Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cyclones Upgraded

My thanks to DJF for the heads-up on this item.

Two shipyards in Norfolk, VA, are being awarded separate contracts for dry-docking and miscellaneous structural, electrical, and mechanical repairs on two Cyclone class PCs, USS Hurricane (PC-3) and USS Monsoon (PC-4).  The contracts are for $14M and $18M, respectively.  By comparison, the original construction costs were around $11M each although that was 15-20 years ago with the ships being built in the 1990’s.  Still, to spend that kind of money on vessels that were supposed to be recalled from duty in 2010 due to hull fatigue damage is astounding.  The ships were designed for a 15 year life.  Recall that this is one of the classes of ship that were supposed to be replaced by the LCS.  That being the case, why are these ships being upgraded rather than retired?  Is this an admission that the LCS can’t fill the role?  Is it a simple recognition that the Navy has allowed the fleet size to shrink too far and more vessels, regardless of type, are needed?  Is it a statement that smaller patrol vessels fill a vital role and the Navy’s decades long neglect of, and contempt for, small patrol vessels was unwise?  Is the Navy getting back into the small patrol vessel business?  Who knows?!

Cyclone Class PC - A Longer Life Ahead?

Will the entire class be upgraded over time or is there some special reason why only these two are being attended to?  Again, who knows?

What’s clear is that someone in the Navy made an extraordinary decision in this time of severe budget constraints to pour money (a pittance by new construction standards, to be sure) into ships that are at or past their rated life, should have been replaced by the vaunted LCS, and have been all but ignored by the Navy for the class’ entire lifespan.  That’s saying something profound as regards Navy thinking.  I just don’t know what the official thinking is. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fact or Fiction?

Fact or Fiction?

Here’s a few interesting tidbits that I’ve heard but been unable to independently verify.

- The LCS started as an industrial technology and concept demonstrator.  The manufacturers never intended it as a functioning warship but the Navy insisted on pushing ahead with it.  This explains some of the puzzling design aspects.

- The Navy’s current lack of armor in warships stems from the immediate post-WWII belief that future combat would involve nuclear weapons and the subsequent recognition that no amount of armor would stand up against atomic bombs. 

- Cyclone class PCs were built for Special Operations forces who then rejected the ships after they were built for reasons not completely clear.  That left the Navy with a class of ship they didn’t want and tried repeatedly to get rid of.

- The Burke Flt III is going to have significantly improved passive armor protection.

- The Burke DDGs were originally intended to have remote mine hunting vehicles and, indeed, several were built with it.  That capability was then dropped.  Supposedly, the reason it was dropped was to prevent a threat to the procurement of the LCS from people who might ask why the LCS was needed if any Burke could conduct mine countermeasures.

- The entire Spruance class was SinkEx’ed to eliminate them as a threat to the then newly developing Aegis program.  At that time, the Spruance with a New Threat Upgrade (NTU) would have rivaled or surpassed the Aegis system in performance.  The Navy decisively eliminated the threat to the favored program.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Well, the JHSV topic generated more discussion than I anticipated!  Here’s a few follow up thoughts.

Relative to an amphibious transport or a cargo ship, the JHSV offers only a small capacity.  Its benefit lies in the ability to deliver its cargo to otherwise inaccessible ports and, debatably, its speed.  Whether there is a valid need to deliver cargo to marginally accessible ports in the rear of a combat zone is also debatable.  And, before anyone types out a response, whatever future uses the JHSV may be adapted for, the fact is that it cannot perform combat zone deliveries currently.

I can see a possible need for movement of cargo (men and equipment) from a larger ship to a marginally accessible port but it seems like a better option would be to design an actual cargo ship to do that.  In that regard, as a simple unloading vehicle, the need for high speed seems highly questionable.

Moving on, the origins of ship classes fascinate me.  Understanding the factors that lead to a ship class’ design is always highly informative and, yet, often lost in the subsequent discussions about the merits and costs of the class.

