Sunday, September 28, 2014

New Frigate Design - Part 2

I’m sure you all recognized that “new” frigate design as just being a Fletcher class destroyer.  Hopefully, though, that little thought exercise also made you realize just how far we’ve moved away from real warships over the years since WWII.

Consider the sheer density of weapons that WWII warships carried.  Modern warships don’t even come close.  A simple Fletcher class destroyer puts an LCS to humiliating shame and, in many respects, even a Burke.

Consider the armor and survivability of even the lowly Fletcher compared to an LCS or Burke.

My point is not that we need to build exact duplicates of WWII Fletchers but that we need to return to serious WARship design and a study of WWII designs is a good place for the Navy to start since they seem to have forgotten what a warship is.

We tend to think the modern VLS is a wondrous thing – able to spit forth highly accurate missiles all day long.  Why, a single Burke has 96 missiles and can, therefore, shoot down around 85 enemy missiles and aircraft (we’re attempting to be fair and acknowledge that a few misses might occur).  The reality, though, is that the historical record of modern AAW systems is abysmal.  In addition, the Navy’s philosophy is shoot-shoot-look, or some such.  If you consider an average of four missiles per target, that’s only 24 targets that can be engaged (we’re ignoring quad-packs).  Given that a portion of the VLS cells would likely be filled with Tomahawks and ASROC, that probably drops the AAW target capacity to around 16.  There you have it.  A modern Burke can engage around 16 targets before running out of “ammo”.  We’ve covered VLS and AAW effectiveness in previous posts so I won’t belabor it further.

The point is that modern ships have a very low weapon density and even lower “magazine” capacity.  A Fletcher could engage aerial targets for hours on end.

The situation is even worse for surface combat.  Modern USN ships have almost no anti-surface capability.  A Burke has a maximum of 8 Harpoons and a single 5” gun.  Compare that to a Fletcher with five 5” guns and ten large torpedoes.  Again, the Fletcher’s gun magazines allowed it to engage multiple targets, endlessly, for practical purposes.

Even the Burkes vaunted Tomahawk capability is limited.  While the Tomahawk is a very potent long range precision strike weapon, the general utility of the missile is a bit limited.  In an amphibious assault scenario, for example, a Burke would probably have a Tomahawk loadout of around 20 Tomahawks.  That’s 20 targets that can be engaged and then the Burke is limited to a single 5” gun.  Further, the Tomahawk is not capable of area bombardment and suppressive fire (well, I guess it is but at $1M+ per missile no one would use it that way).  By comparison, the Fletcher could engage land targets for hours on end with five 5” guns.

Consider the simple task of sinking an enemy tanker.  A modern Burke probably can’t accomplish it.  Eight Harpoons would be unlikely to sink a tanker.  By comparison, a Fletcher’s ten 21” torpedoes would almost certainly do the job.

I know some of you are going to try to make the argument that modern guided weapons make large magazines superfluous.  A single missile can do the work of hundreds of unguided rounds, you claim.  Well, you’re right – if the guided missile actually worked the way the manufacturer’s claim.  We’ve already documented that the historical record for guided missiles is very poor.  This blog is based on logic and data and the data is unequivocal – guided missiles are not very accurate.  Hit rates for AAW engagements are in the 1% - 25% range and for surface engagements are in the 20% range, at best, and will likely be in the 1%-10% range against actively defended warships.

All right, that’s enough.  My point is not to argue that a Fletcher is more powerful than a Burke, although for many scenarios one could make a credible argument for just that, but that the weapon density, armor, and survivability of modern warships has been severely compromised since WWII.  We have lost our way in warship design and the study of WWII warships is a good place to start reminding ourselves of how we should be designing warships.


  1. The point is that modern ships have a very low weapon density and even lower “magazine” capacity. A Fletcher could engage aerial targets for hours on end.

    Come on now. How many rounds of 5 inch did it take to shoot down a plane? I'm guessing it wasn't 4.

    Make the argument, but do it honestly.

    1. Total, I'm going to be a little snippy with this reply because I specifically addressed your comment with a paragraph in the post. Reread it and tell me what argument I actually made as opposed to what argument you think I made.

