Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

The Ultimate Stealth Ship

By Salvatore R. Mercogliano, Ph.D.

When one thinks of a stealth ship, images of the Chinese Type 055 destroyer, the French La Fayette-class frigate, or Swedish Visby-class corvette come to mind. The use of material and technology to produce a smaller radar cross-section or to reduce sound and electronic emissions are all common attributes of what is commonly considered a stealth ship. Yet, if one was to ask what is the stealthiest ship in the U.S. Navy, the answer may prove surprising. It is not USS Zumwalt, the newest destroyer in the fleet. It is also not the most recent Virginia or Seawolf-class submarine, and it most assuredly is not one of the littoral combat ships. The ship that holds this title is not even a commissioned vessel in the U.S. Navy, or owned by the government, but leased from one of the largest ship operators in the world. MV Ocean Trader, chartered by the Military Sealift Command for the U.S. Special Operations Command, most assuredly holds this title.

One may remember back to early 2014 when articles began to appear about the Navy obtaining a “Big, Secretive Special Operations Mothership,” as reported by David Axe in War is Boring. The story went, “The U.S. Navy is quietly converting a 633-foot-long cargo ship into a secretive helicopter carrier with facilities for supporting a large contingent of Special Operations Forces and all their gear, including jet skis.” In 2016, pictures appeared of the ship while at the BAE Shipyard in Mobile, Alabama. Constructed in the Odense Steel Shipyard in 2011 for Maersk Line, MV Cragside is capable of speeds of up to 21 knots. Her design is a common one in Europe, derived from the Flensburger roll-on/roll-of ships. She is a near sister ship to the four Point-class roll-on/roll-off ships chartered by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense in 2002. The ship’s configuration, when compared to photos of the vessel before conversion, indicate an addition aft of the main house without windows or ports. Forward of the house, two enclosed helicopter hangers are added with the addition of a large flying off platform indicated by the drop-down nets along the edges.

Photo  showing modifications to M/V Cragside. (Wikimedia Commons)

That picture of the ship in Mobile is the last available image and report of the vessel by an American source. A French news agency reported the arrival of the renamed MV Ocean Trader in the Mediterranean on May 16, 2016. According to Maritime Administration records, the ship was renamed on October 30, 2015 and remains on the rolls as a U.S. flagged merchant ship as of July 1, 2017, although a few of the sources identify the ship as Marshall Island flagged. Checks of various Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) has the ship in Gibraltar on May 14, 2017, Souda Bay, Crete on May 24, 2016, and Amsterdam on August 16, 2017. The ship does not currently show up on any active AIS systems. A search of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command records, including both their annual reports – which state all the vessels owned and under long-term charter to the Navy – and the U.S. Navy’s official sites, have no records of the ship. Even the list of MSC contracts does not identify MV Ocean Trader, nor MV Cragside, nor contract N00033-14-C-2015. The ship has been deployed to the Mediterranean and possibly the Baltic for over a year, yet no news or information has been released about the vessel. While stories abound about the Navy’s and MSC’s hybrid-crewed afloat forward staging base, USS Ponce AFSB(I)-15, and the recently deployed Lewis B. Puller and its change in designation from USNS to USS, no press or mention has been made about MV Ocean Trader.  

Ocean Trader has the capability to house a total of 209 special warfighting personnel, enough stores and provisions for 45 days of operations and the capability to refuel and replenish at sea, along with capacity to launch, recover, refuel, and resupply up to four small craft, including UAVs. She includes a flight deck rated for day and night operation of Chinooks, Seahawks, Blackhawks, Kiowas, Apaches, Ospreys, Sea Stallions and Little Birds. There is storage and launch capability via the stern ramp for Zodiacs, RHIBs and jet skis. The ship contained all the command and control and food services, including the ability to provide hot lunches between 2330 and 0030 hours. A ship, forward deployed for over a year, can easily disappear amid an ocean filled with commercial shipping.

MV Ocean Trader, along with Expeditionary Support Bases, such as Lewis B. Puller and USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams, and Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transports, provide a unique capability to project military power afloat and ashore. Ocean Trader’s commercial guise (like an auxiliary cruiser of old) provides stealth suitable for congested areas such as the Mediterranean or Baltic. Spearhead-class T-EPFs, like dozens of Incat and Austal catamarans around the world, also possess that capability to meld into the background or operate in the open, except for their Navy-gray exteriors.

The days of small radar signatures, applying special material to the hull, or suppressed sounds may just be giving way to the hoisting of false flags akin to the day of sail. While this may sound like a story from the age of piracy, MV Ocean Trader remains under contract to the United States through March 14, 2018, and she may be preforming missions as we speak.  

Salvatore R. Mercogliano is an Associate Professor of History at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina and teaches courses in World Maritime History and Maritime Security.  He is also an adjunct professor with the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and offers a graduate level course in Maritime Industry Policy.  A former merchant mariner, he sailed and worked ashore for the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command.  He recently published Fourth Arm of Defense: Sealift and Maritime Logistics in the Vietnam War, available for free download through the Naval History and Heritage Command at: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/publications/publications-by-subject/Fourth-Arm-of-Defense.html.

Featured Image: M/V Cragside (Manuel Hernández Lafuente/ShipSpotting.com)

USNS Dreadnaught: A Combat Logistics Force for 21st Century Warfare

By Chris O’Connor 

The Future Capital Ship

During a recent CIMSEC topic week, the idea of the “Future Capital Ship” was discussed. This hypothetical asset was depicted several different ways that week. Transplanting the idea of the twentieth century battleship or aircraft carrier to the near future, this conceptual combatant could be bristling with railguns and directed energy weapons, in lieu of an “all big gun” dreadnaught’s armament. It could also be the mothership to many cross-domain unmanned systems, an update to the aircraft carrier archetype. Some viewed “capital ships” of the future as swarms of unmanned systems operating autonomously, a complete disruption in naval warfare akin to the first dreadnaught – eliminating the need for a manned vessel entirely. 

Taking a different route, the organizational investment that was put into the capital ships of the past could be applied in a way that transcends the idea of physical warfighting platforms. The CNO Strategic Studies Group 35 used that thought experiment to point out that the Navy of the future should treat the “Network of Humans and Machines” as the future capital ship. The argument was also well-made that investments in information warfare and cyber capabilities should be at the forefront, even to the extent that the U.S. Navy will eventually evolve into a cyber force with a maritime component.

These concepts are all deserving of consideration, and the future Navy will most likely be a combination of many of them, but the major foundation of naval power is usually an afterthought. The dominant Navy of the future will be the one with the most robust and adaptable logistics support structure needed to succeed in the future high-end fight as well as maintain command of the seas in peacetime through sustained global presence. 

Death of a Salesman

Aggressive recapitalization of the Combat Logistics Force (CLF) is needed because the Navy’s current logistics force structure is unprepared to support a distributed fleet in a fight against a peer competitor. There are fewer than 40 hulls in the CLF, a mix of oiler (AO and AOE) and dry cargo (AKE) supply ships of differing types. It is impossible employ them all at once, so the effective number of usable hulls is in fact lower for they require upkeep like every other vessel. They are incapable of defending themselves from anything other than limited numbers of lightly-armed small boats. This leads to the unfortunate conclusion that a limited number will be available to replenish shooters in the fight – if they can survive an area denial battlespace. In a high-end fight, they will become prime targets, and providing escorts to CLF assets only takes shooters away from the fight. But given the logistically-intensive nature of naval power projection, CLF ships will take on capital-ship value in a tightly contested conflict.

