Wednesday, July 28, 2021

SEWIP Update

The first Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 3 production unit was recently delivered so let’s do a quick review of the status of the program.  You can read a previous post on the subject, here.


SEWIP, is the Navy’s project to improve the venerable and increasingly obsolete SLQ-32 system.  The project is divided into a sequence of four Blocks, each of which adds additional capabilities to the overall system.  Not all ships will receive all four Blocks.


Here are the SEWIP Block descriptions as summarized from the Navy website (4)


  • SEWIP Block 1 upgrade addresses obsolescence issues by replacing obsolete parts and installing improved control stations and displays.  It also adds additional threat signal receivers. 
  • SEWIP Block 2 upgrades antennas and receivers and improves the signal processing. 
  • SEWIP Block 3 provides active signal emissions to defeat incoming missiles. 
  • SEWIP Block 4 is a future upgrade that will provide EO and IR capabilities.


SEWIP Block 3 Array Undergoing Testing


Let’s check a brief history of the program by looking at the timeline.


1974 - Northrop Grumman’s (NG) AN/SLQ-32(V)1 (‘Slick 32’) was launched


2008 – Lockheed Martin (LM) received contract to develop SEWIP Block 1


2009 - LM received contract to develop SEWIP Block 2 (AN/SLQ-32(V)6)


2010 – Navy approves LM Block 2 design


2011 – General Dynamics (GD) begins full rate production of Block 1


2013 - LM began LRIP of Block 2 and delivered the first SEWIP Block 2 system


2015 - NG received a $92M contract modification to a previous contract for SEWIP Block 3 engineering, manufacturing, and development intended to produce two prototype units.(2)


2015 – DOT&E testing found that Block 2 had severe deficiencies in generating and holding target tracks


2016 - LM received full rate production contract for SEWIP Block 2


2019 - Dept. of Defense approved the SEWIP Block 3 Milestone C to enable the start of low rate initial production (LRIP)


2020 - NG received a $16M contract modification to an existing contract to provide support for two Low Rate Initial Production SEWIP Block 3 systems.(3)


2020 - Navy issued a contract to Northrop Grumman for SEWIP Block 3 production systems.


The $100.7 million base contract is for the first follow on production lot of AN/SLQ-32(V)7 SEWIP Block 3 systems. The contract has a maximum value of $1.16 billion. (1)



2021 - NG delivered the first production SEWIP Block 3 to the Navy



There are a few noteworthy aspects to the SEWIP program:


Priorities – For reasons unfathomable, the Navy has never considered electronic warfare to be of much value.  The original SLQ-32 served for 34 years with only minor improvements.  For the last decade or so, the SLQ-32 was so obsolete as to be almost useless.  In contrast, during the same time frame, the Navy poured vast resources and funds into Standard missile development, clearly demonstrating where their priorities lay;  this despite the overwhelming evidence that electronic countermeasures have, historically, proven far more effective than hard kill measures.


Even with the commencement of the SEWIP program, it has taken 13 years to get the Block 3 into initial service.


The Navy misguidedly and unwisely continues to place little emphasis on electronic warfare.  The time span and leisurely pace of development demonstrates that the Navy is not particularly serious about shipboard electronic warfare.  We’ve discussed how the Navy should be hugely increasing the size, scope, capabilities, and power outputs of ship’s EW systems and should be building dedicated EW ships.  One has only to consider the vast resources and wide variety of equipment and capabilities being put into ground combat EW systems (with Russia leading the way!) to see that the Navy simply does not prioritize EW defenses despite overwhelming evidence of their effectiveness (see, “AAW – Hard Kill or Soft Kill”).


Block 3 – This is the development that adds active output transmissions and provides active countermeasures.  This needs to be thoroughly tested under realistic conditions and widely installed across the fleet.  The distribution is a concern because the previous SLQ-32 system was not uniformly distributed.  Ships received different, less capable versions depending on the ship type.  Once upon a time, when some ships were cheaper and therefore more ‘expendable’ this might have made some degree of sense (not really!) but today, with every ship costing $1B+, every ship should have the maximum possible protection.


Testing & Reporting - The last report from DOT&E on the SEWIP program was 2016.  In that report, SEWIP Block 2 was reported as operationally effective but not operationally suitable or survivable due to myriad reliability, training, reboot times, and cyber vulnerabilities.  Reports mysteriously stop at that point.  I don’t know if that means that the Navy has stopped conducting tests, which would be foolish in the extreme though not without ample misguided precedent, or if the Navy considers the SEWIP program ‘finished’, which would also be foolish since the system has never been tested in anything approaching an operationally realistic manner.












