Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Streetfighter 2010: The New Navy Fighting Machine

If a force's combat power grows out of proportion to its survivability, however, it becomes tactically unstable. And a tactically unstable force has diminished utility to the nation because it becomes risk averse. This already is happening in some areas. In Kosovo, for example, the most needed use of air power was proscribed in both time and space. As a result, allied aircraft remained at high altitudes. In short, commanders will be unwilling to risk forces because of the human dimension, because of the disproportionately large percentage of the force's combat power represented by a single platform, and because of the high cost in time and treasure when even one such platform is lost in battle. The Navy after Next could become tactically unstable in the face of sophisticated area denial strategies—great eggs, but too few baskets.

History and analysis have demonstrated that to achieve a given level of combat power, numerical advantage is the single most important force attribute. This is why Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jay Johnson repeatedly has stated that in today's environment there is an unacceptable level of risk associated with a force of fewer than 300 ships. Of course, these 300 ships are of different types for different tasks, but numbers contribute to robustness and combat power, strength and combat power are the components of tactical stability, tactical stability underpins access, and access plus power projection equate to a relevant U.S. Navy. Determining the right balance between numbers of ships and the shape of the force is key to leveraging the power of numbers while maintaining affordability.

Rebalancing the Fleet, Proceedings, November 1999, Vice Admiral A. K. Cebrowski, USN, and Captain Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., USN (Ret.)
The New Navy fighting Machine (GoogleDoc) is an ONA funded study in which nine members of the Naval Postgraduate School faculty attempted to develop a force structure that reflected the three Sea Service Chiefs’ vision in “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” by building an illustrative fleet on paper. The study builds upon the Streetfighter debate of 10 years ago and develops a force structure on a budget that gives the US Navy options for executing strategy in war time or peace time. The study looked at the SCN budget and divided into three parts.
10% for strategic platforms - this would include SSBN but also AEGIS BMD
10% for green water platforms - this would be a littoral battle fleet
80% for blue water platforms - this would be the blue water battle fleet
The study concluded with 12 recommendations intended to provide a foundation on which to create a twenty-first century Navy that reflects the geopolitical environment and American national goals.

With that said, I have no intention to explore the specific details of the New Navy Fighting Machine report all at once, rather develop several discussions based on key pieces of the study that I believe to be relevant to the US Navy today regardless of force structure decisions made by Navy leaders. As the concept is titled the New Navy Fighting Machine, I will from now on refer to it on the blog as "Streetfighter 2010." Even though I am a fan of Admiral Fiske, I simply don't like the official name. Before going any further, as this is a blog and not a large research paper, I feel it necessary to start with force structure and work backward.

Platforms

The Streetfighter 2010 study includes 9 new platforms as part of the green water force, or 10% SCN budgeted force. These vessels include:
400 Inshore Patrol vessels similar to the US Coast Guard Defender class boat.
160 Offshore Patrol vessels similar to the Australian Armidale-class patrol boat.
30 Coastal Combatants similar to the Swedish Visby class corvette.
12 Fast MIW vessels similar to the Norwegian Alta class minesweepers.
12 Gunfire Support vessels similar to the Finish Nemo Navy program except bigger, with AGS.
12 ASW Inshore vessels similar to an ASW dedicated Sa'ar 5 class corvette
12 Global Fleet Station vessels similar to the vessel recommended in the often discussed NPS GFS design study (PDF).
8 Light Aircraft Carriers similar to the Italian Cavour class but dedicated to VSTOL aviation.
2 Coastal Combat Tenders intended to support 10 Coast Combatants a piece.
In July of 2009 I was invited to the Naval Postgraduate School to participate in the Office of Net Assessment funded wargame that examined Streetfighter 2010. While it was a great experience and I felt I was able to contribute to my team as part of the wargame effort, it was ultimately my inexperience that defined the feeling I had when it was over. While I had immersed myself in the strategic concept of Streetfighter 2010 before attending the game, because the specific platform details were not made available until I arrived to the game, I had a hard time getting my head around a conceptual Concept of Operations for the numerous new platforms that make up the radically different force structure.

Upon returning from the wargame I was determined to test theories and concepts explored intellectually within the study, so I began by doing what I do best... exploring my own inner nerd. As I am a programmer by trade (or used to be), I reinstalled my version of Harpoon 3 Advanced Naval Warfare, downloaded and modified the brilliant DB2000 database developed by ragnar at Warfare Sims, and customized it by adding the Streetfighter 2010 force structure. It wasn't until I became comfortable with the force structure that I could develop a conceptual understanding of why this force structure was so appealing to the NPS faculty.

Admittedly, using the tools available to me, I never fully discovered the same magic they did, but I do believe they captured several critical concepts the US Navy needs to seriously examine in the context of today's strategic and operational challenges at sea. The capabilities that I believe are critical to the US Navy reinforced by the conclusions of the study are outlined below.

