Sunday, November 29, 2015

Public-Private Partnerships at Sea - in Fact & Fiction

Though we generally try to distill naval operations down to their simplest binary terms - fleet versus fleet - maritime operations in both peacetime and in war are more complex endeavors. Today and throughout history, contractors, mercenaries, and other non-governmental entities have played more of a role in maritime security on the high seas than most navalists would like to admit.  Some of these arrangements are contractual and sanctioned by legitimate government entities, some of them are ad hoc, and some operate on legally murky waters.  Some are based mutual economic benefits, but many are designed to enhance security.

Public-private partnerships, as they are sometimes called, are making a difference at sea across the globe.  Especially in Africa, there are numerous recent examples encompassing both for profit and non-profit organizations. In South Africa, Operation Phakisa brings together teams from government, business, academia and other sectors to accelerate the economic benefit stemming from marine transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, and aquaculture, while protecting marine resources.

In the Gulf of Guinea, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Navy recently entered into a Public Private Partnership with a company for the supply, maintenance and bunkering of vessels. The vessels will be manned by the personnel of the Nigerian Navy on a Supply, Operate and Transfer (SOT) basis for a 10 year period after which ownership of the vessels will revert to NIMASA.   Also in the Eastern Atlantic, last year, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society supplied a ship, fuel, and crew to conduct law enforcement patrols under the direction of the Government of Senegal’s Ministry of Fisheries.  Operation Sunu Gaal, as it was called, focused on investigating and intercepting vessels involved in illegal shark, tuna, and sword-fishing.
In the Mediterranean, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has established a contact group with officials from Libya’s Coastguard, the Port Security Department, the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration, the Red Crescent, the International Red Cross, the International Medical Corps, and the EU border management agency, to improve coordination and communication between the Libyans and international actors participating in maritime rescue.

On a related note, the success of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station’s rescue campaign in the Mediterranean has allowed the organization to secure the funds that it needs to become a global organization.  MOAS has rescued nearly 12,000 migrants at sea with its ship and state-of-the art unmanned air vehicles provided by a corporate donor and will expand into Southeast Asian waters. These pseudo-Coast Guards and Para-navies see themselves as filling a maritime security gap and that is exactly the way governments should view them.   

Claude Berube is one of the handful of experts who speaks from a position of knowledge on maritime non-state actors such as those discussed above.  Though he's written non-fiction works on how private security companies and emerging maritime activists are shaping today's maritime security arena, it's his novels, including the newly released Syren's Song, that give a glimpse of how future wars at sea might resurrect the chaotic 19th Century era of privateers and pirates.
Berube continues to perfect his craft in this novel, the second of his Connor Stark series.  The characters are deeper, and the settings more vivid than in The Aden Effect, but the non-stop action at sea continues. In the book, a resurgent off-shoot of the Tamil Tigers allies itself with a shadowy multinational corporation to threaten a motley assembly of U.S. Navy and private maritime security vessels.  The choice of antagonist is fitting, given that the Sea Tigers represent one of the most lethally effective insurgent naval branches in recent history.  
A critical plot enabler in the book is the letter of marque that the Sri Lankan government issues to Stark's security firm to investigate the Sea Tigers.  Though this arrangement may seem far-fetched or antiquated to some readers*, the reality is there are many contemporary examples of contractors performing similar roles for Western militaries.  Contractors fly manned and unmanned surveillance assets overland and at at sea, for several countries, including the United States. These arrangements are perfectly legitimate, but generally not well publicized and understood.

Syren's Song is an entertaining read for those who enjoy geopolitical thrillers.  The novel reinforces an important point: our adversaries exploit their own collaborative networks of commercial interests - both legal and illegal - to meet their objectives. Conversely, modern navies should recognize that public-private partnerships in their many forms are a tool that can augment and enhance their fleets while filling maritime security gaps in countries that have neither the will, nor capacity to police their own waters.

*Letters of Marque were generally outlawed in 1856 by the Declaration of Paris, but continued for some time, especially during the US. Civil War.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

China's first oversea base

I will keep this short. We have report that China has signed a ten year deal with Djibouti for its first oversea naval base. Andrew Erickson provided a good analysis of today's development in this article. The location makes a lot of sense since China has been making port calls there as part of its missions in Gulf of Aden. This 2010 Jamestown article did a good job of exploring what had been an expanding support network for PLAN up until that point. Certainly, as Chinese naval influence grows in this region with more port calls, patrols and joint exercises, I think there will be more arrangements where China establishes what looks like oversea base (even if they are not called that).

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The F-35B, The Naval Services, and Modern American Seapower

Modern American Seapower, comprised largely of the forces managed by the Secretary of the Navy, provides the United States with an on-call, forward deployed, ready subset of the larger Joint Force. The land power (projected from the sea) of the U.S. Marine Corps, the world’s most lethal and mobile tactical air force (the carrier air wing), and the unmatched power of the surface and submarine force of the U.S. Navy are well-suited to protecting and sustaining the nation’s interests where they predominate, and that is—generally speaking—near the coastlines of the world.  This is not to say that the Navy and Marine Corps can do it all; only that the day-to-day business of presence, conventional deterrence, and support to diplomacy has a ready-made organizational provider in the Department of the Navy. That this case has been poorly made is largely a function of the rounding of sharp corners brought on by Goldwater-Nichols and its elevation of consensus as the primary organizational attribute of the Department of Defense.  Jointness run amok is however, not the only reason that American Seapower’s role in national defense has been sub-optimized. Of equal status is the failure of the Department of the Navy to organize, train, and equip as the single provider of the conventional deterrence bound up in integrated maritime power. In order for the promise of American Seapower to be achieved, the Navy and the Marine Corps must more closely integrate—operationally and organizationally—with the provision of such a force as its single organizing principle. The introduction of the USMC F-35B provides an interesting catalyst for closer integration, and if the nation is wise, it will seek additional ways to integrate the activities of these maritime services.

The F-35 program has been justifiably maligned, in the press, on Capitol Hill, and in the think-tank community. It has taken forever to field, it is expensive, and it has had its technical challenges. Its Air Force variant—the F-35A, has been criticized as not being up to the job currently carried out by the A-10, and its Navy version—the F-35C—has been criticized for not adequately addressing the most pressing issue of Navy power projection, the reduction in striking range of the carrier air wing. Yet hidden among these programs is the F-35B, the VSTOL variant built for the Marine Corps, which will deploy from U.S. Navy amphibious assault ships of the LHD and LHA classes. It replaces the AV-8B Harrier, and even the harshest critics of the F-35 program have a hard time not acknowledging the significant performance upgrades it brings to the Marine Air Wing, as it brings both considerably more range and ordnance carrying capacity. Yet if these performance increases were all the F-35B fielded, there would be little to support the argument for increased integration. What drives it, and what offers the truly revolutionary opportunity for closer integration, is its radar and electronic warfare system, the APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system.  This radar is capable of air-to air operations, air to surface operations, and a wide range of mostly classified electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.  Simply put, if this airplane is—as was the case for the AV-8B’s—primarily reserved for the support of Marines ashore—it will be represent a colossal lost opportunity to dramatically increase the reach and effectiveness of modern American Seapower.

