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The 5 Battleships

December 14, 2009

Here is an older post which I updated for my own future reference. I am using the term “5 battleships” to describe the current state of navy procurement, with what are obviously the 5 post powerful individual warship types of of any generation.

Perhaps in a zeal to prove her relevance in the modern era, the US Navy currently emphasizes the power projection/expeditionary role more than the historically more significant sea control. The lack of any peer enemy to threaten her dominance since World War 2 (save for a brief period of uncertainty  late in the Cold War), has forced the fleet into expeditionary warfare, or enforcing the nation’s will on land powers. For this new mission, and to replace the function of a single type of heavily armed and gunned battleship from the last century, the Navy today possess 5 new battleships, each with a peculiar role but toward the same means. These include (info from the Navy Fact File):

  1. Aircraft Carriers – Aircraft Carriers support and operate aircraft that engage in attacks on airborne, afloat and ashore targets that threaten free use of the sea; and engage in sustained power projection operations in support U.S. and coalition ground forces in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The aircraft carrier and its battlegroup also engage in maritime security operations to interdict threats to merchant shipping and prevent the use of the seas as a highway for terrorist traffic. Aircraft also provide unique capabilities for disaster response and humanitarian assistance. The embarked carrier air wing provides helicopters for direct support and C4I assets to support them and ensure aid is routed quickly and safely. The 10 Nimitz class aircraft carriers are the largest warships in the world, each designed for an approximately 50 year service life with one mid-life refueling.
  2. Amphibious Assault Ships – Amphibious warships are designed to support the Marine Corps tenets of Operational Maneuver From the Sea (OMFTS) and Ship to Objective Maneuver (STOM). They must be able to sail in harm’s way and provide a rapid buildup of combat power ashore in the face of opposition. Because of their inherent capabilities, these ships have been and will continue to be called upon to also support humanitarian and other contingency missions on short notice. The United States maintains the largest and most capable amphibious force in the world. The Wasp-class LHDs are currently the largest amphibious ships in the world.
  3.  Cruisers – Modern U.S. Navy guided missile cruisers perform primarily in a Battle Force role. These ships are multi-mission [Air Warfare (AW), Undersea Warfare (USW), Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) and Surface Warfare (SUW)] surface combatants capable of supporting carrier battle groups, amphibious forces, or of operating independently and as flagships of surface action groups. Cruisers are equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles giving them additional long range Strike Warfare (STRW) capability. Some Aegis Cruisers have been outfitted with a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) capability. Technological advances in the Standard Missile coupled with the Aegis combat system in the Ticonderoga class Cruisers have increased the AAW capability of surface combatants to pinpoint accuracy from wave-top to zenith. The addition of Tomahawk in the CG-47 has vastly complicated unit target planning for any potential enemy and returned an offensive strike role to the surface forces that seemed to have been lost to air power at Pearl Harbor.
  4. Destroyers – Guided missile destroyers are multi-mission [Anti-Air Warfare (AAW), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), and Anti-Surface Warfare (ASUW)] surface combatants. The destroyer’s armament has greatly expanded the role of the ship in strike warfare utilizing the MK-41 Vertical Launch System (VLS)…Technological advances have improved the capability of modern destroyers culminating in the Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) class replacing the older Charles F. Adams and Farragut class guided missile destroyers. Named for the Navy’s most famous destroyer squadron combat commander and three-time Chief of Naval Operations, the USS Arleigh Burke was commissioned July 4, 1991, and was the most powerful surface combatant ever put to sea.
  5. Submarines – Attack submarines are designed to seek and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships; project power ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles and Special Operation Forces; carry out Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions; support Carrier Strike Groups; and engage in mine warfare. With the number of foreign diesel-electric / air-independent propulsion submarines increasing yearly, the United States submarine force relies on its technological superiority and the speed, endurance, mobility, stealth, and payload afforded by nuclear power to retain its preeminence in the undersea battlespace.

If we could only afford to have a single battleship to defend our oceans (and with looming budgets cuts this scenario is no longer as far-fetched as it seems) obviously the one most survivable and dangerous to other ships, the modern attack sub, would be our weapon of choice.  The power projection/expeditionary mission is of little use if you can’t get there for being sunk. Today it appears the USN over-emphasizes its land power support role, while sinking ships is a navy’s first requirement. Historically nothing is better at this than a sub.

With modern submarines you have a near perfect stealth vessel, which doesn’t rely on advanced technologies to make it “low observable”. It is the most survivable of our entire fleet, and the most feared. They were frightening enough before the advent of nuclear and air-independent propulsion, when they spent most of their time on the surface and were very slow when underwater. Now they have matched or surpassed the performance of surface ships while retaining their inherent stealth.

There will still be a need for supporting troops ashore and operating in littoral waters, the traditional power projection role, where only surface ships will be adequate. For this function you will need large numbers of small attack ships, hardly more than a 1000 tons, and very many under that size. These would be backed by logistic motherships, themselves as low cost and small as possible, which would give the small craft the global reach they currently lack.

As stated earlier, America’s attack submarine force is her most survivable and dangerous, as typified by the new Virginia class now entering service.  To maintain numbers in the fleet and control costs, a smaller nuke sub is called for which would still have the qualities I described above, perhaps with a smaller reactor. Speed isn’t a vital necessity underwater and a 20 knot sub would be adequate as long as that speed could be sustained. At about 3000 tons full load, such a small but effective submarine would still be very capable against the surface ship, and less risky to send in littoral waters than an 8000 ton Virginia.

