CSBA Puts Old Surface Warfare Wine In New Bottles

by admin on November 28, 2014

web_010614-N-8894M-001For the past seventy years, U.S. surface combatants have been focused on defending aircraft carriers from either airborne or submerged threats. This all-important defensive mission has–for better or worse–defined America’s Surface Combatant Fleet–the fleet’s platforms, weapons and (most importantly) it’s mindset.

The Surface Fleet’s overarching protective requirement has permeated everything about the surface combatant fleet. The size and logistical foundations of our surface combatant fleet are still largely defined by the need to populate about a dozen carrier battle groups and a Cold War goal of keeping the carriers alive just long enough to support deep-strike missions into the USSR.

Aside from a few other ancillary missions, that sacrificial strike-support mission was really the heart of the surface fleet’s Cold War job.

So it’s no surprise that the surface Navy is looking with some concern at the necking-down of the carrier (and amphib) fleet and responding with a wholesale effort to be seen as a survivable, independently relevant option on the future “maritime battlefield”. But that’s a tough task to do as the nature of naval warfare moves away from conventional ship vs. ship warfighting–much to the surface warrior’s chagrin–to become more “joint” than ever.

But the surface warriors are trying. The first formal stirrings of a new (!) re-invigorated (!) “warfighting-first” (!) mission for surface warriors was presented last week in Bryan Clark’s CSBA report, “Commanding the Seas: A Plan to Reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare“. As you might guess, as a “first pass” at the problem, this effort to recover the Surface Warrior’s lost offensive swagger is a large dose of modern-day conventional wisdom packaged in a way meant to beguile credulous Congressional Staffers.

Know what I mean?

I don’t want to disparage; it is an interesting report, with some neat tactical suggestions (It might be rude to ask why CSBA is discussing tactical issues when we’re all still struggling with larger strategic questions (UCLASS tactics, for example) that will disproportionately shape the wider disposition/missions of the Navy’s surface fleet, so I won’t ask here!).

Invariably, the report was welcomed by the usual suspects, and yet, after all their chest-thumping fades, CSBA’s vision of America’s future in surface warfare, in aggregate, remains fragmented, woefully defensive and far too reactive. This is a call to fight an old and conventional sort of war.

And it’ll get us sunk.

We can–and must–do better.

A160T_Forester_2_medTo Control the Sea, Consider The Mine:

One beef about this CSBA report is that Mr. Clark remains awfully “old school” about “Sea Control”–he’s out to kill the ships, planes and subs that pose a risk to ships. That’s all well and good, but it ignores the global proliferation of unconventional unmanned sensors–or, as I call ’em, modern mines. You know, the UAVs, UUVs, the USVs and the buoys out there that, by providing real-time ISR info, all pose a serious existential threat to naval vessels.

I suspect that, long before the Navy is in any position to destroy potential “conventional” attackers–subs, ships, aircraft and missile launchers–the Navy will be struggling with what I call “modern-day mine warfare”–the effective detection and elimination of an adversary’s unmanned ISR platforms.

Minesweeping and mine warfare needs to be re-invented as a sea-control mission that accounts for modern-day technology.

Mines no longer need to be explosive. Look. If ISR data from an unmanned platform has the potential to kill a ship, then it’s really no different from a mine. And the fleet will need to kill or inactivate it.

So…put aside the proliferation of high-end strike aircraft, cruise missiles and other high-end effectors for a second. They’re not the primary mid-term threat. It’s the burgeoning “unconventional” sensor fleet out there that we need to worry about. They’ll help ease the adversary’s targeting problems and create unexpected problems for the U.S. surface fleet.

But, as Mr. Clark demonstrates in his report, mine warfare isn’t something the Surface Navy wants to do. As a war-fighting discipline, mine warfare has been ignored for decades, and the mine warfare community itself is moribund. Bryan Clark’s study (and presentation) reflects this bias–even though he identifies offensive minelaying as one of four pillars of offensive sea control, they’re dropped as a–get this–“non-incipient threat”. So while Mr. Clark spends a disproportionate amount of time expounding on how to his defense-minded offense-labeled schemes can better kill ships, planes, subs and missile-launchers, offensive mine warfare just…isn’t mentioned. At all.

To Mr. Clark, mines explode. And that’s just old school thinking. And it’s wrong.

