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Top Stories 2014: U.S. Navy Acquisition

USNI News polled its writers, naval analysts, and service members on what they consider the most important military and maritime stories in 2014

Littoral Combat Ship Follow-On

A modified Littoral Combat Ship design based on the Austal USA Independence-class. US Navy Image

A modified Littoral Combat Ship design based on the Austal USA Independence-class. US Navy Image

The most anticipated decision in 2014 U.S. Navy acquisition was the decision to beef up the existing Freedom and Independence class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) for the service’s last 20 of 52 planned small surface combatants (SSC).

Outlined in a Jan. 6 memo, the service was tasked by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to examine the existing LCS classes and foreign and new ship designs and, “submit alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, consistent with the capabilities of a frigate,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said In February.

The product of the SSC Task Force was among the Navy’s closest held secrets — curtained off by a series of non-disclosure agreements.

After reviewing thousands of LCS permutations and 18 foreign ship designs, the service determined the up gunned and up armored Freedom and Independence variants would focus on ship-to-ship and anti-submarine warfare (ASW).

Next Generation Amphib Based on San Antonio Design

A landing craft air cushion prepares to enter the well deck of landing transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) on Oct. 27, 2014. US Navy Photo

A landing craft air cushion prepares to enter the well deck of landing transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) on Oct. 27, 2014. US Navy Photo

In October, news broke the Navy’s next generation amphibious ship-class (LX(R) would be based on the design of the San Antonio-class (LPD-17) hull.

The effort to replace the 11 aging Whidbey Island and Harpers Ferry 16,000-ton landing ship docks (LSD-41/49) has been single-minded effort to drive down cost out the program.

The requirements for the ship include enhanced aviation and command and control capabilities to allow the future class to operate more independently from the Navy and Marine three ship Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU).

“One of the reasons that CNO leadership elected to go forward with a LX(R) that’s a LPD-17 derivative is the capacity, capability and flexibility and the ability go off with that aviation capability and command and control,” Capt. Erik Ross with Office of the Chief of Naval Operations amphibious warfare division (OPNAV N95) told USNI News in November.

The decision followed intense lobbying from the U.S. Marine Corps proper and a community of retired Marine generals stumping for the LPD-17 LX(R).

The Navy is no longer talking cost, but earlier information from the service indicated the lead ship of a San Antonio derived LX(R) would cost about $1.64 billion with follow-ons costing about $1.4 billion

UCLASS Stalled

An artist's concept of the Lockheed Martin's bid for the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS). Lockheed Martin Image

An artist’s concept of the Lockheed Martin’s bid for the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS). Lockheed Martin Image

The Navy’s effort to create its first production, carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle continued to be complicated in 2014 by moves from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and Congress that have placed the program in limbo.

At issue was the character of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS).

The Navy proffered a version of UCLASS focused on information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) with a light strike capability and a potential aerial refueling capability.

Critics said UCLASS should be stealthy and able penetrate denied airspace to extend the legs of the carrier air wing beyond the 450 nautical mile range.

A scheduled September request for proposal — that would be issued to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics — was indefinitely delayed pending a total review of the Pentagon’s ISR portfolio. The results of the review will be incorporated into the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget submission.

Additionally, congressional defense funding and authorization acts placed restrictions on the UCLASS program pending several studies.

Cruisers, Destroyers and the Next Large Surface Combatant

USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) launches a Tomahawk cruise missile as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on Sept. 23, 2014. US Navy Photo

USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) launches a Tomahawk cruise missile as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on Sept. 23, 2014. US Navy Photo

The Navy is at an inflection point with its large surface combatants and the issue came to the foreground in 2014.

The service’s plan to replace its cruisers and destroyers with a new generation of ships was scuttled in the late 2000s for cost and the service has had to make due with existing capabilities while pushing new ship designs further and further into the future.

The most obvious sign of the capabilities shortfall was the service’s pitch to extend the life of its oldest cruisers by putting half of them in mothballs.

As part of the FY 2015 budget request, the service asked to sideline 11 of its Ticonderoga-class cruisers to preserve the role of the air defense commander in a carrier strike group (CSG).

Space for an air defense commander was to be included on a Flight IV version of the Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer (DDG-51) but the plans to develop the new flight were shelved due to the anticipated cost of the Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine replacement program (ORP), Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA), told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces in July.

The plan — which met extensive congressional protest — is being allowed to go ahead for the first two ships but Congress could still kill the plan next year.