    2. No, you didn't. You focused on the inefficiency of guided weapons almost entirely. So do the same calculation for 5 inch guns. How many rounds of 5" does it take to shoot down an attacking airplane? How many rounds of 5" were AA (proximity fused) as opposed to ground support? And then how does this compare? "Engaging aerial targets for hours on end" is a simple hand wave past the issue, and your later paragraph doesn't do better.

      Make the argument honestly.

    3. I addressed the issue of relative accuracy here,

      "I know some of you are going to try to make the argument that modern guided weapons make large magazines superfluous. ..."


      "My point is not to argue that a Fletcher is more powerful than a Burke ..."

      At no point did I claim that a WWII gun is as accurate as a guided missile so what are you arguing about?

      The point I made was that modern ships are very limited in the number of targets they can engage compared to WWII ships with vast magazines that could engage for hours on end. I said nothing about the effectiveness of those engagements on a per round/missile basis beyond noting that modern missiles are far less accurate than claimed. You're attempting to argue about something I never claimed. Feel free to argue but be sure it's about something I actually said.

    4. At no point did I claim that a WWII gun is as accurate as a guided missile so what are you arguing about?

      I'm arguing about the fact that you didn't subject your analysis of World War II firepower to the same analysis you did of missiles. You carefully went through how effective the missiles were to show that they weren't nearly as effective as we might think, and the limit of your analysis on firepower was that the guns could "engage for hours."

      That's not analysis, that's cheerleading. If you're going to subject missiles to a lengthy analysis of their effectiveness, then you need to do the same thing with guns. Otherwise, you're just being polemical.

      I said nothing about the effectiveness of those engagements on a per round/missile basis beyond noting that modern missiles are far less accurate than claimed.

      Yes, I know. That's the problem.

      You're attempting to argue about something I never claimed.

      Baloney. You're arguing that the the number of missiles doesn't reflect the ability to engage and destroy aircraft. Well, neither do the number of 5' inch rounds. If you're going to talk about hit percentages for one, then you have to for the other. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

    5. Final attempt. The point was magazine capacities. Nothing more. Nothing less. If you want to continue arguing a non-existent point you'll have to do so by yourself.

    6. With a modern GFCS (Mk 86 or equivalent) and the ability to fire OTO Melara Volcano smart rounds as well as conventional rounds, you could get much better accuracy out of those 5" guns, thereby getting the best of both worlds with a high magazine capacity, lots of guns and good accuracy. Volcano rounds can also hit targets at ranges of up to 70 km, taking care of the range issue. I think COMNAVOPS is on the right path. Something like a Fletcher or Gearing with up to date electronics, a couple of CIWS or RAM launchers and 8 ASCM such as Harpoon or NSM (my preference would be NSM, since it is a newer design that was designed from the start to be used as both a land attack cruise missile and ASCM) in deck mounted canister launchers would be an ideal replacement for the Little Crappy Ship. Perhaps we could also take a page from the Russians and mount a few 21" torpedo tubes as well, since the real world effectiveness of light weight torpedoes against modern submarines is questionable at best and those 21" fish would be brutally effective against skimmers as well, especially if we use a modern keel-breaker like the Mk 48 ADCAP.

  2. Eg:

    Fletcher class had approximately 2600 5 inch rounds (numbers here: ), and it took about 550 5 inch rounds to shoot down an enemy plane (numbers interpolated from here: )

    If half of those 2600 rounds were AA, then that translates as slightly over 2 kills per ammunition load.

    Not looking so good, now.

  3. The point was magazine capacities. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    Magazine capacity is irrelevant without a discussion of effectiveness. Is a magazine with six weapons enough? It is if they're H-bombs. Probably not if they're .22s. Is a magazine capacity of 100 large? It is if they're missiles, not if they're 5 inch rounds. A Fletcher might be able to engage for hours, but _engaging_ is not the goal, shooting down enemy aircraft is the goal, and so you need to figure out (as you did with missiles) how effective those 5 inch guns are going to be. You didn't, and by not doing so, put the thumb on scales in favor of your argument.

