Tag Archives: AAW

Autonomous Pickets for Force Protection and Fleet Missile Defense

Unmanned Maritime Systems Topic Week

By 1st Lt. Walker D. Mills

As the U.S. Navy shifts to reprioritize great power competition in line with the 2018 National Defense Strategy, close-in missile defense has taken on new importance. It is estimated the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, the branch of the Chinese military equipped with short, medium, and long-range ballistic and cruise missiles has an arsenal of thousands of missiles. As of yet, only the more recent classes are known to have guidance for striking maritime targets, but that may change. In addition, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has surface vessels of all sizes with hundreds more anti-ship missiles. At the low end is the Type 22 missile boat with eight missiles, and at the high end is the new Type 055 with 112 vertical launch cells that can be loaded with a variety of ordnance. These new PLAN missile capabilities has produced palpable anxiety in the US defense establishment. Last week in a confirmation hearing for the future Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chief of Naval Operations, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked how the Navy was planning on dealing with the “great risk” to their surface fleet. He was not the only Senator to voice his concern. 

Though anti-ship missiles have not yet been used in in large-scale fleet combat, they have been used to deadly effect by aircraft and smaller surface combatants after their debut in the Yom Kippur War. All previous incidents also occurred in coastal or littoral waters. By all accounts, if and when large-scale, salvo-type fleet combat does occur, it will cause damage unseen since the large naval battles of the Second World War. In fact, there is perhaps no precedent for the destructive capacity of missile volleys except for the large-scale kamikaze attacks on the U.S. naval force during the battle of Okinawa.1 During the battle, hundreds of kamikazes were deployed and sunk over forty U.S. warships.2 Okinawa remains one of the costliest battles for the U.S. Navy in any conflict.

Kamikaze employment and tactics mirror what missiles salvos could look like today. The kamikazes were often based at austere airfields considered unsuitable for conventional operations, making them harder to identify by U.S. forces while also being low cost compared to the damage they could inflict.3 Toward the end of the war kamikaze pilots had mastered the use of terrain to mask their approach on U.S. radars – similar to low-level or sea-skimming flight in missiles today. They would approach from different directions and rapidly converge on suitable targets in waves as large as 300, maneuvering erratically to avoid anti-aircraft fire.4 Consider this description of a kamikaze attack on U.S. ships during the Battle of Okinawa from Robert C. Stern’s book Fire from the Sky:

“The enemy stayed low over the horizon to the west, out of sight of our radars and CAP… For a minute or two, every plane maneuvered for position in all quadrants and then, obviously on signal, a coordinated attack was launched.”5

 It has even been argued by naval historian D.M. Giangreco, that just before the end of the war the Japanese discovered that their wooden training planes didn’t show up on U.S. radars – they were essentially stealth weapons.6 Regardless, the Japanese thought the kamikaze squadrons were effective enough that they prepared the bulk of their remaining aircraft – some 10,500 – for kamikaze operations against any future U.S. landing on the Japanese home islands.7

The U.S. Navy responded to this threat with three main approaches. They expanded fleet formations and used destroyers and combat air patrols as pickets – often posting pickets as far as seventy-five miles out from the ships they were protecting. The Navy also employed new technology like radars and proximity-fuzed munitions, and massively proliferated anti-aircraft weapons across its ships.8 According to figures from Giangreco:

“By June 30, 1945, 2,381 twin mounts had been installed on Navy ships in the Pacific, and 10,180 single mounts remained throughout the fleet. The numbers of quad, double and single 40-mm mounts stood at 1,585, 3,045 and 510 respectively.”9

And he goes on to note that despite this massive proliferation of point defense weapons, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest King still considered his ships under-protected.

A Japanese Kamikaze attack on the USS Essex (CV-9) on 25 November 1944.

Together, these three lines of effort blunted the effectiveness of kamikaze attacks and helped defend the carriers and amphibious ships, but at a huge cost to the pickets, and even then, the defense was not impenetrable. Of the 41 ships sunk or damaged beyond repair in the Battle of Okinawa over half were destroyers or other escorts on picket duty and a further ten were minesweepers that had been sent to the picket role because of the high losses the pickets sustained.10 The pickets were effective, but at a huge cost to their crews. This response to kamikaze attacks provides a model for a response to the looming threat of anti-ship missiles. It is the best example of the U.S. Navy enduring a period of heavy and continuous missile salvo-like attacks in support of operations ashore.

Unmanned Systems for Fleet-Wide Missile Defense 

The merger of small and medium unmanned surface vessels (S/MUSVs) and extant close-in weapons systems can dramatically increase the survivability of the U.S. surface fleet. The Navy is already calling for the development and fielding of new USVs. The Navy is experimenting with the Sea Hunter MUSV and should be searching for potential roles beyond anti-submarine warfare (ASW). 

