The ACV Program Advances!

by admin on November 28, 2015

102714_BAE_Iveco_MPCFor those who have been reading me over the years, it should come as no surprise that I am a big fan of the U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV 1.1) Program (look here and here). I mean, heck, I was for the ACV 1.1 Program back when it was originally the Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC) Program!

The cancelled MPC was, essentially, a cost-effective “80% solution” that the USMC should have bought two years ago, back before some un-named idiot cancelled the whole thing. But after a hiatus to reconsider (again!) a gold-plated, fast-moving, super-expensive, beach-landing super-craft (which, yes, I would love!), more rational heads prevailed and the ACV 1.1 program was “born and released” (or….the MPC was just re-released) into the RFI/RFP world–in a surprisingly un-goldplated, off-the-shelf-enabling fashion (which, coming from the pro-complexity and price-is-no-object USMC I’ve been used to, was something of a shock). Of course, all the usual suspects made a play for this program.

So…as everyone knows, the awards were made. BAE, the front-running entrant in the MPC program, won a down-select slot, and will be competing against SAIC. SuperAV versus Terrex 2. Fantastic–it’ll be a great competition by two teams with strong, well-differentiated approaches. Best of luck to both teams. I can’t wait to see who wins!

This is exactly what the USMC procurement community needs right now–two good, relatively low-risk/low-price products fighting it out.

As programs go, the ACV is a pretty boring, low-profile piece of kit (an oft-ignored enabler like the (cough) LCU). And we can all kvetch all day long about amphibious warfare and about how amphibious landings are an outdated concept and will never see the beach and yada yada yada. Fine. But the fact remains (and the blasted South China Sea…and ALL OF THE WESTERN PACIFIC demonstrates) that islands are important–more so now than ever.

And while the ACV 1.1 won’t go kicking down any doors, the ACV 1.1 is a good vehicle for what the US needs right now–something light to enable the dispersed, lighter bits of the USMC and US Navy Team to operate in contingency operations throughout Oceania and Africa–helping enable a dispersed USMC to coalesce quickly at low-threat trouble spots and ensure the insertion of sufficient force to prevent others from seeking unilateral (and likely disruptive) solutions. In my mind, a fleet of ACV 1.1’s may not win a war, but they sure as heck can help prevent one from occurring.

The faster this program gets underway, the better. Good job USMC. You’re on the right track, and I’ll see ya’ll on the beach!

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The Fight For DDG-1004 Has Begun

by admin on March 9, 2015

140412-N-PM781-002Love the DDG-1000 or hate it, supporters of America’s multi-billion dollar “battleship-as-destroyer” program have largely been–up to now–quiet on the sidelines of Washington’s unseemly post-Sequestration budget scrum.

In the vast array of American defense programs desperate to avoid closure, an old survivor like DDG-1000 (previously known as the arsenal ship, the DD(X), etc., etc.) has been conspicuously low profile. That relative silence (intricate Christening ceremonies and fawning press treatments aside) left many DC observers thinking that General Dynamics would be content to let the program quietly die off after three hulls.

Too many informed DC folks wrote the DDG-1000 off. They explained the DDG-1000 away as a modern analogue of the one-of-a-kind super-expensive Norfolk Class DL-1, a ship that spent most if it’s life as a technical demonstration platform. Others saw the DDG-1000 program as more akin to the 4-hull, somewhat experimental Mitscher Class (DL-2). Others pointed at the three-boat Seawolf (SSN-21) Program. All of these were high-cost, high-tech programs that ended quickly.

Conventional wisdom held that DDG-1000 was–after it’s 2009 cancellation–merely an experiment, saved from outright elimination just to keep the Marine Corps from harping for another decade about the lack of naval surface-fires.

To bend a phrase from a London socialite’s description of a washed-up, post-World War I Winston Churchill, the conventional DC line for this program was, “Oh, the DDG-1000? It’s finished.”

They were wrong.

141114-N-EW716-003It is starting to look like General Dynamics is going to fight for the DDG-1000 production line–frankly, it’s a battle General Dynamics must wage. They’ve invested far too much in Bath–making far too many DDG-1000 specific yard improvements to even consider stopping the DDG-1000 production line at three hulls. Canceling DDG-1000 is corporate suicide.

Personally, I’ve been expecting some sort of fight for the DDG-1000 from the moment Fred Harris–a program expander “par excellence”–was moved from NASSCO to lead Bath into the future. And I guess, now that the three Program of Record ships are safely awarded, Huntington Ingalls is out of the program and the first hull is set to start builders trials, the long-expected battle is upon us.

arsenal_72First Shots

The first shot in the upcoming battle for DDG-1004 was fired in a January issue of National Defense Magazine from Third Way scribe, Ben Freeman, Ph.D.. His op-ed, “Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was A Mistake“, summed up the latest strengths inherent in the “offensive” DDG-1000 design, attacking the merely “defensive” Flight III DDG-51.

