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New Battleships Just Got Scarier

July 12, 2010

The following quote from Craig Hooper at Defense Tech pretty much sums it up on the Navy’s present and future:

Putting PGS (Prompt Global Strike) into the VLS does something far more interesting than just “add capability”. It changes everything. PGS on a surface ship transforms the largely defensive nature of the U.S. surface combatant/carrier escort to, well, “offense”.

In other words, the Aegis cruisers and destroyers which are currently dominating the USN plans, as well as those of our allies such as Japan might be set to seize the title of capital ship, long held by the aircraft carrier. Here’s is more on the PGS from DARPA:

“The ArcLight program will design, build, and flight test a long range (> 2,000 nm) vehicle that carries a 100–200 lb payload(s). ArcLight is based on an SM-3 Block II booster stack, a hypersonic glider and is capable of being launched from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tube. The development of the ArcLight system will enable high speed, long range weapons capable of engaging time critical targets and can be launched from Naval surface and sub-surface assets, and Naval/Air Force air assets.”

With all its defensive assets and screening warships, the best anti-aircraft defense for the carrier has been to stay away as far as reasonable from land bases, as the British relearned in the Falklands, and strategists are reminding us today. Here we see a new weapon, based on off the shelf technology, keeping the fleet far offshore in many thousand miles while able to make its presence known.

The idea that America’s 7,804 VLS cells may soon gain the ability to rain almost instant havoc on targets some 2,000 nm away should put a bit of a damper on those who counted on overwhelming a hunkered-down and relatively passive “defense-oriented” AEGIS fleet. It’s a big deal.

*****

As early as 2005, New Wars made the claim that our unmatched fleet of missile firing warships, equipped with Aegis radar and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles were “The New Battleships”. Here also is something from 2009.

This amazing and potent capability in one surface combatant begs the question” Are the new battleships still bound under the protective wing of naval airpower?” As we recorded earlier in the week the handwriting has been on the wall for airpower for some time. With the ability to dominate the airspace for 200-300 nautical miles, this is yet another role taken from the $6-$8 billion aircraft carrier plus its equally costly jets on a less costly (though still expensive) platform.

Certainly America’s 60+ DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers fit this category, as posted on the Navy’s own website:

“Named for the Navy’s most famous destroyer squadron combat commander and three-time Chief of Naval Operations, Arleigh Burke is the most powerful surface combatant ever put to sea.”

Concerning the huge lead the USN currently possesses in such vessels, over all other world navies totaled, here is current Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work writing in 2009:

The US TSBF includes 105 surface combatants. The next two largest surface fleets are operated by the PRC and Japan, with 98 total ships (49 ships apiece) — giving the US Navy a comfortable two-navy standard in this category of ships. However, these numbers are once again deceiving. The bulk of US surface combatant combat power comes from its 75 large, multi-mission cruisers and destroyers. Like US aircraft carriers, these warships are much larger than comparable foreign ships of the same class. In addition, all 75 are equipped with the below deck vertical launch (missile) system (VLS), which is much more space-efficient than legacy missile launch systems with above-deck launchers serviced by below-deck rotary magazines.

Consequently, the aggregate missile magazine capacity of these 75 US ships is 7,804 battle force missiles, for an average magazine capacity of 104 missiles per ship. In contrast, the 367 surface combatants operated by the twenty next largest foreign navies carry only 65 more total battle force missiles (7,869), for an average war load of only 21 missiles per ship. In other words, the US surface combatant fleet currently enjoys a twenty-navy firepower standard. When adding in the awesome strike power of US carrier air wings, the overall US fleet firepower advantage only widens.

To the 75 surface combatants, Work also adds the firepower of 56 nuclear submarines, SSNs and SSGNs to this list with “an aggregate magazine capacity of 2,467 weapons (torpedoes and land attack cruise missiles).” This seems to put to rest any fears of losing conventional power projection capability when the notion comes up that we should cut our dependence on 100,000 ton aircraft carriers, now pricing nearly $15 billion each not including their difficult to procure dedicated naval aircraft.