The LCS, for instance, originated not due to a perceived need for a littoral combat vessel but because the Navy was faced with the end of the Cold War, resulting budget cuts, and a perceived lack of mission.  In other words, the Navy was facing a very real possibility of becoming the neglected step-sister of the services.  In response, you may recall that the Navy commissioned several studies and papers to try to enumerate a role in the post-Cold War era and largely failed.  They then latched onto the concept of “littoral” (though that was a spurious concept as we’ve shown in previous posts) and used that to sell Congress on the need for a new vessel.  Hence, the LCS was born.  The Navy simply wanted hulls in the water (to ensure its slice of the budget pie) and didn’t really care what they looked like or could do.  They’d worry about that later.

By comparison, I have no idea what the origin of the JHSV was.  There was no compelling need spelled out by the Navy and I can see no other budgetary imperative.  If the need was so compelling, why did the Navy so readily downsize the class with little fuss or argument?  If the need wasn’t compelling, as I suspect, than what was the real impetus for the class?  If anyone has any thoughts on this, please share them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


The Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) is beginning to join the fleet and ComNavOps is beginning to wonder what these vessels will be used for.  The stated purpose is intratheater high speed transport of troops and vehicles.  Does this make sense? 

First, let’s take a quick look at the few specs that are available.

Class Size = 10 ships
Speed = 35 kts – 45 kts
Range = 1200 nm
Troop Capacity = 300 seated airline style or 100 in berths
Weight Capacity = 600 tons
Crew = 22 civilian mariners
Cost = $250M each, $2.5B program
Aviation = flight deck for a single medium helo, no hangar

So, back to our question.  How will this vessel be used and does it make sense?  Clearly, this is a non-combat vessel, built to commercial standards, and crewed by civilians.  Thus, the JHSV is not an amphibious assault vessel of any kind.  That leaves peacetime transport.  Do we have a pressing need for high speed transport of a relatively small number of troops during peacetime operations?  I’d be hard pressed to come up with a scenario where that was required. 

JHSV - What Purpose?

I suppose we could also consider its use in a wartime scenario where it operated far in the rear of the naval front lines and acted as a shuttle.  Again, though, is there a pressing need to quickly move 100 – 300 troops far in the rear of a battle zone?

I can see a use for the JHSV as a humanitarian aid vessel but that’s not really a Navy mission.  OK, actually it is an official mission but it shouldn’t be.  I’ll make that a topic for another day.

In short, I don’t see the pressing need for this ship.  Help me out, readers.  What demonstrated need does this vessel fill?

Idled Carriers Update

We noted, here, that the Navy is planning to idle four air wings with the result that some carriers will be idled since they won’t have any air wings.  It appears that the affected carriers will be Stennis, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Roosevelt.  We’ll keep watching this.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Navy's Best Run Program

Regular readers of this blog know that ComNavOps is often highly critical of Navy leadership and with good reason.  The litany of failed and failing programs and policies is a long one.  That said, I’d now like to take the opportunity to examine what appears to be a well run program, the X-47B unmanned carrier aircraft.  It’s as if someone in Navy leadership looked at all the mistakes of the LCS/LPD/JSF and decided not to repeat them!

To summarize briefly, the X-47B is the first step in development of an unmanned and largely autonomous carrier aircraft capable of surveillance, strike, and perhaps someday aerial combat.  It's been referred to as the UCAV or UCLASS for those more familiar with those abbreviations.

X-47B - Doing It The Right Way

Unlike the LCS which the Navy committed to replacing a third of its battle fleet with before the first one was even completed, the X-47B is being developed slowly and deliberately with no commitment beyond a few prototypes.  Consider the developmental timeline.  The Navy awarded a six year contract to Northrop Grumman in 2007 to produce two prototypes.  Six years!  Only two prototypes!  That’s a careful, methodical program being executed responsibly.  Again, unlike the LCS which committed to production before any of the requisite technologies had been proven (and they all failed miserably), the X-47B is methodically going about proving its technologies at the prototype stage.  Autonomous aerial refueling, carrier launches and recovery, control software, carrier integration, and so forth are being tested and proven now, before any commitment to production runs.  If and when production occurs the aircraft will be a well known commodity with clearly recognized capabilities and limitations. 

