Monday, August 8, 2016

Real Diversity

Diversity – the Holy Grail of liberalism.  That magic state wherein anything created by two people of different racial backgrounds is, by definition, inherently superior to anything created by two people of the same racial background.  Similarly, a man and a woman are inherently a superior armed force than two men.  And so on.  Absolute bilgewater.  But, that’s not the point of this post.

The point of this post is that there is a valid Diversity at play in the Navy.  A Diversity that actually carries with it an inherent expectation of superior quality and performance.  That Diversity is Type – specifically ship types and aircraft types.

Before we go any further, let’s discuss diversity from an evolutionary perspective.  Evolutionary diversity is what ensures the survival of a species and an ecosystem.  Diversity provides the cushion to absorb evolutionary bumps in the road.  The cushion takes the form of numerous choices (species) with different characteristics.  Thus, when the environment changes, at least one of the many different species will, hopefully, have the characteristics necessary for survival in the altered environment.  For example, when the asteroid hit and triggered an ice age which killed off the dinosaurs, species diversity ensured that some would survive and, thus, we had a change from a reptilian world (assuming dinosaurs were reptiles – not settled science!) to a mammalian world.  Without the diversity of species, life on land would have ended.  Similarly, diversity is what allows gray moths to survive and thrive when their green forest habitats are torn down and replaced by gray cities (we’re talking about camouflage for protection from predators).

Now, how does this apply to the Navy?  Well, a diverse fleet of carriers and battleships is what allowed the Navy to survive the loss of most of the battleship fleet at Pearl Harbor and continue to fight using carriers.

Diversity shows up in other ways, too.

Intellectual design diversity – WWII represented the pinnacle of military diversity.  Many different companies offered many different ship and aircraft designs.  Some succeeded and some failed but choices abounded.  The military was not locked into a single design thought process driven by a single design team. 

Contrast that sheer number of design sources and diversity of design thought to today’s very few design sources.  How many carrier design sources are there? – One.  WWII saw the development of fleet carriers, escort carriers, paddle wheel carriers, and even an ice/concrete carrier.

Test bed diversity – While not every WWII era design made it into production, many did.  Those designs offered a vast array of characteristics which underwent the selection process of combat.  Some characteristics were seen as beneficial and were continued in subsequent designs while others were failures and dropped from subsequent designs.  Again, contrast that situation with today’s extremely limited range of options.

So much for theory.  Let’s take a quick look at actual numbers.

Currently, the Navy has three surface warships (I’ll count the LCS if it ever acquires any combat capability).

  • Carriers
  • Aegis cruisers
  • Burke destroyers

Of those, the Navy is trying desperately to get rid of the Aegis cruisers and has settled on their replacement consisting of more Burkes.  If one discounts the LCS, the Navy would like to have only two combat ship types:  carriers and Burkes.

I don’t even count the Zumwalt since the Navy didn’t want them and only reluctantly built three (apparently the costs of cancellation were high enough that it made more sense to complete three than none).

We can see the same trend towards a single ship type on the amphibious side of things where various types are being replaced by the common LPD-17 (itself, not exactly a successful type!).

So, we’re moving towards a Navy of two surface combatants, carriers and Burkes, and one amphibious vessel, the LPD-17.  Where’s the diversity?  What happens when war comes and we find out that one of those is not a good design?  Where’s the alternative?  There isn’t one!  We’ve lost our naval diversity.

Why have we lost our diversity?  It’s because the Navy has focused on accounting and oversight avoidance rather than combat design.  The Navy believes they can save money by having only one basic type of ship – a dubious claim, unsupported by data.  Closely linked to this, and probably more importantly, the Navy believes that by sticking to a single ship form they can avoid Congressional, legal, and public oversight.  This is why the Burke was chosen as the AMDR platform despite being inadequately sized or equipped to handle it.  The Navy has deliberately sacrificed combat performance for savings (almost certainly a falsity) and reduced oversight.  You’ve heard the saying, penny wise, pound foolish?  This is peacetime wise, combat foolish.