At the aforementioned confirmation hearing, future Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Bill Moran assured a questioning Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) that the Navy is rapidly moving forward on unmanned systems.

“…We need to get after [unmanned surface vehicles] so the we can experiment with these to test out the concepts that we believe they are capable of doing, looking at different types of capabilities to put on different types of these vessels…”

But overall, he expressed confidence that they could be the way forward for the surface fleet:

“Down the road if these capabilities prove out to be as effective as some other current manned capabilities then they would start to add to and compliment the manned platforms we have and be part of our battle force.”

In addition to ongoing ASW experiments, another beneficial use would be to mount one or more close-in weapons systems (CIWS) on the MUSV and have them act as pickets for other ships in the fleet. The Phalanx CIWS currently mounted on many U.S. ships is already completely autonomous. It fires a twenty-millimeter cannon at targets based on pre-programed parameters. These new pickets would be completely autonomous and require only human intervention for reloading, refueling, and maintenance. Originally intended as a long-endurance submarine hunter, the Sea Hunter platform would be ideal for picket duty. Autonomous pickets could accompany high-priority ships like aircraft carriers or amphibious ships during strait transits and high-risk movements. They could also defend ship-to-shore movements and beachheads against missiles, aircraft and small surface vessels depending on their programming. These autonomous pickets could also act as surge defense for key naval installations and other key maritime terrain. The point-defense capability that CIWS can provide is also a gap ashore with the Marine Corps. The Phalanx CIWS is a capable and versatile weapon system far better than the twenty and forty-millimeter Bofors guns used against Japanese aircraft and can now be upgraded to carry Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) which significantly increase their interception range. It has also been used to protect ships against close flying aircraft, small boats, and drones, further proving its versatility.

Pacific Ocean -The Close In Weapon System (CIWS) onboard Coast Guard Cutter BERTHOLF fires during Combat System Ship Qualification Trials on Feb. 23, 2009. (U.S. Coast Guard video/PA3 Henry G. Dunphy)

Autonomous pickets are not limited to just kinetic weapons. They could integrate directed energy weapons into their defensive capabilities as well, perhaps in a triad with gun and missile point defenses. They would also be ideal platforms from which to deploy softkill countermeasures like chaff, electronic warfare, jamming. They could be mounted with multi-spectrum decoys imitating larger ships to draw anti-ship missiles toward themselves and away from higher-value manned platforms.

Mounting autonomous platforms with defensive systems for force protection side-steps the significant ethical question of lethal autonomous platforms because the precedent has already been set. The Navy has already deployed the autonomous defensive systems like CIWS and Aegis for decades and can modify the engagement parameters  to fit any environment. Pursuing defensive, autonomous weapons for missile defense is a way to continue developing relevant and lethal weaponry without “taking the human out of the loop” for strike operations.

The biggest limitations of the weapons is their relatively short range – the twenty-millimeter cannons are limited to only a few thousand meters, and their limited magazine capacity. But both of these disadvantages can be offset by putting more of them on unmanned platforms further out from the fleet and mixing in missile, directed energy, and softkill countermeasures. Images of U.S. Navy ships late in the Second World War show ships that have anti-aircraft weapons on nearly every square meter of available deck space – and new classes of ships had even more gun mounts yet planned.

There is an inherent risk with the Navy’s classified new operational concept – Distributed Maritime Operations. Distributing combat power can reduce the ability of ships to mutually support each other and increases the risk to the force. More simply put – if vessels that are normally used to escort a carrier are sent farther away they have less of an ability to protect the carrier. The Navy can compensate for this by fielding autonomous picket ships – which are far cheaper than building more conventional vessels both in the initial purchase price and in sustainment costs because they have no crew. This type of lethal yet cheap and potentially sacrificial vessel is also what the Navy needs to compliment the new Littoral Combat Ships which have relatively poor organic defensive capability. USVs will prove key to operationalizing the DMO, and adding them to supplement the fleet precludes the need to add or upgrade the CIWS already mounted. Even a small number of autonomous pickets could be shared among the fleet – always protecting the most at risk assets, whether it be a capital ship, naval facility, or other key objective. Fortunately, there is evidence the Navy already understands the opportunity that is USVs. Defense News reported this week that the Navy has budgeted $2.7 billion for unmanned surface vessels over the next five years but that the Navy doesn’t know “…how it would introduce those technologies into a fleet that has for the most part fought the same way since the Cold War.” Autonomous pickets are one possible way.          

