India’s growing unmanned aerial vehicle fleet is being put through its paces in defending against a future Mumbai-style complex terrorist attack. During a 48-hour-long exercise, Gemini-2, UAVs from the Navy’s 342 Air Squadron cued patrol boats and coastal police to thwart mock terrorists attempting to infiltrate Southern India’s shoreline from the sea. The first iteration of Gemini was held in November 2012, and other multi-agency coastal security exercises (‘Sagar Kavach’) have been conducted frequently since the Lashkar-e-Taiba attacks on Mumbai in 2008.
India’s ground-based tactical Searcher MK II and longer-ranged Heron UAVs are a component of a more comprehensive maritime observation network consisting of manned aircraft, cooperating fishermen, and coastal surveillance radars and cameras installed in 90 lighthouses along India’s 7,500 km coastline. India’s army and air force are also acquiring some small tactical UAVs to support anti-terror surveillance in urban areas.
This article was re-posted by permission from, and appeared in its original form at NavalDrones.com.
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.
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.
CNO’s 30-Year Shipbuilding Strategy Reflects Lessons of his Favorite Book
Armchair Admirals and defense analysts alike lit up the blogosphere when President Obama first announced the strategic “Pivot” from Mid-East counterinsurgency operations to the Pacific, with visions of Surface Action Groups, Carrier Battle Groups, and Amphibious Task Forces the like of which haven’t been seen since former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman’s 600 Ship Navy. Alas, the CNO’s vision of that Pivot leaves many feeling like the victims of a Jedi Mind Trick: “This isn’t the Fleet you’re looking for.”
Afloat Forward Staging Bases (AFSBs), Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSVs), Mobile Logistics Platforms (MLPs), and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) will never be mistaken for surface combatants; however, they represent the product of a refined understanding of what wars we are likely to fight in the future, and a “sabermetric analysis” of what it takes to win the peace in the Pacific—presence, lift, and command and control (C2). While facing significant fiscal constraint, by focusing acquisitions on affordable platforms capable of persistent presence in uncontested waters and afloat forward basing of expeditionary / special operations forces, Admiral Greenert is on the cusp of successfully employing strategic Moneyball in his 30-year shipbuilding plan.
According to National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, the purpose of the Pivot is:
“…strengthening alliances; deepening partnerships with emerging powers; building a stable, productive, and constructive relationship with China; empowering regional institutions; and helping to build a regional economic architecture that can sustain shared prosperity.”
Key to achieving these strategic aims is regional stability—a stability that can only be maintained with the confidence of regional power brokers that the status quo is acceptable and not threatened. The U.S. supports freedom of navigation and defense of its allies against rogue actors such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) through deployment of conventional naval forces such as Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD)-cruisers and destroyers. However, these ships do not provide an optimal platform for two of our largest mission sets in strengthening alliances and partnerships: Theater Security Cooperation and Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Response (HA/DR). Relatively low-cost, an ability to embark disparate and substantive payloads, and a capability to access littoral waters make JHSV, MLP, and LCS the optimal platforms for these missions.
In his recent book, Invisible Armies, Max Boot notes that the most prolific type of war throughout history is the insurgency. Indeed, the last true state vs state war took place over the course of a few weeks in 2008 between Georgia and the Russian Federation, while formal insurgencies continue on every continent save Antarctica and Australia. Since 1945 and the information/media revolutions, insurgent victory rates have increased from 29% to 40% (with caveats). As the ability to access and broadcast information increases and fractures to different mediums, Boot hypothesizes that insurgent success rates will continue to grow; with it, insurgencies will proliferate. The United States has spent the past decade refining our doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) to successfully implement counterinsurgency. Having sacrificed this capability and capacity many times in the past to refocus on building large, conventional forces to engage in rare conventional combat, the Department of Defense has the chance to make a historic deviation and retain some of that urgently needed competence. Bottom line: insurgencies aren’t going away anytime soon, and neither should naval ability to support counterinsurgency operations.
There exists a myth of “credible presence” in some corners of naval strategy. This myth devalues the “sabermetrics” of presence, lift, and C2 for more traditional metrics of large-caliber guns, vertical launch cells, and radar dB. Purveyors of the myth believe that absent a Mahanian armada capable of intimidating the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) to never leave their inshore territorial waters, our presence operations aren’t ultimately successful. The myth operates under the false portrayal of the People’s Republic of China as a monolith, the same fallacy with regards some of our recent adversaries—Ba’athists, Islamists, and Communists. The PRC and the U.S. conduct over $500 billion in trade annually, much of that through PLA and PLA(N) companies that would stand to lose their financial backing should a shooting war break out between the U.S. and PRC—an undesirable outcome despite the testy rhetoric of select PLA generals and colonels. The question is not how to win a war with the PRC—I am confident that we can do that, albeit painfully. The question that should drive our acquisitions in the Pivot is “how do we win the peace?”
