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Wargames This Year To Inform Future Surface Combatant Requirements

The guided-missile destroyers USS Russel (DDG 59), USS Chung Hoon (DDG 93) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) follow the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during a show of force transit on Aug. 11, 2015. US Navy photo.

The guided-missile destroyers USS Russel (DDG-59), USS Chung Hoon (DDG-93) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53) follow the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) during a show of force transit on Aug. 11, 2015. US Navy photo.

The Navy is already conducting wargames in preparation for the Future Surface Combatant family of systems acquisition process to begin later this year, several officials involved said last week.

The Future Surface Combatant – originally meant to look at how to replace cruisers, destroyers and ultimately the Littoral Combat Ship – now includes a large, small and unmanned surface combatant that will go through the acquisition process with each other and an “integrated combat system” to tie them together.

Capt. Chris Sweeney, deputy director of surface warfare for Aegis and Ballistic Missile Defense (OPNAV N96), told USNI News that “we’re not sure yet” whether the three ships would have a common hull design, and rigorous analysis and wargaming would ultimately dictate the requirements for the three – or more – surface ships.

“Do we use a current hull form, or do we go with a clean sheet and go to a new hull form? I don’t know. I think those top-level requirements need to be laid out, because then it’s all about SWAP-C, space, weight, power, cooling,” Sweeney said.
“So how big does the hull need to be? Do we need all the mission capability on one ship? We’ll see what the study says.”

A large integrated air and missile defense cruiser may have extensive warfighting capabilities whereas the small surface combatant may be limited to a lesser capability focused on self-defense, for example.

Sweeney said during a Feb. 15 panel presentation at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ Technologies, Systems and Ships conference that two capabilities-based assessments had been completed in October 2016 to look at operational and technological gaps in the fleet. Four common themes among the assessments’ findings were enhanced lethality, distribution of forces, human-machine teaming and integration of effects, he said.

Based on those assessments, as well as work leading up to the Navy’s Future Fleet Architecture study, the surface warfare community is now preparing for a big wargame in June to test out ideas for the FSC family of systems. Based on the outcome of the June wargame, officials should have a “surface force initial capabilities document” written by July to get FSC into the acquisition pipeline.

The conversation around the manned combatants may be similar to previous ones – such as when the surface community decided to replace the frigate, the patrol coastal ships (PCs) and the mine countermeasures ships (MCMs) with the single Littoral Combat Ship. The study may point to a single large surface combatant to replace both cruisers and destroyers, or a single hull design with multiple payload variants, or multiple different large surface combatants to meet fleet needs.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), right, and the guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106) transit together in the Philippine Sea in March 2016. US Navy photo.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), right, and the guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106) transit together in the Philippine Sea in March 2016. US Navy photo.

The unmanned piece of FSC is an even more complex conversation, though, due to the Navy admittedly having a long list of things they still need to better understand about unmanned systems and manned-unmanned integration.

Cmdr. Jason Fox, military deputy for Naval Sea Systems Command’s technology office (SEA 05T), said in a Feb. 16 panel at the same conference that the Navy needs to truly understand why it is integrating a manned and an unmanned platform before it can decide how to integrate them. If the unmanned vessel will be a sensor to extend the sight of the manned platform, the two can be more loosely integrated. However, if the unmanned vessel will be part of the fire control loop, where quality of data and speed of data transmission are paramount, that operational concept drives a much tighter integration.

“We’ve got to get these wargames right and understand how the future fleet is going to, or at least envisions, using [unmanned]” to determine the level of integration from the outset, Fox said.

Regardless of the level of integration, the manned hulls in the FSC family must be designed to host and operate unmanned surface, aerial or underwater vessels as technologies evolve.

During the same panel discussion on flexible ship designs to support unmanned platforms, Howard Berkof, unmanned systems deputy program manager in the Program Executive Office for Littoral Combat Ships, rattled off a long list of qualities that the unmanned component of FSC could have, pending Navy requirements, that may drive the discussion about what the surface community needs and how to cost-effectively buy the platforms.

