By Ben DiDonato
As the U.S. Navy moves into the unmanned age and implements Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), there is a need for small, lightly manned warships to streamline that transition and fill roles which require a human crew. Congress has expressed concerns about unmanned vessels on a number of fronts and highlighted the need for a class of ships to bridge the gap. The Naval Postgraduate School’s Lightly Manned Autonomous Combat Capability program (LMACC) has designed a warship to meet this need.
The need for these small, heavily armed warships has also been well established, and is based on extensive analysis and wargaming across the Navy’s innovation centers. These ships will provide distributed forward forces capable of conducting surface warfare and striking missile sites from within the weapons engagement zone of a hostile A2/AD system. They will be commanded by human tactical experts and operate in packs with supporting unmanned vessels, like the Sea Hunter MDUSV, to distribute capabilities and minimize the impact of combat losses.
Our intent with this article is to publicly lay out the engineering dimension of the LMACC program. Since the United States does not have a small warship to use as a baseline, it is necessary to first establish what our requirements should be based on our unique needs. Fortunately, this can be accomplished in a relatively straightforward manner by broadly analyzing how foreign ships are designed to meet their nation’s needs, and using that understanding to establish our own requirements. As such, we will start by examining the choices faced by other nations, use that to develop a core of minimum requirements for an American warship, examine its shortcomings when compared with other budget options, and finally discuss how to affordably expand on that to deliver a capability set the Navy will be happy with. Once we have established our requirements and overall configuration, we will conclude with a discussion of our approach to automation, manning, concepts of operations, future special mission variants, and current status.
(The scope of this article has been deliberately limited to the engineering side of the LMACC program. Our acquisition approach will be discussed in an upcoming issue of the Naval Engineers Journal. Fleet and budget integration was discussed in a previous article on USNI blog, “Beyond High-Low: The Lethal and Affordable Three-Tier Fleet.”)
Examination of Foreign Designs
Due to our relative lack of practical domestic experience in the field of small warship development, we will start with an examination of foreign designs to build a transferable understanding of their capabilities, limitations, and design tradeoffs. Since there are many ship classes used worldwide, it is impractical to discuss every example individually. We will instead discuss mission areas and compromises in generic terms and leave it to the reader to consider how specific foreign designs were built to meet their nation’s needs. Areas of design interest include anti-ship missiles, survivability, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and launch facilities. The first three subsections divide the discussion between large and small nations, while the final subsection is split by type of launch facility. Each subsection then concludes with a discussion of how this translates to the United States’ unique situation. This will then set us up for the subsequent discussion of the basic preliminary requirements for a generic small American warship.
Small warships are frequently given labels like “missile boat” or “corvette” based on their primary armament of anti-ship missiles with little further thought. However, not all missiles are created equal. The choice of missile is driven by the platform’s intended use.
Small nations (e.g. Norway) attempting to defend themselves on a limited budget typically prioritize lethality with a highly capable missile designed for sinking major warships. However, because they often face limitations in offboard sensors, strategic depth, and force structure to absorb combat losses, they tend to sacrifice range and networking capability to control missile cost and weight.
Large nations prioritizing coastal defense against a more powerful opponent (e.g. Russia and China’s A2/AD systems) tend to view their small warships as part of a larger system. These ships are intended as much to complicate enemy targeting and defensive formations as they are to sink ships. As a consequence of this, they are more likely to invest in range and networking since they can reasonably expect to take advantage of it, but may be willing to save money by arming these ships with less expensive, and therefore typically less lethal, weapons.
Due to the nature of the U.S. Navy’s highly networked, forward deployed forces, we cannot accept these compromises and must arm our small warships with highly lethal, long-range, networked weapons.
A major concern with all warships is survivability. One of the key distinguishing features of small warships is how they address this problem. Rather than rely on a large, expensive missile system to destroy threats at long range, these small warships instead rely primarily on avoiding attack and feature only limited point defense weapons. This is achieved through a combination of small size, signature reduction, electronic warfare, and tactics.
It is important to remember other nations are frequently focused primarily on pre-launch survivability rather than a counterattack based on the missiles’ signature. This lack of focus on post-launch survivability is generally based on the assumption that the cost ratio of the exchange will generally be in their favor even if they lose the ship. Another important consideration, especially for smaller nations, is that their ports are usually very vulnerable to a standoff strike, so surviving ships may not be able to rearm or refuel and are therefore effectively out of action even if they do survive. For large nations with sophisticated A2/AD systems, protecting these ships is usually primarily the responsibility of other platforms, allowing significant savings by reducing survivability-related costs.
Smaller nations usually invest more in survivability features and trade endurance for extremely high speed to improve their odds of getting into attack position before they are sunk. They also commonly employ tactics to make their ships difficult to track in peacetime by exploiting maritime geography and blending into commercial traffic to avoid a preemptive strike.
The United States can count on having a safe port to rearm somewhere, even if it requires withdrawing all the way to CONUS, so we would need to further emphasize evasion since these ships would have to persist within hostile A2/AD networks even after launching missiles. This means it would be essential for a small American warship to use a stealthy, networked missile capable of flying deceptive routes to mask the launch point, as well as the best electronic warfare equipment, passive sensors, and acoustic signature reduction we can afford. Other forms of signature reduction are an interesting question because there is a risk of standing out from civilian traffic if the warship’s signature is significantly different from those around it. After all, a Chinese maritime patrol aircraft could easily recognize that a “buoy” making an open-ocean transit is actually a small warship. On the flipside, we have no need for the high speed favored by many foreign nations, especially since blending in with slow-moving civilian traffic will be a critical aspect of survivability. Therefore, we should trade speed for range to control cost and project power from our generally safe but distant ports.
One final U.S.-specific feature which could greatly enhance survivability inside A2/AD networks, reduce range requirements, and reduce the logistical burden is the exclusion of gas turbines in favor of diesel engines. This will allow these ships to stop at any commercial port to take on diesel fuel, and possibly food, while further enhancing the illusion that they are small commercial vessels. With some imaginative leadership, this will provide virtually unlimited in-theater range and loiter time with minimal logistical support, simplifying our operations and complicating the situation for the enemy.
While many small warships include ASW capability, they are usually intended to operate as coastal area denial platforms rather than oceangoing escorts or sub-hunters. For nations worried about hostile submarines, this area denial provides essential protection to ports and other coastal facilities which would otherwise be extremely vulnerable. In contrast, performing the latter high-end missions requires the large aviation facilities and expensive sonars of a frigate or destroyer.
Thanks to our large nuclear-powered attack submarine fleet and the remoteness of hostile submarine forces, we don’t need a small surface ship to defend our ports from submarines, so this ASW equipment is generally best omitted. The U.S. only needs the ship to have a reasonable chance of surviving in a theater with hostile submarines, and this can be most economically provided by acoustic signature reduction and appropriate tactics. In fact, the active sonar systems used for area denial by other nations would be detrimental in American service since they let hostile submarines detect the ship from much further away.
Many small warships include launch facilities of some form for boats, helicopters, small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and underwater vehicles (UUV).
A boat launch facility is very important for a variety of maritime security operations and general utility tasks including allowing access to unimproved coastlines. Thanks to this utility and their modest space and weight impact, they are found on many small warships. It is also important to note that a boat launch facility can generally launch USVs of similar size if desired to perform a variety of functions including acting as offboard sensors and decoys.
While the utility of naval helicopters is well established, they are relatively uncommon on small warships. Adding full aviation facilities requires a major increase in ship size, crew, and cost. Even a simple helipad for vertical replenishment has a major impact on topside configuration. Furthermore, helicopters are relatively visible and can thus make it much easier for an adversary to distinguish the warship from civilian traffic.
A much more common way of providing aerial surveillance for small warships is small UAVs. Because they can easily be added to existing ships, they have become common additions to small military and coast guard vessels worldwide. These aircraft provide many of the benefits of a helicopter with a much lower signature and little to no design impact on the ship. Furthermore, considering their proliferation in the civil sector, launching a small UAV is no longer a recognizably military activity. It is reasonable to assume all future designs will at least consider the operation of hand-launched drones, and it is highly likely many will also integrate launch systems for larger assets as well.
While UUV launch facilities are currently relatively rare outside dedicated MCM platforms, the maturation of this technology makes it worthy of more general consideration. UUVs could perform a range of other missions including undersea search and interacting with undersea cables without the need to specialize the ship itself. Furthermore, the launch facilities could also be used to transport additional MCM UUVs for use by other ships. As such, it seems likely this capability will proliferate since the launch facilities aren’t especially large, although it is still too early to say for certain exactly how useful it will actually be.
For the U.S. Navy, the only truly critical launch capability is small UAVs to enable over-the-horizon surveillance and targeting. Our enduring presence requirement means we will almost certainly want some form of boat launch capability to support those missions. We may want UUV launch capability as well, but it likely does not meet the bar to be a minimum requirement.
Minimum Requirements for a Small American Warship
Based on the above discussion and a few common practices, the list below provides a reasonable set of approximate minimum requirements for any small American warship. Note that this is not our final design, but a simplified interpretation using current technology and standard design practices:
- Eight LRASMs
- Latest generation full-sized AN/SLQ-32 electronic warfare suite
- Standard decoy launchers
- Excellent optical sensor suite:
- Visible Distributed Aperture System (DAS)
- IR DAS
- Visible/IR camera turret
- Maximum affordable acoustic signature reduction
- Appropriate reduction of other signatures to blend into civilian traffic
- COTS navigation radar
- Low probability of detection/intercept datalinks
- 30-knot speed (approx.)
- 7500+ nautical mile range
- One 7m RHIB
- Small UAV storage and launch accommodations
- Traditional light gun armament
- One 30mm autocannon
- Two M2 Browning heavy machine guns
It has been assumed that the likely boat launch facility is included while the more tentative UUV launch facility has been omitted. The range was selected to allow the ship to sortie from one island chain to the next and back (e.g. Guam to the Philippines) on internal fuel, and it also makes it relatively easy to operate over even longer distances using extra fuel bladders and/or limited refueling. Speed is not exact since small changes wouldn’t have a major impact, and no attempt was made to identify a displacement or crew complement because it is not immediately relevant to this example.
While the above requirements are obviously distinct from any current design, they should be immediately recognizable as the rough outline for a fairly conventional small warship tailored to the needs of the United States Navy. More work would obviously need to be done to refine this into a finalized set of requirements, but it is close enough to analyze how this conventional design compares to other hypothetical budget priorities and show why we did not simply settle for this minimum configuration.
‘Adequate’ is Not Enough
In any discussion of hypothetical designs, it is critical to keep key alternatives and counterarguments in mind. In the case of small warships, the most relevant argument that might be presented is that aircraft can do the job better. This can take many forms of varying strength, but attacking a weaker form undermines the discussion. Thus, a hypothetical, purpose-built, bomber-like anti-ship aircraft will be considered here. The comparison with the aircraft described in this section will be used to demonstrate the shortcomings of the ‘adequate’ warship described above and set up a discussion of how to make it worthwhile.
This hypothetical aircraft would be a large, stealthy flying wing built using technology from the F-35. Using these electronics eliminates much of the cost of new development and eases maintenance by sharing logistics between this hypothetical anti-ship aircraft and the F-35. In addition, the new low-maintenance stealth coatings will eliminate the headaches of older designs like the B-2, and the design would be further simplified since its mission doesn’t require extreme stealth. It only needs to be able to attack hostile warships before they can detect it, which is not particularly challenging given the range of LRASM and the sensor performance inherited from the F-35. Thus, the cost should be relatively low.
For the sake of argument, it will be assumed this aircraft costs $300 million and carries 24 LRASMs, although better numbers may be possible. This compares cleanly with the small warship which would cost a little under $100 million and carry 8 LRASMs, so the cost per missile carried is approximately the same and we can focus on other performance parameters.
The ship has three key advantages: persistence, presence, and attritability. The first two stem from the obvious fact that a ship can loiter much longer than an aircraft, which makes it better for keeping weapons on-station in wartime or demonstrating American interest by performing a variety of low-end missions in peacetime. The third stems from the fact that we can afford three ships for the price of one aircraft, so an equal investment will provide more ships and losing one costs less, assuming the crew is recovered. While attritability is a benefit in a high-end war, the peacetime flexibility provided by the enhanced persistence and presence is less of a concern in the current geopolitical environment. Finally, this ship may be able to provide some amphibious lift for small USMC units operating under their Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concept, although its inability to provide meaningful fire support will limit its utility if an island is contested.
In contrast, the aircraft has numerous wartime advantages. The obvious speed advantage means the aircraft can respond to a developing situation and rearm much faster than ships. This further combines with its altitude to allow a single aircraft to survey a much wider area than the three ships can in spite of their persistence advantage. Furthermore, its combination of long detection range and stealthy airframe means the aircraft is more likely to see hostile warships before they see it, providing a major advantage over ships with respect to survivability and firing effectively first. Finally, thanks to its F-35 architecture, the aircraft will be compatible with a wide range of standard ordinance like the AGM-158 JASSM, AIM-120 AMRAAM, AGM-88 HARM, GBU-39 SDB, and so on, allowing it to perform other missions.
From this comparison, it is clear that those deciding which program to fund will not choose the ‘adequate’ small warship because other programs like the aircraft described above offer a greater return on investment. More capability is clearly needed to make the ship worthwhile.
Going From Viable to Worthwhile
The challenge with solving this problem is that it must be done without compromising the cost and size of these ships. The addition of desirable features led to the size and cost growth of LCS out of the original Streetfighter concept. Subsequent additions to fit into the traditional concept of a frigate with the FFG(X) program have produced a vessel with capabilities, and by extension costs, approaching that of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
To retain the advantages of a small warship and keep it from growing into another Burke, two fundamental options are available: enhanced launch/support facilities, and secondary armament reconfigurations.
This section will explain how the LMACC program addresses this problem and provide the full design details for our baseline configuration. We have made significant enhancements to our launch and support facilities to improve overall utility, and have detailed plans for providing sealift support to the USMC during distributed operations. For the secondary armament, we took advantage of the interactions between technologies to provide much greater lethality against smaller surface threats and to restore the ability to provide robust fire support for Marines ashore at comparable cost.
Launch and Support Facilities
Before diving into how this ship will integrate with the Marines’ EABO concept, we will briefly circle back to the previously discussed launch facilities. UUV launch facilities, while not essential, have been included to provide additional flexibility at low cost, and are designed to benefit from the stern launch ramp required to support EABO. Furthermore, thanks to the small crew and wide beam, we were also able to fit an 11m RHIB to provide additional utility and transport capacity. Helicopter accommodations on the other hand have a major design impact even for a relatively minimal landing pad, especially in terms of manning for maintenance and support, so it has been omitted in favor of a topside UAV locker.
While the Marines are correct to pursue dedicated transports to implement EABO, the surface combatant fleet can also provide limited sealift support. A DDG-51destroyer would have to provide this support on a not-to-interfere basis, but our ship will be an integral part of the mission. The normal wartime employment of these ships will see pairs sortie into the same contested littorals the Marines intend to operate in, so they will supplement the dedicated transport fleet by carrying light units and supplies. LMACC has two empty six-person cabins, plus four extra beds in the crew cabins, so a tactical pair can easily carry a Marine platoon between them with hot racking. These cabins will also provide space for detachments, and one will be equipped to serve as a brig in support of peacetime patrol and partnership missions.
