Home » Budget Industry » N95 Coffman Says Accelerate Big Deck Amphib Construction, Cut LSD Modernization Program

N95 Coffman Says Accelerate Big Deck Amphib Construction, Cut LSD Modernization Program


The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group steams in formation on Dec. 24, 2018. Navy photo.

This post has been updated to reflect that the Navy is looking at truncating the modernization period for USS Whidbey Island, the next to go into a planned layup period. Due to source error, this story previously said the Navy was eyeing USS Tortuga, which is currently in a yard for modernization.

ARLINGTON, Va. – In an attempt to address a “capacity problem” in the amphibious ship fleet, the head of expeditionary warfare wants to accelerate the construction of new amphibious assault ships and stop a lengthy upgrade program for the aging LSDs to return them to fleet operations.

The aging Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships (LSD-41/49) will be replaced on a one-for-one basis with the much more capable San Antonio-class Flight II LPDs, once those are built and start to deliver in the 2020s. Until then, though, Maj. Gen. David Coffman, the director of expeditionary warfare on the chief of naval operations’ staff (OPNAV N95), wants to stop trying to bring the LSDs up in capability and instead return them to the fleet to do what they’re good at: hauling a lot of stuff.

Congress pushed on the Navy a modernization plan for its cruisers and LSDs; for the amphibs, it called for taking three LSD hulls, putting them in reduced operational status until they could undergo major upgrades to the command, control, communications, computers, collaboration and intelligence (C5I), and then bringing them back to the fleet with an extended service life and greater warfighting capability. The combat credibility of the LSDs was in question, as amphibious ships now mostly operate in a distributed manner but the LSDs cannot operate as independently as the LPDs, which have a much more robust command and control system, medical facilities and other key capabilities.

With a better-than-anticipated replacement on the horizon with the LPD Flight II design, Coffman said last week at the Surface Navy Association’s annual national symposium that he wants to ditch the LSD modernization plan, use the ships now as trucks to carry people and gear, and focus resources on the LPD Flight II replacement program.

“I cannot find a path to robust disaggregated or contested environment capability enhancements for those ships. So we are not going to double down in that fashion,” Coffman said of the LSDs.
“But we owe the captains and sailors readiness and safety and proficiency, and there is a lot there if you move back towards what we built them for: to exploit the well decks, massive square foot and cubic foot, massive cranes, et cetera et cetera. We recommend not to [do a service life extension program]. … We are already in an effort to truncate the layup [period] for [USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41)], which we set aside, akin to the cruiser layup. Get ‘em up, get ‘em safe, get ‘em proficient, get ‘em in the fleet to fill day-to-day requirements and see what they can do and contribute with all that capacity.”

BAE Systems won a contract in November 2017 to conduct the USS Tortuga (LSD-46) modernization, which started a year ago and should end this spring. USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41) and USS Germantown (LSD-42) are also included in Congress’ ship modernization and life extension plans, and USNI News understands Whidbey Island is slated to go into the modernization event next.

Marines assigned to Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/1, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), depart from the well deck of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47), Nov. 29, 2018. The Essex Amphibious Ready Group and the 13th MEU are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. US Navy photo.

If Coffman was not interested in upgrading the LSDs before they age out of the fleet, he is very interested in modernizing the original 13 Flight I LPDs as they begin to hit their mid-life service availabilities in the 2020s.

As the LPD Flight II ships are built throughout the next decade – hopefully in a block buy contract at a one-a-year rate, he said – USS San Antonio (LPD-17) and other early amphibious transport docks will be approaching their mid-life availabilities. Under an Amphibious Warship Evolution Plan to add capability and lethality to the amphib fleet, Coffman said advances built into the Flight II LPDs could be backfit into the older Flight I hulls. This would both boost the older ships’ capability while also increasing commonality between Flight I and II.

Capt. Brian Metcalf, LPD program manager within the Program Executive Office for Ships, said during his own presentation at the SNA conference that “the idea is … when that availability upgrades LPD-17 at its midlife, it will stay common with what we’re doing for Flight II. So the two ship classes should not stay diverged in terms of the systems that they ever have.”

Due to changing technology and somewhat scaled down requirements, there are some differences between Flight I and Flight II ships. Those differences that can be addressed during LPD mid-life upgrades – backfitting in the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services system, as well as computer and other systems to support the new Ship-to-Shore Connector and CH-53K helicopter instead of the legacy Landing Craft Air Cushions and CH-53E, for example – will be done during the LPD-17 mid-life availability and will further increase commonality between Flight I and Flight II, which will help keep maintenance and training costs down, Metcalf said.

The future John P. Murtha (LPD-26). Huntington Ingalls Industries photo.

Metcalf told USNI News during his presentation that he is working with Coffman’s office to look at ways to increase lethality of both the new LPDs during construction and the older ones during their maintenance availabilities. There had been some talk of installing Vertical Launching System (VLS) cells into the Flight II ships, since there is still space for the cells in the design.

Asked about the status of those talks, Metcalf said Flight II “will not have it in it when the contract is signed, is probably the safest thing I can tell you. The concept of adding capability to the ships is something that N95 is still working with the Marine Corps and the Navy on in their capability evolution plan. So the future ability to add that capability exists.”

“I’ll answer you a little bit differently as well: to be able to launch a missile, you do not have to have a vertical launching system,” he continued.
“So we’ve encouraged them to find a requirement – what are we trying to defend against, or what kind of operational parameters or scenarios are we trying to build the ship to meet – and we’ll give them many options on how they can slice that. And vertical launch will be one of them, but it’s not the only option.”

On the big-deck amphibious assault ships, Coffman proposed accelerating acquisition timelines and investing in a massive mid-life upgrade availability, akin to an aircraft carrier’s refueling and complex overhaul, to increase the capability and capacity within the LHA/LHD fleet.

The Navy wants to have 12 amphibious assault ships, to complement the 26 combined LPD Flight I and II ships it will ultimately have. However, with the future Bougainville (LHA-8) under construction now but a gap in production before the Navy would buy LHA-9, not only does the shipyard risk losing experienced workers and missing out on the lower costs that come with serial production, but the Navy puts at risk its ability to have 12 big decks in the fleet at once. USS Wasp’s (LHD-1) planned retirement in 2029 looms over these plans, Coffman reminded the audience during his talk.

The Navy is looking at extending the life of Wasp, he said, because without doing so it is hard “to see a pathway that gets to, maintains and sustains a 12-big-deck fleet, and that’s a problem.” Without having 12 ships in the fleet, those that are in service are worked harder and have less time for maintenance, which Coffman told USNI News starts a downward spiral that the amphibious fleet has seen before and does not want to start again.

USS Tripoli (LHA-7) is launched at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ (HII) shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. on May 1, 2017. US Navy Photo

As for LHA-9, which is currently set to be bought in 2024, the Navy is “in debate on timing. We currently have a big gap in the production years, discussion about accelerating LHA-9, maybe getting two at a time.”