When combat points out the flaws in our very few designs, what alternatives will we be able to look to for better ideas?  There aren’t any. 

Where’s the reservoir of design ideas from industry?  There isn’t any.  We’ve winnowed our industrial base too far.

Diversity?  The Navy needs it desperately!


  1. And, I know you touched on it, but the lack of diversity in the airwing. It makes maintenance easier, I'm sure, but it really cuts down on capability by going from 1 fighter for fleet defense (and later occasional attack), main strike aircraft, light strike aircraft, ASW aircraft (not including Helo's), tanking aircraft... to the Superhornet.

    350 mile combat radius.

    1. Jim I suggest you do some research on the Indian Air force. They seem to have followed your suggestion, operating the widest variety of combat aircraft you will find anywhere, having Russian, French, British and American equipment. Their issue is they have the most complex logics supply chain you can imagine as a result.

      You might think that maintenance is a small deal, but your specialist interceptor is of no use if it is stuck in hangar because is needs a part the supply store on your aircraft carrier is out of that one particular part.

      Remember space on any ship is something you never have enough of, and the store is a long way away when you operating in the middle of the pacific.

    2. Operating multiple aircraft types is not that big a burden. We did it successfully and with smaller budgets for decades.

      Of course, operating a variety of aircraft from different countries is taking the dissimilar issue to another level but no one here is proposing that.

      I think Jim is making the quite reasonable suggestion that a return to a dedicated attack aircraft, a dedicated fighter, a dedicated fixed wing ASW, and so on would offer us some of the diversity we currently lack.

    3. Just remember back when the US navy operated that variety of aircraft, back in the eighties, the defense budget was about 6% of GD, 50% higher than today.

      There are a lot of things you could do if you where to increase the budget by that magnitude.

      It is not like naval aviation has ever been a cheap exercise. If it wasn't so expensive you would see more nations operating aircraft carriers.

      We need to find ways keep our advantage at sea, not drive up the cost to the point where Naval aviation only exists in history books.

    4. Our GDP Constant Price was also half what it is today as was our GDP per capita.

      In inflation adjusted dollars, we're spending more now than the '80s when we had a 600 ship fleet and a variety of aircraft types.

      While one can say anything one wants with statistics, it's pretty clear that we're spending much more and getting much less so, yes, we can support separate aircraft types today if we do so wisely, as I've discussed in previous posts.

  2. It not that hard to issue study contracts at the $10M dollar range that would buy you 40 man-years ($250k for a loaded manyear) of top notch Naval engineering to develop new designs. Criteria can include use of standard components (engines, pumps, gears, etc.) or not based on if you want a radically new idea.

    I doubt that even 6 of these contracts would not even be the yearly maintenance on a single ship.

    Someone in the Navy just has to want to do R&D and develop a stable of new ideas. Lack of leadership and vision = lack fo alternative designs.

    1. While your suggestion is valid it misses the bigger picture and the implication in the post.

      Ask yourself, why did we have such a diverse range of designs for aircraft and ships during WWII and the years immediately following? It wasn't because someone in the Navy was issuing design study contracts. It was because we had many, many defense companies all vying to get their product noticed by the military and, ultimately, procured. The manufacturers were motivated by potential profit to come up with unique and effective ideas. They put their own time and money into designs and prototypes. Free market enterprise at its best with the military as the beneficiary!

      We've lost this base of competitors. We're effectively down to a single carrier builder and one or two ship and aircraft builders. Where's the competitive drive? It's gone. Where's the manufacturer putting their own money into designs and prototypes? It's gone. Now, you can't get a defense contractor to answer the phone without a contract paying them to do so.

      Yes, we can issue contracts for designs but they'll be only what we exactly ask for. The creativity and motivation is gone and the military has no one to blame but themselves.

    2. The US could, of course, ask their dependable allies overseas to tender for designs and contracts … oh, hold on a minute ...

