Friday, December 18, 2009

Forward … to a Thousand-Ship American Navy

I wrote this two years ago, based on a couple posts on this subject that I wrote (NOTE: See here and here), but Proceedings sat on it for over a year before finally rejecting it after my gentle prodding to please give me an answer. I've sat on it for close to another year, and I have to admit I don't have time to deal with it. I actually want to use the material for an article on a different aspect of the issue, so what the heck--free content for all that I actually researched and footnoted! Merry Christmas.

The footnotes are removed. But if anyone out there with a glossy publication that pays writers cares to print this, let me know. I can supply the documentation and actual tables that didn't paste into here.

The Tyranny of Numbers
Our Navy defends our nation within the incompatible and unforgiving boundaries formed by the tyrannies of distance and numbers. We struggle to build enough ships both capable of deploying globally and powerful enough for fighting first-rate opponents. Operating within a network-centric Navy, auxiliary cruisers could once again play a valuable role in projecting naval power. Using modular systems installed on civilian hulls, auxiliary cruisers could handle many peacetime roles; free scarce warships for more demanding environments; add combat power within a networked force; and promote the global maritime partnership.

Our Navy is surely superior to any conceivable combination of potential foes, alarmism notwithstanding. Yet as a global power, our sea power cannot be narrowly defined by our superb warships able to win conventional sea-control campaigns. We have many objectives at sea. Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers could provide the numbers we need to achieve our maritime objectives. The tyranny of numbers matters to the United States Navy.

Sea Power and Global Missions
The Navy is evolving from a platform-centric fleet to a network-centric force. We will enable our emerging network-centric maritime force by fusing sensors, networks, weapons, sailors, Marines, command and control, and platforms.

Sea Power 21 sets forth the Navy's vision for using this kind of maritime power:

[We] will continue the evolution of U.S. naval power from the blue-water, war-at-sea focus of the "Maritime Strategy" (1986), through the littoral emphasis of ". . . From the Sea" (1992) and "Forward . . . from the Sea" (1994), to a broadened strategy in which naval forces are fully integrated into global joint operations against regional and transnational dangers.

For conventional sea control, as the Maritime Strategy addressed, we maintain decisive superiority. Indeed, our margin of superiority grew sufficiently since 1986 to look beyond combat in the blue waters to the littorals and missions ashore. The Navy’s new strategy, published in October 2007, embraces the opportunities created by our dominant maritime power:

While defending our homeland and defeating adversaries in war remain the indisputable ends of seapower, it must be applied more broadly if it is to serve the national interest.

Today, we can address a broader application of maritime power to support our peacetime engagement. To carry out growing sets of missions across the war and peace spectrum, our sea services tailor mission packages with Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard assets. Other government agencies may be included and the assets of other nations may be added to the package.

Of critical importance to achieving our global maritime objectives, we must disperse our ships, Marines, and shore-based assets. While our fleet is more powerful than any conceivable coalition of foreign navies, we have limited platforms to spread around the globe for missions that don't focus on sinking enemy ships. Although we will fight networked as a single entity, “we cannot be everywhere[.]”

Our cruiser and destroyer surface combatants provide the bulk of our fleet and are outstanding multi-mission warships. But they can’t be everywhere. Nor are they needed everywhere. When a multi-mission ship is sent on a mission that does not need such a capable warship, we remove that ship from our pool of assets available to carry out another mission that requires a cruiser or destroyer.

Admiral Mike Mullen envisioned a global maritime partnership (which he termed the 1,000-ship Navy) as a pool of allied naval resources that could contribute to joint missions for common goals.

Vice Adm. John G. Morgan, Jr., linked the advantage of numbers provided by allies with our network-centric maritime force:

This 1,000-ship Navy idea is all about a global maritime network, a huge network of sharing. That’s the biggest challenge we’re facing: a network of many integrated countries’ navies with one goal in mind of patrolling the world’s seas.

Leveraging allied naval power does not mean that our Navy can safely continue to shrink. Littoral combat ships (LCS) were envisioned as affordable yet capable warships that would be built in the numbers needed to be everywhere, whether in deep waters or the littorals. The flexibility to meet these varied missions results from designing LCS to accept modular components for specific mission requirements. The LCS will be linked in a network to fight with dispersed fleet elements as a single fighting force, which will complicate enemy surveillance and targeting missions without degrading our strike capabilities.

Unfortunately, LCS are exceeding expected costs and the second ships from Lockheed Martin Corporation and General Dynamics have been cancelled. Indeed, cost estimates for the LCS hull and a couple modules approach half of the cost of an Arleigh Burke Flight II destroyer, raising questions about how we can possibly maintain numbers of hulls in our fleet with this high-low mix. The tyranny of distance compels us to build larger hulls to maintain our global reach. Can we build capable but affordable warships?

