Friday, June 30, 2017

Does Every Ship Need A Helicopter?

One of the seeming absolute characteristics of US Navy ship design is the presence of a helo flight deck and hangar.  Further, almost every observer/commenter automatically includes a flight deck and helo(s) for any new ship design discussion.

In recent times, the closest we’ve come to building a warship without a helo was the early Burke Flt I’s which had only a flight deck and no hangar and that was quickly abandoned in favor of the Flight IIa’s which have a flight deck and full hangar.

But, does every ship need a helo?

Well, helos are certainly useful for a variety of tasks but so is an elephant and very few naval ships are equipped with elephants.  The question is not whether a helo is useful but whether its usefulness is sufficient to justify the expenditure of ship’s deck space (the flight deck), internal volume (hangar, machine/repair shops), fuel storage volume, weapons magazine space, spare parts storage, and additional crew accommodations.  This is all square and cubic footage that could go to other weapons, sensors, and ship’s functions.  In other words, there is an opportunity cost associated with ship’s helos.

Let’s look a bit closer.

Let’s look at the percentage of ship’s deck space consumed by the flight deck and hangar.  On a Burke DDG the flight deck makes up around 15% of the ship’s overall length and the hangar accounts for another 18%, by eyeball estimation.  Together, the flight deck and hangar use around 33% of the ship’s overall length.  That’s a lot of length and square footage devoted to the helo especially when it only supports one or two helos – let me say that again … a third of the ship’s length to support one or two helos.

The Perry FFG is similar with the flight deck and hangar accounting for around 38%, by eyeball estimation.

Consider the number of VLS cells, large and small caliber guns, electronic warfare systems, RHIBs, UNREP stations, etc. that could be carried if a ship had no helo.  Is a helo worth the loss of 64-128 VLS cells?  Is a helo worth the loss of two 8”+ major caliber naval guns?

In some cases, possibly so.  For instance, a dedicated ASW vessel would benefit greatly from a couple of helos since helos are our primary shipborne ASW weapon.

On the other hand, a ship that is primarily an AAW escort, such as the Ticonderogas and Burkes, gains little from having a helo.  Ticonderogas will never perform ASW and Burkes, many or most of them, will never perform ASW.  No sane commander is going to want a $2B Burke playing tag with a submarine.  Thus, a Burke’s helo is used for transport duties rather than ASW.  Even those transport duties are more a matter of convenience than necessity.  A ship’s boat could provide the needed transport in most cases – ships transported all the people and supplies they needed via the ship’s boat in WWII.  Again, dedicating a third of the ship’s length to a transport helo is a poor use of ship’s space and, more importantly, contributes nothing to the ship’s combat capability. 

What about surveillance?  Won’t a helo provide extended surveillance for the host ship?  Possibly, in some circumstances, but only poorly.  Helos have limited range, limited sensors, and, being helos, limited availability.  Helos are always down for maintenance!  Besides, Burkes and Ticonderogas are escorts for carriers and big deck amphibious ships, both of which have ample numbers of helos, Hawkeyes, and the vaunted F-35 which sees everything for a thousand miles, or so we’re told.  Thus, there is no need for the Burke or Tico’s single helo.

Now, if the Burke is going to operate alone or as part of a surface group then, yes, a helo may make sense though one still has to wonder if it’s worth the loss of other weapons, sensors, and functions.  Even in this case, UAVs may provide better sustained surveillance coverage than a helo.

The conclusion, then, is that most Burkes and all the Ticonderogas could easily do without helos and would, in fact, be more combat capable without helos thanks to the added weapons, sensors, and functions that could be accommodated in the space/volume now dedicated to helo support.  There is probably a case to be made for equipping a portion, say 25%, of the surface ship fleet with helos for those situations when a surface ship is going to operate independently.  Realistically, the number of times a surface ship will operate independently are likely to be few and far between.

The Navy needs to stop automatically including helos in every ship design and start thinking through the actual combat use of the ship and whether that use requires a helo – hey, that kind of thinking sounds a lot like a Concept of Operations (CONOPS), doesn’t it?  The automatic inclusion of helos indicates a laziness in ship design thinking – we’ll include one because we always have – and a failure to develop a CONOPS prior to design. 


  1. Your essay points directly to the benefits of psuedo modularity allowing a real high/low mix on a common hull. I say psuedo because its not modular in the sense that it could easily be changed after its left the builder, but rather easily reconfigured while still being built.

    Save for the Zumwalt, ship hull form and power plant technology seem to be fleshed out pretty well. It doesn't seem like it would be difficult to build a "new" common Burke hull with different options direct from the dealer, so to speak.

    It seams like we have turned over all ship building responsibilities to industry. Why are we not paying them to design a ship for a particular purpose, and then putting the design out for bid? The US Navy should "own" the design. It seems that with industry in the driver's seat, there is a serious conflict of interest.

    Because the Navy does not own the process, we end up with ships like the LCS and planes like the F-35.

    1. I understand. You're talking about configurable at construction or during a major refit as opposed to modular on a day to day basis. Quite reasonable.

  2. That's why the SH-3G would have been handy

    1. I'm suggesting no helos and you're suggesting a specific one. Why?

    2. What if you have to board a vessel and your boarding team only has a RHIB. At least a helo gives your boarding team options

    3. Then you assign helo-carrying ships to boarding operations. I didn't call for a complete and total abandonment of helos - I merely suggested that not every ship needs a helo!

      Also, boarding is not a combat operation. We should be building warships for war - not boardings. If we want a ship to do boardings, we can build a low end Coast Guard ship.

