Archive for December, 2008
Time for another weekly Across The Water international navies update …
From China: warships to fight piracy
With so much piracy news floating around the web lately, it’s easy to overlook the international significance of China’s decision to send warships to the Horn of Africa region. The Financial Times has pointed out that the deployment marks China’s, “first significant long-range naval combat mission since the 15th century.” A Chinese source recently informed me that the decision was not taken lightly and was only arrived at following much internal debate among government, military and academic officials. The source also informed me that the warships will come from China’s South Sea Fleet, and that officers and sailors are already lining up to volunteer for the anti-piracy missions.
On 17 December, China acknowledged the successful rescue of a Chinese ship and its crew by members of the multi-national anti-piracy force.
This past week in South Korea theYoon Young Ha entered service. Commissioned on 17 December, this vessel is the first of a new class of guided missile patrol boats to join the South Korean fleet. Launched on 28 June 2007 the warship is named for a South Korean patrol boat commander who was killed six years ago while fighting against North Korean naval forces in the Yellow Sea. The 450-ton (full load) vessels are also known in naval circles as the Gumdoksuri or PKM X-class.
Additional information on the class was detailed here after the ship’s 2007 launch.
And finally, our international photo of the week … You might have missed this one a few month’s back, but here’s a photo of the first South African Navy helicopter to land aboard a U.S. Navy carrier. Photo credit goes to the U.S. Navy and Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John M. Stratton. Enjoy!
In reading through the blogosphere over the last year whenever a discussion of Navy shipbuilding costs pops up, I note the comments are sometimes filled with inaccurate estimates. Yesterday in proposing an idea for a $100 million littoral ship less than 1000 tons on my blog, I didn’t mention that I hope that if we built such a ship, we could build the first in class for less than $200 million. I also didn’t mention how much I hope the $100 million cost cap is achievable. The key word is hope. Why do I need hope?
Because I study history, and shipbuilding costs is a confusing subject with discussions often not rooted in cost reality. Design costs and construction costs towards lessons learned in new classes of ships are never cheap. There is a dirty little secret why so many people are concerned DDG-1000 and DDG-1001 will blow out the shipbuilding budget.
Of the nine first in class ships previous to LCS, four had overruns of greater than 100% (MCM-1, MHC 51, DDG 51, LPD-17), three had overruns between 40-60% (FFG 7, CG 47, LSD 41). Only two had overruns less than 20% (LHD 1 and VA 774/75). NONE came in lower than expected. The LCS-1 $631 million /LCS-2 $634+ million first in class ship cost overrun with the artificially low $220 million seaframe target is around 188%, which makes it the worst first of class overrun in 20 years. If you compare the cost overrun with the realistic but discarded target of $297 million, the overrun was still 113%. While 113% would make the LCS cost overrun comparable to the DDG 51’s overrun of 110%, it is still over 100%.
This means of the last 10 ships built by the US Navy, five of the last 10 ships have had a cost overrun of greater than 100%. In other words, the DDG-1000 has a 50-50 chance of having a 100% or greater cost overrun on each of the first two ships, and a 20% chance of having an overrun of 155-160 percent. Said another way: there is an even chance the first two DDG-1000s will have overruns totaling a minimum of $6.4+ billion.
First in class ships are only part of understanding shipbuilding costs. A lot of people assume the SAR reports account for all the costs of a shipbuilding program. It doesn’t always. In many cases individual systems programs intended for the ships are not calculated as part of the SAR report, but have to be included in the total ship cost because the ship requires the equipment that is specific to that ship. Some of this has changed, we now fund a lot of systems as part of a ship cost included in the SAR, particularly with SPY and VLS, but that wasn’t always the case with rail launchers and older radar systems.
Earlier this year I got into a debate regarding LCS costs with Bob Work of CSBA. In those debates some numbers were provided for cost context, numbers produced by Eric Labs of CBO. CBO has all the historic cost data, and Eric isn’t just a good source for the final tally of ship class costs, he is the best source for those figures and CBO is probably the only organization other than the Navy who has the exact numbers. Consider the average cost per ship of the last three small vessels built for the US Navy:
FFG-7 4000 tons cost $690 million in FY09 dollars = $172.5 million per 1000 tons
MCH 900 tons costs $251 million in FY09 dollars = $279 million per 1000 tons
MCM 1320 tons cost $262 million in FY09 dollars = $198 million per 1000 tons
Now compare to the LCS expected costs.