*****

So if we have 130 new battleships running around, each with the projection ability of an entire carrier battlegroup, the impending use of Prompt Global Strike also assuring this at vast ranges coupled with precision targeting, perhaps we can start the debate on how many battleships do we need? Certainly over a 100 is excessive, with more like 50 sounding reasonable considering our few peer threats. Also consider, if we replace the destroyer with the guided missile frigate, you would have yet another potent battleship at about half the cost of a $2 billion Burke, without any loss in capability. The potential for savings makes me giddy!

 If we can reduce our dependence on superships, the current practice in overkill, we will then have plentiful funds for use in restoring the Navy numbers, and for the restoration of the flotilla since our current Burke fleet will be needed elsewhere. Currently the pattern has been to send our most expensive warships, such as the cruisers and destroyers, to engage in sundry and very low tech sea control duties against pirates in wooden dhows, at an embarrassing mismatch and waste of resources. Such duties have historically called for light patrol vessels, equipped with light guns and inflatable boats’ which are also less at risk than 10,000 ton warships and their many hundreds of crew.

You can afford many such patrol craft for the cost of a single $2 billion dollar destroyer, dramatically reducing the Navy’s presence deficit. Again this is a historical and common sense approach, building vessels to suite a particular need, in contrast to “one size fits all” which can get expensive. It is amazing how all the current woes the Navy is facing as far as funding, manning, shrinking presence, and concerns over future threats can be solved with a simple change in mindset!

*****

One final thought. If the Prompt Global Strike can be adapted to our current MK-41 VLS in surface combatants, any reason why it can’t be also placed in this:

50 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2011 5:04 pm

    gr8 job!

  2. B.Smitty permalink
    July 15, 2010 8:56 pm

    “Bullets seem cheaper than missiles.”

    LRLAP is a missile that has to withstand being fired from a gun.

  3. Bruce permalink
    July 15, 2010 3:45 pm

    While VLS is great, it seems to me that using a million dollar missile (or whatever they cost) against a third-world target is often overkill. I think that the future is in JDAM “smart” bombs, which are being used now — basically an iron bomb with a modest GPS guidance system to glide it to the precise coordinates, rather than spending weight and money on a rocket motor. I understand that this technology has a future in naval artillery (although I haven’t kept up on the technology’s progress) in the Long Range Land Attack Projectile built for the new 155 mm AGS and the Zumwalt class “destroyers” where the AGS will be installed. (If 155 mm equals 6.1 inches, why isn’t the Zumwalt designated a CL?) Bullets seem cheaper than missiles.

  4. Fencer permalink
    July 15, 2010 12:28 pm

    tangosix, awhile ago someone on this board suggested that a Mk 41 VLS cost around $4.8 million for each 8-cell module.

  5. July 14, 2010 7:45 pm

    Hello Bruce,

    those are very good points.
    I recall someone (Norman Freidman?) suggesting that warships ought to have far more vertical launch cells.
    Though looking at the weight of some of the latest vertical launch systems,it might be difficult to accomodate large numbers of them within typical ship sizes.
    Does anyone have any idea of costs for a Mk.41 or Mk.57 system?

    Specifically in regard to the Royal Navy,in most circumstances I see little reason to have theatre range land attack missiles on surface combatants although I believe these ships should have mutipurpose missile systems capable of engaging air,land and sea targets.
    There are circumstances such as supporting a major land attack or Atlantic Patrol Task (South) where long range missiles would be useful.
    I would like to see modular approach to future British surface combatants allowing these (and other) specialised systems to be fitted as required while more routinely used systems are permanently fitted.

    tangosix.

  6. Bruce permalink
    July 14, 2010 5:29 pm

    It seems to me that the total missile payload of the DDGs and CGs is being eaten up by all of the new missions and weapons. Anti-missile, anti-satellite, long-range attack, etc. — will there be any room left for AAW? Let’s not forget the vertical-launched ASROC — now an acronym of an acronym — the VLA.

    How about bringing back an arsenal ship concept, patched onto merchant hulls, maybe located in containers.

  7. Anonymous permalink
    July 14, 2010 1:04 pm

    Sid,

    I assume you would only need something like this on a fighter or other high-performance UAV. Adding a few cameras to give a better field of view wouldn’t add to much to the overall cost of something like that.

