Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Strength in Numbers: The Remarkable Potential of (Really) Small Combatants

LT Jimmy Drennan is a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy. He is the prospective Weapons Officer aboard USS Gettysburg and a Distinguished Graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Systems Engineering Analysis program. 

You are a tactical commander tasked with a mission to seek out and destroy one of the enemy’s premier capital ships in his home waters. You have two potential striking forces at your disposal: a world class surface combatant of your own with a 99% probability of mission success (Ps = 0.99) or a squadron of eight independently operating, missile carrying small combatants – each with a chance of successfully completing the mission no better than a coin flip (Ps = 0.5). Do you go with the almost sure thing and choose to send in your large combatant? As it turns out, the squadron of small combatants has an even higher overall Ps. But let’s assume now that you’ve advanced to operational commander. You might have more concerns than just overall Ps. What are the defensive and logistical requirements for each option? How much fleet investment am I risking with each option? What will it cost to replace the asset(s) if it is lost? What capability does the striking force have after successful enemy action (i.e. resilience)? An analysis of these factors, intentionally designed to disadvantage the small combatants, actually comes out overwhelmingly in their favor over the large combatant. The results verify what naval strategists and tacticians have long known: for certain offensive missions, an independently operating group of even marginally capable platforms can outperform a single large combatant at lower cost and less risk to the mission.

The War at Sea Flotilla: A Test Case

In the Autumn 2012 edition of the Naval War College Review, Captains (U.S. Navy, Retired) Jeff Kline and Wayne Hughes introduce “A War at Sea Strategy” in which they describe a flotilla of small, missile-carrying surface combatants designed to challenge Chinese aggression in East Asian waters. The flotilla ships would utilize largely independent tactics, relying little on networked command and control, to produce a powerful cumulative combat capability.

“What would the flotilla look like? In rough terms, we envision individual small combatants of about six hundred tons carrying six or eight surface-to-surface missiles and depending on soft kill and point defense for survival, aided by offboard manned or unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance and tactical scouting. To paint a picture of possible structures, we contemplate as the smallest element a mutually supporting pair, a squadron to comprise eight vessels, and the entire force to be eight squadrons, of which half would be in East Asian waters. The units costing less than $100 million each, the entire force would require a very small part of the shipbuilding budget (Hughes and Kline, 2012).”

This flotilla concept provides an ideal test case to compare against a world class surface combatant but first we must establish a few key assumptions on which this analysis is based.

Statistical Independence. The math behind this analysis hinges on the idea that the outcome of one small combatant’s engagement has no effect on the others in the squadron. While true statistical independence is nearly impossible to achieve in real world naval operations, the War at Sea Flotilla concept models it closely with independently operating units, the potential for various ship classes, and the inclusion of allied navies which may use different tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). This concept of operations is a major departure from today’s heavily networked forces which generate combat power through the integrated actions of several units. In those forces, the actions of one unit can have profound impact on the effectiveness of another.

Defensive and Logistical Requirements. For the purposes of this analysis, we will assume that the defensive and logistical requirements are roughly equivalent for both the small combatant squadron and the large combatant. Both would require defensive support in warfare areas not directly related to the current mission. Even a multi-mission, blue water combatant would employ inorganic support, such as maritime patrol aircraft or early warning assets, to watch its back while it conducted a focused offensive mission. As for logistics, any surface asset would need an oiler nearby to conduct sustained operations in enemy waters. A nuclear powered aircraft carrier would still require periodic support to replenish its stores of jet fuel. The logistics tail would be shorter for a large combatant than a flotilla, since it carries much of its own maintenance and supply support, but that can be a detriment in a mission involving an exchange of missile salvos. While the structure of defensive and logistical support may differ greatly between the flotilla and the large combatant, one can assume the drain on resources would be about the same for both options. 