The capability and capacity of JHSVs, MLPs, and LCSs to successfully conduct afloat forward staging and presence operations has been demonstrated by their respective ship class predecessors both operationally (Philippines, Africa Partnership Station, Southern Partnership Station, Somalia) and in exercises (Bold Alligator, Cobra Cold). By focusing acquisitions on these platforms, we stand a greater chance of building on both our presence and afloat forward-staging capability/capacity. While the Air-Sea Battle and its high-end carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious task forces is an essential strategy to deter armed aggression by China, the CNO is playing Moneyball to win the peace at a bargain price. Nicolas di Leonardo is a member of the Expeditionary Warfare Division on the OPNAV Staff and a graduate student of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed by this author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Expeditionary Warfare Division, the Naval War College, or the United States Navy
As a civilian observer of naval affairs, I’m forever fascinated by the churn that surrounds every major platform design or acquisition. The nice thing about viewing all this from the cheap seats is a wider perspective – you get to look around just because you’re that much removed from the action on the floor. The downside is a lack of resolving power when it comes to details.
From the view up here in the nose-bleed section, I see some tantalizing glimpses. One that caught my eye recently was Huntington Ingall’s proposed LPD Flight II, which had among it’s variants, a very large Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) platform. Does such a configuration make sense? Based on displacement alone, such an LPD doesn’t appear to be as constrained by hull space or power plant as the proposed Flight III, squeezing everything in. While the LPD Flight II wasn’t pitched as a arsenal ship, that’s a lot of deck space that could be filled with VLS packs or laser arrays. I can only imagine what additional strike capability might be gained should the Long-range Anti-ship Missile (LRASM)come to fruition.
Speaking of arsenal ships, the Navy should consider building a ship that can deliver naval gunfire and heavy strike missions. While the Zumwalt is a very expensive technology demonstrator, it will deliver base capabilities that should make it’s way into the next large combatant. It’s Total Ship Computing Environment (TSCE), tumblehome waveform, and the Advanced Gun System (AGS) all bring us one step closer to reaching those strike-mission goals. Whether or not we are facing the same threats for which the DDG-1000 was originally envisioned is another question – nonetheless, the Burke doesn’t have the capacity to fulfill those missions, period.
As for missions, Flight III is supposed to do two things well: BMD and Anti-Air Warfare (AAW). This brings us to the other half of the operational dilemma – it can’t do all the other missions the Navy must execute – certainly not well enough to justify putting it into a theater for the purpose of executing those other missions, where smaller or better equipped ships would suffice. The elephant in the room: there HAVE to be alternatives for operational commanders to the DDG-51 because it can’t do everything. It’s a specialist, and in the Navy’s “office”, the “all other duties” falls upon another class. For the forseeable future – that’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
But this doesn’t mean Flight III is stuck in a rut. As unmanned aircraft and vessels make greater strides in autonomous performance, DDG-51 in a pinch could conceivably deploy in a limited operational zone, standing off safely while allowing it’s robotic minions to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and other critical functions. And while it doesn’t meet the “payloads not platforms”call to a ‘T’, it does allow the venerable Burke design to remain versatile for the near future.
Other considerations: shipbuilding and the secondary/tertiary supply tiers that support the technology behind a modern military vessel are very perishable bases. It is vital to preserve this knowledge and the structure behind it in order to deliver sophisticated ships in the future. The only way to do so is to keep building complex weapons platforms; certainly a self-fulfilling prophecy (or a vicious cycle), but that is the operational reality. In the end, it really doesn’t matter if it’s Flight III or some other combatant, it just has to be built in frequent enough batches to sustain the industrial base.
Finally, all talk of the cruiser-destroyer gap aside, there’s an emotional response to the idea that the U.S. Navy is shrinking. Coupled with the perception that a spanking new surface combatant is unable to adequately show the flag and you a have a situation that’s hard to stomach. And let’s face it – reputation risk is just as important as other operational risks. Carriers may overwhelm by their presence, but cruisers and destroyers deliver the diplomacy of gunboats – elegant and graceful when visiting solo but menacing enough to remind everyone watching about realpolitik.
Juramentado is the pseudonym for Armando J. Heredia, a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner, with a background in the defense and financial services industries. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any particular nation’s government or related agency.