From the decks of eleven Navy amphibious assault ships, the Marine Corps will operate fifth generation fighters nearly as capable as those that will operate from (eventually) eleven Navy aircraft carriers (range is the main deficit, as the VSTOL F-35B must “bring its runway with it”). And while some suggest that this fact means the distinctions between amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers is blurring, the fact that the amphibious assault ships cannot  accommodate a long duration airborne early warning capability and are dramatically less capable of independent operations (fuel and ordnance storage being the primary culprits) limits the utility of this view. Rather than focusing on the “how can the LHD replace the CVN” question, planners should be considering how to more closely integrate the operations of these platforms so that the highly capable aircraft on the amphibious assault ships are used as weapons in the broader maritime fight, rather than simply as expensive close air support. And here—as Hamlet would say—is the rub.

In order to capture the promise of the F-35B’s capabilities, the Marine Corps is going to have to view its tactical air arm much differently than it currently does.  Simply put, the afloat F-35B’s should belong to the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander (rather than to the Marine Expeditionary Unit commander) to be employed in accomplishing the JFMCC’s objectives. These will invariably include offensive sea control and integrated air and missile defense, missions that have not been featured prominently in the training syllabi of Marine Corps Harrier pilots, but which MUST become part of the program for F-35B pilots. The capabilities of the APG-81 AESA radar demand that this aircraft contribute to both the surface battle and the outer air battle as part of integrated fire control networks. This is essentially what the Navy’s F-35C pilots will be doing, and it seems obvious that harnessing the power of an additional squadron of fifth generation fighters from the amphibious group adds necessary combat power to the broader force.  In fact, the Navy should consider organizing for combat in a return to the “Expeditionary Strike Force” concept of its past, one built around a nucleus of a large, nuclear powered aircraft carrier and an amphibious assault ship, each of which would be capable of networked IAMD, SUW, Strike, and Close Air Support (CAS) missions enabled by other elements of the Strike Force. 

The concept of “losing” the Marine Air Wing to the JFMCC rubs some Marines the wrong way, as the historical (and proven) concept of a combined arms fighting force has served the Marine Corps well. There is a reasonable argument to be made for depriving the JFMCC of this capability (or at best, loaning it to the JFMCC on a “not to interfere basis” with planned or ongoing ground force operations), but that argument is one of the primary hindrances to closer integration of the Sea Services. What I am arguing for here is a new way to look at the “payloads vs. platforms” approach taken by the recently replaced CNO, ADM Jonathan Greenert.  In essence, the “platform” for maritime dominance becomes the sea itself, and all elements of the Navy and Marine Corps become “payloads”; payloads to be employed against the appropriate target, at the appropriate time. In some cases it will be Marine infantry operating ashore. In others, it will be a stealthy attack submarine.  In still others, it will be F-35B neutralizing adversary surface units. 

More closely integrating Navy and Marine Corps operations would have other applications. None of this is original thinking, and much of it has come from within the Marine Corps itself. For instance, why not put a squad of Marines on a maritime security variant of the LCS? Why not employ USMC attack helos from Navy ships to counter the small boat swarm threat? Why not equip the Marine Corps with an expeditionary anti-ship missile capability that could create nightmares for an adversary attempting to operate in the littorals?

For those Marines asking “Hey, what do we get out of this?”, my answer is this: command of expeditionary strike forces and numbered fleets would be available to Marine Corps officers in competition with Navy Aviators, Submariners, and Surface Warriors, and those staffs would be truly naval in nature. At the operational level of war, American Seapower would provide the Expeditionary Strike Force as its unit of issue and it would be an integrated force of land, sea, and air power.  

All of these (potentially) good ideas face bureaucratic and cultural hurdles, chief among which would be two Services already jealous of each other now being asked to turn over market share to the other.  This reaction is predictable and human, but rather than seeing this as a zero sum, the blending and blurring should be viewed as a powerful contribution to an energized and revitalized American Seapower that can be relied upon more heavily to protect and sustain America’s global interests.

Bryan McGrath

Thursday, November 5, 2015

SASC Roles and Missions Hearing

Attached is my statement submitted for the record.  Here is the link to the video.


Thank you Chairman McCain and Ranking Member Reed, and all the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee for the opportunity to testify and to submit this written statement for the record.

I am a defense consultant by trade, specializing in naval strategy. In early 2014, I joined with Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute to found a think tank devoted to Seapower, known as the Hudson Center for American Seapower. All of my adult life has been spent either in the Navy or working on matters of naval operations and strategy.

On active duty, I commanded a destroyer, and I was the team leader and primary author of the 2007 USN/USMC/USCG maritime strategy known as “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. Since leaving active duty in 2008, I have written and spoken widely about preponderant American Seapower as the element of our military power most that most effectively and efficiently promotes and sustains America’s prosperity, security, and role as a world leader.

It is an honor to appear before you and in the company of my esteemed colleagues. The nature of this hearing—an inquiry into the continuing relevance of the roles and missions compromise reached at Key West in the late 1940’s—provides the opportunity for a more generalized discussion of the relative merits of Seapower, land power, and air power in the national security strategy of the United States of America. And while the Key West Agreement went a long way toward containing the inter-service rivalry that characterized the immediate post-war defense bureaucracy, it took the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 to finish off the Services as effective advocates for their own particular brand of military power, while creating an atmosphere of “go along to get along” in which consensus is viewed as the highest bureaucratic attribute. In fact, the interaction of Key West and modern Jointness is primarily responsible for the strategic sclerosis that predestines this nation—in these austere times—to a military that is increasingly misaligned with our interests and the strategic environment.

The primary casualty of seventy years of Key West and Goldwater-Nichols has been the loss of forceful, uniformed advocacy for the particular operational and strategic benefits of generally Service-specific military modalities. The contributions of Seapower, land power, and air power in anything more than the tactical and theater operational sense has in no small measure been sacrificed on an altar of “Jointness” in which the contributions of all Services must blend harmoniously, and in which unseemly advocacy—and its likely threat to Jointness—is a guaranteed career shortener.

That is why this hearing and this Committee’s willingness to take hard look at where we are with Goldwater-Nichols—nearly thirty years after its passage—is so important.

Our fighting force has become the envy of the world, and Jointness has a lot to do with that. Our ability to synthesize and synchronize the fires and effects of the four armed services in the space and time of our choosing is unmatched. Additionally, Jointness has the potential to create efficiencies in acquisition, so long as requirements and performance specifications are not unduly compromised in order to attain the “one size fits all” (or most) approach.

Where Jointness has ill-served this country is at the level of strategy-making, both in terms of military strategy and the military’s contribution to the making of Grand Strategy.

Jointness, Strategy, and Resources

Eight years ago while on active duty, I was the team lead and primary author of a document called “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower”, which was a tri-service document (Navy, USMC, Coast Guard) that boldly proclaimed itself a “maritime strategy”, a term that had not been used to describe any one of a half-dozen Navy and Department of the Navy strategic documents in the previous two decades—since the seminal “Maritime Strategy” of the Reagan era.

