Sunday, September 28, 2014

New Frigate Design - Part 2

I’m sure you all recognized that “new” frigate design as just being a Fletcher class destroyer.  Hopefully, though, that little thought exercise also made you realize just how far we’ve moved away from real warships over the years since WWII.

Consider the sheer density of weapons that WWII warships carried.  Modern warships don’t even come close.  A simple Fletcher class destroyer puts an LCS to humiliating shame and, in many respects, even a Burke.

Consider the armor and survivability of even the lowly Fletcher compared to an LCS or Burke.

My point is not that we need to build exact duplicates of WWII Fletchers but that we need to return to serious WARship design and a study of WWII designs is a good place for the Navy to start since they seem to have forgotten what a warship is.

We tend to think the modern VLS is a wondrous thing – able to spit forth highly accurate missiles all day long.  Why, a single Burke has 96 missiles and can, therefore, shoot down around 85 enemy missiles and aircraft (we’re attempting to be fair and acknowledge that a few misses might occur).  The reality, though, is that the historical record of modern AAW systems is abysmal.  In addition, the Navy’s philosophy is shoot-shoot-look, or some such.  If you consider an average of four missiles per target, that’s only 24 targets that can be engaged (we’re ignoring quad-packs).  Given that a portion of the VLS cells would likely be filled with Tomahawks and ASROC, that probably drops the AAW target capacity to around 16.  There you have it.  A modern Burke can engage around 16 targets before running out of “ammo”.  We’ve covered VLS and AAW effectiveness in previous posts so I won’t belabor it further.

The point is that modern ships have a very low weapon density and even lower “magazine” capacity.  A Fletcher could engage aerial targets for hours on end.

The situation is even worse for surface combat.  Modern USN ships have almost no anti-surface capability.  A Burke has a maximum of 8 Harpoons and a single 5” gun.  Compare that to a Fletcher with five 5” guns and ten large torpedoes.  Again, the Fletcher’s gun magazines allowed it to engage multiple targets, endlessly, for practical purposes.

Even the Burkes vaunted Tomahawk capability is limited.  While the Tomahawk is a very potent long range precision strike weapon, the general utility of the missile is a bit limited.  In an amphibious assault scenario, for example, a Burke would probably have a Tomahawk loadout of around 20 Tomahawks.  That’s 20 targets that can be engaged and then the Burke is limited to a single 5” gun.  Further, the Tomahawk is not capable of area bombardment and suppressive fire (well, I guess it is but at $1M+ per missile no one would use it that way).  By comparison, the Fletcher could engage land targets for hours on end with five 5” guns.

Consider the simple task of sinking an enemy tanker.  A modern Burke probably can’t accomplish it.  Eight Harpoons would be unlikely to sink a tanker.  By comparison, a Fletcher’s ten 21” torpedoes would almost certainly do the job.

I know some of you are going to try to make the argument that modern guided weapons make large magazines superfluous.  A single missile can do the work of hundreds of unguided rounds, you claim.  Well, you’re right – if the guided missile actually worked the way the manufacturer’s claim.  We’ve already documented that the historical record for guided missiles is very poor.  This blog is based on logic and data and the data is unequivocal – guided missiles are not very accurate.  Hit rates for AAW engagements are in the 1% - 25% range and for surface engagements are in the 20% range, at best, and will likely be in the 1%-10% range against actively defended warships.

All right, that’s enough.  My point is not to argue that a Fletcher is more powerful than a Burke, although for many scenarios one could make a credible argument for just that, but that the weapon density, armor, and survivability of modern warships has been severely compromised since WWII.  We have lost our way in warship design and the study of WWII warships is a good place to start reminding ourselves of how we should be designing warships.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

New Frigate Design

As the Navy works to settle on its new LCS new small surface combatant design, ComNavOps offers this conceptual possibility for a frigate sized ship.

Length:  376 ft
Displacement:  2500 tons
Range:  5500 miles at 15 kts
Speed:  36.5 kts
Armor:  ¾” – 1” high strength steel with 1” – 2” armor around weapon mounts

Weapons:
5 x 5” guns
7 x 25mm guns
6 x SeaRam
8 Harpoon

It’s about the same size as an LCS, just as fast, better range, well armored, very survivable, and well armed for its role.  What do you think? 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Navy And The War On Terror

As we contemplate the recent anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, let’s take a moment and consider the Navy’s role in the global war on terrorism.  Sure, the Navy has played its part in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts but there is much more that the Navy could be doing.