The other half of providing sealift support is delivering the embarked Marines ashore. Features such as shallow draft, pumpjet propulsion, and COTS navigation sonars will allow these ships to get very close to shore to facilitate rapid transfer, possibly even including swimming. Readily accessible stowage spaces at the forward end of the launch bay support rapid transfer of equipment and support use of the inflatable Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC), while oversized lower-deck cargo bays provide ample storage space. Finally, small boat operations have been greatly enhanced by combining a fully enclosed bay with a stern launch ramp to facilitate rapid Marine deployment, especially in inclement weather or at night.
It should also be noted that the attributes which make it well-suited to supporting the Marines also make it well-suited to supporting Special Forces.
Rethinking the Secondary Armament
For secondary armament, we took the overall configuration back to its fundamental requirements: short-range small boat defense, long-range small boat defense, area land attack, precision land attack, and limited air defense. This allowed us to rethink our approach to those requirements and take advantage of the interactions between modern weapon systems to get better results than a traditional deck gun.
The key technology that enables our layout is the unassuming Javelin Launch Tray. This adds a Javelin missile launcher to a standard pintle mounted weapon, and allows a loader/gunner team to outperform a 30mm autocannon with greater range and comparable engagement rate at greatly reduced weight and installation cost. While this is a useful supplementary defense on existing ships, the large number of installations makes LMACC an excellent escort against small swarming threats and, more importantly, amply satisfies the short-range small boat defense requirement without a deck gun. This may seem less important at first glance since these types of threats are typically associated with Iran, but China has already developed a small USV to perform a similar mission, making this threat relevant to the high-end fight. Javelin also provides a limited anti-aircraft capability since it was designed to destroy helicopters as well as tanks.
Since there is no need for a traditional multi-million dollar deck gun, LMACC instead mounts a 105mm howitzer. The cased ammunition of this weapon makes it suitable for sea service, unlike the larger, separately-loaded 155mm version. As a traditionally towed artillery piece, it is a lightweight, low cost weapon ideally suited to land attack. This of course addresses longstanding concerns about naval gunfire, and is directly relevant to supporting the Marines.
These two weapons fill the short-range small boat defense, area land attack, and limited air defense requirements, leaving long-range small boat defense and precision land attack. These two remaining requirements are both addressed through the addition of Spike NLOS missiles. This allows small surface threats to be safely engaged from over the horizon, and allows armored vehicles and other point targets to be precisely eliminated as well. This complements the howitzer and Javelin to provide excellent anti-boat capabilities and robust fire support for Marines ashore.
The final weapon system is the Miniature Hit-To-Kill (MHTK) missile, which provides additional defense against low-end aerial threats like small UAVs and rockets. This further improves survivability, especially against swarming threats, and ensures the air defense capabilities of a deck gun are fully replicated.
The result of this is a much more flexible and lethal armament with relatively low installation weight and cost. This makes our armament unequivocally superior to the conventional autocannon configuration established previously without significant design growth, and even provides major advantages over a larger deck gun.
The LMACC Design
Now that we have walked through the requirements and logic of our design, we will take a moment to provide a design summary of our baseline configuration:
- Name: USS Shrike
- Type: Patrol Ship, Guided missile (PCG)
- Cost: $96.6 million
- Displacement: 600 tons
- Length: 214 feet
- Beam: 29 feet (waterline)
- Draft: 6.5 feet
- Range: 7500+ nautical miles
- Speed: 30 knots
- two steerable, reversible pumpjets with intake screen
- Integrated electric propulsion
- Diesel engines
- Crew: 15 (31 beds)
- Eight LRASMs
- Seven Javelin pintle mounts
- One Javelin launch tray per mount
- Ten stored missiles per mount
- Either a M2 Browning or Mk 47 AGL per mount
- 105mm howitzer
- 36 Spike NLOS missiles
- 64 Miniature Hit-To-Kill Missiles
- COMBATSS-21 combat management system
- Latest generation full-sized AN/SLQ-32 electronic warfare suite
- Standard decoy launchers
- Excellent optical sensor suite:
- Visible Distributed Aperture System (DAS)
- IR DAS
- Visible/IR camera turret
- COTS navigation sonar
- Maximum affordable acoustic signature reduction
- Appropriate reduction of other signatures to blend into civilian traffic
- COTS navigation radar
- L3Harris Falcon III® RF-7800W non-line of sight radio
- Multifunction Advanced Datalink (MADL)
- Aft launch bay
- One 11m RHIB
- One 11m long UUV slot (multiple UUV transportation possible)
- Bay door doubles as launch ramp
- Small topside UAV storage and launch accommodations
This maintains the previously established minimum requirements while integrating the additional features discussed.
Circling back to the comparison with the hypothetical anti-ship aircraft, these low cost enhancements have added numerous advantages over the ‘adequate’ design. In addition to the previous advantages of persistence, presence, and attritability, it can now operate UUVs, transport Marines, provide surface fire support, and destroy small boat swarms. This makes the ship a much more useful platform with the flexibility to adapt to an uncertain future, and gives procurement officials a good reason to select it over the aircraft. This clear utility and economic viability is the hallmark of well-thought-out requirements, and makes this design, in our opinion, viable for American service.
It should be remembered that this information is only applicable to the baseline configuration. The other variants add a ten-foot hull segment to add special mission capabilities and will have increased costs as a result.
Automation and Manning
From a systems perspective, the core concept for this ship is that it will be built like a large USV. Since the automated systems can notify the crew when action is needed, traditional watches are unnecessary and significant crew reductions are possible. Furthermore, since the ship’s systems will be designed to operate with minimal intervention as expected of a USV, there will, in theory, be very little need for maintenance. However, there will be people on hand to correct any problems that do occur, unlike a full USV. Thus, from a systems perspective, this will allow LMACC to bridge the gap to autonomy because it keeps people on board while operating like an autonomous vessel. As such, a fleet of these ships will allow us to safely build a large body of operational knowledge and inform our approach to future USVs and human-machine teaming.
We intend to man these ships with a 15-person crew lead by a Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI). These tactical experts will be ideally suited to lead their ships and attendant packs of unmanned vessels to victory in the most challenging circumstances, and take the initiative when cut off from external command. They will lay traps, strike targets ashore, and hunt down hostile warships while confounding the enemy’s ability to respond by vanishing into civilian traffic.
While our work indicates a crew of 15 is appropriate to manage the weapons, sensors, and drones, we are acutely aware of the uncertainty associated with this novel manning concept and the need to bring aboard additional personnel for special missions. As such, the ship has been designed with five, six-person cabins, plus a single cabin for the commanding officer, to provide ample berthing. Two of those cabins are notionally intended to be used for non-crew personnel such as Marines conducting EABO deployments, Coast Guard law enforcement detachments, or brig space. That leaves free beds for four more crewmembers with no meaningful impact, and the crew could be further enlarged by using one or both of those cabins if needed. Even in the worst-case scenario, 31 beds allow for three more crew than the existing Cyclone-class patrol ship, without hot racking. This effectively eliminates the risks associated with a smaller crew by allowing the ship to comfortably carry a traditional full complement if required.
Concepts of Operation
These ships are intended to fight forward to defend or retake island chains. The design emphasizes fighting in complex environments by disappearing into civilian traffic and littoral clutter. These ships will rely on passive sensors to complicate the enemy’s target identification problem and maximize the chance of achieving tactical surprise. The basic wartime operational unit will be a tactical pair, consisting of either two of the basic short-hull ships, or one basic design and one specialized variant. These pairs will work closely with unmanned vessels and Marines ashore to deny the area to the enemy, degrade hostile defenses, and clear the way for heavier units. They will also provide light sealift and logistics support to small, lightly equipped Marine units. Note that while we have done extensive work on tactics, deployment strategies, and cooperation with the existing leviathan navy, much of that material is not publicly releasable and will not be further discussed here. That said, much of this is built on the work of our colleague, the late Capt. Wayne Hughes, so members of the public interested in learning more are encouraged to read his work.
In peacetime, these ships will provide a cost effective asset for patrol, partnership, and deterrence missions. Since these ships are much cheaper than even frigates, they will be a better choice for countering piracy, smuggling, human trafficking, illegal fishing, and other illicit activity, allowing more expensive ships to focus on missions and training which fully exploit their capabilities. They will also enable more effective joint training with our smaller partners whose fleets are closely matched to these ships. This is particularly relevant in the South China Sea and Western Pacific where there is a need to carry foreign coast guard detachments for joint patrols and visit many small, primitive ports to reassure our friends and deter China. This will also substantially improve the readiness and performance of our fleet by reducing the workload on high-end assets, and offering early command billets to help develop young officers.
Finally, fleet integration is greatly simplified by the operational similarity of this PCG to the Cyclone-class PC. LMACC can serve as a drop-in replacement for the Cyclone at similar cost, so there is no operational risk. We could hand one of these ships to the fleet today and they’d be able to put it to work immediately by treating it like a Cyclone while the Surface Development Squadron refines the more advanced tactics developed by the Naval Postgraduate School. This makes it possible to jump immediately to serial production if desired, although building a prototype first would reduce risk at the cost of delaying its entry into service.
We have plans for several special mission variants. In keeping with the Navy’s historical tradition of naming small ships after birds, they have all been given bird names. The baseline LMACC variant, the Shrike, has already been discussed, and two additional variants have been fleshed out, the anti-aircraft Falcon and the anti-submarine Osprey, both of which add new capabilities with a ten-foot hull extension.
It is difficult to discuss the details of the Falcon’s operation publicly, but it adds a new sensor and a tactical-length Mk 41 VLS module to destroy hostile maritime patrol aircraft before they can distinguish it from civilian traffic. This will protect these ships from the single greatest threat to them, hostile aircraft, and substantially improve their ability to operate within hostile A2/AD systems.
The Osprey variant, on the other hand, is relatively simple and is built to maximize the impact of USV-mounted sensors. The primary addition is eight new angled launch cells for Tomahawk cruise missiles modified to carry a lightweight torpedo. This allows a very small number of these ships to greatly improve our ability to deter and defeat submarines, since they can quickly strike targets detected by offboard sensors from hundreds of miles away. Furthermore, since Tomahawk is a well-established weapon fielded across the fleet, this will allow us to add this capability across our surface combatant fleet, and provide a way to recycle obsolete Tomahawks when we inevitably move on to other weapons. Finally, this variant is rounded out by a hull-mounted passive sonar and four fixed torpedo tubes for self-defense, since it is expected to operate in areas with elevated submarine risk.
Two additional variants have been considered. The first is a drone mothership which adds a UUV handling module to field large numbers of UUVs, and may also modify the aft launch bay to carry two boats or USVs. The second is a coast guard variant which replaces most of the missiles with a dedicated sickbay, brig, and secure contraband storage to turn it into a bigger, more capable version of the Sentinel-class cutter, although these capabilities could also be added in a hull segment if an export customer wants to retain the missiles.
Our requirements and top-level engineering are complete. The only major task remaining is to finalize our hullform, and we can do that in parallel with shipyard and supplier selection. Almost all the technology we have selected is fielded. The remaining technologies are closely based on fielded systems, and the baseline Shrike will still be combat effective if delays force it to deploy before these technologies are ready. Since the Naval Postgraduate School is outside the traditional shipbuilding bureaucracy, we have significant flexibility in our path forward to production. We could do anything from traditional acquisition to building this under the umbrella of a research project outside all existing acquisition structures, as was done with TACPOD, so we can take whatever approach is most acceptable to Congress and the Navy.
Mr. DiDonato is a volunteer member of the NRP-funded LMACC team lead by Dr. Shelley Gallup. He originally created what would become the armament for LMACC’s baseline Shrike variant in collaboration with the Naval Postgraduate School in a prior role as a contract engineer for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. He has provided systems and mechanical engineering support to organizations across the defense industry from the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) to Spirit Aerosystems, working on projects for all branches of the armed forces.
Featured Image: LMACC design screenshot courtesy of Ben DiDonato
77 thoughts on “Lifting the Veil on the Lightly Manned Surface Combatant”
Excellent article – one of the better ones that I have read. In the DMO environment, the need to refuel and rearm will be paramount. You need to discuss how this will be accomplished in the follow-on article. I am also assuming that the availability rate for these new ships must be fairly high? Lastly, I would like to point out within the DMO environment, you will need more Lilly pad landing sites for your manned and unmanned vehicles for their survivability.
Thanks, and I’ll take a moment to answer your questions here.
Refueling: I briefly mentioned this at the end of the survivability section, but our intention is to be able to take advantage of civilian infrastructure. Every commercial port in the world has diesel fuel for sale, so we can refuel at any of them if leadership is on board with the idea. Beyond that, all the other refueling concepts apply, and our long range will help simplify this problem as well.
Rearming: This is more challenging since LRASM is a beast of a weapon. Ideally the handling equipment will be available either at sea or on EABO outposts to allow us to rearm forwards, but if not we can always pull back to an established port, probably Pearl Harbor or Guam. The rest of the ammunition is man-portable so we can haul it out like any other bulk item.
Availability: You are correct that we are designing for a high availability rate. Minimizing maintenance and breakdowns is a major design goal, and will provide high availability as well as reduced operating costs.
Landing sites: Our general goal is to stay at sea as much as possible while inside a hostile A2/AD system, but that only goes so far. That said, outside established bases and the previously mentioned commercial ports, you’re talking about EABO facilities and should really ask the Marines.
Thanks again, and if you want further clarification on something, feel free to ask.
Most of the employment of such craft will be in peacetime and not combat. What do these lightly manned ships do in the competitive, day to day operations that US Navy ships engage in for 99% of their careers? The initial LCS crew was too small and has expanded to nearly 90 in order to ensure proper operation, rest, and basic maintenance not done by shore-based staff. The PC-1 class needs 29 crew to operate even a modest fit of weapons, sensors, a boat and engineering/support. The lightly manned surface ship seems over-manned and equipped for combat and too lightly manned for effectively competitive zone operations that characterize most of what the deployed Navy does. How would the author respond to this critique? Thanks
The general plan is to bring aboard detachments to address specific needs. For example, if we were to send one of these ships to patrol the Gulf of Mexico, we would bring aboard a USCG law enforcement team to lead VBSS missions and operate much like the PC-1 class does today. These day to day patrol similarity applies more broadly, so you can get a good idea of routine operations in a given area by looking at what similarly sized naval and coast guard vessels currently do. As I noted in the article, our ships match or exceed the capabilities of the Cyclone at similar cost, so we can drop right into that mission set the moment we get ships in service.
Regarding manning concerns, that is something we have considered and planned for. As I noted in the article, this ship has 31 beds so we’ll have no trouble bringing aboard a larger crew if needed. Crew count will also likely change based on experience, and the detachment model also applies here because we may bring specialists aboard to improve the efficiency of the secondary weapons for certain missions.
One final note is that the detachment model is ideally suited to partnership building and grey zone competition. For example, we could bring aboard Indonesian coast guard detachments to combat illegal Chinese fishing in their waters. That joint force would be in an excellent position to push back against China because the Indonesian coast guard detachment provides full legal authority while the USN warship provides diplomatic cover and hard power to prevent the Chinese from forcing the issue. While we could certainly provide this combination with existing ships, they’re too expensive to do the job on a regular basis. LMACC on the other hand is small enough that we could afford to semi-permanently base a few in Indonesia to provide persistent presence and a sustained pushback against China.
