Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hi-Lo, War-Peace

Discussions of the LCS, missile boats, green water combatants, and even frigates ultimately lead to a discussion of the roles these vessels ought to play within the Navy.  Inevitably, the roles resolve into one of two broad categories:  high end combat or peacetime presence.  The discussion is further complicated by the fact that many of the requirements for either category are not needed for the other and only increase construction and operating costs for no gain in performance.

For example, a notional smaller combatant, let’s say a beefed up LCS or a true frigate would have sophisticated sensors, combat systems, VLS, etc. – none of which are necessary for peacetime presence tasks.  They simply add cost to a vessel that is only required to show the flag, cross-train with foreign small navies, perform boardings and inspections, dissuade pirates, host dignitaries, and so forth.  They add no useful functionality for the peacetime tasks.

On the other hand, a vessel designed for peacetime tasks would have a basic sensor suite, 25 mm – 76 mm weapons, a basic RAM or CIWS self defense fit, RHIBs, and perhaps a small UAV.  While quite adequate for peacetime activities such a vessel would be only marginally useful (as in not useful) in a high end combat scenario.

Of course, we can build ships that are capable of fulfilling the roles in both categories.  A Burke is expected to be our main surface combat vessel of the future and is certainly capable of carrying out any peacetime presence task.  The problem is that the Burkes are very expensive and we can’t afford to build them in the quantity required to meet all the peacetime missions.

In the past, we tried to span the two categories by building a Hi-Lo mix of ships.  That effort gave us the Perry FFG’s.  While very useful ships and moderately affordable, the ships were oversized and over spec’ed for peacetime tasks and barely adequate for combat (under the right circumstances).  In other words, the Perry’s were a less than optimal fit for either category.  Thus, the Hi-Lo mix program, while not a failure by any means, was not a complete success, either.

I think the Hi-Lo mix concept was in the neighborhood of correct but missed the mark by trying to straddle the line between the two categories.  The concept compromised the needs of both categories while increasing costs.  What’s needed is not a Hi-Lo mix but, rather, a War-Peace mix. 

Instead of trying to straddle the line between War and Peace, we need to build a mix of ships that are optimized for one or the other category.  Let’s build peacetime vessels with the aforementioned minimal equipment fits required to carry out the peacetime presence tasks.  Let’s build combat vessels that are intended to fight.  When war comes, the Peace vessels would step out of the way.  When War comes we’ll let the optimized combat vessels do their job.  During peace, which is most of the time, the combat vessels, no longer needed for peacetime tasks since we’d have a fleet of peacetime vessels, could largely revert to “garrison” status and focus on maintenance and combat training.  This would markedly extend the life spans of these ships and produce a fleet with a greater degree of readiness.

Of course, the main characteristic of the Peace side of the mix is numbers.  Numbers, in turn, implies affordability.  This should be readily achievable since the vessels won’t need high end combat systems and would have no need to be built to any significant survivability standard.  They would be not much more than civilian vessels with a bit more sensing and a rudimentary self-defense capability. 

Further, since the ships would not need to be built for any function beyond the intended peacetime tasks, they should be able to be significantly smaller.  A Cyclone patrol vessel, for example, could handle the vast majority of peacetime tasks and a handful of larger, Coast Guard-ish vessels could handle the slightly more demanding tasks.  Regardless, the average vessel size ought to be quite small compared to frigates or corvettes.

In addition, the crews could be downsized a bit since, by definition, there would be no need for damage control or significant battle station manning.

Now, here’s an interesting thought.  If we had a peacetime fleet and a combat fleet we might be able to utilize the peacetime fleet crews in the combat vessels when war comes since the peacetime vessels would be set aside, anyway.  Of course, we’d have to rotate the peacetime crews through the combat fleet during peacetime but, given that the combat fleet would be fully focused on training, there would be plenty of opportunities.  Thus, we might be able to operate two fleets with only one fleet worth of manning.  Of course, I don’t mean that literally.  The combat fleet, even in a “garrisoned” status, would require additional crews.  Further, some combat functions can’t just be occasionally trained for – some, such as ASW, require constant, intense training to acquire and maintain proficiency.  Still, the concept of shared manning has validity to some extent, probably significantly so.

ComNavOps has expressed dissatisfaction with the NNFM force structure due to its emphasis on green water combatants that are neither combat worthy nor peacetime efficient.  This alternative, then, offers the possibility of merging the two concepts into a single, affordable force structure which formally recognizes the inherently contradictory roles, peace and war, that the Navy is tasked with.  As I so often say, it’s worth some consideration given that the path the Navy is currently on is unsustainable.


  1. Well, it seems the french navy kind'a did something similar 25 years early with the
    Floréal-class .éal_class_frigate

    Seems like an easy thing, built some vessel on commercial standart, put a gun on it, but be sure to wire that thing so that you can add missile launchers with minimal mods if the need arises.

    1. Storm, I'm not familiar with that class. Were they built as non-combat patrol vessels, which would fit with this idea, or were they built as an attempt at a cheap combat vessel which does not fit with this?

    2. The main mission is patrol and survaillance ( id say the two exocettes are there for ' just in case' ). That explains it good:
      The primary missions of the frigates include humanitarian assistance, protection of exclusive economic zones (EEZ), coastal patrol, survey navigation, and diplomatic and law-enforcement operations. In addition to the military missions, the frigates also monitor fishing activities in the French waters.

    3. "Regardless, the average vessel size ought to be quite small compared to frigates or corvettes."
      Now this made me wonder, you are suggesting small vessels less than 1000 tons ? How many would you build 50-100 ?
      How would you support so much vessels outside the US all around the world?

