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October 12, 2006

Climb Mount Suribachi


My favourite part of this 50mb DD(X) corporate promo video is the bald eagle in the DD(X) badge. Stern, even slightly pissed off, he is an eagle not to be trifled with. There are some who wonder if multi-billion dollar big-ship, big-gun defense acquisitions are a sensible investment in an era of asymmetric warfare. These same folks rarely pause to wonder just why our enemies have had to resort to asymmetric warfare in the first place. By all means, let us continue to limit their options. After all, you do not cancel your fire insurance because your basement has flooded. That said, the second comment to this Defense Tech post makes an excellent case for recommissioning all four United States Iowa-class battleships.

The Navy Admirals/Defense Contractors strike again. Betting on the DDX Destroyers with their paper thin plating, 5 inch guns, slow speeed. I believe the cost of one round is $1,000,000 each. Their stealth capabilities are useless now since China, Austraila, France, etc. have bought the next generation of radar. These ships cannot be reloaded from the sea they have to go back to a base to be reloaded. In addition, the first ship will not be ready until 2010.

The Battleships not just two of them but all four of them need to be recommissioned. Yes, these ships are 60 years old but what about the B-52 Bombers. Aren't they over 50 years old? They are still in service and keep on getting upgraded. Why not the Battleships? The Battleships were designed to go toe to toe with the Japanese 18" guns and survive. During WWII, the Battleship USS Carolina (smaller battleship than the Iowa Class) took a torpedo hit from a Japanese sub. The Carolina was not damaged and continued the fight. This torpedo was load with 2,000 pounds of TNT, almost the same amount used on the USS Cole. The Cole almost sunk. Currently, there is nothing out their as far as the anti ship missles that would put a scratch in the Iowa Class Battleships. In 1968, the military already had tested rounds fired from the 16" guns that had a range of 100 miles. These ships are fast. They can do up to 35 knots. They can refuel other ships. They have the facilities to serve as a hospital. They have served as an additional air traffic controllers. These ships can hold a ton of supplies. They could sustain shore bombardment for a week/s where the DDX (approximately 20 DDXs would be needed to equal the firepower of one Battleship) and in two to three days would have to leave to get resupplied. The history of the ships prove how valuable they have been in the US war efforts.

Which brings me to my suggestion for bringing down the cost of those Queen Elizabeth-class future aircraft carriers on their way to the Royal Navy. Let Canada follow the French lead and buy one for ourselves. I expect the Australians could use one too.

Yum yum yum Update: Here's a tip: Aim for the nerve-stem and put it down for good.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at October 12, 2006 09:07 AM


I believe he refers to the USS North Carolina, "the Showboat".

Posted by: The_Campblog [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 11:18 AM

I'm not adverse to big-ticket capital purchases but the DD(X) program appears to be a bit of a step backwards in terms of capability.

Even the present-day DDGs (Arleigh Burke class) offer 96 VLS cells versus 80 on the DD(X), and a similar 155mm gun. It wouldn't take much to refit the DD(X) 155mm AGS into a present-day DDG-51 (Flight I or II) hull, along with any upgraded sensors and fire control systems it may require.

The biggest advantage of the DD(X) is that the crew requirement is more than halved, and headcount is always expensive. For that reason alone they should probably build a few, just to see how well a highly-automated warship with minimal crew performs.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 11:52 AM

Presumably stealth is the biggest factor the DD(X) claims to offer (aside from that eagle). In the long term, I agree the automation is the best advertisement for notion. That said, having been in on the UK end of what that RAND-inspired reduced-crew complement ball rolling, I have to say I am profoundly suspicious of the system's capability in a combat situation. The DD(X)'s integrated power-system sounds cool but if monkey-wrenched by, say, being hit by something all those fire-control robots might be out of juice and the ship out of luck.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 12:48 PM

Though it could be I am just enamoured with the idea of a revamped Iowa-class. Instead of going for stealth the crew could just make popcorn and turn up the movie or drift off to sleep listening to the relaxing, muffled sound of French anti-ship missiles bouncing off the hull.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 12:52 PM

I don't think she will be all that hard to see, now that everybody (except Canada) is using phased-array systems. And certainly it will be detectable by sonar/hydrophones no matter what composite magic goes on above the waterline.

The idea of reactivating the BBs is seductive but they are are the opposite end of the scale when it comes to manpower requirements. You would have to build a new one from the keel up in order to make it less manpower-intensive and worth the cost/effort.

Speaking of which, the PS2 game Warship Gunner 2 gives you ample opportunity to mess about with historical -- and future, like DD(X) -- ship designs. Not exactly the most realistic naval warfare sim, but the ability to build and equip your own ships (and then run about having arcade-style fun with their weapons loadout) makes it worthwhile, if you can find it in the bargain bin.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 01:35 PM

Warship Gunner 2 looks though I am only seeing PS2 reviews... I can offer an unmitigated endorsement for Lego Star Wars for Xbox!

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 02:04 PM

You pre-empted my counter on this Herr Flea.

