Monday, October 29, 2018

Single Versus Multi-Function Ships

Well, I didn’t want to do this but this is one of those topics that just keeps coming up and people just keep getting it wrong.  We’ve addressed it repeatedly in previous posts and comments but I guess it’s time to pull it all together, again, for the benefit of the newer readers who have not thoroughly perused the archives.  Huh?!  Not thoroughly perused the archieves????  You should be reading the archives every day!  The accumulated wisdom of the archives dwarfs the imagination.  But, I digress …

So many people want to cram every capability they can think of onto every ship built.  They claim that every ship should be able to do every task because, well …, you just never know what situation will arise.  Multi-function allows greater flexibility, they say.  We don’t have enough ships so they should all be as capable as possible.  A little extra equipment doesn’t really cost all that much more.  And so on.  The arguments are seductively reasonable, at first glance.  For example,

-          That helo flight deck only adds some flat empty deck – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          Those anti-ship missiles don’t take up much room – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          That larger radar array just doesn’t weigh that much more – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          That hangar is mostly empty space – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          That [non-existent] 155 mm naval gun is more powerful – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          Those extra VLS cells aren’t that much bigger – it wouldn’t cost much money.
-          That sonar might come in handy– it wouldn’t cost much money.

The problem is that all those items that wouldn’t cost much money add up.  They add up to unaffordable ships which means a smaller fleet.

Some of you are already pounding out contrary replies and part of it is a lack of understanding of the basic concepts.  So, before we proceed any further we need to define single versus multi-function.  You wouldn’t think we’d need to but most people don’t understand what each means and what the difference is.

Definition - Single function does not, literally, mean only one function as so many of you sea lawyers seem to think.  If that were true, a single function ship would have an engine and nothing else because that would constitute its single function.  Well, that’s ridiculous!  So, obviously, a single function ship must have more than one function.  Huh?  Well, then, what is a single function ship? 

A single function ship is one that is built with a single, primary function that dictates all of its design characteristics like size, shape, speed, weapons, sensors, etc.  The key concept is that the term ‘single function’ refers to a single PRIMARY function.  Nothing about that definition precludes a lesser, secondary function as long as that secondary function does not negatively impact the primary function and does not significantly impact the overall cost.

For example, the pure AAW ship that also has a 5” gun for a secondary anti-surface function is, potentially, a reasonable addition since it doesn’t impact the primary function or the cost to any significant extent.  On the other hand, the pure AAW ship that has an ASW fit of sonar, towed array, helo, flight deck, hangar, and torpedoes has its size and cost significantly increased and the resulting increase in size negatively impacts the AAW function by making the ship a bigger  and more radar-reflective target.

This leads us, then, directly to the definition of a multi-function ship.  A multi-function ship is one which has, or attempts to have, multiple primary functions.  The problem with, and defining characteristic of, a multi-function ship is that the multiple, co-equal functions compete for space, funding, training time, and mission assignment and, inevitably, they all suffer – none function as well as they could.  Thus, the multi-function ship is, inherently, the inept jack of all trades and master of none.

The Burke is an example of a multi-function ship.  On paper, the Burke is a combination anti-air (AAW), ballistic missile defense (BMD), anti-surface (ASuW), land attack, and anti-submarine (ASW) ship.  In reality, the only mission that it is good at is AAW and, likely, not even that because the other functions take away from the AAW training time and make the AAW function less effective.  Seriously, does anyone believe that the once a year scripted ASW exercise makes the Burke an effective ASW platform?  For that matter, would anyone seriously risk a multi-billion dollar Burke playing tag with a submarine?  If not, why waste the space and budget on and ASW function?

Let’s now consider some of the arguments that are made for multi-function ships.

History – Yes, history is cited as an argument for multi-function ships.  Many people erroneously make the argument that ships have always been multi-function and that this is the norm and should, therefore, continue to be so.  Of course, this is flawed reasoning on the face of it but, setting the logic issue aside, let’s consider some of the historical examples. 

A commonly cited example is the battleship which was used to provide land attack, anti-air support for carriers, and anti-surface warfare.  That’s about as multi-function as it gets, right?  Well, the reality is that the battleship was designed for one primary task and one only – anti-surface.  The battleship was built to sink other battleships.  Any other capability was either fortuitous, like land attack, or an adjunct to its primary role, like anti-air.  Anti-aircraft capability was not designed into the battleship so that it could act as an escort to carriers – it was designed in as a self-defense capability to allow the battleship to survive long enough to perform its primary function of sinking other battleships.  That the battleship proved to be a superb anti-air escort platform was, like land attack, fortuitous.

The other commonly cited example is the Fletcher class destroyer.  People claim it could perform anti-air, anti-submarine, and anti-surface warfare.  The reality is that the Fletchers were designed to perform one primary function – attacking enemy battle lines with their heavy torpedo fit.  The other capabilities, as with the battleship, were present to allow the destroyer to survive long enough to perform its task.  Convoy and task force escort was a secondary function which accounts for the ASW fit.  This was an acceptable example of a secondary function because the ASW fit of the time was pretty minimal and did not impact the primary function or cost to any significant degree.

We see, then, that most ships have been single function.  It is the failure to understand what their primary design function was that leads people to think they are multi-function.

Flexibility.  This is the most seductive argument and the most wrong.  Flexibility is only useful if the functions can be executed competently but the reality is that no ship can be outstanding at more than one thing.  The training time just isn’t there to be good at more than one function.  Consider the Burkes – designed as anti-air warfare platforms, they also have anti-submarine capability.  What great flexibility!  Except that the Burkes never train for ASW and, therefore, are terrible at it.  It’s not flexibility if you can’t do the job competently.

Flexibility comes not from having a single ship with multiple capabilities but from having several ships, each with their own capability.  A single ship can only be in one place at a time and can only perform one task at a time – that’s the opposite of flexible.  On the other hand, several single-function ships can be in several places at once, each performing their own function extremely well.  That’s true flexibility.

Should I send that Burke out to chase a submarine or keep it with the carrier to provide AAW protection?  That’s not flexibility, that’s rigidity.  I’m forced to abandon one necessary task in order to accomplish the other.  Conversely, with multiple single function ships I can send an ASW ship to chase the sub and still keep a pure AAW ship with the carrier.  That’s true flexibility – the ability to meet all the required missions.

Resupply.  This one is specifically for helos, flight decks, and hangars.  Every ship needs a helo for resupply, the argument goes – they’re mandatory and we could not resupply without them.  However, everyone seems to have forgotten that we kept several thousand ships supplied during WWII without once using a helicopter!  This is just pure naval laziness and the cost is enormous.  A flight deck and hangar add around 130 feet to a ship along with associated weapons magazines, maintenance shops, spare parts storage, extra fuel, berthing for the helo pilots and maintenance crews, etc. and for what? – a little bit of convenience?

What If.  Many people make the argument that we should add all manner of extra equipment and functions because you just never know what situation a ship will find itself in.  The problem with this argument is that it has no bounds.  You can always come up with another ‘what if’ that requires yet more equipment and more functions.  This is the fast track to unaffordable.

The ‘what if’ argument is, essentially, the ‘desirable’ versus ‘mandatory’ argument.  Lots of things are desirable, and even useful, but if we built ships that had everything that was desirable then every ship would have a full carrier flight deck, 16” guns, Aegis/AMDR radar, full ASW suite, well deck, troop and vehicle storage, landing craft, and several hundred VLS cells and it would cost several trillion dollars – and we’d have a fleet consisting of just one ship because we couldn’t afford a second ship.  Similarly, if every soldier carried everything that was desirable in combat they wouldn’t be able to walk under the weight of the load.

The ‘what if’ argument is also the argument of fear and mental insufficiency.  We want every ship to have every capability and function because we’re afraid to accept any risk.  In the real world you build to the standard of reasonableness and accept the risk of the unreasonable.  Determining the standard of reasonable requires making informed decisions about the likelihood of threats and risk.  Too many people lack the mental capacity to make such assessments because, inevitably, they lack the totality of data needed to make a 100% certain, safe decision.  Lacking total data, they fall back on wanting all functions for all platforms.  That way, they don’t have to make difficult decisions.  The truly accomplished naval designer assess the likelihood of threats and risk and then designs for the most likely and reasonable scenarios – all on the basis of incomplete data and knowledge about the threats.  We just can’t know every trick China has developed.  Some people cringe in fear and develop massive, multi-function ships while others make their best judgments based on the data that’s available and then design optimized, single-function ships to deal with the anticipated threats.

