Monday, April 21, 2014

AEI/Heritage Project for the Common Defense (Navy) Weekly Read Board

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Military Sealift Command: Flexible. Forward. Seapower.

Cesar Chavez (T-AKE 14) conducts a replenishment-at-sea
with Royal Australian frigate HMAS Toowomba (FFG 156). 
(U.S. Navy photo by Master Capt. Rollin J. Bellfi/Released)
Like most of my fellow authors at ID, I’m an unabashed supporter of American Seapower and disappointed to see the slow decline in the Navy’s battle force ship-count.  Bryan has made some pretty compelling arguments for increasing our high end naval combat fleet combatants. But Seapower manifests in many forms. An often over-looked component of U.S. Navy Seapower is our fleet auxiliary force, run by the Military Sealift Command.  Most people are familiar with the oilers and supply ships that deliver fuel, food, parts, and ammo to our combatants, but the MSC’s fleet is much more diverse than combat logistics.

To get a better idea of the variety and importance of this force, allow me to highlight three ongoing missions, in three different theaters, using three completely different platforms.  In the far reaches of the southern Indian Ocean, a handful of international ships continue a wide-ranging search for any trace of missing Malaysia Air flight 370.  Keeping these ships moving and fed is USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE 14). This sort of underway replenishment combat logistics mission is MSC's bread and butter, with dozens of similar operations occurring around the globe every day and night.

In the Mediterranean, another MSC ship is deployed for a unique and historical mission – to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons.  MV Cape Ray, part of the Transportation Department Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force, departed Portsmouth in late January.  The ship has spent most of its deployment pier-side in Rota while Syria stalls in fulfilling its UN-mandated obligations to aggregate the stockpiles at Latakia for transport and neutralization at sea. Whether or not the ship will ever get to execute its intended mission remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the fact that this operation was able to spin up so quickly and embark the U.S. Army’s chemical neutralization equipment demonstrates the agility of our heavy sealift ships.

Along the volatile west coast of Africa, USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) and her joint training teams are deployed for Africa Partnership Station (APS), conducting maritime security capacity building, and exercises.  The ship has even embarked African coast guards and navies for real-world fisheries enforcement operations.  Although APS deployments have been happening for several years, this marks the first trial of the concept using the new Joint High Speed Vessel.  Eventually 10 JSHVs will become part of MSC’s sealift fleet, conducting a wide range of logistics and combat support missions. From everything I’m hearing, they are already being fought over by the geographic combatant commanders.
U.S. Navy Sailors and members of the Liberian Coast Guard observe boat operations during a joint familiarization exercise aboard the U.S. Navy's joint high-speed vessel USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1). Spearhead, the U.S. Navy's first-in-class joint, high-speed vessel, is on its maiden deployment supporting theater security cooperation efforts and the international collaborative capacity-building program, Africa Partnership Station, in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Justin R. DiNiro/Released)  

At this point, I should brag on my fellow citizen Sailors.  Two of the missions I've mentioned couldn't happen without the dedication of Navy Reservists on extended active duty.  While the ships themselves are operated by the MSC's civil mariners, reservists make up a significant portion of the mission teams aboard Cape Ray and Spearhead, to include some key leadership positions. Reservists are also part of USS Ponce's mission in the Arabian Gulf.  Naval operations are often come-as-you-are affairs, and there are no better folks at rapidly and seamlessly partnering with the MSC for operational pick-up games than our reserve Sailors.

When considering long term budgets and acquisition plans, our capital combat ships are extremely important.  But the flexibility and strategic reach of our military sealift force is what makes us a global naval power.  The above ships represent just a small part of the MSC's inventory.  Other vessels are prepositioned around the world to support major contingency operations. Still others support salvage, submarine rescue, or special operations missions.  Time after time, MSC has demonstrated the ability to get equipment to the fight and sustain our warfighters.

Any opinions expressed in the preceding post are those of the author alone and not representative of the U.S. Navy or any other organization.

