Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Diversity On The Sea

Diversity equals resilience

In nature, if one type of tree develops a susceptibility to a particular disease or pest and largely dies off, another type of tree will take its place in the ecosystem and the overall strength of the ecosystem is preserved.  The ecosystem’s strength lies in its diversity.  If one species fails, another takes its place and the ecosystem goes on.

The same is true of military, and in this discussion, naval forces.  If one type of ship is found to be a failure, or even simply less successful, another type can take its place and the naval force adapts, lives on, and succeeds.  This occurred in WWII.  Our magnificent battleships, lined up neatly at Pearl Harbor, were suddenly found to be failures.  That was okay, though, because we had other types of ships, submarines and carriers chief among them, to take over their role.  Our naval diversity ensured that our Navy was able to adapt, live on, and succeed.

One can’t help but wonder, what if we hadn’t had such diversity of ship types.  What if our submarines and carriers had been excluded from the fleet in the name of budgetary savings and standardization.  What if every capital ship had been an unending progression of minor variations of, say, the Pennsylvania class battleship?  What if, instead of new ship types, we had succeeded the Pennsylvania class with the Pennsylvania Flt II and then the Pennsylvania Flt III and so on – an endless string of slightly improved Pennsylvanias?

Well, fortunately we didn’t do that.  Fortunately we developed new ship types like the long range fleet submarine and the aircraft carrier.  And, fortunately, we learned that lesson – that diversity of ship types equals strength and resilience in the never-ending evolution of naval power.  Yes, as I look proudly out over the row upon row of nearly identical Burkes, the Flt I’s , Flt II’s, Flt IIa’s, and now Flt III’s, I rest easy knowing that our diversity has prepared us for the next unanticipated upset in naval warfare and that we will have plenty of alternate choices to …  ah … um …       You know, as I look upon the ranks of Burkes, it occurs to me that we may not have as diverse a fleet as I thought.

Setting aside the small and non-combat capable LCS and the Ticonderogas that the Navy is in the process of retiring, it occurs to me that we only have one surface warfare ship – the Burke.  If an enemy were to find an effective counter to a Burke or if the dictates and conditions of future naval combat were to negate the capabilities of the Burkes, we wouldn’t have much in the way of alternate platforms to choose from, would we?

The same concepts can be applied to our one and only weapon system, Aegis.  If an enemy develops an effective counter to Aegis, we have nothing else to turn to.

Are we arrogant enough to believe that we are perfectly predicting what future naval combat will be like?  Every war ever fought has produced major, unanticipated changes to the prevailing notions of warfare.  Do we really believe that we will flout all of history and perfectly predict the next war?  It seems unlikely in the extreme.

So, where’s our diversity?  Where are the one-off prototype ships that explore new technologies and new approaches to naval combat?  The answer is that there aren’t any.  We’ve sacrificed innovation and diversity in the name of a few percent savings through standardization on the next ship to be built.

Well, now that you and I have had a chance to think about it, we realize that our current fixation on unending Burkes is wrong.  We should be building all manner of prototype vessels to try out new concepts and see what works and what doesn’t.  For example, 

  • Maybe we should have a few 16” big gun battleships in the fleet.

  • Maybe we should build a combination ship that’s half carrier and half cruiser.

  • Maybe we should build a prototype laser ship even if the technology isn’t yet perfect.  Hey, the technology wasn’t perfected when we built the first carrier, the Langley, but it paid off in experience and lessons learned, didn’t it?

  • Maybe we should build a submersible Aegis destroyer.

  • Maybe we should build a rail gun fire support vessel.

  • Maybe we should build a close-in MLRS and C-RAM amphibious assault support ship.

  • Maybe we should build a new generation LST.

  • Maybe we should build a replacement SSGN.

  • Maybe we should build a short range ballistic missile arsenal ship.

  • Maybe we should build a cheap WWII style attack transport as an alternative to our budget busting big deck amphibs.