We’ve all commented that the prudent course of LCS development would have been to develop the modules first, using surrogate platforms.  If and when the modules were deemed ready for production the LCS itself could have been built in short order.  In fact, this is exactly what is being done with the X-47B.  For example, the control software needed to perform unmanned carrier landings is being tested using a surrogate Beech King Air aircraft. 

Refreshingly, the X-47B program is not being overhyped and oversold.  Its goals are not magical, fantasy wish lists that can never happen but, instead, are short term, achievable goals that will eventually lead to the desired end product.  Even in the worst case, if it turns out that the ultimate X-47B functionality can’t be achieved, the Navy will not have mortgaged a third of its aerial combat power.  Nothing will have been lost or wasted except for a relatively small amount of research funding.

I tell you, it feels good to be able to praise a Navy program.  Sadly, I have no idea who’s responsible for this mature and common sense approach but they deserve some recognition.  Honestly, this is the best run program in the Navy by a wide margin.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Navy Plans to Idle Carriers

In a Navy Times website article, here, Vice CNO Adm. Mark Ferguson was reported as saying that the Navy plans to shut down four air wings on March 1.  Since a carrier without an air wing is just a giant paperweight, shutting down four air wings means that four carriers will be idled.  The Navy has 11 carriers and 9 air wings.  Depending on the current status of CVW-14 which was deactivated but delayed, it's possible that the air wing count is 10.  Regardless, it looks like some carriers will be staying pierside for a while.

We'll definitely be keeping a close eye on this!

Monday, February 11, 2013

LCS Mine Module Status Update

The DOT&E 2012 Annual Report sheds some light on the status of the LCS mine countermeasures (MCM) module.

The MCM Increment 1 module includes both a manned airborne (helo) component and a remote controlled underwater vehicle component.

The airborne helo (MH-60S) component was intended to operate the following equipment.

-Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) for detection of shallow mines.  Testing demonstrated that the system failed to meet Navy requirements.

-A towed sonar (AQS-20) for detection of deeper mines.  Testing revealed that the MH-60S helo has insufficient power to safely tow the sonar and this function has been deleted from the module.  This is a real head-scratcher.  Wouldn’t you think somewhere around Day 1 of the module development someone would have thought to ask whether the helo could handle the load?  In any event, the sonar will now be deployed only by the underwater vehicle resulting in a significant reduction in speed of coverage and rate of detection.  If that’s not bad enough, testing also revealed that the sonar itself fails to meet Navy requirements.

AMNS - Archerfish Success

-A towed Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) for destruction of mines.  This is a towed, underwater frame carrying four Archerfish mini-torpedos which swim up to the mine using operator guidance via a trailing cable and detonate themselves and the mine.  This is a nice concept and the Archerfish portion appears to work.  The only drawback is that the helo can only destroy four mines and then it has to return to the LCS to be rearmed – a very time consuming process.
The underwater component is centered on the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV) which tows the AQS-20 sonar.  Anyone who has seen film of the RMMV being launched and recovered will cringe at the sight.  The launch/recovery mechanism and procedure is a gimmicky, finicky, problem-prone system that requires near perfect weather and calm seas to have any chance of success.  This is the farthest thing from a robust, rugged system that can be launched and recovered under combat conditions and varying sea states.  The launch/recovery system is an abortion and should have been evident as such from the first back-of-the-napkin sketch.

In summary, the MCM module, despite being dumbed down from the original concept, is still very much a developmental system and is nowhere near ready for deployment.  Most of the equipment fails to meet Navy requirements.  The Archerfish component appears to be the one bright spot but it’s useless without reliable detection systems.  It’s clear that the LCS minesweeping operations will be a very slow process and very labor intensive.  This does not exactly fit with the concept of a forward deployed, combat minesweeper.

Eventually, future Increments of the MCM module hope to add the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system to detect mines and obstacles in the beach and surf zones.  Even further down the road, an Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) is planned which will activate mines and cause them to self-destruct.  Given the numerous failures of the various MCM equipment tested to date, I wouldn’t count on these wish-list Increments to be successful.

