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Navy Studying Implications of Distributed Lethality in Wargames Series

Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, Commander of Naval Surface Forces. US Navy photo.

Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, Commander of Naval Surface Forces. US Navy photo.

The Navy is trying to understand how its distributed lethality concept for its surface force will affect not only the behavior of an adversary but also the behavior of Navy commanders through a series of ongoing wargames.

Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Tom Rowden said the Navy conducted a wargame at the Naval War College last year when it was considering what the follow-on to the Littoral Combat ship might look like; when a medium-range surface-to-surface missile was added to the LCS, “the results were notable” in terms of both commanders’ behavior, he said Thursday at an event cohosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the U.S. Naval Institute.

“The friendly commander immediately began to employ the LCS differently in the scenarios, moving from a niche presence role to an offensive warfighting role,” he said. This change “added stress and complexity to the red force commander, who had to spend precious ISR resources trying to find these upgunned ships, ships that now represented a far more serious threat to his own fleet.”

Ultimately, this led to the distributed lethality concept – every Navy ship at sea ought to pose a threat to the adversary.

But Rowden said upgunning ships would be “suboptimal unless we operate that force differently.” Surface combatants still need to protect high-value assets, such as aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, but they could take on additional tasks or be geographically positioned differently to complicate the enemy’s decision-making, which is what Rowden said the Navy needs to continue working through.

One challenge this poses, of course, is logistics. All ships will still need to be refueled and resupplied regardless of their geographic laydown, and Rowden said he is still unsure if the logistics network could support distributed operations and stay protected while traversing a larger area.

Logistics, “more than any one factor, including resources, will limit the impact of a more lethal and distributed force.”

To help answer these questions, the Navy stood up a Distributed Lethality Task Force that consists of warfighters and analysts that will partner with the Naval War College to continue wargaming. The first event was held in the spring, with a second taking place later this month and a third in October.

The wargames will analyze a variety of aspects, including the behavioral changes he said were noticeable in the original upgunned-LCS wargame. The wargame series will “provide a more rigorous mathematical underpinning to say, hey, was this unique in this behavior change we saw, or in fact would it drive change 99 times out of 100?”

Rowden said he also asked the Naval Postgraduate School to study the logistics of supporting a distributed force.

Another challenge would be command and control, he said. Command and control in a carrier strike group is “tried and true, and it’s proven, and I think it’s effective. But if we were to put different groups of ships together and employ them differently then obviously there has to be a command and control structure associated with that.”

Rowden added that the Navy might need to look at “what different adaptive force packaging we put together and what kind of C2 we need to have on those force packages” to support various distributed laydowns.

Also during the event, Rowden addressed comments that director of surface warfare Rear Adm. Pete Fanta made to a House Armed Services Committee panel. Fanta testified that the Navy needed 40 ships with the Air and Missile Defense Radar to handle both cruise missile and ballistic missile threats simultaneously. Tight budgets have slowed the modernization schedule.

“There’s a number of ways you have to look at addressing the threats that exist and the threats that grow. Certainly one of the paths that you have to take in addressing that threat is, do you have the right modernization and the right modernization schedule in order to get the capability to the ships,” Rowden said.
“I think that’s what we have a tendency to concentrate on. I think there are other ways also that we have to spend equal time thinking about in order to be able to address those threats as the ebb and flow of the budget realities drive your modernization schedule even more rapidly – or not as rapidly – as obviously you’d like to drive it. At the heart of that is having an organization that can develop the tactics, techniques and procedures. … So on the 9th of June we stood up the Surface and Mine Warfighting Development [Center], headed by Rear Adm. Jim Kilby out there in San Diego.

“Certainly I’d like to snap my fingers and say hey, everything’s fully modernized,” he continued.
“The reality of it is you’re going to move through it. So are there other things you can do as you work on the modernization of the force to counter the adversary’s actions in order to be able to project power, execute sea control and all those things?”

Overall, Rowden said he believes distributed lethality is one tool that will help the surface warfare community maintain superiority at sea.