The problem with the ‘what if’ approach is, again, that it is unaffordable.

Other Navies.  This, too, is a common argument.  Other navies build multi-function ships and they can’t all be wrong so we should, too, proponents claim.  Unfortunately, consensus does not necessarily equate to correctness.  The pre-WWII consensus among countries was that the battleship reigned supreme.  Of course, all of those countries were quickly proven wrong.

Other countries/navies are severely budget limited.  If you can only build a few ships then it’s only natural that you would try to cram as many functions into them as you can.  That’s not good design, it’s budget-limited design.  The US, in contrast, has the luxury of building as many ships as we want - provided we make wise decisions and don’t buy Zumwalts, Fords, and LCSes.  Thus, we can afford to build single function ships and lots of them.

I think that covers the major arguments for multi-function ships.  Now, let’s look at the arguments for single-function ships.

Cost.  Because single function ships are, by definition, smaller and ‘simpler’ than multi-function ships they are inherently cheaper.  Given the cost of multi-function technology the cost savings is generally going to be substantial. 

Consider the case of the Burke.  If we stripped out every function but AAW we’d remove the flight deck, hangar, shops, sonar, and towed arrays.  We’d reduce the crew by 50+.  The ship would be around 130 ft shorter.  What do you think the resulting ship would cost?  My guess is the new, single function AAW escort would cost around $750M compared to the current $2B+.

If we stripped out everything but the ASW function we’d wind up with a really cheap ship by comparison!

Conceptually, we could get 2-3 single function ships for the cost of 1 multi-function ship.

Numbers.  Because of the cost savings we just noted, we could afford a larger fleet – at least twice as large, if not more.

Flexibility.  This is the counterpart to the flexibility argument discussed above.  Several single function ships allow us to operate in several places at once – an immense advantage over a multi-function ship that can only be in one place at a time.  As we noted, this is true flexibility.

Competence.  Because they only have a single function, such ships would train exclusively for their function and would be extremely competent due to that focus.

Size.  Single function ships are inherently smaller which offers advantages.  In addition to cost savings, smaller ships make for smaller targets and are, thus, more survivable.  Smaller size also means quicker construction which allows for faster replacement due to wartime attrition.

Loss Impact.  Being smaller and cheaper, single-function ships cause less impact on the overall fleet capability when lost.  When you lose a multi-function ship you lose multiple functions.  For example, if we lose a Burke playing tag with a submarine we lose an ASW ship, an ASuW ship, a BMD ship, and an AAW ship, all in one.  That’s a huge price to pay, operationally and financially, for the loss of a single ship.  Conversely, if we lose a single function ASW ship we lose just an ASW ship – nothing more.  What’s more, it’s cheaper and quicker to replace a single function ship than a multi-function ship.

Optimized Design.  Having only one primary function, a ship can be exquisitely optimized for that function.  The LCS, for example, will be a poor ASW ship even with a working ASW module because the ship, itself, isn’t optimized for ASW.  The machinery is not acoustically isolated.  The hull can’t support a sonar.  The engines are loud, acoustic beacons.  And so on.

Risk.  When platforms get too expensive they become unusable because no sane commander will risk them.  How do platforms get too expensive?  - by making them multi-function.  As we’ve noted, a Burke is too expensive to risk playing tag with submarines.  A Ford is too expensive to risk penetrating enemy waters.  Thus, by being too expensive, multi-functional ships are unlikely to be used for the very missions they’re designed for!  Conversely, smaller, cheaper, single-function ships can be freely used as intended because they can be replaced and the loss of individual ships has minimal impact on overall fleet capabilities.

We see, then, that multi-functionality leads directly to increased costs, decreased numbers, and poor execution of all the functions.  We need the exact opposite of multi-function.  We need to build platforms not with the maximum that we can fit in them but with the minimum that allows them to execute their single, primary function and execute it supremely well. 


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    1. Good post. To the extent I have commented looking for more things on ships its not to achieve the Burke but to make sure that ships have redundancy. I think dedicated ASW (frigates?) and AAW (destroyers) would be excellent. but I would like to see them at least have more CIWS and SaeRams on them.

      The larger problem no matter how logical you argument is the Navy leaders do not appear think that way. They have redesigned their sub building plans again now to have a large payload submarine and the SSN(X). That will not stop the sub 'gap' [assuming they retire and disable the Los Angles class subs as fast as they can]. No consideration at for a smaller AIP sub that would be less expensive and thus the USN could have more. I doubt any smaller dedicated ship can even get mentioned at the Pentagon. The Pentagon loves the words multi function - thus the LCS, the F-35, etc.

      So what are the odds the new Frigate will be first a true ASW ship with secondary surface fighting capability?

    2. CIWS and SeaRAM are not functions, they're pieces of equipment that support the primary function so, the more the better!

  2. I am not a naval engineer, but I don't think a 359 foot (509 feet - 150 feet) ship could carry SPY-1D(V). Its beam would shrink too. The Republic of Singapore Navy Formidable-class frigate is 376 feet long and only 3200 tonnes. I believe it would have too much weight above the water line for its size.

    1. The Burke's 4 Radar arrays are contained in an approximate 70 ft long by 50 ft wide chunk of superstructure. I see no reason why that couldn't fit in a smaller ship.

    2. I believe the problem would be weight and its impact on metacentric height.

    3. You say you're not a naval engineer so do have any evidence or calculations to support your contention?

    4. Well it fits on the Hobart class and the F100 class. That's displacements of ~5500 to 7000. However both of those are loaded out as Much-function. That is with ASW kit and Helicopters. If you started with a design built around the anti missile and anti air sensors first with no plans of doing ASW or need for Helicopters whay not a smaller ship?

    5. @Kath

      The Australian Hobart class and the Spanish F100 class are approximately 480 feet long, only 29 feet shorter than the American Burke class.


      I do not. May I ask you the same thing? Do you have evidence or calculations to support your contention that SPY-1D(V) will safely fit on a 350 foot ship?

    6. I don't dispute that. But they are functionally mini Burkes designed to have helicopters, and ASW ability. The question is if the the Air warfare radars and associated sensors dictate that hull size, or is it a function of the ships trying to be everything in one.

      This is a circular argument since it would appear none of us have the evidence for what size hull you need if you just asked the question - on what size ship could you field a equivalent of the Burke class anti-missile and anti-air sensors.

      However lets assume you are right and the F100 is smallest possible ship. Start there remove the helicopters,and the ASW. If nothing else you have a less expensive ship. Less than the F100's 600 million - 1.1 billion. I suppose you could add more missiles or more power generation or even some armor or more redundancy. In any case a dedicate AAW ship less expensive that a Burke.

    7. @Kath

      A multi-function ship would be more expensive than a dedicated Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) ship.

      But would a multi-function ship be more expensive than a dedicated Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) ship plus a dedicated Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) ship plus a dedicated land attack ship plus a dedicated Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) ship?

      All four single-function ships are necessary to fully replace the multi-function ship.

    8. "May I ask you the same thing?"

      I do not. My 'evidence' is that there are many frigate size ship designs out there with some pretty tall and hefty sensor/mast packages - the Israeli Sa'ar series, for example. We've been putting heavy superstructures on ships since the beginning of sailing! Look at the superstructure of the Freedom class LCS - it's massive.

      The SPY-1F is intended for frigates and is 8 ft across versus 12 ft on a Burke so there's the low end that we know will work. I've got to believe that we can fit a -1D on a smaller ship when strip out all the other functions and weights.

      There are also other radars today that are smaller and lighter than the SPY-1D and claimed to be as effective or more so. I have no problem with using any of them.

      I also note the many maritime cranes that are massively heavy and offset from center (in terms of transfer loads). If we can float or mount such cranes we can mount radar arrays.

      That said, I'm not a naval engineer either. If an engineer determines that the ship needs to be longer to support the required radar then so be it.

      In the absence of any definitive evidence that it can't work and in the presence of a fair amount of circumstantial evidence that it can, I'll assume it can be done.

    9. Well that is the rub. I simply don't think you can expect a crew to be good at all those roles.

      "All four single-function ships are necessary to fully replace the multi-function ship."

