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


  1. Maybe it's because the LCS is built by LockMart? The Admirals probably want to join their Air Force buddies in the adviser positions when they retire...

    On a serious note, what is our strategic strategy at this time? Defeat the Chinese Navy? Defeat both the Russian and Chinese Navies? I don't think we will have the local strength in ships to pull that off, not at the rate they are building, while we downsize and build worthless combat vessels.

    Red text is relevant.

    1. TR, yeah, I follow the SNAFU blog, too!

      You've hit the nail on the head. We don't have a coherent strategy so it's no surprise that our procurement seems haphazard.

      As a nation, we desperately need to formulate a coherent geopolitical strategy. From that, we can devise military strategies to support those goals and which, in turn, will drive our weapons development and procurement. Unfortunately, the first piece of the process, a geopolitical strategy, is totally lacking.

      Great comment, TR!

    2. What are the steps one needs to take in order to create a coherent foreign policy, out of curiosity? A doctrine, followed by a geopolitical strategy, followed by various military, diplomatic, and economic strategies? I'm not entirely sure how the process works. It seems as if it's like building a block tower, though, where each block builds upon the last.

    3. What exactly would a "coherent geopolitical strategy" look like? And is this something we can talk about openly without being so vague so as not to further complicate relations with adversaries?

    4. B.Smitty, as I'm using the phrase, geopolitical strategy would be our goals for positioning ourself in the world and defining the type of relations we want with other countries. For instance, is our strategy to contain China, partner with China, concede a local hegemony to China, compete with and squash China, or what? Do we want to view the MidEast as a relevant area of the world or establish an independent energy source and market and relegate the MidEast to an economic backwater that we have no interest in outside of containing the radicalism endemic to the area? Some other approach? Do we want to be the world's policeman and humanitarian relief center? And so on ...

      Having established a coherent geopolitical strategy we can then formulate a military strategy to support those goals. Do we need carriers? More? Less? What size Army? And so on ...

      Having established a military strategy, our procurement needs should become pretty obvious.

      Currently, we have no coherent geopolitical strategy. We jump into conflicts and issues around the world on a seemingly random basis. It's no wonder then, that the military can't formulate a coherent strategy and approach to procurement.

      Can we discuss these broad geopolitical strategies publicly? We could and should! There's nothing secret about the kind of things I'm referring to and having a consistent world-wide position would allow other countries to react appropriately.

      Did that convey the concept?

    5. B.Smitty, I'll refrain from offering my views on the specific geopolitical strategy we should be following since this is not a political blog!

  2. The one thing that LCS is just starting to do is provide a large number of increasingly inexpensive hulls. Relative in the sense of when compared to a DDG or CG.

    If you consider naval presence a core mission - and the Navy does - then LCS may be the most affordable option. In contrast, an SSN is by it's very nature an incredibly expensive and ineffective way to show the flag.

    I am *NOT* a fan of how LCS was conceived, designed or acquired. But if you're the CNO with a 280 ship fleet and declining shipbuilding budget, LCS is about the cheapest way to keep numbers and presence up while you develop a plan B.

    If I were CNO for a day, I would start looking hard at ways to ditch LCS and procure a bunch of really inexpensive missile-corvettes as proposed in latest issue of Proceedings ("Sustaining American Maritime Influence."

    1. Anon, I understand that you are not a fan of the LCS acquisition process. That's fine. However, you suggest that the LCS may be valuable for the presence mission. OK, let me apply some logic to that idea.

      The LCS currently has no credible combat capability nor will it in the foreseeable future. Therefore, if the LCS is acceptable in the presence mission, the presence mission must not require combat power. Thus, any US naval vessel could fill the presence mission. This could, in theory, include rowboats, merchant ships with a USN flag, or any other vessel. That being the case, we could save a ton of money and buy the smallest, cheapest commercial vessel that could cross the ocean with a USN flag attached. Or, if you don't like that extreme of logic we could purchase more Cyclone class vessels for a fraction of the cost of an LCS. Pure logic, right? Thus, the LCS is NOT the most affordable option for showing the flag and, in fact, is a fairly expensive way to show the flag relative to the available options.

      You are correct that the SSN is not an effective presence platform since presence requires visibility. Of course, no one has ever suggested that SSNs are a suitable presence platform.