The Navy chose to buy two aircraft carriers in a single contract, in a decision signed out by the Pentagon on Dec. 31. A similar decision for LHA-9 and 10 would allow the ships to be designed and built as “twins” instead of having slight variations, saving on some design and planning costs, and would give sole contractor Ingalls Shipbuilding some stability that would also reduce costs and schedule. Coffman said he was confident Ingalls and its suppliers had the capacity to accelerate LHA production beyond the Navy’s current plans, as outlined in the Fiscal Year 2019 shipbuilding plan.

Just as Coffman is advocating a more “aggressive” LHA procurement schedule, he’s also trying to get top Navy and Marine Corps leadership to buy into an RCOH-like approach for the Wasp-class’s midlife availability, taking the ships out of service for a length of time that no operational plans could impinge on and ensuring that resources are devoting to making the hull more ready and more capable upon its return to the fleet.

With past LHD availabilities, “we have not been able to get dollars, requirements, materiel in place at the right time to make the major moves we need to make, nor get the regular lifecycle maintenance across this big plant, big spaces and all the work we’ve got to do here,” he said.
“It’s counterintuitive – I talked to [the secretary of the Navy], [commandant of the Marine Corps], [chief of naval operations], all the senior leadership about this, said it’s going to take some big boy help because like the carriers, it’s counterintuitive to your problem of not having enough. What’s the answer to not having enough ready? Take one entirely offline and finally get it right, which is what we’re proposing.”

The amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) operates in the Gulf of Thailand to support Exercise Cobra Gold 2018 on Feb. 16, 2018. Bonhomme Richard is participating in CG18 alongside Royal Thai Navy ships and personnel, conducting a range of amphibious operations that will enhance tactical expertise of participants and flex combined capabilities to respond to contingencies. US Navy photo.

Coffman said USS Bataan (LHD-5) would be the guinea pig for this idea in 2023. He said it may take $500 to $600 million for the availability, which he acknowledged was a big ask, but it would get the amphibious navy “out of this cycle of national treasures late or not getting modernized” during regular maintenance availabilities due to lack of funding or backlogs at the shipyards.

Despite the many needs the amphib fleet faces, Coffman said he was confident the amphibious navy was on the right track. Whereas the surface navy is searching for a hull that can accommodate its future needs, Coffman is committed to the LPD and LHA hull forms and called them “the right hulls for what we need to do in expeditionary warfare … now and into the future.”

With the right hulls as a starting point, he said, “what we’re doing is modernizing and enhancing the capabilities of our ships across all functional areas, with particular emphasis on improved lethality, survivability and a networked C5I architecture fully embedded and nested with [the surface navy’s] evolution plan.”

  • Curtis Conway

    Just building more anemic vessels instead of ‘greater firepower per vessel’ is antithetical to future combat capability at sea. ‘Every ship a shooter’ should become the norm, including on the LSD-17 Flt IIs/LX(R), or whatever you want to call them. Backfit of the Common Amphibious Combat System Upgrade Package of Mk41 VLS, COMBATSS-21 CIC capabilities, all fed with Enterprise Air Search Radar fire control tracks, WILL increase lethality at sea much faster. The Land Based Test Site should already exist, system test already in process, and training systems in development/under construction.

    Why is it I keep getting the feeling that more in our senior ranks needed to get shot at more, and experience combat up close and personal. They sure are anxious to send everyone else to do so . . . without the tools to deal with it. The DDG/CG missile magazines will be depleted quickly just trying to defend the force, and those additional Mk41 VLS cells are going to be needed. Should any amphibious vessel so upgraded ever be sent Independent Steaming Exercise (ISE), then they will be able to defend themselves. The planet is getting more dangerous with the proliferation of Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles/Ballistic Missiles.

    This is not that hard ladies and gentlemen.

    • Your suggestions would just price the amphibious fleet out of existence. We need to return to using barebones converted merchant ships instead of the current designs that already costs more than a DDG. We put 40,000 men ashore at Incheon and now our entire amphibious fleet struggles to lift 30,000. That’s just not a meaningful capability against even a mid-sized nation.

      • Curtis Conway

        The Common Amphibious Combat System Upgrade Package is comprised of bits and pieces of things that already exist in other platforms as part of a greater aggregate structure, so your base premise is out to lunch. The COMBATSS-21 CIC will most likely look exactly like that going on FFG(X) whatever that turns out to be. The Mk41 VLS purchased in greater numbers makes them cheaper in a larger buy, and they are purchased as Half-Modules (two four-cell modules put together). The EASR radar will use the same support equipment and be interfaced to the same COMBATSS-21 CIC system so they can be purchased in quantity too. An MYP contract for CIC suites, Mk41 VLS, and EASR radar and support equipment will actually save us money over time if purchased with the Block Buys over the next decade. Guarantee a lot of jobs. Great for the economy, and the parts are ready to go on the LPD Flt I hulls as they come back for yard periods, or included in the new builds (LPD Flt II), and included in FFG(X). No, this will buy us a lot of firepower in the short term, and integrate our F-35s into amphibious forces and their new Escort very quickly, and provide us a platform for DDG-51 Flt I replacement in a decade plus.

        • Duane

          You’re right about all of that. The only real difference from talk – rather than actual plans a few years ago about putting VLS on amphibs, is that the talk got cancelled due to VLS cost (in dollars and hull volume), actual need (not needing large BM defense missiles or long range land attack missiles), and the ready availability of several fine anti ship missiles easily launched from deck canisters – including NSM, LRASM, and shortly an updated Harpoon Block IIER. None of those require VLS.

    • Michael Hoskins, Privileged

      Then develop a bottom-up reload capability for VLS….

      • Curtis Conway

        Now THAT would be expensive.

    • Rocco

      Maybe this is why as a reduced escort experiment to equip all ships to fend for themselves with minimal escorts!

      • Curtis Conway

        Didn’t solve the Frigate Problem the LCS created, it just waters it down a bit. We still need a multi-warfare capable frigate that can steam ISE for fewer dollars going where ever, including the Arctic. Also, remember our primary premise for upgrading our surface combatants in the first place. Why did the CNO say ‘every ship is a shooter’? It’s because the Modern Battle-Space with all those ASCMs coming at you in gaggles must be dealt with, and the DDG/CGs are going to run out of missiles quick . . . so . . . you just want to watch your destruction fly at you and kill you?

        • Rocco

          You don’t get my point! Just saying this because the Navy will take a short cut if all ships could in some way not be defenceless especially unescorted! Example the escorts were taken out by a sub or anti ship missile!, Hypothetically speaking! Lol. I seriously don’t think the FFGX will happen. no matter something else would have to be cut short. Buy 2 new Ford Class carriers December 31 was stupid! Even if it keeps the yard going. For now anyway until the systems work the bugs out. In the meantime 3:big deck Amphibious element ships could of been built! We know they work! We need 20! They don’t take up alot off room. 10 on each cost!

