Sunday, June 30, 2013

Small Carriers Or No Carriers?

The new Ford class carrier construction cost is up around $12B-$13B already and will probably finish at $14B or so and I believe that’s without including government supplied equipment as we’ve discussed in a previous post.  New carrier construction schedules have already been lengthened out to a seven year cycle.  The simple math of acquisition tells us that the carrier fleet will continue to decline to around 8-9 active carriers in the moderately near future.  The sad fact is that carriers are pricing themselves out of existence in the face of the new budget reality. 

In addition to the cost factor, there has been a vocal faction arguing for small carriers since the carrier was first introduced.  As a reminder, the USS Wasp, sunk early in WWII, was an attempt to develop a small carrier.  The Navy has done numerous studies on this issue and the conclusion has always been that larger carriers were the most efficient and cost effective form.  This conclusion has not, and will not change. 

So, why is ComNavOps looking at this issue?  Because, while the conclusion that larger  carriers are more effective has not changed, the affordability has.  As I stated, carriers are pricing themselves out of existence.  It doesn’t matter how powerful, flexible, and effective the large carrier is, if you can’t afford it, you can’t build it.  What do we do then – continue to build supercarriers at a slower and slower rate until we eventually only have a single superhugemassivecarrier?  It may be time to re-examine the small carrier question just because of cost.  The small carrier may not be the best way to conduct carrier operations but it may be the only way we can afford to build and operate carriers, period.  The cost efficiency of the small carrier may be poorer than a supercarrier but the total cost is less.  We’re fast approaching the point at which total cost is the driving factor rather than cost efficiency.

The Navy may already be recognizing this problem.  The new America class LHA-6 appears to be an attempt to produce a small carrier having the ability to operate an air wing of around 20 F-35B’s though such operation would invalidate the use of the ship for amphibious operations which is it’s stated purpose.  The other obvious disadvantage of this concept is that it’s limited to operating F-35B’s which are far from being an ideal naval air superiority and strike platform.  Still, the Navy may be anticipating further reductions in supercarriers and planning for at least a partial compensation via the LHA-6.  The advantage to such an approach is that the construction cost is only around $4B versus the Ford’s probable $14B.  To be fair, this is speculation on my part.  The Navy has not explicitly stated this, as far as I know.

Midway - Small Carrier Option?

So, the LHA-6 class could provide a small carrier with some very limited capability.  Is there any other option?  Yes, the old Midway class in its modernized form offers a possible alternative.

The Midway was around 900 ft long versus the 1050 ft of a Nimitz and around 67,000 tons loaded versus the 95,000 tons of a Nimitz.  We see, then, that the Midway is around two thirds the displacement of a Nimitz.

What about the air wings?  Weren’t the Midways limited compared to the Nimitz?  No, not compared to today’s Nimitz.  The Midway operated an air wing of around 65 aircraft consisting of three squadrons of Hornets and two squadrons of Intruders along with Hawkeyes, Prowlers, and helos.  Today’s Nimitz air wings consist of around 65 aircraft consisting of four squadrons of Hornets plus Hawkeyes, Prowlers/Growlers, and helos.  Virtually identical except that the Midway air wing actually had more combat aircraft!

So, a smaller carrier of 2/3 the displacement of a Nimitz (even less compared to a Ford) has been proven to be able to operate the same air wing as current carriers. 

Any light bulbs going off yet?

What would a Midway size carrier cost today?  Who knows, but we know the Fords will cost around $12B each.  The America class LHA is around 850 ft long and 45,000 tons displacement and costs around $4B.  A reasonable extrapolation, then, would be for a cost of $6B for a Midway size carrier.  In other words, we could build two Midways for each Ford and still operate the same size air wings.  In this time of constrained budgets, that’s got to at least be worth some serious consideration. 

