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SNA: Navy Surface Leaders Pitch More Lethal Ships, Surface Action Groups

USS Stethem (DDG-63) fires a Harpoon missile during a sinking exercise as part of Valiant Shield 2014 on Sept. 15, 2014. US Navy Photo

USS Stethem (DDG-63) fires a Harpoon missile during a sinking exercise as part of Valiant Shield 2014 on Sept. 15, 2014. US Navy Photo

CRYSTAL CITY, VA. — The leaders of the U.S. Navy’s surface force are pitching a new philosophy to squeeze the offensive power out of its existing surface ships in a tactical shift that calls for using small surface action groups and increasing the number of anti-ship weapons on more platforms in a plan branded, “distributed lethality.”

For almost 15 years, U.S. surface forces have primarily been employed as air defense elements for carrier strike groups (CSG), strike platforms for land attack and as ballistic missile defense (BMD) ships. All while the anti-surface mission has not been a priority in tactically and in acquisition spheres.

What the distributed lethality concept – outlined by U.S. Surface Forces commander Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden and director of surface warfare Rear Adm. Peter Fanta – seeks to bring to the surface forces is an emphasis on an anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare (ASW).

The pair and U.S. Surface Atlantic commander (SURFLANT), Rear Adm. Peter Gumataotao wrote on the concept in the January issue of Proceedings.

“Distributed lethality is taking the budget that we have and making everything out there that floats more lethal. Making the trades that we need to make and making the surface navy of the next ten years, or 20 years the most lethal we can,” Fanta said on Tuesday at the Surface Navy Association 2015 symposium.
“[I want to] make every cruiser, destroyer, [amphibious warships], [Littoral Combat Ship], [logistics ship] a thorn in somebody else’s side.”

Part of the concept would codify in training and tactics three to four ship “hunter killer surface action groups,” Rowden told reporters on Wednesday.

The idea is to expand the geographical influence of surface forces beyond the current model based around supporting and protecting aircraft carriers.

USS Philippine Sea (CG-58), right, fires a 5-inch gun during a live fire exercise with the guided-missile destroyers USS Truxton (DDG-103) on Feb. 20, 2014. US Navy Photo

USS Philippine Sea (CG-58), left, fires a 5-inch gun during a live fire exercise with the guided-missile destroyers USS Truxton (DDG-103) on Feb. 20, 2014. US Navy Photo

“You have a carrier strike group that’s out steaming around the ocean — which is not an inexpensive thing to operate at significant range,” Rowden told reporters.
“If I can move three or four or five surface action groups and I force that adversary to devote their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) on all of those and dilute their targeting ability and their weapons and I have the capabilities to: to defend myself against subsurface, air and surface attack and influence at range, so putting their forces at risk in a cost effective fashion.”

However, details and timelines on how the surface forces will train to the concept or what specific acquisitions program are needed to realize the vision are still in the works.

“This is an idea to get to the future,” Rowden told reporters.
“I can’t say, ‘by May I’m going to be rolling this out, by July I’m going to be briefing these people, by this time next year I’m going to pull back the curtain and say, here it is’ everybody – the future.”

An obvious gap in the distributed lethality concept is the lack of a modern anti-surface weapon. The U.S. Navy’s anti-surface missile (ASM) is the decades-old subsonic RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile (ASM) and isn’t included in the Navy’s most modern destroyers.

An artist's concept of a Lockheed Martin LRASM fired from a U.S. Navy VLS tube. Lockheed Martin image.

An artist’s concept of a Lockheed Martin LRASM fired from a U.S. Navy VLS tube. Lockheed Martin image.

DARPA is currently developing a the vertically launched Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) – based on the Lockheed Martin AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range cruise missile – and has tested the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile on a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
Additionally, “we are actively pursuing an analysis of alternatives for a long-range ASUW weapon,” Rowden told reporters.

In the shorter term, the Navy is looking at current inventories and existing foreign systems to meet the eventual demand for the concept.

