Home » News & Analysis » CNO: Arctic Operations Limited Now, But Future Ship Designs Should Consider Environment

CNO: Arctic Operations Limited Now, But Future Ship Designs Should Consider Environment

Los Angeles-class submarine USS Hartford (SSN-768), surfaces near Ice Camp Sargo during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2016 on March 15, 2016. US Navy photo.

Los Angeles-class submarine USS Hartford (SSN-768) surfaces near Ice Camp Sargo during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2016 on March 15, 2016. US Navy photo.

The U.S. Navy’s presence in the Arctic region has been limited due to constrained budgets and urgent needs elsewhere in the world, the chief of naval operations said, but future ships should still be designed with potential Arctic operations in mind.

Adm. John Richardson said today at the Center for American Progress that melting polar caps would have a profound impact on how the Navy does business. Not only will currents and coastlines change, northern sea lanes will be open for longer durations and will therefore change the flow of commercial shipping around the globe – if mariners can avoid current chokepoints such as the Strait of Malacca and take northern routes instead, naval presence could need to be refocused.

Richardson said the Navy maintains a persistent presence in the Arctic region to maintain a familiarity with the geography and learn how to operate in such an extreme environment – as well as to conduct environmental, security and other research.

“We’ve got sort of a persistent presence in the Arctic, mostly it’s been sort of undersea – so our submarine force has done an exercise in the Arctic every other year where we surface one or more submarines through the ice set up a base camp up there,” he said.
“We’ve also got aircraft and those sorts of things, so it’s primarily been limited to that. It’s a difficult place to operate, it’s really cold up there, and then communications and everything else become difficult, navigation. There’s some unique challenges to operating up there.”

But given the more urgent requirements around the globe – particularly as it relates to the “four-plus-one” threat set of Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and terrorist networks – Arctic presence in recent years has been “a resource-constrained approach, I would say. So while we don’t want to ever lose our connection with the Arctic, we’re going to keep it… it’s going to be on a resource-constrained basis. We’ll get up there as often as we can, but the demand on the Navy in those other areas is acute and is already stretching the Navy that we have.”

Despite the lower presence levels today, Richardson said that ignoring a future Arctic mission while designing the next generation of surface combatant would be “narrow thinking on our part.”

The Navy is currently looking at how to replace its guided missile cruisers and destroyers and its Littoral Combat Ships, which could result in a family of surface combatants. Richardson said at the event that some aspects of the ship will be designed in from the beginning and stay with the ship for life – its energy generation, propulsion, hull design and others – whereas the Navy is pushing to make as many other features “modular and modernizable” to take advantage of new technologies.

Many areas of Arctic operations that challenge the Navy today – navigation at extreme latitudes, communications and others – would all fall into the modular category of systems. Navy spokesman Cmdr. Chris Servello told USNI News after the event that the Navy is still looking at what features of the future surface combatants would be modular versus designed into the ship for life, and therefore when discussions about being Arctic capable would need to start taking place.

“The Arctic is going to be a different kind of a theater in the future, and if we neglect the fact that we’re going to be operating in the Arctic as we design this new class of ship, that’s just narrow thinking on our part,” Richardson said.

Richardson also took the opportunity to advocate for signing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), saying that “it strikes me that we need to be even stronger advocates for a rule set, whether it’s UNCLOS, or that in combination with others, that will govern how we manage this opening opportunity or opening challenge (in the Arctic). And without coming to a consensus on a rule set and advocating for that through the same measures – presence – that visibly show that we support those things, it’s going to be much more chaotic than it needs to be.”

  • sferrin

    If only *cough* we had a submarine design *cough* that was designed for under-ice operations.

  • Curtis Conway

    A President Trump, as he begins to rebuild the US Navy to a 350 ship count, should take the last twelve LCS/FF ships and throw them into a new 50+ unit Multi-Warfare Frigate Program based upon a modified National Security Cutter, that has Ice-hardened hulls for Arctic capability, possesses a very efficient Hybrid Electric Drive and updated Hull, Machinery & Electrical (HM&E) standard, and possessing more kinetic combat capability, with the new 4160v Integrated Power System, that will employ a robust passive combat system capability and employ multiple Directed Energy Weapons (four minimum), a Baseline-9 COMBATSS-21 Combat System, all serviced by a non-rotating 3D AESA radar, hopefully a 9-RMA AN/SPY-6(V) AMDR.

