Flight Ops

Flight Ops

Thursday, February 04, 2016

A Blast from the Past - Department of The Expendable Ship Division : "How to Make the Navy Bigger, Sooner, Cheaper" Revisited

Okay, back in November 2008, I had an odd idea. Why do we insist on building huge haze gray hulls when many Navy missions, such as presence, require less significant hulls?

One answer is, of course, survival of the crew, as set out in the Dr. Scott Truver essay at the USNI Proceeding site:  "When it Comes to Ship Survivability, Prayer Isn’t Enough":
One blindingly obvious lesson from real-world combat events is that surface ships built to military standards are more likely to survive attacks than are vessels designed to commercial standards.
But what if we decided to focus on crew survival and worried less about platform survival?

Ah, you say, this crazy old geezer has no idea of what he is talking about. But hear me out - one of the several advantages of unmanned systems is that we can field lots of them and not have to worry about crew maintenance (food, sleep, comfort). But what if you develop manned surface ships that cost relatively little and have what are essentially "crew survival pods" (some of you may remember the crew ejection system on the B-58 bomber) - to get the crew off what are essentially "expendable ships" used in large numbers as potential parts of a "swarm" system?

It seems to me that a robust "crew survival pod (CSP)" has got to be cheaper than an entire ship built to military standards. And, after you have taken care of protecting the crew, you can focus on creating extremely well-armed ships that cost a great deal less than a standard frigate or destroyer.

What follows is that November 2008 blog post on "affordable naval presence:"

In the September 2008 issue of the United States Naval Institute's magazine Proceedings, the Secretary of the Navy looked at the issue of "An Affordable Naval Presence." It has a sub-head of "We need a more cost-effective Fleet."

The piece lays out the requirements imposed by our maritime nature:
Our nation's maritime strategy reaffirms the use of sea power to influence actions and activities at sea and ashore, including the need for our naval forces to support humanitarian operations, counter piracy, and assist in capacity building and training of partner nations. The requirement to support these missions moves us to adopt persistent global presence as a key tenet of our strategy. The increasing desire for U.S. Navy presence is one of the driving factors behind our decisions on Fleet size and composition.
The value of presence is under-appreciated by many, for they fail to recognize the role of maritime security in support of the world economy to protect it against the vulnerabilities that terrorism and rogue nations pose. Clearly, most would agree that the world is far more connected and interdependent than in years past. Nations have moved away from the idea that they must possess economic self-sufficiency and have largely recognized the value of trade and specialization.
The more dispersed nature of today's world trade patterns has major implications for our view of maritime security . . .
Ah, there's the rub. Too much ocean, too many shorelines, too many needs, too few ships. What's a navy to do?

Secretary Winter wants analysis of the right ships to build and a more efficient process to build them. All of which is fine, but - there is a faster, cheaper path to get bigger, sooner at lower cost - putting hulls in the water while awaiting that analysis.

Here's my modest proposal:
  1. Take $250 million dollars and put it aside;
  2. Of that $250 million, use $100 million to buy or lease 50 to 100 offshore crew boats as currently used in the offshore oil industry (many of them are reaching the end of their expected useful life in the industry - you might be able to pick up some bargains).
  3. Invest $50 million in refurbishing the boats and in getting weapons for their decks. Turn them into "navalized" vessels. Make 22 knots the minimum acceptable speed.
  4. Do not try to make these low cost littoral combat ships into battleships for all conditions. Talk to the LCDRs who will be squadron commanders and the LTs who will be the commanding officers about what they would need to provide a presence, fight in a low threat environment against modestly armed pirates and the like, support occasional missions ashore and interdict drug smuggler semi-submersibles. Give them what they need in terms of state of the art comms using COTS (heck, load put a communication van on board if so that no time is wasted trying to rewire the little ships more than needed). Put in some comfortable berthing suited for the sea states in which these things (I call them Special Purpose Vessels or SPVs) will operate.
  5. Under no circumstance should the total U.S. Navy investment in any single SPV exceed $2 million, excluding the cost of adding weapons systems (adding a M-1 Abrams, for example) and the personnel costs.
  6. Make the project a 12 month "emergency" - and kill the bureaucracy that would ordinarily take on this job - find a hard charging Captain, make him or her report directly to SecNav and tell them what the mission and the budget will be. Then get out of the way except for monthly status reports.
  7. Find a group of O-3s who are ready for command and who can think for themselves and train the heck out of them by letting them go to sea in the type of ships that you are acquiring, let them learn from the masters of current offshore supply and crew vessels. Find some O-4s who can take hold of the idea of being a squadron commander of a 5 ship squardron and train them in mission like that being conducted by the Africa station.
  8. Borrow some Army Rangers or fleet Marines and train them in the ship boarding, small boat ops, shipboard firefighting and ship defense. Treat them like the Marines of old. Stress people skills appropriate for counter-terrorism work.
  9. Lease some ships to be used as "tenders" for the SPVs - small container ships on which the containers can be shops, supply warehouses, refrigerator units, etc. Bladders for fuel. Use the Arapaho concept to set up a flight deck for helo ops.
  10. Be generous with UAV assets - use the small "net recoverable" types.
  11. Don't limit the small boat assets to RHIBs. Experiment with M-ships, small go-fasts captured from drug dealers, whatever. The idea is to have boats that can operate in one sea state worse than the pirates, drug smugglers, etc.
  12. Use the MIUW van concept for adding some sonar capability. TIS/VIS is a necessity.
Start with a couple of squadrons, tell your O-6 that you want them ready in 6 months for operational testing. Unleash the budget dollars. For op testing, send one squadron off to the coast of Somalia for anti-pirate work. Send the other off Iraq. Put those expensive great big cruisers and destroyers currently in the area to work doing blue water stuff.

Paint Coast Guard like stripe on the hull of the SPVs - but make it Navy blue. If the Coasties want to join in, give them a boat and paint the stripe orange. Make the SPVs highly visible. Nothing deters crime like a visible cop on the beat.

Show the flag.

Please let your thoughts be known.
I cleaned up some spelling issues but left the content the same. I'd bump up the total investment in any SPV to $7 million because you can get some bigger boats if you are willing to pay more but would not increase the overall budget, even after 7 years. Buy why you can using the $250 million and turn some sailors loose to work out the kinks.

Instead of sending the trial squadrons off the coast of Somalia, let's let them try out the waters of the South China Sea. Give them a couple of DDGs to call on for support if needed. I can't imagine the Philippines would mind hosting a couple of squadrons of these things on a temporary basis.

By the way, China already uses a force sort of like the one I propose. See China's 'Sea Phantom' Fleet Prowls the Open Waters:
When Beijing first used fishing vessels for militarized purposes, it was originally intended as a stopgap for the shortfalls of Nationalist navy ships inherited by the Communist regime. But these vessels were unreliable, built with wooden hulls and underpowered machinery which severely limited their range, endurance and seakeeping qualities, thus confining them to inshore and coastal duties. This state of affairs continued until 1952, when several hundred-ton Japanese fishing vessels were seized by the Chinese on illegal fishing charges. These ships so impressed Beijing, with their sturdy ocean-capable hulls and reliable machinery, that they were turned into improvised fire support vessels with sixteen-tube 132-millimeter rocket launchers. In January 1955, they played a crucial role in the Communist capture of the Nationalist-occupied Yijiangshan Island. Since then, besides wartime support roles, these pioneer “sea phantoms” performed functions such as intelligence gathering, countersurveillance and the resupply of offshore PLA garrisons.
And don't worry that they are expendable. It's a feature, not a flaw.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:08 PM

    Agreed, there should be some thinking from a different perspective as what we have isn't cutting it.