The force structure of CLF ships we have today is based off of their employment in the older model of hub-and-ferry routing, centered on specific ports in overseas Areas of Responsibilities (AORs). As the Navy moves toward fighting as a distributed fleet, it creates a complex variant of the travelling salesman problem (TSP). Familiar to anyone who has taken an operations analysis business course, TSP looks for the optimization of a route that passes through a set of points once each. Cities or houses in a neighborhood are often the problem set. In a disaggregated environment, a replenishment asset must do the same (if its customers have to stay in the fight), but the difficulty is compounded by the fact that the delivery locations will be moving targets and the distances between them will stretch around threatened areas and land masses. The academic TSP problem seldom includes the possibility of the salesman getting killed and never reaching the destination. In addition, naval assets are going to be limited to external lines of communication in some future conflicts. Ships will travel farther distances than their peers in the opposing force, leading to longer transit times between shore support and afloat customers.

CONOPs and Force Structure for Distributed Naval Logistics

Distributed naval warfare needs more “salesmen,” working together as an interconnected web of logistics assets. An enlarged fleet of combat support vessels is the base of this new support schema. Practically, this is easier done than asking for more warships. As we build a larger number of warships for the future, our military shipyards are going to reach capacity, especially if they continue to build platforms using conventional methods. New replenishment ships can be acquired in a number of ways, apart from dedicating some military shipyards to building replenishment vessels (which will take away from warship building capacity), or building them in foreign countries (which is politically unfeasible). There is a surplus of offshore support vessels (OSVs) that could be purchased and put into Military Sealift Command (MSC) service, along with other commercial vessels that could be modified for CLF purposes. Modified in smaller civilian shipyards instead of military ones, they could create work that would please the constituents of a number of decision-makers on Capitol Hill. Under new CONOPs, vessels such as OSVs could be employed in shorter range replenishments to independent deployers on missions such as antipiracy and ballistic missile defense.

HOS Arrowhead under way, date and location unknown (U.S. Navy photo via Navsource)

These additional CLF vessels will still be vulnerable, especially if kept in the current MSC construct as unarmed USNS assets. Risk of enemy attack will have to be built into the calculus of how these ships are employed. But giving them sufficient self-defense weapons and damage control resilience to survive being set upon by enemy platforms would be prohibitively expensive. A larger number of our vessels would create a targeting problem – they can service more combatants, operate from more ports, and inject uncertainty into the situational awareness of an adversary. In the current model, there are only a couple of CLF vessels operating in an AOR, and watching select ports will give plenty of indications of U.S. Navy presence. 

These ships can be augmented with automation to the level that is currently employed on commercial vessels, allowing MSC to man more ships with the same number of personnel. An AKE in current MSC service has approximately 130 personnel onboard, while there are thousands of commercial vessels afloat with crews numbering less than 30. At-sea replenishment creates demands for more personnel during alongside evolutions, but this could be mitigated with updating the CONREP (connected replenishment) stations with new equipment.  The receiving ship could guide the delivery ship’s systems remotely with short-range remote operation systems, supervised by a few merchantmen on the delivery ship. A fly-away crew could attend to this equipment only when needed, and not ride for long transits, or into harm’s way.

To reduce the threat profile of the manned CLF hulls, a system of smaller unmanned systems would create a web of logistical support. Cargo unmanned aerial systems (CUAS) will travel hundreds of miles point-to-point to deliver critical parts, instead of sailing entire vessels closer to get within VERTREP (vertical replenishment) range. They could carry parts for multiple customers and use aviation-capable ships as lily pads to get to others. Heavier lift CUAS could carry out VERTEP from unmanned CLF vessels to delivery ships, obviating the need for sailing alongside to transfer parts in a connected replenishment with a robotic vessel. These systems would be augmented by small unmanned surface vessels, possibly based off of the Sea Hunter Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV), that could blend into surface traffic and make deliveries in battlespaces that are not conducive to aerial vehicles.

Arabian Sea (Nov. 11, 2003)  The guided missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG 64), top, and the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), bottom, underway alongside the fast combat support ship USS Detroit (AOE 4) during a replenishment at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Douglas M. Pearlman)

There are a number of solutions to support problems that will also be needed in the Navy of the future. Digital investments will be needed to improve our logistics IT structure to create a more resilient and adaptable family of systems. Taken to the farthest extent, this would lead to Vertical Expert Systems (specialized AI), predicting demand through data analytics and optimizing the use of delivery assets. Additive Manufacturing will allow parts sourcing from many more locations than are currently available. Underway ships could eventually have the ability to make complex parts for their use or for other vessels that lack the technology. Fuel production from bacteria and “grow-tainer” produce farms could bring commodity sourcing much closer to the fight. Adoption of these technologies is important, but they do not eliminate the need for support to be physically delivered to our combatants anytime in the near future. 

Recognizing Priorities

The counterargument to a larger fleet of CLF hulls deserves to be heard. The Navy is looking toward a 355-ship force, and most of that plus-up number would be in warships. We want a lean Navy- with as little tooth-to-tail as possible, and the idea of buying more replenishment assets seems to be anathema to that. But the Navy must recognize it is unable to fight a long-term shooting war, especially in a disaggregated manner, with the current CLF force structure. A larger fleet of combatants only complicates this problem, especially since a majority of these shooters will be powered by liquid petroleum products that have to be brought to them.

To placate these concerns, these new vessels do not have to be single mission vessels, dedicated only to logistics. They could act as routers for line-of-sight transmissions, or even couriers of data packages between other platforms when they carry out their supply missions in a communications-restricted environment. They could seed sensors or deploy and recover unmanned systems in their transits. These missions could reduce the burden on warships and dedicated survey ships in peacetime and in war. 

A Worthy Investment

A successful future U.S. Navy will be comprised of innovatively designed combatants, with arsenals of new weaponry, employing cyberwarfare and unmanned systems to an extent that we can barely conceptualize now. They will still need a capital-ship level of investment in an interconnected web of logistics assets to fight against a peer adversary. The toilet paper, Diet Pepsi, and turbolaser parts have to come from somewhere.

Chris O’Connor is a Supply Corps officer in the United States Navy and a member of the CIMSEC Board of Directors. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent those of the United States Department of Defense.

Featured Image: (Feb.12, 2015)  USNS Guadalupe (T-AO-200) delivers supplies to the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8), not pictured, during a nighttime vertical replenishment. (US Navy photo by MC1 Ronald Gutridge)

Building an Asymmetric Ukrainian Naval Force to Defend the Sea of Azov, Pt. 2

The following two-part series will analyze the maritime dimension of competition between Ukraine and Russia in the Sea of Azov. Part 1 analyzed strategic interests, developments, and geography in the Sea of Azov along with probable Russian avenues of aggression. Part 2 will devise potential asymmetric naval capabilities and strategies for the Ukrainian Navy to employ.

By Jason Y. Osuga

Three Approaches to Building a Credible Deterrent

The primary job of any country’s military is to defend the nation from foreign attacks. The Ukrainian military must prevent further encroachment of its territory by Russia. Ukraine should consider three approaches to its nation’s defense. First, Ukraine should develop an effective asymmetric navy and coastal defense to counter the much stronger Russian conventional navy. An asymmetric navy can disrupt naval operations of a conventional fleet through the use of guerrilla tactics at sea. An asymmetric navy is also cheaper to build compared to a conventional navy which requires an enormous amount of resources and time to build. All these efforts could prove futile against a greater and stronger-willed adversary intent on defeating Ukraine in war. However, if Ukraine is able to raise the potential costs and increase enough risk, Russian leadership may think twice about conducting further encroachments on Ukrainian sea and land territories.