Thanks for that response. 31 crew is still a fairly small number for independent operations on a ship the size and capability of the proposed LMACC. If LCS is challenged in operations with nearly 90 crew, how will LMACC do with a little more than a third of that? Granted, there is no flight deck so that will save on people, but even basic maintenance and operations of what is proposed in the LMACC will easily consume 31 crew. Navy culture plays a big role in what the service can and cannot support. It often appears on paper that small crews can operate Navy ships but in reality the culture of larger ships with bigger crews (like the DDG 51) is what comes to a smaller ship. Sailors are not used to being asked to multi-task and perform a variety of different roles needed on small ships unless the culture supports that. I found that as a PC-1 class sailor in trying to get big ship sailors to adapt to a small ship mentality. I did a MCM assignment where the problem was less acute, but still an issue. In a DDG-based surface navy there is little understanding of the workings of a small ship. LCS crew experience may change that but Navy leadership still is not yet there.
As a PC-1 class sailor, you’re ideally suited to answer many of these questions for yourself because I see this ship as our next-generation PC. If you look at the capability list you’ll note that I called out a PCG designation, and I also highlighted the ability to carry forward that legacy in the final paragraph of the CONOPS section. The challenges you highlight obviously won’t ever go away, but as you pointed out they are very familiar which makes them easier to swallow. Ideally this will also be addressed by a larger fleet of future PCGs to shift the overall culture of the Navy some, but the number of people it takes to run something like an aircraft carrier means they’ll always have a lot of cultural weight.
Circling back to crew count, 31 seems like it should be more than enough when compared to the Cyclone’s 28. Remember most of the extra displacement is dedicated to fuel to triple the range, not systems, and even without automation a number of design decisions like the use of electric propulsion will take a big bite out of maintenance requirements. Once you start automating ship functions like navigation and letting the computer tell you when things need to be maintained, the workload and crew count drops fast. Only experience can prove weather or not 15 is the right number, but I’m certain 31 is excessive.
I meant to bring this up too. The most basic missile boats to me are Houbei Type 22 with 12 men for 14 days and Skjold with 21 men for 8 days. Both are 168 man days endurance. I might suggest that when these ships are out with the fleet for a protracted period crew swap might be good. Given there is no helicopter operations I’d say the limit would be based on the capacity of a 7m RHIB at 18 or 11m at 26. I’d go for the 26 just because there isn’t much ina combat ship that’s ever been much lower. Smallest real sub crew at 21 and they only have one weapon system to worry about. Clearly automation will continue to improve things, but I don’t think you bet on it. Just be glad when it comes along and integrate it.
I tried to leave a reply to this comment but I’m not seeing it. At the risk of being redundant I think you are missing a key point. This is Human-Machine teaming via autonomy. The PC-1 was not built with any of that in its design. It did not exist then. We are taking the ability of Sea Hunter to take care of itself and do navigation and leaving tactics to the crew. Autonomy can not do tactics in a changing environment. The peacetime mission of these vessels and “pack” teaming with Sea Hunter version of totally unmanned vessels is deterrence. This is via knowledge that a first strike is possible against long range surface to surface missiles stationed ashore on on ersatz islands. The crew size is appropriate to the mission and ability to manage what are mostly automated weapons systems.
Embarked Security Forces to secure SPOD, anti piracy, VBSS, mother ship for riverines and SPECWAR operations
You’re using blue water mentality, not that that’s wrong, but as a brown water Sailor, these are great for mother ships, firepower and TOC for riverines, SWIC, SEALs and other special warfare operations.
However I will agree 200%, the Bluewater Navy needs the most attention, brown water can get by with 550 cord and zip ties!!
Wow, so much ground to cover. I think the size is about right now for a small manned platform. I keep landing around 206-225 feet.
– LRASM is the right ASM choice. Use the UAV to go find targets. I’m wanting something around a Northrop Grumman BAT or Arcturus Jump 20. Really, I’d prefer 8 ADL launch cells so the same ship can be outfitted between an anti ship, sub, or AAW mission more easily.
– 105mm. I sure would rather a ship have a turret system. General Dynamics has developed a LAV III turret with Denel’s 105mm. It uses separate charges but has an automated magazine.
– ASW Tomahawk. Yes! Not sure about the lightweight torpedo. I envision a TLAM-D as a loitering munition. Stick a MAD detector in it. Use the sub-munition concept except shoot sonobuoys one at a time and leave some as depth charge munitions.
– If keeping emissions down, why use Searam? Why not just an 11-21 RAM launcher and figure out how to target with the electro-optical system. Similar to the new IR pod for the F-15 hooked up to AIM-9X?
-Range and speed: I think this design still is a stretch. MUSV and Overlord seem to have the benchmark goals here. 4500@16 and 4500@19 with max speeds of 27 and 28 knots, each respectively.
Price (all in 2020 dollars): MUSV with just the ship is going to be at cheapest 30.8 mil a copy before they add the gear. Cyclone adjusted for inflation, 50m composite yachts, and global response cutter come in just under 50m and the last Fast response cutters come in at 65-70 million. The cheapest Ambassador III was 287mil and with program costs for the 4 was really 407 million, so that is definitely not the way to go. Good news is the B-21 won’t carry 24 LRASM and costs over 600 mil so I wouldn’t worry about beating it. Better comparison is a P-8 at between 187-231mil. My guess is we’d have a real winner at 165mil a copy (Around a Baynunah). Keep in mind Visby would be 312 and Skjold 225 in 2020 dollars.
Thanks for the great comment. I’ll hit your points in the same order you presented them in.
– Your thoughts on UAVs are good and certainly worth considering, as are several other options, but we have to remember that the relatively long service life of any ship means the UAV carried will almost certainly change at least once. Also, while UAV targeting is a possibility, the there is a risk the datalink could reveal the location of the ship so it may not be viable in a high-end fight. That said, the UAV’s peacetime advantages are enormous so it’ll be worth its weight in gold even if it never spots for weapons.
– ADL is a good system and a strong contender for the Osprey’s launch cells, but I’m not sure if it’s compatible with LRASM. I’m not comfortable going into detail on this because it could risk leaking proprietary data, but you can probably make some deductions from publicly released material, especially the VLS cutaway model.
– I understand where you’re coming from with wanting a turret for the howitzer, but you have to consider the cost/benefit equation here. That gun won’t be getting a lot of use, so I’m very reluctant to spend more money on it. The basic no-frills, all manual gun should cost around $200,000, but moving it into a turret would add at least a million to the price tag, probably more, and will also substantially increase maintenance requirements. That’s fine for a dedicated tube artillery platform like the LAV III self-propelled howitzer, but I don’t think it’s worth the cost for LMACC.
– That’s a very interesting idea for the ASW Tomahawk. I think the torpedo is still essential because that’s by far the best way to actually kill a sub, but replacing some of the fuel with a MAD could be a good idea for a future upgrade. That said, your idea as stated doesn’t really make sense because it’s far more practical to put those sensors on dedicated platforms, use them to cover the area, and then send in the Tomahawk after they’ve pinned the target down. That’s our engagement model in a nutshell, and it’s flexible enough to work with any sensor platform including traditional manned assets.
– You have a good point about SeaRAM’s emissions, but the fundamental question is reaction time. Getting positive target identification and a firing solution with purely optical sensors may take too long, especially since closing rate can be hard to determine for something coming right at you. We get around this by handing off the optical detection to SeaRAM for classification and prosecution. That lets SeaRAM remain on standby until it’s needed to avoid emitting while still giving us the advantages of its fire control radar during the actual engagement.
– Shelley and I have had extensive discussions on range, and 7,500 is a hard minimum only allowed by the possibility of adding additional fuel bladders to bring it up to the 10,000 we need to sortie from Hawaii to the Philippines and back without refueling. This actually drove a significant increase in displacement from the original 450 ton concept with the Cyclone’s 2500 nmi range I originally put together with Lockheed. That does leave concerns about the USVs, but they may be able to get the range up by dropping their cruising speed to 12 knots.
– Speed on the other hand was firmly settled early on in a conversation I had with the late Wayne Hughes. It offers the ideal compromise between the needs of the patrol and attack missions since it sits on the upper edge of patrol and lower edge of attack. It’s not much more than the USVs you pointed out, and significantly less than the Cyclone or foreign designs so I highly doubt that will be a problem.
– For cost, I am confident in my $96.6 million estimate. The coast guard version drops to around $80 million when we remove the SeaRAM and the AN/SLQ-32, making the actual difference between it and the cutter about $5 million plus optics (which the Coast Guard will love and may add to other ships). The reason we come in far below the other warships you mentioned is that we avoid the expense of military radars, sonars, high speed, extreme stealth, expensive guns, and small fleets, although filling the missile magazines will obviously cost more.
– Regarding the aircraft comparison, the key point is that that’s not a bomber, although the Air Force would undoubtedly disagree loudly if the Navy actually tried to build it. That’s actually a variant of a stealth tanker/utility aircraft concept I had a while back which was looking to be cost-competitive with Boeing’s airliner conversions. Naturally, that makes it fairly similar to the P-8 you mentioned, except it’ll be stealthy enough to not get shot down from hundreds of miles away.
That does it for this post, but since you added more in another comment I’ll fold that in here as well.
– I like your idea of doing crew swaps in the field. I’m not sure how that’ll work or if we’ll do it at sea or in a port, but it’s definitely worth considering for longer missions. That said, if we’re doing a short patrol like Bahrain to the Straights of Hormuz it probably just makes more sense to go home and swap crews every week or two since it’s right around the figurative corner.
– Regarding the boat, that’s an 11m RHIB so it’ll easily carry the whole crew and should be able to accommodate a detachment and ferry pilot as well.
I disagree with a lot of the ideas presented here, but there is one statement that immediately discredits everything else for me.
“We intend to man these ships with a 15-person crew lead by a Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI).”
WTIs are NOT the Navy’s sole tactical experts or even the source of all tactical excellence in the fleet.
SMWDC’s mission statement is to increase the lethality and tactical proficiency of the Surface Force across all domains. This is achieved through four lines of effort: advanced tactical training, doctrine and tactical guidance development, operational support, and capability assessments, experimentation, and future requirements.
WTIs are INSTRUCTORS and bring the latest tactical thinking to the fleet to train the WARFIGHTERS to win the high end fight. Embarked WTIs perform this role directly on the deck plates by filling their shipmates with the enthusiasm, confidence, and competence to not only fight and win but to continuously learn and innovate on the job at or above the pace of modern warfare.
WTIs are no more or less qualified to command or fight a warship in battle than any other Sailor. We could not do what we do without the insight and critical feedback of the Sailors who execute the mission every day.
This article and possibly the entire design concept displays an unfortunate lack of understanding of Navy culture and organization.
I agree with Casey. I personally spent alot of time and effort developing the requirements for the Burke Class Destroyers. Also spent time in OPNAV in the Surface Warface Office. In going through the Naval War College courses, one gains an insight into the effort required to understand ALL the things that must be considered to field an effective system. It appears to me that the same considerations discussed in this article are similar to those that launched the LCS class. (Note that the first 6 ships of the LCS class are soon to be retired, after 6 years in the fleet because of various deficiencies, including being useful in Fleet Ops.) Now because of the 20 years and much funding wasted, we are behind the world in developing a modern Frigate design. Please do not progress in this effort without having an independent group really have a chance to scrub the ideas presented in this article. There are dozens of “what if” questions that should be addressed. Take advantage of lessons learned, and other analysis addressing projections of future need
I’d be happy to do a deep dive on the hardware requirements with you. Please feel free to post any specific questions or concerns you have and I’ll be happy to address them. Just remember that I’m the hardware guy so I’ll be leaving the details of manning and culture to Shelley since that’s his area of expertise. I let him take the lead there and just made sure there’s plenty of room for a larger crew if things go wrong on that front like they did on LCS.
If this past week, or these many years has taught us anything, its that the navy needs to do something different in regards to its culture and organization. Plenty is still right, but making more useful ships or anything cheap, small, and useful is not in the current culture or organization.
In peacetime this is a deterrent. Knowledge that a first strike capability exists within range of adversary long range surface to surface missiles is needed. As for manning, you missed the point about autonomy. Sea Hunter is now fully able to go to sea and comply with COLREGS. LMACC is not overmanned when it comes to doing the thing humans do best–interpretation of context. No software can do that yet. This is why I have called this a bridge vessel. We are not going to put weapons on an autonomous vessel for some time to come. Autonomy can be applied to weapons systems, under supervision, e.g. LMACC. My thesis is that this supervision cannot be comms dependent. It needs to be onboard. You are also assuming a kind of combat that is not the mission of this vessel. Its mission is to get missiles into first island chain and become a potential first strike capability. It is not roaming the seas looking for targets in a traditional SAG V SAG engagement.
A land-based M119 105mm gun has a crew of 7. Now a naval pedestal mount probably doesn’t need that many, but would still need at least 3-5.
Another option for something more “off the shelf” are the 120mm Nemo and AMOS turreted mortars. They are shorter range (10km) but are in service worldwide and being considered for the US Army. They are working on ammunition that might extend the range to 20km.
Any turreted system adds significant cost to the ship, usually at least a million dollars. That just doesn’t make financial sense in this application since the howitzer is a low priority weapon on this ship.
As for the mortars specifically, the range reduction is a serious problem. The danger of bringing ships close to shore to provide fire support is a longstanding concern even with the longer range 5″ gun, so I’m very reluctant to accept that compromise when there are 105mm howitzers capable of reaching out past 30km.
Finally, the intention is to have the crew move to whatever system needs to be operated at any given time. Thus, we would have no dedicated gunners, but would pull people when we need to use the gun. That’ll probably result in a less efficient gun crew, but there’s always the option of bringing aboard specialists if a mission calls for heavy use of the gun.
I think you’ll have a seriously hard time training such a small crew on the proper care and operation of so many manual weapon systems. M119, HMG/AGL, javelin, Spike NLOS, even SeaRAM, which while largely automatic in operation requires maintenance. Each of these systems has dedicated specialists in other contexts. Now you can probably cross train someone on, say, HMG and Javelin, in addition to their “day job”, but I’m skeptical you could do effectively cross train much more than that.
Consider replacing a few of those HMG mounts with a stabilized Mk49 ROSAM remote mount. These can be constant monitored and manned from a console on the bridge. The Typhoon RWS on which it’s based can add a pair of Spike LR missiles. Not sure how much it would take to integrate Javelin. The Army’s M153 Protector RWS used on Strykers has an option to add a Javelin.
I’m not sure how your Javelin Launcher Tray works, but another cheaper option would just be to carry a number of Javelin CLUs and just have roving teams move between Javelin magazines as needed. That way you don’t need to pay for 7 CLUs. You just buy one per team.
While your training concerns are valid, most of these systems aren’t that hard to use. I’ve personally “shot” the Javelin trainer after a couple minutes of “training”, and I watched dozens of assorted office staff successfully engage targets after the same briefing with no failures at all. I don’t foresee any problems getting the entire crew through basic training on all the systems, and thanks to the joys of simulated engagements and limited recreational activities, I expect most of the crew will become missile experts on their own initiative.
The guns are obviously a different story, but training for the M2/AGL is very well established and I’m willing to accept limited efficiency on the howitzer so I don’t see this being a huge problem.
The real concern is maintenance. Most of these weapons won’t need much looking after and the ship’s systems are designed to operate without maintenance for extended periods, but the ocean is an unforgiving environment. I’m fairly confident the crew will be able to keep things running with a combination of training, manuals, and service calls to experts at home, but part of being a bridge to autonomy is finding out what doesn’t work the way we thought it would and overcoming unpleasant surprises.
Now for the launch tray vs. RWS discussion.