  4. To me a bigger issue is not the size of magazines, but the cost of filling them.

    The obsession with building extreme long range SAM's has produced very expensive ammo, which the navy will never be able to afford to acquire in the quantities necessary for any like a prolonged engagement.

    I can see the day coming when we have more VLS launch tubes than missiles to fill them.


  5. how will the ship's missile magazine be refilled ? in the sea or in the port ? if it is in port for reloading the once a ship shot it load it is practically useless ?

    having high tech guided weapons is fine but a gun system still a good way to have just in case.. like modern fighter planes which uses missiles , they still got guns for very close in combat and when their missiles all gone..

  6. ComNav, why 5 inch guns ? why not something bigger ? certainly not battleship sized calibre but 5 inch is about the size of a main battle tank cannon calibre (120-130mm) right ? a 200mm calibre would be nice especially for naval shore bombardment.. as for other weapons, didnt the navy have anti ship tomahawks ? and the anti sub Sea Lance ?

    You mentioning burke's AAW missile magazine size and effectiveness of guided missile , what if the enemy use decoys ? would the decoys soak up the missile even faster ? i would assume a smart near peer enemy will use decoys in some form..

    1. "b", I have no problem with bigger guns!

      Yes, decoys and ECM and other penetration aids will further decreased the effectiveness of guided missiles thereby further reducing the number of targets that can be engaged before depleting the missile magazine. That was my point - not that we should revert totally to guns for AAW but that the missile magazines are quite small. Now, before anyone jumps on the "1000 VLS per ship" bandwagon, there's also the issue of engagement windows in modern combat which greatly limits the number of missiles that can be launched. Having a 1000 missiles is pointless if you can only launch 2-4 per engagement. The answer is not simply more VLS cells. I'll address this more in a future post.

      The more general point of the post was that modern ships have small magazines for all of their weapons along with too few weapons, lack of armor, poor survivability, etc.

    2. I am in favor of resurrecting the MK-71 8" Major Caliber Lightweight Gun project from the 1970's. It's already been developed and tested and was designed from the start to fire modern guided smart rounds as well as conventional ammo. It would be ideal for the naval gunfire support role as well as engaging enemy ships at short to medium ranges. Modern 5" guns like the MK 45 and OTO Melara Compact can still be useful, especially if equipped to fire smart rounds like the Volcano series, but we need something with greater hitting power that can mounted on a destroyer or cruiser and doesn't have the outsized space, tonnage and power requirements that the AGS has.

  7. I’m not going to labour the 1000 VLS too much, but some navy’s do possess fire and forget autonomous missiles, designed for 10 launches per 30 seconds, SM6 should be in line with this.

    SM6 however is just staggeringly expensive, boggles the mind.

    ESSM is obviously your best option with the autonomy and the quad packing.

    But that isn’t what you mean is it.

    Fascinating article here focusing on new long range guided ammunition for the Type 26 Frigate. ( tho not specifically for that type )

    In summary, I’d like to highlight the long range Laser and IR guided volcano rounds for moving surface vessel engagement. With an extremely long range these round could easily overwhelm another ships AA defences. And although the round is light compared to an anti-ship missile. Being bombarded with 10’s if not 100’s of these is a very real problem.

    The gun offers long range NGS again with GPS and Laser guidance.
    The rates of fire offered are really high, and automatic magazine with 4 types of ammunition seems quite an advantage.
    The concept really turns a single deck gun into much much more than you might ever think.
    Possibly your fletcher class analogy isn’t as mental as I first thought.

    1. Ben, I'll take a look at that article. Thanks!

      Bear in mind that the issue with VLS and missile engagements isn't the number and launch speed - the current Navy VLS can launch every 2 seconds, if I remember correctly, which would put a lot of missiles in the air - rather, it's the target discrimination and guidance. Even with time-shared illumination and terminal guidance, only a relative few missiles at a time can be effectively guided. Also, there's the target discrimination issue. When the first missile nears the target and explodes it creates a host of radar reflections from the debris, whether it hits the target or not. Subsequent missiles run the risk of targeting and hitting debris rather than the real target. That's why the Navy utilizes a shoot-shoot-look protocol. They shoot two missiles and wait for the radar picture to clear (the look) to decide whether more missiles are needed. Given the speed of incoming missiles and aircraft, that type of shoot-shoot-look sequence can't occur very many times before the target is too close to shoot. Four AAW missiles is about the limit of what you can bring to bear on a given target unless you detect and engage hundreds of miles out which, given modern sea skimming missiles is not possible. Does this make sense?

