Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Ship Service Life Reduction!

In our recent ship service life extension post (see, "Ship Service Life Extensions"), a comment was made suggesting that ships should be designed for longer lives and have the capability for future upgrades designed in so that the ship’s usefulness could be maintained for decades.  This inspired me to offer a post on a better approach which just happens to be the exact opposite approach, in fact.

The Navy has spent the last couple decades trying to engineer longer life into their ships and has failed miserably.

Virtually every ship class the Navy has had has been retired early, not late.  The only class that can claim some longevity is the Burkes and they are now suboptimal vessels because they lack the size and utilities to support the current desired upgrades and capabilities.

In fact, the Burkes perfectly illustrate the challenge the naval ship designer faces in trying to make a ship that can be upgraded indefinitely.  It’s simply not possible to predict future technologies and their associated requirements.  The only ‘solution’ is to over engineer the ship to a ridiculous degree, thus rendering it unaffordable.  We could have designed the original Burkes with twice the size and ten times the power and utilities to try to anticipate future needs but then we wouldn’t have been able to afford them!

Modular payloads were supposed to be the magical solution to obsolescence with upgrades being made on a regular basis because the hull no longer mattered.  Unfortunately, the hull does matter.  This approach is badly flawed.  We’ve discussed this many times and I won’t belabor it.  You can refer to archive posts for discussions on the importance of the platform (for example, see, "The Myth Of Modularity"). 

All of this suggests a logical path.  Given that challenges in future-proofing a ship are insurmountable the logical path is to not attempt it.  Quite the opposite, the logical path is to shorten, not lengthen, ship service lives.

Put another way, the goal should not be to make ships last longer by increasing costs and complexity and building in more potential capabilities and growth margins up front. The goal should be to make ships affordable enough to replace on a more frequent basis!

Let's face it, the Navy is always going to retire ships early because they don't want to spend money on maintenance and because they desperately want new hulls all the time. Disturbingly, Navy leadership believes that building new hulls is the reason the Navy exists!  That being the case, designing in longevity features is a waste of time, space, and money.

The better approach is to build smaller, vastly cheaper ships that can be replaced often enough so that the force and the technology stays fresh and current. The way to do this is to build smaller, single function, basic but solid ships.

For example, rather than build a Burke with AAW, ASW, ASuW, MCM (yes, that was attempted on several ships), VBSS (visit, board, search, seizure), shore fire support, and ballistic missile defense capabilities that costs around $3B, why not acknowledge that a ship and crew only has time to train for one major task and, for the Burkes, that is AAW?  Recognizing that, we can take a conceptual Burke and strip out the sonar, towed array, 5” gun, 5” magazine, ASW electronics, anti-ship missiles, MCM gear (if any), flight deck, hangar, helos, helo magazines, shops, fuel storage, and crew berthing, etc. and just produce a basic AAW platform that does AAW, only AAW, and nothing but AAW.  It’s a floating AAW missile barge with Aegis/AMDR sensors – likely cheaper by one to two billion dollars.

Further, we wouldn’t design and build in any excess growth margin whatsoever because when the time comes for upgrades we’ll just scrap it and build a new, up to date ship.  More cost savings!



Let’s stop kidding ourselves that ships are going to last 35-50+ years (the only exception being aircraft carriers, sometimes) and, instead, design for a 20 year life span.  That way, our ships will always be state of the art. 

Wait, you can’t design a ship for a 20 year life span!  That’s insane.  No.  No, it’s not.  In fact, it was once the standard – we’ve simply forgotten.  As documented in a recent Proceedings article, the world navies once standardized on a 20 year life span, recognizing that vessels beyond 20 years were ‘overage’. (1)

Shorter lives and cheaper, not longer lives and more expensive.


(1)United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “Would Nimitz Win A Midway Today?”, Capt. James McGrath, USN, Jun 2018, p. 23


  1. Royal Navy Type 23s and HMS Ocean were designed for 15-20 year life spans.

  2. I agree. Plus you have more under construction at any one time. This means in a war more hulls will be available sooner. The industrial base gets consistent work which makes it stronger.

  3. Good argument. But you need to get a 30% cost reduction from shortening the life in order for the bean counters to buy in.

    1. 30%???!! I would expect cost reductions on the order of 50%+.

      Think about a Burke if you took away all the items I listed. For starters, the ship would shrink from around 500 ft long to 400 ft long just due to the elimination of the flight deck and hangar. I would expect further size reductions down to around 300-350 ft. Remember, it would be just a collection of VLS cells (with no land attack or ASuW, probably only around 50-70 VLS needed) and some radar panels. You don't need a big ship for that! Half the cost of a Burke or less!

    2. The original Burkes had no hangar and weren't much smaller.

    3. IN a perfect world you are correct, you would get that much reduction. But you are talking about the MICC and the Navy has NOT been able to make a ship cheaper than its predecessor in oh NEVER.

    4. "IN a perfect world you are correct, you would get that much reduction."

      You understand how change works, right? To initiate change, someone has to propose a better idea. That's what this is. The reason this blog exists is to offer better solutions.

      With your current reality arguments, nothing would ever change and we'd still be living in caves.

    5. I am not against change and I fully support it as necessary and vital for the Navy. However, just saying change this and change that, etc. Dilutes the effort of change and leads to frustration.

      Instead focus on the root cause of most of the changes needed and fix it there. In this and most cases you have so admirably pointed out and documented - IT IS THE PEOPEL IN CHARGE. Change THAT and everything else is easy to fix.

    6. Yes, and I've offered posts on changing leadership. Along with leadership change goes new ideas. Otherwise, we'd have new leadership and no new ideas!

      Too many people react to new ideas by saying that current conditions won't allow the change. I imagine that the Wright bothers, and Fulton, and Billy Mitchell, and Rickover, and many others encountered those exact same reactions. Fortunately, they didn't simply give up because current conditions didn't support their ideas. Instead, they persisted and, eventually, managed to produce change.

