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Sea Control 28 (East Atlantic) – The F-35

seacontrolemblemFor the inaugural edition of Sea Control’s “East Atlantic” series, Alexander Clarke brings on Steve George, former engineer with the F-35 program and Royal Navy veteran to discuss the challenges and misconceptions of the F-35 program. Remember, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a comment and five stars!

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 28 (East Atlantic) -The F-35

Tune in next week for our interview with Erik Prince!

Preparing for the RCN’s Future: Platform Growth and Naval Vessels

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) will begin replacing much of its fleet at the start of the next decade. To ensure that its fleet remains relevant over its thirty-plus years of service life, adequate platform growth potential must be factored into the design process of the new vessels.

The RCN has 15 surface combatants: three elderly Iroquois-class destroyers and 12 Halifax-class anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigates. The ships of the former class were all commissioned in 1972 and the first will not be replaced until 2020 at the earliest. The Halifax were commissioned between 1992 and 1996 and the last unit will remain in service until it is replaced in 2033. All replacement dates are based on current estimates and assume no delays – an unlikely assumption given Canada’s procurement practices and the intricacies of systems integration on a new hull – and assume, of course, that there will be no project cancellation. Regardless, even in a best case scenario the last Iroquois will have served for an astonishing forty-eight years, and the last Halifax for thirty-seven years.

How can platform growth be incorporated into the fifteen-ship Single Class Surface Combatant Project? To answer this question it is useful to look at Canada’s most recent naval combatant class, the Halifax-class frigate, for lessons. The Halifax is a highly advanced warship by any standard. It is, however, primed for a single task: anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The mission requirement that determined the design was ASW for the purpose of protecting convoys in the Atlantic Ocean in the event that NATO went to war with the Soviet Union. For that mission it carries an impressive set of sonar and large numbers of anti-submarine munitions

Today the RCN has a very different core mission requirement: expeditionary operations. For this type of mission, the Halifax bow gun is inadequate for naval gunfire support and cannot take advantage of a series of new long-range naval ammunition built for larger guns. This shortcoming is made more acute by the fact that a smaller system cannot simply be replaced by a larger one unless sufficient hull volume has been allocated in the design. A similar shortcoming is its air defense system. The Halifax-class has no vertical launch cell system (VLS). VLS is a launcher system that is built into the deck to allow rapid launch of munitions. Additionally, it makes more efficient use of deck space and the ships’ volume. The Halifax-class cannot be retrofitted with a VLS system as adequate platform growth was not designed to allow for it. Instead, it has two Mark 48 eight-cell launchers that can only launch the RIM-162 Extended Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). As surface-to-air missiles go, this is a short-range system that allows the frigate only to protect itself.

A study of the Halifax-class frigate provides important lessons on why it is important to ‘design in’ platform growth on naval vessels – especially when they will be in service for many unpredictable decades. Perhaps the three-most important platform-growth requirements today are energy generation, deck space and internal volume, and VLS cells. Energy generation is important to ensure that the warship’s sensors, particularly its radar systems, can be replaced with more powerful, energy hungry sensors. Furthermore, it is quite likely that in the future naval vessels will be able to carry various types of direct-energy weapons (such as lasers) to deal with increasingly sophisticated and fast anti-ship weapon systems. To utilize such systems a warship must be able to generate sufficient electrical power.

A SM-3 anti-ballistic missile is launched from a vertical launch system (VLS) cell. To use this system Canada will have to purchase the longest VLS system.