One of the challenges in fighting terrorism is that it is amorphous.  It can, and does, pop up anywhere that conditions and a lack of awareness on our part permit it.  Closely tied to this is the cross-border, or unbordered(?), nature of terrorism.  Terrorism respects no national boundaries which makes it difficult for countries that do respect national boundaries to combat it.  Finally, and closely related to the preceding, is that fighting terrorism requires, more than anything, intelligence.  We already have all the explosives we need.  We don’t need another carrier or aircraft or missile.  What we lack is intel.

What, then, can the Navy do to aid in this fight?

The Navy is in a unique position to provide worldwide, persistent intelligence collection.  Virtually any submarine or surface vessel can be provided a fairly comprehensive signals collection capability for little cost or impact on the host vessel.  Add to that the ability to operate UAVs from surface ships and the Navy is capable of performing very effective intelligence gathering without having to divert overworked national intelligence assets.  The ability of a ship to maintain a persistent presence offers the advantage of familiarization.  On-board analysts can acquire an intimate understanding of the local situation, norms, and deviations that may indicate actionable intelligence. 

This is especially useful in areas that are not currently considered high level threats and which are, therefore, only sporadically checked by national intelligence assets.  The entire continent of Africa is a good example of a lower level threat that still warrants enhanced attention.  South and Latin America are also examples.  Basically, the entire world ought to be monitored and the Navy is in a unique position to offer a great deal of this capability in an affordable way.

Now, intel alone is not enough.  Knowing that a terrorist camp is building in an African nation is good but pointless if we can’t or won’t act on it at an early stage.  Again, the Navy is in a unique position to take action early on.  This may range from Tomahawk strikes on known camps to inserting Special Ops forces.  If these kinds of actions are taken early, terrorist groups can, at least, be kept disorganized and reeling.  Of course, this requires the political will to violate the boundaries of other countries. 

Respect for the sovereignty of other countries is a cornerstone of our geopolitical relations.  Unfortunately, far too often, that simply provides terrorists a safe haven.  We need to re-evaluate our policy on this.  If we believe that terrorism is  a threat to our own national interests – and the “global” war on terrorism is an implicit recognition of exactly that – and that threat is found to manifest itself in a country that can’t or won’t take effective action then we need to act directly.  This type of action will benefit the subject country anyway unless they are active sponsors of terrorism in which case why should we care about their sovereignty?  Again, the Navy is in a unique position to do this.  The persistent nature of Naval vessels allows for the development of the type of in-depth local knowledge that is required for effective counter-terrorist actions.

It’s obvious, then, that the Navy could be far more active in the war on terrorism.  Unfortunately, the Navy’s emphasis on new construction of multi-billion dollar ships diverts attention and resources from the small and relatively simple types of assets needed for combating terrorism.  The Navy should be building more patrol vessels with small UAV capability and intelligence gathering capability.  In addition, trained analysts are needed at the local level.

There is no reason that a terrorist group in Africa can’t be identified, monitored, and destroyed before they kidnap 200 girls, for example.

Having laid out this vision for the Navy’s counter terrorism activities, we have to ask the obvious question – is the Navy already doing this and simply not broadcasting it?  Maybe they are.  I hope they are.  I suspect that they’re doing a bit of it but nowhere near the extent I’m suggesting.  For instance, we know that the Navy simply doesn’t have the sheer number of ships to do this.  We know they don’t have the number of UAVs.  We know they don’t have the necessary analysts.  And so on.  The Navy has been desperately searching for a mission and a statement of relevance since the end of the Cold War.  They’ve latched on to fictional ideas like littoral warfare in an effort to be relevant.  They’re now pushing the Pacific Pivot as a way to justify budget.  Well, the concept we’ve just discussed offers a real and highly useful function.  The only drawback from the Navy’s perspective is that it doesn’t require more carriers – just simple vessels and unglamorous intelligence collection – but, so what?  The Navy’s job is not to build carriers, it’s to protect America and this is one vital way to do that.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What's Right?

What’s right with the Navy?

Regular readers know that ComNavOps is critical of many aspects of the Navy, both leadership and systems.  The posts that address these problems make every effort to be fair, factual, and logical.  Be that as it may, readers may, understandably, get the impression that nothing about the Navy is right and that’s just not true – not by a long shot.  There is much that is right.  This blog tends to focus on the problems in the hope that the various posts may offer some small bit of wisdom to the Navy.  That said, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally recognize some of what’s right about the Navy.  In no particular order, here are some strengths of the Navy.  They may have associated problems but, in comparison to other navies, they represent definite strengths worthy of recognition.

The Average Sailor.  The US Navy enjoys a level of education, motivation, and dedication in its ranks that is unmatched.  This general competence and capability allows the Navy to achieve great things even in the face of questionable leadership policies or substandard systems.

