March 22, 2009

More Ideas for Naval Numbers on a Budget

As has been mentioned here before, the combination of increasing unit costs, aging hulls in need of replacement an increase in the numbers of units needed and the unforced budget debacle facing the treasury has created a procurement conundrum for the US Navy and Coast Guard. 

We need ships, lots of ships in a decade or less but given the economy we are likely to have have very little money

Given the high tempo 'medical diplomacy' operations pioneered by the Bush administration as well as the need to respond to disasters such as typhoons, volcanoes, plagues and tsunamis at least some of the vessels we build ought to have some sort of cargo capacity and a larger than average medical facility.

A converted or redesigned merchant design would seem to be the logical choice but if these are to replace the FFGs then it is important to ensure that such a vessel be capable of providing something in the event of a hot war other than terrible ways for bluejackets to die.

This is not unheard of. The Flower class sloops of world war one were built to commercial standards, had a modest cargo capacity and were intended to serve as minesweepers, troopers, escorts, picket vessels, gunboats and light replenishment ships. They were not frontline ships but they were not helpless either and provided sterling service as convoy escorts and on gunboat duties between the wars.

The challenges of modern warfare mean that an electronics fit is needed of course so such a ship will bear no relation in cost to whatever merchant ship it is designed from, but it might cost something akin to a modern corvette.

Lets take a standard American containership design, the Philidelphia Class, and assume the aft deck is used for helicopter operation and the aft holds are used as a flex deck for small craft and Littoral combat ship modules. The holds forward of the bridge have ample room for containers that can contain everything from food to hospital or war supplies. I'd use the midships below decks space (where pitching would be minimized )for a big hospital and a secondary helipad (if only to directly service the hospital). This would not have the capability of the Mercy or Comfort but it could conceivably approach that of the LHAs and could do a LOT of good on mercy missions.
It might be less threatening as well. Note that while such a vessel would not be a hospital ship, and would therefore be targetable by law, most people we are likely to lock horns with  are unpersuaded by appeals to human decency anyway. Forward of the hospital area, even  2-400  containers would be an impressive ammount of relief supplies in peacetime and still leave room for 16-32 VLS cells for ESSM. The large helideck would give a decent helicopter borne ASW and possibly even minesweeping  capability in wartime especially if during a major war something like SCADS or the old ARAPAHO concept were put into place along the lines of this....

We might be able to build a dozen or more of these in commercial yards over the next few years. This would have the added benefit of propping up and stimulating our shipyard capacity during dark economic times in a way that dog parks in California are unlikely to do. Such a program might appeal to the current leadership in ways a more conventional naval procurement would not.

These would probably  not able to be procured in the same numbers that 600 ton corvettes might but they could ad a considerable complementary capability to the low end of the hi/lo mix.


At any rate it may bear considering. Any thoughts?


UPDATE: In the comments James Rummel takes the time to comment at length about the idea and makes some lucid points but also indicates that I may have been unclear about as few things.
These are not replacemtnts for our cruisers and destroyers, but a low end complement. If they replace anything they might best replace part of the production run of the LCS vessels....
IF they can be procured more economically and IF they would be a net improvement in capability . These are indeed big "IFs".
There are certainly all sorts of issues with this concept both political and practical. However, I am of the opinion that, if built, these would be warships with peacetime duties similar to a 19th century gunboat but with much greater utility to assist the main force.

Mr Rummel makes another comment that deserves mention.

You suggest that this is only a temporary change until economic conditions improve.  But anyone interested in military procurement will tell you in a heartbeat that it would be almost impossible to get Congress to pony up for actual, very expensive warships after a decade of building cheaper cargo ships.  Once the change is made, there is no going back.


This is a  very real concern.

It is probably one reason the navy doesn't build some smaller carriers to increase survivability through numbers. This was tried in the 70s ant the congress made it plain that it would ONLY buy the smaller carriers and not increase numbers...thereby gutting the navy but giving the impression that congress was providing modern ships.

It does not always work out that way though.

In the 1880's the UKs shipbuilding program was terribly screwed up, with problems that included cost overruns, excessively long build times, ships massively over budget as well as overdue, quality control issues, problems integrating new technologies and simple corruption (sound familiar?). The response was to, for a time,  order only second line vessels such as gunboats and auxiliaries as well as a few experimental technology test beds such as experimental high speed craft (the torpedo boats).