In tandem, the service has begun early work on developing its follow-on to the service’s cruisers and destroyers — due to the fleet in 15 years — Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden — then director of surface warfare (N96) for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) and now commander of U.S. Surface Forces — told USNI News in January.

Rowden estimated the new large surface ship will begin construction in 2028 and enter the fleet in the 2030s and will likely feature lower cost electromagnetic rail guns and directed energy weapons.

  • Curtis Conway

    Straying from the original intent of the Small Surface Combatant (SSC) has caused a vulnerable hole in the fleet. the 52 FFG-7s were neutered of their Mk 13 missile launcher and magazine, while Australia upgraded theirs with a VLS launchers as we should have ungraded our frigates. We are moving those very valuable seaframes to our Allies mostly in the Pacific.

    The FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Frigate was the go to vessel for almost any number of missions bringing a lot of capability, at a low operational cost. they were perfect for escort missions, conducted ASW well which is what they were designed for, and could be assigned to a air defensive sector in a formation and be expected to do the job. The 76mm Oto Malera gun was capable of many things but not Naval Gunfire Support for the Marines. Our frigates with their shallow draft getting closer to the beach have provided NGFS for the Marines since WWII until the Fig-7s came out.

    The LCS is so small (3,000 tons), and built around a modular construct, that space simply isn’t available to equip the vessel with any meaningful combat power. This truth is what disappoints me most with the SSC Task Force. The LCS will NEVER provide a capability ” . . . consistent with the capabilities of a frigate,”. One is left to wonder why two shipyards will continue to construct this turkey of a platform, that can be easily sunk my most any Chinese surface combatant from Missile Gunboat up, of which they have so many we are starting to lose count. I fear for for the safety of our future sailors. They will be shooting at huge Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles, some coming at them at supersonic speeds, some with high angles of attack with a huge warhead, with a RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile using a 25 lb blast fragmentation warhead. If this ship is to perform Independent Steaming Exercises (ISE) without air defense, then it is in danger. Certainly a vessel so equipped cannot conduct an Escort Mission on the High Seas. We cannot even begin to approach an Arctic Mission that would include an LCS.

    Every argument I have heard from the US Navy and industry concerning these topics try very hard to redefine the reality that is surface combat into something that is fuzzier and warmer, and a special case, which is not normal. Will “Murphy” come to visit? You bet he will! THAT is REALITY!

    How’s them apples?

    • Popeye

      And, since submarines require a significant draft, to maneuver submerged, then why would we need an LCS for ASW ? … I like the Burke hull and a smaller, upgraded frigate scaled version might be just the ticket. … With one helo hangar and a down-scaled VLS and CIDS. … So … Make the Burke ~40% smaller, in every way and start cranking them out at a frantic pace.

      • MrInvestor

        How about we just crank out Burkes at a furious pace? The cost of Burkes can be materially reduced if we are smart about it.

        • Secundius

          @ MrInvestor.

          Depending on which Flight Model is being constructed, it takes from “keel” laying to actual “launching”. From 18-months to 2-years, just to build one ship…

          • MrInvestor

            Thanks for your comment. I have built ships in the US, am a former Naval Officer. Your comment is correct. My comment suggested that we substantially increase the capacity to build Burkes. If someone would give me and the team I could assemble the “go code”, we could “crank out” a lot more Burkes on an accelerated basis. The limiting factor would be the combat systems, but I think I know who could successfully lead that charge. For one thing, if we cancelled LCS, Austal and Marinette could build parts of the puzzle for the Burkes. We are not thinking outside the box….the current Navy leadership are looking for numbers of hulls, and wasting a lot of money and time as a result. I understand they have tough choices to make on the construction side, and many of those decisions are good ones. The LCS decision, IMHO, is not one of them.

          • Secundius

            @ MrInvestor.

            Unit cost of Arleigh Burke class Destroyers, ~$1.843-Billion USD. apiece. Freedom/Independence classes LCS, ~$450.0-Million USD. apiece. Or 4 LCS to 1 Arleigh Burke class Destroyer.

          • MrInvestor

            The “up-gunned” LCS will cost a lot more than $450MM, and they won’t be able to do much to protect the fleet or operate independently. Better IMHO to bring the cost of Burkes down through more distributed and higher throughput production.

          • Secundius

            @ MrInvestor.