      I'll continue to push better ideas regardless of how likely or unlikely their implementation may seem. If no one tries, nothing will change.

  4. I agree with the principle. Two points:
    1. On the plus side replacing ships quicker let's you evolve / advance the design incrementally, so hopefully less issues.
    2. Will this require more crew overal? E.g. 3 ships require 3 captains etc.

    1. "Will this require more crew overal? E.g. 3 ships require 3 captains etc."

      Probably a bit. How is that relevant? Remember that we've already proven - by actually doing it! - that we can crew a 600 ship fleet that had very little automation and could do so within a smaller budget than today!!!!!

    2. Point taken, must take my RN head off where we are permanently undermand (even having to borrow some of your coast guard chaps), and think USN with more sensible resourse.

    3. Your response, being concerned about manning, is symptomatic of the overarching problem that I'm fighting here in the US and that is that we've utterly forgotten what we once had.

      Take the British Royal Navy in the age of sail, for example. You had dozens to hundreds of ships of the line, each with a crew of several hundred. In addition, you had many dozens of smaller frigates and whatnot with, of course, smaller crews. Today, you think it's a challenge, and probably not achievable, to man around 20 surface warships, several subs, and a bunch of patrol boats. The sailing navy dwarfed your current navy in manning!

      You've forgotten what you were once capable of.

      This is not a personal criticism. This is an observation that the modern "we" have completely forgotten what we could once do.

      Very sad.

      Don't just take your RN head off, take your modern head off and look to history.

    4. I re-read your Navy Budget History post from February a few times. I'm not sure it is appropriate to compare the annual Navy budget to the current fleet size as those ships were built from money in previous budgets and the fleet composition varied over time.

      For example, your starting point is 1980 when the Navy budget was $149 billion and we had 530 ships. In 1980, we had a good number of ships from the 1940's and 1950's still in service.

      The composition of the fleet needs further clarification too. In 1980, the Navy had 191 surface warships and 110 auxilliaries. In 1990, we had 203 surface warships and 137 auxilliaries. In 2010, we had 123 surface warships and 47 auxilliaries. In 1980, auxilliaries accounted for 20.8% which increased to 24% in 1990 and then dropped to 16.3% in 2010.

      And, this doesn't include increasing ship building costs due advanced electronics, higher material and labor rates, and a slew of other factors, which also affects the annual budget and fleet size.

    5. Just another thought, but a better way to look at this might be comparing the annual ship building budget to fleet size with a 3-5 year offset in fleet size to account for new ships being built and introduced into the fleet.

    6. I'm not quite sure where you're coming from but in any specific year the fleet is made of up of a range of ships from brand new to several decades old. That's a constant. Trying to adjust budgets in some way because some of the ships are old and some are new seems pointless.

    7. I'm not suggesting adjusting the budget because some ships are old and some are new. But, I think it is misleading to compare the overall Navy budget to fleet size because the overall budget includes more than just the cost to build ships and those costs have varied over time.

      A more appropriate comparison would be the ship building budget to fleet size. It would also be interesting to look at the percentage of overall budget dedicated to ship building over time as well.

    8. The Navy budget has always included non-shipbuilding costs. That doesn't invalidate budget analyses. Presumably, the various non-ship costs are somewhat constant from year to year. I'm not aware of any recent, massive increase in shore bases, for instance.

      I really don't see what you're trying to prove, if anything? Do you have a point to make?

      If you think you have a better way to analyze the data, feel free to present it.

    9. I already suggested comparing the ship building budget to the size of the fleet as a better comparison than using the using Navy's annual budget.

      "Presumably, the various non-ship costs are somewhat constant from year to year."

      That is an assumption, do we have proof?

    10. The shipbuilding budget in any particular year has no real bearing on the size of the fleet at that time. It has some slight impact several years down the road when that year's ships are built but, even then, it only accounts for a handful of ships out of the hundreds in the fleet.

      I really don't see what you think that would demonstrate. If you think there's something worthwhile that can be extracted from that, go ahead and present the data and conclusions. Otherwise, this seems like a dead end.

  5. The Imperial Japanese Navy had a standard around the time of WWI and 1920' that assumed that new warships would be first rate for eight years and still usable for eight more years.

    It was the Washington naval arms control treaty that introduced slowness to naval affairs. Still, cruisers built in the mid-1920's were considered to be of low utility by 1940, their parameters usually fell well short of requirements (especially range and sturdiness/protection demands had grown, AAA and improved fire control had to be retrofitted and the old engines usually didn't allow for the original design speed any more).

  6. There's a very practical reason they put a helicopter hangar on the Arleigh Burke. Logistics.

    Spare parts, food, mail, etc. A modern warship requires all of those things to function. Not to mention frequent passenger transfers.

    You either carry it with you or you need a way to get it onto the ship. Not sure how you do that in a timely and cost-efficient manner without the ability to support a helo.

    1. That's hilarious! As if spare parts, food, mail, and general logistics are modern inventions that have appeared only since the helo was invented. You know, we somehow managed to get spare parts, food, mail, and general logistics taken care of for a thousand ships during WWII and we did it in a timely manner and without helos. Without helos????? That can't be right. It's not possible to move supplies and people without a helo. They must have used magic in WWII because we all know that parts and people can't be moved without helos.

      "Not sure how you do that in a timely and cost-efficient manner without the ability to support a helo."

      Again, hilarious and incorrect! Timely might be true, to an extent, if the weather is agreeable and the helo is not down for maintenance, as they seemingly always are. However, the claim that using helos is cost effective is patently false.

      The helo, itself, is enormously expensive compared to, say, a ship's boat or UNREP gear. The cost of a hundred foot flight deck and a seventy foot hangar is enormous. The cost of the entire pilot and mechanic training pipeline is enormous. The cost of machine shops, spare parts, and fuel storage required to support helos is enormous. The twenty or so extra berthing spots that a helo det requires impacts ship cost and function. I can go on but the point is obvious that helos are not even remotely cost effective.

