Thursday, February 27, 2014

Aegis Cruiser Replacement

As you all know by now, the Navy has announced that it will idle 11 Aegis cruisers.  These are the most powerful AAW vessels in the world.  The Navy says it only needs half the current number of Aegis cruisers given the budget constraints that currently exist.  OK, that’s fair.  But, if that’s the case, doesn’t that inexorably lead one to ask why we’re pursuing new Burke Flt III ships that are the intended replacements for the Aegis cruisers?  If we already have 11 extra of the most powerful AAW vessels in the world why do we need to build more?  Couldn’t we just skip the first 11 Burke Flt IIIs? 

Some will say that the Flt III’s BMD capability is what we need.  Think about that.  The Navy has already told us that Aegis ships can perform BMD and that many Aegis ships already possess that capability so what does the Flt III gain us?  The only real difference between the Tico/Burkes and the Flt III will be the AMDR radar.  As I understand it, the advantage of AMDR over Aegis/SPY is that it gives us the ability to perform AAW and BMD simultaneously which is something that Aegis/SPY can’t do.  OK, that’s fair.  But, does that alone justify scrapping (cause that’s what will ultimately happen to the 11 cruisers – once laid up, they’re never going to sea again) 11 of the most powerful cruisers in the world and spending billions for new ships? 

If BMD is that important and the AMDR is the key to that capability, then why are we skimping on the dimensions of the AMDR for the Flt III so that it’s not anywhere near as powerful as its statement of needs says it should be?  If BMD/AMDR is that critical shouldn’t we be building whatever size ship we need to gain the full advantage of the AMDR?

Alternatively, and most logically, given the very limited applicability of the BMD mission, wouldn’t it make more sense to develop a dedicated BMD sensor vessel and keep the Aegis/SPY ships as more general purpose combat ships?  I’m thinking, of course, of the proposal to base a BMD sensor suite on an LPD-17 derivative.  A handful of LPD(BMD) vessels to sail with carrier/amphib groups would take care of the BMD mission without requiring that we scrap 11 Aegis cruisers while simultaneously building Aegis cruiser replacements that only partially meet the stated need. 

I just don’t understand the Navy’s ongoing path of early retirements to fund ever-decreasing numbers of new construction vessels.  This is a classic death spiral in action.


  1. Our next cruiser should be based along the lines of Sejong the Great-class destroyer and the Atago-class destroyer. If you take the features from Sejong the Great-class destroyer and the Atago-class destroyer, I'll bet ya, you can make a Heavy cruiser that can replace the Ticonderoga-class cruiser

  2. I cannot for the life of me understand why the USN is pushing Burkes for BMD instead of going with the much more flexible and extensible LPD-17 option. Not only does the LPD-17 option actually have the size required to fit radar panels of the size the USN's own data say is needed, they also have ample room for the power requirements. No only that, they have the room to support larger VLS cell sizes if required in the future.

    And LPD17 design can easily support more than enough VLS cells for BMD, area defense, and air/sea self defense.

    And realistically, and LPD17 design would also make a pretty decent AAW cruiser design as well.

    1. If we were talking about a ship which sole purpose was missile defense of the continental US, then a large slow platform would be ideal, but that not the case. We are looking for ships that can escort other ships and protect them from both ballistic and cruise missiles. What need is a ship the size of the LPD-17, but with a hull form and propulsion plant that can drive the ship at over 30 knots. Only such a ship can meet the needs of the Navy.

      Now I admit such a ships will requires billions to design because of paperwork cost, as well as the tooling and testing requirements. But unlike the Burke III, there be a good chance it can preform the designed mission with out billions of dollars in addition cost after they are built.

  3. CNO, all these new naval ship proposals make my head spin! I think for us – in the amateur naval analytical world – we can thank our lucky stars the Navy will probably pick the most expensive, least effective option! Like your correct assertion on replacing the LCS with… a bigger LCS!

    For me, I think it was always ridiculous to think of the DDG-51 class as anything but cruisers. (Though, like the conversation with the new frigate, I don’t think anyone really knows what types of ships are what anymore. What's a frigate? What's a corvette?). But the DDG-51 comes in over 9,500 tons, the CG-47s come in at… over 9,500 tons. For me DDG-51 and CG-47 are in the same class. (Don’t forget that the Ticon’s were built on the Spruance-class destroyer hull!)

    And it just so happens that “War is Boring” posted a good piece on Air-Sea battle this morning (I think they are spying on your blog!)

    “If the U.S. and China ever actually go to war, both sides have already lost, regardless of who “wins.” A shooting war between the world’s two biggest economies would be financially and ecologically devastating for everyone on Earth. The only way Air Sea Battle actually works is if it deters conflict.”

