Sunday, September 29, 2013


A new GAO report (1) discusses, among other things, the progress of the Ford class Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) systems which have been beset by technical problems and cost overruns.

GAO has this to say about the EMALS and AAG costs.

“Since 2008, EMALS-related costs for the first-of-class Gerald R. Ford [CVN 78] have risen by 133.7%, from $317.7 – $742.6 million. AAG costs have also spiked, though its 124.8% jump is only from $75 – $168.6 million. This is so despite the Navy’s 2010 firm fixed-price contracts to produce these systems for CVN 78. Even with cost caps, however, late delivery and testing means that changes have to be made to a partially-complete ship. EMALS configuration changes have already forced electrical, wiring, and other changes within the ship; and instead of just being hoisted into place, the Advanced Arresting Gear will now have to be installed in pieces via a hole cut in the flight deck. AAG continues to undergo redesigns, most recently to its energy-absorbing “water twister,” and limited EMALS testing with the delayed F-35C risks forcing further changes after the ship has been built.”

As we’ve noted in previous posts about Navy contracts for other programs, the fixed price contract is anything but fixed.  The term “fixed price” is just a public relations phrase intended to sound good to the public and Congress but it has no actual meaning.


Also, note the concurrency being demonstrated in this development.  The unproven AAG, having encountered problems and having failed to meet the schedule, will be installed out of sequence by cutting holes in the flight deck.  That’s construction money being spent at least three times over:  the initial flight deck installation, demolition of the flight deck, and rebuild of the flight deck.  That’s my tax dollars you’re throwing away, there, Navy!

The report goes on to note the following cost growths for EMALS and AAG.

                                    EMALS          134%
                                    AAG                125%

The GAO report has this to say about the development of the AAG.

“Developmental test failures led to system redesigns. Navy is presently executing the first phase of land-based testing concurrent with system production and installation on CVN 78. The system is scheduled to arrest its first aircraft in June 2014.” [emphasis added]

Note the phrase, “concurrent with system production and installation”.  Thus, we see that the same “build and buy before you test” approach is being used for the AAG acquisition as was done for the LCS.  We’ve seen the spectacular failure that resulted from that approach for the LCS and, yet, the Navy continues to use this badly flawed practice.

As an aside, weight margins are becoming a problem even before the ship has been completed. 

“To date, evolving information about the attributes of these technologies has produced a weight/stability configuration for CVN 78 that leaves little margin to incorporate additional weight growth high up in the ship without making corresponding weight trade-offs elsewhere or compromising the future growth potential of the ship.”

“According to shipbuilder representatives, additional weight growth to the advanced arresting gear was of particular concern and could trigger a need for future structural and space modifications around the installed system.”

We’ve already seen the impact of non-existent weight margins on the LCS.  It would be most unfortunate if the same were to happen to the Ford.  Again, this is due entirely to beginning construction prior to having a stable design from which weight calculations can be performed.

I have no doubt that the problems associated with EMALS and AAG will be solved but the cost in time, money, and growth margins will be steep.  Most of this could have been avoided by simply having a complete design and mature subsystems prior to construction. 

What’s the definition of insanity?  - Repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome.  The Navy has seen the LCS debacle that resulted from having no design and immature technology and yet is doing the exact same thing for the Ford class and expecting a different outcome.  Granted, the Ford is not as immature as the LCS but the concept is the same, differing only in degree.  The Navy seems adamantly unwilling to learn from experience.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Ship Design

We’re going to discuss ship design.  Now I know that many of you are hunched over the keyboard ready to pound out a scathing reply the moment I suggest what gun to use (if it’s not your favorite!) or how many VLS cells to have (if it doesn’t agree with your idea).  However, I’m not going to touch on any specifics.  There’s a broader issue here.

