Tag Archives: ASW

Where is the Navy Going To Put Them All? (Part One)

Where is the U.S. Navy Going To Put Them All?

Part 1: More Drones Please. Lot’s and Lot’s of Them!

AORH class jpeg

Sketch by Jan Musil. Hand drawn on quarter-inch graph paper. Each square equals twenty by twenty feet.

Recent technological developments have provided the U.S. Navy with major breakthroughs in unmanned carrier landings with the X-47B. A public debate has emerged over which types of drones to acquire and how to employ them. This article suggests a solution to the issue of how to best make use of the new capabilities that unmanned aircraft and closely related developments in UUVs bring to the fleet.

The suggested solution argues for taking a broader look at what all of the new aerial and underwater unmanned vehicles can contribute, particularly enmasse. And how this grouping of new equipment can augment carrier strike groups. In addition, there are significant opportunities to revive ASW hunter killer task forces, expand operational capabilities in the Arctic, supplement our South China Sea and North East Asia presence without using major fleet elements and provide the fleet with a flexible set of assets for daily contingencies.

These sorts of missions provide opportunities for five principal types of drones. Strike, ISR and refueling drones as winged aircraft to fly off fleet platforms, UUVs and the Fire Scout helicopter. So we have five candidates to be built, in quantity, for the fleet. Let’s examine each of the suggestions for what they should be built to accomplish, what sort of weapons or sensors they need to be equipped with and what doctrinal developments for their use with the fleet need to happen.

Strike drone

The current requirements are calling for long range, large payload, and the ability to aerially refuel and are to be combined with stealth construction techniques for the airframe, even if not stealth coated. These size and weight parameters mean this drone will require CATOBAR launching off an aircraft carrier’s flight deck. Which also means it will be supplementing, and to some extent replacing, the F-35C in the air wings for decades to come. The merits of how many strike drones versus F-35Cs, and the level of stealth desired for both, will be an ongoing debate for the foreseeable future.

Given that a strike drone built with these capabilities will be tasked with similar mission requirements to the F-35C, we will assume for now that the weapons and ISR equipment installed will be equivalent, if not exactly the same as the F-35C. This implies that whatever work the U.S. Navy has already done in developing doctrine for use of the long range strike capacity the F-35Cs brings to the fleet should only need to be supplemented with the addition of a strike drone.

It is worth remembering that while these drones are unmanned, since they are CATOBAR they will still require sailors on deck to move, reload and maintain them. Sailors who also need a place to eat, sleep, etc.

And the carriers are already really busy places. However welcome the strike drone winds up being, there is not going to be enough room on the carriers to be add even more equipment. Therefore each drone will be replacing something already there, both physically within the hangar bay and financially within the Navy’s budget.

ISR drone

Most of the current public discussion surrounding an ISR equipped drone is rather hazy about what sort of sensors, range and weapons, if any, are wanted. However, the philosophical debate over mission profile, including a much smaller size, localized range requirement and the presumed emphasis on ISR tasks is revealing. The key points to concentrate on for such a drone are the suggested set of missions to be conducted by an arc of ISR drones around a selected location, sensor and networking capabilities, range and durability requirements and a limited weapons payload.

The traditional use of aerial search capabilities onboard a carrier task force was over the horizon, well over the horizon thank you very much, locating of the opponents surface assets. Over the years the extended ranges of aircraft and the development of airborne ASW assets changed the nature of the search and locate mission and the assets being used to conduct it. Adding space based surveillance changed things once more. The coming improvements in networking and data processing capabilities inside a task force, a steadily rising need for over the horizon targeting information coupled with the need to function within an increasingly hostile A2AD environment has once more altered the requirements of the search and locate mission. Search and locate essentially has become search, locate, network and target.

Being able to fund as well as field large numbers of anything almost always means keeping it smaller, and deleting anything not strictly needed beyond occasional use is an excellent way to accomplish this. For the ISR drone, not arming it with anything beyond strictly self-defense weapons is an excellent way to keep size and costs down. Since the primary missions of the ISR drone will be the new search, locate, network and target paradigm, concentrating funding on those capabilities is an excellent way to limit both development and operating costs.