    2. Ben, nice article. Thanks. IF the concepts work as advertised they'll greatly enhance the effectiveness of naval guns. I offer the caution, though, that you're reading manufacturer's brochures, essentially. The glowing descriptions of the LCS' Mk110 gun were amazing. It was going to dominate naval warfare. The reality has turned out to be quite different. As the article points out, guided rounds have been tried before and failed badly. Will these new programs succeed? We'll see.

      Another issue is explosive power. As demonstrated in WWII and recently in the Israeli-Hamas conflict, there is a place for unguided, area bombardment effects. The Army recognizes unguided, suppressive fires, for instance. These types of guided munitions are wonderful for use against visible targets, however, many (most?) enemy targets are not readily visible. That's where area bombardment will play a role. I hope we don't abandon unguided, powerful explosives for our fantasy of precision warfare!

    3. Totally Agree.
      I think that is probably RN has gone with USN design instead. I would suggest future development will now occur enhancing automated feed magazines for multiple type of ammunition.
      “unguided” ammunition must continue to play a major role, it is still cost effective in suppression role.
      From the article you will note that effective AAW round for the 76mm gun already exist and are in service with several navies. (Although most deck guns have a secondary or tertiary radar aimed AAW roll but I think without specific ammo? )
      I have faith NGS (GPS \ Laser) is near enough already there with Excalibur and the like.
      The final link is really ASuW ( IR homing \ SAL [via UAV ? ] ) rounds.
      Excalibur N5 is a little short on legs, but Vulcano is a sub calibre round. It is proven to be getting superior range. ( although as you say I’m not sure they have proven the theoretical 120Km 10m CEP yet )
      I just think it’s an interesting new take on an old concept and could take us back towards a “fletcher” class. I think the key is really UAV’s making the final piece of the picture. Scan eagle and Firescout can easily provide the SAL aspect. And could provide a relatively inexpensive high capacity magazine solution to some areas where we are burning serious cash to achieve a goal.
      Regardless of your number of kills per burke issue, we are potentially losing the economics of the kill. When you spend 5 million on an SM6 to take out an ASM valued more in the 100 of thousands of dollars, you’re not going to win a war of attrition.
      I think this might more be the point of your 2 tier navy and magazine size debate?

  8. Hmmm, interesting. Yes that does make sense.

    If you take a look at sea captor or sea viper the on board radar data-streams from the missiles. means you can cue and retarget on route, but also means you get a decent look at what is going on right up to the point of impact.

    I do take you point though. Seem as if you really only get one shot ?

    I think the deck gun with advanced ammunition is really what you will be interested in.

    Let me know what you think.

    I do note however that Type 26 has now decided to go with USN 5 inch Mk48 gun with the UK pitching in with the developments in Excalibur N5 rounds. Bigger round, lower ROF. lets see.


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  10. I think the survivability decline is huge. The RN's experience in the Falklands shows just how vulnerable modern warship designs are if facing an enemy who decides to shoot back. The armor question is part of that, but a bit trickier because I don't know if you can put on enough armor to be truly effective against an Exocet or better.

    Another big lesson from the Falklands--as if it needed repeating--is that not everything works all the time, particularly when being shot at. For that reason, I'd like to see a lot more redundancy. Whatever their other strengths and weaknesses, guns are more likely to keep working after other things fail. So I'd like to see a second gun. With all the fancy stuff going on these days, the gun can be a potent weapon. So have two of them.