Here’s the relevant bit:

All of these comparisons between DDG-51s and DDG-1000s belie the fact that the ships should not be competitors; they serve different, but complementary roles that are both essential for the future of the U.S. Navy. Fortunately, it’s not too late for Congress to act — the DDG-1000 production line is still hot. If we’re serious about having a Navy that can adapt to the threats of tomorrow, then we need to get serious about DDG-1000’s today.

It’s a classic–and rather nicely done–pay-for-platform-advocacy piece.

Ben plies his trade well, damning the DDG-51 with faint praise. He talks up the DDG-1000 gun (while waving away magazine-size concerns with some “endless magazine” VERTREP-while-firing scheme), the DDG-1000’s big flight deck, the DDG-1000’s power-generation capability vs. current consumption, the small crew size, the available margin…banging away at a “DDG-1000 beats DDG-51 Flight III” theme.

The next shot came at last week’s naval hearing at the Senate Appropriations Committee. I was particularly struck by a question from Bath Ironworks’ Senator Susan Collins, where she asked CNO Admiral Greenert to detail the advantages of the DDG-1000.

10435539_906979052647811_9060054854301000841_nCNO Admiral Greenert, in a fresh-faced “I’m not really running to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs” performance, didn’t disappoint. He flashed his rarely-seen-by-staff “aw-shux” grin of an avuncular uncle, leaned into the mic, and sung the DDG-1000’s praises:

Firstly, as you said, the cruise is one-third, so that’s about 150 versus the cruiser of today close to 450 right off the bat.

It has enough power to — ah, the power required to run the ship and all its systems is only 50 percent of the capacity of the ship, so this thing can grow as we get more payload. It has tremendous growth.

It’s radar-evading, as I say. It’s stealthy. So it — it’s a — on radar, it looks about the size of a tugboat, you know, if you would imagine. And then, of course, there’s an acoustic element. If ah, you’re under the water and you’re listening to it, it does not sound like a cruiser or a destroyer. It sounds like a very, very small craft [editor’s note: Check out the video of the testimony–the expression on the old submariner’s face here is hysterical]. So there’s another evading piece.

It has a tremendous missile — cruise missile capability, anti- air capability. It has a dualband radar. That means it can track anti–uh ballistic missiles while protecting itself from cruise missiles that that dual-band has a gun that goes twice as — three times as far, about — right now about 70 miles versus the best we can do today is about 15 miles, so that’s five times — excuse me. It goes on, Senator.

This thing is a quantum leap in capabilities.

For those of us who have been around the rodeo for awhile, that set-piece was a shot heard ’round the world. A Senator like Susan Collins (R-Bath Ironworks) only asks these types of questions-for-the-record if she has been told to ask it.

By a big constituent.

Like General Dynamics.

131028-O-ZZ999-103Battle Lines

I don’t quite know what the battle lines in this fight for DDG-1004 will be.

Obviously, DDG-1000 supporters will point to plans stating that all the ships will operate in the Pacific, making contributions on the front lines there.

Then there’s the pricetag. We are already seeing how the high cost of the DDG-51 restart is being used to make the DDG-1000 look far more palatable.

Frankly, the timing is right to use DDG-1004 to take a big bite out the Flight III DDG-51 program. The Flight III DDG-51 is going to be a mess–rather than asking the tired old DDG hull to do more with less (i.e. design a lower-cost DDG-51 Littoral variant), the hull is being asked to do more with…more. There’s just not enough room left in the DDG-51 hullform for all the fancy high-end stuff the Navy wants–I mean, when the Navy is sacrificing hangar-space for an extra generator, that’s…well…not a great tradeoff.

(It’d be far more worthwhile to try and close out the DDG-51 line with a rough-and-tumble low-end variant. Instead, the Navy is consuming every bit of the DDG-51’s margin for high end sensors…that the legacy destroyer can now barely carry.)

web_010614-N-8894M-001So…in comparison to a cramped, no-margin missile-defense DDG-51 Flight III, extending the DDG-1000 production run might not be a bad thing.

And then, for General Dynamics, there’s the added advantage that Huntington Ingalls can’t complete for DDG-1000 like the DDG-51. They’d never get the price low enough to win.

Is DDG-1000 A Winner? 

I don’t know yet.

Extending the DDG-1000 may well be a better long-term investment for the Navy than a refresh of the DDG-51 line.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m concerned that the DDG-1000’s small crew (slightly bigger than a LCS) will be overwhelmed by the DDG-1000’s vast warfighting responsibilities, that the DDG-1000’s none-too-hefty missile arsenal is unable to be replenished outside of port and that, well, the ship is just too big to be survivable in modern combat…but…at least there’s room enough in the ship to try and fix those problems with some kind of refit…or newbuild (cough CG(X) cough cough) re-design.