Now, before some of you start pounding out your replies and telling me about sortie rates and whatever else, note that I’m not claiming that a Midway size carrier would be better than (or even equal to) a Ford.  I’m saying that we’re fast approaching the point where our choice is not going to be between big carriers and smaller carriers but between smaller carriers and no carriers.  I guess I’d rather have smaller carriers than no carriers.  Sadly, the Navy is riding the big carrier option right down to zero carriers.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Zumwalt Tumblehome Hull Tests

ComNavOps stumbled across a Defense News video on YouTube which showed Navy research tests of the Zumwalt, DDG-1000, tumblehome hull undergoing scale seakeeping tests.  After hearing for years that severe tumblehome hull forms have seakeeping issues, it's fascinating to see the scale tests of the hull.  Please check out the video below.  It’s less than two minutes long and well worth the watch because the footage is absolutely fascinating.

The tests showed that hull cuts very cleanly through calm seas when compared to a conventional hull and the video suggested that would offer fuel savings.  However, the tests also showed some possibly serious shortcomings in rougher seas with the hull potentially susceptible to exaggerated pitching, heeling, and snap rolls.  The stern flight deck may be prone to taking water in moderate seas which may be problematic for flight operations.

We’ll have to wait and see how the real ship performs but seakeeping is definitely an issue that needs to be closely monitored.

In case you can't see the video, here is the link:  Zumwalt Tumblehome Video


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Quantity versus Quality – Revisited

We previously discussed the quantity versus quality issue and recognized the truism, “Quantity has a Quality all its own.”.  Recently, however, there has been a great deal of emphasis by various commentators across the Internet on the need to maintain the qualitative edge over our enemies even if it means accepting insanely large expenditures.  For example, the F-35 is cited as necessary to maintain our technological edge despite the break-the-bank cost levels associated with it.  It’s claimed that the LCS with its futuristic, unmanned, networked, remotely operated vehicles is the only way we can wage war in the littorals with even a hope of success.  We absolutely must have a highly advanced aircraft carrier with EMALS catapults, advanced arresting gear, dual band radar, and many other technological wonders.  There is no way we can maintain the naval leg of our nuclear triad without a new design SSBN that is bigger than the Ohio class (even though it has several fewer missiles!).  And so on …

The problem with all of those arguments is that the result is fewer and fewer platforms.  The Navy has stated that carrier squadrons, already numerically smaller than in the days of the Tomcat and Phantom, will be further reduced by 2-3 aircraft.  The LCS is replacing all the Perrys, all the mine countermeasure ships, and all the patrol craft with only 50 ships and it’s highly unlikely that all 50 will be built.  The Ford class costs have already resulted in a lengthening of the carrier acquisition cycle and the downward trend in carrier numbers from 15 to the current 10 will likely continue to around 6-8.  The 18 original Ohios are being replaced by only 12 new SSBNs.

Internet commentators seem to have a fascination, bordering on obsession, with technology for its own sake.  The question that needs to be asked is not whether the next gee-whiz weapon system will be a technological improvement but, rather, will it help us win wars.  Huh?!?  What an odd question.  Of course more advanced technology will win wars over inferior technology.

Hmm …  I wonder …

Consider the B-2 bomber.  It’s a technological wonder but is so expensive that we only have around 20.  In a war, assuming we’re even willing to risk them, they would quickly become unavailable due to combat attrition and simple mechanical breakdown.  Thus, the B-2 is a huge leap of technology that won’t help us win a war.  After a couple of weeks of combat we’ll be using B-52s, as we always do.  In hindsight, should we have built 20 B-2s or 100 new B-52s?

Is technological superiority even mandatory in a war?  Let’s look to history for the answer.  The inferior F4F Wildcat held its own or outperformed the Japanese Zero.  For that matter, even the P-40 more than held its own against the Zero.  Turning to land warfare, the technically inferior WWII Soviet tanks beat the German war machine with its amazing tanks.  Even the lowly Sherman carried the tide against German tanks.

How did these technologically inferior weapons achieve success?  Two reasons:  one, numbers and, two, training.

Sherman Tank - Quantity Over Quality

The Sherman was no match for individual German tanks but it was cheap enough and simple enough to be produced in large numbers – something the Germans couldn’t do because of the extreme complexity of their designs.  The Sherman won by virtue of numbers.  The same holds true for the Soviet tanks.

The F4F Wildcat outperformed the Zero due to superior training and tactics.  Similarly, the P-40, famously used by the Flying Tigers, used superior training and tactics to overcome the Zero.