Submarines.  The submarine force represents a huge advantage over any potential enemy.  No enemy force can match or counter our submarines.  This is an advantage that should be emphasized and built upon.

Aegis.  No AAW system in the world offers the capabilities of the Aegis-based combat system.  Though unproven, there is every reason to believe that Aegis will prove successful in combat and offer a significant advantage.

Carriers.  Although shrinking airwings are devaluing the carriers, the carrier force is still unmatched in power projection capability and provides an immensely powerful offensive force.  The F/A-18 Hornet offers a capable aircraft suited to a variety of missions and able to operate in significant numbers from a mobile, floating airfield.  That’s tough to beat!

Support and Logistics.  The Navy’s various fleet support ships allow the Navy to operate far from home and for extended periods.  No other navy has the extensive support enjoyed by the fleet although the recent cuts in support ships is troubling.

ComNavOps.  No other navy has access to the sheer wisdom, insight, and analysis that ComNavOps offers.  Heh, heh!  Just checking to see if you’re still reading.  Of course, … … it’s true!

Signal Processing.  One of the Navy’s greatest military advantages is the sophisticated level of software signal processing associated with the various systems.  This impacts detection, targeting, ECM, and every aspect of electronic operations.  The Navy’s electronic systems can “pull” more information from their sensors than just the first order effects.

There are undoubtedly other strengths that could be included in this list but these should serve to demonstrate that the Navy is still a powerful force and that ComNavOps clearly recognizes this and encourages that recognition from regular readers. 

What's right with the Navy?  Plenty!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why Not Just Fix The Problem?

As ComNavOps has posted articles pointing out various problems associated with various platforms and systems, the resulting discussions invariably break down into disagreements between those who support a program based on its potential and those who oppose a program based on its demonstrated shortcomings.  The obvious question, then, is why does the Navy not simply fix the problems?  The Navy would be better served and most observers would be reasonably happy.  Seems obvious, right?

Well, you answer, they are fixing the problems.  It may take time and not every problem is solved quickly but it’s getting done, you say.  My reply to you is, kind of but not much.  If you’ve paid attention to the posts and perhaps dug a bit deeper on your own, you’ll notice a pattern.  The only problems being actively worked on are those associated with programs that are under construction and vying for funding from Congress.

Wait, what now?! 

That’s right.  The Navy puts a lot of effort into fixing problems on active (meaning still needing funding from Congress) programs but very little into fixing problems on existing platforms and systems.  All you have to do is read the DOT&E reports to see not only the myriad problems in existing platforms and systems but the glaring lack of effort being applied to them as demonstrated by the fact that the same problems appear in the reports year after year.  Whether it’s torpedoes that still don’t work right despite an urgent needs request, ESSM systems that continue to demonstrate the same problems year after year, the Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS) that still isn’t working after years in the fleet, realistic target drones that are still lacking, or any of hundreds of other persistent problems, large and small, it’s clear that priority for problem solving on existing platforms and systems is low.  Throw in the general problems like fleet-wide maintenance deficiencies, lack of training, parts shortages, sub-optimal manning, and whatnot, and the problem is even worse.  Contrast that with the sums of money being poured into the black holes of the JSF and LCS, both still under funding control of Congress.

Do you see the underlying pattern?  Programs which are still being funded receive the Navy’s attention so as to avoid negative attention which might adversely affect funding.  However, once the program is complete and funding is no longer needed, problem solving priorities vanish.

Consider the LPD-17.  The Navy worked furiously on solving the LPD’s problems until the last ship was fully funded.  After that, work abruptly halted.  The LPD class still suffers from numerous problems but those problems no longer concern Navy leadership.  They’re on to the next funding challenge.

Or, consider the state of the Navy’s mine countermeasures forces.  The Avenger class ships, the only functioning MCM vessels we have, have literally been allowed to rot while money has been poured into the LCS with nothing to show for it and nothing likely any time soon.

I could go on reciting endless lists of problems that have lingered for years in existing platforms and systems but you get the idea.  Read through the archived posts and you’ll see plenty of examples.

Now, I know someone is going to type out a comment pointing out some problem in a legacy platform that has been addressed.  Well, of course some problems are addressed.  When I say the Navy doesn’t address problems in existing platforms and systems, I’m speaking of general trends.  The fact remains that the funding and priority for problems in existing platforms and systems is a mere fraction of that for active acquisition programs.  Again, I point you to the DOT&E annual reports where the same problems appear year after year.