      That is reaching I think. I would imagine AAW and Anti-Ballistic missile defense would be the same. So three. For Land attack I would suggest the subs do better in a contested environment, and cruisers better in a secure one. Not to mention there is a reason the US still has long range bombers all with the ability to carry ALCMs

      As I said it would nice to know the price of Japanese dedicated ASW ship since it would provide real evidence.

      The issue remains that I simply don't believe right now the crews on USN Burkes are trained for and equally complainant at all the rolls the USN expects its only destroyer to do.

      My experience in IT might be pointless. But anyway I have been hired as Systems Engineer, Sr Network Admin and Systems Operator. Always in a team setting. I have never seen a situation were every person of the team was an expert at every thing IT might do. From Printers to Firewalls to Unix to Linux to Windows to Macs to Telex to Audio Visual systems to the Teleconference Systems to Anti Virus, to DB work or Scripting, etc. Invariably the teams worked best when nobody tried to master of everything.

      Given that US destroyers are having a hard time even navigating recently is seems a bit much to ask the same crews to masters of all naval warfare.

      Even if 3 ships equaled the cost of one Burke you would still have distributed suitability. Where each single Burke out action is the loss of all there of it roles.

    10. "All four single-function ships are necessary to fully replace the multi-function ship."

      The cost for the equipment is the same regardless of whether it's dispersed across multiple ships or clustered on one. The hulls, of course, cost extra, however, each hull is smaller (some significantly so) than the one large hull. So, four ships probably would cost more than one ship.

      What you gain is four ships that can be in four places performing four tasks. What you gain is exquisite performance in each task versus marginal competence in each task with one ship. What you gain is attrition resilience in combat. What you gain is a larger overall fleet size. What you gain ... Hey, didn't I just write an entire post about the benefits? You read the post and know the benefits so why am I repeating myself?

    11. I managed find a source for the cost of Japan's dedicated ASW DE in a PhD Theseus from a Japanese naval officer. Making no rigorous attempt to adjust for current dollars or the exchange rate at the time of building. The Abukuma looks to have cost ~225 million per ship (5 built out of projected 11). Cost wise that is a lot ASW for 1 Burke. The Navy would probably cringe at gosh crew numbers. The likely 4-5+ ships you could build for less than a Burke would need people... But maybe the LCS lesson will sink in and the USN recall crew size is critical to maintenance and readiness and damage control (isn't that like assigned reading you know battles of Coral Sea and Midway where US damage control was pivotal)

    12. As reported by Wiki, the range of the SPY-1F is 54% that of the SPY-1D. If your main AAW weapons were ESSM, then the smaller 1F radar would suffice.

      I would be cautious about the claims of smaller and lighter radars. Antenna size is important as it generally allows for longer range detection and better target resolution compared to smaller systems.

    13. I'm not sure why this discussion is on-going as there is not a single shred of evidence that an SPY-1 can't fit on a ship smaller than a Burke AS LONG AS THE SHIP WAS DESIGNED FOR IT FROM THE BEGINNING.

      I can (and have) cite example after example of fairly small ships and maritime platforms with massively tall and heavy structures. There is nothing inherent about the SPY-1 that makes it different. It's just proper ship design.

    14. I think people are obsessing about the length of the ship. Thats not what you change when the ship gets top heavy. You change its beam. Look at the Tico's head on then the Burkes. Burkes got fatter so they could carry more weight up top to cool those massive radars and computer systems.

      So we may just end up with some wider ships...oh well more space for fuel eh? Plus removal of all the systems for the Helo as well as all the other weapons means more space in Hulls for equipment that may have been above in the super structure. So do that then......layer the bastards in CIWS and such.

    15. The SPY-1D have been fitted to ships smaller than the Burke, but nothing approaching the size of the LCS. While smaller ships and platforms have designed with massively tall and heavy structures, I'll guess that none of those ships need to be as maneuverable as a destroyer, much less be capable of carry similar equipment found on a destroyer.

      It's not just the radar that has to be carried, but the fire control and surface search radars, antennas, and everything else a destroyers carries above deck. And, all that equipment needs the right spacing to function properly. Plus, you need space for weapons, etc.

      I'm not saying it can't be done, but it sounds like a tough design challenge.

  3. I think most people advocating multi-function ships based on the historical cases of the battleship and the Fletcher-class were actually confusing multi-function with muti-use. You can have a ship with a single major function but still find a lot of different uses for it.
    On the other hand, I could still see that a limited number of truely multifunctional ships might come in handy if used for low-intensity conflicts when dispatching a large task force for every purpose is to costly when instead a single multi-function destroyer and one smaller multi-purpose escort could perform either concentrated AAW, or distributed AAW, land attack and ASW or again concentrated ASW. With a full task force, a share of the fleet might sit around idle if a particular sort of threat doesn't transpire.

    1. "I could still see that a limited number of truely multifunctional ships might come in handy if used for low-intensity conflicts"

      No. If it's a low intensity conflict then we'll have plenty of ships sitting around. Further, two or three single function ships cost the same as one multi function ship so we can send multiple ships for the same cost.

      Your scenario is how we wind up with Burkes chasing pirates in a skiff.

      By the way, your distinction between multi function and multi use is excellent. I'll have to shamelessly appropriate that phrasing!

    2. Carriers are multifunction because of their...oh wait nm we got rid of all of our sub hunters....

      So no nm we are single function carriers again......

    3. "Carriers are multifunction"

      No, you're confusing the functionality of the air wing with the functionality of the ship. The carrier ship has one and only one purpose: to fling combat loaded aircraft off the ship. It has no other purpose.

      The air wing is multi-functional in the aggregate (or, at least, should be). The wing consists (or should) of single function fighters, single function strike, single function fixed wing ASW, and so on. In the aggregate, the wing could be termed multi-function just as a surface group consisting of single function ASW ships, single function, ASuW ships, and single function AAW ships could be termed multi-function in the aggregate.

      The individual ships and aircraft should all be single function.

  4. "Other Navies"

    That certainly applies to many European navies. The Japanese did opt for a ASW specific DE in the Abukuma class. Outside of bare self defense with a CIWS, it only node to a second function is 8 harpoons. Its only about a quarter off the displacement of a Burke, and nothing about seems to me eye bleeding cutting edge, it must be cheaper. I cannot find any data on its cost. Likely because I can't read Japanese and also there is far more interest in Japan's new 'capital' ships in English. If its price was close to one quarter of a Burke it would be a could argument for a dedicated ships. Also it was cut short of a planned eleven so unit cost might be 'high'.

  5. Remove the atrophied ASW/helo/ASM infrastructure, you have the space and power to add a 4th AN/SPG-62 and a SPS-49,
    making a more effective AAW ship. Another RAM or Phalanx would be a good idea too. A Tico without the excessive magazine capacity.

  6. If you go the route of dedicated ships, would a Navy 'cutter' make sense. Something like a up armed legend class cutter. With long range they could be used to do things like the Somali pirate patrols or the show the flag thing and let the dedicated ASW, AAW ships do their job of training to operate in/with CV groups.

    1. This is the peace/war, two-tier force structure that I've proposed.

  7. Totally agree that every class should have a focus and all other kit should support it. My question is, where is the line between 'support' and 'adding another focus'?

    For AAW on a non-AAW ship, I think the line has been established previously: A few VLS with short/medium ranged SAMs, plus some CIWS is OK. Lots of VLS with long ranged SAMs is bad.

    For ASW on a non-ASW ship, what is OK? Obviously we ditch the helicopter but do we add lightweight torpedoes, a Russian-style RBU, etc? What about a small number of ASROC (or similar) in VLS?

    For ASuW on a non-ASuW ship, what is OK? Just a gun of suitable size, or is it OK to add some short ranged missiles?

    I wonder if there is a 'baseline support package' that could be created and bolted onto every ship class (assuming size and space obviously). All remaining space is then dedicated to the primary focus. So something like (just ideas, nothing concrete):
    - One main gun of suitable size,
    - One RBU,
    - Eight VLS with short/medium ranged SAMs,
    - Two CIWS,
    - Basic air, surface and subsurface sensors,

    - For the AAW ship we add appropriate sensors, more VLS with long ranged SAMs (~60 total with a mix of ranges) and more CIWS.
    - For the ASW ship we add appropriate sensors, VLS ASROC (or similar), more RBUs, torpedoes, plus helicopters.
    - For the ASuW ship we add appropriate sensors, long ranged SSMs (in VLS or launch racks) and beef up the main gun.
    These would all obviously be built on appropriate hulls (not suggesting some form of modularity or shared platform).