Building an Auxiliary Cruiser
We need another option to provide low-cost hulls capable of a broad range of missions in war and peace. The Danish flexible support ship RDN Absalon, built in a civilian shipyard, is designed to use “modularity and scalability” to carry out a variety of combat and support missions at low cost. Using self-contained modules that “contain entire warfighting systems,” Absalon can be quickly reconfigured. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winters was impressed by the ship, stating:

There are definitely lessons here that we can use in the U.S.

Modularity and scalability applied to civilian hulls could provide affordable Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers.

The system modules for Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers would have to be self-contained because they would not be installed on a ship designed to incorporate the modules, as the LCS is envisioned. This limits capabilities to what the modules contain, but auxiliary cruisers have never been intended to replace warships. Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers would be plugged into our naval network to fight within a task force or for missions not needing the capabilities of a conventional warship.

Armored standard (20' l x 8.0' w x 8.5' h) general purpose shipping containers would be the building blocks for system modules. Other sizes are available as well, including 40' x 8.0' x 8.5' containers, "hicube" containers measuring 40' x 8.0' x 9.5', and 40' x 8.0' x 4.25' half-height containers. Because Containerized Modules would not be stacked to create a Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser, weapons, sensors, or other equipment could extend above the container roof.

We would build Containerized Modules using shipping containers that include missiles (surface-to-air and surface-to-surface) as well as modules with gun turrets for smaller weapons, up to 57mm. Other modules could support helicopters for anti-submarine (ASW), mine counter measures (MCM), or anti-ship missiles, as well as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV). Still others would contain power supplies and the command and communications systems to plug a ship into the Navy network.

Table 1
Containerized Modules
Mk110 57mm Gun Module; RGM-84 Harpoon Surface-to-Surface Missile Module; Surface-to-Air Missile Module; Mk38 25mm Gun Module; RGM-114 Hellfire Surface-to-Surface Missile Module; Mk54 Anti-Submarine Missile Module; Armory Module Boarding Module Barracks Module; Clinic Module Operating Room Module; Hospital Recovery Module; USV/UUV Support Module; Power Module (fuel cells & conventional generators); Classroom Module; Combat Information Center Module; Mine Laying Module; Communications Module; Aviation Support Module; (F-35, V-22) Helicopter Support Module; UAV Support Module.

The hulls that could be adapted for Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers are the world’s container ships. Of the nearly 48,000 ships in the world trading fleet, 3,524 are container ships. The American share is even smaller, with only 86 in private hands (and only 74 U.S.-flagged). Still, this is a potential pool far larger than the foreign warships that could contribute to a thousand-ship Navy.

Containerized Modules would be the building blocks for Mission Packages installed on a container ship’s deck to create a Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser tailored for the specific mission. One or more Mission Packages would be fixed to the deck of a container ship and connected to each other for power and communications.

Table 2
Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser Mission Packages
Surface Warfare--SUW; Anti-Air Warfare--AAW; Anti-Submarine Warfare--ASW; Conventional Gun--GUN; Maritime Interdiction--MIO; Marine Corps--MAR; Air Combat Element--ACE; Special Operations Forces--SOF; Medical Care--MED; Humanitarian Relief--HUM; Logistics Support--LOG; Training Support--TRG; Mine Countermeasures--MCM; Self-Defense System--SDS; Command & Control--CAC

Many civilian ship-design standards are being adopted for warships because of the need to reduce crew size through automation. This means that our sailors can more quickly adapt to operating a civilian ship converted to a Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser. Active duty forces would train and deploy with these Mission Packages to supplement our fleet. Reservists could also train with the modules during peacetime, either ashore or at sea.

If it is not possible to rapidly acquire enough of the 3,500 civilian container ships during an emergency, we could create a civilian reserve cruiser fleet by paying private companies to modify certain container ships that could quickly receive these modules and keep the Navy informed of their location at all times. Crews and Mission Packages could be airlifted to ships far from home waters if an auxiliary cruiser is needed. In a sense, these reserve ships would be “on station” around the globe.

Using Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers
Core capabilities of our seapower include forward presence, deterrence, sea control, power projecton, maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response. Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers could be a force multiplier in all of these core capabilities:

Forward Presence. An armed Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser could patrol while linked to our network for direction and guidance, or participate in military training missions that engage local forces to foster cooperation and familiarization.

Familiarization would also be bolstered using TRG Mission Packages based ashore or aboard ship for a broad range of military and nonmilitary educational outreach.

MAR Mission Packages with small detachments of special operations capable Marines could interact with friendly nations and provide a small-scale ground force option on the scene.

Deterrence. Everybody knows we have the raw power to destroy any enemy. Yet this abstract knowledge does not reliably deter potential enemies. For all their power, B-2 bombers in Missouri and unseen Trident submarines don't remind foes that we are ready to defend our interests. Nor do absent Aegis-equipped surface warships—because these ships are committed elsewhere—physically display our presence.

While possessing limited capabilities from a platform-centric perspective, Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers fitted with combat Mission Packages would represent a tripwire by actually sailing on station. Plugged into our network, they would tangibly represent the tip of our maritime power.

