Using historical examples and parallels to predict the future can be dangerous, but is better than operating in a vacuum. It can also serve to break down to relatively simple and illustrative terms sometimes overwhelming complexities, in contrast with the more sophisticated analytic tools available. The simpler method further helps to mitigate the marvelous talent of the human mind to justify whatever it is we want justified by framing the arguments in easy to follow logic. What does this extended introduction say about LCS’ future development? LCS has quite a long story, which CAPT Carney Powers tells in the pages of Proceedings’ September issue. But if we draw a line between the past and present and try to answer the simple question, “What is LCS?” in no more than 10 words, my attempt would be something like this:
LCS screens battle force from asymmetrical threat of the time.
100 years ago, in 1912, the asymmetrical threats to a battle force were the torpedo, carried by the already well established flotillas of torpedo boats, and the rapidly maturing technology of submarines. In this respect LCS is similar to early destroyers, which were basically outgrown torpedo boats. Its mission was defined in the most direct way by the French name of this new class of ships – contre-torpilleur. They were better fighting small and agile torpedo boats than cruisers, which formed the battle-force screen of the time, but they lacked seakeeping and range to keep pace with the fleet. With time, due in part to the growing threat from submarines and later aircraft, destroyers evolved into two subcategories – escort and fleet destroyers. In his recently published interview, Dr. John Lehman points to the problem of LCS’ inability to deploy with Carrier Battle Groups as a similarity with the early destroyers, and calls for a battle group-deployable frigate program that would replace the FFG 7s. As FFGs were never intended to be a part of Carrier Battle Groups there is a danger that his idea would end up as an attempt to procure fleet destroyers at the cost of escort destroyers, or using contemporary nomenclature to buy DDGs for the price of FFGs.
Another way to look at LCS could be as a drone carrier. Norman Friedman recently made this kind of parallel. During the interwar period, the U.S. Navy searched for more scouting capabilities by pursuing many ideas in parallel. One of them was a seaplane tender like Curtiss AV-4. The task was to put at sea a maximum number of possible scouting planes. Today we speak about autonomous vehicles but the mission is similar. Quite contrary to destroyers, sea plane tenders disappeared from the seas. What is the difference between these two parallels? Contre-torpilleur is a statement of mission, screening the battle force, while seaplane tender is description of capabilities. Capabilities will naturally evolve with stated mission and technology. The art is to match both at given level of evolution. Our ancestors used to say nihil novi sub sole. Translated into modern language and applied to the Navy we can say that managing the fleet is not a mysterious science but an art of applying already invented ideas.
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
A frequently cited fact in my days training to be a naval officer was that the most common weapon for damaging a warship since World War II was the naval mine. The recently concluded International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (IMCMEX 12), held in 3 distinct OPAREAs throughout the U.S. Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR), demonstrated both the difficulty of mine countermeasures (MCM) operations (detecting and clearing mines) and the potential of new technology to mitigate those dangers.
PBS’ News Hour quotes a retired naval officer and observer of the exercise, Capt. Robert O’Donnell, stating of the 29 simulated mines in the exercise, “I don’t think a great many were found…It was probably around half or less.”
The response from the Navy is a little confusing:
The Navy declined to provide data on how many practice mines were located during the two-week naval drill but did not dispute that less than half were found. However, a spokesman insisted that the figures do not tell the whole story and that the event was “‘not just about finding” the dummy mines.
“We enjoyed great success,” said Cdr. Jason Salata, the top public affairs officer for the 5th Fleet. “Every platform that was sent to find a shape found a shape. We stand by that.” Salata asserted that “there were no missed mines, each platform that had an opportunity to find the mine did so.”
While it is true that a 100% detection rate is not what the exercise was all about, that rate is still an interesting figure. It could indicate that every mine was found, but perhaps not by every platform – instead as a result of the cumulative MCM effort. It’s likewise unknown how the success rate broke down by platform and nation – more than 27 international partners operated with U.S. Fifth Fleet as part of the exercise. What is known is that MCM remains a difficult and deadly business, particularly in the context of some of the most likely future conflict scenarios, including Iran and North Korea.