In point of fact, Goldwater-Nichols and the rise of the Combatant Commanders created a sense among many in the national security field that strategy was no longer the purview of the Services, and that to the extent strategy was to be made, it would be done at the Combatant Commands and the Joint Staff. This view was summed up in a conversation I had in early autumn of 2007, just before the new maritime strategy was to debut. In it, my interlocutor, a friend who is now occupying a position of great responsibility in the Department of Defense, told me that “Services make budgets, not strategy. You guys (the Navy) have no business in writing strategy.” He was not alone in this assessment.

We forged ahead with the Maritime Strategy in spite of those who felt strongly that we had no mandate to do so, and the result was generally well-received. In dissent, one prominent navalist opined that it (the strategy) was not Joint enough, and that we ignored the important contributions of the other Services. Keep in mind, this was a Seapower strategy, designed in no small measure to explain modern American Seapower and its unique contributions to national security and prosperity.

The point of this discourse is to raise the issue that Jointness has risen to the level of attribute above all other attributes—not only in how the force fights, but in how it makes strategy. Military strategy and its contribution to grand strategy take as a starting position, a Joint force that is constituted from the pieces and parts and roles and missions largely enshrined at Key West. Key West essentially locked the contributions in place, with Goldwater-Nichols then enforcing the notion that while the individual service modalities were of course important, it was ONLY in their blending—in largely consistent shares—that goodness could be had.

We can see evidence of this in how base budgets have been allocated in the post-Vietnam era. We often hear of a “1/3, 1/3, 1/3” split, but this is not correct. In fact, the Services only actually split 80% of the budget, as 20% is consumed by DoD activities. That 80% however, has been relatively consistently allocated over the years, with the Department of the Navy generally receiving the largest share (it contains two armed services), the Department of the Air Force next, and the Department of the Army the least. What is interesting though, is that the proportions remain relatively equal irrespective of the national military strategy. Put another way, we have had numerous defense-wide reviews since Goldwater-Nichols, to include the Base Force, the Bottom-Up Review, several National Security Strategies, several Quadrennial Defense Reviews, and the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance. And although these reviews addressed markedly different security environments, the proportions allotted to the military departments remained generally stable. Supplemental funding is not included in this comparison.

How can this be? How can base budgets remain relatively stable across a number of dramatically different security environments, including America as “hyper-power”, the War on Terror, and the Rebalance to the Pacific? The answer is that Key West and Goldwater-Nichols have created an atmosphere in which comity and consensus are the coin of the realm, and that consensus is “purchased” with defense spending that ensures each of the Services generally get much of what they want and rarely get all of it.

Redundancy, Inefficiency, and Risk

The roles and missions division that emerged from Key West enshrined redundancy and inefficiency, but in the process, these overages helped buy down risk, especially as the Cold War progressed. While existential threats lurked, a certain amount of inefficiency and redundancy was worthwhile, and strategically unobjectionable. It is important to remember that the reason Secretary Forrestal convened the Chiefs at Key West was in order to gain efficiency, to economize. Although he was relatively unsuccessful in this regard, Key West created a roles and missions architecture that could be relatively easily enlarged and diminished in response to the perceived level of threat from the Soviet Union. And while Eisenhower eventually came to rely more heavily on nuclear weapons rather than conventional (with the USAF receiving nearly ½ the defense budget late in his second term), he did little to alter the roles and missions of the Services. Additionally, he had the luxury of spending nearly 10% of GDP on defense, nearly triple the proportion we allocate today.

It cannot be stressed enough that Key West was convened largely to reach efficiencies and to economize, and not as a means to achieve strategic coherence or wholeness. As we face what appears to be a new era of great power contention, I am concerned that as we look at roles and missions, we do so not as an exercise in efficiency, but in the quest for the allocation of resources and forces best suited to deter and if necessary, win great power war.

Put another way, the roles and missions debate is potentially less interesting than a debate about how those roles and missions are prioritized, and that prioritization discussion necessarily involves the concept of risk. That said, it seems strategically unwise to continue to spend a declining share of our national wealth on defense while maintaining the current departmental allocation consistency. We are creating a Joint force that is simply a smaller version of its predecessors, capable of doing fewer things, to a lesser extent, in fewer places, without any diminishing of the responsibilities assigned to it. We can go in one of three directions. We can continue to go in the direction that we are, which will ill-position us to protect and sustain our interests in an era of renewed great power contention. This is the most risky path but also the most likely. We can dramatically increase defense spending across the board, and increase the size and readiness of the Armed Services even as we modernize them, which is the least risky path, but in the absence of a triggering event or a political sea-change, highly unlikely. Or we can continue with the same general total outlay of defense spending but favor certain military roles over others. This is option is less risky than the path we are on, but it is potentially as politically unlikely as the broad based increase in defense spending.

I wish to be on record as supporting the second option, a broad increase in military spending across the board. I believe this nation is dangerously ill-prepared to move forward in an era of great power contention, and I believe that the trajectory we are on will only decrease our fitness for these challenges.

If We Prioritize, Prioritize Seapower

Given that the political conditions for a broad increase in defense spending are unlikely to be achieved, and given that simply shrinking the current force will only increase the mismatch between our force and its likely operating environment, we must then consider placing bets on certain aspects of our military power; relying on them to a greater extent while we de-weight other capabilities, not because they are unimportant, but because they are less important to the missions of conventional deterrence and/or because such capabilities can be more rapidly reconstituted than other more capital intensive aspects of the force.

In my view, if a well-conceived strategic approach were taken that 1) weighted deterring and winning great power war higher than any other military endeavor and 2) allowed no sacred cows, modern American Seapower would be prioritized over land power and aerospace power. This is not to say that America does not need land and aerospace power; we certainly do. But the Department of the Navy is essentially a microcosm of the Joint Force as presently constituted. It clearly has the overwhelming amount of Seapower, although the Army has a large number of watercraft. It has the world’s most mobile air component, though the Air Force clearly contains campaign level, war-winning air power. And it has the world’s most feared middleweight land force, delivered from the sea with mobility and flexibility, although the Army is clearly our most powerful land force. In other words, I am an advocate for land power and air power-and I believe they can most efficiently be delivered from the sea in order to protect and sustain our interests around the world. Additionally, if properly resourced, the land and air power contained within the units of issue of modern naval power—the Carrier Strike Group and the Amphibious Ready Group, would be sufficient for much of the day to day work of military diplomacy, assurance, presence and deterrence around the world, and would be the force upon which the war-winning power of the Army and the Air Force would marshal if a conflict outstripped available naval power.

However, the Navy and Marine Corps as presently constituted would be ill-suited to this work. We are sized for peacetime forward presence of credible combat power in two theaters at a time—currently the Far East and the Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean region. Our 271 ship, 186K Marine force is insufficient to service these forward deployed combat hubs, and worse, our national interests demand a return in force to the Mediterranean—where turmoil and unrest throughout North Africa and the Levant, threats to our ally Israel, and a new Russian “keep out” zone developing in the Eastern Mediterranean require U.S. answers.

