However, beyond the immediate cost/effectiveness argument, we are forced to spend more in other areas due to the increasing amount of space/weight/weapon systems we dedicate to missile defense on our surface ships. That dedication to defense pushes out offensive capabilities, which we must then buy in other areas. Some might argue that the “need” for the F-35 and its stealth capabilities were, in part, driven by destroyers whose long-range weapons weapons were almost wholly turned over to defense – requiring a carrier for offensive punch. That technological bias towards the defensive has become so extreme that it has required VADM Rowden’s new “Distributed Lethality” effort– a course change back into a realm that should be a natural instinct for the surface force: distributed operations and killing enemy ships.
Of course, the pricetag and weight of kinetic systems has also prevented the fleet from finding more cost-effective ways to increase the ship count – requiring DDG’s or, in the case of the original LCS plan, expanding smaller ships to take on additional responsibilities. With significant investments in defensive systems not requiring a vast VLS magazine, we could build smaller ships with bigger relative punches at a lesser cost. We could more aggressively pursue the Zumwaltian dream of the High-Low Mix: more ships for more effect for less money – every CNO and SECNAV’s dream.
Raid Breaker is a case of finding, and exploiting, competitive advantage. We have been using our best offensive capabilities – the kinetic weapons – for defense. We have let the best defensive options languish, and in so doing pushed expensive requirements into other areas where we must find our offensive edge. A firm dedication to electronic warfare for “soft-kill” options gives us our ships, and our procurement flexibility, back.
In the end, the excitement over Raid Breaker should not primarily involve its awesome war fighting impact if successful – but all the other ideas it will all the Navy to pursue. What makes Raid Breaker so beautiful is that the raid it breaks, in the long-term, is the one on our bottom line.
Many critics have assailed the Littoral Combatant Ship (LCS) program for its high cost in comparison with foreign, supposedly better armed and equipped equivalents. The Danish Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon class frigates are often cited as examples of cheaper, more capable small combatants in comparison with LCS. These claims are not well researched and are based on isolated points of data rather than any systemic analysis. Other nations may be able to build relatively cheap warships, but hidden factors not discussed by critics, rather than U.S. shipbuilding and general acquisition deficiencies make this possible. The Danish Navy, in conjunction with corporate giant A.P. Moeller have produced an outstanding series of warships, but a direct comparison between them with the LCS is one of apples verses oranges. It’s time to stop using this inaccurate strawman argument against LCS.
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The direct comparison of the Danish frigates to LCS is highly misleading due to significant differences in Danish shipbuilding practice and financial accounting. The Danish “StanFlex” system of “plug and play” weapons, sensors and equipment (including cranes!) officially separates these components from the advertised cost of the ship. A 2006 RAND report on the rise in warship costs specifically identified such systems as the principal drivers of warship cost inflation. The Danish concept of separating these more costly systems from their hull gives the appearance of a much less expensive warship. The ships were often accepted by the Danish Navy in an incomplete condition. The Danish Nils Juel, for example, was delivered in 2014 with 76mm guns scavenged from decommissioned ships. Danish figures suggest that the Iver Huitfeldt program used $209 million in reused equipment from scrapped vessels. Reuse, however, could not meet all system requirements. The planned 127mm (5 inch) gun system was deemed too expensive at $50 million a copy. The ship’s close-in weapon system mount was actually adummy, wooden weapon due to a lack of certification. While equipped with a MK 41 vertical launch missile system (VLS), the ship deployed to the fall 2014 U.S. Bold Alligator exercise without the system certified for use or weapons purchased for eventual outfitting. That same reporting indicated that the ship was delivered with its damage control system incomplete and lacking a secondary steering control center. Much of the ship is built to merchant ship standards which are not as robust as those traditionally provided to warships. In addition, the Danish ship was forced to take on nearly 20 extra crew members when the lean 100 person complement was found insufficient for operational needs.