Conclusion 

In all cases, the ability to form a protective perimeter of unmanned systems beyond the edge of the fleet would significantly boost survivability and increase options for the fleet commander by lowering risk. A flotilla of autonomous pickets, armed with effective CIWS and multi-spectrum missile countermeasures, can function as a powerful yet affordable force multiplier. Such a force would provide the Navy with an increased ability to operate and project power inside an anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) network and help the fleet weather storms of missile salvos. The methods of how the U.S. Navy adapted to the kamikaze threat in the Second World War provides an excellent case study for this concept and a strong argument for its implementation. As the Navy continues to experiment with new roles and missions for unmanned systems, unmanned force protection and missile defense is an ideal mission.

Walker D. Mills is an active duty Marine Corps infantry officer. He is currently studying Spanish at the Defense Language Institute in preparation for an exchange tour in Colombia. He has previously been deployed to the Western Pacific as part of the Marine Corps’ Unit Deployment Program. These views are presented in a personal capacity.

References

[1] Wayne P. Hughes, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, The Naval Institute Press (Annapolis, MD: 2000) 167-168.

[2] D.M. Giangreco, Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan 1945-47, Naval Institute Press (Annapolis, MD: 2009)

[3] Ibid, 113.

[4] John Keegan, The Second World War, Penguin Books (New York, NY: 1989) 573.

[5] Robert C. Stern, Fire from the Sky: Surviving the Kamikaze Threat, Naval Institute Press (Annapolis, MD: 2010) 321.

[6] Giangreco, Hell to Pay, 182.

[7] Ibid, 118.

[8] Denis Warner and Peggy Warner, The Sacred Warriors; Japan’s Suicide Legions, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company (New York, NY: 1982) 185.

[9] Giangreco, Hell to Pay, 111.

[10] Bernard Millot, Divine Thunder:  The Life and Death of the Kamikazes, McCall Publishing (New York, NY: 1971) 206-207.

Featured Image: 40mm guns firing aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-12) on 16 February 1945, as the planes of Task Force 58 raid Tokyo. (Wikimedia Commons)

CIMSEC Interviews Captain Mark Vandroff, Program Manager DDG 51, Part 1

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC sat down with Captain Mark Vandroff to solicit his expert insight into the complex world of acquisition and the future of the U.S. Navy’s destroyers. CAPT Vandroff is the Program Manager of the U.S. Navy’s DDG 51 program, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, which is the most numerous warship in the U.S. Navy. In the first part of this two part interview series, CAPT Vandroff discusses the capability offered by the SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense Radar, the differences in warship design between the currently serving Flight IIA and upcoming Flight III variants, and the U.S. Navy’s ongoing Future Surface Combatant Study. 

This is a big year for your program. It is the fiscal year where you begin procuring the new Flight III destroyers. Can you talk about the differences from the Flight IIA to the Flight III?

The raison d’etre of Flight III is fielding AMDR. SPY 6 is the designation for that radar as it goes on a DDG 51. That radar program may yield other radar technologies because it is very exciting technology. The Flight III gets the AMDR SPY-6 radar onto a DDG 51 platform, replacing the SPY-1 radar currently in use. That radar is a significant, multi-generational leap forward in radar technology. In the same space and roughly twice as much power, it produces over 35 times as much power out. Between the power efficiency and sensitivity of the radar, it is a huge step forward. It also includes other very desirable radar features such as a much improved resistance to advanced counter-radar jamming techniques and the ability to integrate seamlessly through a radar system controller, not only the S-Band SPY-6, but also an additional separate frequency input. It can use the multi-frequency input for better targeting, and a lot of good things happen for targeting and your reaction time by synthesizing multi-band input. We hook up the SPY-6 AMDR, which is a S-BAND radar, with the existing and already planned for DDG 51 X-Band emitter AN/SPQ-9B to get the full radar suite for the Flight III.

Primary Flight III changes.
Primary Flight III changes.

If it were all that simple I would tell you to talk to my colleague, CAPT Seiko Okano, she’s the SPY-6 program manager. I would not have to do very much and she would just deliver me a different radar. But the radar requires us to do things to the ship to be able to accommodate it.

The radar takes about twice as much power. We had to take the ship from three, 3 megawatt (MW) generators to three, 4 MW generators because we never have three on at one time for purposes of redundancy. We always calculate what would happen if you had to run on two of the three. When we calculate what our battle loads are and can we handle them, we always calculate to whether we can handle them with two of the three generators if one of them is down for whatever reason. That’s how you design a redundant warship.