“If I need a new weapon system, I don’t go spend ten years developing it.
I go take a seeker – if that’s my problem – and I glue it on the front end of an existing missile. If it doesn’t go far enough, I put a new backend on it. If someone around the world is already flying it, I go buy it. If someone else in the world has a PowerPoint description of it and says ‘I can get that for you,’ I ignore it,” Fanta said.
“PowerPoint doesn’t win wars.”

Fanta used an example of including a off-the-shelf radar on the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as an example.

Also inline with the concept is the inclusion of the Longbow AGM-114L Hellfire missile as short-range weapon to used against fast attack and swarming boats on the LCS Surface Warfare Mission package. The Navy bought the missiles from the Army for inclusion on the package avoiding an acquisition competition.

In addition to a new surface offensive weapon, the effort will also look at an ASW capability.

“We need to do the same thing in understanding how to engage in the undersea domain at range,” Rowden said.

A modified Littoral Combat Ship design based on the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class. US Navy Image

A modified Littoral Combat Ship design based on the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class. US Navy Image

An ASW focus will be part of the 20 planned modified LCS concept the Navy introduced in December.

“You add is a variable depth sonar and when you add that in conjunction with a multi-function towed array, you have the most effective ASW sensor platform in the Navy,” Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA) said in December.
“You add to that a helicopter with its torpedo capability, now you have a detect and kill capability unlike any other platform in the Navy.”
Fanta, who was involved in the selection process for the follow-on to the Flight 0 LCS said there was significant demand from the fleet for more ASW capability.

“They said we want a small surface combatant that does a lot of ASW work,” he said.

Though both Fanta and Rowden were generic as to likely adversaries, the hunter killer surface action group seems like a offensive power solution as part of the Obama administrations pivot to the Pacific policy and a change in tone for the Navy’s stated mission.

The more aggressive language toward potential adversaries is a shift in a rhetorical emphasis from building partner capacity, which led to polices like retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen’s 1000 ship navy,” concept.

In the near term, Rowden said the Navy’s surface enterprise will continue to develop the concepts and how to train for the inclusion of the surface action group concept into the operational fleet and also figure out an acquisition strategy for what they may need to see the concept to implementation.

“We have to understand fundamentally from the tactical and operational perspective the influence these hunter killer surface action groups will have and the type of influence that we require of them,” Rowden said.
“We’re in the military. We have a tendency to like to blow thins up. But the fact of the matter is, from my perspective there is a significant amount that we can do, for lack of a better way to describe it, to change the rules in the middle of the game.”

  • Karl Wulff

    Frigates. Say it with me: F-R-I-G…

    • Curtis Conway

      AMEN!!!!!!

    • redgriffin

      Corvettes!

  • Curtis Conway

    Like the emphasis on ‘Offensive’ operations. Sounding like a Combat Commander! Small Surface Action Groups (SAGs) used to distribute offensive power over large areas is an excellent idea given our FORCENET capability. More surface to
    surface Anti-Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM) capability of disparate types, distributed across platforms, is sound. Bringing a Marine Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) into the mix saves bucks and provides efficient options while distributing the force with
    significant air capability (F-35B). Surface to Surface and Land Attack on Amphibious Warships is an obvious capability that should have existed for a long time. The
    fact that it does not exist at present speaks volumes as to the mentality of previous force mix planning goals.

    The problems:
    1. VSTOL/STOVL capable AEW asset would go a long way to assist this equation in so many ways they cannot all be listed here.

    2. Persistence and endurance for extended periods is needed so these platforms can be distributed for more than a period of time measured in a few days. A true Blue
    Water capability should be an absolute must for these assets. The answer is obvious, and a large enough platform required starts with an “F”.

    3. ASW attack capability should be on every platform in the form of organic torpedoes, and ASROC or follow-on ASW standoff weapon.

    4. Surface attack should have an Anti-Radiation Missile version. The ARMs arrive just after everybody else. Perhaps the front end of an Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) could be married up on an ASCM?