I can go on all day listing alternative naval ship types that might prove useful in a future war.  Of course, many might not – that’s the nature of experimentation.  As long as we build these as one-off prototypes rather than leap instantly into buying 55 of each like we did with the LCS, who cares if they don’t prove useful?  We won’t be out much.

Building such prototypes has the added advantages of keeping our industrial naval design expertise fresh and vibrant and it would keep our shipyards active and up to date with new construction technologies.

Diversity equals resilience and, right now, our navy is not very diverse or resilient.  That needs to change because the next war is guaranteed to be unlike what we imagine and the more choices we have to choose from, the more likely that we’ll be able to adapt and win.


  1. Diversity doesn't equal resilience. The analogy with nature is flawed. Natural diversity requires on the order of thousands of species to be diverse, not a handful.

    Numbers (and the production capacity to build more) equals resilience. The ability to absorb losses.

    We do have at least one, one-off (well, three-off) experimental ship, the DDG-1000 class.

    The nice thing, nowadays, is we can do a lot of this concept exploration in simulations. They can show us the value (or lack thereof) of different concepts before we allocate budget to build them. So maybe we should "simulate" the value of having 16" gun battleships in wargames, or simulate laser warships, or submersible AEGIS destroyers, and make them prove themselves virtually, first.

    We just don't have the budget to go off and build whatever today's flight of fancy is. Everything needs solid intellectual justification. Everything needs to earn its place in the plan.

    1. Quick question anon, if this is your view on this suggestion, what's your opinion of how things been going? Cause what you suggest is, how it appears to me, how the navy has been doing it. With abysmal results and wasted taxpayer money.

    2. We haven't built the proper intellectual justification for our new types, and we haven't done the proper risk reduction for new concepts and technologies before diving whole hog into production. Everything has been "rush, rush, rush. we have to transform!" without concept validation or proof of value.

      We built FSF-1, ostensibly to prove out high speed, modular concepts, but just pushed it to the side in the rush to build LCS.

      Too much handwaveium (e.g. 50kt minesweepers, stealthy destroyers with uber guns). HVP and lasers are next on that list.

      The two programs that remain successful, the Virginia class SSN and DDG Flt IIA/III, are just incremental improvements on previous vessels.

      Even the Ford class CVN, which is really just a heavily tweaked Nimitz, should have spread out its new technologies over several vessels. Instead, they tried to cram too much into a first-in-class.

      All in all, we're still suffering from the Rumsfeldian "Transformation" idiocy. "Skip a generation"! "Leap ahead!" Complete stupidity.

      We need to go back to proper programmatic and engineering discipline. Concept validation, then risk reduction, then production.

      Don't do concept validation and risk reduction during serial production!

    3. "Diversity doesn't equal resilience. The analogy with nature is flawed."

      Don't be obtuse. Diversity most certainly does equal resilience and you said so yourself with this statement,

      "Natural diversity requires on the order of thousands of species to be diverse, not a handful."

      You recognized that diversity equals resilience. Your quibble is with the number of species/ships and, to that extent, you're correct that the greater the number of species/ships to draw from, the greater the resilience. A navy is not going to have thousands of ship types to draw from but a navy with only a single ship type is certainly far less resilient than one with several types.

      "Numbers (and the production capacity to build more) equals resilience."

      No, numbers and production capacity does not equal resilience, it equals replacement - replacement of losses. Replacement of like with like. That's not adaptability, that's simple replacement. You even say so,

      "The ability to absorb losses."

      Your statements are simply incorrect.

      You do, however, make a good point about simulations. We should be simulating many types of vessels in combat along with many types of tactics, CONOPS, and operational variations.

      None of that, however, can replace the value of actual prototypes. What simulation can do, as you allude to, is identify the alternative vessels that are most likely to prove useful.

      The caution and danger with simulations is that we can only simulate our own conceptions. By definition, we cannot simulate what we can't anticipate and history has shown that every war contains major and unanticipated warfighting shifts. Thus, depending exclusively on simulations will leave us vulnerable to the unanticipated.