Deck space, internal volume, and VLS cells are related platform growth priorities. As the example of the Halifax’s naval gun has made clear, if the RCN intends to at least retain the option of arming its vessels with long-range naval guns for littoral operations then it must at least ensure that sufficient deck space and internal volume is ‘designed in.’ Moreover, the flexibility VLS cells provide makes them a priority for all navies today. The American Mark 41 VLS system offers a system that comes in varying numbers of cells and varying cell length/depth. The latter is important as the choice of cell length/depth determines what munitions can be launched from it. For example, should Canada procure a warship with the longest VLS length/cell, and if it hadn’t ‘designed in’ a margin of growth for cell length below deck, then it will be unable to ever fit its vessels with the current crop of anti-ballistic missile defenses and land-attack cruise missiles. This reduces the mission flexibility of a warship class and reduces their effectiveness over their service life. To overcome this, longer VLS cells can be procured or at least factored into the design – ‘designed for but not with.’ In a similar vein, space and volume can be allocated for VLS systems that can be added in the future.

Given past experiences it is likely that Canada’s next-generation of naval surface combatant will serve many decades into the future. Given the increasing importance of littoral/coastal operations, climatic change in the Arctic, and the need to undertake expeditionary operations, it is paramount that any naval vessel be designed with sufficient platform growth in mind. By doing so, the RCN will be able to hedge against an unpredictable fiscal, geopolitical and environmental future.

Shahryar Pasandideh is a third year student studying international relations and Middle Eastern studies at Trinity College, University of Toronto. He is interested in contemporary debates on grand strategy, maritime security, Sino-American and Sino-Indian strategic interaction, and the military balance in the Persian Gulf region.

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and the news agencies and do not necessarily represent those of the NATO Council of Canada. This article is published for information purposes only and was re-posted with permission from the Atlantic Council of Canada from its original form. 

Confederate Aft End Was a Dead End

The following is part of Dead Ends Week at CIMSEC, where we pick apart past experiments and initiatives in the hopes of learning something from those that just didn’t quite pan out. See the rest of the posts here

Looking for whalers - CSS Shenandoah under sail
Looking for whalers – CSS Shenandoah under sail

The history of the American Civil War has very little to say on the Confederate Navy. What it does say focuses on commerce raiding, mostly by the CSS Alabama, which is well-known enough to be in high school history texts. But others were out there, too, such as the CSS Shenandoah.

Shenandoah was most notable for raiding whalers in the Pacific for months after the war was over (the news travelled to them slowly), and its flag was thus the last to fly in the Confederacy’s name. But for our purposes here the ship’s propulsion, not its politics, are our concern.

As was common in the mid-19th century, Shenandoah had a hybrid sail/steam system. When winds were good, the crew hauled up sails, and when the wind ceased, they lit off the boiler. What made this ship unique was a retractable propeller that (theoretically, anyway) reduced drag and increased the ship’s speed while under sail.

CSS Shenandoah drydocked
CSS Shenandoah drydocked

Did it work any more effectively than opening (or was it closing?) the tailgate on a pickup truck helps fuel efficiency? Apparently sailors of the time thought it did. Whatever the answer, it soon became a moot point as sails disappeared entirely from merchant and military fleets around the world. The retractable propeller truly was a dead-end technology, designed to address what turned out to be only a transient problem. As other technologies and procedures developed, the propeller “hoist” became a solution without a problem to solve.

A note on sourcing: While I did find online references to the propeller hoist, this post is mostly based on my memory of “Last Flag Down,” an account of Shenandoah’s cruise by John Baldwin and Ron Powers – a book I cannot recommend highly enough. For a short description of the voyage, see the family history of the XO, Lt. Conway Whittle (near the bottom of the page).

Matt McLaughlin is a Navy Reserve lieutenant who never quite figured out the tailgate thing and ended up selling his pickup. His opinions do not represent the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or his employer.

These Dead Ends Go To Eleven

The following is part of Dead Ends Week at CIMSEC, where we pick apart past experiments and initiatives in the hopes of learning something from those that just didn’t quite pan out. See the rest of the posts here

Dead ends aren’t always failures of the innovation. Sometimes good ideas are drowned by bureaucracies. In the 1994 paper “The Politics of Naval Innovation” released through the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College, contributor Jeffery Sands states that military organizations are large, conservative, and hierarchical. Resistance exists because: 1) the free flow of information is restricted in hierarchical organizations; 2) leaders have no interest in encouraging their own obsolescence by introducing innovations; and 3) organizations such as the Navy, which are infrastructure-intensive and where changes to that infrastructure are both expensive and lengthy, need some modicum of stability.