    3. CNO I have to disagree.

      There are 2 parts to your argument.

      First, for ships. We had a diverse range of designs for Ships because the Post WWI Treaties forced new ideas to get around Tonnage requirements AND there were 2 new technologies coming into play Aircraft Carriers and Submarine. IN addition the US had started re-arming from Sept 1939 - Dec 1941. So bottom line is new designs were sought out by the Navy and they looked at what other countries were doling. For example the South Dakota Class was designed before the war and laid in 1939.

      Second, and slightly different because of, I'll grant you, direct market pressure was the A/C designs. We had a diverse range of designs for Aircraft because again the US had started re-arming from Sept 1939 - Dec 1941. Also A/C were a new technology that was being explored/developed and had HUGE potential for Civilian use so there was some internal R&D (Hughes for example). But the majority of the designs a Gov was paying folks to develop. For example the P-51 was started in 1940 for the British Purchasing Commission.

      Now as for the US Surge in Production, I agree with you completely that was due to Industrial base diversity. The conversion of plants to wartime production was amazing and only possible because we had a lot of plants.

      But companies DO NOT go out and design new ships and planes for a limited market. There is no return on it and the shareholders will revolt. Just how many Battleships have EVER been built? Less than the number of PANMAX Carriers.

      BUT good companies will bring new and exciting and radical designs if you pay them. Just look at DARPA, there is no pro bono work going on there.

    4. So, what are you disagreeing with? You simply repeated what I said and added some explanation about why the Navy had variety in designs. I don't see any disagreement.

    5. When I said it was merely a matter of asking for new design efforts, you stated that it was not the lack of design contracts but the loss of diversity in the industrial base that causes lack of diversity. You also stated that it was the marketplace that gives new designs on their own.

  3. A lot of it comes down to corruption, plain and simple. The brass does not have the best interests of society at heart; just their own careers.

    The concentration in the defense industry too - it's a matter of corporate greed run amok and bribing politicians.

    1. Agreed. It would appear the military/industrial/congressional complex is in full swing. Does the Lightning II *need* to be built in 48 states? Do we *need* that many flag ranks?

      The collapse of numerous defense contractors, and the significant barriers to entry created by the Government and the remaining contractors, is itself a national security issue, IMHO.

  4. In WWII, we had different types of carriers because we needed different capabilities that a single design could not satisfy. We needed larger fleet carriers for major combat operations and smaller carriers for convoy protection, ferrying aircraft, and anti-submarine patrols.

    Although the Navy operated different types of carriers in the years following WWII, the only new carriers the Navy ordered and built were different classes super-carriers starting with the proposed USS United States which lead to the USS Forrestal. Even the WWII-era Midway-class carriers were modernized and made heavier with super-carrier features including the angled flight deck.

    Over the years, the Navy conducted numerous studies of smaller carriers, some non-nuclear, but always came to the conclusion that the nuclear-powered super-carrier was the best design. However, given the size of today's carrier air wing, Nimitz and Ford-class carriers provide more capability than what is needed.

    That said, I can see a need today for a smaller carrier to support low-intensity operations and amphibious, anti-mine, and anti-submarine warfare. Something along the lines of Japan’s Izumo-class or Italy’s Cavour-class with carrier wing of 16-18 Harriers/F-35s and a dozen or so MH-60R/S.

    1. Or a Royal Navy QE/PoW?

      Clive F

    2. "Although the Navy operated different types of carriers in the years following WWII, the only new carriers the Navy ordered and built were different classes super-carriers ..."

      Not quite. In the years between the end of WWII and the Cold War, the Navy experimented with, and built various types of carriers, including

      1. Carriers with a radically different propulsion system, nuclear power.
      2. The blimp carrier Sicily in 1949.
      3. The ASW carrier as typified by Siboney in 1956 or improved versions such as Wasp in the mid-1960's.
      4. Amphibious assault carriers such as Boxer in 1966.
      5. Helo carriers such as the Iwo Jima class in the '60's and '70's.
      6. Modern amphibious assault carriers like the Tarawa class in the mid-'70's and beyond.