          • Curtis Conway

            Well, you know my mind on your carrier plan. However, we do have CVNs that will timeout on the reactors and must be replaced, and I don’t want us to fall below 10. If more large deck amphibious aviation platforms are to be, they can displace (and grow a bit) the amphibious forces afloat. THAT buys us a lot of versatility and flexibility. Just the other day we had four ARG/ESGs out and two CSGs out in different areas, and they were doing fine meeting the need. Greater F-35 (any flavor) presence with COMBATSS-21 on the surface combatants is where the synergism exist. Need to get that capability out faster. FFG(X) is the ticket, and it can meet the Arctic requirement everyone denies exist only because they choose to be blind. Ice-hardened vessel don’t just steam in the Arctic, but non-ice-hardened ships cannot go steam in ice. Plan for the worse, and hope for the best.

          • Rocco

            Copy that sir I’m with you + 10 more on the Big decks! Can build 3 well equipped America class air only centric ships for the price of one Ford Class none deployable carrier!
            I’m assuming a well deck ship cost more?

          • Curtis Conway

            I think your right.

          • Duane

            Every surface warship is vulnerable if operating independently in contested waters, even the vaunted CGs and DDG-51s, according to Admiral Greenert in sworn testimony to Congress back in 2013. He made it plain in his testimony that all surface warships have to aggregate together to survive mass ASCM attacks.

            The only warship totally survivable in contested waters is an SSN or an SSBN.

        • Duane

          LCS didn’t “create any problems”. It solved a problem of lacking littoral warships, and now we have a growing fleet of the world’s most capable and lethal littoral warships.

          FFGX addresses a different problem – lack of long range small ASW and air defense escorts. A problem the Navy thought they left behind by the early 2000s, but by the mid-2010s, with the rise of the Chinese and Russian fleets, discovered they still needed to address.

          Distributed lethality and networked naval warfare are also responses to the growth of the Chinese (especially) and Russian naval threats. Rocco’s comments about independent ops is part of networked warfare, however, it must also be recognized that there really is no good defense against vast swarms of Chinese long range ASCMs launched from their own soil, and long range aircraft, and ships and subs.

          The Navy has to solve that problem – that of defending against 1,000 missile ASCM swarms on a CSG – or simply forget about having a surface fleet at all. That is the great challenge of the next decade.

          • Rocco

            My problem with small LCS is getting them to littoral areas with tanker gas stations needing to follow which leaves them a sitting duck!!

          • Duane

            LCS have plenty of range to operate in the littorals – which means, by the way, close to shore. Their shallow draft allows LCS to access literally thousands of ports that deep draft bluewater ships cannot access. Virtually any kind of kerosene-based fuel works in LCS. So they are never far from the “gas station”.

            By the way, the Indy variant actually has longer range than the OHP frigates did.

          • “The world’s most capable and lethal littoral warships?” Please explain how these mostly unarmed ships are lethal? They have a very small caliber deck gun and no native missile firing capability. The program was a failure from the get-go.
            Where are all of the promised mission modules? Now, instead of being a multi-mission, deployment-interchangeable modules and teams, each ship is going to be assigned a warfare area specialty for deployment.
            FF(X) should solve this problem. The LCS’s should be used for all of the same missions the Perry’s were conducting at the end of their lives: Counter-drug OPS, flag-waving OPS, and presence OPS.

          • Duane

            You obviously are ignorant of the arms and systems, both offensive and defensive, of LCS. No other littoral warship on the planet has anywhere near the capabilities and lethality of LCS.

          • Well, as a retired SWO, I can speak with some authority on this. The ship is non-deployable for multiple reasons (engineering related for the most part).
            Unless you’re using the ship to ram into other ships, explain how they’re lethal.
            If you’re talking about crew-served weapons and small arms, then maybe.

          • Duane

            Totally deployable, so you’re wrong right off the bat. Three LCC wiil deploy later this Fiscal Year, and one more (four total) immediately after Sep 30. Three others have already deployed successfully in prior years.

            You’re ignoring the total suite of offensive and defensive weapons and sensors and combat management systems for SuW and ASW. C’mon, it is 2019, not 2008 any more.

          • Curtis Conway

            The LCS are going to get to stop the missiles one time. They are NOT AAW ships like the FFG-7 was, though they wish they were. The amphibs with their EASR radar and Mk41 VLS will be superior in track volume and fire control capability to the FFG(X) with the plans in vogue now (3-array face, 3-RMA SPY-6). That is a real kick in the gut for the combat boys on that little surface combatant.

          • Duane

            11 shot SeaRAM is plenty for own ship’s defense of LCS, augmented with the 57mm gun which is first and foremost an anti-aircraft gun with precision guided munitions.

            The deeper magazines on the ABs and Ticos is for defense of other ships, mainly CVNs, the main reason for being of the big air and missile defense ships. FFGX with 32 cells is OK for protecting lower value targets, like amphibs or auxiliaries, but cannot defend a CVN.

    • DaSaint

      I don’t get it either. It doesn’t cost that much per vessel to add at least 16 VLS, packed with 64 VL ESSM or maybe 8 SM-2 and 32 ESSM.
      I know resources are scarce. I get that. But honestly, make some hard decisions. How much would this cost per ship, $30M? Ok, so for about $400M we could equip all San Antonio class?

      • Duane

        VLS are expensive and take out valuable hull volume., and are sized large to accommodate missiles that amphibs will never need to deploy – i.e., large ballistic missile interceptors and long range land attack missiles.

        Instead the Navy is putting much cheaper canister deck launchers on the amphibs, which do not impinge on interior hull volume, and accommodate all of our anti-cruise missile interceptors like SeaRAM and ESSM, and all of our anti-ship missiles like NSM and LRASM and Harpoon. The deck launchers can literally be bolted on to any exposed deck surface as a retrofit, unlike VLS.

        The new amphibs otherwise are well equipped with EASR, COMBATTS-21, and networking gear to support NIFCCA and CES.

      • Curtis Conway

        Talking about more ‘Bang for the Buck ($$) Faster’, AND it folds in F-35 integration so every platform can now play getting real-time info and participate in engagement with a 5th Gen aircraft. Do these people want to WIN or LOOSE?! THIS should not be a ‘decision’, but a PRIORITY! I’m with N95 General Coffman.

        Not getting this equation is a fundamental lack of understanding of the issues at hand.