    Another way I'd deal with this is my high-low combination. High-end ships with all the state-of-the-art stuff working in combination with low-end ships with systems with less potential capability but greater reliability. My template for this again goes back to the Falklands, where the top of the line anti-air Type 42s destroyers found that their Sea Dart systems had some severe flaws that rendered them ineffective throughout a large part of the air self-defense envelope, so they were sent out in pairs with the cheaper Type 22 GP frigates with their Sea Wolf point defense systems. If all we have are Burkes, and people learn effective counters to the Burke systems, then we have problems. If we have multiple platforms with multiple sensors and multiple weapons systems, then the problem gets a lot more complicated for the enemy.

    In any event, I think we have to put reliability and survivability higher on the priority list.

    1. Chip, survivability, yes! If you're interested in stories about Navy ships in combat in WWII and their survivability, you might want to read "Neptune's Inferno" about the naval battles of Guadalcanal. Absolutely fascinating to read about the pounding those ships took and still managed to keep fighting. Of course, many were sunk but only after unbelievable amounts of damage. I highly recommend the book.

  11. I will only make a few points on your post.

    1) the Fletcher was protected against splitter, machinegun , and light aircraft cannon, Which ios the same type of protection on the burke class. and no Fetcher would withstand and explosion like the USS Cole.

    2) the effectiveness of the 5in 38 cal. was good, when combined with VT fuses, but no way could they match modern high speed missiles and aircraft.

    3) The Burke would send a missile into an attacker 60 miles way, and that could be a Standard 2, or a Harpoon.

    1. GLof, check the hull thickness and steel ratings on the Fletcher versus the Burke. The two ships are no where near equivalent!

      Revolutionary War muskets can in no way match modern assault rifles. What's your point?

      Harpoon range is, indeed, 60 miles. Again, what's your point?

      Be sure you read what I actually wrote!

    2. 1) Look up the word Kevlar. And check out how many tons of that material a Burke class destroyer carriers.

      2) Your logic about the Fletcher being superior is you comparing them against attackers of their own time. But what if we compare them against the same attackers. That would certianly change your results.

      3) And the maximum range of the Mk 19 torpedo was how far?, Torpedo attacks only work when you get close enough to fire you spread, If you dead in the water because of a missile hit, you'r useless.

    3. GLof, I did not claim that Fletchers are superior to Burkes. I merely noted their weapon density and magazine capacity. READ the post.

      Torpedo attacks???? Do you think I'm advocating modern day surface torpedo attacks??? READ the post.

      The Burke's Kevlar is great for providing shrapnel protection for key areas but does nothing for structural integrity. The key areas will be well protected as the ship sinks due to gaping holes in the side! Be objective in this analysis and you'll recognize that the Fletchers were built much tougher. That's the lesson for us, today.

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    5. USS Abner Read (DD-526) had her entire stern blown off by a mine in August of '43, 70 fatalities/missing, was returned to service by December of '43. How is that for surviving battle damage, makes the USS Cole look pretty minor.

    6. Mat, admittedly many Fletchers class, Allen M. Sumner class and Gearing class were damaged during WWII and later on, but the size and location of explosion on the Cole would damage those WWII destroyer to the point of CTL if not outright sinking. It a matter of the sizes of those vessel, the Cole is three time larger than any of the WWI Flush deck destroyers.

    7. GLof: "Mat, admittedly many Fletchers class, Allen M. Sumner class and Gearing class were damaged during WWII and later on, but the size and location of explosion on the Cole would damage those WWII destroyer to the point of CTL if not outright sinking."


      This is incorrect.Although Burkes definitely reversed some of the worst of modern warship construction trends, the hulls and strength members are neither as robust, and are of inferior yield strength steel.

      The only advantage a Burke has over a U.S. WWII era destroyer in terms of resistance to damage is that the DDGs are more than three times the displacement: hull size does matter in survivability.


  12. Okay. I'll bite....

    Again, if I undestand correctly, its all about combat endurance.

    One of my fave fiction battles is the Outer Air Battle for the Nimitz in Red Storm Rising. In it, the F-14's were expected to not get 100% of the incoming missiles; and that's where Aegis took over.

    In that scenario (albeit a unique one where the F-14's barely worked due to getting faked out) Tico emptied her magazine. Nimitz ended up getting hit and mission killed. But even had Nimitz not gotten hit... wouldn't the CVBG be potentially mission killed due to empty or near empty magazines? The backfires or whatever could just keep coming, and now Aegis has nothing to shoot. Wouldn't that force you to withdraw the CVBG?