LCS 3100 tons cost $608 million in FY09 = $196 million per 1000 tons
$608 million = $550 million hull + $58 million module. $58 million is the average cost estimate of the combined 24 ASuW, 24 MIW, and 16 ASW modules costs / 64.
While the cost of the LCS is much maligned, it is an interesting detail that the LCS represents a more cost effective investment per ton than both of the minesweepers it is replacing, plus it can self deploy and conduct other missions besides mine warfare when forward deployed. However, using these numbers the LCS costs nearly $24 million more per 1000 tons than the Perry class frigate, and is neither built to the same survivability standard nor armed even remotely as well as the Perry was. It is going to be very interesting to see what the LCS frigate version costs Israel and Saudi Arabia should either purchase that model, because if either country sacrifices speed for weapons and survivability and is able to obtain a cost more comparable to the Perry class, the resulting discussion is going to be fascinating to observe (and participate in).
For comparison purposes, the Coast Guard is acquiring the new 350 ton Sentinel class FRC which will have a program cost around $44 million each. At that price, the Sentinel class cost per ton will be around $125 million per 1000 tons. Note the Sentinel class is a cutter, not a Navy ship, and is built to operate 2500 hours a year with a top speed over 26 knots. These metrics are excellent for a Coast Guard ship, but a Navy ship of similar size would require at least 5000 hours a year if it intends to make 6 month deployments.
So for those retired folks out there who love the FFG-7, to build a Navy littoral ship at the same cost standard of the Perry class at $100 million would result in a ~580 ton vessel. To build a 1000 ton ship as is being discussed in various places by the Navy and Marines, the cost would be around $172.5 million per vessel. Welcome to the expensive world of shipbuilding, where the historical record and actual costs of previous ship classes puts current programs into perspective.
From my point of view, it is easy to see why the Navy has become hesitant with so many new ship classes. LPD-17 was 160% over budget, while the first in class USS Virginia (SSN-774) was only over budget 10%. Considering the media hype regarding how expensive submarines are, that fact is often lost in the details. With a one in two chance the first two DDG-1000s could cost $6.4 billion each, twice as much as the $3.2 billion current price estimate, it looks to me like an even bet the third DDG-1000 funded in FY09 will not be built, and the funds will instead be used to pay for the cost overruns of the first two.
Former PACOM, ADM (ret.) Dennis Blair, has been reported as the new administration’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence, according to MSNBC.
Blackfive has a guest post from BG Abe Abrams, USA, soliciting input for their new field manual for training full spectrum ops.
Question the courage of merchant ship crews facing attacks by Somali pirates armed “only” with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades? Go to Fred Fry International: Pirate Attack Photos – M/V KAPITAN MASLOV and see what they are up against on a thin-hulled merchant ship…
Feng, who does a fantastic job tracking PLAN activity, is noting perhaps one of the most interesting Chinese Naval developments so far this century. China will reportedly announce on Wednesday in the United Nations their intentions to send a task force of 2 ships from the South China Sea Fleet to Somalia to fight pirates along side the international community gathering there in those efforts. Some interesting quotes from the article:
“The fleet will leave the South China Sea and head to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters,” the Global Times reported yesterday.
A Chinese journalist who is likely to accompany the naval fleet said the operation would last three months.
Feng is guessing it will be one of the Jiangweis and a supply ship. We’ll know for sure in a few days. More details…
A military strategist told China Daily that joining other countries to fight Somali pirates would be a “very good opportunity” for the Chinese navy to get into the thick of the action.
“Apart from fighting pirates, another key goal is to register the presence of the Chinese navy,” Prof Li Jie, a naval researcher, told China Daily.
China has never dispatched any troops on combat missions overseas. But in 2002, two Chinese vessels – a destroyer and a supplier – spent four months on a global tour, the country’s first.
Li also would not confirm the mission but added that “if the navy’s special forces join in, that will be in order to counter the pirates’ attempt to board other ships”.