“With modest investments in weapons and [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] systems and sensors, the surface force is better poised to support the roles outline in the new maritime strategy,” Rowden said.
“Distributed lethality, for the surface force, is not a wholesale change; it’s tweaking a smoothly running machine to add capability at minimal cost to us with big change for the adversary.”

  • Curtis Conway

    War-games can help develop and prove concepts, but [in my estimation] that is not what is going on here. This is targeted activity orchestrated to prove a concept supporting decisions already made and driven by the investment of $Billions to prove a concept . . . that was ill-conceived and belies HiStorical evidence or survival in Surface Combat in the modern age.

    A single strike aircraft with a stand-off weapon can change this whole equation in about . . . 20 minutes, less! One must live in the real world, or it will change your whole day.

    • magic3400

      “A single strike aircraft with a stand-off weapon can change this whole equation in about . . . 20 minutes”

      True for any ship in the fleet, including ALL of the deep-draft boats. An adversary need only to empty the strike group’s quiver of AAW weps and/or spoof or saturate it’s radar, slip a couple 1 ton supersonic telephone poles through hole and there goes 100,000 tons of scrap metal.

      The only answer is directed energy. In a classic surface action, I don’t see how it really matters if it’s a LCS or a Tico or a CVN. All it takes is a million dollar worth of missiles to kill a billion dollar boat. 200 AAW is great unless the adversary has 201…and they are a heckuva lot cheaper than a CVN/CAG.

      But again, Mr. Conway, what’s the likelihood of a “conventional” WWIII? Or even a US/Sino or US/Russo war? I think slim to none. So why spend trillions of dollars building ships to defend against an improbability?

      • NavySubNuke

        It is called deterrence for a reason – the best way to make sure we don’t have to fight is to make it clear to the adversary that not only will they not be able to accomplish their objectives but we will impose great cost on them for even trying.
        If we don’t have ships, aircraft, and other capabilities ready to defend our allies how long until China or Russia just starts taking what they want from them? Do you really think Putin is going to stop after he is done digesting the parts of the Ukraine that most interested him? Doubtful. Do you really think China is going to stop salami slicing away the south china sea because of a strongly worded note? Again doubtful. There are real threats in this world that need to be deterred — or we will spend a lot more in lives and treasure fighting them.

        • magic3400

          While I agree, to a degree, my opinion differs in that both Russia and China know what’s important to us, they know what we’re willing to fight for and what we won’t.

          While it’s romantic to think that either will challenge us militarily, it’s a bit of a stretch. What’s going on in the South China Sea would be going on even if we had 20 Carrier Strike Groups, 200 Seawolf/Virginia/LA class boats and 150 Ohio class boomers. Because they know what we are willing to risk a nuclear exchange over.

          Will they push right up to the line, yes they will. The question is will they cross it? Not while our nuclear magazine is full.

          So lets spend our money on systems that WILL BE used. We can argue what systems are effective, but to argue that our adversaries are willing to challenge us in unrestricted warfare is hyperbole, IMHO.

          “The threat in the early years of the next century
          will not be the “son of Desert Storm”—it will
          be the “stepchild of Chechnya.” Our most dangerous
          enemy will not be doctrinaire or predictable.
          It will not attempt to match us tank for
          tank or plane for plane in an effort to refight the
          kind of industrial age war to which we are accustomed.
          Instead it will challenge us asymmetrically
          in ways against which we are least able to
          bring strength to bear—as we witnessed in the
          slums of Mogadishu. Moreover, as demonstrated
          in the recent bombing of our east African embassies,
          it will not limit its aggression to our military.
          Today we see only the tip of the iceberg.
          Combined with high-tech systems and weapons
          of mass destruction—which further empower
          both Third World nations and nonstate entities—
          this complex, dynamic, and asymmetric conflict
          could be as lethal as a clash between superpowers.
          One thing is certain: future threats will be far
          more difficult to manage.” – General Charles C. Krulak
          31st Commandant of the Marine Corps (Operational Maneuver from the Sea)

          Semper Fidelis

          • NavySubNuke

            Thank you for sharing your opinion. I personally disagree but that is also just my opinion.
            In answer to your quote from Gen Krulak I would just like to point out that the current Commandant of the Marine Corps (and likely future head of the Joint Chiefs) Gen Dunford recently stated that Russia is the greatest threat to US National security – even greater than ISIS.

