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Friday, April 25, 2014

Updates April 2014

Author's Note: As a college student, I occasionally am unable to post articles on a regular basis due to an influx of school related work. I will be working on papers and finals for the next two weeks so I don't expect to post too many articles over the next two weeks. Thank you for your continued patience. In the meantime, here are a few interesting articles I recommend:

[UPDATE: I finished finals and have begun work on Part II of the LCS article, I expect it to be done shortly]

Once I finish the LCS series, I plan to write on the DDG-51 Flight III program. The procurement of the DDG-51 Flight III would be a significant mistake that would compromise the ability of the Navy to defend its carrier groups decades from now. Essentially the Flight III is meant to replace the CG-47 Ticonderoga class missile cruisers by providing enhanced fleet defense capabilities with the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR). The Flight III is based upon the Flight IIA design but requires significant engineering and technical work to successfully install the AMDR as it requires five times the power and ten times the cooling required when compared to the original SPY-1V(D) array. The issue isn't so much that its impossible to integrate AMDR into the Flight III successfully, its the capability for future growth within the Flight III will be severely constrained as a result of the modifications. Ronald O'Rourke describes many of the issues within the Flight III program in Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress: 

"...the Flight III DDG-51 will not feature a fully restored growth margin, will not be equipped with an integrated electric drive system or other technologies that could provide ample electrical power for supporting future electrically powered weapons, and will not incorporate features for substantially reducing ship crew size or for otherwise reducing ship O&S costs substantially below that of Flight IIA DDG- 51s." - O'Rourke, 2014

The Navy needs to plan for these ships to serve for the next thirty to forty years in heavily contested anti-access environments where future threats will no doubt require the Navy to make significant upgrades to its ships. Solid-state lasers and rail guns may seem far fetched to some but the technology maturity of these systems has progressed to the point at which they will be deployed within this decade. I'll get into specifics in future articles but I would recommend the Navy design a new ship based upon the DDG-1000 design with modifications for cost reduction done in a similar manner as the Seawolf-class was canceled for the more affordable to Virginia-class submarine. An emphasis would be put on maximizing off the shelf technology, leveraging existing systems such as Aegis over the Total Ship Computing Environment on the DDG-1000, and similar power requirements to the DDG-1000 which has 78 Megawatt (MW) capacity to the Flight III's 12 MW. O'Rourke discusses the option of designing a new class of ship on pages 19-20 within the report.

The Real Reason China Wants Aircraft Carriers - By Bryan McGrath & Seth Cropsey, 2014

Bryan McGrath & Seth Cropsey wrote an interesting article highlighting the purpose of China's plans to acquire carriers, to disrupt US allies in the region:

"...the strategic target of the PLAN in building a carrier force is not the U.S. Navy, but the network of alliances that longstanding U.S. economic and security interests in the region aim to preserve.  Creating uncertainty and doubt in the minds of regional governments that the United States can continue to assure their security is at the heart of China’s desire to see the U.S. diminished in the region...The PLAN is on solid strategic ground in pursuing carrier-based power projection, and while their approach is not a direct threat to U.S. forces (or is not likely to be a threat in the foreseeable future), it serves as a long-term, slowly metastasizing threat to the most significant competitive advantage the U.S. enjoys in the region – its network of friendships and alliances." - McGrath & Cropsey, 2014

By Daniel Wasserbly, 2014

Daniel Wasserbly examines some of the least desirable aspects of sequestration in FY 2016 and beyond. The decisions to reduce R&D, initiate an early retirement of the USS George Washington, and cut a Virginia-class submarine in the FY2016 budget is particularly worrisome: 

"Under sequestration the USAF would have to abandon its Adaptive Engine project meant to develop a next-generation military aircraft engine, as the effort's slated USD1.3 billion 'would be eliminated', the Pentagon said....the report also mentioned that the navy would not fund nuclear refuelling and overhaul for USS George Washington (CVN 73), which is scheduled to begin that process in FY 2016, and would retire the carrier and its associated air wing...There would also be insufficient funding to buy a second Virginia-class attack submarine (SSN) in FY 2016. 'Eliminating this submarine from the shipbuilding plan would reduce the submarine force to 40 SSNs in 2029 and extend the period that the SSN force level is below the desired 48 fast attack submarines by four years'" - Wasserbly, 2014

