Conventional Frigates Are Dead Ships Sailing

by admin on May 19, 2014

100118-N-2468S-001The current global crop of “conventional” frigates (which I loosely define as a multi-purpose combatant of somewhere in the vicinity of 2,000-4,500 tons), has reached something of a developmental dead end.

These ships cannot be improved–or, in the case of foreign models, brought into compliance with U.S. Navy standards and then improved–without a huge investment–An investment, I might add, that is totally out of proportion to any subsequent gains in the platform’s overall combat capability/survivability.

Despite having more visible weapons than the average Flight 0+ LCS, the “international standard frigate” is also, well, still little more than cannon-fodder. Over the near-to-mid term, these “international standard frigates” the Navy chattering classes so admire, will, in any likely “local war under high-tech conditions”, be sunk. And be sunk in great numbers.

Too small to do much on the modern maritime battlefield than get into trouble, these “international standard frigates” are too much of an attractive, vulnerable target to spend much time alone in a high-threat area. And yet, still, the American Taxpayer is about to be asked to pay one heck of a premium for something that doesn’t really offer much more combat utility than the Flight 0+ LCS will (What will be added? A few VLS cells, with a fancy radar and combat system? A few anti-ship missiles? Maybe some torpedoes?).

Why even play in this niche? In the global arsenal, there is nothing–nothing–that really materially distinguishes one frigate model from the next. Excellent frigates have proliferated throughout the globe, and, as such, it makes little sense for the U.S. to play in this crowded evolutionary niche–if everybody has a great general-purpose sea-control frigate already, and they are all pretty fantastic…why bother?  The robust DDG-51–which is, I remind readers–the largest active class of combatant in the world–is far more survivable than any “international standard frigate” out there. The U.S. Navy might as well embrace that advantage.

Anybody stupid enough to try and compete in the frigate niche can only “win” by outbuilding everybody else. And anyone foolish enough to try and compensate for lack of numbers will end up making a disproportionate investment to obtain a tiny materiel “edge” on other frigates in the global fleet (Yes, NAVSEA, I’m looking at YOU). They’ll end up with an awfully pricey, hard-to-maintain ship with absolutely no margin for growth. And if many of the current American advocates for a conventional frigate has their way, the U.S. will find itself saddled with an operationally fragile shipyard queen that is, in essence, obsolete at launch.

A better investment for the American Navy is an austere DDG-51s that can simply out-stick the current “international standard frigate” (and that I suspect can be procured for about the same price), supported by vessels that force development of technology that will fundamentally disrupt this fully-developed Frigate niche–i.e. miniaturized gear/weaponry and means to accelerate fielding of new gear/weaponry.

How do we do it?

DDG-81_Shock_TrialDevolve the “Cruiser”:

First, the US should take our high-end DDG-51 — a cruiser-like platform that, despite an “old” hull and “outdated” plant, is the basis for our “next-gen” air defense asset, the “Flight III” Burke, AND…even without improvements, is still inherently more survivable (Level III, according to the latest regulations) than any frigate at sea today–and tweak it so that the platform just marginally beats the “international standard frigate”. (I’ve written about this proposal here.) Make the DDG-lite “ready to fight tonight” but…make it austere, scalable and easily upgradable. Add whatever the Navy expects to need in basic Hull, Mechanical and Electrical qualities to keep the ship relevant over a 40 year lifespan, and then build in tons of margin for tactical flexibility and, if needed, new capability. Or just, simply, a bigger, battle-ready crew. A Marine Corps detachment. Whatever.

Look…The money the US Taxpayer will spend will be the same either way….Either the Navy pays upwards of a billion dollars for a specialized frigate hull–an unproven frigate hull that will demand a lot of money and be freighted with a lot of risk before it actually gets into the US fleet (“a rough order of magnitude cost estimate” says Lockheed’s man, is $800 Million dollars for, oh, 32 VLS, a gun upgrade and a baby Aegis). And then, after DOT&E testers spend years “approving” it and tons of additional money gets spent for the platform to meet USN standards, taxpayers will be left with a hull that most observers expect to last only about ten years or so.  Either that….or…we take the DDG-51 alternative route, call it a “variant”, and pay about $750 million dollars for a very well characterized, rugged DDG hull and a few hundred million for bare-bones GFE–that can enter the fleet quickly and arrive with 40 years of easily-upgradable life left in it (and a heck of a lot of cost-saving commonality within the existing legacy fleet as well).

Mk VI Boat-400Embrace the Small Boat:

Second, America should go low-end. That’s right. America should go “all-in” on the Captain Wayne Hughes Seafighter model–I’m talking Mark VIs up to Ambassador IIIs at the most.

Now…this is a big change for me. Most of you are probably very weary by now of me poking holes in the Naval Postgraduate School’s “School of the Tiny Combatant“. But now that MLP/AFSB concepts seem to be accepted by the fleet–my concerns about logistics are receding.  MLPs and AFSBs are going on-line, so why doesn’t the Navy try to fully kit ’em out with small combatants and see that these new floating “bases” live up to their full potential?