    Al

  8. sid permalink
    July 14, 2010 12:02 pm

    Sid,

    Would it be possible to mount small sensors (cameras, etc) on a UAV to provide 360 sensing?

    How expensive is this puppy gonna be?

  9. Anonymous permalink
    July 14, 2010 6:31 am

    Oh well can’t blame me for tryin’.

    Thanks B.Smitty:-)

    Al

  10. B.Smitty permalink
    July 13, 2010 11:11 pm

    Al,

    The Burke is not the right platform for sustained, long-range, wide-area ISR.

  11. Anonymous permalink
    July 13, 2010 9:59 pm

    B.Smitty,

    Acknowledged. And your right, a Hummingbird would be pretty much defenseless over an intact IADS. The main reason I stuck with the Hummingbird is that I wanted something capable of operating off something like an Arleigh Burke.
    Do you have any sugestions?

    Al

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    July 13, 2010 4:26 pm

    Al,

    I won’t tear apart any further other than to say Hummingbird sounds like a potentially terrific platform for local ISR in relatively benign conditions. It just isn’t the platform to send deep over an enemy IADS, IMHO.

    An AAR-capable, VLO X-47B has the potential to stay aloft for up to 50-100 hours. If it restricts its radiation to LO datalinks, it will be a very hard target to detect.

  13. Anonymous permalink
    July 13, 2010 1:47 pm

    Sid,

    Would it be possible to mount small sensors (cameras, etc) on a UAV to provide 360 sensing?

    Fencer,

    Could a few VLS warships operating carrier-less launch enough UAVs to launch an effective attack?

    B.Smitty,

    The Hummingbirds have an endurance of 20 hours, so an 8 hour transit time isn’t too bad. In terms of reaction time, I imagine several of these deployed at all times.

    Against air defenses, a Hummingbird carrying ECM, ARM, and AAM could releive a little of the pressure. An AEW helicopter could provide targetting for long-range Phoenix AAM.

    Tear apart at your leisure.

    Al

  14. Distiller permalink
    July 13, 2010 3:45 am

    I like it, though the majority of such weapons should be airborne based (Skybolt revisited), with only a few in surface combatants.

    But what about the INF treaty?

  15. sid permalink
    July 13, 2010 1:11 am

    Sid, why did they reject the UAVs?

    It never was fully and explicitly said as I remember, but the general gist was that a UAV simply doesn’t have the necessary scope of “vision” -swivel neck if you will- to see and deal with threats…

  16. Fencer permalink
    July 12, 2010 10:48 pm

    It seems to me that the main problem with using a UAV for targeting is that since even a supersonic missile will take around half an hour to reach it’s target you may as well just have the UAV shoot it.

  17. B.Smitty permalink
    July 12, 2010 10:31 pm

    A Hummingbird or Fire Scout would spend 8+ hours of its endurance transiting to and from the ship. And they will be easily shot down by just about any air defense at all. Even an ancient WWII prop fighter could down one with ease.

  18. Anonymous permalink
    July 12, 2010 9:55 pm

    A more middle of the road option would be the Hummingbird UAV currently under development.
    Their 30,000 foot ceiling would give them a 212 mile distance to the horizon, and their 20 hour endurance would let them stay on-station longer. A pair of Hummingbirds would allow VLS ships to receive recon from over six hundred miles away.

    Al

  19. Anonymous permalink
    July 12, 2010 9:43 pm

    A chain of Fire Scouts would allow contact with UAVs at ranges of at least six hundred miles.

    Sid, why did they reject the UAVs?

    Al

  20. sid permalink
    July 12, 2010 8:24 pm

    A few months back I was watching a forum of U-2 and SR-71 pilots on CSPAN.

    Can’t remember the exact quote, but someone asked about what they saw replacing the U-2. I found it remarkable that each rejected out of hand any kind of UAV in all but virtually uncontested airspace….

  21. July 12, 2010 7:43 pm

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    thankyou for sorting that out,you are a gentleman.

    tangosix.