A Navy and Marine Corps capable of providing continuous and indefinite presence, assurance, and deterrence in three theaters simultaneously would necessarily be larger than the current force. It would be built around 15 Expeditionary Strike Forces each of which is comprised of a large, nuclear powered aircraft carrier, an amphibious assault ship, 8-10 surface combatants, two additional amphibious ships, two loosely attached attack submarines networked into an undersea constellation of unmanned, unattended, and or fixed surveillance, sensors, and weapons, shore-based maritime patrol aircraft and integrated maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unmanned platforms. This force would take decades to achieve, and would likely be in the neighborhood of 450 ships and 220,000 Marines.

In fact, it is the time associated with achieving this force that argues strongly for moving quickly and investing steadily in peacetime. The framers of our Constitution faced a similar dilemma to what we face today. In relative terms, it was then—and remains today—less difficult (and expensive) to “…raise and support Armies…”, than it is to “…provide and maintain a Navy” (U.S. Constitution Article I Section 8). Recently, the Army Chief of Staff gave a speech in which he attempted to dispel a number of “myths” about warfare. One of these myths was that “armies are easy to regenerate”. This is of course, a straw man, as no thoughtful analyst considers it “easy” to regenerate an Army. The point though—one that the framers foresaw in the language of the Constitution—is not that it is easy to raise an army, but that it is EASIER than raising a Navy. In this regard, the Air Force is much more like the Navy than the Army. In simple terms, building ships takes a long time, and in our present industrial base—where there are few places that proper warships can be built—there is little or no surge capacity to “ramp up” in an emergency.

Geography is Not Destiny, but It Matters

Another reason to privilege the land power and air power resident in the sea power of the Department of the Navy is the great gift of geography that we enjoy. Our border nations are not military threats to our security. As the world’s most powerful economic nation, our interests are global, and protecting and sustaining them requires the projection of power and influence across thousands of miles. This extended quotation from Congressional Research Service analyst Ron O’Rourke article in the Naval Institute’s Proceedings (Jan 2012) says it best:

“Most of the world’s people, resources, and economic activity are not in the Western Hemisphere, but in the other hemisphere, particularly Eurasia. Consequently, a key element of U.S. national strategy, going back many decades, has been to prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon in one part of Eurasia or another, because such a hegemon could deny the United States access to some of the Eastern Hemisphere’s resources and economic activity. Preventing this is a major reason why the U.S. military is structured with force elements-including significant naval forces, long-range bombers, and long range airlift-that enable it to cross broad expanses of ocean and air space and then conduct sustained, large-scale military operations upon arrival. The United States is the only country with a military designed to do this. The other countries in the Western Hemisphere don’t attempt it because they can’t afford it, and because the United States is, in effect, doing it for them. Countries of the Eastern Hemisphere don’t do it for the very basic reason that they’re already in that hemisphere, where the action is. Consequently, they instead spend their defense money on forces for influencing events in their own neighborhood.”

Given our propitious geography and our friendly neighbors, there is a logical argument to be made to keep the land and airpower of the Department of the Navy in highest readiness with global capacity, while keeping the war-winning combat power of the U.S. Army’s land power and the U.S. Air Force’s air power largely—but not exclusively—garrisoned in the United States in smaller numbers than we have been used to. The nation would necessarily have to think through how most effectively to ramp up these two campaign level Services, and a more fluid mix of active, reserve and National Guard forces would likely result. Those elements of the Army and Air Force that support the day to day operations of the Navy and Marine Corps would also be kept in highest readiness, as would those portions of the Army that most resemble the capital intensive nature of the Navy and Air Force—specifically Army Aviation and Air and Missile Defense.

The greatest risk of this Seapower-centric approach is that we simply could not generate enough “war winning” combat power fast enough to prevent a “fait accompli”, especially one not proximate to the sea (for instance, Central Europe). Mitigating this threat would necessarily involve a greater reliance on the land forces of friends and allies. The risk could not however, be eliminated.


The most likely direction this nation will head (and the most dangerous) is to continue on the path it is on, a path to a smaller force that is increasingly inappropriate to the emerging security environment. This is because the forces of inertia are strong, both in the Pentagon and here on Capitol Hill. Additional money for defense seems unlikely, and just as unlikely would be a strategic re-prioritization.

The best option then would be to embark on a broad based defense increase, one that would grow the current force as allocated both in size and in capability. This I believe to be the soundest, most strategically wise course to take as China and Russia begin to assume larger roles in the world, and while spending more on defense would be a difficult political pull, it is probably more likely to happen than a strategic allocation of resources that challenges current paradigms and rice bowls.

Should the nation move in the direction of a dialogue that would be less risky than the current path and less expensive than the broad based defense build-up, then shifting resources and priorities to the Department of the Navy to enable it to provide the global, day-to-day management force while the other Military Departments concentrate on support to those routine and crisis response operations and most importantly, the provision of war-winning, heavy, campaign level land and air power, is advised.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Hudson Center for American Seapower 2016 Stipend Announcement

The Hudson Center for American Seapower is proud to solicit nominations for its 2016 American Seapower Stipend.

The Hudson Center for American Seapower will award one $5000 stipend to a student enrolled (during calendar year 2016) in an accredited Ph.D program worldwide, whose primary area of study is directly related to the strategic contributions of American Seapower.

Interested scholars should provide a précis of between 250-500 words describing their area of study and its importance. The statement should identify where they are studying.

Each submission should be accompanied by a short (less than 150 words) statement of support from the scholar’s thesis adviser verifying the scholar’s work and the adviser’s support for it.

Submissions should be made by email to the Director of the Hudson Center for American Seapower, Dr. Seth Cropsey  ( . All submissions must be received no later than January 1, 2016. The awardee will be announced no later than January 31, 2016.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

SASC Roles and Missions Hearing Thursday, 05 November

Revisiting the Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces

Date: Thursday, November 5, 2015Add to my CalendarTime: 09:30 AMLocation: Room SD-G50, Dirksen Senate Office Building


To receive testimony on revisiting the roles and missions of the armed forces.


  1. Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, USAF (Ret.)
    Dean, The Mitchell Institute For Aerospace Studies
  2. Mr. Robert C. Martinage
    Senior Fellow, The Center For Strategic And Budgetary Assessments
  3. Mr. Bryan McGrath
    Deputy Director, The Center For American Seapower The Hudson Institute
  4. Dr. Michael E. O’Hanlon
    Co-Director, The Center For 21st Century Security And Intelligence The Brookings Institution

