July 26, 2008

The USN Should be Proud...not Ashamed

 Gahlran (who does not use random catgirls and 'science babes' to lighten the mood of his blog) has a typically thorough and thoughtful post on the strategic direction of the navy and what should be its corresponding shipbuilding program. He is particularly concerned that the Navy does not have enough small combatants for short of war duties. Read the whole thing.

 Rather unusually, I disagree, particularly with this statement from the post.

...Indeed if you look at activities like that of the Coast Guard cutter Dallas (WHEC 716), the Navy is basically outsourcing its peacetime engagement responsibilities in major maritime theaters to the already stretched thin Coast Guard. The Navy really should be embarrassed that it is incapable of doing the mission the Coast Guard does today in the Persian Gulf, it is a tragedy of leadership the Navy doesn't see its inability to do that mission as a problem, because that is part of the global mission set the maritime domain demands in today's maritime era....


First of all...GO COAST GUARD!
As to the idea that the Navy should be ashamed that the USCG is conducting these missions...

 No.

The Navy should be damned proud that, unlike some loons, it is a professional enough organization to be actively partnering with its fellow sea service. This enables  that organizations strengths to be utilized while avoiding the dilution of its own.

The USCG has a surprising number of specific strengths in the international arena. These  include working closely, and generally benignly, with the worlds merchant fleets, fishing fleets, the UN (particularly through the IMO) and anyone who is in the water and doesn't want to be. Because the USCG has as one of its main Raison' Detre's the rescue of mariners, so they are always welcome sights in foreign harbors, particularly since their peacetime armament is generally no more intimidating than a light gun and, perhaps, a CIWS.

Trained to operate in close proximity and cooperation with the public, Coasties are a good choice for diplomatic presence missions. There is a good body of expertise in boardings and maritime law enforcement operations. Coasties are adept at inshore work.  Coasties also have small vessels with small crews that will minimize the loss of blood and treasure in the event of a successful asymmetrical attack.

This is not to suggest that the USCG take the whole of the show the flag mission from the USN. That would be silly, the USCG can perform some functions to compliment the Navy, particularly if the old ocean station program were revived...with different station locations. An earlier post on that is here

The Navy has strengths too, such as amphibious warfare vessels that can be used to haul tremendous amounts of "stuff" to wherever the hell it is needed. Said "stuff " can be tanks, leathernecks, solar stills or food for disaster victims, small patrol boats,  helicopters for a myriad of functions from assault to minesweeping to SAR, supplies....and baby screech owls.

The NAVY has yet more strengths, an airforce of brownshoes and leathernecks who care, really care, from the 4 stars on down, about close air support for those who need it. The Navy has the ability to strike targets ridiculously far inland, with missiles, bombs, and food packets. It has escorts for its carriers ( and, presumably civilian convoys as well) that can knock planes and missiles and even a friccking satellite out of their sky and will, if the program is not terminated, be able to defend ships and some land targets against incoming tactical ballistic missiles. Most of all the Navy is the 800 pound gorilla of the worlds oceans, they train and equip themselves to secure the sea lanes for the use of us and our allies. They do this with large ships that can carry the necessary electronics, and weapons,  use said assets in the most violent sea states, and enough fuel to take this capability halfway around the world.


 
 
  The Navy IS actually building a class of small combatants, the Littoral Combat Ships. These are interesting vessels but they are basically high performance utility craft. They have the fixed armament of a Coast Guard cutter but they seem intended to mainly act as tenders for unmanned vehicles that will provide a lot of functions such as mine warfare which is something the Navy has a definite need for. There are a lot of questions about this vessel that laymen are asking....particularly its cost and seemingly unnecessarily  high speed.

However, those of us in the 82nd chairborne division don't know what specific tactical purpose the speed is supposed to support, it may be an operational requirement for drift and dash ASW, it could, given the large cargo area be related to seabasing or something else tied to a warm or hot war situation. The speed may not in fact be due to an admiral saying "Gee whiz! wouldn't 40 kts be swell!?"

For antipiracy, peacebuilding or short of war duties the vessels seem excessive, but that is likely a small portion of what they are designed to do.

Now Gahlran is right that a big concern is indeed the dwindling numbers of navy ships. No matter how capable a ship is it can only be in one place at once. This is less true for carriers but it is still true.