I think “tiny” is the way to go right now. Small ships–boats–are easier to build quick, test, trial and then, if needed, discard. They are innovation-drivers. And they are, programmatically, far, far, FAR easier for the Navy to manage given the current environment in Congress. (and they can get into small, less-visited ports, carry a low profile, operate in company of an MLP without the need of a high-footprint support base on shore, compete with small boats and fishermen/coast guard “irregulars”, and screen the bigger ships)

And, unlike your average “International Standard Frigate,” small ships are also a lot harder for your average SSK or other high-end combatant/operator to waste a precious torpedo or missile upon (and, I might add, a very good fit for the WESTPAC areas where we are likely to be challenged over the near-term).

Small ships don’t become self-sustaining, programmatic monsters either. So rather than the Navy taking the risk of being tied to a single 3,000 ton platform, and, in the process, creating an economic monster that Congress will demand “must be fed at all costs”, the Navy can keep tiny-ship “test and trial” programs small enough (and geographically distributed enough) so that the Navy–rather than Congress–runs ’em.

ORD_Hellfire_Longbow_from_LCS-1_Concept_LMCO_lgMiniaturize, Miniaturize, Miniaturize:

And then, well, the U.S. should pour money into the challenge of miniaturizing combat capability–capability that can then flow onto larger programs–platforms, like, say, a more militarized and high-sea-state capable Offshore Patrol Cutter (which makes sense given that the center of strategic importance will, in time, likely shift to the more wild waters of the Polar seas and away from, say, reefs off the Philippines).

America cannot go wrong in shrinking the “effectors” and by making the sensors smaller, and, if possible, scalable (Like, say, Raytheon’s Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR)).

I’m a big believer in urging industry to “chase” a well-defined requirement rather than building platforms to fit existing weaponry. The strategy works–look at how the LCS surface-to-surface missile went from the failed non-line-of-sight rocket to the Griffin, to now, the more capable Hellfire. Once industry knew what the parameters for the LCS “box of rockets” actually was, they responded. And…mark my words, more advances are on the way to expand the utility of teeny-tiny missiles. (and teeny-tiny torpedoes, too)

If industry is directed to really focus on driving size out of the equation for the “traditional” missions–Anti-Air, Anti-Surface, Anti-Sub and Anti-Mine warfare–and getting them to work in a dispersed Small Boat framework–and then, on top of that, mix in the potential contributions the JHSV and basic Block 0+ LCS will be making in advancing new gear and tactics–then America has a chance to really disrupt conventional frigate niche in about ten years or so–right when the sail-like-a-cork, ready-for-Polar-waters Offshore Patrol Cutter enters service in earnest.

With smaller boats flying off from an in-theatre MLP tender/logistical support node, the U.S. Navy can cover a lot more ground, flow-in more new tech, engage more navies–all while giving their lower-ranking sailors an opportunity to get much-needed sea time. But to really help drive technology towards smaller effectors and sensors, small ships need to be out there, in numbers, operating.

ef7f5e5718204541Rig For Rapid Deployment of New Tech:

Now, part of being “ready to fight (and win) tonight” is, historically, a factor of being the first to quickly bring new technology to the battlefield. Legacy “international standard frigates” are only optimized to fight yesterday’s battles today. And while that may be comfortable to some, or offer up a serviceable developmental case if the Navy honestly intended to build a billion-dollar ship with a 10-year lifespan, it’s just not a viable developmental path.

Really, it isn’t.

American strategists underestimate the advantage of being able to quickly flow new capability into the fleet. In the old days, America would simply build it’s way into new capability, but now that shipbuilding is too expensive and slow, the only other option is to change and update embarked gear…quickly.

Right now, the Navy (and industry) are far too slow. Exhibit A is Aegis (sorry Lockheed)…The fleet simply can’t afford to spend twenty years “upgrading” a combat system–all the while, throughout the process, maintaining some, oh, twenty(?) different baselines of varying compatibility/capability. America needs “stuff” that can be rolled out to the applicable fleet/platform/task force in a year–or even less (CANES supporters abruptly look down, redden, throw a few bucks down on the bar and walk out).

America underestimates the impact a fundamental change in combat capability will have on likely competitors. Imagine if, in the space of a year, the 52-hull LCS fleet developed a capability to deploy with strike missiles…competitors would need to completely adjust their tactics to handle this new threat. I mean, the modern Navy should be all about taking the John Boyd’s OODA loop to sea to bamboozle and confound competitors who are a little less flexible. And so the American Fleet needs to make plug and play a reality–and the best way to really start doing that is in the small-boat/JHSV/legacy-LCS world.

In that way, America can have ships that are available quickly, that are relevant to today’s fight, and yet open to the weaponry of tomorrow.