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

An Assessment is needed, but Not Where LCS Critics Think

U.S. Surface Warships in Singapore, 2013
Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) critics may have a point in that a Capabilities-Based Assessment (CBA) is needed to justify both the current modular LCS and the planned frigate (FF) variant of the class. This analytical effort, however, should not just focus on LCS, but rather on the entire fleet, starting with the surface component, as part of a joint and combined force. The March 2015 Maritime Strategy identified areas of the global common maritime space with the potential to become “contested zones”, a condition not seen since the end of the Cold War.[1] When the Soviet Navy began its rise to prominence in the early 1970’s, senior U.S. naval and civilian officials responded with a combination of analysis, intellectual argument, intelligence community efforts, and war gaming that eventually produced the iconic Maritime Strategy of the 1980’s. This series of documents combined joint strategy (before Goldwater Nichols) and operational planning to create what former Dean of the Center of Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College Robert Rubel called, “a contingent warfighting doctrine” that governed global U.S. operations against the Soviet Navy.[2] The rise of China, the return of a revanchist Russia and the emergence of credible regional threats like Iran resulted in the 2015 Cooperative Maritime Strategy. What is needed to accompany this new strategy is a capabilities-based analysis of the Surface fleet as part of a joint and combined force engaged in a continuum of operations from peacetime engagement to major wars with peer competitors. Such a full analysis, however, will likely reveal ample opportunities where both the modular LCS and its frigate variant have gainful employment both now and in the future.
     The rise of the Soviet surface fleet in the early 1970’s, in both size and global reach, caused a revolution in U.S. Navy strategy, operational planning and tactics. Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Elmo Zumwalt responded with a capstone document at the outset of his tenure that encapsulated his planned response to this change. Project Sixty, signed in November 1970 sought to “re-optimize the USN to counter the Soviet threat.”[3] Zumwalt, like today’s service leaders, faced a depressing budget climate that offered little hope of reaching the number of ships and capabilities he desired. Zumwalt proposed his now famous “high/low” mix of ships, as part of an overall presentation of 4 capability categories and 3 alternative surface force structures.[4] There was plenty of opposition to Zumwalt’s overall tenure as CNO. The only “low” capability ship adopted for full production was the patrol frigate (later the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate.) That said, Zumwalt created a dynamic environment where traditional political/military analysts who worked in the CNO staff OP 60 office (now N3/N5), capabilities-based analysts in the relatively new Director of System Analysis (OP 96) office (once directed by Zumwalt and now N81), and a new, small dedicated CNO staff element (OP 00K) worked together to produce both strategy, and associated force structure analysis for a whole new generation of U.S. surface ships from nuclear powered cruisers to hydrofoil missile patrol craft.
     Zumwalt’s successors as CNO in the 1970’s carried forward this climate of change and cooperative effort between the strategic and analytical sides of the Navy to create new strategy and associated force structure to meet the rising Soviet threat. Admiral Holloway adjusted a good deal of Zumwalt’s terminology on the missions of the navy in his own capstone document “The Strategic Concepts of the U.S. Navy”. He also created a new operational organization for the fleet around the Carrier Battle Group (CVBG), as opposed to organizing the fleet around ship types.[5] Planning analysis conducted during Holloway’s CNO tenure reinforced identification of 600 ships (first identified by Zumwalt as an ideal fleet strength rounded up from 583) as the ideal number of U.S. ships to meet global requirements for a variety of missions from peactime presence to nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. Planning and analysis from both Republican and Democratic led administrations contributed to this effort. The Ford administration’s January 1977 Naval Shipbuilding Program, and the 1978 Carter administration’s Sea Plan 2000 document (drafted by the Navy at the behest of Navy Secretary Grahm Claytor and Under Secretary James Woolsey) both largely agreed on the number of ships at around 600. Future Navy Secretary John Lehman helped to draft both documents as an independent CNO consultant. The analysis effort was further aided by advanced intelligence products and by the CNO’s Strategic Studies Group (SSG), created at the Naval War College in 1981 and staffed by a rotational group of exceptional Commanders and Captains.
     Products like this created both the Maritime Strategy of the 1980’s and several generations of dedicated political/military and operations analysts directly responsible for its evolution. The new CNO, Admiral Richardson, could also perhaps produce a capstone document designed to provoke strategic and operational analysis to counter a new generation of threats. Such a document should specify what capabilities the Navy wishes to field now, and in the next 10, 20 and 30 years. It must be financially responsible and not suggest unaffordable platforms and payloads in support of these capabilities. The advent and evolution of the distributed lethality concept within the surface force is a positive step in building such a force-wide operational doctrine.
     This analysis must, however, not project false illusions of a world with significantly well equipped enemies lurking within every archipelago and anchorage in the global common spaces. The threat to U.S. forces around the globe has significantly increased since 2004 in some places, and many capable anti access/area denial (A2/AD) systems are now more widely available than in the past. This trend will likely continue, but only in a few areas will these capabilities be significant and well coordinated. The most common threat remains general maritime lawlessness such as that which has occurred in conjunction with failed states like Somalia, Libya, and Syria in recent years. Larger operations have been and will likely be required to reduce the overall threats posed by such collapse, but the day to day maintenance of global trade through troubled regions is a more probable near-term naval mission. Many of the tenets of the 2007 Cooperative Maritime Strategy remain, notably in cooperative efforts with partner nations in securing the free passage of trade throughout the world. This is where the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and its frigate variant have a vital role to play.
     Cooperative operations with small, friendly nations, counter-piracy, and choke point security operations do not necessarily demand all of the capabilities provided by an Arleigh Burke class destroyer. Many nations and non state actors now possess, or will likely acquire capable mines that can cut key trade routes with a mere announcement. Piracy often follows in the wake of political disorder and many nations facing disorder continue to benefit from the visit of a U.S. warship, especially in remote locations. These are all missions worthy of an LCS with minimal mission module outfitting. Recent estimates from contracts awarded in April of this year price the LCS sea frame from $345.5 to $362 million dollars.[6] Few if any other ships capable of being produced in U.S. yards have such a range of capabilities (medium caliber gun, extensive flight deck and hanger facilities, point defense missile system and open architecture) at such a low price. The Navy further estimates that the frigate variant of the LCS, with additional warfare capabilities and less vulnerability to attack will cost no more than 20% more than the current basic LCS sea frame and remain below the current Congressional Cost Cap of $479 million dollars a unit.[7] The Navy has significantly under-estimated such costs in the past, but they should still remain well below the very conservative cost of reproducing a larger, multi mission frigate like the Perry class that cost $194 million a unit in 1979, which adjusted for inflation alone rises to $673 million in 2015 dollars.[8]
     Many critics continue to suggest that the LCS is vulnerable to missile attack, but its primary point defense system is well regarded in the rest of the operational fleet. The LCS’ Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM and SeaRAM mounts) is an excellent capability against attacks like those that crippled the USS Stark in 1987 and the INS Hanit in 2006. In both of these cases failure to prepare for potential attacks, rather than lack of capability on the part of the defending ships, significantly contributed to attacker success. The four U.S. DDG 51 class ships currently assigned to the Mediterranean and home ported in Rota, Spain have been fitted with this weapon system as their point defense capability.[9] The addition of a surface to surface missile for the LCS that could include it in the surface navy’s distributed lethality concept hints at a fairly formidable and capable platform not nearly as vulnerable as critics contend.[10]
     Its fine to conduct a capabilities-based assessment in support of current and future requirements, but do not limit that analytical effort to the frigate variant of the LCS. It should equally not be an endeavor where physics PhD’s lecture the Navy on the specific shortcoming of individual systems on one platform. An analysis of the entire naval force structure is required in support of a significant change in the state of global maritime security. Threats to U.S. interests in the Western Pacific, the Mediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf and other locations by rising and revanchist powers demand analysis on par with that which eventually produced the Maritime Strategy of the 1980’s. An analysis of the surface fleet’s current and future expected capabilities is a good place to start. Continued development of distributed lethality represents a commitment to re-examining surface force capabilities. Current budget conditions will likely restrain significant fleet growth for the time, and low-cost solutions to present and emerging threats are required. Few of these will rise to a full on A2/AD threat, and would not require an expensive multi mission warship to fulfill. Do a CBA for the surface fleet. It will likely be of some benefit, but don’t be surprised in LCS and its frigate variant emerged unscathed.

