Saturday, July 6, 2013

LCS - Naval Group Hug?

One of the justifications (after the fact, of course) for the LCS, according to Navy leadership, is that it’s small enough and simple enough to have more in common with many of the navies that we interact with.  Supposedly, these countries are intimidated by our larger ships and the small and relatively harmless LCS is something they can better relate to and interact with.

Of course, this brings up obvious questions like what interactions are we having that require other countries to feel warm and fuzzy about our ships?  Are we handing over the keys on the weekends?  Why do we care how other countries feel about our ships?  They’re not operating them, so who cares?

Seriously, do we really want to dumb down our fleet so that countries with tiny navies can feel good about themselves?  Do we really want a significant portion of our combat fleet to be geared towards the least common denominator of our ally’s navies?  Is there a problem with having major combat vessels that other countries don’t have?

Now don’t get me wrong.  If we want to build some small patrol vessels for co-operative, feel-good exercises, that’s fine, although the LCS is still not the right choice, even for that.  But, to convert a quarter to a third of our combat fleet to the LCS because other countries might feel intimidated is an absurd idea.  Other countries, friend and foe alike, are supposed to feel intimidated.  That’s how we know we have a good Navy!

This particular justification for the LCS is pure, unadulterated public relations drivel that the Navy is trying to substitute for the real justifications that they’ve failed to meet. 

As a parting thought, perhaps other countries with a tiny, insecure navy should give some thought to devoting a bit more of their GDP to building a navy with some teeth (again, the LCS isn’t the model of how to do that) and shoulder a bit more of their own defense responsibilities rather than rely on the US to do it for them.  ComNavOps is looking squarely at you, Philippines (0.8% GDP vs 4.5% US and 2.5% world average – Wikipedia, “List of countries by military expenditures”).


  1. Which is why I am all for building an Aegis-less Burke Frigate based on the Burke hull we have in production. It would have enough room for Future Growth and enough room to carry up to a Marine Rifle platoon on MEU (SOC)operations, Anti Piracy operations.

    1. Nicky, you do have a one-track, frigate, mind! That's fine, though. Let's look a bit closer at your proposal. An Aegis-less Burke would be 500 ft long and 9000 tons or so. That's not a frigate other than by today's naming standards. Realistically, that's a cruiser (check WWII specs on various classes). Setting aside the naming convention, that ship would still carry an immense amount of weaponry - far beyond any definition of a frigate (again, the naming thing!). It would just be a less capable (Aegis-less) destroyer. Most importantly, it would still cost a buttload of money. The LCS with a module is close to $1B and a Burke is $2+B ($3B-$4B with govt supplied equipment, probably). So, a Burke without Aegis would still be somewhere in between at around $1.5B-$2B. Again, that's not the intent for a frigate which should be priced so as to be affordable in quantity (and no, there's no such thing as serial production savings).

      Consider, for a moment, the WWII APDs which were high speed transports for 200 Marines. These were converted from destroyer escorts and were around 300 ft and 1700 tons. Small, cheap, and expendable. Maybe that's the model you want for the soldier-carrying frigate you describe?

      If you really want a frigate, and all that the name implies in terms of functionality, then look to the Perry for size, displacement, and function, not to the Burke.

    2. Ones I am talking about are the ones that Spain built such as the Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate and it's subclass the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate and the Hobart-class destroyer. I wouldn't mind a FREMM multipurpose frigate design. Also, I wouldn't mind applying the concepts from the Absalon-class support ship and the Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate into a Burke hull.

    3. The Bazans cost over a billion dollars, and couldnt steam from Hawaii to china without a refuel.
      The Akizuki class destroyers in the second world war had almost twice the range.

      The Bazans are designed to fight no more than a thousand miles from their home port. The USN is more likely to fight 7000 from theirs.

    4. Nicky, the Bazans are not frigates in any sense of the concept other than by modern naming covention. They are powerful, Aegis equipped, capital ships that cost over a billion dollars. We already have Burkes. How would Bazans be of any benefit over Burkes?

    5. You would take the concepts from the Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate, and it's subclass the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate and the Hobart-class destroyer. You then apply them to the current Burke hulls to build an Aegis-less Frigate based upon the Burke Hull. We did it before with the Spruance class DD's, from which their hulls became the Tico's CG's. We can do it with the current stock of Burke Flight IIA hulls and make them into Frigates. It would give us room for future growth and capacity to carry a Marine Rifle Platoon on MEU(SOC) missions, Anti Piracy and VBSS missions. The benefit their is you have Burke Frigates that can be upgraded to DDG if need be and they already pack the firepower of a DDG into a Frigate.