Particularly since putting a large number of the drones, each capable of at least 24-30 hours on station, supplemented by refueling, in an arc around a task force in the direction(s) of highest concern means that the SuperHornets of the fleet can largely be freed from the loiter and defend mission and return to being hunters.

Since I am assuming the railgun will also be joining the fleet in large numbers some discussion about the range of the search, locate, network and target arc suggested above as it relates to the railgun is in order. The publicly disclosed range of the railgun is 65 miles, so an arc of ISR drones needs to be farther out from the task force than that, quite some way beyond that to provide time to effectively network location and target data developed back to the shooters. In the anticipated A2AD environment the primary threat is very likely to be a missile, mostly subsonic but the potential for at least some of them being hypersonic exists. Therefore, the incoming missiles or aircraft will need to be located, networked information sent to the surface assets armed with railguns and the targeting information processed quickly enough that the bars of steel launched as a result will be waiting for the incoming missile at 65 miles. Precisely how far out beyond the railguns effective range the arc of ISR drones will need to be will almost certainly vary by circumstance and the nature of the opponent’s weaponry. Nevertheless, whether subsonic or hypersonic, missiles move rapidly and this means an effective arc of ISR drones will have to be a long distance out from the task force. The farther out the arc is, a higher number of drones will be needed to provide adequate coverage.

This implies a need for a minimum of 6-8 ISR drones on station, 24/7, in all kinds of weather. Since there are inevitable maintenance problems cutting into availability time, this implies a task force will need take twice that number to sea with it. Particularly if a second arc of two or three ISR drones is maintained just over the horizon, or simply overhead. This inner group can also provide local networking abilities for the ASW assets of the task force. Having at least one ISR drone close in to provide a rapid relay of information around the task force by its sub hunters should also be planned for as a doctrinal necessity.

This arc of ISR drones is a wonderful new capability to have, but…., but fifteen drones are not going to fit on a CVN. Not when an essentially equivalent number of something else needs to be removed to make room for the newcomers. Our carriers are packed as it is with needed airframes and trading out fifteen of them from the existing air wing is not going to happen.

Nor is there room elsewhere in the fleet. The CCGs and DDGs have limited space on their helo decks, but even if the new ISR drone were equipped with the modified VTOL engine from the Osprey program, there still wouldn’t be space for more than a few of them. Once more, it is a case of needing to take something out of the fleet to put the new capability in.

This means we have to build a new class, or classes, of ships to operate and house the quantities of drones desired, including operating space, hanger and maintenance space and sailor’s living spaces.

Refueling drone

A drone primarily dedicated to the refueling mission takes on another of the un-glamorous, but unending tasks involved in operating a task force. Instead of the proposed return of the S-3 Vikings as tankers, a somewhat larger drone can be designed from scratch to be a flying gas station with long range and loitering times, presumably with vastly more fuel aboard and built to only occasionally load weapons or sensors under the wings. It could have ISR capabilities or ASW weapons slung under the wings as distinctly secondary design characteristics. In understanding when to use manned versus unmanned systems obviously any extra weight and space gained by losing a cockpit allows for more fuel carried, longer loitering times and extra range. These advantages need to be balanced against the occasional need for a pilot’s skills on scene.

UUVs

As for the UUVs in development, much has been made of their ability to dive deeply and search for things as well as their ability to autonomously operate far out in front of a task force, including the possibility of submarine launched missions. While interesting a more incremental use of the roughly six feet long torpedo shaped UUV currently in use for deep diving missions might be more appropriate.

While we wait on further research developments to establish ways to effectively utilize a long range, long duration UUV reconnaissance drone, a more mundane use of what we have right now can readily be used for ASW purposes. We could equip a six-foot UUV with the sensors already in use for ASW purposes and cradle it in open sided buoy in order to hoist the UUV in and out of the water. This buoy could be used over the side, or far more usefully, launched and recovered by helicopter. Wave and say hello Fire Scouts.