[3] Peter M. Swartz, U.S. Navy Capstone Strategies and Concepts, 1970-1980, Strategy, Policy, Concept and Vision Documents, Alexandria, VA, CAN Corporation, MiscD0026414A1/Final. Decmeber 2011, p. 5.
[4] Ibid.
[5] John Hattendorf, editor, U.S. Naval Strategy in the 1970’s, Selected Documents, Newport, RI, The Naval War College Press, The Newport Papers, September, 2007, p. 53.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Need for a Small Surface Combatant Capability Based Assessment (CBA)

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 16, 2015) Sailors assigned to Surface Warfare Detachment Four of the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) Crew 102 prepare to board a naval training vessel as part of visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) training during an Independent Deployer Certification Exercise (IDCERTEX). IDCERTEX, led by Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet (C3F) and executed by Commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 15, is being conducted Feb. 9-20 off the Coast of Southern California and Hawaii. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Katarzyna Kobiljak/Released)
The following contribution comes from Matthew Cosner, an operations research analyst at Naval Air Systems Command.

"Without a clear capabilities-based assessment, it is not clear what operational requirements the upgraded LCS is designed to meet. The Navy must demonstrate what problem the upgraded LCS is trying to solve. We must not make this mistake again." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), March 2015.
Executive Summary
  • The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) concept and Frigate variant (LCS/FF) trace their origins to incomplete analyses conducted in the early 2000s, coupled with flawed assumptions regarding future geopolitical, threat, technical and fiscal environments.
  • The Navy should pause any further invesments in LCS/FF program to sponsor a Small Surface Combatant Capability Based Assessment (CBA) to define the missions, capabilities, and required attributes for its future Small Surface Combatant.


The decision announced by Secretary of the Navy Mabus earlier this year to redesignate modified versions of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) as Frigates (LCS/FF) and adapt twenty as to fill the Navy’s future Small Surface Combatant requirement has not diminished the debate surrounding the LCS program.  The LCS has been mired in controversy since its inception and has yielded a product which bears little resemblance to the initial concept. In short, comparing the LCS in-service today to the concept originally envisioned in the early 2000s:
  • LCS high speed requirement appears to have been met, but may have imposed severe compromises and limitations in other facets of the designs;[i]
  • Seaframes appear unlikely to meet required range (LCS-3 projection of 1,941 nautical miles (nm) versus a 3,500 nm requirement);[ii]
  • Survivability of LCS in a wartime environment has been called into question by both the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) and Congress;[iii] 
  • Expected acquisition cost of an LCS seaframe approaches $470 million compared to a 2006 Congressional mandated cost cap of $220 million per seaframe;[iv]
  • The surface warfare (SUW) module with its current Hellfire missiles is significantly outranged by potential enemy ships displacing around 10% of LCS tonnage[v]
  • The Remote Minehunting System (RMS) critical to the LCS mine countermeasure (MCM) module is unreliable and has met significant criticism from DOT&E;[vi]
  • The antisubmarine warfare (ASW) module, which was rescoped from distributed offboard systems to a more conventional variable depth sonar and multi-function towed array MFTA, has not yet been delivered and is currently overweight;[vii]
  • The original concept of quickly swapping mission modules within days to allow rapid mission reconfiguration (e.g. SUW to MIW) appears infeasible.[viii]

The Patterns of the Current LCS Debate

It is important to acknowledge that LCS supporters do exist – although this author suspects that if one discounted those who are professionally connected to the LCS program, they would number in single digits.  Arguments in favor of the LCS fall into two broad categories.

The first category involves citing unit cost stabilization, reliability improvements, and increased seaframe deliveries as evidence of the LCS program “turning the corner”.  These arguments are myopic: delivering reliable systems, within cost and schedule are what program offices are expected to do.  This line of argument also relies on questionable accounting practices:  until the mission modules are delivered, any discussion of LCS cost or schedule refers to an incomplete item.  It also focuses the discussion too narrowly on production metrics while ignoring whether or not the LCS delivers actual warfighting capability.

A second line of pro-LCS arguments addresses warfighting utility – but focused on conceptual future capabilites rather than what can be reasonably anticipated.  The argument starts that the LCS modular concept allows the flexibity to introduce new capabilites as needed.   Yet it is hard to accept this claim given that it has taken the LCS program over a decade to design, acquire, test and field the first three “flight zero” mission modules – particulary when one considers that these modules are far less complex than what had been planned at program conception.

LCS proponents may then argue that even without mission modules, the LCS provides comparable capability to the recently-retired Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates. The counter is that benchmarking capability against a forty year-old frigate design with much of its weapons removed is a false comparison; if all that was required was a de-missiled, 1970s-era frigate, then perhaps there was little need for a new ship at all.

The Bigger Debate: Are We Building the Right Ship?

The premise of this article is that while it is important to monitor and hold NAVSEA and prime contractors accountable in terms of building the ship right, it is far more important for resource sponsors (with the aid of the analytic community) to determine whether the Navy is actually building the right ship.  Thus, the target audience for this article and its recommendations is the OPNAV staff who develop and manage requirements, rather than the Program Executive Office for Littoral Combat Ships (PEO-LCS) which are responsible to build to those requirements.

Despite the spirited exchanges between LCS critics and proponents on this website and others, the tenor of the debate itself misses the larger picture.  Success or failure of LCS to meet a design specification, or deliver within cost and schedule, or comparing what it delivers compared to a now-retired frigate is irrelevant if LCS is not the ship the Navy needs in the future.  Imagine a magic wand existed which would instantly correct LCS program and technical failures and deliver thirty-two LCSs, built as designed, within cost parameters, and with the currently projected mission packages. The question would still remain whether a ship the Navy envisioned in the early 2000s is a sound basis for a future Small Surface Combatant mission.

The above question can be addressed by examining the assumptions that existed when the LCS concept was formulated, how its foundational analysis was conducted in the early 2000s, and how the more recent Small Surface Combatant Study arrived at its recommendation.

Challenging LCS Assumptions

In examining LCS foundational analyses, it is first vital to consider whether the assumptions under which the original LCS concept was developed are still valid.  The simple answer is no; the technological, geographic, threat, and fiscal assumptions which underpinned LCS conceptualization do not appear to be valid in 2015.

Technology: Reliance on Unmanned Systems.  Net centric warfare (NCW) was a key technology-centric concept which informed the LCS concept and design.  NCW theorizes “…increased combat power through networking sensors, decision makers, and shooters to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command, higher tempo of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability, and a degree of self-synchronization.”[ix]   NCW proponents placed strong reliance on the ability of ship-based unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), unmanned surface vehicles, and unmanned undersea vehicles, to provide LCS with significant mission and scouting capabilites.[x]    Yet with the possible exception of the Fire Scout UAV, the unmanned systems which were central to the original LCS CONOPS, have not matured as projected.