Monday, July 26, 2021

Drone Wars

Hey, let’s have a little fun today!


The Navy is obsessed with unmanned ships and aircraft, not as a means of achieving greater military effectiveness, but as a means of achieving reduced manning costs so that they can build more ships.  At best, this will produce a very weak navy that has somewhat reduced costs and any savings will be consumed by the hugely increased construction costs of those few manned assets that are left.


What if, instead of going down the Navy’s path of small, weak, unmanned ships, we, instead, postulate an unmanned ship that goes the other direction:  a very powerful, combat-dominating, unmanned ship?  What would such a ship look like?  What characteristics would it have?  How would it operate?  Let’s speculate and have some fun with it!


Now, what do we do before we begin designing a vessel and loading it up with every weapon system we’ve ever heard of (you know … the Navy way of designing)?  That’s right!  We develop a Concept of Operations (CONOPS). 




Here’s a few unmanned characteristics that should influence our CONOPS (absent an actual strategy which is what should drive the CONOPS!):


  • Unmanned vessels should be cheap since they don’t need berthing, heads, galleys, food and water storage, waste treatment, passageways (beyond a few service passages), showers, gyms, lounges, mail handling, postal services, etc.  That immediately reduces the ship size and, hence, cost by half.
  • Cheap unmanned vessels should be numerous.
  • Unmanned vessels are ideal for high risk missions.


What do those simple, general, foundational unmanned characteristics suggest in the way of a CONOPS?  They suggest – actually demand! - that the proper use for an unmanned warship is one that is not only intended to stand in harm’s way but to actively seek it out.  This is the offensive ship that the Navy has been lacking for so long – the ship that will take the fight to the enemy rather than sit back and passively try to defend and survive.  This ship will be used to aggressively seek out and engage (go straight at, not just try to defend against) enemy fleets, advance into the teeth of enemy port defenses and destroy those ports, and engage and destroy coastal bases and fortifications.  The ship will operate in squadrons of half a dozen on up to a couple dozen or more, depending on the mission, and will be supported, as needed, by other vessels and assets that will perform ASW, long range AAW, and long range surveillance.  Thus, this is NOT a do-everything ship – it is an attack ship, pure and simple.


It is also not a Terminator-like, artificial intelligence ship that is going to wander around on its own looking for targets among civilian shipping and deciding what is or isn’t a valid target.  That kind of AI doesn’t exist and would cost enormous sums to develop and would never achieve operational status.  Plus, that kind of candy-ass mission doesn’t call for a powerful WARship like this.  Instead, this is an unmanned ship that is simply given a series of waypoints and instructed to attack anything it can, within some generalized target parameters.  We already have this level of AI … it’s called cruise missiles.  Thus, the AI already exists and would cost almost nothing to develop and integrate.


It is important to note, as a crucial part of the CONOPS, that the ship will NOT be required to stay at sea, wandering around aimlessly and autonomously.  Instead, the ship will execute a mission and, if it survives, will return to port where needed maintenance and repairs will be performed and weapons will be reloaded.  It will stay in port until the next mission.


So, with that cursory CONOPS in mind, what does the CONOPS tell us about the required ship design characteristics?


The CONOPS assures us that the ship will come under attack, will take hits, will have to absorb damage, and will have to continue fighting with only minimal degradation of its combat effectiveness due to battle damage (a complete departure from current Navy ship design practice!).  Further, the ship will need massive amounts of offensive weapons because, having fought its way to a target, we have to make sure we can destroy the target or it’s all a waste of resources and effort.


What then, are the specific characteristics of this ship?


Sponge Construction – This ship will have nothing in common, structurally, with conventional ships.  Instead, the ship will be built as a ‘sponge’.  By this, I mean that instead of open, floodable compartments bounded by thin sheets of metal, the ‘compartment’ volume will be ‘filled’ by a metallic (or ceramic or resin or whatever material we can technologically produce in this form) ‘foam’.  Like a sponge, the volume will be a closed-cell (you plastics people know what that means) metal (or whatever material) foam.  Picture a giant cube of metal with lots and lots of void spaces like a sponge.  Thus, there will be no compartment to flood and sink the ship.  The worst case would be that an explosion takes a chunk out of the foam.  This kind of foam construction would likely confer tremendous resistance to missile penetration and would absolutely contain and mitigate the effects of a missile explosion.  With foam construction and only a few small service passages and compartments, the vessel would be very resistant to sinking.