    1. "where is the line between 'support' and 'adding another focus'?"

      That's easy to answer. Anything that enables the ship to perform its primary function or anything that enables it to survive to perform its primary function is all part of the primary function. Thus, CIWS or SeaRAM, as examples, are simply part of the primary function since they allow the ship to survive to perform its primary function. They are not, themselves, a separate function. There's nothing wrong (and a lot right!) with adding a RBU to enable the ship to survive a sudden, unexpected submarine encounter. The RBU is the CIWS of underwater combat, in a sense.

      What you've described as a 'baseline support package' is a self-defense (survival) package that would, conceptually, be appropriate for many ship types to enable them to survive to perform their primary functions.

    2. A discussion on what is an effective modern self-defense package would be interesting.

    3. This is actually the key discussion, what do you need to put on a ship to give it a reasonable chance of surviving in contested environment?

      We need to define:
      - the minimum sensor fit it, there is little value in having effectors if there are no sensors to direct them
      - the minimum soft kill fit to distract/deter incoming effectors
      - the minimum hard kill fit to stop incoming effectors.

      Once these are defined they become the minimum fitout needed to ensure a reasonable likelihood that the ship will be able to fulfil its primary mission. This minimum will be different for different ships based upon the CONOPS for that ship, i.e. what level of risk in a contested environment are we willing to put the ship in, therefore what fitout does it need.

    4. "A discussion on what is an effective modern self-defense package would be interesting."

      We've kind of dealt with that. See, Cruise Missiles

    5. The discussion needs to be around what is need for the intended CONOPS for that ship, as the answers may well be different for different ships. The loadout as mentioned in the linked archive seems ideal to me for a ship that is expected to operate where a high likelihood of AShM attack. Is that true for all vessels?

      The ASMD refit of the RAN ANZAC Class could be worth considering as the implementation of a modern self-defence package for a ship that is expected to go into harms way

  8. A great post and thanks for putting into words so clearly, to me your explanation on how to counter the very seductive argument that is always put forward for a multi-function ship that it gives you flexibility.

    CNO "Should I send that Burke out to chase a submarine or keep it with the carrier to provide AAW protection?  That’s not flexibility, that’s rigidity.  I’m forced to abandon one necessary task in order to accomplish the other.  Conversely, with multiple single function ships I can send an ASW ship to chase the sub and still keep a pure AAW ship with the carrier.  That’s true flexibility – the ability to meet all the required missions."

    There is a minor problem in how do you change the course of the massive tanker that is the Pentagon, Congress and Navy to change their thinking. With all the talk of the 355 ship fleet it is disappointing that CRS, CBO and think tanks e.g. The Heritage Foundation, when reporting on the larger fleet size none look at this option as it is only viable option within budget to make it a reality. Navy current thinking reflected in plan for the new multi-function FFG(X) to build a mini Burke, AAW Tier 1 and ASW only Tier 2 requirement and budget of nearly $1B per ship.

    1. "Navy current thinking reflected in plan for the new multi-function FFG(X) to build a mini Burke, AAW Tier 1 and ASW only Tier 2 requirement and budget of nearly $1B per ship."

      Which s perplexing. We have lots of Burkes and are building more. We don't have any blue water real ASW ships. So why demand top tier air defense out of the frigate? We have enough Burks can't we expect the FFs to data link with them in the uber networked military?

    2. "how do you change the course of the massive tanker that is the Pentagon, Congress and Navy"

      That's a challenge, obviously. How did we get the sailing navies to change to steam? How did we get the battleship navies to change to aviation? How did we get surface navies to adopt submarines? Sometimes it takes a dedicated proponent to keep pounding away (Billy Mitchell, Rickover, etc.). Sometimes it takes a war to point out the need for change (battleship to aviation).

      All I can do is continue to point out the problems and solutions and hope enough people in the Navy read this and learn from it.

    3. "new multi-function FFG(X) ... budget of nearly $1B per ship."

      This is an abomination on all levels. We don't need a mini-Burke frigate and to build one for $1B is obscene.

    4. "This is an abomination "

      Quite possibly but if it is first a good ASW ship - something the USN lacks. It might just be the best you can hope for?

    5. Surely it's a step in the right direction compared to the LCS. At least a mini-Burke can fight, even if it isn't as cost-efficient as a specialist warship.

    6. No, it's a step in a less bad direction. That doesn't make it the right direction.

  9. "For ASuW on a non-ASuW ship, what is OK? Just a gun of suitable size, or is it OK to add some short ranged missiles?"

    I would think it would have to be at least one quad box of the NSM (or similar). A five inch gun (or a 76mm or 100mm) might scare the crew of a big civilian ship but if you need to sink one you will need some missiles (or torpedoes). Using a very expensive SM-6 vs the comparatively less expensive NSM (or Harpoon)seems a bad choice

    1. "For ASuW on a non-ASuW ship, what is OK? Just a gun of suitable size, or is it OK to add some short ranged missiles?"

      You're overlooking the fact that navies fight as units not individual ships. If you're going to send a ship into combat by itself then, yes, you'd better load it up with everything. However, if you're going to use groups of ships then you let the ASuW ships fight the surface battle, the ASW ships fight the subs, and so on. Not every ship needs anti-surface weapons.

      If an enemy group has fought its way past your carrier's aircraft and your dedicated ASuW escorts to confront your dedicated AAW vessel which doesn't have a heavy anti-ship missile load then, well ..., you're just screwed and you've lost that battle. A few more missiles isn't going to make any difference.

    2. However is some respects the USN CV air wing has atrophied in size and range from say the 80s and 90s (compared to the threats of the time). Add the increased range of anti-ship missiles - should a US CV still expect the its air wing to be available for a strike achieving saturation levels. Once you net all the planes needed to perform long range CAP and buddy refueling what is left to fly a strike mission? In stealth mode an F-35 can only carry 2 NSMs I think (and that is tentative).

      An inexpensive dedicated ASW ship on an outer picket around a CV group getting fed data from an Aegis class ship could be a valuable ASuW ship is was carrying say more than the 8 rounds typical for the USN and allied navies. If had a bit of Visby treatment it might go unnoticed an be able to launch w/o reviling itself.

    3. This scenario postulates a defensive or reactive engagement, not a planned strike. The advantage to an CAG is it's flexibility in deploying around the compass to different axes. You would have to have picket ships all around the fleet in order for them to be effective as they can't shift to different threat axes as quickly.

      Also, you aren't going to be using Aegis for detecting and targeting an incoming surface threat as it doesn't have enough range. Radar horizon for a ship is what? ~50 nm or thereabouts depending on mast height and target height and size. And that's leaving aside having the core of your task force lit up light a beacon to any ESM sensors.

      So, I'm not sure you're gaining anything here.

    4. "there's another reason to fit AShMs on as many ships as possible: to maximise missile throw weight in an attempt to overwhelm the defender's defensive AAW. In this scenario, the AAW and ASW ships would be firing their AShMs to support the ASuW ships' throw weights"

      Absolutely not. Using that logic, every ship should have a flight deck and several fixed wing aircraft to lend their numbers to the carriers air wing.

      If you want to overwhelm an enemy's defense then build specialized ASuW ships with weapon loads sized appropriately and assign enough specialized ASuW ships to do the job. You don't try to piece together disjointed bits and pieces.

      We didn't conduct amphibious assaults by giving every ship in the Navy a few Higgins boats and a platoon of troops. We built special purpose attack transports.

      This is the multi-function path that leads to overly expensive ships and smaller fleets.

      I just did the post on this. Disappointing.

    5. "what is left to fly a strike mission?"

      In war, carriers operate in groups. A group of four would have a combined air force of around 170-180 Hornets to work with. This is why carriers operate in groups!

    6. I get what your saying but no offense the harpoon is basically the strap on option of the ASuW world. Its literally in a couple pods sitting on the deck strapped down.

      I think what He is saying is that what you need then is just a heavy crusier or BB which is designed for and built around the idea of ASuW.

      In effect it would be like building a airforce that had 320 A-10 for ground attack, 800 F-15's for Air Dominance, and 250 B-1/B-52 for Bombing, and say 700 A-6 (I LIKE THE INTRUDER SO SUE ME) for attack.

    7. "I think what He is saying is that what you need then is just a heavy crusier or BB which is designed for and built around the idea of ASuW."

