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LCS Alternative Weekly

January 6, 2010
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 Rationalizing the Bigger Fleet

A few quotes from various sources on why navies need plenty of hulls in the water, like an army needs boots on the ground:

Navy Lookout:

The Royal Navy is now smaller than it has ever been in its history but the demands upon the few remaining ships remain as high as ever.

UK Times:

Steve Bush, the editor of [British Warships and Auxiliaries, an annual guide to the state of the Navy], warns that even though the Navy is to receive two large aircraft carriers and more of the new Type 45 destroyers, there will not be enough frigates and destroyers to protect the most important ships. Mr Bush, who left the Royal Navy in 2000 after 20 years, told The Times: “There are new ships coming through but the fleet has been pared back so much by the Government that there are now not enough escort ships to protect the bigger vessels.

“The Government thinks that new ships are more capable and therefore you don’t need so many of them, but the number of escort ships is being cut significantly. If you’re going to rely on new carriers and an amphibious capability … you need escort ships to keep them safe. The Government is concentrating on the big ships but neglecting the smaller ships.”

War is Boring:

The Navy continues to invest its money in a relatively small number of multi-billion-dollar warships tailored for high-end warfare, rather than a larger number of cheaper vessels that might allow round-the-clock coverage of vast swaths of ocean. Numbers matter.

Information Dissemination:

On land battlefields of irregular enemies US ground forces have saturated populated spaces with manned combat power to disrupt enemy operations and develop intelligence against enemy forces.

I contend that as long as the US Navy rejects alternative force structures that significantly increase the number of manned platforms able to operate in any region of sea, the US Navy will consist primarily of what Andrew Krepinevich of CSBA describes as “Wasting Assets” when it comes to dealing with irregular warfare challenges at sea. Armed with the defeating mechanism of attrition, the US Navy lacks sufficient presence to disrupt irregular enemies towards a strategic objective, and because irregular enemies at sea do not need to attack US Navy platforms, the US Navy will also fail to achieve positive strategic object with an attrition defeat mechanism against irregular enemies.

*****

The Navy Does Penance

I will grudgingly concede the littoral combat ship is a step in the right direction toward building numbers and managing the irregular threats at sea that have become so common. Still, its very large size of 3000 tons, huge price, and lackadaisical building program shows a continued lack of seriousness by the Navy, and a refusal to manage this new type of warfare. Admittedly, we have overwhelming conventional power at sea, but as proved consistently with our wars on land, the modern enemy will not fight in any typical fashion we are used to, and the high tech exquisite platform is more of a hindrance to COIN as like platforms are in a ground insurgency.

The excuse might be that established Navy doesn’t need to be fighting piracy and smuggling, so there is no need to plan for small threats at sea. The LCS then becomes the Navy’s penance for doing nothing. As long as it has the appearance of a “Pirate Buster”, that is enough. Whether it is effective or not in this role no longer matters.

With LCS as an offering, their chant becomes “Piracy can only be defeated on land”.  Despite the historical hypocrisy of this statement, there is the fact that irregular tactics have been used against major warships, as with the Cole bombing and Hezbollah’s attack on the Israel Corvette Hanit. There is no reason why even a peer adversary might not see the success the pirates have in countering our conventional tactics and use these same weaknesses against us. It’s not like the Navy hasn’t been struck from unexpected places before.

The LCS Freedom should only be the start of a concerted effort building toward a low tech, economical and very usable fleet consisting of Influence Squadrons. Besides these very costly experiments, there should be many smaller corvettes, patrol vessels, fast attack craft, dedicated anti-mine ships, ect. The idea that a single hull can do the functions of very many niche warships is faulty, anymore than a submarine can be an adequate aircraft carrier, or vice versa. The idea that the LCS can do the functions of many ships-mine warfare, patrol craft, frigate, mothership, and do any of these functions as well as dedicated vessels, is much wishful thinking, as proved by ongoing technical difficulties and prohibitive price range.

*****

PCs-What can’t they do?

