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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Smarter Force in the Littorals? Two essays to read

Well, well, well, someone else is beating the drum of being smarter in the way we spend our money on naval forces for the littorals - the area where most wars are fought by the way - right near the coasts - "inshore" as we nautical types might say - here in a UNSI Proceedings article, CDR Phillip Pournelle discusses The Deadly Future of Littoral Sea Control
The U.S. Navy is building a fleet that is not adapted to either the future mission set or rising threats. It is being built centered around aircraft carriers and submarines. Surface ships are being constructed as either escorts for the carriers or as ballistic-missile-defense platforms. While the littoral combat ship (LCS) was originally intended for sea-control operations in the near-shore environment, its current design is best employed as a mother ship for other platforms to enter the littorals. The result of all this is a brittle—and thus risk-adverse—fleet that will not give us influence, may increase the likelihood of conflict, and reduce the range of mission options available to the national command authority.
Sea Control is the raison d’ĂȘtre for a navy. The littorals have become and will increasingly be critical to the global economy and joint operations. To be relevant a fleet must have the ability to secure the littorals, dispute them, or just as importantly exercise in them in the face of an enemy who will contest them. Different platforms perform each of these tasks, some more effectively than others, which should drive fleet architectures. As the proliferation of weapons changes the littoral environment, the U.S. Navy will be forced to reexamine fleet architectures and make some significant changes to remain viable. This is due to the poor staying power of surface vessels in relation to their signature in the face of these rising threats. This new deadly environment will have tactical, operational, and strategic implications for the fleet and require significant changes if the fleet wishes to remain effective.
. . . As the precision-strike regime, ironically created by the United States, propagates around the world, ASCMs {anti-ship cruise missiles} and other threats to surface ships will expand. The speed of this proliferation may accelerate as new low-footprint manufacturing capabilities spread. 6

Tamil Tiger Improved Manned "Torpedo"
This will greatly change the security environment, particularly in the littorals, as it will greatly increase the lethality of smaller vessels and shore batteries. 7 This will in turn profoundly alter the security landscape. The Tamil Sea Tigers tied the Sri Lankan navy in knots through the use of small attack boats and suicide explosive vessels. 8 Had they possessed ASCMs they could possibly have won. Similar challenges may arise in an ally’s conflict with irregular forces such as Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines’ archipelagic environment. Closer to home could be the arming of semisubmersible platforms with ASCMs or other PSR weapons. The greatest threat will be to amphibious operations into places with conditions like Lebanon’s. 9
The good Commander has followed up his article with a blog post on the USNI Blog, Combined Arms in the Littoral Environment:
One of the most dramatic impacts of modern electronics is the increasing ability of smaller platforms to conduct scouting. Aerostats, towed kites, and small UAVs such as Scan Eagle give small platforms capabilities similar to larger platforms operating helicopters, etc. These smaller platforms have no need for the large flightdeck and hangar required for normal helicopter operations. They just need a small flat surface and storage area for rotary drones, nets and launchers for UAVs, or the UAVs can be designed to be recovered from the water. The MQ-8B could potentially be operated from a small flight deck with a small maintenance and storage hanger. This will drive the displacement requirements (and the resulting signature) for such platforms down considerably. Flotillas can then be further augmented in their ocean surveillance (“scouting”) missions by the use of land based aircraft, UAVs, Aerostats, etc. as well as carrier based aircraft operating further back.
Corvettes enabled in this manner can have the same surveillance capacity as any destroyer or frigate. By employing an aerostat or towed kite the corvette would have the ability to suspend a radar system at altitude. Because the power generation is on the ship, the aerostat or kite can have a very capable radar normally seen only in the largest UAVs or on helicopters. Further the greater altitude also provides the ability to control light weight visual sensor
Scan Eagle on Mk 5 SOC Boat
enabled UAVs like the Scan Eagle at far greater ranges. Combining the two systems grants the Corvette the ability to conduct surveillance on a large area with the radar locating contacts and the scan eagle visually identifying them. Thus we have gained the same capability which in the past would have required a large flight deck on a destroyer or frigate.

Complementing their scouting capability smaller platforms increasingly will have lethal
Aerostat on a CG leased vessel
firepower. The capabilities of anti-ship cruise missiles continue to improve. The distribution of firepower across multiple platforms will mean an enemy has very little opportunity to eliminate such a force without response. Similarly, defensive systems are becoming smaller and more effective. Thus the flotilla force is the littoral element of the Distributed Lethality concept designed for this deadly environment. The limiting factor for the size of corvettes is becoming less dominated by the weapons and more by endurance. Thus it would appear the knee in the curve between competing factors of size, endurance, signature, defensive weapons, offensive weapons, scouting capacity, etc. is between 350 and 800 tons.

Maybe you remember Department of Crazy Ideas: How about a cheap inshore fleet? and its sister How to Make the Navy Bigger, Sooner, Cheaper or Galrahn's The Push For Littoral Strike Groups? Or maybe The Small Ship Navy: Numerous and Expendable? Why not? or a contribution CIMSEC's "Corvette Week" Cheaper Corvettes: COOP and STUFT Like That?

Of course many of my rants were not based on the foundation CDR Pournelle had built so far. He makes compelling arguments and I recommend his work to you.


  1. Anonymous9:15 AM

    ...and another Proceedings article from 1998 see:

  2. Anonymous1:46 PM

    Is it not a rule of thumb, if not a law of nature, that flag officers fight the war of their youth ( when they were junior officers ) rather than the war that their country is currently in?

    Paul L. Quandt