This last point sticks out to me as a key signal.
“China’s image as a responsible sovereign nation will improve by participating in such missions,” he said, but noted he didn’t expect the number of troops in any such mission would be high.
“It would be on a limited scale initially,” Pang said.
Admiral Keating, call your office. Admiral Fitzgerald is on line 1. It really is a fascinating development, one that I personally think is a great thing and sends exactly the kind of signal we have been desiring from China for most of this decade. I don’t think China misunderstands our desire is to work with them as a partner, and the signal here is they see themselves as part of the partnership.
This move really isn’t unexpected though, indeed several China observers including myself have predicted this was likely, because the move is very much aligned with China’s ongoing soft power strategy in Africa. There are 1 million Chinese living in Africa, Africa is where China is heavily invested for future energy supplies, and as the economic ties continue to grow between China and many African nations, a problem in Africa that has regional economic impact and creates regional instability can be seen as a direct threat to Chinese interests. Somali piracy, as an international problem in a region China is heavily invested, is a natural starting place for China to develop its forward deployed naval capabilities.
If China, Russia, India, other Asian powers, the European powers, and the United States are all working together in a common cause to fight piracy, the role for the US Navy isn’t necessarily to lead the engagement, but more importantly, do what we can to be the enabler of cooperation between so many different nations. At this point is seems the next step is to determine how can we best fill that supporting role, as opposed to trying to take leadership or ownership of the problem. Do we need to dispatch a ship to act as a C2 enabler, a large ship that can bring the staffs of all the various partners involved together to insure better intelligence and communications?
If I was in Washington, I’d be buying Admiral Mullen a round, because in effect, the sometimes maligned 1000-Ship Navy is coming into its own right before our eyes. Are we ready to meet the Command and Control challenge that is almost certainly to be apparent quickly with such a large number of nations gathering in common cause? I hope we are thinking these necessary steps ahead, the success of the fight against Somalian piracy just became more important than the actual economic impact of Somalian piracy, because it now represents the symbol of whether the unified partnership model can be successful when applied under an international legal standard. We are approaching a rather remarkable time in modern naval history, hopefully we sense that and are ready to seize this moment and use it to leverage this international partnership as a model to shape the future.
With all the talk about the space on the LCS-1, remember, the LCS-2 prototype is the Benchijigua Express, a 127-Meter trimaran that can carry, according to the Austal fact sheet, 341 cars. The LCS-2 is a little different, but it will have lots–and lots–of room–boasting, like LCS-1, a hangar for two SH-60s but also, as I understand things, a mission bay of about 11,000 cubic meters. That’s an enormous amount of space for various toys. On the right, I’ve pulled in a picture of the Benchijigua Express, so you can get a better idea of just how much space the Navy has to play with in LCS-2…
And…what are the dots between the Yellow funnel and the white, you ask?
Those are passengers. The playoff between these two platforms is going to be fun! (Photo Fred Olsen)
According to press reports, the star-crossed Bulava SLBM will go into serial production “soon” – most probably after the next test flight. There is one more test shot scheduled for sometime later this month (after 21 Dec) after which it is anticipated that the new SLBM will be declared operational. Nine tests of the SS-27 derived, solid-fueled SLBM have been attempted with between 4-6 failures in the test series. Tentatively given the NATO designation SS-NX-30, the Bulava, as we have documented here previously, along with the a new-class SSBN (led by the Yuri Dogoruky) are the replacements for the Typhoon and its R-39 missiles. Shorter and wider than the R-39, the Bulava would not be able to be backfitted to earlier SSBNs (save one highly modified Typhoon used as a test bed) and further failures would put the Russian sea-based missile leg at risk as there were no other missiles in development.
17 December update: If open press from Russia is to be believed, 2009 will see an even more ambitious testing program with 13 strategic missile launches planned – five of which are test launches of new missiles. Besides the Bulava IOC noted above, early next year will also see the first operational deployment of the RS-24, a MIRV’d land-mobile missile derived fromt he Topol-M and set to replace the SS-18 and SS-19 silo-based missiles. Some sources have linked the Bulava’s guidance/payload section to use on the RS-24 to enable up to palcement of 10 MIRVs onboard.