So when we up the power out of our generators to four megawatts we run into our first physics challenge. When we up the power we have to do one of two things, either increase the voltage or increase the current. At a certain level of current, it becomes difficult and at times unsafe to run a certain amount of current through the kind of wiring we would put on a ship. With what we currently have, if we had to up the power anymore we would be hitting those limits. So we have to up the voltage, which is easily done. We’ve got 4160 volt power on aircraft carriers, on DDG-1000, so we had to implement that for Flight III. There’s a separate 4160 bus for powering the radar, and then we stepped down with transformers for our 450 loads that exist. That allows us to power the radar, and at the same time power the rest of the ship the way it is powered in a Flight IIA. That was the first change and we’ve done a lot of work to make sure that electric plant design will be safe, stable, redundant, and survivable in battle. That’s been the work of the last two or three years, and a lot of work is put into splitting those loads out.We have a 4160 distribution system with the existing 450 distribution system that we could do that with. That was the first ship side technical challenge that I would say now we’re pretty much through. The new generators, the four MW generators, have gone through their critical design review and they’re just now starting production.

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Flight III Electric Plant Concept.

The next thing we needed to look at was actually powering the radar. The radar runs off 4160 converted 1000 volt DC to AC. The equipment to convert that and condition it was similar to what DDG-1000 uses, they use that power conversion module on their SPY-3 radar. We competed, it was a full and open competition, we got many bids, and DRS (Diagnostic/Retrieval Systems, Inc)  won the work. They came to us with a box that was based on their DDG-1000 design, but had a couple of generations of power monitoring and power conditioning improvement on top of that incorporating lessons learned from the commercial world. That’s been through its preliminary and critical design review and its gone into production now. That gets us power to the radar, and power to the electric grid.

If you think about power what else does the radar need? The radar needs more cooling. A more powerful radar produces more heat. For reference, a refrigerating ton is the amount of cooling I would have if I rolled a ton of ice into this room and let it melt for 24 hours. A DDG 51 today has about 1000 tons of cooling. Once you install the SPY-6 you really need 1400-1500 tons of cooling. When we were starting the early preliminary design, NAVSEA already had an energy saving initiative. It was a plan to take the Navy standard 200 ton plants and equip them with a more fuel efficient compressor, and some other design improvements. All of that’s made by York Navy Systems in Pennsylvania that makes that standard 200 ton plant. NAVSEA works with them, and they are actually in the process now, and there’s a working prototype of the improved 200 ton plant that is putting out over 325 tons of cooling and it is just going through its equipment qualification to make sure  the new machine will pass all the Navy standards for shock survivability. We are getting ready to put the initial orders for those to deliver to the Flight III because when you put five of those you get an excess of 1500, and that will give us more than enough  cooling to accommodate the new cooling loads. So those have been the key components in changing the ship for the Flight III.

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Prototype HES/C 300 rton A/C chiller.

In terms of weight, if you put everything that a SPY-6 uses and everything a SPY-1 uses on a scale they roughly balance. However, SPY-1 forms the signal in a signal generator and then transfers that up to the array, so that signal generator is lower in the ship. Because SPY-6 is an active array, the signal is generated on-array, so that means the arrays are heavier. Arrays go up high so that means the weight goes up high. If you are on a ship you are not crazy about high weight. You want to be like a running back, you want your weight low so it is hard to knock you over. The last thing we did is move some weight around in the ship. We thickened up the hull and  the scantlings, which are the ribs of the hull. That offsets the high weight by putting extra weight low, and moves your center of gravity back down. The center of gravity of a Flight III will be roughly where the Flight IIA’s center of gravity is now. We are still concerned about things like performance for flight ops and maneuvering, and what that means for the pitch and roll in different sea states. We have the advantage of  Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock’s great new MASK tank where they can do all sorts of different sea states all in one tank. We have the scale model of the Flight III being built out at Carderock and that will go through all its tank testing with an idea to make sure that as we are designing the ship we know where we are for maneuvering the ship.

Those are the big shipboard changes that facilitate the introduction of the radar. It is cool for me as the ship guy to talk about moving weight around to get good center of gravity,  or getting the new electrical plant, but all that has to mean something to the warfighter. What the warfighter gets out of the Flight III is that improved radar performance from the new SPY-6 radar tied into the existing AN/SPQ-9 radar and those synthesized together for better performance in the atmospheric regime and the ballistic missile defense regime. It offers tremendous improvement in capability in both of those regimes.

Because AMDR is such a tremendous increase in capability, how does this affect the DDG 51’s growth margins?