      You've got it! Now, in the post I also said that a secondary function is completely acceptable if it doesn't impact the primary function, if it doesn't significantly impact cost, and if it can be performed competently. With that in mind, a few bolt-on Harpoons might well be an acceptable secondary function. Whether they would offer enough capability to justify the effort is, of course, highly debatable.


      I'm with you 100%! We exported almost all our aircraft of that time except the A-6. We didn't share that with anyone. That should tell us something.

      Even today, with nothing more than current electronics, the A-6 would be better than anything we have now for strike.

    9. @ComNavOps

      A fair point that CV in a group would be a sizable air force. But I am not sure I recall the USN training for a CV groups with escorts for high seas warfare...

      Still 170-180 Hornets is disappointing for the price. Some 20% plus for buddy refueling and with no replacement for the F-14 and A-16 in range the CV group has a I think a reduced range of attack and sea control, at a time when potential enemies have more and longer range missiles options.

      Clearly if we are building Fords the CV is the core of US naval strike capacity the money says so. But it would not hurt I think to have better than minimal AsuW capacity of an inexpensive ASW ship that is likely to be on the margins of CV group if for no other reason than redundancy. Its been a very long time since anyone fought a real naval war and everyone is building on lots of tests and little hard data.

      @Wild Goose

      Interesting I have not seen that, I hope they armed to the teeth with point defense and passive decoys if that is the plan. That would seem to a retread of one of the elements of the NTU.

    10. "A-6 would be better than anything we have now for strike."

      There are still more than few in the bone yard even the ones that got the last round of air frame and wing upgrades. I assume they could carry a fair number of the new anti ship Tomahawks or the Boeing's ER Harpoons or NSMs. Be nice if the USN could have a stand off saturation aircraft delivered saturation missile attack.

    11. "I am not sure I recall the USN training for a CV groups"

      I'm sure - they haven't! We should be training and operating during peacetime as if we were at war and we're not. Train like you fight, fight like you train. We're not.

    12. "But it would not hurt I think to have better than minimal AsuW capacity of an inexpensive ASW ship"

      One has to be very careful with this line of thinking. It is counterproductive to try to build a 'slightly less bad' naval force instead of trying to build a good one.

      That said, a few bolt-on Harpoons might be an acceptable secondary function, as defined in the post. Still, I'd rather see us build proper ASuW ships.

    13. "Still 170-180 Hornets is disappointing for the price."

      It sure is! We're building bigger carriers (Ford) at the same time that the air wings are getting smaller. There's a logic disconnect there.

  10. Not post related delete if you want.
    So i stumbled upon this tweet, witch made me wonder in general why does the USN not develop combat hovercraft armed with missiles and guns, they seem perfect for shallow near island waters ?


    2. This would make a great post topic. Any initial thoughts of your own?

  11. Excellent post, and I totally agree. Seeing as how there are now 60-some multi purpose Burke Class, why not a dedicated ASW platform like the Perry Class(although the USN, for some reason, seems to have given up on ASW). I submit that the Legend Class Coast Guard Cutters could me modified and hardened into a very capable ASW platform...and construction could begin almost immediately.

    1. My baseline standard would be the new USCG Heritage cutter as basis of a modern ASW frigate, the Legend cutter just too costly, $700M before any necessary upgrades made to make an acceptable quiet ASW frigate.

      GAO report states the Heritage/OPC still on track to meet its budgeted cost of $420M. Heritage is approx 3,750/4,000t 360' ship with range of 8,500nm, uses hybrid electric propulsion, now near world standard for quiet ASW frigates, and its two 7.3 MW MDEs to give 22 knots at 80% MCR, you could upgrade the MDEs to 10 MWs for 25+ knots. Would make a few changes besides fitting VDS and TAS, upgrade the 2 electric motors from 366 kW to 1.5 MW to give approx 14 knots and would need to silence the DG's powering the electric motors and the MGR for ASW, looking at $500M per ship.

  12. Back in the 70s a CBG would have carrier, inner screen of one or two Leahy/Belknaps AAW cruisers, four or five DD/DDGs. Outer screen would have at least four ASW Garcia/Brooke/Knox frigates looking for subs.Served FFs and DD/DDG. Main focus was always ASW,if you had SAMs you would train on AAW as well,but more as self defense and co ordinated by the AAW cruisers.

    1. Great reminder of how we used to do things. Thanks for sharing!

  13. The British Type 14 Blackwood class frigate is an example of single role, it was a "second rate" ship. It could do ASW and nothing else. This meant that in exercises it often out performed "first rate" frigates of the Leander class because the crews of the Type 14s trained for nothing else.
    The Admiralty had to rationalise because of budgets and especially manpower. The other reason which is much more prevalent today, the Navy never gets the quantities promised - Type 45 (6 instead of 8), Type 26 (who knows),as such the Admiralty tries to get the best ship that it can. The USN might not be in that situation yet but it has to be on the way.

  14. I have been thinking a bit about this and maybe the Independence class LCS could be adapted into something that could fit these needs. Not any sort of mission module stupidity, just one hull that could be used for multiple dedicated roles.

    Its huge deck (for its size) means that it is capable of handling a CH-53, so a very capable dedicated ASW variant seems possible. Also, under that deck there might be space in the future for 2 sub-hunter drones if they ever become operational.

    There have already been concepts put out there for a dedicated ASuW variant, but you could even go farther and maybe scrap the flight deck entirely and use that big space to mount a big gun and a brick of VLS cells for tomahawks.

    I am sure there is all sorts wrong with this, and it would require a thorough redesign, but hell the Freedom class is getting a redesign to go for the new Frigate program. Why not redesign both and try to turn the LCS into something even close to worth it.

    1. "Its huge deck (for its size) means that it is capable of handling a CH-53"

      I'm not sure that's true. My understanding from talking to some manufacturer engineers is that the flight deck is not rated for the weight due to light structural construction. I'm not completely certain about that and I've been unable to prove/disprove it.

      Also, there is much more to ASW than helos. You need acoustic isolation of all ship machinery, quiet props (not water jets), a good hull mounted sonar, etc. none of which the Independence has, as far as I know.

      You could, of course, completely redesign and rebuild the LCS but if you're going to do that, why not design and build a true customized, optimized ASW corvette?

  15. My point revolves around - is there enough of a a difference in requirements to mount the ordinance for ASuW, ASW and AAW ship today?

    In my mind, most everything is being designed to use the VLS system we have in place.

    Ergo other than sensors, and with or with-out aviation facility considerations, there is minimal difference in a frigate loaded with 24 VLS and one with 24 Standards.

    Or are we actually discussing Tiers of ships (irrespective of size) based off cost of sensor systems. Sepcially Advanced AAW sensors eat up a huge portion of the budget. The next most costly would be ASW sensors.

    Tier 1:
    Ship Self Defense Package
    Aegis/follow on AAW Sensor
    VLS filled for AAW

    Tier 2:
    Ship Self Defense Package
    Advanced ASW Sensor
    VLS filled for ASW

    Tier 3:
    Ship Self Defense Package
    VLS filled as needed for the mission - a floating missile barge essentially cued by other assets

    The only thing changing are the sensor suites at the end of the day.

    1. You may be misunderstanding some points. For example, Aegis is not a self-defense system. It is an area defense system.

      Also, you seem focused on weapons and sensors. The entire ship needs to be integrated into the primary mission. For example, an ASW ship needs to be designed from the first rivet with acoustic isolation in mind, a hull shape optimized for sonar performance, specialized props for silent operation, etc.

      Finally, ships operate in groups. The AAW/ASW/ASuW capabilities are distributed among the group according to needs and the ship's primary functions.

  16. "On paper, the Burke is a combination anti-air (AAW), ballistic missile defense (BMD), anti-surface (ASuW), land attack, and anti-submarine (ASW) ship."

    I would submit that BMD is a subset of AAW as opposed to being another primary function. The same sensor and, for the most part, the same weapon, is used for both AAW and BMD.

    1. How is that distinction even remotely germane?

    2. It's not even remotely the same function. BMD using Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense is for mid-course interception of ballistic missiles. That means it is intercepting a missile on a ballistic (non-maneuvering) course outside of the earth's atmosphere.

      Furthermore, BMD requires the ship to be in a specific location to be able to perform the intercept. It basically has to be forward based on the likely missile course. It can't be sailing as part of a task force, for example. And it's not for fleet defense as you don't shoot ballistic missiles at moving targets (unless they are nukes).