  3. Destroyers and Cruisers should stick to AAW/ASuW.
    Frigates should be the ASW hunters with helos.
    Cant help but think how good aircraft and associated
    equipment/fuel would burn if hit with missle attack before you can get the bird off. You got two hangers flanking the VLS on a Burke, don't look good. keep thinking of the 1st battle of salvo island when US CAs with all their scout planes in the hangers lit up the night light roman candles,made easy shooting for the IJN.

  4. I for one really want to now explore the possibility of putting elephants on ships.

    I think general dynamics could get us a pacaderm mk1 for 8 million or so. Cheap!

    1. ComNavOps is privy to many military secrets. I may have spoken too freely about this.

      I shouldn't say anything else but if I were to say something else, it would be stealthephant.

    2. What they need is modularity - why just elephants when they could swap other useful animals in and out as the mission requires.

  5. I've always wondered why VLS hatches aren't flush with the deck. If they were, the flight deck could have VLS cells and still be used by helicopters.

    1. They dont have to be on a flat deck at all. The canadians and dutch put them on the outsides of the hangar. The Zumwalts have them along the deck edge.

    2. "why VLS hatches aren't flush with the deck"

      My first reaction was that this was a ridiculous idea but the more I thought about it, the more I had no good answer. Technically, I see no reason why it couldn't be done.

      Now, most flight deck areas are at the stern of the ship and it may be that there just isn't enough depth below the flight deck to accommodate VLS cells? I don't know.

    3. "The canadians and dutch put them on the outsides of the hangar."

      I think the cells you're referring to are smaller and only hold shorter range air to air missiles. I don't think such a cell could hold Tomahawks or Standard missiles. Am I wrong about that?

    4. I have considered VLS cells within the flight deck as well. The problem is you have a helicopter (and often people) on the flight deck for long stretches. While that could be worked around for the tubes containing Tomahawks (because they usually aren't fired at a moment's notice), you don't have that luxury with SAMs. There would be a strong chance you are caught with your pants around your ankles.

    5. Big Charlie,

      The VLS cell doors/exhaust vents would have decreased reliability with having the helo load placed upon them repeated. Also, if the flight deck and the VLS launchers occupy the same area then you lose the RAST.

  6. Yes and no, CNO.
    I could pick at basically all of your major points, but I will only do so at the most practical point:
    "dedicating a third of the ship’s length to a transport helo is a poor use of ship’s space and, more importantly, contributes nothing to the ship’s combat capability"
    This is mostly wrong, and let me explain why: Battle Formations.
    The USN's preferred battle formation is the 'Wide Ring Formation', it's a very defensive CV-centric formation that puts the capital ships in the center of the formation with escorts in 'rings' around the 'Center' at various ranges, to form a layered defense against any threat.

    In WW2, the Ring formation was very tight.
    There was the Center (where sat the Flagship), the 1st ring (where sat the other CVs), the 2nd ring (BBs, CAs), the 3rd ring (more BBs/CAs), the 10 mile Ring (CAs, DDAAs [Sumners], and a few ASW DDs [Fletchers]), the 15 mile ring (Mix of CA/CLs, DDAAs, and ASW DDs), the 25 mile ring (Mostly CLs, DDAAs, and ASW DDs), and the 50 mile ring (Picket ships, almost always AA tasked DDs).
    Regardless of the shorter ranges involved, this brings up a point of contention I have with your post:
    "ships transported all the people and supplies they needed via the ship’s boat in WWII"
    This is, from my understanding of US Naval History, entirely false.
    It was considered virtually impossible for one ship to transfer personnel or materials to other ships without actually pulling up to the other ship and stretching a line across. They very rarely used their ships boats except at extremely short ranges.
    We are talking maybe 5 nautical miles, tops, and that still took ~20 minutes with a 15knot Motor Whale Boat, and only newer CL/CAs, BBs, and CVs had those, the older Cruisers and DDs had old fashioned rowboats.

    In today's time, the method of battle has changed drastically, which has expanded the range that the ships in the fleet must operate from each other.
    Let me paint an example.
    You have your 'Center', which is actually your '3 Mile Ring', upon which sits your CV, and maybe a single escort, typically the Air Warfare Commander (AW), which is a Tico, and the supply ship (if the fleet is so fortunate as to have one).
    Past that, you have your '15 Mile Ring' (which may be 20+ nmi out), on this ring sit a few Burkes and a couple of FF-likes. If the AW is not on the 3 Mile Ring, they are on this ring. Also on this ring is the Undersea Warfare Commander (UW), who is also the Helicopter Element Coordinator AND the Screen Coordinator. If the Surface Warfare Commander is not on the Carrier, they are on a Tomahawk-capable ship on this Ring.
    Past that, you have the 'Screen ring', which is placed between 25 and 35 nautical miles out. In today's time, this ring is sparsely populated, but it is supposed to have about a dozen DDs on it and a handful of FFs.
    Past that, you have the 'Picket Ring', which is between 40 and 78 nautical miles away from the center. This line was supposed to be populated by FFs as the first line of defense against Air and Undersea attack on the Fleet, but it is currently totally devoid of ships. In an actual shooting war, we would see this line return very quickly as the fleets merged together to allow for more suitable escort numbers, but would also push out all of the ranges even more.

    When it comes down to it, the ranges involved makes the transferal of personnel and materials via boat not only impractical, it makes it extremely dangerous, as the ships in question have to completely leave their posts to rendezvous at a meeting point, or dispatch a 22-31knot boat for several hours when the Helo could do it in 6 minutes. The CV does not have enough helos to spare for this, they are too busy on ASW patrol around the CV.
    So, my opinion is contrary to your opinion, the Helicopters actually do grant a combat effect when the ships involved are utilized correctly - longer time on station.

    - Ray D.