            Look, let’s be realistic about this, it’s time to deal with what we DO HAVE and stop wishing on what we DON’T HAVE, But wish we DID HAVE, OK! Even if we were to start from scratch, it would be a least 10-years before we see a New Destroyer class become operational. Do you honestly think the ChiCom’s, are going to wait until we catch-up with them. The LCS class is a “test as we go” operational class in progress. DEAL WITH IT, I don’t like the ship’s any more then you do. But it’s all we have to work with at this time, and with the Naval Budget that won’t allow us to build AB class Destroyers at an WW2 building program pace…

          • MrInvestor

            I am not in favor of a new destroyer class. I am argueing in favor of producing more Burkes faster at lower cost.

          • Secundius

            @ MrInvestor.

            What do you think the odd’s are that Todd Shipbuilders and the other shipbuilders are going to lower the standard $1.843-Billion USD. price tag is go to be. Especially in 2015 economy. Somewhere between Nil & None…

          • MrInvestor

            Secundius, I have built ships in the US (recently), and I have put Navy ships through ROH. Do you know what the corporate overheads are for building in the US? What is needed is additional capacity to build these ships and some serious arm twisting on the systems procurement side. A committed program to build is the leverage needed to wring the construction time and cost out of these programs. If you don’t like the Burke for this, let’s at least build a blue water ship…use the USCG National Security Cutter as the base hull and build something that can fight in blue water and take some battle damage.

          • KellyJ

            So your solution is to waste even MORE time and money on a platform that cant do the job instead of biting the bullet and getting a proper warship design going.
            As for time…their are plenty of foreign designs that can be quickly adapted to US Navy standards saving years and Billions in development.

          • old guy

            4 pieces of junk cost as much as 1 big piece of junk (DD1000).
            equals many happy, but don’t give a rat’s butt for the Navy, contractors

          • KellyJ

            Which is irrelevant since those 4 LCS will still need a Burke to defend them while they are doing whatever it is they are doing.

      • Secundius

        @ Popeye.

        Speed! Even the fastest BURKE class Destroyer is only capable of 30-knots. An Akula class Attack Submarine top speed is in excess of 40-knots, the Freedom class LCS is capable of 47.5-knots and the Independence class LCS tops-out at 44-knots.

        • James B.

          None of those platforms can hear a thing underwater at that speed. If the intent is to outflank submarines, how fast does an SH-60 fly?

          Speed should be designed for specific objectives, because the machinery needed detract from several other capabilities. LCS missions do not require more than the fleet-standard 25-30kts, and the extra engines to get there are a cost the designs cannot afford.

          • Secundius

            @ James B.

            How long can an SH-60 stay on station unsupported, 2 maybe 3-hours…

          • James B.

            Depends on the model, I don’t fly them, but I recall three hours or so for heavier MH-60s, up to five for some SH-60s. Most designs also call for two helicopters, and including a second helo is cheaper than making a 50kt warship.

          • Secundius

            @ James B.

            It’s still a matter of Fuel, Armament, Range, Endurance and Crew Fatigue. Unless you plan to replace the helicopter gas-turbine powerplant with nuclear-power…

          • KellyJ

            Long enough to localize the sub (since a proper FFG with a tail would have already detected and tracked the sub to a small area) and drop torps on it.
            Helos do NOT do ASW search. They are the long range deliverer of weapons.

    • MrInvestor

      Right on the money on all counts….we are wasting money on platforms that are not up to the blue-water combatant job. Bad decision that will cost us …..

    • old guy

      Great rejoinder! Worthy of a full article by you. The only thing I might add is the upgraded use of the Spanish FFGs (F81 class) to be truly effective combat ships.

    • Secundius

      @ Curtis Conway.

      As you said? The AB class are “Mission Specific” designed Destroyers. There like “Crossovers”, they do a little bit of everything, but they don’t do any one thing well. The “LCS” classes are “Multi-Mission” platforms design to do what NEEDS are to be done. So if you assign an LCS for Fire-Support Missions, there going to outfitted to perform that ONE task, and one task ONLY. The saying “Know Your Enemy”, if you the opposing force and you encounter a fleet of ship and most of the are Destroyers, you know who your enemy is. But if you encounter a fleet composed moslty of LCS’s, who’s you enemy, all the LSC’s look the SAME. Unless there’s a Giant “QR” code painted on the hull identifying the ships functional role in the fleet…

