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Salamander on Shipbuilding

December 8, 2009

Words to the wise from the Dean of the naval blogosphere.  Here is CDR Salamander, first with some fundamentals:

– Evolutionary wins over revolutionary.
– Technology demonstration on proven platforms first – then on new hulls.
– Good beats perfect.
– Spread you eggs around many baskets.
– PPT lie, even if people don’t.
– Costs estimates are low balled.
– Actual manning requirements will be greater.
– Do not assume budgets will increase to meet expanding per-unit costs – expect smaller budgets instead.
– Configuration control with block upgrades.

Here’s more:

Also, good leaders were fed bad information by consultants with financial conflicts and poorly led staff officers who were terrified of being the junior guy contradicting the senior guy who owned paper on them. They also know what would happen if they were blamed for putting the spike in the forehead of ADM XXXX’s pet project.
We. Knowingly. Did. This. To. Ourselves.

He’s not finished yet:

We need to fix the process that produces bad shipbuilding programs or this will happen again. All programs have challenges, but the epic fail of LCS and DDG-1000 (the argument could also be made to include the Tiffany Amphib LPD-17 too) in this decade should get the attention of someone to make the changes needed. Vince Lombardi leadership – back to fundamentals. Maybe we are getting there.

I should hope so. He is discussing specifically the failure of the Navy to produce a CGX design as promised for a while now. I personally think the DDG-51 class which will likely be our only large surface combatant for the next couple decades (as it has been for the last two) is more than adequate, but the Salamander is saying we shouldn’t be here at this point where we can’t replace aged designs with newer.

I personally think that much of this failure on the shipbuilders part is a symptom of an overall obsolescence of traditional large warships. If NavSea would return to basics with the 1000+ tonnage corvette we advocate, they would be forced to become innovative. We recall the Spruance, which seems like a classic design today, but actually was very poorly armed for a 5000 ton destroyer,  less so pound for pound than the warbuilt DDs it was replacing (eventually improved, then retired prematurely IMHO)!

 The planners obsess over the perfect platforms so much, such as seakeeping and cargo space and range, they forget that a warship’s primary purpose is to fight. But with a lighter, more easily produced hull, they might actually get creative again, and produce good ships.

The corvette is just the start. We need to fix the submarines, the aircraft carriers, the amphibious ships, and the cruiser/destroyers. All are approaching obsolescence in all fleets because we can no longer build them right, they are too big, and we just can’t afford enough of them. Yet we still need their unique abilities.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. B.Smitty permalink
    December 10, 2009 8:54 am


    Current modern SSK/SSPs are not suitable for ANY escort missions. Even ARGs routinely run at 18+kts. SSKs can’t keep up on the surface or snorking (where they have a 10-12kt top speed), and can only run at those speeds briefly while submerged.

    SSKs are useful is when they can creep to their area of operations and stay there. Buy them to operate in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf, and act as a Red Team for ASW training. Let SSNs do everything else.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 10, 2009 4:34 am

    Heretic, very well put, and my feelings exactly. At some point, as budgets got tighter and ships harder to build, the admirals got the impression they could do without low end escorts. Then, the memory of how useful the small boys were became lost in a mantra that smaller ships were somehow so much fodder in conflicts, when the opposite has been true. I recall how during the South Pacific campaign, the big Allied cruisers were just wasted by Japanese counterparts and the excellent long lance torpedo, until Admiral Arleigh Burke and others taught them to proceeded the Big Ships with a destroyer squadron and our own torpedo barrage.

    So you need both and naturally the smaller vessels should be more plentiful than the larger, costlier, harder to build ships. We might have gotten away without the protective shield of numerous small escorts in decades of mostly peacetime sailing, but in war you need lots of hulls of various types, a “diverse navy” if you will.