          • magic3400

            Thank you as well…

            I don’t think there is much room between the Generals Dunford and Krulak. Being a threat doesn’t mean there is a likelihood those nations WILL go to war. It simply means that those nations are “threats” and that we will maintain contingency war plans for them.

            I don’t think there is even a remote chance of war between nuclear nations (except Pakistan and India). I think the Cuban Missile Crisis so scared both the US and USSR/Russia (and the world) that neither will ever engage in unrestricted warfare against each other.

          • NavySubNuke

            As the number of members of the nuclear club grows the likelihood that two nuclear armed states will engage in direct combat continues to grow – particularly as more and more regional powers look to nuclear weapons to help them overcome the overwhelming conventional advantages of their adversaries (Pakistan against India, North Korea against South Korea and US, Iran against US and Israel).
            Nuclear weapons have kept the peace between the great powers since 1945. While I hope that continues i think we are foolish if we expect it to continue to do so. Also, the more we plan for deterrence to fail – and plan to be prepared for it to fail – the less likely it is to fail because it reduces the adversaries incentive to have it fail.

          • magic3400

            The list is not growing, the last three nuclear powers were India-1974, Pakistan-1996 and N. Korea-2006. At present, I don’t know of a single nation preparing to go nuclear. The nuclear club is pretty much fixed at the moment.

            The problem with the use nuclear weapons is that even if you survive, that nation will be an instant pariah nation subject to crippling sanctions which will guarantee the overthrow of its government. That’s if it’s not subjected to a retaliatory nuclear strike by Russia or the US and destroyed.

            Israel, of course, is an undeclared nuclear state and the likelihood of a nuclear first strike by them is unknown, though I think they would consult with US before conducting a first strike.

            I don’t think it’s foolish at all, because there is no “good” use of nukes, you are either all-in or you don’t use them. They are the best deterrent ever created.

          • NavySubNuke

            Iran is preparing to go nuclear. Japan and South Korea are both making nuclear noises – the number of pro-nuclear statements from retired Japanese government and military officials lately is rather startling actually. NATO nations – particularly those in the former soviet bloc are making some pretty amazing statements about nuclear weapons as well.
            Your statements about nuclear weapons being all or none are also just an opinion. Russian defense doctrine also call for demonstration nuclear strikes to de-escalate conflicts – including against NATO countries if need be. That isn’t a matter of opinion – it is their own published doctrine! By using nuclear weapons they hope to show how serious they are and get others to back down.

          • magic3400

            “Your statements about nuclear weapons being all or none are also just an opinion.”

            Of course, it’s all opinion, but there hasn’t been a nuclear attack since 9 Aug, 1945. Why would any nation need to demonstrate a nuclear strike when a adversary can simply go to Youtube and look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki videos?

            If a nuclear war was winnable, we would have attacked another nuclear state by now. In fact there hasn’t ever been a war between two nuclear states…that’s not by accident.

          • Secundius

            @ magic3400.

            The Nuclear Club:
            1. Nazi-Germany, 1944 “Dirty Bomb”
            2. United States of America, 16 July 1945
            3. Imperial Japanese Empire, 12 August 1945
            4. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 29 August 1949
            5. United Kingdom, 3 October 1952
            6. France, 13 February 1960
            7. People’s Republic of China, 16 October 1964
            8. India, 18 May 1974
            9. Shared by: Israel, Republic of China (Taiwan), South Africa* (Change of Government, stock-pile went to other three countries in the pact) and South Korea, 22 September 1979
            13. Pakistan, Date unknown, but rumored to be in the 1980’s.
            14. Belarus, 1991* (but returned them to the Russian Federation)
            15. Ukraine, 1991* (returned to Russian Federation)
            16. Kazakhstan, 1995* (returned to Russian Federation)
            17. Iran, Unknown

            NATO Countries that have Direct Access To Nuclear Weapons:
            18. Belgium
            19. Germany
            20. Italy
            21. the Netherlands
            22. Turkey

          • magic3400

            I see Iran but where’s Israel on your list?