Personally, I had seen the big, beefy and “redesigned-to-get-the-kinks-out-and-price-down” LPD-17 as a potential low-end competitor for the DDG-1000. But now that the LPD-17 follow-on is being competed–between GD/NASSCO and, essentially, Huntington Ingalls, I suspect General Dynamics may win and, in essence, take over that hull–eliminating a potential lower-cost DDG-1000 competitor. We shall see. But with the DDG-1000 going head-to-head–and likely beating the DDG-51 restart…without an LPD-17-esque hull, there’s no competition for the big surface combatant niche.

But I’m also beginning to wonder if spinning off variants of existing hullforms offers better value than, say, embarking upon another clean-sheet newbuild combatant. American newbuilds don’t have a good record–The U.S. needs years to work through all the kinks. On the other hand, America’s refits and variants enter the fleet far, far faster, for far, far less. So it may be the right time to bite the bullet, and learn to love the DDG-1000 despite the platform’s inherent structural and operational flaws.

Finally, I think there’s also a cautionary lesson somewhere in all of this–the Seawolf Class SSN. The Seawolf was cancelled as being too expensive for the post-Cold War world. But the replacement, the Virginia Class SSN, offered less and ended up costing about as much (and–looking at the costly SSBN(X) I’ll be willing to bet we could have found a way to cost-effectively cobble a few ballistic missiles into a Seawolf hullform if the Seawolf was still in production, as well). So, rather than kill the DDG-1000 at three hulls, let’s take all the work that has been done to set up a production facility, all the work that has been put into developing a serviceable platform, with, by all reports, pretty good HM&E, and start taking a look at what a DDG-1000 Flight II might be. Who knows?  It might just be the ship America needs.

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Mulling Mr. Stackley’s Exit

February 28, 2015

It’s rumored that Mr. Sean Stackley, the long-serving, low-profile Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, is contemplating exit strategies. Passed over for Navy Undersecretary, and with Sequestration eating away the research budget, big and ugly first-in-class problems looming for both the Ford Class CVN and the DDG-1000, the F-35…and the festering […]

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We’re Back!

February 16, 2015

Forgive the blog pause. A lot has been going on. We’ve moved; I am now based in the Washington DC region, where I have joined a boutique national security/strategy consulting firm. (So here’s the obligatory reminder that the views expressed here are my own and do not represent my employer.). Also, my youngster is getting […]

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Surface Navy: Don’t Defund The Salvage and Tug Fleet:

January 13, 2015

As the U.S. Navy strives to become a lean-and-mean “warfighting-first” fleet, Pentagon cost-cutters will, by FY 16, reduce the American Navy’s modest rescue, salvage and tug fleet by half–and the mad warrior-accountants may even go farther, entirely eliminating the tug and salvage/rescue fleet and privatizing the whole tug and rescue/salvage mission. Eliminating half the Military […]

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Does “Warfighting First” Put Ship-handling Second?

December 26, 2014

If the U.S. Navy is really putting “Warfighting First“, then, well, why not just turn the non-fighting seamanship, navigation and ship-handling work over to civilian mariners? The connection between the conn and battle at sea is less intimate than ever–and civilian mariners are generally better qualified in ship operations, have more experience conning ships, and […]

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The Eleven Carrier Fleet Is…Only Seven

December 18, 2014

Over on the excellent Navy Matters Blog there’s a little bit of a low-grade panic brewing up over the apparent mismatch of an “eleven carrier fleet” with only nine carrier air wings. Dastardly things are afoot, it seems. With one member of the “eleven-carrier fleet” constantly committed to a three-year refueling/refit cycle, the fear is […]

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New Navy Budget Buys…Time:

December 11, 2014

For a last-second, end-of-year compromise, the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015” does a surprisingly good job of preserving America’s naval industrial base. To me, it’s less about buying ships and more about buying…time. The Act offers the Nation a measure of flexibility–if it advances intact, the 11-Carrier fleet is (relatively) secure for […]

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Navy Strips CVN-79 Of Close-In AAW Enablers

December 5, 2014

Did anybody notice how the Navy responded to the CSBA report, “Commanding the Seas: A Plan to Reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare“?  It seems the Navy’s CVN-builders are less than enthusiastic about Bryan Clark’s call to fundamentally shift the Fleet’s air-defense protocol. The CSBA report, as we have been discussing here and here, urges a […]

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Don’t Fear the Cruise Missile Threat–Manage it!

December 2, 2014

When confronted at sea, Americans have an unbroken, century-long record of building new maritime competitors–whomever they are–into ten feet tall, impossible-to-defeat monsters targeted directly at the good ‘ole U.S.A.. Maybe it’s some institutional holdover from America’s early underdog struggles against the British Fleet, but this habit of fearfully over-hyping anything and everything challenging in the […]

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