Capabilities Matter

You have to be in the littoral to influence the littoral. Streetfighter 2010 is conceptual force structure, and when developing a force structure based on the conceptual aspects of the study I found myself trading platform payloads. For example, the ScanEagle UAV is critical to the way I believe naval forces should operate in the littoral today, and I understand completely why USS Bainbridge would be flying ScanEagles instead of helicopters when tracking pirates in vast areas of sea when the UAVs are unable to be provided by another platform.

With that said, I am Corbett trained and the ability to exercise sea control in conditions short of open combat only exists with the utility of Nelsons cruisers and specifically the presence of sailors. In every scenario with the Streetfighter 2010 force structure I developed, I found myself not only using, but needing a corvette like this Austal concept - which by the way would cost about $150 million with helicopter (or four for the price of one LCS). See specs here (PDF). Endurance, C2, and a gun - not speed and a missile, is the optimal sea platform configuration for small vessel naval operations exercising sea control on the irregular maritime battlefields today in my opinion.

Dedicated MIW and ASW matters. Someone in the Navy should be forced to explain the logic of a fleet of 55 Littoral Combat Ships but only 64 mission modules. Why are we spending $600 million per hull if the number of spare interchangeable modules for the entire class is nine. If we assume each ship will have a module assigned to it all the time, then we have not planned spare capacity very well. If we are not assigning a mission module to ships all the time, then why are we going through the trouble of multiple crews to keep the ships operating at a higher operational tempo? Presumably the crew would train how they fight, right? This study gets MIW and ASW exactly right, these are not generic naval capabilities that get swapped around and can be made available on demand, rather are true 'arts of naval warfare' that require dedicated specialization of both men and equipment. Attempting to apply a 'services on demand' enterprise model to the most lethal forms of naval warfare is a highly questionable and perhaps an incredibly dubious approach, particularly when it comes with such an enormous added cost.

I originally believed the Streetfighter 2010 study got this wrong, at least I believed it did upon first impression. I had trouble finding the utility of single purpose platforms working through intellectual exercises absent a specific scenario in the maritime domain. I have long believed the sea battle space today is too complex for single purpose ships - my mutlipurpose platfrom tendencies I suppose. Within the context of multiple simulations however, I continuously found utility for the relatively small number (12) of dedicated single purpose ships, particularly MIW and ASW. They seem to always came in real handy in their role when dedicated to specific maritime terrain. Whether its a port or a chokepoint, there is no such thing as a strategic objective in the littoral battle space during war that doesn't require specific dedicated capabilities, and I have a hard time believing that lesson isn't self-evident in the US Navy's own internal wargames unless those wargames exclude naval forces operating in the littorals.

A dedicated Command is a requirement for successful littoral operations. I am in complete agreement with those of you who believe the US Navy has forgotten how to do sea control. I don't think it is realized how far removed the US Navy is from the role of sea control, even with evidence smacking them in the face. I have long expressed the belief that the US Navy has enjoyed command of the seas since the end of the cold war not because it was obtained, rather because it was conceded within the context of the global peacetime condition. Now that we are finding areas of the global oceans where the seas are no longer conceded, the Navy is in the dubious position of either contesting for control with presence or conceding control by being absent. Corbett cannot be ignored, in no case can we exercise control by Battleships alone...

This section is a critical aspect of the study conducted, important enough to quote in full.
Early in the twentieth century, the introduction of the torpedo and mine pushed the battleship’s domain to seaward. Starting with the Russo-Japanese War and culminating in World War I, battleships and other surface warships were sunk in significant numbers off enemy coasts. The modern analog to the first wave of submarine and mine attacks is the missile—not as lethal in terms of sinkings, but equally fatal in terms of a firepower kill... The foundation of understanding twenty-first century littoral warfare starts with the missile threat from the land or fast attack craft.

Experimentation with green water vessels is cheaper, faster, and more tolerant of mistakes. Improved designs should emerge rapidly and at affordable costs. Review of American PT boat and British MGB and MTB development in World War II shows rapid improvements in successive classes. American development of riverine forces in the Vietnam War was not as fast, and those familiar with the designs and operations have been critical of them, but Vietnam history also shows how swift the learning process can be, once a dedicated command is established for green and brown water operations.

But when the wars were over, the organizations were veritably disestablished. Officers and men saw no professional future in small combatants and the capability was subordinated to what was familiar to them—open ocean operations.