Mines need to be redefined for the modern era.

If, by 2025, the U.S. fleet is unable to track and kill modern mines–UAVs, UUVs, and USVs–along with a bewildering array of self-reporting buoys, reporting civilian craft and other sensors, then the fleet has little business in tinkering with grand efforts at sea control. The proliferation of these hard-to-detect, cheap little (and, in time, likely armed) sensors present the U.S. Navy with a bewildering set of doctrinal and logistical headaches that the service seems desperate to avoid dealing with.

But they’ve gotta be dealt with.

So, in that regard, Brian Clark’s suggestion that the future Navy explore lasers, rail guns and ever-smaller munitions and Electronic Warfare is quite welcome. Coupled with some viable doctrine, I expect they’d be quite useful in helping to prune masses of tattletale-esque un-manned gear. To really advance discussion, Mr. Clark’s effort to, essentially, grow the surface fleet’s magazine capacity must be coupled with a discussion of just how the U.S. surface fleet is going to handle increasingly ubiquitous and pesky tattletales in times of peace, tension and war.

It’s the future of mine warfare. And it suggests a route to use our unmanned assets to invigorate offensive mine warfare as well.

Is the fleet equipped to detect and kill–or otherwise mute–the tsunami of ocean sensors we expect to be fielded over the near-to-mid term? Not with our current magazine capacity, we ain’t.

But that’s only part of the battle. It’s time to get serious about modern-day minesweeping and talking openly about what battle fleets are going to do with unmanned and unconventional trackers. And if the answer is “kill ’em”, we desperately need to know how, and with what, and under what circumstances. In my eyes, this–the proliferation of potentially-lethal sensors–is a central challenge to any future sea control scheme.

Mine warfare for the modern era needs to be discussed much more than it currently is.

potential_resThe CSBA Fleet Fails The Thatcher Test

Now, I agree with Mr. Clark in that, in the near-to-mid term, we will see more friction at sea–piracy and irregular conflict and so forth. But I also envision more Falklands-like actions–theatre-level actions starting with a relatively unexpected sneak attack followed by a deliberate march towards marshaling local superiority, prepping the battlefield and some old-fashioned sea battles.

And if there’s one defining characteristic of these sorts of Falkland-esque conflicts, it’s the initial declaration and enforcement of an exclusion zone.

So, if we accept that vision of the future, let’s ask a simple question: Will the future Navy envisioned by CSBA be prepared to enforce, say, this old Falklands-era edict from Margaret Thatcher?

“…At 5 am London time on Monday 12 April, the maritime exclusion zone of 200 miles around the Falkland Islands came into effect. From that time any Argentine warships and Argentine naval auxiliaries found within this zone are treated as hostile and are liable to be attacked by British forces…”

While the fleet envisioned by CSBA would, undoubtably be prepared to sink conventional warships in that region, it would not be prepared to expel “unconventional” things–the very things that will become the staples of future A2/AD warfare–from that 200 nautical mile exclusion zone.

Focusing on ships, subs and aircraft offers a return to old conventional Cold War priorities. Yeah, it’s a war we won, but it’s a war our adversaries have been working to defeat for some time. If America’s cadre of think-tank gurus don’t realize that the next war at sea is going to be a tad different from the battles we envisioned to beat the Soviet threat, then the American Fleet is in real trouble.

More to follow!

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

hokie_1997 December 27, 2014 at 1:19 pm

I’m glad I am not the only one who found Bryan Clark’s report a bit lacking. It reads like it was intended to curry favor with Cold War SWOs (now presumably flags).

My main concerns:
1. Extremely conventional view of future threats.. Basically USSR 2.0.
2. Largely ignored mine warfare. Not sure if this was intentional.
3. Too narrowly focused. Do we really need to solve all of these problems on a haze-gray hull?
4. Little mention of role/contributions of maritime helos… which have been principal ASW localization/engagement system on CRUDES for last 40 yrs.
5. Questionable technologies. For example: very long range ASROC. How exactly are you doing targeting and tracking?