    2. I'm not sure at all how you are defining "credible combat capability", let alone how you set the LCS at "no credible combat capability." That's a pretty broad statement. What's the threat and scenario?

      I'd say the LCS is plenty capable for almost any presence missions. The problem in one sense is that LCS is really over-capable for presence - and by extension too expensive to risk or produce in numbers.

      LCS will soon have a fairly robust SUW package (OPEVAL next year), which should be more than sufficient for swatting the occasional pirate or speedboat. To me - that's more in line with what presence entails.

      You also overlook that every LCS mission package includes an MH-60R/S and Fire Scout. Helos have historically been the top-killers of small boats and pirates. A large aviation facility is about the only thing they got right on LCS!

      Can an LCS stand up to the Chinese Navy? No. But that's not really presence, and not really what this class of ship was intended to do.

      I am not a fan of what LCS has turned into, but I do think that we need to be somewhat rational in our discussion of its capabilites and limitations.

      PS. I don't think you read my last paragraph nor the referenced Proceedings article. If you did you'd see that a PC is almost exactly what the authors suggest!

    3. Anon, it all depends on your definition of "presence". A commonly accepted definition, which I happen to agree with, is that presence is the ability to influence behavior in a desired direction or manner due to the physical proximity of sufficient levels of force. In simpler terms, presence is a powerful enough threat of force as to influence someone's behavior in a desired direction. Further, presence is generally used in the context of other countries or, occasionally non-state actors.

      Thus, in order to influence another country we must have sufficient force as to constitute a threat to that country. The ability to deal with pirates or small boats, while useful on a "policing" level, is woefully insufficient to influence countries or even organized non-state actors. An LCS isn't going to influence the behavior of NKorea, Iran, China, or AQ. A carrier or Tomahawk equipped DDG will or at least has the possibility to do so. If we're trying to influence the owner of a marina, the LCS is probably adequate. If we're trying to influence countries, the LCS is inadequate.

      Now, the "show the flag" mission is valid and well within the capability of the LCS. It requires no force and can be performed by any naval vessel whether armed or not.

      The LCS will soon have a fairly robust SUW package??? For a Coast Guard vessel, perhaps. For a combat vessel, not even close. If it can't take on a peer (corvette/frigate) then it has no credible combat capability.

      Regarding the PC, I'm all in favor of them! They could perform many of the missions that the LCS will be called on to do and at a tiny fraction of the cost.

    4. I think you're perhaps confusing forward presence with deterrence. Or at least your definition of forward presence doesn't seem to completely jibe with the Maritime Strategy.

      Naval presence encompasses all manner of missions - from nation-state deterrence, to maritime security, to acting as a tripwire in the event of war.

      And from a day-to-day perspective (at least for the last 75 year or so) naval presence has almost exclusive involved more mundane tasks. Chasing pirates, killing terrorists, patrolling and the like.

      So my question to you: do you propose we do that mission with a CVN or a DDG? Or would it be a better idea to offload those low-end missions on a cheaper but admittedly less capable asset - so that we can focus our high-end assets on preparation for war with PRC/DPRK/Iran?

      Minor point: AQ is not a country and thus has little to "hold at risk" - a key deterrence metric. Although more CVNs and DDGs will allow us to continue to kill AQ 'soldiers' in large numbers, I doubt they're paying much attention to our shipbuilding budgets.

    5. (At least for the last 68 yrs or so).

    6. Anon, that my definition of presence may or may not agree with the Navy's if of no concern to me. Much of the Navy's current thinking is badly flawed and that is one of the reasons I do this blog!

      I've given my definition of presence and what it requires. If you have a different definition, that's fine. The logic, however, still applies. If you consider the LCS combat capable then a simple PC could carry out almost every LCS presence mission at a minute fraction of the cost and, as I said, I'm a firm supporter of PCs.

      Yes, a DDG or better is required for presence missions by my definition. We've got 90 Aegis ships so numbers aren't a problem. Remember that presence is scalable. The amount of force-threat required to influence China is significantly greater than the amount reguired to influence a small island nation.

    7. You can fault Navy's strategy if you'd like. I actually think CS-21 is really not a strategy at all - since it doesn't assign resource or make any real choices!

      However, it is the lingua franca. And LCS doesn't appear that incongruent with the Navy's definition of why it operates forward.