    6. Nicky, unless I'm misunderstanding you, you want to take existing Burke IIA's and turn them into less capable frigates? The ships are already paid for so there's no cost savings. They'd just be less capable. What's the benefit? Carrying a single platoon? You want to lose the capabilities of a Burke to gain a platoon? I'm really missing the point of this one.

    7. There are several reasons why one would give serious consideration to building an AEGIS-less Burke:

      -> We own the Burke design and have passed through the learning curve of how best to build that particular ship; i.e., the industrial base is already tuned up to build it.

      -> The hull has enough volume and displacement margin for handling larger unmanned systems, assuming the AEGIS gear is not present.

      -> The existing Burke Class maintenance and support infrastructure can be utilized. We don't need to create a new support infrastructure.

      -> In a Navy whose fleet numbers are in decline, and which have no where else to go but down under the current delusional shipbuilding strategy, the ability to upgrade the ship to AEGIS standards relatively quickly is a very useful feature to have if changing strategic considerations mean that the USN's force structure requirements must change.

      Norman Friedman has suggested that the option of an an AEGIS-less Burke ought to be a candidate for further serious study. And if they decided to call the ship the "LCS Flight II" for political reasons, who would I be to complain?

    8. The Burke class hull is not a very good design. It was design specifically to mount AEGIS on as cheap a platform possible. That why they were originally design without hangers, with only 90 missiles, and only one 5in gun.

      The Spruance class on the other hand was design for maximum flexibility. Many different weapons, sensors, and other system could be mounted on their hull. That why we should go back to the Spruance basic design for a secondary escort vessel ( what Nicky thinks of as a frigate.) That for example the propulsion system. There is room on the Spruance for Hybri-drives like USS America. You can enlarge the helicopter hangers and still have room for 64 Standard missiles. You can use modern mast systems.

    9. Scott, you're quite right that a wisely designed, new construction, non-Aegis Burke might make a good ship. Nicky's proposal, however, is to take existing Flt IIa's and strip them down to make a frigate. It would make no sense to take fully paid for Burkes and remove capability just to be able to call them frigates.

    10. ComNavOps, removing AEGIS from a Burke just to call it a frigate isn't the true objective. The true objective is to manage the total lifecycle costs of the surface combatant fleet relative to its total deployed combat capability, doing so in an intelligent way relative to the particular mix of mission priorities one chooses to service.

      This is the ultimate objective that Nicky is after, and it is also the objective that G Lof and myself are after. But everyone has their own way of approaching the problem, of course.

      G Lof, I have come to believe that you have a point about the Spruance design as being a good candidate for further serious study as a starting point for a maximum flexibility platform which could cover the FFG-7's current and past missions.

      Back in the middle part of the last decade, efforts were being made by those who realized that the LCS and the DDG-1000 acquisition programs were both highly problematic to convince the USN's senior leadership to retain some number of Spruances for just that kind of purpose -- but to no avail, naturally.

    11. Scott, managing lifecycle costs wisely, relative to capabilities is a laudable goal and one we should be actively examining on a continuous basis. That said, how is stripping equipment from existing Burkes going to accomplish that (along with generating a huge refit bill!)?

      I completely agree that the Spruance hull had loads of potential. It's a shame that the Navy got rid of them just so they wouldn't hinder the Aegis program.

    12. ComNavOps, perhaps Nicky can correct me as far as his own perspectives as to what is meant by the term "AEGIS-less" Burke, but what is being spoken of here applies to new-build construction, not to legacy Burkes which are already afloat.

      As for just how the aggregated total lifecycle cost of the surface combatant fleet can be effectively managed, the first requirement is that any strategy one chooses must be practically workable; and the second requirement is that the strategy must actually go forward and be implemented according to some kind of rational plan -- a plan which is realistically funded and which has realistic, achievable goals.

      If I could be sure that the funding and the national commitment were there, I would build a new design using the best lessons learned from previous designs, one that had enough displacement to minimize the technical and operational risks of the embarked combat and sensor systems. Such a design might be 6,000 tons or so, and would be a seaframe type of design philosophy with realistic margins for growth.