    4. Storm, also remember that the crews of such a peacetime vessel would be very small. Even the LCS is crewed (though severely undercrewed) for combat, in theory. A purely peacetime vessel would be crewed more like a civilian tanker with a dozen or so crew not counting analysts or specialized crew.

  2. An excellent idea.

    One option is do what we did in Australia with our Anzac class frigates. A 3,600T ship built with minimum standard combat systems, built in a way that upgrading to a higher standard was provided for. This worked in that it enabled the navy to buy more ships than would have happened if they had to built at the higher standard when they entered service. They were lightly armed but more than capable of performing the peace time duties they were tasked with.

    This received a huge amount of criticism at the time, many called then floating targets because they lacked any kind of AAW, ASuW or ASW for many years. The bonus was the navy was able to build twice as many ships (8 instead of 4).

    Today it is regarded as a successful program by most, as now these ships have been upgraded, getting small incremental upgrades over the years, based on what the navy could afford.

    This is an excellent model for smaller navies looking to make the most of a small budget.

    Does this model also work for the large Navy like the US?

    I would argue that it could, the US navy could do something similar, with only a basic set systems built into a larger hull, but with space provided for a more advanced fit out, to keep the build cost down and unit numbers up. Remember if you do not fit your more expensive combat systems, you also do not need the people to run them, so your running costs are lower as well.

    If you build ships which are capable of being upgraded you have the option of quickly upgrading your fleet in the future should it be necessary.

    Ideally you would build a portion of your fleet at the higher standard. This proves that your basic ships can be upgraded (Lets say a ratio of 3 basic:1 advanced fit out), and because you have done the R&D, upgrading the other ships can be done relatively quickly.

    The only issue is you will run into the same arguments that the LCS has encountered where these vessels are seen as useless in a war, because they are perceived as not heavily armed.


    You would then allocate your forces based on the threat level.

  3. Hmmmmm, I can’t really agree here too much. You’re working under the assumption of infinite resource.
    Do you think that designing and building more classes isn’t going to detract from the numbers of hi end combatants?
    Do you not think that training and time at sea for the hi end ships is going to take a loss?
    How are you going to crew hi end ships when they are all off on peacekeeping missions ?
    Regardless of the massive overkill of using your high end vessels to battle drug runners and Somali Pirates, it is at least some good real world training, And the idea you can do that with the crews of several cyclone type vessels then come war time just transfer them to a Burke and expect the whole thing to pan out for you just isn’t going to fly ? by definition these are very different vessels and very different jobs.
    It’s a nice idea, I grant you, and I think we would all like the budget and manpower to be able to do this.
    In some idealised wonderful world.
    But none of us has infinite cash, time or manpower, and as I think you have said before the primary goal of a Navy is untimely, warfare. Let’s try to remember that and concentrate on it.
    A hi end ships CAN DO a low end roll. The reverse is not true.

    1. Beno,

      It depends on how your go about it.

      If start with a hi end design and remove systems to make it cheaper, you can get your cheaper ship, built in numbers. That ship is then easy to upgrade. There is many of examples of this being done, when a special need is identified.

      Alternatively if you build a fleet of ocean going patrol boats, you get even more ships, like you say you get less flexibility. That said most navies operate an ocean going patrol vessel of some kind.

      To me this is simply a question of balance.

      If this protects your Hi End assets than fantastic. That is to me the whole point of the exercise.


    2. Ben, consider the economics of this concept. We're losing high end ships at a net rate of around five per year under our current scheme. The cost of a single LPD-17 is a couple billion dollars. If we sacrificed one LPD (or a future Burke or whatever), how many small patrol ships could we fund with that? As a point of reference, the Cyclones cost around $20M each and they were built to military standards. I'm proposing essentially civilian craft for patrol duties. Such a vessel ought to cost $20M - $50M. Heck, a civilian tanker only costs around $100M. A single LPD/Burke could fund 30 or so patrol vessels, probably more.

      As I stated in the post, the high end ships would enter a garrison-like state. They would put to sea as needed for training purposes but would not perform the current patrol/presence missions. They can train as often as needed, uninterrupted by piracy patrols or whatever other garbage tasks need doing.

      I'm not proposing that the high end ships sit idled while the crews are disbursed on peacetime ships. The high end ships will have dedicated crews. I only suggested the possibility that we could incorporate the crews of the peacetime ships to help man the high end ships when combat comes and I pointed out the need for the peacetime crews to rotate through the high end training. Obviously, not all high end jobs can be filled by a part-time, peacetime sailor. Some highly technical jobs will simply have to be filled by full time high end sailors. The peacetime crews would be a supplement for the high end crews, not a replacement. Consider the number of high end jobs that require no particular, excessive training (galley, ship's services, navigation, basic fire control, etc.).

      Similar to the NNFM, this concept would require a very small outlay of money compared to the total Navy budget (it would almost be free on a relative basis).

      Now consider what happens if, instead of continually deploying our high end ships and wearing them out before the end of the projected service lives, we garrisoned them and sent them out only for relatively short training and then right back again? The lives of the ships could be extended by a factor of two or three which means that we would need to build far fewer high end ships!!!!! The savings from building fewer high end ships would not only pay for the peacetime vessels many times over but would allow for much more extensive maintenance (further extending the ship's lives!!!!) and training budgets.

      Think about this concept a bit more and see if it doesn't make more sense to you.

