There are some fairly remarkable statements by Admiral Roughead reported by Danger Room in Spencer Ackermans latest article Navy Chief Dreams of Laser Warships, Ocean-Spanning Robots. The meat of the article gives us plenty to think about.

First UAVs:

The easy part has been the Navy’s robotic planes. A long-range surveillance drone, known as BAMS, will fly above the fleet starting in 2015. A pilotless helicopter packed with sensors and cameras, Fire Scout, already tracks drug smugglers in Latin America and recently arrived in Afghanistan.

But the most important Navy drone is the X47B, a fighter plane that the Navy hopes will take off and land from an aircraft carrier by 2018. “I don’t think I’ve been as excited about anything as the unmanned carrier aircraft,” Roughead said in an interview with Danger Room. Before its first flight in February, “I was like an expectant father.”

At USNI/AFCEA West in January, Bob Work told the audience the Navy has already begun planning to deploy medium UAVs on every cruiser and destroyer. Given how few ScanEagles are currently deployed on the fleets surface combatants, that would be good news. While it is unclear if there is money for it, I’d like to see the Navy conduct a test flight of a Reaper off the deck of the LHA(R) once USS America (LHA 6) is launched, and if the LHA(R) isn’t designed to launch an armed Reaper, then I would suggest there is a serious design flaw.

Then UUVs:

Subs, on the other hand, are much harder. Roughead is thinking way beyond where the technology is: ships that patrol under water for 60 to 70 days, launched from Littoral Combat Ships or destroyers that swim as much as 7,000 miles without returning to the mothership. They’d collect intelligence, defuse mines and attack enemies, disrupting attempts to deny manned ships a piece of the ocean or the shoreline.

“What I’d like to see is [an unmanned sub] having that duration, having reconfigurable payloads — one truck with different payloads,” Roughead said, “the ability to communicate — UUVs [Unmanned Underwater Vehicles] underwater, and the UAVs, use them as relays, so the network comes into play. But on the underwater side, I’d like to see a very common truck with different payloads.” In other words, the subs might carry different sensors or weapons, but all of them should be able to travel an awfully long distance.

I read the CNO discussing two ideas conceptually with the description above. First, the future of United States Navy SSKs is that of an unmanned submarine, and second the future of the United States Navy SSGN is that of an unmanned submarine.

Finally, more future tech:

Then come the lasers and the rail guns. Directed-energy weapons — military-grade laser cannons — have been a military dream for decades, along with guns that fire their munitions with bursts of electromagnetic energy. But Roughead directed the Navy’s mad scientists at the Office of Naval Research to go full-bore into laser research. By the 2020s, they estimate, surface ships should have a range of kilowatt- and even megawatt-class lasers for their protection, burning through steel in seconds and firing bullets at hypersonic speeds.

“You’re beginning, maybe, to see the end of the dominance of the missile,” Roughead said. “There may still be some applications that come into play that you might want to use them in. But I also think you’re beginning to also see the increase in the depth of the magazine chain. In other words, the capacity’s going to change, because you essentially have a rechargeable projectile.” Advantage United States, as the rise of lasers will lead to a geostrategic division into “countries that can afford to go into directed energy and countries that can’t.”

This is one of the reasons why the DDG-51 Flight III is indeed, NOT, a no brainer and is in fact a major concern behind the scenes. The debate for surface combatants after the soon to be BMD block of DDG-51 Flight IIAs is what the Navy needs to do next, and if in fact the Navy needs to move sooner rather than later into a common surface combatant hull form that specifically meets the HM&E requirements of the future – and more specifically has the power and generator technologies to make use of emerging new weapons technology.

It is entirely possible that these emerging technologies will mature faster than the surface fleet is prepared to support them, and keep in mind the DDG-51s have legitimate power challenges in supporting these future technologies. It is entirely possible that the US Navy could be asked to fight a war at sea in 2030 against a serious challenger fielding multiple missiles, and to solve the problem, the Navy ends up strapping a laser weapon on a Virginia class submarine because those SSNs, and not the DDG-51 Flight IIIs, have enough power to support that technology. If you think I’m nuts even mentioning this scenario, then you may want to take a second look at the challenges and requirements to make these technologies work at sea as a viable weapon system.

Unlike the transition from the age of guns to the age of missiles, the transition out of the age of missiles will require more from the ship – specifically more power. There are only two ships in the US Navy being built today with the power systems and output in mind that will insure the ship is prepared for these technologies in the future, and that ship class is the DDG-1000.

Which raises the question, how far into the future is Admiral Roughead looking with his long view towards the end of the missile age, and how does that timeline square with the expected life cycle of the major surface combatants in the current Navy shipbuilding plan?

The world wonders.

Posted by galrahn in Aviation, Innovation, Navy

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  • M. Ittleschmerz

    What CNO says, and what N8 sends up as a budget are rarely in alignment.

    CNO has been talking UxVs for years. But there’s been no real forward movement on STUAS in the last year – and the program was sat on by Navy for a year before that. Maybe we’ll see an IOC in 2014 – for a system that industry had basically ready to go in 2008.

    And that’s just UAVs – at least there is a program to put a date to. Funding for UUVs has been practically zeroed and USVs are caught up in LCS rather than being a program that can be operated from any ship.

    This is one of this CNO’s biggest and most disappointing traits – he talks a good game…but in the end it usually turns out to be just talk.

  • “….Subs, on the other hand, are much harder….”