First, the launch tray is a very simple, rugged system that costs much less than a standard CLU and needs almost no maintenance. Besides the lump of metal that is the tray, there’s an electronics box, a set of folding handles, an AN/PAS-13B Thermal Weapon Sight, a battery, and a couple cables. Also, thanks to its open layout, the two-person team can engage targets significantly faster than a standard CLU by having the gunner acquire the next target while the loader reloads the tray instead of needing to put the CLU on the ground to reload.
In contrast, a RWS needs a lot more maintenance and is much more expensive, so it hits us hard in both vital categories. To make things even worse, RWSs are typically built on the assumption that reloading is a non-combat operation, so Javelin would either be one-shot or have a terrible rate of fire with the gunner at a computer and the loader on deck. Those systems are fantastic for armored vehicles and will be essential whenever we start building armed USVs, but they’re the wrong choice in this application.
Also, regarding constant monitoring, remember that we have a dual-band DAS which will do a far better job at that since it’s constantly looking in all directions in both the visible and IR bands. It’s an easy system to overlook, just like on the F-35, but it’ll have a massive impact on day-to-day operations.
I’d be concerned about relying on a mediocre howitzer crew. Missing with an HMG at sea usually just involves hitting the ocean. Missing with a howitzer while providing NGFS could cause friendly casualties or undesirable collateral damage. There’s a lot more that goes into indirect fires.
Also, how do you manage calls for fire? In an artillery unit, calls for fire and adjustments come down through a Fire Direction Center or some other higher level element. Would these be additional crew? Additional equipment?
In a perfect world, the Marines or soldiers on the ground would be able to treat these NGFS fires the same way, through the same processes and communications channels, they do with any other indirect fires.
I suppose you could break it down into direct fire vs indirect fire. Maybe train the core crew in direct fire with the 105mm, to support its use against naval targets. For indirect fire, augment with a dedicated artillery crew that brings aboard the FDC functionality. Just a thought.
Anyway, it would be interesting to see how you break out the roles for each crew member, to know how many hats they need to wear.
You’re critiques of RWS are on the mark, but a benefit is increased ability of a small bridge crew to rapidly switch tasks. If, for example, you’ve dedicated 3-5 crew to man the 105mm, and 1 on the NLOS console, you may not have any to spare if there’s a popup small boat threat. With a couple RWSes, any of the bridge crew could walk a few steps to the RWS console, or even better, hit a button to switch a multi-function console to RWS mode, and engage the target. All without leaving the bridge.
Also, RWSes usually have superior sights to open mounds and have stabilization, making it easier to achieve longer range hits. You may be able to train a multi-purpose crewmember in the use of an HMG, perhaps even its maintenance, but that does not guarantee they’ll be an expert shot with it.
Sorry for the delayed reply B.Smitty, I was trying to work with the staff to resolve the bug preventing me from replying to your post, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a quick fix so I’m replying to mine as a workaround.
Anyways, moving on the the content and starting with the howitzer crew, the shortcoming there is going to have more to do with rate of fire than accuracy (although ship motion will make it less accurate than a gun on dry land). My general concept regarding accuracy is to have some kind of display on the gun to provide gunlaying data calculated by the ship’s computer. Ideally the whole fires process will be fully automated so the people on the ground enter the target coordinates, that data is transmitted to the ship, its computer calculates the firing solution, and the crew can engage without needing to take time to talk over the radio. More people and manual relays can be inserted into this process if needed (e.g. when supporting a SEAL Team), and someone on the bridge could always enter a target manually, but electronically passing it from the front will be faster, more reliable, and largely transparent to the people on the other end.
Also, remember the plan is to use Spike NLOS in situations where accuracy is critical. It can easily accomplish feats like flying through a specific window which no artillery piece can match, so it’ll always be the weapon of choice when there’s a serious risk of friendly or civilian casualties.
Regarding direct fire, I wasn’t actually planning on doing much with that beyond warning shots. Missiles just do the job better in most cases so I don’t see the need for more than cursory “these are the iron sights” training.
Moving on to crew roles, that’s really Shelley’s department, but the ideal situation is for everyone to be able to do everything so the crew can flexibly respond to anything.
As for the popup threat scenario, there are two possible responses if there’s no one on deck and no time to get them there, Spike NLOS and SeaRAM. Both of them are operated from those terminals and capable of engaging surface targets, so they meet the criteria you laid out.
Finally, regarding gun accuracy, I’m not especially worried about that. Javelin has superb long range accuracy and is effective at very short range, so if the crew aren’t the most accurate with the HMG it’s not the end of the world. I’m not comfortable diving into the performance of Javelin because that can easily cross into proprietary territory, but there’s lots of public domain praise about its performance you can look up and I have absolutely no doubt about its capabilities here. That said, if you look up thermal images of ships/boats at sea, you should get a good idea of what Javelin’s seeker is working with and why I’m so confident in it here.
Might be worthwhile to run this idea past some artillery experts. There are likely some steps that can’t be significantly automated, such as setting fuzes and cutting charges. Also, there are numerous procedures and protocols for different situations that might be difficult for a part time crew to master.
Another thing to consider is how do you coordinate multiple vessels into a battery- or battalion-equivalent fires unit. We don’t usually fire just one howitzer at a target.
On accuracy, with the advent of Precision Guidance Kit fuzes, we can compensate for some degree of systemic inaccuracy.
On direct fire, in any major Chinese near seas scenario, it may be more useful than you’d think. The Chinese could “flood the zone” with tens of thousands of fishing vessels, to confuse our targeting and ISR, and act as a distributed network of sensors. Your ship would be ideally suited to sort through this cruft. Having an inexpensive, direct-fire munition capable of damaging or sinking an offending vessel would allow us to save our expensive munitions for more dangerous targets.
Over on the NavWeaps forum, a while back, I started a thread called, “The case for an Intermediate Caliber Gun (ICG)?”
In it, I argued for the development of a 105mm automated mount that’d be lighter and cheaper than the 127mm Mk45, for use on small combatants like yours. I’m still not entirely sold on the idea, due to the cost, but I came at it with an overlapping set of goals to yours. Obviously it would be significantly more expensive and have greater ship impacts than your open mount, but it would be more flexible, capable and have lower manning. I included a super-subjective matrix comparing the ICG to other options.
I assumed it would be broadly similar to the old French Compact 100mm or Russian A-190 mount, but using existing 105mm projectiles (propellant & casing was TBD, perhaps derived from the 105mm tank gun round). The Russians put the A-190 mount on their 500t Buyan-class corvette.
On Javelin, I agree. Here’s a master’s thesis on the topic.
SEA JAVELIN: AN ANALYSIS OF NAVAL FORCE
I agree getting artillery experts involved will be critical, especially people involved with C-130 gunships. I know they do quite a bit of pre-flight prep like packing charges and possibly fusing their shells to simplify the process when in the air, so I’m sure they could help us work out ways to simplify the process here. We can probably also cut out some of those procedures to simplify training, but I don’t want to get out ahead of them and speculate on what to cut so I’ll leave this in generic terms.
As for battery-style coordination, that’s certainly an option in larger operations and would presumably be done by squadron unless there was a need for another division scheme. That said, our tactics revolve around dispersed two-ship elements which makes this discussion largely academic since we’ll be well below battery-equivalent strength even with multiple units and thus presumably firing all available guns at the same target.
Regarding precision guidance kits, those are certainly an option, but you have to have a realistic appreciation for their cost. If you strap a guidance package and propulsion system on a projectile, it becomes a gun-launched missile, not a shell, and brings in all the cost and complexity associated with that. LRLAP is probably the best example of this since it was capable of some amazing things, but it was canceled because at the end of the day, you pay for what you get.
Moving on to the Chinese fishing boat swarms, you definitely have a point there, but I think you underestimate the infrastructure behind Javelin. More than 45,000 missiles have been built to date with current production standing at 2,100 missiles per year. Granted quite a few missiles have been expended with more than 5,000 combat shots plus training, test launches, and exports, but our stockpile is still massive and we have the ability to rapidly replenish them in wartime. Combine that with other weapons, especially mines, and I think Javelin does provide the capacity to deal with this.
Connecting this with your NavWeaps thread, I think you’re overestimating the lethality of guns against ships. If you look at WWII, it took a lot of work to sink ships with even massed 5″ gunfire, so I seriously question the ability of any modern ship to sink anything substantial with just gunfire. Smaller boats are a different story, and you can probably finish a damaged ship off with a gun, but I think the best you can really hope for in most circumstances is a mission kill. At the end of the day, there’s a very good reason the Iowas used 16″ guns to sink ships and we need to keep that in mind when assessing what modern guns can do.
Furthermore, I think you’re overly optimistic about the performance of guns against modern missiles. The maneuvers they perform make them virtually impossible to hit with unguided rounds until it’s too late. Gun-launched missiles could be viable, but given the costs and challenges involved there I personally think a traditional missile launcher like SeaRAM is a better option. The real air-related utility of guns is against low-end targets like drones where they provide a cheaper per-shot option than our MHTK missiles, but naval guns are fairly expensive in their own right and lasers are starting to enter that space
Anyways, with all that said, your 105mm turret does sound like a decent option in general assuming it only goes down one deck, and the Russians seem to agree considering the way they use their virtually identical 100mm installations. That said, when compared to LMACC’s blend of weapons (howitzer, Javelin, Spike NLOS, and MHTK; I exclude SeaRAM because you’d presumably keep that), it is much more expensive, significantly heavier, eats a lot more internal volume, requires more maintenance, and is much less capable against small boats or ground vehicles in exchange for much better area land attack performance. In spite of that, I can see the Navy deciding to expand future versions to replace just the pedestal mount with a turret like that if they want to pay for more naval gunfire, but it would require significant work to fit it in around the forward machinery and engine room, and might be less competitive than a small railgun by the time they look at it.
One final note in reference to the document your thread linked to is that this falls very clearly into what Anthony G Williams describes as the American school of thought. Our gun is very much viewed as a shore bombardment weapon and optimized for that role, especially in terms of minimizing cost, and I think you can see that in my reluctance to push it into other missions even if it could probably perform them just fine. I’m sure the crews will come up with creative uses for it just like they always do, but as an engineer I’m keeping my eye firmly on the land attack mission and price tag.
PGKs only cost around $7,000 each. The Army is buying 15-20,000 per year. Last I read, Increment 3 will adapt it for the 105mm.
On Chinese fishing boats, this is what I’m concerned about
You’re right that it takes quite a bit to sink a warship, but these relatively small commercial vessels don’t have the same degree of damage tolerance. A few rounds penetrating at the waterline should reasonably do the trick.
Another possibility I’ve seen suggested is to use APFSDS armored piercing tank gun rounds to penetrate the hull and go after engines. I’m not sure how feasible this is, but if it worked, it might permit disabling shots against even larger commercial vessels.
For anti-missile, I assumed a guided munition like the 76mm DART or the larger HVP would be developed. Another expense for sure. A RAM missile costs around $1M each. SeaRAM carries 11 ready rounds. If you shoot two missiles at each AShM, then you’ll be Winchester after 5 1/2 inbounds. This might be enough for this sized ship, where passive measures are its primary defense. A DART-like munitions could be had for perhaps an order of magnitude or two less? Perhaps if MHTK doesn’t work out, this munition could be used to kill UAVs as well.
Finally, on shore bombardment, another benefit of an automated mount is rate of fire. An M119 gun crew can manage around 8 rpm for the first 3 minutes. An automated turret like the A190 or Compact can fire 80 rounds per minute. So in effect, the gun turret can come close to the equivalent fires from TWO M119 gun batteries (6 guns each). The Compact is limited to 6rnd bursts, but the A190 appears to be able to fire significantly longer, as shown here firing 28 rounds.
So your two-ship element could deliver a burst of fires equivalent to an entire 105mm BATTALION. Now that’s NSFS! 🙂
Of course this gun turret doesn’t exist, and would cost hundreds of millions to bring into service. So is it worth the effort? Debatable. I see upside, but given limited defense dollars, perhaps it’s not the best use of money.
Javelins could be used to shoot at these vessels, but their tandem HEAT warhead isn’t really designed for this. It will certainly make a mess of a small boat, but it’s not designed to make large holes in metal bulkheads. Spike NLOS has more capability here, with its selection of warheads and ability to update target points in flight. So this would probably be the go-to munition on your vessel for damaging fishing vessels.
You need to be realistic with your comparisons. In the case of the PGK, it’s comparable to the similarly priced JDAM. Now, that capability could certainly be useful, but it’s still an order of magnitude more expensive than conventional shells and you won’t just be firing one and the cost of the strike will probably be similar to the cost of a missile. That’s probably worth paying for in a close support mission, but if you’re striking a coastal target or forces spotted from the air unguided shells make more sense.
Similarly, if you design a guidance package for a 76mm (or 57mm or 105mm) round that’s competitive with SeaRAM, you should assume the price to engage an incoming missile will be similar for both weapons. Granted the number of stored engagements could be higher, but you have to remember you’ll need other ammunition types for other missions so that may not be achieved in practice. Now, if you limit it to lower performance targets at shorter range it becomes cheaper since it’s comparable to MHTK as you noted, but installing the gun is still a problem.
Before I move on from the gun, I want to confirm that we’re on the same page regarding a turret for shore bombardment. The extra rate of fire would be a big plus, but the cost to get there is a huge problem.
Circling back to the fishing boats, I don’t anticipate problems for either missile and expect selection to be context-specific. Spike NLOS is big enough to comfortably tear them apart as you noted, while Javelin’s top attack profile should let it efficiently sweep the decks with its new frag sleeve and punch a hole in the bottom with its shaped charge. Note that the distance defocusing of a shaped charge actually works in Javelin’s favor here because it should result in a larger hole since the soft steel (or possibly aluminum) will have serious trouble resisting it. Also, I’m leaning towards putting Mk 19 automatic grenade launchers on the midships pintle mounts (it’s interchangeable with the Browning) so it should be easy enough to finish off a damaged boat with a few grenades near the waterline if needed.
As for APFSDS, that’s an interesting idea (although obviously not relevant here). I’m not especially familiar with the layout of commercial ships so I can’t assess feasibility, but I see a lot of potential problems that might make it impossible as opposed to just a difficult shot to judge. For LMACC, the answer to a belligerent cargo ship is obviously to board it if possible (this may involve shooting up the deck and superstructure first), and if not a LRASM or eight will certainly put a cargo ship down (and make the taxpayers cry).
On PGK: I think with only two guns in your two-ship element, you may not have a choice but to use PGKs or other guided munitions to provide effective fires out to the ranges you envision (20-30km). If you look at page 9 of this PDF,
At 20km, an expected CEP for an unguided projectile is 125m.
At 30km, that grows to 267m.
50% of rounds will fall within those radii at those ranges. So at 16rnds/min for two guns, 8 rpm fall within those radii. You may not be able to deal with any targets effectively at those ranges with any degree of certainty. Essentially it will just be harassing fire.
On PGK Cost: If you are willing to fire a $100k+ Spike NLOS through a window to kill a sniper, or a $70k Javelin to kill a small boat, then firing multiple $7k munitions starts to sound fairly reasonable.
On the Mk19 vs fishing vessels: There have been a couple instance recently where we attempted to sink fishing vessels with autocannons, which have similar effects to the Mk19 (but are more accurate). Take the case of the USCGC Anacapa attempting to sink the derelict Ryou-Un Maru. It fired a hundred or more 25mm rounds at it, but ended up having to use its water cannon to flood it. The small 25mm rounds just didn’t make big enough holes to let water in fast enough. 40mm HEDP grenades won’t be any better in this regard.