Second, the Ukrainian Navy and Army must adopt a joint strategy of conducting sea denial operations against Russian attempts to gain sea control. The Army and Navy must develop a joint sea denial doctrine and train together to prevent Russian forces from achieving sea control and chokepoint control of Kerch Strait. Ukraine’s sea denial strategy should focus on attacking the Russian center of gravity (COG) by weakening the functions that enable the COG to operate. Finally, the Ukrainian Navy should consider establishing a naval base in Mariupol and forward-deploying part of its fleet to the Sea of Azov (SOA). The patrol fleet would act as a deterrent against Russian encroachment in eastern Ukraine. Forward-basing cuts down on deployment time from Odessa, Ukraine’s only naval base of any significance following the loss of Sevastopol. Ukraine should also set up supply depots along the Azov coast to mitigate vulnerability of a singular dependence on Mariupol.

Asymmetric Naval Forces and Guerrilla Warfare at Sea

The backbone of an asymmetric navy is a sizeable fleet of small patrol crafts, missile boats, and mine-laying vessels. Small boats are necessary for speed and presenting a small target for the adversary. Hence, a large quantity of small boats is necessary to present a challenge through a swarm effect. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Iran learned that large naval vessels are vulnerable to air and missile attacks from a conventionally superior foe, which confirmed the efficacy of small boat operations and spurred interest in missile-armed fast-attack crafts (FAC).1 Iran expanded the use of swarm tactics that formed the foundation of its approach to asymmetric naval warfare.2 Investment in an asymmetric navy composed of small craft is more cost-effective compared to building large surface combatants in addition to presenting a more elusive target. The shallow water environment precludes friendly or enemy deep-draft capital warships and submarines from operating in the SOA. It is the shallowest sea in the world with a mean depth of just 10 meters. Just as Iran developed asymmetric tactics to deal with a larger and more sophisticated U.S. Navy, so can Ukraine develop asymmetric tactics against a larger and more sophisticated Russian Navy.

For defense of the SOA, the Ukrainian Navy should consider investing in Anti-Surface Warfare (ASUW), Coastal Defense (CD), Mine Warfare (MIW), and military pay, housing, and training.  

Anti-Surface Warfare (ASUW)

The Ukrainian Navy should focus on building numerous anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM)-capable Patrol Boats (PB), Patrol Crafts (PC), and Guided-Missile Patrol Crafts (PTG). These small boats form the backbone of an asymmetric navy. Speed is a key requirement for these small boats to be able to employ shoot-and-scoot tactics. These vessels must be able to achieve minimum of 35 knots sustainable speed. In addition, these vessels must have long endurance to remain at sea for long periods of time. Frequent return to home-port to resupply makes the vessels more vulnerable. Therefore, vessels must have large storage capacity for provisions and fuel, relative to the size of the expected operating environment. To take on provisions, small crafts should be able to operate from inlets and small ports along the Azov coast. Therefore, another critical requirement is a low draft to operate in the SOA. Another potential solution could be small Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB)-like crafts with powerful outboard engines. These 11-meter boats are capable of high speed, low draft, and are suitable for calm seas operations in the SOA. Under the Foreign Military Sales program in 2015, the US Navy delivered five 7/11-meter RHIBs produced by Willard Marine.3 This transfer fulfills speed and low draft requirements in the shallow littorals. Ukraine should continue to build a more robust surface patrol capability.

Maintenance, crew manning, and armaments are other important considerations. The future asymmetric fleet must be easy to maintain by using interchangeable parts that already exist in Ukraine’s defense infrastructure. Crew manning should be minimal to allow for crew rotation, training conducted on similar platforms, and manned by small increases to the overall manning level of the Ukrainian Navy. As for armaments, vessels should have 57-mm or 30-mm gun for self-defense and fire support, and perhaps .50 caliber (12.7mm) crew-served weapons for future interoperability with NATO.

These vessels’ main armament, however, should be ASCMs due to their longer range and lethality. The Ukraine Navy should incorporate the newly developed Neptune missile system on PCs, PTGs, and PBs when it passes all operational testing and evaluations.4 The two Gurza-M class armored patrol boats introduced to the Navy in 2015, with a further 20 planned by 2020, is a promising step in the right direction.5 However, these boats should have an ASCM capability. Otherwise, these new vessels risk being out-gunned and out-ranged. Such vessels would only be capable of conducting law enforcement operations in peacetime but inadequate in conducting sea denial operations in war.

Another area of needed attention is the modernization of C4ISR, strengthening cyber networks, and growing a professional cyber force in the Ukrainian military. All the investments in asymmetrical hardware would not be completely effective in combat unless they are tied to a modern, resilient battle network. Ukraine must elevate cyber to strengthen networks and the C2 of the fleet. The U.S. should provide training and support to standing up Ukrainian cyber defense efforts through rotational training, NATO exercises, and foreign military sales and support.

Coastal Defense (CD)

The Ukrainian Army, not the Navy, should develop and operate Coastal Defense Cruise Missile (CDCM) battalions. The Army has deeper funding and manning levels to be able to better integrate this additional mission. Other nations employ this model. Namely, the Japan Ground Self Defense Force is responsible for operating/employing CDCMs against enemy ships. Giving the coastal defense mission to the Army will lessen the burden on the Navy and allow it focus on sea denial operations while the Army supports these efforts from the littorals. Command and control between Army and Navy units is paramount to ensure target coordination. Modern C4ISR networks should aid target cueing. The Army can organize mobile battalions to employ shoot-and-scoot tactics from concealed positions against the enemy fleet at sea. If the new Neptune ASCM passes operational testing and evaluation, Ukraine can mass-produce these ASCMs to achieve economy of scale and equip Army CDCM battalions. Ukraine has a naval infantry arm which could also take on the coastal defense mission. However, the Army should operate the CDCMs over the naval infantry because the latter is a mobile strike fighting force, while the Army has broader experience and funding support for artillery and related mission areas.  

Helicopter-Based ASUW Capability

Helicopters should possess an air-to-surface anti-ship missile capability to complement the surface fleet and coastal defense ASCM capabilities. This strategy completes the triad of anti-ship missile forces operating from land, air, and sea. Helicopters can operate from unprepared airfields, an advantage over fixed-wing aircraft which require a longer, prepared runway. Helicopters can hover at low altitudes for longer periods of time – a suitable platform for conducting ASUW from the air. Ukraine should attempt to fit the indigenous Neptune missile on helicopters to field a formidable anti-ship platform in the SOA littoral.

Mine Warfare (MIW)

Ukraine should develop a defensive mine warfare capability to protect the Ukrainian coastline as well as to have the ability to conduct chokepoint denial operations. Bottom, moored, and influence mines should be adapted to the shallow operating environment of the SOA. In addition, the Ukrainian Navy should invest in mine-clearing capabilities to counter potential Russian mining of SOA and the Kerch Strait. An unmanned mine-clearing capability is likely more economical than sweepers with a crew of 30 personnel.  NATO countries should help Ukraine obtain an affordable mine-clearing capability. Such a defense-oriented system would not threaten Russia. Furthermore, providing this level of support does not cross the threshold that would require a NATO membership for Ukraine.

Pay, Housing, and Training

Finally, improvements in the morale intangibles are indispensable for building a modern navy. Ukraine must increase military wages and expand access to housing which cuts to the root of persistent low morale. Only then can Ukraine begin to turn the tide on poor job performance, recruiting, retention, and even defections. A robust training program is also necessary to be effective in asymmetric warfare. Old ammunition stockpiles should be renewed for safe training and operations. Above all, training should emphasize the Ukrainian joint force ability to defend the SOA with no help from other countries, in line with geopolitical realities. In addition, exercises with NATO provide invaluable interoperability and high quality training opportunities, and thus should be continued.

