Tag Archives: Force Structure

Enhancing Existing Force Structure by Optimizing Maritime Service Specialization

Alternative Naval Force Structure Topic Week

By Eric Beaty

The factors which color our view of the world have changed significantly since the end of the Cold War. That overarching conflict polarized the world’s politics and drove the United States to build a naval force focused on blue-water combat against a peer competitor, but the demise of the Soviet Union left a much more complex world where the United States must be prepared to simultaneously counter myriad threats at multiple levels. There is not a uniform solution to every problem and there is not a uniform fleet for every theater. Luckily, the United States has three maritime services—the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps—with different core competencies covering a broad range of naval missions. Current investments in force structure can be maximized by focusing the maritime services on their preferred missions.

Some missions have historically been assigned according to service and platform, rather than warfare areas, which has led to small, orphaned communities in some services. These communities are too small to have many high-ranking alumni in overall service leadership. The resulting consequences include them being often misunderstood and undervalued, poor funding, poor career opportunities, few if any champions in service leadership, and so on. Even when they are appreciated and funded, niche communities lack economies of scale. Therefore, the way to ensure missions are properly funded and manned is to task an interested party to advocate for them, and each of the maritime services has missions they are most passionate about.

The naval force of the future would see a Navy endorsement of the territorial patrol missions of the Coast Guard and expanding the role of the Navy-Marine Corps amphibious team, but there would be no radical course corrections. Instead, naval missions would be assigned to “centers of excellence” within the services to manage the organization, training, and tactics of the joint forces which would execute such missions.

Navy – Combat on the High Seas

The U.S. Navy would manage the missions of blue-water combat: submarine and antisubmarine warfare, carrier aviation, surface warfare, air defense, and sealift. These missions are already clearly within the Navy aegis, so there would be no major change in their execution. By focusing on these core mission sets, and shedding the remainder which the Navy has been unenthusiastic about, the leadership would be refocused on areas where Navy doctrine, tactics, and procurement have been most refined. As such, the platforms of the blue-water Navy would not deviate much from their present and planned configurations.

Coast Guard – Patrolling Offshore

The U.S. Coast Guard would be the mission manager for coastal and offshore patrol operations, for both law enforcement and maritime safety. Under the umbrella of muscular law enforcement, the Coast Guard would manage not only patrols of the American coast, but also patrols off South America and Africa as well. Most of these vessels would be frigates, both U.S. Navy and allied, rather than white-hull Coast Guard cutters, but all would be dedicated to low-intensity constabulary missions. By keeping the peace along much of the world’s coastline, the Coast Guard-led maritime patrol enterprise would free up high-capability vessels to deter peer competitors.

The worldwide maritime patrol enterprise would be led by the United States, with the nonjudgmental aim of maintaining the world’s seaways under the control of accepted and functional governments, because even reticent governments make easier negotiating partners than ungoverned chaos. The simplest way to lead such an enterprise is to help equip and train it, so the United States Navy and Coast Guard would have extensive foreign military sales, partnership programs, and personnel exchange programs with allied maritime nations.

MAPUTO:: Mozambique (June 11:: 2012) Marine 1st Lt. Joseph McHugh Jr.:: officer-in-charge of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) 12.2 Security Team Six speaks with U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Lt. Ricardo Moreno:: who is translating fire team training tactics to Mozambique marine Sub Lt. Jorge A. Julius. Service members assigned to High Speed Vessel Swift (HSV 2) are conducting classroom engagements with local military members for Africa Partnership Station. APS is an international security cooperation initiative:: facilitated by Commander U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa aimed at strengthening global maritime partnerships through training and collaborative activities in order to improve maritime safety and security in Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Joe Keiley/Released)

To make such a broad endeavor more practical, the Coast Guard’s offshore cutters, the Navy’s patrol frigates, and allied nations’ warships would need to be common. The principal requirements would be low cost, ease of maintenance, and margins for growth. The basic warship would have a simple power plant, enough systems to operate as a minimalist patrol ship, and substantial space and weight left available for additions. Buyers could add additional fuel tanks and provisions storage, a variety of weapons, helicopter or boat facilities, or a host of other standardized modifications. While these frigates would be too small to add all options to every vessel, they would also be inexpensive enough that customers of modest means could still purchase them, and customers like the United States could purchase lots of them.

Built cheaply and in large numbers, flotillas of these semi-modular ships would patrol for pirates off Africa, drug smugglers in the Gulf of Mexico, or vessels in distress off North America. For patrol locations far from suitable ports, the Navy would reawaken the concept of tender vessels; using replenishment ships to establish at-sea bases to extend the on-station time of frigates and cutters. These tenders would provide fuel, provisions, spare parts, and a base for the flotilla’s command element. By performing lower-threat missions economically, these frigates would free up the destroyers, cruisers, and carriers to concentrate in high-threat theaters, thereby maximizing combat power.

Marine Corps – Seizing the Littorals

While the Navy prepares to fight wars on the high seas and the Coast Guard leads patrol efforts in more stable theaters, the Marine Corps would manage naval missions across coastal seas and coastal lands. As the service tasked with crossing from sea to land, the Marine Corps is concerned with anything which could affect or impede an amphibious action, including the obvious amphibious tasks, but should now focus on missions like mine countermeasures and small boat operations. Afloat Marine forces are carried to battle by Navy amphibious assault ships and delivered to the beach by Navy landing craft, so there would remain a substantial Navy influence in certain elements, but the Marines would be the lead advocates for coastal mission capabilities.