    1. "I could pick at basically all of your major points"

      Feel free to pick! A good, logical disagreement does much to further the discussion. I have no problem with someone disagreeing with me - of course, they're inevitably wrong!

    2. "When it comes down to it, the ranges involved makes the transferal of personnel and materials via boat not only impractical,"

      If I understand you correctly, your entire point comes down to a matter of convenience and speed of transfer of people. Take away the desire of two CO's to have dinner together or an Admiral who wants to dress someone down face to face versus over comms and how many mandatory personnel transfers are there during a combat operation? Somewhere around none? Whatever incredibly few transfers there are, our WWII fathers found a way to do it without helos and so can we. Dedicating a third of EVERY ship's combat capability to convenience is nonsense.

      What has changed between WWII and now that they managed without helos but we absolutely must have helos on every ship? Nothing! We've just gotten lazy and used to the convenience of a helo.

      "Helicopters actually do grant a combat effect when the ships involved are utilized correctly - longer time on station."

      There is no mandatory reason for a ship to ever leave station to transfer someone. As in WWII, it can wait. No person is that important that they must be transferred. Thus, your claim is wrong. Helos provide no combat capability by providing quick transportation.

    3. CNO, that is not what I meant, allow me to explain in greater detail (a 4000 character limit is very hard to explain these things in full inside).

      "What has changed between WWII and now that they managed without helos but we absolutely must have helos on every ship? Nothing! We've just gotten lazy and used to the convenience of a helo."
      This is wrong on major points and you should know better, considering how much you rightfully complain about this subject on this very blog.
      It is exactly the differences between the DD of today and the DD of WW2 that make the Helos a transportation requirement.
      I do not like the change, and would personally do as much to revert to the older ideal on this aspect if I could, I am merely observing the change that did happen and accepting the realities of the moment so we can potentially fix them.
      This is leaving aside the ASW advantages of the Helos, and a large reason why I add Helos to every design I can, which I will touch on following this.

      Modern DDs do not have native Repair Personnel and Machining facilitates. WW2 DDs did.
      This is a MASSIVE change.
      WW2 DDs were fully equipped to get themselves underway again autonomously after sustaining battle damage, their parts and gear simple and rugged, repairable with simple machines and fabrication. To pull an extreme scenario out of the hat, after the USS Laffey's kamikaze incident the battered and beaten tin-can DD had repaired most of the immediate threatening damage, patched the waterline holes, gotten both damaged aft boilers working again (and they were riddled with holes), gotten both forward 5" mounts fully operational, replaced several of the destroyed 20mms (the spares for which the ship was not supposed to be carrying) and the Captain was (somewhat famously) mulling on if they should dynamite the jammed rudder so they could get underway again by the time the relieving ship arrived.
      Modern DDs (to include the Ticonderoga-class, which is a DD hull) simply cannot afford the space for this type of function, so they didn't even bother trying. Why can't we just put the Fabrication facilities and related personnel back on the DDs so they can perform even /limited/ autonomous repairs? Because the parts and components required by the modern DDs are too complex to be fabricated on-board the DD with the limited available space. CVs (and to an extent the BBs and the planned upgraded CAs) have/had CNC machines, Laser Cutters, large Mills, Lathes, and other high precision machinery to fabricate the parts. To put this capability 'back' on the DD would mandate that every DD be the size of a WW2 Cruiser (larger than an Atlanta, more the size of a Cleveland) with no other changes (the deck space isn't the problem, it's a hull space issue, the Burke Hangars are wrapped around the VLS, where the Workshops couldn't go anyway).
      In fact, last American class of DD truly capable of autonomous repair was the Forrest Sherman class from 1955.
      With the Helos, the parts are fabricated on the CV and flown to the DD along with the repair personnel.
      Thus, my point was the high-speed (and convenient) transfer of /specific/ personnel and /materials/ is an immediate combat benefit of the Helos (an extremely important one, not that I like it).

      So, all this being said...
      "There is no mandatory reason for a ship to ever leave station to transfer someone." about saving the ship from sinking, repairing the ships at sea, or having a better-than-LSC maintenance profile?

      -Ray D.

    4. Attaching to this.
      Use the Helos from the CV? In peace, that is certainly an option, but in a war that is suicide! They don't even have enough Helos to reliably defend themselves!
      Let me explain.
      You seem to be under a mistaken impression of what the ASW Helos are there for, how they are used, and why the US Navy tries to have every ship carry them.
      The Helo is the US Navy's primary ASW Arm - yes, I am aware you knew that, but I suspect you do not know how they are used.
      Each ship carries enough Helos to reliably have enough in the air to afford its own ASW Defense. That is it. They are not there for utility, the CV has the utility Helos and only a few of them, because they are mostly there for flying the Admiral around when he wants to showoff. Only when they are not doing ASW are the ships' Helos allowed off the hook to go play Utility Helo.
      Each individual ship is NOT, however, in charge of their own ASW. Most of the ships have no idea how to conduct ASW, it's not the US' system (for better or worse).
      The Undersea Warfare Commander (UW) is in charge of ASW /for the entire fleet/. The UW is also almost always the Helicopter Coordinator (HC), meaning they 'own' every single Helicopter in the entire fleet they are in control of.
      Really, the non-ASW ships carrying the ASW Helos isn't so much of a problem as it is an advantage if the system we had intended them for in the Cold War (when we were notably very excellent at ASW), why we put so many ASW Helos out there in the first place, was actually used properly - if it was, we would not be having an ASW problem!
      Allow me to clarify.
      The UW and HC ship was supposed to be the actual ASW ship that was taking all of the Data collected from the entire fleet's ASW Aircraft and directing every ship in what to do and how to react, effectively an ASW AEGIS.
      This meant that the Burkes/non-ASW ships didn't actually have to know how to conduct ASW, because the Spruances (and before them the Essex-class-Yorktown-derivative CVS') did. The Burkes/non-ASW ships only needed to provide the Remote Eyes (Helos, Buoys, and their own Sonar) and the Muscle (ASROC, ASW Torpedoes) to defend itself. The UW was telling them what to do and when to do it, all the rest of them needed to do was follow orders and push buttons on cue.
      However, we disposed of the dedicated ASW DDs with their fancy state-of-the-art Combined-Fleet ASW computers that could actually compile the various Undersea Warfare data points in real time in exchange for dedicated AAW that could do the same thing except with Airborne targets...