Joint Sea Denial Strategy

Ukraine should animate the above fleet investments with a cohesive joint doctrine to conduct sea denial operations. The goal of sea denial is to prevent sea control, and therefore, preventing Russia from using the sea to do harm through amphibious landings, blockade, and fires against shore defenses.7 Currently, Ukraine has local control only along its coast and cities such as Mariupol and Berdyansk. Patrols and coastal surveillance should ensure that no suspicious vessels operate near the littorals. Russian Special Forces may operate close to the littorals on civilian vessels feigning as fishermen or conducting commercial shipping. Through exercises that focus on interoperability, U.S. and NATO Navies can provide training on maritime interdiction and patrol operations to develop doctrines to help Ukraine defend its borders from the seaborne equivalent of Russia’s little green men.

A map of the Azov Sea (mapofukraine.net)

In wartime, Ukrainian forces should focus their attack on the Russian Special Forces, ground, and amphibious forces on military or commercial transports. Thus, the primary focus of effort for Ukrainian surface combatants, CDCMs, and helicopters should be concentration of fires on transports carrying Russian troops and Special Forces to deny seaborne invasion and infiltration. If Russian surface combatants are protecting the transports, Ukraine must threaten those combatants to strip away protection. The secondary target is to weaken enemy sustainment by attacking supply ships and commercial vessels carrying materiel. Tertiary targets should be enemy operational fires capabilities, i.e., ships with naval gun fire support, Russian air support, and artillery. Ukraine forces should jam enemy communications to prevent effective C2 and weaken enemy intelligence gathering efforts through operational deception.

Ukraine Chokepoint Denial Operations

Eventually in wartime, Ukraine must try to deny Russia’s ability to control the Kerch Strait through chokepoint denial operations. The Ukrainian Navy must use its asymmetric fleet with swarm tactics, surprise, and concentration of force against the Russian fleet when they are most vulnerable coming through the Kerch Strait. This will likely be a large missile engagement; therefore, the side with more firepower that presents the most elusive targets will win. If Ukraine is unsuccessful in preventing Russia from closing the Strait, Russia will be able to control the OPTEMPO in the SOA and isolate eastern Ukraine while threatening vital coastal cities such as Mariupol. Dividing Ukrainian forces will lead to a quick and eventual defeat, resulting in Russian dominance in the SOA. Russia’s commercial interests, sea mineral resources, and Crimea’s rear area will be secure from foreign threats. This is Russia’s desired end state, which Ukraine must prevent through sea denial and choke-point denial operations.  

Mariupol Naval Base

The last part of the strategy is to establish a naval base in Mariupol and forward deploy a part of its asymmetric fleet to help defend it. Mariupol is Russia’s ultimate operational objective in a scenario that seeks to connect Crimea and Russia. For Ukraine, Mariupol is its theater-strategic center of gravity in preventing Russia from annexing the Priazovye region. Since the loss of Sevastopol to Russia, the Ukrainian Navy has only one operational base in Odessa. Currently, there are no Navy bases east of the Crimean Peninsula. Therefore, Ukraine should consider establishing a naval base in Mariupol as it is the most favorable city with natural harbors, a sizeable population, and an industrial base to sustain a moderate naval and Sea Guard force. Establishing a naval base in Mariupol will enhance the ability to safeguard maritime rights in SOA during peacetime and conduct sea denial operations during wartime. The Sea Guard also already has a base in Mariupol. Co-location of the Navy and Sea Guard with shared use of repair and logistics facilities would alleviate resource constraints while investing in resilience in the form of resupply points and depots along the Azov coast and inlets to support replenishment. An over-reliance on Mariupol creates a singular vulnerability to attack, as seen in separatists’ offensives against Mariupol in 2014/15. Ukraine must diversify risk by spreading out resupply capabilities throughout the Azov coast.

Finally, Ukraine should station about one-third of the Ukrainian Navy assets in Mariupol. This balance would be favorable to have enough economy of scale and concentration of force to conduct effective patrols and have a deterrent effect against the adversary. Critics may point to the fact that forward-deploying a large percentage of Ukraine’s fleet in the SOA would be akin to trapping the fleet if Russia closes the Kerch Strait. That is the reason why Ukraine should not deploy more than one-third of its fleet to Mariupol. If Russia establishes control of SOA and closes the Kerch Strait, the SOA fleet would be trapped in; however, Ukraine would still possess two-thirds of its fleet in Odessa as an operational reserve for a possible future counterattack. Nevertheless, one-third of the Ukrainian fleet patrolling the SOA is a marked improvement from the current situation, which is a weak, sporadic, or virtually non-existent presence in the SOA. Forward presence would be a step in the right direction to show resolve and stave off potential encroachment of Ukrainian territory.

Counterargument

Why build an asymmetric fleet and position over a third of its force to the frontlines?  After all, this action may provoke a Russian reaction. In addition, an ill-conceived asymmetric navy will not deter a determined and capable Russia from further encroaching on Ukrainian territory. Western sanctions and fear of diplomatic reprisals have so far deterred Russia and separatists from taking over Mariupol. Russia will not be able to brook further sanctions on its already fragile economy. Thus, Russia will weigh the risk versus the rewards, and decide that it is not in Russia’s interest to take actions that would further result in crippling sanctions on its economy. Therefore, Ukraine should spend its precious resources elsewhere to help its citizens. Furthermore, any resources spent on the Ukrainian military should continue to prioritize the army and air force which are doing the lion-share of fighting in the Donbas region.

However, sanctions have seldom deterred Russian actions. Russia’s honor, prestige, and the importance of holding Crimea far outweigh the risks of sanctions and how the international community will regard such an action. If Russia cannot resupply Crimea adequately, the fear of potentially losing Crimea will force Russia to take measures to ensure Crimea’s survival by building a land corridor to Russia. Russia will factor the Ukrainian Army’s relative strength over the Ukrainian Navy’s weakness. If Ukraine takes no action to prioritize and strengthen its naval and coastal defense forces, the power vacuum left in the SOA will tempt Russia to regain its former territory via the sea. What would become of the Ukrainian government’s legitimacy when it cannot defend its country again from foreign attacks, including those from the maritime domain? The risks of inaction are greater than they appear.

Conclusion

Following Crimea’s seizure, Ukraine continues to face threats of Russian encroachment on its territory. Russian designs are based on geopolitical needs for resources, consolidation of gains, and resupply of Crimea via a land corridor linking to Russia. Supported by historical narratives of “Novorossiya,”8 Russia will time the invasion by hybrid forces when Ukraine is weak and the international community’s attention divided. As in the case of Crimea, seizure of the Azov coast will be swift, probably led by “little green men” using plausible deniability and supported by separatist forces from Donbas region.

Ukraine has three main ways to counter future Russian aggression in the SOA: develop an asymmetric force, conduct joint sea denial operations, and forward deploy forces to defend Mariupol. Ukraine must implement this strategy immediately. The risk of inaction is too great for Ukrainian territorial sovereignty. In the end, Russia’s overwhelming military power may be too much for a small, underfunded Ukrainian military. The idea, though, is to introduce enough risk to deter Russia from further aggression against Ukraine. The answer lies with the Ukrainian people which strategy they should pursue. 

LCDR Jason Yuki Osuga is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Europe Center and the U.S. Naval War College.  This essay was written for the Joint Military Operations course at NWC.

These views are presented in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views of any government agency.

References

1. Fariborz Haghshenass, “Iran’s Doctrine of Asymmetric Naval Warfare.” Washington Institute, December 21, 2006. Accessed October 1, 2016, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/irans-doctrine-of-asymmetric-naval-warfare.

2. Ibid.

3. “CCD Contracts and Technical Briefs,” NAVSEA Combatant Craft Division, August 15, 2015, 30.