In theory, ships are designed to meet a set of requirements which allow the ship to conduct a mission.  Seems simple enough although the Navy has, lately, failed spectacularly to even define the missions for the ships that are being built let alone setting specific design requirements.  We’ve discussed that at length and I won’t address it further, here.  In conceptual terms, the designers apply various numbers and types of weapons, sensors, and characteristics so as to satisfy the requirements.  The cost of the ship is then a simple sum of the parts plus the labor to build it (I’m grossly simplifying for illustrative purposes).

Of late, meaning the last few decades or so, the Navy’s ship designs have shown a marked tendency towards overdesign.  Too many extraneous capabilities are being added that are not required to meet the ship’s intended purpose.  This causes the cost to increase.  With an unlimited budget, this may be acceptable.  In tighter budget times, as we’re experiencing now, this is a problem.

Let’s look at an example.  The Burke DDG, commonly hailed as a successful design, includes high end AAW, land attack (Tomahawk/VLS), anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and, for a while, mine countermeasures (MCM).  As I said, most people consider this to be a highly successful design and we were able to pay for it so what’s the problem?  Well, two things …

Burke - Successful Design?

First, the myriad capabilities in a single ship means that some of the capabilities are rarely ever used and are practiced even less.  MCM would be the most obvious example and, to be fair, the Navy dropped that capability from subsequent designs.  ASW would be the next obvious example.  Burkes are, first and foremost, AAW platforms.  Their secondary function is land attack.  Anecdotal feedback from the fleet strongly suggests that the ASW function is rarely exercised and the ships are nowhere near proficient at it.  That begs the question, why have a capability that the ship isn’t competent to perform?  Isn’t that adding a lot of cost for little or no benefit?  Well, sure, the ship may not be called on to perform ASW very often but when it’s needed you wouldn’t want to be without it, right?  That’s right, IF you can perform the task competently.  If you can’t, the function is useless or worse if it leads a captain to attempt a task the ship is not qualified to do.  Plus, do we really want to risk a $1B-$2B ship performing highly risky ASW operations?

Second, the more equipment and functions a ship has, the greater the size of the crew required to operate it.  Consider ASW on a Burke.  The ASW operators are carried at all times and yet the function is rarely used.  That’s inefficient manning, at best, and serves to greatly increase the lifetime operating costs.  If some other ship than the Burke were tasked with ASW we could eliminate most of the ASW operators, helo pilots, and aviation support crew as well as the crew that support them by providing mess, laundry, and similar functions.  Quite a reduction!

OK, the point is, perhaps, somewhat valid, you say, but, hey, we already paid for the ships and having even a marginally competent capability is better than not having it, right?  Those are sunk costs so no harm done, at this point, right?  … Wrong!  That approach has hurt the fleet badly and continues to do so.

Consider the Burke and what might have been.  Suppose the Burke had been designed and built as an AAW platform with a credible but secondary land attack role;  no ASW, no MCM, possibly not even a hangar (if you’re not doing ASW …).  The resulting ship would have been somewhat smaller, hence cheaper, and had less crew since there would be no need for an ASW contingent or embarked aviation detachment.  Let’s suppose, for sake of discussion, that the cost would have been 2/3 the actual cost.  For a billion dollar ship (closer to $2B, now), the resulting savings would have been $300M.  For the 70 ship run of Burkes, that’s $21B that could have gone towards small, specialized ASW vessels that we would be willing to risk in ASW.  Thus, we could have had the same number of Burkes with their primary and secondary functions intact plus dozens of specialized ASW vessels.

Want to be even more extreme?  Suppose the Burkes had been built with the New Threat Upgrade (NTU) instead of Aegis.  We’d still have had highly capable AAW platforms (even more so when amplified by Co-operative Engagement Capability, CEC, linked to Aegis cruisers) with a credible land attack capability and even greater savings – meaning even more additional vessels.

Still not a believer?  Consider the LCS with its 40+ knot speed requirement.  That capability has added a great deal of cost and consumed huge amounts of internal volume and weight.  All that despite the total lack of a tactical use for the speed.  It was added to the design just to add more functionality – there was no tactical rationale.