Lee Wahler points out a very good article in the Naval Institutes Proceedings mag (subscr. only) about the Navy’s Cyclone class patrol craft, which we spotlighted in an earlier post. An apt title by Commander Stephen J. Coughlin, reminds us Good Things Come in Small Packages:

Of the six strategic naval imperatives identified in The Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, patrol coastal ships are arguably capable of conducting five. Power projection will be left to the carrier air wings and ships of the line. But of the others-sea control, deterrence, presence, humanitarian, and maritime security operations-all are well within the capacity of a PC, although on a smaller scale. To conduct these missions effectively, we must be in many places simultaneously and rely on our global maritime partners to make significant contributions to that effort. The Cooperative Strategy explains that “our maritime forces will be employed to build confidence and trust among nations through collective security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interest. To do so will require an unprecedented level of integration. Seapower will be the unifying force to build a better tomorrow.” Clearly, the value of a comprehensive engagement strategy to contend with piracy, smuggling, human trafficking, and other criminal activity cannot be overstated.

The basic construct is that our global maritime partners would be an informal coalition of navies all having much to gain by securing ocean areas for maritime commerce and other legitimate activities. The U.S. Navy provides the leadership for the development of everything from operational concepts and training strategies to the creation of viable, long-term maintenance and modernization plans. Therefore, meaningful security cooperation should be conducted with ships that mirror the partners’ capabilities. Nations that will contribute to the partnership in regions such as the Persian Gulf will never aspire to own highly sophisticated, multi-billion-dollar warships. An Aegis destroyer will put them in awe but achieve little-to-no effective combined naval operations.
Patrol coastal ships have demonstrated that they are the perfect fit for theater-security cooperation. Based on the work that they have already done in the Persian Gulf, it is hard to deny their utility as partner-building platforms.

*****

Enabling Failure

Commenting on a recent Tom Rick’s posting, Inside the Headquarters detail’s how Congress virtually assures the Navy will build only failed warship programs:

Congress approved just more than $1 billion for the littoral combat ship (which clocks in at around $600 million per copy) and two destroyers, as Ricks writes. BUT $1.3 billion is going to the Zumwalt class (DDG-1000), the Canceled Stealth Ship to Nowhere, thanks to some slick lawmaker deals. Roughly $1.5 billion goes to the Arleigh Burke class (DDG-51). The Boys are returning to the Burke’s proven platform following the Zumwalt-class disastrous run. (Seen “enabling” below.)

The problem with LCS and DDG-1000 extends beyond the dollars. It is systemic. Congress continues to enable Navy program mismanagement. The Boys took the $240 million LCS and redesigned it to nearly triple the estimate. The same applies to the failed Zumwalt. (“Mission? Let’s just make it do everything, even if it is an unstable platform! Cost? Irrelevant.”) The shipyards located in prominent lawmaker districts play into this funding dart game as well.

This is why I insist that allocating more money to the admirals is not the solution but the problem. It only feeds the beast.

*****

Maersk’s Private Anti-Pirate Force

We could see this coming, with lack of interest from established navies in defending commerce. The Merchant Mariners are taking the pirates to task. From the Copenhagen Post:

Danish shipper A.P. Moller Maersk has hired out soldiers and a warship from Tanzania to protect its fleet in pirate-ridden waters off the coast of Africa, and now other shippers are expected to follow suit.

Maersk hired the warship through former special forces soldiers working for firm Guardian GBS security in December 2008. The ship was charged with protecting the Brigit Maersk tanker from pirates. It is unknown how much the shipping company paid for the service.
 ‘The waters east of Africa are a grey zone because developing countries don’t have resources to fight pirates. It’s a temporary solution that a shipper has hired a warship from another country, but there’s no alternative,’ said Jan Fritz Hansen, vice-president of the Danish Shipowners’ Association.

Steffen Jacobsen, technical director at Maersk Tankers, said the company checked first to make sure the move was legal. ‘That’s why we chose it as an alternative solution to a very critical situation,’ he said.