      Each ship brings its own ASW muscle, the ASW Brain is already there... was the idea.
      We let that 'ASW brain' atrophy and then killed it off, while still trying to use the corpse.
      When used correctly, the Helo Net ASW strategy is probably one of the best Short-to-Medium range ASW nets in the world. When combined with the long arm of the S-2 Tracker/S-3 Vikings, P-3 Orions, it became probably the general-purpose best in the world.
      Our CVs carry so many Helos because they are such large targets that they require that many Helos or more to be able to reliably cover themselves (under the UW's control), they cannot afford to branch any off during combat, and the UW would never allow that anyway (the CV is more important than a DD).
      Our DDs have two ASW Helos because... they are large enough targets that they need at least one ASW Helo covering them, and they have a ~50% readiness profile when lucky. From my understanding (and memory), the Spruances and early Burkes were designed to work alongside a hypothetical CVS, which would actually have had more Helos than it needed and could simply re-base Helos to the Burke as needed, but that fell through, resulting in the change to on-ship hangers.

      Our current 'system' may be insane, but the original intention of the system was perfectly logical. It just wasn't executed to plan and is missing parts, as you should well know.

      - Ray D.

    5. Correction,
      "Spruances and early Burkes were designed to work alongside a hypothetical CVS"

      This was meant to say
      "Adams' and early Burkes were designed to work alongside a hypothetical CVS"
      And for the Adams-class, that CVS was the Essex-class, Yorktown-derivatives.

      - Ray D.

    6. Ray, you bring up a great point about the self-repair capability of ships (or lack thereof).

      I hear from active duty helo pilots all the time and the common refrain I hear is that they are not allowed to actually practice ASW - they are used as glorified cargo and personnel transports which are not critical and are almost always pure convenience.

      Rather than respond with a refutation I'm going to leave you with the last word in this discussion. I've made my points and your comments have been an excellent counterpoint. Readers can consider both sides and make up their own minds. Well done and thank you for contributing.

    7. I should probably clarify that, in general, I am agreeing with you.
      However, my complaints are not so much the choice of equipment, but rather the complete lack of training.
      As they are utilized, I 100% agree with you, the Helos are virtually useless in the practical sense - because as they are utilized, the CV may as well just use its own Helos to transfer parts and repair personnel!

      My intended direction with my commentary was 'design intent' from the perspective of a (hypothetical) ship/warfighting systems designer.
      The 'why' the ships are designed with Helos.
      Theoretically, the design concept is sound; but absent proper and thorough training, all the best theories in the world are nothing more than graphite on paper, and often not even that much.
      As we train right now, we may as well have a Navy of nothing but Carriers - and even then, floating barges - we train for basically nothing else, aside from arguably submarine service.

      - Ray D.

  7. I don't think CNO is suggesting that helos are not useful, but are we giving up more important features by having a ship with full helicopter accommodations. A third of the ship's topside is very significant. Unless the helo is part of the ship's core mission, the space could be used better. 10-15% for just a landing pad isn't as bad, but you could still do a lot of helo ops with a ship while not actually landing on it. Helicopters can hover; they can drop off and pick up materials and people without actually touching down on the ship. My opinion is just that aircraft are cool and flashy so everyone wants them on their ship.


  8. Many of these topics revolve around the risk of risking our current HVU ships in primarily ASW ops, with some fire support discussion thrown in.

    We desperately need a small corvette sized combatant for basic ASW escort, fire support and point defense AAW in sufficient numbers to bulk up our fleet. Eliminating a requirement for helo embarkation would make it that much easier.

    That said, it seems extremely useful to be able to at least land a helo for mere personnel transfer, medevac etc.

    Im of multiple minds on this issue. Perhaps this is where the mk57 PVLS shines? Allowing the use of the landing pad for more missiles?

    1. "Perhaps this is where the mk57 PVLS shines? Allowing the use of the landing pad for more missiles?"

      Are you suggesting placing PVLS cells around the periphery of the flight deck? That would still cut several feet into the flight deck. I don't know if that would be acceptable or not but it's worth considering.

  9. In my experience a helicopter was a shared asset

    When I was on a Adams class DDG we did not have a helo, hanger or flight deck, but we could refuel a helo by hot pumping the fuel to a helo hovering over the fantail. We had JP5 fuel tanks, pump and hose. We also could communicate and direct a helo. We often operated with a Knox class fast frigate so that they supplied the helo and we on the DDG shared in its operation

    When I was on a Flight 1 Burke Class DDG the same situation happened since we often operated with a Spruance Class DD which had up to two hellos while we on the Burke had a flight deck, refueling capability, rearming capability with torpedoes and sonar buoys. Sometimes the helo shut down and the crew got a bit of a break and even sleep on our ship.

    So does every ship need a helo and its detachment assigned to it, No.

    However having helo support capability is useful. Hot refueling when hovering, communications and ability to direct a helo, Yes.

    Maybe even a flight deck and no hanger and detachment is a useful thing to have.