The Absalon class is more akin to a heavily armed, limited load amphibious ship rather than a surface combatant. It combines a number of warfare and expeditionary capabilities on a single hull, but excels at none of them. It is also significantly slower (at 24 knots maximum speed) than most other surface combatants. Both Absalon and her sister Esbern Snare were also delivered without their full installation of weapons and sensors. In the case of Absalon, this process took over three years. The Danish Navy has been open in regards to these conditions. U.S. advocates of adopting the Absalon or Iver Huitfeldt classes almost always overlook them.
The LCS, by contrast is delivered with significant systems such as its 57mm gun and point defense missile system incorporated into the overall cost. Scavenging of weapons from previous U.S. ships is extremely difficult due to a constant process of upgrades over time. Weapon systems, like ships also have service lives and U.S. ships being decommissioned often have equally aged weapons and supporting electrical, hydraulic and mechanical systems that make a re-installation not cost effective. Unlike the Absalon class which is not equipped to master any one warfare area in any of its configurations, the LCS can be exclusively equipped to master one such discipline. It is purposely designed to operate in tailored flotillas designed to mitigate the risks incurred by one ship like Absalon. Critics often fail to note that both Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon are nearly twice the size of LCS. Neither has the speed requirements that drove initial LCS design considerations. The size difference alone may explain the Danish ships’ much longer endurance. These differences in Danish and U.S. practices make comparisons difficult at best.
Finally, the Danish Navy contracted the building of both the Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon classes to a single firm, the A.P. Moeller Corporation. This multinational giant derives the vast bulk of its earnings from the more stable commercial market and its warship business is not dependent on government orders, which causes instability and cost overruns in its production process. By contrast, U.S. LCS shipbuilders Lockheed Martin and Austal serve government interests much more than private ones and are more dependent on government contracts to maintain stability in their operations. The 2006 RAND report also identified this process of divided warship construction as another factor in the increased cost of surface combatants.
The LCS program has been beset with a number of technological and systemic problems since its inception that have slowed the program’s progress and likely contributed to some cost overruns. On the surface, the Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon class frigates would appear to be cost effective alternatives to the LCS. Deeper investigation, however, reveals how the Danes achieved these substantially lower figures by separating higher cost equipment from that of the platform, scavenging weapons from decommissioned ships, accepting incomplete warships for service, and purchasing these vessels from a single, robust commercial shipbuilder not dependent on or affected by unstable government ship acquisition processes. In summary, these classes meet Denmark’s needs, but are an unsuitable substitute for U.S. Navy small combatants. LCS critics, however, should not use the Danish ships as strawman LCS substitutes. It is a most unequal comparison.
Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941.
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Several days ago (Tuesday September 23), I drove to work listening to the report of the United States’ government’s latest military adventure in the area of the Levant at the confluence of northeastern Syria and western Iraq. The National Public Radio (NPR) announcers intoned dryly on the launches, among other things, of 50—yes fifty—tomahawk land attack cruise missiles (TLAM) as part of a major strike against the threat de jour of this season, the brutal Islamic State. At 1.4 million dollars a pop, tomahawks are a very very expensive way to kill people and blow up their sinews of war, the most expensive of which were captured from the Syrian and most recently Iraqi armies—in other words less expensive stuff (like towed artillery and armored personnel carriers) that originated mostly in Russian and US factories.
23 and a half years ago the US launched its first TLAMS as a part of the opening air campaign of Operation Desert Storm, the combat phase of the US-led coalition’s successful effort to liberate Kuwait from the military forces of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and to restore stability, of some kind, to the Persian Gulf region. That use was part of an overall suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) campaign that built on the lessons learned from Vietnam in 1972, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and finally the Israeli Bekka Valley SEAD campaign in 1982. TLAMS served as a means, along with electronic countermeasures like radar jamming and use of anti-radiation missiles (ARM), to suppress Iraqi air defenses. Their use made sense because they were part of an overall campaign to achieve air superiority before launching the ground war that quickly liberated Kuwait under skies dominated by US and coalition aircraft.
