Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ford - Combat Ready or Business Ready?

An article in the current issue of Proceedings (1) points out, as a notable benefit, that the Ford’s dual-band radar allows considerable reduction in topside equipment,

“Further reductions in topside equipment were envisioned by leveraging the dual-band radar from the … DD-1000 destroyer program, a move that could replace six radars – SPS-48, SPS-49, SPS-67, SPN-43, SPQ-9B, TAS Mk23 – and four NATO Sea Sparrow Target Illuminators.”

What the authors fail to point out is that the consolidation puts 10 separate functions into a single point of failure.  If the dual-band radar is rendered inoperative due to battle damage (or simple electrical/mechanical failure) the ship loses ten functions.  The older system of separate radars may have caused topside clutter (I’m not sure why that’s inherently bad) but they also offered a degree of redundancy in that they represented multiple points of failure – a much more battle worthy system. 

The Ford’s radar may represent a more desirable system from a peacetime acquisition and ease of construction (hence, cost) point of view but does it represent a better combat arrangement?  Only a very detailed analysis from someone with intimate knowledge of the various systems could answer that.  The point is that the Navy almost surely made the decision based on accounting concerns rather than combat needs.  We’ve discussed this before – the Navy has to recognize that combat is generally not compatible with accounting and business practices.  Many combat issues will not make good accounting and business sense (until, of course, they save a ship in combat!) especially when considered from a peacetime perspective.  The Navy must drive its designs from a combat imperative.  If that means higher costs, and it will, that’s simply the price of being combat ready.  There are plenty of areas for productive cost cutting (have I ever mentioned reducing the glut of Admirals and their staffs?) but combat readiness is not one.

On a related note, the authors point out that the Ford will have fewer aircraft elevators.  Again, a construction cost saver, undoubtedly, but is it a combat and battle damage advantage?  Undoubtedly not.  When the ship takes damage and begins losing capability more elevators will be desirable, not less – that’s called redundancy.

So, is the Ford’s radar system more combat ready than the older arrangement?  I don’t know but this type of decision must be driven by combat concerns not business.

(1) US Naval Institute Proceedings, “Christened by Champagne, Challenged by Cost”, Capt. J. Talbot Manvel Jr. (USN, ret.) and David Perin, May 2014, p. 42


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  2. No, I think you are overboard here. You say that the old multiple radars offer a degree of redundancy but they were each designed to specializes
    in detecting objects in different environments such as surface boats or aircraft at long distances etc. While they technically would have crossover points, I severely doubt the software is on the ship to do it and most of the hardware connects at central points so if one radar is damaged it is likely the all are. Which is why gun systems like phalanx exist and are entirely separate systems.

    Another point is if the main radar is damaged its highly likely the ship is already sinking since the radar is not a primary target. The bridge where the control systems are and the engines are more valuable to hit.

    Btw what do you mean by combat readiness? As people define it as many different things.

    In my opinion for carriers is that if they get hit at all they can no longer fully operate and need to head back to port. Since any missile strike will undoubtedly cause a fire or leave the risk of fire being too large due to the stores that a carrier carries. The redundancy a carrier needs is mainly in the fire protection and other systems that keep it afloat not in combat readiness (Whatever you define that as). However I believe its different for destroyers, cruisers and frigates who primarily duty is to protect the carriers and other vessels with light armament.

    btw you can't edit comments??

    1. Unfortunately, no, there does not appear to be a comment editing function.

      Multiple radars absolutely offer a degree of redundancy in that the loss of one only costs that single function. Contrast that with a single radar. If the radar is lost, you lose every function.

      Redundancy, technically, refers to duplication of functions whereas I'm using the term losely, here, to refer to the group of functions rather than duplicate functions. If you'd like to substitute a better word, feel free.

      If the main radar is damaged, the carrier is likely sinking?? A simple anti-radar missile would damage the radar but cause no structural integrity damage whatsoever. You might also consider the cases of the Forrestal and Enterprise conflagrations. Carriers are the toughest ships there are and are extremely difficult to sink.