These were often ordered outside the usual defense procurement clique.
In the meantime the procurement system was overhauled, investment was made in physical plant improvements at the shipyards and  the procurement system was reformed, Concurrently, a determination of what sort of vessels were needed was made. Then rational, attainable requirements for the various types of vessels were drawn up that matched the then current technologies, the national strategy of the time as well as the gamut of potential scenarios.

After several years of building gunboats and finishing the dubious vessels that were already ordered, the Royal Navy began building ships under the Naval Defence Act. William Whites design team produced the finest ships that had been built up to that time and for nearly two decades, every subsequent class was an improvement on their design predecessor in some way.
From that point until WW1 the British Royal Navy built a balanced fleet and produced some of the best, most economical; and cost effective ships of their day.

So while the pitfall Mr Rummel points out is very real, it can in fact be avoided if care is taken and the legislature acts in good faith...another very big "IF".

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 12:00 AM | Comments (10) | Add Comment
Post contains 1172 words, total size 8 kb.

1 As a guest here, I'm having a hard time coming up with a way to avoid offending you while still voicing my opinion that this is a really terrible idea.

Busy now.  Give me a day or so to think on it.

James

Posted by: James R. Rummel at Sun Mar 22 02:03:09 2009 (85JOu)

2 Thanks for dropping by.
It's just brainstorming and opinions were solicited so offense is unlikely.

( WTF? Dissenting opinions in my echo chamber!1!? zomg!1!!)

By all means have at it.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Sun Mar 22 08:37:46 2009 (xqpbD)

3 I really enjoy your blog Brickmuppet, there are very few places where you can read about ships while looking at cute anime girls!
The specifics of your proposal have been intensely debated for years with the Falkland campaign cited by both sides: The necessity of logistic support vs survivability and recoverability. The loss of Atlantic Conveyer in the face of all the brits efforts and all the handicaps argentina had to overcome shows that defences alone are not the answer. On the other hand S&R principles and merchant ship construction are not totally incompatible (ref. the ww2 exploit of the tanker Ohio in the relief of Malta). If we accept that our ship is going into harms way we can modify the design for fire main capacity and access, critical system seperation and redundancy, compartmentilization, etc. These changes coupled with a large well trained crew would give our ship a fighting chance.
As for equipping, have you considered drop in modules for the container wells? many possibilities there.

Posted by: Larry Schumacher at Sun Mar 22 23:13:26 2009 (jBw+d)

4 Well, the whole ship procurement program has become totally broken due in large part to political corruption, primarily on the part of Congress critters. The rest is due to contractors and Naval "gold plating." Until that procurement process gets repaired, somehow, we are screwed. For and example look what happened to the super and stealthy rail gunned destroyer project. Pretty much looks like it is going to be two ships as tech demos since on cost as much as a fleet of Arleigh B's. It's bad enough, that I'd suggest purchasing warships from Korean yards or course that won't happen because things have to be built in the US. Maybe we could get the Koreans to build a yard in an "Open Shop" state.

Posted by: toadold at Mon Mar 23 00:45:30 2009 (zcbXo)

5 I want to make sure that I understand your proposal.

If I'm reading you correctly, you are suggesting that the Navy pretty much assign building dedicated warships a lower priority.  Instead, they should throw their clout behind acquiring the type of vessels you discuss above.

Again, if I understand correctly, you are saying that this is simply acknowledging basic reality.  Ships are becoming so old that they must be retired anyway, redesigned civilian cargo carriers would fill a great many more roles than dedicated warships, and the most common type of mission the Navy is tasked with today is humanitarian. 

Besides, at least this way there would be some active ships around, instead of a steadily shrinking number of aging warships.

Is that correct?

James

Posted by: James R. Rummel at Mon Mar 23 04:24:00 2009 (YuARq)

6
Is that correct?


Basically yes.

This is a sub optimum solution to be sure, but the situation, both financial and political is pretty messed up. We are broke and our obligations are not going to obligingly taper off while we get our house in order.