Really?  You’re still not seeing it?  How about the Zumwalt?  A $4B+ ship with an ASW function.  Do you really believe we’re going to commit a $4B+ ship to something as risky as playing tag with a submarine?  That’s a function that will never be used but has impacted size, cost, and manning.

We seen, then, that the Navy’s drive to load as many functions as possible onto a ship design is a false benefit.  The secondary, and especially tertiary, functions are less effective and drive construction costs up as well as increasing manning.

The Navy needs to design ships that are capable of executing their main function and, perhaps, a secondary one but no more.  The result will be more ships and more capabilities in the fleet at a cheaper cost and with smaller crews.  Less is more!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Space Based Vulnerability

I’m seeing multiple signs of nervousness by the Department of Defense regarding its dependence (addiction is a better word) on space based assets and capabilities.  I’m not going to bother citing examples because they’re just bits and pieces from all over the Internet.  What I see is platforms and weapons are being spec’ed, now, to function without the assistance of space based communications, GPS, and whatnot or, at the very least, including space assets as just one input among several.  For example, Defense Industry Daily website just posted an announcement about a recent Air Force white paper calling for a “disaggregation” of space capabilities onto multiple platforms for enhanced survivability.

What I take from all these bits is that the military is finally waking up to the vulnerability they’ve created by designing in a heavy, almost exclusive, dependence on space based assets for communications, relays, GPS, surveillance, etc.  We’ve lost our ability to read maps, navigate on land or sea without GPS, direct missiles, locate targets, talk to UAVs, etc. without space based assets.  Of course, potential enemies know this and are directing efforts towards neutralizing our space assets.  In a high level conflict, our space assets are going to be greatly diminished in performance if not destroyed outright.  We need to be able to function without them.

It’s good to see that the military has finally recognized the vulnerability, if somewhat late, and begun taking steps to mitigate it.  Presumably, we’ll begin seeing an expanded range of resources to supplement and replace our space assets such as improved inertial navigation systems, radio beacon positioning, star mapping, mobile communications relay platforms, alternate surveillance systems, indirect targeting and triangulation, and so forth. 

Too long in coming but better late than never!

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Better Amphibious Assault

ComNavOps just read a fascinating article on amphibious assault written by a recently retired Marine infantry officer with 29 years service and currently working as a professor at the College of Operational and Strategic Leadership of the U.S. Naval War College.  I don’t know enough to comment on the effectiveness or desirability of the specific suggestions but that’s not the point, here.  The point is that this is one of the rare articles I’ve come across that provides alternative thinking to the more-of-the-same approach that the Navy and Marines seem to have fallen into.  Regular followers of this blog know that ComNavOps is highly critical of the Navy/Marines lack of a coherent conceptual approach to amphibious assaults.  I encourage you to follow the link at the bottom of the post and read the entire article (it’s short!) and draw your own conclusions.  At the very least, the author’s credentials and experience confer an element of authority to his ideas that warrants serious consideration.

As a very brief summary, the author describes the shortcomings of today’s amphibious assault operations and offers three suggestions for quickly and economically improving our capabilities.

“First, procure Air-Supported Vessel (ASV) landing craft to conduct STSM for ground forces. Effects Ships International, a Norwegian builder, has plans for an LCU replacement that will “scream” to the beach at 50 knots, fully loaded, from hundreds of miles offshore.”

“Second, take advantage of the capabilities of the LCAC by having the Marine Corps build combat formations around the LAV-25 or similar mobile, armored combat vehicle instead of AAVs.”

“Finally, the naval services must reestablish the “vertical envelopment” capability that disappeared decades ago. The remaining two-thirds of the Corps should be equipped with vehicles that can be transported internally by the MV-22. American businesses already offer these highly capable vehicles off-the-shelf.”

This one is well worth the few minutes it takes to read. 