Bath OPCConclusion:

In the near-to-mid term, America does not need to play in the 2,000 to 4,500 ton multi-purpose, high-survivability combatant niche. Even an austere Level III survivability DDG-51 trumps anything in the 2,000 to 4,500 ton weight-class, and the existing 10-ship JHSV/24-ship LCS fleet–combined with small PT-boat like craft operating from the local MLP/AFSB–can handle the outreach and small-harbor visiting role quite nicely.

When coupled with a real effort to drive down size of effectors/sensors and work in enabling rapid deployment of new tech across fleets and platforms, this grab-bag of platforms offers the right technical mix–flexibility to both test/trial new tech while wielding a goodly amount of immediately applicable combat capability.

New U.S. frigates are coming. If the rumors are true, then America has the makings of a fine baseline Frigate emerging from the Offshore Patrol Cutter program. So with the OPC advancing, there is no need to rush things or to waste precious time and resources fielding an entirely new frigate or in cramming old-school weapons into an LCS hull.

Instead, let’s pour money into miniaturized weapons/sensors and invest in a means to speed onboarding of new tech throughout the fleet. Then, once the OPC is ready in a few years, and the bugs worked out at the Coast Guard, America can flow that new combat capability into the hull and make it that frigate everybody wants–a relatively small, cost-effective platform that actually is capable of outmatching all other comers in the vessel’s weight class.  And maybe, just maybe, America will finally have a frigate-type combatant that can do more on a modern, complex battlefield than just getting into trouble and then dying quickly.

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  • phillip

    Over the last thirty years the navy has done roughly the same thing.
    1. Failed to update the CGNs to Aegis because they wanted to preserve the Strike Cruiser buy. However the Navy ended up without upgraded Long Beach, Virgina, California’s and no Nuke Strike Cruiser… just top heavy Ticos
    2. Instead of upgrading the Kidds and the Spru-Cans, we decomed those early to preserve the Zumwalts 32 ship buy and the Burkes. Now we have neither the Spru-Cans with their ample VLS capability or a large Zumwalt fleet. Hell we sank most of the Spru-Cans so there was no chance of bring them back. They could have been our poor mans aresenal ship if we replaced the aft launcer for another VLS and then put in a few quad packed ESSMs for local air defense. 1-2 of these per ESG/CSG would have added 80 TLAMS without impacting the Aegis Air-Defense mission.
    3. We gutted the fifty or so FFGs and we removed the MK13 without a real replacement. Could have put a smaller VLS in… Thus the ship was useful for a few limited missions. This gave added ammo to the LCS crowd. Now we are removing the FFGs to pay for the pipe dream of the LCS.
    4. For the Assault Ship fleet we retired the Tarawa’s early. Hell we did not even mothball them. We sank them so they could not complete vs the LHA-8 series specifically the 2 non-well deck versions so the Marines can have their own Carriers.

    We (since I still wear the uniform) constantly shoot ourselves in the foot because we must maintain the industrial base. Yes we need new ships but we fail to take care of what we are given nor properly upgrade them. Congress is rightly concerned about the Navy’s plan for the cruisers. Look at the first five we let go because we failed to upgrade them. Give the “yet to be upgraded” crusiers to the dockyards and the supporting money will dry up and the call will be for a new ship. Once upon a time we had NAVY SHIPYARD (New York, Phi,Long Beach, Charleston, ect) that we store and upgrade ships at. Those days are gone unfortunetly. Now we are beholden to a shitty ship yard in the south that turned out the San Antonio mess and other problems.

  • Rey Nowlin

    Well Phillip what you are writing about and or are suggesting sounds very much like the size and or capability of an FFG-7 Perry class. What Craig and I are in agreement with I think is that if you take a Burke class Flight I or IIA and eliminate the Aegis component you would have a ship close to what you are suggesting. Is it optimally priced? Probably not, but to get as much as what you are suggesting you are going to need to build something a lot larger than the 3,000 ton LCS. Much more like a Perry class or even larger.

    This is why I completely do not understand why the Navy is doing this. Why not just admit you were wrong about the LCS, and then take the blueprints out of the drawer and create an update of the Perry class, which everyone in the Navy seemed to like and was very able at it’s job PLUS, the ships survived both Exocet missiles and mines and lived to tell about it.

    Now we have just found out that the Navy is NOT going to upgrade 21 of the first batch of Burke class Flight I ships due to budgetary issues.

    Why not take these 21 ships and delete the aft VLS, add a two helicopter hanger and presto! You have the ship you are talking about!

  • phillip

    We (the US Navy) have a lot of missions for a variety of vessels. Do I want to have a 1-2 billion dollar Destroyer doing presence missions (anti-piracy ops, HADR support, counter-drug ops) or even low level combat ops (escort of logisitics ships, support to Amphibs or movement of Marine COLTs) I think the answer is no, that is were we need a economic ship in decent numbers. We dont need a LCS speed boat, why we sacrificed so much at the alter of tactical speed, I do not know. This whole push for multi-mission modules is also a contractor’s wet dream. The supportability requirements is unacceptable.