Since then, TLAMs have been used in a similar fashion in Bosnia (Deliberate Force, 1995), Kosovo (Allied Force, 1999), Iraq again (Desert Fox, 1998, and Iraqi Freedom, 2003), and most recently in Libya (Odyssey Dawn, 2011). One sees a trend here, with the exception of Iraq in 2003, of using these weapons as a means to show resolve without risking the lives of US service personnel on the ground. Arguments can be made to support this use, although similar arguments can be made against their use, especially in the air-only campaigns. Today, they are again supposedly a part of a larger air campaign against the thug-regime of the Islamic State (for our purposes here ISIS). One supposes that they were being used because of the air defense capabilities of ISIS, especially captured surface-to-air missile (SAM) equipment, anti-aircraft artillery, and radars. Some of this concern for both manned and unmanned aircraft attacking ISIS is also directed at the Syrian regime, which has not guaranteed that its air defense system will remain silent during this expansion of the air war into Syria to attack the “capital” of the ISIS caliphate at Raqqa. However, ISIS’s air defenses have been assessed by some as being “relatively limited.”
One must ask the question, why expand the war, both geographically and in terms of means, for the purposes of this essay, the means equating to TLAM use? Has anyone done a cost benefit analysis (CBA) of this usage or is their use more an informational tactic meant to show sexy pictures of TLAM use to convey the seriousness of the intent by the Obama Administration? A CBA notwithstanding, these other things may all be true to varying degrees, but it points to a more troubling suggestion. Is the use of TLAMs, like the use aircraft carriers to deliver the air power to these land-locked regions, simply a reflection of the strategic poverty of American thinking?
There are very few positive benefits in all these results. Strategic poverty? Or cynical public relations campaign? Or wasteful expenditure of high technology smart ordnance against a very weak target (the ISIS air defense “system”)? None of these choices offers much in the way of reassurance to this writer.
Further, the criteria for the use of these expensive “kamikaze drones”—my characterization for TLAMS—seems to be lower and lower. More and more, in the 1990s and since, when the US government wanted to blow up some meaningless bit of sand or dirt to display US resolve it sent these weapons in to do the job—or not do the job in most cases. We think we are sending a signal of resolve but our enemies, like the North Vietnamese during the ineffectual Rolling Thunder campaign, “hear” us sending a message of weakness, lack of resolve, and even cowardice. A friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, refers to the TLAM as: “the 20th Century equivalent of a diplomatic note, meant to convey disapproval without really doing anything.”
Alcoholics Anonymous—among others—has a saying: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.” This latest gross expenditure of US tax dollars by the US Navy at the behest of its strategic masters to blow things up in a remote corner of the globe provides more evidence that US policy is either insane, impoverished, cynical, or all of the above. Let us hope it is impoverished, because that we can change; one day, and one election, at a time. But first the US must quit its knee jerk reactions to these sorts of events, like an alcoholic going on another binge.
John T. Kuehn’s views are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Change in the force structure of any military service is a reality we should all expect and in fact insist upon; one may only hope the factors that drive these changes are planned and controlled, but the threat gets a vote, and the end result is never exactly as desired. The reality in the Navy’s surface force is that we have delivered an extremely capable fleet of cruisers and destroyers, all of which met the threat for the time in which they were designed, and all of which share one distinct trait today: they all need to realize an increase in their offensive lethality if we are going to win a SAG vs SAG War At Sea scenario.
In the CRUDES world, our longest range and more capable anti-surface weapon remains the Harpoon missile; aside from a few software upgrades, the surface-launched version is largely the same weapon I saw on my first ship when I reported aboard in 1986. The five-inch gun battery has more reliable and effective ammunition – and nearly the same range and rate of fire as its predecessor 30 years ago. The Standard Missile, even with its anti-surface capability, is almost wholly and properly dedicated to the IAMD fight. And in perhaps our most glaring deficiency, we have not yet answered the demand signal from the COCOM in the Pacific, our most challenging maritime environment, to deliver a longer range, surface ship maritime strike weapon.
Today’s threat includes everything from pirates lobbing RPGs to the traditional blue water threat from adversary frigates, cruisers, and destroyers. During a decade of war in and about the Arabian Gulf we focused on fast attack craft (FAC) and fast inland attack craft (FIAC) swarms designed to limit the freedom of navigation in the littorals; while we have already turned our attention to the competing blue water navies of the world, we must ensure our own ships pack the punch necessary to defeat that modernized adversary in the future.
