Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Why The Moskva-Class Helicopter Cruiser Is Not the Best Naval Design for the Drone Era

By Benjamin Claremont

In a recent article titled “Is the Moskva-Class Helicopter Cruiser the Best Naval Design for the Drone Era?” author Przemysław Ziemacki proposed that the Moskva-class cruiser would be a useful model for future surface combatants. He writes, “A ship design inspired by this cruiser would have both enough space for stand-off weapons and for an air wing composed of vertical lift drones and helicopters.”1 These ships would have a large battery of universal Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) to carry long range anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles. The anti-ship missiles would replace fixed-wing manned aircraft for strike and Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), while surface-to-air missiles would provide air defense. Early warning would be provided by radar equipped helicopters or tilt-rotor aircraft, while vertical take-off UAVs would provide target acquisition for the long range missiles. A self-sufficient platform such as “a vessel inspired by the Moskva-class helicopter carrier and upgraded with stealth lines seems to be a ready solution for distributed lethality and stand-off tactics.” The article concludes that inclusion of this type of vessel in the US Navy would make “the whole fleet architecture both less vulnerable and more diversified.”

The article’s foundation rests on three principles: aircraft carriers are, or will soon be, too vulnerable for certain roles; manned naval aviation will be replaced by shipboard stand-off weapons; and drones have fundamentally changed warfare. From these principles the article proposes a more self-sufficient aviation cruiser would be less vulnerable in enemy Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) zones and able to effect “sea denial” over a large area of ocean, becoming an agile and survivable tool of distributed lethality, rather than “a valuable sitting duck.”2 Both the foundational principles and the resulting proposal are flawed.

The article names itself after the Moskva-class. They were the largest helicopter cruisers, but like all helicopter cruisers, were a failure. They were single-purpose ships with inflexible weapons, too small an air group, too small a flight deck, and awful seakeeping that magnified the other problems. Their planned role of hunting American ballistic missile submarines before they could launch was made obsolete before Moskva was commissioned: There were simply too many American submarines hiding in too large an area of ocean to hunt them down successfully.

The article’s ‘Modern Moskva’ proposal avoids the design’s technical failures but does not address the fundamental flaws that doomed all helicopter cruisers. Surface combatants such as cruisers, destroyers and frigates need deck space for missiles, radars, and guns. Aviation ships need deck space for aircraft. Fixed-wing aircraft are more efficient than rotary-wing, and conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) – particularly with catapults and arresting gear – more efficient than vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). Trying to make one hull be both an aviation vessel and a surface combatant results in a ship that is larger and more expensive than a surface combatant, but wholly worse at operating aircraft than a carrier.

Consequently, helicopter cruisers were a rare and fleeting type of surface combatant around the world. Only six of these ungainly hybrids were ever commissioned: France built one, Italy three, the Soviet Union two. The Japanese built four smaller helicopter destroyers (DDH).3 In every case the follow-on designs to these helicopter ships were dedicated aircraft carriers: the Soviet Kiev-class, Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi-class*, and Japanese Hyuga-class. France’s Marine Nationale chose not to replace Jeanne d’Arc after her 2010 retirement.

Moskva-class, Mikhail Kukhtarev, 07/28/1970 (the pennant number 846 implies this is Moskva in 1974, the photo may be misdated)

The Moskva-class was a striking symbol of Soviet Naval Power. These vessels epitomize the aesthetic of mid-Cold War warship with a panoply of twin arm launchers, multiple-barrel anti-submarine rocket-mortars and a forest of antennae sprouting from every surface save the huge flight deck aft. They are also poorly understood in the West. The Soviets were never satisfied with the design, cancelling production after the first two ships in favor of dedicated separate aircraft carriers and anti-submarine cruisers, the 6 Kiev and Tblisi-class carriers and 17 Kara and Kresta-II-class ASW cruisers in particular.4

The Moskva-class, known to the Soviets as the Проект 1123 “Кондор” Противолодочная Крейсера [Пр.1123 ПКР], (Project 1123 “Condor” Anti-Submarine Cruiser/Pr.1123 PKR) was conceived in the late 1950s. Two ships, Moskva and Leningrad, were laid down between 1962 and 1965, entering service in late 1967 and mid 1969 respectively. The Moskva-class was conceived as anti-submarine cruisers, designed to hunt down enemy SSBN and SSN as part of offensive anti-submarine groups at long ranges from the USSR.5 The primary mission of these groups was to sink American ballistic missile submarines, the 41 for Freedom, before they could launch.6

USS George Washington (SSBN-598), lead boat of the 41 For Freedom (Photo via Naval History and Heritage Command)

The requirements were set at 14 helicopters to enable 24/7 ASW helicopter coverage, and a large number of surface to air missiles for self-protection. The resulting ships were armed with (from bow to stern):7

  • 2x 12 barrel RBU-6000 213mm ASW rocket-mortars
    • 96 Depth Bombs total, 48 per mount
  • 1x Twin Arm SUW-N-1 (RPK-1) Rocket-Thrown Nuclear Depth Bomb system
    • 8 FRAS-1 (Free Rocket Anti Submarine) carried
  • 2x twin-arm launchers for SA-N-3 GOBLET (M-11 Shtorm)
    • 48 SAM per mount, 96 total
  • 2x twin 57mm gun mounts, en echelon
  • 2x 140mm ECM/Decoy launchers (mounted en echelon opposite the 57mm guns)
  • 2x quintuple 533mm torpedo mounts amidships
    • One per side, 10 weapons carried total
Primary organic weapons of the Moskva-class warship Leningrad. Click to expand. (Image from airbase.ru, modified by author.)

This concept and armament made sense in 1958, when submarine-launched ballistic missiles had short ranges and SSBNs would have to approach the Soviet coast.8 In 1964 the USN introduced the new Polaris A-3 missile, which extended ranges to almost 3,000 miles.9 By the commissioning of Moskva in December 1967, all 41 for Freedom boats were in commission, with 23 of those boats carrying the Polaris A-3.10 The increased range of Polaris A-3 meant that US SSBNs could hit targets as deep in the USSR as Volgograd from patrol areas west of the British Isles, far beyond the reach of Soviet ASW forces.11 The Project 1123 was obsolete in its designed mission before the ships took to sea, as they could never find and destroy so many submarines spread over such a large area before the SSBNs could launch their far-ranging missiles.

Leningrad sensor fit. Click to expand. (Attribution on image, edited by author)

The defining feature of the Moskva-class was the compliment of 14 helicopters kept in two hangars, one at deck level for two Ka-25 (NATO codename: HORMONE) and a larger one below the flight deck for 12 more of the Kamovs. The greatest limitation of this hangar and flight deck arrangement was the relative inefficiency compared to a traditional full-deck carrier. There was only space on the flight deck to launch or recover four aircraft at any one time. This was sufficient for the design requirements, which were based around maintaining a smaller number of aircraft round-the-clock. However, the limited space prevents efficient surging of the air group, and the low freeboard forced central elevators, rather than more efficient deck edge designs. The Soviet Navy found the aviation facilities of the Moskva-class limited and insufficient for its role.12 The third ship in the class was to be built to a differing specification, Project 1123.3, 2000 tons heavier, 12m longer and focused on improving the ship’s air defenses and aviation facilities.13 Project 1123.3 was cancelled before being laid down and focus shifted to the more promising Project 1143, the four ship Kiev-class aircraft carriers.

Leningrad showing her typical seakeeping in 1969. (forums.airbase.ru)

Among the chief reasons for the cancellation of all further development of the Moskva-class was the design’s terrible seakeeping. The very fine bow pounded in rough seas, shipping an enormous amount of water over the bow.14 On sea trials in 1970, Moskva went through a storm with a sea state of 6, meaning 4-6m (13-20ft) wave height calm-to-crest. For the duration of the storm the navigation bridge 23m (75 ft) above the waterline was constantly flooded.15

A Moskva in drydock awaiting scrapping, showing the rounded lines aft. (forums.airbase.ru)

The Moskva-class also had a broad, shallow, round-sided cross-section aft. This caused issues with roll stability in all but moderate seas. This meant that flight operations could be conducted only up to a sea-state of 5, or 2.5-4m (8-13 ft) waves, especially when combined with the excessive pounding in waves.16 In addition, the class shipped so much water over the bow that the weapons suite was inoperable in heavy seas and prone to damage at sea state 6.17 The Moskva-class failed to meet the requirements for seakeeping set by the Soviet Navy.18 It could not effectively fight in bad weather, a fatal flaw for ships designed to hunt enemy submarines in the North Atlantic.