    3. Hi Mark,
      And Hello Australia. No Problem with HMAS or HMNZS ships. And the ANZAC frigate are a very nice bit of kit. I’m unfamiliar with their whole history thought. I’m just seeing the end result and they seem a potent modern naval combatant now.
      I’m very familiar with the phrase “kitted for, but not with” and this is great in peace time. But unless you have 10 sets of 8 harpoon sat on dock, how are you going to fit them come war time? Even if you can order them, and get them, you will have to pull your ships to fit them? Then there is the training aspect, is it possible to train and test fire a weapon you don’t have? It might be I don’t know?
      I’ll go for the OPV which kitted with say a Lynx\ Merlin or SeaHawk detachment can perform as ASW or ASuW \ special forces support in war time. But there is an issue of sensor range. UAV can help, but again, did you have these assets sitting around waiting for a war ? If you did, you have already spent the money you were trying to save ? If you didn’t …. Oooops.

    4. Ben, excellent point. Further, if you build a high end vessel that is "for but not with" it will cost what a high end vessel would. You have to pay for military standards meaning compartmentation, damage control equipment, redundancy, armor, and everything else that a high end ship would typically have. Simply refraining from installing some of the equipment isn't going to lower the cost to where it needs to be. The peacetime vessels I'm proposing are true civilian construction with none of the military requirements.

    5. ConNavOps/Beno,

      If your goal is building large numbers at low cost Ocean going patrol ships for basically policing duties, plenty of navies do this for between $35M to $60M.

      If Australia can surely anybody can.

      Consider that the US navy would have an advantage in economies of scale, you should do better than that.

      From the experience in Australia the trick appears to be to keep your ships small enough that you do not have to build then in a traditional large ship yard that is used building nothing but large high end Navy ships. Using smaller yards means more competition.

      The US would have to do the same to be successful.

      ComNavOps would your fleet have OPV's and Burkes with nothing in between or would you have a Mid range option as well? Would have a modern FFG in your mix for example?


    6. Mark, there is no mid-range option in this concept. A vessel is either optimized for peace or war - that's the point of the post. However, to answer what I think you're really asking, there is no reason the war fleet couldn't build frigates/corvettes/missile boats or whatever we felt could contribute to high end combat. If a small missile boat can contribute to high end combat then let's build one. If it can't, then let's not build it.

    7. Thanks ComNavOps for clarifying that point, and get where you are coming from.



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    1. B.Smitty, read my reply to Ben, above.

      Training with partners is a perfectly valid use of a high end ship. Consider, though, the actual usefulness of training with other countries. How many of the countries that we train with can actually contribute anything worthwhile in a high end combat scenario? How many of the RIMPAC participants have actual, useful combat power? Our combat capable partners are limited to the British and Japanese (maybe the Australians if they ever get their act together and get capable ships to sea). Frankly, we're wasting our time training with anyone else.

      There's nothing wrong with having a few high end ships patrolling at a hot spot. Nothing about that invalidates the concept.

      In this concept, there is absolutely no reason to try to add ASMs to peacetime vessels. By definition they won't engage in combat. Adding ASMs means they now need additional crew, a better sensor suite, a more advanced combat control suite, etc. Cost skyrockets. These ships are expendable, peacetime, trip-wires. Nothing more.

      The Hi-Lo offers nothing because it attempts to straddle the line and serves neither end well (the Perrys).

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    3. B.Smitty, I'll try to state this as clearly as I can. The high end vessels can do whatever a high end vessel is needed for. If we need to park a carrier group off someone's coast because they're misbehaving then that's fine. What we wouldn't do in this concept is send high end ships on aimless patrols, or chase pirates, or show the flag, or humanitarian missions, or whatever other worthless missions we now do.

      You're contradicting yourself. On the one hand, you say that a few high end combat vessels doesn't show significant deterrent combat power but on the other hand you state that a low end vessel with a couple ASMs has to be accounted for by the enemy and contributes to deterrence. Which is it?

      You mention that the money comes out of the same pot. Read my other comments. I state where the money will come from and how this concept would put us well ahead of the budget game.

      You say numbers matter and rightly so. Again, refer to my other comments where I describe how we'll wind up with more high end vessels under this concept while spending less!

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    5. B.Smitty, you say we still need to keep a large number of high end ships forward deployed? Where? At any given moment, there are very few hot spots that require that sort of presence. Today, there aren't any unless we opt to ramp up our engagement with China (which I would be in favor of). Even so, for sake of discussion, let's say we keep 20 high end ships forward deployed somewhere, for some reason. That still leaves the remaining 200 or so in "garrison" (meaning intense maintenance and training as I discussed).

      You want the math? Here's a quick and dirty. We have a $16B shipbuilding budget. At an average of $2B per ship that's 8 new ships per year. Let's subtract one to finance the peacetime ships at $1B per year. That leaves 7 new high end ships per year. Since they'll be in garrison/maintenance for most of their lives, they'll last longer. Let's say 50 years versus the 30 years we currently get. That gives us a high end fleet size of (50 x 7 = 350) 350 ships. Way, way beyond what we have now and light years beyond where we're headed. So, this concept gives us a hugely bigger high end fleet and a $1B per year budget for the peacetime side of things. Now do you see the math? As I said, this is quick and dirty. I haven't delved into the details of support vessels and aux and all the other necessary things. On the other hand, do we need as many support/aux ships if the bulk of our force is garrisoned? I don't know. It's just a concept for consideration given the failing path we're currently on. NNFM was a step in the right direction but still flawed for the reasons I've described. This takes the concept to its logical conclusion.

