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Obama’s Cold War

March 18, 2009

If the new Administration in Washington has to contend with old Cold War threats in its future force structure planning, such as against China or Russia, then they are off to a good start with most of the weapon systems the military services currently have under contract. Though the bulk were ordered after the collapse of the Soviet Union, each bears striking resemblance to the old way of warfare. Photos are of alternatives we think better suited to Hybrid Conflicts:

Virginia class submarine-Case of the right submarine at the wrong time. A pretty good Blue Water design which the Navy insists is adequate for operating in littoral or shallow seas. Instead it is a natural evolution of the Los Angeles class which proved so essential in standing down the Soviets. At 7800 tons they are the size of a WW 2 light cruiser, and in no way need be anywhere near waters infested with naval mines and deadly silent new diesel electric submarines. Alternative-A true littoral submarine such as the Swedish Gotland with air-independent-propulsion. Keep some Virginia’s for deep sea operations only.


Zumwalt class destroyer-Another evolutionary warship with Cold War trappings, keeping the pattern with each new design getting greater defensive equipment and advanced propulsion, while increasing steadily in size and cost. The first of the last class, the Arleigh Burkes Flight I, had so many extras such as armor and missiles, she had no room for an ASW helicopter hangar. The Zumwalts, even at 14,500 tons can barely defend herself from aerial attacks. Alternative-Return the destroyer back to basics by building small corvettes of 1500 tons, their size giving  them a natural stealth, while their cost allows them to be bought in larger numbers, rather than only 3 for the Zumwalt dinosaurs.


F-22 Raptor Fighters-The only weapon on our list actually designed during the Cold War, just as its air superiority mission was superseded by multi-role fighters armed with advanced missiles. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, military jets have been used almost exclusively in the  bombing role. The Raptor is an expensive relic of another era whose capabilities are no longer required, except in air shows. Alternative-Legacy fighters updated to carry the new precision smart bombs and missiles, and increasingly combat UAVs.


Future Combat System-We save the most expensive program on our list for last. At $200 billion and counting, a good example of an unnecessary weapons program. The Army has repeated this before with the M-551 Sheridan airborne tank and the XM-70 battletank. Once again they are trying to reinvent the tank by advanced and untried technologies with stealthy features to make these series of vehicles more survivable on the battlefield, and costly composite materials to drastically reduce weight. Alternative-The army need only look to new vehicles which have been bought off the shelf and have proven good enough for a very tough fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, with Stryker combat vehicles, uparmored Humvees, and new MRAPs.

Honorable mentions ripe for cuts include the Joint Strike Fighter which will likely cost as much as the more-capable Raptor when it finally enters service in the next decade (replacing it with Navy Super Hornets, prop planes for close air support, and UAVs), Ford class supercarriers (with over 20 large carriers, and Marine Harrier carriers in service, how many do we need?), and Burke class destroyers (over 60 of these modern battleships ordered).

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 21, 2009 8:26 am

    Here’s are a couple more analogies for you, Moose. The submarine has evolved over the last century to overtake every role of the surface ships more or less. So today you would have the SSGN’s as aircraft carriers, the nuclear attack submarine as battleship/cruiser, and smaller SSK’s as hunter-killer destroyers. We may need them to escort larger subs against enemy AIPs considering the extreme quietness of the latter.

    I don’t see where the FAC analogy fits in except perhaps in minisubs? Also there is increased use of UUVs which might fit in this category.

    Still need some surface craft around, but these need no longer be giant lumbering missile ships or carriers, but smaller attack boats with motherships in support to allow them to do expeditionary littoral warfare. But that is for another post.

    Also, this is a fleet built around the new decider in sea warfare, cruise missiles, with it shaping fleet constitution rather than being used as an “add on” to our last century ideas of warfare. Again for another post!

  2. Moose permalink
    March 20, 2009 11:43 pm

    In your initial post, you call the Virginia “right sub at the wrong time” and then call AIPs an “alternative.” That’s what I was responding to. If you think the Navy needs to invest in AIPs for missions that AIPs are suited to, apart from the SSN force, frame the debate that way.

    As for that debate, I still disagree. You use an argument which uses an analogy based surface warships, I counter with the subsurface and surface fleets don’t match up that well. But if the connection must be made, you’re mistaken if you think AIP boats would be underwater Frigates or Corvettes. More accurately, they would be underwater FACs. France’s Barracuda would be closer to what you want. Smaller and sacrificing some firepower but without giving up the essential ingredients that makes it effective.