  22. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 12, 2010 7:23 pm

    Tangosix, found your earlier post in the spam filter. It’s up now.

  23. B.Smitty permalink
    July 12, 2010 5:22 pm

    B.Smitty said, “Better to use an ISR-configured X-47, or naval Avenger.

    Of course if you do this, you might as well arm the X-47s/Avengers and forgo the TLAM altogether.

  24. B.Smitty permalink
    July 12, 2010 5:17 pm

    Al said, “As an alternative (extreme other end of the size scale) an MQ-8 Fire Scout could be used. It has a flight ceing of 20,000 feet, giving a horizon 173 miles away.

    Pairing a 900+nm range TLAM with a short-ranged Fire Scout doesn’t seem like a great answer.

    Better to use an ISR-configured X-47, or naval Avenger.

  25. July 12, 2010 4:52 pm

    Hello,

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Such duties have historically called for light patrol vessels, equipped with light guns and inflatable boats’ which are also less at risk than 10,000 ton warships and their many hundreds of crew.”

    How much of a threat do pirates with RPGs and AK47s pose to a 10,000 tonne Arleigh Burke class destroyer?

    Regarding carrier based Global Hawks,we should not forget Sea Avenger,which could also operate from Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers if they had catapults:

    http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2010/05/04/341500/general-atomics-offers-sea-avenger-for-unmanned-carrier-based-strike.html

    tangosix.

  26. July 12, 2010 4:51 pm

    Hello,

    it looks like the spam filter has stopped my last post,If I try to repost it I get a duplicate coment message.
    Maybe it will work if change some words.

    tangosix.

  27. Scott B. permalink
    July 12, 2010 4:48 pm

    Hokie said : “As far as the quote above, I’d bear in mind that this is the same Undersecretary who keeps throwing money down the bottomless pit that is LCS.”

    Not to mention he was one of the most vocal supporter of the so *magnificient* LPD-17, which he wanted to use as a basis of almost everything : LSD(X), Command Ship, Hospital Ship, BMD cruiser, NSFS platform, etc…

  28. Scott B. permalink
    July 12, 2010 4:33 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “with more like 50 sounding reasonable considering our few peer threats.”

    Does that mean that in the *new vision* for the 2050 Navy, CGs / DDGs / SSNs / SSGNs would represent an agregate of 50 units altogether ?

    The Leviathan Fleet is getting smaller and smaller every week !!!

    Even the Navy Brass or the all-mighty Chicom ASBMs cannot compete with this kind of Unilateral Disarming !!!

  29. Anonymous permalink
    July 12, 2010 4:27 pm

    Good point on the size of the Global Hawk by
    B.Smiity and Hokie_1997.

    As an alternative (extreme other end of the size scale) an MQ-8 Fire Scout could be used. It has a flight ceing of 20,000 feet, giving a horizon 173 miles away. While this is half the range a Global Hawk, a Fire Scout can be flown by any ship
    with a helipad. Also it is more likely that multiple could be launched, reducing vulnerability and opening the possibility of extending the range of communications by using multiple Fire Scouts in a “chain”.

    Al

  30. July 12, 2010 4:25 pm

    Hello,

    if the Queen Elizabeth class carrier had catapults they could carry a navalised version of this:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/10603874

    tangosix.

  31. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 12, 2010 3:50 pm

    Or provided said Global Hawk was modified for carrier operation.

    Al

    *****

    Global Hawk has 115 ft wingspan and requires a 3,500 ft runway.

    It seems like a real engineering challenge to try shoot GH off a 1,000 ft CVN — and even more so off the small carriers that our gracious host repeatedly proposes!

  32. B.Smitty permalink
    July 12, 2010 3:50 pm

    Al said, “Or provided said Global Hawk was modified for carrier operation.

    And provided said carrier is modified to handle the Global Hawk’s 737-sized wingspan.

  33. B.Smitty permalink
    July 12, 2010 3:49 pm

    Al said, “They would fly from either a modern carrier or an as-yet-unbuilt UAV carrier.

    If we’re going to do this, why not just build larger, armed UAVs (UCAVs) to fly from these carriers?