While the exercise results will disappoint some (again, we don’t know who or what had difficulty finding what types of mines), they will also serve to reinforce the arguments for recapitalizing the Avenger-class MCMs, outfitting the USS Ponce as an Afloat Forward Staging Base, and placing rigorous demands on getting the LCS MCM mission package right. As mentioned above, the exercise was additionally an opportunity to test out some new kit. Before the exercise got underway, NavalDrones provided a preview of some of the Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) slated for testing in the drill, as well as a recap of other drones designed for MCM duties. Furthermore, a pair of similar threats might spark the development of crossover technology for use in MCM.
In addition to the more traditional types of naval mines, detecting and defeating the waterborne IEDs and enemy drones (AUVs and ROVs) of both state and non-state actors is seen by some as increasing in importance, and may rely on many of the same technologies used in MCM. Like the land-based IED/counter-IED arms-race of the past decade, we could be witnessing the start of a similar set of opposing innovation escalations. Foreign Policy earlier this week reported that the creation of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), is executing its own Pivot to the Pacific to focus on the typically lower-tech threats of waterborne terrorists and IEDs. Meanwhile NavalDrones last week highlighted some of the detection and clearance technologies that could be used against the evolving undersea drone fleets. The next decade is shaping up to be an interesting time for technology under the waves.
LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
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.
Force development is much like agriculture. Seeds appear trifling things; but such small objects can engulf entire fields or grow to incredible height. Investing early in incubator programs can lead to huge changes in the future. When observed from a position of strength, the small changes garnered by others seem superficial rather than tectonic. The American defense establishment is missing those tectonic changes as China’s military begins the process of stealing a march in force development.
China is pursuing a broad portfolio of revolutionizing technologies. We have discussed in detail the potential opportunities for drone warfare on this blog and elsewhere. However, those working to reap such opportunities are not here in the U.S. where ideas are shared freely, but in the People’s Republic of China. Scientists in China have developed a system by which, with thought alone, an operator can control an aerial drone. Rudimentary technology at best, it is nonetheless a leap we have yet to take. Even at the beginning stages, it shows smoother control with a mental operator rather than a manual one. Although the US does seem dedicated to drone saturation, we have not moved past our initial uses and operation of them. Drones still require legions of remote operators rather than partial automation and direct connections with the men in the field. While we have yet to integrate our many exciting advances in automation and bionics, the PRC has grabbed a great leap forward and changed the very way they interact with drones.
China is also marching past us in more mundane military technologies. We have discussed the practicality and pragmatism of theHoubei versus our misbegotten LCS. Far from the risky investment in an in-shore knife-fighter some desired, LCS was held back as a conventional, do-everything (aka: nothing) combatant without the relative advantage in speed, strength, or resilience to give it any sort of field advantage. We essentially attempted to build a Ford RS300, but halfway through decided to finish it as an Isuzu Elf. Meanwhile, with the PLAN following a disciplined strategy for blue-water modernization, a stream of solidly-constructed and capable warships are pouring into the Pacific, making the failures of our current investment ever more evident. Our attempts at modernization in the air are just as white-washed; worse than the do-everything design of LCS, the new Joint Strike Fighter attempts to stuff the needs of every branch into one frame that doesn’t quite make anyone happy. Even basic capabilities, like anti-ship missiles, lag embarrassingly behind. While the U.S. still uses a sub-sonic cold-war relic, the PRC rolls out DF-21Ds. Where technology does branch out, it seems unnecessary, like the laser-guided Griffen Missile system on PCs that already have far-more capable Mod 2 25mm cannons. China’s more reasonable and planned forays into future technology have made our past-ideas decorated with sweet rims look ridiculous.