      If numbers aren't a problem with DDGs and CGs - why are carrier strike groups typically deploying with only 2 or 3 escorts?

      The answer is we don't really have 90 CRUDES. Some proportion are in maintenance, pre-post deployment stand-downs, etc.

      And of the <90 which available for deployment, some proportion are kept busy doing missions which are well beneath their capability.

      I will restate my question. What type of ship would you rather the Navy commit to chasing pirates and showing the flag?

      a. An extremely capable, but also extremely expensive DDG (unit cost = $3 billion).

      b. A much less capable, but also much less expensive LCS (unit cost = $450-600 million).

      c. Some other ship type, which might entail a lengthy development process.

      d. Not chase pirates or show the flag at all.

    8. Anon, I answered this but I'll answer it again. You ask, specifially, what ship type I'd use to chase pirates and show the flag. Chasing pirates in a skiff requires no more than a PC. An LCS can certainly do the job but is a very expensive way of doing a very simple task. Any ship can show the flag: tankers, PCs, LCS, DDG, hospital ship, JHSV, literally any ship. No combat capability whatsoever is required.

      Presence, as I've defined it, requires a DDG or bigger.

      Why are CSGs deploying with only 2 or 3 escorts? Money. Pure and simple. The Navy is trying to save money by operating with the bare minimum during peacetime. One can debate the merits of that philosophy but that's the answer.

      Let's assume, just for fun, that I'm aware of the ratio of forward deployed ships to the total number of ships. As you know, around a third of any given ship type is available for active deployment at any given moment. That leaves around 30 Aegis ships for presence. Seems sufficient.

      As I've stated before, I'd love to see around 20 new, slightly upgunned PCs (or something similar). The PC-14 or the Ambassador class would be a good starting point.

    9. "Presence as I've defined it, requires a DDG or bigger."

      If that is the case, then why exactly did the Navy build and operate 51 OHP frigates?

      And what did the Navy been do with them for the last 40-odd years if not presence?

    10. Anon, OHPs, as originally built, would be perfectly adequate for many presence missions. I did not list them for today's presence missions because they no longer exist (the few that remain have been neutered) but, of course, you know that... Which leads me to wonder, are you interested in a discussion with the possibility of two-way learning or are you trying to prove some point? If the latter, let's just let the discussion end.

    11. I really am interested in a 2-way discussion. I do apologize if my remarks came off as terse or pointed.

      I suppose what I'm trying to get at is your apparent view that thepresence mission must also entail the capability to inflict significant harm on an enemy's center of gravity (TLAM, CVN).

      An FFG - even in its unneutered form - never had any such capability. It was not a line-of-battle ship and had no strike weapons.

      FFGs were designed for patrolling the sea-line of communications. And in the the case of war with the Soviet Union, they would likely have served as convoy escorts and missile/torpedo sponges.

      So again: if neither ship type had significant offensive capability, why is an FFG good enough for presence but a Littoal Combat Ship not?

    12. Anon, fair enough! Do you like the word deterrence better than presence? I use the two almost synonymously (spelling?). Presence implies a bit more but for our discussion they're essentially the same if that makes it clearer or easier.

      Yes, presence/deterrence must include the ability to threaten a significant degree of harm on an enemy. It doesn't have to be the ability to obliterate a center of gravity. It can be lesser degrees such as the ability to sink and enemy vessel.

      For example, the Chinese are currently sending corvette/frigate-ish ships into Vietnamese, Japanese, and Philippine waters in an attempt to enforce their territorial claims (or whatever purpose the Chinese really have!). Having a US ship(s) in those same waters that has the capability to engage and sink them might (no guarantees in presence/deterrence!) alter their behavior. Of course, that assumes we have the political will to use force but that's a topic for another time. The original OHP was a capable corvette/frigate killer and would have been suitable for such a mission.

      Recall that I said presence/deterrence is scalable. While a OHP would be fine the scenario I just described, it would have been insufficient for the actual incident where the Chinese started firing "test" missiles towards Taiwan quite some time ago and the US responded by sending carrier groups (two, if I dimly recall). The carriers arrived and the Chinese quieted down. Side note: some credit that incident as the motivation for both the development of Chinese IRBM anti-ship weapons and their own carrier program - interesting thought.