Stealth Vs. Electronic Attack- Dave Majumdar, 2014

Majumdar discusses the merits of dedicated electronic warfare aircraft (e.g. EA-18G) working with stealth aircraft like the F-35C: 

"...officials from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps agreed that while aircraft like the F-35 or F-22 are not solely relying on low observables for survivability—stealth is an absolute requirement to survive in an A2/AD environment even with airborne electronic attack support.  As one Air Force official explained, stealth and electronic attack always have a synergistic relationship because detection is about the signal to noise ratio. Low observables reduce the signal, while electronic attack increases the noise. 'Any big picture plan, looking forward, to deal with emerging A2/AD threats will address both sides of that equation'" -Majumdar, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

America's Littoral Combat Ships - Part I

The US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program is easily among the most strenuously debated US Navy procurement efforts in recent years. The US Navy originally planned to purchase a total of 52 Independence and Freedom Class ships to significantly augment its ability to operate within littoral waters i.e. comparatively shallow areas of water close to land (O'Rourke, 2014). Critics argue the durability of the LCS hull and its comparatively limited armament ensure it cannot even meet its intended purpose and the need for a strong littoral presence is ultimately of little strategic significance. In support of the broader US Pivot to the Pacific, spending billions of dollars on small surface combatants specialized for littoral combat against low-end threats rather than high-end blue water capable combatants (such as the DDG-51Arleigh Burke or SSN-774 Virginia class submarines) is a waste of vital resources. Senator John McCain summarized many of the frequent critiques of the LCS program before Congress:

"In LCS, we have (1) a supposed warship that apparently can’t survive a hostile combat environment; (2) a program chosen for affordability that doubled in cost since inception and is subject to the risk of further cost growth as testing continues; (3) a ‘revolutionary’ design that somehow has managed to be inferior to what came before it on important performance measures; and (4) a system designed for flexibility that cannot successfully demonstrate its most important warfighting functions."

Years of persistent criticism from both Congress and a number of vocal Navy officials coupled with the budget cuts from sequestration have reduced the Navy's purchase to 32 ships. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the newly formed Small Surface Combatant Task Force to find a suitable replacement for the LCS. The new small surface combatant (SSC) is planned to feature higher durability, more capable weapons, and is likely to serve in a more traditional role as a frigate (LaGrone, 2014). Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's decision to limit LCS orders to 32 ships and to pursue a more capable SSC adequately addresses US strategic objectives over the long term provided major upgrades to the planned LCS mission modules. The aforementioned grievances against the LCS program are only partially justified but the US Navy also requires a capable SSC for sea control in blue water environment against a capable near peer adversary. An analysis of the merits of the LCS program will follow in Part I before an examination of the most likely SSC candidates will be examined in Part II.

Image 2: DDG-51 Destroyer squadron with Ticonderoga class missile cruiser escort

It is important to recognize that the LCS was never intended to partake in large scale high intensity conflicts against large surface combatants such as destroyers. As part of its broader set of objectives in peacetime, the Navy allows the United States to both passively and actively influence regions of the world by providing training opportunities for US allies, routine maritime patrols, anti-piracy operations, and a forward deterrence capability against potential US foes. The Navy classifies these types of peacetime missions as phase 0 and phase 1 operations. These aforementioned activities can often be conducted much more cost effectively by a small $450 million dollar LCS than a $1.8 billion dollar Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. More importantly, by assigning LCS to routine peacetime duties in Africa and South America, the more capable surface combatants such as Arleigh Burke-class destroyers or Ticonderoga-class missile cruisers can transferred to the Pacific.

