Friday, March 5, 2021

Large Unmanned Surface Vessel Rationale

Why is the Navy pushing so hard for the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV)?  That’s always been a bit of a mystery to me.  I know the Navy has an obsession with minimal manning due to personnel costs but, even so, the push for unmanned ships was puzzling.  Well, Defense News website has made the reasons clear to me and I’d like to share the reasons and my analysis with you.  There are two main reasons: 

  • Manning
  • VLS Cells


Let’s look closer at each reason.


Manning – Reduced manning expense has long been the Holy Grail of Navy leadership in an utterly misguided attempt to reduce operating costs and, ultimately, shift that budget money to new ship construction.  The ironic aspect of this drive is that it’s completely unnecessary and the problem, itself, has been deceitfully, almost fraudulently, presented.  The Navy would have us believe that the main portion of a ship’s operating cost is manning and that it is unaffordable.  As we’ve demonstrated, this is pure nonsense (see, “The Manning Myth”) and yet it drives the Navy towards unmanned vessels despite no Concept of Operations, no analysis of alternatives, no fleet exercises to prove the validity of the concept, and no public wargaming to support the concept.



VLS Cells – While not officially stated in this way, the Navy is, quite literally, replacing 22 Ticonderogas containing 122 VLS cells each with 20 Constellation frigates containing 16-32 VLS cells each in the near future.  Yes, a cruiser (large surface combatant) is supposedly coming sometime down the road but that will be many years from now, if ever, and it has already been described by Navy spokesmen as, potentially, a family of assets rather than an actual, single cruiser size ship so that suggests even more small, unmanned vessels as the Ticonderoga replacement.  In any event, we’ll soon be retiring Ticonderogas, Burkes, and SSGNs and the only replacement surface warship program currently active is the Constellation class frigate.  So, soak that in:  the Constellation frigate is the replacement for the Ticonderoga.  Let’s say it again because I know some of you are going to have a hard time accepting it so here it is again:


The Constellation frigate is the replacement for the Ticonderoga.


Don’t believe me?  Here’s what former Navy destroyer captain and noted naval analyst Bryan McGrath had to say,


… on the horizon there is a situation where we’ll be trading guided missile submarines, cruisers and destroyers for Constellation-class frigates. (1)



Let’s do the math.  We have 22 Ticonderogas with 122 VLS cells retiring for a total loss of 2,684 cells.  We have 20 replacement frigates with - let’s be generous and use the higher number – 32 VLS cells for a total replacement of 640 cells.  That’s a net loss of 2,044 VLS cells from the fleet.


It gets stunningly worse when one factors in the imminent retirement of the Burkes and SSGNs.  By the early 2030’s, the Navy will have retired 22 Ticonderogas, 21 Burkes, 4 SSGNs for a total loss of around 5,500 VLS cells and the only replacement on the books is the Constellation class frigate.(1)


What is the Navy’s solution to this looming, gaping VLS cell shortage?  Why, it’s the LUSV which the Navy envisions as being, essentially, a missile barge.


The LUSV is supposed to be the Navy’s answer to a troubling problem: How does the service quickly and cheaply field hundreds of new missile tubes to make up for dozens of large-capacity ships due to retire over the coming years? (1)


The idea of the LUSV is that unmanned vessels will be cheap enough to be procured in large enough quantities to fill that 2,044 VLS cell gap.  The problem, however, is that the LUSV will not only be replacing VLS cells, it will be replacing the associated sensors, targeting, and fire control systems that are also on the Ticonderogas and Burkes and are necessary for the missiles to function.  The desperate hope is that the Navy’s fantasy-based regional network of sensors can take the place of the retiring Ticonderoga’s sensors and fire control systems and support the unmanned vessels.  However, if the enemy can disrupt our data sharing networks (a distinct possibility, as we’ve discussed many times), the LUSV VLS cells will be useless as they will lack any form of organic sensing, targeting, or fire control.


We see, then, that the LUSV missile barge is the salvation that the Navy is grasping at to overcome sustained and stunningly bad force structure planning over the last two decades. 


Unfortunately, the Navy’s problems are not limited to the technical aspects of the LUSV.  The Navy also has to contend with a very suspicious Congress.  Congress is most definitely not on board with the Navy’s plan.  After multiple stunning acquisition disasters (LCS, Zumwalt, Ford, and others), Congress has lost faith in the Navy’s integrity and ability to execute an acquisition program.  Regarding the LUSV,


… Congress is not convinced the Navy did the proper analysis prior to launching into a technically risky, 2,000-ton robot ship.


Before going any further, the Navy must conduct a full study examining alternative approaches for fielding missiles downrange.


The LUSV has become a flashpoint for a larger problem: After two decades of high-profile problems with programs such as the littoral combat ship and the Ford-class carrier, Congress’s faith in the Navy to make significant technical leaps without close supervision has all but evaporated …  Furthermore, it is unclear that, even if the Navy managed to make the LUSV related technologies work, it would be the right answer for the missile tube problem. (1)


Demonstrating that doubt, Congress slashed funding for the LUSV and placed severe constraints on the program, such as prohibiting the addition of VLS cells to any unmanned ship design.  Congress has also taken note of the Navy’s habitual failure to examine alternatives and has mandated that the Navy conduct a yearlong analysis of alternatives, as noted in the quote above.


In the 2021 appropriations and policy bills, lawmakers eviscerated funding for the Navy’s Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV) development program and laid in stringent requirements for the Navy to work out nearly every component of the new vessel before moving forward with an acquisition program. In all, lawmakers slashed more than $370 million from the $464 million the Pentagon requested. (1)


ComNavOps is not alone in questioning the operating concept (CONOPS) for unmanned vessels.


… sources both inside and outside the service, as well as analysts who spoke on the record, agreed the Navy has not come up with a convincing concept of operations for the ship. (1)




So, we now understand the rationale behind the Navy’s bizarre and obsessive push towards unmanned vessels despite all their attendant flaws, lack of validity, and high programmatic risk.  It cannot be stressed enough that the VLS cell shortfall is not a problem that suddenly manifested itself overnight, without warning.  The problem is a force structure issue and has been obvious for close to two decades.  The Navy clearly knew the retirement schedules and what that would mean for VLS cell counts.  This is a scathing indictment of Navy leadership over the last two decades.


