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Ships and Subs

VLS Underway Replenishment: When will the Navy get serious?

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

by Craig Hooper
Defense Tech Naval Warfare Analyst

In a high-threat environment, the Navy’s AEGIS vessels have a problem. They cannot be re-armed. AEGIS cruisers have 122 vertical launch system (VLS) cells, while the destroyers have 96. Each magazine is “multi-use,” composed of specialized land attack and self-defense weapons, so a desired missile may not be available in sufficient numbers. Complicating matters, AEGIS vessels sometimes sail with a partially-filled magazines, and missile reliability rates aren’t often anywhere near 100%.

CSBA expert Jan Van Tol, in his recent AirSea Battle monograph (.pdf), is the latest to highlight this vulnerability, and pointedly suggests that, given the way high-end warfare is likely to be waged, “the Navy should continue its efforts to develop and field the capability to rearm surface ship VLS cells at sea.”


If You Happen to Find One of Our Undersea Robots, Please Call Us: Navy

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

The Navy lost four submersible unmanned drones over the weekend in the Chesapeake Bay near Norfolk, Va., and is asking the public for help in finding the errant torpedo shaped drones. Communication was lost with four of the 13 undersea drones on Sunday as they were scanning the sea floor for mines as part of a training exercise.

The Navy said the search continued today and they are thinking of using dolphins and sea lions trained to hunt for mines to aid in the search. The Navy said the undersea drones are not a danger to civilians or the environment and asked boaters if they happen to spot one floating on the water to call the U.S. Second Fleet commander.

– Greg Grant

HASC Chair Skelton Wants Diesel-Electric Subs

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

The cruise-missile carrying, stealthy submarine may very well become the ship of the future, says Rep. Ike Skelton, the influential chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Determined to see the Navy battle fleet grow to 313 ships (today’s fleet is 286 ships), and mindful of shipbuilding costs, he thinks building larger numbers of smaller, perhaps even diesel-electric, submarines, instead of large capital ships, might be the answer.

The nature of warfare has changed, Skelton said. World War I was the era of the Dreadnought. World War II was the era of the aircraft carrier. In the future strategic era, one where enemy battle networks are ever more capable, the stealthy submarine may reign supreme. Small, stealthy submarines have utility in both high-end, large scale wars and low-end, guerrilla conflicts, he said, speaking to reporters in Washington this morning.

“Numbers make a difference, presence makes a big difference… just an American ship in the area makes a big difference.” Skelton is so adamant about naval forward presence that he said just “put sails” on any ship and get it out there.

The Navy says they want 313 ships, but the budget they sent to the Hill doesn’t get there, so Skelton’s committee is examining ways to increase ship numbers. Slowing the Navy’s retirement of legacy ships is one option. “A lot of these ships are able to carry on for another three, four or five years,” Skelton said. He’s also willing to shift money from other parts of the defense budget into shipbuilding to “buy another ship or two.”

– Greg Grant

Navy Shipbuilding Plan Not Affordable; New Boomers to Cost $8 Billion Each: CBO

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

The Congressional Budget Office is out with a new estimate (.pdf)  of the Navy’s latest 30 year shipbuilding plan, issued in February. While that new plan reduces the total number of ships purchased between 2011 and 2040, and thus shipbuilding costs, CBO says the annual price tag is still much higher than the total shipbuilding funds the Navy has received in recent years.

The Navy’s new plan calls for buying 276 ships between now and 2040; the previous 30 year plan called for 296 new ships. Still, with the annual shipbuilding budget at around $15 billion (the average for the past three decades), the Navy can’t afford to buy all of those ships, CBO said.

CBO puts the annual shipbuilding price tag at around $19 billion versus the Navy’s projections of around $16 billion. If the costs to refuel aircraft carriers is included, the cost to buy and outfit new ships rises to about $21 billion a year.