"These are not large surface combatants that are going to sail into the South China Sea and challenge the Chinese military; that’s not what they’re made for...Littoral Combat Ships will tend to displace amphibious ships and destroyers in Africa and South America. That will free up surface combatants, more high-end ships [for Asia]" -Adm. Jonathan Greenert, 2012

Many of the Navy's most important procurement and basing decisions either directly or indirectly affect the Pivot. The Navy will station 60% of its US based ships on the West Coast in addition to maintaining a large forward deployed presence of 67 ships in Asia (Greenert, 2014). By 2020, Pacific stationed ships will be the newest and most capable ships within the Navy and will revive priority for several of the Navy's upgrade programs. Notable examples include: all three DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyers will be stationed San Diego and the DDG-51 ships based in the Western Pacific are prioritized to revive the enhanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities via the Multifunction Towed Array (MFTA) by 2018. As important as the Pivot is, the US will continue to maintain strategic obligations toward its European and Middle-Eastern allies which is reflected by the map below detailing the future deployment of US ships worldwide in 2020 by region.  

Image 3: US Navy ship deployment by region

From a conceptual planning perspective, a low cost flexible surface combatant that allows the US Navy to send its more capable destroyers and missile cruisers to the Pacific while simultaneously still maintaining a sizable presence in other areas of the would prove to be a great asset. In order to be successful in displacing a variety of larger surface combatants in the aforementioned peacetime duties, the LCS has to be flexible and able to undertake several types of missions. The solution was to create the mission modules/packages system in which each LCS could be easily given a new set of equipment to meet three common mission types: surface warfare (SuW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and mine countermeasure (MCM) missions. 

The mission module concept is a conceptually innovative approach that, in theory, would allow a limited fleet of LCS to undertake a disproportionately larger number of missions when compared to a more conventional alternatives such as patrol boats, missile corvettes, coast guard cutters, etc. However, the mission module concept has been plagued with numerous design difficulties in recent years. Many of the originally planned weapon and electronic systems within the mission packages have been canceled or delayed by several years. For example, the SuW mission package originally included a navalized variant of the Army's Non Line-of-Sight – Launch System (NLOS-LS) which would have granted the LCS a capable anti-patrol boat swarm capability out to 24 nautical miles (Defense Industry Daily, 2014). Many nations such as Iran and North Korea field large numbers of fast missile craft and patrol boats in swarms as a cost effective means to engage larger surface combatants. Without a capable medium range missile system, the LCS' longest range weapon system is its 57mm cannon which is has a maximum range of 3.5 nautical miles. 

Image 4: The Navy has chosen the radar guided AGM-114L Hellfire to replace the NLOS-LS in the SuW module. While, the AGM-144L is a salvo capable fire and forget missile, its limited by a maximum range of just 3.5 nautical miles (Defense Industry Daily, 2014).

The need for a longer range SuW weapon system on board the LCS is critical to the future deterrence capability of the 5th fleet. The LCS will comprise a significant portion of the number of planned US Navy ships forward deployed within the Persian Gulf under the command of the 5th Fleet. The Navy is in the midst of a $580 million dollar construction effort to expand its 5th Fleet headquarters, Naval Support Activity Bahrain (Defense News, 2014). A total of eight LCS ships will be forward deployed to Bahrain alongside ten upgraded Cyclone-class patrol craft. As capable as the Cyclone and LCS are at short range combat against small surface combatants, they lack the range of Iran's increasingly capable fast attack craft armed with long range anti-ship missiles such as the Chinese supplied Type-021 missile boats. Previous naval engagements between the US and Iranian navies have underscored the importance of long-range over the horizon missile capabilities: 

"Operation Praying Mantis, the last major surface engagement in the Persian Gulf, took place on April 18, 1988; this event also marked the surface Navy’s first exchange of long distance anti-ship missiles fired over the horizon and without a line of sight...In one day, the US Navy crippled or destroyed three of Iran’s principal fighting ships because they could fight ‘over the horizon’ and coordinate with lethal air power." - Luke Tarbi, 2014

In a similar manner to the SuW module, both the planned ASW and MCM modules have experienced numerous development issues which will limit their operational effectiveness, the following is from Defense Industry Daily