Fire Scouts

Any helicopter asset that the U.S. Navy has can be used of course, but without a pilot aboard the Fire Scouts are much better suited for the long hours required to successfully prosecute ASW. Taking off with the UUV cradled inside it’s buoy, the Fire Scout can deploy the buoy, allow the tethered UUV to swim to the thermocline or other desired depth, hover while allowing the UUV to transmit or simply silently listen, wait for the resulting data that is collected to be reported via the tether and broadcast by an antenna on the buoy and then once the UUV has swum back into it’s cradle within the buoy, drop back down and relift the buoy and move it to the next needed position. This redeployment can be hundreds or thousands of yards away at the mission commander’s discretion. This cycle can be repeated as many times as wanted or fuel for the Fire Scout allows. A difficulty that can be resolved aboard the nearest surface ship with a helo deck, leaving the buoy drifting in place, UUV on station and transmitting as refueling takes place. Shift changes by pilots should not materially interrupt this cycle. The most likely limitation that will force the Fire Scout to lift buoy and UUV out of the water for return aboard will be the exhaustion of the power source aboard the buoy being used to operate the reel for the tether and broadcast the data collected to an overhead airframe. Which just happens to be another use for the ISR drone or a ScanEagle.

In the next article we will examine how the Navy can make profitable use of UUVs and buoys, deployed and maneuvered across the ocean by the Fire Scout helicopter, in quantity, in pursuit of the ASW mission. Read Part Two here

Jan Musil is a Vietnam era Navy veteran, disenchanted ex-corporate middle manager and long time entrepreneur currently working as an author of science fiction novels. More relevantly to CIMSEC he is also a long-standing student of navies in general, post-1930 ship construction thinking, and design hopes versus actual results and fleet composition debates of the twentieth century.

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Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) – the Heart of Surface Warfare

By Captain Charlie Williams, U.S. Navy 

Since the end of the Cold War, the Surface Navy has supported contingency operations around the globe, and done so exceptionally. Even so, some would argue that these operations have drawn us away from our basic warfighting skills – skills that have defined the United States as the world’s elite Surface Navy over the past 70 years.

In the area of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) community must recapture that professionalism and intensity that drove us to become the premier ASW force in the 1970s and ‘80s — demonstrated time and again against the Soviet threat. We must dominate our Inner Screen while also correctly expanding our reach in the undersea domain.

Honed by years of experience and technological leaps, first in World War II and then again during the Cold War, ASW tactics and technology aligned with Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) as the focus of the destroyer force. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the submarine threat diminished and the Surface Warfare community shifted our focus from ASW to support other emerging mission areas. The Surface force created VBSS boarding teams and manned crew-served weapons out of hide, and also honed our ability to execute Tomahawk strike missions to a fine and precision art form, while other nations instead determined to field a credible undersea force invested in capability and capacity.  

As a result, our ASW proficiency suffered, as our ASW experience-based knowledge dwindled to the point where the Navy would have been challenged against a modern-day subsurface threat. We lost our foil and also our operational training opportunities that presented themselves every time our ships got underway. We no longer had the opportunity to train in real world track and trail events against a YANKEE, NOVEMBER, or VICTOR Class Submarine from the moment we left the sea buoy. Those opportunities were especially important in maintaining our complex skills required in the ASW arena, such as passive target motion analysis and active Convergence Zone (CZ) search and detection.

Today, with our renewed emphasis and shift to the Pacific, the Surface Navy must reclaim the ASW battle space if we are going to be successful in this new era.

The Evolving Threat

Recognizing the disruptive challenge submarines pose to our aircraft carriers and other high value assets, China, North Korea, and Iran have invested in a significant undersea capability and capacity. Real world events in the Western Pacific and in the Persian Gulf serve as regular examples as to why the United States must maintain the resolve to invest in our Surface Navy to maintain a preeminent ASW capability. From the Surface ASW perspective, quieter submarines, emerging submarine tactics, and advanced weapons are potential challenges to our Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) operational concepts – and to the Surface force’s ability to own the Inner Screen and defend the Strike Group. To meet this evolving threat and maintain our naval dominance — We Must Adapt.