That is one of the reasons we looked at things like the extra cooling and the extra power. If you look at where the Flight IIA is, the Flight IIA has about one and a half MW of service life power growth, and about 200 tons of cooling growth. If you added up every load on a Flight IIA today you would get something just over 4 MW of load, and if you put two 3 megawatt generators on the load together to power those four megawatts. You pay an efficiency penalty when you parallel two generators together, so two 3 megawatt generators gives about 5.8 MW of usable power and about 200 KW of the generators fighting themselves at peak. That is about one and a half MW to one and two thirds MW of margin on a IIA today. The Flight III will have a heavier load. A full battle load will be up over 5.5 MW, but we will be well over 7.5 MW when we put two four MW machines online together. We will have another two MW of power. The total cooling reserve will be about 200 refrigeration tons to 300 refrigeration tons.

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AMDR system overview.

At this point some people usually ask is 2 MW enough when you look at directed energy weapons and railguns. I can tell you the Navy is reevaluating its  historical standards for electrical growth in its future ship design. Will those historical standards be adequate for a future that includes railguns and directed energy? The Flight III will have as great or greater an ability to accommodate that as the Flight IIAs today. Whether or not we need to do something to make that more, and how that would affect ship design in the next ten years, is a question of ongoing discussion, both in the requirements side in OPNAV, and the ship design side in NAVSEA. What are we really going to need, and what does that mean for ship design? That’s the next step.

The Flight III tasking was to get AMDR on and give it the same cooling and power growth potential. Don’t take a step back from the Flight IIA today. I could have put AMDR on Flight III and eaten all the growth, and you would have had a ship with no growth margin. We looked at that extensively because it was the lowest cost option, and discarded that as not responsible. We are going to want to keep these ships around, so keep what we have today as far as margins, and that gave us a certain design and philosophy. I think you will see CNO staff and NAVSEA work together on other concepts of what will we do to grow that some more. But that is the next generation after this Flight III. That will be my relief’s concern to tackle.

What can you tell us about the process behind the Future Surface Combatant Study?

If you look at the way the DoD formulates future requirements, it is called the JCIDS process, the joint capabilities integration and development system, it starts with an analysis, an FCA, a future capabilities analysis. The organization that thinks they might have a future gap, must first analyze what capabilities in a given time frame does a given force structure need to be able to address. From the result of that you write an initial capabilities document and you address an analysis of alternatives. Where we are in that process now is that N96 is running that future capabilities analysis, that is going on now. That is really a requirements evolution, it is not really a technical or acquisition evolution so that is not mine to run.

N96 wanted to be very participative so they have got a team doing it. The team has regular meetings with a couple of oversight councils, one at the captain’s level and one at the flag level. N96 invited a slew of practitioners across the spectrum of operators, acquisition, technical, and budget to get regular briefings on what the teams were doing and get feedback. They thought I was one of the practitioners and I have sat in those meetings. I have seen the work they are doing, and they are doing good work. They are looking out into the future and asking what kind of capabilities will the surface Navy need to contribute to the force in the 2030s, 2040s, and what are we doing today and what modifications do we think we need to make in order to meet those future needs. Those are the questions they are trying to answer.

The question that comes after is more of an acquisition question of which I would expect, both the PEOs (Program Executive Officers) and NAVSEA to be more involved in, and that is the analysis of alternatives. Now that you have told us these are the things you need us to do, what are some of the different ways of doing it, and let’s determine which of those ways might do it best, which ways can do it most affordably. But the future capabilities analysis is where they are at now.

What best practices and lessons learned from the DDG 51 program should inform the Future Surface Combatant Study?

I would put those into two different categories. The DDG 51 program has been successful from a technical standpoint and from an acquisition standpoint. From a technical standpoint, the DDG 51, from its inception, was designed to be flexible, redundant, and survivable. We have proven this, look at the Cole. The ships have taken battle damage and lived to fight another day. The ships have been flexible enough that they were designed in the 1980s and with modification, and sometimes significant modification, could be made combat relevant in the 2020s. The systems engineering of both the design of the ship, and especially the systems engineering that went into the design of the combat system, is good solid systems engineering discipline. Know your requirements, break them down, formulate them, and integrate the pieces back together to provide an end-to-end capability.

To give you an idea, I want to be able to shoot down an air target at a certain distance that is moving a certain speed with a certain level of maneuver. The systems engineer asks how do I design that kill chain? How do I break that down? What capability do I want in the missile, radar, and illuminator?  What parts of that kill chain are going to produce which effects in order to get the end effect that you want? From its earliest days back when Wayne E. Meyer had the Aegis program, that has always been a disciplined engineering process. Whether you are talking about the ship’s survivability, mobility, or the ship’s combat capability, that has been a disciplined technical process. That is good for anyone building ships, or anyone building anything, that mind and that process.