        • There’s a term for this insistence that every ship be outfitted for every threat: tree housing. Just like young lads hanging a “no girls allowed” sign outside their tree fort, each sailor or veteran or wannabe looks at a vessel and then imagines crewing and defending it – alone – with no supporting fleet. It’s only natural they want it armed to the teeth. This is not power projection, it’s ‘bunkering’. Neighbors down the street are not intimidated by a tree house. It suggests ‘the vessel is the purpose of the vessel.’ Recruiting brochures glamorize this with a solitary destroyer against a dusk sky and sea state zero.

          Tree housing our amphibs only robs them of the vital square footage by which they project power. More shooting weapons supplant space for force projection. (Even the LPD-17 VLS ghost space is currently occupied; there’s no “reserved” sign guarding a rat colony.) Air defense C2 supplants more space, as do the technicians, maintainers, operators, their berthing, feeding, etc. (and we haven’t even gotten into anti-sub, true?). Lose a Marine for each Sailor that’s added and never goes ashore. Lose a dozen Marines for each anti-sub chopper. It’s a non-starter.

          One gets the feeling that the word “escort” is somehow insulting to the surface warfare community. Current Expeditionary Strike Group doctrine establishes this escort requirement with dedicated shooters safely outside the Marine air flight pattern. It’s already done. It works. It’s ‘installed’ while VLS is not. Yet, it’s as if this call for displacing the amphibious force on amphibs is to allow surface combatants to shed the dreaded ‘E-word’, sail off into the sunset for that brochure photo, and continue the daydream that ‘the purpose of the vessel is the vessel.’ For the last 60 years – and the next 60 – the amphibs will ‘phib it’ and escorts will escort.

          • Curtis Conway

            Seen this comment before. This has nothing to do with Tree Housing. This has to do with NOT STICKING TO THE PLAN IN THE FIRST PLACE. The modern Battle-Space is getting more dangerous by the day in ASCM/Ballistic Missile threats. Intelligence threat assessments of the past have predicted it, and recent experience has proved it in the Arabian Sea. The locations for installation were already determined, and not installed.

            The AN/SPS-48 3D air search radar is already on board and this is the upgrade target to Enterprise Air Search Radar (EASR) you just can’t see it because it’s covered.

            You really worked hard on that ‘Escort’ argument, but defending against sea skimming ASCMs, particularly of the supersonic type cruising at 50’ off the water may, or may not, be engageable by the ‘Escort’ based on its location w/r/t the protected vessel. A defense in depth is best, so preventing the launch by a parent platform via identification and Proactive Engagement is our goal.

            The primary issue is defense in Independent Steaming Exercise situations, and defense of the formation in a dense engagement environments where missile magazines are emptied quickly on the CG/DDG platforms.

            Amphibious vessels tasked independently in a disaggregated situation occurs often these days, and has happened more than once in recent HiStory. There is no ‘Escort’. What do you do then?

            The COMBATSS-21 Combat System is a derivative of the Baseline 9 systems being installed in upgraded Cruisers, DDG-51s, and installed on some LCS, is an Open System Architecture design, and will have a potential NIFC-CA capability so participating in engagements is more than just a possibility. The largest improvement is integration of the F-35 Combat System. If one is in Line of Sight, you benefit from that information in real time. For the Marines on the beach this is more than just the Synergistic Effect in the Amphibious Theater. This can increase situational awareness exponentially in many scenarios.

            In the end analysis, it is tough to accomplish ‘the vessel is the purpose of the vessel’ when your burning and sinking. The solution to that problem was in the original design, and truncated as a cost saving measure so we could build the ships. Well, the ships are out. Time to equip them the way they were designed. The LPD Flt IIs should use exactly the same equipment set. Make it common with the FFG(X).

          • Well, it would seem ‘working hard’ is for those who lost the argument 15+ years ago with Flight-I, and apparently won’t get their way again with Flight-II. Explaining why these decisions were made has been relatively easy: Appropriators don’t want cost escalation to jeopardize their shipyard’s contracts; combatant commanders prioritized 38 amphib hulls; Marine aviation has an issue with close-quarters missile ops, and; the escorted ESG concept is working. But I respect your sincere wish to safeguard the fleet.

          • Curtis Conway

            The CNO did not lose the argument. He has stated a truth since then. Evidently, neither you, or those of your mindset can see it (the truth), and it’s a shame you will not have to ride into combat without the ability to survive in the Modern Battle-Space.

          • Secundius

            I suspect that “Tree Housing” is a Metaphorical Meaning to something either discussed or yet to be discussed…

          • Duane

            Yup – same mentality applies to all those people who want a 3/4 sized (and 3/4 costed) Arleigh Burke for a small surface combatant, but only having 1/3 the firepower and none of the air and missile defense capabilities of AEGIS .. and expect to get it for $800M. Not with a 6,000 ton ship.

            No. Can. Do.

            You want a reasonably capable small surface combatant for under $800M? Then keep it down to no more than 4,000 tons. Otherwise you’re headed for the mid 1 Bs.

      • A Mk 41 VLS costs about $500k per cell – but that’s the cheap part. Installing the necessary sensors and computers to actually use the weapons in the VLS will be far more expensive. The SSDS (RAM only) on an LPD is $10-15m. The SSDS on an LHA/CVN (RAM and ESSM) is $25-30m. Aegis (and you will need something similar for SM-2) is $130m. Upgrading from SPS-48 to EASR is $40m. If you want offensive missiles then Tomahawk adds another $10-15m.

        And all of this doesn’t include the installation and integration costs and buying the extra missiles to fill those cells will also cost roughly $1m each. All said and done, just adding your baseline 16 cells for ESSM would probably end up costing no less than $100m per ship and would add no new offensive capability to the fleet.

        But the costs don’t end there since you now need extra crew to operate and maintain those new weapons and sensors. Now the direct cost of a single sailor is roughly $100k annually. Say the new systems add 10 people. Over the 30 year lifetime of a ship that is an extra $30m and probably at least that again in indirect costs.

        Finally the new systems will need space and weight for the new crew, weapons, and sensors, and this can only at the expense of the amphibious capability of the ships.

        • Curtis Conway

          “…$100m per ship and would add no new offensive capability to the fleet.” Offensive capability is a Red Herring argument. We are talking about survival in the Modern ASCM/BMD Battle-Space against a peer . . . or, ISE Steaming conducting ‘any operations assigned anywhere’ on the planet, which we ask our platforms to do quite often. The ASCM/BMD threat grows by the day, and you just want to kill our sailors when the time comes, because they cannot defend themselves. LCS mindset in the amphibious world. Don’t think that is what the CNO had in mind when he said ‘every ship a shooter’. Context MAN Context . . . stay on target.

          • So, when do we start adding EASR and ESSM to all the T-AKE’s and T-AO’s? Or even the T-ATF’s since they will also be needed in any major fight? And why stop there, submarines are just as dangerous as missiles so why shouldn’t we be putting SQQ-89 and VLA on them as well? Billion dollar tugboats here we come!