Monday, April 14, 2014

AEI/Heritage Project for the Common Defense (Navy) Weekly Read Board

Sunday, April 13, 2014

ID Contributor Guest on MIDRATS

I spent an enjoyable hour with Commander Salamander and Eagle One on their weekly internet radio show, MIDRATS.  We talked a good deal about carriers, the importance of the Navy, and what the future might hold.

Listen here if you like.

Bryan McGrath

Friday, April 11, 2014

PLAN surface combatant fleet now and future

With the recent induction of No. 172 and the appearance of Type 055 full scale land simulation structure, there has been some questions about how many of these ships will join PLAN and the number of sailors that will need to be trained to operate them. This entry will focus on the hardware part, since that is an easier factor to quantify than the software part. Before all of that, I want to take a quick look at Type 055. Based on the dimensions of the land simulation structure, estimate for width of the ship have been 21+ m and length to be 175 m based on photos. That would make this ship larger than the neighboring Atago class and KDX-III class, which are both over 10,000 ton in displacement. It would be comparable in size to Slava class and only smaller than Kirov class and Zumwalt class. Based on work by online PLAN fans, it seems like Type 055 would be able to comfortably hold 128 VLS cells ¬¬¬and still have enough endurance long range missions. To the best of my knowledge, China has only built land based simulation structures for aircraft carrier and nuclear submarine. Therefore, the construction of such a structure shows the high regard that PLAN has for Type 055. Work for Type 055 is said to be starting at JN this year, so it’s quite interesting to me that they are building the training structure so early.

Looking at PLAN right now, we still have a good mix of Soviet-era ships and modern ships. Amongst what PLAN considers to be destroyers, we have the very old Type 051 class and the very new Type 052C/D class along with many interim classes in between (Type 052, Type 051B, Sov, Type 051C and Type 052B). About half of Type 051 Luda class ships have already been decommissioned and the remaining ones should be retiring over the rest of the next few years as they come up to 30 years in service. After that, it will be interesting to see what PLAN does with those interim classes. Type 052 Luhu class have been in service for 20 years, but just receive mid life upgrade in 2011, so will probably service until next decade. Similarly, No. 167 of Type 051B Luhai class has been active since entering service in 1998, but looks to be getting a mid life upgrade very soon, so will probably stay in service until middle of next decade. The 4 Sov destroyers have the problem that they are using combat system and data link that simply don’t work that well with PLA’s new inter-service data link protocol. Even though they are still relatively new, their combat system and electronics are so backward that the smaller Type 054A frigates are more effective in combat and leading fleet. I had previously advocated that PLAN just retire all 4 of them early, but now it looks like China will put them through extensive mid life upgrade with indigenous parts replacing the older Russian systems. At least, that should allow these ships to communicate better with the rest of the fleet. The 2 Type 051C destroyers have the same problem as the Sovs. They are the last PLAN destroyers to use steam turbine propulsion and also use a different type of VLS (and Air defense system) that needs its own industrial support. Since the latter 2 Sovs and Type 051C ships joined service at the same time as the first Type 052C ships, they will remain in service for a while serving minor roles while Type 052C/D form the backbone of air defense for PLAN. The production run for Type 052C will stop at 6, while Type 052D will probably hit 12 ships. If we add in the 2 Type 052B, 2 Type 051C and 2 recent Sov destroyers, that will total 24 destroyers or 2 flotilla of 4 destroyers for each of PLAN’s 3 fleets. In reality, PLAN will probably have more destroyers than that in service in order to form a permanent blue water fleet, but this provides a simple breakdown for 2020 to 2030.

PLAN’s frigates do not have nearly the number of interim classes. Nearly every jianghu-1 class ships have already been decommissioned as Type 054A have been joining the fleet in mass. By the end of this decade, I would think all of the remaining Jianghu ships will be either be decommissioned or refurbished/upgraded for export or coast guard. The 4 Jiangwei-I frigates should also be close to decommissioning. Aside from that, PLAN has 16 Type 054As (which will become 20 over the next 2 years), 2 Type 054 and 10 Type 053H3 Jiangwei-II frigates. By the end of this decade, these 36 frigates (22 054/A + 14 Jiangwei) will form 3 flotillas for each of the 3 fleet. In order to replace the retiring Jiangwei class and provide escort for the new blue water fleet, a new class of frigates will likely start construction in the next few years using the new universal VLS. It could also be argued that with the induction of the Type 056 class, PLAN no longer needs as many frigates for the nearby waters. In that case, the class that comes after Type 054A will be closer in size to 052B/C and the European “frigates” than the 4000-ton class frigates we see today.