Included in CBO’s projection is the cost to build a new class of ballistic missile submarines, the SSBN(X). The Navy estimates that building 12 SSBN(X)s will cost $86 billion, which is about $7.2 billion a copy. Based on the historical track record for building subs, CBO estimates it will cost $99 billion to build 12 boomers, at $8.2 billion a copy.

– Greg Grant

New Ford Class Flattop Construction Costs Still Climbing

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Back in April 2009, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates upended the program of record, he announced that construction of the new Ford (CVN-78) class carriers would be slowed to one carrier every five years. His reasoning: it would put carrier construction on “a more fiscally sustainable path.”

Naval analyst extraordinaire Ron O’Rourke explains how it was supposed to work:

“As a simplified notional example, if carriers are assumed to cost $10 billion each, then shifting from a four-year interval to a five-year interval would reduce the average amount of carrier procurement funding needed each year from $2.5 billion to $2.0 billion, a reduction of $500 million per year.”

That is not what’s happening. O’Rourke crunched the latest figures on the first three ships in the Ford class and they don’t look good. The estimated costs for CVNs 78, 79, and 80 in the proposed 2011 budget are 10.3%, 13.3% and 26.7% higher than the same estimates in the 2009 budget. In the 2009 budget, CVN-80 was projected to cost $10.7 billion; now its projected cost is $13.5 billion.

He surmises that increasing the build interval may reduce “learning-curve benefits” from one carrier to the next and may reduce the spreading of fixed overhead and material costs by the shipyards. The five year interval might also have a ripple effect on other ship builds, including mid-life reactor refueling on the Nimitz class carriers and the Virginia class submarines.

More squeeze on an already tight shipbuilding budget.

– Greg Grant

Does China Suffer From a Serious Case of Carrier Envy?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Kenneth Payne’s view on China’s carrier project. The Varyag reconstruction is an attempt at boosting self-esteem, an effort, like much of Chinese policy, to shape what it means to be China, to play with the big boys. Won’t work, he says, “because whichever way you squint at it, it’s still a reverse engineered Soviet hand-me-down.”

“It’s the equivalent of those huge Middle East arms deals for advanced fighter aircraft: flashy, but a bit flaky. It’s the same too as the inter-war Irish army who, in Theo Farrell’s great illustration, structured itself in conventional fashion, with armoured formations, but hardly any armour. Group status and self-esteem are driving military structures in these examples – not power and the need for security. So, is the Varyag a convincing demonstration that carriers remain viable? Hardly – it’s a new investment banker’s first Porsche: a bit tacky and not quite the Aston Martin he’s secretly craving.”

– Greg Grant

Gates Channels CSBA’s Big Brains Warning Navy Ships Risk Becoming Wasting Assets

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Ask Washington’s defense cognoscenti to name the most influential think tank in town and I wager most would say the Center for New American Security (CNAS). While that may be true in terms of shaping the counterinsurgency strategy being applied in the current wars, when it comes to leaving a lasting mark on the future size and shape of the military, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made clear in his speech yesterday at the Navy League’s annual conference that the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) is the real brain trust.

At his first appearance before the Navy fraternity, Gates delivered what will be remembered as the beginning of the most radical transformation of the Navy since the fleet peaked at 592 ships in 1989 and then promptly shrunk. Actually, what’s coming is likely to be even more “radical” as the post-Cold War demobilization hit the fleet with proportional cuts across all platforms. Gates wants to change the fleet’s very makeup. And he cribbed heavily from CSBA in his speech outlining the plan.

Gates began by reminding his audience of the size and striking power of the current battle fleet. “It is important to remember that, as much as the U.S. battle fleet has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, the rest of the world’s navies have shrunk even more. So, in relative terms, the U.S. Navy is as strong as it has ever been,” he said. That bit, and the assessment of the fleet’s comparative combat power that followed, is straight out of Bob Work’s CSBA monograph, “The U.S. Navy: Charting a Course for Tomorrow’s Fleet” (.pdf). Work of course has since left CSBA and is now navy undersecretary.