      "The U.S. Navy’s top officer wants to end standing ballistic missile defense patrols and transfer the mission to shore-based assets. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said in no uncertain terms on June 12 that he wants the Navy off the tether of ballistic missile defense patrols, a mission that has put a growing strain on the Navy’s hard-worn surface combatants, and the duty shifted
      towards more shore-based infrastructure. “Right now, as we speak, I have six multi-mission, very sophisticated, dynamic cruisers and destroyers―six of them are on ballistic missile defense duty at sea,” Richardson said during his address at the U.S. Naval War College’s Current Strategy Forum. “And if you know a little bit about this business you know that geometry is a tyrant. You have to be in a tiny little box to have a chance at intercepting that incoming missile.
      So, we have six ships that could go anywhere in the world, at flank speed, in a tiny little box, defending land.” in the section on "Burden of BMD Mission on U.S. Navy Aegis Ships" pg. 13 of the PDF.

  17. For reference, the smallest Aegis-equipped ship is Norway's Nansen class frigate, which has a length of 440 ft, a beam of 55 ft, and displaces 5,300 tons. It is classified as a multi-role frigate with 8 to 16 VLS cells. It has a complement of 120 and a hanger for an NH-90 helicopter.

    If we lopped off 130 ft from a Burke and reduced crew size by 50+, would there still be sufficient space for an engine system to drive the ship, power the radar and electronics, provide adequate space for the crew, etc?

    Reducing the hull length by 25% is a significant reduction by itself. And, if that means reducing the beam as well, that further reduces the available internal volume.

    1. But again the Nansan is Norway's capital ship. What if it was not trying to be Norway's Burke. So no ASW, no Helicopters? I am thinking the Aegis is not dictating the ship size but the need to have a capital ship that can do all things.

      Also Cruise ships and Container ships are ungainly things afloat. Would it be all that difficult to the ballast and sea keeping tricks they use to deal with the sensor mast of an Aegis ship smaller than the Nansen?

    2. Those radar antennas need to be as high as possible to maximize detection range. And, I'm sure that has some effect on the length and width of the ship. Plus, a shorter ship means carrying less fuel, which might affect its range. Granted, all that depends on the ship's displacement and installed power plant.

    3. OK long reply. The summary is it seems to me even if the the dedicated AAW ship has to as nearly as large as a Burke, I think the results would be more optimal to have dedicated ASW and AAw ships. If you accept more personal. I would be happy with that. So her goes. [Broken up to meet character limit.]

    4. Assume the Aegis system dictates a large ship, possibly the desired speed and range of a Burke also demands that as well. Thought experiment then. Now the numbers I cite are debatable. I admit I made little attempt to normalize the cost estimates to current dollars or be careful about project price dived into ships for cost vs supposed unit price.

      The Nansan demonstrates an Aegis ship does not have to be super expensive and they have the Advanced Enclosed Mast/Sensor system (I'm surprised the new Burkes won't have it) ~500 million. But is seems mostly an ASW ship. The Alvaro de Bazan is more at ~1.1. billion. This against the ~ 2 billion for a new Burke. So I guess take de Bazon. If you remove the helicopter (but are forced to keep the space) and remove all the ASW elements (*). The ship would be less expensive and you lose the crew component to support the helicopter. This is conflicted by say using the space to achieve the equivalent range speed of the Burke. Possibly also some more VLS. Not that many more since the ship will not loaded with ASROCs for example. It does not seem unreasonable to get to two dedicated AAWs to a single Burke. On the ASW the data looks better for this argument the Abukuma was only ~222 million and the Nansan which is primarily and ASW ship is ~500m million (I assume it would be less w/o the Aegis). So here the trade for a Burke will be let's say at 300-400 million per ship would 5-6 ASW ships. Give ASW ships more then the standard box load of missiles and multiple CIWS and SeaRAMs and Typhoon mounts and they serve a useful surface attack role and screen against small ships.

      In fact you could replicate the system of SRB's comment. A Cruiser. Two dedicated AAW ships and say two expensive ASW ships like a Nansan w/o the Aegis stuff (but keeping the helicopter). That leaves 3 Abukuma upgraded type ASW/Missile boats to roam around on an outer screen (I would say 4 but give them the Visby treatment since low observability would be functional in the outer screen role). I assume in the networked future navy they would be in contact which Aegis ships so would need no expensive top line sensors outside of ASW. On a napkin that seems to be a fair trade for two Burkes, but make it three and say the price of the AAW ship is close to a French Horizon (I like the clean lines and enclosed sensor masts sense they are easier to service and repair or so the results of the tests on the Spurance).

      Overall this will never happen because the Navy fears crew costs above all and is always willing to cut crew for the promise of technology. Reading the 'Smart Ship' papers from the Pentagon is indicative of this techno fetish. It nominally allows you to slash the size of the crew be it damage control parties, or leave engineering stations unmanned, etc. Yet nowhere is a Smart ship ever subjected to sever shock testing to see if all that tech survives. I know the grounding incident of an Aegis ship near Hawaii was noted here - that its key systems when down. The same happened to the Stark, even if it wanted to shoot back after being attacked its missile battery was out of action – it was not hit directly is was simply failed due to the shock to the ship. Automation is great for factories but factories are not designed to fight wars. More ships, more distributed capability, more redundancy, but the cost is more crews. But seeing as the ships would not be trying to be everything I think they we better at their particular roles. The USN borrowed a Gotland from Sweden and according reports scored numerous 'hits' on US CVs. Are AIP subs that good or are the US escorts simply not trained on ASW enough and lack sufficient escorts for the job? Either answer suggests the US N need s more ASW escorts.

    5. Given the amount of money the Pentagon looses on a yearly basis an how poorly techo-gadget ships like the LCS and Zumawalt are doing, I can't see a reason not to spend more on crews for solid ships with a purpose. At the end of the day the US is going forward tying to protect very expensive Ford class CVs loaded with very expensive F-35s. I can't help but think that 7 dedicates escorts would be better than 2 or 3 Swiss army knife Burkes even if we have to pay for more crews.

      * I suppose dropping the bow sonar array would be anathema because everyone does have one on every ship, but than again nobody is theoretically building as many ships ans the US. Gven how long we would still have Burkes, does a dedicated AAW ship that we intended to operate as a CV escort with many ASW frigates really need Sonar. Again should not the networking of ships and data communication help this? Or to turn the argument on its head nobody else seems to think every ship needs to be Aegis ship, why should every ship try to be ASW ship when they are not optimized for it.

    6. "If we lopped off 130 ft from a Burke and reduced crew size by 50+, would there still be sufficient space for an engine system to drive the ship, power the radar and electronics, provide adequate space for the crew, etc? "

      You can't be serious? The LCS has an engine system to drive the ship, power the radar and electronics, and has adequate space for the crew and it's 378 ft long. A Burke with 130 ft lopped off would be almost the exact same size. The Fletcher of WWII was the same. And so on.

      You must have been asking something else.

    7. "a shorter ship means carrying less fuel, which might affect its range. Granted, all that depends on the ship's displacement and installed power plant."

      Range is almost independent of size. It's all about how the ship is designed.

      The 400 ft National Security Cutter has a range of 12,000 nm. The Famous class 270 ft Medium Endurance Cutters have a range of 9900 nm. The 130 ft DARPA Sea Hunter has a range of 10,000 nm.

    8. Interesting point. It a bit difficult to find really good data on range and stores. China's new type 055 destroyer would look to be as big as Ticonderoga. But its range is apparently rather poor. @14-16 knots (depends on source) only 5000-5500nm. By comparison the Tigonderoga (and the ex Spurance) have a reported range of
      The UK Type 45 having 7000nm @18knots (seems equivalent to the Ticonderoga?).

      It would seem a big ship does not mean long range by default.

    9. The Chinese, for the moment, are a localized navy and have no need of great range. The time will eventually come when they begin designing for range. If the US Navy operated exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico we probably wouldn't design for much range either.

    10. I agree was just getting at size does not necessary mean range.

  18. regarding cost , is it possible for USN to buy COTS ships from europe or asian friendly nation and refit the weapon systems in US ?

    1. Our own ship builders do very little business. So no that won't happens. It would destroy the American shipbuilding industry and cost tens of thousands of jobs.