            But as I said, the list is not growing.

          • Secundius

            @ magic3400.

            Their on the List, Sir. Iran is a Possible #17 and Israel, share’s a “Quartet” Positions with #’s 9 through 12. Because those 4 Nations “Polled” their Resources Together, to Design, Manufacture and Detonate the Bomb. Then each to their “Respective Spoils” and went their “Own Ways”. It is NOT known which of the Four Received the First Batch and Which Received the Last Batch. Dubbed the “Vela Incident”, a Double Test was done. One was a “Li-6” Lithium Atomic Bomb and the other a possible U-235 Uranium Atomic Bomb. Test Detonation was done off the South African Coast between Prince Edward Island and Antarctica, and Antarctic Research Team Recorded the Event…

          • magic3400

            Sorry, I missed Israel.

            …also, I would add, ‘Israel has been stealing nuclear secrets and covertly making bombs since the 1950s. And western governments, including Britain and the US, turn a blind eye. But how can we expect Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions if the Israelis won’t come clean?”

            Here’s great article on the whole sorted mess, I keep it bookmarked.

            The Guardian, “The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal”
            by Julian Borger 15 Jan 2014

          • Secundius

            @ magic3400.

            Israel, has been Stealing US Military Technology and Sell those Secrets to the PRC since at least 1992, and have Caught doing so by the FBI. Congress and Presidential Administration, have been “Looking A Blind-Eye”. Just to keep Israel as a “Trusted” (Oxymoron) Ally in the Region…

          • magic3400

            For sure…

      • Curtis Conway

        I agree with every thing you said. Now does the “….. why spend trillions of dollars building ships to defend against an improbability?” still apply to your philosophy. If so, then you have made may argument for the USS America (LHA-6) Light Carriers, and perhaps an all-ocean, multi-warfare, Aegis FFG. both can accomplish the mission, with some mission sets they may not shine in, but have defense in depth, and can hold the line until the Calvary Arrives. If budget austerity continues, real capability within a budget, yet maintain a force large enough to maintain presence with something of consequence, will come home to visit. Than you for your service.

        One of the, if not the, primary threats to any Man-O-War underway is the threats from the air. What have they given the LCS to defend themselves with against air threats? A 25lb blast fragmentation warhead, and bullets at close range!

        • Lazarus

          RAM and SeaRam offer more potential engagements than does CIWS, so LCS is already better able to defend itself that was the retiring Perry class FF (without g)

          • Curtis Conway

            We had cops on the beat, and we were afraid they might hurt somebody so we took their high maintenance .357 autos from them and gave them .38 revolvers.

            Then I went home and took the .22 from my son and gave him a .25 auto and told him he had more firepower. Of course the potential adversaries he might find himself facing had calibers from ..22 all the way up to .50 and some artillery. I told him to be careful, and if he was ever attacked to call me. In the mean time ‘aim small miss small’, and look for a cop. He felt better.

        • magic3400

          I will admit, under its current configuration, LCS’ armament is not what I would want as its skipper. I would like to have more robust AAW, ASuW & ASW and point defenses. Does that make it a total waste…maybe. But only if upgrades and improvements get politicized and never get implemented.

          I understand your POV, but I think the LCS fills a role that’s missing in the current fleet, a coastal patrol craft with a large cargo area, a large flight deck and the speed of smaller patrol boats. It’s not perfect, but it is a platform that can be improved and the Navy recognizes that.

          The question is will the improvements get implemented?