We are also shrinking from the one area in which we could claim total dominance: space. Although our nation is now in the mini-euphoria from Curiosity’s landing on Mars, most have forgotten that this is an achievement of a program started 8 years ago. Our current manned space program is dead. NASA shifted the lion’s share of investment to “earth sciences,” a realm already well-manned by all the scientists ON earth. China not only retains a manned space program, but advertises a plan for both the Moon and Mars. Even if such a schedule is a dream, at least they still have one. While this is not directly a military issue, it is a strong force multiplier. Space is the ultimate high ground. To lose dominance there undermines a vast number of U.S. capabilities.
Our mighty oak is rotting from within. Money is pouring into failed projects. Our Sailors are over-stretched and time is cut for the training/education necessary to add critical value to those personnel. Our priorities are skewed, millions of man-hours are lost to politically correct schools and rubbish ship-wide life-choices training. Meanwhile, the PLAN marches forward, steadily planting the seeds necessary to grow a modern blue-water navy supported by a far greater industrial base than anything the U.S. can muster. They are slowly reaching into the commons, as the face put forward by the U.S. becomes harder and harder to maintain. If we don’t get back into step soon, we may need that long-view of history to see just how far ahead of us the Chinese march has advanced.
The effort necessary to regain our momentum would be disruptive, but not impossible. First, stubborn pride and sunk costs are no way to direct procurement. LCS must be cancelled. In its place, begin a vetting process for contracting apre-existanthullto be built in the US, backed up by a low-mix of new coastal patrol crafts and the new MK VI’s. This would provide the desired coverage using fast, proven, and cheaper vessels that would save us billions in these tight times.
Where the LCS has many fine replacements, the JSF has crowded out the development of real alternatives. The diplomatic/trade capital invested also makes it an impossible program to cancel without painful follow-on consequences. However, the billions saved from LCS could fund a quicker turnover to automated and integrated ComBot technology, creating an “AEGIS in the sky” of super-fast autonomous aircraft and ComBots on the ground integrated with our fighting men and women. It’s a future closer than you may think. These new automated systems could lead to new systems to take on LCS’s failed missions, such as brown-water ASW and mine-sweeping.
With the US’s new technologies, we rely heavily on space. It is a commons commanding the ultimate high ground from which we guide our weapons, communications, and our intelligence infrastructure. Less concrete, but existentially more important, we must continue our investment in the development and exploration of space. The United States, at its very essence, doesn’t represent a set of borders, we survive as an idea. Being a nation undefined by a border, we must constantly strive beyond them. When the US landed on the Moon, we didn’t represent just ourselves, but all humanity. Such is a cause and driving force behind our constant success… a dream. To abandon that dream, even worse to cede it to the likes of the PRC, would be tantamount to ideological suicide. We must re-invest in our manned space program. This is not in defense of our physical commons, but in the commons of ideas, something to believe in. Much like the JSF and LCS programs, we don’t believe anymore. We’re going through the motions. We need to regroup and find a real direction towards the future, because the PRC marching past us.
Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. 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.
HNLMS Evertsen is one of four De Zeven Provinciën class air defence and command frigates in service with the Royal Netherlands Navy (Koninklijke Marine). Evertsen is the youngest of the four, having been completed in 2003 and commissioned in 2005. These ships superseded the two smaller Tromp class frigates, decommissioned in 1999 and 2001. Despite being classified by the Netherlands Navy as frigates, their displacement (6,050 tonnes), complement (202 + 30 aircrew), and role make them comparable to many destroyers. They are similar in these respects to the RAN’s planned Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers (AWD). The Netherlands Navy also intends to use the De Zeven Provinciën class in a limited Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) role, having recently awarded a contract for modification of the ships’ Thales SMART-L and APAR radars. According to an article in January’s Proceedings magazine, these modifications are expected to be complete by late 2017. It should be noted that the currently planned modifications only endow the class with the capability to detect and track ballistic missile threats, and do not provide for surface-to-air interceptor missiles.