      We operated world spanning fleets, during a world war, without helos and managed to keep them fully supplied. It doesn't require helos.

      One can certainly make a valid argument for helos on Burkes for ASW but not for logistics.

    2. If we give up on the Amphib Assault idea as being either suicidal for the Marines or by NOT being supported by the Navy, we could use the lite carriers for a dedicated ASW role and a heavy helo resupply for the fleet. Divide the numbers as needed and start designing a dedicated lite carrier.

      Point missile defense should be strong, anything beyond 10 miles should be handled by the 'Burkes. Also, Gas turbines need frequent refueling. Being tied to a refueling ship would allow small parts and mail to be passed.

    3. In one of my books there is a photo of Admiral Halsey going between two ships on a rope swing looking contraption. Imagine any navy officer, much less an admiral doing that today.

    4. "we could use the lite carriers for a dedicated ASW role"

      That's an interesting thought experiment. An ASW helo carrier would not need to be nearly the size that current big deck amphibs are. Of the 20-30 various aircraft carried on an LHA/LHD, only around 12 helos would be needed for effective ASW. We could also eliminate the well deck, troop berthing, vehicle storage, etc. The resulting ships would be significantly smaller than the current LHA/LHD. Of course, if fixed wing ASW aircraft were ever reintroduced, that would change the requirements.

    5. "In one of my books there is a photo of Admiral Halsey going between two ships on a rope swing looking contraption."

      The high line / breeches buoy transfer method was a time honored tradition for moving personnel between ships. By all accounts, it ranged from thrilling to terrifying, depending on the weather!

      My understanding is that the Coast Guard still trains for it.

      I'd love to see some of today's Admirals transfer that way knowing that they waived the basic certifications for the ships and crews involved. Would they still be willing to transfer that way? I suspect not! Certifications would suddenly become of paramount importance!

    6. I think the rope swing might be a "Billy Pugh" we use them to get on and off offshore platforms. We also use just straight up rope swings too if the crane is busy with other stuff or the wind is too high.

    7. "Billy Pugh"

      Same idea - different equipment. If you're interested, Google "high line personnel transfer" and you can see examples of the equipment from WWII through modern times.

    8. If you're running an ASW helo carrier, the size of your deck depends on what you want to use it for. Consider the Japanese Hyuga and Izumo-class helo carriers; the Hyuga's got a listed air group of 11-odd Seahawks, but it's also large enough to support Chinooks and has provision for carrying troops, so they can use it as an amphibious assault ship if need be. The Izumo-class ships are the size of USN amphibs, to carry an even larger air wing - the JMSDF evidently doesn't think that 12 Seahawks are sufficient for ASW.

      OTOH, ASW and MCM are obsessions with the JMSDF - in no other navy do you have a CNO coming up from minesweepers as opposed to destroyers or fighters.

      @ComNavOps: While I agree that using srsface DDGs and CGs on counterpiracy missions is a wasteful utilisation of a high end asset, eliminating VBSS capability wouldn't really save *that* much money. A Zodiac and a squad's worth of rifles, body armor & assorted kit are chump change in the military budget. :p

      While we're on the subject of the Japanese, it's interesting to note that the JMSDF is pretty ruthless on service lives; ships serve for an average of 30 years and are then retired and new ships brought on line. Generally they try to arrange their shipbuilding so that when the 30 year old DD is being decommissioned, the new DD is coming online. It's a level of forethought that we could do with more of.

    9. You absolutely do not need a VERTREP capability to get stores onboard - but you DO need surface warfare officers willing to re-learn the fine art of UNREPPING. And, willing to take the time to execute the evolution.

    10. I think the big thing is that the ship has to be specialized in terms of what it does.

      ASW on the 'Burkes is ludicrous. Sure, it may have the stuff, but from what I've heard from people who have served the stuff is mainly just there, and they are almost entirely dedicated to anti-air. So between the lack of training and the fact that no one is going to risk the DDG in that role, it's wasted money to put the ASW stuff on the ship.

      I don't know where VBSS would come in, do you make a special ship for that?

      It does raise the idea of maybe having a 'standard support hull'. Maybe it's a Burke Hull, maybe it's something else. But I'm thinking along the lines of making something cheap you have one hull that you mass produce and then tweak each one to do its job. To me it's an offshoot of the standard battleship idea: We know these ships are going to be blue water. We know, being specialized, they'll likely have to work in task forces of multiple ships in a real war, so you set a standard of what is needed (X endurance, X speed) to perform that task and build all hulls to meet that spec. Then you add on the stuff you need independently: Hull 1 is ASW. Hull 2 is AAW, Hull 3 is ASuW....

      This will create overkill in some areas (the ASW ship may not need as much space or power as the Anti Air ship) but, thinking from an automotive perspective it might create efficiencies of scale, that the Navy has talked about but never achieved. You'd have to be super disciplined with it, but it's something to look into.

      This short term ship idea is really fascinating.

    11. "It does raise the idea of maybe having a 'standard support hull'."

      In WWII we had several classes of specialized ships ranging from destroyer escorts to cruisers, battleships, and carriers. Which hull would you have picked to be the standard support hull?

      I suspect that you'll quickly conclude that there was no standard hull that would have made sense. You can't fit a cruiser or battleship's weapons on a destroyer hull and a cruiser or battleship hull for a destroyer function is just a waste of money.

      What do you think?

    12. Wow, that looks like a much bumpier ride than a pugh. Also, it never struck me before, but I would think that it would be beneficial for Navy ships to have at least a small crane on board that could move around people and supplies (using a ~75 ft crew boat to move them between big ships). It would be a lot easier, cheaper, and more capable than using a helicopter. And it wouldnt take up all that much space on the ship.

    13. There is potentially a lot the Navy could learn and adapt from commercial vessels in terms of cargo handling - heave compensated cranes, for example. Of course, it has to be balanced against the needs of combat.

    14. "I suspect that you'll quickly conclude that there was no standard hull that would have made sense. You can't fit a cruiser or battleship's weapons on a destroyer hull and a cruiser or battleship hull for a destroyer function is just a waste of money.