On the acquisition side, there are several things I would want a future shipbuilding program to look back at the DDG 51 program and extract. The first one is a real careful, facts-based decision on what parts of the ship were we going to have the shipbuilder do, and what parts would we contract separately where the government contracts GFE (government furnished equipment) and delivers separately to the ship. There have been times when it has been thought advantageous to go one way or another with that pendulum.

Because there is a certain attractiveness, we could have the Navy buy everything and just have the shipbuilder assemble everything. That’s got problems. You can give the shipbuilder the performance spec for the ship and let the shipbuilder buy everything. That’s got problems. You have different problems both ways. The Aegis program, and especially DDG 51, has always been a point in the middle, and very carefully thought out. What do we want the shipbuilder to buy because we want them to be responsible for it, because it is within their wheelhouse and capability. This could be an engine, generator, or a fire pump. Alternatively, this is not in their wheelhouse, it is not within their capability, and frankly I want control over it like a sonar, radar, or a missile launcher.

Those were thought out decisions in the DDG 51 and I have changed some of them during my time as Program Manager in both directions. Times change, industry changes, but we don’t make those changes lightly, and we make them only after a very long analysis of thinking about the capability we are trying to get, and what is the best way to materialize it. We carefully think through what makes sense to contract directly for, what makes sense to contract out, that is called a make-buy, or the GFE/CFE divide. That is one thing I would have a future program look at DDG 51, and the way they made their decisions. Not that a future program would make all the same decisions, ten years from now industry might change and the requirements might change. They might make a different decision, but the process we used to make that decision was fundamentally sound.

The other thing that has always been key in our program is maximizing competition between the shipbuilders, using profit-related offer, at the sub-tier vendors, and using competition wherever it was possible and practical to get competition. Competition gives you good results in acquisition. From between having a good make-buy plan, and using competition as much as you practically can, marry those together and that provides a good foundation for any future acquisition program.

In Part Two, CAPT Vandroff goes into depth on his publications Confessions of a Major Program Manager published in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, and an Acquisition System to Enable American Seapower, published on USNI News and coauthored with Bryan McGrath. He finishes with his thoughts on building acquisition expertise in the military and his reading recommendations. Read Part Two here.

Captain Vandroff is a 1989 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. With 10 years as a surface warfare officer and 16 years as an engineering duty officer, he is currently the major program manager for Arleigh Burke – class destroyers.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: CRYSTAL CITY, Va. (Jan. 12, 2012) Capt. Mark Vandroff, program manager for the DDG 51-Class Shipbuilding at PEO SHIPS, discusses new technology with guests and media during the 24th Annual Surface Navy Association Symposium. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Todd Frantom/Released).

Peeling Back the Layers: A New Concept for Air Defense

The newest concept being forwarded by U.S. Navy surface fleet leaders is “distributed lethality”, in which almost every combatant and noncombatant surface ship would wield offensive missiles such as the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) or Long Range Anti-ship Missile (LRASM). The concept’s central idea is that deploying a large number of U.S. ships able to threaten enemy ships, aircraft, or shore facilities will create a potentially unmanageable targeting problem for potential adversaries. This, it is argued, could deter opponents from pursuing aggression and in conflict could compel adversaries to increase their defensive efforts, constrain their maneuver, and spend valuable time finding and defeating U.S. forces in detail.

Implementing this concept should start with the Navy’s surface combatants, rather than its numerous unarmed non-combatant ships. Arming the Navy’s more than 60 logistics and support ships with offensive missiles and providing them the command and control systems to coordinate their fires will be costly. And once equipped, these noncombatant ships will become more attractive targets while not being better able to protect themselves unless further investments are made in defensive systems. In the end, offensive operations could distract noncombatant ships from their primary missions and reduce the endurance of combatants that depend on them for fuel and to conduct less stressing missions such as training and counter-piracy.

Given the challenges in using supply and support ships for offensive missions, the first step to implement distributed lethality should be to ensure all the Navy’s surface warships are able to conduct offensive operations. These consist of amphibious ships and surface combatants.

The fleet’s approximately 30 amphibious ships conduct offensive operations using their main battery of embarked Marines, which could be complemented with offensive missiles. The best way to do this would be with vertical launch system (VLS) magazines. While amphibious ships have more defensive systems than non-combatant ships, they still may not be sufficient for some environments. Since a VLS can host a wide range of missiles, it would enable an amphibious ship to increase either its offensive or defensive weapons capacity based on the intended mission and threat environment.

