Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Burke Flt III Shortcomings

The most recent Congressional Research Service report on the Navy’s DDG programs has an incredibly damning statement concerning the Navy’s surface combatant roadmap(1).

You’ll recall that the Burke class has pretty well used up its growth margins and, therefore, the announcement that the Navy would use the Burke as the foundation for the new AMDR radar system was a bit of a head scratcher.  The Burkes lacked internal volume and ship’s utilities to properly support the Navy’s stated AMDR requirement.  Despite this lack, the Navy opted to go with the Burke class (Flt III) as the AMDR host with the predictable outcome that the installed AMDR will be significantly less capable than the Navy’s stated requirement.  The Navy’s response to the shortfall is that the smaller AMDR will meet the immediate needs but may be inadequate to deal with future threats. 

Thus, we see that the Navy is committing to building a ship with little growth margin at a time of blossoming new technologies such as lasers and rail guns which will have voracious appetites for ship’s volume and utilities.  Further, the Navy is committing to building a ship that they have admitted is inadequate for dealing with future, reasonably foreseeable threats.  The Navy is committing to a 35 year lifespan ship that it acknowledges won’t be able to meet the threats over that time period.  Is this wise???

Anyway, here is the report’s statement on the subject.

“The Navy’s pre-2008 plan to procure DDG-1000 destroyers and then CG(X) cruisers based on the DDG-1000 hull design represented the Navy’s roadmap at the time for restoring growth margins, and for introducing into the cruiser-destroyer force significant numbers of ships with integrated electric drive systems and technologies for substantially reducing ship crew sizes. The ending of the DDG-1000 and CG(X) programs in favor of continued procurement of DDG-51s leaves the Navy without an announced roadmap to do these things, because the Flight III DDG-51 will not feature a fully restored growth margin, will not be equipped with an integrated electric drive system or other technologies that could provide ample electrical power for supporting future electrically powered weapons, and will not incorporate features for substantially reducing ship crew size or for otherwise reducing ship O&S costs substantially below that of Flight IIA DDG- 51s.”

So, not only will the Flt III Burkes have little growth margin, less than desired radar performance, and known shortfalls over the course of their lifespans, but they will not be equipped with the Navy’s Holy Grail of propulsion/power, integrated electric drives, and will not be minimally manned.

Does anyone have any idea how this sounds like a good idea to the Navy?

Of course, if you’ve followed this blog you already know the answer.  The Navy has purposely chosen an unwise course strictly to avoid Congressional oversight that would come from a new ship design.  The Navy has passed the Burke Flt III off to Congress as a minor upgrade of an existing design.  Setting aside the fraudulent nature of that maneuver, the Navy is knowingly accepting a very poor design just to avoid critics and critical review of a major acquisition program. 

They were burned so badly with the LCS that they’ll do anything, no matter how unwise, to avoid more criticism.  That doesn’t need to be the case, though.  If the Navy would simply be upfront with Congress and run a disciplined program they could have their new design and reasonable oversight, too.  Consider the Zumwalt program.  That’s a major undertaking and the Navy is receiving no undue criticism so it can be done (we’ll set aside the value and wisdom of the Zumwalt for the sake of this discussion).

When the criticisms are being formally written into Congressional Research Reports, you have a problem.  Assuming the Navy was being honest with us about the need for the full version of the AMDR (and that’s a big assumption given the Navy’s habit of manipulating the truth!) they need to terminate the Flt III immediately and move the AMDR to some other platform.  The Internet has offered plenty of alternatives any of which would be an improvement over the worst option which is the Flt III.

(1)Congressional Research Service, “Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O'Rourke, Jun 2015


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    1. And sometimes good enough is the enemy of bare minimum. Huh?? What I mean is that the Navy did a study of the AMDR/BMD/AAW requirements and determined the desired characteristics of the AMDR. They then tried and failed to fit it into a Burke. Having failed, they now are accepting a significantly reduced capability on a ship that has no growth margin for future lasers and rail guns (I don't believe they'll be ready in the lifetime of the Flt IIIs but the Navy does so they're knowingly building ships that will be obsolete long before their lifespans are over. Thus, good enough is the enemy of "what's needed" in this case.