In summation, at the start of WWII who had the most technologically advance platforms?  That would be Germany and Japan.  At the end of WWII who won?  That would be the Allies.  Why?  Because the US and Russia, in particular, were able to produce platforms in numbers sufficient to overcome the technological deficits that they faced.  In WWII, numbers beat technology. 

History repeatedly tells us that technological superiority is not an absolute requirement for victory.  History further tells us that weight of numbers is ultimately more telling than technology.  You can enjoy a 50:1 kill advantage over your opponent but if he has 51 platforms, you lose.

Am I arguing for intentional technological inferiority?  Of course not, so half of you can stop typing out your replies.  Am I suggesting that numbers and training can overcome any technology gap?  Of course not.  No quantity of Sopwith Camels will be sufficient to beat F-16s and no amount of training can overcome that technology gap. 

I’m suggesting that we have become so enamored with technology that we’ve forgotten that what we’re trying to accomplish is winning wars and that there is more than one way to do that.  We can win with technology that’s several generations more advanced than our enemies but that will ultimately break the bank (ask the Soviet Union how the pursuit of technology worked out) and result in armed forces that are numerically extremely small which has decided disadvantages during peacetime operations.  Alternatively, we can accept smaller technology gaps, or even technology deficits (gasp!!!), if it allows us to produce sufficient quantities of weapons and if we train to get the maximum performance out of those platforms.

In fact, this discussion suggests an alternative to our present obsession with ever newer and more complex construction at ever increasing costs.  Perhaps we ought to be devoting a significant (not all) portion of our construction budget to good, solid, capable designs and robust, realistic training.  Maybe 200 new A-10s flown by superbly trained pilots would be more useful than 20 F-35s?  Depending on final costs, we can buy 2-3 Super Hornets for the cost of a single F-35.  Which would you rather have?

It’s been so long since we fought a two-sided war, we’ve forgotten that attrition is a fact of combat and the only answer to attrition is numbers.  We’ve also gotten so used to being able to dictate the location and timing of battles that we’ve forgotten that in a two-sided war the enemy will get to pick his share of the battles and if we don’t have sufficient numbers of platforms we’ll be facing defeats due to inadequate presence across all the possible battle locations.

There’s a lesson to be learned, here.  The Navy is repeatedly trading dwindling numbers for marginal technology improvements.  That trend has got to stop.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Government Supplied Equipment

The Navy is engaged in a very deceptive accounting manipulation regarding the cost of the LCS that borders on fraud.  You’ve heard me discuss it in numerous previous posts.  It involves the practice of citing construction costs that only include the bare hull.  All of the electronics, radars, sensors, computers, weapons, and other fittings are supplied from a separate government account line that is not included in the construction contract cost.  Thus, we don’t really know what the cost of the LCS is.  Best guess is that the hull + govt. equipment is $500M + $200M = $700M;  and that’s without a module.  I’ve previously discussed that this practice was undoubtedly intended to bypass the Congressionally mandated cost cap.

Well, it now appears that this practice is not limited to just the LCS but is being used in the DDG-51 and DDG-1000 programs, as well.

From the most recent Congressional Research Service report (1) on the DDG-51 and DDG-1000 programs we see the following statements regarding construction costs.

“The Navy’s proposed FY2013 budget requests $3,048.6 million to complete the procurement funding for the two DDG-51s [Flt IIa] scheduled for procurement in FY2013. The Navy estimates the total procurement cost of these ships at $3,149.4 million …”

Thus, we see what appears to be a construction cost of $1.57B per Flt IIa ship.  The report goes on to note,

“… the Navy estimates the procurement cost of the first Flight III DDG-51 at roughly $2.3 billion.”

So, the Flt III appears to cost $2.3B.  However, the report quotes a Navy official as saying,

“We also have a very significant cost associated with government-furnished equipment, …”

We see, then, that just like the LCS program, the DDG-51 program is using the unmonitored government equipment account line for a significant portion of the construction.  This has the effect of greatly reducing the apparent (or publicly acknowledged) cost.  This is misleading, at best, and fraudulent, at worst.  The Navy should be up front about the construction costs and let Congress do its job of approving or not.  Trying to manipulate Congress just breeds mistrust which we’ve seen more and more evidence of, of late.