      The maximum that an LCS could realistically threaten is small boats. That's not enough to alter anyone's behavior, hence, the LCS is not suitable for presence/deterrence.

      As I've said, the LCS can chase pirates or show the flag or conduct multi-national training exercises or interdict drug smugglers but those missions can be more cost effectively performed by PC-ish vessels.

      That's the problem with the LCS - too expensive for the truly low end, peacetime jobs and not capable enough to actual (or implied, for presence/deterrence) combat. At the moment, the only two possible worthwhile tasks for the LCS are MCM and shallow water ASW but useful versions of those modules appear to still be five to ten years down the road. Worse, MCM would be far better performed by other platforms which really only leaves shallow water ASW and, unfortunately, the LCS even with a mature module is not optimized for ASW.

      You may agree or disagree with my statements and conclusions but within the context of my definitions the reasoning is sound and logical, I think. Feel free to point out errors in logic or offer alternatives!

      Given the Navy's litany of poor decisions on a myriad of issues the fact that I might disagree with their official thinking can only be viewed as a good thing!

    13. Perhaps to clarify meaning, we should adopt the JP 5-0 Operations six-phase model instead of using generic terms like "presence".

      Shape (Phase 0). Joint and multinational operations—
      inclusive of normal and routine military activities—and
      various interagency activities are performed to dissuade or deter potential adversaries and to assure or solidify relationships with friends and allies.

      Deter (Phase I). The intent of this phase is to deter
      undesirable adversary action by demonstrating the
      capabilities and resolve of the joint force. It includes activities to prepare forces and set conditions for deployment and employment of forces in the event that deterrence is not successful.

      Seize Initiative (Phase II). JFCs seek to seize the
      initiative through the application of appropriate joint
      force capabilities.

      Dominate (Phase III). The dominate phase focuses on
      breaking the enemy’s will for organized resistance or,
      in noncombat situations, control of the operational

      Stabilize (Phase IV). The stabilize phase is required
      when there is no fully functional, legitimate civil
      governing authority present. The joint force may be
      required to perform limited local governance,
      integrating the efforts of other supporting/ contributing multinational, IGO, NGO, or USG department and agency participants until legitimate local entities are functioning.

      Enable Civil Authority (Phase V). This phase is
      predominantly characterized by joint force support to
      legitimate civil governance in theater. The goal is for
      the joint force to enable the viability of the civil
      authority and its provision of essential services to the largest number of people in the region.

      CNO, you are mostly talking about Phase 1 - Deter-style presence. Anonymous includes Phase 0/V - Shape/Enable Civil Authority-style presence. Both are valid and desirable capabilities. Both have different, if overlapping requirements.

    14. Hmm, I suppose you are talking about the deterrence portion of Phase 0 as well.

      The difference between Phase 0 deterrence and Phase 1 deterrence appears to be that the Phase 0 version occurs during routine day-to-day activities, where Phase 1 deterrence occurs during a crisis. Clear as mud. :)

    15. B.Smitty, that's why I tend to shy away from Navy docs. They cloud and confuse the issues, more often than not, or, at best, contribute nothing of value. I use the simple word "presence" (or deterrence). The Navy doc gets caught up in trying to classify things. In the end, who cares? If a carrier can help calm things down, send it and don't worry about what Phase we're in! Will knowing what Phase the action is in have any impact on what we or the subject does? Of course not. The doc has no value other than as a talking point in a classroom, perhaps. To be fair, I guess that's kind of what we're doing, isn't it?

    16. Anon, did I answer your main question about the reason why presence/deterrence requires the ability to apply force? If not, try this previous post on the subject, Deterrence And Bluff. Let me know if you're still not comfortable with it.

    17. B. Smitty. Thanks for the clarification. Yes, I guess I was thinking more of Phase 0 - although I didn't know it at the time.

      ComNavOps. I think we're in strong agreement on the need for patrol combatants.

      As to LCS, I've more or less resigned myself to the fact that we are going to buy some number of these craft - so might as well put them to use.

  3. Replace "relative" with "relatively inexpensive."

  4. Virginia class subs are costing us around $2.8-3 billion a piece right now. Flight III Burkes could cost $3 billion each as well.

    About the only ships we can actually afford to buy in numbers is the LCS.