          “Now does the “….. why spend trillions of dollars building ships to defend against an improbability?” still apply to your philosophy.”

          I can only answer that this way, as a member of the MEU we were unchallenged and we knew it. We knew we had the best equipment, training and support of any navy on the high seas. Was our equipment perfect, no…but it is some of the best in the world.

          “If so, then you have made may argument for the USS America (LHA-6) Light Carriers, and perhaps an all-ocean, multi-warfare, Aegis FFG. both can accomplish the mission, with some mission sets they may not shine in, but have defense in depth, and can hold the line until the Calvary Arrives.”

          The Navy/Marine Corps mission is to control the littoral battle space, conduct forced entry onto defended beaches and hold that ground until follow-on forces can join the battle. The equipment we have traditionally used is very capable. From a Marine Corps POV, we don’t turn down any equipment that can get a Marine rifleman onto his target, complete his objective and RTB safely. If it’s the LCS or LHA-6 or FFG or DDG 1000 or MV-22 or F-35 that helps accomplish that then we’ll take them all because we can make them work. That may be somewhat of a cop out answer, but I’m sure you know the Marine Corps’ esprit de corps…

          And lets not forget the stated Navy/Marine Corps’ operational concept, Forward From the Sea: FTS concluded Naval Forces have changed “in response to the challenges of a new security environment”. The previous “emphasis on maritime superiority operations gave way to power projection and the employment of naval forces from the sea to those regions of the world vulnerable to the striking power of sea-based forces.” This shift in strategic focus means littoral warfare and operational maneuver from the sea (the tactical equivalent of maneuver warfare on land) will be emphasized. Operational Maneuver From The Sea (OMFTS) is a response to both danger and opportunity. The danger, summarized by the phrase `chaos in the littorals’, consists of a world characterized by the clash of the myriad forces of national aspiration, religious intolerance, and ethnic hatred. The opportunity comes from significant enhancements in information management, battlefield mobility, and the lethality of conventional weapons.”

          For the Marine Corps, all we want is to get that Marine rifleman forward and home again…everything we do serves that purpose. I understand, your criticism is from a Navy POV, but I think the Navy/Marine Corps team concept allows for a LCS evaluation with the team concept in mind.

          As always, Mr. Conway, I really enjoy your perspective, you always provide an alternate POV and your knowledge and expertise is impressive. Thanks for engaging an old Leatherneck.

          Semper Fidelis

      • Secundius

        @ magic3400.

        I think that was the same conclusion the Navy came up with on the Oliver Hazard Perry class Frigates, back in 1975. And those same “S@#t Boxes” proved the Navy WRONG, too…

        • magic3400

          The ship the Navy never wanted or at least never wanted to spend money on. They were capable, the Navy just tried to starve them out of existence, no money for upgrades and trading missiles for guns didn’t make it a more potent platform. We had a couple in our ARG, they performed well.

    • Lazarus

      Curtis, what historical evidence do you cite that suggests LCS is not “survivable”?

      • NavySubNuke

        The Pentagon’s own testing agency has declared that the LCS survivability is lacking [at least the version built by LM] — the exact quote was that testing “highlighted the existence of significant vulnerabilities” in the design of vessels

        (source of the quote is a 24 June Bloomberg article titled “U.S. Navy Littoral Ship Found Vulnerable to Attack”, unfortunately I am unable to actually post the link)

        • MarlineSpikeMate

          I don’t think a CG, DDG, or LCS is going to be much different verses a modern missile. LCS is a smaller target.. with RAM

          • NavySubNuke

            So from a shock standpoint they will be vastly difference since the other ships you listed are actually built to withstand hits and survive. Also from a flooding and damage control standpoint they will be vastly different since the DDGs and CGs are built to a much tougher standard for survivability.
            Also the DDGs and CGs are actually equipped with sensors and weapons to detect incoming missiles and at least try to shoot them down. The question then becomes one of how effective those defenses will be.
            I don’t know about you but I would rather have the ability to at least try to defend myself – some chance is better than no chance at all!
            Regardless, hopefully we never have find out!