  3. Heretic permalink
    December 9, 2009 11:00 pm

    For the record, before anyone gets the wrong idea … I am NOT of the opinion that you can simply exchange every single SSN in the inventory for a multitude of SSPs and get the same “strength” of service we’ve come to expect from the Silent Service. What I am in favor of is a high/low mix which combines both SSNs and SSPs in the arsenal. The SSNs are better at high speed escort duties (see carrier battle groups) as well as some longer patrol missions and the “deep blue” sorts of tasking priorities. Flipside to that, rotations of SSPs would be better for assigned theaters of operations, littoral/shallow work and slow(er) speed escort duties (see amphibious operations groups).

    I’m not in favor of a one-size-fits-all type solution. I vastly prefer a “right tool for the job” sort of solution which does not allow “perfection” to become the enemy of the “good enough” answer to the problem.

  4. B.Smitty permalink
    December 9, 2009 6:27 pm


    Recall that modern U.S. SSNs like the Virginia and Seawolf are reported to be “quieter at 20kts than a Los Angeles class tied to the pier.” So speed doesn’t necessarily mean instant enemy detection.

    It is common practice for SSNs to wait outside of an enemy base to tail subs leaving for their patrol areas. If an enemy SSN/SSBN knows we only have SSKs in the area, they can simply run at 20kts for a few hours to shake off any pursuit. They may be louder than normal during that period, but that doesn’t matter. The SSKs will NEVER be able to catch up and will eventually lose them.

    Heck, most SSKs can’t even tail a merchant ship! Modern container ships can have a service speed of 24-26kts. The advertised top speed of a Type 214 is only 20kts!

  5. Hudson permalink
    December 9, 2009 5:02 pm

    I’m coming down on the side of a supplemental program of D/E SSKs. Stealth is a precious asset in our highly-sensored world. The SSKs can perform mine missions and other quiet tasks–limited shore fire with TLAM (I’d go with a load heavy on missiles rather than torpedoes), SEAL insertion–that make them worth the cost benefits and additional fossil fuel to the environment. Besides, what does the Navy do with its nuclear waste?

    Having said that, the Navy runs a tremendously successful nuclear program. While the civilian sector has choked off new nuclear reactors because of fear of catastrophic failure, the Navy has run its program for half a century without a Three Mile Island or Chernobyl incident, that I know of. I would be entirely comfortable if the Navy ran domestic nuclear power in the U.S. and expanded our number of nuclear power plants.

  6. Heretic permalink
    December 9, 2009 4:15 pm

    That’s a big “if”. The estimated program unit cost for the Australian Collins class replacements (a long-ranged, “fleet” SSK like we would build) is well over a billion dollars!

    That’s because the MoD and RAN can’t do anything right as far as these boats are concerned. $3 billion for a Collins replacement, as an SSK? For that price you might as well (literally) just buy Virginias off-the-shelf from Electric Boat!

    Best price estimates I’ve been able to find for the Type 212/214 boats is around ~$0.5 billion a copy, which by extension sounds like a reasonable expectation for boats of this size/class. If anyone’s got more accurate pricing information than that, please share it.

    Suffice to say, I hardly think that the reactor in a SSN is a “freebie” as far as pricing is concerned …

    How are you going to tail a Chinese SSBN or SSN with an SSK that can maybe go 50 miles at 20 kts submerged before having to gasp for air?

    B.Smitty, you obviously haven’t made the connection that SPEED = NOISE underwater. By hauling fast, you increase your signature … thus making it that much easier for assets beyond only the SSK/SSP can pick you up and tail you. That’s why SSKs with AIP (ie. SSP) are so absolutely deadly stealthy underwater … they make almost no noise whatsoever. How is the SSBN or SSN even going to know you’re there in your SSP?

    If your mental image is simply one of a “drag race” then yeah, the SSBN or SSN would “leave the SSK/SSP behind” it … since the ONLY parameter you’re paying attention to is speed, and ignoring everything else. Unfortunately, such a simplistic mental construct of an encounter is of limited utility in deciding tactics or strategy. It ignores positioning, it ignores detection, it ignores accoustic signatures, it ignores mission tasking. Heck it even ignores the availablility of additional hostile and/or friendly assets? It’s simply an unformed, incomplete scenario which pits the SSBN/SSN versus the SSK/SSP in a “drag race” to a finish line.