Surface ASW Response

Recognizing the need to counter the emerging threat, the Surface Navy began using a method similar to the commercial sector allowing for timely and affordable modernization of our ASW capability with Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware systems and Open Architecture (OA) software. We recognize our ASW operators require the best and most advanced tools available – and we have invested heavily in every aspect of that ASW kill chain.

Improvements include hardware and software upgrades to kinetic weapons such as the advanced Mk 54 Lightweight Torpedo that integrates with the MH-60R multi-mission helicopter; sensors, such as the Multi-Function Towed Array and the SPQ-9B Periscope Detection and Discrimination kit; advanced processing and display capabilities to increase operator recognition while leveraging the skill sets already developed in our Sailors; as well as the high fidelity trainers being delivered to the fleet today.

Today, 30 SQQ-89 A(V)15 ASW Combat Systems have reached the fleet and by 2020 there will be 64.   That steady increase in capacity requires an equally steady application of financial resources, through which the Surface community has approached development of the ASW Combat System in a similar fashion to the continuous development and improvement of the AEGIS Combat System.

With the emergence of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) in the fleet, ASW operations will expand beyond the Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer (DDG) and Ticonderoga-class Cruiser (CG) in both an individual and additive manner. LCS, well suited to succeed in challenging littoral environments with its ASW Mission Package, will also support ASW escort missions. The combination of LCS and CRUDES ASW capabilities will significantly expand the reach of the ASW force, allowing it to operate in distinctly different environs in the open ocean and littorals while also enabling the DDG or CG to engage in other mission areas without sacrificing an ASW asset. The ASW capability realized by combining a Variable Depth Sonar with a Multi-Function Towed Array, plus the processing and display functionality of the A(V)15 system and the engagement capability of the onboard helo, provides a return on investment many times over.

Providing the US Navy with ASW capability takes more than hardware and software. Essential to successful ASW is the shipboard team that can exploit the capability being delivered as well as understand the environment affecting their system. This has always been true – but given the technologies being employed in today’s systems, and the threat we face at sea, our Sailors must be more technically and operationally savvy than ever before.

This requirement demands more time, both in port and at sea, to train in the skillsets unique to ASW. High fidelity unit level and shore based trainers delivered to the fleet facilitate this training, and add an element of at-sea realism to challenge even the most experienced operators. For the first time, the Navy can conduct high quality training both underway and in-port thru the A(V)15’s high fidelity Surface ASW Synthetic Trainer (SAST). SAST is also being integrated into a new shore based trainer to allow realistic watch team in-port training tailored to the specific skillset needed.

Understanding how the environment impacts your craft is critical to successful employment of your systems. Our schoolhouse training is being tailored to more effectively deliver basic and advanced operator and employment training. The Navy is also reinvigorating the Afloat Training Groups (ATG) with knowledgeable experts – they will be the key enablers, helping our young operators translate the schoolhouse training into operational experience with the necessary skills of this core competency.

ASW Command & Control and Today’s Inner Screen

An important element of owning the inner screen has been our partnering with other communities in the more distant ASW fight. The DESRON Sea Combat Commander embarked in the aircraft carrier (CVN) owns the Strike Group ASW problem, and they work that challenge in company with the Theater ASW Commander to coordinate what has become a broader definition of that inner screen’s boundary. Previously defined by the torpedo danger zone and our own acoustic detection ability, today’s inner screen has expanded based on the evolved submarine and longer range threats, and also a more diverse and more capable portfolio of our own CSG assets. This theater level of coordination requires a modernized set of tools including the Undersea Warfare Decision Support System (USW-DSS), and also a more agile and ready surface ASW force. Surface Navy’s continued investment in ASW is integral to furthering that coordination and enabling our success at sea.