    And of course counting up how many helos the navy has might be the way to do it and have enough full helo capable ships should match how many actual helos the Navy has. The rest of the ships should have support capability but not the full outfit

    1. Excellent comment.

      I would still suggest that even a flight deck alone, at 15% or so of the ship's length, is a major opportunity cost for only an occasional use.

      I would also pose the question, of all the helo ops you supported, how many were actual combat (meaning ASW or surveillance/targeting) versus convenience hops (transfer/transport of people/equipment) which is non-combat?

    2. How much space does a Firescout UAV take? VIP transportation is a once in a blue moon scenario. Most helicopter uses I see are straight transits / port entry or verifying positive ID prior to engaging small boats. UAVs can do both of those jobs well.

  10. It isn't merely top deck space. Add in fuel and parts for the helo. And of course food and living space for the helo crew as well.
    Having a helo on every ship also reinforces the "jack-of-all trades but master-of-none" problem. Have a helo? Oh now you can do ASW, SEAL commando raids, refugee relief supply runs, and chase down drug smugglers. On a billion dollar ship with a 30 million dollar helo that costs how much to operate and hour?
    Forget deck space how much money is it costing us? Seventy Burkes with a helo each is 2 billion worth of aviation not including maintenance, fuel, armament, and crew.
    And yet we use them mostly for utility rather than serious ASW or for observing pirates.
    If crew/cargo ferry and light combat vs small boats is what we are actually doing then we could make do with a smaller helo and smaller hanger.

  11. I've often thought a part of the LCS's problems was how much space its hanger and flight deck take up. What percentage do you think it takes up from this smaller platform?

  12. Equipping every warship above a certain size with the means to support a helicopter is simply an early example of distributed lethality.

    As for the notion that helicopters are displacing anything, that's not how ship design works. Including a helicopter pad and hanger simply increases the size (and therefore cost) of the ship in question. Sure, maybe you could another ~48 VLS cells where the aviation facilities are, but then if you needed another 48 cells they would've been in the design in the first place.

    1. No. The ship designer has a conceptual size/cost as a limiting constraint to begin with. Within that limit he must fit as much of the list of weapons, sensors, etc. as he can. Usually, he can't fit everything and must either leave things out or build upwards somewhere else which leads to instability problems.

      Further, the space taken by the flight deck, hangar, and all the other supporting items related to the helo causes the remaining functions to be compressed into smaller spaces. The galley is smaller than desired in order to accommodate the helo. The magazines are smaller. And so on.

  13. You wrote "Ticonderogas will never perform ASW and Burkes, many or most of them, will never perform ASW. No sane commander is going to want a $2B Burke playing tag with a submarine."

    My question is: given the current fleet, which surface ships do you expect to do fleet ASW?

    1. You're right about the Burkes. They are designated as DDG but they should be called CLG. A basic description of the ship sounds like a light guided missile cruiser. We need a true DD. Small, fast, and tough. Loaded out for anti submarine warfare and multiple naval guns. Does not need aviation facilities or cruise missiles. A ship that can do the up-close dirty work.

      But what do I know???


    2. "But what do I know???"

      More than the Navy!

    3. "given the current fleet, which surface ships do you expect to do fleet ASW?"

      With our current fleet structure, surface ships won't do ASW. We'll attempt to depend on our aviation assets to do ASW and we'll find out that they, alone, won't be adequate and we'll pay the price.

  14. Does a small surface combatant need a helicopter?
    The new frigate could eliminate the helicopter and team with a surface combatant that does. Also, I believe the navy was experimenting with off board sensor platforms that could network with other ASW platforms.
    In a prior post you mention the negatives of using the lCS / frigate as a ASW platform. In my opinion the navy should come up with a dedicated ASW frigate.

  15. The following simulation points to the importance of an embarked helo to the ASW mission.

    1. Did someone say that helos are not important in ASW?

    2. Actually, I would argue that helos are not just 'important' for ASW - they are absolutely critical.

      I would further argue that it in any imagineable conflict in which an enemy has submarines - a large portion of the fleet will be required for ASW.

      Hence the provsion of a helicopter deck (at a minimum) has become a defacto minimal requirement for large surface combatants.

    3. Who are you arguing with? Did someone say helos are not critical for ASW? I'm completely baffled about who you are talking to. You seem to be arguing with yourself?

    4. Umm, the post above mine says:

      "The new frigate could eliminate the helicopter and team with a surface combatant that does."

      I was debating that statement. The most important capability an ASW combatant brings to the table is it's helicopter. The simulation seems to bear that out.

    5. The post you're apparently debating does not ssy to eliminate helos or that helos are not useful for ASW. It says that a frigate without a helo could team with a surface combatant that has helos.

      Regarding the "simulation", it is not even a remotely realistic simulation and the author acknowledges that. First, it is a game. Second, it pits a ship and helo in an artificial and unrealistic one on one scenario. That is not how ASW is conducted. Third, NO ONE but you is claiming helos are not useful for ASW and you seem to be debating yourself!

    6. All models are wrong... but some are useful. I believe this one was particularly so.

      A one-on-one ASW scenario is increasingly likely given the Navy's recent shift away from Strike Group to SAG focused ops. See Distributed Lethality, etc.

      My overall point was that building an ASW "frigate" without a helicopter would be quite stupid.

      I am at a loss how you can apparently (?) agree that a helo is important to ASW - and yet somehow think building an ASW "frigate" without a helo is a good idea.

      Note that I openly question your assumption that including a helo on surface combatants reflects laziness in design or thinking. I think it's more common sense and decades of practical experience!

      Nearly every mission area a modern surface combatant conducts is enabled (in some cases critically) by a maritime helo. SUW. ASW. LOG. MIO.