APRA HARBOR, Guam (Sept. 20, 2016) – Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit embark amphibious assault vehicles in the well deck of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) during Valiant Shield 2016. Valiant Shield 16 is a biennial, U.S.-only, field training exercise (FTX) with a focus on integration of joint training among U.S. forces. Germantown, part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group with embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is participating in Valiant Shield in an effort to increase naval integration and joint capabilities in the event of conflict, contingency, or disaster relief. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Raymond D. Diaz III/Released)

Navy destroyers, cruisers, and carrier battle groups would be responsible for clearing a path to the coastal area for the amphibious train, but the amphibious ships and their direct escorts would be responsible for fighting their way to the beach and enabling the landing force to cross it. To defeat small boat threats and provide fire support until the Marine landing force could establish artillery ashore, the amphibious train would be escorted by frigates (based on the common hull introduced above) specialized with the maximum number of naval guns possible. With these frigates, the amphibious force would be able to defeat enemy forces in waters too constricted for the blue-water warships to operate effectively.

Closer to the beach, mines would be the next threat to an amphibious landing. Rather than operate a separate fleet of minesweepers and mine countermeasures support ships, the Marine Corps-centered littoral force would base countermine detachments aboard the same amphibious assault ships carrying the landing force. Assault ships are designed with large well decks, copious storage, and substantial berthing space, making them best-suited to operate divers and unmanned countermine vehicles of all sizes. Furthermore, they have the flight decks to operate the CH-53K King Stallions that would take the airborne minesweeping mission from the Navy’s MH-53E Sea Dragons as these aging helicopters are retired. Saving the Navy the purchase of new mine countermeasures ships would pay off in funding for extra amphibious landing ships and CH-53Ks, a doubly effective reorganization for the amphibious mission.

The Marine Corps would also take overall responsibility for the related riverine mission set. Outside of port security missions (which would fall under Coast Guard leadership), all coastal and riverine boat operations would become part of the permanent Navy-Marine Corps amphibious enterprise. Effective riverine operations include the same elements as amphibious landings—afloat mobility, fire support, and power projection ashore—so consolidation of the riverine and amphibious communities would create a deeper and more diverse base of experience for both missions. Integration with Marine Corps infantry, aviation, and artillery would make the riverine squadrons more effective in combat than they could be alone. Also, increased small-boat landing and raiding capability would increase the Marines’ naval presence and take advantage of their unique maritime capabilities.

The Joint Naval Force in Action

This joint naval force of the future would perform in a very similar fashion to the present-day and historical naval forces, insofar as the various forces have capabilities available. Where the future naval force would excel is in peacetime administration and presence: more efficient management of missions would reduce redundancy and increase the number of forces available when and where they were needed for combat and deterrence. Transitory advantages like technology or brilliant leadership would come and go, but the future naval force would be organized to make the most efficient use of these advantages on the seas to achieve America’s long-term goals.

LT Eric Beaty is an E-2C/D Hawkeye Naval Flight Officer, presently working ashore in D.C. The views express herein are solely those of the author and are presented in a personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (July 18, 2016) – Cpl. Ryan Dills communicates with other assault amphibious vehicles while traveling from amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) to Royal Australian Navy Canberra class amphibious ship HMAS Canberra (L02).  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by SSgt. Christopher Giannetti/Released)

Proposing A Modern High Speed Transport – The Long Range Patrol Vessel

Alternative Naval Force Structure Week

By Tom Meyer

 The U.S. Navy achieved extraordinary success in the 20th century – playing key roles in winning WWII and the Cold War. The U.S. Navy earned these accomplishments with forces structured around an exceptional fleet of technologically superior ships and aircraft. The U.S. Navy’s “ships of the line” during this era represented the height of our technological and industrial capabilities – and no expense was spared to create, construct, and operate this world-leading fleet.

As the United States and the U.S. Navy move into the 21st century, the United States faces the duel challenge of engaging in a “long war” against Islamofacism and meeting the threat of emerging “peer competitors” in a period of economic and fiscal constraints. Meeting these dichotomous challenges requires a fundamental rethink of the nature of naval forces and their roles. Is the U.S. Navy moving from an era of exceptional “ships of the line” – including LHA’s & LPD’s, FFG’s, CG’s, DDG’s, SSN’s and CVN’s – to one filled with USV’s, UAV’s, LCS’s, CV’s, SSK’s and perhaps something new – Long Range Patrol Vessels (LRPV’s)? But what exactly is an LRPV? 

The LRPV represents the 21st century version of the WWII APD – High Speed Transports. To better understand the 21st century LRPV, let’s take a look at the history and capabilities of the 20th century APDs.

Historical Connections

During WWII and the Korean War, Crosley-class APDs based on the Rudderrow class of destroyer escorts were pressed into a variety of roles and performed missions including amphibious assault, UDT operations and raids, ASW, long-range patrolling, and search and rescue– i.e. rescue of USS Indianapolis survivors.

During the Evacuation of Hungnam, 24 December 1950, USS Begor (APD-127) stands offshore, ready to embark the last UN landing craft, as demolition charges wreck Hungnam's port facilities. (U.S. National Archives)
During the Evacuation of Hungnam, 24 December 1950, USS Begor (APD-127) stands offshore, ready to embark the last UN landing craft, as demolition charges wreck Hungnam’s port facilities. (U.S. National Archives)

The ability to successfully complete these various missions resulted from the inherently flexible design of the APDs. To begin with, the designers of the Crosley class APD’s provided these ships with a strong organic armament, including one 5″/38 dual purpose gun mount, three twin 40 mm gun mounts, six single 20 mm gun mounts, and two depth charge tracks. The Crosley class APD’s were equipped to carry and support 12 officers and 150 enlisted men. Furthermore, the Crosley’s were equipped with 4 LCVPs to convey troops and equipment ashore.