4. “Ukraine Develops New ‘Neptune’ Anti-Ship Missile Complex,” Info-News. May 17, 2016. Accessed October 9, 2016. http://info-news.eu/ukraine-develops-new-neptune-anti-ship-missile-complexe/.

5. Eugene Garden, “Ukraine Plans for 20 New Patrol Boats,” Shephard Media, March 8, 2016. Accessed October 9, 2016. https://www.shephardmedia.com/news/imps-news/ukraine-plans-20-new-patrol-boats/.

6. “Ukraine Develops New ‘Neptune’ Anti-Ship Missile Complex,” Info-News.

7. Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the 21st Century, (New York: Routledge, 2013), 152.

9. Kirill Mikhailov, “5 Facts About “Novorossiya” You Won’t Learn in a Russian History Class,” Euromaidan Press, October 17, 2014. Accessed 01 Oct 2016, http://euromaidanpress.com/2014/10/17/5-facts-about-novorossiya-you-wont-learn-in-a-russian-history-class/#arvlbdata.  

Featured Image: Gurza-M (Project 58155) small boat of the Ukrainian Navy. (Ministry of Defense of Ukraine)

A Thoroughly Efficient Navy for the 21st Century, Pt. 2

By David Tier

America has grown weary of the post-9/11 wars. Long, drawn-out conflicts have worn down American resolve and left many defense officials nostalgic for “the good-old days” when adversaries were easier to describe and devoted military efforts toward preparing for conventional warfare. Seizing an opportunity, the U.S. Navy has capitalized on growing disillusionment and sought to exaggerate the military challenges posed by an ascendant China for parochial benefit in terms of gaining larger budgets and greater quantities of more expensive ships. The Navy should consider an external strategy review that accounts for efficiency as an aspect of its operating concept. This article reviews America’s current naval strategy and is divided into two parts. Previously, Part 1 analyzed U.S. naval defense strategy in light of 21st Century national defense threats. Part 2, below, will recommend changes to the Navy’s force structure to gain significant cost savings while still satisfying America’s naval defense requirements. 

The Right-Sized Force

The Navy currently possesses 279 combat ships, including 11 supercarriers.1 An analysis of the platforms required to accomplish each mission reveals that, by procuring greater numbers of surface warfare ships such as frigates, the Navy could accomplish its five core missions while growing the number of ships in the fleet, lowering its average shipbuilding cost, and increasing its relevance in the defense arena to a greater extent than in more a decade. Rather than seeking to overcome advanced threats operating in their own territorial waters (an over-ambitious and possibly suicidal strategy unlikely to be needed), the Navy could come fully onboard with the existing 21st century task of discriminating between shadowy enemies that hide amidst innocent bystanders across the globe. The Navy could, indeed, provide a fleet with more total ships at a fraction of its planned budget and improve its brown-water capabilities necessary to confront pirates, terrorists, and less-capable regional adversaries by developing a larger, but less expensive fleet of 319 ships, and by maintaining eight carriers instead of the planned 11. In turn, this fleet would accomplish the Navy’s missions and yield significant cost savings.

The Navy’s first mission requires the nation’s defense from maritime attacks in naval theaters along the East and West coasts of the continental United States, off Alaska and Hawaii, and territories in the Caribbean Sea and Western Pacific Ocean. Since the main naval threat to the United States is primarily ballistic missile submarines, this mission requires the continuously operating presence of six multi-role naval task forces, one for each maritime defense area, primarily to conduct ASW and to a lesser extent ballistic missile defense (BMD).

The Navy would specifically tailor each task force to its geographic area and utilize advantageous aspects of the “distributed lethality” concept by deploying small surface action groups as well as independent ships and attack submarines forward to detect and track boomers, while positioning naval BMD assets in optimal locations complementary to land-based BMD systems in order to intercept either the most dangerous or most likely paths of inbound ballistic missiles, as necessary. In total, a force of six guided-missile cruisers, 12 guided-missile destroyers, 24 frigates, six oceanic surveillance ships, 12 attack submarines, 10 airborne ASW patrol squadrons, and major systems such as the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS; e.g. SOSUS), and the Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) could reasonably accomplish the task.

Nuclear deterrence remains necessary to protect the nation from attack and, as is standard practice, eight ballistic missile submarines would continually patrol the seas to provide nuclear strike capability.2 Only anti-surface warfare (ASuW) capability for self-defense would be necessary in this mission since the Air Force and Air National Guard are well-equipped to defend the nation against surface threats within range of America’s shores.3 Therefore, this mission requires neither aircraft carrier nor expeditionary strike groups. The Navy should strictly focus on defending against direct military threats to the nation’s territory while the U.S. Coast Guard should maintain its national security VBSS role, since it enjoys comparative economic advantage in national security tasks while close to home.

The second mission requires the Navy to establish SLOC security to friendly foreign waters, as military necessity dictates. Naval forces would only need to perform this mission during wartime, as opposed to the first mission, which requires continuous deployment. Therefore, the Navy would not require an indefinite rotational sea presence to fulfill this mission. Employed with tactical wisdom, the Navy could economize forces by operating the first two missions in tandem while simultaneously taking advantage of geographic barriers to sea traffic in the North Atlantic, Southeast Asia, and Oceania as well as other channelized waterways, and could lessen the number of single-purpose ships separately tasked to secure commercial ships from threats they might encounter far from America’s coasts. It is possible that this mission could be performed with no further forces whatsoever; however, to conservatively guard against a wide-variety of threats and specific circumstances, the Navy should procure the additional capability to simultaneously escort two large convoys in the open ocean. This would allow commercial traffic to continue with minimal disruption.

In 2013, there was a median commercial traffic flow of 441 container ships per month unloading in U.S. ports.4 Assuming that an anti-shipping threat could not engage half of these ships either because their routes crossed oceans they could not effectively operate in, or due to the effectiveness of forces already listed, the Navy would only need to escort about 200 ships per month of conflict. The duration of Navy escort tasks in this mission could last as long as one month because, given sea-lane transit times, a ship might have to journey as long as 32 days to reach the furthest destinations.5 Kaufmann noted that a task force composed of one destroyer, nine frigates, and a supply ship could sufficiently escort 100 transports at a time.To ease the ASW burden on the surface ships somewhat as well as adding some minesweeping capability, an additional two attack submarines, airborne ASW patrol squadron, and a minesweeper7 per task force would round out the requirement. Therefore, to counter against the varied military threats to commercial shipping such as hostile attack submarines, long-range attack aircraft, surface vessels, and mines, the Navy could employ two task forces composed of a total of two destroyers, 18 frigates, two minesweepers, four attack submarines, their attendant support ships, and two airborne ASW patrol squadrons. With substantial ASW and ASuW capability, moderate AAW capability and, combined with Air Force tactical support, these forces would likely defeat any projected threat that could seek to deny American commercial shipping access to friendly ports. These forces could protect American commerce from the East Coast to the Suez Canal, from the West Coast to Sydney, or from either direction into shore destinations along the Indian Ocean for that matter. As before, this mission requires neither aircraft carrier nor expeditionary strike groups.