    7. "I am at a loss how you can apparently (?) agree that a helo is important to ASW - and yet somehow think building an ASW "frigate" without a helo is a good idea."

      You obviously didn't read the post so I'll quote what I wrote:

      "For instance, a dedicated ASW vessel would benefit greatly from a couple of helos since helos are our primary shipborne ASW weapon."

    8. "Nearly every mission area a modern surface combatant conducts is enabled (in some cases critically) by a maritime helo. SUW. ASW. LOG. MIO."

      There is only one critical mission for a surface warship and that is combat in the form of AAW, ASuW, ASW and strike. A helo is only useful in one of those areas, ASW, and I stated in the post that a dedicated ASW vessel would benefit from a helo.

      Again, I repeat, the issue isn't whether a helo is useful, it's whether the space and resources it consumes is justified when compared to the alternative uses the space could be put to.

      This discussion is getting tedious. This should conclude things unless you have something new and relevant to offer.

    9. Yeah. I just can't follow your logic. Punching out.

    10. "Yeah. I just can't follow your logic."

      Nothing to be ashamed of. Most people couldn't follow Boyd or Billy Mitchell or Rickover or Fulton, either. Just keep trying. You'll get it eventually!

  16. One factor that is not addressed is organizational: how many helicopters should be deployed with the given task force, task unit, task group etc. (yes I am old school).

    I was not an aviator, but my suspicion is that 12-14 helicopters are necessary for the ASW portion of a helicopter screen for a carrier task force, but the trick is breaking it down across the task force.

    Right now, the maximum number of helicopter hangers on our ships is two, and that is too small a grouping. Conversely putting all of the helicopters on a single ship like the carrier carries the risk of losing the entire ASW helicopter screen with the loss of one vessel.

    Embarking less than four to six helicopters on a ship results in an extreme duplication of spare parts, flight deck crews, support equipment & tools, as well as pilots and maintenance personnel.

    The JMSDF might have the right idea with their Hyūga-class helicopter destroyers - perhaps a smaller vessel designed to support six to eight helicopters would be ideal. Weapons would be limited to self defense.

    Two or three such helicopter ships could support a very effective ASW screen for two to three aircraft carriers.


    1. The Spruance class USS Hayler was originally intended to be a DDH with increased helo capacity of 4x SH-60's. This is along the lines of the Japanese effort and your suggestion.

    2. You're also addressing one of my pet peeves about US Navy ship design. We try to build every ship to be able to do every task and, as a result, none do any task well. A Burke claims to have ASW capability, and it does to an extent, but it does not and cannot do it well because it's not optimized for it. It would be better to build smaller, cheaper, specialized ships.

      Instead of one Burke, we need a dedicated AAW ship and a dedicated ASW ship. Conceptually, we could build the two for the cost of one Burke.

      Maybe we need to revisit the WWII hunter-killer ASW groups that consisted of a small carrier and some destroyers. Today, that would be a small ASW helo carrier and some (non-existent) small, dedicated ASW corvettes.

    3. The cheapest, fastest route would be to build a licensed copy of the Hyūga-class ships. In fact buy six to ten directly from the Japanese.

      Guaranteed to be the best built ships in the U.S. Fleet.


  17. I agree most surface ships are not ideal candidates for embarked helos. The cost in terms of space is great and the payoff in terms of ability is small. But, it seems like the growing proliferation of drones (both UAV and USV) make it a near certainty that surface ships will continue to have (if not increase) hangar and flight deck space. If one believes (as I do) that drones will eventually grow in their capabilities beyond surface ISR, to include subsurface ISR as well as surface and subsurface strike abilities, is it not the case that these facilities go from a luxury to a necessity aboard most surface ships?

    1. I, Orville Wright, believe that airplanes will eventually grow in their capabilities to include surface and subsurface strike abilities, is it not the case that aircraft facilities go from a luxury to a necessity aboard most surface ships? - And yet we do not make every ship an aircraft carrier.

      Integrate that example into your view.

      While you're doing so, answer this: how many UxV's should most surface ships have? As you answer, consider what those UxVs (whatever number you choose) can actually accomplish. In other words, how much damage can one or two or however many UxVs you envision, actually accomplish. Unless you want to turn every surface ship into a UxV carrier, the couple of UxVs that each ship carries just won't be capable of accomplishing much. A UAV with a couple Hellfires isn't going to sink an enemy ship but the VLS cells loaded with anti-ship missiles that might been installed in place of the UxV hangars, decks, etc. could sink a ship - or several ships.

      To repeat the premise of the post, the question isn't whether UxVs are useful, it's whether they represent the best use of available ship deck space and internal volume? Would you rather have a few UxVs or 50-100 extra VLS cells? Which will enhance your combat capabilities more?

    2. Your point is taken, but would you mind explaining to me the difference between a missile and a UAV? They look awfully similar...

      In that sense, most surface ships already ARE aircraft carriers. Only most of the "aircraft" they carry are the type that don't come back once launched and go boom once they get to where they are going.

      If the mission of surface ships is chiefly to launch missiles/UAVs that go boom, then yes, you are better off with more VLS cells. If however, the mission changes and you need your missiles/UAVs to be 1. recovered and reused 2. controllable after launch, 3. able to hover/loiter and 4. carry sensors instead of bombs, then I think having the facilities that can operate those types of UAVs is quite useful.

    3. The difference between a UAV of the type that can be carried on a surface ship (Scan Eagle and the like) and a missile is that the missile has a warhead many times larger than whatever tiny missile a UAV can carry (typically a Hellfire). Also, the missile in its VLS cell does not consume deck space, hangar space, maintenance shops, fuel storage, operator berthing, spare parts storage, etc. to anywhere near the extent a UAV does. As I said, you can have 50-100 VLS cells for the space a few UAVs consume.