      However ..... the USN has painted itself into a tight corner in not requesting the level of funding needed to properly cover the advanced technology and the number of hulls it wants to buy. These constraints have placed significant limitations on what can be done to manage the USN's force structure. In that context, there is every justification for looking at an AEGIS-less Burke or an updated Spruance design as one alternative to getting out of the corner the USN has painted itself into.

      When I say they that the USN should look at these options, I mean that they should take a realistic look at the mission areas they want to support, and then go from there in looking at what kinds of platforms might be useful in supporting those mission areas -- balancing those needs against an accurate estimate of the total lifecycle costs of a given platform versus how much deployable combat capability the platform carries relative to the mission needs.

    13. Let us not forget the one option already out there that often forgotten, the Zumswalt class. These ships were original intended to plain destroyers, not guild missile destroyers/ABM ships, but suffered from mission creep under the LWM. If those extra requirement were deleted and those extras removed, there is a good possibility we could reduce their live time cost to below that of a Burke class.

      Now I know at first this may seem dum, put with there smaller crew, automated hull, and electric based designs, it is quit possible.

      This of course depend of the lead ships proving them self, and the navy not tring to bury them as a mistake.

    14. G Lof, recognizing how much effort and dedication the folks at BIW have put into building the three hulls of the Zumwalt Class, the reality of the situation is that we don't yet know if its radical stealth hullform will be stable in a variety of sea conditions; and we also don't yet know how well its low crew manning features will work in actual practice.

      Another potential problem is that in order for that larger suite of missions and roles to be properly covered, the crew might have to spend substantially more time on deck to work the ship than might otherwise be necessary if the Zumwalt class is held to its currently assigned missions.

      But the ship has a wave piercing bow, meaning that waves will flow along the deck from bow to stern, implying that submarine rules must be in force when the crew is on deck. How will deck operations be conducted in actual practice?

      It will be some time before the answers are in. If by 2020, the answers are in and the ship's automation features work as advertised; the ship is reasonably stable in a variety of sea conditions; and the issue of submarine rules being necessary on deck doesn't turn out to be a real problem, then I will be forced to eat two decades worth of snarky criticisms of DDG-1000's hullform and its overall design philosophy.

      However, I have this deep suspicion that things aren't going to go that way.

    15. As I said
      "This of course depend of the lead ships proving themselves, and the Navy not trying to bury them as a mistake."

      We won't true know until the USS Zumswalt has had a year of operations, then all the bets made will come due.

  2. OK, let me point out why size counts when talking naval cooperation.

    How many ports can a CVN pull up to and dock, how many ports LHDs and LPD dock at, and how many ports where one of our destroyer or cruisers. There are few ports where US naval vessels can visit.

    So how can you show the flag when no one can see you, let alone your flag? How does our personnel meet and get to know their personnel if your stuck on your ship.

    1. This isnt the fifteen hundreds.
      I never meet the majority of my coworkers.
      The people I sit with, and the people are work with are two entirely discrete groups.
      The people I work with, I speak to almost exclusively by email

      What does a port visit achieve?
      Photo Ops and banquets for staff officers.
      Not combat readiness

      The only way to know if/when an Aegis can pick up an incoming flanker, is to get a Burke at sea and fly an allied flanker at it.

    2. GLof, every country that we might wish to interact with has at least one major port. If they don't, then they don't have a navy that's anything more than a Coast Guard and we can send suitably small patrol vessels to visit or anchor offshore and helo or boat in. We certainly wouldn't have any reason to "interact" between a carrier and a local patrol boat.

      Can you name any country that we would want to have naval "interactions" with that doesn't have a major port? I can't think of one, offhand.

      The premise of the post is that the small size and simple weapons of the LCS make it more acceptable to smaller countries because they can relate to it better than to a carrier and that's a justification for the LCS. Why we would want to intentionally build smaller, less capable ships just so our friends can feel warm and fuzzy about our ships is beyond me. The stated justification is, as I stated in the post, just an after the fact exercise in rationalization and PR.

    3. ConNavOps, why do you assume that the US will only have to interface with countries with a navy? If a country has any coast line, then it has a littoral, and a territory. Some day in the future these might become critical to the US, so developing relationship between all these nation, not just major ones must be done.

      I know there are other types of ships the US has that can accomplish this, some Coast Guard vessel are will suited to this mission type, but they don't have the range to make calls to nations on the other side of the world.