Update-In retrospect, I think I would also keep the Burke destroyers as a second battleship, or capital vessel within modern USN. These are highly sophisticated and not unaffordable if you aren’t spending vast sums on a prohibitive attack carrier arm. 1-3 destroyers, forward deployed, armed with cruise missiles for land attack, carrying their own air defense in the form of Standard SAMs could do most of the expeditionary functions a carrier, without the latter’s increased vulnerability to anti-ship ballistic missiles. All surface vessels are vulnerable, but there are a lot more destroyers to go around, presenting plentiful targets for an enemy to contend with.

70 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt permalink
    April 8, 2010 8:09 am

    Ships are ships. If you add in the merchant numbers from both world wars, what is it 31,000,000 tons? There is really no contest.


    But ships aren’t ships! Sinking a merchant vessel and a warship are two very different scenarios which serve two very different strategic ends.

    Aren’t you the one always lambasting the Navy for trying to refight WW2? I personnaly think we’re very unlikely to see unrestricted warfare against merchant commerce tas we last saw in WW2 – the global economy is just too interconnected.

    If we look at post-war era, submarines have only registered two kills: Pakistan sunk an Indian frigate in ’71, and Britain sunk a Argentine cruiser in ’82. That’s it.

    US submarines have sunk exactly zero ships — other than the Greenville surfacing into the Ehime Maru in 2001.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 8, 2010 6:03 am

    “I’m assuming you mean warships and not merchant vessels”

    Ships are ships. If you add in the merchant numbers from both world wars, what is it 31,000,000 tons? There is really no contest.

  3. Matt permalink
    April 7, 2010 8:08 pm

    Today it appears the USN over-emphasizes its land power support role, while sinking ships is a navy’s first requirement. Historically nothing is better at this than a sub.


    What’s the historic source for that statement? I’m assuming you mean warships and not merchant vessels. If one looks at post-war assessment of IJN losses n the Pacific during WW2:
    – US aircraft sunk 240 IJN warships for a total of ~780,000 tons
    – US submarines sunk 201 IJN warships for a total of ~540,000 tons

  4. CBD permalink
    December 17, 2009 11:56 am

    Interesting, I missed the pitch for it on the IC 18 M, interesting.

  5. B.Smitty permalink
    December 17, 2009 8:40 am

    CBD said, “Smitty,
    Like this or like this?

    Not on the CV90 or AMV chassis. For it to be useful in the initial assault it’d have to be on the EFV.

    Also, Dockstavarvet advertises AMOS on their IC 18 M boat.

  6. CBD permalink
    December 17, 2009 12:47 am

    There was something about the AMOS on the CB90 that the Swedes didn’t like.

    I remember their defense materials agency issuing a tender (now several years ago) about a larger craft with a very similar hull design to the CB90 (effectively a super-sized version), which was specifically designed to bear the AMOS and more soldiers.

    I suspect that the small mass of the CB90 (aka Stridsbåt 90) meant that a lot of rocking was going on, which was fine, but you simultaneously lost your ability to carry lots of men to shore (since all of the internal space was taken for the machinery, weapons crew and related stores). This is fine if you have a large force, but I suspect that the FMV viewed it as an opportunity to expand on a good product, so the CB90 is certified to be modified to bear the AMOS, but they won’t be doing it.

    The Norwegians have gone ahead with some studies to place NEMO (single-barreled version) on an M12 landing craft and seem to feel that it works for them.

    Found it (2007). The (strangely specific) RFP.

    The RFP seems to be a call for Dockstavarvet (primary yard on the CB90) to adopt the size of the allied company Swede Ship’s Ghannatha/ 24m Transport Boat/ Transport Boat 2000 in order to create a better landing and landing fire support boat. Thus, the adoption of ‘2010’ would seem to both reference the desired IOC and the baseline craft.

    In comparison to the CB90 (3 crew, 18-21 passengers), the 24m transport can carry 3 crew and 42 passengers. The RFP calls for a vessel the size of the 24m transport but with armoring, 8 crew, AMOS and a remote machine gun station. Such a vessel, accounting for space taken up by the machinery, could still probably carry 20-30 passengers (or a tremendous amount of ammunition).

  7. leesea permalink
    December 16, 2009 8:51 pm

    The folks proposed using NEMO AMOS mortars on the Navy’s new Riverine Combat Boat aka CB90 about six months ago. We got NO takers! NSWC CCD Norfolk provided a two year ppt with the AMOS on the CB90 again no action to commit.

    From our discussions with COMNECC about 18 months ago, they simply are NOT funded to initiate a new weapons system prucurement. They must dovetail on existing weapons instead of using imagninative ones like NEMO AMOS!

    The RCB will be littoral as well as riverine you can bet on it. But NOT they have no classic NGFS weapons. So its back to existing amphibs I say.

  8. CBD permalink
    December 16, 2009 4:51 pm

    Like this or like this?

  9. B.Smitty permalink
    December 16, 2009 2:45 pm

    AMOS doesn’t have enough range to provide counter-battery fires for amphibious landings.

    It’d be interesting to see that turret on an EFV though. It could fire all the way up to the beach and then support the landing force ashore.