ASW Module: 

"So far, the ability to carry a pair of MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters is the only thing that distinguishes an ASW-equipped LCS from a small corvette, and even there, LCS performance is likely to suffer by comparison. The towed sonars have depth limitations that may prevent their use in shallow water, and the LCS waterjets are so noisy that unlike an ASW corvette, a bow sonar isn’t really an option." - Defense Industry Daily, 2014

MCM Module: 

"A number of current and previous MIW systems have failed outright or performed poorly in tests. Despite more than 6 years of development, the US Navy is still fielding older minesweeping systems and ad-hoc UUV/USV options like Seafox and Remus 600/ Kingfish  to confront a serious mine threat around the Strait of Hormuz." - Defense Industry Daily, 2014

Image 5: MQ-8B & MQ-8C Fire Scout. Image Credit: US Navy

Despite the many problems with the base LCS hull and the development of its mission modules, the ship has the potential to meet its originally envisioned goals provided upgrades are made to the mission modules. Furthermore, not all of the developments relating to LCS are negative. For example, the ability both the Freedom and Independence-class LCS to carry either two MH-60R or three MQ-8B Fire Scout or two of the much more capable MQ-8C Fire Scout UAVs will provide the Navy with invaluable ISR and targeting capabilities (Freedberg, 2014). Initially the LCS' mission modules will be limited but the design of the mission module system inherently makes any future modernization program easier to implement. The SuW module will receive an upgrade after 2019 which will likely include a longer range missile than the AGM-114L (Defense Industry Daily, 2014).

In summary, the concept of for the LCS is well founded but the implementation of the concept has been hampered by numerous technical issues. After 2020, it is likely that the upgrades to the LCS' mission modules will allow it to preform as originally intended. The Navy's decision to cap LCS buys at 32 ships is justified given that the service still requires a more durable surface combatant to support blue water operations in the Pacific. The Small Surface Combatant task force has been assigned with reviewing upgraded LCS designs, foreign frigate designs, and entirely new US made frigate designs to succeed the LCS (LaGrone, 2014). The task force will submit their findings to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on July 31st 2014. The next part of this series will examine the most probable candidates for the 20 ship buy and the relative merits of the contenders.


  1. Statement of  Adm. Jonathan Greenert Chief of Naval Operations, Jonathan Greenert, 2013. 
  2. Statement of  Adm. Jonathan Greenert Chief of Naval Operations, Jonathan Greenert, 2014.
  3. After 32 Ships, Future of LCS Program Unclear, Christopher Cavas, 2014.
  4. It’s All in the Package: the Littoral Combat Ship’s Mission Modules, Defense Industry Daily, 2014. 
  5. USN memo directs task force to study LCS alternatives, Grace Jean, 2014.
  6. Some Unsolicited Input on the Small Surface Combatant, Bryan McGrath, 2014.
  7. What’s Next After LCS?, Sam LaGrone, 2014.                         
  8. LCS Mission Packages: The Basics, Sam LaGrone, 2013.           
  9. Expansion of 5th Fleet base underscores long-term gulf presence, By Awad Mustafa and Christopher P. Cavas, 2014.                                                            
  10. Navy Moves Smaller Coastal Craft To Persian Gulf As We Pull Big Ships, Sydney Freedberg, 2013. 
  11. Iran's Doctrine of Asymmetric Naval Warfare, Fariborz Haghshenass, 2006. 
  12. Iran's fast attack craft fleet: behind the hyperbole, Berenice Baker, 2013.                
  13. EXCLUSIVE: Navy Still Thrashing Out LCS Tactics, Design, Top Admiral Acknowledges, Sydney Freedberg, 2012.                                                     
  14. Littoral Combat Ship Cut Plan Reopens Navy Rift: Build ‘Em Fast Or Rugged, Sydney Freedberg, 2014.                                                                                
  15. LCS Lives! Mabus, Hamre Argue Littoral Combat Ship Will Survive Cuts, Sydney Freedberg, 2014.
  16. Marine Official To Helm Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Panel, Sydney Freedberg, 2014.
  17. U.S. Navy Weighs Halving LCS Order, Christopher Cavas, 2013.
  18. LCS Couldn’t Survive War With China, But It Could Help Prevent It: CNO, Sydney Freedberg, 2012.                                                                                                                                        
  19. CNO Greenert: ‘We’re Not Downsizing, We’re Growing’ – Especially In Pacific, Sydney Freedberg, 2012.                                                                                                                                        
  20. Pentagon Caps LCS at 32 Hulls, Hagel Directs Navy to Evaluate ‘Capable and Lethal’ Frigate Designs, Sam LaGrone, 2014.                                          
  21. Opinion: Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Challenges the Status Quo, Dale Heinken, 2013. 
  22. The Littoral Combat Ship: Give it time, Rear Admiral John F. Kirby, 2013.
  23. Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program:   Background and Issues for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, 2014.                                                                                                                     