(1) War On The Rocks, , David Fuquea, 17-Sep-2013

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Surge Capacity

One of the cornerstones of naval readiness has been the capacity to surge non-deployed ships in a crisis.  A portion of the ships that were not currently deployed but were conducting maintenance and working up for deployments have always been capable of being surged.  In other words, their maintenance, readiness, and training was sufficient that they could be deployed in a crisis and still be functional and safe even if not fully ready.

Of late, though, CNO and other Navy leaders have described extensive reductions in maintenance, deferred maintenance, idled air wings, air wings operating at the bare minimum to even be qualified for flight, and so on.  Additionally, cross-decking appears to be at an all time high.  Even CNO has alluded to the practice as a means of ensuring that deploying ships have the equipment and personnel they need.  Of course, when equipment and personnel are cross-decked to outgoing ships, the ships and units they came from are left with sizable gaps meaning that they are no longer surge capable.  CNO has specifically stated that the current surge capacity is well below normal and that the situation will only get worse as sequestration continues.

As budget cuts, continuing resolutions, and sequestration continue to further impact the Navy, we are not only losing our forward deployed capabilities but also our surge capacity.  It’s the loss of surge capacity that is not readily apparent to many people but is just as serious as the potential loss of deployed assets.  Of course, a portion of the impact on maintenance, training, and surge capacities is due to voluntary decisions by Navy leadership which has prioritized new construction over all else.  Still, the various budget pressures are impacting surge capacity and all signs indicate that it will get worse before it gets better.

We can juggle deployment schedules, extend deployment times, reduce coverage, and play other games to scrape by during peacetime but if a true crisis erupts and we have no surge capacity we’ll be in serious trouble.

Monday, September 16, 2013

SSN Shortfall

A recent DoD Buzz website article (1) discussed SSN attack submarine levels as reported at a Sep 12th House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces hearing.  Rear Adm. Breckenridge was quoted in the article as stating that SSN levels would fall from the current 55 or so to 42 in the early 2020’s.  It was further stated by Navy leaders that the combined combatant commander’s demand for submarines “far exceeds what is available or possible”.

Given this kind of demand and the recognized stealth, power, and usefulness of SSNs, the drop in attack submarine levels from 55 to 42 seems reckless, at best.  One would think that the Navy would consider the SSN to be one of the top priorities and would do everything in their power to ensure that adequate force levels are maintained.  Clearly, this is not the case.  By comparison, the Navy remains firmly committed to 50+ LCS despite no demand from the combatant commanders.

To be fair, the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding joke plan does call for a return to around 48 SSNs in the 2030 range or so.  Unfortunately, no one outside the Navy believes the 30 year plan has the slightest chance of realization.  The funding levels required to achieve the plan are so far beyond current budget levels or any reasonable extrapolation of budget resources that the plan may as well call for 100 SSNs – it isn’t going to happen anyway.

The real issue here isn’t the exact number of submarines (or LCSs!) that will be built or the exact funding that will be required.  Rather, the issue is the obvious disconnect between strategic/tactical requirements and what’s being procured.  It’s obvious that submarines provide enormous value as demonstrated by both history and the combatant commander’s demand.  Why, then, are we building the LCS (or Zumwalt, or JSF, or JHSV, or whatever your favorite boondoggle program is) when we have shortages of platforms that can actually be of service?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to fund SSNs to the required level before funding LCSs?  I see this phenomenon throughout the military.  We’re procuring far too many weapons, systems, and platforms that have only a nodding relation to our strategic and tactical needs and then we’re forced to try and fit them into our needs (anyone got a mission for the LCS?).  It should be the other way around – our strategic and tactical needs should be driving our procurement.

The juxtaposition of the SSN and the LCS procurement programs is illuminating, discouraging, and reveals the lack of strategic/tactical focus by Navy leadership.  Instead, the Navy’s acquisition strategy seems to be to procure anything it can, whenever it can, and worry about what to do with it later.  This is how you find yourself on the losing end of combat.