    Well *of course* the SSBN/SSN is going to win *that* contest!
    It’ll be a heck of a lot *noisier* while doing it though …

    What such a simplistic question overlooks is the full range of circumstances under which such a “drag race” would (1) come about, (2) be undertaken by both boats, (3) whether or not the SSBN/SSN even *knows* that the SSK/SSP’s location, merely suspects the SSK/SSP is somewhere in the area, or even has no clue about the SSK/SSP and is blissfully unaware of its presence and just “passing through” on its way to somewhere else (in a hurry). In other words, I question how “useful” your question is in terms of operations in real world terms.

  7. B.Smitty permalink
    December 9, 2009 2:55 pm

    Also Heretic,

    How are you going to tail a Chinese SSBN or SSN with an SSK that can maybe go 50 miles at 20 kts submerged before having to gasp for air?

    I agree with Mike here. I think a small number of SSKs, focused regionally where we have basing and need shallow, confined water performance could be valuable. It would also give us an organic “Red Team” to practice ASW against.

  8. B.Smitty permalink
    December 9, 2009 2:44 pm

    Heretic said, “If you can buy 4 or 5 SSPs for the price (and crew compliment!) of a single SSN..

    That’s a big “if”. The estimated program unit cost for the Australian Collins class replacements (a long-ranged, “fleet” SSK like we would build) is well over a billion dollars!

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 9, 2009 1:42 pm

    I started to say somthing but Heretic covered all i could think of. Well done!

    Except, i love the SSN’s and wish we could have 100 of them again. Following the numbers, i just don’t see it happening. I like the capabilities of the SSK’s very much and see them operating in shallow seas with the new Influence Squadrons, while the Virginias, Ohios, and Seawolfs keep watch on Russia and China.

  10. Heretic permalink
    December 9, 2009 1:19 pm

    re: D/E AIP conventional subs

    I must be a Heretic, since I keep hearing all of these ridiculous arguments all the time with regards to this topic which strike me as being singularly myopic. It’s almost as if people are eager to reinvent history in order to maintain their opinions.

    Ahh, Mike, there is a fundamental difference between nuke subs and AIP / Diesel Electric.


    Are you talking about patrol range or submerged range?

    65 years ago, the Gato class of SSKs had enough patrol range to sail from both Pearl Harbor and Perth in order to reach the enemy fleet everywhere from Indonesia to Polynesia/Micronesia, Formosa Straight, Okinawa, and all the way up to Kamchatka and Alaska. I find it difficult to believe that such a wide range of operations would be impossible to replicate today with modern SSP designs … up to and including deployments from Pearl Harbor and Perth, today, to patrol the Taiwan Straits (and other areas/sealanes of interest) if that was the mission profile.

    So the “length” of their sea legs is not the issue, since that parameter can be designed into the boat (and has been in the last century).

    The only major advantage that an SSN brings over an SSP with AIP is its submerged range. The SSN dives leaving port and doesn’t surface again until it returns to port. The SSN spends its entire patrol time “down” in the dark, and never comes up for air. The only thing that forces the SSN to return to port is that the crew needs to be fed (which is something that cannot be manufactured on board, like the air and water can). So basically an SSN goes down, stays down for 3 months, and returns to port. THAT is a performance that an SSP cannot replicate … but then again, how mission critically important is it to transit to your patrol area “deep” rather than near the surface? Don’t get me wrong, it’s *nice* if you can do it (as SSNs do) … but is it *mission critical* to be able to *transit* like that, or is that a “gold plated” capability?

    My point here is (and granted, it’s potentially counter-intuitive) … if you’ve got a submarine in a particular area, it’s often important for another power/navy to know you’ve got *something* out there (handwave at vast area of sea) even if they’ve got no idea *where* inside that space your submarine asset is. They *know* it’s there … providing deterrent value … but they can’t find the needle in the haystack … providing security value to the crew involved.