  10. Hudson permalink
    December 16, 2009 2:09 pm

    Mike, interesting link. Since mentioning the AMOS mortar system several days ago, I see it popping up again–all by itself! I like the Finnish boat, but it needs auto cannon as well, 25mm minimum. I like the fast forty, single or twin, because of the proximity shells which give you some AA maybe even against skimmers and shore-fired ATMs. The Finns definitely have the right idea.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 16, 2009 1:34 pm

    Here is Finland’s idea of naval fire support:

  12. CBD permalink
    December 16, 2009 11:54 am

    Well aware. It’s definitively NOT for shore support.

    Given that it was intended for the ESSM in a self-defense role, the Self Defense length Mk 41 may have been the design baseline (thus many feet too short for strike weapons).

    Personally, I think that ESSM would be more useful to the LPD-17 class than strike missiles, providing organic self-defense range beyond that of the RAM and Phalanx. This would give it some independent capability in terms of landing small marine detachments for brushfire missions.

    As I said above, much cheaper and more durable alternatives for NGFS are available if we’re ever planning on conducting an opposed beachhead landing.

  13. Hudson permalink
    December 16, 2009 11:28 am

    CBD & DER,

    As you know, ESSM is not a shore support weapon. If the structure can take Mk 41 VLS, then it can take Netfires, which seems to take forever to get produced–it’s a simple weapon. You can’t assume that because the deck space is empty that the interior space below is also empty, so that you could insert a 76mm or larger gun into that space. Maybe so, maybe not.


    You could use Firescout off Somalia for recon and pursuit. Under the current ROE, you can’t just blast suspicious skiffs with Hellfire on sight. Though you might mount a loudspeaker and microphone on the scout and politely ask the skiff if the men aboard are pirates. And if they say yes, you could fire away!

  14. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 16, 2009 11:10 am

    Re: The Yamato…

    It is often said that the victors write the histories. What is not often said is that it is the vanquished who tend to read them.

  15. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 16, 2009 6:09 am

    I agree that the LPD-17 can probably go right up to shore and you can place many marvelous weapons on her for surface support, as long as your enemies are the likes of the former-Iraq dictatorship, who have little to shoot back at you. In the real world, this is just an obscene waste of money to use our most powerful and advanced and expensive warships, battleships, in the Third World.For some reason I keep thinking of the planned use of IJN Yamato on her last suicidal run which was to beach her and shoot up the invading Americans at Okinawa.

    Steve, you got it right buddy! Think Market Time!

  16. Steve Petty permalink
    December 16, 2009 2:56 am

    Naval Gunfire Support could be provided by Swedish designed CB-90’s mounting the AMOS twin 120mm auto-mortar system. Two sqn. of 12 boats would insure 1 sqn. always available and if there is a river they would able to follow troops inland to give mobile fire-support. The littorials could be controlled by assets already available. A sqn. of MK-5 Interceptors from U.S. Marine Inc. sold to Kuwait for $6.2m each equiped with a 27mm Typhoon mount and 2×12.7mm mg. These are 45+ knot patrol boats armed with the 25mm Typhoon SSM mount with a 25mm auto-cannon and 4 SSM[HELLFIRES] 12 of these PBs could be aquired on an experimental basis at relativily low cost. To support them the USN could buy or charter 3 Maritime Support Vessels like the C-Courageous used to support the Riverine Sqns. and chartered for less than $8m per year. Then re-task 3 Perry Class Frigates as Firescout carriers with 4 in the hanger and 1 or 2 on the flight deck. A sqn of 4 PBs, 1 support ship, and 1 Perry for Command and Air-support would be very useful off Somalia or in the Gulf. Detecting and pursuing pirates would also provide real world testing for the Fast Inshore Attack Craft Defense System designed to intergrate ship’s radar and UAV’s to target swarm threats with ship, UAV, or helo launched HELLFIRES and gunfire. The MK-5 INTERCEPTOR is already being produced for the NAVY’s SOC forces so no long approval process should be needed so our forces could get equipment they need now and not some far future date as with the LCS.

  17. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 16, 2009 12:19 am


    Thanks! So that’s 48 ESSM (if, whenever installed) along with 42 RAM – i.e., 90 medium and short range SAMs & CIWS shots. I wonder if the 16 cells of the Mk 41 VLS are to be installed forward of the bridge superstructure or else amidships. If the VLS is to be installed amidships amongst the superstructure, then that would -perhaps- allow for a gun system to be embarked in that -seemingly- empty space between the bridge superstructure and the foredeck capstans (and other equipment, etc.). However, if the Mk 41 does fit into that foredeck space, then 16 cells seem like a small number to be fitted into such a relatively expansive space.

  18. CBD permalink
    December 15, 2009 11:30 pm

    16 Mk 41 VLS cells, weight reserved, for ESSM. Ref 1, Ref 2.

    Galrahn mentioned something about the original design being for an AEGIS vessel, though I’ve never seen anything about that.

  19. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 15, 2009 9:19 pm


    I thought that I had read that the LPD-17 class had space reserved for a Mk 41 VLS installation. Looking at that empty, flat deck space forward of the superstructure it looks as though that’s where such is meant to be installed. There is a hint of a free square /rectangular space there on the deck. And then, there are two -apparent- blast deflectors installed just forward of that deck space. They seem to be situated to protect the foredeck equipment (capstans, etc.). Have a look at the following image. What do you think?