    Several of the USCG’s new Icebreaker Program (which the US Navy is participating in) should be constructed with expanded command & control, and larger and more capable aviation spaces for extended service in the Arctic providing greater capability and flexibility. One of these should be permanently posted in the Arctic, and be the control platform for the exercises in the Arctic Region. Perhaps a US Navy Nuclear Powered Heavy Icebeaker. Also US Navy flight decks should be built to a new standard for all future platforms that include a 70,000 lb load capacity, possessing a larger taller hangar, and coated with Thermion.

    The US Navy should seriously consider developing and fielding a VSTOL/STOVL AEW&C aircraft that could operate off of any platform with a flight deck.

    Just my 2ȼ.

    • Ed L

      With a 127mm gun forward and a 76mm aft with two 57mm on port and starboard a couple RAM’s too

      • Curtis Conway

        Guns break up ice good too!

    • Charles Pierce

      a very good 2 cents.

    • John B. Morgen

      Are you referring to about the possibility of building 600 foot or 700 foot ice breakers, or Soviet/Russian equivalent size large ice breakers?

      • Curtis Conway

        The USCG/US Navy study is looking at everyone’s designs. I suspect that our major shipbuilding yards can come up with a design that meets the requirements. Length is yet to be determined. Thickness of ice to be handled by the hull is the issue. I don’t know if an LPD-17 can be turned into an all electric icebreaker with a pair of nuke plants, or if you would use another hull . . . but I bet it could.

        • John B. Morgen

          A hull modified LPD-17 could work, but without the well dock which is [not] needed for Arctic operations. However, Finland is an outstanding builder of ice breakers because the Finns have built several ice breakers for the Soviet/Russian Navy.

          • Curtis Conway

            The LPD-17 well deck area would be used for expanded aviation hangar/storage and maintenance areas, hopefully with an elevator. It may be possible to use LCAC/SSCs to good effect in the Arctic on the water and ice.

          • John B. Morgen

            Much smaller versions of the LCAC would do, if the new extensions are designed within the ship’s hull. Hover craft would work nicely on ice than using tracked vehicles.

          • Curtis Conway

            Works on water and land too!

          • John B. Morgen

            That’s true; especially, on land.

    • Jacobite

      Actually something conceptually akin to the Absalon class support ship or the Crossover from Damen would be preferable in a ‘littoral’ or coastal role for its ability to transport supplies, equipment, infantry (including their vehicles) and small boats, with the later ship being capable of conducting amphibious assaults.

      I would also do what you suggested with the ice-breakers, but combine with a class of logistics ships of some kind, so the same ship provides fuel and supplies.

      Keep in mind that the LCS is a replacement for the OHP, and that was the lower-end surface combat ship in the USN designed for ASW and convoy escort, what you describe sounds very similar to a Burke on a smaller hull and so cost should be similar, but with less missiles.

      The USN doesn’t need every ship on an ASW mission to have the capabilities and price tag of a burke, in many cases a much smaller frigate with a basic defensive suite like the OHP had for it’s time is sufficient. In low-threat environments something akin to the proposed swan class of sloops for the UK might even be sufficient… A basic ship to tow a sonar array and defended by a CIWS station.

      • Curtis Conway

        The Arctic Frigate would be the only platform designed from the ground up to handle that particular environment. Of course it can go anywhere, but the Arctic provides unique and disparate challenges for a surface combatant that the temperate zones do not. The Arctic Frigate could go to the Antarctic as well (South Atlantic, South Pacific, and Southern Indian Ocean). Can’t send the Aegis Cruisers and Destroyers there when ice is present because of what is on the front (bottom-Rubber Window). The ASW Mission is something that every surface combatant must be able to do to some extent, and ASW, in the modern context, has been a primary mission due to the escort and patrol aspects of this platform, via the OHP’s mission it replaces. Since the 80’s the Frigates (OHP) have performed a lot of Independent Steaming which provides its own challenges, and mostly in waters that were filled with SS/SSKs (Diesel Electric or AIP).