The LUSV is a very high risk program.  Setting aside any ship-specific technical issues, the heart of the concept is the assumption of a 100% reliable, uninterruptible, unshakeable, real time data, sensor, and fire control network.  It is this that the Navy should be focused on, not the unmanned ships.  Until this fantasy network can be proven to work and work in the face of all manner of jamming, disruption, cyber attacks, spoofing, etc. there is no point pursuing LUSV missile barges.  Without the network, the missile barges will be just barges.






(1)Defense News website, “Unclear on unmanned: The US Navy’s plans for robot ships are on the rocks”, Part 1, David B. Larter, 10-Jan-2020,


  1. So why does the Navy leadership continue to make bad decisions after decades of failures and hold no one responsible for past and on-going failures?

  2. I think their challenge is in the packaging. This needs to be a proven manned ship with potential for a future USV version like the Ghost Fleet ships or MQ-8C. I realize they lose some efficiency as they can design differently with man out of the loop from the onset. I'd contend Sea Hunter proves that designing the man out of the loop also limits your future payload flexibility as well. This is why Sea Hunter is ending with the second hull and the Ghost fleet ship has stepped into the MUSV slot to the tune of possibly 9 hulls. Its larger thana they had specifified for MUSV and I think would have been larger still if they wouldn't have declared LUSV to be a 200-300 foot ship. I really think that LAW, LUSV, and EPF could all be based on one future sea frame and that same sea frame could also be a corvette. I would not call that corvette a follow on to LCS, although it might look like one to the untrained eye. It will have less horsepower, more gas, and be a pure combat vessel.

  3. With the implementation of Ai and potential comms/situational awareness issues inherent with AI platforms one has to wonder if these "assets" will wander away during peacetime and wartime conditions. All I can think of during is in a situation of a fleet deployment is a right turn Clyde situation where one ship has a problem which in turn compounds into many ships problems.

    Also missing is the potential problem that occurs during storms. If a fleet of 12-24 "autonomous" ships sails into a Typhoon Cobra situation how many of them would actually survive or if they did survive be combat ready.

    All I see are problems with the concept not an actual concept which will survive first contact with a near peer enemy.

  4. The only LUSV concept I see as workable right now is an optionally manned version of the MSS-1. Basically a tanker with its engine ripped out filled with foam (to make it hard to sink) and provided with a huge out board engine. Attach coils to enhance it magnetic signature and speaker in the water and you have a large, very hard to sink mine sweeper. With the right vismods it can look like a flat top and double as a missile magnet.

    It can also do double duty during an amphibious assault. You can strap on extra helos to help deal with connector attrition. Doesn't solve the attrition problem but it may help make it more manageable.

    Doesn't however do anything to add to the firepower or sensor issues. So this is definitely a niche ship for AFTER you have your other bases covered.

  5. I keep hearing AI this AI that. It is not some magic solution. It's only a programming technique. I remember when object oriented programming first became the rage. It was going to solve everything even world hunger. AI like OOP is useful but it is not some cure all.

  6. "replacing 22 Ticonderogas containing 122 VLS cells each with 20 Constellation frigates containing 16-32 VLS cells each in the near future. "

    This is not true. Ticonderogas' replacement is DDG(x) which is still in drawing board. Looks like its aim is like China's type 055.

    1. I'm sorry but it is true in the practical, real world near/moderate future. PERHAPS, someday, in the distant future, another cruiser (or DDG(X)) will come along but the reality is that the Constellation is the replacement for the Ticonderogas. I know you don't like to hear that and don't want to believe it but that doesn't make it any less true.

      A cruiser replacement, whether DDG(X) or whatever takes its place after it gets cancelled, is just a future wish list item. It's not a reality and may well never be. Consider the tortured history of the Zumwalt. It was supposed to be the SC21, DD-21, DD(X), and CG(X), among other guises. It was supposed to be 32 ships, then 24, then 7, and finally 3. It was the most important ship for the future of the Navy; the bedrock upon which the future Navy would be built and without which the Navy had no hope of succeeding … and then in a matter of months the Navy declared it outmoded and unwanted.

      So, to believe that a DDG(X) will be the replacement for the Ticonderoga is to hope for something that history says is unlikely. I would also remind you that the Navy has publicly stated that the Ticonderoga replacement may be a family of smaller ships and aircraft 'system of systems' rather than a direct one-for-one, ship for ship replacement.

      So, recognize the reality and accept it. If, at some far distant time in the future, a true cruiser replacement materializes, I'll come back and rewrite this post. How's that?

      Of course, at some far distant time in the future, it won't really be a replacement for the Ticonderoga, will it? It'll be a replacement for the Constellation which will have replaced the Ticonderoga.

      As the Ticonderogas leave the fleet, the only new ship entering the fleet will be the Constellation - that's kind of the definition of a replacement.

  7. I have a question about this LUSV. We usually consider ships of this size as green water ships. Will LUSV have enough endurance to conduct open ocean operations?

    1. Well, the 205 ft Flower class corvettes conducted cross Atlantic convoy duties so ...

  8. Manning costs are not just salaries/benefits. There are lots of costs:

    Health issues - sickness, disability, ... especially long term healthcare for wounded soldiers

    Pensions and other retirement benefits.

    Political costs -- American soldiers die in military conflicts bring unbearable political costs to politicians elected by you. especially from operations ordered by them which are supported by you --- the other side will ... as you will do on the other side without regard the nation

    Use unmanned aircraft, ship, submarine won't have these problems. It is like businesses want to layoff people and replace them with machines.

    1. The unmanned ships that we are currently capable of building and planning to build are small (on a relative basis), woefully underarmed, have no damage control or repair capability, have no self-defense, and are, therefore, one hit kills. Is it your position that we should trade highly effective and capable manned ships for marginally effective unmanned ships just to save some money? Are you proposing we weaken the overall fleet and jeopardize national security to save money?