    Could a similar situation happen today?

  13. CNO;
    what about rail guns as the future? They seem more practical (IMHO) than lasers, and you might be able to carry much larger magazines of what they shoot (which from what I can tell is magnetic blocks made aerodynamic).

    Again (nuke me here, I'm stretching) I had thought of larger rail guns handling ASuW stuff in the future, and smaller ones handling CIWS duties.

    I realize this is next generation stuff, but it might be more useful than shooting a million dollar missile to hit a million dollar missile.

    1. Jim, the technology needed to produce a practical weaponized railgun -- one which can produce the kind of combat performance which its advocates say that it can eventually produce -- is very, very far away, if it ever gets here at all.

      An extensive discussion of the numerous technology issues which surround the development of future railguns is located over on the forums, with some number of posts on that thread being offered by Yours Truly.

      "Navy wants railguns for missile defense"

    2. THanks Scott! I will check them out.

      I admit, my knowledge of them is limited. They just seem at first blush more practical than lasers.. :-)

    3. Rail guns are a great theoretical possibility. As such, they have no drawbacks, only theoretical advantages.

      Consider, though, some common sense applied to the question. Rail guns use inert munitions (chunks of rock, in essence) which require skin-on-skin contact. There is no area exposion or shrapnel kills which is how our current missiles achieve kills (exploding in proximity to the target). Unless our targeting is vastly improved over what we have now, the rail guns will be unlikely to achieve that kind of contact on a high speed, maneuvering target unless we use rail guns like a longer range CIWS and just throw up a wall of rocks. Against a low speed target like a ship, it may work well. Against long range land targets, it's highly questionable and for area bombardment is almost useless.

      Of course, we could always attempt to develop an exploding, fuzed rail gun munition but then the great advantage of rail guns - cheap munitions - is lost.

      There are plenty of other technical challenges but just some basic common sense shows that the near term usefulness of rail guns will be limited.

    4. ComNavOps, IMHO, we will see a practical, reliable combat laser system long before we see a practical, reliable railgun system -- if we ever see one at all.

      Lasers still have some good distance to go before they can reach their future potential, but railguns are in another league as far as how much further work needs to be done to make them practical and reliable as a deployable combat system.

      The argument has been made that if EMALS can use EM launch technology to launch an F-18 from a Ford Class aircraft carrier, why can't the same technology be adapted to railguns?

      The problem with that argument is that the laws of physics say that the energy needed to accelerate a physical mass rises exponentially as the square of the velocity; and that the technical requirements of a railgun demand that the energy be imparted to the projectile in a period of time about 1/100th (or less) of that needed to launch an F-18.

      The level of materials science technology needed to properly support the reliable EM launch of hundreds projectiles does not exist today. The last figure I heard is that you get about 30 projectiles out of a railgun barrel before it has to be replaced.

      The other problem is the shipboard footprint of the energy generation / energy discharge management infrastructure needed to reliably support the energy storage and discharge requirements of a railgun.

      That shipboard infrastructure has to be capable of launching the large number of solid body projectiles which are needed to compensate for the fact that the projectiles themselves cannot be precisely delivered at long ranges.

      What about guided EM launch projectiles? IMHO, the problem isn't so much the survivability of the on-board electronics, it is the problem of severe acceleration-induced distortion of the projectile caused by the fact that its mass is, by necessity, not evenly distributed within the projectile.

      It has been surmised by some who post on military blogs that classified research and development efforts are now on a pathway towards addressing all of these problems.

      For myself, I don't believe a word of it; and I will only believe it when a demonstration railgun successfully destroys a series of targets at long ranges in a simulated combat engagement where hundreds of rounds are being fired in succession without the barrel having to be replaced at the conclusion of the engagement.

  14. CNO,

    Excellent analysis!


  15. Thinking about it, an apples to apples comparison might be a WWII warship within the 8,000-11,000 ton range, as that is the displacement of an ABC or Tico.


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