(1) DoD Buzz Website, “Navy Confronts Anticipated Submarine Shortfall”, Kris Osborn

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Do We Need An SSBN?

The current issue of Proceedings has an interesting article on the SSBN(X) Ohio replacement submarine (1).  In short, the author’s premise is that the SSBN(X) program will be far too expensive and, more importantly, the need for the submarine based leg of the strategic triad is no longer valid.  The strategic triad and the submarine leg, in particular, historically served as an assured and invulnerable nuclear second strike capability.  The need for an assured second strike is predicated on the possibility, however remote, of a disabling first strike by an enemy against our land and air based nuclear weapons.  Thus, the SSBN provided the guarantee that an enemy would be totally destroyed even if they succeeded in executing a disabling first strike on the other two legs of the triad. 

The author claims that no likely enemy currently possesses the capability to launch a disabling first strike and, hence, there is no need to maintain a second strike (SSBN) capability.  The premise is fascinating and worthy of additional serious consideration.

Before I go any further I must state that I am not an expert on nuclear deterrence or nuclear strategy, by any means.

SSBN Still Needed?

That said, I’d like to look briefly at the author’s concepts from a bit more unorthodox perspective.  The author postulates that no other country or non-state actor has the capability to execute a disabling first strike.  He explains that this means that no other country has a sufficient quantity of nuclear weapons and delivery systems to achieve a disabling first strike.  The author acknowledges that the Russians do have the capability but dismisses them as a threat on the basis of recent “warm” relations.  He further acknowledges that relations could turn bad and suggests that if that happens we can reconstitute our SSBN capability though the extremely long lead time for design and construction of a new SSBN class would seem to render that option moot.

With the caveat of the Russians, the author’s premise is not without validity and, as I said, warrants serious consideration.  But, what about unconventional disabling first strikes?  Could an enemy, whether a nation or non-state actor, execute a disabling first strike without using nuclear weapons?

Could a nation or non-state actor execute a cyber attack that could disable our ability to control and launch nuclear weapons?  Such an attack could be direct, via software viruses inserted into and spread throughout our control software or indirect by disabling electrical grids and the like.  Now before you go and pound out a reply telling me all about backup electrical supply systems and whatnot, recognize that I’m posing an outside the box question rather than suggesting that the scenario is feasible or imminent.  However, just because we can’t imagine the scenario today, doesn’t mean it can’t happen tomorrow.  I bet Iran thought their centrifuges were secure before they were hacked.  Speaking of which, China has devoted a significant military effort towards offensive computer attacks.  Is such a scenario beyond them?  Are we willing to bet our country on it? 

Could a nation or non-state actor execute an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that would disable our land and air based nuclear assets?  Again, just posing the outside the box question.

Returning to the Proceedings article and the author’s premise that the SSBN leg of the triad is no longer needed, if we can answer the above questions with even a hesitant “highly unlikely but maybe” or “it can’t be 100% totally ruled out” then the SSBN leg is still needed.

This is one of those posts where I don’t have an answer, only questions.  People with more knowledge than me will have to address this.  The question the author poses is fascinating and, in this era of severe budget limitations, the possibility of eliminating the SSBN leg of the triad must be very appealing to Congress and the carrier Navy leadership.  I hope we make this decision on the basis of military reality rather than politics and wishful thinking.

(1)United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “The Future of Deterrence? Ballistic Missile Defense”, Maxwell Cooper, Sep 2013, p.52.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

LRASM Update

Defense Industry Daily (DID) has an article (1) on the Navy’s possible Harpoon replacement, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).  Here’s a few salient points.

  • The program is a DARPA research effort, not an acquisition program.  Even if the missile is successfully developed the Navy must adopt and fund it.

  • The program originally looked at two versions, LRASM-A and LRASM-B.  The –A version is a subsonic, air launched version while the –B is a heavier, high Mach, ship launched missile.  The –B version has been put on indefinite hold.