      I have no problem, whatsoever, with a useful, solid ship like the Flt III is going to be, if it's intended to be a fill-in vessel that supports the high end ships. However, in this case, the Flt III IS going to be the high end ship. When you knowingly design your high end platform to be significantly less than you need, that's just plain stupid. Building some interim Flt IIIs until you can get a new-design, high end Tico replacement would make sense but that's not the Navy's plan.

      Of course, the other possibility is that the Navy vastly overstated the original AMDR need and the true need is met by the significantly scaled down AMDR. That would mean the Navy lied (or whatever word you want to use) about the original requirement. Given their history, that's perfectly believable. If this is the case, then the Flt III might be just fine.

    2. Indeed! I think the incremental approach with the Flt IIIs seems to be the right call, certainly less risky than the LCS/F-35/Zummwalt programs seem to be. We are leveraging a lot of established experience with the construction, maintenance, and operation of an existing platform to control costs in the short term, which seems like a reasonable move.

      However, I think CNO's point that procuring too many Flt IIIs will stunt the surface fleet's future growth is well taken. Ideally, I would like to see the Navy procure a relative handful (perhaps half a dozen or so) of the FLT IIIs, to serve as a bridge to a "stretched" FLT IV or a true successor of new design, either of which would have the margin for further growth. There is also the risk of falling into the mindset that we have seen with the SSC, where the Navy essentially throws up its hands and declares that the only option is to purchase an existing design because it will cost too much and take too long to develop something new.

    3. " I think the incremental approach with the Flt IIIs seems to be the right call, certainly less risky than the LCS/F-35/Zummwalt programs seem to be."

      An incremental approach assumes, by definition, that the approach is leading to some final, beneficial result. In this case, the best case Flt III result is a significantly substandard ship relative to its intended role.

    4. "There is also the risk of falling into the mindset that we have seen with the SSC, where the Navy essentially throws up its hands and declares that the only option is to purchase an existing design because it will cost too much and take too long to develop something new."

      Quite right!

    5. What *is* the intended role for the Flt III?

      It can't be just an ABM role; they could fully upgrade the existing 'Burkes in the fleet to do that. Is it just a platform for AMDR because AMDR is supposed to be better than the latest Aegis? Is the hull the same as the Flt IIa's?

      Are there any plans for it to have any long range offensive weaponry?

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    8. I think the Flt III's will work... but I think the Navy kind of swung the pendulum hard.

      Here is (again) where I'll expose my ignorance:

      Instead of cancelling the Zumwalt and going to the Flt III.... would it have been possible to use the Flt III as a stepping stone while designing a new, more conventional (and maybe cheaper) hull for the Zumwalt internals? Then you have more conventional matieriels to work with, and a more conventional hull form to not worry about.

      Make enough of them and maybe the extra radar becomes an economic option.

    9. The problem, here, is the Flt III is not intended as a Flt IIa replacement. If it were, it would be more than adequate and I'd be praising it. Instead, it is intended to be the Tico replacement, meaning the future, ultimate, high end AAW escort. As such, it comes up short relative to both the current Tico, in terms of VLS capacity and AAW command capability, and short relative to the Navy's own threat assessment and AMDR objective for an ultimate, high end AAW combatant.

      There is not really any argument to be had here. For its intended role, it's substandard.

  2. I’m seriously confused by the Zumwalt program. I tend to label it with the SeaWolf program which I’m similarly confused about.

    You have committed the major part of the cost on these cutting edge designs during the R&D phase. The building of many hulls is effectively where you get your “money back”.

    Sure there might be design changes, bugs as it were, but Zumwalt ( unless they are hushing up the big question over sea keeping ) seems a program of merit generally with some huge benefits and future potential. This in terms of Zumwalt class, but also for defining the follow on classes.