Some economy and increase in numbers can be made while maintaining hot war capability, the Australians very sensible choice of the Spanish F-100 is a good example of this. The best form of armor is to have another ship. The Australians were able to afford a 5th ship as opposed to the 4 cut down 'Burkes they were offered...but that can only go so far. The F-100 has half the missile tubes in addition to the attendant disadvantages of a smaller hull ...for 60-80% the cost.

Additionally, inshore, in most locations, a 4,500 ton ship is not going to be able to go a lot of places the 9,000 Burke can't. That kind of maneuverability really doesn't come until you get rather smaller, like under 200 feet in length and ~ 600 tons....a, um,  Coast Guard patrol boat....or for extreme inshore fighting...a CB90.

There is a political dimension as well. If the nation develops very austere vessels...."peace cruisers" in the parlance of the old navy....these vessels will be counted by congresscritters as hulls on the navy list...to the potential detriment of the hot war fighting capability of the navy.

There is a temptation on the part of many to point out that the current unlikelihood of a war with a peer force is  going to hold for a very long time. It won't and greatly reducing our emphasis on that currently unlikely scenario ironically makes it more likely.
The  criticism of "next war-itis" is not without merit as it is imperative to focus on the  war you are fighting now.
However, this  does not  hold quite as true for the Navy. One of the reasons that there is no peer competitor right now, is because those that might be dont see challenging us as in any way attainable except in specific circumstances (cough Taiwan straits cough). If we detract from the carrier strike capability  and the escorts that protect it we open a window that a competitor might use to build a fleet quite rapidly. The problems our shipbuilding industry has are severe and the topic of another post, but suffice it to say we would be hard pressed to do any dramatic surge in  shipbuilding.

The biggest problem the navy has is a lack of support vessels...oilers and other logistics vessels. This needs attention.

Galhran has raised some good points, particularly with regards to the basically capital ship status of submarines and the idea of using austere, perhaps off the shelf amphibious vessels as presence ships ( about which more here).  However, reorienting the navy away from a Mahanian force to a gunboat navy is in my opinion a poor bargain and a strategic misstep.


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July 18, 2008

OPC

Here is a current artists impression of the Coast Guard's Planned Offshore Patrol Cutter.


The design is still fluid, but at between 320 and 360 feet long the vessels approach the 378 foot Hamilton class high endurance cutters in size, but are intended to replace the aging Reliance and Famous class medium endurance cutters. They will be much more capable vessels. 25 vessels are planned.

They are impressive vessels indeed with better sea keeping, rescue and aviation capability as well as the 57mm gun plus a CIWS system.

They also are projected here to cost $323.9 million apiece...

I seriously wonder  what we get for that. The broadly comparable (on paper) New Zealand OPV's  mentioned in an earlier post cost 45 million a pop, meaning you could buy 7 per OPV.
Now 175 cutters doesn't take into account any hidden costs and is unrealistic from an available personnel.... or fuel....or even pier space perspective. It also true that the NZ OPV, while sturdy and seaworthy lacks any means to defend itself from somebody deciding to take a potshot at it and it probably doesn't have anything like the planned C4iSR or sensors of this thing.

This begs some above the paygrade questions though.
 
SHOULD the advancements over the New Zealand design cost 7 times as much? (This is not as unlikely as it might seem. the CG design has a real gun and CIWS. Hell, the C4iSR suite might cost as much or more than the admittedly austere Kiwi cutter, and this vessel has twice the number of engines...)

More to the point, does 7 times cost per hull really give optimum capability for the money spent? Could we build more hulls (35 or so) for better ocean coverage and redundancy and possibly have money left over for other things like improvements to small boat stations and C-schools?

Some of this makes sense if it is planned to use them them in short of war operations as suggested here...even then the costs are begining to approach LCS territory.
 
Is this a Shipbuilding Industry Problem, a Procurement Problem, or something else....or is it not a problem at all and I merely have unwarranted stickershock?

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July 15, 2008

Navy Realizes What the Word "Destroyer" Means, Cancels Giant Stealth Monitor

It looks like the DDG 1000 is going to be limited to a 2 ship class, primarily to serve as test beds for advanced technologies.

More here, here, here and here.

This is probably a good idea.

The DDX/ DDG1000/ Zumwalt  was conceived during the Clinton Administration as a "Land Attack Destroyer". The initial idea behind it was that it would be able to approach a third world shore due to a combination of stealth and general survivability and wreak havoc on the locals with long range guns firing precision guided shells. This is not a destroyer per say, this is in fact a monitor, the modern version of which was pioneered by the UK in WW1 (one example of which is left).

