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Streamlining Battleship Production

May 20, 2009

Note that each particular warfare command within the modern US Navy has its own battleship type which are some of the most powerful warships ever built, and all which exceed a billion dollars each. For instance:

  • Naval Aviation-aircraft carriers $6 billion
  • Surface Warfare-aegis cruisers/destroyers $2 billion
  • Undersea Warfare-nuclear attack subs $2 billion
  • Amphibious Warfare-helicopter carriers/landing ships $1-$2 billion

Virginia1Now, even the Special Warfare guys are getting into the battleship spirit with the $500-$700 million littoral combat, supposed to chase pirates in speedboats, but may be too costly to risk and too few to do much good without major support from small ship navies.

New Wars continues to advocate  single battleship class which would be the high end of a mostly low end navy. This would be the stealthy submarine, which is most survivable in an age of precision warfare and anti-ship ballistic missiles which soon will make large surface warships obsolete anyway. Currently, of all warship programs within the US Navy plans, the new Virginia subs are the ONLY ship class coming in on time, under-budget and without major faults when it is launched. But don’t take my word for it, read this from The Day:

Many people in the Defense Department didn’t think that Virginia-class submarines could be built in only five years, Rear Adm. William H. Hilarides said in a recent interview. But Electric Boat’s recent completion of the pressure-hull construction phase for the Missouri, the seventh Virginia-class submarine, in record time “is a clear indication that we are on track to hit 60 months and maybe even less,” said Hilarides, the Navy’s program executive officer for submarines.

EB announced last week that it had completed the Missouri’s pressure hull, which is the watertight portion of the submarine, in 64 weeks – 19 weeks faster than the USS New Hampshire, which EB delivered to the Navy last year, and 81 weeks faster than the USS Virginia, the first of the class.

The original plan for the Virginia class called for construction of the ships in 10 sections, but the submarines are now built in four. Missouri (SSN 780) is the first to see the full benefit of the manufacturing and construction improvements that are part of the four-module construction process, which is why the pressure hull was completed at a quicker pace, said John Holmander, the vice president who manages the Virginia-class program at EB.

virginia2The Virginia’s are scheduled to ramp up to 2 boats built per year, which according to the Navy will reduce its cost to about $2 billion each. The word reduction is something you seldom hear from the Pentagon, unless you are talking fleet size. There may even be room for less costly subs in the force structure, such as even quieter conventional AIP boats, each of which fall well below the $1 billion mark.

If the “purpose of the Navy is not to fight” then you can build anything you want until your money runs out. If the main purpose of a fleet is to fight other navies, then the type of ship for this kind of work in a new era of missile warfare is the stealthy and survivable submarine. No large anti-missile defenses are needed, so it will not need high end escorts to protect it. As for the land attack role the naval aviators are obsessed with, this is a secondary mission to keeping the sealanes open in wartime and maintaing only a handful in commission rather than basing the entire fleet around very costly and vulnerable flattops is more than enough.

Amphibious warfare as we know it is also obsolete, as the same guided weapons going after warships will affect our plans for landing troops on hostile beaches (an extremely rare occurrence anyway since WW 2). Low end warships or new high speed catamarans will probably suffice for missions in shallow seas, especially in the benign threat environments our fleet mostly operates.

This type of out the box thinking isn’t for the current naval leadership, who have no plan for the future other than updating last-century desings to contend with the problems of today. This is for the future generation, which will be forced to deal with multiple threats from numerous enemies in which a smaller, gold plated constabulary navy will no longer suffice. Such a force was good enough to contain the land threats of the 20th century, but with so many rising navies which aren’t adverse to new ideas, a new strategy less hostile to diverse hulls are called for if we are to survive.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Distiller permalink
    May 21, 2009 5:50 am


    someone called it “Son of Zubr”, and that’s exactly what it is. I don’t say that’s a bad thing, since the Russians have a clear mind in such things (even though implementation tends to run into their typical problems).

    Actually Zubr is better armed than the usual T-Craft concept and does its own fire support. Which is a must for dispersed landings.

    Taking Zubr as a yardstick, T-Craft objective specs would result in a 5000ts vehicle. Would never work.

    The threshold specs are more realistic and would probably result in a 2000ts vessel. Might work just so.

    But in any case such a vessel should have at least 1000nm (better 1500nm) range with max payload to be really useful, not just 500nm. The last refueling should happen outside enemy reach.

    The Seabase is a terrible idea. It’s either the current “over-the-horizon” on steroids (without the tools visible to do it), or a nuke and missile magnet like the Halliburton/KBR Trimersible and all the other mega ideas. Of course, if you like blue water battles, closing in on a foreign coast with such a platform would be the perfect bait …

    The whole idea of doing a seamless large scale opposed assault > capture sequence is unworkable without Startrek technology in my mind.

    And as usual the Navy ignores the Air Force air assault capability, and the Army (and Air Force) is equally doing nothing to go forward with a mot/mech air landing cavalry concept like the Russian BMD-4/Sprut or even a lowly BvS10, to facilitate that direct assault on objective concept. Taking about “jointness” and innovation!

    Son of Zubr could certainly work as streetfighter. Cost effectiveness is another question.

    As surface connector it would be a waste, *except* if you see the connector as being designed to enter a non-linear battle zone (instead of just a pacified area), in which case there should not be any difference between an assault T-Craft and a logistic T-Craft.

    In the end I really think that it depends on what the troops you are landing are capable of. Nobody says that networked small combat units actually work, or that they would offer any benefits over the current system! The LHD – LPD combo supported by (non existing) fire support ships and one or two carrier air wings is a powerful thing, and has a lot of room for improvement (NOT the Seabase, though).