The only non-foam compartments in the ship would be a few spaces that contain machinery that would need to be accessed for maintenance and repair.  The bulk of the electrical and utility conduits and piping would run through the foamed volumes.  As such, they would not be readily accessible and, if damaged in combat, would be bypassed until repairs could be made.  This ability to bypass and reroute utilities is something that would be designed in with numerous pre-existing cross connects.  In essence, this would create a spider web of electrical and utilities that can be automatically isolated and re-routed as dictated by damage.


Service Life - Hand in hand with the foam concept is a short design life span.  If equipment is going to be sealed inside foamed material, it goes without saying that it can’t be easily serviced which automatically limits the life span of the ship.  These ships would have 10-15 year design life spans.  This also eliminates the entire idiotic future proofing and mid-life upgrades that so many people love but that never happen.


Weapons - With no need for internal habitability volume, the bulk of the ship’s volume would be available for a very dense weapons fit. 


  • Missiles – Offensive missiles are the reason this ship exists.  Each ship would carry around 64 missiles in heavily armored, dispersed launch housings.  I use the term ‘launch housings’ because I don’t think the Mk41 VLS is a combat resilient mechanism.  We saw from the Port Royal grounding that the VLS was knocked out of alignment by the gentle nosing aground of the ship.  If a VLS can be put out of alignment by something that gentle, it is unlikely to be combat resilient.  We need a new type of launch housing designed for the abuses of combat.
  • AAW – AAW would be limited to horizon range using ESSM missiles.  Each ship would carry around 64 missiles in quad-packed, heavily armored launch housings.
  • Close-In Self-Defense Weapons – CIWS/SeaRAM mounts would be numerous (several per ship) to offer the best chance of surviving the inevitable attacks.
  • Guns - A ship like this is intended to sail right through enemy missile barrages and into enemy fleets and ports/bases so large caliber guns would be quite useful.   I’m thinking that a heavily armored, double or triple barrel, large caliber gun mount (I’m thinking 8”) is mandatory.  Nothing has the destructive power, efficiency, and cost effectiveness of a large naval gun with a magazine of hundreds of shells per gun.


Sensors – Sensors will be triple redundant, widely separated, and housed in armored ‘pop up’ mechanisms.  There would be no delicate, complex Aegis/AMDR arrays.  The sensors would small, simple arrays or rotating arrays (TRS-3D/4D, as an example) suitable for horizon range sensing … nothing more.


Armor – It should go without saying that this ship needs to carry the heaviest armor fit it can.  Note, though, that the foam construction fills much of the armor function.






All right, there you have it:  a conceptual unmanned WARship that embodies what it means to be a WARship and that takes maximum advantage of the benefits of an unmanned platform.  This is a mean, decisive, offensive machine that would restore some attack capability to the Navy.


This would not be a cheap, $200M one-hit-sink unmanned vessel with no significant capabilities (you know, like the unmanned vessels the Navy is building today).  This ship would cost on the order of $600M which is good value for something with the capabilities just described.


This conceptual exercise is an object lesson for the Navy.  If you want to implement unmanned vessels, at least make them useful.  Use them to attack, let them shoulder the brunt of the risk, and give them significant firepower so that they’re worth having.  Keep the AI simple and direct to eliminate development costs.  Maximize the benefits of unmanned and use them to their strengths.


That was fun!  Now, what does your unmanned vessel look like?

Thursday, July 22, 2021

It's About Time

CNO Gilday has finally acknowledged what everyone with a double digit IQ saw from the very beginning:


Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday on Tuesday conceded that the service’s choice to include almost two dozen new technologies on its latest aircraft carrier was a mistake … (1)


A mistake?  Really?  Do you think?  How many years has it taken you to figure this out?  The rest of the world has been saying this since day one.  What an idiot.


CNO Gilday, I know you’re too stupid to figure out such obvious things on your own so why don’t you just read this blog.  I’ve laid out all the right choices for you.


If Gilday had an ounce of integrity, he’d recall to active duty the previous CNOs who were involved with this Ford fiasco, court-martial them for dereliction of duty, and then resign for his own part in all this along with his recommendation that he, himself, be court-martialed.