Conclusion

Tactical ASW superiority is a critical enabler to maintain Forward Presence and Sea Control, and support Power Projection and Deterrence. This begins with owning the CSG’s Inner Screen, and enabling the broader ASW environment through coordinated operations with the Theater ASW Commander. Surface Warfare is perfectly postured to lead, plan and execute that Inner Screen, and use our capacity, on-station time, and command and control ability as enablers in the larger, theater ASW fight. Our investments in systems, training, and people have positioned us to reassert our mastery of this critical warfighting capability. The time is now for the Surface force to rededicate itself to this most central of missions. After all, the world’s most lethal power projection Navy cannot do its job if the water it operates in is threatened from below.

Captain Charlie Williams is the Deputy for Weapons and Sensors, Surface Warfare Directorate (N96). He commanded USS FIREBOLT (PC 10), USS STETHEM (DDG 63) and Destroyer Squadron FIFTEEN (CDS-15). As the Commodore in CDS-15, he served as the GEORGE WASHINGTON Strike Group Sea Combat Commander and Strike Force ASW Commander, and subsequently served as the Seventh Fleet Chief of Staff.

LCS: Passing on the ASW Mission

The American people have grown accustomed to the status of its military as the strongest force the world has ever known, and despite recent budget cuts, that the United States Navy (USN) remains the finest Navy ever put to sea. The people also expect that in every battle our forces will not just prevail, but sustain minimal losses. The military exhibits this culture as well, focusing on the protection of it personnel with programs ranging from anti-ballistic missile technology to sexual assault prevention training.

Upgunned
                         LCS: How much is enough?

This shift in public expectations, that ships should prevail in all environments against all enemies, has forced requirements for surface vessels to continually expand.  When it became clear that this cannot be accomplished on a single small vessel, modularity, as expressed by ADM Greenert’s “Payloads over Platforms” article, came to the fore. However, it is time that the USN gives up attempts to build naval vessels that are jacks-of-all-trades and masters-of-none.

This article is not a discussion of this cultural shift, but rather a discussion of how this shift has impacted USN’s ability to build appropriate vessels for the major threats at hand and an attempt to balance this culture with the needs of the American people with respect to the Navy.
Sun Tzu tells us that “those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.” We say that 90% of the world’s trade travels by sea, so a major strategy of the USN ought to be the protection of friendly shipping; and any foe worth their salt will bring the fight to our shipping lanes. The proliferation of diesel and Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarines has placed a dangerous tool in the hand of these potential foes. If we are going to bring the enemy to the field of battle, our ability to destroy enemy submarines must be offensive.

It is not intelligent to expect that destroyers which are already tasked with air defense, land attack, and surface warfare will also be able to proficiently conduct Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). This is not because the venerable Arleigh Burke class or its crews are incapable, but rather because they will be stretched thin by so many requirements. War is simply not the time to figure out how to properly conduct ASW http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/rep/ASW-51/. What is truly needed is a dedicated undersea warfare dominance vessel with a secondary focus on the ability to perform long, forward deployed patrols and protect itself from surface and air attack.

Anyone with an interest in naval affairs will find the blogosphere and professional forums full of anti- Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) rhetoric with discussion ranging from the need to “up-gun” LCS to calls to scrap the program completely. The USN hoped LCS could dominate small-boat swarms, mines, and enemy submarines in the littorals. Despite what many will find on the blogosphere, LCS can and will be used as effectively as it can be by fantastic crews, it can and will be used to a positive effect in future wars. But in this business, “positive effect” is not enough, the American people demand domination and frankly, LCS doesn’t deliver.

A new ASW vessel cannot just be thrown together with existing technology and current business practices. As much as I talk about creating a dedicated ASW vessel, it must retain some other capabilities: it should be able to patrol waters distant from American ports, it should be able to protect itself from limited air attack, it should be affordable and easy to maintain and it should be able to attack surface threats. These requirements can feed into its primary warfare area, but we need to think long and hard about what is excess and what is actually required without giving into the shift that requires a vessel good at everything. It has been said that the best platform to destroy a submarine is another submarine, but the goal of this program would be to challenge this paradigm.