Geography: The Pacific Pivot.  The mid-2000s saw a renewed emphasis on the Pacific Command (PACOM) area of responsibility (AOR). The so-called Pacific Pivot was driven in large part by a rising China and its perceived threat to the existing economic and military order.   Statements by the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet in 2012 indicated that by 2020 over 60% of the US ships will be stationed in the Pacific.[xi]   Although the LCS was supposedly intended to operate in all global theaters, the Pacific represents a unique environment with specific challenges; notably immense open ocean distances and fairly sparse logistics support.  Logically, if one were to design a ship class to operate primarily in the Pacific, it would need to possess range/endurance, moderate cruising speed, and sufficient manpower to self-sustain.  It would be a ‘distance runner’ rather than the ‘sprinter’ which the LCS program is delivering.

Threats: Anti-Access / Area Denial (A2/AD).  Concurrent with the “Pacific Pivot” was the recognition of the threat posed by enemy anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) operations.  A2/AD are concepts employed by an enemy intended to delay the assembly of US power-projection forces (to include their battle networks), and keep them beyond effective range of their territory, or to defeat them once they come within range.[xii]   Denial of command, control and communications, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (C3ISR) networks may pose significantly challenges to the LCS concept – which relies upon access to the C3ISR network for both SA and survivability.  Similarly, an enemy which can conduct a crippling first-strike on US forward bases (via ballistic missile, cruise missiles or other methods) can impose severe logistics challenges to the relatively short-legged LCS.

Fiscal: Dwindling Resources
. The mid-2000s were an era of relatively ample fiscal resources, due in no small part to the use of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) to augment the baseline shipbuilding account.  The drawdown from overseas operations reduced that funding sources, while the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011ensures little to no growth in overall defense resources.  Compounding the reduction in available resources are the pending demands for major ship construction projects including a new ballistic missile submarine (SSBN(X)) the Gerald Ford Class aircraft carrier (CVN-78) cost overruns, and DDG Flight III.  This lack of available resources has resulted in a relative decline in the perceived utility of single purpose, low-end warships (LCS) in favor of multi-purpose warships capable of operating independently against a broader array of challenges (frigates).

Considering resources, the cost of LCS/FF modifications are currently estimated at $75-100 million per unit.[xiii]    Adding this amount to the seaframe cost of an LCS ($479 million) and the expected unit cost of a mission module ($100 million) yields a total cost of $654-679 million.[xiv]   As a point of reference the FFG-7 unit cost in FY77 dollars was $168 million, equating to $677 million in FY15 dollars.  While it is admittedly problematic to compare shipbuilding costs based purely on inflation, this should at least raise the question as to whether comparable or even better-value options exist for the Small Surface Combatant than the LCS/FF.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 15, 2015) Sailors assigned to Surface Warfare Mission Package Detachment 2 prepare to be hoisted out of the water by the littoral combat ship USS Coronado's (LCS 4) twin-boom-extensible crane following a visit, board, search and seizure training exercise. Coronado conducted predeployment assessment and evaluation on the performance of shipboard equipment during a week-long underway off the coast of California. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Debra Daco/Released)

Baseline LCS: Incomplete Analysis

As an analyst, challenging an acquisition program’s requirements often becomes a tautological exercise.  When questioned, a typical response from program officials and resource sponsors is that the requirements are the requirements because they were at one time signed by leadership.  The fact that leadership may not have fully understood the analysis basis for the decision, was responsible for many decisions involving multiple acquisition programs, and has by now moved on to another assignment (or even retired) is often overlooked.

The LCS program emerged in late-2001 as an element of the now-defunct future surface combatant program – which included the LCS, a land-attack focused destroyer (DD(X)), and an air-defense focused cruiser (CG(X))  Conceived at a time in which the Navy perceived limited near or mid-term challenges to its ability to conduct operations in the open ocean (‘blue water’), the LCS was intended to counter asymmetric threats to action in the littoral waters (‘green water’): notably sea mines, small boats, and diesel-electric submarines.

Underlying the LCS concept were the theories of “transformationalism” (an influential 2004 paper on the LCS used the term no less than sixteen times[xv] ) and “net centric warfare (NCW).  NCW theorized “…increased combat power through networking sensors, decision makers, and shooters to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command, higher tempo of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability, and a degree of self-synchronization.”[xvi]   Proponents of NCW also placed confidence in the capabilities of largely unproven ship-based unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) to provide significant situational awareness (SA) and mission capabilites to the LCS.[xvii]

LCS enjoyed strong backing from Navy leadership and thus proceeded rapidly from concept to reality.  Indeed, by mid-2003, Navy leadership was confident enough in its need for a small, fast, modular surface combatant (as well as the capability/capacity of industry to manufacture the ship and its modules) to undertake a number of critical steps.  It established an LCS program office; developed a draft concept of operations (CONOPS); funded several industry led trade studies on the designs, and released a request for proposal (RFP).[xviii]

Remarkably, the above steps were conducted by Navy prior to any of the formal studies expected in a major defense acquisition program to identify and validate capability gaps, and assess a wide array of potential solutions.  Neither the exact nature of the “littoral combat” problem to be solved, nor the presumption that a small, fast, modular surface combatant was the best and only solution to the “littoral combat” problem were tested via rigorous, structured analysis.[xix]     Indeed, VADM Johnathan Nathman (then-Vice Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Requirements) admitted in Congressional testimony in April 2003 that more rigorous mission-level analysis of the LCS was only conducted after the decision was made to acquire LCS.[xx]

PACIFIC OCEAN (April 30, 2015) An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter and an MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, both assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, conduct coordinated flight operations with the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joan E. Jennings/Released)

The Small Surface Combatant Study: Putting the Cart before the Horse

The mistakes made in the LCS analysis of the early 2000s were largely repeated  a decade later, following the decision by then-Secretary of Defense Hagel to halt production of baseline LCS at hull 32 and examine alternative concepts to provide a Small Surface Combatant.  In February 2014, Secretary Hagel directed Navy leadership to:
“…Submit to me, in time to inform the PB 2016 [President’s Budget for FY2016] budget deliberations, alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate. Options considered should include a completely new design, existing ship designs (including the LCS), and a modified LCS.”[xxi]
The Navy’s Small Surface Combatant Task Force (SSCTF) were given approximately six months to complete the study.  However, rather than conduct an up-front assessment to determine gaps and examine system-of-solutions beyond the frigate to meet those gaps, the SSCTF relied on surveys of fleet commanders for expert judgement.  According to Robert O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) this approach has disadvantages:
“One potential disadvantage of this approach is that it deprived the Navy of a chance to uncover the kind of counter-intuitive results that a formal analysis can uncover…. another potential disadvantage is that fleet commanders can be focused on what they see the Navy needing today, based on current Navy operations, which might not be the same in all respects as what the Navy will need in the future...”[xxii]  
The SSC Study considered completely new designs, existing ship designs, as well as modified LCS designs.     The recommendation briefed to and approved by Secretary Hagel in late 2014 was to acquire 20 modified LCS with an improved air defense radar; air defense decoys; a new, more effective electronic warfare system; an over-the-horizon anti-ship missile; multi-function towed array sonar; torpedo defenses; and additional armor protection.[xxiv]

While the decision to adapt a modified LCS over other potential concepts has been subject to significant discussion, it is difficult to argue the decision since the SSC study itself is not available to the public.  However, what can be openly debated is the deeply flawed analytical path by which the decision was arrived, and the manner in which it is being implemented.