      Simulations are also far from perfect. We can't even simulate simple, single aircraft design, for example - witness the problems with the F-35 or the Ford, both of which were supposedly heavily "simulated" in their designs but proved to have significant real world problems. There's no substitute for actually building prototypes.

    4. "We just don't have the budget to go off and build whatever today's flight of fancy is."

      Of course we do. What we don't have the budget to do is build multiple, useless ships like the Ford, Zumwalt, and LCS. The savings from not building those, alone, would pay for all the prototypes we could want plus lots left over for better production ships.

      People think the Navy is short on money but what they're short on is intelligent spending decisions.

      Also, prototypes can often be modifications of existing commercial and naval vessels rather than brand new ships. For example, if we want to build a prototype combination carrier/cruiser, we can modify an existing retiring Aegis cruiser. It won't be a perfect version but it will serve the purpose and cost a LOT less money.

      We have the budget to build all the prototypes we could want if we would only use it wisely.

    5. We've already seen other nations try the carrier/cruiser concept with the Soviet Kiev class, and arguably the Kuznetsov. They have been failures to the point where the Chinese are removing the cruise missile tubes on the Liaoning, while the Indians have completely paved over the missile farm on the Gorshkov to support STOBAR air operations. The consensus seems to be that the cruiser/carrier concept is a dead-end.

    6. Chris, you're missing the point of the post. You're correct that half-n-half designs have not been successful in the past but the point of the post is that in the next war conditions and requirements will certainly arise that we haven't anticipated. What is not successful today could be successful in the future. Hand in hand with this is the implicit assumption that naval operations will change, meaning that the CONOPS for a given vessel will change, too. Thus, a half-n-half, if used differently, might prove useful.

      My point is not to argue for or against any particular alternate design but to simply note that diversity equals resilience.

      The point of the post was that if continue building only what works today, and only minor upgrades of what works today, we'll have no alternatives to call on when the naval requirements of the next war inevitably surprises us and is not what we expected.

  2. The battleships at Pearl Harbor were not a failure other than the fact that they were tied to the pier. Any ship is at its most vulnerable state when moored, especially on Sunday morning when much of the crew is sleeping off Saturday night fun. Fact is the US Navy never lost a battleship at sea. No carriers that had a battleship for protection were ever sunk, although I recall one being scuttled. I know that the topic of this blog post is not about battleships, but it's a topic that gets me fired up.


    1. What I meant by failure is that the age of the battleship as the ship of the line was over - superseded by the carrier. The Pacific war was a carrier war. Battleships were relegated to a supporting role, though an important one.

    2. Thanks for clearing that up. It was the "line of battle" made obsolete, armored ships with big guns were still valuable. One thing also often overlooked was the battleships at Pearl were older ships built before aircraft were considered a threat to a large ship; the armor was for protection against broadside attacks, not air attacks. There were plans to update them, but it didn't happen soon enough. Had it been rows of Iowa's (to come later) at Pearl, they would have fared better. A bunch of moored carriers, with lots of AvGas, would have been a disaster.


    3. As the post posits, it was our diversity in the form of carriers and long range fleet subs that allowed us to succeed in the Pacific war. Battleships played a relatively minor role (AAA escort and shore bombardment).

      This concept of diversity of ship types really isn't that complex a concept nor even really that debatable. Some things I propose are debatable - this really isn't one of them. This is pretty much just a straight-forward statement of fact about the value of naval diversity.

      Also, note that the value of ship diversity is not the instant warfighting capability that the alternative ship type represents (though in the case of the WWII carriers, our few carriers did, in fact, carry the combat load for the first year until we could ramp up our war production). The real value of alternate ship types is the experience they generate which then allows us to design a true, purpose built version, if needed. For example, the value of the Langley wasn't its actual combat capability (limited) but the experience we gained in how to design a carrier, what design characteristics were good and what were bad, the lessons regarding operating an air wing, the design lessons relevant to designing carrier aircraft, etc.

      Had we had no diversity and, therefore, no carriers at the start of WWII, it would have taken us years to learn all that before we could design an effective carrier. We might have lost the war by then.