“We are looking at a family of USVs of different sizes, different lengths, different payloads, different capabilities, different hull structures – whether you have a monohull or a SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) hull like you see in the SeaHunter,” he said.
“We are looking at everything, and as we kick off the FSC studies and [analyses of alternatives], they’re going to inform the Navy what type of family of systems we’re looking for. What types of missions do they need to do? What kind of payloads do they need to carry? What kinds of payloads could be organic to these USVs and what kind of payloads could be modular to these USVs – in other words, does every USV carry [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and [electronic warfare] and deception capability, while the modularity comes in the different types of mission payloads they could carry such as fuel bladders or offensive capability or [anti-submarine warfare] or mine warfare?”

Sweeney, the requirements officer in the surface warfare directorate, said the surface community is partnering with the Office of Naval Research to work with the SeaHunter, which will transition into a Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV). Navy leaders want to get that platform into the hands of sailors to start learning lessons now, and that hands-on experimentation may culminate with an “experimental squadron” of MDUSV, the Zumwalt-class destroyer (DDG-1000), Littoral Combat Ship and Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (DDG-51) standing up around 2019.

USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) steams in formation with USS Independence (LCS-2) and USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) on Dec. 8, 2016. US Navy Photo

USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) steams in formation with USS Independence (LCS-2) and USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) on Dec. 8, 2016. US Navy Photo

That experimental squadron would not just help demonstrate the usefulness of an unmanned vessel in the FSC family of systems, but it would also help demonstrate how the three-ship Zumwalt-class might inform the large surface combatant piece.

Naval Sea Systems Command commander Vice Adm. Tom Moore said in a Feb. 15 speech that Zumwalt-class DDGs may end up like the Seawolf-class attack submarines – small in number, but capable ships that helped inform the next class’s design.

“I think what you’re going to see with DDG-1000 is, it’s going to be akin to the Seawolf program: we only built three of those and the submarine community, to their credit, rather than crying over spilt milk said, okay, we’re going to go learn from what we did on Seawolf and some of the technologies there, and we’re going to go build a better product going forward, which turned out to be the Virginia-class submarine,” Moore said.
“We’re going to learn about this ship, this platform. The combatant commanders are going to be glad to have it, and then we’re going to learn something about the new technologies we have on that and we’re going to roll that into the Future Surface Combatant going forward.”

  • @USS_Fallujah

    Let’s hope this FSC works out better than SC-21 did, or else we’ll end up spending trillions for a navy that can’t defend Key West.

  • Curtis Conway

    If a US naval vessel is to receive the title of Surface Combatant it should have capability in every naval warfare area. If it does not, you introduce a vessel into an environment where it will be vulnerable to enemy attack which does not honor our sailor’s sacrificial service. The arguments that different ships will have different missions and ‘always steam together’ is a fallacy the US Navy gave up decades ago for we cannot afford a fleet that large. The ability of any specific Surface Combatant platform to survive an attack also must once again return to standards that honors our sailors. The LCS is a disgrace given its inability to either defend itself when independent steaming, or remain afloat after taking damage.

    Three levels of surface combatants has been an equation that has served the US, and other navies, for over a century (Cruisers-Destroyers-Frigates). The majority of the planet’s oceans can be patrolled by a modern automated multi-warfare frigate, defend itself, and project power to a limited extent if required. If the new Uber Frigate’s hull is ice-hardened, then that patrol area could include Arctic, and Antarctic waters, all supported by the same Hull, Machinery, and Equipment. The ability to steam in ice-infested waters precludes the use of a rubber-window equipped sonar element. That ASW sensor facility would come from towed array & variable depth sonars, in conjunction with an ASW helicopter. When incorporating ASW equipment aboard a patrol sized vessel, it will take up a significant amount of space and displacement. Therefore, it is my belief that an ASW-centric version of an Uber Frigate that still has limited AAW capability (ESSM-SeaRAM), mostly in the form of missiles in the Vertical Launch System or perhaps Mk29 launcher . . . and both the ASW & AAW-centric units incorporate a very capable non-rotating 3D AESA radar. That radar brings with it an instant recognition, without a second of delay, the capability of:
    • 3D Air & Surface Surveillance w/ Fire Control capability Horizon to Zenith 360⁰
    • Theater Ballistic Missile Defense Capability at least to the lower atmosphere
    • Instant Periscope Detection
    • Surface Gun Fire, Naval Gun Fire Support & Counter-battery Support
    • ECM Support
    • IFF Interrogation, Identification & Classification Support
    • Weather Tracking/Warning
    • Aircraft Control Functions
    • ECCM Support
    • EO/IR Queuing & Coordination (Push & Pull) via Wide-band Receivers
    • Passive Capabilities
    This radar will have to have huge track stores in the new operational environment in which we now find ourselves with drones ranging in size down to that of an insect. A high-speed computational capability, intelligent algorithm support, and memory will have to be significant, redundant, and reliable. All of this coordinated with a very capable Passive Sensor (EMCON) capability that could support combat operations when so employed.