Moskva in the North Atlantic. Pennant number indicates 1970 or 1978 (forums.airbase.ru)

Project 1123 stands among the worst ship classes put to sea during the Cold War. The Moskva-class had too few aircraft, too small a flight deck, poorly laid out weapons, shockingly bad seakeeping, and was generally unsuitable for operation in regions with rough seas or frequent storms, despite being designed for the North Atlantic. They were not significantly modernized while in service and were scrapped quickly after the Soviet Union collapsed. Many knew the Moskva-class cruisers were bad ships when they were in service. The Soviets cancelled not only further construction of the class, but further development of the design before the second ship of the class, Leningrad, had commissioned.19 In place of Project 1123 the Soviets built Project 1143, the Kiev-class, an eminently more sensible, seaworthy, and efficient ship with a full-length flight deck which saw serial production and extensive development.20

Part II: Whither the Helicopter Cruiser?

Having explored the development and history of the Moskva-class helicopter cruiser, let’s examine the proposed ‘Modern Moskva’. The goal of the ‘Modern Moskva’ is to have a self-contained ship with drones, helicopters, stand-off anti-ship and strike weapons, and robust air defenses.21 The original article calls this a helicopter cruiser (CGH), helicopter carrier (CVH), or helicopter destroyer (DDH). This article will describe it as an aviation surface combatant (ASC), which better reflects the variety of possible sizes and configurations of ship. The original article then explains that such a self-contained ship accompanied by a handful of small ASW frigates (FF) would be the ideal tool for expendable and survivable distributed lethality to carry out sea denial in the anti-access/area denial zones of America’s most plausible enemies.22 Both the design and operational use concept are flawed, and will be examined in sequence.

The argument made in favor of aviation surface combatants in the article rests on three fundamental principles: that the threat of anti-shipping weapons to carriers has increased, that naval aircraft will be supplanted by long-range missiles, and that unmanned and autonomous systems have fundamentally changed naval warfare. These foundational assertions are false.

The threat of anti-ship weapons has increased over time, in absolute terms. Missile ranges have increased, seekers have become more precise, and targeting systems have proliferated, but the threat to aircraft carriers has not increased in relative terms. As the threat to aircraft carriers has increased, shifting from conventional aircraft to both manned (Kamikaze) and unmanned anti-ship missiles, the carrier’s defenses have also become more powerful. The Aegis Combat System and NIFC-CA combine the sensors and weapons of an entire naval task force, including its aircraft, into one single coherent system. Modern navies are also transitioning towards fielding fully fire-and-forget missiles, such as RIM-174 ERAM, RIM-66 SM-2 Active, 9M96, 9M317M, Aster 15/30, and others. Navies are also moving towards quad-packed active homing missiles for point defense, such as RIM-162 E/F/G ESSM Block 2, CAMM and CAMM-ER, or 9M100. These two developments radically increase the density of naval air defenses, pushing the saturation limit of a naval task force’s air defenses higher than ever before.

USS Sullivans, Carney, Roosevelt, and Hue City conduct a coordinated launch of SM-2MR as part of a VANDALEX, 12/1/2003 (US Navy Photo)

The article is correct that anti-ship weapons have become more capable, but the defenses against such weapons have also benefited from technological advances. The aircraft carrier is no more threatened today than has been the case historically. That is not to say that aircraft carriers are not threatened in the modern era, but that they always have been threatened.

The article claims that naval fixed-wing aircraft will soon be supplanted in their roles as stand-off strike and attack roles by long range missiles. While it is true that modern missiles can strike targets at very long ranges, naval aircraft will always be able to strike farther. Naval aviation can do so by taking the same missiles as are found on ships and carrying them several hundred miles before launch. For example, an American aviation surface combatant as proposed in the article would carry 32 AGM-158C LRASM in VLS, and fire them to an estimated 500 nautical miles. A maritime strike package with 12 F-18E Super Hornets could carry 48 LRASM to 300 nautical miles, and then launch them to a target another 500 miles distant, delivering 150% of the weapons to 160% the distance.23 Unlike VLS-based fires, which must retreat to reload, carrier-based aircraft can re-arm and re-attack in short order. The mobility, capacity, and persistence of aircraft make it unlikely that naval aviation will be replaced by long range missiles.

AGM-158C LRASM flight test (NAVAIR photo)

Finally, the article claims that there is an ‘unmanned revolution’ which has fundamentally changed naval combat. This point has some merit, but is overstated. Unmanned systems typically increase the efficiency of assets, most often by making them more persistent or less expensive. However, this is not a revolution in naval warfare. There have been many technological developments in naval history that were called revolutionary. Other than strategic nuclear weapons the changes were, instead, evolutionary. Though they introduced new methods, new domains, or increased the mobility and tempo of naval warfare, these were evolutionary changes. Even with modern advanced technology, the strategy of naval warfare still largely resembles that of the age of sail. As Admiral Spruance said:

“I can see plenty of changes in weapons, methods, and procedures in naval warfare brought about by technical developments, but I can see no change in the future role of our Navy from what it has been for ages past for the Navy of a dominant sea power—to gain and exercise the control of the sea that its country requires to win the war, and to prevent its opponent from using the sea for its purposes. This will continue so long as geography makes the United States an insular power and so long as the surface of the sea remains the great highway connecting the nations of the world.”24

Control or command of the sea is the ability to regulate military and civilian transit of the sea.25 This is the object of sea services. Unmanned and autonomous systems enhance the capability of forces to command the sea, but they do not change the principles of naval strategy.

Sea Hunter USVs sortie for Unmanned Battle Problem 21 (UxS IBP-21) with USS Monsoor DDG-1001 astern. (Photo 210420-N-EA818-1177, April 20, 2021, MC2 Thomas Gooley via DVIDS/RELEASED)

Having examined the underlying assumptions of the article, we must now examine how these ships are proposed to be used. The concept is that task groups of “two of the proposed helicopter carriers and at least 3 ASW frigates… would be most effective… [in] the South-West Pacific Ocean and the triangle of the Norwegian Sea, the Greenland Sea and the Barents Sea.”26 These waters are said to be so covered by enemy anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities that “traditional air-sea battle tactics” are too dangerous, requiring these helicopter cruisers groups to change the risk calculus.

The article’s use case for the aviation surface combatant has three interlocking assertions. First is that China and Russia will use A2/AD. A2/AD refers to “approaches that seek to prevent US forces from gaining or using access to overseas bases or critical locations such as ports and airfields while denying US forces the ability to maneuver within striking distance of [the enemy’s] territory.”27 Next, that A2/AD represents a novel and greater threat to naval forces which prevents typical naval tactics and operations, therefore new tactics and platforms are needed. Finally, that aviation cruisers leading frigates into these A2/AD zones for various purposes are the novel tactic and platform to solve A2/AD.

The article is flawed on all three counts. Despite the popularity of A2/AD in Western literature, it does not actually correlate to Russian or Chinese concepts for naval warfare. Even if A2/AD did exist as is proposed, it does not represent a relatively greater threat to naval task forces than that historically posed by peer enemy forces in wartime. Finally, even if it did exist and was the threat it is alleged to be, the solution to the problem would not be helicopter cruiser groups.

Launch of SS-C-5 STOOGE (3K55 Bastion) coastal missile system. (Photo via Alexander Karpenko)

A2/AD is a term which evolved in the PLA watching community and has been applied to the Russians.28 Indeed, there is no originally Russian term for A2/AD because it does not fit within the Russian strategic concept.29 Russian thinking centers around overlapping and complimentary strategic operations designed “not to deny specific domains, but rather to destroy the adversary’s ability to function as a military system.”30 While there has been a spirited back-and-forth discussion of the capabilities of Russian A2/AD systems, these center around “whether Russian sticks are 4-feet long or 12-feet long and if they are as pointy as they look or somewhat blunter.”31 By ignoring the reality of how the Russian military plans to use their forces and equipment this narrative loses the forest for the trees.