    2. Sorry, the carrier sinking was a very bad way of me saying its not a priority compared to other parts of the ship. However I stand by my last point that they will have to immediately leave for a port after damage is controlled or limited, as happened in both of the cases you mentioned. Any missile that is fired at a carrier or any warship will not be anti-radiation first, anti-radiation is primarily for land operations.

      In your post however you are comparing legacy radars to the Fords new dual band radar. But lets say if you are going to duplicate the radars on Ford you need to duplicate many other components such as the tower that holds the radar, control systems,the connections to the weapons systems and communications to other ships or aircraft. All of these components will have to separate from the other radar in order from one radar failure not to effect the other. This comes at no small increase in expense for a small increase in potential readiness in the event of damage, which is unlikely and it would be better to spend money on preventing the radar being damaged first place.

    3. yellowman, you noted that the point of the post was not which type of radar setup was superior (in fact, I offered no definitive opinion!) but that decisions should be made based on combat effectiveness not business considerations? To repeat the post, warship design decisions will often run counter to cost efficiency. To you, personally, want to go into combat with the most effective weapon system or the most cost efficient one?

    4. I agree with Com. Look at the Forrestal fire, the fire aboard the Enterprise. I'd even go back to 1945 when the Franklin was hit. Look at that battle damage. The ship listed heavily but did not sink. Those ships were built to withstand heavy battle damage and keep operating.

      Even after the Enterprise was consumed in that terrible fire on January 14, 1969 ( a close friend of mine was a deck handler on board when that happened. He witnessed the rockets and planes exploding ) the ship did not resume flight operations but instead went to Pearl Harbor to repair damage to the armored flight deck. On March 1st she put back to sea to continue with her WestPac deployment.

      For an aircraft carrier to sink, the ship would have to be hit by several cruise missiles, the lower the better. Once an enemy did that the ship probably would sink.

      But we can sit here all day and comment on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a sensor suite the Ford class has. The bottom line is this:

      How many times in the last 67 years has an American aircraft carrier been attacked? I know that the Navy is in the business of building highly capable and survivable ships, but really think about it.

      What threat exist now or in the future where a naval war will be expected? Yes the Pentagon planners are always looking at situations like future naval battles but until one actually occurs, why are we even having this debate? And that is what these forums are all about, I know. It is fun to sit here and write about different scenarios and possible future battles and future warships. But I sit here and think what if nothing ever happens?

      The Chinese and the Russians are not stupid. They know what war is like and I think they will do their best at trying to avoid any type of situation where they have to confront the United States Navy on the open seas. They have to know that we have the most powerful navy on the planet.

      Now that is not to say that saber rattling is not occurring now. Russia in the Ukraine, and China off Vietnam. And then there is North Korea and Iran. But we have assets in all regions to maintain some semblance of power projection. Plus we have allies in all regions who are more powerful than we give them credit for being.

      I think based on the comments here, and what I have read elsewhere that the radar suite on the Ford and probably the Zumwalt class will be just fine if one or more of those panels were put out of commission by one or more hits. The other thing to consider is that the new design of the Ford class was to simplify the deck arrangement and to provide additional deck space for planes. That is why the island is so much smaller, yet taller than the previous Nimitz class. This makes having dual band radars much more logical. The Navy planners must have been looking back at CVAN-65.

    5. rey, you've asked and answered your own question. You ask, "What threat exist now or in the future where a naval war will be expected?". The answer is China, Iran, N.Korea, and perhaps Russia.

      You then make the point that no one will start a war with us, "The Chinese and the Russians are not stupid. They know what war is like and I think they will do their best at trying to avoid any type of situation where they have to confront the United States Navy on the open seas. They have to know that we have the most powerful navy on the planet." This answered your own question but not in the way you meant. Your statement is true, to an extent (I'll come back to that qualifier momentarily) but the reason it is true is because we have powerful military assets. If we stopped building carriers or built less capable ones (I'm not exactly sure what you're proposing) the deterrent effect would diminish and war would become more likely.