        This vessel will be no different, and be moving into an era where submarines are more relevant that ever before. This little vessel may find itself off Bermuda one day, for days on end conducting ASW. So . . . concerning ASW I agree with you. However, with respect to AAW . . . yes, many ESSMs and Directed Energy Weapons for air defense short-range, terminal and point defense, even of an area that may encompass High Value Units. That is why the non-rotating 3D radar (w/Mk12 IFF using the latest UPX-29 interrogator) is so important for fire control, not just detection and tracking. In the supersonic age every second (and fraction thereof) counts.
        The flight deck should meet the larger hanger and 70,000 lb load standard for employment of assets that are usually on larger ships, those larger assets not present because of the nature of the environment, and time of year. That aspect comes in handy in ALL environments in every theater.

        Mention of the Absalon Class is excellent, for this is a design in the right direction. I am not a fan of diesels, or rotating radars, and it must have top speed faster than 24 knots. The Canadians should be looking at their surface combatant problem and throwing in their lot with this new Frigate Program, then we can call it the North American Arctic Frigate, and use it everywhere.

        This is very much a Burke on a smaller hull. However, this design would have similar, or less capable (via smaller), if not exactly the same, equipment in most cases. Standard length Mk 41/Mk56 will have to be onboard in some quantity to house ESSM, ASROC, and some SM-6 (with/without booster depending on length of Mk41), but could include an SM-3 or two if longer Mk41 are present. The radar would best be an AN/SPY-6(V) with 9-RMA antenna providing SPY-1 capability, feeding a COMBATSS-21 combat system, with commonality with the new DDG-51 Flt IIIs & CG Upgrade. The SPY-6 is the gem in this argument providing a lot of capability. FORCEnet-21 will provide a lot of the rest. Our deepest magazine will be the Distillate Fuel Marine fuel bunkers that power the Directed Energy Weapons for defense via electrical power transmission through the 4160v Integrated Power System, driven by LM500 SSGTGs.

        Concerning boats, I would divide the new Frigate into two sub-classes which are by and large identical, with the exception of the stern. Boats on the AAW-centric version, and no boats aft on the ASW version, due to what will be occupying that space, and both version must have organic ASW weapons (Mk32 & ASROC or equivalent). If we could take the ASROC and modify it with the High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability (HAAWC) Air Launch Accessory (ALA) and kick it out of a Mk29-like launcher, then we end up with a longer range torpedo. Only need four so Mk29 would fit somewhere topside.

        Concerning CIWS stations, the Directed Energy Weapons should be ‘two pair’ (four total with two located on port & starboard sides) on the quarters placeded as high on the forward Mack as possible, and I would place the Mk15 CIWS (one unit/side) between them on the port/starboard sides. If DEW, or ECM doesn’t kill it (even in dual DEW engagement mode) the CIWS tungsten will.

        We simply must have enough of these things whenever Unified Commanders need US forces to provide a meaningful and relevant presence, and the FORCEnet-21 feed, that will be the credible witness, will tell the story.

        The intent is to build relevant surface combatant presence for ½ the cost of a DDG-51 Flt III. Compete two yards like the DDG-51 Program and this is doable.

        The LCS’s should be MCMs, SOF support, and 4th Fleet SOUTHCOM, and USCG support by and large.

        Gave you a $1.50 that time, over my usual 2ȼ.

        • Jacobite

          ESSM Block 2 will no longer need active illumination, it will be semi-active guidance like CAMM and have an extended but classified range. CAMM ER is described as having destroyed targets in excess of 60KM but is classified. CAMM is a ~20KM missile, i.e. it’s range extends to cover the entire radar horizon, i.e. engage sea-skimming missiles once they pop over the horizon and are detected.

          Despite being termed AAW Frigates the Horizon Class and Type45 deployed by Europeans are not AAW, their SAMS extend to 120KM, although again actual range is classified, this is pretty much that standard of the European Frigate, sensors very but are typically not capable of detecting targets outside this envelope.

          Actual performance of their radar systems is again classified, but on paper from public information performance is roughly equal across the board. I believe we are talking about effective coverage of an area out to 75KM with theoretical detection out to the 120km range, in reality this is only possible if we know where to look, and we are engaging a slow target approaching us (as engagement range is less for faster or lower speed targets, or targets moving away from us, or approaching at angles)…..

          Only the US (and russia, russia has a few ships) has real AAWs. Everyone else, with exception of a few US export customers in the Asia-Pacific are limited to that baseline I just described. The utility/usefullness of the extra range from say a CAMM-ER or ESSM2 vs the 120KM ASTER 30 or BARAK missile will depend on classified flight profiles of modern ASMs, and also on whether other ships are being protected.