      What do you think?"

      I see your point. I think it depends on what this fleet makeup is. If we are going to truly bring back ASuW Battleships and Cruisers, then yes, a standard hull doesn't make much sense. But if we are going to stick with the type of ASuW weaponry we have now, I think it does.

      Of course, the devil gets in the details. You want your ASW ship to be quieted, your AAW ship to have space for VLS and electrical generation...

      perhaps the better way to go is the idea of a standard set of specs if they are going to operate in a task force. "At least X knots, at least X range" and let the builders figure out how to meet that.

    15. Look at the fleet page on this blog, if you haven't already. Do you see a candidate for a standard hull in there?

  7. I think we know that an ASW helicopter carrier can be the size of an Invincible class!

    1. Or take the Japanese Izumo-class "helicopter destroyers", which are the size of American amphibs, though like I said above, it's because they want to be able to spam an AO with as many ASW and MCM helos as they can, and also use those ships to launch a battalion of troops with chinooks.

      An island nation means that you have islands the enemy can capture that you need to recapture, afterall.

    2. Take an Invincible/Izumo as a starting point and eliminate all the assault elements like troop berthing and whatnot and decrease the helos to around 12 and there's your pure ASW helo carrier.

    3. The Hyugas have a 9-helo airgroup, the Izumos officially carry a 9-helo airgroup as well, but they're also said to be able to carry up to 28 helos. It really depends on the doctrine and what they consider the needs of the force are: the JMSDF has been wanting helo carriers since the 60s.

      The larger deck makes sense because the JMSDF has been known to run combined ASW/MCM air groups, and are reportedly interested in buying RH-53 Sea Dragons, which are pretty big next to Seahawks.

      Given how serious the Japanese are on minesweeping and ASW, that they consider a 9-12 helo airgroup as a starting point is rather suggestive, I feel. Although, looking at their ships and their fleet mix, I get the strong impression that they're trying to do more with less, what with the smaller manpower pool and budget vs the US.

  8. I think my ears are burning. :-)

    That is a fair point. Another advantage would be a more constant ship building cycle that would help the industrial base, and simplicity which would help durability I think.

    The only nit I'd pick, and I may be picking a nit with my original argument, is that to me 'over engineered' is using more durable things than necessary. I.E. a Fletcher didn't *need* STS, but they used it for good reason. A Ship might not *need* that extra hull rigidity or not need backup hydraulics for (whatever) but if we can do it without breaking the budget I'd go for it.

    1. Yes, your comment inspired me in a positive way and I'm not even sure you meant it exactly the way I portrayed it in the intro which is why I didn't want to put a name to it. There's nothing wrong with a comment inspiring a post whether in agreement or disagreement. That's what makes the blog somewhat interactive and furthers the discussion! So, well done!

      I agree with you 100% about over engineering (within reasonable bounds). My only nit would be that I wouldn't over engineer for the purpose of future-proofing. However, to make the item more rugged and more reliable, engineer away! Well said.

      My thanks to you for the inspiration!

    2. Well, I was thinking that we needed to make ships to be longer term... but between your point that the Navy just won't do it (as, it seems, the Spruance's painfully pointed out), the high cost of ships and its effects on the industrial base, and some comments I've read about ships that were built that way (Long Beach) where the 'Space reserved for X missile' never got used for that missile because things changed, I realize I was likely wrong. It would be a waste of money.

      The idea of a comparative 'constant build' of ships allows for new technology, helps the industrial base, and fits in with the current culture of the Navy, which likes that 'new ship smell'.

      It also allows us to have the ability to maybe ramp up production if we want.

      One question, how specialized would these ships be? I.E. would an ASW ship be *just* an ASW ship or would it still retain vestigial ASuW capability with a gun or maybe a missile launcher?

      Part of me thinks a mount of some sort (Gun, missile, whatever) for anti surface action, that is *tailored to a ships minimum targeting ability*, wouldn't be a bad feature to have as a baseline. The idea being if you have an 8" gun, or a missile with a big enough warhead, both of which guaranteed to go to the ships radar horizon, it's always going to be able to fight if need be. That's not its main role, but its there.

      But that would be it to my add ons (other than maybe every ship should get CIWS).

      Am I starting the scope creep?

    3. "But that would be it to my add ons (other than maybe every ship should get CIWS).

      Am I starting the scope creep?"

      You've answered your own question.

    4. Just run the OTO Melara 76mm, @Jim Wahall; it doesn't have _that_ much footprint and lets you do things other than ASW - recall all the time the Perrys spent on counterpiracy missions, afterall.

      Heck, even though the Perrys were supposed to be cheap convoy escorts that spent a good deal of time doing ASW (albeit reliant on their helos for that, since the sonar was pretty crappy - dudes I know who were in during those days refer to them as "can't see shit, can't hear shit, can't shoot shit"), their magazines were loaded with a mix of ASROC, SM-1, and Harpoon.

    5. Also, IMO it's a bit too late to move away from allround ships doing everything. Consider WW2 - Fletchers did ASuW, AA picket duty, and ASW, afterall.

    6. "Also, IMO it's a bit too late to move away from allround ships doing everything. Consider WW2 - Fletchers did ASuW, AA picket duty, and ASW, afterall."

      The issue isn't what ships will do - every ship will be tasked to do everything, eventually. Witness, a US carrier group actually performed fishing regulation duties!

      The point is what a ship should be designed to do. The answer is that a ship should be designed to do one thing very well. It can have a secondary function as long as it doesn't take away from the primary function.

      The example of the Fletcher illustrates this. The Fletcher was designed for anti-surface attack (via torpedoes). Throughout the class' life span, it performed additional roles but those were fortuitous add-on duties, not the primary function. Thus, the Fletchers were single-function ships that, fortuitiously were able to take on additional tasks, to an extent. They were not designed as multi-role vessels.