  20. Chuck Hill permalink
    December 15, 2009 8:23 pm

    Or we could have had specialized NGFS ships using SpruCans

  21. Hudson permalink
    December 15, 2009 11:54 am

    I agree with leesea that the LPD17s should be better armed to provide shore fire; better armed, period. Of course, at the time the San Antonio class was in planning, it was assumed that the Zumwalts would be around to provide fire support for an amphibious fleet, and eventually we will get three of them.

    I don’t know that you could just plunk down a five-incher, on the bow of the finished ship, for example. I’ve read that experiments with shipboard mounted MLRS have not gone well. One would think that Netfires would fit in somewhere when that system gets produced.

    A better design would be more of a carrier with guns mounted on sponsons as in previous French and Italian ships.

  22. leesea permalink
    December 15, 2009 10:41 am

    I think we are mis-focused here? NGFS is not so much about which is the RIGHT weapons system, its about which platform can adequately support it, fire it and direct the fire. I submit there are ALREADY warships in the USN which can perform all of those functions i.e. the LPD17 class. Those exquisite ships are so damn big (& I understand there are space and weight reserves in the design for AGS) that they can easily mount a major caliber weapon. Maybe even some form of a mulitple missile or rocket system. They are afterall the principle warship involved in amphibious ops.

    Ohh that’s right they are far too exquisite to be in harm’s way (like their Marines – snark) so they will sit 25nm or more offshore supposdely less endangered from modern weapons. HOGWASH. All amphib will move inshore and they better be equipped to operate in dangerous waters!

  23. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 15, 2009 9:19 am

    Please note-I have updated this a second time, with more information for the individual ships. Please note all info is word-for-word from the Navy Fact File. I haven’t changed anything other than to highlight relevant statements.

  24. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 15, 2009 4:34 am

    I still appreciate the qualities of naval air, don’t get me wrong. Just think we have too much of it concentrated in too few expensive and vulnerable packages. Spread the capability around, and maybe we won’t be stretched thin.

  25. Dana permalink
    December 15, 2009 2:40 am


    7. Not afraid of crazy Iranian speedboat swarms. Destroying them is fun and easy. The only reason they seemed scary is because we were not arming our ships to engage things that small. Yes, we could use a Harpoon against those silly little boats. Or even use 5 inch guns against them. But, neither of them is a wise use of those weapons.

  26. Dana permalink
    December 15, 2009 2:22 am

    1. The distinction between Cruisers and Destroyers has been rendered academic since electronics and missiles are essentially identical. In WW2, size and number of guns made obvious distinctions. Now they carry identical weapons and sensors.

    2. These modern one and two gun ships are a result of the space and weight demands of missiles systems. Modifications needed to mount the new AGS on DD51 hulls can be made, but it will require design changes.

    3. A “true” littoral operations warship ( i.e. small ship ) needs to be developed to balance the fleet. The current LCS designs hardly are capable of more than surveillance.

    4. Subs cannot control the seas. As WW2 proved, subs can be very useful in Denial of Freedom of the Seas. But, they can also be neutralized by surface ships and aircraft ( yes I said aircraft, look it up ).

    5. Aviation assets will continue to be valuable for Sea Control. A single carrier battle group can destroy most of the world navies, including subs.

    6. Amphibious lift however is not limited to the mass invasions seen in WW2. Fact is that there have been some 90 amphibious operations since Korea. The current system based around the battalion based MAGTF is the most effective force for current and foreseeable operations. Actually, WW2 was an abnormality in Marine ops. The ops carried out since Korea are similar to those carried out through most of the Corps history since it was founded.

  27. CBD permalink
    December 14, 2009 8:15 pm

    Worried about a future massed amphibious landing operation? IF there is a concern about inshore fire support, the USN, USMC and Army could put their heads together and develop a simple solution that can be left on the shelf.

    With a little capital investment, strategic planning and some forethought, a capability can be developed to rapidly small field bombardment barges. A few test platforms could be built, tested (and sold to any friendly countries willing to pay for their upkeep) and the plans could be stored at each site for the needed future date.

    The basic layout would be something like the WWII/Korean War era LSM(R) and IFS/LFR ships, essentially a barge under 2,000t displacement. By using a minimally manned ship, built to be ballasted (or just with a very low freeboard) to just above sea level, and provided with decent topside armoring (limited need to maneuver), you can create an arsenal ship in miniature. Hard to hit from land and heavily armed, they could be the doorbusters for future surface action.

    They needn’t be designed to last for 30 years, 3 would do. Simple steel forms would work.

    Any processing (targeting, fire commands, etc.) that can be handled off-ship should be. Information could be fed to the ship by floated fiberoptic cables, satellite or line-of-sight links. Armament would be one or more guns (5″/62 or even 8″) and guided or unguided, multiple-launch rockets (navalized MLRS launcher, NAVLAR, a multiple launcher for Zuni rockets or whatever you please). CIWS guns could provide last-ditch protection, while area air protection would be provided by a more conventional warship positioned farther from the shore.

    Towed into theater and pushed into position with basic engines, these fire support ships could take on the same roles played by the LSM(R), IFS and even the US Civil War mortar barges–dedicated, simple bombardment platforms.

