CAPITOL HILL: It’s been a rough 48 hours for the US Navy. Yesterday, the Littoral Combat Ship was battered by House appropriators and questioned by a leaked report. Today it was the Senate Armed Service seapower subcommittee’s turn to grill the Navy about its aircraft carrier and submarine programs. While the automatic 10-year budget cuts known as sequestration played a major role… Keep reading →
CAPITOL HILL: Sequestration is not the Navy’s only shipbuilding problem. In the near term, the automatic cuts to the 2013 budget are bedeviling efforts to save money by buying ships in bulk. Negotiators are racing the clock to salvage a multi-year procurement contract to buy 10 DDG-51 Aegis destroyers for the price of nine; Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told reporters today he was “optimistic.”
In the longer term, however, after the 10-year, $500 billion cut in defense spending required by sequestration, the Navy has dug a different hole for itself. The service has crafted a 30-year shipbuilding plan that requires massive increases in funding to levels that the Navy’s acquisition chief Sean Stackley admitted to Congress had not been seen since the Reagan build-up.
“Can you present… a scintilla of evidence” that the 30-year plan can be funded, an exasperated Rep. Randy Forbes, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on seapower, asked during a hearing this morning. Keep Reading →
CRYSTAL CITY: From standardizing paint schemes to buying fewer types of valves, the Navy is going all-out to save money as budgets tighten. This new emphasis on affordability goes beyond the usual mundane economies to a sea change in how the service develops new vessels and technologies, with the much-criticized Littoral Combat Ship as the high-stakes pilot project.
“You can’t just do some really effective system anymore; it’s got to be effective and highly affordable,” declared Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, who heads the Office of Naval Research. ONR is normally associated not with cost-cutting but with high-tech, high-cost innovations such as railguns. But at last week’s Surface Navy Association conference in Crystal City, just south of the Pentagon, Klunder framed even the case for railguns in economic terms, arguing they would let the Navy shoot down incoming threats much more cheaply than firing interceptor missiles. Keep reading →
[updated 9:45 am Wednesday with DOT&E data] CRYSTAL CITY: Navy crews don’t have enough sailors, training, or spare parts to keep up with operational demands, the Commander of Naval Surface Forces said bluntly this afternoon. The service needs to make better use of smaller budgets by standardizing equipment and adopting new training simulations, Vice Adm. Tom Copeman said, but even that’s not enough: Ultimately, he said, the Navy must get smaller to stay ready.
That approach doesn’t play well on Capitol Hill, which is so focused on the keeping up the size of the fleet that last year it refused to let the Navy retire three aging Ticonderoga-class cruisers which admirals said cost more they were worth to keep maintained. Keep reading →
[Updated Friday 12/21] CAPITOL HILL: It looks like the country’s getting a defense bill for Christmas, with provisions on everything from boosting cybersecurity to sanctioning Iran to loosening export controls on satellites.
In what passes for high efficiency in Congress these days, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees completed their conference on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 only two and a half months after the start of fiscal ’13 and just two weeks before sequestration may make many of their carefully wrought compromises moot. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: Full speed ahead and damn the drawdown — that’s the confident note that the Navy’s top admiral struck today.
“We’re not downsizing, we’re growing,” declared Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, at the National Press Club. “The ship count is going up and the number of people is going up.” Keep reading →
Tomorrow morning, at Manhattan’s Pier 88, the Navy will commission its newest destroyer, DDG-112. The USS Michael Murphy‘s namesake was uncompromisingly heroic, a Navy SEAL who died earning the Medal of Honor in Afghanistan. The ship itself, however, embodies a series of cost-conscious compromises that will keep the Navy sailing a 1980s design — albeit much upgraded –until at least 2072.
These destroyers are and will long remain the Navy’s mainstay. The Arleigh Burke class to which the Murphy belongs is built to carry the Aegis anti-aircraft system that defends the entire fleet, including the prized aircraft carriers. The Chief of Naval Operations himself, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, has explicitly said that the Navy is building the smaller, cheaper Littoral Combat Ships to take on supporting missions, so the fleet can free up destroyers to face the most dangerous and high-tech foes: submarines, long-range missiles, jet fighter-bombers, and more, all integrated into “anti-access” networks like those being developed by the Chinese. Updating the Arleigh Burkes to keep up with the threat will be a heroic effort. Keep reading →
PENTAGON: There are a lot of questions about the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships, high-tech vessels that are smaller, faster, more flexible, and more vulnerable to damage than traditional frigates or destroyers.
In an exclusive interview with Breaking Defense, the Navy’s top surface-warships expert frankly acknowledged that they’re still working on the answers. Everything from concepts of operation to damage control to the ships’ top speed is still potentially open to revision, Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden said Friday in his Pentagon office. That attitude is refreshing, exciting, and a bit unnerving when you consider that the Navy wants to buy 55 Littoral Combat Ships, requesting $1.8 billion for four in fiscal 2013 alone.