The third mission graduates from defensive missions and nuclear deterrence that each seek to guard American interests, to offensive conventional capabilities that seek to destroy enemy naval forces maneuvering in a theater of war. Since the 2012 National Defense Strategy calls for the U.S. military’s capability to defeat one regional aggressor while denying the objectives of a second,8 and since nothing yet suggested by the Trump Administration indicates this paradigm will significantly change, the Navy should only require the capability to defeat the maritime forces of one-and-a-half regional aggressors for this mission. This is a half-step down from the nation’s previous desire to procure forces that could simultaneously defeat the militaries of two discreet adversaries. The Navy could perform this third mission by adding two carrier strike groups (CSG) and two expeditionary strike groups (ESG) on top of the previously listed forces. Depending on the tactical situation and the naval commander’s judgment, these forces could operate either as one CSG and one ESG in each theater, or two CSGs in one theater and the two ESGs in the other. The CSGs give the Navy a significant ability to strike enemy surface combatants and attack aircraft, while the ESGs give the joint force commander the ability to raid enemy forces on land as well as some AAW, ASuW, and strike capability. Multiple carriers give the U.S. force the ability to operate round-the-clock. In total, this mission results in an additional force requirement of two aircraft carriers with their carrier air wings, two amphibious assault carriers with their multi-role fixed-wing aircraft, four cruisers, six destroyers, four frigates, three minesweepers, six attack submarines, two amphibious assault carriers, and their attendant support ships.

The fourth mission involves defeating anti-access strategies in order to gain access to contested theaters of operation. As with previous missions, gaining access adds to force requirements and the Navy can use forces already operating in their stead to contribute, so long as adding tasks does not compromise the previous missions. The Navy could employ a total of four carrier groups to accomplish this mission and realistically incur no more than moderate risk. In fact, in all but one conceivable instance, even four carrier groups might be overkill. In all other cases, significant airpower can be generated from land-based airfields. Furthermore, the Navy does not need any additional ESGs for this mission because it requires only gaining access to the theater, not establishing footholds on land or otherwise driving out ground forces while simultaneously conducting a holding action in another theater. Therefore, the Navy requires an additional two carriers, two cruisers, eight destroyers, six frigates, three minesweepers, four attack submarines, and the standard compliment of support ships for this fourth mission. Combined with the forces previously listed, including two ESGs, this total force enables the Navy to gain access to contested theaters of operation.

The fifth and final mission, power projection, defines the remaining forces that the Navy would need. Projecting power is an important capability to procure, and precedents established in the 1991 Gulf War and 2003 invasion of Iraq demonstrate the level of capability that the Navy needs to operate at peak. An additional two CSGs and three ESGs are necessary to defeat an adversary’s defense of his coastline and establish a foothold on land to allow continued operations further inland. Even under difficult conditions, with little allied support and no land-based staging area to prepare for an invasion, this total force of six CSGs and four ESGs would be a force too formidable for enemies to resist. The Air Force, other joint forces, and allies could hold adversaries at bay in other theaters if geography required the Navy to concentrate on a single maritime-focused theater but, most likely, joint and allied forces would also contribute to the Navy’s mission in substantial and meaningful ways. This force adds a requirement of two carriers, six cruisers, seven destroyers, three frigates, five attack submarines, six amphibious assault carriers, and their attendant support and supply ships to the fleet.

Table 1. Summary of  Proposed Fleet Changes
PLTFM     \    QTY CURR INV9 NEW INV10 Δ
CVN 11 8 -3
CG 22 23 1
DDG 62 44 -18
LCS/FF + FFG11 11 65 54
SSN 53 39 -14
LPD 9 10 1
LSD 12 10 -2
AGOS 5 18 13
JHSV 4 10 6
MLP 2 5 3
HST 1 10 9
Carrier Air Wing 9 8 -1

These five missions result in total operational requirements of six carriers, 19 cruisers, 37 destroyers, 56 frigates, eight minesweepers, 33 attack submarines, eight ballistic missile submarines, eight amphibious assault carriers, 12 long-range airborne patrol squadrons, seven oceanic surveillance ships, and additional amphibious and support ships, air wings, helicopter squadrons, as well as the IUSS and NOSS. This force is not yet the total force the Navy needs in inventory, however. Since it would be nearly impossible to sail the entire fleet, the Navy needs additional ships to remain in port and allow for training, maintenance, as well as to compensate for potential combat losses.

The Navy insists that, due to maintenance and training requirements, only one-third of its carrier force may be available for routine deployment at any given time and, in an extended crisis, about half could deploy in support of combat operations.12 According to a naval force generation analyst, the Navy could put only six out of 10 carriers to sea to fight a war.13 The rate of routine deployment seems to be a bit better for the rest of the fleet, though, where approximately 40 percent of the ships are deployed at any time and greater than two-thirds are available in war.14

The fact that only such a small fraction of the fleet is deployable is simply unacceptable. The Navy must work to improve its deployment rates to achieve a capability where at least 80 percent of the fleet could put to sea if necessary. One possible solution would be to increase the number of ships homeported overseas to decrease transoceanic transit times. Although this could increase maintenance costs by 15 percent,15 the increased operational tempo would reduce the number of ships necessary to hold in maintenance and training reserve. Moreover, the resulting procurement savings would significantly outweigh the increased maintenance costs. Another possible solution could be to invest more research-and-development funding into operational readiness improvement rather than developing new platforms. This would help advance new technologies and methods that could enable ships to require less maintenance, last longer, and generally increase readiness.

Regardless of how the Navy decides to improve its deployment rates, a solution must be found. In contrast, even the Air Force, despite the complexity of possessing the most sophisticated and technologically advanced equipment in all the Services, has historically been able to maintain consistent readiness rates above 80 percent for their critical combat platforms.16 Perpetually withholding so many ships in reserve is wasteful, inefficient, and may be the result of institutional complacency. In a declared war, a 11-carrier Navy would ideally confront an enemy with all 11 of its carriers. Likewise, an eight-carrier Navy should bring all eight carriers to bear. Once satisfying this requirement, the Navy would require enough ships so that 40 percent of its inventory would be enough to conduct the continual deployments described in the first mission, and that the total requirements across all missions should compose no less than 80 percent of that inventory.

 These stipulations produce the total number of ships that the Navy would need. In sum, the Navy would need 319 ships including eight carriers, 23 cruisers, 12 fixed-wing ASW patrol squadrons, 39 attack submarines, 12 ballistic missile submarines, 10 amphibious assault carriers, and 18 oceanic surveillance ships.17 Having determined the fleet’s size, we can determine its cost and compare it to the Navy’s present and planned inventories to ascertain potential savings.

Comparison, Trade-offs, and Budget Implications

The Navy’s inefficiently planned fleet provides three more supercarriers, 18 more guided-missile destroyers, but surprisingly, one less guided-missile cruiser than the efficient fleet proposed here. Although providing the Navy more firepower, this plan sinks a lot more money. On the other hand, the fleet proposed here adds 13 frigates and four amphibious assault ships to what the Navy plans, returns dedicated minesweepers to the fleet, and adds a small number of support ships as combat multipliers.18 This force sacrifices some firepower but improves brown-water niche capabilities that are more appropriate for the present and future strategic environment. Overall, it adds 13 ships over the current plan and is much more economical.

The savings come from the big ticket items. A Ford-class carrier costs almost $13B to build.19 Procuring its air wing costs another $5.5B.20 Ticonderoga-class cruisers cost $1B21 and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers $1.8B each.22 The savings would be even greater for destroyers if one considers that Zumwalt-class could cost an estimated $4.4B per ship.23 Alternative platforms are far less expensive. Independence-class littoral combat ships cost about $479M,24 and Avenger-class mine counter measure vessels cost $277M.25 Consequently, there are force mixes considerably cheaper and more germane to the Navy’s missions than large numbers of aircraft carriers. In comparison, the proposed fleet saves $63 billion over the 40-year plan in procurement and shipbuilding costs alone (see Table 2). However, life-cycle and total acquisition savings would be even greater. Spar Associates, Inc. estimates that capital costs are only about 18 percent of life-cycle costs.26 Therefore, the proposed fleet could yield $340 billion in savings over the duration of the Navy’s shipbuilding plan.