    The main issue, in time of war, would be the delay between when a need is realized and when the handful of bombardment ships are available. Modern ship guns are not produced in bulk and neither are the rocket systems that the ship would need. This can be accounted for by the bulk purchase (low rate production) of guns, multiple rocket launchers, mechanical equipment and fire control systems ahead of time, which would then be placed in temperature/humidity-controlled storage (as with the MPF plan). If a USN ship is using that gun, one is instantly available from stocks and another can be produced to take its place (so bulk purchases can replace one-time, expensive purchase and support deals).

    Shipyards can be brought into this plan by an infusion of low-interest loans into the small shipyards to keep them afloat (and provide any capital improvements) in return for a fixed-price production in the future. The maintenance of stockpiles of steel or aluminum could be a part of the contract with these shipyards, so that each yard could produce at least 2 ships within six weeks (surge) and more 12 over four months (sustained). As with the weapons, these stocks could be consumed on one end so long as they are replenished (so long lead time materials costs are reduced, since shipyards can buy steel when the market price is down and use stock supplies when the raw materials costs rise).

    If this deal is made at the few major shipyards and more numerous medium-sized shipyards (even those that don’t normally produce military vessels), a fleet of 2 dozen could be ready with a month’s warning. Basic architecture and simple forms would allow almost any yard to produce the vessels. Security for the plans can be minimal, since there’s little difficulty in designing a bombardment ship to WWII standards and most sensitive items (like communications systems) would be provided (and their methods protected) separately.

    Only 2 of the vessels need be built in the short term (to test weapons and plan construction), so your program (including pre-purchase of raw materials and equipment) could be completed on the cheap. Your largest expense would be on the systems. A truly dumb platform with smart systems.

    I think that’s all that one needs to consider for the low probability of a future frontal assault action. A line of these sent in ahead of landing craft could both reveal and destroy enemy gun and missile positions.

  28. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 14, 2009 6:30 pm


    Why aren’t we recycling weapons systems?

    Because we (our society) are institutionally (the USN) omnipresently and omnisciently infallible & stupid. We are a throw-away & disposable society. And so have become some of our institutions.

    Spruance class DDs and the first five Tico class CGs were sunk / scrapped with their weapons mounts still aboard. The four Kidd class DDGs were sold off to Taiwan. All happened early and before the projected end dates of those ships’ usefulness. If decommissioned early, then they all should still be in reserve – just in case we suddenly become desperately in need of usable hulls. In some ways the UK MoD and RN appear to be better and more capable at dealing with this sort of thing than the US DoD and USN.

  29. Chuck Hill permalink
    December 14, 2009 5:33 pm

    Don’t really see a meaningful distinction between our cruisers and destroyers.

    Since price quoted for the Danish frigates does not include weapons, sensors, systems integration, or even wiring for the combat systems, and since the combat systems commonly account for half of a warships cost, the actual total price has to be much higher.

    I do applaud recycling weapons from decommissioned ships. Why don’t we do that. Mk 41 launchers and 5″ Mk 45s from the Spuances and 76mm from the decommissioned FFGs still have plenty of life in them.

  30. Hudson permalink
    December 14, 2009 4:28 pm

    Distiller is right: the age of Iwo scale naval bombardment is past. Heavy cruisers pounded Iwo for several weeks before the invasion, and you can’t say their gunfire was inaccurate. Any large scale landing today would be preceded by volume air strikes and naval gunfire such as we have available. The idea of the LPD-17s is to provide a beyond-shore air reach so that the beach is secure by the time the Marines/infantry put their boots in water and sand.

    Re the overall composition of the fleet: the Navy has maintained a relative balance among carrier/air, surface, and undersea capabilities. Some admirals think the super carrier is our most survivable ship–the biggest, can hit back and launch pre-emptive strikes, is best defended with escorts. With blue-green lasers and new ASW weapons, who knows how long the Silent Service will remain relatively cloaked?

    The surface fleet is short on smaller vessels, as most agree on this board.

  31. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 14, 2009 3:32 pm

    I almost placed frigates in this category, but time got away from me. Looking at this new Danish frigate, plus the Spanish F-100, Norwegian Nansen, German Sachsen, ect, these are some very potent vessels of war. If you can consider the cost alone, even the LCS falls in this category (though not in armament, sadly).

  32. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 14, 2009 3:19 pm


    Agreed. The USN could take some lessons from the Danish Navy. The Danes have figured out how to build -really- inexpensive AAW frigates with their Iver Huitfeldt class. They are larger than the OHP class and they also appear to be significantly more capable. The basic ship has an apparent price of $332 million, apiece (minus its weapons load-out). One such hull represents one-half the cost of the first two versions of the USN LCS. And when fitted out with their complete weapons fit they’ll carry three-quarters the missile load of a Burke class DDG. Kinda like an OHP on double dosing of steroids or a reasonably priced Burke alternative.

  33. Matthew S. permalink
    December 14, 2009 2:55 pm

    Out of all these articles regarding the USN fleet I still think the main weakness is not having a cheap frigate replacement for the OHP class.

  34. Heretic permalink
    March 27, 2009 5:48 pm

    re: Alex
    “there is a simple answer to both your questions, and it comes from triton; the larger the number of hulls + the larger the ship = the lower the sea keeping, it has been found that the monohulls are far better at a) maintaining station, & b) staying in one piece in really bad circumstances; they are okey in shallow waters, its once they get out in the big blue water they get in trouble.”