      As I say, this concept really isn't debatable.

    4. "No carriers that had a battleship for protection were ever sunk"

      This is just a historical curiosity question. Wasn't Wasp sunk in the same torpedo salvo that hit North Carolina? Sep '42, if I recall?

    5. Wasp was torpedoed by the IJN, but you can't really expect a battleship to do anything against a submarine. The point stands that no US carrier escorted by a battleship was lost to air/surface attack.

  3. This is the analogy I'd use on the ship diversity topic:
    It has been said that when the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems tend to look like nails. The inverse is that when your only problems really are nails, the only tool you need is a hammer. Give the enemy some screws and bolts to deal with and now he'll need screwdrivers and wrenches, not just hammers.

    Diversity just for the sake of diversity doesn't help. Just look at the personnel side of the navy. While I was in the Navy, we were getting women introduced into ship's crew, later it was gays, now it's trans. I don't see how any of it made the navy more resilient.

    Ships designed to handle an enemy threat or to create a new problem for the enemy are useful. Just randomly coming up with new ship types is a gamble.


    1. You're being short-sighted here. If we could perfectly predict the needs of the next war then, yes, we could design those ship types which would be most helpful. Since we can't perfectly predict the needs (just as we didn't predict the ascension of the carrier - yes, we saw some use for carriers in that we saw that carriers might be useful scouts for the battle line and other supporting roles), having a variety of ship types in our tool box can only help.

      The point of diversity is that it covers the unpredictable. Had we gone with the pre-WWII thinking of the majority opinion, we'd have had no carriers because no one predicted what they would become.

      Suppose the we go to war with China and find out that they've developed an SPY radar homing missile that we can't reliably stop. In an instant, all our Burkes are rendered useless. Wouldn't it be nice to have, say, a ship that uses strictly electro-optical sensors as the fire control system?

      Yes, randomly coming up with new ship types is a gamble but it's a very low cost (relative to the Navy budget) gamble that has no real downside. What's the worst case? - we build a prototype that proves not to be useful? Even then, we gain the benefit of experience with whatever technologies it emphasized and who knows when we might someday need it. Plus, we kept our industrial ship designers pushing the frontiers of naval design and we made work for the industrial base. No downside!

  4. You could make the argument that the Zumwalt is exactly the kind of limited production prototype ship that you're arguing for to test the idea of a stealthy destroyer optimized for shore bombardment. The results haven't been that promising, and the cost has been exorbitant.

    1. Yes, one could view the Zumwalt as a prototype. However, properly done, it should have been a single vessel. At $4B-$5B per vessel, only one was needed.

      Also, a prototype doesn't need to be a complete, brand new vessel, although it can be. The Zumwalt, for example, could have be prototyped as just the hull form in a much less expensive version to evaluate the seakeeping and stealth aspects. The AGS gun system could have been prototyped on any vessel, including cheap commercial vessels. And so on.

      The Langley was converted from a collier, for example.

    2. The navy has been doing exactly that. Off the top of my head, it built the Sea Shadow, the M80 Stiletto, the Sea Jet, and the Sea Hunter as small scale experiments to evaluate seakeeping and stealth, but I agree the AGS should have been brought to a more mature level on land before it was deployed at sea.

  5. A battleship with 16-in guns is a huge investment just to manufacture the new guns and ammunition. The Army is increasing the barrel length of their M777 cannons for increased range. With new ammunition, ranges of 70 kilometers are expected. That would be my starting point for a new naval cannon.

    If the Navy were to procure extra Columbia-class submarines, that would solve the SSGN problem.

    Proccedings has an article about converting the Fast Expeditionary Transports into guided missile patrol boats to serve in the Gulf that is worth a read.

    1. The problem with the M777 is that at the end of the day it is still just a 6" gun with limited payload (extended range munitions cut into the payload even more).

      It was well established in WWII (Iwo Jima battle in particular) that 6"AP rounds were not enough gun to deal with reinforced concrete fortifications. 8" rounds from heavy cruisers were the minimum.