      Until the last few decades, the Navy built and operated several different types of carriers. Yes, some of those were extensive modifications of existing carriers rather than complete new builds but some were, indeed, new builds. The point is that the decades of carrier experimentation kept the carrier force evolving. Today, we've locked in and are no longer experimenting - hence, the point of the post.

    3. Since you referred to the surface warfare fleet of carriers, cruisers, and destroyers, I was thinking fleet carriers, not carriers for anti-submarine or amphibious operations. The LPH and LHA/LHD classes were true innovations that took advantage of new designs for V/STOL aircraft, helicopters, and air-cushioned vehicles, and provided new capabilities for amphibious operations. Some of the first LPHs were actually converted Essex class carriers. But, I understand your point.

      Looking at the Ford class with an electromagnetic catapult and other improvements, I think we're still experimenting and evolving the carrier force today. I just hope the Ford class delivers as promised.

      But, a carrier is no good without aircraft and future of our carrier fleet is dependent on the success of the F-35.

    4. "But, a carrier is no good without aircraft and future of our carrier fleet is dependent on the success of the F-35."

      That's kind of my point in a reverse way. The lack of carriers prevents us from experimenting and possible developing new types of carrier-derived vessels. For example, what about a pure UAV carrier? What about a pure aviation based company landing team (I think it's a bad idea but I'd love to experiment with it)? What about a pure close air support carrier for landings (very short range, high weapons load - maybe carrying a navalized A-10)? What about a carrier based (meaning helo) MCM vessel? What about an ASW carrier for SSK hunting? You get the idea. There's lots of potential uses for carrier derivatives but we can't experiment with them because we only have 9 active carriers and they're all of the same type.

      Maybe we shouldn't have retired the Tarawas. Maybe we should have kept one or two and experimented with them?

      Your comment about the future of the carrier fleet being dependent on the F-35 is both true and hugely limiting. Right now, there's absolutely no incentive to try to develop other aircraft types because there are no carriers to experiment with. We've limited our developmental path to just bigger carriers and more of the same type of aircraft we have now. The F-35 is really nothing more than an F-18 with some extra stealth.

      Things like EMALS are just puttering around with the equipment on a carrier. They don't change the carrier or its functions.

    5. The Expeditionary Transfer Dock and Expeditionary Mobile Base are two possible platforms to conduct some of the experiments you described. While they can't operate fixed wing aircraft like a carrier, they probably could operate F-35s, Ospreys, and Sea Stallions. You might even be able to land an OV-10 on one, an aircraft that deserves a comeback.

      And, don't forget we've repurposed amphibious ships in the past. In the 1970's, the USS Guam (LPH-9) was equipped with Harriers and Sea King ASW helicopters to test the concept of the Sea Control Ship. The USS Inchon (LPH-12) ended her career as the Mine Countermeasures and Support ship (MCS-12). And, two Wasp-class LHD were equipped with Harriers and used to support the initial invasion of Iraq. The USS Bataan (LHD-5) set a record carrying 26 Harriers.

      The Marines have looked at a Company Landing Team (CoLT) for a while and have done some experiments with its organization and weapons. The Marines have a similar capability with their contingency response MAGTFs. But, I like the idea of a few or more Company Landing Teams for greater coverage and faster response to a crisis.

      In the end, I think we need class of light carriers like Japan's Izumo-Class or Italy's Cavour-class. Spain's Juan Carlos-class is another possibility.

  5. I could see a two level navy. One with smaller America classes and either a ski jump or CATOBAR to support small, insurgent level type attack aircraft like the Bronco and the Embraer; and a larger fleet type navy like we have now.

    Shooting HiLuxes with 60-100 million dollar aircraft puts us WAY on the wrong side of the economic curve.