      The problem we have today is that we're designing true multi-role ships and wasting money doing so. The Burke is the perfect example. It is a combination AAW, BMD, ASuW, ASW, VBSS, MCM (some), etc. The reality is that only one of those functions, AAW, gets practiced to the point of being competent. The rest are a waste of money. No sane commander is going to send a $2B AAW Burke to play tag with a submarine so why invest the internal volume, sonar, towed arrays, computers, extra crew, berthing, etc. to support a function that will never be used and, if it ever is, the ship/crew will be very poor at it and get themselves sunk through lack of competency.

      It is not too late to move away from multi-function ships. In fact, it's mandatory to do so and to do so immediately.

    7. Wrt to not getting away from multimission ships, I was thinking more of the various Eurofrigate designs, actually, as well as the new construction the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are putting to sea, and my observations of shipbuilding trends globally. Although I have to say the Danes take things to a ridiculous level with the Ivar Hutfeld - it's a frigate pretending to be a mini LHD. That's a bit too much. :p But as you go from corvette-class up, the missions the ship is expected to do tend to increase, even in ostensibly specialist ships. I'm reminded of the Spruance DDs - ASW focused ships, but they were also equipped for ASuW with Harpoon, carried SM for self defense, and spent the 90s doing shore bombardment with TLAM.

      Can I also point out an intellectual blind spot here? You're arguing for single mission ships, but I think history shows us that nothing stays single mission for long. You talk about how the Fletchers were fortuitously able to take on additional tasks, but I disagree - right from the get-go they had radar, DP guns, K guns & depth charges, torpedos, AA guns: the primary mission was of course ASuW, but they were equipped from the start to be able to do other missions. There seems to be a bit of dissonance here: on the one hand you praise the Fletchers for fortuitously being able to do more things, while on the other hand you decry multimission design and pretend the Fletchers were single-mission ships... and then in the same breath talk about how it's okay to have a secondary function. :P

      Single-mission ships doing one single thing are your ideal and it's fine to advocate that, but you gotta question 1) how practical is this and 2) how long before your single-mission ships are pressed into other roles.*

      (As an aside, while correlation is not causation, if you look at the IJN and the USN, the IJN hewed a lot closer to your thinking - their surface force was specialised very much towards the ASuW mission, towards the idea of the nighttime decisive battle. The USN was much less so - outside of specialist support ships, the USN's surface force was built to conduct multiple missions. And it wasn't the IJN who won the war...)

      Also, I'm a little amused by how you keep harping on VBSS as if it takes up so much space and time and money. It's a boat, a crane, a half-dozen dudes and their rifles - it's not THAT much of a money sink. I'd argue that VBSS is to a ship what rifle marksmanship is to a Marine. Though if you really want to do min-maxing optimising, there's the option of doing what the Singaporeans do on their Formidable-class frigates; there are two spaces on the ship where they fit a crane and a boat; in wartime if need be, the crane and boat can be removed and additional Harpoon canisters be fitted in those spaces. On the other hand, the Singaporeans are also pretty kiasu and natural min-maxers, and like everyone with eurofrigates, are trying to do more with less.

      *There is a certain irony, I feel, in that LCS, for all its troubled execution as a program, sounds just like the thing that'd be up your alley - well, modularity aside. :V It's telling that everyone else with their own LCS/corvette program is building it from the get-go with what they want it to do, i.e. the JMSDF's J-LCS is a fast minesweeper, the RMN's SGPV is an ASuW/ASW stealth corvette, and so on.

    8. Having said that, I do agree that multimission capability is a nominal capability if it's not trained for. It can be done, but it needs big picture leadership at a level higher than the ship - I think of the JMSDF and how they run things, where the Kongo/Atago DDG carries VL ASROC and Harpoon, but its primary purpose is AAW cover for the flotilla, while the escorting Akizuki DD acts as an AAW/ASW/ASuW bodyguard while the DDG concentrates on AAW, carrying short range SAMs to intercept AShMs that slipped past the DDG's LR SAMs, and defending the DDG from enemy ships and subs.

    9. "right from the get-go they had radar, DP guns, K guns & depth charges, torpedos, AA guns: the primary mission was of course ASuW"

      Your confusion is because you're not understanding what I mean by single-function. I'm not suggesting that a ship (larger ships, at least) have only one task that they're equipped for or allowed to perform. I'm saying that the ship must be designed for one, single, primary task - anti-surface, in the case of the Fletcher. If a secondary capability can be affordably added without degrading the primary function then, sure, go ahead.

      In the case of the Fletcher, the anti-air guns and anti-submarine weapons were not offensive, they were defensive weapons intended to allow the ship to survive long enough to perform its primary task of surface attack. As the war progressed, and anti-air became more important, those anti-air weapons proved fortuitously beneficial but the Fletchers were, in no way, designed as primary anti-air platforms.

      So, single-function is a design concept rather than a task limiter. The carrier's single function is air power. If we choose to later use it as a fishery enforcement ship (as we did once!), that's fine. Stupid and wasteful, but fine - as long as we don't design a carrier for fishery enforcement.

      Another aspect of single function and world navies is that no navy other than China's can afford single function ships. If you can only afford to build 5 frigates than you're understandably going to pack as much capability as you can into each one. The US has the "luxury" of being able to build a separate ship for each main function. All else being equal, an optimized, single-function ship will beat a multi-function ship every time. We should be building single-function ships.

      To return to the example of the Burke, it costs much more than it should due to added capabilities that we don't train to perform well and won't use due to risk, incompetence, or doctrine. Better to build a dedicated ASW ship and a dedicated AAW ship than to build one Burke.

      Hopefully, that clears up the single-function issue.

    10. "And it wasn't the IJN who won the war..."

      I'm pretty sure you know that anti-surface focus by the Japanese destroyers and cruisers wasn't the reason why Japan lost the war so I won't belabor it.

    11. Actually, I would argue that the anti-surface focus by the Japanese surface fleet was a significant part of why they lost the war, given that their entire doctrine of Kantai Kessen hinged around a decisive night battle that would bring the USN to its knees. They spared very little thought for convoy protection, ASW, logistics...