Finally, the Crosley APD’s could carry a combination of the following material on board:

  • 6 x 1/4 ton trucks
  • 2 x 1 ton trucks
  • 4 x ammunition carts
  • 4 x pack howitzers
  • 6,000 cubic feet ammunition
  • 3,500 cubic feet general cargo
  • 1,000 cubic feet gasoline

The capabilities and flexibility of the APD’s are the inspiration for a new line of vessels – the Long Range Patrol Vessels (LRPVs).

The LRPV Concept

The modern LRPV would build upon and update the concept of High Speed Transport for the 21st century. The LRPV would combine new technologies, capabilities, and processes to create regionally-focused LRPV surface action groups (SAGs) supporting U.S. national and U.S. Navy strategic goals and objectives.

The modern LRPV would operate as a member of a two ship LRPV sag. The SAG would leverage recent innovative work by the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory to design, create, and test a new Combat Landing Team organizational model – COLT.

The COLT organizational model creates a unique USMC amphibious landing team consisting of three infantry platoons, one weapons platoon, an enhanced scout section, and an enhanced command element.

The specific Concept of Operations (ConOps) would be two LRPVs operating together while jointly carrying one USMC COLT (or U.S. Army equivalent) and their organic vehicles while conducting extended patrols in specific geographic areas (i.e. South America, Africa or SE Asia). These patrols would provide the opportunity for these LRPVs to operate in close, sustained partnerships with local maritime forces by conducting numerous extended joint operations, exercises, and security cooperation engagements.

To meet the challenges emerging in the 21st century, LRPV SAGs would focus on specific geographic regions including South America, Africa, SE Asia, and the Middle East. Forward presence could be enhanced by conducting crew swaps in forward operating locations, including Guam, Japan, Singapore, Diego Garcia, Bahrain, Naples, Guantanamo Bay, and other locations yet to be identified.

Through the use of long-term forward deployments, regionally-based crew-swapping, and the strong organic capabilities of the LRPVs, the specific numeric requirements for the LRPV construction program could be limited to 30-34 individual ships to support regional LRPV squadrons. The number of ships required to support the program is based on a projected need to support at least 4 regionally-focused LRPV SAGs plus their training and maintenance requirements. In addition to carrying a USMC COLT or U.S. Army equivalent formation, the LRPV SAGs could carry a composite unit tailored to suit patrol-specific planned interactions with local national military forces. 

For example, the afloat forces for a LRPV SAG deployment to multiple countries over a 6-8 month period within the SOUTHCOM AOR could consist of:

  • 2 platoons of U.S. Army Infantry (plus their Stryker vehicles)
  • 2 platoons of U.S. Army Engineers (and their heavy equipment)
  • A contingent of U.S. Army Medical personnel
  • An air contingent of 3-4 UH-60’s plus UAV’s drawn from U.S. Army Aviation

An anti-piracy patrol off of East Africa could see the LRPV Squadron deploy with:

In addition to carrying out these types of long-duration, presence missions, the flexibility of the LRPV design would enable additional missions to be undertaken, including: short term “summer cruises” to support training missions, rapid response to humanitarian crisis, sanctions/blockade enforcement, convoy escort, and search and rescue.

LRPVs would not be amphibious warfare ships per se but are intended to sustain long-range, forward presence patrols supporting U.S. national interests. However, when necessary, LRPV SAGs could conduct counter-terrorism or counter-proliferation raids at the direction of the NCA or could support an ESG by providing additional raiding or striking capabilities during a crisis – thereby increasing the level of difficulty confronting an adversary of the United States. By combining the right mix of technology, capabilities, organizational structures and sound processes, the LRPV would support key U.S. national interests and provide a visible expression to the concept of a “1000 ship navy” previously expressed by the U.S. Navy and the OSD.

Ship Characteristics

What specific attributes and capabilities would a LRPV have? Here are some key characteristics:

Weight: 7,000-9,000 tons

Length: 450-500ft

Beam: 50-60ft

Draft: 10-16ft

Propulsion: CODAG (minimum 4 LM-2500s or 2 LM-6000s) plus 2 diesel engines – some thought should be given to alternate propulsion systems (i.e. Podded Electric propulsion?) – commercial standards perhaps?

Speed: Max 28 knots (stretch 32 knots) – cruise speed – 14-16 knots (stretch 18-20 knots)

Range: 10,000 NM – Stretch 12,000 at cruising speed

Combat Systems: Aegis SPY-1F(V), (proposed for export-version of LCS) or even the SPY-5 proposed for lighter warships; 2 illuminators (1 fore & 1 aft); CEC-enabled; open architecture networks & C3I systems allow “plug & play” of new weapons and sensors.

ESM/ECM: SQS-32V or newer version

Sonar: Bow-mounted sonar standard; Towed Array – optional

Communications: High-bandwidth satellite communications


  • 140-180 (190 is acceptable)
  • Additional berthing (permanently installed): 120 Marine (1/2 of USMC COLT insert link)
  • Additional crew considerations: SOF, humanitarian personnel, noncombatant evacuation, search and rescue.




Use of VLS enables the introduction of new missiles over the life of the LRPV.