The Clinton administration liked the idea as it saw US forces operating in a variety of UN sanctioned peacekeeping roles. The gunfire support function seemed a valuable asset in any case and was seen as necessary given the imminent retirement of the Iowas. As a concept this was not without merit.
However, it was deemed prudent to give the vessel a general purpose capability so that it would not be useful only in the rare case of an amphibious landing. This again was not a bad idea, as the vessel was fleshed out it became apparent that it would be expensive and it seemed wasteful to pay through the nose for a ship rarely used.

There were a family of vessels planned under the moniker SC21, but only the  land attack destroyer was proceeded with, which meant it had to be the next destroyer class as well.

So it had to have the next generation ...everything
next generation radar
the aforementioned gun...not an off the shelf weapon but a gun that would push naval artillery to the limit.
A new type of vertical launch system intended to allow the ship to survive the detonation of a missile magazine.
To save money...by reducing crew...next generation automation including little trams carrying little robots throughout the ship.
The ship had to survive inshore and the navy decided to make it stealthy.
A hullform was developed that prioritized stealth over seakeeping and damage control.
The vessel was intended to operate at a fixed displacement and always stay upright. According to Norman Friedman in his book on US Destroyers, this required huge and fast acting ballast tanks that, along with the automation, drove the ships size up considerably.
Increased size meant more places that were not full of stuff....so they got filled with stuff...expensive stuff.
Soon it was 14,000 tons...nearly the size of a predreadnaught battleship...oh and it was still supposed to be a stealth ship.
Against the backdrop of the surface of the ocean it is highly problamatioc that such a vessel can be made invisible to all radars, electo-optical, cosmic ray detectors, ultraviolet lenses, infrared, hydrophones, sonars, acoustic detectors, binoculars and the mark one eyeball.

An  crude example of what I'm talking about....


The Bush administration did basically nothing to interfere with this dysfunctional development. Indeed, the original vertical firing "gun" was replaced with a more conventional trainable mount in the hopes that it could be used at short ranges if necessary and also fire standard 155mm shells to augment the expensive precision shells with existing stockpiles. Design changes and false economies in what became the Advanced Gun System ensured that not only could it not fire NATO standard 155 shells, but there is, as of right now, no real direct fire capability against ships.....thus the mechanically simpler vertical gun might have been the better choice.

Except for the 2 off the shelf (Swedish) 57mm guns, just about everything on the vessels is brand new, next generation and experimental. This is not to say that the stuff is useless or can't work, or that we should soldier on with 20th century tech, far from it...but it is likely a good idea to work the bugs out and assimilate lessons learned before building any more ships.

The US has had several testbed vessels that have advanced our naval technology, or shown that certain ideas are dead ends (see USS Vesuvius) and it is good to find these things out and work out the bugs before beginning a production run.

On the other hand...

While the whole US shipbuilding industry has experienced terrible cost and quality issues recently, I suspect that some of the obscene expense of these vessels is due to the fact that their cost includes a massive chunk of the current navy R&D budget.
 I therefore suspect that whatever class is built with the developments of these systems will seem cheap as the development of said systems will have been paid for in the DDG 1000 budget.
Given that premise, I'm not sure that a tremendous monetary savings will be realized here, but some additional shipbuilding funds are likely to be freed up.

However, the current idea seems to be to build more DDG 51's (the Arliegh Burkes) and in the comments to this post at Gahlran's, back of the napkin calculations seem to indicate that this will result in 11 burkes for 5 DDG1000's.

Numbers are important. As one purpose of this blog is to comment above my paygrade, I would suggest building instead a larger number of the AFCON F-100's which are a joint Bath/Navitania design. They are very seaworthy, have full AEGIS capability, but all other systems are more austere. The Aussies have just selected this design as well.



This could greatly increase the number of frontline hulls available in a few years as older ships are decommissioned. It is a stopgap measure, but it has the potential to be an effective one.

UPDATE:
Another good use of any "found money" here would be to buy some of the canceled ASW modules for the LCS for tests.

Alternatively, more gator vessels like the LPDs or some logistics vessels might very well be a good investment. However, the big concern amongst many right now is the number of surface escorts that will be in service in a decade or so.

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July 12, 2008

FORE!

Golf...

It's not just for the Air Force anymore.

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