      I don't ask this to be mean or try to 'get you'. This is a serious philosophical question that needs to be addressed. If we're going to commit to unmanned assets we need to understand clearly what we're getting and what we're giving up and make sure the trade is worth it. So, I encourage you to discuss your thinking on the balance and tradeoffs between manned and unmanned and what justification(s) you see.

    2. Yes, this is a serious issue for navy.

      To be honest, I only thought from businesses' point of using machines to replace human to save costs, both reasonable ones and political incorrect ones.

    3. " I only thought from businesses' point of using machines to replace human to save costs,"

      Is there even a valid business case to be made for unmanned vessels?

      Yes, in the most simplistic analysis the cost of building a small, unmanned ship is cheaper than a larger, more capable one. And, yes, the direct manning cost comparison of crew versus no crew demonstrates a savings.

      However, that's the most simplistic analysis possible - simplistic to the point of meaningless. What if we factor in the replacement cost of all the sunken unmanned ships because they have no self-defense and no damage control? What if we factor in the longer war that will result from using inferior forces and losing many battles that might have been won with more capable forces? What if we factor in the indirect manning costs for the 'crews' that have to perform routine maintenance on unmanned ships (unmanned doesn't eliminate the need for maintenance!)? What if we factor in the immense software development costs to produce unmanned autonomy software and provide continual upgrade support for it?

      Is there still a business case for unmanned?

      Why don't you take a deeper dive on the subject and see what you conclude and then let us know?

    4. "Is there still a business case for unmanned?"

      For UAVs, yes.
      USVs, I don't see it.

  9. How long will it take for China to seize one of those boats, once they're in service?

    1. About as long as it took the ask the question!

  10. If the Constellation frigates have 16 decked mounted missiles, they effectively would have 48 VLS cells. And, you seem to have excluded the number of new Burkes (~16) scheduled to enter into service by early-2030s. Plus, the first 5-6 Virginia Block Vs should be in service by then as well. The new Burkes and Virginia Block Vs represent 1,600 to 1,800 VLS cells.

    Without a new large surface combattant or some sort of arsenal ship, there will be fewer VLS cells in the fleet of the early-2030s.

    1. "you seem to have excluded the number of new Burkes (~16) scheduled to enter into service by early-2030s."

      That's true. Some number of new Burkes will enter the fleet. The problem is that given the direction we seem to be going, I anticipate that the number of new Burkes will be drastically cut and replaced by more unmanned vessels of markedly inferior weapon loads. The Navy has publicly stated that some portion of Burkes will be replaced by unmanned vessels. So, this is a near certainty.

      In addition, budget constraints appear to be increasing and budgets will be tighter which means fewer ships built than hoped for and more ships retired to fund new ships. Countering that is the Navy's attempt to reallocate funding from the Army to the Navy - that may or may not happen.

      Regarding submarines, there will be some new ones entering the fleet but those will be offset by retirements. A net wash. Compounding the problem, we already have several submarines sitting idled for years, waiting for their turn at maintenance and overhauls which effectively further reduces the number of available VLS. I don't see the submarine maintenance backlog clearing up. In fact, I see it getting worse as facilities continue to age and maintenance continues to be deferred resulting in ever more difficult and extensive maintenance requirements when the individual subs finally get their turn. We're already seeing this vicious cycle playing out. The carriers are requiring longer and longer maintenance periods because their maintenance is being deferred and because the carriers are unavailable for longer periods during maintenance, other carriers are being double deployed instead of maintained which means they'll have even worse maintenance problems when they finally get their chance. And the vicious cycle continues ...

      Adding or subtracting a few ships doesn't change the overall conclusion. We're heading for a drastic reduction in VLS capacity and that explains the drive to build LUSV. It's a drive that is misguided in the extreme but it does explain the Navy's actions - which was the point of the post.

    2. I think the Navy is more committed to the Burkes than you give them credit. The Navy touted that 10-ship block buy as a way of saving money which should take production out to the late-2020's. And, the Burkes are probably the Navy's best shipbuilding success story over the last 30 years. I can't see the Navy trading any of them for unmanned ships.

      I agree there likely will be fewer VLS cells in the fleet by the early 2030's, though I think the difference will be somewhat less that you estimate.

  11. I saw it more as: the LCS being replaced by the FFG(X) and the tico's being replaced by nothing between 2025 and 2040.

    The Zumwalts might make up a tiny amount of VLS- 240, when they can reliably fire SM2 and ESSM'sSo there's a bit more air defence there. But they have zero offensive ability, unless they somehow bolt on dozens of Harpoons. (no deck mounted LRASM's yet)

    The Koreans are building an even bigger cruiser- 170m long.

    Why can't the US just license the design?


    1. "The Koreans are building an even bigger cruiser- 170m long.

      Why can't the US just license the design?"

      Why? What's the fascination / obsession with bigger and bigger ships holding more and more VLS which we already don't have the inventory of missiles to fill?

      Beyond that, we've already demonstrated that excess VLS isn't usable in combat. The engagement windows are so short that just a few missiles can be used. So, to be illustratively ridiculous, a ship with a thousand VLS cells is no more useful in combat than a ship with, say, 50. That being the case, what's the fascination with bigger ships?

    2. Is this not an argument against this blog's thesis? ...that launch tubes declines imperil the NAVY's ability to fulfil it's mission.

    3. "Is this not an argument against this blog's thesis?"

      Astute question! The answer is, no, it's not, for two reasons:

      1. The looming decline in total firepower (VLS cells) is so massive as to constitute a serious problem.

      and, more relevantly,

      2. The preceding comment questions the number of VLS cells on an INDIVIDUAL ship rather than the entire fleet. A single ship with, to be ridiculous, ten thousand VLS cells is useless. A fleet with ten thousand VLS cells distributed across many, many ships is highly useful. See the distinction?

    4. No, that's an argument against too many VLS cells IN THE SAME SHIP.

    5. Thank you, I see the distinction now. As a father with his only sons in the military (one a young sub officer), I guess I just question the premise that we (the "free" people of America), should feel the moral obligation to maintain at great expense and risk of life... the capacity to rule the "first chain" sea. A gross digression from the present topic to be sure, but a question worth answering before making such an investment.