The term A2/AD comes from PLA watching, perhaps it is more appropriate to the PLAN’s strategy? Not particularly. The Chinese concept is a strategy called Near Seas Defense, “a regional, defensive strategy concerned with ensuring China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”32 Defensive refers to the goals, not the methods used. The PLAN’s concept of operations stresses offensive and preemptive action to control war initiation.33 Near Seas Defense has been mixed with the complimentary Far Seas Protection to produce A2/AD.34 As with the Russian example, the actual strategy, operational art and tactics of the PLA have been subsumed into circles on a map.

If A2/AD existed as more than a buzzword it would not necessarily pose a new or greater threat to aircraft carriers than existed historically. The Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and the US Navy off Okinawa and the Japanese Home Islands during the Second World War experienced threats as dangerous as A2/AD. The constrained waters in the Mediterranean, especially around Malta, kept Royal Navy forces under threat of very persistent air attack at almost all times. At Okinawa and off the Home Islands, the Japanese could launch multi-hundred plane Kamikaze raids against exposed US forces thousands of miles from a friendly anchorage. These raids were the impetus for Operation Bumblebee, which became Talos, Tartar and Terrier and eventually the Standard Missiles and Aegis Combat System.35 The US Navy has been aware of and striving to meet this challenge for nearly a century, just under different names.

Since 1945, the defense has required:

  • Well-positioned early warning assets, such as radar picket ships or aircraft,
  • Effective fighter control,
  • Large numbers of carrier-based fighters relative to incoming launchers (shoot the archer) and weapons (shoot the arrow),
  • Heavily-layered air defenses on large numbers of escorts and the carriers themselves. In the Second World War, these included 5”/38, 40mm, and 20mm anti-aircraft guns. Today, these include SM-2ER/SM-6, SM-2MR, ESSM, RAM, Phalanx, Nulka and SRBOC.
  • Well-built ships with trained and motivated crews, skilled in fighting their ship and in damage control.

This methodology does not wholly prevent ships being lost or damaged: There is no such thing as a perfect defense. What it does do is optimize the air defenses of a task force for depth, mass, flexibility, and redundancy.

Aviation cruiser groups are not the appropriate solution to the A2/AD problem. The cruiser groups proposed have far less air defense than the US Navy’s Dual Carrier Strike Groups (DCSG), the current concept to push into “A2/AD” areas.36 The paper implies that these aviation surface combatants would be smaller targets and would not be attacked as much, but if they were attacked, they would be expendable. However, the enemy decides what targets are worth attacking with what strength, not one’s own side. If a carrier strike group with 48 strike fighters, 5 E-2D AEW&C aircraft to maintain 24/7 coverage, escorts with 500 VLS cells, and the better part of two dozen ASW helicopters is too vulnerable to enter the A2/AD Zone, why would two aviation cruisers and five ASW frigates with 200-350 VLS cells, some drones and 4 AEW helicopters be able to survive against a similar onslaught?37 If a carrier cannot survive the A2/AD area, deploying less capable aviation surface combatants would be wasting the lives of the sailors aboard. The rotary-wing AEW assets proposed are too limited in number and capability to provide anything approaching the constant and long-range coverage the USN feels is necessary.38 Even if A2/AD existed as the threat it is alleged to be, the proper response would not be to build helicopter cruisers and send them into harm’s way with a small ASW escort force. The appropriate response would be to build large numbers of competent escorts to reinforce the carrier task forces, such as the Flight 3 Burke-class or the forthcoming DDG(X).

Conclusion: Neither Fish Nor Fowl

The Moskva-class represented the largest and most obvious failure of the helicopter cruiser concept. Their weapons were inflexible and their air group too small, compounded by horrible seakeeping. Beyond the failings of the design itself, their doctrinal role was made obsolete before the first ship commissioned. While the proposed ‘Modern Moskva’ avoids these failings, the concept does not address the problems which doomed all helicopter cruisers. Efficiently operating large numbers of aircraft requires as much flight deck as possible. Surface combatants require deck space for weapons and sensors. Trying to combine the two requirements yields a ship that does neither well. A ‘Modern Moskva’ finds itself in a position of being larger and more expensive than a normal surface combatant, but wholly worse than a carrier at flight operations.

If the aircraft are necessary and supercarriers unavailable, then a light carrier (CVL) is a better solution. Specifically, this light carrier should be of conventional CATOBAR design with two catapults capable of operating two squadrons of strike fighters, an electronic attack squadron and an ASW helicopter squadron, plus detachments of MQ-25 and E-2D. In addition to the previously mentioned increased anti-shipping and land attack strike radius, the CVL’s fixed wing air group can fight the outer air battle, the modern descendant of the WWII-era “Big Blue Blanket,” and do so in excess of 550 nautical miles from the carrier.39 A task group with a single CVL and escorts could exercise command of the sea over a far greater area than a helicopter cruiser group, and do so with greater flexibility, persistence, survivability, and combat power. The range of carrier aircraft allows the carrier to stay outside of the purported A2/AD bubbles and launch full-capability combined arms Alpha strikes against targets from the relative safety of the Philippine or Norwegian Seas.

USS Midway, CV-41, with CVW-5 embarked, 1987. The modern CVL could approach Midway in displacement and deck area. (U.S. Navy Photo/Released)

The world is becoming less stable. Russia and China are both militarily aggressive and respectively revanchist and expansionist. They are skilled, intelligent and capable competitors who should not be underestimated as potential adversaries. American and Allied forces must be ready and willing to innovate both in the methods and tools of warfare. Rote memorization, mirror imaging and stereotyping the enemy lead to calamity, as at the Battle of Tassafaronga. It is important to remember that these potential enemies are just as determined, just as intelligent, and just as driven as Western naval professionals. These potential enemies will not behave in accordance with facile models and clever buzzwords, nor will they use their weapons per the expectations of Western analysts. They have developed their own strategies to win the wars they think are likely, and the tactics, equipment and operational art to carry out their concepts.

English speaking defense analysis tends to obsess over technology, but war is decided by strategy, and strategy is a historical field.40 We must not forget that “The good historian is like the giant of a fairy tale. He knows that wherever he catches the scent of human flesh, there his quarry lies.”41 Historical context focuses on the human element of warfare: the persistent question of how to use the weapons and forces available to achieve the political goals of the conflict. By removing history, and with it strategy, operational art, and tactics, proposals often drift toward past failed concepts mixed with the buzzword du jour. War has only become faster and more lethal over time. The stakes in a conflict with the probable enemy will be higher than any war the US has fought since the Second World War. Novelty and creativity are necessary and should be lauded, but they must be balanced with historical context, strategic vision, and a candid and realistic understanding of potential adversaries.

Benjamin Claremont is a Strategic Studies MLitt student at the University of St Andrews School of International Relations. His dissertation, Peeking at the Other Side of the Fence: Lessons Learned in Threat Analysis from the US Military’s Efforts to Understand the Soviet Military During the Cold War, explored the impact of changing sources, analytical methodologies, and distribution schemes on US Army and US Navy threat analysis of the Soviet Military, how this impacted policy and strategy, and what this can teach in a renewed era of great power competition. He received his MA (Honours) in Modern History from the University of St. Andrews. He is interested in Strategy, Operational Art, Naval Warfare, and Soviet/Russian Military Science.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

*Correction: The Italian carrier was of the Giuseppe Garibaldi class, not the Vittorio Veneto class as originally stated.

Endnotes

1. Przemysław Ziemacki, Is the Moskva-Class Helicopter Cruiser the Best Naval Design for the Drone Era?, CIMSEC, 7/9/2021, https://cimsec.org/is-the-moskva-class-helicopter-cruiser-the-best-naval-design-for-the-drone-era/

2. Ziemacki, Moskva Class for the Drone Era. All quotations in this and the preceding paragraph are from Mr. Ziemacki’s article.

3. The French Jeanne d’Arc, the Italian Andrea Doria, Caio Duilio, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Soviet Moskva and Leningrad, and the Japanese Haruna, Hiei, Shirane and Kurama.

4. Yuri Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, 2010, МОРКНИГА, p. 79, 98 The Tblisi class became the Kuznetsov class after 1991.

5. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 18

6. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 17

7. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 22,

8. USN Strategic Systems Programs, FBM Weapon System 101: The Missiles, https://www.ssp.navy.mil/fb101/themissiles.html#I

9. USN Strategic Systems Programs, FBM Weapon System 101: The Missiles, https://www.ssp.navy.mil/fb101/themissiles.html#I

10. The first to be built with Polaris A-3 was USS Daniel Webster, SSBN-626. In addition, the 10 SSBN-627 boats and 12 SSBN-640 boats all carried 16 Polaris A-3 each for a total of over 350 missiles.

11. Determined using Missilemap by Alex Wellerstein, https://nuclearsecrecy.com/missilemap/

12. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

13. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

14. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

15. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

16. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

17. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

18. Apalkov, Противолодочные Корабли, p. 28

19. Work was halted on Pr.11233 in 1968, Leningrad commissioned on June 22nd, 1969.

20. Yuri Apalkov, Ударные Корабли, МОРКНИГА, p. 4-6

21. Ziemacki, Moskva Class for the Drone Era.

22. Ziemacki, Moskva Class for the Drone Era.

23. Xavier Vavasseur, Next Generation Anti-Ship Missile Achieves Operational Capability with Super Hornets, USNI News, 12/19/2019 https://news.usni.org/2019/12/19/next-generation-anti-ship-missile-achieves-operational-capability-with-super-hornets

24. Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, quoted in Naval Doctrine Publication 1: Naval Warfare (2020), P. 0 accessible at: https://cimsec.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/NDP1_April2020.pdf

25. Julian Corbett, Some Principles of Naval Strategy, p. 103-4

26. Ziemacki, Moskva Class for the Drone Era.

27. Chris Dougherty, Moving Beyond A2/AD, CNAS, 12/3/2020, https://www.cnas.org/publications/commentary/moving-beyond-a2-ad (clarification in brackets added)

28. Michael Kofman, It’s Time to Talk about A2/AD: Rethinking the Russian Military Challenge, War on the Rocks, 9/5/2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/09/its-time-to-talk-about-a2-ad-rethinking-the-russian-military-challenge/

29. Kofman, It’s Time to Talk about A2/AD. The Russian term is a translation of the English

30. Kofman, It’s Time to Talk about A2/AD

31. Kofman, It’s Time to Talk about A2/AD

32. Rice, Jennifer and Robb, Erik, “China Maritime Report No. 13: The Origins of “Near Seas Defense and Far Seas Protection”” (2021). CMSI China Maritime Reports, p. 1

33. Rice and Robb, CMSI #13, p. 7

34. For more on the interactions between Near Seas Defense and Far Seas Protection see RADM Michael McDevitt, USN (Ret.), Becoming a Great “Maritime Power”: A Chinese Dream, CNA, June 2016, https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/IRM-2016-U-013646.pdf

35. The technical advisor for Bumblebee, 3T, Typhon, and Aegis was the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who also developed the VT fuse. https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA229872.pdf

36. USS Theodore Roosevelt Public Affairs, Theodore Roosevelt, Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups conduct dual carrier operations, 2/8/2021, https://www.cpf.navy.mil/news.aspx/130807

37. A nominal CSG has 1x CG-47 and 4x DDG-79; CGH group has 2x 96 Cell CGH and 5x ASW LCS or 5x FFG-62

38. This is due to the payload, fuel efficiency, speed and altitude limitations inherent to rotary wing or tilt-rotor aircraft compared to fixed wing turboprops.

39. Based on estimated combat radius of c. 500 nautical miles for the F-18E, plus 50 nautical miles for the AIM-120D.

40. Hew Strachan, ‘Strategy in the Twenty-First Century’, in Strachan, Hew, ed., The Changing Character of War, (Oxford, 2011) p. 503; A.T. Mahan, The Influence of Seapower on History, (Boston, 1918) p. 7, 226-7; Julian Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, (London, 1911) p. 9, Vigor, ‘The Function of Soviet Military History’, in AFD-101028-004 Transformation in Soviet and Russian Military History: Proceedings of the Twelfth Military History Symposium, 1986 p. 123-124; Andrian Danilevich, reviewing M. A. Gareev M. V. Frunze, Military Theorist, quoted in Chris Donnelly, Red Banner: The Soviet Military System in Peace and War, p. 200

41. Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft, (New York, 1953), p. 26

Featured Image: April 1, 1990—A port beam view of the Soviet Moskva class helicopter cruiser Leningrad underway. (U.S. Navy photo by PH3 (Ac) Stephen L. Batiz)

Modern Naval Mines: Not Your Grandfather’s Weapons That Wait

By Scott C. Truver

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael M. Gilday has good reason to recall the morning of 18 February 1991. In support of Operation Desert Storm, the Aegis guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG-59) was patrolling off Failaka Island in the northern Persian Gulf, with a young Lieutenant Gilday serving as the tactical action officer (TAO). At 0715 local time, two Italian-made MN103 MANTA multiple-influence bottom mines, each loaded with 325 pounds of TNT/PXBN explosive, fired.1

MANTA mine: A multi-influence shallow-water sea mine effective against landing craft, small-mid-tonnage vessels, and the occasional major surface combatant, MANTA can be laid by surface vessels, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft. The mine’s unique shape and low target strength and magnetic signature make it very difficult to detect. (RWM Italia SPA image / All Rights Reserved / Fair Use)

The first MANTA detonated directly under the warship’s port rudder in shallow water, and the second some 200 yards off the starboard bow, a sympathetic explosion that did no damage. The first, however, injured three crewmembers, cracked the superstructure, buckled the hull at three frames, jammed the port rudder, damaged the starboard propeller shaft, and flooded the Number 3 switchboard room from chill-water pipe cracks that shut down combat systems for 90 minutes—a dead-in-the-water “mission kill” that rendered missiles and guns aft inoperable.

A close-up view of a crack in the hull of the Aegis-guided missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG-59), part of the damage sustained when the warship detonated an Iraqi MANTA mine while on patrol in the Persian Gulf on 18 February 1991 in support of Operation Desert Storm. (U.S. Navy Photo by CW02 BAILEY / DN-ST-91-05715 / Released)

Four hours earlier, the USS Tripoli (LPH-10) had struck an Iraqi LUGM contact mine, ripping a 25’x25’ hole in her starboard hull. Ironically, Tripoli embarked aircraft of the Navy’s MH-53E airborne mine-countermeasures (AMCM) MH-14 helicopter squadron. Because the damage was limited only to hull voids, skillful ship-handing and ballasting kept Tripoli’s AMCM helos operating for another six days.

Captain Bruce McEwen, USN, (in khakis and white hard hat), commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LPH-10), and repair crews inspect the 23-foot by 25-foot hole “mine event” when the ship struck an Iraqi contact mine on February 18 while serving as a mine-sweeping command ship in the northern Persian Gulf during Desert Storm. The ship was able to continue operations after damage control crews stopped the flooding caused by the explosion. (U.S. Navy Photo by JO1 Gawlowicz / DN-SC-91-08076 / Released)

These mine events underscored the lessons that any ship can be a mine-sweeper, once, and a single mine cannot only ruin a skipper’s day but can also frustrate overall strategy, planning, and operations. Almost immediately following the Princeton and Tripoli mine strikes, the multinational coalition shelved plans to liberate Kuwait from the sea.

In 2021 the threat is worldwide: some 30 countries manufacture mines for their navies, and about 20 of these will sell to anyone with cash in hand.