            The fact is that it is unnecessary and unaffordable to have first rate defensive systems on everything that floats and continuing to down that road will result in a fleet far too small to do anything (if we haven’t already reached that point with our amphibs).

          • Rocco

            Last paragraph: it would make you feel better if you served on the ship & it had firepower!

          • Curtis Conway

            I’m all for it on the Fast Replenishment ships, but USNS ships provide a whole new set of issues. These are the guys that get Escorts anyway, if needed.

        • USNVO

          The Danes bought 96 MK41 Cells for over $200m. Now that is FMS (free according to the people who think the Danish Frigates were under $400m but I digress) but it shows the expense. And regardless of the number of cells, the requirements for radars, control systems, sattelite communications links, etc cost the same). in 2001 AEGIS was widely listed as costing over $235m a pop, can’t be much cheaper today so $100m for an updated SSDS can’t be to far off. Shoot, just missiles to put in the launchers for 13 ships are close to $2B. And that doesn’t even get into how much design work and industrial yard periods cost!

          And 10 people per ship is laughable if you actually want to man the weapons in wartime. Figure 4-5 people to operate and maintain the VLS, 2-3 additional OSs on watch, 3-4 additional FCs to man the weapons and the fire control systems in Combat, and probably an additional Officer as well since the span of control of the TAO just went way up. So probably 20 Sailors and 2 Officers minimum over and above what they currently have. Figure 260 Sailors and 26 officers (or maybe 13 officers and 13 CPOs) total. Not that many dollar wise but you have to figure out who loses those people because there is no topline relief.

          And what do you want to take off the ship to accommodate the above? How many additional exercises do you have to add to maintain proficiency? How many weapons firings per year?

          There is no free lunch or magical ferry dust except on Internet posts.

          • Secundius

            As I recall, the Danish Mk.41’s are containerized in StanFLEX Modules or Lego Modules. So they can be easily swapped out, for faster turnaround time deployments…

          • USNVO

            No, while StanFLEX modules were incorporated in the design, the Mk41 is a normal Mk41 launcher with a 4 X 8 cell module arrangement. Same as the MK-41 found on the forward end of a DDG-51.

          • Secundius

            First Paragraph, third sentence under “Description”…

            ( https : // en . m . wikipedia . org / wiki/Iver_Huitfeldt-class_frigate )

          • USNVO

            And this is why you can’t trust Wikipedia unconditionally. Editing mistake, they meant to say the Mk141 Harpoon Quad launcher, read the rest of the entry and it is clear what they are talking about.

          • Secundius

            Where specifically does it mention the use of Mk.141 Quad Launchers! Second to the last sentence reads:

            “The Mk 41 Vertical Launch System is used to house and launch these missiles. Depending on the number of [Harpoon Launchers] installed, up to [48 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile] and [32 SM-2 IIIA] may be carried.”

            Nowhere in that sentencing does it mention Mk.141 Launchers…

          • USNVO

            It doesn’t say Mk141 anywhere, especially not when talking about the Mk41 VLS. Try this, don’t read the first paragraph and read the rest of the article. How many MK41 VLS cells are there on the ship.

            Note that your quote says up to 32 SM 2 Blk IIIa and 48 ESSM can be carried depending on how many harpoon launchers are carried. How can you carry 32 SM-2 anywhere but in the VLS cells? And if 32 are carried, how do you carry more ESSM? SM-2 don’t fit in a StanFLex spot. For missiles a StanFlex module can carry either a mk141 Harpoon launcher or a 12 cell MK56 VLS, hence why you can have up to 16 harpoon or 48 ESSM.

            But don’t believe me, check out any of the other sites that has it correct.

          • Secundius

            The Danes don’t use the Mk.141, they use the Swedish Mk.III Launcher. Which is similar to the “Patriot” Missile Launcher and can be Elevated or Lowered in a special box which hides it’s outlines to prying eyes…

          • USNVO

            Do you just make stuff up?

            Try this, go to the Wikipedia entry for StanFLex. Look for the one that has SSM as its mission. See what it says.

          • All the prices I gave are from the FY19 budget.

      • Curtis Conway

        Every quote of a ‘cost for this’ or ‘price of that’ is from a specific context. There are cost savings from buying in quantity, and a carefully scheduled contract can get the optimal cost savings over the shortest/longest period of time. Logistical life-time support cost much more over the life of any program over procurement even of our largest items. A Land Based Test Site is how you mitigate much of this cost. Testing and qualification of items by the manufacturer is required of every element in the combat system, and QA has to be scrupulously accurate, and reliable with random independent testing to verify same. New elements must prove themselves at the LBTS before they are authorized for addition to the configuration, then everybody gets it. Keep it simple so we don’t own the last “S” (be Stupid). Qualification tests . . . Operational tests . . . Stress Tests are all required. The more hours on the test, the more solid the item. We used to reload the combat system at the beginning of every watch on CG-26 in the early days with UYK-7s. When I left in ’82 we could go for over a day and still maintain stability. Similar examples in Aegis, and now it is quite stable. the LBTS for the Common Amphibious Combat System Upgrade Package and the FFG(X) could very well be the same site with different levels (computer rooms), or opposing bridges on opposite sides of the top floor of the building for the bridge types (think Arctic capable frigate bridge faces North, and the amphibious bridge faces south, and we put this monster on the coast of Maine). The Common CIC is exactly that. One may have an extra console or two, but that would be the only differences. The Command & Decision would interface with the maximum number of consoles on any platform, and simply be active or not in every implementation/installation. One may have a larger Mk41 VLS installation, and that is adaptation data in a register file in the Fire Control System. Track stores and displays should be maximum capable for everyone, and filters handle the throughput and display. This is not that hard folks, and times 20 Frigates plus 20+ LPD-17 Fly I&IIs can command quite a buying block advantage in price point. The fun job will be managing the LBTS.

    • Certainly the growing anti-ship missile threat (including from non-state actors) is prompting ideas about up-gunning the amphibious fleet. But I’m convinced there are political, cultural and parochial factors that temper this.

      Political: Shipyard congressional delegations now feel the belt-tightening from years of sequestered budgets, plus the sting from recent flops like the Zumwalt DDG cost overruns and cancellation and the Ford CVN program delays. The political emphasis now is to lock down focused and reliable designs that guarantee shipyard production runs of 15+ years. The LPD-17s and Virginia SSNs have set the example here. Up-gunning amphibs risks a Zumwalt ‘virus’.

      Cultural: The Marines and joint combatant commands have been struggling for decades to reach a count of 38 large hull amphibious vessels (two brigade capacity). The settled answer is to build on the cheap by emphasizing sea lift and deck space over armaments, complexity and their inherent costs. Up-gunning costs won’t get us to 38 boats.