On the automated gun mount: We agree that it’d have significant cost and design implications. It started out as one of those “engineering itches” in my head that needed to be scratched. There really is no movement in this direction, so I don’t see it happening, unless we start to see conflicts that actually require significant, frequent, low-level NGFS.
That’s all fair about the PGK, although the value of harassing fire should not be underestimated. The PDF you linked also brings up an interesting point about the PGK reducing maximum range, so we probably don’t want to eliminate conventional rounds entirely.
Also, its “PGK Missions slide” indirectly highlights the fact that no conventional artillery system is particularly well suited to engaging entrenched positions and other point targets, PGK or no, so you have to be realistic with your goals. We also have Spike NLOS for those precision strike missions, and we can employ both weapons simultaneously to get the best of both worlds. A good example of how this could work is laying down artillery around a bunker to keep enemy infantry from taking advantage of its suppressing fire, and then silencing the bunker by flying a Spike NLOS missile through its firing port.
Moving on to the Mk 19, it’s hard to say how accurate that comparison is because the two are very different weapons and there are a dizzying variety of rounds available for both. That said, many autocannon shells are designed to penetrate and then explode inside the target which is great for tearing up and disabling a ship, but since the damage largely bypasses the hull would it have serious trouble sinking it. In contrast, most 40mm grenades are point detonating (the exceptions are generally airburst and special effects rounds) so they should rip a bigger hole in the hull than penetrating autocannon shells. Also, while I can’t find reliable open-source fill numbers, the 40mm grenade should carry a much larger bursting charge since volume grows with the cube of diameter and the lower launch stresses of the grenade should allow for thinner shell walls. Also, remember that the context is finishing a damaged target because I fully expect this to be a followup used only if the initial missile strike failed to sink the ship and we don’t want to board to rig a scuttling charge (probably using a few 105mm shells). With all that said, I do think we should test these rounds against a suitable target to determine the best choice for sinking a ship and consider developing a new diving round if we find none of them are suitable for the role.
Finally, I get exactly where you’re coming from on the gun and agree fully with your conclusion. I’d go a little further and say that I think an improvised gun platform (probably Army Paladins/MLRS parked on an existing hull) is the more likely short-term response to that situation, and that we’re getting closer to bringing railguns into service so I’d expect the money to go towards them rather than a 105mm turret.
On 40mm grenades,
The two most common rounds are HE and HEDP. HEDP is probably the one you’d have to use here, however it’ll only make a dime-sized hole in the target.
Here’s an image of what the two rounds do to a concrete wall,
Note the HE round just scored the surface.
This is what a 105mm HEP round does to a double-reinforced concrete wall.
Now granted, this is concrete and not bulkhead steel, and we probably wouldn’t use a HEP round, but I bet the difference in size would be similarly substantial.
Yeah, there are definitely concerns with the grenades. We’d obviously need some testing to see what they do to bulkhead steel because tearing is possible, especially with a line of impacts, but this is a very real concern. The good news is that should be a relatively easy test to run since there are tons of launchers and rounds around, and it shouldn’t be too hard to find a representative target since there are small ships being scrapped all the time.
Of course, as you noted the howitzer will obviously make a much bigger hole, but it may be difficult to bring to bear since I’m not sure what its lowest possible angle of fire will be.
How are you going to have a crew of 15 operating 6 or 7 exposed pedestal javelins? Is everyone going up on deck to man the javelins when combat is anticipated? For real, a Garbage barge is far more concealable, and you could hide a 155 howitzer or an MLRS under the bags of trash. Sailors and marines could jump out Oscar the Grouch style with javelins and stingers to offer the same or better capability encased in galvanised steel armor! This idea stinks.
The navy has to stop making everything so multi-mission, or else it is just going to just wind up with a Burke, or some little crapy ship — that is still too valuable to lose. If it wants a cheap ASW platform to seal off a channel buy an AIP submarine or a couple P8s they are more survivable than a warship. If it wants to launch missiles at an enemy battle fleet, shoot them from airplanes which can arrive at a launch position faster and re-arm much much faster. If it wants to board and search vessels, fix up some of the old USCG cutters. if it wants a radar pickett, build a picket ship or sub. I can’t think of a single realistic mission that your proposed ship would perform better than some other platform at far less cost. Indeed, that’s the whole problem with navy thinking nowadays. Your exercise starts with buying a ship and trying to justify it. Start thinking instead about how to perform some useful mission most effectively.
Regarding Javelin manning, that is heavily dependent on context. In most situations, a single mount is perfectly adequate since it outperforms a 30mm autocannon so manning will be trivial. Even in more challenging scenarios, the threat will most likely be confined to a single arc so manning four mounts provides full firepower to that side while leaving plenty of free crew to man Spike NLOS and monitor drones. That said, the crew could be overextended if we anticipate a situation where we want all mounts manned (e.g. war with Iran), so in that case we would temporarily bring aboard USMC Javelin teams to provide the manpower to operate all the mounts since we have plenty of extra beds for them.
As for the rest of it, I suggest rereading the sections “‘Adequate’ is Not Enough” through “The LMACC Design” because I do a deep dive on most of your arguments there with a special focus on the aircraft comparison you brought up since that is the true competition in our primary mission role. Also note that while we are capable of a number of secondary tasks, we made certain they do not seriously conflict with our primary anti-ship mission and, most critically, do not meaningfully increase the price of the ship. That said, you do bring up a few other alternatives so I’ll go ahead and address them here.
Artillery Barge: This is certainly a viable concept to cheaply provide additional fire support, but it is an inherently ad-hock solution and only viable extremely limited situations. I can absolutely see something like this being done if the need arises in wartime, but there’s no way the Navy would invest in it during peacetime. Also, while Javelins and Stingers are viable defensive weapons, the limitations of the platform prevent them from being used offensively since it would be extremely vulnerable to anti-ship missiles. This is something you’d park between a pair of Burkes to pound a beach, not something you use on its own, but the Iowa reactivation prove the utility of a dedicated artillery platform. My goal with the howitzer and Spike NLOS isn’t to provide a massive, dedicated artillery battery, but to get more weapons to sea on the margins so the Navy gains the ability to mass artillery when needed now that the Iowas are gone forever and the Zumwalts are unable to replace them.
ASW: I agree that it does not make sense to use this platform for ASW. I explicitly ruled out the kind of platform you’re arguing against early in this paper and omitted any form of ASW equipment from the baseline configuration. Even the ASW variant isn’t a traditional anti-sub deterrent like you’re thinking of, but a platform to carry Tomahawk-delivered ASW torpedoes to hit targets detected by other platforms from hundreds of miles away. This will allow a single ship to potentially close multiple chokepoints simultaneously in conjunction with a network of unmanned sensors, and it may even do this while hiding somewhere completely inaccessible to subs like a river.
Patrol Boat: While your initial suggestion of using old USCG hulls doesn’t quite work due to our habit of giving them away, selling them off, or running them into the ground, the Mark VI patrol boat is basically the Navy’s answer to exactly this question and provides the answer to your idea. It is absolutely capable of providing a cheap patrol asset for those VBSS missions and is getting the job done just fine there, but the Navy ended production in 2017 after buying just 12 boats to focus on the high-end fight. Thus, any new patrol platform must be relevant to the high-end fight as you can see with our design.
Radar Picket: This is a job for a USV, and our plan is to team with those assets. Note that we specifically omitted a major radar to avoid detection because it is relatively easy to locate and destroy an active radar, so this isn’t relevant to the discussion.
As for your general comment about missions, that is very well established. The Naval Postgraduate School and Naval War College have both been talking about the need for a small, heavily armed ship for decades. If you want more information on that, look up the work of the late Wayne Hughes, author of the book “Fleet Tactics”, who wrote extensively on this topic. The real innovation here is what we accomplished by carefully juggling secondary missions, capabilities, and systems to provide as much extra utility as possible without significantly affecting cost. That said, if you want missions, here’s the list of missions directly performed by the baseline variant:
offensive anti-boat sweeps
defensive anti-boat fleet screen
special operations support
naval gunfire support
search and rescue
UUV operation (including anti-cable and anti-seabed sensor operations)
limited undersea mapping
light HADR support
Note that this omits the extra missions performed by the variants as well as the broader impact on the fleet from early command billets and reduced workload for larger assets.
I’m skeptical of relying too much on MHTK for much until it proves itself. Even then it may only be useful against UAVs and Rocket/Artillery/Mortar munitions. It’s unclear if it would have any capability against cruise missiles.
Also, it will almost certainly require a radar. Optical targeting won’t provide range and velocity information necessary for engagements.
The Army is looking at some small AESA arrays that might be adaptable for naval use. KuRFS is a relatively small K band system meant for counter UAV/RAM. RADA’s MHR family of fixed S-band radars is being used on the Stryker air defense variant.
Instead of SeaRAM, you could consider adding a mini-VLS like ExLS that could carry combinations of missiles like Hellfire, a SAM like CAMM or VL-RAM, and maybe a mini cruise missile. Perhaps adapt MALD with a seeker and warhead.
VLS systems are relatively cheap and require less maintenance than trainable systems like SeaRAM.
MHTK is very much an auxiliary weapon system intended to shore up defenses against those threats. If it works against cruise missiles that’s great, but its primary job is to protect against UAV swarm attacks like the Russians have been dealing with in Syria because that’s only going to proliferate in the coming decades. We may include a small radar like the ones you mentioned which we can cue with our optics, but the missile does have an active seeker head so a pure optical track should be sufficient, especially if we have time to combine it with a laser rangefinder to collect full targeting data as will be the case against those quadcopters.
As for SeaRAM vs. a small VLS like ExLS or the Mk 56, there are a lot of reasons for that decision. Most significantly, a VLS is a much more substantial system which would take a big bite out of our limited internal volume and penetrate both decks since there’s no way it’s fitting in the existing missile bay. It also creates performance concerns with our optical cuing approach since it can’t start its engagement procedure until we make our radiate/don’t radiate decision unlike SeaRAM which can begin engagement without radiating and potentially even fire based on optical data alone. Our optical-first approach to improve survivability through EMCON also limits our ability to take advantage of the longer range of those larger missiles and raises concerns about minimum range. Another important point is fleet commonality since SeaRAM is already in service with the USN with a large inventory of missiles, making it a much better choice from that perspective, especially compared to ExLS which is focused on foreign missiles. Finally, the cost difference isn’t all that significant since we currently have no fire control radar at all besides the one on the SeaRAM mount, so adding that to support VLS would eat most of the savings from removing SeaRAM, especially if we went with fixed arrays to minimize moving parts. Now, with all that said, you are very right that SeaRAM does require more maintenance which is a serious concern in this application, but at the end of the day it’s designed for exactly this kind of last-ditch defensive engagement so it’s a better choice than a VLS.
Also, regarding mini cruise missiles, Spike NLOS partially fills that role today and gives us a slot to drop in future versions in the future so it doesn’t make sense to add a VLS for that.
What sort of seakeeping capabilities does this ship have for blue water operations?
While I can’t give an exact answer since our hullform is not yet finalized, seakeeping is a high priority. When compared to the Cyclone, the reduced speed and length to beam ratio both work in our favor so seakeeping should be significantly better and more comparable to a Sentinel-class cutter. That said, our topside configuration should tolerate large waves better since the crew have no need to go on deck and the stealth shaping on the front of the superstructure should help direct waves away from the upper deck so we may be able to survive even more severe weather.
The authors have certainly put in a yeoman’s effort here in designing a new class of lightly manned surface combatants, but ultimately their analysis fails on two levels:
1) They have created a Swiss Army Knife version of a small surface combatant that tries to do too many things, and the inevitable result will be that the cost will balloon far above their $96M estimate, and the vessels will not do anything well. They started out with a desire to have a lightly manned surface combatant mainly to fire LRASMs – which is a missile with a range of at least 30 times the sensor range of the vessel, meaning it cannot function without the aircraft – like F-35s, or some larger version of arsenal aircraft that they describe here – that the vessel is supposedly an alternative to. And the vessel still is not survivable in any combat scenario – it is a “shoot once and die” platyform.
2) The real solution here – not the solution in search of a problem, but the real solution to a real problem – is aircraft. Aircraft are vastly more efficient in doing all the things that this LMACC is supposed to be capable of, but isn’t really very good at. Aircraft have vastly better and far longer sensor ranges; F-35s and the like are entirely survivable, not “shoot once and die”. You don’t need an arsenal aircraft – we already have these F-35s in the fleet today, and in the Air Force fleet as well, and they are fully capable at hunting down and mission killing enemy surface fleets, and providing far better ground combat support than any ship ever could provide, and they are entirely survivable, and far cheaper. A F-35B now costs less than $100M, requires an air crew of just one pilot/mission manager. An F-35B can carry 4 LRASM or JSM, while a F-35A (with a still lower cost of less than $80M) or C can deploy up to 6 JSM (with a still very long range of 300 nm).
The reloadability of the F-35 is vastly better than any ship could ever hope to be. A F-35 can reach out up to 700 nm combat radius, or unlimited with aerial refueling, conduct a mission releasing ordinance as described, fly back home to refuel and reload,and conduct two or three such missions per day .. while any ship, once it empties its magazines, faces a return trip to reload an reenter the fight measured in weeks, not hours.
Ultimately, the US Navy does not need small coastal warships for surface warfare or for amphibious operations because we have vast oceans separating us from likely enemies. Our allies, who are in close proximity with conceivable enemies like PRC, Russia, Iran, or North Korea, certainly need such vessels.
The US Navy is far better off with its existing fleet of LCS, along with PC-1 patrols (and their eventual replacements), plus the next generation of smaller amphibs now in design (more or less today’s equivalent of the WW Two era LST), and of course our aviation amphibs loaded with F-35Bs and big deck carriers loaded with F-35Cs, as well as USMC, USN, and USAF land based F-35s. We’ll get far more bang for the buck with that fleet, and it already exists today.
The real purpose of the USV or a lightly manned surface combatant is not to serve as the fleet’s Swiss Army Knife – it is to provide long range picket sensors, ASW assets. Fantasizing about them as badass all in one weapons platforms, beyond whatever is needed for self defense or ASW, is just going to lead to vast wastes of military dollars and manpower.
I agree the best mission a small combatant could add to is ASW, but the aircraft issue is they are still tied to only so many fixed points. Aircraft are a hub and spoke network vs the need for a full web of independent nodes with no spokes. Yes, the small combatant needs to be large enough to use a good class 3 UAV that can provide useful target data. A shoot and scoot fast ferry design could be reloading 840nm away in 24 hours with a heavier loadout than aircraft. It would build a separate fast supply chain to arm the fight. I think your fighter load out is a bit optimistic. 4 LRASM on an super hornet will force it to take some shots as it exceeds the take back capacity. Plus, what of self defense? Also, 2021 flyaway cost for a 35B is 121.5mil.
Before I launch into this, there’s one very important thing I need to bring forward. You mentioned a PC replacement, and that’s part of what LMACC is. Keep that in mind along with the fact that the future Large Surface Combatant will almost certainly wind up being even more expensive than CG(X) so we’ll be buying a lot less of them and need to make up fleet numbers elsewhere. If you want a detailed mathematical breakdown of what that looks like, follow the link in the description to my previous article on fleet composition where I show how these small warships allow us to meet our fleet size needs and our need for those high-end surface combatants without breaking the budget.
With that said, I’m going to build on James Milliken’s post since he already addressed a few of your points like fighter missile capacity.