The advancement of several technologies could make this vessel a world-class submarine-killer. The use of the electric-drive technology from DDG-1000, innovative ways of detecting undersea threats (like new-generation sonars and USV’s), new air-based ASW technologies and even anti-torpedo technology will put the USN in a place to win this undersea battle. Research into the use of bubbles to increase efficiency and reduce noise similar to the Prairie and Masker Systems could provide an added foot up. It should also field current technologies which are proven to be effective like towed array sonars, the Mark 32 SVTT, and a combination of SH-60s and UAV’s.

In order to dominate undersea warfare, the vessel must protect itself from air and sea threats. The small SPY-1K, a single DART-capable 76mm naval gun, quad-packed ESSM or VLA ASROC in an 8 cell tactical length Mark 41 VLS, 4 Harpoon or new ASuW missiles, Block 1B CIWS and several 25 mm and .50 caliber weapons will provide strong protection against a variety of threats ranging from enemy surface combatants to ASCMs and swarms. An effective Combat Information Center near the bridge and using the newest computer systems will provide this vessel to best protect itself from enemy assets trying to interrupt its main function, finding and destroying submarines.

However, there must be a point where the proverbial line in the sand is drawn. This vessel does not provide area air defense, it does not perform land attack missions, and it does not seek out surface combatants. The Navy requires flexible warships which can take the fight to the enemy. It is not a jack of all trades; it destroys enemy submarines.

William Thibault is a Midshipman at Boston University majoring in Mechanical Engineering.  The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Polish Navy’s Small Steps Ahead

A competition is underway for the honor of landing on the Polish fleet's decks.
                    A competition is underway for the honor of landing on the Polish fleet’s decks.

The Polish Navy is expected to receive 6 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and 6 Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters starting in 2014-2015 as part of a much bigger yet-to-be-awarded deal, totaling 70 helicopters and more than $2.5 billion. The new fleet will replace 10 aging Mi-17 and 4 Kaman SH-2 helos used for ASW and SAR. Poland’s Ministry of Defense announced its intention to purchase the helicopters as a result of National Security Review, which calls for higher mobility in the armed forces. Another 10 of the 70 helos will go to the Air Force in SAR configuration, but most of the fleet, 48 in the troop transport version, will be troop transport versions for the Army. The Polish military speaks (in Polish) about “common-base airframe,” but it is not clear if that refers to all versions, as requirements between services differs significantly. It is also expected that the helicopters will at least in part be produced in Poland.

Potential contenders for the contract are Sikorsky, Eurocopter, Agusta Westland, and AW’s Polish subsidiary, PZL Swidnik, bidding separately. A brief look at the actual range of aircraft makes it interesting to see what the sales strategies of the companies will be. Sikorsky and AW already have production lines in Poland. Sikorsky and Eurocopter (specifically NH Industries) could offer common-base airframes. The closest replacement to the Mi-17 in terms of size is the Super Cougar from Eurocopter, but the short lead time makes it difficult to integrate ASW gear into a new airframe.

New ASW helicopters, in contrast with the Mi-17, are more likely to operate from the decks of Coastal Defense Ships (CDS), for which specifications are being drafted and should be ready this year. Their rather enigmatic name, according to Commander in Chief means ships that differ from classic corvettes in mission priorities and equipment. The ship should also be able to operate as part of allied task groups beyond the Baltic. Such a definition will certainly will hangers with the necessary facilities to support air operations .

The first new assets in the modernization of the Polish Navy will not be ships, but helicopters. Additionally, the ill-fated Gawron corvette program seems to have come to a reasonable end as the MoD approved the final configuration for the unfinished Meko A-100 corvette as a patrol ship. Under the name Slazak she will join the fleet in first quarter 2016.

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country