      Sure, the US won by drowning them with numbers and superior ships and aircraft, but their doctrinal blindspots did them just as much damage - Kantai Kessen set them up to fail.

    12. Our pre-war doctrine had just as many glaring weaknesses but we had the industrial capacity and manpower to overcome them. Japan did not.

      Further, Japan had many pre-war doctrinal successes that set them up for success. Their grasp and mastery of carrier operations far exceeded ours. Their night surface battle capabilities were outstanding. Their island seizure strategy was brilliant. And so on. They set themselves up for success but lacked the resources to follow through.

    13. Eh, idk. The Pacific War pretty much played out as per War Plan Orange, and Kantai Kessen never really worked out for the Japanese. It's telling that when the USN wargamed out the Thruster and Cautionary plans, and saw that the Thruster plans weren't going to work, the focus shifted to the Cautionary plans, which became War Plan Orange. Meanwhile, repeated IJN excercises showed that Kantai Kessen did not work, its assumptions were wildly optimistic and could not be validated in favorable conditions, they plainly could not make it work, but their attitude was "it'll work, somehow."

      I disagree that they set themselves up for success. On the tactical level, the Japanese entered the war with the advantage, but their doctrine hobbled them and set them up for failure. They focused all their effort on the decisive battle and had no planning for if the US would fight a long war, they had no doctrine or capability for conducting opposed landings, naval gunfire was not at the same level as the US (as in the shore bombardment ships just fire a bombardment pattern then they fuck off without adjust fire or BDA), they gave no thought to logistics or securing their merchant shipping because they were going to have a short war where that didn't matter, the island fortresses were a net drain on japanese shipping efficiency and the economy. I further disagree that the island fortresses were brilliant, they were an emotional decision made by Japanese leadership terrified that the home islands would be under attack, except that by pushing out so far to the island fortresses, they diluted their concentration of force and got the islands defeated in detail in the island-hopping campaign - what islands that weren't just cut off and bypassed and left to starve on the vine, they made no attempt to preserve the institutional knowledge of their aviators...

      Like, USN planners were very concerned that they would not be able to follow War Plan Orange because the political leadership might force the USN to sail into the waiting arms of the IJN and get Kantai Kessen'd. On the other hand, IJN planners never considered what they would do if they never got their decisive battle. Hell, Kantai Kessen basically assumed that the Americans would sail into the waiting arms of the IJN and be attritted in night battle by the destroyers and cruisers, and then finally finished off by the battleships.

      It's true the USN won by drowning the IJN in a greater numbers of superior ships and aircraft, but focusing on that part ignores how the US was able to do that because its prewar doctrine called for a long war to play to the strengths of American industry.

    14. You're confusing doctrine and strategy. Doctrine is a set of "pre-programmed" responses or standard operating procedures which aid in executing the strategy. Strategy is the overarching goals and objectives.

      The Japanese doctrine was, in many cases, excellent. Their strategy, on the other hand, was horribly flawed. Their strategy was for a short war - a fatal miscalculation. Their night battle doctrine was excellent and succeeded time after time, initially. Eventually, the US adapted, applied radar control, and simply kept throwing fresh ships into the Guadalcanal naval battles and the Japanese couldn't match the new technology or new ships.

      The pre-war US doctrine also envisioned a decisive battle using the battleship battle line. Carriers were to play a role in scouting, spotting, and harassing but were not the primary strike force. The Japanese had a much better appreciation for the capabilities of the carrier. Unfortunately for the Japanese, they couldn't replace their carrier or pilot/aircraft losses whereas the US kept throwing more and more carriers and pilots/aircraft into the battles.

      The Japanese carriers also had some fundamental design weaknesses regarding damage resilience and damage control which cost them dearly.

      Their carrier doctrine, however, was, initially better than ours and set them up for success to the degree that success was possible against an enemy that had unlimited resupply capacity as the US did. They had no hope to win the war, ever, but that was a strategic failing not a doctrinal one.

      Japanese carrier

    15. The Kido Butai was pretty darned innovative, and I'd argue kind of set the standard for Carrier air ops. The IJN had numerous tactical flaws (I'd argue that their pilot training program was poor. For some reason both the Japanese and the Germans would tend leave successful pilots on the front lines till they died, instead of having them train others...)

      they were also hobbled by the political mess that was Japan at the time. When you have things like the Gwangdong Army setting policy by fait accompli.... that's unlikely to give you a war winning strategic plan.

      And, the idea of starting a war with us was ludicrous if they weren't sure they could win quick; which, given their political instability (assassinations, Army and Navy fighting one another) I don't think they could set themselves up to do.

      Another website has a nice little summary of this:

      relevant quote:

      "The United States built more merchant shipping in the first four and a half months of 1943 than Japan put in the water in seven years. " DANG!

      But tactically....

      They were damned good.

    16. @ComNavOps: I just wanna point out that Japan's island seizure strategy amounted to "land at an undefended beach then march through the jungle to the objective while manpacking your stuff." They didn't have the capability or the doctrine to conduct an opposed landing - they definitely couldn't have pulled off Tarawa or Iwo Jima, let alone seize Midway.

      I think we both define success differently; there's also the matter that Japan might have started the war with the tactical advantage, but I'd argue the USN definitely surpassed the IJN qualitatively and quantitatively by the end of the war.

      Returning to something more on point, JS Maya (DDG-179) launched yesterday. Assuming a 2-year period for fitting out and commissioning, Maya will commission in 2020, just as Kongo will be hitting 29 years. 1 ship retires, and another ship commissions. We could do with a little more of that forward planning. (Well, that assumes that the Japanese don't break from practice and try to SLEP their Kongos to keep their fleet numbers up, given the PLAN and ROKN buildups next door.)


    So absolute was his refusal to keep old ships in the fleet, that the oldest (big) ship *class* to fight at Jutland was commissioned in 1902, few of the really big ships were older than 1908.