We have a fair number of underage first rate destroyers and a dozen or more  of the Ticos can probably soldier on at least a decade. I would hope that very low rate destroyer production would continue to make up for aging and attrition.
These vessels have lots of missile tubes and with Aegis the ability to use them quite effectively.
We have no shortage of tubes, but we need more hulls.

What we need is a successor to the FFG7s ( frigates) and something to augment the 2 overworked hospital ships. Assault ships can do the latter but they are expensive to operate, a little threatening, and the gator navy is being used already.

Note that I don't advocate flying jump jets off of these despite the diagram above. It was the only ARAPAHO graphic I could find. Several helicopters, a few being flying cranes to offload humanitarian containers, would be adequate. I wouldn't want the electronic suite to be much more than a modern version of what the Perrys have.

Tilt away guys.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Mon Mar 23 08:30:45 2009 (NOj8q)

7 Brickmuppet your hospital tasking is one of areas in which I see LCS1 as being useful. Her nimble shallow draft hull enables her to get into small ports. State would rent a warehouse on the quay while LCS would bring in equip. and materiels in her hold. Additional personel would be flown in by V22. These units would set up clinics in the warehouse as well as classrooms for health and hygine ed. I have done this on a small scale in mexico and have seen great results; a few inexpensive basic items and an afternoon of instruction can make a huge difference in sombodys life. While all this is going on in addition to basic support the ship could host an NOAA survey crew to update the chart info for the area; such info is always valuable.

Posted by: Larry Schumacher at Mon Mar 23 10:14:49 2009 (jBw+d)

8 <i>"...the situation, both financial and political is pretty messed up. We are broke and our obligations are not going to obligingly taper off while we get our house in order."</i>

The problem, as I see it, is that you have completely ignored the only real reason why the Navy exists in the first place.  What is worse is that you are ignoring the reason people seek out a career there.

You see, the Navy exists to make war against America's enemies.  That's it.  Nothing else.

Every single ship under Navy command was planned, purchased, budgeted, and operates to conduct combat operations, or to support the ships that do.  Even prototypes are purchased to test new technology that might go in to a warship, not so we can develop designs to bring medical aid to 3rd World nations.

It is true that some humanitarian missions have gotten some press lately, but the idea is to support combat operations through PR work.  Hearts and minds.  Get a hospital or aid station set up in equatorial Africa so the locals are less likely to join al Queda.  After all, if the Navy's purpose was to bring medical services to those who needed it, you would see them setting up clinics in Canada, where socialized medicine has caused huge waiting periods for even basic care.  But you don't.

Your scheme calls for the Navy to throw all of their resources, budget and political, into building nothing more than support ships.  What is worse is that these ships won't be supporting warships conducting combat operations, since you propose simply retiring an entire class of ships.

So how do you think our professional fighting sailors would view the change?

It would be seen as complete submission and defeat.  The Navy to which they devoted their lives, making some extreme sacrifices so far as raising a family and enjoying watching their children grow up, would be changed into some sort of shipping concern.

You suggest that this is only a temporary change until economic conditions improve.  But anyone interested in military procurement will tell you in a heartbeat that it would be almost impossible to get Congress to pony up for actual, very expensive warships after a decade of building cheaper cargo ships.  Once the change is made, there is no going back.

Another thing you failed to take in to account is what the Marines would have to say.  One of the big debates that rage amingst military circles is how the Navy has ignored ship designs with guns, in favor of missiles and anti-submarine capability.  The idea is that the Navy is not interested in supporting amphibious landings, even though that is one of the more likely operations we will be forced to use if there is ever another serious shooting war.

But, lack of big guns or not, at least most warships have a gun of some kind.  They can still support landings, just not in the style to which the Marines were accustomed in WWII.

That isn't true with the ships you propose.  They have an extremely limited self defense capability, but really can't do anything to add to the firepower being brought down on trouble spots.  And yes, I am counting the VLS pod you mentioned in your post.  A few dozen cruise missiles simply can't take the place of thousands of artillery shells that a single warship can fire off, not to mention the VLS pods that the warship would also have available.