The failure of leadership to innovate can be found through two nameless British dockyard models from the Henry Huddleston Rogers Collection at the United States Naval Academy Museum, which has the second largest collection of dockyard models outside of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.

Waiting for an outboard motor...
Waiting for an outboard motor…

The model pictured at right is a Royal Navy Board hull model of a three-masted, 24-gun Sixth Rate with a pinched (or “pink”) stern, a design not seen in any other known age-of-sail model. The sterns of most English rated warships of the 17th and 18th centuries were burdened by heavy, overhanging square sterns and quarter galleries attached to the hull only at the ends and supported by a series of horizontal transoms. This made the ship difficult to maneuver, particularly in following seas, much like a small car towing a U-Haul in windy conditions. The stern was, of course, where the cabins were located for the captain and, in larger ships of the line, an admiral.

The pinched stern arrangement transferred the weight of the stern on vertical timbers that were taken down to the keel.  That made the stern much sturdier. The designer proposed this innovative ship to improve the ship’s maneuverability, survivability, and speed advantages in a fight. The design would, however, have eliminated the precious cabin space for the senior officers. Although two pink stern hulls were eventually built, the Admiralty demonstrated its resistance to this innovative design simply because of the loss of their comfort and cabin space.

“But there’s no room for the pool table!”
“But there’s no room for the pool table!”

HRR Model No. 14

In the 1984 mock rockumenatory “This is Spinal Tap,” lead guitarist (portrayed by Christopher Guest) explains to the interviewer that his amps “go to eleven” because they’re “one louder.” The interviewer asks him why he doesn’t just adjust the amps so that “ten” is louder. The perplexed Tufnel pauses for a moment and then simply reiterates: “These go to eleven.” The similar befuddled intransigence to a naval modification is exhibited in HRR Model No. 14, an English Fifth Rate 32-Gun ship.

The ship was proposed in 1689 or 1690. British ships of that period fell into one of three classes: ships-of-the-line generally with three decks of guns, frigates with two gun decks, and smaller ships with one gun deck. Model No. 14 is the grandfather of what became the true British frigates in the late 18th century.

Lurking in there somewhere is a second gundeck…
Lurking in there somewhere is a second gundeck…

Arthur Herbert, Earl of Torrington (incidentally the first person to use the term “fleet in being”), was a battle-scarred veteran of the Dutch Wars and realized that the Royal Navy needed large numbers of a new kind of robust and maneuverable cruiser capable of remaining at sea for long periods of time. To be truly effective, they should be able to employ their main battery of guns even in regions of rougher weather since heavy guns on the lower deck were normally too near the waterline to be used in battle except in optimal weather conditions. The original concept was that the lower deck was to be left completely unarmed without any gunports. The Admiralty board balked.  The debate likely went something like this:

Torrington: “We’ve improved the design by having the guns on the upper deck.”

Admiralty: “But a frigate has two gundecks.”

Torrington: “Yes, but by having all the guns on the upperdeck she has better seakeeping.”

Admiralty: “But a frigate has two gundecks.”

(Fast forward as Torrington modifies the dockyard model to add one small gunport on each side of the stern pictured below.)

Torrington: “Here’s your second gundeck.”

Admiralty: “Ah, a frigate has two gundecks!  Well done!”

Yep, there it is.
Yep, there it is.

This evolution became symptomatic of the British for the next century to build light originally but then modify the ships with more guns than for which they were originally designed. Ultimately it would be another century before the Admiralty adopted a frigate that had a seven-foot freeboard as the standard.

Claude Berube is the Director of the Naval Academy Museum and instructor in the Department of History. He is the author of several books and more than forty articles. The author notes the extensive research on the dockyard models done by specialist Grant Walker at the Naval Academy Museum.