Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Surface Warfare Perfect Storm

USNI website has an interesting article about the size of the future surface warfare fleet.

“Rapid growth in the capability and quality of guided missiles — mostly Chinese in origin — is causing the U.S. Navy to rethink the number of surface ships it needs to effectively fight a high-end war.

“Early estimates based [on] ongoing war games could mean the current number of 88 large surface combatants — the Navy’s fleet of guided missile destroyers and cruisers — needs to grow to more than a hundred into the 2020s just to keep to today’s current level of risk, USNI News has learned.”

From 88 ships to more than a hundred?!  As you digest that, consider that we’ve documented the steady decline in combat fleet size and the coming shortfall in destroyers as retirements outpace new construction.  We’ve also discussed the extremely unwise decision to forego maintenance and upgrades.

This is all very disturbing but we’ve already covered it and warned about the shortfall.  So, what’s the point of this post?  Well, the article touches on some interesting implications.

For instance, the article states that the existing requirement for 88 surface vessels is based on, among other factors, a requirement to provide 5 major surface combatants as escorts for each carrier group.  However, the new requirement places the escort number at 7 or 8 per carrier group.  OK, again, aside from not having that number available, what’s the point?  The point goes back to one we’ve previously addressed which is tactics and training.  Carrier groups currently deploy with 2 or 3 escorts.  If we intend to fight with 5-8, where and how are our commanders learning to tactically handle a group that is 2-3 times larger than what we routinely deploy with?  We have Admirals who have never commanded or tactically exercised the size group that they would fight with.  This is not the way to prepare for combat!

Another interesting point that the article makes is the impact of the LCS on the major combatant force level.

In addition, decisions to leave the two emerging Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) variants without a significant AAW capability also stresses the cruiser and destroyer fleets, since the LCS could not then help protect non-combatant ships like oilers and logistics ships in an escort role …”

Thus, we see that the decision to continue producing the non-combat LCS and to add only very minimal improvements to the follow on “frigate LCS” have the consequence of requiring more Burkes.  Thus, the LCS, which was supposed to free up major combatants is actually tying down more Burkes conducting low end missions because the LCS is so impotent and ineffective.

Finally, the article documents the Navy’s decision to forego Burke upgrades that would allow the ships to conduct simultaneous BMD and AAW.  Thus, in many cases, it may require two Burkes to fill the role of a single upgraded one. 

“Planned upgrades that would allow destroyers to fight ballistic missiles and aircraft at the same time have been scaled back in some cases, requiring two less capable ships to do the mission of one upgraded destroyer.

The prioritization and decision making of the Navy is mystifying, at best (that’s my polite way of saying incompetent).

Please read the linked article.  It’s well worth it.

The surface warfare perfect storm is coming and the Navy is ignoring it.



  1. Note, the AMDR equipped Flt III Burkes will be able to simultaneously perform AAW and BMD.

  2. My opinion of the LCS is still steadily falling.

    They aren't bad for what they are. They're bad because they are at the size and price point they drill a hole in the ship building budget that could, and should, be spent on more capable ships that could do things like escort. We lost that when they largely de-fanged the Perry's.

    Even just adding ESSM would help. Something.

    They'd be fine for the Coast Guard. Or as a sub class of ship that is just limited to piracy duty.

    I don't mind that the Navy tried them. The Navy can and should try stuff like this.

    I mind like hell that the Navy came up with the concept and decided to go into full on production before they knew the bloody concept worked.

    Freedom and Independance should have been names in the same category as Sea Shadow.

    1. They'd be terrible for the Coast Guard. No range, no endurance, limited seakeeping, too expensive.

    2. Sorry. Didn't mean to $crew the Coast Guard. I was thinking they'd be fine for ops off of Florida to interdict the drug trade.

      Good Lord what a mess.

  3. It would be interesting to know what the rough, expected mission breakdown is for the seven to eight surface combatants per CVSG. How much is Area AAW, Local AAW, BMD, ASW, ASuW, and so on. That would inform us as to whether we really need 7+ full-spectrum surface combatants, or a mixture of high and lower end.

    1. And that ties directly into my repeated calls for more realistic training and wargaming. Let's assemble a carrier group and subject it to massed missile attacks, swarms, subs, etc. and see what we need to defend it. This can be at sea or wargaming. What we don't need are the scripted exercises with pre-determined outcomes like the Millenium 2000.

      I don't think we have the slightest idea what it takes to defend a carrier group in a modern conflict. Certainly, we've never practiced it since we don't even deploy a carrier group with the number of escorts we think are needed.

    2. We do run wargames and simulations. How closely they mirror "reality" is anyone's guess. In fact, it sounds like the call to up the CVSG to 7 or 8 surface combatants is a result of wargaming and/or simulation.

    3. I am aware of many wargames that are scripted and pre-determined. I'm unaware of any that are realistic assessments of our capabilities and our enemy's.

  4. I was wondering the same thing. How does the Navy determine what it needs to protect a CVBG?

    Question: Didn't the CVBG's back in the day have their 'close in' escorts for AAW and then have some farther out pickets (like Perry's) as ASW escorts? Or am I wrong?

    1. "How does the Navy determine what it needs to protect a CVBG?"

      I don't think the Navy has any idea what it needs to defend a carrier group. The only testing they do is limited to extrapolation of single events. For example, if I hit a nail with a hammer once I wouldn't presume to call myself a carpenter and yet that is exactly what the Navy does. They test a single missile against an air threat surrogate (under perfect and scripted conditions!) and then declare that they have a complete integrated air defense system.

      Sadly, when the time comes, we'll pay in blood to learn how to defend carrier groups since we can't be bothered to do it now.


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