Earlier New Wars wrote on this subject in Thinking Beyond the Navy:

Because we are so stretched, unable or unwilling to build sizable fleets, the Navy is leaving merchant ships pretty much on their own. It is amazing to see professional officers declare before the worldwide media, what is essentially defeat in the face of the world’s most minor threats of piracy. With talk such as “piracy can only be defeated on land” and the “sea is too large to stop all pirate attacks”, we can only conclude the admirals are talking themselves out of the essential navy mission of the 21st Century, and perhaps out of a job…

This is not a proposal on our part, of any sort, to get rid of established navies, just an observation of the trends. I think anywhere there is lawlessness on the high seas, the government should be the first to involve itself. If not, I see the merchants taking matters in their own hands, but this is rarely an acceptable solution. If the commercial shippers show increasing independence and effectiveness in protecting the sealanes, a traditional function of sea control, the public might rightly question where our funds are going, and if the vast expense of maintaining a costly but ineffective National Navy is worth the price.

*****

LCS Alternative-UAE Baynunah class corvette

A French design for the United Arab Emirates’ Navy,  total of 6 under contract. Naval Technology provides details:

Delivery to the UAE Navy is scheduled for 2010. The second Baynunah is scheduled to be delivered eight months later, with the remaining corvette deliveries in six-month intervals until 2012…The main roles of the corvettes will be in patrol and surveillance, minelaying, interception and other anti-surface warfare operations in the United Arab Emirate’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.

Specifications:

  • Length 71.-30m
  • Beam-11m
  • Draught-2.80m
  • Displacement-915 tons full
  • Speed-32 knots max
  • Range-2000 miles
  • Crew-55
  • Armament-8 x MM40 Block 3 Exocet
                            4 x MK56 eight-cell VLS for ESSM
                             Close-In Weapons System (CIWS)
                              1 x Mk 49 launcher for RAM missile
                              Main Gun, 62mm
  • Aircraft-Hanger for medium sized helicopter.

*****

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 11, 2010 7:11 am

    Steve the LCS proponents stand by a multi-mission idea which all evidence proves is a faulty one. It is the RMA mindset from the 1990s that says you can do more missions with fewer platforms. It is wrong considering the wear and tear on hulls plus the technical difficulties placing so many capabilities in one ship. This is turn raises price, delays entrance into service, probably reduces the number the Navy eventually buys.

    A Navy is all about hulls, like an army is about troops. If you reduce the number of ships, no matter how capable, you are getting weaker not stronger.

    The LCS is supposed to do the functions of at least 4 warships-frigate, patrol craft, anti-mine, and mothership. It will do none of these missions as well as a focused mission ship. This is mediocrity at a gold-plated price. Plus if you lose one it is the equivalent of losing a quarter your capability!

  2. Steve Petty permalink
    January 11, 2010 3:47 am

    The weakness of the LCS’s capablities is that they are limited by the mission module they are equiped with. An LCS with an ASuw module would have no more ASW or MIW capablity than a Baynunah corvette. Unless we know the threats before sending an LCS to a combat zone you would need to send 3 ships to cover all possible threats. Instead of 55 expensive LCS’s and multipule mission modules a force of 20 Absalom frigates and 40 Baynunah corvettes would be as capable at a much lower cost. A Littorial Influance Sqn. of 1 Absalom [with 3 Blackhawks instead of 2 Merlins] with 1 Blackhawk for MIW and 2 for ASW and a onboard Marine force of perhaps a reinforced platoon and 2 fast landing craft plus the fire support of 2 76mm and 1 127mm guns. A 3 ship LCS Sqn. would have an advantage in MIW and an air group in theory of as many as 6 Blackhawks but in fact 3 Blackhawks and 3 Firescouts versus 3 Blackhawks and 2 Firescouts in an Absalom/Baynunah Sqn. and no fire support capablity.

  3. Chuck Hill permalink
    January 10, 2010 4:04 pm

    Mat, yes we need the quing, but once you site a boat, you still have to board it to determine the nature of it’s activity–boots on the ground–boarding teams inspecting.

  4. Matt permalink
    January 6, 2010 10:32 pm

    While the “blacks-shoes” are bending over backwards trying to show that the LCS is a cost-effective pirate-buster, the most effective anti-pirate assets is the 40 year-old P-3C.

    http://www.military.com/news/article/africom-beefs-up-anti-piracy-forces.html?col=1186032325324

    If we’re concerned about tracking and deterring pirates, P-8A and BAMS seem a heck of a lot smarter than any surface platform.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 6, 2010 9:21 pm

    SSL-Yeah it does seem that way, but all this is common sense stuff. If you follow the numbers, the funding, you can see change coming, slowly but surely. (Also FYI-here is a URL shortener site I find handy sometimes ).