    Consider that even if you can (easily, for the sake of argument/illustration) detect an SSP snorkeling near the surface during transit … once it reaches its assigned patrol area, it dives AND STAYS DOWN. Worse, when the SSP “goes silent” by diving to patrol on AIP, it (effectively) “disappears off the sonar” for all intents and purposes (see USN exercises with Gotland off the pacific coast of CONUS) and becomes excessively difficult to find. The SSP then stays “down” on patrol for 3-4 weeks without surfacing to snorkel. At the end of that time, they snorkel and either transit back to base or rendezvous with a submarine tender at sea before resuming their patrol.

    D / E are not practical for the United States, until the gain independent, unaided, fully stealthy, transoceanic capability.

    From the sounds of this, you (DrRamsom) are subscribing to the belief that any patrol range that exceeds submerged range is completely useless and not worth considering. This sounds to me as if you are taking the position that making transits to and from a theater of operations while submerged “deep” is *not* a gold plated feature of submarine operations, and is instead a mission critical component of submarine operations. Not that such a capability is “nice to have” if you can get it (in an SSN) … no, it’s a dealbreaker if you *don’t* have this capability.

    In other words, the capability to “engage cloaking device” upon reaching the theater of operations (by switching from snorkel to AIP) is *not* “good enough” to get the job done … the “cloaking device” must be engaged when leaving port (by going deep and never coming back up for air, or food) until returning to port. Any performance below that “perfection” threshold of submerged range is meaningless.

    That’s what I’m hearing from you DrRamsom … that there is no “good enough” when it comes to submarines, and that only “perfection” can be tolerated.

    It’s not so much their legs as their responsiveness. An SSK transiting at 8-12kts will take a LOT longer to get to the area of operations than an SSN travelling at 20+kts. And once there, the sustained submerged speed of the SSN will allow it to cover a lot more ocean.

    As a generic rule of thumb, let’s just simply stipulate that for *transit* purposes, a SSP with AIP snorkeling will take roughly 2.5x as long to transit a given distance as an SSN would. SO WHAT?

    If you can buy 4 or 5 SSPs for the price (and crew compliment!) of a single SSN, you can “easily” maintain a constant presence of 1-2 SSPs on station in any given theater of operations. You can easily set up the rotations to work on 6 week intervals, with 3 weeks of AIP patrol time per boat, on station. Dwell time for crews would be 1:1 (or better with a 5 boat rotation) all for the price of a single SSN. With 5 SSPs, you can even stagger the rotations such that for a significant portion of the time, you’ve either got 2 SSPs in theater, or 1 boat in theater and another in transit and already halfway there.

    A single SSN cannot provide continuous 24/7/52.18 presence in ANY theater of operations, all by itself. It needs to make port calls at some point. A rotation of 5 SSPs could have presence in a given theater of operations every minute of every day of the year, for almost the same cost in (total) crew numbers and ship construction and maintenance costs. And if you lose 1 SSP, to enemy action or peacetime mishap, you haven’t lost everything … you’ve only lost one boat of several, rather than the only boat you have.

    Quantity has a Quality all of its own.

    YES, the individual SSP boats would be less capable than an SSN boat … but collectively, from a Fleet Operations perspective, they would be stronger and more flexible. YES, the SSPs have limitations that the SSNs (individually) don’t … but at the same time, the SSNs can’t “do” some of the things that SSPs can do when it comes to “weight of numbers” in Bang For Buck terms when the SSPs can do their work in relays on a rotating schedule.

    Stop thinking in terms of all eggs in one basket.
    Start thinking in terms of the same number of eggs spread around in lots of baskets.

  11. Joe permalink
    December 9, 2009 11:51 am

    Mike – no need to apologize for the pronoun usage. I just got curious about it is all. I’m not a member of the grammar police so I ain’t got no power to write you no ticket.

    B. Smitty – Legit point on the Guam-Taiwan transit times, but as an aside I have my doubts that it will ever be made except as a mathematical/academic exercise.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    December 9, 2009 10:38 am

    For example, if we need to surge subs from Guam to Taiwan (~1700nm), an SSK averaging 10kts would take a week to get there.

