Good Company

Good Company
Good Company

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"How to Make the Navy Bigger, Sooner, Cheaper" -A Revisit to 2008

Recently I was asked to provide some thoughts for "Corvette Week" over at
Coastal Command Patrol Boat  (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Joshua Scott)
 CIMSEC NextWar and came up with Cheaper Corvettes: COOP and STUFT like that, in which I suggested that if "payloads" are the key to the future then the "platform" end of some naval force could allow for a different approach to getting drones of various types out to sea and, even more importantly, out to where the action might be. There is a nice follow on Non-Traditional Drone Motherships by NavalDrones.

As some long-time reader may know, that CIMSEC post was not my first foray into trying to figure out a way to pay less to get more to meet a problem identified by former Navy Secretary Winter back in 2008. One of my efforts was to suggest an anti-piracy force on the cheap, How to Make the Navy Bigger, Sooner, Cheaper
Too much ocean, too many shorelines, too many needs, too few ships. What's a navy to do?
The high-speed experimental boat Stiletto

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 cirmcumstance 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. Over the horizon radar system
  8. 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 squadron and train them in mission like that being conducted by the Africa station.
  9. Borrow some Army Rangers or fleet Marines and train them in the ship boardings, small boat ops, shipboard firefighting and ship defense. Treat them like the Marines of old. Stress people skills appropriate for counter-terrorism work.
  10. 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.
  11. Be generous with UAV assets - use the small "net recoverable" types.
  12. 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.
  13. Falklands war - container ship landing deck
  14. 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.
I have made some spelling corrections and other modifications from my original post - and would probably add "offshore Gulf of Guinea" as a training zone for the force.

Further, the rapid development of drones of various types opens up lots of new possibilities for using this on-the-cheap "influence squadrons" (with apologies to CAPT Hendrix) to try out new approaches to littoral operations or inshore work. As Admiral Harvey pointed out during his recent appearance on Midrats (starting about24:20), the littorals are a complex world and even non-state actors are in possession of weapons capable of striking out at ships off shore. If you read CDR Salamander's post on a training accident in which a target drone managed to smack into a cruiser The CHANCELLORSVILLE Shrug it is worth reading the comments of Steeljaw Scribe concerning the potential issues facing ships operating close to shore facing a high speed missile threat:
What the BQM did isn't trivial by a long stretch...but consider this - take a 6,000lb+ telephone pole that has been burning liquid fuel to push it to between Mach 2.5 - 3.0; even if the large HE/SAP warhead doesn't fuse and detonate imagine the damage it would cause if C-ville had been hit in the same spot. As for the "shootshootshootshoot" the reality is if you are relying on ownship sensors and kinetic kill, you won't get past the "Oh Shit.." preamble (do the math -- 60-70 nm @ Mach 2.5 - 3.0 and 100 ft or below. And let's just say there are multiple missiles inbound because only Hollywood TTP shoots missiles in a stream raid of 1. We are fast moving beyond the capabilities of chemical-based weaponry to address an extant near-hypersonic threat in the terminal kinetic realm. We absolutely must be there to address the hypersonic threat that will begin to manifest itself before the end of this decade. Fortunately we have folks working on a number of solutions -- but I fear for I also hear a lot of whistling past the graveyard, especially at certain pay grades/GS/SES levels. w/r, SJS
CDR S and I have discussed before the realities of the short reaction window available to ship drivers who operate in restricted waters. One possibility is to come up with technical fixes that allow you to move your force sufficiently offshore to create some breathing space and allow counter-battery fire to be employed. However, if you look at the realities of the world we live on, the areas we most need to operate in are not all in deep blue water with infinite sea room to operate in. Instead, they are mostly narrow seas in which stand-off capability may, in fact, take you out of the fight and moving into the restricted area exposes large ships to numerous threats.

As I note in the CIMSEC post, one benefit of the use of smaller, cheaper ships with lots of drones is the increase it causes in targeting to your opponent. Given that no one in the fight has an infinite number of bullets, forcing your opponent to have to make hard choices on what to shoot at can only be good thing.

Influence squadrons, indeed! More platforms, more payloads, less money. Win,win, win.


  1. The USCG is already really good at the second half of this. They suck at procurement, but they're great at boardings and interdiction (not to mention they can actually do that in a lot of places the USN can't). Forget the fleet marines, stick a USCG LEDET on each ship.

  2. Good stuff. I really do wish that we had the vision at the top and the intestinal fortitude to try what you recommend. Full disclosure: I had a LT command (AOG) and it made my career despite the risks I was warned about.

  3. Anonymous12:22 PM

    At the accepted peril of becoming somewhat tangential, I never did get the reason for dismantling the COOP proram. It couldn't have been that all expensive to run and provided a valuable service in regular bottom conditioning of our ports (for those outside the mine warfare racket, this helps differentiate real mines from old shopping carts and 55 gallon drums being used in the drug dealer retirement program), plus a wealth of local knowledge for the ports they covered. Also kept seamanship and operational skills sharp for the crews.

    JOs in command, while some may find this a bizarre notion it should be remembered that mid-grade and senior officers in command of small combatants is a fairly recent development. A friend's father commanded an LST as a JG during WWII and I knew several guys who had commanded DEs and the like as LTs. Biggest flaw I see in your plan is the lack of flag staffs, since there is a shortage of those (kidding, they managed to run WWII with less than 30 admirals, including the staff corps and that was a 5000 ship navy, I've seen little in the small to medium combatant world that would require much more than an LT or LCDR in command, with CDR and CAPT commodores).

    It would also be good to get way from the zero defects mentality. Used to be if you kissed the pier, you drew a bosun's chair and painting supplies then went overside and fixed the 1st LTs paint work, now it seems to be a major crisis. I suspect that this breeds overly cautious JOs and coupled with an over-reliance on single systems (eg. USS Port Royal) has reduced our overall capability.


  4. Right on Shadow. JO command is what can make an officer--provided he listens to his Chiefs. Zero defects is good in nukes but no way to learn the business.