ASW Torpedoes: 


  • Landing Spots: Operation of 2 helicopters simultaneously (4 would be a stretch goal)
  • Hangar Space: 4 medium helicopters (SH-60’s specifically 2 SH-60R & 2 SH-60S). Ability to provide hangar space for 3 SH-60 size helicopters plus 2 additional Fire Scouts would be a stretch goal

Flex Deck: 

  • Square Footage: 16,800 Sq Feet per ship
  • Weight Capacity: Reinforced to support up to M1A2 tank (Up to 70 Tons)

Suggested vehicle load across two LRPVs could include a reinforced Light Armored Reconnaissance Platoon (or comparable U.S. Army Stryker unit):

  • 8 LAV-25’s/M-1126 Strykers 
  • 2 LAV/R or M-1132,
  • 2 LAV-C or M-1130, 2 LAV/M or M-1129 
  • 2 LAV(TOW Launcher) or 2 M-1134 Stryker Anti-Tank Guide Missile Vehicle
  • 14 Humvees
  • 14 10 5-7 Ton FMTV’s including 2-3 Tankers
  • 3 155MM Towed Artillery Guns plus Movers (Stretch)
  • 6 Additional 40’ Containers – Supplies & Training Simulators

Notes on Flex Deck:

  • Flight deck access would be ideal with either ramp or elevator (Ramp is preferred due to simplicity)
  • Ability to load LCM or LCVP via 30 ton crane is required
  • Ro/Ro capability is required (via a ramp or a mexeflote style ramp at stern and ramp to port or starboard) – with 100 ton carrying capacity
  • Flex deck must support the installation of habitability containers to support additional troops or temporary medical facilities
  • Flex deck must provide electrical and communication network interfaces across entire flex deck floor space – both high-speed direct connectivity and wireless connection

Small boat capabilities:

  • 2 x LCM-6s – LCM would be able to carry 25 tonnes (30 tonnes stretch goal) – this will enable carriage of LAVs or Strykers
  • 2 x LCVPs or 2 x DOCKSTAVARVET AB CB90Hs – Carried in separate davits from LCM-6s

Note: The LCVPs must be capable of carrying Uparmored Humvees, an example of a possible LCVP which could be used is the Royal Navy LCVP Mk5. The Mk5 is 15.5 meters long and 4.4 meters wide and capable of carrying a company of 30 fully equipped troops or vehicles such as: BV206, JCB410, ATV’s and towed artillery. The Mk5 can travel up to 25 knots and has a range of over 210 nautical miles. 

Note: LCM davits must be flexible enough to support LCVPs, RHIBs, CB 90Hs, CSSCs or USCG small craft. LCVP davits must be flexible enough to accommodate RIB’s, CH 90Hs, CSSCs or USCG small craft.

  • 2 x RHIBsStandard ship’s complement – separate from landing craft listed above.

Additional  capabilities:

  • Excess fresh water production capacity
  • Strong organic, on-board medical facilities
  • Excess toilet and showering facilities to support combined baseline ship complement, USMC/U.S. Army/other additional complement plus additional personnel house in habability containers on flex deck
  • Onboard synthetic training facilities for COLT team members including infantry & tankers (Perhaps 2×20 or 40 foot containers configured to provide simulation facilities on Flex Deck)

With a lifelong interest in aviation, naval and all manner of military affairs, Tom graduated from Florida State University with BA in Political Science & International Relations plus a MS in Political Science.  He spent over a decade with Top 3 US Airline working in Ops, Technology, the Low Cost Carrier unit and Employee Relations. Tom has now worked almost 10 years for a major Telecommunications company in various roles.  Home is Atlanta, GA. You can follow Tom on Twitter at @tkmeyer0524.

Featured Image: USS Crosley (APD-87) at anchor (Navsource)

Unmanned-Centric Force Structure

Alternative Naval Force Structure Week

By Javier Gonzalez 

The U.S. Navy is currently working on a new Fleet Structure Assessment, the results of which will eventually help inform the long-term force structure goals of the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan. This ongoing analysis was generated due to the realization that some of the assumptions used to develop the current goal of 308 ships have changed significantly since its proposal in 2014. The Russian resurgence and China’s rapid military buildup defied expectations, and a review of the Navy’s force structure was absolutely warranted. The conundrum and implied assumption, with this or similar future force structure analyses, is that the Navy must have at least a vague understanding of an uncertain future. However, there is a better way to build a superior and more capable fleet—by continuing to build manned ships based on current and available capabilities while also fully embracing optionality (aka flexibility and adaptability) in unmanned systems. Additionally, and perhaps the better argument, is that a new, unmanned-centric fleet can be more affordable while maintaining its relevance over the expected service life.


A relevant fleet is one that is robust, flexible, and adaptable—one that embraces optionality to anticipate uncertain and changing requirements. The author Nassim Taleb describes optionality as “the property of asymmetric upside with correspondingly limited downside.” The implication here is to clearly identify which options will provide the best ability to achieve this “asymmetric upside.” Systems such as the vertical launch system provide a certain degree of flexibility by allowing for the rapid fielding of any weapons that fit inside a missile. In addition, the concepts of modularity (Littoral Combat Ship program), modular hulls, containers interfaces, flexible infrastructures, and electronic modular enclosures are other examples of the Navy’s explicit efforts to add flexibility and adaptability into the fleet. The upsides of adding flexibility are self-evident—by having options added early in the design process, the Navy can quickly and affordably react to new geo-political situations and adjust to technological innovations. However, adding optionality is not an easy proposition, especially because today’s capabilities fielding process values optimization, affordability, and a discernable return on investment over adaptability and flexibility.