    An SSN at top speed could be there in 2-3 days.

    The differences are even more pronounced if the subs have to come from further away (e.g. CONUS).

  13. B.Smitty permalink
    December 9, 2009 10:28 am

    Graham Strouse said, “Do they have the legs of an SSN/SSGN? No, but those legs are a lot longer then they used to be. They’re as long as they need to be

    It’s not so much their legs as their responsiveness. An SSK transiting at 8-12kts will take a LOT longer to get to the area of operations than an SSN travelling at 20+kts. And once there, the sustained submerged speed of the SSN will allow it to cover a lot more ocean.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 9, 2009 9:50 am

    Joe-“We” is just little ole “me”. Bad habit using the third person. Sorry.

  15. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 9, 2009 9:23 am

    Hudson said “The Virginia class was designed as a slightly cheaper Seawolf at 1.8 billion vs. 2.0 billion, but has experienced he same cost creep”

    I am often heart-sick over this. Here was likely the most capable and lethal sub we had ever designed, comparable finally to the Russian deep diving, super-fast, heavily armed giants, replacing it with the less capable but equally pricey Virginia’s. The rationale has often been that the SSN-774s were more capable in littoral operations, but I often think this a dubious, even dangerous mission for a boat nearly the size of a Burke destroyer, in shallow seas.

    So I don’t think we will ever get over the 50 boat mark in terms of nuke subs, and I don’t think this enough considering the many hundreds of D/E subs in the arsenals of the world, which must be watched. I think eventually some sort of conventional sub will be forced on the reluctant admirals, in order to boost the numbers back closer to 100 which I think a minimum for the roles required.

    I like the Virginia’s, and they are probably the best subs of their type n the world, but we can’t afford enough of them. Like the USN supercarriers, no matter how extraordinarily capable, they can’t be in more than one place at a time. The “1 ship replacing 4” formula is a fantasy.

    Only when you turn it around does it make sense, that you can buy 4 conventional subs for the price of 1 nuke. Are they as capable? Of course not, but as Graham pointed out concerning the US sub offensive against Japan, the smaller boats were very capable even 70 years ago.

  16. Hudson permalink
    December 9, 2009 2:42 am

    The USN currently fields 45 (out of a class of 62) Los Angeles class SSGNs, three Seawolfs, and five Virginia SSGNs out of a projected class of 30. Plus it converted 4 SSBN Ohio class boats into essentially submerged arsenal ships.

    Thus for attack purposes, the Navy has 52 nuclear boats, all SSGNs in practice, I believe, a formidable force indeed. Twenty-nine Seawolfs were planned and all but 26 were cancelled due to rising costs in the post-Cold War era. The Virginia class was designed as a slightly cheaper Seawolf at 1.8 billion vs. 2.0 billion, but has experienced he same cost creep as Seawolf and other current Navy projects, clocking in now at 2.8 billion per copy.

    Efforts have been made to shave several hundred million off the Virginias to get the cost per boat down to $2 billion. This might be achieved, but will it be sufficient to offset shrinking budgets in the present and future, so as to maintain production of 1-2 boats per year?

    It could very well turn out, as with the LCS and DDG-1000 projects, that due to soaring costs, X boats will be planned and X-most of the planned ships will be built. Which raises the question, when the majority of Los Angeles class boats are retired (in 20 years or less?), how many attack submarines will the Navy have, and how many does it need?

    Other than the requirement that one SSGN accompany every carrier battle group, I know of no stated number requirement. The Navy currently has many more SSGNs in the Atlantic than in the Pacific. It uses at least some of the Virginia boats as listening posts, sitting submerged off foreign shores. Subs are not ideal vessels to show the flag, nor are they particularly well-suited to chasing pirates. Their main purpose is to counter enemy subs, though mostly they have served as Tomahawk missile platforms. And, honestly, the Navy doesn’t reveal a whole lot about its submarine activities.