    Uh, that’s not what I see in the link provided by Mike Burleson above. Relevant quote:


    The advantages of a trimaran hullform over conventional mono-hulls are thought to be: reduced costs, reduced signature, significantly less drag increased speed, increased length, giving greater stability, and more room for the upper deck, which could be used for the flight deck as well as hangars for helicopters and extra armaments.

    I don’t read that description and come to the conclusion of …
    “the larger the number of hulls + the larger the ship = the lower the sea keeping”
    … especially when the words “giving greater stability” are included in this listing of advantages of the trimaran planform.

    If you’ve got some references though which can support that claim Alex, I’d love to read them.

  35. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 27, 2009 4:02 pm

    Ok, you’re right. And thats pretty impressive!

  36. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 27, 2009 3:59 pm

    The point being, Smitty, you can’t have the second without the first. The Navy has become so enamored with fighting against land powers, they have little worry that in the future, cruise missile armed ships might try to prevent this from happening. The next war will be an all-missile conflict, because so few have aircraft carriers/ amphbious forces with the capabilites of the USN. They will be forced to make due with what they have.

  37. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 27, 2009 3:55 pm

    “then for the last 60 years (or, excepting WWII, it’s entire history) the Navy has been a huge waste of taxpayer money”

    Hmmm…food for thought. I’m sure the Army and USAF would agree.

  38. March 27, 2009 2:26 pm


    there is a simple answer to both your questions, and it comes from triton; the larger the number of hulls + the larger the ship = the lower the sea keeping, it has been found that the monohulls are far better at a) maintaining station, & b) staying in one piece in really bad circumstances; they are okey in shallow waters, its once they get out in the big blue water they get in trouble. Its why mulitple hull configurations have largely been used for specialist craft and fair weather ferries up till date.

    yours sincerly


    p.s. when they fitted a system to simulate a 4.5in gun being fired, on Triton’s deck, it managed to make cracks appear between the hulls on which ever side it was recoiling on.

  39. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 27, 2009 12:29 pm

    A few years back some photos of carrier trimarans appeared on the cover of popular Popular Mechanics, bases on the experimental Triton, though I’ve seen nothing since.

  40. B.Smitty permalink
    March 27, 2009 11:50 am


    When you talk about Sea Control being the “more significant” role for a Navy, I would ask, “Control the seas for what purpose?”

    If we can’t move goods, materials, troops, etc., through the area in relative safety, then how much control do we really have?

  41. William C. permalink
    March 27, 2009 11:49 am

    Your comment, “sinking ships is a navy’s first requirement” is so far off-base that it renders your credibility to nearly zero. If that were the priciple measure of the Navy’s usefulness to National Security then for the last 60 years (or, excepting WWII, it’s entire history) the Navy has been a huge waste of taxpayer money. However, that absurdity is certainly not the case as the Navy’s presence in countless international brouhahas since the inception of the Navy which did not involve “sinking ships” has been rich and successful.
    “Sinking ships” has rarely, if ever, been the Navy’s #1 priority or requirement.

    Before you engage in discussions about what ships the Navy should or should not build, a review of Mahan’s theories should happen first. At least reading the current National and Maritime Strategy documents might also be in order. It’s obvious from your post you have done neither.

    William C.

  42. B.Smitty permalink
    March 27, 2009 11:44 am


    LRLAPs fired from AGS are spec’d to go 150km, not 50km.

    AGS is a huge turret. (87 tons vs 25 tons for a Mk45 MOD 4)

    IIRC, to fit one on a Burke you would have to remove the 5″ and forward VLS battery.

    I’m not sure how small of a vessel could carry one, but my guess is it would be much bigger than a 2000 ton corvette.

    OTOH, a 2000 ton ship could probably carry a Mk45 MOD 4, at the expense of other systems.

  43. Heretic permalink
    March 27, 2009 10:28 am

    re: Alex
    “the really important thing though is beam so that you can counteract its direction of movement”

    This is true. From all my reading, this was the major limiting factor in battleships/battlecruisers in the first half of the 20th century. The ship needs to be “wide” enough to not be in danger of rolling over when you broadside fire all guns. That minimum beam parameter then essentially dictates how large the ship has to be when dealing with a single-hulled warship, because the length-to-beam ratio has a very important impact on seakeeping, hydrodynamic drag (thus limiting speed), and a whole lot of other important things that a navy would like to have built into a ship’s basic performance.

    Which then of course begs the question of what happens when you move away from a single-hulled planform to something that looks more like a catamaran, a double-hulled arrangement. With a double-hulled ship, you can get the necessary beam length, without making the ship “excessively” long in the process and thus be able to “get away with” using a smaller overall displacement than you would with a single-hulled design. And if you’re not thinking of a single-hulled ship design in the first place, would something like an M-hulled design (such as what the M80 uses) be an advantage or a liability when scaled up large?

    I don’t have the answers to these questions. I intuitively surmise that the answer is (broadly speaking) a tentative “yes” … but no one has done (or been interested in doing) the basic research necessary to find out definitively.