      The mission of a ship in combat is to make things blow up. Which can do that better, a UAV or a Standard/Tomahawk?

      If the mission is surveillance, we have plenty of alternative assets that can do that mission far better than a UAV - assets like satellites, AWACS, P-8/Triton BAMS, F-35, E-2D Hawkeyes, OTH radar, etc.

    4. A couple points:

      1. Not sure a SAG will be able count on having the above ISR assets in a fight. Carriers are in short supply. Land bases are often far away and pretty vulnerable.

      2. I'd encourage you to read Wayne Hughes. Particularly the importance he places on scouting. The guy who gets seen first is usually at a distinct disadvantage.

    5. Agreed, Standard/Tomahawks can make airplanes, ships, and land targets blow up much better than UAVs. On the other hand, UxVs, particularly ones equipped with dipping sonar, are better at finding submarines and making them go boom. Instead of 1-2 Seahawks a destroyer could carry 2-4 MQ-8Cs and 2-4 USV Protectors. Both have drastically longer loiter times and lower operational costs.

      I also would ask, if the mission of a ship in combat is to make things go boom, which can do that better, a ship or a submarine? If we are going to use surface ships primarily as missile trucks, why not primarily use submarines?

    6. "A couple points:"

      The Navy's plan is to have a theater wide sensor net of all the assets I cited tied together in one giant, all-seeing and all-knowing network. You can debate the wisdom of that vision (and I often do!) but the Navy is committed to providing the ISR assets that are needed. UAVs of the size and type that could be carried on a surface ship simply don't have the range or sensor range to be effective scouts. They can supplement other sensor assets but they can't do the job alone. If we get to a point in combat where a ship's only sensor asset is a ship based UAV, we're in a world of hurt!

      Hughes is correct about scouting. Of course, he's not the one who figured that out. Some caveman figured that out and every military person since has repeated it.

      I'll repeat, the issue is not whether a UAV is useful, it's whether the extreme consumption of ship space and volume could be better used for something else.

    7. "UxVs, particularly ones equipped with dipping sonar, are better at finding submarines and making them go boom."

      There are no current UAVs with dipping sonar as far as I know. In fact, there are no functional ASW UAVs as far as I know. If and when there are, I'll re-evaluate.

      UAV's cannot find a sub and make it go boom. UAVs simply don't have the carrying capacity for sensors and weapons at the same time. Thus, it requires at least two UAVs to prosecute a sub and probably more since a UAV is likely to only carry a single ASW torpedo.

      If you want to engage in speculation about what a UAV might someday be able to accomplish, by all means do so but this discussion is about what UAVs can actually do, today. If, someday, someone can produce a UAV that carries dipping sonar, sonobuoys, can process data and evaluate as well as a human, carries multiple ASW torpedoes, and has greater endurance than a SH-60 while being a quarter of the size then I'll reconsider. Until then, UAVs can't do ASW.

    8. There is the experimental DARPA ACTUV / navy drone sensor ship program for detecting subs but this thing could be detected on the surface by the enemy, one would think.

    9. It's also illogical to think that a small vessel with a limited power sonar is going to be able to find and maintain contact on subs when our best ships with high power sonars, towed arrays, and helos can't.

      It's a nice experiment but it's all hype.

    10. @COMNAVOPS: Dipping sonar miniaturization results in sonar <100KG, perhaps <50KG. Also ACTUV is not designed to be as good at submarine detection as the worlds most expensive ship, it is designed to be probably two orders more cost effective in terms of performance for dollar however.

      Think how many ACTUV style Assisted Sail Yachts could be built, manned, operated and sunk for the cost of your Burke? Is it 50, 100 or 200? How many could be on point, for the resources required to sustain 1 burke (i.e. 3 burkes worth of expenditure). At what point do they become more effective? And how do they assist traditional ASW vessals like attack submarines by acting as a force multiplier? A vast sensor net?

      Then what about cheap aerial drones with MALD or dippers or buoys? What about sailing the 600 or so such vessels you might foreseeable be able to procure for the cost of a single burke, along the trade lanes? Following the rule of 3rds and eliminating transit times, we get 400 ships on point.

      At a conservative average economic (crawl) sail speed of 12 knots under wind, we get 4,800 Knots of patrolled trade lanes each day for the cost of 1 Burke on station assuming the rule of 3rds and a 200:1 cost advantage of burkes at 2Bn ea + aviation wing costs + Munition costs + cost of operations.

      Remember we could also put towed arrays of some kind (not as powerful as on burkes perhaps) on these vessels, it would increase costs, size and energy requirements but it is doable. Weaponry could be fitted, such as two lightweight torpedoes (not so helpful without speed) or a heavy weight, maybe an ASROC in a box launcher or some drones on a manned variant. It all adds cost.

      But the point of ACTUV is not to match a Destroyer or a frigate, it is to be built in extremely large numbers and used tactically to enhance existing ASW forces, I can see them loitering around terrain features in the pacific that are used to hide vessals, just hanging out around atolls and the like, cruising around fords, denying the enemy places of shelter and concealment.

    11. My maths was wrong it was 4800Nm of patrolled trade lane each hour and 115,200NM each day, the earth is 3440 Nautical miles, so that is equivalent to patrolling a straight line (obviously impossible given land is in the way) 1.4x around the earth every hour, or 34 times a day, lets make 2 assumptions about effective detection range, a modest 25KM (that is a diameter not a radius) and a 50KM coverable by an ASROC based system. That gives an active proximate coverage of ~1.5-3x the circumference of the earth worth of trade-lanes, continuous.