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    7. B.Smitty, you're possibly being somewhat selective in your assessment of our ability to keep and upgrade ships for extended lifetimes and the associated costs. There is no reason we can't greatly extend ship lives with a combination of reduced usage (garrison), improved maintenance, and wise upgrades. While upgrades are not cheap they are far less expensive than a new ship. Consider the Australian's upgrade of the Perrys. It cost $100M or so but significantly upgraded their capability. To address your worst case upgrade scenario of the Adams and steam plants, if we wanted to do so we could remove the plants and install state of the art engine systems. It would be expensive but far cheaper than a brand new ship.

      If you think 50 years is too much for major combatants then you're being arbitrary with no evidence to support it. We have routinely seen our ships exceed their lifetimes by significant margins though not always in USN service. Consider WWII LSTs and various other ship types that served for many decades with various countries and some are still serving! Perry's will serve for many more years in the navies of other countries. In this proposal, the high end ships would spend significant amounts of time in garrison thereby extending their lives by large amounts. Just as with the B-52, we can re-wing, re-fuselage, re-whatever our ships if we choose. There is nothing, including hull plating that can't be replaced.

      The upgrade costs would be paid for by the greatly reduced number of new constructions required.

      The last SCN I recall was $15.7B which I rounded to $16B. The SSBN replacement is a challenge, no doubt.

  5. Lets widen this discussion a little bit.
    Can anyone tell me when the US last designed a sucsessful naval export that is cheap and reliable for wide export. The other branches have systems that have sold more than good.
    Aircraft: UH-1, A-4,, F-5 and F-16 for example, army M-113 and M-60 tanks ,also many artillery systems. Not to mention the Sidewinder missile .
    So why can't the US design a frigate that is cheap enough to build in large quantites for US navy and many export customers?

    On a different note, i just checked the price in wikipedia of the national security cutter for the USCG, if it is to be believed..i mean WTF close to 500mil $ for a large frigate without missiles.

    How hard can it be for the US to design a 3500~ ton vessel on commercial standarts with growth potential and export friendly.
    By the way what happened with the FF-21 project.

    1. And a question out of curiousity.
      How much would a 3500~ton vessel build on commerical safety standarts in the US cost.
      Armamnent lets say a 100 or 114 mm cannon a CIWS and manned 20mm guns as standart armament.
      And wired for but not fitted with 2x4 missile boxes ( not cells) comparable in size with the harpoon or tomahawk launchers.
      Powered by the most reliable and cheap naval engines avalible today .
      Same goes for electronics.
      Could you squeeze it within 100-150 mil $ ?

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    3. B.Smitty is correct in pointing out that we have to define what we want the peacetime ships to do. In my concept, adding VLS (of whatever flavor) is not what the peacetime ships need to do their job. I described what their job is and what they need. Adding anything extra is simply adding unnecessary cost.

      You may have a different vision and, if so, that's fine.

  6. Take a look at the book "The Pentagon Paradox". Although about the development of the F-18 it has an excellent section up front that shows the US Navy WWII experience with CV and CVLs.

    In short at the start of the war, we build CVs. By the end of the war we had 5 times more CVLs than CVs (finihsed at ~10 if I remember right). Even though we had ramped up production, we found that having more CVLs was better.

    So more smaller, inexpensive carriers was the lesson the US Navy learned.

    1. I haven't read that book, but escort carriers (CVE) and fleet carriers (CV) were used in very different roles during WWII. CVEs did convoy escort, ASW, aircraft ferry, assault support, and were generally not used in fleet engagements.

    2. A bit off topic, here, but that's OK. A key point about CVEs (or CVLs) is that they were able to operate the full range of front line aircraft. Many (most? all?) operated Wildcats instead of Hellcats due to availability but they were capable (someone correct me if that's not right). They did operate Avengers.

      By comparison, today's CVE (such as the America, if one considers that a CVE) would be unable to operate our front line aircraft. The best they could do would be the F-35B which, at best, is a secondary CAS type aircraft rather than a front line carrier aircraft. Further, a modern CVE would be unable to operate Hawkeyes, large UAVs, or Growlers.

      I'm not completely sure what point you were making about CVEs but keep this point in mind.

    3. My point is that the last time the US Navy fought they went to a "Hi-Lo" Mix of carriers with many more of the CVLs (in the Pacific) not the CVEs (in the Atlantic).

      Applying history it shows that in combat more of less expensive and only slightly less capable win out in the warfighter's hearts and minds. In Peacetime we tend to drift to ships that can do everything and are too expensive to mass produce or risk in combat.

      If you look at the load out of aircraft on the CVs they tended to be mostly fighters and the CVLs tended to strike aircraft missions.

      Thos who do not study history are doomed to listne to its rhyme!

    4. Your point regarding a “Hi-Lo” mix is apt, however it is important to note that during the previous “cash-strapped” intewar period of the ‘20s and ‘30s, the US Navy chose to develop a capable high end fleet of BBs, CV, CC, submarines and screening vessels, and surge built most of the low-end vessels (CVEs, PTs, Liberty Ships) after the war began. Allied victory would have been very difficult without the hi-lo combination.

      For Aviation, the high end consisted of the 8 pre-war fleet carriers, and an additional 17 Essex Class carriers (+7 completed after VJ Day). The 9 Independence Class CVLs were built on cruiser hulls on the verge of and immediately following Pearl Harbor. These ships were not well regarded:

      “These were limited-capability ships, whose principal virtue was near-term availability. Their small size made for seakeeping problems and a relatively high aircraft accident rate. Protection was modest and many munitions had to be stowed at the hangar level, a factor that contributed greatly to the loss of Princeton in October 1944.” – Naval Historical Center

      CVEs were quickly and inexpensively built on commercial hulls and served in both the Atlantic and Pacific in great numbers. Their crews referred to these ships as "Combustible, Vulnerable and Expendable." These vessels served heroically, but they were very much a low end combat asset.