Consider the impact of this practice on DDG-51 construction costs.  Presumably, the Aegis system is part of the separate government supplied equipment along with the immensely more extensive range of additional equipment compared to the LCS.  Thus, the incremental cost of the government supplied equipment for the DDG-51 is probably on the order of several hundred million dollars on up to over a billion dollars.  If so, that’s a radically different cost than the Navy is trying lead people to believe.

Now, let’s consider the DDG-1000 construction costs.  The report states,

“The first two DDG-1000s were procured in FY2007 and … the Navy’s FY2013 budget submission estimates their combined procurement cost at $7,795.2 million. The third DDG-1000 was procured in FY2009 and … the Navy’s FY2013 budget submission estimates its procurement cost at $3,674.9 million.”

Thus, the DDG-1000 appears to cost $3.9B each.  However, one has to assume that the Navy is using the same accounting trick of government supplied equipment.  So, what is the real cost of the DDG-1000?  Who knows?  One suspects that given the much more limited quantities and more experimental nature of much of the government supplied equipment, the incremental cost is probably well over a billion dollars.  Again, quite a difference!

Clearly, the Navy doesn’t want anyone to know the true cost of naval ship construction and uses government supplied equipment as a means of reducing apparent construction costs for DDG-51 and, most likely, DDG-1000 variants.  I suspect that this accounting practice is now standard for the Navy and is probably used for all ship construction programs.  Keep this practice in mind as you discuss ship costs in the future.  The Navy’s credibility and integrity is next to non-existent.  Very disappointing.

(1) Congressional Research Service, Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer
Programs: Background and Issues for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, March 27, 2013

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Destroyer and Cruiser Shortfall

According to their own calculations, the Navy is facing a serious shortfall in the number of destroyers and cruisers over the next decade or so.

As reported in the recent CRS report on the DDG-51 and DDG-1000 programs,

“A January 2013 Navy report to Congress establishes a cruiser-destroyer force-level objective of 88 ships.”

However, the report goes on to state,

“… Navy projects that implementing the FY2013 30-year shipbuilding plan would result in a cruiser-destroyer force that remains below 88 ships for more than half of the 30-year period, and that bottoms out in FY2014-FY2015 and again in FY2034 at 78 ships.”

Curiously, though, the report also points out that the shortfall was significantly greater only a year ago.

“The projected cruiser-destroyer shortfall under the FY2013 30-year shipbuilding plan is not as deep as the projected shortfall under the FY2012 30-year  shipbuilding plan. Under the FY2012 30-year plan, the cruiser-destroyer force was projected to reach a minimum of 68 ships (i.e., 26 ships, or about 28%, below the then-required figure of 94 ships) in FY2034, and remain 16 or more ships below the 94-ship figure through the end of the 30-year period.”

“The projected cruiser-destroyer shortfalls is less deep under the FY2013 30-year plan than under the FY2012 30-year plan in part because the January 2013 Navy report to Congress reduces the cruiser-destroyer force-level goal to 88 ships …”


Shortage Coming
Did the force level requirement for destroyers suddenly change in one year from 94 ships to 88?  That seems highly unlikely.  Far more likely is that the Navy is playing games with the stated requirements so as to reduce the apparent shortfall and the negative publicity that would result.  This is yet another example of force level planning based on public relations and politics rather than strategic and tactical requirements.  This is a failure of leadership by both the civilian and uniformed levels but especially by the upper levels of uniformed Navy leadership.  While the Navy can’t ignore the budget limitations imposed by the government, it has a duty to make the consequences of those limitations abundantly clear and truthful.  In the final analysis, if the government is embarking on a path that threatens national security, Navy leaders must do everything possible to prevent it, including mass resignations along the lines of the Revolt of the Admirals.  When it comes to the nation’s security, duty and integrity are more important than job security.

Moving on, how does the Navy plan to address the destroyer and cruiser shortfall?  According to the report,

“The figures shown in Table 1 reflect a Navy cost-saving proposal in the FY2013 budget to retire seven Aegis cruisers in FY2013 and FY2014, more than a decade before the end of their 35-year expected service lives in FY2026-FY2029.”