Optimization is contrary to optionality, but it is a main factor in today’s ship design. For instance, space optimization is intuitive—the better optimized a space, given today’s capabilities, the smaller the ship needs to be and, consequently, the more affordable it should be. However, this approach infers a level of certainty and inflexibility to change, contrary to optionality. The reality is that optimization is at times necessary on a manned warship. However, new unmanned system designs can provide a canvas to shift this focus to one that values optionality and takes advantage of uncertainty. The suggestion is to make the long-term investment on the unmanned “bus,” not the capabilities. These new unmanned buses must be designed to maximize power generation, cooling, and space availability. The design also needs a robust command and control system to enable the employment of multiple unmanned systems in a cooperative environment.

Affordable Fleet

The affordability of the fleet is not simply a function of budget availability. In 2014, the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, testified to Congress that the Navy needed a 450 ship fleet to meet the global demands by the Combatant Commanders. This 450 ship number is likely better equipped to meet future Combatant Commanders’ needs than the current proposal of a 308 ship Navy. At a minimum, a 450 ship Navy provides more options to fulfill future requirements. However, the current and expected future fiscal environment suggests that building more ships is not an option unless a radical change occurs. Also, the enemy has a crucial vote on the affordability of the fleet. The fall of the USRR can be traced back to the U.S. strategy, in the 1970s and 1980s, to impose great costs on the Soviets by making investments to render their warfighting systems obsolete. This obsolescence created an incentive for the Soviets to make costly investments in an attempt to match the technology introductions by the United States. This strategy’s success was achieved in great part due to the apparent U.S. technological advantage over the Soviets. Today, the United States finds itself in a similar predicament as the Soviets in the Cold War, where technology is leaping in new and unexpected ways and China, in particular, is fielding systems that make many U.S. systems obsolete. The rapid fielding of “game changing” technology by China, such as the first quantum communications satellite or the DF-21D missile, results in a predictable reaction by the DoD to invest in more capable and expensive advancements to counter their efforts. If the Soviets are any indication of the dangers of this strategy, especially if the United States acknowledges that the technological edge over near competitors in the 20th century will no longer be assured, then the United States needs to shift its competitive model to one flexible enough to rapidly and affordably adjust to unforeseen challenges.

Sea Hunter, an entirely new class of unmanned ocean-going vessel gets underway on the Williammette River following a christening ceremony in Portland, Oregon. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)
Sea Hunter, an entirely new class of unmanned ocean-going vessel gets underway on the Williammette River following a christening ceremony in Portland, Oregon. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

 Additionaly, long-term shipbuilding is inherently expensive and dependent on current and mature capabilities. Trying to build a ship with immature technologies can result in unnaceptable acquisition blunders. For instance, the Navy’s next-generation nuclear carrier, CVN-78 Gerard P. Ford, has resulted in massive cost overruns due in great part to the risk incurred in trying to include new and immature technologies into the shipbuilding plan. An unmanned-centric fleet provides the flexibility to value building manned ships based on current and available capabilities while also fully embracing optionality in unmanned systems. An added benefit of having optionality combined with unmanned systems is that it allows for prospective capabilities to be more rapidly prototyped while offering a robust means for experimentation both for technology and future concept of operations development. Unmanned systems could function similarly to a smartphone and its many applications. The benefit of this approach is that it provides an environment with stressors that will allow new technology to fail early and facilitate rapid change, evolution, and dramatically quicken the research and capabilities fielding cycles. The next Fleet Structure Assessment should also embrace optionality by finding the optimal mix of manned and unmanned vessels that will yield an asymmetric upside.


An unmanned-centric force structure will be dramatically different than today’s Navy, and it will require a departure from the 450 ship manned Navy ideal or the current 308 ship goal. The right mix of manned versus unmanned systems can be derived from a concept of operations that promotes judicious force structure discussions. The basis of this new concept is a fleet with more unmanned systems than manned systems where these platforms are fully integrated. For instance, instead of having a Surface Action Group (SAG) comprised of three manned ships, new SAGs could be comprised of a manned ship and at least two unmanned surface vehicles. Incorporating vehicles like DARPA’s ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel or General Dynamics’ Fleet-class unmanned surface vessel could add capabilities that will immediately increase lethality and adaptability. In the amphibious realm, the Navy could leverage unmanned platforms as resupply distribution systems for Marines on the beach. This could be of particular importance in a contested environment while supporting multiple fronts in an archipelago-like scenario. Further in the future, instead of having eleven 100,000-ton aircraft carriers, a mix of eight traditional carriers with eight to ten smaller (~40,000 ton) all-unmanned combat air vehicle carriers will provide the flexibility and presence that all Combatant Commanders are desperately seeking.

Presence is about having the right capability, in the right place, at the right time. To accomplish this the Navy will essentially need more assets. A plausible solution could be a force structure where the main employment of unmanned systems will be around unmanned-centric Surface Action Groups as the smallest force package to fulfill theater needs. The current 308 ship Navy plan is structured as follows:


CVN – Carrier, LSC – Large Surface Combatants, SSC – Small Surface Combatants, SSN – Fast attack submarines, SSBN – Ballistics Submarines, AWS – Amphibious Warfare Ships, CLF – Combat Logistic Force, Supt – Support vessels.