Contrast this assessment with the Navy’s glowing PR statements about the MCM module.  I’m losing what little faith I have in the Navy’s integrity.

Friday, February 8, 2013

USS Lincoln Refuel Delayed

A little noticed but hugely important impact of the current budget cuts is the just announced decision to delay the nuclear refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) of the USS Abraham Lincoln as reported by Navy Times at  RCOH is the multi-year mid-life refueling and overhaul that allows carriers to serve another twenty or so years.  What’s the big deal, you ask?  So what if the RCOH starts a little later?  Well, RCOH only takes place at one location in a single dock.  The availability of that dock is scheduled years in advance since it must serve the entire carrier fleet in a carefully choreographed sequence.  The domino effect of this decision, if the delay lasts any significant amount of time, will be felt for years.  We may wind up with multiple carriers unavailable for service due to needed refueling that can’t be accomplished.  Alternatively, we may see another carrier retired early because of unresolvable scheduling issues and/or to save money.  A RCOH costs around $3.5B – no small change!  For the moment, the Lincoln will sit idle at Norfolk awaiting a decision.

This is an immediate example of CNO's publicly stated policy of cutting maintenance in favor of new construction.  This is idiocy or political gamesmanship in the extreme and neither is worthy of the United States Navy or the CNO.  This CNO is gutting the Navy.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Aircraft Carrier - Vulnerable?

One of the things that annoys me to no end is when something gets repeated to the point that it becomes accepted as fact without any basis for that acceptance.  An example is littoral, as we’ve discussed in a previous post.  The Navy repeated the statement that a specialized littoral combat vessel was needed so often that eventually the dialog and examination simply skipped over the question of whether a littoral vessel was actually needed and, instead, jumped to what the vessel should look like.

Well, there’s another example floating around of a statement being repeated until it’s almost become a truism and it’s that the aircraft carrier is too vulnerable to be survivable on the modern battlefield.  With absolutely no proof to back up the statement, it’s repeated as fact.  In fact, it’s gotten to the point that even many proponents of the carrier have begun to accept the premise by beginning their arguments with, “Well, sure, it’s vulnerable but …”.

As ComNavOps does with all naval matters, we’re going to examine this issue in more detail, look at facts, and apply logic to determine whether the carrier is vulnerable or not.

Examination starts with definitions.  In this case, vulnerable has one of two meanings:

  1. Vulnerable means that the ship is more susceptible to damage/destruction than other ships on a relative basis.  If there’s something about a carrier that makes it inherently more susceptible to damage/destruction than a destroyer or frigate or battleship than it would be considered vulnerable.  For example, a ship made out of aluminum would be more susceptible to damage/destruction than a ship made out of steel.  Another example would be a tanker which, due to the nature of its flammable cargo, would be more susceptible to damage/destruction than a ship carrying dry goods.
  2. Vulnerable means that the ship is inherently unable to defend itself with a reasonable expectation of success.

Let’s also dispense with any notion that a carrier, or battleship, or any ship, for that matter, is invulnerable.  Any ship can be sunk given the right circumstances.  The fact that a ship can be sunk does not make it inherently vulnerable by our definitions.

Let’s start by looking at the vulnerability of the carrier compared to other ships.  Capt. Wayne Hughes noted in his book (1,  p.157) that the number of equivalent thousand pound bombs (or, alternatively, the number of equivalent 21” torpedos) required to put a WWII warship out of action (or, alternatively, sunk) was a direct function of displacement with the larger warships requiring more equivalents.  It’s hardly surprising that the finding was that larger ships are less vulnerable.  That’s intuitively obvious.

Hughes goes on to cite a Brookings Institute study (1, p. 161) relating the number of hits required to put a ship out of action to the length of the ship.  The overall relationship determined that the vulnerability of modern ships to cruise missiles was such that an additional missile was required for every hundred feet of length beyond 300 feet.  Again, the larger the ship, the less vulnerable.  No surprise.

Additional studies have drawn similar conclusions.  I won’t bother citing them since this is a blog post, not a book.