  3. March 20, 2009 4:51 pm

    The more and more I read and study on the military history, the more I see a need for a balance of capabilities; a navy can not afford to be two strong in one area and not strong in another…okey some navies can not afford both large and small cvs, so they have to build mediums instead.

    A navy does need both nukes and AIP SSKs, the latter at least are very good for special opps, as well as being cheaper and a force maximiser

    yours sincerly


  4. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 20, 2009 7:56 am

    Moose i can’t imagine our 8000 ton nuke subs would be better within shallow seas than say, a 1000 ton SSK as deployed by our allies. especially with the Nordic region being a perfect littoral environment in itself. This just defies logic.

    Neither did I suggest we get rid of our SSNs, which still reign supreme in the Blue Waters, no doubt. For persistence and speed underwater they are just unmatched and if you can afford them, get them IMHO. But lets not rule out the enhanced abilities of these new AIP ships in the hands of potential foes.

    I think we need various capabilities. Why does it always have to “be either, or”. We can only have giant carriers, not small ones too. No small combatants please, only giant missile battleships. No SSKs, just the nuclear cruiser subs. I think we are missing out on what is really important in wartime, the ability to adapt to constantly changing battlefield conditions, and with each new war we suffer from this lapse in our strategy, as proved in the early stage of Iraq.

  5. Moose permalink
    March 20, 2009 3:36 am

    Building Gotlands or any other coastal defense submarine would be at best more expensive and less productive than supports of such ideas claim, and in all likelihood would trend more toward the catastrophic. Yes SSKs and especially AIP SSKs are lethal and a growing danger in the world, but building some of our own does nothing to counter the threat. SSKs excel at sitting in an area of ocean and threatening any surface ship which wanders into range of their weapons. They are very smart, self-deploying and (potentially) reusable mines. You don’t hunt mines with mines, you hunt them with mine hunters. To go in and sanitize an area of subsurface threats you need unmatched endurance coupled with many large senors and weapons. That’s SSNs. As soon as we go back to an 1870s Coastal Defense Navy, sign us up for Diesels. Until then put the time, money, and manpower to making best better and keep evolving the Virginias.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 19, 2009 8:05 pm

    Having numerous corvettes in the Taiwan Straits when the Chinese launch their missiles, some may survive. A giant carrier with her very large escorts doing the same? Not so much…

  7. March 19, 2009 10:50 am


    I think if anyones building them, then its the chinese..have you checked out their quantities of corvettes and attack boats?

    yours sincerly


  8. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 19, 2009 10:27 am

    So keep the unmanned “Systems”, dump the costly vehicles, which likely our grandchildren will still be driving around decades later. It it the robot weapons which are the real revolution, and funds expended on advanced platforms are so much much redundancy. this mode of thinking has bought us a terribly stretched and too costly military force for the kind of COIN operations we most often fight. So the Navy thinks it needs giant battleships to launch cruise missiles, the air force needs invisible fighters for its AMRAAM, and of course, the Army…

    This Dodo needs to return back to the last century and the type of warfare it so resembles, not our new one where everything has changed.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 19, 2009 7:05 am

    Where are our modern day “Flowers”? Such a vessel would scare the living daylights out of admirals, politicians, and shipbuilders (and pirates) for its sensible construction and price!

  10. Armywonk permalink
    March 18, 2009 8:30 pm

    First, it is Future Combat Systems – it’s plural. Second, the Army is not “trying to reinvent the tank.” FCS is a family a manned ground vehicles, unmanned air and ground vehicles, unattended sensors and weapons tied together through an advanced, wireless network. If you think that it’s just a new tank, you have missed the point.

    The family of manned ground vehicles features 8 new vehicles built on a common chassis to reduced logistical and maintenance requirements and powered by a hybrid electric propulsion system to reduce fuel consumption and for the additional juice to power the network sensors and active protection system. The 8 new manned ground vehicles are the NLOS-Cannon, NLOS-Mortar, the Mounted Combat System, a recovery vehicle, a maintenance vehicle, a command and control vehicle, an infantry carrier, and a reconnaissance and surveillance vehicle. There are 2 unmanned air vehicles, one for platoon/company use, one for battalion and brigade. There are two unmanned ground vehicles as well as unattended ground sensors. Finally, there is the NLOS-Launch System for indirect fire support. This is all tied together through a network that is wireless and secure, with enough bandwidth to support operations.