    So, if we accept that argument, then it answers the question of the LCS-replacement, DDG-51, CG-47, etc… buy the best, most capable ship since you are essentially paying for peace through deterance. But I digress... if you take the Tico hulls from CG-52 (Bunker Hill) through CG-73 (Port Royal), the average date of commission is 1990, or an average of 24 years old. With a proposed service life of 35-years, in the next 10 or so years (very short time in ship acquisition), they will need to be replaced anyway. Not only do the Ticon’s not have BMD capability, they also don’t have the power generation or cooling capabilities needed for the Navy’s next generation of weapons (rail guns, lasers, etc) or radars. The Ford, Zummwalt and Flight III’s all do. That might also be what they are looking at… but…

    … But I really think the whole “lay up” issue is just like the Navy saying its going to scrap the George Washington and drop to 9 carriers. A political maneuver. They couldn’t kill the ships years ago and I doubt they can kill them now. It just gives them more negotiation maneuver room for things they do want. But in the end, I still don’t see much of a difference between two ship, of similar displacement and weapon load-out, both being build on a destroy hull… maybes its just semantics.

    As for a dedicated sensor vessel, we already have one (sorta) The Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX-1). Also, with AN/TYP-2 radars already deployed in Japan and Guam, we have the beginnings of very robust radar coverage for the Western Pacific. Throw in one or two LPDs and MLPs with BMD and you have a nice sensor net.

    1. RC, I'll have to check out the War Is Boring post. Thanks for the tip.

      I believe you're correct that the cruiser "lay ups" are, at least in part, political maneuvering and that's a good point. I suspect that there is also an element of freeing up funding for new construction since the Navy has exhibited this behavior repeatedly. What the relative levels of the two factors are, I don't know, and it doesn't really matter in the final analysis. Either way, or both, the end result is the same - 11 "best in the world" ships retired.

      You also make an interesting point about a Pacific sensor net. One of my pet "doubts" about naval technology (or military, in general) is the viability of networks. Networks are problem prone and unreliable under favorable circumstances and trying to operate a disbursed network in an electromagnetically hostile environment seems like a failure waiting to happen. We optimistically assume that we'll have unhindered GPS, networking, CEC, etc. and I just don't see that occuring. I think we're going to have a lot of individual units floundering around with only the sensor pictures that they, themselves, can generate. Since the Navy refuses to test these things under realistic electromagnetic combat conditions, only actual combat will show us what will happen and then, of course, it's too late. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

      Another excellent comment!

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  4. The Washington MICC is driven by NEW weapon procurement spending, NOT from ship mods or O&M spending. Therefore ONLY new ship construction gets attention as everyone involved (admirals, Congressmen, executives) gets to say they did something NEW.

    Wake up folks, logic does not drive Navy Admirals, Congressmen, or Defense Contractor Executives.

  5. CNO – great point about the vulnerability and reliability of a “net of things” especially since for whatever reason, the American Military machine is terrified about testing its equipment under real world situations. Or sadly when it does have to test it… it fails (perhaps why they don’t want to test anything under realistic conditions in the first place). Here is another gem from War is Boring, entitled, “High-Tech Defense Gun Misses as Navy Accidentally Blasts Own Ship”…

    “The detail is that a Phalanx point-defense gun aboard Chancellorsville tried to shoot down the apparently malfunctioning BQM-74 target drone—and missed. The 270-pound drone, built by Northrop Grumman, is essentially an anti-ship cruise missile without a warhead. If the Navy can’t shoot down a BQM-74, it could be equally likely to miss a real cruise missile with a live warhead during some future shooting war with, say, China.”

    Its also worth pointing out that the CG-47 is so flimsy and complex and our Naval Support Infrastructure so… I have no idea.. bad?... a sub-sonic drone with no explosives and no electronic jamming support (as one would expect in a shooting war) got through the missile defense systems, punched a tiny 3’x3’ hole in the side, took out the computer center, cost at least $30million AND… will take 6-months to repair. That’s pathetic. One remembers once upon a time when the USS Yorktown, after being hit my bombs and torpedoes with MASSIVE holes punched in it, limped across the entire Pacific, was repaired in three days and sent to one of the most important battles of World War II. But again, I digress… (Though maybe a future post about the necessity of armor vs. defense systems on naval ships is in order!)

    But I think the military is starting to realize that net-warfare is something of a question mark. Indeed, most weapons coming out now have quietly added non-GPS internal navigation systems, tacitly saying we can’t rely on GPS. So I am in agreement with you, in a shooting war with “not China” you’ll probably have isolated radars and shooters all over the place acting as DF-21 sponges unable to talk to each other, either through jamming or the failures build into the untested system. (At times like this I’m load I’m an Army officer! Mud, rifle, bayonet. You can't hack an infantryman)

    B Smitty, you are absolutely right. As the design stands right now, I was wrong to put the Flight III in the same category with the Ford and Zummwalt. It seems you just can’t cram everything you want on a 510’, 9,500t hull. But as Anyn stated… its not like logic has anything to do with this.