  • The LRASM-A is not currently VLS capable though there is no reason why it couldn’t be adapted to VLS.  Of course, there has been no reason the Harpoon couldn’t be adapted to VLS and, yet, it never was!

  • The proposed interim anti-ship version of Tomahawk has been cancelled, if it ever was a legitimate project.

The DID article makes the point that given the current budget situation and the Navy’s stated and demonstrated desire for new construction above all else, the funding and acquisition of the LRASM is anything but a given, no matter how great the need.  The Navy will continue to fund new construction even if they have to cut every other project to do it.  We’ll keep a close eye on this one.

By the way, do you remember the post about your enemies telling you what they fear most (if not, read it here)?  Well, if you turn it around, what do we fear the most as regards anti-ship missiles?  I’d say it’s heavy, supersonic missiles with maneuvering capability and on-board ECM.  What we don’t particularly fear is small subsonic missiles.  With that in mind, why are we pursuing the LRASM-A, a small subsonic missile?  Is it just me or does something not seem right about this?  Also by the way, didn’t we develop the Mk57 peripheral vertical launch cell specifically to handle larger missiles?  Wouldn’t this seem to be an ideal match between the launch system and the LRASM-B?  Of course, I don’t know if the –B would even fit in the Mk57 but you get the idea – we developed the larger cells to handle larger missiles and now we’re going to develop a smaller anti-ship missile.  What????

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Boots On The Ground

The pressure on the Department of Defense budget is immense.  Cuts have been occurring and will continue for the foreseeable future.  That’s not in question.  The only question is what form those cuts will take.  Early retirements of ships?  Maintenance?  Training?  Troops?  Armor?  Ship to shore connectors?  The list of budget cut candidates goes on …   The only sure thing is that the very last thing the Navy will give up is new construction.  But, I digress.

There’s a broader aspect to the coming budget cuts and that is the issue of “boots on the ground”.  There’s a bit of a perfect storm coming which will cause disproportionate cuts in the land forces, meaning the Army and Marines.

  • The country is war-weary and wants no part of another “boots on the ground” war anytime soon.  No war, no need for troops, right?  So goes the emerging line of thinking, at any rate.

  • UAVs are the hot commodity right now.  The military seemingly can’t get enough of them and the political administration loves the ability to strike without using troops and with no risk of captured/killed airmen.

  • The Pacific Pivot is geared towards China and any conflict with China will be largely a naval and air power exercise – at least, it had better be.  It would be the height of folly to engage in a land war with China.

  • Manning is seen as the major component of operating and support costs, whether rightly or wrongly.  The right or wrong of it depends on how one chooses to view the issue and the assumptions one applies.  However, that’s a topic for another time.  Manning is increasingly seen as an easy way to reduce operating costs and the pressure to cut manning levels is enormous.

For these reasons, I see the Army and, to a lesser extent, the Marines absorbing the brunt of future budget cuts.  This will, on a relative basis, aid the Navy in the short to intermediate term.  I just wish the Navy had a better vision for using the monies that will be available to them!

Friday, September 6, 2013

VLS - Are More Better?

When people describe ships that they’d like to see designed, one of the most common characteristics is more VLS cells.  Seems reasonable, doesn’t it?  More cells means more offensive or defensive power, right? 

Well, there’s a few things wrong with that concept. 

For starters, there’s the matter of inventory.  Our current fleet has around 9000 VLS cells.  What’s our inventory of Standards and Tomahawks that could, potentially, fill those cells?  No one knows, or, at least, I don’t.  However, going back over purchase announcements for the last several years suggests that our inventory of Tomahawks is around 3000 or so.  If the Standard inventory is similar, that would suggest around 6000 missiles to fill 9000 cells.  Hmm …  We would seem to be a bit short on missiles compared to cells.  If true, that suggests that the desire to put more cells in ships may not be a worthwhile design goal.  Now, I readily admit that I don’t have definitive numbers for the missile inventory but I have done my homework on what’s available in the public domain.  I don’t think I’m too far off one way or the other.  I’m making some allowance for usage, both combat (we seem to periodically shoot off a hundred or so missiles in various conflicts) and training, as well as shelf life limits and electronic diagnostic failures. 