The most important element of the fleet for distributed lethality, however, will be the Navy’s 140 surface combatants (88 large surface combatants and 52 small surface combatants, based on the Navy’s force structure requirement). These ships already have some defensive and command and control capabilities to protect themselves and coordinate offensive operations. But they all lack offensive capacity because of their configuration (in the case of small combatants) or air defense concept (in the case of large surface combatants)

Restoring surface combatant lethality

Small surface combatants such as minesweepers, patrol craft, and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) have only a few short-range offensive weapons. The stated intent of surface fleet leaders is to augment these on LCS with long-range surface-to-surface missile launchers, but the launcher being considered is specific to a weapon such as NSM, rather than a more versatile VLS array. As with amphibious ships, LCS may need to increase its defensive capacity if it is pursuing more offensive operations. A VLS magazine would enable LCS to load more defensive missiles along with offensive weapons, with the additional benefit of being able to protect a nearby ship from air threats as an escort–a capability it lacks today.

Large surface combatants such as cruisers (CG) and destroyers (DDG) have VLS magazines, but are unable to make room in them for more offensive missiles because of the surface fleet’s current air defense approach. This approach is designed to engage enemy aircraft and missiles in multiple layers starting from long range (from 50 nm to more than 100 miles) through medium range (about 10–30 miles) to short range (less than about 5 miles). Each layer is serviced by a different set of interceptors, with those for the long-range layer (e.g., SM-2 and SM-6) being the largest and most preferentially used. Electronic warfare jammers and decoys are also used from medium to short range, but only after interceptors have been unsuccessfully expended against incoming missiles.

This layered air defense scheme puts surface combatants on the wrong end of weapon and cost exchanges. Using today’s standard shot doctrine of “shoot, shoot, look, shoot” (SS-L-S) the complete 96-cell VLS capacity of a DDG (if all devoted to air defense) would be consumed against fewer than fifty ASCMs—missiles that would cost the enemy about two percent the price of a DDG.

Better long-range interceptors will not improve the weapon exchange and only exacerbate the Navy’s cost disadvantage. The SM-6 interceptor that entered service last year is faster, longer range, more maneuverable, and has a better seeker than the Cold War-era SM-2 but costs about $4 million compared to $680,000 for an SM-2. Meanwhile a typical advanced ASCM costs about $2-3 million. Given a SS-L-S firing doctrine, each defensive engagement using SM-6s will cost two to four times that of the ASCM it is intended to defeat.

A new air defense approach

The size of VLS magazines cannot be changed; therefore making VLS cells available for offensive weapons will require either using fewer air defense interceptors or getting more interceptors into each VLS cell. The Navy could use fewer air defense interceptors by changing its shot doctrine to S-L-S. The SM-6 shows improvements in interceptor lethality are possible and could eventually make a S-L-S doctrine viable. But a S-L-S doctrine will still require initial engagements to occur far enough away to allow a second engagement before the incoming ASCM hits the ship. This will require large, long-range interceptors such as SM-6 that take up a whole VLS cell and over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting from another ship or an aircraft. In the end a shift to S-L-S would only double air defense capacity at best and may not free up many VLS cells for offensive missiles.

Alternatively, the Navy could fit more interceptors into fewer VLS cells by shifting to a shorter-range air defense scheme. Shorter-range weapons such as the Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM) Block 2 that will debut in 2020 are smaller than longer-range interceptors and can exploit the same lethality improvements as SM-6 to achieve a high probability of defeating incoming ASCMs. The ESSM fits four to a VLS cell–quadrupling air defense capacity–while it’s range will be about 10-30 miles. It would thus engage incoming ASCMs at about the same range as electronic warfare (EW) jamming, deception, and decoy systems (depending on the ASCM’s altitude). This will make it possible for EW to reduce the number of interceptors expended, compared to today’s scheme in which EW is only used after interceptors have failed.

clark-1 New defensive AAW scheme

A 10-30 mile air defense scheme will also prepare the surface fleet to integrate new weapons such as lasers and electromagnetic railguns (EMRG) that will likely be mature in the early to mid-2020s. While these weapons cannot fully replace interceptors, they could enable the Navy to shift additional VLS capacity to offensive missiles. The shipboard lasers expected in this timeframe would be effective against ASCMs out to a range of about 10 miles while an EMRG will be able to engage incoming ASCMs out to about 30 miles. At longer ranges, the unpowered EMRG projectile will take too long to reach an incoming ASCM, which could maneuver and cause the EMRG to miss.