Unit Cost. Captains Hughes and Kline estimate the unit cost of the flotilla small combatants at $80 million (Hughes and Kline, 2012). Therefore, a squadron of eight combatants would cost $640 million. The unit cost of the large combatant is assumed to be $1 billion, which is an underestimate for relevant US Navy platforms. The cost estimates in this analysis are intentionally set up to work against the flotilla concept in order to emphasize its potential for savings.

Enemy Capabilities. To further disadvantage the flotilla concept, let’s assume the small combatants are significantly overmatched by the enemy combatant. In a first strike, the enemy combatant is capable of simultaneously targeting six of the eight squadron combatants. Against the large combatant, it is capable of conducting a devastating mission kill in which the ship may not be sunk but the cost to repair it to fully mission capable would be comparable to the unit cost. As a starting argument, let’s assume in either case the enemy can achieve a mission kill with 10% probability (Pmk =0.10) since both striking forces have similar levels of defensive support. You might argue that Pmk should be lower for the large combatant because it possesses superior self defense capabilities; however, you could also argue that the mobile, distributed nature of the small combatant squadron compensates for each ship’s lack of self defense by complicating the enemy’s targeting process. It may be relatively easy for the enemy to target one or two of the small combatants, but it remains a challenge to simultaneously eliminate the entire squadron.

Selecting the Right Striking Force: Analysis Results

Using the generic introductory scenario, we can compare the small combatant squadron to the large combatant in terms of performance, cost, and risk. 

Overall Effectiveness. We are given the overall effectiveness of the large combatant as Ps = 0.99 and the individual effectiveness of the small combatants as Ps,ship = 0.5. To determine the overall effectiveness of the squadron, it is easiest to first estimate the probability that none of the small combatants successfully accomplish their mission. The probability that any one small combatant will not accomplish the mission is,

Since the outcomes of each engagement are estimated as independent of one another, the probability that none of the eight small combatants accomplish the mission is,

The probability that at least one of the small combatants accomplish the mission is the converse of the previous result, or

In other words, the squadron has a 99.6% probability of success vice 99% for the large combatant. This may not seem like much of an improvement, but it is more remarkable when considering the unit cost of each option.

Cost Effectiveness. The unit costs are given as $1 billion for the large combatant and $80 million for the small combatant, so we know that the squadron of eight small combatants is the more affordable option at $640 million. In addition, we have established that the squadron can outperform the large combatant for this particular offensive mission in which the individual squadron ships are actually overmatched by the enemy. The squadron is not only more cost effective than the large combatant; it actually delivers better performance at lower cost. As a commander, would you rather invest $1 billion in striking force that fails 10 times in 1000 attempts, or save $360 million with a striking force that fails only 4 times in 1000 attempts? To put it another way, if you were to invest the same $1 billion in 12 small combatants, you could deliver a striking force that failed only 2 times in 10,000 attempts (Ps = 0.9998).

Resilience after Enemy Action. One way to consider risk is to look at the impact to the mission if the enemy is able to successfully consummate a first attack. We have assumed the enemy is equally capable of attacking the large combatant and the squadron of small combatants. If the enemy combatant achieves a simultaneous mission kill against six of the small combatants, then only two will remain to continue the mission. These two small combatants have a combined 75% probability of successfully completing the mission.  On the other hand, if the enemy successfully conducts a mission kill against the large combatant, the probability of successfully completing the mission is 0% and you lose the other warfare area capabilities that the large combatant could bring to bear in other missions. The additional investment required to provide onboard logistics support is also lost.

Another way to look at this risk is to calculate the expected damage cost of each option in the long run. Assuming the enemy is able to conduct devastating mission kills (in which the repair costs are comparable to the unit cost) a conservative 10% of the time (Pmk = 0.1) for both the large and small combatants, then the expected damage cost for the large combatant is,

Likewise, the expected damage cost for the squadron of small combatants is,

In the long run, the enemy is expected to cause $52M less damage per mission in the case of the small combatants. Even if the enemy were more likely to successfully target six small combatants simultaneously, how much would you as a commander be willing to pay for 75% follow-on capability vice 0%?