    Indeed. Putting some form of power source on board a sub, that must remain underwater for extended periods without going “nuke” is difficult. It is far easier, and immediately available; to forego “underwater”; and stay above it. Not in it; ABOVE it.

    Unmanned (or manned), fully rigid-hulled,amphibious airships
    (not blimps)that are covered with solar cells, with alternate back-up propulsion systems fuel cells/diesel engines can perform
    virtually all missions envisioned by unmanned underwater systems.

    The Navy has a great history of Lighter-than-Air aviation; it’s time to re-think that once again. Modern materials and technology can provide immense benefits to the fleet.

    Lasers, UUV’s, UAS,rail guns…..and, Airships

  • Diogenes of NJ

    See the last page in this document:

    High efficiency, safe, low-cost, compact naval nuclear power for the 21st century. The USAF tried to build one to power a bomber. They might have had better luck with an airship.

    How about a nuclear powered hot air balloon?
    – Kyon

  • Big D

    Galrahn: A VA’s teakettle produces plenty of steam, but does it actually produce enough electricity to power a hundred-kilowatt-class laser cannon?

    That said, I think that lasers would be an excellent addition to subs, providing them with new offensive and defensive (particularly anti-MPA) options, as well as opening up off-the-wall uses like using offboard cuing and passive sensors to interdict passing aircraft.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    The Navy is going to have to successfully field a new ship or aircraft, on time, at budget, and answering the basic INSURV question (does it work, to required specs, in all modes, safely and reliably, and can it be kept doing so with shipboard PMS, and is it economically and efficiently repairable on board/at sea or at rough and ready advanced bases) within half an officers alloted time for a career, before it should think about forgoing build extended productions runs of capable and proven classes/models because some BUCK ROGERS vapor system might make it obsolescent 25 years hence.

    Right now, submarines(possibly)excepted, it can’t do it.

    ED’s and denizens of NavSea and NavAir, hang your heads in shame. PM’s most particularly.

    As for the Buck Rogers stuff….NO BUCKS, NO BUCK ROGERS.

    As Burke, Raborn and Rickover knew.

    Don’t get me started on one buy, one design can do it all. Transformer toys are for kids.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “ED’s and denizens of NavSea and NavAir, hang your heads in shame. PM’s most particularly.”

    And CNO, and former CNO, now CJCS.

    But at least the latter two got their political goals met.

  • I recently looked into small reactors over at “War Is Boring”, and the closest thing ever built to what ADM Roughhead wants was Rickover’s dreamboat, the NR-1. An unmanned version could carry a lot of payload in place of the lifesystem, three crew and shielding.

    Small size means HEU fuel and relatively low power output — a few megawatts, mostly as heat. Better direct thermoelectric generators would be welcome, but you’re probably looking at a twin-reactor design with one reactor dedicated to the weapons systems.

    Perhaps the future naval turret is a fat mushroom-shaped periscope for the free-electron laser aboard an SSN.

  • Matt Yankee

    “There are only two ships in the US Navy being built today with the power systems and output in mind that will insure the ship is prepared for these technologies in the future, and that ship class is the DDG-1000.”

    Maybe wikipedia is FOS but they state the new Truman-class will have three times the power of the Nimitz-class while requiring only 50% for operations. Maybe the Trumans deserve a mention too?


    The problem with directed energy weapons is that you need to have sufficient electrical power. The only way to do that is with integrated electrical power plant.

    The Virginia class is actually worse than the DDGs, it has a lot of potential power, but virtually no electrical power. besides the DDG-1000s and CVNs (especially the FORD) the only ships with lots of electrical capacity are the T-AOs and T-AKEs and they don’t have integrated electrical capability.

    The solution is to fit Integrated Electrical Drive into a DDG or LPD hull. Besides allowing fitting of new directed enegy or kinetic energy weapons sometime in the future, you also will save a lot of money on fuel, go to all electric auxillaries, and can improve subdivision and make them easier to manufacture (less shafting, fewer or no reduction gears, prime movers on rafts so no soft foot problem like the LPDs are having, etc).

  • Gundog15

    The CNO talks future Navy out of one side of his mouth while doing everything he can in his power to cancel DDG 1000 out the other.

    The DDG 51 class are great ships for the era they were designed for but they don’t have the real estate and power needed for the next generation of weapon system. The lead ship was commissioned July 4, 1991. With a planned service life of 30 years and marginal upkeep during their life-cycle, most DDG 51’s will be hanging on by a thread (rust) by then. Never mind the sad state of the remaining CG 52 class and their cracked superstructures.

    LCS will NOT be the future work horse of the fleet. We still need a blue water capable Navy.

    So now that we no longer have a replacement for the aging CG and DDG fleet, what are the bigger thinkers in the Navy yard planning? Flight III DDG 51 will only take us so far and we’ll eventually need something to replace the Aegis gods of the fleet.

    If not DDG 1000 or some spin-off, then what?

  • Diogenes of NJ

    All of you skimmer electricians are overlooking the good old submarine battery. How long are we suppose to shoot (don’t say fire unless something’s burning) that laser thing anyway? The nuclear powered TG/MGs will recharge the battery between shots.

    Personally, I still like torpedoes. There’s nothing like breaking their back and having them go down in two pieces. But now that the Navy’s done away with torpedomen, I could get on-board with any weapon that kills the enemy.

    Of course these new things should actually kill the target otherwise they become attention getters – bad idea for submarines. I like it when the targets blow up or major pieces come off and the head for the drink. Best form of kill evaluation going.

    – Kyon