The resulting air defense scheme would consist of lasers, EMRGs, interceptors (e.g., ESSM), and EW systems engaging incoming missiles in a dense layer 10–30 miles away from the ship. This is far enough away for a surface combatant to protect another ship while each ship’s self-defense systems would engage “leakers” at 2–5 miles. Automated decision aids that match air defense systems to incoming missiles will be an essential element of this scheme since multiple systems will be engaging incoming missiles at the same approximate range. These aids are inherent to the Aegis combat system, but would have to be upgraded to incorporate new weapons such as lasers and EMRGs

clark 2         Evolved VLS loadout with proposed weapons changes

Offensive anti-air warfare (AAW) is the other side of this new air defense approach. While air defense shifts to 10-30 miles using weapons such as ESSM and lasers, longer-range interceptors such as SM-2 and SM-6 would focus on shooting down enemy aircraft before they can launch ASCM attacks. SM-6s, in particular, can engage enemy aircraft outside their ASCM range and are much less expensive than the aircraft they will destroy, producing a more advantageous cost exchange than using SM-6 against enemy ASCMs. Further, enemy aircraft generally fly at higher altitudes than ASCMs, enabling them to be detected farther away by shipboard radars whose visibility is limited by the horizon.

If the surface fleet is to implement distributed lethality, the place to start is with surface combatants. Today they lack the offensive capacity to pose a significant threat to enemy navies. Obtaining that capacity from the surface fleet’s main battery, the VLS magazine, will require that the Navy revisit fundamental aspects of how it fights. The alternative will be to continue devoting increasing portions of its weapons capacity to defense, and concepts such as distributed lethality will only exist in the pages of professional journals.

Bryan Clark is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. This post is adapted from his recent report “Commanding the Seas: A Plan to Reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare.”

Whither The Flight III

081021-N-9928E-054Back in March our readers voted on topics they’d like us to cover for a week of analysis. The winner was “Alternatives to the U.S. Navy’s DDG-51 Flight III”. Alas not many have felt comfortable venturing outside their expertise comfort zones to weigh in on the issue. Those few brave writers who did accept the challenge have an interesting week for you and hopefully some food for thought.

The Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) first entered service in 1991 as the first “Aegis destroyer” – a multi-role combatant but notably synonymous with its anti-air warfare (AAW) radar. In 1998 the ship class morphed to the Flight II with USS Mahan (DDG-72), and has since DDG-79 used evolving variations of the USS Oscar Austin Flight IIA design. With the looming retirement of the U.S. cruisers and increasing AAW and ballistic missile defense (BMD) requirements, the U.S. Navy began planning for a tentatively named CG(X) cruiser ship class to fill the role (or integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) gap) with “a new and more capable radar called the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR).” However, in 2010 it opted for the DDG-51 Flight III with a “smaller and less powerful [AMDR] than the one envisaged for the CG(X)” as it was deemed cheaper to continue building on the DDG-51 frame.

As part of his coverage of the Navy’s FY13 budget submission, Ron O’Rourke at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in late March detailed in a very readable report the Navy’s intended program of record. As he states:

“The Navy wants to begin procuring a new version of the DDG-51 design, called the Flight III design, starting with the second of the two ships scheduled for procurement in FY2016. The two DDG-51s scheduled for procurement in FY2017 are also to be of the Flight III design… The Navy for FY2013 is requesting congressional approval to use a multiyear procurement (MYP) arrangement for the nine DDG-51s scheduled for procurement in FY2013-FY2017.”

Some of the issues outlined in the CRS report (pg 18) include:

  • Whether there is an adequate analytical basis for procuring Flight III DDG-51s in lieu of the previously planned CG(X) cruiser
  • Whether the Flight III DDG-51 would have sufficient air and missile capability to adequately perform future air and missile defense missions
  • Cost, schedule, and technical risk in the Flight III DDG-51 program
  • Whether the Flight III DDG-51 design would have sufficient growth margin for a projected 35- or 40-year service life

To these unresolved points follow several more foundational questions:

  • Is the AMDR the right radar to fill the U.S. Navy’s future IAMD needs?
  • Is the DDG-51 the right shipframe to house the future IAMD radar, whether or not the AMDR? (in essence a roll-up of Ron’s 2nd and 4th points above). This question is especially salient in light of the reliance on the Arleigh Burke class to fill a multitude of roles beyond IAMD.
  • Is there another way to do AAW and/or BMD in the time frame for the procurement and service life of the Flight III?
  • Is there a way to divest the Flight IIIs of some of the other mission areas that they perform? How could this alter the distribution of ship numbers?
  • Is there are a way to change the assumptions the IAMD requirements are based on?

These are the questions we don’t expect to answer conclusively, but to use as starting points to offer possibilities. For another good take on the issues, check out friend-of-the-blog Bryan McGrath’s article at USNI News.