    Then again, I’m the crazy one. ;p

    I keep thinking that a catamaran hull would be the most efficient design for an aircraft carrier. That would give you (essentially) two parallel flight decks (one for launch and one for recovery) which can be swapped in purpose as needed in the event of accident or breakdown. Both flight decks have bow ski jumps, allowing heavier take-off weights and added safety margin in the event of a bolter situation (giving pilots “lots” of extra time to deal with mishap before being forced to eject). Both flight decks run parallel to the direction of the ship’s movement, changing the shape/size of the landing box you have to fly through as a pilot on recovery approach. If you’re using catapults/arrested landings, then you have two catapults on each flight deck and arrestors available for use on each flight deck (so you can switch which deck is launching and recovering in the event of breakdown or mishap). You put the island tower in the center of the ship in between the two flight decks, with Pri-Fly getting an all around view through the windows. Deck edge elevators are located fore and aft of the tower near the centerline for circulating aircraft up and down to/from the hangar deck. Parking spaces topside are primarily around the island tower, leaving the flight decks clear for launch/recovery. Wind Over Deck is the same for launch and recovery, since you have two flight decks aligned with the ship’s centerline.

    For the life of me though, I can’t figure out why no one has proposed something like this before either. Why are there no catamaran hulled carrier design concepts floating around? Is it just because the navies of the world are so conservative in their thinking (which isn’t *necessarily* a bad thing…)?

  44. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 27, 2009 9:37 am

    I would see no need to use such an offensive asset as the attack submarine in a mission geared for “aerial defense”, giving it the impression you must be escorted or escort something else. With its own missiles, the sub is the principle air threat in a Blue Water environment and needs be defended against, as proven in the world wars, and now when its capabilities are so much the greater.

    If you are speaking of the escorting of merchant vessels in convoy during war, I seriously doubt you will see the leisurely sailing of such a fleet escorted by lightly armed and built destroyer escorts or frigates or tiny escort carriers, and especially not our huge and higly visible missile battleships, with such a new menace in the waters. You would likely have to change our way of thinking in this area as well, which is beyond the scope of this post.

  45. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 27, 2009 8:29 am

    As long as you are assured of “one shot, one hit”, I think the $50k price tag is justified.

  46. March 27, 2009 4:09 am

    not sure mike, for that to operate (britain is buying something similar for its later Type 45s, and upguning the current ones), it is reckoned you need at least 2000tons to provide it with a stable platform, the really important thing though is beam so that you can counteract its direction of movement, it would need to be quite large about 13.4-15.2m, depending on whether you want to crank up the Excalibur shell to the full power and therefore full range that the gun could theoretically buy it.

    Heretic this is still a corvette, its just slightly bigger, but on the plus side a 2000ton corvette could deffinitely carry helicopt + fire directing UAVs, and possible some other weapons to help defend the amphibs + marines ashore against the inevitable counter attack.

    yours sincerly


  47. Heretic permalink
    March 27, 2009 12:56 am

    Lacking suffient knowledge/engineering/skills to be able to weight the 5″/54 vs the 155m/62 in terms of how small a ship you can squeeze each into, it’s hard to say. I also presume you’re referring to the XM892 Excalibur round, which looks like it offers superior CEP performance (10m) to that specified for the AGS (50m) due to guidance. Still, at $50k per Excalibur round, that’s $1 million for a magazine load of 20, which at a 10 per minute ROF is essentially half-a-million dollars in ammo every minute of sustained firing, per gun. No idea on whether or not it would be possible to navalize an army NLOS-C into a stealthy turret onboard a ship (autoloaders and all).

    But so long as we’re just sandboxing in the blue sky … sure, why not?

  48. B.Smitty permalink
    March 26, 2009 10:28 pm


    “Sea Control” implies a degree of freedom of action in the operating area for friendly forces. Subs can’t ensure any level of security against air attack, so they can only truly control the sea for other subs.

  49. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 26, 2009 9:08 pm

    The USN future cannon is the advanced gun system, for the new DDG-1000 and possibly future DDG-51’s. The AGS is a 6.1 inch (155mm) weapon which is supposed to fire out to 50km. I am an advocate for using precision shells from Navy guns. The Excalibur shell has about the range of the AGS and also requires a 155mm cannon. I think the idea that we need to “bracket” a target with old fashioned conventional shells in the age of precision is an outdated concept. But thats just me.

    Would that fit into your corvette/gunship idea?

  50. Heretic permalink
    March 26, 2009 8:50 pm

    Well, looking at the Visby, they managed to shoehorn a (smallish) helipad/hangar onto a 650 ton corvette, in part because it has a composite rather than steel hull (thus keeping the weight down), so *in theory* it ought to be possible to put a helipad back deck on a 1000 ton-ish steel hulled corvette that’s primarily a 5″/54 mark 45 naval gunboat intended for shore bombardment (assuming that anything that small makes a good 5″ platform for NGFS).

    Only problem is that those 5″/54 mark 45s have an effective range of only 13nm (according to wikipedia), which is about half the distance from the shoreline to the 25+nm standoff distance of the rest of the fleet. Unless you’re willing to do something “really fancy” to the ammunition, that means that using a 5″/54 entails getting a lot closer to shore than the USN wants to be sailing … 10nm or less from shore probably … which means you really don’t want something Zumwalt sized trying to be a gunship in green waters (and that you can’t afford to lose to enemy fire). Which then gets back to the whole “Streetfighter” proposition of using lots of little cheap ships that can be dispersed and support each other, rather than lonely “superships” that dare not brave the shallows under cover of daylight because they’re too expensive to buy more than three.