(1)Breaking Defense, “CNO: Too Much New Tech On Ford Was A Mistake ”, Justin Katz, 21-Jul-2021,

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Defensive Mindset

Over the last several decades, the US military has developed one major flaw that is crippling it.  No, it’s not any particular weapon system or lack thereof.  It’s a mindset that no longer recognizes victory as a goal (see, “Ending War – True Victory”).  The US military no longer wants to win a war.  We have become a purely defensive military whose goals have become the maintenance of the status quo.  The fact that so many naval analysts talk about containment as a strategy against China illustrates this defensive, status quo mindset which guarantees a repeat of any war and eventual defeat (see, “China War Strategy - Blockade”).

Victory is no longer in our ethos.


Consider the history of recent conflicts 

  • Korea – Gen. MacArthur aside, this was a war that had no victory condition and whose cease fire resulted in the creation of a continual threat – now including a nuclear threat – from North Korea.
  • Vietnam – This was a half-hearted war with no desire for actual victory and only nebulous containment goals as objectives.
  • Soviet Union – The collapse of the Soviet Union presented us with the opportunity to secure a lasting victory but our refusal to follow through resulted directly in the Russian threat we face today.
  • Kosovo – The goal of this conflict – to the extent that there was a goal – was to simply return to the pre-war status quo which has left all the pre-conflict problems still festering.
  • Desert Storm – While a brilliant tactical and logistical victory, our refusal to follow through and bring down Iraq/Hussein was a strategic failure that directly resulted in having to refight the war in Gulf 2.
  • Gulf 2 – This was not so much a war as an armed raid to kill/capture Hussein and his followers.  The aftermath led to the formation of various insurgency groups, such as ISIS, and many years of terrorism and conflict in the region.
  • Afghanistan – We are now abandoning Afghanistan after two decades and the Taliban is in process of reclaiming it, as we speak because we had no goal of victory, just some nebulous nation building that had no hope of happening.
  • China – Our current policy of appeasement speaks for itself as to the lack of any victory conditions.
  • ISIS – Our main goal in combatting ISIS was avoidance of collateral damage which led to massive additional civilian casualties due to our reluctance to engage ISIS.


Some might attempt to argue that we achieved our goals in some of these conflicts but that’s exactly the point – that our goals did not include actual victory.


This refusal to make actual victory an objective has led directly to the formation of our current defensive military.


  • The Marines are now a totally defensive force, having abandoned amphibious assault, armor, and firepower and substituted a defensive missile-shooting mission.
  • The Navy is a floundering organization with no guiding strategy whatsoever except the pursuit of a greater budget slice.


We are at a crossroads.  We desperately need to make a decision about our China strategy.  Will we go for true victory or fight a defensive war until we can negotiate an unfavorable settlement that will allow China to secure its gains and build for the next go-around?  This will determine whether we should construct an offensive or defensive military.


Some issues that need to be addressed if we want to build an offensive force that can achieve an actual victory:


What is our guiding strategy and what are our victory conditions?

How will we use the Navy in an offensive role and what fleet structure do we need to do so?

Will we use tactical nuclear weapons?

What offensive weapons does the Navy need?

What ground assault capabilities do we need?

Monday, July 19, 2021

Comparative Fleet Roles

The key to an effective Navy is to have a balanced fleet - a balanced fleet that is designed to handle all of the missions and roles required of it.  Is today’s fleet balanced and capable of meeting its requirements?  To answer that question, let’s start where wisdom always starts … history.  Let’s see what kind of balance the surface fleet of WWII had and how that compares to today.  We do this by looking at the various required roles and what ship types filled those roles, as demonstrated in the table below.






Current Type


Strike and fleet defense





Aviation escort

Escort Carrier




ASuW and land attack





Escort and land attack

Cruiser, Heavy





Cruiser, AA




ASW/ASuW escort






Destroyer Escort




ASW and convoy escort





Patrol and ASuW


PT Boat







I have not included the LCS in the table because it has no actual combat capabilities.

I have not included the Zumwalt in the table because it’s only three ships and they have no defined purpose.



The first thing we note is that the WWII fleet had a ship type for every role and, in many cases, multiple ship types for a given role.