Sea Control. Cooperative Engagement Capability could allow a Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser with a SUW Mission Package to have its Harpoons fired by a distant warship or airborne platform. Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers could not initiate a strike against a distant target, but would be additional platforms that contribute to the saturation of the enemy’s defenses and complicate enemy strikes. AAW Mission Packages could similarly be plugged in for air defense coverage.

Other missions include aviation sea control using an ACE Mission Package supporting a pair of F-35s and deck material attached to a larger container ship.

Anti-piracy missions could be carried out using GUN and ACE (supporting helicopters) Mission Packages paired with MAR or MIO Mission Packages to attack or seize pirate vessels or rescue their victims.

Convoy escort and anti-submarine warfare could be carried out using SUW, GUN, and ASW Mission Packages or MCM Mission Packages that deploy Remote Mine Hunting Systems.

Power Projecton. Few countries have navies with global reach. Using LOG Mission Packages, we could enhance allied logistics capability to extend their reach without sending U. S. Navy assets. Allied warships could work with us or independently with such a support capability.

Sometimes it would be helpful diplomatically if we had no personnel involved at all. If we trained allied sailors to use these LOG Mission Packages, our global maritime partnership could be more than just allied ships sailing with our fleet. Indeed, allies so equipped could supply our ships.

Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers could also fill the combat capabilities gaps of our allies to enhance allied assistance and bind our allies more closely to us. We could train allied personnel to use these Mission Packages. We would have the flexibility to take Mission Packages overseas for training or bring foreign sailors and marines here for instruction.

Maritime Security. Terrorists have made the world’s 48,000 merchant ships potential delivery systems to attack our homeland or our allies, and move terrorist assets. Maritime interdiction operations are vital to fighting the Long War.

MIO Mission Packages could be used to track and board suspect ships at sea or, based on intelligence warnings of potential threats, to establish temporary shore stations in friendly nations to screen cargo destined for our ports. Such missions would complicate terrorist planning and buy time to defeat specific threats.

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response. Medical support with a visiting Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser fitted with MED Mission Packages would increase the good will of people in a region. Indeed, the Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser could drop off Mission Packages to establish temporary clinics at many locations on land.

Disaster Response could be enhanced by flying in the MED, ACE (helicopter), and MAR Mission Packages for relief efforts and local security. These could be mated with container ships leased in the area or even flown directly to airports for land-based operations.

When we want to send a strong signal that can’t be missed, we send a carrier battle group. In a politically sensitive environment, if we want to assist without drawing the attention of CNN or Al Jazeera, we could send a Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser that accomplishes the mission without the publicity.

Toward a Thousand-Ship American Navy
The tyranny of distance makes it difficult for our Navy to operate affordable and capable warships. Our need to sail to any point on the globe will always push up their size and cost. Today, our capable warships are spread thin. Often, we must use a ship with more capability than needed because nothing else is available. The tyranny of numbers means we simply can't be everywhere.

It was once common to draft civilian ships by bolting guns to their decks. With Navy crews, they were useful for scouting or patrol work. They provided numbers that the active Navy could not provide. They could not fight first-class enemies, but they accomplished missions that otherwise necessitated a conventional warship. In a platform-centric Navy, creating traditional auxiliary cruisers with limited organic capabilities would be a wasted effort.

In a network-centric Navy, Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers would be a force multiplier, defeating the tyrannies of distance and numbers. Mission Packages tailored for specific missions mounted on leased civilian container ships and plugged into the Navy's network to create Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers would contribute significant capabilities at low cost. We should not need to rely only on allies to achieve a thousand-ship Navy. Are we at the point where we can resurrect this traditional method for generating numbers of hulls quickly?

UPDATE: Thank you to Mike Burleson at New Wars for his kind words about this post. I will link to his post that adds a discussion of the topic (which sounds broader than this post) when he puts one up. I do aplogize for the lack of commenting here. I have a few reasons for this policy.

Although I just realized that when I updated my template a couple months ago I forgot to add my email address to the new site layout. I'll have to fix that.

UPDATE: Mike is beginning the discussion here.

UPDATE: Another round here.

UPDATE: And thanks to Think Defence for the link. There is an interesting discussion of the concept, including the use of faster catamaran hulls or barges, using this article, (which I've linked to before regarding the possibility of again confronting Iran in the Persian Gulf) as a jumping off point, for a different set of capabilities. I hadn't really considered that angle since I was thinking like an American about needing long-endurance hulls just to get to patrol stations half way around the globe.

I will say that I did indeed intend the concept for peacetime operations even though I also thought it could be used to surge capabilities in wartime. In peacetime, I actually would like these Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers to free up the high end for higher threat areas and to maintain a presence where a high end ship might not be welcome for local political reasons. And I really do need to get on that article idea I mentioned ...

Anyway. It is an interesting article by Gareth that takes a broader view on a subject of more importance as defense budgets come under pressure all over the Western world.

UPDATE: A late update. I finally reworked the article for an Army/landpower audience with an eye to using the Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser as a power projection platform. See here for a link to the Military Review article.