A future force structure could start with trading large and small surface combatants for a new fleet of Unmanned Vessels. The affordability comes from the added presence afforded by the nature of an unmanned autonomous system and the need for fewer personnel to support their operations. The added capability comes from the introduction of 19 capable Surface Action Groups comprised of a manned ship with two unmanned vessels as depicted below and further explained in table I:


CVN – Carrier, LSC – Large Surface Combatants, SSC – Small Surface Combatants, USV – Unmanned Surface Vessel, SSN – Fast attack submarines, SSBN – Ballistics Submarines, AWS – Amphibious Warfare Ships, CLF – Combat Logistic Force, Supt – Support vessels.

screenshot_11– Rule of thumb used: 3 ships at home for every one deployed (for repairs, maintenance, training, and other requirements).
-Out of the 140 surface combatants (large and small) proposed in current 308 ship plan, 35 could be deployed at any time (based on rule of thumb).  Assuming 4 carriers deployed with an escort composition of three manned surface combatants per deployed carrier – the Navy could have 23 manned surface combatants available for tasking.
-Based on GAO yearly operational costs of a DDG ($70k per day) and assumed cost of DARPA’s ACTUV  ($15-20k per day) then one DDG is equivalent to 12 USVs (no personnel = affordability). Force structure was determined by trading 4 DDGs to provide 38 USVs. Four less DDGs = 19 very capable Surface Action Groups (a manned ship and two unmanned vessels).


The most important attributes for future force structures are relevance and affordability. This goal can be achieved by pivoting from the traditional to place the emphasis on developing unmanned capable buses that can accommodate all current technologies and have the capacity to flex and adapt to future technologies. Optionality to ship-building and unmanned systems integration can provide the flexibility and adaptability the Navy requires to remain relevant in an uncertain future. The result is a force structure that is more capable and conceptually more affordable. All great plans start with the end in mind – the upcoming Fleet Structure Assessment needs to showcase what the end of the Navy’s 30-year vision looks like. The suggestion is an unmanned-centric, man-led fleet.

Commander Javier Gonzalez is a Navy Federal Executive Fellow at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and a career Surface Warfare Officer. These are his personal views and do not reflect those of John Hopkins University or the Department of the Navy.

Featured Image: An artist’s concept of ACTUV (DARPA)

The Perils of Alternative Force Structure

Alternative Naval Force Structure Topic Week

By Steve Wills

Navies have historically sought alternative force structures in response to changes in their nation’s grand strategy, rising costs of maintaining existing force structure, advances in technology, and combinations of these conditions. While initially appealing in terms of meeting new strategic needs, saving money, and gaining offensive and defensive superiority over an opponent, such changes are fraught with danger if undertaken too quickly, are too radical in tone, or do not account for the possibility of further change. Some are built “from the bottom up” on ideal tactical combat conditions, but do not support wider strategic needs. Even the best alternative force structure that meets strategic needs, is more affordable than previous capabilities, and outguns the enemy could be subject to obsolescence before most of its units are launched. These case studies in alternative force structure suggest that such efforts are often less than successful in application.

The American Civil War Ironclads

One of the most familiar alternative force structures was that of the United States Navy in response to the revolutions in steam power, armor, and rifled cannon in the late 1850s. The impending appearance of the rebel warship CSS Virginia (the former steam frigate USS Merrimac) during the American Civil War triggered a crash course in ironclad warship experimentation in the Federal Navy. When Virginia did appear, the only one of these experiments ready for battle was Swedish engineer John Ericsson’s USS Monitor, a revolutionary craft in comparison to both the Federal fleet’s current force structure and other experimental craft. The success of Ericsson’s craft against the Virginia spawned over 60 other low freeboard armored vessels with one, two, and even three turrets. Despite several losses, including that of the namesake ship, to weather conditions, and one (USS Tecumseh) to a torpedo (mine) hit, the monitor type ships had a remarkable record of combat success in coastal and riverine environments during the Civil War.

USS Cairo 1862 Photographed in the Mississippi River area during 1862, with a boat alongside her port bow, crewmen on deck and other river steamers in the background. (U.S. Naval Historical Center)
USS Cairo 1862 Photographed in the Mississippi River area during 1862, with a boat alongside her port bow, crewmen on deck and other river steamers in the background. (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

Unfortunately, the return of peace and the need to maintain overseas naval squadrons to protect U.S. economic interests spelled an end to the dominance of the monitor in U.S. naval force structure. One conducted a high-profile overseas visit to Europe while a second managed to sail around Cape Horn only to be immediately decommissioned upon arrival in San Francisco. Monitor-type ships had poor seakeeping capabilities outside coastal waters and did not carry enough coal for extended operations. The U.S. had not developed the high-freeboard sail and steam warships that other powers had constructed, and in any case U.S. strategic interests had changed to where monitors were no longer necessary components of naval force structure. Nearly all were decommissioned and scrapped or laid up in long-term reserve by 1874.

The “Jeune Ecole” (Young School) Torpedo Craft and Commerce Raiders

The “Jeune Ecole” (Young School) of French naval strategy was the brainchild of Vice Admiral Hyacinthe-Laurent-Theophile Aube and developed in the mid to late 19th century in response to the growing battleship fleet of France’s primary adversary, Great Britain. Rather than build a competing battlefleet, French strategists derived an alternative force structure designed to offset British battleship superiority and attack a perceived weakness in Britain’s global maritime trade network. French designers planned for masses of small, torpedo-armed craft to launch large salvos of underwater weapons at the exposed, unarmored lower sides of British battleships. Torpedo craft were much cheaper and easier to build in numbers as opposed to battleships. They also had a successful combat record with spar-mounted weapons in the American Civil War, and later successes in the Russo-Turkish War, South American conflicts, and in the Russo-Japanese War.

Commerce raiding conducted by fast cruisers, as conduced by rebel naval forces during the American Civil War, was also seen as an asymmetric tool for combating global maritime powers with vulnerable trade routes. Defending naval forces could not be everywhere and took time to assemble in areas threatened by a surface raider.