    With the advent and future introduction of a Hyper Velocity Projectiles, the Uber Frigate should have a 5’ gun. This design requirement necessitates a primary support structure that facilitates this installation, while not interfering with other systems, particularly a VLS and sensitive sensors that may be nearby. The advent of the Mk57 VLS facilitates the addition of missiles to a platform that removes proximity of some if not all of the missiles from the gun mount.

    The most significant argument for an all-ocean, ice-hardened hull vessel is the ability to operate for extended periods in the Arctic/Antarctic where tasking is sure to increase. If we invest $1 Billion/each then this will become a key capability for presence missions, and combat operations in regions heretofore not considered for which we must have a contingency. That single capability is a compelling argument to develop this very capable Uber Frigate to operate where we dare not send our Aegis CG/DDGs when ice is present in the Arctic up to a meter thick. This elemental portion of the new Uber Frigate would be one of the set-pieces in the Arctic Presence that would also include that of the very capable new Icebreakers that should necessarily be more than just an Icebreaker. The new Icebreakers (heavy & medium) should be a cross of an LCC/LHD/LPD capable vessel that also is the lead platform in the line blazing the trail through thick ice with the new Uber Frigate in trail. In this equation the Uber Frigate will represent a fractional combat capability of the CG/DDG currently populating the fleets, and take that capability above the Arctic Circle reliably & consistently. The Icebreaker would need to provide Arsenal Ship support. An additional element would necessarily be a VSTOL/STOVL AEW&C aircraft capable of operating off of any USN flight deck. This element alone in necessary for Arctic Operations, but will provide a capability to the fleet heretofore not available (e.g., worldwide total force multiplier). Unmanned aerial vehicle support would also be a requirement for the Icebreaker and Uber Frigate.
    The musings of a ‘common hull’ supports the ‘logistical HM&E savings in time’ concept, given that huge budget item over time and is significant, but one cannot forget the hull form of the DDG-51 Class was developed for a reason, for there are places we will send CG-47 Class vessels only in a pinch, and only during certain times of the year, and neither platform should ever be introduced into ice-infested waters.
    Concerning the replacement of ‘PC/MCM/frigates concept with LCS’, the LCS makes a fairly good but expensive MCM ship, and we will have enough of them for that purpose. The cost of that platform with its increased aviation support makes it perfect for supporting SOF operations whose tasking is increasing around the globe. As for the PC question, a mother-ship with MkVI gunboats or similar with a naval attack helicopters would be the solution for this requirement. In fact this solution accompanied by an Uber Frigate or two could handle most of the Persian Gulf requirement given their range and combat capability. The LCS is inappropriate for this tasking given its current combat capability. Even Saudi Arabia has recognized this and they live there.

    The comment “…DDG-1000 is, it’s going to be akin to the Seawolf program” is wholly inappropriate, for it completely ignores the difference of the operational environments, and threats in that specific environment. The Seawolf Class submarine commands the waters in which it operates. The DD-1000 lacks the Aegis AAW combat system capability which is the primary threat to that platform in the modern battle space making it wholly inappropriate for an ISE presence mission in a high threat environment. NOT the description of a Destroyer!

    This very discussion heretofore, when OP-05 was wholly manned by experienced and qualified personnel, would never have taken place in the open press, and the solutions they would have provided would have met the challenges of the future.

    Just my 2ȼ.

    • ElmCityAle

      You post this comment on almost every news story on this topic 😉 Short of the ice-breaker spec, this “Uber Frigate” is 90%+ Arleigh Burke class DG in specs and cost. The navy originally rejected a new frigate class for exactly those concerns, from my understanding. That’s why they are trying to “upgun” the LCS specs without too much cost – the likelihood of success or failure on those platforms is a separate discussion beaten to death already by fans and foes of LCS.