      The Battle off Samar is an example of a Hi vs. Low engagement. Though considered an American victory, the US traded two CVEs, two DDs, one DE, and over 1200 men, for three IJN cruisers (which had virtually no aircover). Japanese BBs and CCs literally shot completely through CVE hulls. Kurita was turned away, but only because he mistook the tenacity of TAFFY 3 for Halsey’s main battle fleet.

      The lesson I choose to learn is if you are considering fighting a high end adversary, you should bring hi end weapons, and well trained crews for the leading edge. Your low end fleet will protect you logistics tail.

      As to a proposed peacetime Navy, reference the Asiatic Fleet/Yangtze Patrol. These were appx. 26 (1920-1942) lightly built and lightly armed gunboats built for peacetime presence missions. These ships did not fare well against anything beyond bandits, insurgents, and pirates, eg. USS Panay. This fleet exisited at a time when the Philippines was a US protectorate and there were significant US interests in Mainland China.

      Why now should the US Navy or Coast Guard assume an overseas peacetime role and build a gunboat Navy to conduct missions like fisheries and resources protection in the SCS? Isn’t this the role of the Philippine, Vietnamese, and Japanese navy/maritime LE? Our responsibility is to ensure our military and economic FON, our sea control, and our ability to deny the adversary sea control and mobility.

      Trons Away

    5. TA, your example of the Asiatic/Yangtze is appropriate. The peacetime vessels would perform the patrol and presence tasks. If it came to war, they would simply leave or be destroyed.

      You also raise the same question that several people, myself included, have. What peacetime roles should we take on. That, however, is another topic. The fact is that the USN has opted to take on a bunch of peacetime tasks and is currently using (using up!) Burkes and the like. This proposal at least dedicates peacetime vessels to peacetime tasks, saves wear on our high end ships, enhances fleet numbers, enhances maintenance, and ensures better training. It's the logical conclusion to the half-correct NNFM.

    6. TA;

      Excellent points, except that it does not address the historical facts.

      First only 14 Essex Class Carriers saw action, the rest were completed after the war ended. ALl 9 of the Independence class CVLs saw action. A 1.5:1 ratio.

      Second, although the crews did not think they were as tough as the Essex ships, we have to ask ourselves why did the US Navy decide to build and operate these ships?

      I think there are 2 reasons here.

      The first is econmics and manufacturing, we could not afford or build fast enough the other 8 Essex ships.

      The second is that once war starts losses (ships and people) become reality and acceptable. In peacetime no losses are acceptable, but in war they are reality. Therefore minimizing the overall loss, i.e. ending the war in the fastest manner possible, means you have to bring the most capability on-line in the shortest amount of time. The firstest with the mostest wins.

      I realize this is brutal but war is hell as a famous general said. Also look at teh Sherman tank. Compared to the Panther and Tiger it was seriously deficient, but we could build more of them than the Germans could built tanks OR 88 shells.

      Perhaps you are right and the smaller number of high end assets are needed to blunt or hold in the first phase of a war. But consider that the longer view is being able to produce (economically and manufacturing wise) the most capability.

      We CANNOT afford, or PRODUCE USS Ford Carriers, DDG 1000, or Arliegh Burke IIIs in large numbers, so what do we do? I suggest we look at Joshua Humphreys approach (more Large Frigates vice Ships of the Line) and figure out how to design and build affordable and capable ships.

    7. TA
      We can afford to buy the ford class, Zumwalt class, and Super AB (no not AB III, but a enlarged and improved AB type), We can even afford CG(x), But we have to change the way we buy ships. We have to stop buying proceedure and paper to feed the bureaucrates and start buying ships. That way we will get results, ships in the water.

    8. Anon, you make a fascinating point about Humphrey's frigates. Of course, the key point is not just that they were smaller than the ships of the line but that they represented a new approach to shipbuilding (the type and extent of frame construction) that gave them a significant combat advantage.

      Trying to translate that point to today, simply building more small vessels with no corresponding technological advancement is just going to produce more weak vessels that offer no advantage other than pure numbers.

      As an historical footnote, remember that Humphrey's frigates never (to the best of my recollection) engaged a larger ship. Their engagements were all against other frigate sized ships. How they would have fared against a ship of the line is a fascinating question to ponder.

  7. I'm not sure of the status of the project, but the Royal Navy has been looking a smallish muli-use vessel. The Mine Countermeasures, Hydrographic and Patrol Capability (MHPC)

    During peace time it could patrol areas while finding time to conduct hydrographic surveys. During war it is used to search and clear mines under the protection of high end combt ships.

    Dave P

    1. Dave, that's an interesting example. I'm not sure, though, whether an MCM vessel could perform the routine peacetime tasks and still maintain sufficient MCM proficiency. MCM is one of those skills that is perishable and must be pretty extensively practiced. Maybe you have a better feel for that than I do?

    2. The Venator Class is supposed to be modular and utilises a lot of unmanned underwater \ surface and air components.

      I notice on their web site it comes in USCG colours ( not sure what we are saying there LOL )

      I hesitate to call it the Royal Navy’s LCS but basically I think the idea is the basic vessel is an OPV 57mm gun, 2 20mm, Sea Ceptor AAW.

      Deployable with Merlin ASW or Wildcat ASuW helicopters. If required.

      As you saw from the video the idea is UAV, UUV and USV can be easily deployed from the back and the relevant equipment and personnel will deploy in iSO containers to the ship when required.

      It’s a technology being trailed on Type 26 Frigates.

      Our current Mine counter measure vessels already use a lot of UUV ( SeaFox ) to do the sticky bit of the role. I think we are just extending this.