The Tanker War in the mid ‘80s further demonstrated the resilience of large ships.  In fact, the US Navy, during its convoy operations, used the tactic of allowing tankers to lead the way for the escorts because the tankers were so much more resistant to damage from mines.

Thus, it’s clear that the larger the ship, the less vulnerable it is in terms of the number of hits, of whatever type, required to put it out of action or sink it.  The aircraft carrier, simply due to its size, is, therefore, far less vulnerable than other ships.

Larger warships have several characteristics that render them less vulnerable than smaller ships.  One aspect is the ability of a larger warship to absorb more damage due to the greater degree of compartmentation.  Fire and flooding is easier to contain and the amount of reserve buoyancy is much greater.  Another aspect is manning.  Manpower has repeatedly been shown to be the single most important factor in damage control.  From WWII up through modern examples such as the Stark, Roberts, or Cole, sufficient manpower has been the key element of successful damage control.  No ship has more manpower than a carrier.  Finally, carriers have more damage control equipment and resources than any other size ship.  Whether it’s fire mains, power, power routing, foam equipment, or whatever, a carrier simply has more of it.

USS Enterprise - Too Vulnerable?

Consider the actual examples of the Enterprise and Forrestal fires.  Enterprise suffered at least 18 explosions, mostly 500 lb bombs, and torrents of burning jet fuel and survived.  The Forrestal suffered at least nine 1000 lb bomb explosions plus burning fuel pouring through the flight deck into compartments below and survived.  These incidents clearly demonstrate that a carrier is a very tough ship to kill.

Ships are lost when one of two things happens.  First, the damage may be instantaneously greater than any damage control effort can deal with and the ship is quickly lost.  This is the catastrophic kill such as the Hood or Arizona during WWII.  The second, and far more common scenario, is progressive damage where the ship was in no immediate danger of sinking from the initial damage but the progressive rate of damage (spread of fire, secondary explosions over time, progressive flooding) was greater than the damage control efforts could keep up with.  Here is where manpower and systems redundancy is so important.

So far, we’ve examined passive aspects of vulnerability.  Now, let’s look at active aspects.  Remembering our second definition of vulnerability, a ship may be vulnerable if it has an unacceptable self-defense capability relative to its size, cost, and intended purpose.  An LCS, for example, has little self-defense capability while a Burke DDG has extensive capability. 

An aircraft carrier is the most heavily defended platform on earth with hundreds of Standard missiles, Aegis sensors and battle management systems, an air wing with fighters and E-2C/D Hawkeyes capable of providing layered defense out hundreds of miles, submarines, and multitudes of RAM and CIWS systems.  Remember, a carrier never operates alone.  It is constantly surrounded by Aegis equipped ships and submarines as part of itself.  Think of the Burkes, Ticos, and subs as remote, off-board sensors and weapons for the carrier.  A carrier group is the toughest nut to crack in the world.  Examined from that perspective, a carrier is the least vulnerable ship in the world (OK, one could argue that an SSBN is).

I stated earlier that any ship can be sunk if it can be found.  Well, isn’t a carrier vulnerable because it’s so big and, therefore, easy to find?  Only someone unfamiliar with naval operations would make that claim.  The ocean is an immensely huge area relative to the size of a carrier.  The carrier is a mere pinpoint on the ocean.  In terms of the likelihood of spotting a carrier at sea, the carrier is no more at risk than any other ship.  Further, there are two aspects to this.  One is finding a carrier and the other is generating a valid targeting solution.  For example, an enemy may “find” a carrier by detecting the radar emissions from the carrier’s Hawkeye but that merely indicates that a carrier is somewhere within a several thousand square mile area – hardly a targeting solution.  One of the purposes of the carrier’s layered defenses is to prevent an enemy from acquiring a targeting solution even if the carrier’s approximate location is known.  Now I know some of you think satellites have a near magical capability to see anything, anywhere, at any time.  And, if a specific location or target is precisely known, that’s true.  A satellite can look into your living room.  However, tasking a satellite with finding an unknown carrier somewhere on the ocean is a monumental task. 