Less Communications, Less Cost, More Combat Power: Analysis Insights

The results of this analysis seem to indicate that the squadron of small combatants is an obvious choice for naval missions involving direct action against the enemy fleet. Yet the scenario described is quite generic and says nothing about the actual TTPs and systems the squadron will utilize in prosecuting the enemy. How can such a generic scenario really prove anything about the effectiveness of small combatants? The key is that two fundamental principles underlie this analysis and can be applied in much broader terms.

First, independently operating, redundant, and at least marginally capable units will greatly increase any system’s overall effectiveness, primarily because unit faults and errors are not permitted to propagate through the system as they would in net centric warfare (e.g. flawed group tactics or a false link track). For surface combatants, an individual effectiveness of 50% is sufficient to affordably produce a formidable striking force. For less expensive systems, that number may be even less. Ultimately, this kind of system is so effective because it is highly unlikely that none of the individual units will successfully complete the mission.

The second principle that contributes to the appeal of the small combatant squadron is that the price of military systems increases exponentially as you attempt to improve individual unit performance closer and closer to perfection. Most of our warships today are designed well past the “knee” in the cost curve. Small combatants can be built with marginal capability at (relatively) very low cost. One new concept illustrates how less capable ships can affordably produce equivalent performance as more capable ones in certain situations. In his 2009 essay, “Buy Fords, Not Ferraris” Captain (U.S. Navy) Henry Hendrix proposes Influence Squadrons, composed of light amphibious ships, large combatants, littoral combat ships (LCS), and small combatants, to alleviate the need for some Carrier Strike Groups – with a smaller price tag (Hendrix, 2009). The purpose of the War at Sea Flotilla, however, is not to replace current fleet assets but to fill a vital niche not now covered to fight a war at sea in littoral waters. Therefore the cost must be small. Captains Hughes and Kline suggest the cost of maintaining a fleet of 64 flotilla ships, steady state, should be less than 3 or 4% of the shipbuilding budget (Hughes and Kline, 2012).

Think Small: Analysis Conclusion and Recommendations

One look at the writings of Sir Julian Corbett or Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat will show the reader that the benefits of small combatants in certain aspects of naval warfare are not a new discovery. In fact, this analysis may seem like the kind of thinking that led to the development of LCS, which was, after all, born out of wargaming and analysis that advocated for small combatants (Johnson and Long, 2007). The LCS program is not, however, a realization of the principles discussed in this analysis. Both Freedom and Independence class LCS are large multi-mission warships (albeit one at a time) in which mission packages cost a premium to achieve very high probabilities of success. The War at Sea Flotilla, if constructed as Captains Hughes and Kline recommend, would exemplify the advantages of independently operating small combatants.

None of this is meant to condemn LCS or any other ship class for that matter. Every ship in the US fleet, along with the distributed networks that multiply its combat power, has an important role in the mission of winning the nation’s wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. The purpose here is to provide an analytical basis for including independently operating squadrons of small combatants in the discussion for future force structure. For targeted offensive missions at sea, concepts such as the War at Sea Flotilla can provide higher performance than large combatants at lower cost and with greater resilience to enemy action. In today’s fiscal reality and tomorrow’s projected operational environment, that is a combination Navy leaders should not ignore.

LT Jimmy Drennan is a Surface Warfare Officer. He is the prospective Weapons Officer aboard USS Gettysburg and a Distinguished Graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Systems Engineering Analysis program. 

Maritime Warmongering: Russia’s Black Sea Military Exercise

Aaron Willschick on the tension over the recent Russian military exercise in the Black Sea and how Russian President Vladimir Putin should put an end to his persistent warmongering.

In what is becoming an almost daily occurrence, the Russian government has again stolen the front page news headlines with its recent military exercise involving more than thirty warships, 250 combat vehicles and up to 7, 000 troops. The exercise has been met with confusion and anxiety from the international community with regards to what in fact Russia’s intention was with ordering the surprise maritime exercise.