      The Idea of the Venators is really a saving on 1 hull does many of the roles we have today, mine hunter, mine countermeasure, hydrographic and OPV. This is currently 24 vessels and soon to rise to 27, Dependant on Scotland :S

      Don’t think this is going to make them cheap thought. I very much doubt that will be the case. And they seem much more second line warships than fisheries protection vessels.


    3. Ben, with our experience with the LCS, all I can say is good luck!

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  8. I question the entire concept.

    We dont have "peace time" soldiers who deploy over seas with smooth bore muskets and horse drawn muzzle loading cannons.
    We dont have a "peace time" air force that deploys over seas with P51s and B26s
    So why have a "peace time" navy that deploys with civillian ships and pop guns?
    There seems to be a huge disconnect there.

    If the job of the peace time Army is to train with and reassure our allies, and they arrive with the best they have to offer.
    If the job of the peace time Airforce is to train with and reassure our allies, and they arrive with the best they have to offer.

    Then why, if the job of the peace time Navy is to train with and reassure our allies, would they turn up in pleasure yachts with a pop gun on the front?

    Who would want to train with it?
    Theres not a nation in the world that cant afford a 1000t ship with a commercial radar and a 20mm cannon. If they feel the need to train with such a target, they can, just buy their own.
    Who would it reassure?
    If China comes knocking, its going to be hard pressed to get itself out the way, never mind take any active part in the conflict.
    Even a teeny power could sink it and run before anyone knew what the hell happened.

    The Fifth and Seventh Airforces have large numbers of modern aircraft, the second infantry division has large numbers of modern artillery, its infantry ride modern Strykers, which are the best choice for the terrain, probably.

    Which takes us, poorly, to whats the point?
    What do *you* (or the US / USN) want to achieve?

    Are you trying to provide an OPFOR for an Allied Navy to practice against?
    "Peace ships" dont work.
    Are you trying to provide a back bone for an Allied Navy to slot in to?
    "Peace ships" dont work

    Even for "anti piracy" and "fishing patrol" operations, they are insufficient.
    Imagine, the 18 crew USS Peaceful inspection intercepts a fishing boat, the 9man boarding party boards, and 50 suicide fighters with assault rifles and RPGs pour up from below decks, kill/capture the boarding team, rake the bridge with rocket fire and board the ship, capturing it and the rest of the crew.
    Using the ships own comms gear, they inform The Pentagon, and CNN, that unless some crazy demands are met, the remaining crew members will be weighted and thrown overboard.

    A few years ago the UK sent Astute East of Suez, everyone wanted to have a turn playing with it. As an ASW OPFOR it was the most difficult enemy anyone had ever been allowed to play with.
    It allowed our allies to identify weaknesses within their forces and (hopefully) correct them.

    1. In your example I do not see what a destroyer would do differently?

      Perhaps I am missing something? I am interested in your thoughts.

      Our ship deploys an boarding party via a small craft. In your example that boarding party is taken hostage, unless you are going blow the fishing ship out of the water with your people on it, you still have a hostage situation which you will still have to deal with.

      I like big heavily arms ships as much as the next guy, but the reality is they do not get used very often for the task they are designed for, and when we do we only deploy a small faction of the total navy to that war zone.

      ComNavOps can correct me if I am wrong,but my understanding is the whole point of the exercise is to reduce the building and operating cost of your most numerous ships so you can maintain your core fleet of Hi End combatants. The fleet balance issue becomes critical, as have enough of your fleet being HiEnd Combat ready units that you can respond to a crisis as it develops while at the same time living with a tight budgetary environment.

      It is not a perfect model, but it is better than trying build a fleet of high end ships and failing due to budget limitations.


    2. "Our ship deploys an boarding party via a small craft"
      Does the Peace Time Corvette carry a RHIB? I was under the impression it would board ship to ship?

      20t crane and internal stowage for a boarding craft, thats a lot of size, weight, and maintenance.

      A destroyer would board by boat with an armed helicopter over head.

      "you still have a hostage situation which you will still have to deal with." True, but you have a destroyer and 150 sailors in the area, rather than a captured global corvette.

      US Soldiers deployed to Korea dont spend their peace time playing police man, why should the peace time navy?

      My point is not that a high spec warship is required for peacetime duties, its that the Navy should not be doing these peace time tasks at all.

    3. TrT, you're painting a very dramatic but inaccurate picture. First, recall what I described in the post as a typical peacetime post: "basic sensor suite, 25 mm – 76 mm weapons, a basic RAM or CIWS self defense fit, RHIBs, and perhaps a small UAV". That's hardly muskets and clubs. You're describing a specific hostage situation that a carrier group would be just as susceptible to as a peacetime ship. Once it occurred, what would a carrier group be able to do about it that a peacetime ship couldn't?

      As far as training with other countries, read through the comments where I addressed that issue. Very few other countries have anything other than, essentially, peacetime vessels. In fact, that has been one of the justifications put forth by the Navy for the LCS - that it was small enough not to intimidate other countries that want to work with us! We don't actually show up for training with the best we have. We show up with a capability commensurate with the host nation's capabilities. For example, if the tiny country of Leftoutathings wants to train with the US Army, we don't show up with a division of M1 Abrams tanks, we show up with a small group of soldiers who work on basic skills with rifles. Similarly, if a country that has only a coast guard naval force wants to train with us, we don't show up with a carrier group, the best we have, we show up with a peacetime vessel.

      Does that help you re-assess your outlook on this?

  9. ""basic sensor suite, 25 mm – 76 mm weapons, a basic RAM or CIWS self defense fit, RHIBs, and perhaps a small UAV". That's hardly muskets and clubs."