      Parochial: Amphibs are primarily aviation platforms with busy flight patterns and scores of personnel on deck, all of which are incompatible with missile launches. DDGs, CGs and FFGs have a few helos, but suspending a helo landing until a missile’s smoke clears is no issue for them, and safety dictates that no personnel are topside during missile ops. For such obvious reasons, the expeditionary and projection communities prefer that escorts be the dedicated ‘shooters’ from outside the flight pattern. Thus amphibs, like CVNs, are likely to remain lightly armed.

      • Bubblehead

        That does not jive with USN Distributed Warfare plan at all. Every ship is a shooter, remember? Has to be for it to work. Wheeling a HIMARS isn’t going to cut it either.

        • Does Distributed Warfare call for installing Mk 41 on the CVN’s too? Just like the carriers, amphibs already have a vital warfare role and putting lots of missiles on them would hinder it. Unless we decide that we no longer really want to maintain a robust amphibious capability, making amphibs “shooters” is counterproductive.

          • Bubblehead

            You don’t have to have a VLS to use Distributed Warfare. CVN’s use the long legs of their jets to distribute their firepower. Most everything else will use VLS. LCS will use their 10 mile range SEARAM (see I can be facetious too).

          • So why can’t the amphibs consider their embarked Marines their primary weapon, just as they have since WWII?

          • USNVO

            Because that isn’t cool enough. Really, this is all old hat. People should read up on everything that was said about LPD-17 when it was in development. I kept expecting someone to say, “If we could just get rid of those pesky Marines, we could really have a warship here!” Then common sense returned. As they say, “No Bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

          • Rocco

            That’s the dumbass answer only Duane would say but you topped him!!!

          • Curtis Conway

            Line them up on deck with their rifles/crew service weapons? Probably won’t be time for that.

          • Curtis Conway

            As has already been stated several times, EVERY amphib and aviation platform ALREADY HAS missile launchers on board, they are just directional launchers. Conversion to, or enhancements by Mk41 VLS just changes the direction of launch at the beginning of the launch of existing defensive systems. Just don’t want to be above them when things start happening, and everyone of them has a light and claxon. The only one who will not see it/hear it will be hovering over it . . . so DON’T GO THERE! That provision/prohibition will fall in the purview of the SORM and training/familiarization.

      • Curtis Conway

        “Up-gunning amphibs risks a Zumwalt ‘virus’.”
        This is most likely a ‘False Assumption’. The configuration is going to be common, mature, purchased in quantity (i.e., efficiently), and the installation and operational learning curves will go vertical very quickly with each installation in the LPD-17 Flt I, planning and installation in LPD Flt II, and FFG(X). A single training device for the LPDs & FFG(X) could be used for training for the core system elements which are the same (COMBATSS-21, Mk41 VLS, SPY-6 variat radar). From a training, operational, maintenance, life-time logistical support, and acquisitional point of view, this is a win-win-win-win-win program . . . AND THAT is probably why they won’t do it. This rapidly slides the F-35 synergistically into every formation where this system is present.

        Remember where this COMBATSS-21 backplane and code came from, and what platforms will already employ that capability?! Don’t want an LPD, FFG to be able to conduct a mission like a CG/DDG, just not have as many rounds? Really!?!?!?! Then you send them ISE to where, in this modern dangerous Battle-space that gets more dangerous by the DAY? Come on people . . . think-Think-THINK! Then show some backbone and leadership!

        • “COMBATSS-21, Mk41 VLS, SPY-6”

          That all sounds great. I just didn’t see the part about how these systems will – in just 5 seconds – evacuate a hundred personnel from the busy flight deck of a LHD or LPD. Or clear out a flight pattern of a dozen USMC aircraft and guarantee none will be struck. Or decide for a CH-53 pilot what to do with a howitzer artillery piece sling loaded just feet off the deck as missile smoke envelops his chopper and blinding his view of the ship’s superstructure, mast and cranes. This is why Expeditionary Strike Groups are escorted by dedicated surface combatants.

          • While I’m in general agreement with your argument, I think you are overstating this point. Amphibs and carriers already carry substantial defensive missile armaments, and it wouldn’t take much planning to coordinate offensive missile launches and air operations. Would making amphibs front line missile shooter be suboptimal? Yes. Would it be impossible? No.

          • Curtis Conway

            I’m not in agreement with making every amphib a ‘front line missile shooter’. The only time this is in vogue is when they are in defensive mode for something missed by everyone else, or a fire mission assigned by Command, or they are ISE in which case they are all of the above, and its self defense regardless of type of engagement.

          • Curtis Conway

            All of those operations require an intelligent location of the Mk41 VLS (as far forward as possible). During flight operations we already know where the smoke is going to go, and flight operations and missile engagements do not mix well. However, let us look at the alternative… . . The pilot deals with some smoke and the platforms stays intact . . . or . . . his/her landing platform explodes under them. You get to picture. Obviously flight operations should be curtailed to the extent possible when conducting missile engagements. The Big Smoke comes mostly from Standard Missiles. That is a long range engagement and easier to plan for. The ESSM smoke is significantly less. That is why ESSM replaced (or is replacing) NATO Sea Sparrow around the aviation platforms.

            Many of these vessels, if not all, already have a Mk29 launcher on board. You are making the argument against even them being present?! That capability will be enhanced. As for the CIC sorting out all the activities on deck . . . that is a fundamental lack of understanding of what is actually happening in CIC, although I would very much like to add greater use of EO/IR and visual aids around the ship for CIC & Command.

          • Rocco

            Seriously!! Only in movies does that occur!!

          • Yes, only in movies…and the USN’s N95 conference room… and joint command conference rooms… and among shipyard congressional delegations… and Marine Air Wing conference rooms. Interesting how these decision makers seem to have figured it out while the blogosphere demands its favorite bells and whistles.

      • Curtis Conway

        “The settled answer is to build on the cheap by emphasizing sea lift and deck space over armaments, complexity and their inherent costs.” . . . Huummm . . .
        Another though…we once built a whole bunch of DD963 Spruance Class Destroyers. Beautiful ships, lots of power, plenty of room, worked great and could last a long time, and that hull eventually turned into the CG-47 Aegis Cruisers by putting tons of lead in the Keel, and adding 3,600 tons of displacement to the hull.
        Getting new construction to sea is one thing, and making them truly relevant is combat is something else, and that target keeps moving. Improvise, adapt and overcome! You don’t just build a new ship every time something changes, and the world is changing constantly. Versatility, flexibility, and viability are required for every hull. The F-35 (any flavor) combat system is our current ace in the hole. Anywhere that the F-35 Combat System can be linked to the force, the synergistic affect will occur, and greater advantage exist. Understanding of the F-35 is taking on a whole new light. Now if EMCON was truly understood, and more capable EO/IR and Passive systems were aboard every US Navy Surface Combatant……

        • Rocco

          Amen! Tell that to cell phone companies! Within a year your phone is slow & obsolete!