    By making just 3 you are consigning the design to be magnificently expensive. And really a dead end.

    CNO you drawing conclusions that are speculative.

    But I have to admit it’s such a strange decision to cancel these ships and hence be “forced” to go with an essentially old design that I can’t offer any other reasons. Apart from I think the “300 ship navy” thing.

    I think your painting yourself into a corner though.


    1. Ben, you lost me. What is it that you think I'm missing on?

    2. You have suggested its to do with PR or congressional oversight.

      Now dont ask me about the maze that is US government. Im a foreigner after all ;)

      But if we were to believe a shift in doctrine to "distributed leathality" and we belive this was in planning for 5 years or so we might support USN thinking.


      Fact is though we can see what happens if you go the other way and accept less hulls. But all top end. When we look at the modern Royal Navy.

      Tuff times. Tuff decisions.

      Id hate to think these things were really decided as haphazardly as you sometimes suggest ( although evidence makes me wonder too )

      Redardless your synopsis is correct. Either your looking for a new destroyer in 20 years. Or your gambling on a peace dividend. Or ....

      I predict a sudded surge in R&D for smaller lighter system offering the same or better performance.

      More quad pack.

      Smaller more powerful AESA.

      Compact computing and cooling.

      Etc etc etc

      Going to work out more expencive that running with Zumwalt though in the long run.

  3. Given the level of changes, I suspect that a new hull as you noted would have been the smartest option of all.

    It should be a conventional "flare" hull (not a tumblehome like the Zumwalt, which might end up with poor seakeeping abilities).

    See here:

    The other problem is that if something does go wrong with any of the new systems, extra weight margins may be needed.

  4. Off topic, but have you read the latest about the Ford class?

    From article:
    "With all this in mind, one has ask why the Pentagon thought putting such a large asset, both in expenditure and size, into production with such an immature set of core subsystems that also happen to be nearly impossible to replace with proven ones, was a good idea?

    It’s not as if existing arresting gear, catapults and radar systems, or the previous Nimitz Class design for that matter, are ineffective. Including all these immature sub-system into a carrier that costs more than $13 billion assumes massive amounts of totally avoidable risk.


    And if these new systems aren’t reliable at all, they’ll need to be taken out. Which means cutting the entire carrier apart. Alternatively, the Gerald R. Ford will be a harbor queen until these systems are developed to a point that they work reliably. "

    It would seem that none of the recent programs have done too well.

    1. Alt, the problem with the Ford, as with the JSF and LCS, is that the Navy committed to non-existent technology in the production version. EMALS and AAG should have been research projects until they were fully proven and then, and only then, inserted into whatever carrier happened to be next up in the build cycle.

    2. I agree with this... and yet...

      I wonder what has happened to the Navy's ability to take crazy high tech and put it to sea relatively quickly? Why is the organization that created the first SSN, Aegis, etc. struggling with EMALS?

    3. Jim, consider the foundations of the examples you cited. We developed the SSN from an extensive foundation of conventional submarine design. Also, reread the history of those developments. We tend to think they happened overnight but they did not. It took a long time to develop a sea-going nuclear reactor. The difference is that we developed those things as research projects and prototypes rather than commit to them as production versions before any had been built and proven. Read Rickover and the development of the SSN. Likewise, Aegis was a long development but it was a research project not an immediate production program. The time frames we're seeing for EMALS and other technologies are not unusual. What is unusual is that we've skipped the research stage and leaped into production before we've built a single prototype.

    4. Preaching to choir, but, as contemporaneously documented below,

      Rickover did component-level testing before he assembling systems.

      He did system level testing before he did prototype-level integration.

      And he did prototype-level testing before he put the plant in a sea-going vessel.

      Is it that hard?

  5. I will re-read them. I hear Rickover was an absolute nightmare to work for... but he was also realistic in problem assessment. I wish we had a latter day version of him.