  6. As the risk of repeating your post, the diversity you are talking about is seen as redundancy within the Navy's leadership, and with the recent business mindset (remember the "enterprise" construct?), redundancy is seen as waste. So instead of multiple parallel/complementary solutions to problems, there is a single solution developed or a desire to modify an existing system to respond to that gap, with the risk of a complete failure if we find that our systems are not as effective as expected, or worse, exploited and countered.

    1. Using business models for not business applications is ridiculous. Its one of my pet peeves.

      Further, business gets into trends where one business model for, say, manufacturing gets shoehorned onto other business models for things like service industry, and they don't always work.

      Business tools, while often effective and innovative for their intended purpose, are too often seen as some wonderful panacea for too many other processes, and they're not.

      The model that works great for car manufacturing won't work for education. The model that works great for coding may not work well at all for car manufacturing.

      And something that seems like a great, lean solution for business fails utterly in organizations like healthcare or the military, where redundancy is more important than being lean.

  7. The Burke and Ticos are not very different from each other, they have similar (but not the same) displacement, radars, weapons load and mission specialization. They can actually be counted as 1 generic class.

  8. I had thought the Burkes had a smaller hull. The Tico's were built on the Spruance hulls, and have larger VLS.

    If we were still able to built those hulls they might be a better fit for AMDR that Burke Flt III.

    They certainly have similar capabilities, but the Tico's just have larger magazines and, from what I've read, better placed arrays.

    Now, the 'Burkes may be more technologically advanced, being more recently built.

    1. The Ticos are about 60 ft longer but about 10 feet narrower.

  9. As another example (at the micro-scale), to show this trend isn't just benign neglect;
    - Cancellation of the alternate JSF/F-35 engine, GE's F-136, just before it would have been ready. Just before it could have been an option against the P&W F-135.

    Cancelled to reduce 'redundancy' and increase 'efficiency'. Shouldn't be surprising, really. There probably isn't an Admiral in the USN without an MBA.

    Now, P&W can charge what they want for each batch of F-135s, with no pressure to maintain quality or control cost. The customer has to suck it up since they can't just walk across the street and choose the alternate powerplant like you can with the F-15/F-16s.

    Whatever 'savings' this cancellation generated ($1-2B, IIRC) have almost certainly already been gouged out by P&W. With decades more of the same to come.

    Instead, competition would have incentivized both GE and P&W to keep the costs down and the quality up.

    And that doesn't even factor in the operational benefits of diversifying your main tactical aircraft powerplant 50:50 (or something like it) across the fleet.

    2025 Hypothetical: It is discovered that the F-135 has some fatal flaw: flinging blades through fuel tanks, lacking containment, whatever. Every plane with that engine is grounded.

    Result: You loose all of your F-35 fleet for however long it takes to fix the issue. Or for as long as it takes to design, build, and install an alternative.

    CNO, the gist of your post probably applies just as well to missiles and other ordnance also.

    For example, this idea that the LRASM will replace the Harpoon & Tomahawk ASCM/LACM. The diversity of threats an enemy surface unit needs to defend against continues to shrink also - making their job easier.

    1. It is not entirely correct to say the F-136 has been cancelled completely. GE may have cancelled that program, but it was replaced by a research project to develop a new gen engine. That engine is required to fit in the same space as the F-135.

      So no they cannot charge what they like, because GE will be looking for an opportunity to get back in the minute P&W is perceived as overcharging. P&W will not quickly forget the pain of loosing exclusivity last time with the F-100 for the F-15.

    2. It is 100% correct to say that the F-136 engine program has been cancelled (Dec 2011 being the date, if I recall correctly).

      I'm guessing that you're referring to the GE Adaptive Engine program as the next generation engine. That is on-going but the F-136 is dead.

      As far as cost, the adaptive engine is probably a decade or more away from fielding so P&W can do whatever they want, cost wise, during that period. It's a valid concern.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 30 days in order to reduce spam.