Dupuy de Lôme, an early armored cruiser. (Freshwater and Marine Image Bank)
Dupuy de Lôme, an early armored cruiser. (Freshwater and Marine Image Bank)

Unfortunately, the march of technological advance that supported the tenets of the Jeune Ecole also served to undermine them. Nations whose battleships were threatened by torpedo boats developed the larger and more capable torpedo boat destroyer to escort their battleships, destroy enemy torpedo boats, and launch their own torpedo attacks against opposing forces. Advances in battleship gunnery in the first decade of the 20th century allowed capital ships to open fire at ranges greater than that of the torpedo, making daylight attacks suicidal for torpedo craft.

Surface commerce raiding also ran up against new technologies that made it largely ineffective. First, undersea communication cables and later radio allowed for long-range communication between naval leaders at home and their forces deployed around the world. Commerce raiders that had to stop to take on coal and provisions would have their locations reported much more rapidly than in past centuries, allowing naval forces to concentrate and destroy them. Radio intercepts also allowed pursuing forces to track surface raiders. British naval forces quickly identified and eliminated German cruiser formations engaged in commerce raiding once radio communications reported their positions. Raiders disguised as merchant ships persisted into the Second World War, but submarines that could submerge and operate undetected became much more effective commerce raiders.

The Jeune Ecole was also in effect a tactical concept elevated to the rank of strategy. While torpedo attacks might sink British battleships attacking French coastal waters and commerce raiders might weaken British commerce, how did the force structure promote French strategic goals? How would these formations protect France’s own far-flung possessions; a colonial amalgamate that was second in size only to that of Great Britain’s? How would lightly armed and armored commerce raiders and generally unseaworthy torpedo boats carry the fight to British shores if needed? The Jeune Ecole did not answer these questions of strategic employment of French naval forces.

France also reached a political settlement with Great Britain in the early 20th century and the French fleet of raiding cruisers and torpedo boats was left without an enemy. France would likely have benefited from a more balanced fleet in the First World War and struggled to catch up in the dreadnought building race that commenced shortly after its “Entente Cordiale” agreement with Great Britain.

Jackie Fisher’s Fleet

Great Britain experimented with its own alternative fleet force structure at the outset of the 20th century. This was the “fleet that Jack built;” the pre-World War 1 fleet of battlecruisers, large destroyers, submarines, and other revolutionary warships that sprang from the fertile mind of British Admiral Sir John Fisher. The fiery Fisher, who in U.S. service might have resembled a combination of Admirals Hyman G. Rickover and Arthur Cebrowski, was selected to be First Sea Lord (British equivalent of the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations) in 1904 with a mandate to cut costs and increase combat capability. Fisher’s answer to this problem partially involved a revolutionary new force structure of hybrid ships that combined existing classes in order to meet British strategic needs while lowering naval estimates. The battlecruiser that combined the firepower of a battleship with the speed and range of armored cruiser would speed to threatened areas of the globe and destroy slower, less well-armed enemies at long range. Defense of the United Kingdom itself would be left to torpedo-armed large destroyers and submarines. Fisher was a strong advocate of new technologies and supported naval aviation, steam powered-submarines, director firing of warship guns, and cleaner, more efficient oil fuel for warships in place of coal.

Despite being innovative and well connected to British grand strategy, Fisher’s fleet was largely obsolete in less than ten years. Britain’s primary enemy changed from France and its Jeune Ecole-based trade warfare fleet to Germany that built a similar fleet of battleships and battlecruisers for operations in European waters. Apparently, Fisher never expected anyone to create a mirror image of his battlecruiser fleet. Fisher’s big ships were instead assigned as heavy scouts for a British fleet expecting a fleet battle in the close confines of the North Sea.

HMS Invincible, Britain's first battlecruiser. (Wikimedia Commons)
HMS Invincible, Britain’s first battlecruiser. (Wikimedia Commons)

Technology also advanced beyond Fisher’s initial concepts. The fast battleship, which carried heavy guns, was well armored and had a decent turn of speed obviated the need for the specialized battlecruisers. Fisher’s steam-powered submarines were ahead of their time, but plagued by technological issues that limited their effectiveness. The German surface fleet only made rare appearances and Germany’s merchant fleet was largely interned or destroyed by the end of the first year of war, leaving few targets for Fisher’s submersibles.  The Battle of Jutland, the one great naval encounter of the war, did not offer proof that Fisher’s force structure was right or wrong. Instead, poor tactical doctrine (not a lack of armor) caused significant casualties among Fisher’s battlecruisers. The less than satisfactory results left the Royal Navy with a haunting experience of frustration and regret that would not be extirpated until the Second World War. He was out of power and office by 1916 due to his repeated clashes with his protégé Winston Churchill over the conduct of the Dardanelles campaign. Fisher’s revolution achieved much for the Royal Navy in its first five years, but was effectively over after the first two years of the First World War.

Zumwalt’s High/Low Mix

Finally, there is the 1970s era U.S. Navy attempt at an alternative force structure launched by revolutionary Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr. Like Fisher who faced reduced naval estimates due to the costs of the unpopular Boer War and a rising welfare state, Zumwalt also had to contend with a U.S. naval budget limited by the expenditures for the Vietnam War and for President Johnson’s social welfare programs. In response, Zumwalt conceived of a high/low concept for U.S. naval force structure where, in the words of retired naval officer and Hoover Institute scholar Captain Paul Ryan, “A few high-performance ships and many low-performance ones would avoid wrecking the budget but not expose the nation to risks represented by large emerging fleets of small, fast, cruise missile-armed combatants.”