          So it is hard to say, in reality unless we go all out and have a very long range radar, all we are going to do by increasing our engagement envelope is force them to launch their missiles closer, or slightly decrease engagement range of land based coastal batteries. And unless we have air-cover to intercept, making them get closer is not going to achieve much.

          It really is hard to say though, but based on publically available information and considering the 2nd line/escort role I would tend to gravitate towards the ‘local’ air defense model. By local I mean ESSM2 or CAMM-ER with CAMM (standard, much cheaper) for engaging missiles popping over the horizon, we are still probably talking ’80KM’ for the ESSM2.

          Keep in mind that nothing prevents loading big SAMs in the weapons bays for when these are attached to action groups with better sensors, or from taking targeting information from AWACs and other Air-Assets… There is also nothing preventing them from carrying TLAMs. Not every fleet asset, even in the front line needs to be a spotter.

          There are also other types of capability, Damen makes a class of ships called ‘crossover’ its a cross between an LPD and a Frigate, it is like the absalon. It is rather small at 5,500tonne, but it has a stowage deck tall enough for full-sized helicopters, it can carry a proper landing craft that can handle tanks and it can carry vehicles and equipment and supplies. Luanch and recover large boats…

          That means potentially operating as a mother-ship for multiple helicopters, boats, manned and unmanned. Boats the size of the famous WW2 PB are not unplausible. These platforms could be equipped with things like sonar buoys and mine-warfare equipment, they could be outfitted for sea-lane control and policing of commercial vessals, as platforms to counter attack-boat swarms, etc..etc.. In Vietnam ships were used like this to police rives…

          I think this concept is pretty powerful, in the past warships to use to carry a sizable infantry detachment, the Mary Rose former flagship of England was discovered recently, on it there were over 300 Warbows and it is believed that in normal practice it carried roughly the same number of infantry as sailors. You could imagine that back in the 1500s this wold have been a considerable force.

          I think an enlarged ship built along this concept with a centrally located VLS cluster of 64 stations (i.e. a bathtub configuration or just rear of the hanger like the Burkes, i.e. 1 of the burkes 2 VLS clusters ), provisions for more personal, supplies, vehicles and fuel for a longer range, in say the 6000-8000tonne range would be a very good replacement.

          Ideally we would be talking about a full mechanized Company, supported by a 155mm+ cannon with 2 Multipurpose Landing Crafts (re configurable, with mission packages), 2 Naval Helicopters, several unmanned helicopters, surface boats and general supplies perhaps even a boat as large as PB boat, in a multi-role configuration.

          The thing with ship procurement is that the steel is, sure everything adds up and more steel means bigger engines and so on, but it is not where the real cost is, the real cost is in all the support contracts and the equipment you put into it, and in trying to squeeze ‘high-performance’ out of the ship, i.e. fast burst speeds of the LCS are responsible for a considerable amount of the cost of the ships…

          I think a good compromise though would be to adopt a hybrid radar system, i.e. retain a rotating rear radar, sensor mast built into the forward superstructure (like european frigates) and provision for AMDR on that front superstructure (like burkes), the structural strengthening, space and mast costs are not going to kill anyone, again the steel is cheap. Just order the ships naked, i.e. built and wired up, fit the equipment (just plug in) as needed, to the level required.

          Navies are already doing this with ‘GPFFs and the supposed AAWs’, there is no reason why a separate platform is needed or why a seperate set of radar is needed, it just adds cost…

          Since radar systems are modular, i.e. the radar is made out of many small tiles/blocks, it can be scaled up or down, and can be used in conjuction with other radars, so that way you can scale the system up or down. Quickly-refit existing craft if needed, etc..etc..