    Well, two points, its not that far off from muskets and clubs, and that sounds a lot like the LCS..

    "You're describing a specific hostage situation that a carrier group would be just as susceptible to as a peacetime ship."
    Not really, the chance of a successful boarding and seizing of a destroyer is, even if we go all Tom Clancy, virtually nill. Killing the boarding team is possible, but the ship is a much harder target. If your PTGC has an RHIB, well we can discount that somewhat.

    "In fact, that has been one of the justifications put forth by the Navy for the LCS - that it was small enough not to intimidate other countries that want to work with us"
    Is that a Navy reason, or a Navy justification?
    Who are these foreign navies that are desperate to work with low end ships like the ones they own? Whats in it for the US? Whats in it for them?

    I'm not being combative, I just dont see the logic behind it?

    "We don't actually show up for training with the best we have. We show up with a capability commensurate with the host nation's capabilities. For example, if the tiny country of Leftoutathings wants to train with the US Army, we don't show up with a division of M1 Abrams tanks, we show up with a small group of soldiers who work on basic skills with rifles."
    Fair point, but.
    The US Army doesnt maintain an expensive pool of equipment to carry out such training, and generally speaking, it is front line gear. They demonstrate rifle skills with modern rifles (perhaps without sights), modern machine guns, mortars, ect. And not without reason either

    "Does that help you re-assess your outlook on this?"
    Not really.
    I kinda get your reasoning, but cant agree.

    The Global Corvette is the wrong ship for everyone.
    Low end powers could operate it, but, for what reason? A 2,000t to 3,000t Corvette with a basic all round fit would not win a shooting match against a missile boat like the Clurit, nor would its AAW suite stand up to a third gen strike aircraft.

    I dont think the USN has any need to carry out stop and search around the world, on a normal basis, certainly not enough to establish a fleet of ships to do it with. I can see a reason to train foreign powers in how to conduct these, but there has to be a serious think as to what benefits the US gets from this, to judge what funds its worth deploying, and what the best way for the trainee is.

  10. I seem to recall that the United States has this wonderful organization called the U.S. Coast Guard, which is wonderfully suited to not only do the "presence mission," but is really good at working with, and training foreign navies (Coast Guards).

    I wonder if the pentagon needs to back off and let the USCG do this mission as part of its peacetime taskings?


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    2. GAB, we do, and I would have no problem with transferring my hypothetical $1B that would go towards the peacetime vessels to the CG. It's irrelevant to me who does the mission. The only impact on my proposal would be the cross training to allow the peacetime crews to augment the high end during war and even that could probably be worked out.

    3. Gentlemen,

      The point is that the USCG is the right instrument for the "peacetime engagement mission."

      Much of the DoD involvement in these type of missions is driven by pentagon mission creep, and the inability of the executive branch to understand, let alone plan and resource national strategy.

      I have a few decades of experience in this, and my recollections of Pentagon involvement in overseas training to support counter drug, police training, counter piracy, etc. is that USN, USA, USMC simply "do not get it." That is not a swipe at DoD, it is reality that it is really tough to turn military forces into trainers of what is essentially a law enforcement mission.

      Worse, DoD involvement in these missions tends to screw up the law enforcement relationships that should have been developed by DHS, DOJ, and Diplomatic Security.

      In the end, our primary goal is to develop and support the Rule of Law - DoD's mission starts when diplomacy and rule of law *fail*.


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    5. Smitty,

      The USCG already deploys detachments to USN ships, and as part of DHS: frequently have attaches and permanent teams in embassies.

      USCG has been in Iraq pretty much since 2003 working alongside DoD *and* as part of the embassy Country Team.

      I am not USCG, but I have the greatest respect for the job they do.


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    7. Smitty: "Home porting a large number of USCG cutters abroad (perhaps more than the USCG has now) is another. "


      I am not following the "why" of this: the whole point of putting more USCG assets overseas is to get allied nations to do the policing instead of the USG.

      Any strategy that is looking to send massive numbers of vessels overseas to do that which others should be doing is wasteful and unsustainable. And yes that includes deployment of DoD personnel too.

      The piracy issue ceased to a U.S. problem decades ago when shipping companies abandoned the USA and chose to sail under Panamanian and Liberian flags. This is a great example of globalization gone badly and the U.S. taxpayer getting stuck with the bill.



    8. GAB, now there's an astute and relevant question!

    9. GAB: "In the end, our primary goal is to develop and support the Rule of Law - DoD's mission starts when diplomacy and rule of law *fail*."

      Well, there's another plaque-worthy statement that ought to be prominently posted in the Pentagon!

      Great comment!

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  11. I was on active duty during the hi-lo mix days of the 1970s, and while the low end ships had significant limitations, they were the only way we could maintain sufficient numbers. I'm a huge supporter of the concept, and my previous posts have indicated.

    I'm not quite sure I'd go as far as war/peace. I think the low end ships can be built with enough capability to function effectively against third-world military forces and non-governmental forces. And I think those asymmetric engagements are the ones we are most likely to fight. We need enough high end to go against Russia and China. But that's probably not our most likely scenario.

    The biggest problem we seem to have is that we don't take anything off the shelf. We have to redesign it to meet our standards. One of my favorite examples is the we liked the Italian Lerici minehunter design so we adapted it as the Osprey class--only Lericis are 620 tons and Ospreys are 893 tons. There are a lot of designs floating around NATO navies and other allies that would make effective platforms for us if we didn't have to overdesign them. ComNavOps, your recent blog entry captured the problem precisely.