So, faced with a destroyer/cruiser shortfall, the Navy’s plan is to retire 7 Aegis cruisers more than a decade before the end of their service lives.  How does this make sense?  Even Congress sees the problem as evidenced by the report’s quote from Senate Report 112-196

“… For the Department of the Navy, the Committee does not concur with the recommendation to prematurely retire nine Navy ships…”

“The Committee is concerned with the apparent disconnect between the Navy’s publicly stated priorities and the Navy’s fiscal year 2013 shipbuilding budget submission which, as compared to the fiscal year 2012 plan, reduces planned ship procurement for the next 5 years by 16 ships and eliminates funding for one Virginia class attack submarine, one amphibious ship, and three oilers.”

When Congress, which is epically out of touch with reality, says you have a disconnect from reality, you have a real problem!

(1) Congressional Research Service, “Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer
Programs: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O'Rourke, March 27, 2013

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

AMDR - Successor to Aegis

The Navy’s Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) will be the next generation radar for the Navy’s surface fleet.  It is intended to address Aegis’ limitation which is the inability to simultaneously perform ballistic missile defense (BMD) and air defense.  AMDR will consist of two radars, an S-band radar for BMD and air defense and an X-band for horizon search with some overlap of functionality between them.  At this time, I am uncertain whether the system’s arrays will provide mid-course guidance or whether separate illuminators will be required as is the case for Aegis systems.

AMDR will be initially applied to the Burke Flt III.  Unfortunately, space, power, and cooling limitations inherent to the Burke limit the size of the AMDR that can be supported to 14 feet.  The Navy’s stated performance specifications require a 20 foot or larger version although the Navy claims that the 14 ft version will meet the minimum threshold requirements.  Thus, the new construction Burke Flt III’s which will form the backbone of the Navy for the next 40 years or so are going to start life with a sub-standard radar suite with no margin for improvements or growth.  Is that really a limitation we want to build into our newest multi-billion dollar ships?

Worse, the AMDR is going to start life without the X-band radar.  Instead, an upgraded SPQ-9B rotating radar will be substituted.  The full X-band radar will be developed as a separate program at a future date.  Thus, in addition to being too small to meet the full Navy requirements, the AMDR will not even be the complete system.  The Navy hopes to develop and incorporate the X-band radar around the 13th delivered unit or so which means the first dozen Flt III’s will have only a partial, sub-standard AMDR.  The Navy, of course, hopes that even the limited version of AMDR will be an improvement over Aegis, however, that is nowhere near certain and remains to be seen.

What about cost?  The March 2013 GAO weapons assessment report (1) lists the AMDR unit procurement cost as $209M.  Remember, that’s for only half the system with the X-band radar being developed in a separate, future program.  It’s not clear but I think that also does not include funding for development and procurement of the upgraded SPQ-9B.  The unit cost also does not include new equipment such as bigger power generators and enhanced cooling equipment required by the Burke Flt III’s to support the radar.  Assuming that the X-band procurement doubles the cost and factoring in upgraded power and cooling equipment, the full AMDR will cost upwards of $500M per unit.  Yikes!!

It’s clear that the AMDR needs a larger ship than the Burke Flt III to support the full capability of the sensor.  It also seems clear that the reason the Navy is trying to shoehorn the AMDR onto the Burke is to avoid the scrutiny that would come with designing and building a new ship class.  A new class would trigger Congressional oversight and various departmental reviews, none of which the Navy wants to be subjected to.  So, just like the Navy claimed the Super Hornet was a simple upgrade to the legacy Hornet despite being virtually an entirely new aircraft, they’re claiming that the Burke Flt III is a simple upgrade to the Flt IIa.  Unfortunately, by trying to manipulate the system, the Navy has backed themselves into yet another corner;  the Flt III can’t support the needed AMDR but the needed AMDR can’t fit on the Flt III.  Can you say “Catch-22”?

The Navy did briefly consider adapting the Zumwalt to the Flt III/AMDR role but quickly abandoned that path, if indeed, it ever was a legitimate possibility.  I suspect the reason the Zumwalt can’t be the AMDR platform is because the Navy has publicly stated that the Zumwalt can’t perform area air defense and to put AMDR on the Zumwalt would be a total contradiction of their official position.  Again, the Navy’s manipulations of the truth have lead them into yet another corner.