    6. "feel the moral obligation to maintain at great expense and risk of life... the capacity to rule the "first chain" sea."

      This is a vital question you ask, because the answer is the basis for our national geopolitical strategy and subsequent military strategy. People write books about this but I'll offer you my briefest possible answer.

      If you look at a map of international shipping routes (google search will show it), you'll see that a huge portion of international shipping passes through the first island chain region. To allow that to fall under the control of China would be equivalent to allowing criminals to control and regulate our interstate highways. No good would come of it. Our country depends on international shipping so ensuring the free flow of goods around the world IS A NATIONAL SECURITY INTEREST. Hence, our need to be able to keep the region free. We don't need to 'rule' the first island chain (and, indeed, have no claim to it) but neither does China.

      I hope that helps you understand, whether you agree or not, why your son is protecting the first island chain or any shipping route, for that matter. What he's doing is vital to our continued economic success and you should be proud of him and his mission.

      Maintaining the free flow of international shipping is NOT a moral obligation, it's a national/economic security

      If you have doubts about the strategy/mission, you might ponder what would happen if a major portion of the world's shipping were cut off or otherwise impeded? What would that do to our economy? What would that do to the availability of goods (we got a taste of that during this pandemic when everything was in short supply)? What would happen if the cost of everything skyrocketed? What would restricted shipping do to our imports and exports? And so on.

      Hope this helps in some small way!

    7. Thanks. That does help . I know my sons are at peace with the risks. That helps too. As for me it is one thing to offer one's sons with a glad heart in the protection of our Constitutional republic...but it is quite another thing to sacrifice them for a growing welfare state which turns its back on liberty and the responsibilities which come with it. I've been struggling with all this lately, though it is not my place to choose for them. I raised them as best I could, their lives are there own. They too are uncomfortable with the nations direction, but they love it still. I just hope that the nation does not spend their lives cheaply.

    8. Hi CNO,

      "Why? What's the fascination / obsession with bigger and bigger ships holding more and more VLS which we already don't have the inventory of missiles to fill?"

      Isn't that we're talking about, since we're talking about the Tico's being replaced by the Constellation class and the number of VLS's the fleet is being decreased by?

      *Scratches head.*


    9. "Isn't that we're talking about, since we're talking about the Tico's being replaced by the Constellation class and the number of VLS's the fleet is being decreased by?"

      As with the commenter above, you're conflating two separate issues: total fleet VLS capacity and individual ship capacity. We want total fleet capacity to be large (assuming we build enough missiles to fill them!). We want individual ship capacities to be ONLY large enough to meet mission needs. We've thoroughly discussed the very limited engagement window for an individual ship. In any reasonable mission, there can only be a very limited number of engagements and, therefore, a very limited need for VLS cells. Once a ship begins getting above 50 or so cells, it starts reaching the excess, unusable point. At best, such a ship will carry around unusable missiles which would be a waste. At worst, the ship will be sunk with guaranteed excess missile inventory lost with the ship.

      This should alleviate the scratching.

    10. I see the distinction now, thanks.

  12. All countries out there are doing research on USVs and other variants but it is worrying USN seems to be so determined to get them into service and order them into production so fast. If USN had a great track record, it would be OK but with LCS, Zumwalt, Ford, its hard to find confidence that USN knows what the heck its doing. This has the hallmarks of future disaster and failure written all over it but this time, as CNO says, this is a major chunk of established ships like the TICOS and early BURKES thats going to replaced by garbage like LUSV and no amount of money and time is going to change that. CONSTELLATION might turn into an OK program but it's too big to go everywhere every job (FG) or not big enough to replace DDGs and CGs. As usual, USN doesn't know what it wants and how to get there, sadly, it looks like its a trait it shares with other navies programs! It must be contagious!

    From what I've read from French news, im not optimistic on Australia sub program, even though they just signed a 2 year contract....with IOC in mid 2030s!

    1. I think if they can not stir up a mess with the contractors they picked the right ship for MUSV.

  13. So I guess I am missing something with the LUSV. This is going to be a large vessel with zero crew which presumably will have expectations of "high" reliability, but when push comes to shove it will be vulnerable to being disabled by loss of communications or any number of other potentially minor failures. At the present time the majority of naval, and indeed commercial sea-going vessels, seem to encounter regular machinery or equipment failures of one sort or another on a regular basis.

    If the Navy is comfortable with a large vessel that is completely uncrewed why is not comfortable with the idea of a large vessel with a small crew that has no responsibility ot fight the ship, but instead is essentially a onboard maintenance team that will deal with the sorts of failures in engines, communications, electrical, etc., that could in the absence of any personnel simply leave the vessel dead in the water, but which, if a small engineering team were aboard, could be relatively swiftly addressed.

    Arguments that building the LUSV in such a way that this "caretaker crew" could access those portions of the ship likely to need maintenance or basic repair would somehow compromise the design seem difficult to credit as the very same equipment or spaces will need to accessible when the ship returns to its base or rendezvouses with a tender of some sort.

    So in short, why not simply build these as largely autonomous vessels with truly minimal manning.

    Obviously this would have the additional advantage in peacetime of avoiding foreign powers, or curious fishermen, treating your ship as an abandoned vessel that can be salvaged at will.

    But again, perhaps I'm missing something.

    1. "caretaker crew"

      Bear in mind that if you add a caretaker crew to an unmanned vessel you also have to add heads, galleys, food storage, berthing, showers, fresh water storage, laundry, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, waste disposal, and additional crew to cook, clean, etc. All of that greatly increases the size and cost of the LUSV.

    2. Absolutely, but at the same time, how extensive do those systems actually have to be? Are they the sort of thing that can be accomplished by simply craning on a couple of modular habitation blocks that connect to the vessels power and cooling.

      If nothing else, given that the ships will be full of electronics they will already need to have fairly robust air-conditioning/cooling just to support those systems.