I think that, should your scheme be adopted, we would see a migration of talented, dedicated people who would find other work after their term of enlistment expired.  Smart, dedicated warriors who we need to keep our 1st class warfighting capability intact would fade away, and we wouldn't see too many of their ilk stepping up to enlist and replace them.  What warrior would be interested in making the sacrifices of spending all that time away from homw and family, hust to serve on board a cargo vessel that is helpless to any submarine that happens along?

This is a terrible idea!  Lucky thing that just about everyone with a military background would laugh it into the ground just as soon as they heard of it.

James

Posted by: James R. Rummel at Mon Mar 23 17:41:54 2009 (YuARq)

9 Mr. Rummel, I think you are seeing things that are not there...

The problem, as I see it, is that you have completely ignored the only real reason why the Navy exists in the first place.  What is worse is that you are ignoring the reason people seek out a career there.

You see, the Navy exists to make war against America's enemies.  That's it.  Nothing else.



I agree completely that the purpose of the USN is to make war against Americas enemies. Nothing I have said here would indicate that I don't appreciate that.

However, you also wrote:
It is true that some humanitarian missions have gotten some press lately, but the idea is to support combat operations through PR work.  Hearts and minds.  Get a hospital or aid station set up in equatorial Africa so the locals are less likely to join al Queda


...and it seems you think that might be a worthy goal. Weaken the current enemy by reducing his ability to recruit.

You wrote:
Your scheme calls for the Navy to throw all of their resources, budget and political, into building nothing more than support ships.  What is worse is that these ships won't be supporting warships conducting combat operations, since you propose simply retiring an entire class of ships


I do not propse the navy put ALL of its rescources into this. This is intended to provide additional low end hulls at a minimum of sacrifice in frontline production.

I don't propose retiring an entire class of ship.

 I do point out that the FFG7s are at the end of their useful lives.

Note that the projected replacement, the LCS is very lightly armed and quite expensive. It is also built to basically commercial standards. This vessel might be a better fit for many missions.

As I pointed out in the follow up comment the navy has many destroyers and cruisers to fight with. It has aircraft carriers and submarines. However, for duties like we are asking the navy to do now (hunting pirates, show the flag and the humanitarian missions) the navy needs larger numbers than we have. We can't afford to build all the needed hulls as destroyers.  Additionally, it is a waste of materiel to use an AEGIS cruiser to hunt pirates and give out water packets. Those vessels need to focus on drilling for a hot war.....killing enemies and breaking their ships.

One proposal is to build lots of vessels like the navies Cyclone class patrol boats....but those would be basically useless in any sort of hot war.

As to the utter uselessness of these vessels lets look at what I actually said
....and still leave room for 16-32 VLS cells for ESSM. The large helideck would give a decent helicopter borne ASW and possibly even minesweeping  capability in wartime especially if during a major war something like SCADS or the old ARAPAHO concept were put into place along the lines of this...


32 VLS cells equals 128 Evolved Seasparow missiles. This is not a defenseless ship, though being built to civilian standards it might not be terribly survivable if it were hit.

The ASW and minesweeping helicopters would be very useful in supporting the fleet.

A fleet that would then be better able to make war against Americas enemies.

With 3 times as many AAA missiles and 4 times as many helicopters, one of these vessels would be a fine replacement for the Perry class frigates in convoy escort. One of the greatest threats the navy faces right now is cheap quiet diesel boats. This is a possible way to deal with that problem.

Just to clarify:  by "deal with" I mean sink.

The hull I proposed using is an off the shelf comercial design...but it is 23000 tons. There is no reason that it could not be fitted with the same gun as a 9000 ton destroyer, and carry enough ammunition to exhaust the barrel life of said gun (7000 rounds for the 5" 62) before reloading. However, not every ship needs to be able to conduct fire support ops.

You suggest that by buying ships that have some support capability that the Navy would not get recruits. Well the Navy has oilers, repair ships, water barges, hospital ships, combat stores ships, survey vessels and torpedo recovery ships now. Those sailors are not going to fail to reenlist because they got a billet not on a destroyer.




Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Tue Mar 24 01:16:19 2009 (xqpbD)

10 http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2012/03/a-ship-for-all-seasons-or-the-return-of-the-auxiliary-cruiser/

Posted by: GJ at Sun Mar 25 15:44:53 2012 (KJn9O)

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