Comparing the WWII fleet structure versus our current structure demonstrates that we’ve lost several fleet functions or, more precisely, condensed them down into fewer ship types.  The problem with condensing the roles down is that the resultant ships are hugely more expensive, more risk averse, and less optimized which means less capable.


During WWII, the balance and diversity of ship types allowed mixing and matching of ship types to perform specialized roles such as the ASW hunter-killer groups composed of escort carriers and destroyer escorts.  The diversity of ship types endowed the fleet commanders with tremendous flexibility to tailor the task forces to the specific needs of the operation.


Today’s fleet commander has no flexibility and no choices.  We have carriers (too expensive to risk in combat) and Burkes … and that’s it. 


The Navy’s quest for efficiency and cost savings has resulted in a necking down of all the ship types into just two types:  carrier and Burke.  While the endless production of now-obsolete Burkes has, indeed, produced cost savings, it has produced an inflexible fleet that is going to be mismatched to the specific operational needs when combat comes.


Today’s fleet is unbalanced, inflexible, and ill-prepared for war.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Women, Credibility, and Standards

Here’s a couple of recent announcements from the Navy involving female achievements:


  • The first female has supposedly graduated from the Navy’s special operations boat group (Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen, SWCC).(1)
  • Command Master Chief of USS Chung Hoon (DDG 93), Josephine Tauoa, was selected as the recipient of the 2021 Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Delbert D. Black Leadership Award.(2)



I’d like to believe that these achievements were fairly earned and well deserved.  However, given the prevalence of lowered standards, gender-norming, dual standards, and command-dictated achievements (looking at you, Rangers), one can’t help but wonder if either of these achievements are legitimate and that is the insidious problem with all attempts to impose equality of results without equality of standards.  You can never be sure if the person actually earned the achievement or was simply given it to meet a quota or public relations requirement.


To these two women, I say, I doubt you.  … … … …  And that’s the shame of it – that I doubt what might be a real accomplishment but until standards are set high and uniformly applied, doubt will always exist.  Women should be demanding uniform, high standards … but they’re not.  Which leads to further doubt.


What a shame.






(1)USNI News website, “First Female Navy Special Operations Sailor Graduates from Training”, Sam LaGrone, 15-Jul-2021,



Thursday, July 15, 2021

High Speed Transport

Here’s a topic that was inspired by reader “Jjabatie” in the “Buckley Vs. Constellation” post.


As we know, the Marines have come up with … how can I put this somewhat politely? … an ill-conceived concept to insert small units onto far forward bases and shoot missiles at passing ships while also hunting subs.  The key to this scheme is a new class of … how can I put this somewhat politely? … ill-conceived Light Amphibious Warfare (LAW) ships that are small, slow, not particularly stealthy, and have no defenses.  The idea is that these LAWs would transport troops and supplies to, and between, various islands while making round trips for resupply … all while China remains oblivious (from laughter, one presumes).


Okay, this concept is idiotic but there is a historical antecedent at least for the type of small transport that the Marines describe and one whose characteristics would much better serve the concept.  I’m talking about the WWII high speed transport.


In WWII, with a need to move smaller units of troops between islands, some destroyer escorts were converted to high speed transports (APD). 


From Wikipedia,


APDs performed arduous service. They transported troops to beachheads, served as escorts for transports and supply vessels, conducted anti-submarine patrols and survey duties, operated with Underwater Demolition Teams and commando units, performed messenger and transport duties, conveyed passengers and mail to and from forward units, and were involved in minesweeping operations.


Typical of these ADPs were the 90+ Buckley and Rudderow class conversions. 


USS Bowers (DE-637 / APD-40);  Buckley class APD conversion;
note 5" gun forward and landing craft in davits


As an example, in the Buckley conversions, the superstructure was enlarged to house some 160 troops.  This provided a useful degree of both troop and cargo transport capacity while also retaining a useful defensive and ground support capability.  The Buckley’s weapons fit was changed to: (1)


  • 1x 5-inch/38 dual purpose gun
  • 3x twin 40mm gun
  • 6x single 20mm gun
  • 2x depth charge tracks
  • 3x torpedo tubes
  • 8x K-gun depth charge launchers


Thanks to their 5” gun (upgraded from a 3” gun!), the APDs could provide a degree of fire support for their embarked troops.


Of course, the ships retained their inherent speed and maneuverability.


Notably, the APDs typically carried four LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel) in davits.


The destroyer history website lists the following specs: (1)


Troop capacity: Officers:  12; Enlisted: 150.