    1. Do you agree or disagree with that philosophy?

    2. I'm not sure it was really a philosophy, and the situation isnt the same exactly, but broadly, yes.
      The difference between an 1880 and 1900 was pretty major, but the difference between a 1980 and 2000, although major, was a lot less hard wired, its fairly easy to swap a Harpoon launcher for an NSM launcher.
      The biggest problem the Burkes are suffering is holding weight high, bigger radar, and electrical power, bigger radar.

      The current carriers are pretty bespoke, so I suppose theres not much loss in scrapping them at their 25 year mid life overhaul, or possibly treating that as a complete rebuild.

      Smaller ships, sell off after 15 years, or overhaul and create a definitive 2 tier main battle fleet and reserve / presence fleet?

    3. "The current carriers are pretty bespoke, so I suppose theres not much loss in scrapping them at their 25 year mid life overhaul, or possibly treating that as a complete rebuild."

      The programmed mid-life refuel/overhaul is pretty much a rebuild so not a problem there.

      Hand in hand with shorter service lives has to go cheaper construction cost, of course. We can't scrap a $2B Burke after 15 yrs. The only way to significantly reduce construction costs is to significantly reduce functions. I take it, then, that you're in favor of the smaller, cheaper, single function (not literal) ships that I've been advocating?

    4. "Hand in hand with shorter service lives has to go cheaper construction cost, of course. We can't scrap a $2B Burke after 15 yrs. "

      250 escorts (your fleet), $2bn each, 15 years
      $34bn per year construction cost.
      The current is $50bn, but obviously consists of a lot more than just escorts.

      "I take it, then, that you're in favor of the smaller, cheaper, single function (not literal) ships that I've been advocating?"

      Slightly more multi function than your fleet, but broadly yes, I'd start with an "austere" general purpose destroyer, which would exist only on paper, 76mm gun, phalanx, searam, essm, radar, sonar, couple of torpedo,
      The actual ships built would then have two austere fits, and one specialist, if that makes sense?

      So the AAW/ASuW destroyers would share the same ASW self defence fit, the ASuW/ASW destroyers the same AAW self defence fit, the AAW/ASW destroyers the same ASuW fit.

      Ships shouldnt operate alone, but even closely aligned fleets are going to be spread over dozens of miles, an ASW destroyer is very likely to come under attack from surface or air threats, it doesnt need to win, but it does need to disrupt the enemy enough to allow it to run away.
      An AAW picket has no business sub hunting, but it damned sure needs to know when torpedo are incoming and it better have decoys to deploy when it spots them, and again, something to get the enemy ducking whilst it runs cant be a problem either.

  10. Limiting the number of missions per hull type is the most practical solution to reducing cost overruns in acquisition and lifecycle maintenance, increasing mission proficiency, and increasing pride in service.

    Every ship should have a primary mission and a secondary mission. All other ship certifications should be in support of the primary and secondary mission area that's it.

    So if you have an ASW frigate then it's primary mission is ASW. And secondary is SUW. As such it gets a helo hangar and a tail. It gets a 38mm gun and ASCM. It does not need a robust EW suite or an AAW suite other than CWIS and some soft kill self defense. No need to slap other stuff on it.

    Having more ships mean more opportunity for younger SWOs to commmand ships at sea. Last time I checked extensive service AT SEA on various ships and circumstances is the only reliable teacher of the mysteries of the sea.

    Reduce the missions, reduce the costs, reduce lifetime? Maybe but managing expectations for what ships can do mission wise and how long they are expected to do it for is the best place to start.

    1. Well said.

      "service AT SEA on various ships and circumstances is the only reliable teacher of the mysteries of the sea."

      Love it and spot on!

  11. The Rand corporation did a report on Aircraft carriers
    "Modernizing the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Fleet
    Accelerating CVN 21 Production Versus Mid-Life Refueling"
    New build Ford carrier fleet cost is only 12% more than mixed fleet with refueled
    Nimitz carriers. I don't know if I can agree with all the assumptions of the study. The yearly operational cost of the Ford carriers is an unknown and drives the cost of the Ford vs Nimitz comparison. The mid life refueling appears to be very costly, to the point, that a new build is cost competitive.

    1. Here's a couple of thoughts. Note: I have not read the report so maybe they've already factored this in but,

      1. The mid-life refueling combines refueling and EXTENSIVE overhauls and upgrades. The carrier is rebuilt to an extent. So, the cost of refueling is, conceptually, only half the cost of the overhaul. If RAND did not break that out, then they're comparing a partial rebuild to a new build which is not what they wanted to do. As I said, I haven't read it.

      2. Taken at face value, if the mid-life refueling (here's where you need to separate the refueling from the upgrades/replacements) is so expensive as to make a new build cost competitive, perhaps that is suggesting that carriers be conventionally powered?

    2. It takes 4.186j of water to raise 1g of water 1*c
      335j to raise 1g from 15 to 100

      Oil contains about 45mj per litre

      So 1L of oil can raise 126L of water from 15 to 100

      You would need to go hotter to generate steam, but that crosses a different SPH boundary and im hungover

      My long winded point is the amount of fuel oil needed to power steam catapults is truly immense.
      Can it be done, sure, should it, I just dont see it, it would slow down the regeneration cycle and it would force more frequent breaks for refuelling

      1kg of nuclear fuel contains as much energy as 500,000kg of oil.

  12. Maybe the answer is to design the carrier for refualing. Build all the bits that require replacing as removable (I cannot bring myself to say in modules). If designed from the start surely that would be possible even if it meant splitting it in half and putting back together? Our Queen Elizabeth's were built that way, it's only the same in reverse. Or is it?

    1. Conceptually, the idea's fine. In practice, I suspect that structural considerations would render it impractical.

      One consideration is "armor". Carriers have armored decks, in a sense. Any attempt to render them piecemeal for easier disassembly probably creates a structural and "armor" vulnerability.

      Just speculation on my part.