    5. For a SAG element to have offensive surface to
    surface capability ( . . a thorn in somebody else’s side.”) is one thing. To actually survive the process of being that thorn requires a capable AAW defense out to 20nm, and with a warhead larger than 25lbs of blast-fragmentation. One must be able to survive to continue being that thorn. Perhaps the new ASW standoff weapon can fit in the Mk41 VLS in adjacent cells to ESSM.

    6. The aviation ASW mission at sea will most likely have to migrate in the same direction the shore based P-8A Poseidon has moved, and that is operating at a higher altitude. Perhaps a new and improved S-3 Viking conventional aircraft for the CSG would be wise. Certainly a VSTOL ASW asset would come in very handy, but it will most likely have to be pressurized. A pressurized V-22 facilitates the solution for problem #1.

    7. It’s time for the KC-3A Viking to make its debut and provide a COD capable of PW F-135 engine transport, and the most capable tanker the US Navy will have ever fielded.

    Distribution of forces concept plays right into the hands of the Light Carrier argument. We can build and operate many USS America (LHA-6) light carriers for the cost of one super carrier. The America Class LHA is not as fast as a CVN, but they can scramble around at near 30 knots. Having a flock of F-35Bs supporting these distributed disparate platforms provides synergy that will be hard to counteract, and
    provides additional options on the offensive side of the equation to the Battle Force Commander.

    Of course this whole exercise is contingent upon Rules Of Engagement (ROE) supporting this activity as envisioned. It’s the politicians that get us killed by
    placing ridiculous, unreasonable, and unrealistic ROE on combat forces.

  • Ctrot

    Navy Surface Leaders Pitch More Lethal Ships? By buying Littoral Combat Ships? That’s “oxymoronic”.

    • Interested

      I agree! A more lethal LCS frigate hold have better ASW weapons and some anti air missles. Look at the foreign designs, most have nhanced lethality over th LCS frigate.

  • Ctrot

    Navy Surface Leaders Pitch More Lethal Ships? By buying Littoral Combat Ships? That’s “oxymoronic”.

  • Snark

    The cruiser is on the left in the photo above.

  • Kev789

    “…blow thins up”

    “Thins” for sure, also “thicks”.

  • John Tomlin

    I remember a briefing about 20 years ago given by, I think, Norman Polmar, who characterized Soviet combat ships as having launchers all over the place with the capability of putting a very large amount of metal in the air. Looks like that concept has finally taken root here.

  • vincedc

    The requirements don’t match the mission. Look at where we will be fighting our next shooting war, and we are arming for the wrong threat.

  • Part of the key here is creating a force for multiple scenarios, not just taking a CGB to Taiwan (or Murmansk). The force you’d use (or risk) to confront chinese agression in the South China Sea or Russian in the Black Sea is much different.
    That said, when the balloon goes up if your ship isn’t under an Aegis umbrella your life expectency is going to be damned short.

    • Tellenthetruth

      The Aegis would be on our enemies hit list, but I really do not believe you are aware of the missile arsenals that are waiting for our surface Navy. I can actually say without hesitation, that 50 years hence, the US Navy will not have a surface ship at all. The Navy of the future shall not be seen, but surely felt. The US Navy is fully aware that if we were fighting a country, rather than Neanderthal extremists, we would be short a carrier or two in Persion Gulf. It pains me more than you will ever know to actually say that about my beloved Carriers, but everything has a shelf life. One submarine fully loaded, can do the equivalent damage of one carrier with an air wing aboard. If someone out there wants to counter my opinion, and get into specifics, then I would be happy to discuss. I agree with some that you say, but our real enemies have had a six year hiatus in developing misses that would leave the Aegis impotent, but still afloat.

  • James B.

    An aggressive mindset, a force structure which puts enough hulls in the fleet to support separate SAGs, and a new family of VLS-capable weapons for anti-surface and anti-submarine use are all needed to make the Navy flexible and lethal against today’s adversaries.