    So roughly to fill the requirements that I listed above you need an acceptable sized ocean going vessel. It needs at least a modicum of weapons, sensors and a helo.
    A. Hanager Space for 1 helo required 2 would be optional
    B. Flight Deck for HH-60 size helo required, optional space for CH53/V22
    C. A gun, baseline 76mm, preferred 5inch,optional AGS or future systems
    D. Local Area air defense, baseline ESSM, optional lower tier SMs
    E. Harpoon or future SSM optional but highly desired
    F. Close in defense, CIWS or RAM required, both optional
    G. Sonar, Hull mounted Active and Passive required, Towed array optional
    H. Ability to handle small RHIBS without major impact to ops
    I. ASW capability, MK46/50 torps or ASROC
    J. Ablility to stay underway for 30-60 days
    K. Ability to host a limited number of Marines, or other non staff personnel (USAID, refugees)
    L. Small crew size but capable of handling all requirements without external assistance during cruise. 150-200 (including Air Det) optimal
    M. Acceptable speed top speed (25-35knts expected) Endurence ops at 10-15knts
    N. Can tie into the USN tactical networks required

  • TreadHead

    What about the convoy escort mission?

    And, every FFG7 had:

    SM1MR against aircraft & non-sea skimmers (range about 20 miles)
    Harpoon in SM1 magazine against surface targets (65 mile range or so)
    76mm gun for air & surface targets (3-5 mile range)
    Phalanx for sea skimmers, aircraft and small boats (about a mile range)
    Torpedo tubes for short-range anti-submarine work
    Decent hull sonar and good towed-array sonar with CZ capability
    2 helicopters for long distance anti-submarine work
    Large crew to minimize workload and handle damage control

    LCS 1 has:

    57mm gun (range 3-5 miles maybe)
    30mm guns (2 miles)
    21-cell RAM launcher for air & small boat defense (range 5-6 miles)
    No sonar
    No torpedoes
    No area air-defense
    Up to 2 Helicopters
    Small crew (which is reported to be overworked)

    And the possibility of a single-purpose mission module which would have a few more crew and:
    Surface warfare – Griffin/Hellfire missile (range 3-5 miles)
    Anti-submarine: towed-array & VDS sonars (which are not ideal for shallow waters where LCS is supposed to excel)

    So our choice is a multi-mission ship that can do surface, air or anti-submarine duty to a competent degree, or a one-trick pony that can do only one of those jobs with much reduced capability?

    Why are we still having this conversation?

  • B.Smitty

    IMHO it will need “some” AAW suite. Clearly it doesn’t need to be comparable to AEGIS.

    Personally, i would still like a phased array radar of some sort. But something more like CEAFAR or TRS-4D. Of course those are more costly than a low-end solution like Sea Giraffe AMB/TRS-3D on the LCS variants.

  • Rey Nowlin

    Why is it that every new ship except possibly for the current LCS (both variants) have to have an AAW suite comparable to Aegis? What did we do before Aegis?

    We had the excellent Spruance class and then the truncated Kidd class. We had the Perry class. All had some sort of AAW suite that was non-Aegis. A Burke that is downgraded grom Aegis could perform the duties that most destroyers performed in the past. Now it could not patrol the close-in littorals, but I think having smaller craft like 24 LCS and the MK VI patrol boats and building new Cyclone class boats should be enough to satisfy those in the Navy who think that is where our Navy needs to go.

    IMHO I think our Navy should only be concerned with open water, i.e., blue water capabilities and let our allies defend and protect littorals. In fact maybe even sell our LCS boats to nations in the middle east and Asia.

  • B.Smitty

    As an example of what I’d personally like to see, check out the British Type 26.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Combat_Ship

    It has a modest VLS and AAW capability, but state of the art ASW suite.It also has significant space in front of the hangar for “lite” versions of LCS modules.

    Importantly, it isn’t tied at the hip, logistically to a port or tender. It has enough range and endurance to operate with a CVBG, or independently from distant bases.

    Now I can see a case for some number of small patrol vessels/combatants that are forward-based or forward-deployed. Instead of the Ambassador III FAC, I’d rather see something like Stanflex 300, which has mission capacity outside of Salvo Model AShM duels. These would serve as patrol ships in peacetime, assisting allied nations, and be a trip-wire force in the event of war.

  • B.Smitty

    The small boat/MLP idea may have merit, given the MLPs we plan to buy, but it’s harder to justify as a generic force construct. Sure the boats may be relatively inexpensive, but the MLPs are $400-500 million, slow targets with little ability to defend themselves. How good are Seafighters if all an adversary has to do is sink their MLP, crippling their logistics capacity?

    And given their size, MLPs aren’t suitable for visiting small ports.