      • Curtis Conway

        “…this “Uber Frigate” is 90%+ Arleigh Burke class DG in spec…” . . . not true. I’ve posted this specific comment twice (edited), and the Uber Frigate is projected to be a modified National Security Cutter hull.

        • ElmCityAle

          Projected by whom? And, as has been pointed out, the cost with added weapons brings the price tag WAY up above LCS and toward DG.

          • Curtis Conway

            I tell you what . . . go steaming into Harm’s Way on an LCS and manage to survive a major Surface Action and then we will talk about what you need to survive on an LCS. One gets what one pays for.

          • ElmCityAle

            You’ve misunderstood me. In no way do I think LCS is ready for a “major surface action”. I think it’s a (too) fast versatile (potentially – not realized yet because of the almost total failure to develop the various modules) patrol/mine-sweeper ship that never should have been named with “combat” in the name. It set the expectation it was some form of light frigate, which it is not (and will not be even if more weapons are bolted on). I’m just being honest about the cost of a “real” frigate and how close it will be to a full DG.

          • Curtis Conway

            AGREED! My apologies. The need for a real Small Surface Combatant (Uber Frigate) is more than apparent, should be a high priority, and two+ can be had for the price of a DDG-51 Flight III. More can be built faster for less than half the cost, and get meaningful numbers up more rapidly, so a new Program of Record for a new Uber Frigate is needed. Most of the Proactive Presence Patrol Stations do not need a Carrier Strike Group, or an Aegis CG/DDG, and the Uber Frigate can handle its own defense, escort with confidence, and provide less strenuous Theater Ballistic Missile (TBM) defense in a pinch, which should be the floor for the survivability of any USN vessel assigned the title of “Surface Combatant”. The United States Navy has been sailing frigates into harm’s way for 200 years and taking on Ships of the Line, and this new frigate should be no different, particularly in this day and age given the proliferation of TBMs and ASCM, even supersonic ones. If we build an ice-hardened hull Hybrid Electric Drive platform, then this new platform can kill two birds with one stone (meaningful Arctic Presence with meaningful and measurable combat capability, and get real Small Surface Combatant numbers up) with one vessel built in two versions (ASW-centric & AAW-centric). Check out the ‘US Navy Uber Frigate’ Facebook page and you will see what I mean. The introduction of Directed Energy Weapons (even at their current maturity) will communicate a very specific message, and provide a capability to the fleet heretofore non-existent. This will change to the positive with every upgrade of that weapons family.

            Given recent NAVSEA surface combatant programs I have come to doubt if they can handle the task. Nothing but bad decisions and treating sailors like an expendable commodity. They have spent a lot of money and time and what to we have for it? A fast 300′ lightly armed speed boat that cannot seem to go from here to there without breaking down, and will sink if it takes any damage . . . and we will have three very expensive floating platforms that will have difficulty defending themselves against a determined air attack. Hopefully DEWs go on the DD-1000s soon, so at least they can defend themselves.

  • airider

    Oh for Chr!st’s sake…we keep hearing this same nonsense every couple of years. As long as OPNAV stays focused on capabilities based assessments (i.e. JCIDS) we’ll continue to get diluted programs of record that never meet the requirements the Sailors need.

    The worst place to find answers to what the Sailor needs is in the Pentagon and their extensive contractor “networks”. Talk to the Sailors (Officers AND Enlisted) on the ships today. They’ll give you a reality check that’s sorely need at OPNAV. They’ll also propose more modest and less costly improvements and ship designs than the pipe-dreamers at ONR and Naval War College are willing to consider.

    There are already way too many systems on ships for the high-school educated average Sailor to manage. More technology won’t make it better. Better designs, which means designs with lots of Sailor input and feedback, is the correct way to attack this undertaking. This article just points to the fact that we are still ignoring our lessons learned. There are shelves full of books describing how the most successful defense programs were executed. They all follow the same theme that I listed above. We don’t need more wargaming….we need blow the dust off some of those books and actually read them. Then follow their examples.

    • Curtis Conway

      ‘Keep it Simple’ comes to mind.

  • Desplanes

    While we’re discussing this, what happened to Oasuw ? Is it still alive ? Is VLS LRASM still alive ?