Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Patos, Logos, Etos and the LCS Design Trap

Not the Prince of Survivability
Prince of Wales: Victim of survibability or the changing operational environment?

Bloomberg News recently again raised the issue of LCS survivability. Survivability is justifiably important as it is one of the key characteristics that differentiates warships from commercial vessels. Yet there is something wrong with the debate about LCS survivability. In general, the arguments fall into one of three broad categories — patos, logos, or etos. These Greek words refer to our emotions, rational mind, and values. In discussing LCS survivability patos dominates over logos. When there is strong disagreement on a specific issue, it is sometimes useful to state the reasoning carried to its extreme in order to mark the boundaries of common sense. This lets us reconsider the validity of the initial assumptions and is a loose variation of the reductio ad absurdum method. We can say also that this is an emotional way of applying logic, justified in cases when pure logic is viewed does not satisfy emotional positions.

Consider whether the following statement is TRUE or FALSE:

“Level 3 ships are NOT survivable.”

It is always the possible to offer examples to support a TRUE assertion. An aircraft carrier will hardly survive the explosion of a nuclear torpedo under her keel. A more realistic and historical case is discussed in D. K. Brown’s “Nelson to Vanguard“, in which the battleship Prince of Wales – designed to withstand 1,000 lb. explosives – was sunk by aerial, light torpedoes with 330 lb. warheads. Nonetheless we consider ships designed according to the best contemporary practices as “survivable.” This simply demonstrates that survivability cannot be determined without defining the predicted level of threat. It is stated both in OPNAVINST 9070.1A and its predecessor. I find especially useful the threat- and conflict-level classification proposed by Rear Admiral Richard Hill (RN) in his paper Medium Power Strategy Revisited. Normal conditions with operations like constabulary work, disaster relief, and presence

  • Low intensity operations when “escort by surface combatants may be required.” “Cover by high-capability forces may be required, to deter or if necessary counter escalation.” These operations “are subject to the international law of self-defense, often include sporadic acts of violence by both sides, and have objectives that are predominantly political in nature”.
  • Higher level operations with combat at the far end of the continuum. “The definition of ‘higher level’ includes ‘use of major weapon systems’, that is to say combat aircraft, major surface units, submarines, and extensive mining; missiles from air, surface and subsurface can be employed.”

Sail frigates and later cruisers were designed to be a scouts and to operate on commerce shipping lines, but were never intended to survive a clash with an enemy’s battle fleet. Royal Navy WWII destroyers were surely designed according to naval rules, but in the 1st year of the war they were exposed to a threat level unimaginable a few years earlier and suffered a loss of 124 ships sunk or damaged out of the 136 in service at the outbreak of war.

I also offer this statement for consideration:

“It is possible to design and construct 300-ton Fast Attack Craft with Level 3 survivability.”

Theoretically the statement is TRUE, but it is enough to recall the transformation of HMMWVs into MRAPs, which could be described as improving Level 1 survivability to Level 2, to understand the technical and economic limitations to such an endeavor. There was an interesting paper presented last year to the Royal Institution of Naval Architects – Balancing Survivability, Operability and Cost for a Corvette Design. It offers interesting insights into unavoidable compromises, and a not-so-surprising conclusion that the best way to increase survivability is to increase the length of the ship. From this point of view both LCS are of good design, but LCS also falls into a design trap. Longer and bigger ships lead to criticism of being underarmed. Up-arming the ship would lead to higher costs and reduced affordability. This in turn means a smaller fleet and an increased gap between force-structure requirements and reality. Such a gap leads to questions of whether it can be filled by smaller ships. But these are in turn “not survivable”. Vicious circle closed.

Ship survivability is a complex issue, including such things as the probability of being hit, tolerance to damage, and recoverability. I cannot judge whether LCS is survivable or not. The better question to ask is if it is survivable enough – taking into account its size, mission, and the projected threat level in its intended operating environment. Such a discussion is vital to every class of ships and calls for carefully balanced patos and logos.