    • Duane

      Amphibs will get canister deck launchers capable of launching both defensive interceptors and anti-ship missiles. VLS is unneeded and expensive overkill for what amphibs are actually tasked to do, which does NOT include missile defense for CVNs or long range land attack.

      • Rocco

        They already have sea ram!!

        • Duane


    • Da Facts

      Not at the cost of not having ships at all. Every ship a shooter is a very expensive proposition that just won’t be funded. Yes, it would be nice to have 600 CVNCGX whiz bangs, but that path leads to a couple big ships no one will be able to afford. Its not just a matter of slapping some VLS cells on a ship. They also need support equipment, radars, control systems, missile techs , fire control techs, expanded CIC’s and all the other stuff with them. Far better to give Amphibs self protection capabilities and actually be able to afford some escort vessels.

      • Curtis Conway

        Hyperbolic comments like “600 CVNCGX whiz bangs” . . . is beneath you. No one is asking for that. The Baseline 9+ Combat System is already developed, and equipment set defined (CG/DDG upgrades). A little code work and test is what is required. Keep them as common as possible, and reign in the configuration management task with an Iron Hand. No changes unless necessary, and it will go on everything, not just a specific platform. ‘Block Buys’ of equipment we are ALREADY BUYING is more efficient in procurement . . . not less. New construction inclusion up front (FFG(X) & LPD Flt II) is more efficient, and ‘yard periods’ for the LPD-17 Flt I’s are going to happen anyway, so why not retrofit less expensive and more capable equipment (via MYP Block Buys). As far as all the support equipment and personnel, those Divisions already exist on these ships, and will grow a bit.

        • Rocco


  • Bubblehead

    I cant figure out why USN just start buying vulcano rounds for 5 inch & 155mm guns and be done with it. It could be in the fleet very quickly and the added capability is huge.

    • Carney3

      Because they don’t work.

    • Secundius

      Leonardo “Volcano” WILL fit the Rifling of ALL 155mm NATO Howitzer Designs, but not the 155mm AGS. Rifling of the AGS is an 1861 design for a Rifled Smoothbore Musket called the Whitney-Plymouth Model 1861 Navy Musket. And was also used for the 152mm Gun used for the M551 “Sheridan” Airborne Light Tank. Both Weapon System share one thing in common, they both required Specialized Ammunition in order too operate…

      • Bubblehead

        Barrels don’t last forever. They are designed to be replaced. The barrel rifling could easily be changed. If LM designed the handling system for only those/their exact rounds that would be a travesty. Typical LM fleecing of the taxpayers and military.

        • Secundius

          Which would also mean replacing the Guns Breech. Because the “AGSs” Gun Breech won’t handle (i.e. fire) standard 155mm NATO Ammunition…

        • LRLAP is over 7 feet long, a standard 155mm shell is less than 3 feet long – how could you design an automated system that handles both without vastly increasing complexity and cost?

    • Duane

      Vulcano is incapable of engaging moving targets (it is GPS guided), making it useless against ships.

      ALAMO and ORKA for the 57mm – easily adaptable to larger guns like the 5 in – are both bi-modal precision guided rounds fully capable of engaging moving targets under all weather conditions using laser-designators and imaging IR.

      • waveshaper1

        “Precision guided rounds fully capable of engaging moving targets under all weather conditions using laser-designators”?

        I don’t believe this is true, unless something has drastically changed in the last 10 years or so? IR works great in most weather conditions but in my 27 years of supporting just about every IR designated targeted weapon system under the sun “Laser-Designators” have or had serious limitations in an environment contaminated with foul weather/smoke/dust/etc.

        Example; The effects of smoke, dust, and debris can impair the use of laser-guided munitions. The reflective scattering of laser light by smoke particles may present false targets. Rain, snow, fog, and low clouds can prevent effective use of laser-guided munitions. Heavy precipitation can limit the use of laser designators by affecting line-of-sight. Snow on the ground can produce a negative effect on laser-guided munition accuracy. Fog and low clouds will block the laser-guided munition seeker’s field of view which reduces the guidance time. This reduction may affect the probability of hit. Etc, etc, etc.

        • Duane

          The latest IR imaging systems are extremely precise and capable in all weather operations, and do not emit RF so are not susceptible to jamming or homing counterfires.

          • waveshaper1

            I completely agree about the IR guided ordnance, heck they were even pretty dang precise “in bad weather conditions” even way back in the day. That being said, my question/doubts were completely about these new fancy laser guided rounds being fully capable of engaging moving targets under “All Weather Conditions Using Laser-Designators”.

          • Duane

            That’s why the ALAMO and ORKA rounds are bi-modal, with lasers being fine in non-fog and not too smoky conditions, with IR imaging for foggy/smoky conditions .. thus making the round all weather.

        • Curtis Conway

          e.g., IR and MMW.

          • Secundius

            You may be happy to here that the USMC “Might” be getting a New Gun Truck! An Oshkosh M1083 6×6 5-ton Truck with American General “Brutus” Low Recoil 155mm Low Recoil Lightweight M777 Howitzer. Currently being Field Tested by the US Army. Could be used in the Shore Bombardment Role, by Driving Gun Carriage Truck on to Flight Deck. Of “Wasp/America/San Antonio/Spearhead” Gator-Freighters

            ( https : // defense – blog . com / wp-content/uploads/2018/11/44959257_1015676160480987_3757400689492361216_n.jpg )

      • Ed L

        in shooting at another moving target at sea we never aimed were the target was but were it was going to be. kentucky windage more or less. On the old twin 3″ 50′ we would also practice surface shoots using the AA operator (left side of the mount) Depending on the sailor on the control we usually got an equal number of hits compare to the right side.

        • Duane

          For manually aimed guns that’s all that you can do. But the entire point of precision guided weapons is to provide certainty in guiding the round to its target. For a stationary land target, GPS guidance is OK. But for moving targets at sea you have to use on board sensing and targeting within the projectile, or an off-projectile laser designator. ALAMO and ORKA provide that, and Vulcano does not provide that.

  • If the newest LHDs and LPDs are the swords and machetes of amphibious warfare, then the LSD-Whidbey Island class is the Swiss Army knife offering lots of vital utility. It hauls four LCACs while the flood-able space in an LPD-17 can only handle two. Combined with crane systems, these LSDs are uniquely suited for disaster assistance, salvage and other no-notice missions.

    But since they’re more suited to low-tech heavy lifting than C4 or aviation, I can understand Gen. Coffman’s preference that they miss out on upgrades to focus on being ready workhorses.

    • Curtis Conway

      (https : // www . youtube . com/watch?v=Hl-8DUK0zlg&lc=z22pzpyhcqmcjltnjacdp430fpnav54i4y012zgcbfpw03c010c)

      Listen to all of N95s interview at SNA. He explains everything.