Sadly, this is how a program goes from being a potentially useful system to a major problem.  It is still possible to salvage this program but it would require the Navy to face reality and stop trying to manipulate the acquisition process.

(1) GAO, Defense Acquisitions, Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs,
GAO-13-13294SP, March 2013

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Free Super Hornets

The current issue of Proceedings (1) has an article about the worsening tactical aircraft shortage and the role the F-35 plays in it.  The author’s recommendation is fascinating.  He suggests that the Navy drop the F-35C and, instead, buy the same number of F-35A’s.  Because the “A” model costs $79.5M less than the “C”, the author claims that for each “A” the Navy purchases they can get a “free” Super Hornet.  The F-35A’s could be returned to the Air Force, warehoused, or whatever;  it doesn’t matter.  This course would maintain the overall purchase numbers that are vital to the Air Force and State Department (foreign sales) and yet provide the Navy with new Super Hornets.

It’s becoming clear that the F-35C is not well suited to carrier life and represents little improvement for the Navy over the Super Hornet.  The author’s suggestion is an intriguing alternative!

(1) United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Averting the Navy’s Tactical Aircraft Crisis, Ensign Anthony Robinson, June 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

F-35 Cost Analysis

Before you read any further, do yourself a favor and go get some aspirin.  If you don’t have a headache now, you will.  Time website has a 5-part article (1) analyzing the cost of the F-35 program.  It’s not pretty!  Here’s some notable points from the article:

-Costs are reported various ways which can make the costs seem higher or lower.  The article does a nice job of describing the reporting methods.  The most relevant seems to be the Average Procurement Unit Cost (APUC) which considers only the actual purchase costs over the entire buy.  R&D costs are omitted. 

-The article points out that the Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) and other documents which are the best source of information are only reporting the cost of the plane without an engine.  The engine costs were broken out as a separate program with separate costs.

-APUC costs for an F-35 with an engine are $104.8M per plane in base year (2012) costs and $135.7M per plane in current year costs.  These are average costs over the entire buy and do break out the various models.

-The author points out that the costs are obtained by dividing the costs by the number of airframes.  However, the number of airframes has been decreased almost every year and will undoubtedly be reduced further, probably significantly.  This will push the average cost figures higher.

-The article debunks the myth of serial production savings resulting in any significant lowering of costs.

-Unit Recurring Flyaway (URF) costs are also debunked with the article pointing out that the plane can’t actually fly, let alone engage in combat, with the limitations imposed by the URF method of accounting.  The URF excludes support, training, spare parts, fuel, technical documents, or the inevitable upgrades and fixes that will ultimately be applied to make the plane flyable.

-Actual appropriated procurement costs rather than estimated APUCs show an average procurement cost from 2008 through 2014 of around $210M per plane with the 2014 production run costing $219M each.  Yikes!!!!  Also, that figure is rising for last several years, not falling as serial production efficiencies should be kicking in.

-The true cost impact of the F-35 program must include the large sums paid to upgrade various legacy aircraft due to the F-35’s excessive delays.  Those costs are not accounted for in conventional analysis.

These costs are eye opening to say the least.  The most important point is that all the estimates depend on the current planned number of aircraft actually being built and that is 100% certain not to happen.  The total buy will be significantly reduced as costs continue to rise and as the buy is reduced the costs will further increase.  That’s the definition of a vicious circle.

For the F-35 fanboys among you, if you’d like to dispute the costs you’d better back it up with some pretty accurate and specific data.  This is the most comprehensive and best cost analysis I’ve seen of the program.  If you want to dispute it, do so with facts!

Also, bear in mind that I'm reporting on the article.  If you want to argue, you'll be arguing with the author of the article, not me.  Personally, I see nothing in the analysis that I greatly disagree with but I have not checked out the numbers for myself.

This program is killing the military and the Navy in particular.  The Navy is going to be saddled with a generation of aircraft it doesn't really want and that offers little improvement over existing Super Hornets.  Very disappointing.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Surface Ship Torpedo Defense, SSTD

Here's a bit of good news ...  A NavSea public relations release (1) describes recent tests of the Surface Ship Torpedo Defense (SSTD) conducted aboard the USS Bush (CVN-77).  The system combines an automated torpedo detection capability with an active, hard-kill torpedo defense weapon consisting of an encapsulated miniature torpedo.  Like a surface to air missile, the mini-torpedo is launched to intercept the attacking torpedo.  NavSea describes the seven test iterations as successful though without providing any details.