      I know that in some smaller instances, various pieces of equipment and structure are designed for maintenance/replacement ease, as you suggest. I'm just skeptical that it can be done on the scale necessary to facilitate nuclear refuels. But who knows?

  13. AAW and ASuW seem to involve mostly the same equipment. Namely powerful radar and vertical launch cells. Don't really see much reason for separate hulls. Even the training doesn't seem that different--ID target, launch.

    ASW on the other hand requires very specialized equipment and training--seems like a great idea to have a specialized hull for this. Only non-ASW equipment would be CIWS.

    Aviation beyond small drones seems much better handled by specialized hulls. Japanese-style "helicopter destroyers" or perhaps even a revival of seaplane tenders if range and endurance are required.

    MCM obviously demands specialized hulls and training, though these hulls could have much in common with the ASW hulls.

    I agree with the commenters who note that VBSS isn't a really big deal, but that said those are classic corvette missions. Something like the LCS, but not dog crap.

    Nuclear power could be cheaper if two design changes were made:

    1 - Shore hookup so warships can transmit power to the grid while docked

    2 - Reactors designed to be removed and permanently connected to grid at end of ship life. Commercial reactors are now expected to serve 60, 80, or even more years.

    The Navy might want to consider moving beyond its '40s era-thinking on reactor design as well. How about a very high temperature graphite moderated helium-cooled reactor directly coupled to a gas turbine?

    1. Nuclear reactor design is an area I know nothing about. My main concern is the impact of combat. When pipes are being shredded by explosions and shrapnel are we going to find ourselves rendered inoperative because of a leaking pipe, conceptually? In other words, will very minor physical damage create radiation hazards all out of proportion to the physical damage? Conceptually, will we have to abandon ship because of a broken pipe?

      I have grave concerns about the resilience of nuclear plants in combat.

    2. Reactors present smaller targets than fuel tanks (admittedly irrelevant in carriers for obvious reasons) and are encased in steel alloy pressure vessels. The reactors themselves are within radiation-shielded compartments. If anything the chance of damage is lower.

      Once damage has occurred, damage control requires some more specialized equipment (NBC suits) but in a ship powered by thermal fossil fuel propulsion hazmat suits are still required for damage control.

      Pressurized water reactors are self-moderating (steam builds up when heat goes up, this absorbs more neutrons), and naval reactors can operate without cooling pumps on.

      Nuclear power is one thing the postwar Navy has been pretty good at thanks to Hyman Rickover. I think they're too conservative in it, but one can certainly understand why. The Soviets experimented a with a lot more designs (see for instance the radical Alfa-class) with mixed results and a poor safety record.

      On a different note, modern networking technologies mean we might want to think beyond just hulls. There's no longer any particular need for sensors and weapons to be on the same platform for instance. ASW in particular might benefit from thinking outside the box on this front.

      Can Aegis BMD network and work multiple ships together automatically? Seems like that would greatly increase AAW power.

      This sort of networking technology would also be useful in modern battleships/monitors for performing time-on-target MRSI bombardments.

      Imagine a ~25,000 ton ship with nine 11" guns (ideally, railguns, though that technology is not yet mature). Now imagine four of them in a battlegroup. Each gun should be able to deliver six rounds simultaneously based on the performance of state-of-the-art land artillery.

      That's 216 536 pound (using the figure from the WW2-era Krupp K5 11" railway cannon, aka Anzio Annie) high explosive shells (almost 58 tons) converging on a target simultaneously.

      Total annihilation.

    3. "There's no longer any particular need for sensors and weapons to be on the same platform for instance. ASW in particular might benefit from thinking outside the box on this front."

      We already have this to some extent. For example, the arrays on a ship can direct the torpedo carrying helo to drop or the helo's sonobuoys can provide targeting for the ship's ASROC. Somehow, I don't think this is what you're referring to. What specifics did you have in mind?

    4. "network and work multiple ships together automatically?"

      We can do this now. The real question is whether we can do this in an electromagnetically challenged environment and can we do it in such a way as to not broadcast our own locations because of our transmissions. Can we do all this in the face of wireless cyber attacks (if we're receiving network data then, by definition, we're vulnerable to remote, wireless cyber attacks)?

      I've seen all manner of industries and militaries struggle to keep networks up and running reliable on a day to day, peacetime basis. Despite these problems we seem to think we'll flawlessly network during combat and in an ECM environment.

    5. With ASW what comes to mind is distributed sensors (drone ships and UUVs, drone blimps, seafloor sensors, etc.) but then relying on other platforms to deliver payloads (maritime patrol bombers, ships with VLS cells, helos, etc.).

      Agreed that jamming and spoofing might make this unviable. Requires operations research and real-world testing. And even if testing validates the concept, probably not wise to put all your eggs in one basket because surprises happen. So you'd still want ships (and aircraft) which integrate sensors and weapons in a single platform.

      There are some systems on land right now you can look at for inspiration. The Russian S-400 SAM system, which seems to be highly regarded, actually consists of many different vehicles. There are ways to communicate in electromagnetically compromised environments with high bandwidth, but this can only be done in visual range (or over wire).

      Also worth noting that electromagnetic communication, if you're communicating to other platforms which are closer to you than the enemy jamming equipment is, provides an inherent advantage to you owing to dissipation over distance. And ships can generate a large amount of energy. Especially when you're not near land you're likely to be able to generate much more energy where it's needed than the enemy can.

      The Navy (and other services, for their missions) should be constantly developing and evaluating different concepts and testing them against each other.

      Unfortunately I see little of this.

    6. "but this can only be done in visual range (or over wire)."

      The problem is that naval groups are very spread out. We see neat pictures of several ships sailing in formation but that's not the way a group sails in combat. Escorts might be 20-50 miles from the center of the group and the diameter of the group might be 40-100 miles - not exactly line of sight without a lot of relays and each relay adds lag time, errors, and increases the chance of detection.

      The distributed lethality concept involves networking on a scale of hundreds of miles!

      I just don't see high bandwidth networks as being viable in combat.


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