    It still just dumbfounds me. Its almost like the Navy is in a panic over the increase in the rate of technological advance so they are getting rid of tried and true methods of doing amazing things for the sake of rushed production.

    Any heavy industry manufacturer could have told them that's a horrible idea, through countless examples.

    Again, I really worry for the Navy. We're going to end up with a really expensive Navy with a combination of the old (unupgraded Burkes), the functional that get ridden hard (upgraded Burkes), the not very useful (LCS, maybe F-35), And the too expensive to risk or too wonky to make work (The Ford class).

    1. I have wondered about this.

      The loss of heavy industry manufacturing has in many ways, damaged the US in less than tangible ways - perhaps the military establishment is willfully ignorant of the realities of manufacturing?

      Let's face it, what happens in the civilian world of manufacturing heavily influences the military's manufacturing as well. Perhaps one of the greatest follies of American "neoliberalism" was that they failed to recognize the key importance of domestic manufacturing.

      In regards to Rickover, I read the same. But at least he knew his stuff. The ideal is still a good personality of course, with exceptional technical knowledge.

    2. Some things we do okay in. The general impression alot of people have is that we don't make anything. The reality is we don't make many consumer goods, and we make alot fewer electronics than we used to. However, alot of heavy industry we still do. The economist had a good breakdown. IIRC our industrial sector output in 2014 was #2 in the world; well behind China, but bigger than the next three (Japan Germany, and Russia) combined*.

      That said, I totally agree. Our industrial base is, IMHO, a national security issue; and we treat it like its a nifty thing to have, but by golly if we could get cheaper TV's than to heck with it. Alot of the economists who help guide the nation seem enamoured with the new and disgusted with the old. And we have some key gaps.

      I remember in the '90's I think Newport News was going to try to get into commercial shipbuilding in a big way. I'm not sure why it didn't work out, but I think our lack of non military shipbuilding really hurts the Navy. I think the lack of Navy Yards hurts the Navy as well.

      It puzzles me. Losing chip manufacture to China makes sense to me because the Chinese can way undercut our labor costs. But losing shipbuilding to France, the Netherlands, or South Korea doesn't. Those are developed, first world countries, with highly skilled and paid workers.

      *Nominal GDP sector composition

      Nominal GDP sector composition, 2014 (in percentage and in millions of dollars):

      GDP Country nominal GDP Indus. Indus.
      0 World 74,699,258 30.5% 63.6% 22,783,274
      2 China 10,380,380 42.6% 48.3% 4,422,042
      1 United States 17,418,925 19.1% 79.7% 3,327,015
      3 Japan 4,616,335 27.5% 71.4% 1,269,492
      4 Germany 3,859,547 28.1% 71.1% 1,084,533
      10 Russia 1,857,461 36% 60.1% 668,686

  6. Actually, what does that leave the USN in the coming decades?

    Surface fleet:
    - The LCS
    - If they do sink the Ticos, then then these AB Flt 3s will dominate the surface fleet

    - A decreasing number of Nimitz class ships as the years go by and an increasing number of Ford class ships, which right now are problematic.
    - Probably an aging force of F-18s and problem plagued F-35s.
    - Whatever drones join in.

    - The Virginia class submarine (particularly as the LA class gets retired).
    - A decreasing number of Ohio SSBNs and whatever replaces them.

    - A few oddballs like the Seawolf class submarine and the Zumwalt. The Seawolf is probably of some tactical value, but the Zumwalt remains unproven as do the "railgun" and "laser" future claims.
    - Perhaps some UUVs in the next couple of decades.

    Amongst this crop, the submarine force seems like it's in the best of shape. The others, not so much.

  7. The question that I have is whether or not BMD need to be on tip of the spear type combatant in the first place. As you said CNO, if the FLT III are designed to replace Tico's then the minor modifications are fine. Reduced manning and IEP can be integrated into the DDG design if the Navy demanded it IMO. But based on the power requirements and desired missile load out it seems like a BMD ship needs to be upwards of 20K in displacement.


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