The country that has had the strongest reaction against the exercise is Georgia. Tensions have been high between the two countries ever since they went to war in 2008 over the separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In response to the exercise, the Georgian government said Russian military action in the Black Sea was “at odds with the interests of stability.” The official Russian statement on the drills from state-run news agency RIA Novosti was that they were meant to ensure regional stability ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea coast.

On April 1st, the Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed Georgia’s condemnation, stating that Tbilisi’s assertion was groundless and out of sync with its declared commitment to normalize its relationship with Russia. The Foreign Ministry also stated that Georgia’s claims that the military drills were destabilizing reflects its own regional aggressions. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the Georgian reaction was “a public inflation of a Russian threat to cover its own confrontational policy.” NATO has not offered an official response to the exercise, but a NATO-member diplomat suggested that there was some unease over the surprise nature of the drill. There was no official objection from Ukraine either, but some members of the parliament chose to voice their displeasure.

Under international law, maritime exercises of this size do not need to be announced to other countries in advance, but as evidenced by some of the reaction, it has only added to the mounting international skepticism over Russia’s global intentions. Despite the rising tension, it is fairly clear that the Black Sea military exercise is yet more warmongering by the Kremlin and Putin and what we have come to expect during his lengthy tenure as either Russian President or Prime Minister. Putin himself even chose to attend the exercise in the Black Sea town of Anapa, along with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. During his time in office, Putin has used his role as commander-in-chief to cast himself as a strong leader for whom national security is foremost. Particularly since returning to the presidency last May, Putin has stressed the importance of a strong and agile military. He has often cited external threats in his thirteen years in power when discussing the need for reliable armed forces. It has been reported that spontaneous training missions resembling this one are apparently set to become routine in the Russian military.

Despite Russian denials, it is quite apparent that this exercise is part of some grand strategy of standing up to the West and asserting Russia’s regional dominance. Putin seems intent on projecting Russian power towards Europe as well as the Middle East. In late February, Putin ordered military leaders to make urgent improvements to the armed forces in the next few years, saying Russia must thwart Western attempts to tip the balance of power. He said that manoeuvres must be held with less advance warning to keep soldiers ready and prepared. Observers have commented that the drill is likely part of a wider attempt to reconfirm that the Russian navy and military are still able to play a political and geopolitical role in the south.

It is time for Putin to put an end to his regular attempts at flexing Russia’s geopolitical and military might. It has become all too regular an occurrence that it has now grown to be predictable and reminiscent of Soviet rhetoric during the Cold War. As a leader, Putin seems intent on making himself feared on the international stage which is unrealistic in this day and age. All the strength he is putting into trying to raise Russia’s geopolitical prominence could be spent on re-establishing and reinforcing relationships with Western powers. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this will happen until Putin has decided that his time in the Russian political spotlight has come to an end, a remote possibility unlikely to occur any time soon.

Aaron Willschick is a recent graduate from the MA program in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. He also holds an MA degree in political science from York University and a BaH from York University’s Glendon College. His research interests include the European Union, European security and defense policy, NATO enlargement to Eastern Europe and democratization. He has extensive experience in policy and research, having worked as a trade assistant at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto and a research assistant to well-known Canadian author Anna Porter and York University political science professor Heather MacRae.

LCS – Playing with Modularity

LCS: Trade-Offs and Tribulations
                                                           LCS: Trade-Offs and Tribulations


The U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship is now at an interesting but dangerous point of development. At least that’s one impression from reading Chris Cavas’s article in DefenseNews. The controversies surrounding LCS are not surprising taking into account the words of Sir Julian Corbett:

The truth is, that the classes of ships which constitute a fleet are, or ought to be, the expression in material of the strategical and tactical ideas that prevail at any given time, and consequently they have varied not only with the ideas, but also with the material in vogue.