    I don't think that designing to civilian damage control standards is the proper way to cut costs. The Brits found out in the Falklands that frigates designed to civilian standards tend to go up like Roman candles with one hit. Dud missile hits put several of them on the bottom, whereas Glamorgan took an Exocet that exploded and was back in action within hours. Some of those cheaper designs would have to be upgraded to military standards in this area, and that would add cost. But they don't need 50% displacement increases.

    The other point I would make is that MCM needs to be a dedicated capability and not an add-on to something else if we are to be any good at it. It takes too much specialized skill to be something that you go into port and bolt on a module and come out ready to do it.

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    2. CDR, I'd possibly be with you on the Hi-Lo mix if we could actually build low cost Lo ships. However, when a frigate would cost over $1B and an emascualted LCS is pushing $750M, the Lo end winds up with a high end price. Hence, my call for a clean separation of war and peace. At least in my proposal, civilian standards apply only to peace ships, not war ships.

      Good comment!

    3. B.Smitty, I already did a post disproving the Level 1+ survivability myth.

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    5. To me another elephant in the room is how do we get the cost of naval construction down?

      I'm very, very skeptical that it really costs a billion dollars to make a frigate. CNO, you did a post earlier where you showed that serial production for us doesn't necessarily decrease cost. IT SHOULD. We need to find out WHY it doesn't. Maybe its the governments fault. Maybe the USN's. But Good Lord, there has to be some efficiencies that can be exploited in there.

      The fact that an LCS is still, what, $450 billion just for the bloody sea frame, when they are cranking them out to level 1+ standards seems ridiculous to me.

    6. B.Smitty, the Level 1+ myth is one of my pet peeves. The Navy has flat out lied about that. Check this post (see, LCS Survivability)

    7. Jim, you can be skeptical all you want but the numbers are out there. For example, it costs around $2B to build a Burke (remember the Navy only cites hull costs; GFE and other equipment is extra, as is post delivery fitting/refit which is required for the ship to actually enter service). An LCS cost around $750M with a module (if one existed!). A frigate would fall somewhere in between the LCS and Burke. Hence, $1B (probably more!).

      Now, you can believe that is SHOULDN'T cost that and I would agree with you. Unfortunately, it does in today's Navy/DoD.

      As fair as serial production cost savings, there is undoubtedly serial savings but they are swamped by the other things that drive up costs: concurrency refits, ever-changing requirements even on ships within a serial production run, simple inflation, guaranteed reductions in quantity, etc. Hence, the serial savings never seem to materialize in observable decreased prices. Just the opposite, in fact. The overall price almost always increases due to the other factors overwhelming any serial savings.

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  12. I guess one thing I'm missing with all this is to me, we need a 'Lo' mix of specialized vessels to do specialized tasks. Your smaller peacetime combatant is good for those jobs you mention; and frankly sounds like a smaller version of the LCS. But it seems you've cut out the role of a Frigate type ship entirely? Am I misunderstanding?

    My two biggest complaints with the LCS are cost and capability. If the LCS was cheaper, and going to be the type of 'peacetime' ship you say, it'd be fine.

    But where the LCS fails utterly is that its trying to replace the Perry's as blue water ASW ships, the Avengers as MW ships, and be that 'peacetime combatant'.

    Your ships might be cheaper, but they still leave us with billion dollar burkes doing the ASW role for the fleet.

    I do wonder if the Hi Lo mix might be done more cheaply than having a bunch of peacetime ships and a warfighting Navy.

    We've seen the OHP's can do the peace time role. I love the idea of the CG doing it as well.

    But an OHP type ship also has a real warfighting role: ASW escort. If LRASM or maybe NSM can be fired out of a canister, and you can put a decent radar on it just good enough to guide the missile, its not totally toothless in a midlevel conflict, and the space isn't a waste in doing its peacetime roles.

    Again, maybe I'm misunderstanding.

    1. Jim, yes, you are misunderstanding a couple of things. First, this proposal has no "peacetime combatant" as you put it. Peacetime ships are NOT combatants. Secondly, the high end force has whatever vessels in whatever roles are needed to fight a high end war. That would, undoubtedly, include small, dedicated MCM and ASW vessels and any other specialized ship needed for combat. That may or may not include frigates, corvettes, or even the LCS (unlikely that it would be useful in a high end combat scenario but a modified version might).

      Any combat ship is wasted in peacetime tasks. You mention an OHP as being somewhat combat capable (possibly true but not necessarily) and able to fill peacetime tasks. You miss the point. A combat ship performing peacetime tasks is being wasted. It should be performing maintenance, upgrades, intensive training, or sit in garrison to save wear and life. Performing peacetime tasks simply wears out the high value units just as we're currently doing and detracts from maintenance and training.

    2. Okay. I see I totally missed your point. Still, sometimes I wonder if our Navy should be involved in some of the things that they say are so vital. Why couldn't that be a USCG job? We'd have to actually give them money of course.

      Sometimes I wonder if the entire 'soft mission' aspect was designed for the Navy to have a purpose in a post cold war world when Kirov's, Akula's and Backfires were getting retired.

      I think this gets back to your point that we lack a coherent naval strategy.

      And to some extent, with changes in technology and the geopolitical landscape, I wonder if we are facing a situation not unlike the one Jackie Fisher faced during his tenure as first sea lord.

      Lots of new technology to deal with. What are our goals, can we do it with our existing fleet or modifications to that fleet, or do we need to start retiring and building new stuff?

      I lean more towards the former, but before any of that starts we need that strategy.

      Right now our Naval strategy seems to be 'soft missions' and 'send the CVN's and DDG's to go perform strike missions, or provide the threat of one, whenever we need it.


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