Troop accoutrements:  4x LCVP landing craft; 6x 1/4 ton trucks; 2x 1 ton trucks; 4x ammunition carts; 4x pack howitzers.

Ammunition:  6,000 cubic feet.

General cargo:  3,500 cubic feet.

Gasoline:  1,000 cubic feet.



Compare the WWII APDs with the Marine’s LAW (see, “Berger’s Amphibious Warships”, “Light Amphibious Warship Update 1”, and “Light Amphibious Warship Update 2”) and we see that the APD specs put the LAW to shame in every conceivable way.  If the Marines insist on pushing ahead with their idiotic scheme, an APD type vessel would make far more sense.







Monday, July 12, 2021

Burke Close In Defense

Here’s a simple awareness post.  Are you aware that our main (and only!) surface combatant has almost no close in self-defense weapon fit?  It consists of a single aft mounted CIWS and … nothing else.


As an example, here is a photo, dated 13-Oct-2009, of the USS McCampbell (DDG-85) showing the single aft mounted CIWS and … nothing else.

USS McCampbell - Note the single CIWS aft.

 Again, here is a Jul 2016 photo showing the Spruance and Momsen with no forward CIWS.

Spruance and Momsen without forward CIWS

Lest you think there was some temporary shortage of CIWS and that the ships have since been equipped, here is a photo of USS Nitze (DDG-94) dated 12-Oct-2020 and it shows the same single CIWS configuration.

USS Nitze, DDG-94

Although exact information is hard to come by it appears that DDG-51 to DDG-84 have two CIWS and DDG-85 on have only a single CIWS.  None have RAM or SeaRAM.

Alternatively, SeaRAM appears to have been installed on four Burkes (DDG-64, DDG-71, DDG-75, DDG-78) in place of their CIWS. 


Here is a Feb 2021 photo of USS Carney (DDG-64) showing a SeaRAM in place of the aft CIWS mount.

USS Carney with aft SeaRAM in place of CIWS

I don’t know whether the Navy’s experiment with SeaRAM will be continued and expanded or not.  New construction ships do not appear to show any SeaRAM so I’m assuming this is a dead end trend but we’ll see.

So, what’s the problem with only a single close in weapon system?  As we’ve previously demonstrated, naval anti-air engagements are likely to start at the horizon rather than hundreds of miles out as the Navy seems to believe (see, “Detection and Engagement Range”).  That means there will only be time for a few defensive missile launches which, in turn, means that close in weapon systems will assume vital importance.  Given the likelihood of saturation attacks and the number of missile likely to get through the very brief medium range (horizon) ESSM engagement zone, large numbers of close in weapons will be needed.  A single CIWS is going to be quickly overwhelmed.


The more recent CIWS versions have a ready magazine of 1550 rounds and a firing rate of 4500 rds/min.  That means the CIWS has a total firing time of 20 seconds before the ammo drum is depleted.  Even if one optimistically assumes, say, 5 seconds per engagement, that’s only 4 engagements before the CIWS is rendered inoperative due to emptying the ammo drum.  Yes, the drum can be replaced but that is a manual operation and time consuming.  Any attack will be over long before reload occurs.  The arithmetic makes it painfully obvious that a ship needs several CIWS to have any chance of survival.


Another problem is CIWS coverage area.  As you can see, the aft CIWS covers only the aft 180 deg or so sector.  Our main surface ship doesn’t even have full 360 deg close in defensive coverage!  If a missile approaches from a forward aspect, Burkes have no close in defense whatsoever!  Our main surface warship has no close in defensive coverage for half its aspect??!


I wonder if the lack of CIWS installations is the result of the Navy having bet – and lost! – that fully functional AAW lasers would be available by now and that the Navy could, therefore, save money by not installing CIWS?  That’s pure speculation on my part but it certainly fits nicely with the way the Navy thinks, doesn’t it?



In any case, we need to immediately begin adding CIWS and/or SeaRAM mounts to our Burke class destroyers.  We might also begin considering new forms of close in AAW defense (see, “A New AAW”).


Friday, July 9, 2021

Buckley vs. Constellation

As naval observers and analysts, we need a solid grounding in naval history.  The Navy is currently in the process of designing and building an ?ASW? frigate, the Constellation class.  Functionally, the WWII analog to the Constellation would be the Buckley class destroyer escort (DE), the iconic DE of WWII.  Let’s refresh our memory about the Buckley class DE and see how it compares to the Constellation.