    Then at least they can rely on the “endless magazine” of the carrier rather than a fixed number of VLS cells carrying only a handful of types of weapons that can’t air refuel to extend their range and endurance and aren’t recoverable.

    Some of these larger UCAVs could also be configured as comm relays.

  34. Anonymous permalink
    July 12, 2010 3:28 pm

    Or provided said Global Hawk was modified for carrier operation.

    Al

  35. sid permalink
    July 12, 2010 3:23 pm

    To operate OTH, a specially modified Global Hawk flying at 65,000 feet could communicate with anything in a three hundred mile radius

    Provided…that the Global Hawk is based at an airfield within operational range…which takes third country acquiesence mostly.

    Provided…that the BAMS, Global Hawk, or whatever, will be allowed to traverse third country airspace…

    Neither of those is a guarantee.

  36. Anonymous permalink
    July 12, 2010 2:09 pm

    “Recon UAVs flying from where? How do they operate OTH with the enemy jamming SATCOM?”

    They would fly from either a modern carrier or an as-yet-unbuilt UAV carrier. To operate OTH, a specially modified Global Hawk flying at 65,000 feet could communicate with anything in a three hundred mile radius. This would allow the recon UAVs to send back data even if denied SATCOM. The UAVs would be mostly autonomous to save bandwidth.

    Al

  37. Hudson permalink
    July 12, 2010 1:22 pm

    As B. Smitty points out, a sustained, large scale operation will require many more bombs and missiles that all the missiles in all the VLS launchers in the world. However…

    I wonder if the lure of instant mission success, we shall call it, of ArcLight and the rest, combined with our staggering debt to potentially hostile debt-holders like China and Saudi Arabia, plus a war weariness of the American public after Iraq and Afghanistan–which will end someday–especailly against insurgents with limitless supplies of manpower, explosives, small arms and money, will bring about a new style of warfare. We hit them with everything we’ve got pronto, and mop up, or we don’t go into these conflicts at all.

    I wonder.

  38. sid permalink
    July 12, 2010 1:19 pm

    I’ve watched space shuttles going up and this looks different.

    During the early ’60’s, I lived in Sanford Florida., and had a grand view of launches from the Cape.

    This was a time when there were intensive ongoing ICBM tests which were shot -at much shallower trajectories than orbital shots- toward the South Atlantic.

    I remember several looking just like that scene over China.

  39. B.Smitty permalink
    July 12, 2010 1:10 pm

    Recon UAVs flying from where? How do they operate OTH with the enemy jamming SATCOM?

  40. sid permalink
    July 12, 2010 1:09 pm

    Power projection is about a lot more than counting VLS cells. I’d like to know how all these VLS shooters are going to get over-the-beach targeting, in a SATCOM-denied environment, against targets which are mobile, hidden, or possibly intermingled among a friendly populace.

    As far as the quote above, I’d bear in mind that this is the same Undersecretary who keeps throwing money down the bottomless pit that is LCS. I’d take any analysis he provides with a healthy dose of salt!

    I second that. While he is a stand up guy, his idea that a netted force will have synergies to overcome these problems in the Real World, is fraught with real risk.

    First and foremost- even bfore the cyber-threat- is the fact that the ISR infrastructure is still predicated on the “tripwire” Cold War paradigm.

    Then, it made sense to keep unarmed sensor platforms along the periphery of the Soviet-Sino bloc because arming them would have simply been too provocative.

    Of course, we lost a few, but int he tacit rules of the game, neither side completely blinded the other, as that could have provoked a nuclear exchange.

    Now its different. You have these same systems expected to play a crucial role in the operational and tactical realms.

    Problem is, they can be stopped dead with something as simple as a boathook….

  41. Anonymous permalink
    July 12, 2010 12:44 pm

    “Power projection is about a lot more than counting VLS cells. I’d like to know how all these VLS shooters are going to get over-the-beach targeting, in a SATCOM-denied environment, against targets which are mobile, hidden, or possibly intermingled among a friendly populace.”

    Recon UAVs can provide targeting. Hidden and intermingled targets are just as difficult to hit with air strikes. Mobile enemies can be hit by munitions dispensers over a wide area (their position being communicated by the above recon UAVs).