It’s always interesting to speculate how a rapidly modernizing naval force like PLAN will look like in 5 or 10 years time. With most of the older Soviet era ships are close to retiring, we finally have a good idea to project into future, because they are no longer just building interim classes. For me, a major symbolic milestone will hit once all Luda and Jianghu class ships retire. The majority of PLAN’s main fleet will be modernized by then. On the other hand, questions about modernization in software are a lot harder to answer and quantify.

China Thinks ASW

Lyle Goldstein at the China Maritime Studies Institute is a national treasure (along with his colleague, Andrew Erickson), and he has teamed up once again with Shannon Knight from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center to produce a fascinating article in this month's Proceedings, which is unfortunately behind the firewall (hey, why aren't you a member?)  The piece, "Wired for Sound in the Near Seas" details China's development of a sophisticated network of fixed ocean floor acoustic sensors off its coasts.  After reminding readers that analysts have for years rightly downplayed China's ASW capabilities, Goldstein and Knight make this assertion:

"Defense analysts who follow Chinese military literature closely, however, will have noticed over the past several years that the massive Chinese military-industrial complex has now come around to the great importance of ASW, and China’s substantial military and science-research energies have shifted accordingly. The fruits of these major research efforts are now gradually coming into view. Most startling is the revelation in numerous Chinese scientific and strategy publications since 2012 that China has deployed fixed ocean-floor acoustic arrays off its coast, presumably with the intent to monitor foreign submarine activities in the “near seas.”

This report by the China Maritime Studies Institute is something many have been waiting for, as there never seemed to be much logic in China's utter cession of the undersea domain.  It is my view that there is nothing the U.S. military does better than undersea warfare, and so the PLA has a long way to go.  I've had conversations with U.S. submariners who welcome China spending money to try and close this gap, as they are quite confident that the advantage we maintain is insurmountable.  It would appear the PRC sees things differently, and only time will tell who is correct.

Bryan McGrath

Thursday, April 10, 2014

China's Carrier "Nothing to Fear"--Bloomberg Editors

Bloomberg has an editorial up today that attempts to pooh-pooh the threat of the Chinese aircraft carrier program.  They do so with a mix of decent analysis and factual citation, but ultimately, their conclusion is flawed because of assumptions about what China hopes to do with its carriers.

First, the good news.  They raise important threat-related issues in this paragraph:  "The greater danger is China's other military investments. It's deploying thousands of surface-to-surface missiles near its eastern shore, and it is also building a fleet of quiet diesel submarines and advanced anti-ship ballistic-missile batteries. China's cyber-attacks on U.S. government agencies and private defense corporations have become increasingly aggressive."  They are speaking here of course, of the greater danger to U.S. forces, which is a defensible position.

But that's not (in my view) why the Chinese are building aircraft carriers.  They are not building aircraft carriers to become a "...globe-spanning Chinese navy capable of operating across deep oceans" and in the process, challenge the U.S. for global naval dominance.  They are building aircraft carriers in order to project power in their near abroad, so that their regional dominance is enhanced and their influence over neighbors is increased.  China wishes to create the impression that they are capable of operationalizing their claims in order to provide additional pressure to settle them in their favor.

The focus of the Chinese effort is not the US Navy; rather it is our system of friendships and alliances.