Potential U.S. adversaries—from China and Russia to violent extremists—take advantage of the asymmetric value of mines, some quite sophisticated and lethal and others unsophisticated but still quite lethal. The global threat includes: Russia, anywhere from 125,000 to a million mines; upwards of 80,000 are in Chinese inventories; as many as 10,000 enhance North Korea’s navy; Iran has about 6,000; and unknown numbers are in terrorist hands. In June 2021, for example, Houthi rebels warned about “some hundreds of sea mines” laid in Red Sea and Arabian Sea ports and waterways.2

In comparison, the U.S. Navy has stockpiled fewer than 10,000 dedicated mines—including a “handful” of Mk-67 Submarine-Launched Mobile Mines (SLMMs­) that can be deployed only on the remaining Improved Los Angeles-class (I688) attack submarine, and “Quickstrike” (QS) mine-conversion kits for general-purpose bombs.3

SOUDA BAY, Greece (June 22, 2021) Sailors aboard the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Montpelier (SSN 765) conduct an expeditionary ordnance on-load in Souda Bay, Greece, exercising the capability to load the MK 67 submarine launched mobile mine June 22, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Joel Diller/ 210622-N-UR565-0303 / Released)

While there looks to be a faint light at the end of the naval mining tunnel, Big Navy has not embraced incorporating offensive and defensive mine capabilities into strategic thinking, other than half-hearted mollifying. For example, the 2020 tri-service maritime strategy mentions mine warfare only twice, first in the context of “Alliances and partnerships are true force multipliers in times of crisis. Partner and ally deployments . . . also provide specialty capabilities, such as mine warfare and antisubmarine warfare.”4 “Mine warfare” in this instance is code for “mine countermeasures.”

A slide on mine warfare capabilities. Click to expand. (U.S. Navy graphic by PEO USC and PMS 495 — Mine Warfare)

The 2020 strategy also promises to “expand mine warfare capabilities” as components of undersea warfare, clearly a reference to mines and mining. But hope can be fickle. The last time the Navy put a new-design dedicated mine into service was 1983, and today’s U.S. in-service  mines and mining capabilities are obsolescent, with questionable value in crises and conflicts.

Comprehensive mine warfare visions and strategies have been sporadic for at least ten years, and dynamics internal and external to the Navy’s mine warfare community have kept MIW in its place. Visions and strategies never see the light of day; the Navy continues to relegate mine warfare—mines, mining, and mine countermeasures—to a strategic, operational, and budgetary backwater.5

While hope is not a strategy, tomorrow’s naval mines/mining technologies, systems, concepts of operations, and operational planning tools could energize these weapons that wait by what they might bring to the fight—and how they will get there. Moreover, these initiatives and programs could shape our understanding of what constitutes a mine. That said, rhetoric needs to be channeled into reality.

For example, the Navy is upgrading the Mk-65 2,300-pound shallow-water dedicated thin-wall bottom mines and the Mk-62 500-pound and Mk-63 1,000-pound Quickstrike bomb-conversion multi-influence bottom mines with the state-of-the-art Mk-71 target-detection-device firing mechanism.6 It senses magnetic, acoustic, seismic, and pressure signatures and can be programmed with target-processing and counter-countermeasures algorithms. The Navy’s miners now can optimize mining performance against many different targets. But it took nearly 20 years to transition the Mk-71 from an engineering concept to fleet introduction.

A developmental 2,000-pound version of the Joint Direct-Attack Munition/Quickstrike Extended-Range (JDAM/QS-ER) earned the Office of the Secretary of Defense 2020 Joint Capability Technology Demonstration program-of-the-year award. Program officials note they are also developing a propulsion pack for a power-glide version of the ER (QS-P), perhaps leading to very extended-standoffs and highly precise/accurate “cruise-missile mines.” Sufficient and stable funding for this capability, however, looks to be frustrated, at best. Indeed, it could see funding zeroed in fiscal year 22.7

A Quickstrike-ER (QS-ER) naval mine drops toward the Pacific Ocean during an operational demonstration on 30 May 2019. (Video by Petty Officer 1st Class Robin Peak, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command)

In addition to aerial mining options, efforts are ongoing to expand near-term undersea-delivered mining capabilities. The Navy is repurposing excess Mk 67 SLMM warheads to develop Clandestine Delivered Mines (CDMs) delivered by Orca unmanned vehicles.

Another concept envisions using networked “encapsulated effectors” similar to the out-of-service moored Cold War Mk 60 CAPTOR (enCAPsulated TORpedo) to carry out numerous vital seabed warfare activities. The new “Hammerhead” device could also support Marine Corps expeditionary advance base operations antisubmarine warfare efforts, as well as other offensive and defensive mining functions.8 Indeed, future U.S. mines could be important elements of expeditionary distributed lethality, contributing to forward-area operational objectives and overall warfighting effects.

The U.S. Navy’s existing and new mine capabilities could provide an additional layer of defense around strategic assets like naval bases, ports, or even surrounding temporary outposts or forces deployed on small islands like those that  dot the Mediterranean or the Pacific. Mines have long been a major component of denying access to certain areas or deterring amphibious landings, for instance. Most importantly, the use of standoff mines or those covertly emplaced by a submarine could prevent adversaries from projecting their own forces, including even leaving their harbors, during a time of war.9

So, CNO: Remember your 18 February 1991 introduction to naval mine warfare. Thirty years on, the Navy’s mines and mining objective must make America’s adversaries worry about the threat of mines and seabed warfare systems more than their weapons concern the United States and its allies and partners.

Finding the scarce resources to fund these programs will be an increasingly daunting proposition, however. The reality is since the 1991 Persian Gulf mine debacles USN mine warfare has received each year and average of about 0.75% of Navy total obligational authority. And most of that focused on remedial mine countermeasures.

Damn the “torpedoes” indeed!

Dr. Truver is Manager, Naval and Maritime Program, Gryphon Technologies LC (struver@GryphonLC.com). He has supported U.S. mine warfare strategies, policies, programs, and operations since 1979, including the Navy’s first post-Cold War Mine Warfare Strategic Plan (OP03/372, January 1992). And he is the co-author of Weapons that Wait: Mine Warfare in the U.S. Navy (Naval Institute Press 1991 second edition).

An earlier version of this manuscript was published in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings/Naval Review, May 2021, Vol.147/5/1,419, “Need to Know” commentary: https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2021/may/not-your-grandfathers-weapons-wait. It is used by permission of Proceedings.

End Notes

1. Scott C. Truver, “Lessons from the Princeton Incident,” International Defense Review, 7/1991. Also, MANTA Anti landing Shallow Water Mine, RWM Italia SPA, Rheinmetall Defence, www.rwm-italia.com, 2012.

2. Arie Egozi, “Houthis Lay Sea Mines in Red Sea; Coalition Boasts Few Minesweepers, Breaking Defense, 14 June 2021, https://breakingdefense.com/2021/06/houthis-lay-sea-mines-in-red-sea-coalition-boasts-few-minesweepers/

3. Brett Tingley, “Navy Offers Gimps of its Submarine-Launched Capabilities in the Mediterranean,” The WarZone, 28 June 2021, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/41309/navy-offers-glimpse-of-its-submarine-launched-mine-capabilities-in-the-mediterranean

4. Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-domain Naval Power, December 2020, pp. 13 and 22.

5. In June 2009 the Program Executive Office for Littoral and Mine Warfare (PEO LMW) and the Expeditionary Warfare Directorate (N85) published what came to be regarded as the “MIW Primer’:  21st Century U.S. Navy Mine Warfare: Ensuring Global Access and Commerce. The 3,500 copies were soon depleted, but it remains on the Internet: https://www.scribd.com/document/329688556/21st-Century-u-s-Navy-Mine-Warfare

6. Captain Hans Lynch USN/N952) and Scott Truver, “Toward a 21st-Century US Navy Mining Force,” Defense One, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/08/toward-21st-century-us-navy-mining-force/150709/

7. Tyler Rogoway, “B-52 Tested 2,000 Quickstrike-ER Winged Standoff Naval Mines during Valiant Shield,” The WarZone, 20 September 2018, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/23705/b-52-tested-2000lb-quickstrike-er-winged-standoff-naval-mines-during-valiant-shield

8. “Tentative Manual for Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations,” Headquarters United States Marine Corps, 8 February 2021

9. Tyler Rogoway, op.cit.

Feature Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (March 16, 2009) Aviation Ordnancemen inspect MK-62 mines on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in preparation for loading onto aircraft as part of Exercise Foal Eagle 2009. Foal Eagle is a defense-oriented annual training exercise with the Republic of Korea demonstrating U.S. commitment to regional peace and stability. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ronda Spaulding/Released)

Seabed Mining: The Coast Guard’s Deep Future

By Kyle Cregge

What if the final frontier is much closer to home? From SpaceX to Space Force, many groups are seeking to dominate space in an era of Great Power Competition and commercialization. Yet for all the time humans have looked up, a far murkier domain below remains largely unexplored. The deep-sea and seabed remain less understood than our near abroad in space and yet contain myriad natural resources which have yet to be tapped. Beyond the familiar reserves of hydrocarbons, there are metallic nodules and crusts spread across the seabed, resting beneath national exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and claimed continental shelves, as well as below the high seas.