    4. GLof, every country that has a coastline has some sort of navy. Sure, we interact with landbound countries but they don't apply within the context of this post. I think I'm missing your point. Want to try again?

  3. What I find most amusing, is the Royal Navy resists low tech "Global Corvettes" expressly because our allies wouldnt want to train with us in them!
    When we send an Astute on an East of Suez patrol, EVERYONE wants a chance to test their ASW kit against what is arguably* the best submarine in the world. Because if you have trained to hunt down and kill an astute, killing a Han is easy.

  4. Let's start with what the LCS is. A very small ship that carries an immense number of two helicopters (two more than you would expect! on that size). These helicopters are the Swiss army knife of the US navy. The boat carrying them does provide very limited capabilities at a high cost.
    You can argue to scrap some current capabilities integrated into the LCS and focus on a few like MCM, counterbattery (=limited ASuW) and surviveability. That should be feasible per modular dessign concept for the next vessels of that ilk.

    The intimidation part is perhaps slightly bad choice of words. Patrol vessels have little to contribute to a carrier or LHD-centric group of giant ships. In order not to run a show they can watch as bystanders and be overawed (one aircraft carrier has more fighter aircraft than most airforces) you need something smaller. Most countries have a huge gap to bridge if they want more combat power instead of guarding their borders against towering giants such as the US, Russia, China, UK or France. In order to interact on an equal footing and develop a mutual understanding you can use the coast guard or something small like an LCS that still overawes because it's a helicopter carrier with unprecedented numbers of aircrafts.

    Disposeable income is a term you seem not familiar with. All people need a certain amount of cash to satisfy their basic needs. More cash than necesssary for these is a luxury that can be invested in different choices. Part of this disposeable income is paid to the community in the form of taxes. The Philipines are a poor country with a very small margin of their income being disposeable income, unlike a very rich country such as the USA. If they spent of the smaller fraction they have for public services much more on defence, people will ask what community they want to defend. Because public services deteriorate other than protecting the community not much more against towering giants .

    1. Kurt, GDP is a term you seem not familiar with. In simplified terms, GDP is the amount of money a country produces. Countries spend that money to provide products and services for their people. One of those services is national defense. The world average for national defense is 2.5% of GDP. Philippines is spending 0.8% on defense - less than a third of the average country. It's time to step up and take more responsibility!

    2. GDP is the total amount of monetary values. Of the GDP, only a fraction is available for schools, hospiitals and military mattters. In the US this fraction of the GDP being available as disposeable income is much much higher than in the Philippines. 2.5% is the high European spending by great powers such as the UK or France. The global expenditure is shaped by resource rich countries like the OPEC club that buy weapons in order to have a satisfied non-democratic powerbase in the armed forces and do invest little into human development.
      The Philippines is on spending par with Japan that has a similar security environment and in terms of percentage of disposeable income of GDP expenditure they outclass the US effort. Your demand is unfair and biased by simplistic use of statistics.

    3. What I think we really want to see from Filipinos and our allies is “skin in the game:” that Filipinos are willing to put Filipinos lives at risk for a common cause not simply rely on Americans to do the fighting and dying. One of the key arguments for the surge in Iraq was Petraeus’s argument that: the Iraqis were joining their security forces in increasing numbers, Iraqis were willing to fight, and the Iraqis security forces were suffering disproportionately higher casualties than the Coalition. In short, the Iraqis had “skin in the game,” without it, the entire debate changes.

      To put numbers to Kurt’s argument:

      USA GDP - per capita (PPP): $49,800 (2012 est.)

      Philippines GDP - per capita (PPP): $4,300 (2012 est.)

      While I agree that wealthy countries (Europe!) should indeed be contributing more of their GDP to defense instead of looking to Uncle Sugar; it is harder for Filipinos to spend more for defense, when a quarter of them are living under the poverty line. If the Philippine GDP – per capita were $10,000, I would expect substantially more defense spending as a percentage of GDP.

      We should be very leery of alliance with any country that is unwilling to put their people in harm’s way, regardless of how much money they contribute to defense. The Filipino people were certainly willing to fight the Japanese.


    4. From a perspective outside of the US they are simply overdoing it with 50% of global military expenditure. Convince the US to spend less and others will be more willing to put skin in the game or on the other hand have a real enemy that spends on compareable levels with the US.
      Europe has a well balanced expenditure in military matters. They can easily handle Russia, the second biggest power on earth on all levels and at the same time intervene elsewhere if they commit to war and not just some half-hearted small scale intervention.
      Arguably, the US could spend much less because they are without a peer and it's not obvious what benefits they derive from these military developments.