      I suppose ultimately, how many people would you need aboard to deal with basic failure modes? Anything super complex is going to require a return to base, or active recovery effort, no matter what anyway. The only cleaning required is going to be that of the habitation and as such should not be too burdensome as long as the numbers are low. Clearly as conceived the Navy has no intention of providing anything other than episodic cleaning or ongoing preventive maintenance of the vessels. (I suspect they will rapidly become major guano collectors)

      Ultimately I am probably reaching for something like a team of no more than 6-12 persons aboard for a few weeks at a time before being swapped out. For this purpose containerized habitation modules, which have been developed for various offshore industries would seem like a satisfactory solution.

      If the LUSV, as an example would need to keep 50 caretakers occupied 24-7 then the vessel is never going to be able operate usefully anyway and the whole concept of unmanned naval vessels is completely bogus anyway.

      Still, I'm not a marine architect, nor have I worked on a vessel at sea. But I note that commercial vessels such as large container vessels have miniscule crews by naval standards, and they are actually responsible for operating and directing the vessel, in addition to keeping it running.

    3. "large container vessels have miniscule crews by naval standards, and they are actually responsible for operating and directing the vessel, in addition to keeping it running."

      A major, major difference between a commercial cargo vessel a LUSV is that the cargo vessels sail on very short voyages from one port to the next and are supported by maintenance at the ports. In contrast, you've seen that the Navy sends ships out on nearly year long deployments with few port calls anymore.

      Maintenance is another issue. A commercial vessel gets regular maintenance. A Navy ship gets deferred maintenance for months or years on end. The longer maintenance is deferred, the more things break down. At the start of a deployment you may only need a few people for maintenance but after months at sea you'll likely need dozens of people on full time repairs and maintenance.

      The LCS experience is instructive. Despite having a crew (though no on board maintenance) the LCSes have regularly broken down and those are brand new ships just trying to sail from port to port rather than extended deployments, for the most part.

      And, as you point out, if you have to keep a maintenance crew on board then it really isn't an unmanned vessel, is it?

  14. The navy's concept of this is ridiculous.

    But I wonder if a large unmanned vessel would be a good choice for an oiler?

    1. Oilers are too valuable for that.

    2. Plus an UNREP/RAS (for our Brit friends) is the last place you want a great big unmanned ship.

  15. I'm still unclear what role the Constellation supposed to take in this new force structure. If we are going by the current plans, the Navy seems to be envisioning the LUSV as our main anti-surface component, the Sea Hunter and Seahawks(from Burkes?) as the main anti-submarine component and the F-35 and UAVs on carriers as our main anti-aircraft component.

    Where would the Constellation fits in this equation? Would they be a do-it-all ships who direct, control and support these unmanned ships? Or are they supposed to be the communications beacon tieing this concept all together? I hoped that they plan to decrease, not increase the issue we have with training a ship to be proficient with all components. I like to note that with such a small manned fleet, it might be reducing the coverage for the envisioned Distributed Lethality concept. It seems that they are supposed to manned unit at each node with the LUSV acting only as missile barges. If they are thinking about using one-hit hackable jammable ship as a node then this concept might not even have a chance at working.

  16. As far as the personnel issue, I know where the Navy could find some more people and save money at the same time. CBO, in its primer on force structure (1), classified Navy and Marine Corps personnel (it did not distinguish between the two) as follows:

    Classification, Active (000s), Reserve (000s), Total (000s), sorry, don’t know how to post a proper table

    Combat—210, 34, 244
    Combat support—93, 25, 118
    Admin/overhead—202, 38, 240
    Total—505, 97, 602

    From a different perspective, McKinsey did a “tooth to tail” analysis of defense spending (2) and concluded that the USA spends 16% of its defense budget on combat, 7% on combat support, and 77% on admin/overhead. Either way, there’s not enough tooth and too much tail.

    Going back to CBO, the active breakdown is probably about 325,000 Navy and 180,000 Marines, so basically 64-36. Suppose we cut that admin/overhead number in half, and take those 101,000 personnel and redistribute them 1/3 (34,000) to combat, 1/6 (17,000) to combat support, and 50,000 to the reserves. While we’re at it, add another 50,000 reserve slots. We end up with 244,000 active combat, 110,000 active combat support, 101,000 active admin/overhead, 455,000 total active, and 197,000 reserves, total potential end strength 652,000. Applying the 64-36 ratio, for the Navy that would mean about 22,000 more combat (at 300 per ship, enough for 73 more ships) and 11,000 more combat support (so more for things like ship repair and maintenance facilities, to help address backlogs).

    As far as cost, we pay reservists for 60 days a year (48 drill plus 12 ACDUTRA) so a reservist should equal about 1/6 of a full-time equivalent (FTE). Per CBO the Navy and Marines have 521,000 FTEs (505,000 + 97,000/6) whereas this structure would be 488,000 FTEs (455,000 + 197,000/6), a savings of 33,000 FTEs. So we have more personnel, and specifically more combat and combat support personnel, and we do it cheaper.

    Of course, the people who would have to make the decision to go this way are among those 202,000 admin/overhead types, and they are not going to derail their gravy trains, so it will never happen.


  17. “So soak that in: the Constellation frigate is the replacement for the Ticonderoga. Let’s say it again because I know some of you are going to have a hard time accepting it so here it is again: The Constellation frigate is the replacement for the Ticonderoga.”

    This is what I’ve been saying for months. Why else would you take a pretty good, and proved, GP escort ship and give up a bunch of other capability to get AEGIS onboard? The Navy plans roughly the same number—20 versus 22—and the change in naming convention is sort of a hint, too.

    1. Understand that when I say the Constellation is the replacement for the Ticos, I don't mean that someone in the Navy has a line drawing with a straight line from Tico to Constellation. In fact, I'm sure the Navy would take exception to the notion that the Constellation is the replacement for the Tico.

      The reason I say it's the replacement is because over the next several years while the Ticos are retiring, the only ship coming into the fleet will be the Constellations. THAT is what makes it the replacement, whether intended as such or not.

    2. If you quad pack CVLWT based VLAs and come up with a 2 stage ESSM-ER it starts to not be as bad. They really need to have flight II bought before flight I hits the water. Plenty of things between now and then that will disappoint people about flight I. At least its a design that can evolve into something better without starting over.