The De Zeven Provinciën class are armed with five 8-cell MK 41 VLS modules, with a typical loadout of 32x SM-2MR Block IIA (RIM-66L-2) and 8x quad-packed RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles. They are equipped with two quadruple-canister RGM-84 Harpoon SSM launchers, an Oto Melara Otobreda 127mm/54 Compact dual-purpose gun, and 2x twin-tube MK 32 Mod 9 torpedo tubes (with Raytheon MK46 Mod 5 torpedoes). Two Thales ‘Goalkeeper’ CIWS, 2-4x browning M2 .50 calibre machine guns, and 4x FN MAG 7.62x51mm machine guns are also fitted. The De Zeven Provinciën class carry either a SH-14D Super Lynx or an NH90 NFH. The Evertsen is currently carrying a Super Lynx for Operation Ocean Shield.
HNLMS Evertsen participated in EUNAVFOR’s Operation ATALANTA in 2009; in one operation her crew were responsible for capturing thirteen Somali pirates who had previously attempted to board the BBC Togo off the coast of Oman. In 2010, HNLMSTromp took part in Operation ATALANTA, including the retaking of the German flagged MV Taipan by Dutch marines. Evertsen has returned to the Horn of Africa as the Netherlands’ contribution to NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, under the command of Commander Boudewijn Boots, and serves as the flagship of Ocean Shield for Commodore Ben Bekkering, current Commander SNMG1 (Standing NATO Maritime Group 1), and his international staff of 24. She has been involved in several successful counter-piracy actions, including detaining Somali pirates who had hijacked an Omani dhow and its crew, and used the vessel to attempt to board the MV Namrun. The Evertsen carries a Royal Netherlands Marine Corps Enhanced Boarding Element (EBE) as part of its counter-piracy capability. The EBE is made up of operators from the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps Maritime Special Operations Forces (MARSOF), assigned to the vessel for counter-piracy duties. It may also be supplemented by regular marines.
A Formidable Frigate
Meanwhile, Singapore’s Formidable class frigates are considered amongst the most advanced surface combatants in Southeast Asia. Built around a substantially modified version of the French La Fayetteclass, they feature an advanced stealth design incorporating a range of Radar Cross-Section (RCS) reduction features. The inclined planes of the hull and superstructures, concealment of typical ship’s equipment, low profile housings for armaments, and enclosed sensor mast are chief amongst these. The Formidable class armament includes: an Oto Melara 76mm Super Rapid naval gun, 8x RGM-84C Harpoon SSMs, and 4x 8-cell Sylver A50 VLS containing a mixture of Aster 15 and Aster 30 SAMs. The ships are also capable of firing EuroTorp A224/S Mod 3 torpedoes, and carry a Sikorsky S-70B naval helicopter with ASW equipment (they formerly operated Eurocopter AS-332M Super Pumas).
The Formidable class are also highly automated, operated by a complement of only 71 crew (90 including air detachment). By way of comparison, a US Oliver Hazard Perry class has a nominal compliment of 176, an Australian Anzac class a complement of 163, and a French La Fayette class a complement of 141. The Formidable class are designed to operate as the naval centrepiece of the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) Integrated Knowledge-based Command and Control (IKC2) network. Integrating the advanced sensor packages and armaments of the ships to give commanders the ability to rapidly assess the battlespace and respond accordingly was a key design focus for the project. Dr Kenneth Kwok, Programme Director for Information Exploitation at the DSO national Laboratories noted: “The frigate has many state of the art weapon systems and sensor systems, but it is really how you put them together and integrate them into a fighting system that makes the difference”.
Six Formidable class frigates were built, with all but RSS Formidable being built by Singapore Technologies Marine (ST Marine) at their Benoi Shipyard, in Singapore. Construction of the class ran from late 2002 until mid-2006, with all ships being commissioned by January 2009. All are currently active, and form the 185 Squadron of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). The RSS Formidable was Singapore’s contribution to the forces conducting RIMPAC 2012, operating in conjunction with participants from twenty-one other nations. Singapore’s incumbent Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, has confirmed that a Formidable class frigate (and the attached S-70B) will soon deploy to the Gulf of Aden as part of Singapore’s contribution to CTF-151.
This piece originally appeared as two separate posts at our Aussie partners’ Security Scholar blog, check it out for more photos on the above ship classes.