Gates borrowed from CSBA president Andrew Krepinevich’s Foreign Affairs article, “The Pentagon’s Wasting Assets,” when he said the U.S. “virtual monopoly” on precision weapons is eroding, long-range precision anti-ship missiles are proliferating, putting carriers and “other large, multi-billion dollar blue-water surface combatants” at risk of becoming “wasting assets.”


Gates Whacks Navy-Marines

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates finished his speech to the Navy League at the Sea-Air-Space expo today you could, pardon the cliche, hear a pin drop; a very muted applause finally came after a long silence. Gates went right at the sea services, saying the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle is way too costly and there isn’t much of an amphibious warfare mission, building a new class of boomers, at $7 billion a copy, will bankrupt the shipbuilding budget, and he even went after the holiest-of-holies, saying the Navy has too many carriers.

“At the end of the day, we have to ask whether the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 to 6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines, and $11 billion carriers.” His implication was the answer to that question is clearly no. Well, he’s already let the Air Force have it, I guess it was the Navy’s turn.

Some gems:

“We have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious landing again – especially as advances in anti-ship systems keep pushing the potential launch point further from shore. On a more basic level, in the 21st century, what kind of amphibious capability do we really need to deal with the most likely scenarios, and then how much?”

“Our current plan is to have eleven carrier strike groups through 2040. To be sure, the need to project power across the oceans will never go away. But, consider the massive over-match the U.S. already enjoys. Consider, too, the growing anti-ship capabilities of adversaries. Do we really need eleven carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?”

They must have a class over at the Pentagon where they teach officers and officials to frame any touchy issue in the form of a question. Gates made it clear that the shipbuilding budget is not going up. The funding priority for the foreseeable future is reset — repairing and refurbishing the Army and Marine Corps equipment coming out of Iraq, he said.

Colin’s got more over at DOD Buzz. Bryan McGrath at Information Dissemination has a lengthy rejoinder.

– Greg Grant

Western Pacific, Indian Ocean Now Strategic Center of the World

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

So says Robert Kaplan, influential (particularly inside the Pentagon) author and semi-resident at various Washington DC think tanks. We highlighted some comments from Kaplan the other day at a conference on security and climate change. On a conference call with reporters Friday discussing his new Foreign Affairs piece, “The Geography of Chinese Power,” Kaplan argued for shifting our strategic focus from the Middle East to WESTPAC. The key area to watch closely is the South China Sea, as important in the 21st century as the Gulf was in in the 20th.

Recently, I wrote up a paper from the Center for Naval Analyses, “The Navy at a Tipping Point: Maritime Dominance at Stake?”, (.pdf) that said the U.S. Navy is on a downward glide path from today’s 286 ships to around 240 ships out around 2025. Planners face hard choices as to where and what to prioritize, it said. Given a shrinking fleet, one of the options the paper considers to maintain maritime dominance would require stacking carrier strike groups and supporting high end ships in WESTPAC, while the fleet base at Norfolk would become home for low end ships (LCS, JHSV, amphibs) and engagement, counter-narcotics/counter-piracy missions.

Very appropriate subjects to ponder, particularly as the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo is this week in the DC area. Tune in for updates throughout the week.

– Greg Grant

Navy Says NLOS-LS Cancellation Won’t Delay LCS

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

The Army is looking to cancel its costly and poorly performing “missiles in a box,” the Non-Line of Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS). As we’ve noted, NLOS-LS was also intended to outfit the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), providing the vessel much needed long range, precision guided fires.

We asked the Navy if the Army’s cancellation of the NLOS-LS would have any impact on the LCS being declared combat capable, as the vessel needs some kind of long range fires to fulfill its surface warfare mission. Today, a Navy spokesman emailed over the following statement:

“The Navy is assessing options to fulfill the NLOS role in the surface warfare mission package. An inherent advantage of the modular designs for LCS and its mission packages is that a delay in one part of the overall program does not impact our ability to move forward in other areas and deliver combat capable assets to the fleet.”

– Greg Grant