dimensions within a very few inches.

    Even the MEKO design simply allows for the installation of a wide range of weapons systems during actual construction of the ship - not the actual swapping of systems frequently during the ship's service life.

    A potential better design is something similar to - but NOT exactly like - the center weapons area onboard the Absalon. Here the weapons modules are simply bolted onto the deck and the systems connected to the open architecture weapons mgt suite. This concern here would be the relative lack of any armoring for the VLS and Harpoons installed on the Absalon. This might be mitigated by a modified 'well' for USN weapons.

    Regarding Modules and the LCS, something else to consider are: the challenges and costs of supporting - via training and maintenance - different weapons systems. Ensuring crews are properly trained and certified to operate and/or have the proper tools & training to maintain a given system are difficult enough when you aren't swapping weapons systems - not to mention when you are swapping modules more frequently.

    I remain unclear how the US Navy will meet the challenge of supporting specific modules - especially when people are suggesting more modules (including myself with regards to an amphibious module or others with a Humanitarian module) when the USN has not figured out the initial modules.

  3. LCS gets a lot of attention in CNO's article, but I think it's perhaps important to point out that the concept of 'payloads over platform' has been implemented quite successfully in other systems.

    The VP community has been referring to its P-3 Orions as 'trucks' for decades. The P-3 had tons of space and power to spare. We've been able to put all sorts of state-of-the art sensors and other gear on an essentially 50 yr old airframe. That's also the plan for the replacement P-8A Poseidon.

    However, the P-3 'truck' was built with the appropriate characteristics (speed, endurance, payload) to conduct its primary missions of ASW and ISR. Updates like P-3 AIP provided important new capabilities (ISAR radar, EO/IR, C2) but they were building upon a mature design and concept.

    In contrast, when I look at the LCS 'truck', I see an awful lot of shortcomings. It isn't inherently good at anything. In fact, it doesn't appear to have any of the appropriate characteristics you'd want in an ASW, MIW, or SUW warship.

    My concern is that the 'first round' of modules are simply going to be targeted at simply making the LCS a decent ASW/MIW/SUW platform. And given it has taken nearly a decade to get the first set of modules, we are unlikely to truly capitalize upon the modularity advantage within the LCS 25-year lifespan.

  4. Basicly look away from the LCS as the model look to the danes.

    The idea od just switching out the weapons systems when the need arises is stupid. The idea that you are going to go back to port 2-3 days journey, dock and get the modual (which assumes the modual is aready there-and isnt being flown in via C-5/C-17 which are never available on demand), take off the old moduals, take on specialist with the new moduals, instal new moduals, restock and go back to sea........

    Say hello to 4 days at best a week or more more likely or turn around time.

    During which your enemy could just as easily deploy say subs when you have the surface warfare load out.

    Thats LCS biggest falls apart when confronted with a reality where things dont go perfectly according to plan.

  5. While Greenert may be looking at LCS as the model for the future, James is right. We need to look away from the LCS. That said, I don't know that the Danish model is appropriate, either. I just don't know enough about their system although it seems as if their ship falls prey to the problem I discussed: not being optimized for any given role.

    I think Tom is correct in suggesting that frequent module swaps are not feasible. I view modularity not as having a ASuW module on Tuesday and an ASW module on Thursday but, rather, the ability to install an initial set of weapon/sensor modules (the MEKO concept, regardless of the MEKO's performance) when the ship is built and then several years down the road swapping out a module when a better weapon has been developed. Thus, module swaps would occur infrequently. Modularity is for upgrades not tactical flexibility. We've already discussed the limitations and problems with the LCS type of modularity in previous posts:

    LCS Module Swapping

    and here:

    LCS Module Concept

  6. I know the discussions on the LCS have been beaten to death, but one I haven't seen too much of concerns me...

    I happened to this morning be reading an account on the sinking of the Bismarck, and how the British were within a few hours of having to cut off the chase due to lack of fuel when luck intervened, and thought it applied in this instance as well.

    Why in the world are we wanting to tether our forces even further to bases?

    Let's assume worst case scenario in a conflict with China. What is the closest piece of property that the United States owns to the potential crisis zone?


    What's the closest piece of property to the Persian Gulf that the United States owns?

    Diego Garcia (and isn't that in dispute now?)

    While we focus on the stupidity of having to go home and swap out modules, and some (correctly) allude to the potential of our opponents attacking these bases, what about the idea that:

    1) our allies are notoriously fickle and cause all kinds of political problems in our use of our military (France/El Dorado Canyon)
    2) We may not have these allies in the future? (Iran? the Phillippines? Wheelus in Libya?)

