The U.S. Navy is looking to restore its ability to reload its ships’ vertical launch systems at sea, which could be a dramatic logistical game changer in the planning and execution of high-intensity contingencies against peer competitors.
This encouraging revelation comes from an exclusive one-on-one conversation with Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson following his remarks at the U.S. Naval War College’s 2017 Current Strategy Forum last month.
After discussing the means by which the Navy seeks to ensure its forward-deployed
naval forces remain survivable and up-to-date with the latest tactical and technological innovation, Admiral Richardson said in reference to vertical launch system (VLS) underway replenishment, “we’re bringing that back.”
U.S. Navy photo
However, unlike other Navy striking arms like the carrier air wing, vertical launch systems cannot, at present, be practicably resupplied and reloaded while at sea. Once a VLS-equipped ship or submarine expends its missiles, it must withdraw to an equipped friendly port to replenish. This represents a significant operational liability, especially in high-intensity combat scenarios against peer adversaries. U.S. surface combatants currently in service have 80–122 VLS cells per ship, each cell being capable of accommodating either one large-diameter missile (such as Tomahawk cruise missiles, rocket-assisted antisubmarine torpedoes, and SM-2, SM-3 and SM-6 Standard Missiles) or four small-diameter Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles for local air defense out to thirty nautical miles.
|U.S. Navy by John L. Beeman|
“In our analysis, we expect surface combatants to quickly expend their VLS magazines even in a small confrontation and need to leave the conflict area to reload.” Bryan McGrath, a retired destroyer skipper at the Ferrybridge Group and the Hudson Institute and a coauthor with Clark on the CSBA fleet-architecture study, added that “Distributed Lethality,” the surface fleet’s new doctrine for a more offensive posture, “succeeds or fails on the strength of the logistics that support it. If a ship has to head back to a selected port to reload, it is out of action for an unacceptable period of time.”Keeping ships on the line is very important.
Now, build more ammo ships.