Bryan McGrath

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Navy is in Decline and the CNO Believes the Answer is More Jointness

The Navy is bureaucratically trying to kill a carrier it believes it can no longer afford.  It is proposing long term lay-up of eleven cruisers as a fall-back force structure preservation measure.  It is truncating its small surface combatant program (under pressure) in search of additional lethality and survivabilty, injecting unwelcome churn into a program that has finally begun to hit reasonable unit production costs, while likely creating a hole in its shipbuilding plan. It is reducing its buy of fifth generation fighters.  It is closing down the production line of one of is most successful weapons--the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile--without an identified replacement and several years until that replacement is in production. It is struggling to afford two attack submarines a year even as its highest priority acquisition program--the follow-on ballistic missile submarine--looms on the horizon with its cost likely to consume nearly half the shipbuilding budget for ten years.  And its shipbuilding plan--the one now aiming at 308 ships--is underfunded to the tune of nearly $4B a year when compared to historical levels of spending, realistically pointing toward a fleet at least 20% smaller than is planned.

Simultaneously, the importance of a powerful, globally employed Navy to our security and prosperity rises. China continues to play the part of the rising power whose respect for the current global order and what it takes to maintain it is questionable.  Russia has decided to use its military and economic power to re-assert itself as a brooding Eurasian power. North Africa and the Mediterranean rim are increasingly unstable, Turkey is having a hard time figuring out what kind of nation it wants to be, and Israel remains in the crosshairs of nations and movements who want it gone.

All of which it occurs to me, argues for a greater emphasis on American Seapower, for the kinds of capabilities ONLY a force that is persistent, powerful, and self-sustaining can provide.  A force that brings with it both the helping hand for those facing disaster and the mailed fist of deterrent strength to remind those who would disturb regional security.

Which brings me to the CNO's speech yesterday at the Navy League's Sea Air Space Symposium.  In it, he debuted what appears to be a new line of strategic communication for him, that of pursuing greater joint force interdependence.   While I applaud the CNO's commitment to eliminate overspending and to investigate avenues of cooperation among the Services in research and development/science and technology, it baffles me that he would select the most prestigious forum for American Seapower to make a case that what we need now is MORE Jointness.  I believe quite the opposite.  What we need now is more Seapower, and more reliance on it.  For most of the joint era, land power has been the supported force, with Seapower and air power in support.  Jointness--the kind which the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs advocates and to which the CNO refers--meant everyone being jointly in support of land operations, which is one of the reasons the Army was the Service that supported Goldwater Nichols most strongly.  Hewing to this line in a maritime era will dramatically mis-allocate scarce resources and leave the United States less capable of responding to growing threats.

More jointness will not arrest a Navy in decline; more Navy will.  And no one is in a better position to advocate for that than the CNO.

Bryan McGrath

UPDATE (4/10/2014)
Thank you for the comments below--a good crop.  I have a couple of thoughts:

1. Some believe more jointness is the best way to respond to diminishing resources.  Indeed, more jointness would make the force better prepared for a greater range of futures--but it would necessarily make the force less prepared for either the most likely future or the most dangerous future--which in my view, merge with China.  This is for me, why more jointness is less preferable to more Seapower. But I acknowledge that the other view is logical.

2.  Elsewhere, someone asked  "Am I wrong for thinking that the two things McGrath is placing into opposition are not actually mutually exclusive?"  A very good question.  The answer is yes, he is wrong.  In order for his view to be right--jointness--properly understood in its modern context--would have to change, and fairly dramatically--from its land focused nature today to a more strategic and maritime focus.  That kind of jointness is a very different creature than this.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