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country

Coal to Oil and the Great Green Fleet

HMS BARHAM, a QUEEN ELIZABETH class Battleship, one of the Royal Navy's first oil-powered ships
HMS Barhham,Queen Elizabeth-class battleship, one of the Royal Navy’s first oil-powered ships

It has been more than a month since the Senate failed to pass legislation that would have blocked U.S. Navy efforts to develop and use biofuels.  This passage of time means it might now be possible to make a less emotional and more measured comparison of the Navy’s “Great Green Fleet” to the decision-making processes behind previous similar historic transitions in propulsion.

The stated goal of the Great Green Fleet is to fuel an entire Carrier Strike Group with “alternative sources of energy” by 2016 (the definition of which helpfully includes nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines).  Most of the controversy surrounding the project has been over the amount spent developing sources of biofuels ($170 million), a main focus of the Navy’s drive to find half its fuel from “alternative sources by 2020”.

Comparisons between the U.S.’s current naval situation and that of Great Britain a century ago may be so common now as to be cliche (a topic I’ve dabbled in myself on a few different occasions), but this potential change in the preferred source of propulsion for the surface fleet is reminiscent of the Royal Navy’s shift from coal to oil before the First World War.  Convinced that oil was necessary to make new ships that would outperform and outfight those of the Germans, Winston Churchill, civilian head of the Royal Navy as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911 to 1915, created a commission led by then-former First Sea Lord Admiral Jackie Fisher with instructions to figure out how to implement the change: “You have got to find the oil; to show how it can be stored cheaply: how it can be purchased regularly & cheaply in peace, and with absolute certainty during war.”

Some of the factors used by the leaders of the U.S. Navy today in evaluating the fuel issue echo the way that it was framed by Churchill a century ago, with the performance implications of the fuel, costs, and the security of supply informing the decision-making process to different degrees.

Since the biofuels to be used by the Great Green Fleet are interchangeable with current oil-derived fuels, the actual performance benefits for the U.S. Navy are minimal, and the difference between old and new fuel sources ought to be transparent to the operator.  There were significant performance advantages associated with a switch from coal to oil by the Royal Navy, however.  While coal was less prone than oil to explosion if struck by enemy fire, this was greatly outweighed by oil’s much diminished labor requirements – no need for stokers to haul coal from storage spaces to the plant – and ease of refueling at sea.  On a pure performance comparison, oil-driven engines also generally allowed ships to go faster and further.

Although the cost of oil was not necessarily the biggest issue in debates over the switch from coal in the early twentieth century it has been the main item of contention surrounding the Great Green Fleet.  Biofuels for the Great Green Fleet have regularly been described as four times the cost of regular fuel.  The Secretary of the Navy has countered that the high costs associated with the initial investment will be worthwhile because the investment will help make alternative fuels “more commercially viable” and cheaper in the long run.  While biofuels are much more costly now, price volatility means that oil’s current price advantage is not always guaranteed.

In fact the vulnerability of the global oil supply is the primary issue both debates considered, although each set of decision-makers reached an opposite set of conclusions.  While the U.S. is not necessarily dependent on oil extracted in the Middle East, the volume of oil originating from major suppliers like Saudi Arabia has a significant impact on its price, which in turn affects the American economy and consumers (including the military).  In its public pronouncements on the Great Green Fleet, the U.S. Navy has made such a consideration clear, arguing that “the purpose of these energy goals is to improve our combat capability and to increase our energy security by addressing a significant military vulnerability:  dependence on foreign oil.”  “Market volatility” in its own right has been a significant Department of Defense cost,  with price increases alone accounting for a $19 billion bill in 2011.

Skeptics of the Royal Navy’s proposed switch to oil propulsion had serious reservations about its supply.  Wales was a rich source of the high-grade coal used by warships of that era, and the U.K. at the time had no domestic source of oil (Jackie Fisher famously stated that “Oil don’t grow in England.”).  Fortunately, oil exploration had just seriously begun in the Middle East, and Britain “solved” its oil supply problem by government investment in the new Anglo-Persian Oil Company and an agreement for a twenty year oil supply.  A revisionist assessment also puts the supply question on its head, holding that British leaders, fearful of labor unrest, felt Middle Eastern oil was a more secure commodity than coal taken out of the ground.