China, meanwhile, maintains a near-monopoly on the rare-earth metals that sustain the modern global economy and regularly leverages these key resources through coercive bilateral sanctions. Amidst these challenges, the private sector and public investment of many other nations will likely turn to the seabed to diversify their supply chains.  Environmental risks, scientific opportunities, and assent to untested international law remain open questions in these extractive ventures, but seabed mining is coming regardless. The US Coast Guard’s similar and enduring missions around maritime resource extraction make it well-suited to enforce domestic and international law in this expanding industry. The service should prepare for seabed mining by engaging with allies and partners and by supporting scientific research and environmental protection.

The Opportunity of Seabed Mining

Deep seabed mining is generally defined as extracting resources below a depth of 200 meters, such as the deep-sea polymetallic nodules first recorded by the HMS Challenger Expedition of 1872-1876.1 Private citizens and companies have intermittently attempted to capitalize on the potato-sized concretions over the past 150 years. These ambitions even served as the elaborate cover story between Howard Hughes and the CIA for the ship Glomar Explorer and the plan to recover the sunken Soviet submarine K-129 off the coast of Hawaii in 1974.2 More recently, the multinational firm Nautilus Minerals went bankrupt in 2019 following a decade’s worth of planning and investment to drill off the coast of Papua New Guinea for copper, gold, silver, and zinc contained within seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) deposits.3 Despite the legal and financial trouble Nautilus Minerals encountered, the bounty from mining the seabed will continue to encourage innovation and investment. While estimates vary, proposals have put the potential annual contributions of the deep-sea mining industry to the US economy at up to $1 trillion, and the value of all gold deposits alone worth up to $150 trillion.4 Compared to the value of US commercial fisheries – $5.6 billion in 2018 – seabed mining could be orders of magnitude more profitable.5

As part of its coercive economic diplomacy, China has selectively complicated foreign supply chains through export restrictions on rare earth metals.Long a recognized strength for China, former leader Deng Xiaoping stated in 1992, “The Middle East has oil. China has rare earths,” and his assessment has only continued to bear out to today. The communist nation currently supplies 95% of the global rare earths output and has used its virtual monopoly as a thinly-veiled economic weapon during diplomatic disputes with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines in the last decade.7  The US imports up to 80% of its rare earths from China. Those resources feed into critical defense systems like guided missiles, lasers, and fighters like the F-35 Lightning II, which requires up to 920 pounds of rare earths during the production of each aircraft.8 The F-35 is currently in use or on order by fifteen countries that are currently European or Indo-Pacific partners or allies of the United States.9 Expanding beyond the single aircraft system, deliberately reduced rare earth exports could threaten each of these nation’s military modernizations. Whether for profit or supply chain preservation, America and its allies will likely look to the seabed to help meet these demands.

Why the Coast Guard?

Seabed mining requires a coordinated surface support infrastructure akin to hydrocarbon exploration and extraction, which is an oversight role the Coast Guard knows well. Robot tractors, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), and other seafloor collectors will mine from seamounts or collect nodules deep below,10 feeding those resources up through a flexible riser pipe for refinement and processing, while a return pipe feeds the non-desired sediment and waste back to the seafloor.11 Barges and bulk carriers will then receive the collected seabed resources from the production support vessel and transfer them back to a port of call for further use. Additional remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) will be launched from commercial ships on the surface to provide seabed surveillance, conduct scientific research, and monitor environmental impacts as part of the broader operation.

Just like the Coast Guard’s presence missions for domestic fisheries, cutters will represent US mining interests within and beyond the nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), though some national rights to seabed resources reach out to the extended continental shelf (ECS).  As the Vision to Combat Illegal, Unregulated, or Unlawful (IUU) Fishing states:

The U.S. Coast Guard has been the lead agency in the United States for at-sea enforcement of living marine resource laws for more than 150 years. As the only agency with the infrastructure and authority to project a law enforcement presence throughout the 3.36 million square mile U.S. EEZ and in key areas of the high seas, the U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to combat IUU fishing and uphold the rule of law at sea.12

While seabed resources are not living, domestic and international law similarly govern their extraction – and mining will require the same sort of maritime regulation. American domestic justification follows from the 1980 Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resource Act (DSHMRA), which claimed the right of the US to mine the seabed in international waters, and specifically identifies the Coast Guard as responsible for enforcement.13

International Law and Engagement

Internationally, the Coast Guard will face the same problem the US Navy does with its freedom of navigation operations in places like the South China Sea. Through the presence of its surface vessels, the services seek to reinforce the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as reflecting customary international law, while the US is not itself a party to the treaty. The US Senate has thus far avoided treaty ratification to avoid potentially surrendering sovereignty around seabed mining regulation to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), based in Kingston, Jamaica.14, 15

Formed in 1994, the organization retains responsibility under the United Nations for administering “The Area,” of the seabed beyond any nation’s EEZ.16  Because the US is a non-party state to UNCLOS and an observer, vice member, of the ISA, US companies must either pursue mining operations through another sponsor state under the ISA regime or operate outside the ISA’s purview based on US domestic law interpreted within the framework of UNCLOS. These complications are not the Coast Guard’s fault, nor is the service responsible to necessarily fix them. But given the intersection of maritime law enforcement, commercial resource extraction, and the desire for non-military engagement, the Coast Guard is far better suited than the US Navy in a “seabed maritime presence” role.   

The seabed is likely the next domain for competition over a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” and a “rules-based international order.” Among the most challenging in a future seabed competition would be China and Russia, states that have already used lawfare in the South China Sea and Arctic regions respectively to pursue their territorial gains. The two great powers may use the same playbook in the deep sea both in practice and through the ISA. The ISA has authorized 30 total contracts for exploration in The Area, and 16 are within the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ). The CCZ is a vast plain spanning over 3,000 miles of the central Pacific Ocean southeast of Hawaii which contains a vast supply of polymetallic nodules. Two separate Chinese and Russian companies have each received 15-year contracts from the ISA for 75,000 square kilometer areas for future exploration, in addition to areas on the Southwest Indian Ridge and Western Pacific for China specifically.17  No nation has yet indicated a serious move to begin commercial exploitation in The Area, but as the technology matures, China may seek to extend its rare earths monopoly and start mining throughout the Indo-Pacific.

While the US has claimed four tracks within the CCZ under its domestic law, it too has not yet begun commercial exploration.18 Yet there are numerous opportunities for theater engagement and for ensuring seabed mining practices are in accordance with international regulations. The Coast Guard’s enduring support to allies and partners for fisheries enforcement should naturally be mirrored to the seabed – particularly for Pacific nations. Many of the same island nations and territories working on IUU fishing are evaluating deep-sea mining ventures to stimulate their economies within their EEZs and out into the CCZ. 

The Pacific island nations Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and the Cook Islands all have active seabed licenses to explore within their EEZs. For US allies and partners, six of the top nine largest national EEZs are western or democratic nations, with a total area larger than the continent of Asia.19 This presents a vast potential bounty for seabed mining.  With its long history working with international coastal forces, the Coast Guard remains the most capable service to demonstrate American commitment to a rules-based international order across various future seabed mining ventures.

Preserving the Seabed Environment

The Coast Guard’s responsibility to support and enforce proper seabed mining will also be a natural outgrowth of its other enduring missions to support scientific research and environmental protection. As it has done with polar icebreaker missions, the Coast Guard routinely explores new domains with scientists and experts on board.20 The seabed requires further study, as a mere 20% of the global ocean has been mapped at better than a kilometer grid resolution, and the previous administration specifically directed the White House’s Ocean Policy Committee to develop a strategy to map the remaining 60% of unmapped American EEZ.21, 22 From what has been mapped, the seabed’s biodiversity is immense. Of the estimated 0.01% of the explored area of the CCZ, scientists have collected more than 1,000 animal species, of which 90% are believed to be new or undescribed. This tally does not account for over 100,000 potential microbe species.23 The Coast Guard can both support this research from its cutters and support its enduring statutory mission of Environmental Protection as well.24

Early studies have proposed immense risks to seabed environments from mining. Habitat loss, sediment smothering of seabed animals following resource processing, and issues of light, noise, or other vibrations are all significant concerns for unique resources and animals which have evolved over millions of years. If calls for an international moratorium on mining are ultimately ignored, the US should not leave China or Russia to shape the best practices for seabed mining.25 The US Coast Guard can be present and use its cutters or even onboard UUVs to monitor that mining practices are in accord with any standing international agreements to best preserve the environment.