The Buckley was an ocean going, anti-submarine (ASW) vessel.  As such, it was optimized for ASW and, more importantly, minimized for ASW.  Huh?  Minimized for ASW?  Yes!  This is another way of saying that it had a single, primary purpose as opposed to being a multi-function design.  It was built for ASW and nothing else (hence, the minimized statement!).


Here’s a brief comparison of the Buckley and the Constellation FFG.





Length, ft



Displacement, tons



Speed, kts



Range, nm

5500 @ 15 kts

6000 @ 16 kts



USS Buckley

Role - DE’s were intended to be ocean-going ASW vessels, providing escort for convoys and acting as dedicated submarine hunters (often as part of escort carrier hunter-killer groups).  Notably, they were not normally carrier and battleship group escorts – that role being generally filled by destroyers.


Constellation is, presumably, intended to be the Navy’s main ASW surface ship although the limited numbers render that intent nearly irrelevant barring a massive wartime construction program.  Unfortunately, the Constellation design also attempts to be an area anti-air warfare (AAW) ship with VLS, Standard SM-2 Blk IIIC missiles, and SPY-6 Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) and an ASuW ship … in other words, it’s a do-everything, mini-Burke that is not specialized or optimized for anything.


Design Focus - As mentioned, the DE was a very focused, limited design.  Nothing was added to the design that was not absolutely required for the role.  One of the key aspects of the design was the recognition that the DE’s combat risk was limited due to the role’s reduced likelihood of combat.  The reduced combat risk allowed for reduced armor, reduced armament, and reduced sensors.  Contrast that with today’s attempts to include every capability, sensor, and weapon on every ship which, automatically, makes every ship over-spec’ed and over-priced.


Numbers – Because the DE was a focused, limited design, they were cheap and several hundred were built in WWII.  Enemy submarines will go to great lengths to avoid detection (translate:  mission kill) and the DE’s large numbers allowed them to be everywhere and hindered submarine operations by their mere presence as much or more than their actual combat actions.  In contrast, there are only 20 Constellations planned and they’re likely to cost $1B+.  History suggests that even this meager number of ships will be reduced.  Twenty ships – if that – are not going to be much of a hindrance. 


Range – It is noteworthy that the Buckley is half the size of the Constellation and has the same range.  We’ve forgotten what we were once capable of designing in a ship! 


Size – Buckley’s focused and minimized design allowed a much smaller size;  compare the Buckley to the Constellation’s much greater size which equates to much greater relative cost for what ought to be the same mission as Buckley.


Armament – A direct comparison between the Buckley and Constellation is meaningless as the weapons are from different eras but it is interesting to note the weapon density of the Buckley: 

  • 3x 3"/50 guns
  • 1x Bofors twin 40 mm gun
  • 8x 20 mm Oerlikon AA guns
  • 1x Hedgehog, 24 round, 144 rounds total
  • 200x depth charges in stern racks and eight K-gun depth charge throwers
  • 3x 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes in a triple mount


While we can’t directly compare the weapons of the two classes, it is, as we said, worth noting the weapon density of the Buckley and that density is hammered home by examining photos of the ship which show weapons mounted in almost every available space.  WWII ship designers understood that numbers of weapons mattered and Buckley had every weapon it needed and in sufficient numbers.  In contrast, the Constellation lacks one of the main ASW weapons, the VL-ASROC, and has only a single close in weapon, the RAM, with only 21 rounds per use.  The Buckley’s 3x 3”/50 guns (76 mm) put the Constellation’s single 57 mm gun armament to shame.





The Buckley class had the same speed, range, and role as the Constellation but was half the size, or less.  What’s wrong with this picture?


What’s wrong is that the Constellation is unfocused and, therefore, large and expensive (only building 20!).  Yeah, but it can fill multiple roles!  No, not really.  The area AAW role, for example, will be filled by the Burkes, not the Constellations so what’s the point of giving them an area AAW role?  It just increases the size, complexity, and cost of the Constellation.


The Buckley was an example of a focused design that was optimized for its intended role of ASW and, as a result, was cheap enough to risk in battle and cheap enough to procure in large numbers.  In short, the Buckley was an excellent example of intelligent naval force structure design.  It was everything it needed to be and nothing it didn’t.  We would do well to take that lesson to heart.