1A) Regarding multimission capability, we were careful to operate on the margins there. This ship may not be a great amphibious warship, but those capabilities do not in any way compromise its ability to act as an offensive missile platform so it will be a great networked shooter.
1B) There’s quite a bit of analysis behind that price tag, and it passed the sniff test when I compared the coast guard variant to the real numbers for the similar Sentinel-class. The real key is ditching the radar most warships carry because that gets expensive fast and is just a “shoot here” sign against serious opposition.
1C) As we clearly described, the primary tactic is to use USVs as remote spotters to find targets for the ship to strike, and failing that we’ll use passive sensors like the electronic warfare suite to detect without being detected. Also, a critical advantage of that range is that it allows the crew to fly their missiles around the target and hit it from another direction to mask the launch point rather than launch a direct attack the enemy can follow to the ship. This is critical for survivability because it makes it extremely difficult for the enemy to pick us out from civilian traffic even after we launch our stealthy missiles, and is the reason no other fielded missile is suitable for our needs.
2A) While the F-35 is an excellent platform, its operational range is limited and we won’t be able to get a carrier or suitable bases into useful range until after we’ve degraded the enemy’s A2/AD network. That initial opening phase is when LMACC will shine because it can sneak in under that umbrella to start taking the A2/AD network apart from the inside and create room for a carrier to bring F-35s to bear.
2B) Ground combat support is more than just dropping bombs. Both the ship and aircraft have similar capabilities as far as precision munitions go, but the ship’s howitzer can perform area and suppressing attacks most aircraft have difficulty performing. Of course, the real difference is the fact that infantry can easily get on and off a ship which is obviously impossible for tactical aircraft like the F-35. Throw in the fact that a ship can loiter offshore for days or weeks at a time, and the overall advantage is obvious.
2C) Building on James Milliken’s point about aircraft payload, the loadouts you describe for the F-35 require the use of external weapons which compromises their stealth and thus survivability. Against a real threat you’re limited to a pair of JSMs at most, and that’s assuming the US buys them at all.
Moving into your unsorted points, you seem to be under the impression that these ships will be used for homeland defense. That is very much not the case. They have a very long range and excellent seakeeping to allow them to project power overseas and operate in areas with limited infrastructure.
Finally, you seem to have missed the paragraph where I discussed ASW because I explained in detail why these types of ships cannot perform traditional ASW missions in a useful way. Rather than restate my arguments here, I’ll simply suggest you reread that section.
Overall, I think that this was a well thought out article that touches on many issues associated with DMO and the Navy’s preference for large, multimission platforms. That said, I have some points for clarification or thought:
1. LMACC is a great “build a little, test a lot” platform for the Navy to perfect CONOPs and engineering for unmanned vessels. It could even evolve into an optionally manned platform which removes the crew for certain types of missions. I also appreciate the thought put into operations other than war which can have a big “show the flag” input.
2. Your focus on passive survivability is useful. Do you also consider thermal signature? Some missile boats will emit exhaust gases after mixing with seawater. Additionally, you mention acoustic signature, do you see a deceptive sound-emission system as an option to improve survivability? Does the pumpjet propulsion included for close-in operations have a negative impact to your acoustic signature?
3. You mention not having a vertical replenishment helipad due to space constraints, but larger open areas like a ship’s focsle could be used to drop off loads of food or weaponry.
4. You mention having AN/SLQ-32. Would you want a version with an electronic attack option? This could result in outing the ship as an American warship which runs counter to the “blend in” idea.
5. I see a ship-based DAS that needs a high level of automation (due to low crew size) costing a significant amount in R&D, how do you see this cost risk being managed? Will this be blended into the COMBATSS-21 CMS?
6. You note that there’s not a designated hull yet. Can you discuss which ones you are considering? Have you partnered with private industry to work towards feasibility studies?
7. What is the basis for approaching land attack and small boat defense as different problems requiring different solutions? You should consider consolidating missile requirements into a single multi-purpose weapon (useful against small boats, helicopters, and ground targets) in a single launcher, potentially similar to the launcher on South Korea’s PKX-B. There seem to be a lot of multimode small-rocket/missile conversions or new build systems that could be packed into one or two launchers. I understand the drive to reduce cost, but weapon system consolidation could do that and improve logistics support.
8. You address land attack with a (presumably) un-stabilized deck gun which will drastically reduce accuracy. Increased cost associated with a stabilized turret could meet accuracy requirements to make this weapon more useful.
9. I would recommend identifying a rank along with a qualification (LT qualified WTI vice just WTI) for the ship’s commanding officer.
10. I would recommend sticking with ASROC’s vice Tomahawk missiles. By the time a Tomahawk reaches the submarine datum, the potential location of the submarine will be far enough away to negate the torpedo’s effective range.
11. You touch on these ship’s operating in small groups, how will they communicate with each other without drawing attention? Possibly nonvisible laser communications?
Again, good article, looking forward to a reply!
Thanks, I’m glad you like it. You have lots of great thoughts and questions here, so I’ll just work my way down your neatly organized list.
1. I published a blog post about this on USNI a while back, but my general view of optional manning is that we’re moving towards a world where that distinction blurs out of existence. The quick example is recommissioning and automating old ships to bulk up the fleet in wartime, so you’re obviously correct that I see this as an ideal platform to experiment with these concepts.
2. Thermal signature management is obviously an important factor to consider, but like RCS we have to be conscious of the need to blend into civilian traffic so we don’t want to go too far here. On the acoustic side, we’ll have to look into the cost of technologies like active cancellation, but my guess is it’ll be a bridge too far. That said, pumpjets do reduce the noise put into the water and our electric drive makes the ship a lot quieter so I think we’ll be ok on this front.
3. That’s certainly an option, as is dropping it in the water and reeling it in through the boat bay.
4. Yes, electronic attack is critical, especially for missile defense since a high-power jamming beam will obviously make the small ship extremely hard for missiles to hit. As for the more general question of how this interacts with EMCON, that’s diving into the highly classified world of electronic warfare so it can’t be discussed here.
5. The nice thing about the DAS is that most of the work is already done. That technology is already fielded on the F-35, so this is a question of adaptation, not new development.
6. We’re going for a clean-sheet design to get a hull optimized for our needs. The fact of the matter is the hull is the cheapest part of a warship and has an enormous impact on the rest of the ship, so it’s generally a good place to spend a bit of extra money. That investment will generally result in greater savings elsewhere by minimizing design conflicts and provide better performance, especially since we have the unusual need for regular trans-oceanic voyages.
7. The key point I want to highlight here is that I fundamentally wrote this from a requirements standpoint. Your question fundamentally flows from that decomposition back to requirements before I get back into systems. Spike NLOS can fulfill all those missions to an extent, but it has some limitations other weapons are required to fill. Most notably, it has a significant minimum range which is covered by Javelin and the howitzer will always be cheaper for suppression missions. Also, LRASM and RAM obviously provide much greater surface strike and air defense capability respectively, but they’re largely reserved for missions that require their capabilities.
8. There’s no need. Spike NLOS can fly through a specific window at 25km so it’ll always outperform a gun when precision is required. Where the gun comes into play is area targets, suppressing fire, suspected positions, or warning shots, and in those cases accuracy isn’t as valuable. Sure we could make it more accurate, but it’ll add a fair amount of cost for relatively little return so I don’t think its worthwhile. Besides, if we change our minds later, we can always cut it into future blocks since I expect presence requirements to translate into an enormous production run.
9. I’d assume the ships will be commanded by a lieutenant commander like a Cyclone, but a lieutenant is also possible given the reduced crew size.
10. Range is the critical factor here. Remember, the goal is to have unmanned platforms detect the target and then engage it with weapons from the ship which should be standing off a significant distance to support multiple drones. That necessitates much longer range than ASROC’s 22 km range, and Tomahawk is the best way to get it. Now, I agree that we probably won’t need or be able to fully use the thousand mile range of Tomahawk, but it’s the best platform for carrying the torpedo and networking allows us to update the drop point in flight so we can absolutely hit targets far outside ASROC range.
11. We have two primary communications systems. The first is the F-35’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) for stealthy line-of-sight communications, and that naturally also allows us to receive targeting data from F-35s. The second is L3Harris’ Falcon III® RF-7800W (HF) which transmits straight up to bounce a signal off the ionosphere and achieve over-the-horizon communications while masking the transmission’s origin point. Beyond that we obviously have the usual satcom and standard marine radio, but that’s mostly for peacetime operations.
Thanks again for the long, thoughtful comment!
Whenever someone gets this precise in the low level details of a conceptual design that is years and many changes from actual service, I worry about all the high level ideas being missed.
We should be establishing bounds in speed, operating draft, range, and SWAP-C for systems and crew spaces; based on realistic requirements and pacing threats, but not sweat the small stuff.
If the goal is to imagine in greater detail, build out from representative engine machinery (not many options, actually), remote weapon stations flexible enough to handle likely guns and missiles (COTS options exist), flight/boat facilities for examplar systems, and allow some flexibility in crew.
The biggest errors to avoid, as brought to you by the LCS program, are dictating design requirements without validating them, and committing now to tight tolerances where success depends on equipment and CONOPS which don’t exist yet. Rather than spend all the effort on a specific design which won’t survive contact with reality because, worry about the big ideas so you know which tradeoffs to make in operationalizing the concept.
Like if you want to move a container around a ship, how much do containers weigh instead of what dimensions they encompass.
The key point to remember is that there’s a long legacy of analysis behind these small, heavily armed warships. The best known form is Streetfighter, the conceptual predecessor to LCS, but it was just one of many. We’re looking to take this design to production, and between the increased flexibility over previous iterations and high-level interest in these kinds of ships, we think that will happen.
Also, the engines are far down in the order of operations. You start from capabilities and systems, iterate there until you have a winner, and then wrap a hull and powerplant around it at the end of the process. If you want to prove this to yourself, go take a look at the website of a large diesel engine manufacturer like Caterpillar and see the variety for yourself.
An actual naval analyst would know better. At the size/output suitable for warships at high speed, there aren’t that many options. Furthermore, you can pop the hood on a car out tractor, but on a ship the engines are a component you are generally stuck with for the life of the vessel, so choose well and make sure the engineering plant works!
If you want to move a design to production, find a reliable existing powertrain to get desired speed for your size of hull, and then spend the rest of your effort designing the bridge and operational spaces, and plotting out how the ship will sail day to day and fight. Be rigorous and honest about how much space and weight you are reserving for each weapon system, but don’t sweat details. Weapons fit will change from prototype to production, and be altered over the life of the ship, but your engines won’t.
I’m an engineer, not an analyst. That means that rather than being limited to what has been done, I can look at what I need, look at systems on the market, and figure out exactly how to put this together. I’m not willing to publish the details since the final selection will have to go through competitive bidding and our exact power requirements won’t be locked down until we finalize the hullform, but I have identified a powerplant that could meet our needs and used that to size the engine rooms.
Why does the Navy continue to re-invent the flat tire?
No experience with small warships?
Arm the USCG national security cutter and there’s your small warship.
But nooooooooo, the Navy has to provide career building for the officer cadre and more money for the defense industry – which will employ the retired Naval officers who re-invented the flat tire BADLY.
That would be a frigate, and thus part of what Shelley has dubbed our “leviathan navy”. I wasn’t involved in the FFG(X) selection, but it’s widely believed the National Security Cutter was the basis for HII’s entry so it’s reasonable to assume the winning FREMM design is simply better.
While we certainly need that frigate and I expect it to be a valuable part of the fleet for decades to come, it’s really not comparable to LMACC. Where the frigate performs a variety of escort missions, we’re exclusively focused on offensive missions and far better suited to providing presence since the Navy can buy a squadron of these ships for the price of a frigate.
As for no experience with small warships, the last time we built something like this was the 1970’s so that experience is long dead. The closest we have these days are the virtually unarmed Cyclones and the much larger LCS, and the Coast Guard obviously isn’t the place to look for a ship killer.
Just don’t buy a hull with engines heading out of production like Ambassador III did. Aside from range, what’s the ships endurance for food and stores? I know LCS has had a tough time getting endurance up to 21 days to begin with and are absolutely upgrading to deal with the expanded crews.
Well, the good news for the first part is that I’m planning on a long construction program which will preclude those kinds of mistakes. We may be looking to fund a single hull to start, but I think everyone will be happy to build more once they enter service since we always need more ships and this is a great way to build up the fleet.
As for endurance, that will obviously depend on the number of people on board and how much cargo capacity is dedicated to other tasks, but our mission profile requires long endurance so a month is the hard minimum with two or more likely under most circumstances.
brilliant article and analysis. You should be very proud of this thought provoking, clear and sensible analysis.
This ship is supposed to be a next-generation surface combatant, but relies substantially on manually served guns; an 1850s solution for a 2050s concept. If the 105mm howitzer and the pintle mounts aren’t worth putting in automated turrets that can be controlled from the bridge, they probably aren’t worth putting on the ship at all.
Here’s an idea to chew on: a combined bridge/CIC, with conning, navigation, and engineering consoles at front, windows and walking room all the way around, and sensor/weapon stations in the middle. I envision two banks of three CIC consoles, probably set down a couple steps, so the OOD can see everything on the bridge from anywhere on the perimeter walk.
Peacetime watch would be 4 on the bridge: OOW, conn, nav, and engineering, and that four could cover lookout duties in most cases. The remainder of a watch section would be a rovers to physically check on the engines and other spaces. Total watch section would be 6 to 8, allowing a 3- or even 4-section watch in a crew of 30 or less.
Full GQ would add six operators in the CIC and probably other lookouts/radio talkers, tripling the bridge crew to about dozen, but that dozen would be able to fight the entire ship from a central location, with all other GQ stations devoted to damage control.
For details in the ship’s design, look at how you’ll get multiple uses out of as much tactical gear as possible. Set light guns lower on deck or low on the superstructure, but mount targeting sensor balls up high and operate them independently, using the EO/IR+ranging capabilities for nav fixes, intel collection, and even non-RF communication with similarly configured vessels.
Beautifully, if you can get the integrated bridge/CIC worked out in both technical and procedural terms, the rest of the ship is flexible. You are still practically limited in options for things like engineering plants, but you can scale up or down in size and capabilities based on the broader fleet mission and funding realities. Much better to build out from a control concept than build inward from detailed selections on weaponry.
That’s not a bad concept for the bridge layout, although final decisions will be made by our human interface experts and ideally tested with mockups. That said, our plan is to abandon the traditional watch structure entirely in favor of automated systems alerting crew when they’re needed. That will allow a smaller crew to safely operate the ship by providing a flexible response to any situations that arise. This mission concept was the core tenant of Shelley’s initial human/machine teaming work and is what lets us cut the crew in half when compared to a traditional arrangement like the one you’re discussing.
Circling back to the weapons, there are two very different reasons for those decisions. The Javelin pintle mount is manned because that’s the most efficient option. You cannot reload a RWS anywhere near as fast as the pintle mount, and doing so requires someone on deck awkwardly coordinating with the gunner down below which doesn’t solve the problem anyways. Throw in the extra cost and maintenance of an RWS, and the decision isn’t even close.
As for the Howitzer, that’s almost entirely down to cost. The Navy appears uninterested in filling the need for naval gunfire support these days, and the LMACC team is primarily looking to deliver missiles here so we also don’t want to invest a lot of money (and maintenance) in the deck gun. Thus, the howitzer lets us fill that need at essentially no cost, and it also gives us a great way to fire warning shots on the routine patrols the ship will spend most of its time doing.