The difficulties inherent in establishing a targeting solution lead us directly to the uninformed public’s greatest fear – the dreaded carrier killer missile.  Aghhh!!!  I’m sorry, I scared myself for a moment, there, but I’m OK now.  Granted, an anti-ship ballistic missile is, potentially, a formidable threat and represents a real danger to a carrier if it hits.  However, as we’ve just discussed, the ability to target a carrier several hundred to a thousand miles away (the range of a ballistic missile) is exceedingly difficult.  As an exercise, run through the math of the amount of movement a carrier group would achieve from the time it is spotted until a missile can actually appear overhead.  The area of uncertainty is immense.  Barring dumb luck, the missile isn’t going to find anything there.  The US Navy recognizes the difficulty inherent in this kind of long range targeting and is expending great efforts to make it manageable.  In other words, we can’t do it, currently, and neither can the Chinese.  The only way to make targeting work at this extreme range is to have continuous mid-course updates from a loitering sensor close enough to the carrier to clearly discriminate it from its surroundings and the entire carrier group is designed to prevent exactly that.

Finally, some claim the submarine threat is too great for modern carriers.  This, of all the arguments, may be the most reasonable.  Modern nuclear submarines are a serious threat.  The Navy has allowed their ASW capabilities to atrophy to an alarming extent and this does increase the vulnerability of the carrier, or any ship for that matter.  Fortunately, the Navy seems to finally be recognizing this and is beginning to reconstitute its ASW capability though with nowhere near enough emphasis.  While submarines are a serious threat, the Navy has operated fleet carriers in the face of a submarine threat since WWII and today is no different.  Further, only China possesses a credible submarine threat and that, just barely, for the time being.

And, last of all, let’s repeat …  Any ship can be sunk.  That fact does not negate the need for, or usefulness of, a ship.  The mere fact that a carrier can be sunk does not mean we should quit building them or that their time is over.  The Navy has a long, proud tradition of standing in harm’s way.  Risk is part of combat.  The benefits clearly outweigh the risks and the carrier is the least vulnerable ship in the world, as we’ve just demonstrated.

(1) Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Capt. Wayne Hughes, Naval Institute Press, 2000.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Aircraft Carrier - What Future?

Despite being arguably the most potent naval weapon system ever developed, the aircraft carrier has always been the subject of doubts and debate.  The battleship Navy of pre-WWII wanted no part of it.  The post-WWII leadership of the country wanted to do away with the carrier in favor of long range Air Force bombers.  Today’s opponents argue that the age of the carrier is over and that carriers are just floating targets;  relics of a past age, rendered obsolete by modern carrier-killing missiles.  Even many supporters wish to replace supercarriers with smaller “escort” or “jeep” carriers. 

Is today’s supercarrier a relic or does it have a vital role to play in the future fleet?

Let’s start by stipulating that the carrier has played a vital role, historically.  There’s no denying the power of the carrier as demonstrated in conflict after conflict.  However, all of the carrier’s proven power in the past does not necessarily make it suitable for the Navy fleet of the future.  Let’s look closer, analyze the situation, and see if we can logically determine the future of the carrier.

The carrier has three general uses:  peacetime operations, limited conflict operations, and all-out war operations.

Peacetime operations can be considered as those actions which provide a stabilizing influence on events.  While useful and important, this role can be filled by other ships or, often, land based air power, and hardly justifies the cost of a carrier. 

Limited conflict operations involve regional or localized conflicts such as Desert Storm, Viet Nam, and Iraq, historically, and N. Korea, Iran, or other Mid East or Third World countries in the future.  These conflicts would likely involve relatively little naval combat and the carrier’s role would be to provide inland strike and local air supremacy.  This role demonstrates the flexibility and power of the carrier.  The ability to roam up and down the coast of N. Korea, for instance, delivering strikes that aircraft based in S. Korea would be hard pressed to accomplish is a potent capability.  Or, consider the freedom of action the carrier offers in various Mid East scenarios where we might or might not be granted operational rights and overfly permission from “friendly” countries.  Africa presents a host of possible future conflicts and we would have few bases available to us for land based aircraft to operate from.  The carrier would represent an enormous amount of power and flexibity. 