I don't think exocets, or Russian made ascm(in Iranian hands no less), will bounce off the belt armor. And a salvo of the very cheap, by comparison, missiles surely will cripple the girl(just as they won't break the spine of a modern carrier but will mission kill). Re-fitting the Iowas with CIWS and Standard AA systems to survive so much as a single strike will be extremely expensive as well.

But yes, those 16" shells will put the fear of God into whoever is on the recieving end. It's just a matter of getting them close enough to be able to work.

THen there's that they use parts nobody knows how to make anymore. Nobody is sure if the hulls could take the pounding of making 30+ knots in heavy seas(they are 60 years old after all). Electronics updates to be compatible with the rest of the fleet? 0 VLS? Sure is a good shore pounding battery though, with 300+ crewmen to do the job. Almost all the jobs the guys attributes to the BB is also doable by an aircraft carrier(fuel, hospitals, replenishment, etc).

And look at that bit about 2 DD(X) being the eq of a BB. Huh? Two dinky destroyers being the eq of a battleship? Even without all that auotmation these destroyers would use far less than a single battleship.

DD(x) is a bad design, but that doesn't mean we should try to bring back the BB(the expensive, manpower hog, costly to maintain and refurbish...)

Posted by: ry [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 02:33 PM

All reasonable problems to consider though I expect many are as applicable to anything newbuild. That business about the hull is mission critical as to my thinking the hull is the only bit we are keeping. I should confess an ulterior motivation in backing this chap's battleship suggestion. This being my irritation with the littoral warfare buzz/fad of the last several years. It strikes as the sort of talk that makes sense to marketing German, Norwegian or Swedish ship designs for navies with nothing else to patrol. And, even given some excellent SSK design, no nuclear-powered submarines as an alternative. Perhaps this is a British blue water bias on my part. Though the Irish manage their OPVs in the North Atlantic without much trouble...

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 04:09 PM

I share your bias for the blue-water navies but in fairness, the buzz is more or less realistic. The only guys who might possibly challenge the USN on a blue-water playing field would be the People's Liberation Army Navy (God bless those entertainingly clunky socialist monikers). Thankfully no nascent Al-Qaeda franchises are about to suddenly get ahold of a surface action group (or even a single guided missile frigate).

The thing that irritates me is that we will be getting an allegedly stealthy DD(X) with less heft that our present-day DDG-51s. And no matter how stealthy it is, once it lobs the missiles it won't take a brain surgeon to follow the booster exhaust back to the launch platform.

Smaller crews are nice and budget-efficient, but can we not manage that and come up with a VLS launcher that doesn't need a crane-equipped sub tender around to manage reloads? That would be a nice evolution of the design.

Managing to do slightly less with a half-size crew looks good on the balance sheet but I'm not sure how that's worth the operational tradeoff.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 04:41 PM

Crew size is always a peace time issue when the populace wants to spend as little as possible. T'was ever thus and will ever be.

Chris, have you looked at what the PLA and PLAN have been doing with SAMs as ASM? Scary. As little data as you're talking about is enough since they'll have active guidance to handle the 'just close enough' scenario. And they've got a ton of the bastards.

I would like to see a frigate that is not really a destroyer pretending to be a frigate for 'go-fast' scenarios around the world. Smuggling is a big deal, as is nautical piracy. Smuggling is a means of funding for terrorism and other nefarious nutjobs(Kartman Jong-Il for instance). A true frigate for running stuff down or shooting what has a chance to run away would be nice for non-proliferation patrols as well.

THough I'm not sure I would say littoral combat is just a fad. Everyone knows that NATO owns the blue water. China isn't really contesting(not until they get Varyag figured out and start building their own carriers, or just refurbish Varyag herself). Russia pretends to. India is working on it to control its ocean(It's ours! Ours! From Malaca west to Somalia! Ours!). But none of them hold a candle to the big three(US, France, Britain) in that arena. So they're shifting to other strategies.

Area denial. Battle entrance denial. Littoral where they don't have to contest with our strengths. Why go play out in the blue water when they can punch above their weight in the green?

That means we need to keep up dominance in the deep ocean navies but not completely ignore the area just off the coast and continental shelf.
MAybe too much has been put into it over the last 4 years(Navy worrying about making itself relevant to GWOT on both sides of the Pond maybe?), but you have to admitt that we've all kind of ignored the capability for 20 years. NATO allies would do that job for us, but now they're not willing to anymore.

That's the reason the Gotland is down in San Diego right now. Figure out how to get the job done in littoral conditions against a foe who will have many more cheap diesel/AIP boats optimized for those conditions than we will.

Posted by: ry [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2006 06:21 PM

Actually I was not at all aware of the PLA/N having multirole AAM/ASMs... That does indeed sound scary. My interests tend to be of the leg variety but I try to keep abreast of what the airedales and swabbies are up to as well. =)

Have you posted about the missile stuff at Arrgghh or any other site? I'd be interested in reading up on it.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 13, 2006 10:40 AM

No, I don't post that stuff over there as it isn't mine. But I can bug the guy who has studied it and see if I can get him to cough it up for you. China watcher by the name of L. Sidney Trevethan.

They aren't technically multi-role. They've just taken stuff like the really large Soviet made SAM and decided to change a few things to make them long range ASM. With really small CEP.