    I disagree on SSNs not being an "effective presence" platform. The problem is, "presence" has a wide variety of meanings. One aspect of presence involves deterrence. Certainly knowing an SSN is (likely) prowling off your shores has certain deterrent effects. So their presumed presence can impact an opponent's actions. Obviously, a CVBG would have an entirely different quality of deterrence/presence. As would an ESG.

    OTOH, SSNs aren't useful for "Phase Zero" presence operations such as maritime security, building partner capacity, and so on.

    1. B.Smitty, you make a very good point about the meaning of presence and deterrence. Generally, though, visibility is associated with presence and would make presence and deterrence more obvious and, therefore, more effective especially as we go to great lengths to keep the whereabouts of our subs secret. That's not to say that there aren't ways to let a bad actor know that there's a sub in the neighborhood but revealing a subs presence negates part of its effectiveness. Still, a good point!

    2. B.Smitty, you say that the LCS is the only ship we can afford to buy in numbers. If you're suggesting that we SHOULD buy the LCS just because it's affordable (on a relative basis compared to DDGs and whatnot - it's hideously expensive compared to it's almost non-existent capability!) that would suggest we should buy a million rowboats just because they're affordable (and they're almost as combat capable as the LCS!). I don't think that's what you're really suggesting, though.

    3. I'll amend my statement. It is the only current USN surface combatant "program of record" that we can afford to buy in numbers.

      Going forward, whether we should alter the LCS program or replace it with something else is a different question entirely! :)

  5. Okay. I've done quite a bit of naval reading, but I'm a civilian, and always have been. So my opinions come from reading and I'm sure may come off as 'fan boy' materiel some times, but can someone help me with this:

    One of my thoughts has always been that we could invest in more SSN's, maybe even at the expense of carriers, because of their capability.
    But I'm told that SSN's can't do 'Sea Control' but only 'Sea Denial'.

    I guess I don't understand the difference. If we have a force of 100 SSN's with LRASM's and Tomahawks, they can do land attack. And they can do anti shipping work. They don't show the flag very well, but isn't it sea control if in a war situation you put 25 of them in the South China Sea? Couldn't we essentially lock down shipping? 'All ships coming out of Japan pass. Nothing that comes out of Guangzhou passes. Any Chinese naval vessel past this line gets sunk'. Isn't that sea control?

    I guess the reason I'm asking is that we've been worried about A2-AD for awhile with the CVBG's. But SSN's seem to give us a tremendous amount of power while (to me) sidestepping the issue. Good luck hitting an SSN with your fancy new missile.

    And (heresy alert), if my assumptions have any validity, why not cancel the LCS, the Ford, the JSF, cut down to say 8 carriers, and maximize our SSN's? We get alot of the same capability without the same risk from threats designed to counter our surface fleet.

    1. Jim, in simplest terms, control means that you can do anything you want in a given area of water. Denial means that you can prevent the enemy from doing what they want.

      Here's a simple example: You want your merchant ship to pass through the given area of water safely. An enemy can send a plane or missile to stop that ship. Our sub is helpless to prevent that, therefore, we don't have control of the water because we can't use it the way we want. On the other hand, the enemy can't send his merchant ship through the water, either, because our sub could sink it. That's denial.

      Do you see the difference?

      It's no just a naval thing though once upon a time it largely was. Air and land forces enter the equation now.

    2. Thank you for that. Yes, it does make sense.

      The bigger question I have is: Can the CVN's do it anymore? At least against a peer/near peer?

      Defense against the DF-21 is questionable. We have few AShM's left. There are serious questions about the JSF's range and fighter capability. Without Vikings, a dearth of OHP's, and with 'Burkes dual tasked to both anti-air and anti-sub; it would seem the CVBG's ASW capability is seriously degraded.

      So it seems to me that on that patch of water the CVBG is going to be more and more hard pressed to just protect itself let alone protect or attack other shipping.

      I almost think that a CVBG of moderately upgraded Tomcats, A6's, Superhornets, and Vikings would do a better job today than a modern CVBG, despite the age of the airwing if only because of the basic capabilities of the air wing (and its increased size).

      And with the Sequester, I see no solution for that.

    3. Jim, the Navy in general is in a capability down phase, and I certainly don't think anyone here would disagree. The down phase was partially planned and partially unplanned.