LCS represents perhaps too radical a detachment from the dominating views in the Navy. So what is the right way to proceed? From the article in DefenseNews three options emerge:

1. Stop LCS orders at 25 ships. This would mean that the original need for an affordable littoral combatant, operated in packs, remains unfulfilled. This is an acceptable course if the need is no longer important, but is that the case? Some form of affordable and smaller combatant is still desired, I believe.

2. Turn LCS into “micro-Aegis”. This would mean attempting to make LCS into something it was never intended to be. Sooner or later it would lead to more balanced, but more expensive, frigate design. This would be like having an answer for a question never posed. To illustrate the problem and sharpen opinions — what attribute of the ship is more important for the Navy? One with a frigate’s capabilities, or an affordable one? Designing an affordable frigate is a very challenging task for naval architects and the history of modern Royal Navy is worth studying to understand this.

3. Fine-tune LCS’ design and concepts, aiming to minimize identified deficiencies while preserving affordability. The most criticized features seem to be weak armament, excessive modularity, and the inefficiency of having two different designs. Choosing this option would mean improving the answer for the known need. It is also an attempt to converge the concept of the littoral corvette with the “prevailing strategical and tactical ideas” within the Navy.

The proposal below is the result of admittedly amateurish play with module-like LEGO bricks and intends to achieve the desired effect by changing the base configuration as well as assigning missions in pairs to two different platforms. It means that instead of multi-mission or reconfigurable-but-single-mission ships, there would be “1.5 – 2 mission” ships, with one mission permanent and one modular. Which module should be assigned to which platform is a question of not only effectiveness but also safety. The following statement comes from an analysis of the U.S. Navy’s experimental twin-hull Sea Fighter (FSF-1):

The RHIB is launched and recovered at ship speeds not exceeding 5 kts. At speeds less than 15 kts Sea Fighter’s ride quality is reduced. Ship motions at 5 kts sometimes causes the end of the stern ramp to emerge from the water, which makes recovering the boat a challenge at best and dangerous at worst. A missed approach (to the ramp) could result in the boat being trapped under the water-jet guards.

If that is an inherent feature of multi-hull ships, then launch and recovery of Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) or Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) should be the domain of the classic monohull design, in spite of the larger bay in the trimaran. Based on such an assumption, Independence would perform two roles – Maritime Security Operations in low-level threat environments and ASW corvette in wartime, while Freedom’s envisioned role would be anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and mine warfare. Both versions could operate together in pairs. I propose extending the base configuration of the trimaran including SeaRAM along with 30mm guns and a mine reconnaissance UUV like Bluefin 21. Replacing the Griffin launcher with vertically launched RAM Block 2 in the extensible launching system (ExLS) offers improved self defense against multi-axis attacks while retaining flexibility in mixing RAM with Griffin, which is possible to fire from modified Mk 49 launcher.

For Freedom, I propose replacing the 30mm guns with Harpoon missiles, an action already put forward by both Chris Cavas and Bryan McGrath in Information Dissemination. Such configuration is intended to be fixed, while ASW and MIW remain in module form. This way we get a classic ASW corvette and much bigger Visby-like littoral combatant. Applying 8- or 16-cell vertical launchers is welcome, but its cost should be checked against affordability criteria. In fact such a move means extending modularity into the ammunition area rather then limiting it. This is a case for developing a VLS Harpoon and Bryan McGrath makes a good point about it in Information Dissemination. It makes sense however only if there is a large number of smaller combatants to carry such weapon.

Operating two different variants may be a “glaring inefficiency”, but only from an economical point of view. Tactically, having a variety of features could be advantageous. The interesting side effect of above LEGO bricks play is turning LCS into a model littoral corvette, which could become of some interest for other navies considering procurement options.

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

The Carrier and National Security Variables


Worth the price of influence?
Worth the price of influence?