          • Curtis Conway

            The ESSM (all versions) is all we have been asking for on the LCS, and the US Navy just won’t go there even with a Mk29 launcher. The Navy has typically tried to maintain superiority in all new designs (except in aviation with F-14/A-6/S-3B retirement) in our surface combatants until now. Speed has been elevated to a mythical value that actually makes you easier to be targeted by the deadliest class of weapons (ASCMs). The US Navy is not the only organization that can provide updates to auto-pilots, or have active discriminators that notice Doppler changes. The LCS is so small with weight & balance problems, I suppose that is the Mk41 VLS, or Mk29 will not ever be placed on board, and if they stretch the ship, it will probably twist in half in heavy weather for extended periods of time.
            As for sensors, the AN/SPY-6(V) Air & Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) is a game changer. It is truly scalable via the 24” cubed Radar Module Assembly (RMA) construct. If I never see a rotating radar on a US Navy combatant it will be too soon, although they will still be there for the foreseeable future. The non-rotating 3D AESA 9-RMA version has the same radar coverage as the SPY-1 radar, with much more advanced capability, at a fraction of the power requirement, and much reduced real-estate footprint and support spaces. An NSC with a different propulsion system capable of 30+ knots, upgraded HM&E and Hybrid Electric Drive, 4160v Integrated Power System driving Directed Energy Weapons for point defense and ESSMs for AAW, with a 9-RMA AN/SPY-6(V), and a real gun capable of shooting Hyper Velocity Projectiles, would be another game changer. Such a platform on an all-ocean Arctic capable hull could very easily be the spotter, shooter, or controller, and weapon donation platform of our future fleet. If competed between two shipyards like DDG-51 we could build two for the cost of one Burke Destroyer.
            Your observation of “…in reality this is only possible if we know where to look…” is right on target. If you have ever looked at the kinematics of a sea-skimming supersonic ASCM . . . well a rotating radar makes no sense at all, and you may not receive tippers from an emitter. Time is short, and it would behoove the defender to have as large a warhead as possible. SEARAM just doesn’t cut it with me, but then we always started with SM-2ER.
            As for ‘crossover’, the LPD-17 hull (LX-R?) morphed into a BMD Ship/Cruiser with much expanded air capability, and again that decent sized very capable gun, perhaps extensive boat support capability, would be another game changer. If I had to go boats or aviation, I would go aviation with hangar deck and an elevator.
            In my humble opinion the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), which is our Green/Brown Water Navy, should continue to grow and have that ‘Swarming Boat’ problem added to their mission requirement. The Mk VIs are very fast and capable, and they are cost effective. As far as LCS Class vessels are concerned “…trying to squeeze ‘high-performance’ out of the ship, i.e. fast burst speeds of the LCS are responsible for a considerable amount of the cost of the ships…” is not only expensive, and the root of most of the propulsion problems, but is antithetical to fleet operations in its current construct. Reaching 30+ knots is good enough until you have to keep up with a Carrier heading out at Full-Tilt-Boogey (e.g., upgraded NSC propulsion system).
            By and large I think we are of similar, if not same mindset. The US Navy built the Spruance’s and never used the full potential of those hulls as demonstrated by the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) Class, which I helped PRECOM, and tested combat systems until B/L 4 at CSEDS.
            Once again, just my 2ȼ.

      • Curtis Conway

        “I would also do what you suggested with the ice-breakers, but combine with a class of logistics ships of some kind…”.

        Making sure the new LSD can handle the Arctic?

        • Jacobite

          Yes of course, check out Damen’s LPDs and Auxiliary craft. If the support ships can’t deploy then the frigates can’t deploy so they also need ice-hardening.

          Moreover though to break through the Ice a particularly large ship is needed, and alot of fuel is consumed, this is why the Russians have nuclear powered ice-breakers. Some of those ice breakers also carry supplies. It makes sense to combine the functionality.

  • Andre

    Drones and subs…that’s all we need up there…

    • sferrin

      Neither of which are of use when it comes to showing the flag. (Which one needs to do.)

      • Andre

        I’m not sure that’s all that necessary at this point.

        Russia’s oft-discussed military expansion in the Arctic is rather comical, and while there are plans for “arctic corvettes”, they exist only on paper as of yet and have doubtful utility compared to existing vessels.

        I don’t see why in a time of war, that the USCG can’t be upgraded with bolt-on anti-ship and anti-air systems, why Virginias or Seawolfs couldn’t deliver small SOF teams to icefloes and islands, and why strategic bombers from Alaska with stand-off weapons can’t patrol the Arctic.

  • tpharwell

    So should present designs, for ships that will be around in the future. Another reason to curtail the LCS program and build a hardened navalized version of the NSC.

  • sferrin

    ““We’ve got sort of a persistent presence in the Arctic, mostly it’s been sort of undersea – so our submarine force has done an exercise in the Arctic every other year where we surface one or more submarines through the ice set up a base camp up there,” he said.”

    Ye Gods.