      The planned part is that the navy saw a technological shift in how many of the jobs they do would be operated in the future (manned vs unmanned being a major disconnect). So they tried to plan around it to some regard. LCS is somewhat a reaction of what they saw coming in the future and how OHP are realistically used in the real world (aka OHPs are by and large aviation platforms and don't to or contribute much besides being small aviation platforms). The LCS was also largely based on the fact that the last time the USN actually engaged in naval combat, most of us weren't alive. So the LCS is woefully under armed, but that is true of the whole of the USN, even the OHP which people like to champion is woefully under armed for the modern threat.

      The unplanned part is that the USN was in some cases optimistic in time of replacement or simply had too much faith that joint development programs would succeed. This has lead to the capability gaps in ASW/ASuW/CMW/etc. Some of the issues will get sorted out and are receiving significant funding to to sorted out. For example there is both LRASM which is being funded for close the ASuW gap and OASuW program going forward to close the ASuW gap. Not the most efficient way to do things, but that's DoD procurement.

      As far as moderately upgraded Tomcats. f14's wouldn't buy you much of anything that SH's don't already give you. A6's would be nice if for nothing else, their range. Vikings are pretty obsolete and will be only more so once the UCLASS program goes into production.

    4. We need to push ahead with NGAD/FA-XX and UCLASS. We have to consider the F/A-18E and F-35C as interim steps.

      NGAD needs to be a robust, long-range A2A and A2G heavy hitter along the lines of some of some of the scaled up F/A-22 proposals.

    5. S-3 Vikings really only became obsolete once the ASW gear was pulled out.

      I personally think the CVW could use an organic, long-ranged ASW system - which can double as a tanker when not needed as such.

    6. I'm not sure I want to spend a lot of money developing an S-3 replacement. We have land-based ASW aircraft that can fill that gap.

      One possibility is to build a swing-role ASW/MIW long-ranged helicopter. The MH-60S has proven underpowered for the MIW job. A larger MH-101 could have reconfigurable ASW and MIW modules.

      Another option is to develop a sonobuoy dispenser, acoustic processing pod, and torpedo rack for the Super Hornet, F-35C or UCLASS. They won't have the range, payload or specialization of a dedicated aircraft, but it would be a low-cost option that wouldn't occupy additional deck spots on the carrier. The CVN could carry as few or as many pods as needed.

    7. B.Smitty, I fear that land based ASW aircraft are not going to be able or available to operate in the Pacific during an all out conflict. There just aren't any bases close enough to provide the 24/7 presence that would be required. An S-3 replacement (or, perhaps, your long range helo) is a tactical need.

    8. Jim, conceptually, I completely agree with your comment about an old air wing being more capable than today's wings. Long range fighters with Phoenix missiles and the ability to perform bombing, very long range all weather attack planes, a long range (relative to helos) high speed ASW plane that can double as a tanker or be modified to an ESM platform (the Shadow) at previous squadron levels would make a much more effective air wing!

    9. B.Smitty, if you consider the F-35 as an interim step and you factor in the staggering cost (the F-35 is killing other programs) why would we push ahead with it? Why not kill it now, save gobs of money, and start the process of procuring the aircraft you want while, hopefully, remembering the lessons learned about technology and costs?

    10. "B.Smitty, I fear that land based ASW aircraft are not going to be able or available to operate in the Pacific during an all out conflict. There just aren't any bases close enough to provide the 24/7 presence that would be required. An S-3 replacement (or, perhaps, your long range helo) is a tactical need."

      I hate to say it, but what about the Osprey? It has at least the advantage of existing on a flight deck.

    11. CNO,


      Yes, the F-35C is an expensive interim step. It will provide more capability, but IMHO is not going to be the world beater we need in the Pacific.

      I just don't know if it CAN be killed. The whole JSF program appears "too big to fail".

      Unfortunately the Super Hornet is even more wheezy and less survivable.


      In an all-out conflict with China, everything in the second island chain may be subject to attack, carriers included.

      This is one reason why I think creating a podded solution for fighter aircraft makes sense. Super Hornets/F-35s have at least some ability to defend themselves from air attack, or evade, while they perform ASW. Helos, S-3s or V-22s don't.