      Just think of them as modern interpretation of PT Boats from WW2... Akin to the airforces warthog, an unglamiorous pig that gets the job done and for a good price.

    12. "Think how many ACTUV style Assisted Sail Yachts could be built, manned, operated and sunk for the cost of your Burke?"

      The question is not how many could be built, the question is how capable are they? Building dozens or thousands of tiny vessels that can't detect anything does not help. It's like putting thousands of blind policemen on the streets (assuming that a blind policeman cost a fraction of a sighted one, for sake of discussion). Yes, you could greatly increase the numbers of police but they would be nearly useless.

      There is zero evidence that the ACTUV has ANY effective submarine detection capability and logic supports this. The logic is that our best ships, using very high powered, very large sonars and very long towed arrays backed up with computers and operated by sonar experts have a very hard time finding and tracking subs in exercises (and probably harder to do in the wild). That being the case, the likelihood that a tiny vessel with a single, very small, very low powered sonar will be able to find subs is vanishingly small. If the ACTUV's tiny sonar were that phenomenal, the Navy would be embarked on a crash program of ripping out the existing ASW suites from every Burke and replacing them with the tiny sonar.

      As far as having large numbers of ACTUVs patrolling, they can do that until an enemy decides to get rid of them, at which point they are just a simple live fire target exercise since they have zero defensive capabilities.

      This kind of mindset, that we can turn assets loose on the enemy and the enemy will allow us to operate them without interference is all too prevalent in military thinking today. If the ACTUV is a problem for an enemy, they'll simply and casually destroy them.

  18. Does every Helicopter Need to be large, and manned, and capable of cargo and troop transit and ASW and also ASuW? Because there are now drones small enough to be hot fueled on some very small craft, and with very good endurances.

    ASW systems have been miniturized (beacons, dippers, torpedoes and MCM and Minewarfare drones), so some hypothetic high-performance, high-speed coaxial helicopter operating individually or in packs could conceivably replace their much larger manned counterparts in nearly all regards, and could be fielded with much lower deck and hangar requirments...

    They could refuel each other, and they could be refueled from smaller crafts, the ACTUV antisubmarine drone could for instance either carry itself a drone, or carry facilities to refuel and potentially rearm drones.

    When such helicopters are shrunk as COMNAVOPS suggested, number of VLS stations can be increased. Where a Carrier might have 3 DDG escorts, 2 Might suffice in terms of defensive and offensive weaponry. Resources would be realeased for additional FFGs.

    Likewise Cruisers would have a very impressive weapons load.

    1. As others have pointed out there is great duplication of resources when every ship has a hanger with helos, even doubling up to 4 greatly increases efficiency as that big helideck is split over 4 instead of 2 Helos, 1 is even worst, it has the highest amount of duplication.

      The increased capabilities of the DDGs gained through sacrificing large manned aviation facilities resulting in excess capability and freeing up resources could also be put into DDGHs as well as FFGs. And unless Nuclear Cruisers are considered the DDGs would replace the Cruisers outmatching them in throw-weight.

      Asian designs for the burke with aviation facilities approach 120 Standard missile silos, it is likely that number would be significantly larger (although on a different hull-form/configuration for weight/balance reasons), perhaps 180-240. A minimum reduction of 50% of DDGs to achieve a given VLS capacity.

      Additionally LHDs could be cancelled and replaced with CG V-STOVL proposed in cold war, similar overall displacement, as LHDs with harriers and F35s essentialy serve the same role minus the VLS stations for defense/offense.

    2. Before you go designing ships with 180-240 VLS cells, you might want to consider the maximum tactically usable VLS cells. Consider the extreme example of a ship with 10,000 cells. It obviously can't use that many missiles in a single major engagement (historically, ships tend to fight one engagement and then retire to refuel, repair, maintain, rearm). So, the question becomes, how many missiles can a ship actually use in a single engagement? When you consider that the engagement window for AAW against an incoming anti-ship missile is on the order of seconds, there is a severe limit as to how many SAMs can be launched and guided.

      When you get above 100 cells, you begin to approach the useless point. You might want to analyze this and decide for yourself where that point is.

  19. I will admit up front that I am a long time proponent of heels on ships. I think it goes back to my active duty time in the 1970s, operating with RN Tribals and Leanders who had helos when we didn't, and that gave them a number of capabilities that we lacked.

    It seems to me that our Achilles heel, and a very glaring one, is ASW. And helos are probably the best ASW asset we have. So until we are up to standard in ASW, I'd be reluctant to go taking helos off any warships.

    As for the drone argument, that active duty experience also includes DASH, and unless and until we are way better that that, it's not the answer. I am actually quite convinced the we are a lot better today, but I'm not sure how well that holds up in an opposed EW environment.

    I like the idea of the Hyuga. A while back I proposed on here the idea of having an hunter killer sea control task force consisting of the VSTOL CG mentioned by Carrier Sense, a Hyuga, and some escorts with ASW and some AAW capability. In the open ocean you wouldn't have much threat from land based air, and enemy carrier based air would be almost non-existent with current worldwide force levels. Assuming you could address the AEW issue with helos adequately for that threat scenario, I think this would be a very useful force, and we could probably build 8-10 of them in order to keep 2-3 deployed routinely.

    I think we should be able to build a destroyer-sized ship (at least at current destroyer sizes) with 2 helos, 100-120 VLS cells, 4-8 OTH missiles, a real gun (76mm+) or two, CIWS, and 4-6 torpedo tubes, plus some room for expansion. Below that size, maybe some escorts/frigates optimized for 2 of the 3 ASW, AAW, and SUW missions, and some frigates/corvettes focused on one of them.

    1. Typo, should be "helos on ships" in first sentence. My spell checker just doesn't like "helos."


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.