Finally, it sounds like we’re on more or less the same page regarding the optics. The only minor difference is it sounds like you have unsurprisingly not put as much thought into what the DAS lets the ship do as we have, but that just makes everything you’re thinking of work better.
The US Navy of 2020, or even 2030, will not buy a ship that doesn’t have allowance for a continuous bridge watch. Alerting sensors won’t be an acceptable substitute for a good watchstander. You can plan for the reduction and eventual elimination of the standing watch, but don’t bet your design on an unmanned bridge. My bridge/watch concept could probably function with fewer consoles and watchstanders, but I figure a ship can use spare workstations and empty racks a lot better than the other way around.
As you accuse other people of not putting thought into things, everything about your ship’s notional weapons are either concepts that wiser naval architects chose to skip, or that have been long since abandoned. An FGM-148 Javelin could have slightly longer range than a Mk 46 30mm cannon, but the gun mount has 400rds available and sends them to max range in about 5 seconds, while a Javelin will only go about 1000yds in the same time. In close it might not matter, but at range the Javelin isn’t near as effective and much more expensive to miss with, both in dollars and in your limited magazine size.
The Javelin was designed for a very specific purpose–killing tanks with an infantry-portable package–but aren’t a great choice if you aren’t killing tanks and weight is less of an issue. The same goes for your howitzer. Unless you invest in a power rammer or other loading assist, you’re looking at a gun that takes 5 or so crew but only gives a sustained fire rate of 3rpm, and PM would be miserable if it’s exposed on deck. In terms of utility vice hassle, you’re better off leaving that on the pier than taking it with you.
Last, a DAS isn’t magic; it’s a bunch of little cameras that are advantageous because they can cover 360 degrees, not because any of them is as good. If you want to shoot something, you want a dedicated sensor optimized for fire control, which is going to be a rotating EO/IR ball because you can’t afford a DAS that good. You can have both if cost permits, but don’t try to make a DAS something it isn’t.
I don’t have hands-on experience with most of the equipment we’re talking about, but I have spent years studying what armies, navies, and air forces put on board their platforms and why. They’re not necessarily right and you’re not necessarily wrong, but I can’t think of anyone who’s put their money behind ideas like yours.
First, Shelley is the one handling crew workload, not me. If you want a detailed discussion about that, you should reply to his comments and discuss it with him. I made sure the ship can accept a traditional crew to mitigate that risk since I agree the Navy will want a backup plan, but the primary plan remains autonomous systems managing the ship and notifying the crew when they’re needed until he says otherwise or Congress makes it a condition of funding.
Moving on, Javelin is unambiguously superior to a 30mm autocannon. The data to support its effectiveness only came to light after its flexibility was demonstrated in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while the pintle mount is a very new innovation, Javelin is already in service as an anti-boat defensive weapon. You also seem to have a severely limited understanding of Javelin’s capabilities, but the short version is that it has proven itself extremely effective against everything from boats to snipers with exceptional reliability across thousands of combat shots.
To provide a detailed comparison between the two, we’ll look at the operational differences. The 30mm autocannon needs to fire a burst, wait for them to reach the target, wait for the splashes to clear, do a damage assessment, probably repeat that process at least once to get a kill (especially at long range where many rounds will miss), and only then can it begin searching for a new target. In contrast, Javelin is fire and forget with far greater lethality than a few 30mm rounds, so the target is functionally dead the moment the trigger is pulled and the gunner can immediately begin searching for a new target while the loader readies the next missile, although the longer loading time means the total engagement rate will be similar. The total stored kills is probably also similar since the autocannon will need to fire quite a few rounds per target, and Javelin missiles can easily be carried from the opposite side mount if the immediate stockpile is depleted while the autocannon is fully out of action once its ready rounds are expended. Also, Javelin’s extra range is a major advantage in these kinds of swarm defense scenarios because it helps keep enemies from getting into range of your own ship.
As for the Howitzer, I’m perfectly aware of its limitations. I selected it because it allows naval gunfire support at almost no cost, and 105mm artillery like this has been extensively proven over more than a century so there’s no doubt it can deliver. Yes more advanced mountings would offer greater rate of fire, but in American service the only ships with greater naval gunfire capability are the cruisers and destroyers which are generally too expensive to risk in this role. If you have a better option I’m all ears, but unless the procurement and maintenance costs are on par with the Howitzer I can virtually guarantee the admiralty will prefer the cheaper howitzer.
As for the DAS, my point there was simple. It can receive optical communications transmitted by lasers added to the EO/IR turrets per your previous suggestion and makes that work better since there’s no need for a dedicated receiver and solves some sensor ball tasking issues.
For the last statement, I’m really not sure what you’re talking about with putting money behind ideas like this. This is certainly a new configuration and the interactions between the systems give novel advantages, but most of these technologies are already fielded one way or another.
I think the flaw in the crew concepts is their boldness, not the analysis, so I don’t see value in sweating the details beyond noting that Uncle Sam will say no. I dwell on the weapons fit because it has major flaws in details and a severe lack of imagination.
If you spend the money for a proper gun mount, you can do a lot of things that you can’t do with a Javelin.
– With EO/IR, rangefinder, and a good ballistics computer, even a single shot should never miss a non-maneuvering target. With some modeling of likely maneuvers, a short burst covers all the places a target could move to during the time of flight.
– If you add a radar, your gun can shoot through any weather or smokescreen. You could generate the smoke yourself if you want the advantage.
– This level of sensors and computer allows vastly more automation than your Javelin teams. At the far extreme, one sailor could turn the key to “special auto” and watch the gun mount autonomously destroy every target in its area. And your crew size supports a few autocannons far better than several two-man Javelin teams.
– Even in a more controlled semi-auto mode, a gun could engage multiple targets while waiting on the initial results.
– Warning shots. Firing across the bow is difficult with a pricey missile, and they’re slow. Even if your warning is to toast a boat, you want the effect to come faster.
Regarding the howitzer, you get what you pay for.
– 3 rounds per minute won’t be acceptable unless you plan to perform gunfire support with a cluster of ships.
– 120mm mortar turrets will put more effects on target, albeit at reduced range.
– 57mm or 76mm rapid-fire gun will put a lot of rounds on target at pretty good range, though they won’t do much against harder targets.
– At the space, weight, and crew you have budgeted, a box of missiles is probably your best option; while you won’t have many shots, it will knock out point targets and potentially even movers.
– If you aren’t willing to budget enough cash for a good gun turret or missiles, then you won’t be doing gunfire support, so the cheapness of the howitzer won’t matter.
Given my pick, I’d put a 30mm on each side of the forward superstructure, and a 57mm aft of the mast, covering the entire rear arc and most of the port and starboard quarters. Missiles/etc would go forward of the bridge.
When I asked about putting money behind ideas, has anybody actually chosen your weapon ideas?
– Can you supply examples of ships where they’ve chosen to go with missiles instead of guns for point defense, and where they honestly had both as options?
– I don’t think I know of any ships outside of museums which use open mounts for their heavy guns.
– There are lots of smart people and a fair bit of money in the warship business. If nobody else is trying to sell the same idea as you, it may not be worth selling.
That’s essentially my personal view on the crew as well. As I’ve said before, I’m the hardware guy, not the human factors guy, so I’m deferring to Shelley’s analysis there and providing a backup plan in case we need more crew.
Now, moving on to the gun mount, you’re vastly overselling the benefits.
– A gun will not always hit even a static target at longer range due to dispersion. Throw in maneuvering and the fact that you usually need multiple autocannon rounds to destroy the target, and you can’t reliably score kills without sending a lot of shells downrange and ruining your magazine capacity.
– Radar does have its benefits as you noted, but adding that to an already expensive RWS is probably going to give you a price tag in the $5 million range per mount since you’re looking at a Phalanx-like system. Also, Javelin does have a significant ability to shoot through inclement weather and Spike NLOS is even better since it’s a lock on after launch system, so this is a difference in degree rather than capability. Also, talking about radar brings in the electronic warfare side of things and adds extra vulnerabilities and limitations there.
– You do have a very good point about crew and automation, but you’re forgetting the tradeoffs. Those guns add a lot more topside weight and add at least a million dollars a piece, so going down to two mounts as you suggests costs 75% of the broadside firepower and at least another $2 million (or $10 if you want radar) at similar topside weight. The numbers on that just don’t add up. The one thing that could potentially fill this niche is a remote Javelin turntable with lots of ready missiles, but that would take a lot of development since new missile software would need to be developed and would force the addition of at least one smaller RWS for a Browning so ship cost would still go up.
– I’ve never heard of a gun switching targets like you describe, but it is at least plausible. That said, my gut feeling on that is that it would add a fair amount of cost and complexity for a relatively modest benefit since the traversal and aiming would still take time. My gut feeling is that this would result in about a 50% increase in kills per minute, but even if it was double the outcome is still half the lethality of the current setup.
– Warning shots are the howitzer’s job, and I think there’s no question a 105mm shell will get people’s attention better than an autocannon burst or 57mm shell.
– The howitzer is capable of a much higher initial rate of fire which is probably acceptable for the kind of small engagements distributed forces are intended to fight when combined with Spike NLOS. Of course, as you noted we always have the option of massing ships, and our long cruising range makes it easy to rapidly pull in ships from other stations/missions so I’m not worried about our ability to concentrate firepower when needed.
– Reduced range is always a problem for ships, and I suspect that mortar mount is more expensive as well. At the end of the day, that’s just a poor match for this ship. If you really want it on the water, a small USV would be a better bet, although I think rocket artillery would be a better choice there to offset the drone’s vulnerability by emptying the magazine in a single volley.
– That’s an accurate assessment of those guns, and they look even worse when you remember they’re really competing against the much more capable Spike NLOS battery. When you add their reduced range, enormous price tags, deck penetration, and weight, they really don’t stack up well against this blend of weapons.
– It sounds like you agree with the installation of 36 Spike NLOS missiles then.
– It sounds like you forgot about the Spike NLOS missiles here. Remember, this weapon suite is intended to operate as a whole with the different parts complementing each other and covering weaknesses so you need to keep those interactions in mind.
Moving on to your layout, I don’t think it’s realistic to mount a 57mm that high from a ship stability standpoint. It would have to go on the bow like the howitzer and complicate things below decks, but I’ll neglect the interior configuration problems to be generous. Now, that does make up for some of the lost Javelin firepower, especially if we add the other toys for the guns you described, but the overall comparison doesn’t look good even if we assume that’s a wash. You’ve added something like $16 million to the price of the ship and sacrificed essentially all naval artillery capacity, and all you got out of it was a modest enhancement against small boats in the 4-8km band and a modest short-range improvement against boats in extremely poor weather.
Regarding the money, I’m not comfortable talking about that because it’s generally at least competition sensitive information, but I’ve seen some discussion of taking both Javelin and Spike NLOS to sea online.
– Assuming you’re talking about surface threats, the Israelis have had success with their missile-armed Typhoon RWSs which carry a variety of Spike-family missiles.
– That’s possible, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Remember, the Gatling gun was dead for decades before GE resurrected it with the Vulcan cannon because it fit their needs. An open mount fits the need for affordable naval gunfire support, so we’re bringing it back because it’s the right choice for this application.
– Actually, I’m not at all surprised no one else is doing this. These small missiles have only been proven enough to go to sea recently, and the key enabler of this layout, the Javelin pintle mount, is brand new. I was personally involved in its development, and its initial public unveiling was when I published an earlier version of this weapons concept less than a year ago.
This the best analysis I have seen for a micro combatant. I appreciate the effort that went into this. I have a few areas of concern.
I have a hard time with the assumption that blending into commercial traffic will provide effective defense. First of all, there is good reason to believe that potential enemies will specifically target commercial vessels. Obviously, there is ample evidence of this happening in WWI and WWII, but even today there is plenty of action in the commercial sector with national security implications. Illegal fishing, mineral extraction, the new sea lanes in the Arctic and sanctions violations have all put commercial ships in the spotlight, and there is every reason to believe that they would be targets in a future conflict. Even if the ship can blend in to commercial traffic, would they want to?
If we still decide that blending into commercial traffic is worth it, this will not be easy to do. Between the Automatic Identification System (AIS) that practically all commercial ships have, satellite imagery, maritime militias, long-range drones and the availability of satellite communications potential adversaries have plenty of tools to determine what commercial ships are “theirs” and which aren’t even while they are out at sea. As soon as this ship pulls into a port to refuel, the cover will be blown. A picture of it will show up on social media immediately.
That brings me to my other major concern, which is cost. The USCG Sentinel-class averaged out to about $65 mil each. That is for a vessel that already started with a parent design, is in large-scale serial production and has essentially no combat system. The proposed vessel will be a clean-sheet design that is about double the size of the Sentinel-class, relies on advanced autonomous technology, features an unprecedented propulsion system (pretty sure IPS/waterjet/7500 nm range/30knot top speed has never been done), incorporates stealth shaping and a small well deck. Add to that the combat system and a variety of weapons. Add to that the cost of the vessels that this ship would rely on for targeting information. It seems like you would bust that $100 mil barrier pretty quickly. If you agree with my argument that blending into commercial traffic is not viable, then costs go up dramatically. You either have to go extremely heavy on stealth features or invest in a more robust self-defense RADAR.
I think your weapons loadout is very promising, but I share everyone else’s concerns about the howitzer. I second a previous commenter’s suggestion that the Patria NEMO turret would be a good alternative, but I understand your desire not to use a turret. I would suggest the CARDOM mount as an alternative to the NEMO. It is service with the Army on their Strykers and features fire control and recoil mitigation, It is only about 2500 lbs, and it does not require a penetration in the deck. It will not match the range of the howitzer, but it looks like you have plenty of other options for those kinds of ranges with the missile suite on board.
Thanks, I’m glad you liked it.
Before I dive into your tactics question, I want to remind you that this is a topic that gets classified very quickly so there are serious limitations to what can be discussed here.
With that said, it’s important to remember the missile count problem. LMACC is fairly small and uses signature reduction to look even smaller, so it’ll be blending in with small fishing boats, not the cargo vessels that were the primary focus of interdiction in the world wars. Of course, as you noted fishing is a major point of contention in the South China Sea so interdiction attempts are possible, but the number of people dependent on fishing for survival means there are and will continue to be huge numbers of small fishing boats. That makes it infeasible for the Chinese to sink all those boats with missiles, especially the ones operating further from the continent, and will force them to close to gun range to interdict and sink these boats. Needless to say, if they try that on one of our ships they’ll be in for a very unpleasant surprise, especially since there are good odds we’ll passively detect them going after actual fishing boats before they know we’re there.
Also, we do have other options thanks to our oversized EW suite and maneuvering characteristics, especially on the survivability front because that EW system is designed to protect much bigger ships than this.
On the hostile ISR front, I personally doubt anyone’s satellites will remain operational for long once the shooting starts. Between anti-satellite weapons and Kessler syndrome, orbit will be a very dangerous place in a modern war. On the aircraft side, drones, like MPA, are easy enough for the Falcon variant to deal with so we have a solid answer to that threat. The social media side is also a major concern as you noted, but the ship’s range means we should be able to dock in positions the enemy can’t easily monitor in wartime to reduce that risk.