      I could see using multiple aircraft to perform the mission. Use one F/A-18F configured with conformal/drop tanks, a centerline sonobuoy receiver pod, and a pair of HAWWC Mk-54s as the command aircraft. It flies high and slow and controls multiple F/A-18Es carrying sonobuoy dispenser pods, who fly low dropping lines of buoys. If a sub is detected, the command aircraft can attack it from altitude.

    12. Jim,

      The Osprey is another option, but it won't be a great dipping platform or MIW helo. But it is in service.

    13. ASW is often for good reasons called "awfully slow warfare." A P-3 will often spend 6-8 hours deploying and monitoring fields of 80+ sonobuoys. And they have two highly-skill guys monitoring the buoys full time.

      Dropping the torpedo is probably the least challenging phase of the ASW Kill-chain. I just can't see how a short-legged Hornet, which could probably only carry a couple dozen buoys would be much good at finding a sub.

    14. 40+ fighters on a carrier. When one runs out of gas, replace it with another. You can get 24 hour coverage with enough aircraft, just like a fighter CAP.

      Multiple aircraft can lay and maintain as large a buoy field as you want.

      You could also use a UCLASS as a buoy comm relay back to the carrier, where numerous operators could monitor the field.

      The Russians are doing something similar with their Su-32FN. It can carry 72 sonobuoys in a centerline pod, along with up to 4 torpedoes on pylons.

    15. I think we'd agree that there is absolutely no way an F-18 driver is going to have time to fly the aircraft and watch acoustic grams.

      This means you're going to need a very big comms pipe to push sonobuoy data back to the acoustic guys carrier.

      I have a very hard time believing that we'll have that type of bandwidth in wartime, or that an enemy won't simply jam our comms.

      The thought that we can do everything with one T/M/S is what got us into the ridiculous situation of using an F-18 to tank other F-18s. Specialized missions call for specialized aircraft.

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    17. F/A-18F is a two seater. The EA-18G uses the back seat the same way. Honestly, the pilot could do it. Just put the plane on auto-pilot. However it's better to have a trained ASW back seater.

      The enemy can't just "jam our comms" anywhere in the vast ocean it wants to. It has to place an emitter somewhere near the line from transmitter to reciever.

      It may be better done by specialized aircraft, but the budget just doesn't allow for it. Better some capability than no capability. And this approach can scale without having to build specialized aircraft. It can even be scaled real time just by flying in more pods and additional trained back-seaters.

    18. B.Smitty: "40+ fighters on a carrier. When one runs out of gas, replace it with another. You can get 24 hour coverage with enough aircraft, just like a fighter CAP."

      Bear in mind, though, that the 40 Hornets must also act as tankers, CAP, strike, etc. There are not 40 Hornets available to dedicate to ASW. Realistically, there would only be a small handful, at best. The loiter time of Hornets compared to Vikings is woefully inadequate.

      "It can even be scaled real time just by flying in more pods and additional trained back-seaters." - A flying LCS?

      The Viking used two pilots and two technical operators to conduct ASW. Have we really been able to replace four pilots/operators with two? I'm dubious, to say the least.

    19. We replaced the two pilots and two operators in the EA-6B with one and one in the EA-18G.

      Yes, I agree the Hornets have other jobs too, but you'll have to take some off the carrier to make room for dedicated ASW aircraft.

      Aircraft and carriers did modularity long before it became cool with the LCS. ;)

    20. B.Smitty, now you know we wouldn't have to take Hornets off the carrier to make room for dedicated ASW aircraft! The air wings are close to half the size they used to be. The Nimitz class is designed to handle close to 100 aircraft and current air wings are around 60-65. There's lot's of room!

      Yes, we might replace 4 with 2 but that doesn't necessarily mean the 2 can do the job. I have the same concerns about the Prowler/Growler. Can the two-man Growler perform as well as the four-man Prowler? I don't know and I haven't read anything indicating one way or the other.

    21. If you're willing to add more aircraft to perform ASW, you can far more easily add Super Hornets.

      I believe one reason we went to smaller air wings is so we can carry a higher percentage in the hangar, to increase their service lives.

      Replacing 4 with 2 is a frequently mentioned concern in the Growler program. The DOT&E mentioned that intense, combined comm and radar jamming tasks would overwhelm the crew. The same thing could occur with an ASW-equipped SH.