We regard the green water fleet “constructed” herein for theater security and coastal combat to be representative—and better than anything done before now—but it is anything but definitive. This is because the responsibilities and capabilities for green water operations are, in some respects, more complicated than those of the blue water Navy, but in miniature. We believe a dedicated organization is necessary, and if accompanied by modest, but sufficient, funding (by means of what should properly be conceived as a planning wedge), the establishment of this permanent organization is the single most important recommendation contained in this study to bring the new fighting machine into existence. Despite its disproportionately small cost, success must come from close attention by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and the Fleet Forces Commander. It hardly seems necessary to note the need for extensive interfaces and connections with the United States Coast Guard (USCG), the blue water navy, the other Services—with emphasis on the Marine Corps and USSOCOM—the State Department, NGOs (Nongovernment Organizations), and each theater COCOM for coordination with all deployed forces operating on both the land and sea sides of the littoral.
A dedicated command is critical not for purposes of sea control operations, rather the instilling the operational art of sea control back into the US Navy. Presence at sea means the physical presence of sailors, not the virtual presence by satellite relayed visual imagery. Redeveloping operational capabilities that puts manned resources capable of taking command of the sea distributed throughout a region under the Network Centric construct is going to be a complicated effort of trial and error when one factors in the many less expensive and smaller vessels needed to do sea control in the littorals. The logistics becomes challenging, and must be robust enough to handle the strains of both peacetime and wartime operational tempos - plus survive disruptions to the system during combat operations.

Innovating into the future through experience. One of the key elements of the Streetfighter 2010 study is the emphasis of prototyping vessels and innovating operational concepts and littoral capabilities by practice. As a foundation for green water capabilities, the study develops specific platforms but emphasizes that they should be examined from a conceptual view in hopes that both the industry and the Navy would explore new concepts within budget allowances. In theory, evolutions would take place through a lessons learned process directed by the newly established littoral command authority.

Littoral Operations as a Strategic Capability. If you read the internet, newspapers, magazines, or watch too much 24-hour news networks, you have met many instant experts on Yemen describing the strategic options of the US. One of the most interesting aspects of the discussion in my view is how various experts are attempting to highlight the strategic interests of the United States through a prism of examining the human and geopolitical terrain, and applying them to our national security interest.

Playing the part of an instant expert, I'd suggest that perhaps the internal politics of Yemen has very little strategic importance to the United States, indeed I would suggest the Houthi insurgents in the north or the separatist movement in the south have very little influence on our strategic interests regarding Yemen, as our interests rely not on the internal politics of Yemen but in the prevention of external influences to the internal politics of Yemen.

The human terrain of strategic consequence to the United States is not in Yemen, it is around Yemen, most notably at sea in the Gulf of Aden and in the Red Sea. It is the human migration patterns from Ethiopia and Somalia. It is the international shipping traffic in the Gulf of Aden. Finally, it is the protection of the vital Bab-el-Mandeb passage from the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea that prompts our strategic interest.

The assistance the US can provide to Yemen most likely to serve our strategic national interests would be the development of Yemen sea based capabilities to disrupt the sea lines of communications used by external forces that support the internal political problems of that country. Assisting in the development of capabilities for the state to protect itself is our vital interest, not resolving the states internal political disputes.

The problem is the strategic capabilities that would typically be offered by naval forces does not exist today within the US Navy, so the US President does not have a good option for the development of broad littoral sea control capabilities as a menu offering option. The US Navy simply doesn't have the platforms that can help facilitate a partnership in that role, and the US Coast Guard is too small to provide such a service on the large scale necessary for a country with a coast line as long as Yemen located half way around the world.

The Streetfighter 2010 concept, on the other hand, with inexpensive $60m offshore patrol vessels and
$4m inshore patrol craft would give our leaders that type of capability. Matched with a Global Fleet Station program that provided maritime security training and helped develop C2ISR capabilities at sea with Yemen, one could potentially put 8 offshore patrol vessels and 64 inshore patrol vessels off Yemen at a fleet cost of $736 million. As a 10 year procurement plan, the costs would run less than $75 million annually and the capability goes long term not only to defending the sea lines of communication of Yemen, but also towards developing a regional Coast Guard capability to defend international shipping against regional piracy. As a 15 year action plan, the cost comes down below $50 million a year and after 15 years, if Yemen is a cooperative partner in the 15 year plan, we simply give the equipment away as a permanent regional maritime security capability.

$50 million a year for 15 years looks like chump change when one forecasts the long term costs associated with US Navy operations managing piracy off Somalia, nevermind the costs of every other problem occurring in the seas off Yemen. Not only is this a remarkably inexpensive approach to cooperative assistance, but it leaves no footprint on land, thus is an optimal political option. With 8 offshore and 64 inshore vessels, there is also no chance of the US being accused of building up a naval capability that could threaten regional states. Applying similar programs to Kenya and Djibouti, the maritime security capacity of the region gets upgraded significantly over a decade and insures money is invested towards our vital long term interests in the region.

Littoral capabilities at the low end in large numbers offer policy options for our elected leaders to look strategically at problem areas like the Gulf of Aden and provide support to regional partners without creating large physical (thus political) footprints on land. To this end, green water fleets enable strategic options that can prevent or reduce the risk of war in troubled maritime regions, and the Streetfighter 2010 study explores a blueprint for strategic options that can be offered with a balanced approach towards naval power. Because green water forces come with low price tags but high potential payoff opportunities as a long term consistent strategic engagement activity, the monetary investments make it financially worth it to just give these capabilities away to developing countries once developed in cooperation as 10 or 15 year plans. When executed as a strategic capability for global engagement, investment in green water forces represents a security "development in a box" solution at sea.

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