    I don’t think the austere Burke idea works either. You may strip out the $3-400 million AEGIS, but what will you replace it with? How much will that cost? It will still need an AAW suite of some kind.

    IMHO, we need a ship that’s affordable enough to build 3-4 per year, consistently, to bulk up fleet numbers, within the current budgetary confines.

    This ship has to be flexible enough to perform a multitude of tasks, but retain significant warfighting capability, AND be globally deployable.

    Just MHO.

  • Mark

    > @Mark Have you ever served on a ship
    > on a prolonged deployment? You are
    > sounding like a think tank guru or an O6
    > trapped inside the Belt Way.

    Heh-heh-heh-heh… I’m actually kinda flattered to be characterized as an ‘O6 beltway think tank guru’. As for ships and sustained deployments, I’m sure CVNs, LHAs, LPDs and LSTs don’t count. Nah, they’re probably just tub toys. Getting shot at in Oman, protested on Okinawa and typhoons in the South China Sea were likely all staged – y’know like the moon landings? Fremantle Australia before the Americas Cup got there, Hong Kong before the Brits checked out, Somalia before Blackhawk Down, and Diego Garcia while it still had some native islanders – but I’m sure I’m just hallucinating here. If only I’d drank more powdered milk aboard a tender I’d know what a real ship is. For now I’ll just have to hope we can return to the subject: a future Navy in the age of austerity.

  • Rey Nowlin

    “I performed a little research recently and found that the Aegis component of a Flight IIA roughly costs anywhere from $300 to $400 billion dollars per ship”.

    I meant to say $300 to $400 million dollars per ship

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  • Boatswain

    @Mark Have you ever served on a ship on a prolonged deployment? You are sounding like a think tank guru or an O6 trapped inside the Belt Way. Those thoughts are fine on paper, but don’t survive in an operational environment. You need a mix of operators and maintainers to keep platforms going, and the abysmal performance of Freedom on it’s rushed deployment to Singapore last year shows that the “operator only” mindset doesn’t really hold water.

    The Navy will find the bodies to plus up the LCS and 1k crews. In fact, I had orders to a cruiser (RIP) for about 9 months before I was ORDMODDED not to long ago to a different unit. Taking all the crews that were scheduled for our soon to be mothballed cruisers is a lot of manpower.

    As for the shore based support, yes the Navy will always need it, or tender class vessels (of which we are down to 2 and there are no plans to replace them). But getting those sailors/contractors on board a ship in a hostile environment is a ludicrous presumption that only exists in NWC wargames.

  • Mark

    > The crew size on the DDG 1K class will… end
    > up with 150% base crew on board, plus the
    > “mission package” personnel.

    In this land of sequester and foreverdebt, most vessels will be lucky to reach 90%, even some that are forward deployed.

    > …but you are adding 50-100 sailors shore side
    > on both ends (home port and distance support),
    > plus money to pay the contractors that do
    > anything more than monthly maintenance checks.

    Agreed that more automation means more tech support ashore, but that support serves all vessels of the class or system. There appears to be no reversal of this service-wide direction toward smaller crews. Also, such a critique against a shore-based ‘tether’ is essentially an argument in favor of a low-tech small surface combatant. By design, lightly crewed small combatants must be operator-centric and minimal maintenance. Thus my argument for a low-tech, inshore small combatant that leaves the higher-risk ISR and guided munitions to the drone fleet and bigger boats.

  • Rey Nowlin

    Devolve the “Cruiser”:

    I agree totally with what you are saying here. Your previous post back in April which you refer here to ( Time To Consider A Low-End “Littoral Operations Variant” DDG-51? ) was an excellent case that could be made in shifting our focus away from small combatants which in the end will probably cost the taxpayers upwards of a billion dollars, especially after the Congress and the Navy decide how they are going to tinker with whatever design they end up choosing.

    I performed a little research recently and found that the Aegis component of a Flight IIA roughly costs anywhere from $300 to $400 billion dollars per ship. This would bring the cost of a Flight IIA without Aegis down to around $800 to $1.1 billion dollars. The price would be lower if the Navy were able to procure additional destroyers per a multi-year purchase. Still expensive but as you have written very affordable and also much more mission capable, survivable, and less likely to be tinkered with over several years of testing.

    I have read with interest that the DDG-51 Flight IIA may not have enough power or even the correct power plant going forward or even the fact that the ship’s design is well over thirty years old. Well who cares? This newer ship would still be more powerful and capable than the LCS or even a OPC. In addition, this nation does not have enough money to spend even more dollars on a platform that seems to this casual observer to be a bottomless pit. Direct the Navy to be more conscious of that fact and build ships that the Navy could deploy into battle with no real reason to think that she will be vulnerable like the LCS is now.

    We have a replacement for the LCS right now. As you have written, a DDG-51 lite would make proper sense for the Navy to pursue. Unfortunately I do not believe that the bean counters in charge of the Small Surface Combatant Task Force may even be looking in this direction. They are probably looking at an up-armed LCS or an OPC.