The SSC Study yielded a detailed modified LCS designed to satisfy current shortfalls – yet lacked the analysis to determine whether it will meet future requirements.  The modifications recommended will undoubtedly make the LCS “better”, but no study was done as to whether they will make the LCS “good enough” to meet the Navy’s future threats.

Further confusing the issue is Congressional testimony by Mr. Sean Stackley (Ass’t Secretary for Research Development and Acquisition) which indicates that the Navy had not even begun the LCS-FF requirements development and staffing process until after it had selected the LCS-FF design.  It thus appears that the Navy is attempting to make the question fit the answer.[xxv]

The Need for a Capability Based Assessment

It should be clear from the above paragraphs that: the assumptions which existed at LCS conception are largely outdated; the baseline LCS conducted in the early 2000s had an incomplete foundational analysis; and the recently completed SSC Study essentially selected a ship design to meet current gaps with no analysis of future mission requirements.

An analysis method which could address these myriad of flaws exists and is referred to as a Capability Based Assessment (CBA).  A CBA is required by the Joint Capability Integration Development System (JCIDS) prior to selecting a material solution.  It provides recommendations on whether to pursue a materiel solution to an identified capability gap that meets an established need.

A CBA assists Navy decision makers in determining the problem, whether or not it needs to acquire ‘something’ to address the problem, and what requirements for that ‘something’ should look like.  A CBA is often confused with an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) – in fact they are separate but interrelated efforts with the CBA occurring first.  The general steps of a CBA are:
  • Define the mission;
  • Identify capabilities required;
  • Determine the attributes/standards of the capabilities;
  • Identify gaps;
  • Assess operational risk associated with the gaps;
  • Prioritize the gaps;
  • Identify and assess potential non-materiel solutions and;
  • Provide recommendations for addressing the gaps[xxvi]
Proceeding from the first step, and based on the information in the paragraphs above, the LCS analysis of the early 2000s was focused on both a mission (“littoral combat”) of decreasing relevance, and assumptions regarding the future environments which have proven largely invalid.  If these factors have in fact changed then a ‘daisy-chain’ ensues: the recognition of a changed problem/mission should drive the Navy to reinvestigate its required capabilites (i.e. what it will need to do), resultant gaps (i.e. what it cannot do with its programmed portfolio), and the required attributes of the ship(s) it needs to acquire. 

What Should Be Done and What It Will Take

It is imperative for the Navy to determine the capabilities it needs in a future Small Surface Combatant which will serve the fleet well into the middle half of this century. The recommended course of action is to immediately ‘pause’ the ongoing LCS/FF capability improvement effort, reconsider the decision to acquire LCS/FF hulls 33-52, and conduct a Small Surface Combatant CBA in accordance with JCIDS.

There are numerous qualified, highly-skilled, analysis organizations available to lead such a CBA including but not limited to the Center for Naval Analysis, RAND and the Institute for Defense Analysis.  However, under no circumstances should PEO-LCS be allowed to lead the study since by definition this would represent a conflict of interest.  PEO-LCS should instead focus on addressing the many issues associated with ‘baseline’ LCS – particularly in developing an alternative course of action for the failing (but critically needed) MIW mission module.

Multiple other organizations would need to play roles to the CBA.  An Executive Steering Group (ESG) consisting of OPNAV, NAVSEA and Commander Naval Surfaces would provide high-level guidance.  Naval Warfare Development Center would assist in identifying scenarios, tasks and metrics.  The Office of Naval Intelligence would identify threats and enemy CONOPS.  Fleet subject matter experts would provide inputs CONOPS – although their near-term, qualitative inputs would not be viewed as a substitute for the actual analysis.

At its core, the Small Surface Combatant CBA will be a scenario-based assessment focused on likely missions and threats in the post-2030 timeframe.  The missions and scenarios would be identified by the ESG and refined during the CBA but would likely include:
  • ASW. Escort in the open ocean;
  • SUW. High-end, surface action group;
  • Counter-piracy;
  • Maritime Interdiction Operations;
  • Visit Board Search and Seizure;
  • Support to Navy Special Warfare;
  • Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Response and;
  • Global Presence.
It is important to note that, consistent with Secretary Hagel’s original guidance, the MIW mission would remain ‘off the table’.  It is presumed this mission would be performed by the baseline LCS – if and when the MIW mission module is fielded.

The CBA would be resource informed, meaning that any materiel solutions would need to be considered against an assessment of available shipbuilding dollars in the 2030-40 timeframe.  Given the many competing priorities in that timeframe (including SSBN(X), continued CVN-78 cost overruns, and the DDG Flight III) cost-effectiveness and affordability should feature heavily in the assessment.  However, care should be taken to not simply identify and recommend the lowest-cost solution; capability should be the dominant measure.

Critics may argue that such a Small Surface Combatant CBA would jeopardize the ongoing LCS/FF program; would be too expensive, and would take too long. The first point is germane only if the LCS/FF is in fact the optimal solution to meet future missions; since a proper CBA was never conducted this is impossible to determine.  As to the second and third points, if one thinks analysis is expensive and time-consuming, they should try ignorance.

Matthew Cosner is an operations research analyst at Naval Air Systems Command. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the official positions of the U.S. Navy.



[ii] “DOT&E Report for Fiscal Year 2014”, published January 20, 2015.

[iii] “ibid

[iv] “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)/Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” CRS, September 2015.





[ix] “Network Centric Warfare”, DoD C4ISR Cooperative Research Program, 2002.

[x] “Naval Transformation and the Littoral Combat Ship,” Robert O. Work, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, February 2004.


[xii] “Why Air Sea Battle?”  Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2010.

[xiii] Navy information paper dated April 22, 2015, referenced in CRS report, dated April 22, 2015.  

[xiv] Seaframe and mission module costs per CRS report on LCS.

[xv] See “Naval Transformation and the Littoral Combat Ship,” Robert O. Work, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, February 2004.

[xvi] “Network Centric Warfare”, DoD C4ISR Cooperative Research Program, 2002.

[xvii] “Naval Transformation and the Littoral Combat Ship,” Robert O. Work, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, February 2004.

[xviii] ibid

[xix] “Navy Littoral Combat Ship(LCS)/Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress,”  September 2015

[xx] “Admiral: Most LCS Requirement Analysis Done After Decision To Build,” Inside the Navy, April 14, 2003.

[xxi] “Navy Littoral Combat Ship(LCS)/Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress,”  CRS, September 2015

[xxii] ibid

[xxiii] ibid

[xxiv] Statement by Secretary Hagel on the Littoral Combat Ship, December 11, 2014.

[xxv] Testimony by Mr. Sean J. Stackley to the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 18, 2015.
[xxvi] CJCS Instruction 3710, Joint Capability Integration and Development System (JCIDS).

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