A Deep Future for the Coast Guard

The Coast Guard has time to critically analyze its role in future seabed mining ventures but must consider the development of new service capabilities and build inter-agency bridges. Force structure assessments could partner with the Navy on multiple capability areas. UUVs operating at various depths could serve ongoing submarine force objectives while supporting Coast Guard mining monitoring requirements. If the Coast Guard determined it needed a larger platform for sustained presence and multi-helo or UUV deployment at a mining site, the Expeditionary Staging Base (ESB) could serve as a cheaper, known option from which to iterate. Regardless of platform, operations in the CCZ or broader Pacific would present a taxing operational requirement, given its distance from Hawaii and the necessary logistics train, compared to the service’s more common littoral missions.

To meet this demand signal, civilian policymakers must ensure that any profits associated with domestic commercial seabed mining would be taxed with a sufficient funding line to support the shipbuilding, logistics, command and control, and research and development in support of the Coast Guard seabed presence mission.

The Coast Guard must also strive to build its inter-agency relationships around seabed mining. The service is already a member of the State Department’s Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) Task Force, an inter-agency government body that already focuses on seabed issues.26 But the ECS Task Force is primarily focused on identifying the limits of the US Continental Shelf through geological survey and legal analysis; projections of national seabed mining objectives must go further. Beyond the interagency and joint force, the Coast Guard should liaise with academia, non-governmental and international organizations, and the private sector to contextualize the service’s future role. Each will have their initiatives and interests, but collectively they will better prepare the Coast Guard to engage with the seabed.

The Coast Guard has yet to be tasked to support presence, international maritime law enforcement, scientific research, or environmental protection with respect to seabed mining. Yet it has done those same types of missions on the surface for hundreds of years. While the commercial industry is developing its technologies and processes, the Coast Guard should project its role into the deep domain given its historic missions and requirements. Challenges abound, from international economic drivers to future science and environmental research. Working collaboratively, the Coast Guard can lead a network of partners to strengthen economic and maritime security around seabed mining, thereby promoting the rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific. Looking forward, the Coast Guard must look deeper to win on the seabed and in the future.

Lieutenant Kyle Cregge is a surface warfare officer. He served on a destroyer, cruiser, and aircraft carrier as an air defense liaison officer. He was selected by Carrier Strike Group 9 for the 2019 Junior Officer Award for Excellence in Tactics. He currently is a master’s degree candidate at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Endnotes

1. Scarminach, Shaine. 2019. “Diving Into The History Of Seabed Mining – Edge Effects”. Edge Effects. https://edgeeffects.net/seabed-mining/.

2. “The Secret On The Ocean Floor”. 2021. Bbc.Co.Uk. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/deep_sea_mining.

3. “Nautilus Minerals Officially Sinks, Shares Still Trading”. 2019. MINING.COM. https://www.mining.com/nautilus-minerals-officially-sinks-shares-still-trading/.

4. “Deep-Sea Mining Could Provide Access To A Wealth Of Valuable Minerals”. 2021. Theneweconomy.Com. https://www.theneweconomy.com/energy/deep-sea-mining-could-provide-access-to-a-wealth-of-valuable-minerals.

5. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2020, February 21) Fisheries of the United States, 2018. Retrieved
from NOAA Fisheries: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/fisheries-united-states-2018

6. Vekasi, Kristin. 2021. “Will China Weaponise Its Rare Earth Edge? | East Asia Forum”. East Asia Forum. https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2021/03/25/will-china-weaponise-its-rare-earth-edge/.

7. Tiezzi, Shannon. 2021. “Is China Ready To Take Its Economic Coercion Into The Open?”. Thediplomat.Com. https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/is-china-ready-to-take-its-economic-coercion-into-the-open/.

8. Narayan, Pratish and Deaux, Joe. ” U.S. Fighter Jets and Missiles Are in China’s Rare-Earth Firing Line”. 2021. Bloomberg.Com. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-29/u-s-fighter-jets-and-missiles-in-china-s-rare-earth-firing-line.

9. Pawlyk, Oriana. 2021. “Switzerland Becomes Latest Nation To Choose F-35 For Its Next Fighter Jet”. Military.Com. https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/06/30/switzerland-becomes-latest-nation-choose-f-35-its-next-fighter-jet.html.

10. “Deep-Sea Mining”. 2018. IUCN. https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/deep-sea-mining.

11. Ibid.

12. Admiral Karl L. Schultz. “The United States Coast Guard’s Vision to Combat IUU Fishing”. September 2020. https://www.uscg.mil/Portals/0/Images/iuu/IUU_Strategic_Outlook_2020_FINAL.pdf

13. “30 U.S. Code Chapter 26 – DEEP SEABED HARD MINERAL RESOURCES”. 2021. LII / Legal Information Institute. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/30/chapter-26.

14. Ibid.

15. Verma, Aditya Singh. “A Case For The United States’ Ratification Of UNCLOS”. 2020. Diplomatist. https://diplomatist.com/2020/05/02/a-case-for-the-united-states-ratification-of-unclos/.

16. “About ISA | International Seabed Authority”. 2021. Isa.Org.Jm. https://www.isa.org.jm/about-isa.

17. “Minerals: Polymetallic Nodules | International Seabed Authority”. 2021. Isa.Org.Jm. https://www.isa.org.jm/exploration-contracts/polymetallic-nodules.

18. Groves, Steven. “The U.S. Can Mine The Deep Seabed Without Joining The U.N. Convention On The Law Of The Sea”. 2021. The Heritage Foundation. https://www.heritage.org/report/the-us-can-mine-the-deep-seabed-without-joining-the-un-convention-the-law-the-sea.

19. Migiro, Geoffrey, World Facts, Countries Zones, All Continents, North America, Central America, and South America et al. 2018. “Countries With The Largest Exclusive Economic Zones”. Worldatlas. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-largest-exclusive-economic-zones.html.

20. Ensign Evan Twarog and Lieutenant (J.G.) Cody Williamson, “Polar Security Cutters Will Face An Evolving Arctic”. 2021. U.S. Naval Institute. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2021/january/polar-security-cutters-will-face-evolving-arctic.

21. Amos, Jonathan. “One-Fifth Of Earth’s Ocean Floor Is Now Mapped”. 2020. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-53119686.

22. Cornwall, Warren. “Trump Plan To Push Seafloor Mapping Wins Warm Reception”. 2019. Science | AAAS. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/11/trump-plan-push-seafloor-mapping-wins-warm-reception.

23. Heffernan, Olive. “Seabed Mining Is Coming — Bringing Mineral Riches And Fears Of Epic Extinctions”. Nature.Com. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02242-y.

24. Commander Sharon Russell and Lieutenant James Stevens. “The Coast Guard Can Take On DoD Environmental Response Duties”. 2020. U.S. Naval Institute. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2020/february/coast-guard-can-take-dod-environmental-response-duties.

25. Rosane, Olivia. “Major Companies Join Call for Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium”. 2021. https://www.ecowatch.com/deep-sea-mining-moratorium-corporations-2651368554.html

26. “About The U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Project – United States Department Of State”. 2021. United States Department Of State. https://www.state.gov/about-the-u-s-extended-continental-shelf-project/.

Featured Image: ROV Deep Discoverer investigates a diverse deep sea coral habitat on Retriever Seamount. (NOAA photo)

Is the Moskva-class Helicopter Cruiser the Best Naval Design for the Drone Era?

By Przemysław Ziemacki

A variety of factors, including the long range capabilities of modern artillery, the evolution of drones and missiles, together with the need for stand-off and distributed lethality, have combined to make space in the world’s navies for a great comeback of helicopter cruisers.