"Oil! Glorious, Oil! Hot, sweet crude in barrels!"
“Oil! Glorious, Oil! Hot, sweet crude in barrels!”

Regardless of why the decision to adopt oil propulsion was made, its implications (oil historian Daniel Yergin called it “Churchill’s great gamble”, pushing “for conversion to oil before the supply problem had been solved”) were significant, committing Britain to maintaining a secure supply line to the Middle Eastern oil fields in order to keep its military machine going.  This may not have necessarily been a major new commitment when Britain still maintained India and a variety of other Asian territories as part of its Empire, but it was a significant geopolitical decision, one mirrored decades later by the U.S. when President Carter outlined what has since been labeled as the Carter Doctrine, a policy of U.S. military commitment to the region that has been acted upon by each of his successors.  Carter stated in his 1980 State of the Union address that:

“An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and any such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

Ironically, the British shift to oil-powered ships had little to no impact on the fight at sea during the First World War.  In fact, the Royal Navy was faced with shortages caused by German U-Boat attacks on tankers, resulting in extended stays in port and speed limits on some ships.  To Winston Churchill, however, the tactical advantages of oil outweighed other considerations like the cost of oil and any potential supply vulnerabilities.  He felt that oil would help the Royal Navy win a war at sea with Germany and that “Mastery itself was the prize of the venture.”

The relevant question today is whether the strategic calculus has changed since that time.  To the Royal Navy a century ago, the risk of an uncertain supply of fuel was mitigated by the expectation of better fighting ships.  Does the current uncertainty associated with oil make it a vulnerability to the fleet, and can that vulnerability be managed or hedged against by biofuels or other energy sources?

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff.  He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

LCS: Passing on the ASW Mission

The American people have grown accustomed to the status of its military as the strongest force the world has ever known, and despite recent budget cuts, that the United States Navy (USN) remains the finest Navy ever put to sea. The people also expect that in every battle our forces will not just prevail, but sustain minimal losses. The military exhibits this culture as well, focusing on the protection of it personnel with programs ranging from anti-ballistic missile technology to sexual assault prevention training.

                         LCS: How much is enough?

This shift in public expectations, that ships should prevail in all environments against all enemies, has forced requirements for surface vessels to continually expand.  When it became clear that this cannot be accomplished on a single small vessel, modularity, as expressed by ADM Greenert’s “Payloads over Platforms” article, came to the fore. However, it is time that the USN gives up attempts to build naval vessels that are jacks-of-all-trades and masters-of-none.

This article is not a discussion of this cultural shift, but rather a discussion of how this shift has impacted USN’s ability to build appropriate vessels for the major threats at hand and an attempt to balance this culture with the needs of the American people with respect to the Navy.
Sun Tzu tells us that “those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.” We say that 90% of the world’s trade travels by sea, so a major strategy of the USN ought to be the protection of friendly shipping; and any foe worth their salt will bring the fight to our shipping lanes. The proliferation of diesel and Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarines has placed a dangerous tool in the hand of these potential foes. If we are going to bring the enemy to the field of battle, our ability to destroy enemy submarines must be offensive.

It is not intelligent to expect that destroyers which are already tasked with air defense, land attack, and surface warfare will also be able to proficiently conduct Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). This is not because the venerable Arleigh Burke class or its crews are incapable, but rather because they will be stretched thin by so many requirements. War is simply not the time to figure out how to properly conduct ASW What is truly needed is a dedicated undersea warfare dominance vessel with a secondary focus on the ability to perform long, forward deployed patrols and protect itself from surface and air attack.

Anyone with an interest in naval affairs will find the blogosphere and professional forums full of anti- Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) rhetoric with discussion ranging from the need to “up-gun” LCS to calls to scrap the program completely. The USN hoped LCS could dominate small-boat swarms, mines, and enemy submarines in the littorals. Despite what many will find on the blogosphere, LCS can and will be used as effectively as it can be by fantastic crews, it can and will be used to a positive effect in future wars. But in this business, “positive effect” is not enough, the American people demand domination and frankly, LCS doesn’t deliver.

A new ASW vessel cannot just be thrown together with existing technology and current business practices. As much as I talk about creating a dedicated ASW vessel, it must retain some other capabilities: it should be able to patrol waters distant from American ports, it should be able to protect itself from limited air attack, it should be affordable and easy to maintain and it should be able to attack surface threats. These requirements can feed into its primary warfare area, but we need to think long and hard about what is excess and what is actually required without giving into the shift that requires a vessel good at everything. It has been said that the best platform to destroy a submarine is another submarine, but the goal of this program would be to challenge this paradigm.

The advancement of several technologies could make this vessel a world-class submarine-killer. The use of the electric-drive technology from DDG-1000, innovative ways of detecting undersea threats (like new-generation sonars and USV’s), new air-based ASW technologies and even anti-torpedo technology will put the USN in a place to win this undersea battle. Research into the use of bubbles to increase efficiency and reduce noise similar to the Prairie and Masker Systems could provide an added foot up. It should also field current technologies which are proven to be effective like towed array sonars, the Mark 32 SVTT, and a combination of SH-60s and UAV’s.

In order to dominate undersea warfare, the vessel must protect itself from air and sea threats. The small SPY-1K, a single DART-capable 76mm naval gun, quad-packed ESSM or VLA ASROC in an 8 cell tactical length Mark 41 VLS, 4 Harpoon or new ASuW missiles, Block 1B CIWS and several 25 mm and .50 caliber weapons will provide strong protection against a variety of threats ranging from enemy surface combatants to ASCMs and swarms. An effective Combat Information Center near the bridge and using the newest computer systems will provide this vessel to best protect itself from enemy assets trying to interrupt its main function, finding and destroying submarines.

However, there must be a point where the proverbial line in the sand is drawn. This vessel does not provide area air defense, it does not perform land attack missions, and it does not seek out surface combatants. The Navy requires flexible warships which can take the fight to the enemy. It is not a jack of all trades; it destroys enemy submarines.

William Thibault is a Midshipman at Boston University majoring in Mechanical Engineering.  The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

The Vanishing Amphibious Fleet: Why Our Next Inchon May Begin off the Deck of a Container Ship

Christopher Barber is a Marine Corps Reserve Captain mobilized in the national capital region. While on active duty, he served in Helmand, Afghanistan as an Intelligence Officer and Scout Sniper Platoon Commander. He is a 2008 graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy and a USCG licensed deck officer.


American strategic thought has been dominated by the recently self-proclaimed “pivot” to the Pacific and Asia. A student of history, or simple geography, can easily demonstrate that conflict in the Pacific has always, and will always, be a primarily naval endeavor. The same research will reveal that even with a naval focus, any future conflicts are likely to involve putting troops ashore in some fashion. However, seaborne basing, forcible entry, and general contingency planning for amphibious operations are at risk in our military’s current force structure.

Sheer numbers show that the capability to move and fight amphibiously is at a relative historical low point. The US Navy does not indicate in its ship building priorities that this unsettling fact is likely to change. Unorthodox options such as using Maritime Preposition Force ships, auxiliary ships (MSC), or contracted merchant ships are not desirable for operational planners at this time due to the legal and political problems of sending these ships into harm’s way. In light of our strategic desires and growing delta from our amphibious capabilities, the Navy/Marine Corps teams should reexamine these means to supplement capability until reason can guide (along with fiscal ability) necessary, capable amphibious forces.


The US Navy possesses its lowest number in history of amphibious vessels. There is currently questionable accounting concerning the ability to put an entire MEB (Marine Expeditionary Brigade) to sea. Latest estimates place the required ships to conduct forcible entry options with a MEB, deemed necessary for major combat operations, at 33.  Realistically, that number leaves no real reserve and more worrying is the open secret that we will not maintain this force level past 2015. MEUs and ARGs are staying out longer, and being split in order to fulfill operational needs. The 15th MEU, which captured Somali pirates in September 2010, was split conducting counter piracy while simultaneously supporting Afghanistan combat operations and theater reserve.

While such split operations are within the kit bag of the MEU, such practices dilute the nature of the ready force that is forward and concentrated. Current naval planning does not indicate these trends will reverse. In the near term, FY13 budgeted shipbuilding plans for the procurement of 10 combatant vessels, none of which are designed as amphibious troop carrying vessels.

Longer-term outlooks are no more promising, with the 30-year shipbuilding plan designating amphibious ships to remain the smallest portion of the surface ship layout. These trends indicate that while we point to a pivot in the Pacific, a lack of focus on the real possibility of amphibious operations exists in the Navy.  Amphibious operations would only make up a portion of the large pie of commitments facing the Pacific Fleet. Within the large spectrum of possible kinetic or non-kinetic operations in the Pacific, it can be predicted that any amphibious operation would be a decisive moment strategically and the planning should be weighted accordingly.


Viewed through the lens of history (Normandy, Inchon, or Guadalcanal) it is difficult to find any amphibious operations that did not mark a dramatic turning point in a campaign or war.  If it is then self-evident that such an event would be so strategically critical, why does the current plan to build and maintain such a force seem akin to a family choosing to forgo insurance while deciding to move to earthquake prone area? The prime stakeholder in any amphibious operation, the Marine Corps, cannot dictate the procurement of other services, but it should consider alternative courses of action to ensure its capabilities remain viable.

It is important to remember that any alternatives to procuring and maintaining a robust combatant amphibious fleet should be only temporary. To rely on merchant shipping or other means that are not 100% dedicated to amphibious operations under fire would be a fool’s errand, but more dangerous would be to gap a crucial element of national power when the world is becoming more dangerous.

Numerous historical precedents counter the argument that only dedicated ships of war can be used under fire. Most apparent was the massive emergency nationalization of merchant shipping during World War II. Thousands of tons of civilian shipping, manned by civilian mariners, were mobilized and made a crucial contribution to winning the war. Losses were great, with 1,614 ships sunk from 1940 to 1947 (post conflict losses due to remnants of war) and 9,521 merchant seaman giving their lives in service to the country. Merchant seaman had a 1 in 26 chance of being killed in action, greater than that of any the four services. Clearly, our national history shows that civilian mariners are capable of risking all in service to their country.

The SS Atlantic Conveyor became an unorthodox aircraft carrier during the Falklands War
The SS Atlantic Conveyor became an unorthodox aircraft carrier during the Falklands War

Another useful example is that of Great Britain during the Falklands war of 1982. In an economic situation eerily similar to today, the British government had to make many choices of need rather than want during the 1970s. Economic malaise led to drastic defense cuts, and all strategic guidance pointed toward the threat of the Soviet Union and continental Europe.  History demonstrated that war rarely happens where governments want or plan for it to occur. Only a year after London mothballed several of its carriers and amphibious ships, Argentina invaded the Falklands and presented operational and strategic challenges of the highest order to the British Government.  In an amazing example of military mobalization, Great Britain took two civilian container/roll on-roll off (RO/RO) ships and converted them to ad hoc helicopters and VTOL carriers. They carried Harrier GR.1’s and Sea King Helicopters, and gave British commanders operational agility in the form of air cover and lift capacity. Tragically one of the ships was sunk along with several Royal Navy combatants.

The lesson to take away is that, while as much as we may want to envision a conflict of our choosing, it is more likely that we will end up faced with decisions we did not anticipate. If we have to create capability on the fly and mobilize merchant shipping after we are on the right sight of boom, our forces will face greater risks.


Now is the time to begin planning for the worst. Using civilian shipping in amphibious operations is feasible and more cost-effective than waiting on billion dollar ships that have procurement cycles measured in decades. Training on the lower end of the conflict spectrum in operations such as humanitarian and disaster relief will increase civilian/ military amphibious force ability. Earlier integration into MEU and ARG structures to work out inevitable issues of interoperability will make the inclusion of merchant ships into higher spectrum operations a more risk tolerant option.

Most critically, planning for and using merchant shipping options now will keep our amphibious blade sharp, and capabilities will be less affected than if we remain on our current course of a letting them wither, and eventually die, on the vine. Few operations rival an amphibious movement in terms of complexity, and hoping for the best when marines and sailors conduct one under fire in the future is not only negligent, it is immoral. Utilizing the merchant shipping now and planning for its use until our amphibious force is stabilized is a viable strategy that deserves greater attention.