    The Navy stopped building diesel-electric boats after the advent of nuclear propulsion. It doesn’t want them today no matter how silent and lethal AIP types might be. Additionally, the Navy is committed to reducing the use of fossil fuels overall in the fleet. It does not seem to have plans to build smaller, cheaper boats than the Virginias to serve the same mission profile. There appears to be no such thing as a corvette size nuclear sub.

    So we are likely headed toward a shrinking submarine fleet. How small will it get and how significant will that number be? Should the Narwhal be revived? Will the shrinking number of expensive manned boats be offset by increasing numbers of Unmanned Undersea Vehicles, and how effective will these UUVs be?

  17. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 9, 2009 2:14 am

    BTW: The D/E & AIP subs are a PERFECT example of evolutionary technology. Do they have the legs of an SSN/SSGN? No, but those legs are a lot longer then they used to be. They’re as long as they need to be. I think as far as submarines go, as I’ve said before, I think there’s a place for both SSKs & SSNs & the converted SSGNs. But if it’s guarding or prowling the coastal areas, a modern SSK is the way to go.

    BTW1: I’m still baffled by people who think diesel-electric technology is new. Broadly speaking, WWI submarines were diesel-electric & the fleet submarines designed & introduced by the US in 1928 were truly diesel-electric.

    BTW2: As much as everyone heralded the CV as the hero of the Pacific War in WWII, the Silent Service was, frankly, the real hero. US submariners strangled Japan’s logistics train, acted as fleet scouts, saved hundreds of downed aviators and, oh, yeah, sank a bunch of warships, too. The US submarine service represented 2% of the fleet in WWII & sank 29% of all Japanese shipping, including most of the merchies & quite a few of the heavies as well. Just sayin’…

  18. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 9, 2009 1:54 am

    modern diesel/electrics can stay underwater for a VERY long time & AIP submarines are, well, air-independent.

  19. B.Smitty permalink
    December 9, 2009 12:20 am

    Agreed. Another +1 for DrRamsom.

    I think we could find ways to use SSKs, but our focus has to be on nuke boats. They just offer too many advantages.

  20. Benjamin Walthrop permalink
    December 9, 2009 12:03 am

    +1 to Dr. Ramson


  21. DrRamsom permalink
    December 8, 2009 10:19 pm

    Ahh, Mike, there is a fundamental difference between nuke subs and AIP / Diesel Electric.


    The US needs nukes, because we expect the subs to fight over very long distances. The Russians, who use their subs over long distances, use nukes. Everyone else, who is keeping their subs in close, uses conventional subs.

    Where would be base the D/E subs that they would have any effect?

    Lets see. Maybe we could base them in Okinawa. That island is within easy missile, bomber, landing craft, everything, range of China. Won’t be able to keep operating subs under a full scale conflict. Or, we could base the subs out of Guam. More survivable, has the benefits of distance. But, D/E subs probably can’t make the voyage without being spotted. Think U-Boats in WW2 and the Bay of Biscay.

    Yes, D/E subs are better, but they will need to snorkle, run on diesel, at least once during that voyage. And, if the bunkers aren’t big enough, the subs need to be refueled, which ruins the whole stay hidden part.

    D / E are not practical for the United States, until the gain independent, unaided, fully stealthy, transoceanic capability.

    I’d like to know this: How does the navy continue R&D programs, without being able to test the technology on a new ship? The DDG-1000, for all of its faults, has many technologies that the Navy has been looking for in a while. How would you conduct implementation of the new technologies?

    Remember, there always has to be a number 1, a seed. Technology does not spring out of nothing, it must have a first ship / deployment. Often, that first deployment / ship / test is a failure, because the technology is new. But, it has to be done. Arguments that we should only deploy proven technology is a short cut into stagnation. You will always need to deploy unproven technology, because all new tech. is by definition unproven.

    What the Navy should have done, is phase in that unproven technology over time, so that there isn’t all the tech risk on one ship. But, that is a different story.