      • KellyJ

        Sorry, you are wrong. The Burkes are the true multi-mission platform and can do all of those missions superbly. They have the best surface sonar system (SQQ-89 series) in the Navy. They have the best AAW system (AEGIS/SPY) in the world. That system has been adapted to perform Ballistic Missile Defense. The 5″/62 gun performs NGFS for ground support. The ship can carry Tomahawk missiles for long range land attack missions. 2 Helos provide long range ASW attack and can target smaller FACS with Penguin and Hellfire missiles.
        And you have sufficient damage control and crew built in to save the ship when it gets hurt (USS Cole).
        LCS can do NONE of those missions without a specific mission module being installed; and the Navy has admitted once the modules are actually built (still years away) it will take several weeks (not days as originally advertised) to perform the swapout and testing/integration (not to mention training the core crew…driving as an MCM is much different than ASW). And some missions LCS will NEVER be able to do (NGFS, BMD, fleet escort, Land Attack). Then add in the factor the LCS is built to a lower standard and has too few crew to do much more than get the lifeboats ready.
        In fact, the LCS’ most potent weapon is the radio…to call in a Burke as soon as a bad guy shows up.

      • KellyJ

        ***But if you encounter a fleet composed moslty of LCS’s, who’s you enemy, all the LSC’s look the SAME.***
        A ridiculous comment. If you are in a combat situation the enemy is not looking for “that” LCS. They are looking for ANY US Navy ship to attack. And since the LCS is so indefensible the only thing that will happen by trying to hide the ONE important LCS (the one that just happens to have the correct module for the job required) among several decoy ones is that ALL of those LCS’ will get sunk PDQ.

    • KellyJ

      I’ve often thought the best SSC solution was to use the FFG7 hull/propulsion (maybe even a quick change of propulsion to a CODAG system), build a new superstructure to incorporate stealth lessons, upgrade the combat/control/ASW sensors and start pushing them out the door. They don’t need SPY/AEGIS but should be able to netlink to a AEGIS platform. Weapons systems should be the same 76mm, but moved to the “A” spot where the MK13 was. In place of the original 76mm space, set in a 32 cell VLS (with several cells dedicated to quad-pack ESSM). No need for Strike Length cells. Land Attack stays in the realm of the Burkes/SSNs.
      Quickly produced, cheaper than Burkes, more survivable in combat, and already using common systems with the rest of the Navy.

  • Way back when the Navy FRAMD WW2 destroyers. Added a midsection, for fuel, hanger and deck for DASH unmanned helos (A BIG FLOP). Why not in the follow on LCS’s make them longer, and at some time sooner than later, FRAM the current ones. Added space, Vertical launch tubes, more space for electronics, phased array, etc. and a bigger gun. Or better still forget this foolishness and build an upgrade USCG’s National Security Cutter. Makes to much sense. MMCS(S)(SW) USN Ret.

    • Secundius

      @ Ken Badoian.

      Actually the QH-50 DASH (Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter) is still being used with undated communications and on-board computers, but not in military service. The reason the DASH failed so badly is, it used a multi-channel Analog FM communications system. Once in flew over the horizon, the Control Ship lost “line-of-sight” communications with the drone. When communications was “lost”, so was the drone. And maximum “line-of-sight” communications range was only 22-miles. And back in the ’60’s you couldn’t just bounce a signal of a orbiting satellite. Especially, not with WW2-era Communication System…

      • One of my old CO’s was project manager for the program. He told me one night when he came down to main control for the “real coffee” he thought after all the problems his chances of promotion had been ended. Not to be though as he made Admiral and was one if not the CO’s I served under. Back then the Navy allowed for a mistake or two. Not now too political and too competitive, and I am sure a lot of back stabbing.

  • AKO

    The financialization of the American economy

    American De-Industrialization

    Continues Unabated

    America’s economic elite has long argued that the country does not need an industrial base. The economies in states such as California and Michigan that have lost their industrial base, however, belie that claim. Without an industrial base, an increase in consumer spending, which pulled the country out of past recessions, will not put Americans back to work. Without an industrial base, the nation’s trade deficit will continue to grow. Without an industrial base, stranded in low-paying service-sector jobs. Without an industrial base, the United States will be increasingly dependent on foreign manufacturers even for its key military technology.

    Deindustrialization led to rising costs for weapons development

    The U.S. is becoming dependent on countries such as UK, Russia, France and Germany for critical weapons technology.

  • Mmm Bee

    I’m sooo tired….so VERRY TIRED of the BS.