      Now, to the qualifier ... You state that other countries aren't stupid but the historical reality is that they too often are. Hitler had to have known that Germany couldn't match the forces of the allies and yet he initiated a war anyway. Sadaam Hussein had to know that he couldn't match the US and yet he started a war anyway. And so on ... The problem with your statement is that you're assigning a degree of rationality to other countries that doesn't hold true. You probably do so because, like most reasonable people, you assume that others are reasonable, too. Unfortunately, the countries that we would likely go to war with are not run by reasonable people. They're run by people who are, by our standards, irrational or insane. China, for example, will absolutely initiate a war the moment they believe they have a significant military advantage. The fact that they might lose millions of their own citizens is of no concern to the ruling party. They can always make more people.

      China is clearly gearing up for a heavy duty war with someone. If not the US, then who?

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  4. It can be wonderful if we can build warships with several layers of redundancy and lots of specialized systems. But the awful truth is that the defense budget is shrinking. Liked or not sometimes design comprimeses have to be done. I am going to make an analogy. Years ago we saw in an office a fax, a printer, a scanner and a copy machine. Now we see single machine networked that replaced the four old machines despite the fact that if it break we lose four functions. Because it save not just money, it save space, electricity, it require a single cartridge of ink, it use the same stock of paper, it simplify logistics. It is just more efficient.

    1. mareo2, you totally missed the point of the post! Re-read the title and the last sentence of the post.

  5. Prickly question this one.
    AESA are designed to do a lot at once. Or more accurately their design allows them to do a lot at once.
    Not just radar but signals intercept and communications, and targeted jamming if the F35 AESA is to be believed.
    That is a lot in one place.
    However each array is actually literally 1000’s of tiny “radars” all pinging and listening away cleverly. So you might argue the ultimate redundancy.
    Truth is NOT though isn’t it, a significant hit on an array and the whole lot will go down, no proof of this but I think we know it, don’t we !?
    BUT.. many AESA radar arrays are now nearing 180 degree coverage, defiantly 120 + in many cases.
    Most USN ships seem to find 4 arrays quite enough to permanently cove 360. ( with I suspect an amount of overlap )
    So are 6 enough to allow redundancy if carefully placed? Is that the way we are going now?
    I’m trying to look at the tower and do the maths and I think it does pan out.
    At 120 degrees each, you have 2 arrays on each side of your triangle, a smaller one at the top and a bigger one lower down. Do they share all functions, who knows, probably not, but I think you have some redundancy there, even assuming a major hit, yes.


    1. Beno, remember that when it comes to points of failure, it's not just about the arrays themselves. The arrays are fed by power lines which consititute points of failure. If all the arrays are ultimately fed by a single line then every array and every function the arrays perform could be eliminated by damage to that single power line. One would hope the Navy would use multiple power lines but the Navy has made a lot of very questionable ship design decisions lately (no corrosion control on the LCS, for example!). Or, along those same lines, if all the arrays feed their data to a single server/processor and that were lost, every function would be lost even though the arrays are undamaged. Even something as simple as a display/operator's console. If all the functions are routed through one console and it is lost ... I can keep going with cooling and whatever other utilities and functions are needed to operate the overall radar system. The point is that points of failure are often the less obvious but equally critical components. Having multiple functions routed through one, or a few, points creates combat vulnerabilities.

      Whether the advantages of a single radar system outweigh the vulnerabilities is a question that needs to be decided on a combat basis not on a business/cost basis. That's the point of the post.

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    3. "By all accounts, DBR should be light-years ahead of the radars it replaces."

      By all accounts, the LCS should have been the answer to all the Navy's problems. By all accounts the JSF should have been in squadron service a decade ago and be terrorizing air forces around the world with magic, 360 degree, sensor fuzed, total awareness, and at a very affordable price. By all accounts, the Hornet's AESA radar should be performing flawlessly. By all accounts, the LPD-17 class should not have had staggering construction problems. I'll stop at this point cause you get the idea. Sales brochures are competely fictional.

      You'll note that I took no position on the question of one radar versus several and, in fact, stated that I don't know which is more combat worthy. None of us have the requisite knowledge to have a valid opinion.

      Back to the main point, do you think, in light of all the other decisions that the Navy has made that clearly don't benefit combat worthiness, that the Navy has made this decision based strictly on combat merits? That's the point of the post.


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