Posted by: ry [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 13, 2006 08:00 PM

This isn't quite what I was talking about, but it does highlight that the PRC is taking old/older SAM and retasking in the first entry.

Posted by: ry [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 13, 2006 08:56 PM

"It is on a number of those web sites - like for example John Pike's former one - something like the Society of American Scientists - that isn't quite right. They have pictures and one para descriptions comparing systems on both sides. And BOTH sides are doing this - the Nike Herculese is being turned into an SSM - most if not all are now.

This is what he sent me. Not very helpful is it? Sorry.

Posted by: ry [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 14, 2006 05:57 PM

First, my confidence in the quoted article is somewhat diminished by the fact that he didn't get the NAME of the BB in question correct. That would be NORTH CAROLINA. Maybe he's from Canada or something. Guys, we have two of 'em. Also two Dakotas and two Virginias. Figure it out.

The Cole didn't "almost sink" as proposed. Sure, if the crew had determined that that was a good time to go on shore and have tea, it would probably have. This being a well trained Navy crew, they did thier job, set watertight integrity through the ship, sent in damage control crews, put out any fires, and dewatered the affected compartments. It's what we do when we get hit. Same for the Stark, which was in far greater danger, and the Samuel B. Roberts, which actually almost got blown in half by mines.

(Incidentally, the article on Wikipedia for the Roberts doesn't nearly give the sense of the level of heroism displayed by that fine crew. They literally kept the front and the back together with steel cables, and managed to navigate out of the minefield on thier APUs, two little electric maneuvering motors. Bravo Zulu.)

I do think there is value to be had in redeploying the Iowas, though I wonder if the class ship can be salvaged (remember, Iowa's #2 turret blew up). I've always thought that if you saw one of these bad boys off your shores, you would have no doubt the US was taking an interest in affairs in the area. Sends a powerful message.

I do not consider the DDX to be a good drop in replacement for something like the Burke. It's unproven, pie in the sky, and has been under discussion for decades with no forward motion. Something like that that can't get funding for so long is always to be viewed with a jaundiced eye.

To one of the comments: the idea of tracing contrails back to launch point? What is this, STAR TREK? Last I looked, no naval vessel of any nation came with a science station or torpedoes that could follow missiles back to the cloaked point of launch. We gots RADAR, SONAR, and eyeballs. And while it works in movies, "thataway" is not a good firing solution for torpedoes or missiles. Unlike the Hollywood impressions to the contrary, you rarely can actually SEE who's firing - they're too far away and usually embedded in mist, smoke, and other natural phenomenon that actually makes Haze Gray work out well as camoflage.

Manpower: DDX being half the crew size as a regular DDG might look good on paper but let me be quite clear on this matter: it will only work if you intend the ships to be expendable. The Cole, Stark, and Roberts all were recovered and returned to service first and foremost because the crews onboard were trained, capable, and most important, human beings with very flexible processing systems on-board - that is to say, nothing beats a human brain for improvising in the face of Murphy's Law.

I am suprised, in fact, that direct comparisons to the Perry-class patrol Frigate (Stark, Roberts, et al) were not made. These ships were designed under the "austere manning" principle, being intended for coastal patrol, and yet have managed to perform well in the blue-water Navy despite being undermanned, underpowered, and not heavilly armed. Despite this, they have delivered time and time again. Maybe that weakens the argument or something, or maybe this is a sign of something else. (I wonder if the LCS might have a similar ultimate fate.)

One last thing. No matter how many inches of plate you have onboard, you can't put it over your RADAR or launch systems. All it takes is a hit in a vital area, and the ship is neutralized. Taking down air search and fire control RADAR will render a BB impotent in a missile duel. Better hope you have need for shore bombardment in that case, because all that will be left will BE the guns with the optical sighting computers, assuming they don't get taken out too (granted, the sights are hardened - they thought of that back in the 40s). At any rate, a neutralized BB is as good as a sunk one unless you're in range of those fabulous guns.

Having spewed all that out, all I can say is that no battle plan every survives contact with the enemy. I see value in building a few of these things and seeing how they perform before drawing any final conclusions, but I would not want to sacrifice that which we know works - and very well - in the form of the current combination of CV, CG, DDG, and FFG battle groups that have served us so well for so long. They may be expensive, but them's the breaks. You want a blue-water Navy, you have to pay for it.

Posted by: Grimmtooth [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 15, 2006 10:27 AM

Grimmtooth: Thanks for all that. My boosting those old Iowa-class ships was somewhat fanciful. What is interesting to me emerging from this discussion was making a link in my own thinking I had not realized was there, i.e. between my post re. the reason asymmetric warfare is the default choice of our adversaries and my later wondering at the littoral warfare fad. Both arise from the same blue water dominance by two or three navies. Once again, let us keep it that way and as you say, it "may be expensive, but them's the breaks."

A silver lining of the repeated disastrous wake-up calls of these last few years has been our opportunity to revise our thinking in the face of an at best semi-competent islamist enemy. Better to learn the lesson now than against what I suspect is a far smarter ChiCom threat down the road.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 15, 2006 10:42 AM