    The key point is this: every piece of technology is unproven, at some point in time. The question is not, how can we never deploy unproven technology, it is how do we manage the development, testing, and deployment of the unproven technology.

  22. elgatoso permalink
    December 8, 2009 9:42 pm

    Mike .the romans were the most advanced war machine in Archimedes’age

  23. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 8, 2009 8:56 pm

    Jim, Archimedes’ failure might be an object lesson to the modern military, about trusting in technology rather than old fashioned military tactics!

    Graham wrote “A submarine is basically a device for delivering torpedo’s & the modern diesel-electric/AIP subs are quite capable at this task.”

    Excellent observation. Sometimes we think we must reinvent the wheel to perform basics tasks that come natural for some vessels. The D/E submarine in an unparalleled killer in shallow waters, silent and deadly, without the bells and whistles.

  24. jim permalink
    December 8, 2009 6:31 pm

    Actually, a surprising # of old, even ancient, weapons were the direct result of govt R&D. Almost all the great scientists of the past spent at least part of their lives as weapons designers, Galileo being a good example. So I don’t think we should let up on revolutionary R&D — cause other powers surely won’t.

    The idea that new weapons just somehow magically pop into existence is just not true. New weapons mainly came about by the deadly struggle for dominance among rival powers. And rulers, tyrants, and kings have been willing to pay top dollar to the top minds for new weapons that can give them an edge.

    The first documented weapons R&D program I’ve read about was Syracuse vs Carthage in 399 BC. Ancient powers explicitly started programs to develop newer and better bows and catapults.

    In the 200s BC Archimedes had the explicit title of chief military engineer for the city. His job was to invent new weapons to protect the port city. And he did. And he had a staff and engineers under him who’s work he directed. They didn’t just wait for new weapons ideas to magically pop out of the ether. They undertook explicit R&D to invent new weapons. (In the case of Syracuse and Archimedes it wasn’t enough to hold off the Romans.)

  25. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 8, 2009 5:11 pm

    I forget who said it but I remember a line from one nuclear submariner who once said that he felt like they weren’t driving around a ship, they were driving around a reactor. Now, I think SSNs & SSGNs have some very real force projection power when used correctly, but this is a pretty telling observation. A submarine is basically a device for delivering torpedos & the modern diesel-electric/AIP subs are quite capable at this task. It’s a matter of figuring out what business you’re in–what do you NEED your ship to be able to do. Then you design it to fit the need.

    BTW: Hudson, how about adding some Village People to your Gilbert & Sullivan mixed tape? Maybe do a mashup… ;)

  26. Hudson permalink
    December 8, 2009 4:32 pm

    Re: Chuck Hill

    Nothing like a verse from Gilbert & Sullivan to brighten one’s day. I wonder if the Navy has a cultural position on Belle Epoch froth like that–irrelevant?

  27. Joe permalink
    December 8, 2009 4:09 pm

    Are you having trouble with posts getting eaten? This REposting is my 2nd one today that got cannibalized.

    Mike, an off-topic question but one that passes through my mind now and again. This sentence provides a good time to ask…

    I personally think that much of this failure on the shipbuilders part is a symptom of an overall obsolescence of traditional large warships. If NavSea would return to basics with the 1000+ tonnage corvette we advocate…

    Is “New Wars” just you or you and many others? Do you have people?


    CDR S and Graham are spot on. We need more creative thinking and less creative spending when it comes to new platforms. And, per maintenance and design, anymore it seems the platform is designed around the electronics versus the electronics around the platform. Graham’s points on that matter as it pertained to upgrading the battleships, in the omnipresent “Redefining the Battleship” thread, provide just one example.

  28. Chuck Hill permalink
    December 8, 2009 3:52 pm

    “He polished up that handle so carefullee,
    That now he is the ruler of the Queen’s Navee!”