Returning to our Offensive-minded Roots
The confluence among concluding the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars, rebalancing presence and control in the Asia-Pacific basin, and resizing the defense budget has culminated in a “Blue Water Renaissance” for the Surface Navy. In many instances, the past is prologue for the challenges facing today’s (and tomorrow’s) fleet. Our leadership properly states in myriad forum, including testimony before congress, that Sea Power – specifically offensive capability and capacity – remains a critical strategic component in fulfilling rebalancing efforts and meeting international requirements.
To this extent, the Surface Force is positioned to serve as an enabling characteristic in virtually every scenario, yet we must become more lethal and more offensively postured – and deliver increased capacity and capability sooner rather than later. No ship was ever designed with the thought that it would meet and defeat every threat in every scenario; I would submit that notion would be both fiscally and realistically impossible. There are several areas, however, in which the surface warfare community is engaged to increase its lethality, and to do so without having to rely on the presence of the CVN and its air wing; as clearly capable as the Carrier is, against the prolific threat today and tomorrow, the prudent warrior will plan on having to start and finish a maritime engagement without the CVN.
Increased lethality in our ships brings the idea of “sea control” back into the realm of our surface action groups – allowing flexibility in our operational plans and forcing potential aggressors to pause, even when the CVN is days away. In light of the defense budget’s multiple competing requirements, programming the future Surface Force to maintain Blue Water primacy and offensive capability remains our most pressing challenge, but it is a challenge we are addressing on multiple fronts. As is fitting for multi-purpose ships like DDGs and CGs, this increased lethality will come in different mission areas and allow for greater capacity across the spectrum of operations.
Near to Far … Advanced Naval Surface Fires
From the perspective of Naval Surface Fires, N96 is currently spearheading a comprehensive re-fresh of major caliber gun requirements, aptly named “Advanced Naval Surface Fires”. Already begun, this effort will re-evaluate the spectrum of requirements from close-in self-defense to offensive fires. Advanced Naval Surface Fires will focus on increasing surface Navy offensive and defensive lethal capacity and decreasing cost per kill by broadening traditional gunfire requirements to include emerging technologies ranging from precision munitions to the Electro-Magnetic Railgun and laser weapons.
Over the next five years we will complete the fielding of the automated 25mm Mk38 gun system to all of our combatants and upgrade its EO/IR sensor for better threat identification and recognition. The CIWS Block 1B upgrade continues apace, and by the end of FY15 every ship is scheduled to have this gun’s expanded defense against asymmetric threats such as small, fast surface craft, slow-flying aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles. In the 5″ gun lane, we are fielding a new “MOF-N” (Multi-Option Fuse, Navy) ammunition that replaces six older ammunition types and has improved performance against shore and sea targets, while continuing to evaluate the performance of MFF (Multi-Function Fuse) versus FAC/FIAC threats.
But those are all already-existing, albeit significant investments – as part of the focus on increasing lethality, N96 is also investing in new industry initiatives to increase the capability of today’s 5″ gun – improving our surface fleet’s ability to provide precision, high rate fires at extended ranges. Increased lethality also extends beyond the CRUDES community – by the end of FY15, we will complete installation of the laser-guided Griffin missiles in the PC class, which recently completed a perfect 4-for-4 demonstration in theater, and we will soon follow with a new missile system in the LCS which will significantly improve our small vessel engagement capability for the fleet.
Although the STANDARD Missile-2 (SM-2) remains our primary anti-air warfare missile system on all US Navy destroyers and cruisers, and is deployed by eight international Navies, the surface community is sustaining our inventory and pacing the threat by exploring cost effective ways to leverage the existing inventory by integrating an active seeker/guidance section into the SM-2. As we continue to investigate this path, we are encouraged by the notion we could provide the Warfighter with a more robust and cost effective area defense weapon. An active seeker could enable OTH engagements and improve SM-2 performance against stream raids and in ECM environments, while also enhancing our ASuW surface targeting.