The report At What Cost a Carrier? published by CNAS and written by CAPT Henry J. Hendrix contains all the necessary ingredients for a simple model-structuring discussion about the validity and viability of the “Carrier Force” concept. With such a model, individual variables can be discussed or discarded without undermining the need to answer the leading cost question or the model itself. These are the basic variables we get with a carrier:

  • Influence: The amount of influence a navy can project on the world is indirectly measured by carrier military power – sets of “90,000 tons of diplomacy” – and not limited to it. In fact, the rest most of the world uses other means to influence events in order to achieve favorable outcomes.  Other nations may want a carrier but, because they cannot afford one, have to look for alternatives.
  • Cost: The cost of achieving a carrier’s desired capabilities, whether measured by the price of procurement, life-cycle cost, or the cost to restore damaged capabilities during armed conflict. Inversely, not building carriers incurs the cost of losing industrial base and know-how.
  • Risk: This is commonly understood as vulnerability from a lack of assets (the risk of going without), but there are also consequences of losing a carrier. The magnitude of lost military power, cost, influence, and image in such a case would enormous.

Military effectiveness-related attributes, like striking power and affordability, are relatively easy to measure and remain at the center of discussions. On the other hand, political-value calculations are less structured (and harder to quantify) but probably represent the biggest threat to the carrier-centric concept, especially if linked with a shift in strategy. What is the acceptable Cost to have X amount of Influence? Or to reduce X amount of Risk? Is increasing Influence worth increasing Risk? What is our strategy to have Influence on opponent?

There are many examples of proposals aimed at undermining the delicate balance between the above attributes.

During the 1980s, Surface Action Groups (SAGs) built around battleships (then still in service) were considered partial substitutes for Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs). It was a compromise, which in effect supplemented carriers but did not replace them.

In the same category we can place contemporary “Influence Squadrons.”

“If the Navy rethinks the role of Carrier Strike Groups (Ferrari) and deploys new, scaled-down Influence Squadrons (Ford), the result will be 320 hulls in water for three-quarters the price,” said Capt. Hendrix. This fits well with the trends of other nations, purchasing LPH-class helicopter carriers as affordable naval air power, and spurs grim predictions for carriers from bloggers:

Were Humphrey a betting man, then he’d be willing to place a small wager that within 20 years, there will be six nations operating aircraft carriers (down from nine today), and only two of them will be in the West…

Sir Humphrey depicts the world (almost) without carriers and shows how easily – through the cascading effects of delayed deployments, reduced training, and backlogs in nuclear refueling – sequestration could drastically reduce U.S. naval air power (or its useful part). In this context, if the variables above are the right ones, than DF-21 is the modern equivalent of the Star Wars project and cruise missiles from Cold War-era. Development of these weapon systems created such strong financial pressures on their opponent that they ultimately put the enemy’s whole system on the edge of collapse. DF-21 is presented as a weapon targeting carriers’ vulnerabilities, but in a way it becomes strategic weapon with political calculations behind it.

Ballistic missiles represent yet another area of exploration, which potentially could result in changing the prime positions of carriers in a national defense portfolio. We’ve lately seen the latest attempts to reinvent conventionally armed Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs). These concepts are not new and in this case risk-calculation will probably prevail, as launching ballistic missiles from submerged submarines creates a danger of triggering nuclear conflict as the adversary may have a hard time differentiating the conventional launch from the nuclear variety.


Challenging the old calculus.
                             Challenging the old calculus.

The impression is that there is no threat today to aircraft carriers’ primacy because they still represent such a large capability to influence events. Experimenting with other alternatives shouldn’t be viewed as a budgetary threat to carriers but rather as a way to limit the risk if an opponent changes the balance between Influence, Cost, and Risk in favor of other means or weapon systems. The time elapsed between construction of HMS Dreadnought and the Jutland Battle was only 10 years. In the battle, the British Grand Fleet validated the concept of the distant blockade of Germany, but at the same time forced Hochseeflotte to switch resources toward U-Boats, which in turn made the Grand Fleet obsolete in maintaining a distant blockade. Preparing defensive measures against the new threat was costly during the war and forgotten in peacetime.

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