    Does that sound like “they are trying to reinvent the tank”?

    Again, Strykers and MRAPs and uparmored Humvess do have a role. But if that is all you have in the inventory, then you have accepted far too much risk. In fact, a fair assessment is that it is reckless. I have worked with Stryker vets – they love the vehicles but they would be the first to say that they would never want to take it into battle against tanks b/c the armor just isn’t designed for that type of combat. And before you say you can retrofit APS onto it, you can’t because of the power requirements. And for those who think they “know” the future, there are only two certainties – you don’t know the future and the enemy gets a vote.

    FCS represents a comprehensive modernization effort by the Army – the first since the Big 5 of the late 1970/early 1980s. It is more than new platforms – it brings a brigade-worth of new capabilities.

  11. March 18, 2009 12:21 pm

    the most common vessel built in the entire of WWII was the Flower Class corvette of the RN…so many were built there are no accurated records, as they were litterally just being built and sent to see, with hardly any trials (the RBL has just recognised two more crews, which were not on the RN list). These things were very heavily armed (about 27% of weight was focused on weapons – which included torpedoes, depth charges, and ASW mortars…as well as guns, radar, and sonar), and were based on deep sea trawlers – so where very good sea boats. These ships were cheap, and I mean Liberty boat cheap, the British government just kept sending supplies + wages for men, and the flower class kept coming out.

    have you not heard about Peter the Great, the russion Kirov class cruiser, it did really well dealing with the pirates.

    yours sincerly


  12. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 18, 2009 11:52 am

    To be honest, I like the Burkes too, just don’t think we need 60 of them! We spent the better part of the 1990’s building $1-2 billion destroyers while ship numbers sank to half the previous decade and our principle antagonist at sea disappeared. I like to call it the lost decade. About 30 hi-end missile ships was good enough for Reagan and the 600 ship Navy. We are woefully top heavy with battleships in the fleet, and not enough small ships which in wartime do most of the hard work anyway. Could the Iowa class or the KGV’s have won the Battle of the Atlantic 60+ years ago? Hardly, and the submarine is far more dangerous today than it has ever been. Neither do we need battleships to fight pirates in speed boats.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 18, 2009 11:45 am

    If you ask me, the importance of artificial stealth is over blown anyway, except maybe at sea but a 14,500 ton destroyer ain’t it!

  14. March 18, 2009 11:19 am

    I like it all, I was seriously miffed when we sold the Upholder class to Canada…we need them!

    although I will defend the burkes as I have a soft spot for them…they are very good warships, I know they are to expensive, but I think they would be brilliant working in tandem with smaller (corvette) escorts, as the command and control ship/big boy escort for the support of the operation, and defence of the supply ships (in which case you need as powerful as escort as possible, cause these have no chance to hide, so firepower is the only option)

    yours sincerly


  15. NTV permalink
    March 18, 2009 8:44 am

    So we can buy a sorta stealthy Silent Eagle, that we dont know any specifics other than a power point slide, for 100-120 million a copy, Or a real stealthy F-22, that is in service for 140 million a copy. Is this realy a choice?????

  16. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 18, 2009 6:30 am

    And we know what the early bird gets, right? But I am more impressed by the new German U-boats, though our Navy hasn’t tested them.

  17. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 18, 2009 6:22 am

    I saw that about the Silent Eagle. Amazing! We are placing advanced technology on very costly new platforms when we can just update the ones we have.

    More here on Silent Eagle, and here.

  18. March 18, 2009 6:17 am

    I forgot to add:
    Fuel cells make great progress. A fuel cell-based AIP drive as in U212/214 makes mroe sense than the Gotland whose primary advantage was to be early.

  19. March 18, 2009 6:16 am

    About legacy fighter designs:

    Stryker: Poor idea.
    MRAP: A small one possibly.

    A real alternative to FCS would be to develop a C4 standard including standard interfaces (notebook, PDA) and new communications standard nodes (aka radios, but with wire/FP cable connectors).

    The other, obviously in lareg part immature equipment could be designed once the available bandwith and the standard are known.

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