The release notes that the system is only an engineering prototype.  Still, this is a capability that has been an obvious need for decades so it’s good to see progress being made.  The only disquieting aspect of this is the 2035 date listed as the goal for equipping the ships.  That’s a long way off for a system that’s at the full scale prototype stage. 

A Feb 2012 Appropriation/Budget Activity document (2) describes the intent to outfit several carriers over the next couple of years with developmental versions of the system rather than wait for production models due to the high threat level.

On a related note, the British Navy has an SSTD based on passive countermeasures that is already operational.

We’ll keep an eye on this system as it continues to develop!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Small Missile Boats and Regional Sea Control

Many people advocate greater production and use of small missile boats of one type or another by the Navy.  Unfortunately, these people rarely elucidate a clear and useful mission for these craft.  They believe the Navy should have them but they aren’t really sure how they would be used.  Is there a use for small missile boats in today’s navy?  If so, what is it?  How would small boats be used in combat and how would they fare?

A friend of ComNavOps, currently serving in the Navy, offered some thoughts on small missile boats that suggest a valid, indeed vital, use for such craft.  Let’s start with an analogy.  Carriers use their air wing to keep the area around the carrier group free of unwanted pests so that the group can go about its business.  The aircraft are, essentially, regional control platforms for the region surrounding the carrier.  In this example, the “region” is mobile, moving as the carrier moves.

Consider, now, the many strategically important and localized areas (regions) around the world that could benefit from a constant naval presence.  These include the Strait of Hormuz, specific areas of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, various shipping lanes, chokepoints around the Chinese A2/AD zone, contested sites around the Philippines and Japan, etc.  These areas are all “peaceful” but would benefit greatly from a continuous naval presence with a respectable combat capability yet able to economically perform the more mundane peacetime activities of patrol, surveillance, and presence.

Now, remembering our concept of regional control aircraft, let’s apply this to the regions we just listed, however, instead of using aircraft let’s substitute small missile boats.  Thus, squadrons of small missile boats become our regional control platforms.  They perform peacetime patrol, surveillance, and presence functions with enough punch to give an enemy pause but at a fraction of the cost of a multi-billion dollar Aegis ship.  The key is having enough combat power in each ship (or the squadron as a whole) to make an enemy hesitate in whatever mischief they might be contemplating.  Not to pick on the LCS, but as a comparison point the LCS has no credible combat power and, therefore, offers no credible deterrent effect.

What are the requirements for effective regional sea control?  Well, half of the requirement is surveillance.  You can’t control what you can’t see.  Thus, missile boats should carry the most powerful sensor suite possible for their size and cost and be able to self-designate targets through the complete range of their weapons.  Small UAVs might well enter into this by providing long-loiter, long range surveillance as a supplement to the vessels on-board sensors. 

Egypt's Ambassador MkIII - Regional Sea Control Platform

The other half of the requirement for regional control is, as we mentioned, combat power.  You can’t control what you can’t destroy.  The threat of destruction is what leads to compliance. 

We see then, that our notional missile boats need a powerful sensor suite and credible combat power.  There are any number of small missile craft throughout the world that could serve as templates.

Of course, in the event of full scale conflict, small missile boats would be unlikely to survive long on their own.  That’s OK, though, because that’s not their function.  We have Aegis ships and carrier groups to deal with that type of scenario.  However, even in an all-out conflict, small missile boats can be used to maintain regional awareness of lower intensity combat areas and help keep their area free of enemy assets while operating under protective air support or Aegis AAW.  Even within the context of high intensity combat, small missile boats could prove to be a useful asset under the right circumstances.  I’ll leave discussion of the tactical uses for another forum.

We see, then, that small missile boats could have a valid and highly useful mission as regional sea control assets.  Unfortunately, the Navy’s attitude towards small combat craft is not very positive.  However, the reality is that the Navy is between a rock and a hard place with ever increasing demands for presence and a severely limited budget and shrinking fleet with which to meet those demands.  It’s time for an attitude adjustment, Navy.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Commercial Navy?

