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Did Congress Get My Memo?

October 27, 2009

Before you go any further, please recall something yours truly proposed recently concerning future Navy plans for BMD ships to defend Europe and elsewhere. Writing here in Arsenal Ships for Ballistic Missile Defense, we suggested:

As an alternative to our over-worked missile battleships in the role of ABM defense, we would suggest reviving the 1990s proposal for an Arsenal Ship. You may recall this revolutionary hull design as an attempt to replace the Iowa class dreadnoughts with a low cost “missile barge”, until canceled in favor of a more traditional and more costly Zumwalt class destroyer. The arsenal ship was a great idea which never saw the light of day, but also refused to die out completely.

The modern concept would be to use a low-cost ship hull, preferably of mercantile specifications (T-AKE?) equipped with vertical launchers (VLS) for missiles. Keeping the hull cost low would mean the SM-3 missiles would be worth more than the ship, as it should be. Other benefits would be extremely low manning, which could allow for crew swapping, keeping the ship on station for as long as possible.

Apparently, Congress has pushed the Navy into thinking along these lines, sort of. According to Inside Defense, the experts would see the Aegis radar itself on a low cost platform, which sounds very similiar to the Aegis mothership we also proposed. CDR Salamander (who hates the idea) provides the text:

The fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill allocates $15 million for the Navy to look into a “mobile maritime sensor” that would essentially be a dedicated radar ship for use in sea-based ballistic missile defense, according to Senate Armed Services Committee staff.

An Oct. 7 committee press release following the passage of the conference report on the bill announces that the funding would be added “for a mobile maritime sensor development program to provide options for the Navy in meeting its sea-based missile defense requirements.”

Dave Baker, a naval author and analyst, said a dedicated radar ship “is not a bad idea.” The option would be “infinitely cheaper” than doing it on a CG(X), and the service could use cruiser hulls or even merchant designs instead of developing a whole new platform.

“There’s no sense in going out and building something specialized for that role,” he told ITN Oct. 21. “A bulk cargo ship could do it.”

I think Mr Salamander was particularly incensed over the quote from the above mentioned naval analyst “”They’re not going to be shooting at other ships at sea“. Not good, reminding us of an equally bizarre statement from the commander of the Seventh Fleet a while back ““The purpose of the Navy is not to fight.”

That said, I would hope we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, simply because for the service to be considering out of the box ideas such as auxiliary warships is such a breath of fresh air. With every current navy building project suffering some form of setback, we think the time for off the shelf warships is past due, continuing with our philosophy that “smart weapons don’t need smart platforms“. Lets just get these capabilities to sea.

When we see China deploying nearly 40 submarines to their fleet in the past decade, where we build less than a handful, the idea of decades long procurement cycles which produce fewer and fewer vessels is ludicrous. Our obsession with the perfect over the good enough, has led the West on a death spiral, as we also see with the British Navy breaking its bank and gutting essential fleet assets, still unable to adequately build 2 medium size aircraft carriers. Yet they are getting them anyway. Sheesh.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Heretic permalink
    October 28, 2009 11:39 am

    Actually, I’m going to commit a minor heresy here and point out that mounting a Free Electron Laser (FEL) onto a solar powered airship that can reach stratospheric atlitude(s) is probably one of the more reasonable missions that one could ask of a defensively armed airship tasked with an ABM defense mission. The airship would have increased persistence over the 747 platform (days, if not weeks, rather than hours) in time on station. The only problem is in building megawatt class FELs (we’re currently almost at 100 kW in development).

    Also, using an airship that can stay on station for weeks at a time would make for a superior sensor platform when dealing with a dual sensor+shooter arrangement like with see with AEGIS plus SM-3. The only difference is that a DDG could stay on station for months at a stretch, while an airship would have a persistence (if crewed!) of weeks (probably). Still, might not be such a huge tradeoff in terms of time on station. The trick is that since the high(er) altitudes over international waters are not *as* dangerous as being on the surface, you could get away with a (comparatively) lightly armed airship as opposed to what you’d “need” in a surface warship.

    Of course, once you start building airships to perform such missions, potential adversaries will “need” to develop countermeasures to deny them freedom of action to accomplish their mission(s) … and the cycle of measure vs countermeasure continues …

  2. Chuck Hill permalink
    October 27, 2009 11:17 pm

    What are you going to use to escort the arsenal ship?–an Aegis equipped destroyer.

  3. October 27, 2009 9:44 pm

    @ Distiller: Here I am, just fashionably late is all. (“zeppelins”??, oh, Distiller, how could you?) Navy really should take a long hard look at modern airships; their advantages can be phenomenal.