    Carriers and their DDG escorts are very effective at high-intensity warfare, but are not economical in low-intensity conflict or presence operations, which form a large portion of our worldwide commitments. Furthermore, even the CSGs would benefit from flank coverage by true frigates.

    Off Africa and South America, frigates alone or in small groups are more than enough to show the flag, run counterdrug/counterpiracy operations, and work with our allies, and we could concentrate all our carriers into the Med/Mid-East and Pacific theaters.

    • disqus_zommBwspv9

      Yes

  • Tellenthetruth

    Apparently these Admirals want a surface Navy, as our enimies. No surface ship displacing water in the Navy has survivability with todays missiles that drop from an aircraft and do their business under the vessel. The Navy should admit up front that LCS have very limited arenas, but could never survive the Bering or North Sea, as I could tell that aboard the Independence for a hour. Give them to the SEAL Command, and the Navys future ships should be unseen boats. Lets get imaginative with the submarine force, as again no Navy ship can survive 6 missles coming at them at 70 knots tipped with a nuclear warhead. The Navy needs people that think like me, and I would not be wasting my time trying to get their piece of the budget for surface ships, and the joint fighter that are just there to keep that machine fed. Newport News must now like a dozen other shipyards, should be telling the Navy what the future holds for the Navy. We now must sink our money to vessels under the waves, but all the Admirals that this CIC has fired unfairly have hurt this Navy of mine immeasurably, and using antiqued Annapolis honor codes at that. Even Adimirals look at their secretaries and act from time to time, and when the Pentagon loses 300 of its best officers, then I worry about the sounds of silence coming from the halls. What would Patton do, faced with the same circumstances? We need to turn to men.

    • disqus_zommBwspv9

      As the Fellows upstairs at sublant say that there are submarines and there are Targets. I was quite fond of the photos on the wall showing pictures of aircraft carriers taken through attack periscopes
      Now a surface action group is more flexible and shows the flag which sends a message. But a submarine is like a mugger. You never see it coming and have no defense. Which will put fear in your enemy, whoever that could be. The combination of both is lethal.

  • sferrin

    “If I need a new weapon system, I don’t go spend ten years developing it.

    I go take a seeker – if that’s my problem – and I glue it on the front
    end of an existing missile. If it doesn’t go far enough, I put a new
    backend on it. If someone around the world is already flying it, I go
    buy it. If someone else in the world has a PowerPoint description of it
    and says ‘I can get that for you,’ I ignore it,” Fanta said.

    “PowerPoint doesn’t win wars.”

    Somebody should tell him that if you never spend time/money developing weapons you will ALWAYS be dependent on somebody else to supply them. Sounds incredibly short-sighted to me. Purchasing abroad should be a TEMPORARY band-aid to get us by until we can reconstitute the industrial base. (It needs it. When’s the last time we built a completely NEW strike missile? Yeah.)

  • ChiChiChiba

    We could have a crop duster and have more air power than ISIS.

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  • Hoss of the old fleet

    Current leadership reminds me of the battleship staff officers prior to WWII…. Saw no value in carriers, impeded army development of strategic bombers. Then Pearl Harbor… These guys suffer tunnel vision, obsessed LCS Littoral concept. Simple fact, which hasn’t change since the revolution, United States Navy’s primary mission is blue water. The United States is a two-ocean maritime nation. Littoral concept of Rumsfeld doctrine was flawed from the beginning, ignoring China. Take a lesson from the past, 90% percent of military power protection during the Cold War was the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Urgent need submarines, surface combatants including amphibs, and auxiliaries. Greatest military minds in history understood importance logistics.

    Transfer the LCS to the Coast Guard for littoral patrol offshore missions. Last time any navy deployed so many ferry hulls was at Dunkirk. Purchase a few allied ships for evaluation. US has never had a monopoly on being the brightest bulb in the box.

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