Zumwalt’s program included reduced funding for large, nuclear aircraft carriers and guided missile escorts, but greater support for a number of low-end vessels including the Sea Control Ship, the patrol frigate (which later became the FFG 7 Perry class frigate), and the Pegasus class hydrofoil combatant. Zumwalt intended that the low-end ships would operate in support of general sea control in low threat areas rather than focus on the Navy’s power projection concept developed after the Second World War.

An artist's conception of the final Sea Control Ship design. (U.S. Navy Image)
An artist’s conception of the final Sea Control Ship design. (U.S. Navy Image)

Zumwalt’s program found favor with those in Congress who were happy to spend less on the fleet, but met stiff opposition from within the Navy’s own ranks, especially from carrier aviators unhappy with reduced investment in carriers. Strategy-minded individuals also opposed the high/low force structure as they felt it failed to appreciate the Navy’s vital, carrier-based strike capability as the real war winning capability fielded by the fleet. Naval historian Norman Friedman, for example, labeled high/low as, “An un-Mahanian excursion,” and former 6th Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Gerald E. Miller remarked that, “the Sea Control ship might deny the Soviets access to the Chesapeake Bay,” but that its effective use ended there.

Zumwalt’s low-end ships had faults of their own that were difficult to overcome. In addition to the operational limitations of the Sea Control Ship, the patrol frigate (Perry) class went from a $50 million dollar combatant to an average cost of $193 million dollars by the end of the 51-ship program. The patrol hydrofoils were short-ranged and were focused more toward offensive action than the peacetime patrol and presence operations the Navy required. Estimates on their operating costs vary, but only 6 of the intended 30 were completed with Zumwalt’s successors.

Changes in the strategic situation confronting the U.S. across the 1970s served to bring the high/low alternative force structure to an end by 1980. Intelligence gathered from taps on Soviet Navy underwater communications cables suggested the USSR was not planning a 3rd Battle of the Atlantic where Zumwalt’s force would have been most useful. The Communist superpower instead intended to keep its submarines close to the homeland to protect its ballistic missile submarines and attack U.S. carriers threatening Soviet bases. Response to this plan called for more high-end warships such as large aircraft carriers and their escorts. While ultimately not successful, Zumwalt’s efforts did lead to better armament for U.S. Navy surface ships such as the Harpoon missile.

Modern Parallels

These case studies suggest that alternative force structures are born from a desire to achieve strategic advantage over an opponent, take advantage of technological advances, and save costs in the execution of strategic policy. Current proposals for alternative force structures follow similar pathways. Concepts for arming a new generation of warships with directed energy weapons and railguns, thereby capturing the high ground of advanced technology, are similar to the U.S. Navy’s monitor program of the Civil War. Like the monitors of the 1860s, current designs for railgun and directed energy weapons are in their infancy but potentially very powerful. Initial versions will be expensive and likely to be rapidly outmoded by technological advance.

Proposals for large fleets of smaller, more expendable warships that can be built at low cost mirror the French Jeune Ecole. Those same proposals are also an attempt to build a strategic plan from a tactical or operational concept.

Hybrid warships that combine the capabilities of multiple ships on a common hull, like the U.S. littoral combat ship (LCS) are reminiscent of John Fisher’s battlecruisers. Fisher’s later entrants into the battlecruiser category later found gainful employment in the Second World War as refitted fast capital ships or as aircraft carriers. The long-term success of the LCS may also depend on its ability to adapt to new missions.

USS Freedom (LCS 1) undergoes testing and preparations off the coast of San Diego prior to its deployment to Southeast Asia in spring of 2013. (Lockheed Martin)
USS Freedom (LCS 1) undergoes testing and preparations off the coast of San Diego prior to its deployment to Southeast Asia in spring of 2013. (Lockheed Martin)

Alternative force structures can also meet challenges from within their host navies. Admiral Zumwalt’s high/low mix faced considerable opposition from carrier aviators within the U.S. Navy hierarchy. The low costs with Zumwalt’s low-end ships were much greater than first estimated and the strategic situation changed as in past cases making the alternative force structure much less attractive. The U.S. LCS design, conceived as a low- end combatant in a period of lower threats and fiscal austerity, faces similar challenges in ensuring relevance in a new period of Cold War-like peer/near peer competition. Unlike the late 1970s, there is little chance of a Reagan-like defense budget in the immediate U.S. future. Sequestration budget caps are likely to continue, dimming the chances of a higher-end surface combatant to replace the LCS.


Alternative force structures offer the promise of harnessing new technology, overcoming a specific opponent platform, and cost savings in defense procurement. Naval leaders should be wary in their adoption. Periods of rapid technology as those that occurred in the second half of the 19th century and those occurring in the present can rapidly condemn today’s alternative force to an early reserve fleet or scrapyard. High costs incurred in the construction and fielding of a rapidly obsolete alternative force are not easily recouped. Alternative forces inspired by tactical requirements may find themselves at odds with current and future strategies. Finally, even the best alternative force crafted to meet current strategic requirements can be reduced to irrelevance with the stroke of a pen in a diplomatic agreement. Historically, balanced fleets of mixed capabilities have fared better in naval battles and maintained relevance through evolving threat environments. Navies should consider all of these points before embarking on the perilous quest for the perfect alternative force structure.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD candidate 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. 

Featured Image: The USS Zumwalt sits at dock at the naval station in Newport, R.I., Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)