NextNavy December 28, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Thanks for the comment. Agree with all, and I’ll bring these points up with Bryan next time I see him.


tpharwell December 3, 2014 at 2:08 pm

At first, I thought you were being a little rough on Mr. Clark and the people who helped him put this “Vision Thing” together. I had read Chris Cavas’s distillation of it in Defense News. It seemed to make sense to me.
But then I thought, well, I had better go back and read the thing itself, all 62 pages of it. And so I did last night. Or rather, I must confess, as much of it as I could stand to, before my eyes began to glaze over. And regrettably, now I must beg to inform you that you are wrong. It is not old wine in new bottles. It is old wine in old bottles.
If only we had a new and better weapon to use against our enemies ! Ah, what a difference that would make ! A laser ! An electric gun ! Something “cheap” that can swat down a drone the size of a Sparrow Hawk at a distance of 100 nauts ! Then for the first time in history, every ship will be a battleship !
The idea is as old as the new light-weight chariots that the Legions of Ptah and Amon-Ra used when Rameses the Second led them in to battle against the Hittites. Older.
For me, the problem with this argument in favor of a new doctrine is not so much one of substance, as it is one of credibility. You have conceded that there is some merit to it. I will do the same; and more. I will concede that it is great, in so far as visions go. But I also have a bigger problem with this sort of thing, for I have come to learn that it is not for lack of good plans that we fear the US will face problems as a naval power in the future; it is for lack of good execution.
A builder I used to work for learned his carpentry in California. That is where all the best practices can be found. And he used to say, “There are one thousand right ways to go about getting this job done. Pick one, and get moving.”
Similarly, I would submit to you – it is self-evident from this report – that such a supposedly sweeping revision of naval doctrine would not be needed at this time, had the Navy succeeded in coming close to meeting the goals of its last two decadal mission statements. Consequently, I feel as if I am being asked by a real estate developer to buy a building lot in the Everglades. “The longstanding failure of the Army Corp of Engineers to repair damage done to the levies and canals by Hurricane Andrew, coupled with the water wars brought on by recent drought have brought on unparalleled opportunities in South Florida !” Oh, yes, of course. And as Mr. Clark says, the recent faltering of three major shipbuilding programs has given the US Navy an unparalleled opportunity to reconsider its purpose and means of achieving it ! Hurrah.
You like to talk about minesweepers. I like to talk about destroyers and cruisers. Apropo of these subjects, let us compromise, and talk for a moment about the horse soon to be drawn by committee to take the place of all those Littoral Combat Ships that will not be built as a consequence of the last ten year plan: the new Small Surface Combatant that is soon to be unveiled.
The LCS has been judged not worthy of continued production for many practical reasons that add up to it being not much of a warship. And the Navy needs warships. In numbers. But not so much of a warship as all those Frigates we now have, which are so expensive to operate, and which are being retired, it seems, as fast as they can be. And so take note. What does Mr. Clark and his group think plans should now call for to fill this hole, as of 2025 ?
A new “SSC” that uses the LCS as its model, taking away some optional features, and adding some permanent weapons. “Based on the LCS hull.” And to salvage the concept of modules that has now been so thoroughly discredited, it proposes that it be spread about the entire surface fleet.
So there you have it. The substitute for the LCS is to be…..the LCS ! Not as you have suggested, a beefed up Hamilton cutter. Not a modified Perry Frigate. Not a new Minesweeper. Soon to be signed off on by Chuck Hagel, for funding beginning in FY 2016, and ours for years to come, courtesy of……the builders of the Littoral Combat Ship, by way of the CNO, by way of a Washington think tank known as “The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments”. And the budget for FY 2015 approved this past week includes funding for 3 additional LCSs at huge expense.
“Old wine in new bottles.” Meanwhile, what is there to make of this brave new planning document in light of the sinking of 27 or so notional “Zumwalt Class” destroyers that promised to “take the fight to the enemy” ?
Empty bottles. Is there anyone in the Navy actually in charge of ship procurement ? Or does someone else have control of it ?
R/s, TPH


NextNavy December 3, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Dang it, and I was just about to write something cheerful about the state of our sub-building infrastructure!!!

On a more serious note, if this CSBA essay is what passes for high-level Navy thinking, I’m really worried about the strategic direction of the Surface Fleet. Admittedly, they’ve got some serious and challenging doctrinal questions to face, but I think this CSBA vision needed a little more time in the shop before it was released into the world. We all can’t become Robert Works overnight….but we can do better!