“We have traditional roles for destroyers, cruisers, frigates,” said Rowden, who heads Navy staff section N96, “Surface Warfare,” which oversees those ship types for the Chief of Naval Operations. But the LCS is a radically different class of ship. The two now in the fleet — LCS-1 Freedom, built by Lockheed Martin, and LCS-2 Independence, by General Dynamics — were in fact bought with research and development funding outside the normal procurement process. (A third ship that just finished its acceptance trials, Lockheed’s LCS-3 Fort Worth, was procured under the standard shipbuilding account, and so will all LCSs to come.) Many saw the use of R&D funds as a mere budgetary expedient, but Rowden argues it genuinely reflects just how new and different the Littoral Combat Ships really are.
“Given the fact that we don’t have a lot of history to inform us on how we’re going to go utilize these ships, we are using these for research and development,” Rowden emphasized. “We are learning a lot….There’ve been significant changes between LCS-1 and LCS-3,” for example, including a longer, more stable hull and fixes for the cracks and leaks discovered on LCS-1 last year, the topic of a high profile, highly critical report by the independent Project On Government Oversight.
Nor do the changes necessarily stop there. Another criticism of LCS is that the design’s extraordinary top speed of 40 knots — more than 30% faster than current frigates and destroyers — is simply not worth the expense of building the ship with two sets of engines: diesels for fuel-efficient cruising and gas turbines that kick in for a high-speed dash. “Speed is life and more is better,” Rowden said, quoting a Navy aphorism. No less a naval hero than John Paul Jones famously declared that, “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” Nevertheless, Rowden said, “as we go forward with our R&D platforms and do some research and do some development, I think the need for speed will either show itself or, if it doesn’t, then perhaps we’ll go in a different direction.”
The major criticism of the Littoral Combat Ship is that it just isn’t tough enough to take a hit in battle and keep going. On the Navy’s own scale, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is rated survivability level 3, the Perry-class frigate is level 2, and the Littoral Combat Ship is level 1, the same as the Avenger-class minesweeper and other support ships. LCS has more self-defense systems than the minesweepers, and it is has more speed than the frigates and destroyers, but in an era of supersonic cruise missiles and fast attack boats, that may not be enough to keep from being hit. Once hit, moreover, the LCS has a much smaller crew than traditional ships — about 80 sailors compared to over 200 on the similar-sized Perry. Doesn’t that make it a lot harder to do damage control? “That’s what we’re going to go find out,” Rowden said, smiling.
What Rowden does know for sure, he said, is the value of Littoral Combat Ships in the “presence” missions — counter-piracy patrols, port visits, exercises with foreign partners — that make up most of the Navy’s operations day to day. Harking back to his time commanding a mixed force of frigates, destroyers, and other vessels in the Mediterranean and the west coast of Africa, Rowden said, “I would have preferred to have LCS over probably most if not all of the other ships that I had.”
“Typically we take very, very expensive, very, very high-end DDGs [Aegis destroyers] to execute the anti-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa,” Rowden went on. “[That's] using an eight-pound maul to whack a fly.” Likewise, when building partnerships with Third World navies, Rowden preferred to rely on the aging Perry frigates or even cutters on loan to the Navy from the Coast Guard. “If I were to bring a big, heavy ship in, most of these folks had never seen one of those,” he said: They simply had no idea how to apply such a naval juggernaut to their own modest missions of coastal defense, counter-piracy, and fisheries protection. In those roles, he said, “you can probably get more utility and certainly more alacrity out of a smaller, more agile ship.”
LCS’s suitability for presence missions doesn’t mean it’s unsuited for a major war, however. “The ships are built to go in harm’s way, okay?” Rowden argued. “But we need to be smart about how we drive them.” In wartime, the lightweight Littoral Combat Ships would be connected by computer datalinks to the main fleet. Skirmishing LCSs would hunt submarines, small attack boats, and mines that threatened the larger ships, while US carriers, Aegis ships, and attack subs protected the LCSs in return from enemy missiles and airstrikes.
Exactly how this works, however, is something the Navy is going to find out as it goes along. “There are innumerable fantastic qualities about the sailors serving in the United States Navy today,” Rowden said. “We put an asset, a ship like LCS, into their hands, and they are going to figure out how to get the most out of it.”
“It’s very easy to concentrate on what the ship isn’t,” Rowden summed up. “It’s much more difficult to look into the future and say, this is what it could be.”
WASHINGTON: Congress orders up innumerable reports, and the Pentagon routinely delivers them months late, but the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan is one report that actually matters. That’s why Rep. Todd Akin, seapower chairman on the House Armed Services Committee, will offer an amendment to the defense authorization bill at Wednesday’s mark-up session that will demand that the Navy Secretary start turning the 30-year plan in on time — or lose access to a small but highly sensitive spending account called the “triple E” fund. Keep reading →