    2. Well that points out that the US needs to undo one of Reagan's worst decisions. Unilaterally ending Shipbuilding subsides when no one else not Europe or Japan or Korea or China did. What is worse we have never even bothered to make a case in the WTO over it.

  19. Upgradability. Budget.

    If you get a limited budget, which you need to spread over a few years and want to balance readiness and regular upgrade cycle than go for fleet of single function ships.
    Multi-Function ship should be stalled for a long time for upgrade. It will take more time and money to do upgrade and re-train personal. Etc.
    Fleet of single function ships is easy to schedule for upgrade, manage budget, find substitution for the ship in upgrade process... And it is easier to create smart upgrade cycle schedule.
    Technology risk. Adding too many new bells and whistles on one platform could be risky. Spreading new toys over a fleet is less risky.

  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Also if you are into bean counting all the SMs look to more expensive than the Harpoon versions or the New NSM.

  21. Thanks for your thoughts on this. Your posts are well reasoned and thoughtful. As I have commented on other post, I generally agree with the principle of ships being specialized.

    I think one possible exception though is designing escorts for non-military ships (i.e. expected to operate independently). Carriers and Amphib groups will always have several escorts, but ships lesser ships almost certainly won’t. And since legitimate threats can come from air (missiles launched from aircraft or ships) and torpedoes from subs, the escorting ship has to be capable in both. The ship has a single “function” in that it defends other ships, but it seems like you are using function more so to mean the type of warfare it engages in. AAW and ASW are equally legitimate threats and therefore have to be prepared for equally. You simply won’t have the luxury of dictating the terms of the engagement when defending commerce ships alone.

    The other “rub” I see is the idea that you can adequately deal with threats outside the primary function of the ship with only minimal equipment. In the case of a specialized ASW ship, you can certainly equip such a ship with a SeaRAM to defend itself. A SeaRAM is self-contained and capable at point defense. The problem though is SeaRAM’s can’t realistically shoot down attacking planes and they can’t realistically shoot down missiles fired at other ships. That means you need ESSM or Standard missiles, which means you also need either VLS or a specialized launcher. It also means you need an air search radar and an FCR. You also need integration with the command center. When you add that in, where do the savings come from? Simply stocking fewer missiles is not going to make a meaningful difference. So, your ASW ship now has 8/10ths of the capability of a specialized AAW ship, and almost certainly the corresponding cost.

    AAW ships don’t fare much better. Even if a ship doesn’t have the necessary equipment and modifications to hunt subs (Towed array/VDS, strategic quieting and equipment isolation, large hull sonar, ASROC missiles, hedgehog, etc.), it almost certainly needs the equipment to put one at risk to not be an easy target. That means a sonar capable of detecting torpedo launches, torpedo countermeasures, torpedoes to fire back at the attacking sub, and sonar sufficient to get a reasonable idea of where the sub might be.

    The principle of single function ships is sound, but in practice a minimal AAW capacity on a specialized ASW ship is 8/10ths of a specialized AAW ship and the same is nearly true for a ASW ship. The real question (as I see it) is whether a ship will be required to operate independently or not. If expected to operate independently and/or escort ships that can’t defend themselves, it needs to have legitimate ASW and AAW capability.

    In short, any ship operating independently needs the ability to put an attacker at risk, not simply defend itself for self-preservation. Having that ability against air and subsurface targets requires a dual focus.

    1. Well, you say you get the idea but it's clear that you don't really or, at least, not completely. Let me explain.

      You cite the example of escorts for less important ships such as merchant convoys. You almost said the right words in that 'escort' would be the single, primary function. If that function requires a combination of ASW, AAW, and ASuW then that 'escort' function with all of those capabilities would be the single, primary function. However, where you've gone off track is to assume that a single ship has to perform all those tasks. The reason we have single function ships (and many more of them than multi-function!) is so that we can mix and match to suit our needs. If we have a convoy and anticipate a submarine threat then we would supply them with single function ASW ships. If we think there might be an added air threat then we can toss in some single function AAW ships. If we think they might also encounter enemy surface groups then we have to start wondering why we're sending a convoy into such a high threat area!

      Regarding AAW, the only need a single function ship has for AAW is self-defense. It doesn't have to protect any other ship. If we need area defense then we add a single function AAW ship. To do otherwise results, as you noted, in very expensive ships. The 'minimal AAW capacity on a specialized ASW ship' should consist of nothing more than SeaRAM/CIWS for SELF-DEFENSE. Then, it is not 8/10ths of a specialized AAW ship, it is 1/10th (or whatever).

      Do you better understand the philosophy of all this now?

    2. “If we think they might also encounter ... then we have to start wondering why we're sending a convoy into such a high threat area!”

      Haha. Truth.

      I think I better understand. Thanks for taking the time to parse it a bit more.

      Since defending from both air and subsurface threats is all but properly basic to the defense of a ship, wouldn’t a logical inference be that single ships cannot perform escort duties? In fact, a ship, any ship, whether specialized for ASW or not, will always be at an inherent disadvantage in detection against a submarine because of the surface – subsurface interface and the extra noise it causes. So, to effectively combat submarines you need two ships. One to get shot at, and at least one more to try and prosecute the sub.

      So, the minimum escort would be three ships. One for area air defense and two more for ASW. Is that a fair inference?

      What are the additional cost of operating three ships instead of one? I don’t mean to suggest “synergy” should be our guiding principle above all else, but we do need to consider the additional cost of operating three ships instead of one. A corvette uses less fuel than a larger frigate, but three don’t. A frigate might need two cooks, but three corvettes need three. And so on. I presume you have considered these extra costs and feel they are negligible compared with the potential downsides of having large multi-function ships?

    3. More specialized ships would be be less expensive sticker price wise on the lot (err at the dock). You are correct in that they would be more costly in crews.

      That is the question, is it better to have all your eggs in one basket and assume you are training your crews for all things, and save on crews. If my math is even close correct you could have 7+ ships for two Burkes which seems better for risk management but more shirts in uniform? As it seems ships are not likely to survive in any effective way one 'hit'. The cost of more crews seems a reasonable/necessary option if all ships are effectively expendable.

      Considering the overall cost of the Pentagon, operating cost seems a pale worry vs the cost of the risk of depending almost entirely on 2 billion dollar Burks.

    4. "So, the minimum escort would be three ships."

      Good grief, no! The minimum number is the number required to deal with the expected threats. If you're escorting one ship from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor and don't think you'll encounter any threats then a single escort is needed. If you're escorting a convoy packed with vital supplies from Pearl to Guam and your continued war effort depends on it getting through and you anticipate enemy subs and long range aerial cruise missile attacks then you'd better have LOTS of escorts of all types. There is no single answer to how many escorts. The answer is however many are needed for the threats.

      "What are the additional cost of operating three ships instead of one?"

      "I presume you have considered these extra costs and feel they are negligible compared with the potential downsides of having large multi-function ships?"

      Costs? Costs???? It's war! Who cares about the operating costs of one versus two versus three or more ships. The only cost that matters is the cost of the supplies on the ships you're escorting and what their loss would mean to the war effort. If it requires an additional escort to ensure the safe delivery of tens of thousands of tons of vital supplies then the operating cost of the escort is utterly meaningless. We're not trying to turn a profit during war!


    5. "more costly in crews."

      We've utterly disproved the cost of crews notion with nothing more than history. We actually operated and crewed a 600 ship Navy in the Reagan era with a smaller national population and more labor-intensive ships. If we can do that we can surely man 300 ships to the level needed.

      If we're at war then we have unlimited manning because we'll have a draft as in WWII. In WWII we manned 6000 ships!!!!!

      Crew cost is only an issue if you're foolishly throwing your budget away on Fords, Zumwalts, LCS's, and F-35s.

    6. "Crew cost is only an issue if you're foolishly throwing your budget away on Fords, Zumwalts, LCS's, and F-35s."

      I think you misunderstanding me. I agree.

      The problem is the navy does not. At every turn they are desperate to reduce crew and the number of sailors. The USN seems locked in a situation/thought pattern were spending money on failed ideals Rail Guns, The F-35, The LCS, etc is good even if it produces no viable ships or weapons or planes. However having more ships not designed to to cut sailor numbers to beyond the point where they can even operate or maintain them is bad.

      What was the justification for the LCS - small crew size. Why did the Spurance and the BBs have to go crew costs. The navy had other reasons but again and again crew size is cited.