Of course, there’s no requirement to be able to fill every VLS cell at the same time.  Even in a war a certain percentage of ships would not be deployed at any given moment.  That said, the difference between an inventory of 6000 and a capacity of 9000 is well beyond the vagaries of deployment schedules.

VLS - More or Less?

 The example of Harpoon missiles is instructive.  While we technically have an inventory of thousands of Harpoons, relatively few of them are serviceable.  They’ve all exceeded their official shelf lives and are being rotated into storage as they fail their diagnostic checks.  We have very few usable Harpoons left.  I don’t know the situation as it applies to Tomahawks but I suspect that shelf life is a serious issue.

Another problem with larger numbers of VLS cells is the impact of combat loss of a ship.  Historically, most (all?) ships that are sunk do so with the majority of their magazines unexpended.  Thus, the more loaded cells there are on a ship, the more unexpended missiles we’ll lose when a ship is sunk.  This goes directly back to the inventory issue.  To take an extreme example for illustrative purposes, if a ship with 1000 loaded VLS cells is sunk, we’d probably lose 95% of the missiles still unfired.  That’s quite an inventory loss for little gain.  On a related note, this is one of the problems with the old Arsenal Ship concept.  It’s a lot of eggs in one basket.

The only time we’d really need large numbers of VLS cells on a single ship is for high volume Tomahawk land attacks or, to an extent, saturation or long duration AAW scenarios.  Even the saturation AAW scenario probably doesn’t justify too large a number of cells.  Remember, only a relatively few missiles can be in the air at any given time.  Thus, having a hundred or two hundred cells worth of Standards won’t get more than a small portion of them into the fight before the attack is over – incoming high subsonic or supersonic missiles don’t allow for a very long engagement window.  Land attack would benefit from larger numbers of VLS cells (the Arsenal Ship concept), however, it also suffers from the “all your eggs in one basket” risk.

Most people seem to think that the more VLS cells a ship has, the better its ability to conduct AAW and defeat incoming missile attacks.  The reality is that a single ship with a million VLS cells is no better than a single ship with six VLS cells in a single missile engagement.  This is due to the illuminator limitation issue (you can only guide a few missiles at a time even with terminal-only guidance) combined with the very short engagement window for a modern anti-ship missile. 

The only benefit that additional VLS cells offers in an AAW engagement is that the ship can conduct AAW for a longer period of time.  Again, though, remember that even a saturation attack won’t last very long.

These issues suggest that there is an optimum balance of number of cells versus risk.  I don’t have the actual performance data to be able to state what the optimum number of cells should be but I suspect that around 100 cells is about right – basically a Burke.  Much more than that and you run the risk of losing too much inventory for too little gain.

The exception, or modification, to the risk issue is the SSGN.  Due to the inherent stealth of the SSGN it can carry more cells for the same relative amount of risk.  Indeed, the 150 or so cells the SSGN carries represents a potent offensive strike while minimizing the risk.

Now, if the Navy ever develops a new anti-ship missile that is VLS capable that will change the equation.  Additional cells will be needed to field a credible surface strike.  That may change the ideal number of cells but it won’t change the concept that there is an optimum balance point.

All that’s fine but what if we want to accept the risk?  What’s the problem with having more cells?  Well, the answer is cost.  VLS isn’t free.  Aside from the obvious cost of the VLS module itself, each module consumes precious ship’s internal volume and deck space, which translates to larger ships and bigger engines to move the ship.  That in turn requires more fuel, the storage of which requires a larger ship.  In addition, the VLS modules use the ship’s utilities (power, water, etc.). 

We see, then, that VLS cells should be added only if absolutely required to meet the ship’s mission.