    B. Walthrop-I would use dedicated Mine and ASW warships for this purpose. It just makes sense and Capt Hughes of the New Navy Fighting Machine tends to agree. (Yeah Smitty! I read that and brace yourselves).

    D.E. thanks for the update and I will fix the specs.

  6. B. Walthrop permalink
    January 6, 2010 2:17 pm

    While the Baynunah MAY cover the ASuW requirements of the LCS platform (a dubious notion because of the more limited helicopter capacity as well as ASuW missile numbers), how do you propose to cover the MIW and ASW mission areas.

    Lots of people are having a lot of fun proposing foreign alternatives to the LCS capability set based on the shallowest surface analysis, but it does not appear they really understand either the capability set or mission set of LCS. I know it’s hard but folks really ought make an attempt to think through DOTMLPF (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOTMLPF) implications of proposed solutions as well as critically think about the real combat capability of the ships being suggested.

    V/R,

  7. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 6, 2010 12:37 pm

    Mike,

    Here’s the Wikipedia description of the Baynunah class under the U.A.E. Navy entry. The number of ESSM actually carried is questionable. The Mk 56 VLS is usually a paired-tube launcher, thus four Mk 56 cells would mean a total of just eight ESSM SAMs along with the 21 missiles of the RAM system.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Arab_Emirates_Navy

    The Baynunah class details are as follows: length: 70 m, beam 11 m, draught 2.8 m, weight 660 ton, cruise speed 15 kt, maximum speed: over 32 kt, range: 2,400 nm, endurance: 14 days, weapons: 1 Oto Melara 76/62mm Super Rapide gun, 2 Rheinmetall MLG 27 27 mm guns, 8 MBDA MM40 block 3 Exocet missiles, 4 Raytheon MK56 eight-cell vertical launchers for the RIM-162 ESSM, 1 mk49 mod3 21-cell RAM launcher for the RAM block 1A missile system.

    ——————–

    Galrahn has a nice description of the class in a thread from this past June dealing with what a prospective USN corvette might look like. It’s too bad the long comment-filled discussion which followed was lost when he changed his blog software. There were something like 60 comments on the Baynunah and similar vessels as LCS alternatives.

    http://www.informationdissemination.net/2009/06/what-usn-corvette-might-look-like.html

    And here’s a hi-res image of Baynunah during trials or fitting out. The guns and RAM launcher are in place. The Oto Melara 76 mm / 62 cal. Super Rapid gun is forward with a stealth gun shield. The two 27 mm revolver cannon are fit onto sponsons to either side of the tower mast. However, the eight Exocet AShMs (SSMs) are missing. Their launch platforms are present, just empty – you can see one aft of the tower mast. Also missing appear to be the ESSM. The Mk 56 VLS attached (sponsoned) to the helo hanger appears to be covered by plastic sheeting (so they were probably empty when this photo was taken).

  8. B.Smitty permalink
    January 6, 2010 12:36 pm

    Mike,

    Hopefully by now you’ve gone over to ID to check out Capt. Hughes’ “New Navy Fighting Machine”. You’ll like it.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 6, 2010 11:27 am

    Scott I think you’re right. Sorry Matt, truth in advertising! Tried hard to find a free pic of the UAE corvette and thats all I came up with, I thought!

    D.E. The gun specs was from Naval-Technology. Do you have a better source? I ready to listen!

  10. Matthew S. permalink
    January 6, 2010 11:05 am

    Hey leave the picture, I like those ANZAC class frigates. Now those frigates are an example where they actually did end up mounting weapons that were initially “fitted for but not with”.

  11. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 6, 2010 10:54 am

    Mike,

    You’ve got part of Baynunah’s weaponry wrong. She mounts three guns and they are:

    Single Oto Melara 76 mm / 62 cal. gun;
    Two Rheinmetal MLG 27 mm revolver cannon.

  12. Scott B. permalink
    January 6, 2010 10:16 am

    Mike Burleson said : “UAENS Mubarraz-A Baynunah Class Multipurpose Missile Corvette of the United Arab Emirates.”

    This is actually HMNZS Te Mana (F 111), an ANZAC-class frigate of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

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