    3. "In fact, I'm sure the Navy would take exception to the notion that the Constellation is the replacement for the Tico."

      I am too. But as you point out, and as I have been saying for some time, that is obviously de facto.

  18. As for VLS cells, the first question is what goes into those cells. Presumably we split them up between AAW, ASuW (anti-ship and land attack), and ASW. We have Standard missiles and ESSM 4-packs for AAW, and the dated but apparently still pretty good ASROC for ASW. That leaves ASuW.

    The Navy as spent at least 50 years not taking anti-surface missiles as seriously as our potential peers, Russia and China. We need to catch up in a hurry. The possible types, and what we have in each one, compared to Russia and China, include:

    -Long range (ICBM)-USA, Trident; Russia, Rubezh; China, DF-41
    -Intermediate range (IRBM)-USA, nothing; China, DF-21
    -Short-range (SRBM)-USA, nothing; Russia, Iskander; China DF-15
    -Hypersonic-USA, nothing; Russia, Zircon; China, DF-ZF
    -Supersonic-USA, nothing; Russia, Shipwreck, Brahmos; China, CX-1
    -Subsonic-USA, Tomahawk (land attack) and Harpoon (anti-ship), LRASM, NSM; Russia, Kalibr; China, CJ-10

    We have huge holes in IRBM/SRBM and hypersonic, supersonic, and long-range subsonic cruise missiles. Before we worry about how many VLS cells, we need to develop a complete inventory of cruise and ballistic missiles to put in those cells, in order to have a viable strike capability. Assuming we do, I would plan on having the following strike platforms, in order (excluding SSBNs as more of a last resort than a first strike platform):

    20 SSGNs – based on Ohio SSBNs 20 x 154 = 3080 cells, Tomahawk or replacement
    30 Virginia VPM SSNs -- 30 x 40 = 1200 cells, Tomahawk or replacement
    8 battleships – based on 1980s battlecarrier concept (1), TRS-3D/4D, 2x3 16-inch guns, 256 VLS cells (original concept had 320, but I’m reducing number to include 64 large cells for IRBM/SRBM, hypersonic, and supersonic cruise missiles), and a Kiev-like angled flight deck with ski jump to operate 10 STOVL and 10 helicopters, 8 x 256 = 2048 cells
    20 cruisers—larger replacements for Ticos, Des Moines hull, AEGIS/AMDR, 2x3 8-inch guns, forward and aft, 192 VLS cells including 32 larger cells for hypersonic and supersonic cruise missiles, and like the WWII flight deck cruiser concept (2), a large flight deck for operating 2-3 helos and numerous small UAVs, with a hangar underneath from which small USVs and UUVs could be launched/recovered over the side, 20 x 192 = 3840 cells
    40 AAW destroyers – primarily AAW, could be Burkes, AEGIS/AMDR, 122 VLS, 40 x 122 = 4880 cells
    60 GP escorts – more FREMM than FFG(X), EMPAR/SMART-L instead of AEGIS, 32 VLS fwd (FREMM was built for but not with), and if NSM can truly operate from Mk41, then 16 port and 16 stbd VLS where canisters are slated to go, like Ivor Huitfeldt, 60 x 64 = 3840 cells
    80 ASW frigates, like ComNavOps’s ASW destroyer escort, except 32-cell VLS instead of ASROC box, with 32 ESSM quad-packed, 12 ASROC, and 12 NSM
    24 aircraft carriers (12 CVNs and 12 CVs, with LHAs/LHDs converted to interim Lightning Carriers until the CVs enter the fleet)—come in after the A2/AD threat has been seriously impaired, have one attack squadron each to conduct strike missions


    (part 1 of 2, continued)

    1. (part 2 of 2)

      In a potential peer war with China, I would expect that initially only the SSGNs and VPMs would operate inside the Chinese A2/AD coverage zone, and a primary mission would be to degrade that A2/AD system. The surface units would operate around the fringes of the A2/AD zone, with air cover provided by carriers operating further out, close enough to cover the first island chain and hit the mainland, also focusing on degrading the A2/AD system. Carriers would initially operate further out and provide air cover for the surface forces and any operations in the first island chain. When the A2/AD system was sufficiently degraded, the carriers could move closer and launch strikes against the mainland with long-range attack aircraft. ARGs and littoral forces would operate initially in first island chain and the Indian Ocean, conducting port seizure missions against ports established by China in the latter region, after which PLAN’s ability to secure its critical oil pipeline would become very difficult to impossible.

      I don’t really see a full blown peer war with either China or Russia. I don’t think any nuclear power is crazy enough to pick a fight to the end with another nuclear power. But the key to keeping it that way is making sure we would win if it came to that, and I think this approach does that. What I do expect, as long as Russia and/or China do not think they can win a peer war is a lot of tangential proxy wars, just like we had in Cold War I, and we need to be able to win those decisively, too.

    2. " carriers could move closer and launch strikes against the mainland with long-range attack aircraft."

      Where do I get the impression that you view carriers as strike platforms?

    3. "Where do I get the impression that you view carriers as strike platforms?"

      As a sixth alternative after SSGNs, VPM SSNs, battleships, cruisers, and smaller surface combatants, and contingent upon development of a long-range, stealthy attack aircraft, yes. But that's hardly a primary strike asset or a primary mission area for carriers.

    4. I'm seeing the distinction Chip is trying to make, but I think you're probably still overemphasizing the strike role for carriers. One strike squadron per carrier (4 per CVBG) is appropriate, but they would only see use during amphibious landings - alongside ARG CAS - or against isolated ships presenting targets of opportunity - not as 4th-rate strategic strike assets.