      Thus no matter how effective dedicated ships might be over endless Burkes the Navy will say we would have to have more sailors - look how efficient on Burke is with what a quarter of the sailors we are saving on crew cost . See never mind the Zumwalt has no real purpose its crew is smaller than a Ticonderoga.

  22. “If you're escorting one ship from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor and don't think you'll encounter any threats then a single escort is needed.”

    This response makes no sense for at least two reasons. First, why would an escort be needed if you don’t think you’ll encounter any threats? It wouldn’t. Second, if you think you’ll encounter a threat (i.e. open war with another country), can you predict with any accuracy whether that threat will be through the air or below the surface? No, you can’t. The enemy would be attacking and therefore dictating the terms.

    “There is no single answer to how many escorts.”

    The question is what is the MINIMUM number of escorts if you suspect a threat. Unless you can confidently know the way the enemy will choose to engage, the answer to the question is three.

    “Costs? Costs???? It's war!”

    This response is a non-sequitur for at least two reasons. First, the main problem as you have framed it in your post is that finite resources dictate a need for strategic allocation of resources.

    For example:

    “The problem is that all those items that wouldn’t cost much money add up. They add up to unaffordable ships which means a smaller fleet.”


    “The problem with the ‘what if’ approach is, again, that it is unaffordable.”

    The costs matter because it dictates the force structure you can put forward. You have argued this well in many posts besides this one... So yes, costs.

    Second, you are switching between considerations in a battle and considerations in war. In a battle, yes, costs are wholly irrelevant. In a war? Very relevant. Wars are won and lost largely based on who more effectively allocates their finite resources.

    1. "First, why would an escort be needed if you don’t think you’ll encounter any threats?"

      Fine, don't send any!

      "if you think you’ll encounter a threat can you predict with any accuracy whether that threat will be through the air or below the surface?"

      Of course you can. The enemy doesn't have magic transporters. We know approx how many ships and planes the enemy has and, during war, we'll know in general terms what regions they're in. Add in some basic calculations of ship, aircraft, and weapon ranges and you've got a pretty good idea of the threat potential.

      For example, a convoy from San Fran to Pearl can only be threatened by submarines barring a single, mammoth air operation by the enemy which they're simply not going to do for a run of the mill convoy. Thus, we know we only need a few ASW escorts.

      The enemy is no more invisible than we are. General locations and numbers will be known.

      "Wars are won and lost largely based on who more effectively allocates their finite resources. "

      Resource allocation is important but costs are irrelevant in a war. If necessary, you run up debt and worry about it after the war. Study our financial maneuvers in WWII.

      We are trillions in debt right now and our country functions just fine. Another trillion or two or three in a war is utterly irrelevant.

      Costs are important during peacetime when you're working with a limited budget and trying to build a force that best function at the outset of a war. Those are the individual asset costs that I continually harp on. Wartime costs don't matter. Production capacity matters but not the cost.

      As an educational exercise you might want to look at the US military expenditure as a function of GDP (or however you like to look at such things) during WWII and now. You'll be stunned.

      Too many people seem to think we'll conduct a war just like peacetime with deployments, volunteer crews, limited budgets, etc. It won't be anything like that!

  23. "For example, a convoy from San Fran to Pearl can only be threatened by submarines barring a single, mammoth air operation by the enemy which they're simply not going to do for a run of the mill convoy. Thus, we know we only need a few ASW escorts."

    Almost all Chinese submarines carry long range (70 miles) missiles. How will your ASW ship deal with this?

    1. If you anticipate a cuise missile threat then add an AAW ship. You're trying to make this more complicated than it is.

      Also, the mere fact that there is an enemy sub somewhere within a thousand mile radius does not mean the enemy sub can shoot at us. Submarines have fairly limited sensor ranges. Those thousand mile sub cruise missiles are great for fixed, land targets but not so good for mobile ships.

    2. I am not talking about 1000 mile cruise missiles. I am talking about anti surface missiles, and most Chinese subs carry them. Without area air protection they are going to be able to pick off merchant ships, and a specialized ASW ship (or 10) won't be able to do anything about it. This is not a "you never know" scenario. This is a "it is almost certain" this is how they will be used. That is why I think an escort frigate that is equally capable at shooting down missiles and finding subs is a possible exception to the "single function" mantra.

    3. You're making this harder than it is. Unless there's only one or two ships in the convoy, there will always be multiple escorts if a threat is anticipated. Thus, one could be AAW and the rest could be ASW - or any desired mix.

  24. Smaller size single purpose ships have another advantage over the multi- role super frigate: stealth. Not only does smaller size mean a smaller RCS, but think about this: how much smaller would the RCS of Lockheed LCS be if you replaced that big hanger with a flush deck VLS? The Navy built the Zumwalts supposedly wit stealth foremost but had to add in a help hanger—whose helo is NOT stealth—and a big radar that together demanded a bigger super structure all in the name of being multi-purpose. Chop off the hanger and put a smaller defensive radar fit and it is even stealthier.
    We want stealth enough to waste billions on the F35 and a 3-class stealth destroyer but not enough to give up those precious helo hangers?

  25. I absolutely agree. Single purpose ships are a cheaper and more effective idea. The ability to build multi mission groups if necessary is a simple chore. And I think a third type wouldnt be a bad idea. If in this day in age the Marines still truly need fire support, then build a ship for that. Not a zillion dollar Zumwalt, but a simple capable gunship. Maybe a Burke hull, without Aegis. Since itd be practically within sight of the enemy, stealth wouldnt be very necessary. Ressurect the 8in gun that was experimented with in the 70s, and carry 4-5 of them. Give them a heavy (3+)CIWS armament. Maybe a single VLS for land targets out of gun range. Carry a small mix of AAW for local defense and slave it to the Aegis ship that Id expect to be closeby covering the amphibs. It wouldnt have to be a large class, build enough to assign a couple to each LHA/LHD group. With gun systems being relatively cheap, this could be a way to keep the Marines happy and free up other ships to focus on what they do best...

    1. "assign a couple to each LHA/LHD group."

      Just a point of clarification ... In peacetime, gun ships are not necessary and in war we won't operate MEU-type groups so we don't need to assign a certain number of gun ships to each LHA/LHD group. In war, we won't have any LHA/LHDs at sea unless we're actively conducting an amphibious assault and, if that's the case, we'll assign every one we have and all the gun ships we have - amphibious assaults are not small affairs!

  26. Understood. I was just using the LHA/LHD numbers as a potential production benchmark, since they would be fairly useless attatched to other groups (SAG, CVBG, etc) And while certainly an amphibious landing would call for every "gun" ship available, a handful of these ships would replace a dozen other ships that could be doing other missions, especially considering the actual contribution current ships with the single 5" cant give...

  27. And then I found your "battleship" posts in the Archives... So my proposed ship may be redundant. In the real world, I still think its a potential fix, as sadly imho a full-on BB will never see enough support to get off the drawing board (or even on it to begin with)...

    1. Your point is well taken but the issue of support needs a bit of further discussion. The support has to come not from Congress or elsewhere - it first and foremost needs to come from the Navy. The Navy needs to recognize the combat usefulness and then make a case for it. Congress will go along with whatever the Navy comes up with. Quiz: what's the last program that the Navy wanted that Congress said no to? I'm hard pressed to come up with an example in modern times. Conversely, consider the absolutely worthless programs (LCS, F-35, Ford, Zumwalt, LPD-17, etc.) that Congress has approved just because the Navy wanted them!

    2. Youre absolutely right. The Navy can "sell" Congress just about anything(obviously LOL). But the recent and current Navy leadership is too wrapped up in the "gee whiz weapons" to ever push for somthing thats relatively old-tech. Couple that with their obsession with multi-purpose ships, and the idea that the BB or my idea of a smaller fire support ship just dont have the technological zip to excite them enough to consider them. Thats too bad because the Navy truly needs a top to bottom rethink of their needs vs wants, and how to best spend their budget dollars for maximum warfighting capability. ( and this spills over into other discussions, including the ship armor and BB ones...)

  28. Cancelled by Congress? I can't think of any since 1980. The Sea Control Ship concept might fit your criteria, but it had critics both in Congress and the Navy. And the congressional critics might have been influenced by the opposition within the Navy from the nuclear and aviation constituencies.

  29. Just have to say, I really hope someone in the Pentagon reads this blog....


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