Future of the Fleet or Relic of the Past?

The carrier with its manned aircraft will be vital in providing strike and close air support in these scenarios.  Certainly, Tomahawk equipped ships can and will provide strikes against larger fixed targets but until we develop ship launched strike missiles that are capable of target discrimination, flexibility, and extended loitering, manned aircraft will remain the weapon of choice and only the carrier provides this capability.  Armed UAVs will be able to provide some degree of support but their limited payloads and manpower and resource intensive support requirements limit their use to a niche role for the foreseeable future.  UAVs will be highly useful but nowhere near capable of replacing a carrier air wing.

All-out war, at the moment, means China and the carrier’s role would be to conduct naval warfare, inland strike, and strike group escort.  Entire research papers and books could be written about the conduct of a future war with China and the strategy and tactics that would be employed.  The actual usefulness of a carrier would depend on the strategy and tactics required and such a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this post.  We’ll consider a few fairly obvious uses. 

The carrier still offers the most effective means of finding and destroying enemy naval forces.  While some may argue that Air Force bombers with standoff anti-ship missiles could do the job, that argument assumes that surveillance and targeting can be provided in a timely fashion.  Given the geography and distances involved, it will be very difficult for aircraft based in Guam or the U.S. or wherever to respond in time.  A carrier group, on the other hand, provides its own surveillance and targeting on a localized basis and can respond instantly with massive force.  Others may argue that submarines can fill the role of anti-ship combat and that’s true except that the submarines are going to be busy conducting Tomahawk strikes, ASW, and surveillance.  Certainly, submarines will be able to contribute to the naval warfare operations but in a somewhat haphazard fashion as opportunities present themselves.  Bear in mind that submarines have a limited field of view, sensorwise, as compared to the hundreds of miles offered by a carrier group’s Hawkeyes and Aegis.

A carrier’s strike range is limited by its aircraft to a few hundred miles, at best.  Thus, in the early stages of a war with China, the much discussed Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) will prevent the carrier from conducting much in the way of useful inland strike operations since the initial operational area for a carrier group will, presumably, be a thousand miles from the Chinese coast.  However, what the carrier can do is provide escort protection for other strike platforms that do have the range to strike from A2/AD distances.  Currently, Burkes and Ticonderogas armed with Tomahawk missiles represent the Navy’s long range strike capability.  It will be the job of the carrier to escort and protect the Burkes/Ticos so that they can carry out their strike role.  It’s ironic that at this stage of conflict, the carrier will be the escort for the destroyers and cruisers rather than the other way around, as has been traditional.  Of course, submarines also carry Tomahawks but they don’t require escort and, therefore, don’t enter into this aspect of the discussion.  Clearly, the only way Burkes/Ticos can survive to penetrate to Tomahawk shooting distance is with a very strong, layered defense.  Aegis alone won’t do it.

As the A2/AD threat is neutralized and the operational distances are greatly reduced, the carrier can revert to its traditional strike role.

It is important to note that at all times the carrier will be vital for providing area air supremacy for itself, for other surface groups, for nearby land forces, and for Air Force units.  It is going to be very difficult for the Air Force to provide continuous coverage given the distances involved.  Carriers are going to frequently be the only source of air cover for friendly forces.

To sum up, carriers will be vital for conducting strike operations in future regional conflicts and will provide both escort protection and strike in an all out war.  Of course, the caveat here is that the value of a carrier lies wholly in its air wing, as we’ve discussed previously.  If the air wings continue the trend towards fewer numbers and less capable aircraft, the value of the carrier, and the conclusions drawn here, become less.  On the other hand, if the Navy increases air wing size and develops long range, hard hitting aircraft the value of the carrier becomes greater.  Honestly, the carrier is teetering on the edge of unjustifiability (is that a word?) due to the declining air wings.  The theoretical case for the carrier is easy to make but the reality is that the air wing trends are driving the carrier’s value down to the point where it’s getting tougher to make the real case.

