Friday, May 6, 2011

Thinking About Our Little Fast Ships of the Future

This Chris Cavas story at Navy Times has the background and details, but I want to briefly mention the transfer of all Army JHSVs to the Navy. Bottom line, the Military Sealift Command will operate and crew the vessels, and the Army will not. I think this is a good thing, and I don't think this is the end of changes to the JHSV program.

The JHSV program was originally 10 ships, which was broken down 5 for the Army and 5 for the Navy. The program is already being expanded, and the number 23 is now being thrown around - for good reason. What is unclear is that if 23 will be one full block of JHSVs, or will be broken down as two blocks.

Between the Littoral Combat Ships and Joint High Speed Vessels the Navy is ultimately fielding 3 different types of low end, high speed vessels with short range and limited combat capabilities. The original plan called for 55 Littoral Combat Ships and 10 JHSVs, for a total of 65 smaller high speed vessels. There is still a lot of debate whether these smaller vessels are worth the cost and capabilities being delivered, but I still believe that by the end of this decade we will see these ships punching well above their weight, even if people still don't see how or why I believe that.

Current plans suggest 12 of each type of Littoral Combat Ship and 10 MSC operated JHSVs, for a total of 34 total smaller high speed vessels. If the Navy was to build 13 more JHSVs, and operate them in the Navy instead of the MSC like the first 10, the Navy would then have 47 total high speed vessels of four different types. If 65 smaller high speed vessels is the requirement (I'm just using this number based on old plans of 55 LCS and 10 JHSVs), the question is what will the other 18 ships be, and whether or not they need to be Navy Trucks like the other 47 vessels, or if it is time to call up NASSCO and admit these 47 smaller platforms, much less more than 47, will need logistical support to maintain forward operations.

The US Navy will already field at least three, potentially four different types of high speed vessel in the near future. It astounds me that with all of these moving parts on all of these optimally manned, short range vessels expected to operate all over the world in only a few years from now, that no one in the Navy or in Congress is talking about some sort of High Speed Vessel Tender for logistics and support to keep all these high speed vessels forward deployed and functional. Things break, and when things break on a ship like LCS, the absence of any system due to malfunction or maintenance is a direct loss in total ship combat capability.

All the happy talk of these smaller, low end, modular, 'crew and material swap' style platforms spread all over the world simply isn't credible as a legitimate capability in real world discussions without also having a legitimate discussion why Small Ship Tenders are not needed. I can't imagine a scenario where higher logistics requirements and greater support requirements for all these small, short range platforms and their deployable systems doesn't in some way translate into a greater logistics requirement for the fleet as a whole.

If the US Navy is not designing LCS tenders by the FY13 budget, tell me how in the world the Navy is going to be operating 47 small high speed gas sucking vessels all across the world in 2020. It won't happen, there will be a logistics tether that ties these smaller vessels to either foreign ports where logistics are purchased from others or larger clusters of US Navy ships where logistics will already exist, and that tether will limit the locations this new, large high speed force can be deployed.

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