    Consider: speed (150kts) beats surface ships. Overland as well as over water. Ability to fly on solar which gives unlimited range/endurance. Much larger payload than airplanes. Small crew (big money item there)…..and fractions of the cost of building traditional ships…perhaps even airplanes. For those who care….stealth as well, and, if built correctly, amphibious ops.

    Sure, throw the radar on board. (Or, why not sensors to detect heat from ballistic missile launch, RATHER than radar?) Tie two airships into a mutual system, radar on one…..and (using that huge payload lift capability) put Airborne Laser on the other……..kill ballistic missiles in BOOST, something no other system is likely to be able to do.

  4. Tarl permalink
    October 27, 2009 9:00 pm

    Many who push Chinese rising military power are left wing academics who buy their own admission no nothing about military affairs.

    Say what? In my experience, if you talk about fighting China to left-wing academics, or even to political appointees in this administration, they look at you like you’re talking about fighting Men from Mars.

    we also see with the British Navy breaking its bank and gutting essential fleet assets, still unable to adequately build 2 medium size aircraft carriers.

    If they don’t have the will to find the money for 2 carriers, they’re not going to build the other kind of navy that you’d prefer (SSNs and missile ships) either.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 27, 2009 7:48 pm

    Chuck we can only hope! Let them build carriers, too. It only gets worse, ask India and Britain.

  6. Joe K. permalink
    October 27, 2009 7:17 pm

    And how much do you think they’re loosing in those lost 26 submarines alone? Just because they’re off the inventory doesn’t mean they didn’t spend money on them. There are costs associated with decommissioning as well as commissioning be mothballing or full-fledged dissembling.

    Where’s the logic in having a second-rate system if you’re going to be spending more on replacement equipment at a much higher rate?

  7. Chuck Hill permalink
    October 27, 2009 7:13 pm

    Cheer up Mike, there are reports the Chinese plan on building destroyers bigger than the Burkes, so maybe they will bankrupt themselves.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 27, 2009 3:44 pm

    Thanks for clearing that up CDR! Concerning My new battleships” comment: we’re putting the last century behind us and starting fresh, while putting carriers in their proper place. The battleship is back IMHO!

    Concerning Chinese military capabilities, actually much of this is post-Soviet technology including everything the latter learned preparing to fight our Big Ships in a peer conflict. The Chinese know you don’t need a perfect platform to deploy new weapons at sea. Don’t worry so much about them launching a large-deck aircraft carrier, but about the ship-killing Russian designed missiles on board these apparently less capable subs.

    Strategypage also noted the proliferation of Russian technology through ChiCom espionage.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    October 27, 2009 3:33 pm

    “Need I point out the differences in American and Chinese industrial standards in which China is definitely inferior.”

    Many who push Chinese rising military power are left wing academics who buy their own admission no nothing about military affairs. I spend my week with international relations lecturers who discuss security without knowing the aft end of a frigate from an MBT. If it ever came to a no holds barred shooting war with the Chinese the latter would be killed quickly and wholesale……….

  10. west_rhino permalink
    October 27, 2009 3:15 pm

    Remember HYDRA? Only porble though is the cognate of a USAF silo sitting submerged is that it IS sitting and not a mobile target… might be assigned to Army’s ADA brigades. Not proper fro the haze gray mindset.

  11. Distiller permalink
    October 27, 2009 1:56 pm

    A theatre/near-strategic Red Crown?? Where is Campbell and his Zeppelins when you need him? :)
    No, I’d rather put a couple of THAAD X-band radar on a couple of unmanned airships.
    And some modded THAADs on whatever flies in the area, be it F-15, or UCAS-N, or a tanker, or whatever.

  12. October 27, 2009 1:11 pm

    Mike,
    I didn’t say I hated the idea of the Arsenal Ship. No, it may or may not have its place. Your second point is right on though – not shooting at each other at sea — what a brain dead comment. I hope it was a simple mistake and misquote on the author’s point..

    I build on it over at USNIBlog this AM as well.

    Oh, and stop calling things BB that aren’t. You’re giving me hives! ;)

  13. Joe K. permalink
    October 27, 2009 12:50 pm

    Need I point out the differences in American and Chinese industrial standards in which China is definitely inferior.

    Also don’t forget that a significant bulk of PLAN’s combatant forces is made up of smaller missile boats, patrol boats and mine warfare vessels.

    Finally, even if that CRS report is accurate on the number of newly-commissioned submarines Globalsecurity.org puts their total inventory growth between 1995 and 2007 at only 14 more submarines to a 2007 total of 62 submarines. That means in the 40 submarines they have added to their fleet they have also decommissioned 26 submarines in that same time period.

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