So, back to the premise of the post …  Why doesn’t the Navy just fix the problem?  Because they have no interest in doing so.  Navy leadership is only interested in the next acquisition program.  Once acquisition funding for a program is terminated, so too is the Navy’s interest in fixing the problems.  The Navy’s focus on new construction to the detriment of all else is well documented and we covered this in a previous post (see, “The Altar of New Construction”).

The pattern is clear.  The rationale is not.  Navy leadership has built a fleet of platforms and systems that never fully mature due to the obsessive desire to fund new construction over perfecting existing equipment.

The Navy must change its approach and begin maximizing the capabilities of existing platforms and systems rather than continually shifting priority to the next new program or we’ll continue to field half-capable systems as we do now.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

One For One

ComNavOps happened to read an article the other day describing how Air Force leaders were bemoaning the state of the aircraft in their fleet.  Apparently, the F-16 and B-1, among others, are suffering from age induced physical failures such as cracking.  AF officials were voicing the need for modern, replacement aircraft.  Oddly, though, the official’s list of top six programs did not include F-16 or B-1 replacement aircraft although I suppose it depends on whether you consider the F-35 to be a direct replacement for the F-16.

The article prompted some thinking about replacements in a generalized sense.  The typical replacement program attempts to replace the current platform with a vastly improved, almost leap ahead technology, replacement.  We all know the inevitable result.  The program encounters huge cost overruns, long schedule delays, and failed technology.  Again, inevitably, the program numbers are cut and the capabilities are scaled back.

Two specific thoughts occur:

  1. Have we reached a point where leap ahead technology is simply not possible?

  1. Is there a place for simple, one for one replacements?

Let’s look at the leap ahead technology question first.  It’s one thing to attempt a leap ahead design of a better nut and bolt.  You can probably achieve it.  While the nut and bolt may be a radical design, all the underlying technologies (manufacturing, metallurgy, design services) are known and already exist. 

It’s another thing to attempt leap ahead stealth or 360 degree integrated sensor awareness.  Not only do the target technologies not exist but neither do the manufacturing techniques, material sciences, physics theories, supporting software, or software modeling, among other required foundation technologies.  So, not only are you attempting to create a new target technology but you have to simultaneously create all the foundation technologies from scratch.  No wonder such programs “fail”!

It’s obvious then, and history overwhelmingly supports this, that leap ahead programs are very difficult to achieve.  However, given enough time and money they can succeed, at least, to a degree.  Examples, include Aegis and the F-22.  Unfortunately, there is a second order problem with leap ahead programs.  Even after they achieve a degree of success they must be capable of maintaining that degree of success operationally and that has, so far, proven even more difficult than achieving the initial production success.

Consider Aegis.  It was a technological breakthrough and achieved initial success.  However, that success was predicated on intense contractor support and the highest level of Navy attention and support in the form of the very best technicians and material support.  Over time, the contractor support was decreased and the Navy support returned to more normal levels.  The result was an Aegis system that experienced fleet wide degradation which persists to this day.  Aegis is simply too complex for “normal” maintenance and support.  Simply, the R&D and initial production succeeded but the daily operations failed.

Consider the F-22.  We’ve produced the most advanced aircraft in the world and yet we struggle to keep it operational.  I’ve previously cited the readiness statistics and they’re terrible.  Even the readiness goal is deplorable.

The point is that creating a leap ahead “thing” is only half the battle.  If it requires a Ph.D technician to keep it operating then it’s probably not a realistic program from a daily operational perspective.  Especially in today’s tight budget and lean manning climate, the required level of expertise is just not available.  There’s no point to having the most advanced “thing” in the world if you can’t keep it fully operational.  It would be better to have a less advanced “thing” that operates at full capability than a more advanced “thing” that’s continually degraded or unavailable.

Now, let’s look at the second question which derives, in large measure, from the first.  Is there a place for less advanced replacement programs whose goal is to simply replace the legacy “thing” on a one for one basis with, perhaps, a few modest improvements thrown in?  Rather than replace the F-16 with the F-35 would it have been better to replace the F-16 with a Super F-16:  same body, same basic performance, same capabilities – just newer and with, perhaps, a better sensor or somewhat improved engine?  Most importantly, the cost (adjusted for inflation, of course) would be about the same which would allow for a one for one replacement.  This approach keeps production lines operating (for those of you who believe we must maintain the industrial bases as a strategic resource), refreshes the inventory with new platforms, offers modest, incremental improvements, and, most importantly, gets functional platforms into service while they can still be useful.