    Though the fact that many wargames show China stalemating or beating the US in a war in 2020 and beyond should scare someone in the Pentagon... right? Right? Bueller? Bueller?

    1. Robert, if you haven't read it, you might be interested in this post, Armor For Dummies.

    2. Robert, you're correct that the military is begining to acknowledge that GPS may be compromised in war and they're begining to address it. On the other hand, the military is going full speed ahead with networks. The JSF is envisioned as being a mobile network and the planes are, in fact, described as nodes. The LCS is still described as an enabler of a vast network that will, in some magical way, act as a force multiplier. Our UAVs, of whatever flavor, are envisioned as nodes. The Navy is betting heavily on CEC. We continue to pursue networked munitions. I can go on and on with examples but you get the idea.

      We've conceded that we won't have sufficient numbers of "things" so we've bet that we'll have superior performance from fewer "things" via networks and computers. Non-nuclear EMP, anyone?

      Note that I'm not against networks. I'm just against betting everything on unrealistically designed and tested networks. Maybe I need to do a network post?

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  6. I was all for using the DDG-51 ftIII design early on. Then...well the navy brass happened. They once again decided to throw on every damn thing they could think of.

    Scrap the Idea. Its time for a new Design. It would be nice if the same general Hull could be used for a NGFS ship.

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    2. Adding AMDR is enough of a change it cause a great deal of problems. The additional power and cooling requirements, plus the additional top weight will more than maxi out the hull. And given that the AMDR will be reduce in size and power to even allow this, their is a large possibility that the necessary preforms levels can not be reached.

  7. I’d love to see folks really scared of China, since real fear seems to bring folks together. There will ALWAYS and have always been services rivalries, but one remembers what a real fear of the Soviet Union was able to accomplish. The entire military was based around that threat, from REFORGER, to ABLE ARCHER 83 (which almost killed us all), to Air-Land Battle… etc. Everyone played to the same sheet of music (as much as the services can). But it seems the fear of budgets cuts, trumps the threat of China. Maybe so, China and the Soviet Union were/are very different.

    But no matter… CNO, I found the answer to all your posts regarding how much armor a ship should have, LCS replacement, DDG-51 vs. CG-47, Zummwalt…

    Behold what 90,000+ tons of armor, 150+VLS cells, 20+ Harpoon launchers, Osprey's, SEALs and 16” guns looks like…
    I just won all the blogs.

    Happy Friday!

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  9. CNO,

    (In correction to my earlier deleted post):

    I concur with your beliefs about the CGs. Hopefully they won't be fully decommissioned and then scrapped. I see two "replacements" for the cruisers as opposed to the DDG-51 Flight IIIs.
    One would be a full up warship that actually meets the name of "cruiser". There is already a base-line design for that thankfully, and it's called the Cruiser Guided Missile Base Line (CGBL). It is a modern, all steel surface combatant with the armament and sensor load of a CG-52 built to greater than DDG-51 survivability and about 600' long. That design can be easily altered in the detailed design to accommodate 2 Mk71 8-inch guns instead of 2 Mk45 5-inch guns and likely more than just 128 tubes. As a multi mission "cruiser", more than 128 tubes to hold more than a hand full of each missile type would be most desirable for AAW. Guns firing projectiles heavy enough to destroy other warships and perform point destruction of land targets would be optimal for a ship larger than a frigate and a ship with ASuW and Strike as missions. For instance, the DD-963 and DDG-51 plans for installation of the Mk71 have shown, a ship like the CGBL would be able to embark well over 850 rounds of 8” ammunition in 2 mounts (575 min. forward and 279 min. aft).
    The second ship could be a strictly AAW cruiser like you touched on. However, instead of being an FFG sized hull, I think to really accommodate everything needed to be a good Aegis AAW cruiser, you could back down as small as a Leahy-class CG (533' length and 55' beam) and have the 128 VLS. The other equipment and sensors can be for self defense only, such as SQS-56 sonar (or an equivalent), two 76mm super rapid fire guns, and at least 1 RAM and 1 CIWS on each side of the ship. I still lean heavily toward a single helo hangar, but per space needed for the VLS, a hangar is chop-able. As it turns out, most combatants only deploy with a single helo anyway.
    I hope that illustrates a good range of options!

  10. This is really a complicated matter. We can say that we could just simply install a highly-sophisticated radar on Aegis, if this is what it only lacks. But the main argument here is the blueprint of the new craft, which is still highly confidential. Though the Aegis’ power is already proven, its characteristics and weaknesses are already known. Therefore, if there is no replacement, it will only look like going to battle exposed.

    Brent Vandenbroek


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