    I hope that someone on that task Force will be looking at a DDG-51 lite. The argument can and should be made that a DDG-51 lite could be just the platform the Navy needs. Without Aegis, the ship would still pack a formidable punch.

    Lets say for argumentative purposes and to save money, the Navy decided to forgo the forward VLS launcher and just go with the amidships – over the hanger VLS, the ship would still carry a field of Asroc, ESSM, SM and Tomahawks missiles. The inventory of missiles could include the following: 16 quad packs of ESSM ( for a total of 64 missiles), 16 Asrocs, 16 Tomahawks, and 16 SM’s. In addition the ship would still have a highly capable gun in the 5” 62 Caliber gun or could probably even be fitted with an improved Advanced Gun System that is being developed for use on destroyer hulls ( http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WNUS_61-62_ags_pics.htm ).

    In fact the aft VLS could probably be expanded somewhat IF the ship were to handle just one Helicopter. Would a DDG-51 lite need to embark two helos? The need or mission for this new DDG-51 lite would be NOT to escort carriers, but would be to escort convoys, do interdiction patrols, and to combat pirates and or provide humanitarian relief, in addition to other duties. I could see a squadron of DDG-51 lites along with a DDG-51 Aegis destroyer in support.

    I am sure that if during a conflict a Chinese destroyer came upon an LCS they would have no problem subduing that type of ship. Where as fighting even a lite version of a DDG-51 would not be a positive experience for them.

    Embrace the Small Boat:

    I agree with going “low-end” as far as patrol craft are concerned. However, embracing a high-end development like the Streetfighter concept is going to end up being too expensive. Rather I would concentrate on the Mark VI and restart production of the Cyclone class of patrol craft. These ships would be perfect for drug interdiction and piracy patrols, especially with an LCS to back them up. And with an MLP on station, there would be no need for shore basing. Perfect for operations in the Persian Gulf, along the east African and Saudi Arabian coasts or other narrowly defined water passages.

  • Craig Hooper

    Big medicine and wise words from Boatswain.

  • Boatswain

    @Mark The crew size on the DDG 1K class will end up like the LCS on the initial deployment and they’ll end up with 150% base crew on board, plus the “mission package” personnel. Still cutting 100 sailors on board compared to a DDG-100 out of the mix, but you are adding 50-100 sailors shore side on both ends (home port and distance support), plus money to pay the contractors that do anything more than monthly maintenance checks. Not an ideal situation.

    We are also in the process of losing corporate knowledge. Ask you average ET/FC to go past basic troubleshooting, they are crying for their chief or looking to get a C3 CASREP and immediate distance support. It takes the proper people with those repair skills combined with logistics to keep the fleet out there.

    Now do that when when a near peer shoots GPS satellites out of the sky, along with the birds to bounce the satcomm signals off of.

  • ChrisA

    My concern with terms such as Frigate is that they conflate the operating context of the platform with the specific capability requirements. Context such as ‘higher end warfare’ is useful for establishing requirements but should not be employed as a statement of need in its own right. It brings out the enthusiasts and industry lobbyists who define the context to suit their own purposes.

    Arguably, the baseline National Security Cutter has more warfighting capability than many Frigates around the world. The Patrol Frigate 4921 concept addresses many of the shortcomings. Although the utility of a hull mounted mine detection sonar still escapes me…

  • admin

    Mark–Good points. As I was reading I was juuust about to start cobbling together a “you can’t take humans out of the equation” note, but you got it. I do think the “right sized manning” schemes have been worked–And worked and worked-by the Navy with little progress. In the past, whole ship classes would be sold on the promise of reduced crewing, and, in the end, when Congress stops really looking, the difference between the old and new ships narrows down to a single sailor. Navy hit a wall with LCS. And I think they’ll REALLY hit a wall with Zumwalt. So you can’t take the sailor/Marine entirely out of the equation yet, some things are more amenable to cutting the human than others.

    As far as proportional cuts go in terms of crew size, I wonder if the MK-1 aircraft carrier may see the biggest cuts.

    ChrisA– I think there is a difference, though that difference may well be somewhat artificial. Frigate–ready for higher end warfare and traditional sea control missions; LCS–ready to mount some self-defense but carries the flex to assume a wider range of missions; OPC maritime patrol duties only (with current setup) but could be militarized.

  • ChrisA

    First point – People get very excited about names and titles. They can carry a disproportionate level of significance. Is there a genuine difference in the functional requirements of a frigate, LCS or Offshore Patrol Cutter? Each individual’s understanding of what they believe them to be, or what the intended roles of the vessels might be may be very different, but until you see the requirements in detail it is quite difficult to tell.