    We are conceivably one Arab Spring from losing Bahrain. We cannot assume that the "Pacific tilt" won't be countered by China, and that could affect our basing. Go back through the history of the Cold War and look at all the bases we lost.

    Should we be tying ourselves even further in forward hotspots to logistics bases that may not exist?

    If I'm not mistaken, we have no ability to UNREP the VLS on any of our ships. We've never (for obvious reasons...) even hinted at that capability for LCS.

    If this is where we are heading, we are neutering ourselves.

    Can you imagine if the Fifth/Third Fleet had to go back to Pearl after every operation in WWII?

  7. The logistics of resupply/refuel are always a weak spot in any war. While the LCS may suffer from it more than other ships, all ships are subject to resupply/refuel demands. Tying ourselves to a very few, highly vulnerable bases is a problem.

    I wouldn't worry too much about the LCS refueling issue, though. Various agencies and the Navy itself have stated publicly that the LCS cannot operate and survive in a hostile environment. At the start of a conflict with China, for example, the LCSs will be pulled back (if any survive the initial hostilities!) out of the way other than for peripheral, spot duty.

    1. So what is the logic in having a warship that has to be pulled out of harms way when the fighting starts? Idiotic thinking at the top of the Navy food chain.

  8. I wrote that in a bit of a hurry, and didn't clarify.. I meant the modules. (although fuel is important! I brought up the Royal Navy specifically to point out that their relying on bases rather than UNREP seriously hampered their mission. Sorry, didn't make much sense)

    What I meant was that, if the LCS is based out of Singapore,and China strong arms Singapore into either denying us the base entirely, or severely restricts our access, how do we replace modules? Ditto for Bahrain.

    There is no discussion of a tender, UNREP isn't possible, so we're heading to Guam? Or Diego Garcia? (We're talking WORST case here, hence no mention of Japan & C)

    Doesn't that seriously undermine our ability to be a forward deployed force?

    You need to be able to fight with what you bring...

    As for the LCS being out of harm's way:

    I'm quite sure at some point some junior officer in Taffy 3 was told not to worry about their vulnerability, they'd be withdrawn or Halsey would have their back. LOL.

  9. "Doesn't that seriously undermine our abililty to be a forward deployed force?"

    In terms of the vulnerability of a few fixed forward bases, certainly. As regards the LCS (and its module swapping), it only undermines our forward presence if you believe that the LCS in some way contributes to our forward presence. The LCS is a Coast Guard cutter. That's not exactly forward presence in the eyes of the Chinese! Forward presence will come from subs, carrier groups, and amphib groups.

    Your point about bases is well taken. However, as they relate to the LCS, I don't see it as an issue since I don't see the LCS as being of any importance.

    1. I see the LCS as being of 'negative value' when it comes to providing credible forward presence. They won't intimidate or reassure anyone, yet we're still going to have to keep 'real' combatants nearby to provide cover.

  10. The Spruance class embodied almost all of what the CNO wants in the LCS. The ship was designed from the very beginning with a 8" Mk 71 gun forward, two Mk 26 launchers, and a 5" gun aft. It was planned to buy a DD (Spruance) version and a DDG (Kidd) from the very beginning, so it was designed for the DDG. There remained enough growth in the design to add Aegis to the DDG and make the Ticonderoga CG.

    I know there was serious consideration toward turning DD-997 into a DDH based on the Spruance hull for several SH-3/SH-60 helos.

    Later, when Harpoon, CIWS, towed arrays, and VLS matured, they were added to the various DD/DDG/CG's. But even before VLS, Tomahawk ABLs were added to the Spruance class. And because of foresight, all variants could carry two SH-60s, Mk 32 torpedoe tubes, and two 5" guns. The ship itself was very quiet acoustically with rafted gas turbine propulsion.

    To me, the Spruance has the same level of modularity as a MEKO. MEKO only allows second or third tier navies the best deal for their limited dollars by choosing from a menu of options. The design costs are spread between numerous countries. There are MEKOs of several sizes. A navy can choose CODOG, COGOG, even CODLAG. But MEKO's Swiss Army knife's fexibility is lost on the US Navy.

    The only advantage I see the LCS having over the Spruance is the theoretical one of being able to swap out a VLS, sensor, or gun pierside in Singapore in days instead of weeks in a drydock at Pearl or Puget Sound. But I will not believe that until I see it.

  11. More LCS modular goodness (not really!)


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.