Of course, at this point some of you are saying, sure, carriers are useful and powerful but they’ve been rendered obsolete by modern carrier-killing missiles.  Large, supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles and intermediate range anti-ship ballistic missiles make the carrier nothing more than a large, floating target.  Throw in the submarine threat and carriers just can’t be justified given their obvious vulnerability.  Well, that’s the next post.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mr. Work's Wild History Ride

Well, it was bound to happen, I guess.  Not only is the Navy spinning the LCS program and current status as a phenomenal success despite all evidence to the contrary but now they’re going to spin the past as well.  Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work has penned a 58 page tome (read it here) purporting to describe the history of the LCS’ development.  Shockingly (or maybe not, considering the source), his conclusion is that the Navy got pretty much the exact ship they wanted, at the price they wanted, with the features and performance they wanted.  He uses the “history” to prove his conclusions. 

This is revisionist history at its finest!  He takes known facts such as dates and people and then ascribes thoughts, desires, and motivations to the people that, shockingly, all support the current LCS! 

We’ve previously examined an article published in the Naval Institute Proceedings by one of the originators of the LCS, Capt. Robert Powers (1), in which he describes the origins of the LCS.  Please re-read the post, here.  Capt. Powers article contains virtually nothing that agrees with Mr. Work’s “history”.

For those of us who have followed the LCS program from birth, we recall an endless stream of missteps, contradictory statements from the Navy, complaints from the manufacturers about a total lack of criteria, specifications, and guidance, and a general sense of a program floundering around trying to come up with some semblance of a rationale for the ship and its design.  We recall the original target price of $200M which grew to $700M for LCS-1 and -2.

I’ve spoken with two engineers from LM’s LCS design team and both tell the same story about the total confusion associated with the Navy’s input and guidance.

We’ve listened to various Navy leaders state that the LCS would sail with carrier battle groups, that the LCS would never sail with a carrier battle group, that the LCS was a combat ship and could sail in harm's way without needing any protection beyond what it carried, that the LCS would only operate under the protection of an Aegis umbrella, that the LCS would conduct ASW by releasing a horde of remote unmanned sensors and weapons while standing well out of danger, that the LCS would conduct ASW by using on-board sonars (which it didn’t have!), and so on. 

The LCS clearly never had a realistic concept of operations or a guiding vision driving its development.  The LCS we have now is the result of a sequence of fumbling steps.  Whether the LCS eventually becomes something useful remains to be seen.

Despite all this, Mr. Work’s “history” claims that the development of the LCS was the result of a very careful, thorough, deliberately planned concept and design and is exactly what was desired all along.

No reasonable observer, having watched the LCS development, would believe even a fraction of what Mr. Work has written.  The best I can say about his “history” is that it represents a highly subjective and unlikely interpretation of the actual history.  More realistically, I can say that his piece is a blatant attempt to spin and further demonize critics of the program.  For example, his claims that the LCS costs exactly what the Navy wanted are patently false.  When citing costs, he totally ignores the fact that the costs are for the empty, bare hull only and that the government supplied equipment (sensors, computers, weapons, and everything else that the ship needs to function) probably doubles the actual cost.  He suggests that the modules are just what the Navy wanted and that they turned out to cost far less than anticipated.  As we all know, the modules all failed and the current versions are stripped down shells of what was desired and are largely based on existing technology rather than the futuristic magic modules that were described in Navy Powerpoint slides.  So, sure, the costs of the modules are less than the anticipated $200M per module (which is what the first, aborted module actually did cost!) because they have no capabilities!

I have rarely seen a man so devoid of integrity and honesty and yet so willing to publicly and loudly show it.  The best thing Mr. Work can do is retire which, fortunately, seems to be his plan.  Best wishes, Mr. Work, and please leave as soon as possible.

The really unfortunate aspect of this “history” is that it will, over time, come to be accepted as truth.  Future historians will read it and, not knowing any better, accept it at face value.

(1) United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “Birth of the Littoral Combat Ship”, Captain Robert Powers (Ret), Sep 2012, p.42