A very important aspect of this approach is the one for one replacement concept.  A hallmark of modern programs is that the replacement ratio is never one for one;  it’s always less and usually significantly so.  We (and RAND) have already demonstrated that numbers are the single most important factor in winning a war.  The consistent trend towards ever fewer numbers is counter productive and increasing the likelihood of defeat.  Attrition is a fact of war that we’ve forgotten but which will rear its head the next time we get into a serious war.  The ability to replace on a one for one basis is vital and can only be achieved through this type of approach.  Leap ahead programs simply will not produce the required numbers of “things”.

Some good examples of this approach are the P-8 replacement for the P-3 and the Super Hornet replacement for the Hornet.  Neither represented leap ahead improvements but both were able to be implemented at a reasonable cost and in a timely manner while incorporating some modest improvements.

Specifically, in the case of the Hornet, the implication is that the Advanced Super Hornet would be the preferred approach over the F-35B/C until such time as the F-35 is fully developed.

Of course, ComNavOps is not suggesting that we never attempt leap ahead technologies.  Quite the opposite!  We must develop such technologies but not as part of production programs.  That approach has proven to be the path to failure.  Leap ahead technology is what R&D is for.  LCS and F-35, for example, should have been kept as R&D efforts until they were ready for production.  In the meantime, one for one, modest replacement programs should fill the gaps.  We should have bought new, somewhat upgraded Perrys instead of leaping into the LCS rabbit hole.  We should be pursuing the Advanced Super Hornet until the F-35 is fully ready.  And so on.

The paradox is that we can have a military that has more capability and is more ready by accepting a somewhat lower level of complexity in our acquisitions.  It’s common sense and it’s backed by a wealth of history.  Learn the lesson, Navy!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sea Basing

What the heck is sea basing?  Ten different people will give you ten different answers depending on their particular agendas.  Is it a means of providing direct fires ashore?  Is it the stepping off point for an amphibious assault?  Is it an aviation-centric floating base?  Is it a transfer point for movement of materials from one ship to another?  Something else?  All of the above?

Of late, the term sea basing has come to be associated with amphibious assault, particularly as a means to transfer material from larger cargo ships to smaller ships or connectors for subsequent movement to the beach.  OK, fair enough.  That’s the flavor of sea base that we’ll confine this discussion to.

Before I go any further, let me relate a brief, totally unrelated anecdote.  The other day I was returning from a trip to the grocery store.  I exited the store, hopped in my car, and drove to within about a mile of my house at which point I stopped, got out, and transferred the groceries to another car.  I then drove that car to my driveway at which point I stopped and transferred a few of the grocery bags to a small cart which I then pulled up to the house.  As I was doing so, I couldn’t help but reflect on the incredible inefficiency of the whole process.      That’s it.  End of story.  OK, possibly the anecdote wasn’t totally unrelated.  I take it you see the analogy?

The inefficiency of using a sea base to transfer cargo from one ship to another, just miles away from the ultimate destination is striking.  Constructing an actual platform, be it a Mobile Landing Platform (MLP), Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), a simple barge, or whatever, is an expensive inefficiency in the process of moving equipment and supplies to their destination.  It’s also an incredible inefficiency in terms of the time and effort required to unload a previously loaded large ship just to reload the items onto a smaller vessel so that they can be unloaded yet again a few miles further on.

Are we sure that designing ships that can unload directly over the beach wouldn’t be a better way to go?  We had such a vessel, the LST, and opted to retire them with no replacement.  Was that really a wise move?  But, I digress ….

What’s that, you say?  What sea state can this sea base material transfer operation take place in?  Good question.  I don’t know but I suspect not much.

The Sea Base is not only expensive, inefficient, and time consuming in use, but it offers the enemy an incredibly lucrative target.  We aren’t planning on having many platforms that can fill this function so destroying a couple of them can halt an assault in its tracks.  In this age of aircraft and missiles with ranges of hundreds or thousands of miles, the Sea Base will always be within range of enemy weapons.  Of course, there’s always submarines – an SSK assigned to take out our Sea Base is a highly effective tactic and very difficult to prevent.  I’m sure we’ll provide protection but the enemy only needs one aircraft, missile, or torpedo to get through and they’ll undoubtedly devote some pretty substantial efforts to that end.

A Sea Base is one of those ideas that probably makes an impressive PowerPoint presentation but suffers a bit in the real world.

On a related note, there are other types of sea base operational concepts that may make sense such as basing for an offshore Army aviation unit but those are topics for another time.

I can’t help but think that the time and money spent on developing the sea base concept would be better spent on designing and building cargo/transport ships that can unload directly over beaches and/or in far more shallow water ports than currently accessible.  Perhaps something along the lines of a RO/RO LST is what we need?

The Sea Base should be a candidate for base closure in the next round of cuts!