Moving on to cost, I see where you’re coming from here, but a lot of those concerns really aren’t a big deal. For example, the range and displacement increases over the sentinel mostly entails a much bigger fuel tank which is just cheap welded steel, and 30 knots on waterjets is easy. The only propulsion interface that could cause any new wrinkles is mating electric motors with waterjets, but I don’t anticipate any issues there since electric motors don’t transmit anywhere near as much vibration to the jets as traditional propulsion so any unexpected outcomes there are more likely to be positive. Similarly, stealth shaping will be largely the result of angled steel rather than advanced materials, so any problems there should be limited to minor inconveniences with minimal cost impact. Now, that’s not to say nothing will add money because the improved launch facilities, electronics, and weapons certainly will bring it up a fair amount, but I’m confident it will stay under $100 million since the missiles and drones come from different pots of money.
The one thing you brought up that I want to dive into more is the parent design concept. This comes up a lot these days and is often treated as a magic cost reduction button, but that’s simply not the case. It can reduce the cost and time required to get through the design and test phases if you’re sticking close to the original, but any design changes are complicated by the fact that the original engineers never planned for them so major changes can eat these advantages. Once you get to production, a parent design can only hurt you. Different yards favor different construction methods so you’ll probably pay for the fact that the parent design was not optimized for your yard, and the engineering complications I mentioned earlier usually translate into expensive design workarounds because the optimal design was infeasible. I don’t know enough about the Sentinel-class to say how it was affected by this so it may not be meaningful in this case, but it’s certainly not a strike against LMACC hulls 2+.
For the sake of fairness, there is one case where a parent design can save a lot of money, and that’s when you’re making a one-off or limited run variant of a class you already use because it streamlines logistics. That obviously isn’t the case here, but if the Navy were to make a few special mission San Antonio conversions (pick your flavor, there are a lot of ideas running around) the extra cost to build the ship would be more than made up for by the reduced operating costs through logistical and training commonality.
Finally, your suggestion to consider the Cardom mortar is very interesting, but as you noted the range is a problem. Yes the missiles certainly reach out further so we can still engage at longer range, but they can’t provide area bombardment like a gun (or mortar) can. Also, while it does solve some of the problems of other turrets, it still costs more and needs more maintenance than the howitzer, so the simple option is best in this application.
The US Navy has had good luck recently using parent designs, and bad luck with clean sheet ones.
EPF is based heavily on the High Speed Vessel that Austal built. EPF is not perfect, but it seems to fit it’s role well and the Navy seems to like it. It costs roughly $200 mil.
The ESB and ESD are both based on an Alaska-class tanker. Again, these two classes are not perfect, but the Navy seems pleased with them, and they are finding new roles for those vessels. They cost around $550 mil.
As stated previously, the USCG Fast Response Cutter is based on a parent design and it has performed well in USCG service. They cost roughly $65 mil.
Contrast that with DDG-1000 and LCS. Those two programs were basically clean-sheet designs (although I think there was some basis for LCS). I happen to think that both of these ships have many good qualities, but many in the Navy disagree with me. There are some clan-sheet designs that seemed to go pretty well too – LPD and the Sea Hutner – but I think there is something to be said for a parent design.
Examples are definitely not proof of anything, especially since it’s essentially impossible to directly compare those platforms to an equivalent clean-sheet design.
That said, the Freedom-class LCS is derived from the motor yacht Destriero, the Independence-class LCS is derived from the high-speed ferry HSC Benchijigua Express, and you could probably make an argument that the Nimitz qualifies as the parent design for the Ford so there are definitely clear cut examples of issues with parent designs.
Obviously, I didn’t write the article , but this is a topic that interests me.
I share your concern about the Howitzer, but I am not sure if the proposed ship could take a MK 110 57mm. They are 8 times the weight of of a howitzer and more importantly they require significant penetrations in the deck. Smaller ships have mounted the 57 mm, but when you consider all of the things that this hull has to do (well deck, stealth features, store lots of fuel) it might not be worth it. After all, the priority for this ship seems to be launching LRASM.
A single MK 46 mount would be easier to manage, but they are pretty similar in size to that 120 mm patria system you mentioned, I would probably favor the 120 mm mortar in this case, but they are both probably expensive. The MK 46 is over $10 mil
To answer your missile vs gun point defense question, the first example that comes to mind is SeaRAM vs the gun-based CWIS. There are plenty of examples of the US Navy picking the former.
First, you’re on the money with LRASM being the ship’s number one priority. Everything else is secondary and intended to either let it bring LRASM to bear or provide low-cost utility. Remember that previous designs on this theme tended to look more like the minimum requirements I listed and still cost something like $90 million, so you can clearly see how little we spent to get all that utility.
That’s also why I’m pushing back so hard on the more expensive installations being suggested. In many cases they add more cost than all the existing flexibility combined for relatively little benefit, and they frequently bring other serious drawbacks as well.
Also, you’re spot on with mounting a penetrating deck gun like the 57mm. There’s not a lot of free space below decks, and the distribution of engine rooms along the length of the ship complicates that even more. Rearranging the ship to fit it would almost certainly require sacrificing the inbuilt survivability the current configuration provides and would further complicate some potential trouble spots in the internal layout. Throw in the weight, cost, and elimination of the naval gunfire support capability and there’s no way that trade makes sense.
Finally, I concur with your point about missile-based point defense. SeaRAM seems to be replacing Phalanx across the board these days, and simple RAM boxes have been doing point defense for decades. Throw in foreign designs like Russia’s Kashtan and Pantsir systems, and missile point defense seems to be the path forwards.
I really don’t get using an IPS for waterjets, especially for so small a platform. That and the stealth aspects are going to balloon the cost. Figure the unmanned MUSV is going to be smaller and less stealthy than this ship, with a simple propulsion system. Its going for 30.8 – 35 million before any mission gear is added. That is to be a sub 500 ton les than 50m platform. Even if you get a deal this ship will at least cost in the Fast Response Cutter territory before the gear is added. Cutting you a break and basing this off a Cyclone class hull and its going to add up fast. Just a quick low ball.
SEWIP Blk II Lite 5.158
MK 53 Decoy Launching System (DLS) (Nulka)- 4 Launcher 1.214
istalker saws gimbal 0.515
7m rhib 0.185
Cyclone (2020$) 46.64
Total: 64.832 with plenty of gear missing.
Since Brian Adornato and I covered the IPS below, I’ll focus on the rest here.
The waterjets were selected for littoral agility, not speed or efficiency. With an intake screen to keep out big stuff, they’re much more resistant to environmental damage than traditional screws so we can tolerate much greater risk from underwater obstacles and operate more freely in shallow, cluttered water. Furthermore, since they’re steerable and reversible, they give us unmatched agility and allow us to do things like travel sideways through the water which is extremely useful for accessing poor ports with no tug support.
For stealth, you’re thinking too much of the B-2 or Zumwalt. We have the advantage of already being close to fishing boat sized, so we don’t need to do anything too extreme to get the RCS where we want it. Simple angled steel reflects a lot of energy away from the transmitter, and adds almost nothing to the cost of the ship. The only real cost you could describe as stealth is the enclosed mast, but that makes maintenance easier too so its easy to justify.
On the cost front, I don’t really want to do a deep dive on the numbers, but we seem to be on the same page here. Your partial estimates seem to be pointing more or less at my $96.6 million figure, and given the inherently uncertain nature of estimates that’s about as close to agreement as the numbers will get. Also, remember that we’re inherently comparing this against other things the Navy could buy, and there’s no question LMACC will be far cheaper than even FFG(X).
On the topic of cost, I don’t think FFG(x) is probably not the best comparison for costs. The mission of FFG(x) is very different from the mission you are planning for LMACC.
I think a better comparison would be LCS and to a lesser extent EPF. LCS is about $550 mil each and EPF is about $200 mil. If LMACC gets up to $300 mil (especially if it can’t reach the range targets), then it is a tough call between LMACC and LCS in my view. EPF is another interesting comparison. Obviously, the ship is unarmed, but it also has 600 tons to play with, and a large open deck. If you can find a way to strap on LRASM and use that cargo space for fuel, you can recreate some of the LMACC functionality. There is no way you can get 7500 NM range out of EPF, but an armed EPF vs an LMACC is an interesting comparison.
Thanks for doing such a great job highlighting LMACC’s cost effectiveness. You have to triple the engineering cost estimate and disregard a key performance characteristic to bring it down to a level other candidates can even start to compete. That’s solid proof that our design is a massive leap forwards and would be a fantastic buy for the Navy.
As for FFG(X), I flagged that because it’s the cheapest surface combatant the Navy is currently buying, so failing to procure LMACC means FFG(X) would have to be pressed into LMACC’s intended roles.
I didn’t write this article, but I agree with the author about using IPS for this ship.
IPS allows you to run both the propulsion system and the “house loads” (combat system, lights, galley equipment, etc) all on one very carefully-sized, heavily-loaded engine. That will be crucial for maximizing efficiency at cruise speed. IPS can also help you at top speed. If you really need to go fast, then you can cut some of house loads and shift that power to propulsion.
I agree with your assessment that this will likely increase costs (although eliminating the main reduction gear is a savings). At the same time, 30-knot top speed and 7500 NM range is going to be very difficult to achieve in a relatively small vessel. You will need every advantage you can get to .
One other underappreciated advantage of an IPS is that we can use batteries to jump the propulsion directly to full power while the engines catch up to get moving sooner. This may not seem especially relevant at first glance, but when a missile is coming your way and jamming is your primary defense, every foot you can put between yourself and the missile’s flight path improves your odds of successfully evading the attack.
Also, the flipside of being able to cut systems for more speed is that it lets you trade speed for power-hungry systems like lasers and railguns if the price comes down enough to install them here in the future.
On the subject of performance, a 30 knot speed is fairly modest. Most warships in this size range do at least 40 knots, and I expect our total installed engine/electrical weight to be similar to the smaller Cyclone. That leaves a lot of extra displacement for more fuel and food, so I’m confident we’ll be able to hit that performance target. Also, I view displacement as an output, not an input, so if our hullform work says we need to grow a little more that’s what we’ll do.
The new fleet proposals call for a vessel that is similar to the one proposed in this article. It will be interesting to see where the Navy goes with this.
Interesting ideas here for a competitive platform. Another potential hull design that might be able to be incorporated with significant speed and range, is being worked on by Boundry Layer Technologies in California. They are looking at a hydrofoil cargo vessel for trans-Pacific routes. I believe the design makes use of waterjets and retractable foils. This would fall in line with the austere port considerations laid out in the con ops.
Total fan of water jets, but they do present problems. There is a significant ship handling gap in the SWO community, that the LCS program is addressing. Additionally the LCS community has had issues with operating waters jets as economically as the commercial fleets, due to extended lay ups, fuel considerations, and temperamental high speed diesel engines (I’ll leave the GTs out of this as they aren’t speced for this design). In short water jets do not like to sit. At a minimum they should be operated once a week. Hopefully the smaller intended size of this design will lead to lower fuel consumption and higher utilization.
On the topic of high speed diesel engines. It might be better to run the impeller shaft off of a generator. This may eliminate the need for a finicky high speed diesel altogether. Although, to my knowledge, there is no large water jet vessel that makes use of a powertrain like that. New powertrain design is the main cause of the 1 variant propulsion issues.
One last thought, it was mentioned that angled steel plate can be used to reduce RCS. But at what weight penalty? If the plan is to have a higher speed small ship with water jets, every ounce of additional weight reduces top speed and increases the likelihood of cavitation and thrust breakdown. Eliminating the greatest advantage of water jets, thrust vectoring. This is another problem for both LCS variants.
Happy to discuss water jet ship handling and operational considerations in depth.
Thanks for the great comment. You have a lot of points in here, so I’ll go through them in order.
Hydrofoil: This does sound like an interesting hullform which may be worth exploring, but I have a few concerns which make me lean away from it, at least initially. The most important is risk since we want to get these in service as fast as possible and problems with the hydrofoil system could jam everything up. I also have concerns about its impact on maintenance, draft, weight, and stealth, but those are ultimately overshadowed by the technical risk.
Ship handling: Our primary plan is to assign most ship handling duties to the computer to reduce crew workload, but at the end of the day there’s no replacement for well trained crew. Fortunately we can leverage the LCS program’s work here, and one upside of automatic general navigation is more time for the crew to train for challenging situations so I don’t foresee any insurmountable problems here, especially considering the exceptional agility when compared to our other warships. It’ll obviously take a team of hard-working experts to iron out the details like any other new ship class introduction, so it’s mostly a case of finding the right people for the job.
Maintenance: I was already planning on running the water jets through electric generators. As you noted, there are a number of issues associated with high-speed diesels and gearboxes which this eliminates to reduce maintenance and improve availability since I want these to be rugged, low-end workhorses. The downside will obviously be a bit of extra up-front work to get everything working right, but our smaller size makes that a more familiar problem for suppliers used to electric ferries and shakedown issues are inevitable with any vessel so I doubt this will be a deal breaker. The bigger concern is if the Navy will be able to avoid the problem of letting the jets sit, and while my intention is to work these ships hard so we can afford to give the overworked Burkes the maintenance they need, there’s no way to know what will happen.
Steel for RCS reduction: To clarify, any metal will reflect radar energy and thus reduce RCS if you angle it properly. From a physics standpoint, radar energy is the same as visible light, so a flat metal plate will reflect it like a mirror so long as it’s smooth in comparison to the wavelength. If you want more information on RCS reduction, you can find the unclassified details online with a quick search and look at the way the Visby-class corvette is shaped as an example. For LMACC, I intend to use all-steel construction to increase durability, reparability, and fire resistance since the relatively modest 30-knot speed makes the extra weight acceptable, so in this case it will be steel reflecting the radar energy to reduce RCS. It’s not as good as a composite which incorporates special layers optimized for the job, but it still helps a lot and costs essentially nothing since it’s just a tweak to the angle the plates get welded on at.
Finally, I am interested in additional insights regarding ship handling and operational considerations. My background is technical rather than operational, so learning more on this subject would be useful.
Ben, is there a better way to reach you?
Please use my official NPS e-mail address and also include Dr. Shelley Gallup since he’s the lead. Our addresses are:
Regarding “lightly manned” Navy vessels:
I have served on optimally manned/small crew Navy and Coast Guard vessels (including a patrol boat); and also on commercial ships on my license. The main reason why military vessels struggle to copy a civilian “small crew” is that civilians are required to be fully credentialed for the jobs they hold, from the moment they step aboard. By contrast, in a Navy division of 10 sailors, only one (the Chief, usually) is fully trained/qualified/experienced for the job(s) they hold. Every Navy vessel is designed to be a training platform for a majority of its sailors. Sailors are each assigned mountains of qualifications they are expected to learn on the job over the course of their tour. Additionally, a considerable part of the workday is taken up with training sailors to be leaders, to be adults, or to be better at being in the Navy. Associated with this is a high burden of administration for evaluations, awards, recognition, promotion, discipline, qualification, and so forth. Military vessels also have far more, and more sophisticated/delicate, electronics and communications, including cryptological material, constant satellite-based command-and-control, and secure spaces; and military vessels must man defensive and offensive weapons stations.
It is very different to send a cargo ship on a single-speed, great-circle transit from port A to port B than it is to conduct bob-and-weave littoral warfare.
On civilian vessels, this is not the case; hence, far smaller crews are possible. Automating linehandling, navigation, engineering, and weapons watchstations is only a small piece of the puzzle. As long as the “every ship is a training platform” mentality persists in the Navy, you will only get perhaps one or two “full-speed” sailors for every ten you have aboard. The other 8, in addition to not being able to perform their jobs unassisted, will require significant additional human capital in the form of constant training, mentoring, and supervision.