      Historically, after gaining control of the airspace/airfields in an area of the pacific we would lean on the heavier throw-weight land-based bombers for strategic bombing. Nowadays it's not about capturing nearby airfields (though hardening Guam would be smart), but about achieving local air superiority along their strike paths. In addition to shooting TLAMs and keeping itself safe from enemy air, the other major goal of CV aviation is to enable land-based air to operate in the area. I see B52/1/2/21 as still being our best conventional strategic strike assets - even edging out SSGN/DDG/CG-launched TLAMs for payload:cost ratio once the initial TLAM strikes enable the penetrating bombers to go in and drop non-precision munitions by the ton. With the possible exception of the B2/21 however, cruise missiles are the clear winner for initial degradation of the IADS/A2AD systems.

  19. Total VLS cells for my approach would be:

    SSGNs – 20 x 154 = 3080
    VPMs – 30 x 40 = 1200
    Battlecarriers – 8 x 256 = 2048
    Cruisers – 20 x 192 = 3880
    AAW Destroyers – 40 x 122 = 4880
    GP Escorts – 60 x 64 = 3880
    ASW Frigates – 80 x 32 = 2560

    Total = 21,448, split among AAW, ASW, and ASuW (both anti-ship and land attack)

    First we have to develop and get the missiles.

    I do not worry about too many on one platform. I think they are spread out enough to avoid that issue. I have also proposed 8 ASW helicopter carriers based on the Japanese Hyuga. They have 16 VLS cells, which if we kept those would be another 128, for a total of 21,576.

    1. Just out of curiosity, when will you start manufacturing thousands upon thousands of additional missiles to fill those cells?

      Our total Tomahawk inventory is on the order of 3,000. Our Standard inventory is maybe around the same. Our ESSM is ?a thousand or less? based on manufacturer's production claims. Our ASROCs are a relative handful. The VL-LRASM does not exist.

      So, you would appear to have about 15,000 empty cells even the entire inventory were distributed to the fleet and nothing was held in reserve.

      This is not a criticism of you or your plan - you're not the one making the Navy's missile purchasing decisions. However, for anyone (myself included) who wishes to engage in hypothetical fleet designs, it is necessary to consider missile inventories along with other mundane factors like drydock capacity, maintenance capacity, and so on.

      I've called for increased weapons production, more drydocks, more repair capacity, vastly improved public shipyard facilities, etc. as a higher priority than new ships. In fact, I've stated that we should take a several year hiatus from carrier production (and all combat ships, for that matter).

      Just a little perspective as you ponder your spreadsheets of ships!

    2. Biggest demonstrable area I see where prices for somewhat similar missiles in the budget is AIM-9X for half a mil vs RAM blk II for a mil. Then AMRAAIM for a million and ESSM for 2 although these are really a bit further apart. I'd love to know what a 2 stage ESSM-ER would cost vs a new build SM-2.

    3. You can get away with empty VLS cells in peacetime, if you really have to, but that assumes that's possible to quickly produce at the very least tens of thousands of missiles each year in wartime, and I see no indication that such a thing could be done, at least in the USA.

      Why doesn't anyone else seem to be worried about this, though?
      Have the Chinese thought this through or are they simply copying whatever America is doing?

    4. "Just out of curiosity, when will you start manufacturing thousands upon thousands of additional missiles to fill those cells?"

      The more I think this through, the more it becomes obvious that we have some gaping holes right now in our Navy and defense structure. For one thing, we need to come up with some viable counters for DF-21, Iskander, DF-15, Zircon, DF-ZF, Shipwreck, Brahmos, CX-1, Kalibr, CJ-10. When we can add those, they will occupy a bunch of those VLS cells.

      I have already noted the Navy's failure to develop effective cruise and ballistic missiles of its own. I am personally aware of a situation 50 years ago where the Navy intentionally and affirmatively rejected a technology trade with the French that would have brought us Exocet when we had nothing.

      I guess my answer to your question is when we start taking the cruise and ballistic missile threats seriously.

      "Why doesn't anyone else seem to be worried about this, though?"

      I am very worried about this, and have been ever since the fall of 1973 when I was sailing around the eastern Med with a Russian 1000 yards off my port bow, and knowing that he had anti-ship missiles to sink me with, and that we had rejected a shot at Exocet to be able to fire back.

      I can think of several other areas where we need focus. We lag way behind in torpedo technology, as ComNavOps noted in a prior thread. Our mine warfare capability, particularly countering enemy mines, is virtually nonexistent. We have virtually no NGFS capability. And we have neglected ASW to the point that we may have assets that can do the job on paper, but I'm not sure how good we are.

      To think, for the price of a Ford, or even a Zumwalt, or certainly the lot of useless LCSs, we could be in tip-top shape in every one of these areas. Time to stop throwing money after expensive toys and shiny objects, and start focusing on cost-effective ways to win wars.

    5. "it is necessary to consider missile inventories along with other mundane factors like drydock capacity, maintenance capacity, and so on.
      I've called for increased weapons production, more drydocks, more repair capacity, vastly improved public shipyard facilities, etc. as a higher priority than new ships. In fact, I've stated that we should take a several year hiatus from carrier production (and all combat ships, for that matter).
      Just a little perspective as you ponder your spreadsheets of ships!"

      I am well aware that those "spreadsheets of ships" cannot happen and be sustained without the drydock, maintenance, shipyard, etc. capacity to which you allude. And I've said repeatedly that we have spending too much for ships and not enough for weapons to go on them.

      Since I work with numbers, here are a few to consider. Over the last 30 years, the Navy’s annual shipbuilding budget has been around $13-15B in 2019 dollars (all dollar amounts will be 2019 dollars), and in recent years that number has increased to $20-22B. CBO says the Navy’s 355-ship fleet would cost about $2.85B per ship to build, or $865B in total. CBO projects building 304 new ships and using 51 legacy ships to get to 355. To build that fleet in 30 years means building 10.1 ships a year. At $2.85B/ship, that is $28.8B/year, roughly double the historic level and substantially greater than the current level. And assuming a 30-year average service life, maintaining that level would require building 12 ships/year at a cost of $34.2B/year.