Longer term investments in directed energy – both in weaponized lasers and the electro-magnetic railgun – are expected to bring an offensive punch to several mission areas while also significantly reducing the cost curve of a surface engagement. Railgun will provide greatly enhanced range and accuracy against anticipated ASuW target sets in the Pacific Rim and Southwest Asia. Industry is already deep into prototype development of shipboard lasers – high energy, solid state weapons that will provide sustained counter UAV, counter boat swarm and greatly enhanced combat ID. Both of these efforts continue at a pace commensurate with the developing technology; if you’re a SWO finishing your Department Head ride now, you can expect to see them reach culmination and being fielded at sea before your command tour.
Surface Ships and Maritime Strike
Ever since the demise of the Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM), Navy has wrestled with the question of whether, and when, such a capability would again be necessary. What circumstances would dictate that our ships need to engage an enemy SAG at ranges greater than our current Harpoon missile?
Not a simple question, but perhaps there is a simple answer: our ships need to be able to engage that enemy SAG at ranges greater than they can engage us. Sea control really isn’t more complicated than that – possessing more lethality than the threat does, and being able to execute that lethality in a given scenario. Refer back to the earlier statement – we will not always operate with the CSG and its striking force in the Air Wing – and we owe it to our nation and our Sailors to be able to win that fight when it presents itself.
The Navy’s roadmap to fielding a surface launched maritime strike weapon (OASuW) includes competing a future solution that would follow the first increment of OASuW, the LRASM missile, which is an aviation-only weapon. In the interim, the surface community has invested significantly in the existing Tomahawk Block IV weapon system, including the All Up Round (AUR), to not only establish a recertification line and enable the weapon’s remaining fifteen-year service life, but also make the AUR relevant into and beyond the coming decade. The capabilities being built into the current Blk IV – including upgraded communications and electronics, with potential future inclusion of an advanced warhead and seeker – will bear some close similarity to those needed for the surface launched OASuW weapon. The Tomahawk missile, amongst others, will be well positioned to compete for that program.
Finally, since possessing this weapon will serve no purpose unless our ships can actually employ it with the confidence we should demand, we cannot forget the kill chain in the course of increasing lethality. Having myriad methods that rely on consistent communications or the presence of the air wing are not sufficient – we must develop an organic kill chain that enables a SAG to find/fix/target the enemy at ranges commensurate with the weapon system being employed. This is not an easy challenge to overcome, and its discussion is best reserved for another forum; suffice to say that solving this challenge is a primary focus in the surface community.
Another Planning Factor – Fiscal Constraints
Amidst all the intent and desire to increase lethality, and thereby enable sea control, we cannot ignore the fiscal reality that our nation and our military face. Sea Control is defined by offensive lethality; so how does a force with a declining resource base continue to meet the demands of forward presence and persistent readiness, and also not only maintain but increase its lethality?
The short answer is by making some difficult choices, and then maintaining the course to see initiatives survive from original design to actual fielding. No branch of our military, including the Navy and its surface community, can make that happen on its own. The first step, however, can be achieved thru the innovative application of developing technology as it enters the acquisition system. Toward that end, we partner with the many military industries to develop new systems, or refine existing ones, to address current and future requirements.
In this era of flat or declining defense budgets, we simply do not live in a fiscally unconstrained environment. New initiatives need to address capability gaps, and they need to be affordable.
Message to Industry: What would be more helpful than a $500M program designed to counter a $50K threat? A program that builds upon already existing technology, doesn’t require hundreds of millions of dollars of R&D, and can be fielded in an affordable and efficient manner.
Conclusion – Remember, Minor Course Corrections
Like most of the fleet, when I reported to the N96 staff I had never served in OPNAV in any capacity, much less in the role of a resource sponsor. I had little to no appreciation for the opportunities that would present to make a difference in the future of our surface navy. While I recognize that gratification in one’s efforts in the world of resourcing is measured in 5-year budget cycles, I am indeed gratified to know that the community’s focus and investment is in the right place. If we manage to make the minor course corrections described herein, instead of shifting our rudder 30 degrees right to left, we will most certainly realize the increased lethality we need in that future SAG vs SAG scenario.
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.