    Maybe they come up with something for the QDR, under the pressure of budget reality.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink
    May 21, 2009 4:45 am

    Here is an artist picture of the T-craft concept as landing ship.

  3. B.Smitty permalink
    May 20, 2009 9:05 pm


    I wonder if T-craft (if ever built) could serve as both Streetfighter and surface connector?

    It feels like another Rube Goldberg machine, like the EFV, that will be 10 years late and cost four times as much as originally planned. But the specs are impressive:

    Capability List:
    1. Un-refueled range, in a no cargo condition, of 2,500 nautical miles in a Fuel Efficient/ Good Sea Keeping Mode (20 knots, through Sea State 5)
    2. Open ocean operations through Sea State 6 (through Sea State 4 in High Speed/Shallow Water Mode) and survivable in Sea State 8.
    3. Maximum Speed, full load condition in High Speed, Shallow Water Mode = ~40 knots through top end of Sea State 4.
    4. Amphibious capability, in Amphibious Mode, to traverse sand bars and mud flats thereby providing a “feet dry on the beach” capability.
    5. Ability to convert between modes at-sea without any external assistance.
    6. Maximum un-refueled range in High Speed/Shallow Water Mode = ~500-600 nautical miles (40 knots, through Sea State 4).
    7. Ability to mitigate wave-induced motions in Sea State 4/5 to enable rapid vehicle transfer (loading/un-loading) between the T-CRAFT and a Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future)/Sealift ship.
    8. To be used as an assault connector and a logistics connector.

    Notional Requirements – Threshold/Objectives
    Cargo Payload Weight -300 lt/750 lt
    Cargo Payload Area – 2,200 sqft/5,500 sqft
    Crew Size – 3/2
    Beach Slope Climbing – 0.5%/2%
    Vehicle Ramp Angle – 15.0 degrees/12.5 degrees
    Vehicle Deck Loading – 350 psf/550 psf

    Since they can self-deploy, you aren’t constrained by well-deck spots.

    JHSVs only make sense to me if you have a port or some kind of lighterage to get the rest of the way ashore. T-craft could go all the way by itself.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink
    May 20, 2009 4:14 pm

    I think if we are to have amphibious warfare, the landing ships need to return to the beach. It just doesn’t make sense buying huge landing ships in order for them to anchor 50, 100, 200 or more miles off shore. What will the poor landing craft and the troops do during the several hours of transit from ships to the beach? They would be under fire all the way, with the word “slaughter” coming to mind.

    I would advocate the landing ships going directly from port to the beach, with no huge offshore bases to sustain them. Such a force would not be dissimilar from the LSTs of the World War, except perhaps cosmetically. The JHSV is a good idea for this. I also think corvette type ships would come in handy, as long as they were shallow of draft enough to get close-in. I am thinking Sea Fighter and Stiletto.

    Their numbers, along with dispersal as you mentioned would ensure most would survive for the success of the mission. This idea isn’t set in stone, but I do think the large amphibious ship is only good as long as we don’t have to fight anyone, and is becoming too costly even for this.

  5. Distiller permalink
    May 20, 2009 12:41 pm

    As I see it the future “look” of the fleet depends on the how a future amphib forced entry capability looks like. The blue water *battle* has become a submarine thing, the blue water *presence & patrol* a frigate thing (both times supported by aerospace ISR). But blue water is not an end in itself.

    The second duty of the fleet was always to bring invasion troops to foreign shores. But what if neither landing area nor transit can be secured? Or what if the “landing under enemy fire” already starts 1500nm off shore? You think the LHD/LPD/LHA combo is not suitable any more? How does a fleet look like able to fight and survive in such a threat environment?

    Dispersion is an obvious measure. Reduced exposure time another. Signature reduction as well.
    And – if possible – dispersion also when it comes to the landing area, meaning not a bunched up kinetic landing on a 10nm beach, but rather an infiltration type landing over, say, 250nm of coastline.

    For the 2D assault element someting akin to a fast long range LCU with LO characteristics and self-defence, as well as NFS capability. Also suiteable as dedicated escort and fire support type. Something like the JHSV? Like T-Craft? An ekranoplan?
    The 3D assault element needs a larger platform to hold enough aerial vehicles (aircav) to give an assault enough momentum and robustness. For aerial support the same vessel? Or leave aerial support with more conventional carriers?
    For the sustainment and construction element the same kind of vehicle as for the 2D assault element, for flexibility and robustness.

    But In the end it depends on what the ground combat forces that you land can do and what not. Is a dispersed, networked small combat unit architecture feasible at all? It has to start with the ground combat units and grow from there, not the other way round. It’s funny, but the fleet might well be defined by the capability of whatever becomes of FCS.

    The small, basically unopposed landings are not an issue. The big opposed ones are what defines the capability. And I do not share the view that they will never again happen. Amphib assault, securing the area and preparing it for the unopposed entry of ground combat forces and the Air Force is the only way a fight can be kept away from one own’s shores.

    The Navy works on that Seabase concept currently. I don’t know what it will eventually look, but those 100nm offshore that are usually quoted are way too close in I think. 300nm is more like it. If at all. The idea of a more or less static, hundreds of thousands of tons heavy cluster might not be so good or inside one flight hour of a fighter bomber, or in range of even a primitive battle field ballistic missile taking pot shots.


  1. Are American Warships Obsolete? Pt 2 « New Wars

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