  • NavySubNuke

    “commander immediately began to employ the LCS differently in the scenarios, moving from a niche presence role to an offensive warfighting role”
    [begin sarcasm] –Amazing —- adding at least a basic offensive capability to a ship that otherwise has none causes it to be useful to the commander and actually fulfill a warfighting role? Who would have thought? [end sarcasm]

    I do wonder how many years it will take the Navy to recover from the waste and mismanagement of the LCS program. Hopefully we are able to do it in time before we actually have to fight a war but until we do the “battle fleet” will continue to grow more and more feeble as real ships are replaced by little crappy ships that add nothing to the fleet except for an extra “+1” in the “battle fleet” column. Interesting times for sure….

    • KenofSoCal

      Add a “medium-range surface-to-surface missile’ to the Little Coffin Ship and call it “notable” Good grief.

      • Lazarus

        Ah, Commander Salamander’s “Greek Chorus of LCS Despair”.

        • Actually, it is “Little Crappy Ship” in four-part harmony over on the front porch, coined a decade ago. “Little Coffin Ship” was coined somewhere else that is less optimistic about LCS’s utility than we are. xoxo

    • Secundius

      @ NavySubNuke.

      I believe it was SecDef Donald Rumsfeld, that Pushed for the “Crappy Little Ship’s” Program. And President George W. Bush, that got it Funded…

      • James B.

        The LCS does have all the hallmarks of a Rumsfeld “good idea”.

      • NavySubNuke

        Correct – but if the LCS had actually been able to meet the original parameters (especially the price!) and if the Navy had decided to actually down selected to a single design (instead of keeping two and thereby doubling the logistics tail), and if the Navy had actually bought as many destroyers and cruisers as they planned on the Little Crappy Ships wouldn’t be all that bad.
        Instead the ships are delivering about 1/2 the planned capability for more than 2X the cost at a time the fleet is shrinking because of cost over runs and other failed ship building efforts (CG(x) I’m looking at you). This makes the impact of the little crappy ship that much worse.

        • Secundius

          @ NavySubNuke.

          If I recall, the Original Parameters were for the Freedom class to be used as a Mini Destroyer for the Israeli Navy. The problem was, wanted to buy the ship at ~$300-Million USD, but cost ~$450-Million USD to build. So buy Three, and get One Free. Rumsfeld, told Israel what they could do with the Deal…

  • Wardog00

    Did they add personnel resources to the ship as well as the increased weapons? My understanding is the LCS is minimally manned and would be hard pressed to maintain wartime conditions for operations, maintenance and redundancy of personnel to offset battle casualties.

    • Lazarus

      Small ships such as the MCM’s, PC’s and now LCS just have smaller watch sections than do larger combatants. My PC and MCM got along fine with smaller cruise. Some evolutions are whole ship and tiring, but small ships do not usually remain underway as long as their larger counterparts. Wartime will alter some of these assumptions to be sure and some classes of USN warship has seen crew size increase. The FFG’s were one such example.

    • MarlineSpikeMate

      Smaller, more efficient and effective (from my experience) watch teams.. you don’t need all the craziness of 200 people. They come into the program with much more training as well, thus eliminating the heavy burden of seaman Timmy. Instead we Seaman Noah, who is much more effective, and gets along with everyone. The ship can carry on just fine, as Lazarus said.

  • publius_maximus_III

    One or even two ASW missiles on a Littoral Ship does not sound like much of a threat to the enemy, or at least not for long. One feint to get the skipper to unleash his salvo and the now-toothless-tiger is finished, at least for that engagement — with no reloading capability until a tender pulls alongside, or until she can make it back to port. Sounds like Barney Fife with his single bullet, tucked safely away inside his shirt pocket. Some threat.

  • Sinclair M Harris

    It is a fact that there are more missions that require naval presence than we can support with our traditional groups. Distributing the capacity to deal with the needs of our nation is long over due. I strongly recommend this concept get the attention it is due.

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