  • Blain Shinno

    Thinking outside the box. What if the Navy shifted the LPD Flight IIA funding to the purchase of more LHA-8s? The Navy/Marines would lose flexibility as you wouldn’t be able to replace the LPDs on a one for one basis – say 1 LHA for every 2 LPDs. LHAs would come with more capacity and a different kind of flexibility – able to embark F-35Bs and serve as a small aircraft carrier. LHAs could sail autonomously or with a single San Antonio Class LPD. You could supplement the ARG with ships from the Military Sea Lift Command.

    Could Installs handle a higher production rate or would another shipbuilder need to be found to compete the buys?

    • Rocco

      Good idea! Except for the Autonomous part!

      • Blain Shinno

        Not without escort. But as a single amphibious assault ship. The assumption would be that you would not replace the Whidbey Island/Harpers Ferry LSDs. That would leave short of San Antonio Class LPDs for some of the LHA/LHDs.

        • Rocco

          Valid points , the Mistral a good example as our LHD/A is pretty much the same only larger. France could even benefit from a ship like ours. The reason we have more LPDs is they can get closer to shores than a big deck Amphibious element ships or LHD.

    • Curtis Conway

      That’s thinking out of the box alright. The N95 shop (Major General Coffman) didn’t even entertain that kind of direction. The current plan is nearly half way across (LPD-17s) the ocean. Want to just stop and go another direction?

    • I have often wondered exactly what the LPD/LSD’s bring to the table that more LHD/LHA’s do not. I really think they are just bureaucratic inertia from the old days of the LPH’s that didn’t have well decks. The French for example have replaced their old LPD’s with an all LHA fleet.

      • Blain Shinno

        The Mistral was the inspiration for my idea. They are smaller than the USN’s LHA/LHDs but are multipurpose platforms. Why not take advantage of the economies of scale and focus on one class.

        The US has 10 multipurpose amphibious assault ships. The Navy will be replacing 12 Whidbey Island LSD’s with the LPD-17 Flight II. What if you could add 6 LHA-8s instead? You would have to make adjustments in the load of the MEU. You could supplement the ARG with contracted transports or ships from the Military Sea Lift Command.

        One issue is that it would require the Marines to provide more resources to be deployed – aviation squadrons and ground forces.

  • Charles Pierce

    It seems to me that the brass are betting upon the success of the F-35B which from my perspective is in serious doubt because of cost and capability. Not that bad ad AA but very bad a CAS.

    • Curtis Conway

      The F-35 combat system provides huge context and perspective to the battle-space in all directions, but further right in front of the jet. The AAW mission is a missile program. The CAS mission is standoff weapons from SDBs to things bigger. I hope that add SEAD to the mission set and provide a new Standard Arm capability in an ESSM package.

      • Charles Pierce

        Sorry but good luck with that propaganda. At $125M a copy the services will never get the number they need. With the internal load they can not provide the CAS needed and when you hang stuff on the outside you lose stealth.

        • Curtis Conway

          Well, concerning the CAS question . . . I think you and I are on the same page. I’m an A-10 Specification Fan, and a fan of the “Warthog”. However, the US Marine Corps does not fly the A-10, not likely to in the future, and still have a significant number of F/A-18 Super Hornets that DO carry all that ordinance, and they ain’t concerned about stealth. When stealth is required, the F-35B DOES carry a significant loadout of SDBs INTERNALLY just for these kinds of missions, and targets that require that Special Attention. They can carry larger bombs internally as well, but the bomb bay is smaller on the “B” so there is a limit. The Super Hornets are getting a facelift and fuel that goes on top, freeing up underneath spaces for other things, and increasing its maneuverability down low. I’m not worried about the Marines and their CAS missions. They will figure it out. It IS a SHAME we don’t have a new OV-10 Bronco for them though. It does so much more than just CAS.

          • Rocco

            Agreed! Even the A-7 was good at CAS!

        • Curtis Conway

          My prediction is before we are said and done here with the F-35B they will be under $100 Million ea. The “A” of which we have bought the most already are under $100 Million, but the “C” is coming along slowly.

          • Charles Pierce

            You have never dealt with the Federal Government Accounting system a toilet seat cost $500 dollars but an aircraft that has a total cost of X and you will get Y ac does not equal $125M dollars a AC.

          • Secundius

            I have! An $500 Toilet Seats also cover the cost of R&D funding of “Black Projects” rarely discussed in Defense Appropriations Bills…

          • Curtis Conway

            You are So Right with ONLY 21+ years Active & Reserve, and during my Reserve time working for PMS400 Aegis Test (5 years), and Later at the B-1B Lancer Simulator System (9+ years) as the lead for Hardware Prototype on the simulator system. You are so Right!

          • Duane

            The costs are the costs.

            The F-35A is already cheaper than any fourth gen plus being sold today, all of which are well over $100M each.

          • Duane

            Yes .. the A will be under $80 M in the next order … the Bs and Cs will be somewhere around $100M, perhaps 90s.

        • RunningBear

          The 353 USMC F-35Bs can carry 15Klbs+ of ordinance on 11 weapons stations.

          The internal SDB IIs can “also” be carried on 4 – BRU-61 external bomb racks (4 bombs ea.) on stations 2,3,9,10 or…. 16 SDB IIs externally. Plus the 8 SDB IIs internally, after “adjustments” and fit testing is completed, for a total of 24 SDB IIs (6Klbs.).

          In light of “all” CAS a/c from B-52 to A-10, does “stealth” really prevent the F-35B from effectively providing 15Klbs+ of CAS?

          The 18 F-35Bs (of 83 total by E.O.Y.) delivering from Lot11/2019 are $115.5M ea.
          Fly Navy

        • Duane

          You don’t need much stealth in CAS .. you need to kill the bad guys and F-35 hauls more badass weaps to the bad guys than A-10, and they are all precision guided.

          • Rocco


      • The F-35 is getting AARGM-ER, which significantly outranges the old Standard ARM.

        • Curtis Conway


    • Duane

      You have no idea what you are talking about. F-35B is vastly superior to A-10s and any other aircraft for CAS. First of all, it survives, which the A-10 cannot in contested airspace. Secondly, the F-35 has vastly better sensors and a built in battle management system for finding and engaging multiple bad guys at one time, which an A-10 cannot do, period. Better weapons on the F-35 too.

      Guns are totally obsolete for CAS – they require the shooter to fly very low and slow, below the clouds, allowing only direct LOS targeting, only good from very short range (less than 2 miles), and cannot provide precision guidance … all of which greatly limits the target sets for the A-10 while also making the A-10 a big fat juicy target for SAMs.

      The Marines are madly in love with their F-35Bs, they never ever wanted A-10s, and are quite glad to replace their Harriers and Hornets with the F-35B.

  • Brent Leatherman

    Having served on three LSD’s of three different classes, I have to agree with a point made in the article: We were *really* good at hauling a lot of stuff.