AEI/Heritage Project for the Common Defense (Navy) Weekly Read Board

Monday, April 7, 2014

Giving LCS Critics What They Want

USS Freedom and USS Independence underway in company

In late March there were two war games/experiments with focus on the littoral combatant ship (LCS). One held by the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) focused on the littoral/green water potential of the ship while the event held at the Naval War College (NWC) examined the potential for LCS to serve in a variety of missions and environments, including blue water employment in company with battle group units. Sadly, but not surprisingly, critics of the LCS immediately pounced on the news reports coming from the Newport game that suggested LCS was potentially effective in a variety of roles. No one would argue that the LCS program has been plagued by management problems, an operational vision restricted perhaps to mission module capabilities, and a less than effective public affairs program over much of its history. Critics however need to take a step back and give current Surface Warfare leaders the chance to experiment and figure out what are the strengths and weaknesses of the LCS class. LCS has matured from concept to physical form in a much more visible and hostile environment than past surface warship designs. A shrinking defense budget complicates the future of LCS, as well as that of a proposed follow-on frigate FF(X). Many of the concerns advanced by LCS critics regarding a lack of operational concept evaluation are being addressed in war games and events such as those held at NWC and NPS. Give the Navy the space to fix them and ensure LCS realizes its full potential as an active component of the fleet. 
                                                     A Harsh Program and Budgetary Environment
The LCS program inhabits a much more reactionary and harsh program management world than past large Navy shipbuilding efforts. The DD-963 (Spruance) class, the CG-47 (Ticonderoga) class and the FFG-7 (Perry) classes all came to fruition in a much more closed and benign world of professional shipbuilding analysis. News of warship program faults was limited to a few specific trade journals and the odd article in the Naval Institute Proceedings or the Naval War College Review. Now nearly anyone with an opinion, whether informed by actual facts or mere speculation can get into the game of warship analysis via the internet. The aforementioned ship classes all had significant “bugs” to work out in the course of their introduction to the fleet. The Spruance’s lack of armament, faults with the AEGIS combat system and ship stability in the Ticonderoga’s, and the complaints about the SQS-56 sonar and sparse manning on the Perry’s all received significant attention from critics. The relative pace of this attention however was slower and easier for the Navy to manage than perhaps it is in the present.Current Defense budgetary considerations also do not offer LCS a safe harbor. The LCS program has already been reduced from 52 to 32 vessels and while a new frigate (FFX) design has been requested by the Department of Defense, no such ship has been authorized. FF(X) could quickly join the nuclear strike cruiser, the sea control ship, the CG 21 and a host of other never-built ships in the naval architect’s rubbish bin if the Defense budget continues to shrink. For this consideration alone the Navy must do its utmost to make the LCS a valuable addition to the fleet. “A bird inthe hand” is indeed “worth two in the bush” in the case of actual fleet inventory of ships.
Two Events: Two Concepts
War gaming and analysis are vital to the continued development of the LCS operational concept. This is especially true in a period of transition such as that which confronts the U.S. surface fleet at the present. The LCS concept was originally developed during a period of assumed U.S. naval superiority throughout most of the world’s maritime spaces. As the “low end” component of the SC 21 “family of ships”, LCS was not tasked with gaining sea control in a disputed region, but rather the “mopping up” operations against small craft, mines, and coastal submarines in the wake of larger and more capable combatants. LCS can no longer be confined to such limited roles in the present. Diminished fleet strength means that every surface ship must be flexible and capable of multiple missions in both the littoral and blue water environments.

     The Newport war game event evaluated the ability of LCS to support those new missions. The participants were given the latitude to pursue multiple employment options. They found LCS to be useful in blue and green water antisubmarine warfare, potential surface strike missions if given an improved antiship cruise missile (ASCM), and as an substitute for the guided missile destroyer (DDG) in low-threat operations like escort and counter piracy. The NPS workshop on the other hand was more focused on keeping LCS in the littoral and employing it as a network-dependent flotilla combatant. LCS would remain focused on the capabilities inherent in the mission module installed and would be operated more like an aircraft than a surface warship.
     This author is a known opponent of the flotilla combatant concept and would rather see LCS be evaluated for as many green and blue water missions as possible. LCS is approximately the same size as the World War Two destroyers that made their mark in both high seas and littoral combat. That said, the experimentation and evaluation of LCS as exemplified by the NWC and NPS is exactly what critics of the LCS program have demanded. Rather than focus on the “transformative” elements of the LCS’ design, its minimum manning, or its real or perceived equipment problems, both events emphasized real operational uses for the ship. A comparison of final results from these two prestigious naval education institutions will likely contribute to a continued healthy debate on what missions and responsibilities the LCS platform will assume now and twenty five years hence. LCS critics would be well advised to perhaps pause and give the Navy a chance to work out the ship’s operational best uses. Mistakes from the past have been acknowledged, but it does little good to revisit them again and again, especially in the light of war game events like these. Be happy for a change; this is what you asked the Navy to do.
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