  29. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 8, 2009 3:49 pm

    Mrs Davis said “The problems of the Navy’s leadership are far broader than shipbuilding. ”

    This is a true statement. There is a distinct lack of warfighting skills that was also absent in the Army early in the last decade. War is certainly a game-changer. This is why i harp on the need to take the fight to the pirates. We can’t just pick and choose our wars, and we must get vital skills, often in these “little wars” to prepare us for the Big Ones. The Barbary’s set the stage for the 1812 War. the amphibious invasions of Mexico gave vital experience for more brutal conflict in the War Between the States. Speaking of which, the Marines are what they are today because of countless interventions in Latin America before the world war.

    What the Navy could learn fighting piracy can’t be taught from a video game, or even a text book, unless the latter was written by people who have “been there, done that”.

  30. Mrs. Davis permalink
    December 8, 2009 3:28 pm

    The problems of the Navy’s leadership are far broader than shipbuilding. When you’ve got Admirals making statements like The purpose of the Navy is not to fight and midshipmen being plucked off color guards because of melanin and estrogen deficiency, you’ve got real problems across the board. Only one thing will solve the Navy’s problem, a real naval war. Short of that expect the Monarchs of the Sea to keep on pleasing their bosses on Capitol Hill with politically correct policies and pork barrel procurement.

  31. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 8, 2009 1:37 pm

    CDR Salamander is a wise man!

    I particularly concur with the point that evolutionary technology tends to trump revolutionary technology. It’s not that revolutionary technology is something to be shunned. The problem is that revolutionary technology tends to be more accidental, then planned. The machine gun was a game-changer in WWI, as was the submarine (both World Wars), the carrier (not was much as many believe, IMHO). GPS & laser technology made heavy bombers massively more capable & deadly. Over the last quarter-century or so the MANPAD has changed the way many wars are fought & made the heavily armed chopper mostly obsolete for CAS.

    Modern Russian/Chinese/Indian SSMs, rocket mines & conceivably the Russian/German super-cavitating torpedoes could be game-changers.

    High-energy weapons could be game-changers if anyone can figure out how to make the bloody things affordable & functional.

    Heck, we can go back to the Civil War when a bunch of folks on both sides figured out that ships covered in iron were a lot harder to sink then ships covered in wood.

    Or the English longbow.

    Or go back to the Assyrians, who stumbled across the realization that when you’re weapons and armor are made from iron and the other guy’s stuff is made from bronze, you have a rather substantial advantage.

    I can go on.

    Thing is, the vast majority of this weapons tech was as much discovered as it was planned. As in, “Huh, wow, look what I can do with THIS GIZMO! Cool.”

    Adapting to revolutionary technology through evolutionary technology is something the US used to be very good at. Not so much now. Consider WWII. Battleship row gets trashed. Okay. Well, we still have these carriers and submarines and we can take some of these merchant hulls & build LOTS of light carriers REALLY FAST.

    Our battleships are fixed? Okay, cool. We’ll add this fancy British radar, tons of modern AA guns and use them for fleet protection & pounding the bloody piss out of everything on shore.

    One of my personal modern favorites (I’m biased–I was quoted in “Stars & Stripes” on this one) is the AC-130H/U, a converted cargo plane, that with the addition of a coat of black paint, a 25mm gatling gun, a 40 mm Bofors & a 105 mm bloody HOWITZER, has been absolutely invaluable in Iraq & Afghanistan when absolutely, positively have to pound the hell out of all the bad guys in the area RIGHT NOW.

    (I’m kinda partial to the SSGNs, too, as I’ve mentioned. Conversion costs were quite reasonable. I still have issues with TLAM costs, of course.)

    Anyway, point is, the US USED to be good at evolutionary military tech. With a few exceptions, now we kinda suck at it. This is problematic.

    We don’t adapt well to changing operational methods, tactics, or enemy strategies & it seems like our military, and, alas, the civilian population as well, has been sucked into Tom Clancy-Style Fancy Dan Techno War Porn hook, line & sinker.

    When a $10 IED can disable or kill a multi-million dollar Abrams, Bradley, or Stryker. When a WWI mine can disable or kill a modern missile cruiser, we got ourselves a problem.

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