J_kies December 2, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Craig: Fire direction capabilities for the big nasty ASCMs / ASBMs = mine. Ok I get it; however if you want inventories to address such you want a generation of lethal micro-drones with guns and precision HTK munitions that fit into existing powder guns to perform minor diverts to kill fliers. The UUV threat needs a ‘hedgehog’ variant with terminal homing – e.g. cost / size minimization.

Lasers and rail guns will divert research money for non-lethal results and preclude necessary developments; mismanagement is the most effective sabotage.


NextNavy December 2, 2014 at 10:10 pm

I’ve always liked the ‘ole hedgehog. But heck, before we get to a concept…do we even have a doctrine for managing UUVs? What’s the policy for handling a UUV of unknown origin that’s tracking the boat? Is it national property? What if a commander sinks a World Wildlife Federation glider that’s tracking, oh, turtles? And–better yet–the glider films and reports it’s demise?

I don’t think the global maritime is ready yet. And that makes me worry that there’s gonna be serious friction.


J_kies December 3, 2014 at 9:02 am

Policy is remarkably simple in this case; approaching a warfighter platform with a stealthy vehicle isn’t clever and no tears will be shed on the damage / destruction of a robot with such inferior programming. Its not like we are shooting nuns or Greenpeace kids (who shouldn’t be dumb enough to do stealthy approach of a warfighter either).


NextNavy December 3, 2014 at 10:02 am

I dunno. Somebody, somewhere is going to demand freedom of navigation for their UUVs and USVs…or start suggesting that their platforms are sacred national property…


BSmitty December 2, 2014 at 8:22 am

The mine analogy is a bit tortured. Most U*Vs are just scouts, nothing more. Only certain types, like UUVs with their own torpedoes, can be realistically classified as “mines”.

I agree with the gist of your argument though, and feel the CSBA article was rather weak.


NextNavy December 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm

I think the current definition of “mines” to be too narrow. Focusing on just the stuff that blows up is foolish when we’ve got any number of threatening things that dwell in the same environmental “niche” as old-school mines. Lots of interesting stuff is getting put on the seabed just to….wait. To do stuff. Why not use those mine-focused resources–that are already trained to do sweep and clear missions to help clear sensors and non-exploding “weapons that wait” too?

Over the next few years, the lines are going to increasingly blur.


BSmitty December 2, 2014 at 3:06 pm

I think you risk over-broadening the term.

Mines are “things that wait AND attack on their own”, not just “things that wait and listen”. The former can deny an area without outside help. The later may clamor when something passes by, but they can’t deny an area on their own.

Just MHO.


NextNavy December 2, 2014 at 4:08 pm

No worries! We will revisit this with a post of it’s own soon!


thinkdefence December 1, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Also, think about the proliferation of offshore wind power. These represent an interesting opportunity for sensor placement, how would anyone dare destroy them!

They provide a very high stable sensor platform, over 120m high, consider the radar horizon


NextNavy December 2, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Certainly puts an interesting spin on the SECNAV’s Green initiatives, no? 😉


thinkdefence December 1, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Craig, the funny thing is the US Navy has actually carried out research into just such an offshore persistent monitoring network using wave powered buoys



NextNavy December 2, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Yup yup.


J_kies December 2, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Thinkdefence; its nice to see technical plans survive rejection by the USN JCTD process (TOME was #3 that year and only the first two were pushed forward) I love how Mike got that unlimited unrestricted distribution.

As one of the parents of that concept; the comments to that post where people were worried about molestation of the buoys – they would be USG/USCG property and the video of molestation would be the basis for the very substantial fines (and they provide other law enforcement data as well).


thinkdefence December 3, 2014 at 6:29 am

I agree, if anyone damages the buoy it is a bit of a red flag that could then prompt a response and as you say, the video could be watched in realtime. I do like the concept of autonomous buoys acting as a tripwire though, very clever


J_kies December 3, 2014 at 11:03 am

Thinkdefence, its not so much ‘very clever’ as its terribly obvious with progression of Gordon Moore’s observation and Metcalf’s conjecture – this is an expression of a multiple phenomenology sensing network to overcome ‘Mare’ Incognita’ and establish a maritime frontier with all attendant benefits. Alas Maritime Domain Awareness isn’t sufficient important to the USN/USG until a 9/11 equivalent occurs.


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