Table 2. Comparison of Planned vs. Proposed Fleet27
PLTFM   \ QTY PLND28 PROP29 Δ PRCRMT SVGS ($B)
CVN 11 8 -3 38.04
CG + DDG 88 67 -21 31.4
LCS/FF30 52 65 13 -6.227
SSN 48 39 -9 23.4
Amphibs 33 37 4 -7.4
SSBN 12 12 0 0
SSGN 0 0 0 0
MCM 0 10 10 -2.77
JHSV 10 10 0 0
Supply ships 29 32 3 -1.5
Other 23 39 16 -12.16
Total 306 319 13 62.783

Furthermore, in offering capabilities more likely to be used rather than far-fetched shore assaults originating from the open ocean, the Navy would improve the utility it has lacked for stability operations in the Middle East. The Navy would improve its counter-piracy and counterterrorist capabilities by increasing its number of small surface combatants. One could quibble about the mixture of frigates, minesweepers, and support ships in the Navy’s portfolio of small vessels, but the point is that these platforms are more important than task forces designed to project power in the current strategic environment. Instead of exaggerating carrier requirements, the Navy should concentrate its investments on less expensive platforms such as surface combatants, submarines, and shore-based patrol aircraft. The Navy should not completely relinquish its capability to establish sea-based air superiority, of course, and should increase its support of the Marines’ capability to seize footholds on land. However, the Navy should field an appropriate level of fixed wing airpower to support national military interests without overly burdening the defense budget.

One implication in reducing the number of carriers would be to decrease steady-state operational deployments. Only two or three carriers are presently deployed at a given time, with two deployed and one in-transit to or from home station.31 If the Navy reduced its carrier inventory from 11 to 8, only two carriers would be at sea during normal, peacetime conditions. Carrier deployments deter aggression and reassure allies, and reducing deployments would incur the risk that only one carrier would be actively operating in a forward area at a time while a second carrier transited to or from home station. Nevertheless, this transiting carrier could always turn around and move anywhere in the world in an average of 12 days32 and therefore at least two carrier groups would remain at sea at all times. If combatant commanders sought to request greater carrier presence than this force could provide, then the Department of Defense should audit the overall presence requirements that commanders request, and seek more inexpensive carrier substitutes such as Air Force tactical fighter squadrons where possible. Even deploying Navy carrier air wings without their embarked carrier would be a far cheaper solution. There are few places where a naval sea base would be necessary.

There has been good news for carrier enthusiasts recently, however, now that the Navy increased its carrier inventory to 11 with the commissioning of USS Gerald R. Ford, CVN-78, on July 22, 2017.33 Under the planned acquisition schedule, the Navy will even commission a twelfth supercarrier in 2020, then alternately vary its carrier supply between 12 and 11 through 2040 by replacing carriers at nearly the same time they retire. The Navy’s plan is to then lower its inventory to 9 carriers after 2053.34 Rather than seeking to decommission excess ships ahead of schedule and quickly reduce the carrier inventory to 8 as this proposal might imply, however, it would be more efficient to finish building the carriers already under construction, allow existing carriers to serve their planned lives, and then allow the inventory to decrease without replacing retiring carriers until the correct level has been reached. As an alternative to the Navy’s present plan, if the Navy ceased carrier procurement after completing the second Ford-class carrier under construction and allowed existing carriers to complete their service and retire in their 50th year, and then begin replacing carriers only when the inventory dipped to 8, the Navy could cancel construction of three aircraft carriers in the next 35 years and save $38 billion in current dollars for carrier procurement costs alone.35 

Altogether, the Navy could save an estimated total of $340 billion over 40 years. Though one of Candidate Donald Trump’s expressed desires while campaigning for President was to build a 350-ship Navy, the Administration’s budget has not yet supported that desire with funding requests.36 For whatever additional future funding requests the Trump Administration makes for the Navy, this proposal would also add that margin to potential savings. Some might argue that by allowing 16 years to elapse between the construction of CVN-79 and CVN-80 as proposed here, America’s carrier-building infrastructure might atrophy. This would certainly be another risk, but what are the opportunity costs for continuing to build carriers at the planned rate, and are their national defense priorities that are more important to pursue?

Would it be Worth it?

In the grand scheme of the federal budget, $340 billion over 40 years may not seem like much. However, it could provide for close to four years of an Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)-like ground force deployment at the 2014 level of activity,37 or many smaller-sized but longer-lasting counterterrorism operations. This leads to a final question for decision-makers to consider: would the benefits gained in providing four more years of an OEF-sized operation outweigh the risk incurred by allowing the Navy’s carrier fleet to decline from 11 to 8?

The answer is “yes.” Consider the fact that there were no terrorist attacks against the United States during the entire time the Bush Administration pursued aggressive military action in Iraq, but there have been several attacks on American soil since the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is not a coincidence. Military operations in the Middle East probably reduced the threat to the U.S. by attracting terrorist activity elsewhere. The operation allowed military personnel to confront terrorists on foreign soil rather than subjecting police and homeland defense officials like Transportation Security Agency officers to deal with attacks at home. If American military activity in the Middle East decreases, the number of attacks against the U.S. will rise…perhaps catastrophically.

On the other hand, if operations in the Middle East continue at their present rate such as in Afghanistan, or if ISIS, Yemen, or some other potential problem area requires commitment of ground forces, the nation will find its ground forces already exhausted, overburdened, and insufficiently provided for in order to accomplish new tasks. Financial resources will have to be diverted from other accounts to accommodate them, and waiting until the last moment will have further consequences. High operational tempo has already eroded the training and readiness of America’s ground forces. America should pursue a grand strategy of democratization in these troubled regions, and this requires a greater number of resources dedicated to ground operations in the Middle East which, in turn, will reduce the number of terrorist attacks against the United States.

Although civilian leadership might abhor the idea of continued ground operations in the Middle East, military advisors must recognize reality and advise apolitically. Ground combat operations must continue for the sake of American national security, and each Service needs to perform its role to support them even if it means taking cuts in favored programs like aircraft carriers. As Kaufmann found 30 years ago, the Navy should “knock it off” with attempts to maintain a double digit-sized carrier fleet and should recommend against the pivot to the Asia-Pacific for the nation’s greater defense interests. To do otherwise puts all Americans – civilians  and service members – at risk. 

David Tier is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and serves as a strategic plans and policy officer. He holds a Master in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, has served three combat tours of duty in Iraq, a tour of duty in the Pentagon, and has authored several articles.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, or any of their components.

References

[1] Department of the Navy, “Naval Vessel Register,” as of August 1, 2017, available online at http://www.nvr.navy.mil/NVRSHIPS/FLEETSIZE.HTML

[2] Hans M. Kristensen, “Trimming Nuclear Excess: Options for Further Reductions of U.S. and Russian Nuclear Forces,” (Washington, D.C.: Federation of American Scientists, December 2012), 15.

[3] As demonstrated by routine air intercepts of Russian reconnaissance flights as well as potential homeland security threats.

[4] USDOT waterborne trade statistics (available at http://www.marad.dot.gov/library_landing_page/data_and_statistics/Data_and_Statistics.htm) indicate that 1.259B metric tons of goods were shipped into an out of American ports in 2013. Since the median container ship holds about 5000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), this yields about 441 container ships per month in and out of U.S. ports. According to page 2 of the CRS report titled “Port and Maritime Security: Background and Issues for Congress” by John F. Fritelli dated May 27, 2005, there were on average 500 ships per month transiting U.S. ports in 2003, which is in the same ballpark as figures derived for 2013.

[5] See powerpoint press release by Rear Admiral William K. Lescher, USN, “FY 2015 President’s Budget,” (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Navy, March 2014), 3.