Not withstanding some of the recent examples of new ships, naval vessels are generally characterized by strong construction, a degree of armor, extensive compartmentation, enhanced firefighting systems, high speed, and other features designed to allow a ship to fight, take damage, continue fighting, and survive.  Commercial vessels lack most of those characteristics and would be ill-suited for combat scenarios.

Consider, though, that the majority of combat scenarios we can reasonably anticipate will involve lower end threat levels and somewhat more permissive environments.  For example, putting small forces into African nations, staging anti-terrorist raids, conducting rescues, clearing mine fields, etc. would all involve combat with little risk to an offshore staging/basing vessel.  For that matter, even more intense combat scenarios would often be conducted in a protected, reasonably permissive environment under the watch of an Aegis escort and/or friendly air cover.

If we are willing to accept a reasonable degree of risk, many of these functions can be filled by commercial type cargo/barge vessels at a fraction of the cost of naval vessels.  I’m not suggesting that commercial standard vessels should replace naval amphibious ships or operate in extreme forward, high threat environments.  I am suggesting that commercial vessels could supplement our naval vessels in many scenarios at a fraction of the cost.  In concept, the USS Ponce which has been fitted out as an Afloat Forward Staging Base is an example of this type of vessel except that it is a full fledged naval vessel.  Given that it was due for retirement anyway, the low cost conversion to an AFSB was warranted.  The Navy has indicated a desire for additional AFSBs but budget constraints have derailed those plans.  Commercial vessels might well be able to fill the AFSB roles in many scenarios at an affordable price.  Heck, forgoing a single multi-billion dollar new construction amphibious ship would fund several commercial AFSB type ships.  The Navy has got to face the reality of constrained budgets for the foreseeable future and selective use of commercial vessels offers an alternative way to maintain as much capability as possible.

If the requirements for combat and damage control are removed from consideration, as we’re discussing here, what’s left is, for all practical purposes, a commercial barge or cargo vessel, is it not?  One could easily imagine a small fleets of commercial vessels providing the backbone of a permanent African presence, supplementing the standing Mid East forces, and assisting in presence and patrol duties in select areas around the Pacific.

Barges, in particular, offer a great deal of capability, under the right circumstances, for next to no cost.  Consider the photo of the barge in this post.  It’s quite large and was designed by Cross Marine in Utah as a floating hospital complex for use in remote regions.  Picture it as a base for Special Ops, helo units, UAV intelligence gathering, small unit basing, a mothership of sorts for small patrol craft, etc. 

Cross Marine's Hospital Barge

The possible uses for commercial vessels and barges are virtually unlimited and offer a viable, low cost option to supplement naval capabilities during these budget constrained times.  It’s worth thinking about!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fire Retardant Clothing

Honestly, Navy leadership is staffed with absolute idiots.  As reported by the website (1), the Navy is revising its clothing to incorporate a degree of flame retardancy.  That’s fine but it’s clear that leadership is doing so only in response to poor PR rather than a belief that it constitutes an actual danger.  Here’s the relevant quote from the article.

“Historical data reviewed by the working group showed the likelihood of a major conflagration on a ship is low, though the consequences could be severe to fatal.  The working uniforms currently in use, including the NWU Type I, are deemed safe when worn properly under normal steaming conditions.”

Other than the entire history of naval warfare and the entire history of peacetime disasters, I guess there’s no real evidence that fire is a major threat at sea.

Uniforms are safe under normal steaming conditions?????   I think that’s the whole point!!!!  Flame retardant uniforms are for when you’re not steaming under normal conditions – like when you’ve collided with a projectile or another ship and you’re on fire.

A professional writer who stoops to name calling, personal attacks, and gutter level trash talking risks their professional reputation.  Recognizing that, ComNavOps is, nevertheless, going to indulge for a moment.  Sometimes there is no other way to properly express an idea than with the most basic language possible.

Navy leaders are a bunch of freakin’ a—holes with absolutely no concern for the men and women in their charge.  Every one of these idiots should be fired.

Sorry, readers.  Nothing gets to me more than leaders violating the trust that has been granted them by the people they command.  Rant over.