  51. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 26, 2009 7:33 pm

    I’d say highly possible and even practical, but not so sure about the “add ons” such as helos.

  52. Heretic permalink
    March 26, 2009 2:59 pm

    So … what’s the minimum displacement you need for a 5″ naval gun(ship)?

    Obviously, the 5″ gun isn’t going to cannabalize all of the available space in the hull, so there’ll be “room for other things” aboard aside from just the gun … but below a certain threshold the ship just won’t make a sufficiently stable platform to mount the gun (or guns, if going plural) onto.

    Could something as small as a 1000 ton “Visby-esque” corvette carry something like that? Would it have to be bigger than the LCS at 1500 tons and start pushing upwards to 2000 tons? 2500? 3000?

    If you only need 1000 tons to stabilize a 5″ gun, that still leaves plenty of “leftover” ship capacity for a helicopter deck/hangar, powerplant, crew quarters, deployment range/sustainment etc. to “play with” for additional roles beyond just being a gunboat.

    So … is a 5″ NGFS corvette something that’s even possible?

  53. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 26, 2009 1:24 pm

    I agree! We’ve had monitors as recently as Vietnam in service. Everytime I think the USN is buying $5 billion, 14,500 ton warships to carry 2X5 inch guns, I cringe!

  54. Heretic permalink
    March 26, 2009 10:26 am

    Trick question.

    If “all you need” for NGFS these days is a 5″ naval gun … what’s the smallest displacement of surface ship you could put something like that onto? Or to put it another way … how big would an M-hulled ship (like the M80 Stiletto) have to grow before it could (safely) mount a 5″ naval gun on it?

    Wouldn’t it be better to have a whole bunch of little littoral ships with 5″ guns on them running around in the green water, than a single big ship with a 5″ gun (or two) that’s trying to do shore bombardment from 25+nm away?

  55. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 26, 2009 9:08 am

    Smitty, none of the roles you mentioned need be done by a large surface cruiser, SAR was a principle function of USN subs in the world war (remember GHW Bush’s Avenger?) and BMD has nothing to do with sea control. I am sold on the survivability and attack qualities of the SSN, which are unmatched by any other navy warship.

  56. Distiller permalink
    March 26, 2009 8:05 am

    Naval gunfire support seems relevant in only two situations. Number one for the initial stages of an amphib assault, because there is no artillery ashore yet. (But remember that the Navy decided to stay 25nm out, and those fancy 5″ grenades that reach so far don’t have much bang left in them. Auto-canons, auto-mortars, and Spikes on LCACs and ELVs seem a more viable integrated fire support). And number two for commando type actions. The days of Iwo Jima style bombardments are gone.

  57. B.Smitty permalink
    March 25, 2009 9:28 pm


    A cruiser can do many things that an SSN can’t (besides NGFS) including area air defense, BMD, “show the flag”, task force command and control, VBSS, and SAR, to name a few.

  58. Moose permalink
    March 25, 2009 2:00 pm

    A far better investment than non-nuclear subs would be for our navy, for sure.

  59. March 25, 2009 10:53 am

    excuse me, but trust me if you are a Marine under fire, 5in is plenty powerful enough, especially when you consider that one Naval Gun’s fire is equivalent to a standard battery of artillery…so trust me it does make a difference, and its a lot cheaper and lot more flexible that calling in missile support or air strikes.

    yours sincerly


  60. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 25, 2009 9:23 am

    “What exactly is the difference of a cruiser and destroyer in this definition?”

    None IMHO, and then you have these European missile ships with Aegis that they call frigates, so the definition is blurred further. I like to use the term “battleship” re:Galrahn, because they are CERTAINLY the most powerful surface ships ever built. Cruiser would also work if you factor in size. but whatever.

    Cruiser is also an apt description of the modern attack sub and I have posted on this. Long range commerce destroyer/protector, scout, extending US firepower far from her shores. What more do you need!

  61. Distiller permalink
    March 25, 2009 7:38 am

    What exactly is the difference of a cruiser and destroyer in this definition? I think the modern cruiser is the SSN. There is only one thing a SSN can’t do and a surface cruiser can: Naval gunfire support; but with just 5″ that’s not a lot these days in any case. Most of the stuff large surface warships carry is purely defensive to protect themselves. Only a tiny fraction of their weaponry is offensive. On a sub on the other hand that fraction is exactly the other way round. Much more cruiser-like.

    Further I don’t think a “littoral SSN” is do-able (can they go all silent in tropic waters?), and 3000ts is still somewhat biggish. Half of that, maybe even one third of that. Of course with some kind of Flo/Flo transporter or a homebase close enough to the ops area to cut transit times. And another thing: I think the hydro shape of modern SSKs might be wrong. If a SSK goes silent they do 7-8kts max, which is doable with an old fashioned WW2 shaped boat. But such a boat could transit on surface much faster than a spheric or flat bow.


  1. Birth Pains of the New Navy « New Wars
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  7. USN Future Surface Fleet « New Wars
  8. Thinking Beyond the Navy Pt 2 « New Wars
  9. USN’s Ongoing Neglect of Sea Control « New Wars

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