    Second point – I like CAPT Hughes street fighter concept, and I think the mix of MSC lift and logistic capabilities, with rotary wing air support, would be more than adequate for most stability and security operations in littoral regions. A similar operating model was employed in the early days of RAMSI employing patrol boats and landing craft with an ex-Newport Class LST as a mothership / C2 / aviation platform. The environment was low threat and there was also support from airlift to the shore, but that was distributed to the small boats through the mothership.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_Assistance_Mission_to_Solomon_Islands

    Disclaimer: I am not advocating to structure Navies based on security and stability operations. However if you have to do them, you should consider inexpensive and efficient means to do so.

  • Mark

    Right now I’m imagining the small surface combatant community crowding around a whiteboard advocating for must-have features, while others in the back of the room are murmuring issues that can no longer be ignored. One murmur: “In two years we’ll already have a drone for that mission.” Another murmur: “Healthcare costs are posing a serious threat to the U.S. military’s readiness” (Adm. Mike Mullen).

    Those two murmurs – and others – are related. They point toward growing automation and shrinking crew sizes. Witness the new Zumwalt cruiser with only 142 crew members vs 300-500 in the legacy fleet. Witness the massive San Antonio class LPDs hauling twice the force of retiring amphibs with similar crew sizes. Bigger ships with smaller crews and automation mean fewer injuries, fewer pregnant dependents, fewer aging veterans and some measure of personnel cost control.

    So the big boat community has this figured out, but future craft smaller than LCS may be limited by advances in drone and sensor technology that will blur the lines. In our new post-Iraq/Afghanistan reality, people already ask: why risk personnel for any mission a drone can do? The DODs call for a new BRAC round is rejected, thus overseas bases (hosting small combatants) are more in question. Also, an all-volunteer Navy sailor is less likely to reenlist for small tossing boats and does not accept a floating staging base as a liberty port.

    And what is the real difference between a drone and a small combatant? The ability of future drone aircraft to remain aloft for 12-24 hours (then refueled by a drone) and its ten-fold speed to an objective area could mean that future small surface combatants never see ISR or guided munitions, and never again negotiate blue water for that matter.

    That said, IMHO the future of small crewed combatants is toward low-threat inshore utility, mine countermeasure and combat support missions, each of which are not easily applicable to drones. The new 21st Century reality: A small surface combatant is a hundred times more likely to support disaster relief than launch guided munitions, and risking a hundred drones is preferable over U.S. casualties. I expect automation and personnel costs to drive small combatant acquisition and missions.

  • Chris

    To begin with, the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations (DFARs) gives the Government a strong set of contract clauses that cover intellectual property. The degree to which something is contractor funded is critical in determining whether the Government has unlimited rights or restricted (software) or limited (technical data) rights. I do not know Aegis’ contractual history, but I would speculate that the Government should have unlimited, since the Navy presumably has footed most of the bill.

    Setting Aegis aside, in considering the question of how to keep the ships open, yet manageable, I would make an analogy to the video game console world or smart phones. With video game consoles there are two main camps (Microsoft and Sony), whose platforms perform roughly the same technically and can run in most cases the same software (different coding, but the same functionality). The same can be said for many of the apps available for iPhones and Android-based phones. All four firms make available a software development kit (SDK) that allows developers to create applications that run on their respective platforms. The software developed for one is in many cases ported to run on a rival system. Different commercial-off-the-shelf hardware architectures and programming, but the end user experience is largely the same. Ignoring the cost question temporarily, I do not see a reason why the Navy could not pursue a two “console” arrangement with respect to its combat systems.

    If the Navy does not have the IP rights to Aegis, they could be purchased and/or the Navy could fund/purchase another equivalent platform (e.g. Sea Viper or brand new). A new system could include as part of the request for proposal a clear provision that the system would be provided with unlimited rights to the Government. I know the Government has specified such things in the past.
    If the Navy could not afford two “consoles”, if it owned the combat system IP (outright or through purchase) and an SDK, made available to cleared vendors, the Navy could still open the field to any “publisher” i.e. Lockheed, Thales, Raytheon, Kongsberg, etc., who by utilizing the SDK could code weapons that talk to or software that runs on the system.

    Bottom line, in my opinion, there is an acquisition path that can bring the desired results. Apple, Microsoft, and Sony all maintain hardware baselines and software upgrade paths that are open, stable, and backwards compatible, to varying degrees.

  • admin

    Hahaha….Laz–yes yes, I know. But I do think the small ships from the local MLP can really help with some presence and shaping challenges. I also think there is some untapped potential in using these little guys to advance some warfighting concepts we wouldn’t normally look at with, say, an FFG. Could a Mark VI make the day eventful for an unwary SSK? Or do some good in ISR? I think so…

    I wouldn’t build my entire Navy around Wayne’s ideas, no, but I think some networked PT-boat like small boys add a neat and tasty garnish to the burger that is our high-end warfighting force.