      But suppose we use ADM Elmo Zumwalt’s “high/low mix” approach to reduce the cost/ship. Build some $2.8B (or more) ships, and fill out the numbers with cheaper ships. Some ideas:

      - Build a mix of Nimitz CVNs ($9B) and conventional CVs ($6B) instead of Fords ($14B)
      - Build a single-purpose ASW frigate as successor-in-mission to the Knoxes and Perrys
      - Build an amphibious squadron/ARG of more numerous smaller, cheaper ships instead of LHAs/LHDs ($3.8B) and San Antonio LPDs ($2B); convert the LHAs/LHDs to interim Lightning Carriers until the conventional CVs reach the fleet, and the San Antonios to HII ABM/BMD ships
      - For subs build a mix of Ohio SSGNs and Virginia VPMs for strike, plus smaller and cheaper nukes like the French Barracuda for the ASW mission
      - Build some true littoral combatants instead of LCSs—shallow water ASW corvettes, missile patrol boats, AIP submarines, and purpose-built mine countermeasures ships

      With these changes, my “spreadsheet of ships” (and I actually do have a spreadsheet) comes in at about $1.4B/ship. That means for the $20-22B recent shipbuilding level, we could build 15 ships a year. With an average ship life of 30 years, that would be enough to maintain a 450-ship fleet. I don’t think we can truly take a hiatus from carrier or other shipbuilding, but the use of legacy ships would save some $60B or so over the first 30 years, and that money could address the shipyard, maintenance, and weapons issues. At an average of $1 million per missile, $15B would buy 15,000 missiles, and the remaining $45B could put a decent dent in the shipyard and maintenance issues.

      One reason that I have looked at some foreign designs is the idea that a source of shipyard investment could be foreign builders buying or building USA yards. For example, if Naval Group could count on a 30-ship Barracuda production run, the numbers would easily justify joint venturing with a USA company to build a construction facility like the one that they joint ventured with the Brazilians. Fincantieri/Marinette might be a test run for this concept, although the Navy has messed with the FREMM design so much that it may not be a good or fair test. Another thing that I think could help is the personnel restructuring that I discussed in another post would free up about 22,000 personnel for the fleet and 11,000 for support activities, including repair and maintenance facilities, which should help catch up the maintenance backlog.

    6. "I do not worry about too many on one platform. I think they are spread out enough to avoid that issue." -Chip

      Generally I think your VLS/ship numbers are fine, assuming we build shipyards, missiles, support vessels, and combat vessels in the right order and proportions to keep everything operational. CNOps has stated that anything over 50 is unlikely to be used (I think the relevant scenario is a saturation attack & this is a limit for defensive missiles on surface combatants) in a single engagement, and we know ships typically RTB after a single operation in wartime. Assuming a 50%-60% AAW load and some number of 4-pack ESSMs, I think there's a fairly compelling argument for at least keeping surface combatant VLS counts to 96 and below. A few AAW cruisers/destroyers with 144 VLS isn't going too far, but 200+ VLS Battlecarriers/Cruisers with 64/32 VLS-XL that also operate within artillery range of shore - and of sea mines and submarines - is an unnecessary risk. I don't see the battlecarrier being worth its operational costs in any incarnation, while the 16/8-inch NGFS role deserves a dedicated platform (battleship, battlecruiser, gunboat? Beats me.) that isn't lugging around excess VLS and the UAV-mothership-&-AAW-leader role deserves a dedicated platform that favors AAW sensors, AAW missiles, varied point defenses (seaRAM, CIWS, 40mm, lasers, etc.), and 5/8-inch flak over IRBM silos and 100+ TLAM-laden VLS. The strike missiles belong on SSGNs - especially the IRBMs - or split out in smaller lots to smaller ships. It's unlikely we'll ever find ourselves with enough strike missiles to need more SSGNs than you call for, but if we do then we should just plan for more SSGNs.

    7. "Just a little perspective as you ponder your spreadsheets of ships!"

      Actually, those spreadsheets tell me quite a lot. The math is pretty straightforward:

      Annual shipbuilding budget divided by cost/ship = number of ships/year
      Number of ships/year times average service life = total number of ships

      Not much you can do to change the math. If you want more ships, you have to decrease the cost/ship, increase the average service life, and/or increase the amount appropriated for shipbuilding.

      Now the 30-year average shipbuilding appropriation for the Navy has been $13-15B (in 2019 dollars, as are all dollar amounts in this). In the last 4-5 years, that number has gone up to $20-22B.

      CBO reviewed the Navy's 355-ship plan, and concluded that the average cost/ship would be roughly $2.8B and the average cost/year would be roughly $28B. I don't think there's any way the Navy ever gets $28B/year to build ships. So let's be optimistic and assume that number is in the $20-22B range.

      At $2.8B/ship, that builds 7.5 ships/year. If we assume a 30-year average service life, that builds a 225-ship navy

      If you want more, you increase service life, decrease cost/ship, and/or increase the budget.

      For example, if you can reduce average cost/ship to $1.4B, $21B/year builds 15 ships/year, and with a 30-year average life that builds a 450-ship Navy. I have focused on a high/low mix approach to reduce cost/ship.

      Cost is not by any means the only consideration in designing a fleet structure, but it is one consideration, and one which basically limits the possibilities.

      And of course, in addition to ship costs you have to look at aircraft costs and missile costs subject to similar limitations. If you have $35B total to spend per year and you spend $21B to maintain 450 ships, the you have $14B left for aircraft and missiles. If aircraft cost an average of $100MM each, and you spend $11B on aircraft, that buys 110 aircraft/year. If they average 25 years of useful life, that supports 2750 aircraft. That leave $3B for missiles, and if the average $1MM each, that's 3000 missiles/year.

      You can plug whatever numbers you think are appropriate in the blanks. The formulas don't change. They define the possible. Strategy and tactics and CONOPS have to define the best place in the area of the possible to end up.

  20. Was doing some research today at work on USN war loadout and see what is declassified and came across this PDF. Sorry if somebody already posted this. Just was able to give it a glance, it really seems to me to show the level of difficulty at picking what weapons and quantities to carry depending on scenarios.

  21. I think the DDG(next) is the replacement for the CG-47. The FFG(X) is a new add.

    1. During the time frame in which the CG-47 is retiring, the only new ship is the Constellation. That makes it the replacement for the Ticonderogas.


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