    What would be best is a Tomahawk type missile (maybe with a video camera) that could be remote piloted from a ship or plane. It could loiter in an area until spotting a target, or search in an area where you know enemies are but you don’t know their exact position.

    Al

  42. Anonymous permalink
    July 12, 2010 12:31 pm

    “Or take an old freighter, one with a crane, and put missile cells in it. They don’t generate sexy image but they could be very effective.”

    I think we’ve already established that commercial ships make poor warships.

    Al

  43. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 12, 2010 12:31 pm

    “Consequently, the aggregate missile magazine capacity of these 75 US ships is 7,804 battle force missiles, for an average magazine capacity of 104 missiles per ship.” (UNDERSECNACV R. Work)

    *****

    Power projection is about a lot more than counting VLS cells. I’d like to know how all these VLS shooters are going to get over-the-beach targeting, in a SATCOM-denied environment, against targets which are mobile, hidden, or possibly intermingled among a friendly populace.

    As far as the quote above, I’d bear in mind that this is the same Undersecretary who keeps throwing money down the bottomless pit that is LCS. I’d take any analysis he provides with a healthy dose of salt!

  44. July 12, 2010 12:15 pm

    > reloaded at sea.
    This opens the door to see things like that old Russian prop bomber as a handy platform. It has huge range, can loiter, and can go home fast for more tea, biscuits, and missiles. Or take an old freighter, one with a crane, and put missile cells in it. They don’t generate sexy image but they could be very effective.

  45. D. E. Reddick permalink
    July 12, 2010 11:37 am

    Take a Virginia class SSN and insert a missile launch section as was done with the first USN SSBNs. Only, make this new boat an SSGN carrying several score of these PGS. That would take away part of the sting of the new Chinese DF-21 ASBM.

    And speaking of the DF-21, Mike Colombaro has posted a video of what may have been a test firing of that ASBM at Combat Fleet Of The World. It’s quite striking. I’ve watched space shuttles going up and this looks different.

    Maybe the 1st Chinese ASBM test ? (“carrier-killer”)

    http://combatfleetoftheworld.blogspot.com/2010/07/maybe-1st-chinese-asbm-test.html

  46. B.Smitty permalink
    July 12, 2010 11:32 am

    Oops. Of course GBU-31 is not a 500lb weapon. My mistake. It’s Monday..

    Still, we dropped over 7,000 GBU-12s, which is ALMOST as many VLS cells we have in the fleet. Add in the 5,000+ 2,000lb GBU-31s and we are well over that number.

  47. Jed permalink
    July 12, 2010 11:22 am

    Yep, “hypersonic glider” – well the US does have some previous experience in this field – the Space Shuttle Orbiter ! Don’t hold your breath for this one getting into service on time and on budget Mike – and while it might add another string to a MK41 equipped ships bow, as already noted putting one of these in a cell means something else has to be removed.

  48. B.Smitty permalink
    July 12, 2010 9:30 am

    We used nearly 20,000 guided munitions during the 30 days of Major Combat Operations in OIF alone. We dropped more 500lb guided bombs (GBU-12 and GBU-31) than all of the VLS cells in the fleet! And that was in a fairly short and “easy” conflict.

    VLS cell munitions are a useful supplement, but NOT a substitute for aviation in strike warfare.

    They can’t perform their own ISR (or OCA, SEAD, KI/CAS, EW, AEW). They can’t be recovered and reused. They have limited types of effects. And they can’t be reloaded at sea.

  49. ShockwaveLover permalink
    July 12, 2010 8:58 am

    Don’t forget that, for this to work, PGS has to actually work, and be cheap and reliable enough to be procured in reasonable numbers. Taking a look at recent projects (such as ERGM and NLOS) which were touted as ‘the next generation’ in their field, I’m taking any claims about this presently non-existent weapon with more than a grain of cynicism.

    Also, what is going to be replaced by the PGM rounds? I’m assuming they won’t be able to be quad-packed into the Mk 41, so what’s getting shunted? SM-2s? SM-3s? Tomahawks? ESSMs?

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