    I think the LCS is great. But it has been too disruptive and endangered too many rice bowls–which has helped lead the program far away from the platform it was originally intended to be. It needs time in the fleet to mature and be played with–if the platforms get that chance, they’ll be high-demand platforms. But being an engine of constant conflict and disparagement does nothing for the platforms or the Navy. That’s why I’m for getting the Legacy Burke out there to calm the survivability critics, and to get the MLP-supported squadron of small boats/LCS/JHSV out there to experiment and win over advocates.

  • Embracing CAPT Hughes’ New Navy Fighting Machine concept is the last thing a globally deployable Navy should do. The short logistics legs of corvettes and MK V patrol boats make them no better than a maritime “Maginot line” that can easily be operationally outflanked by an opponent with superior endurance. Bob Work was spot on when he stated that LCS was a small a combatant as the US Navy could produce and still maintain a globally active force. Network-centric small platforms are also in danger of being jammed/spoofed/hacked and cut off from their defenders. LCS is the new frigate for the 21st century. Your former company helped to develop this concept. You should be out their defending it! Despite all of its mismanagement in the last decade, current surface warfare leadership is taking the LCS concept forward into a useful place in the 21st century fleet. Don’t travel done the “dead end” of the NNFM!

    Sincerely,
    Laz

  • admin

    @uss falujah– Regarding your statement “Key missing info from the LCS-replacement request is any firm idea of what the role is USN is intending to deploy,” you’re exactly right. I suspect quite a few USN folks know what they want, but they’re going to let somebody else articulate it.

    @michael ochs– If you’re gonna come here and cast aspersions, at least have the decency to read the article. OPC–if it actually meets (and exceeds) the requirements, will be a great seagoing small ship that can be built in numbers. And, well, for that matter, the Mark VI aint too shabby and can offer quite a nice set of hard-to-find eyes forward.

    @Chris–We’re on about the same page. And I’ll particularly emphasize the importance of plug and play standardized interfaces. You can’t overstate the importance of that…But then, my next question is, if ship systems are supposed to be “open”, how do you compete them and yet…prevent them from becoming a knotty proprietary hunk of software that suffers from the same upgrade challenges we see with Aegis? I just ain’t seeing a really great solution here….

  • Chris

    Craig,

    I think there is a strong case for an austere Burke and the Street Fighter concept is an interesting one. However, before signing the Navy up to such a re-conceptualization I would like to see some experimental results. The Navy needs to take the time to try out the Street Fighter model in the real world as opposed to the theoretical. The Navy has some historical experience with small combatants from the PT-boats, Vietnam, the Tanker Wars, and the Ponce, but I am not aware of any along the scale advocated for by Street Fighter. Smaller ships will bring trade-offs in end strength, sea keeping, aviation assets, range, endurances, and habitability that will have to be understood and accounted for. Some empirical knowledge from a series of fleet problems along the lines of those conducted with aircraft carriers prior to WW II would seem appropriate given the scale of the change to the fleet being envisioned. Powerpoint slides are not enough.

    The miniaturization push is a bit problematic. Electronics have made great strides in miniaturization, but explosives, fuels, and engines are much less condensable. Miniaturization should not be at the expense of lethality and range. I would advocate more for interface standardization, a universal weapons bus, if you will that would enable any weapon developed to be “plug and play” with the ship’s combat system. The interface would beyond the VLS cell, but for enable any weapon or sensor to plug in and exchange information with the combat system. A standardized, well defined, interface would enable industry to present new weapons/sensor ideas that could be more easily integrated into a ship for trial or fielding. Standardized interfaces would speed the deployment of new capabilities and reduce costs. Such interfaces are integral to the entire PC industry.

  • Michael Ochs

    One more expert writing on a subject of which he understands little. The primary purpose of the Frigatte is patrolling. It gives you eyes for far less cost than a DDG with about half the crew and fuel consumption. During Dessert Storm, the USS Nicholas took the first prisoners of war because they were deployed farther forward than and CG or DDG because the Navy war terrifed they might loose a multi billion dollar ship to a $2000 mine. Princeton ring any bells? Drug interdicition, Hatian boat people, special operations, so many reasons to have a good sea going small ship in large numbers.

  • @uss_fallujah

    This fits well with my thoughts on the next-LCS/Frigate proposals, is anything short of a Aegis equipped DDG survivable in a future combat environment? Is the “Sea Control Frigate” anything more than a bigger and more expensive target, just as vulnerable as the current LCS? My fear is that anything less capable than a Burke/Zumwalt DDG (and maybe them too) are too vulnerable outside of the CBG Aegis shield (ie even those platforms will be vulnerable to saturation attacks if not part of the large magazine & EW protection of the CBG size force).
    Key missing info from the LCS-replacement request is any firm idea of what the role is USN is intending to deploy.

  • Mike horn

    “What will be added? A few VLS cells, with a fancy radar and combat system? A few anti-ship missiles? Maybe some torpedoes?”
    While not disputing the point overall, this undercuts your point. You dismiss those elements, but those would put a ship into a significantly higher capability range, and cost range. Especially a fancy combat system.

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