    5. Anon/GAB, you might be missing a couple of key points. First, a percentage is independent of the total amount, meaning 2.5% of 1000 is the same relative amount as 2.5% of 10. The resulting total varies but the relative impact is the same. Second, per capita GDP is misleading because it doesn't take into account standard of living or services needed. For example, in the US we have an extensive system of interstate highways which means each citizen must pay for roads in all 50 states totalling hundreds of thousands of miles of roads. While I don't know the Philippine's transportation system, I'm sure their road system is nowhere near as complex or extensive on a relative basis. Similarly, the US maintains a complex and extensive commercial airline system that the Philippines does not have. So, the issue is not simply per capita GDP but, rather, the buying power of that GDP relative to needs.

      Percentage of GDP spent on defense tells us the priority placed on defense by a country. Looking at the world averages, it's clear that Philippines do not place a high priority on defense. From their perspective, why should they when the US will take care of them?

      Philippines is now seeing the result of depending on a weak-willed US. China is encroaching on Philippines territorial waters and the US is not reacting. That leaves the Philippines to try to defend their interests on their own and they don't have a military capable of doing so. It's time to step up or be absorbed by China.

    6. Kurt, you state that from an outside perspective the US is overspending and that there is no real peer enemy to justify that level of expenditure. China is outspending (in terms of buying power) the US on military by a wide margin. China is building new ships, aircraft, subs, missiles, etc. at a pace far beyond the US. China is already a peer competitor and, if trends continue, will become the military leader before long.

      I have to smile at your statement that Europe can easily handle Russia. You're aware, I assume, that Europe was unable to handle the recent Libyan problem, having run out of munitions and needing to be resupplied by the US? If Europe can't handle a small Libyan semi-conflict, how would they handle Russia (admittedly not what the Soviet Union once was in terms of military might!)?

    7. ComNavOps,

      I understand your point about GDP completely.

      My reposit is:

      1) It is more important that a country be willing to risk blood to defend itself than dollars. I am thinking specifically of some Middle Eastern countries. I would rather have a poor ally that will fight, than a rich ally who is non-committal (looking hard at some of our coalition partners in Afghanistan).

      2) I think trying to equate defense spending as a percentage of GDP when the discrepancy between GDP per capita is so great is meaningless. It is like trying to compare the bench press capability of a 125 lb man with a 125 pound woman (who has 30% less muscle mass). With a GDP per capita less than 1/10th that of the USA, clearly Filipinos need to be focused on their economy. If you have food in your stomach, you can afford to take a nickel out of every dollar. If you are hungry every day, it becomes very hard to think about doing much other than feeding yourself. Remember, the GDP per capita is ~$4,300.00 per person - could you live on that? And yes I understand that GDP per capita is not median income, but it is correlated.


  5. Agree strongly with your point about the Philippines needing to take some responsibility for their own defense! You'd think they'd be especially keen on having a well-rounded navy given they're an island archipelago. But when does that country take responsibility for anything?


    The KRI Klewang is a good example how the streetfighter and LCS effort pay off. Is it a better design?

    1. Kurt, the question whether it's a good design depends on what you want it to do. What did you have in mind?

  7. Let's get back to an updated Spruance. Do we all agree the size, survivability and the sea handling capabilities of the class are exceptional. What weapons systems would this over-sized frigate require? Anti-Air, surface & sub-surface, CIWS, Rollings, vertical launches, anti-sub ultra high speed torpedoes? Not a rail gun, not Aegis? Long range, moderate speed - 28 kts?, sensors.. the list goes on. Help! DUMP the LCS for God's sake! How about we buy the rights to the S. Korean frigate?!?

    1. Before you can piece together a ship, you must define the mission it will primarily fill. This was the mistake with the LCS which, to this day, has no defined mission and is, therefore, an abject failure. Also, one of the principal characteristics of a frigate is affordability. The use of a Spruance hull, however good, is already starting to negate that characteristic. So many people today want to load tons of weapons on a ship and call it a frigate. True frigates are compromised ships, at best, whose primary asset is availability with only a marginal capability in any given warfare area. So, if you really want to design a frigate, think much smaller and simpler!


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