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Quick Thoughts: Geopolitical Lessons From The Ukrainian Crisis

Image Credit: Politico

Evolution of Russian Forces Since the 2008 Ossetia War

The sophistication of the Russian annexation of Crimea represents a significant advancement for the Russian military. Compared to the 2008 Ossetia War which was marked by a poorly coordinated Russian invasion with hundreds of Russian and Georgian casualties, the Russian approach in Crimea utilized highly refined non-lethal methods of coercion:

"The most distinctive feature of the Russian operation was its emphasis on economy of effort. Unlike previous interventions in Afghanistan in the Soviet era, or Chechnya and Georgia more recently, where Russian commanders relied on mass employment of tanks and artillery, the Crimea intervention featured fewer than 10,000 assault troops lined up against 16,000 Ukrainian military personnel...Once Russian troops had moved to blockade Ukrainian military personnel in their bases, psychological warfare, internet/media propaganda, intimidation, and bribery were their main weapons to undermine their opponents' will to resist". - Tim Ripley, London and Bruce Jones, 2014

The 45th Spetsnaz regiment, operating for the GRU, is credited with orchestrating the Russian take over of Crimea.

US Strategic Priorities 

Image Credit: USN

Despite the bellicose actions of Vladimir Putin, the limited response by the United States was largely appropriate. The United States still requires Russian cooperation with respect to Iran, Syria, and its exit strategy out of Afghanistan (supply routes). Compromising all of the aforementioned interests for the purpose of being perceived as "tough" on Russia is short sighted and ultimately does not serve the long term interest of the United States. Contrary to public opinion, Russia's annexation of Crimea largely shows the limits of Russian power rather than its strength.

Putin's broader ambition for Ukraine and the former Soviet satellite states  is to form the Eurasian Union (in some respects it has been compared to the former Soviet Union). The failure of Russia to secure its original trade pact with Ukraine and the subsequent annexation of Crimea ensures further Russian-Ukrainian integration is unlikely. Several former Soviet satellite states have also voiced concern over Russia's actions in Crimea meaning further expansion of the Eurasian Union is unlikely within the short term.  

The map above is from testimony by Admiral Jonathan Greenert in Congress and it shows the future deployment of US Navy ships by region in 2020. The map essentially provides a glimpse of the strategic value placed upon of each region by the United States: South America, Europe, and Africa are of reduced significance when compared to the Middle East and Asia. US strategic planners are correct to focus on China over Russia: the demographic outlook of Russia is poor and its economy is commodity dependent. By comparison, China is the only nation that could credibly complete with the United States economically and military on a near equal basis over the coming decades. As a caveat, its important to stress than neither the US-China rivalry nor the growing feud with Russia qualifies as a new "Cold War".

Author's Note: Sorry for the long delay in blog posts, as a student my course work often occupies a great deal of my time when I have midterms. I am considering posting a few articles about the naval aspect of the Pivot in order to diversify this blog a little (e.g. DDG-51 Flight III, LCS, DDG-1000, etc.) let me know your thoughts in the comments.