[6] William W. Kaufmann, A Thoroughly Efficient Navy (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1987), 64.

[7] Although the Navy has recently decided to discontinue dedicated minesweeping platforms in favor of the mine countermeasure mission package of the littoral combat ship, minesweepers are more cost effective for the particular task. According to Michael Zennie at The Daily Mail, an Avenger-class minesweeper costs $277M per ship, while according to a Congressional study, littoral combat ships cost $479M per ship. Accordingly, the Navy should continue to procure minesweepers rather than replacing them with littoral combat ships/frigates; see Ronald O’Rourke, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress,” (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, March 3, 2015), 2; and Michael Zennie, “The U.S. Navy’s $277 Million pile of scrap,” January 30, 2013, available online at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2270395/U-S-Navy-hack-61million-minesweeper-ship-pieces-remove-sensitive-reef-near-Philippines.html, accessed on April 7, 2015.

[8] Department of Defense, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” (Washington, DC: DOD, January 2012), 4.

[9] Ibid. 

[10] See appendix for a complete listing of platforms required, including support ships.

[11] The Navy is seeking to replace its remaining Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates with the new littoral combat ship. Just a short time ago, Perry-class frigates were slated to retire without replacement and the littoral combat ship was intended to fulfill a different, but overlapping, set of brown-water capabilities supposedly not addressed by the frigate. According to the Secretary of the Navy, however, the littoral combat ship will be reclassified as a frigate and given “FF” hull registry numbers. This acknowledges the need for a traditional frigate and reduces the distinction between the tasks littoral combat ships were intended to perform that Perry-class frigates had not already done. For the purposes of this analysis, littoral combat ships and frigates will be grouped in the same category as frigate, and consider the main role of a frigate to be as an escort to high-value ships. The frigate is primarily an ASW platform, but can also perform secondary roles such as ASuW, AAW, and other general-purpose tasks to a lesser extent. Frigates can perform brown-water tasks by utilizing helicopter search as well as with small-craft borne visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) teams; See Sam Lagrone, “SNA: Modified Littoral Combat Ships to be Designated Frigates,” USNI.org, January 15, 2015, available online at http://news.usni.org/2015/01/15/sna-modified-littoral-combat-ship-class-changed-fast-frigate, accessed on March 30, 2015.

[12] U.S. Navy Captain(Ret.) Marty Erdossy, “Why Does The United States Only Have Eleven Aircraft Carriers?” Forbes.com, available online at http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2012/07/17/why-does-the-united-states-only-have-eleven-aircraft-carriers/, accessed on October 16, 2014.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Department of the Navy, “FY2015 President’s Budget,” March 2014, 3. 

[15] John Pendleton, “Navy Force Structure: Sustainable Plan and Comprehensive Assessment Needed to Mitigate Long-Term Risks to Ships Assigned to Overseas Homeports,” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Accountability Office, May 2015), 14-17.

[16] Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Meserve, “USAF Maintenance Metrics,” Department of the Air Force presentation, 2007, slide 5,  available online at http://www.sae.org/events/dod/presentations/2007LtColJeffMeserve.pdf, accessed on August 7, 2017.

[17] Department of the Navy, “Naval Vessel Register,” as of August 1, 2017, available online at http://www.nvr.navy.mil/NVRSHIPS/FLEETSIZE.HTML; This analysis identifies a requirement for 20 SSBNs, but defers to the Navy’s analysis as an exception in this instance.

[18] These additional supply ships could facilitate greater numbers of small, dispersed task forces as well as enable more frequent resupply that may occur by increased ammunition expenditure.

[19] Average cost of Ford-class carrier is $12.68 billion each according to O’Rourke, “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program:  Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, October 22, 2013, 4. 

[20] Jones Arvino, “How much does a carrier strike group cost?,” Quora.com, available online at https://www.quora.com/How-much-does-a-carrier-strike-group-cost, accessed on August, 5, 2017; this figures uses the cost of 48 F/A-18s rather than 20 F-35s and 24 F/A-18s, whose costs are close enough for comparison.

[21] U.S. Navy Fact File on Ticonderoga Cruiser, available online at http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid=800&ct=4, accessed on August 5, 2017.

[22] O’Rourke, “Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 19 April 2011, 6, 12, and 25; since 1 and 2 ships are procured in alternate years and the “1 in a year” ships cost more, the fairest estimate of unit price comes from averaging three ships across two years. US$50-300m is spent on long lead-time items in the year before the main procurement of each ship. DDG-114 and DDG-115 together cost US$577.2m (FY2010) + US$2,922.2m (FY2011) = US$3,499.4m, (p25) and DDG-116 cost US$48m (FY2011) + US$1,980.7m (FY2012) = US$2,028.7m, (p12) making an average for the three ships of US$1,847.2m. DDG-113 cost US$2,234.4m. (p6)

[23] Jeff Daniels, “Navy’s costly and controversial Zumwalt ship may get second look by Trump,” CNBC.com, December 1, 2016, available online at https://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/01/navys-costly–and-controversial–zumwalt-ship-may-get-second-look-by-trump.html, accessed on August 5, 2017.

[24] O’Rourke, “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)/Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” 2.

[25] Michael Zennie, “The U.S. Navy’s latest $277 Million pile of scrap: Minesweeper will hacked to pieces after it ran aground on reef off Philippines,” The Daily Mail, January 30, 2013, available online at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2270395/U-S-Navy-hack-61million-minesweeper-ship-pieces-remove-sensitive-reef-near-Philippines.html, accessed on August 5, 2017.

[26] Spar Associates, Inc. presentation, “Naval Ship Life Cycle Cost (LCC) Model,”3, available online at http://www.sparusa.com/Presentations/Presentation-Military%20Ship%20Life%20Cycle%20Cost%20(LCC)%20Model.pdf,accessed on March 30, 2015.

[27] Complete Microsoft Excel file available upon formal request.

[28] O’Rourke, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, March 3, 2015, 2.

[29] As described in this article.

[30] Sam Lagrone, “SNA: Modified Littoral Combat Ships to be Designated Frigates,” USNI.org, January 15, 2015, available online at http://news.usni.org/2015/01/15/sna-modified-littoral-combat-ship-class-changed-fast-frigate, accessed on March 30, 2015.

[31] Erdossy, “Why Does The United States Only Have Eleven Aircraft Carriers?”

[32] See powerpoint press release by Rear Admiral William K. Lescher, USN, “FY 2015 President’s Budget,” (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Navy, March 2014), 3.

[33] Peter Baker, “U.S. Navy Opens New Era With Commissioning of Gerald R. Ford,” July 22, 2017, available online at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/22/us/politics/ford-class-aircraft-carrier-commissioning.html, accessed on August 4, 2017. 

[34] Assuming that the Navy procures one carrier every five years as planned; Congressional Budget Office, “Stop Building Ford Class Aircraft Carriers,” November 13, 2013, available online at http://www.cbo.gov/budget-options/2013/44769, accessed on October 28, 2014. 

[35] O’Rourke, “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program:  Background and Issues for Congress,” 4. 

[36] Sydney J. Freedburg, Jr., “No 350-Ship Navy From This Trump Budget,” May 19, 2017, available online at http://breakingdefense.com/2017/05/no-350-ship-navy-from-this-trump-budget/, accessed on August 4, 2017.

[37] Based on the FY14 Overseas Contingency Operations request for OEF; “Addendum A:  Overseas Contingency Operations,” (Washington, D.C.:  Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer, 2013), 1.

Featured Image: NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, Calif. (Sept. 18, 2017) Sailors watch from the hangar bay of USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) as the ship passes the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jackson G. Brown/Released)