A few years ago, I bought all the folks in our call center a T-Shirt for Christmas. It read “I read the manual for you.” I thought it was clever, that is essentially what the helpdesk does for the user who is having computer problems.
Well, all the think tanks are putting out reports that carry recommendations for the future force structure of the military. Honestly, most of them are really pretty sad, and would be rejected as content lacking in intellectual rigor for any issue of Proceedings prior to 1960. Indeed, some of the chapters dedicated to Naval forces in these new reports are smaller than articles published in Proceedings prior to 1960. What ever happened to the idea of good ole fashioned indepth analysis?
Actually, there are two reports out that carry deeper analysis that I recommend for those interested in reading new ideas. As a public service of “reading the manual for you” so you can choose to skip it if you want, I’d personally recommend Frank Hoffman’s From Preponderance to Partnership: American Maritime Power in the 21st Century published by the Center for New American Security. Another report I really enjoyed among the many options is Dakota Woods The US Marine Corps: Fleet Marine Forces for the 21st Century (PDF) published by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. For a study of naval forces, to date these are the only two reports of the several out there during this transition period that put intellectual rigor and serious depth into the report.
While I enjoyed both reports for their serious depth of study into the topics, there was a similar topic raised in both reports that I see as movement towards a Littoral Strike Group, what I consider the evolution of the SSG I suggested is necessary yesterday. Frank Hoffman’s paper discusses the need for what he is calling a Littoral Superiority Fleet, which he believes should include 40 one thousand ton surface combatants. Dakota Wood evolves this a little further, and develops what he calls a Littoral Operations Group, which is essentially a formation centered around a single LPD-17 and 3 Littoral Combat Ships, each LCS with a Marine Squad. The idea Dakota Wood is pushing is for stand alone, reinforced company based distributed power that is seamobile, and he makes his case discussing both nuclear powered competitors and irregular warfare competitors.
I have been blogging about Littoral Strike Groups replacing Surface Strike Groups for a year now on my blog, and like Dakota Wood I believe this new strike should center around a LPD-17 as the high value unit. However, I also tend to agree with Frank Hoffman, and while I don’t have any idea if 1000 tons is the right size, I think we need to be building something like a modern Asheville class vessel for Littoral Operations, and oh btw, instead of putting a squad of Marines on the LCS we need to put that squad on the PC. A modern PC, particularly if it is 1000 tons, should be able to support 12 Marines and 6 Coast Guardsman and run with a Navy crew, or a true National Fleet platform. Build 3 PCs of a strike varient and 1 of a command varient and a squadron of 4 PCs now carries a platoon of Marines with some serious sea capable fire support in both green and brown water. The Marines have been shaping their forces for the large size of the Navy for decades, perhaps it is time to reverse logic a bit and scale our naval ships to better match the size of smaller, more flexible Marine units at the platoon, even the squad level.
What about vehicles? Have you actually seen a LPD-17? Vehicle space there is.
That leaves the LCS, what is this platform exactly? Well, I spent 3 nights on USS Freedom (LCS 1) and it is difficult to compare the ship to anything else. It is not a warship, it is more akin to an amphibious ship and a logistics ship built to operate in a small war environment. The LCS is two things, speed and space, and while plenty of people have all these unmanned systems ideas for how the ship can conduct all these war centric activities, I would suggest perhaps the ship is better used as a fast littoral logistics and support vessel for PCs in building peacemaking capability at sea for the US Navy. It may sound expensive in that role, but if given the choice of a HSV or LCS for supporting PCs in a low intensity war zone, I’d pick the LCS. The LCS and HSVs that bring tremendous amounts of space and speed to the fight look to me like the logistical enablers necessary to make forward deployed littoral PC squadrons work, indeed as logistical enablers (and they are built like logistics ships after all) these ships open the door to all kinds of different capabilities in managing the irregular space of war.
Before we get too busy trying to make the LCS the vehicle to deliver every littoral solution, I hope the powers that be do what I did, go stay the night on USS Freedom (LCS-1), walk around and think about the ships capabilities, and consider what the LCS can enable further down the ship chain… because I think anyone with a bit of imagination is going to have a new idea.