      For a new naval gun I would start with modernizing the 8"/55 Mk.71

  6. A conventional powered submarine prototype/experimental vessel would be nice ( utilizing on the latest battery and AIP tech ) especially since USN needs numbers in south east Asia.

    1. I would like to see the Navy field a small number of conventional subs for less tasking missions. The Navy could license build a conventional sub from a number of designs from Japan, Germany, or Sweden.

  7. So what do y'all think of this new design, doesn't look like the up gunned
    LCS they showed previously.


    1. Looking at the pictures, I noticed all the main weapons are within a hundred feet of each other. And, she still has a pop gun for a cannon.

    2. That is one VERY LIGHTLY armed vessel. I note the pursuit of speed appears to have been retained and all the internal ship's volume and weight penalties that go along with it. The superstructure is MASSIVE and, despite being slanted, must degrade the stealth signature. The Enterprise radar system seems an overkill for the weapons and mission. A simple TRS-3D/4D or something similar ought to be adequate.

    3. Why do you think it's that lighty armed, as far as I can see the vessels armament is in the same category as most euro frigates.
      Eight ASM's, VLS cells, ASW Helo only thing that looks substandard is that darn 57mm cannon

    4. USNI reporting from SNA 2018, NAVSEA’s Dr Regan Campbell saying the 20 FFG(X) will cost ~ $950M , will select 4 to 6 contractors in March.“You will see those requests for proposals by the fourth quarter of 2019, with an award in 2020.”

      Further to the July RFI setting an objective target of 32 Mk41 VLS cells, minimum 16 and over-the-horizon anti-ship missiles, minimum 8, objective 16.

      The LM extended 125 m Freedom variant for the FFG looking like meeting bare the minimum specification, presumably due to the limitations of the semi-planning hull which will require the addition the of bilge keels to increase hydrodynamic resistance to rolling to counter the increased weight of the larger aluminium bridge and superstructure to accommodate the top heavy EASR with its three fixed panel arrays.


    5. "Why do you think it's that lighty armed"

      I should be more clear. It's lightly armed for relative to its cost. That $950M is likely to wind up around $1.3B. When did any Navy target cost actually happen? Significant cost overruns are all but assured. So, a $1.3B frigate versus a $1.8B Burke should have much more weaponry than is currently called for. See the next post.

    6. "the top heavy EASR with its three fixed panel arrays."

      DOT&E has documented that the Freedom class is unstable and has insufficient metacentric height margin. It's a mystery to me how they'll add all that topweight and retain a safe stability.

    7. By comparison, the Russian Gorshkov has 48 VLS of various types plus a 5" (130 mm) gun and 8 torpedoes among other weapons.

      Even the smaller Russian Stereguschy class frigate (smaller than the current Freedom LCS) has a 5" gun, 8x SS-N-25, 12 VLS, 8 torpedoes, etc.

      The Chinese Type 054A frigate has a 76 mm gun, 32 VLS, 8x C-803 anti-ship cruise missiles, 6x torpedos, 36 ASW rockets, etc.

      Yes, the proposed LCS frigate is lightly armed, at least from what's been revealed so far.

    8. "Even the smaller Russian Stereguschy class frigate (smaller than the current Freedom LCS) has a 5" gun, 8x SS-N-25, 12 VLS, 8 torpedoes, etc."

      The Russians, however, have several VLS systems. The Redut system used on Steregushchiy-class corvettes is sized around their ESSM-class missiles (~10" diameter), the Shtil-1 system is sized around their SM-1/2-class missiles (~16" diameter), and the larger UKSK system is sized around their TLAM-class missiles (~27").

      When you consider that VL-ASROCs, SM-1/2, and Harpoons are all about the same size in length and diameter, one has to wonder if it might not be worthwhile to develop a dedicated VLS system of our own around this class of missiles. Mk 57 can handle anything larger, including missiles larger than those that Mk 41 can handle.


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