      On the other hand, finding funding for a new ASW aircraft in this budget climate seems far fetched, at best.

      An ASW version of the E-2 might be the cheapest path.

    22. B.Smitty - "... one reason we went to smaller air wings is so we can carry a higher percentage in the hangar, to increase their service lives."

      I've never heard that one. Do you have a source? It sounds more like an after-the-fact justification. As far as I know, the smaller air wings are purely budget driven. Each succeeding class of aircraft has been purchased in smaller numbers and the resulting squadron sizes have decreased correspondingly. The Navy has stated that when the JSF enters service, the squadrons will be further reduced by 2-4 aircraft (quite a reduction!). That's driven purely by budget.

      "... finding funding for a new ASW aircraft in this budget climate seems far fetched, at best."

      Well, you're absolutely right about that!

      An E-2 ASW? Hmmm.... Interesting.

      There's no reason we couldn't build new S-3's with upgraded avionics and sensors. I never heard of any problem with the S-3 that justified dropping it. I suspect it was sacrificed in order to fund new construction.

    23. The S-3 has been out of production since the 70's. Might as well design a brand new aircraft.

      The E-2D, OTOH, still has a hot production line.

      I don't have a source for the smaller airwings rationale. Just something I heard. You're probably right, budget was the main reason.

    24. B.Smitty, my thought on the S-3 was that it has already been proven, debugged as an airframe, and is a known, stable design that is optimized for ASW. A new aircraft would cost billions and take decades! The military has a tendency to want to make everything Star Wars even when a basic (old) but solid technology could do the job perfectly well.

      The E-2, if it can be adapted to ASW (does it have the maneuverability?) has the advantage of commonality with an existing aircraft, of course. OTOH, I think it takes up a great deal more room than a Viking.

      Oh well, neither is going to happen!

    25. The S-3 may be a proven design, but it's not that simple to dust off plans for an aircraft designed in the '60s (if they still even exist in entirety), and produced in the 70's, and build a modern production line from it. You will essentially have to reverse engineer it into modern design and production tools and then develop a modern production line for it.

      It'll still take a decade or more and cost billions, but you'll end up with a 70's aircraft with none of the life-cycle cost reductions a modern design would offer.

      So might as well take advantage of 40+ years of technology and process improvements and build a modern aircraft.

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  7. which is why to make up the SSN shortfall, I would start building SSK's. Having SSKs would free up the SSN's for overseas work and SSK's can protect the EEZ and CONUS. Even special forces can use SSK's for operations in the littorals.

  8. "As far as moderately upgraded Tomcats. f14's wouldn't buy you much of anything that SH's don't already give you. A6's would be nice if for nothing else, their range."

    I thought there was a moderate upgrade to the Tomcat that would help with avionics and maintanance, but not go all the way of the Supertomcat 21? Basically a 14D with improved hydaulics and the ability to fire the AIM 120?

    As to what it would give you, RANGE & SPEED! Maybe those aren't as important as I thought, but dang it seems like its a huge complaint about the SH specifically and the airwing in general.

    "Vikings are pretty obsolete and will be only more so once the UCLASS program goes into production."

    In what way (honest question)? The airframes weren't *that* old, IIRC, and it seems like you could upgrade the ASW kit cheaper than develop a new airplane? And still have a plane to give tanker support when needed.

    All that's in the past, and the point is moot. My only point was that it seems like the old airwings had alot more capability than what we have now. And if the airwings are very down on capability, what does that say about the usefulness of the CVN's at doing sea control?

    If we did get into a scrap with China, or even Russia, with our diminished ASW and ASuW ability from even the flight decks, we could end up losing alot of sailors!

  9. "(aka OHPs are by and large aviation platforms and don't to or contribute much besides being small aviation platforms)."

    Is that fair though? When the OHP's came out they had the nominal ability to fight with guns, AShM's, their Helo, perform at least some form of air defense for themselves, both at range at in close, and do ASW work. Oh, and it was built to Lvl II standards.

    Later on all that was taken away. But as designed it was a robust ship.

    Right now the LCS ASW kit is, from what I can tell, not working. It has a Griffin missile as opposed to a Harpoon, and can't currently do Mine Warfare. Its built to Lvl 1+. It still has the Helo.


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