Cold War Cruiser Redux

In the mid-part of the Cold War, helicopter cruisers became a quite popular ship design. This trend was less noticeable in the US Navy, which concentrated on full-size carriers during that period, but a few other navies decided to operate such naval vessels. In the 1960’s, the French Navy commissioned the Jeanne d’Arc, the Italian Navy – Andrea Doria, Caio Duilio and Vittorio Veneto, and the Soviet Navy – Moskva and Leningrad. All of these ships were either heavily armed or could easily increase their armament, while also providing relatively large flight decks and hangars. The helicopter cruisers responded to the increasing threat and role of submarines in naval warfare. The air wings on each ship class consisted of four or more ASW helicopters.

The most representative among these designs is the Moskva class helicopter cruiser. Although 12 hulls were originally planned, only two vessels were built. The Moskva class had a length of 189 meters (620 feet) and 19,200 tons full displacement – a bit smaller than a San Antonio-class amphibious warfare ship. The aft hangar and flight deck of the ASW cruiser was designed to carry 18 medium helicopters, such as the Kamov Ka 25 Hormone; its bow and midship section included 2 medium caliber (57mm) guns and 3 missiles launchers for 48 anti-aircraft and 24 anti-submarine missiles.

The helicopter cruisers quickly assumed roles beyond ASW, even as improvements in ship-mounted sonar and the need to operate fixed-wing aircraft curtailed further development of ASW cruisers. Successors of the ships mentioned above were mostly full-length flight deck vessels.

Today, as full-size aircraft carriers are increasingly vulnerable due to long-range and land based anti-ship missiles, the Moskva class design could emerge from the shadow of history. A ship design inspired by this cruiser would have both enough space for stand-off weapons and for an air wing composed of vertical lift drones and helicopters. The promise of greater range artillery, such as high velocity projectile (HVP) ammunition for existing 5” naval guns, could redefine the role of artillery in war at sea. These developments would allow a couple of 5” Mk45 guns to replace standard range anti-ship missiles (like Harpoon or NSM) and to complement anti-aircraft missiles in local defense. In the near future, long range anti-ship missiles will assume the strike and attack roles long held by fixed-wing manned naval aircraft. A design inspired by the Moskva-class could be equipped with 96 VLS cells – or more – that would allow for carrying a mix of at least 32 long range anti-ship missiles and various air defense missiles.

Naturally, the key point of choosing a helicopter carrier is to use helicopters. This proposed solution concentrates on replacing the platform’s original ASW helicopters with a mix of manned airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) heavy helicopters and vertical lift reconnaissance UAVs.

The hangar space would probably need to be divided between a flight deck level hangar for the larger, heavier helicopters and a lower hangar for smaller drones. This arrangement might limit the AEW&C helicopters to only four, but this would nevertheless equal the number of E2D Hawkeyes frequently embarked on a full-size aircraft carrier. Moreover, one should not forget the potential for tiltrotor manned aircraft for AEW&C missions, which would effect better range and operational time than helicopters. Projects like DARPA’s Tern promise compact reconnaissance UAVs that have the range of a fixed-wing UAV but can still take off and land like a helicopter.

The vessel’s strong armament and the vertical lift air wing would make it a self-dependent unit, harkening back to the reconnaissance-strike roots of early carrier-based aircraft. In this context, a vessel inspired by the Moskva-class helicopter carrier and upgraded with stealth lines seems to be a ready solution for distributed lethality and stand-off tactics.

Tactical Employment

A wartime task group would include two of the proposed helicopter carriers and at least 3 ASW frigates, which also could provide additional long range anti-ship missiles, extra naval guns, and organic ASW helicopters.

The areas where such task groups would be the most effective include waters of the South-West Pacific Ocean and the triangle of the Norwegian Sea, the Greenland Sea and the Barents Sea. These waters are key zones for global business and security during peacetime while also being characterized by great air- and land-based missile threat during conflict. A potential enemy has high anti-access/area denial (A2AD) capabilities in these areas, which makes traditional air-sea battle tactics too risky. The proposed helicopter cruiser task groups could execute distributed lethality tactics, as they would be less expensive and more numerous than the carrier task groups.

The main aim of the proposed task groups is to create their own sea denial capabilities, in other words, to prevent enemies’ activity in the circle of about 200 nautical mile (Nm) against the air targets and about 500 Nm against the surface targets from the task group. The air wing of the new Moskva-class should be able to provide long-range, over-the-horizon reconnaissance and closer early warning of both surface and air threats.

The AEW&C helicopters carried by the proposed task groups would allow the ships in the task group to turn off their ships’ radars and minimize their electro-magnetic signature. Because of their self-dependence, these ships could easily employ lone wolf tactics, for example sortieing out against enemy task groups. They could also be used for taking control of choke points, or they could prevent enemy forces from landing on allied islands – especially with submarine support.

Many assert that submarines are the right tool to operate near the enemy coast during hostilities – for example, within the first island chain. The problem, however, is that submarines remain vulnerable to enemy ASW forces. Deploying the proposed task group behind own submarines, in a supporting role, would allow the destruction of enemy ASW surface vessels before they could fulfill their mission. Naturally, in more favorable and less threatening circumstances the proposed helicopter cruisers could join a carrier strike group or support forward-deployed Marine Corps operations. Conversely, if full-size carriers are in high demand within a given theater, these vessels could perform presence operations elsewhere.

The new Moskva-class design provokes reflection about the Zumwalt-class destroyer. If we make the Zumwalt-class a bit bigger and a bit less high tech, we will get a vessel that would be very similar to the proposed helicopter carrier but probably much more cost effective and flexible. In the Cold War there was a plan to create a helicopter destroyer (DDH) as a modified Spruance-class destroyer. The DDH was believed not to cost much more to build than a standard Spruance-class destroyer in the condition of series production – as they say, “steel is cheap and air is free.” It is fair to assume that the cost of the helicopter cruiser in relation to a cruiser (or a big destroyer – the difference between these two types is diminishing) could be attractive today as well.

There is also another naval design close to the helicopter cruiser – a landing platform dock (LPD). Most LPDs have enough space and adequate designs for being equipped in AESA radars, missiles, MCGs, helicopters and UAVs. Naturally, a LPD design would need to be adapted for both speed and hull survivability of DDGs. However, it would be very important to remember that the proposed helicopter cruiser is not an arsenal ship. There must exist a balanced quantity of missiles per warship, adequate to the distributed lethality concept. If naval combat requires more missiles, navies should rather look for new concepts of external floating storage rather than concentrating great amounts of scarce and expensive weapons in a single hull – a valuable sitting duck.   

After WWII there were very few naval battles and very many non-war naval operations which favored vessels with maximal aircraft capability and a lot of cargo-like space. A helicopter cruiser would have these qualities in far greater measure than typical cruisers and destroyers. The key advantage of the proposed helicopter cruiser is the flight deck, which enables at least two helicopters to take off or land at the same time. It would be easy to replace the AEW&C helicopters with other platforms and cargo, supporting special forces, humanitarian assistance, mine countermeasures, ASW, and many other missions. The history of the Jeanne d’Arc helicopter cruiser proves this flexibility well.

A design evolved from the Moskva-class could provide high AAW and ASuW self-sufficiency as well as it could be a very flexible platform for many additional tasks. The key assumption of this concept is to consider the proposed vessel as an expendable destroyer/cruiser rather than a distributed carrier. This is why the term “sea control ship” has not been mentioned above – it is a sea denial ship. In the face of the great missile threat and unmanned revolution the air sea battle concept needs to evolve and incorporate new solutions. In spite of strong criticism, full size carriers still provide capabilities and inherent flexibility that other warships cannot match. By adding the proposed air wing to a DDG or CG, the US Navy might get an additional class of capital ships that could act in parallel to CVNs – making the whole fleet architecture both less vulnerable and more diversified.

Przemysław Ziemacki is a freelancer journalist and photographer from Poland. He currently writes for Polityka, one of the largest Polish weeklies. He previously worked for the local press and has also published in National Geographic Poland. He has a long-standing avocational interest in naval matters; this article is his first foreign publication on the subject.

Feature photo: A port beam view of the Soviet Moskva-class helicopter cruiser Leningrad underway. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense.