Professional Notes

  • All navy personnel are given home leave or a travel allowance if deployed for more than 120 days. The program provides several mid-deployment travel alternatives: a flight to the location of the member's next-of-kin or homeport, or their spouse or next-of-kin can be flown to the ship by the most economical means or they may travel to the destination of their choice as long as it costs less than option one or two (and their commanding officer approves).
  • All crew members can make a five minute morale telephone call home every 21 days—paid for by the Canadian government.
  • Each ship receives the equivalent of $40 (U.S.) in rest and recreation funds per crewman per month while pierside in foreign ports. Examples of expenditures include bus fees, organized tours, and the rental of hotel gym and pool facilities for use by ship's company.
  • Reduced homeport duty watchstanding is made possible by looking closely at every job; it differs from ship to ship. Eight-section duty is the norm for a "City"-class frigate such as the Halifax (FFH-330), which has a crew of approximately 230.
  • While in homeport, only one officer, master chief, or senior chief is required in the duty section; their officer of the day is equivalent to our command duty officer. Many of the ships are in a 25 to 26 section duty rotation for officers of the day.
  • Alcohol consumption is permitted whether in port or under way, but it cannot be imbibed in excess and must be purchased by the member. Each sailor is authorized two beers/drinks per day. The Ottawa's crewmembers pay one dollar (Canadian) per beer, and no drinking is allowed within six hours of assuming the watch.
  • The Canadians sported shorts in the extreme Persian Gulf summertime heat—definitely a morale booster.

The biggest difference by far between our navies, however, is in the way officers are trained. The Canadian training pipeline is similar to that of the Royal Navy's, and both are very different from Uncle Sam's; they emphasize tactical proficiency. Here is a condensed version of a typical Canadian line officer's route to command at sea:

  • First ship (assistant division officer). Newly commissioned ensigns go straight to the ship for four to six months after which they attend a three-month basic naval and professional development course. Upon completion of this course, the ensign returns to the same ship for 8 to 12 months. During this time, the goal is qualify as officer of the deck and learn how to lead a division; also during this period a selection board determines the young officer's specialty, based on the individual's preferences and the needs of the Navy. Options include: antisubmarine warfare, antisurface or antiair warfare, shipboard air controller, or navigating officer.
  • Second ship (division officer). After passing prerequisite tactical and operations courses, officers are billeted to their next ship. It may be the same ship they first joined; regardless, they are headed straight back to sea for 18-24 months, but this time as full division officers, within two years of commissioning.
  • Shore duty. Junior officers may then go ashore for 18-24 months and serve in a variety of jobs: recruiting, reserve unit duty, headquarters, or instructing duty.
  • Second tour afloat. After their first taste of shore duty, officers normally go back to sea as a communications or deck officer for 12-18 months (this does not fulfill the department head tour requirement) awaiting selection to the one-year Tactical Action Officer (TAO) or Operations Room Officer Courses. (Our TAO course lasts 11 weeks.) Canada has a six month undersea warfare course and five month antiair warfare course. An interesting note: officers are offered a three-month airborne controller course; in the U.S. Navy, only enlisted sailors control undersea warfare aircraft.
  • Department head tour. Officers are posted to a ship as the operational officer (call sign "Combat") or assistant operations officer for 18-24 months. Both stand port-and-starboard TAO watches under way because they are the only junior officers who have received advanced tactics training.
  • Staff Tour. The next stop is a destroyer squadron staff or a billet as a "Sea Trainer." Most staff members have served as operations officers and the job is similar to a U.S. Navy staff. Sea Trainer billets place post-department heads in charge of teams that assist the fleet; all are awaiting their executive officer postings.

Executive officer ("Number One") tours normally last 18-24 months. In contrast with the U.S. Navy, the executive officer is less a second warfighter and more of an administrator. All executive officers, however, must be command qualified prior to their posting. This process includes a series of written examinations covering subjects that range from the rules of the road to tactical operations at sea. Successful completion qualifies one to sit before a command selection board chaired by a captain or rear admiral (lower half) and up to three afloat commanding officers (commanders).

Candidates spend about two hours in a simulator for the rules of the road and shiphandling portion, and then must face another hour of tough questions face-to-face with the board. The success rate is only about 25% for those appearing for the first time. Officers are afforded subsequent retakes, although a movement is under way to cap the number of retakes at three.

Following a successful executive officer tour, officers can expect staff assignments or joint billets on shore duty. Officers may attend the one-year Canadian Forces Staff College in Toronto before or after their executive officer tour.

Commanding officers afloat serve a minimum tour of 18 months and sometimes are granted extensions. The Canadian Maritime Command consists of 16 surface warships (12 frigates [FFHs] and 4 guided-missile destroyers [DDGs]), the 4 new Upholder -class diesel submarines acquired from the Royal Navy, and 2 fleet-replenishment oilers (AORs). The frigate is a commander's-command. The AORs are major command captain's billets, and the DDGs are transitioning to major command status.

Following command tours, surface officers can expect to be posted to National Defense Headquarters in Ottawa—the equivalent of a Pentagon tour. They also may be assigned to other fleet commands. It takes about 20 years' commissioned service to attain command at sea.

The Canadian Navy also has specialized billets. While serving as Engineer Officer on board the USS Stethem (DDG-63) I had the opportunity to meet a Canadian counterpart Chief Engineer while visiting Victoria, British Columbia. He had more than seven years of formal engineering training, never stood watch, and was flabbergasted to learn that I was a Liberal Arts major with weapons release authority as a TAO. Here are a few notes about their the specialized billets.

Engineer officers ("Engines"), combat systems engineering officers ("Cease"), and supply officers ("Buns") are day workers who run their departments, stand no watches, are not eligible for command at sea, and consider their department head tours the pinnacle of their sea-duty careers. When not in seagoing assignments, post-engineers become the equivalent of U.S. Navy port engineers or project officers ashore. The combat systems engineering officer is an actual engineer instead of a tactician and owns every piece of combat systems equipment "from the socket to the load." The supply officer role is similar, although no disbursing officer is billeted to lend a hand.

Retiring the "O Canada!" way also may raise some eyebrows. Commissioned Canadian naval officers incur an initial nine-year obligation. During the latter part of that period of service, an officer who successfully has been screened by a merit board is offered a "Conversion of Terms of Service." If the officer accepts, he or she agrees to commit to a 20-year career and the four years of academy time are credited toward retirement. The first five years are a payback for academy time. If one gets out during the five-year payback time, he or she must pay the government for schooling. Counting the four years of academy time allows more people the opportunity to retire early, thus opening up the officer command structure. After 20 years (having finished their contract), an "Indefinite Period of Service," or a three- or five-year "Continuing Engagement" contracts is offered to the officer. Retirement is mandatory at age 55.

Here are my personal top-five ideas we should adopt from our Canadian friends:

  • Fly home once while deployed—especially in the confines of the Persian Gulf. Let's face it: Dubai, Bahrain, Muscat, and Jebel Ali start looking very similar after three months, and the liberty restrictions aren't exactly making the average 19-year old sailor want to reenlist for more overseas fun.
  • Send officers to ships prior to any formal surface warfare schooling. Their understanding, retention, and warfighting skills would benefit.
  • Devise a system that could count Academy and Reserve Officer Training Corps time toward retirement. It would invigorate the officer corps, opening up opportunities for those desiring a longer Navy career and for veterans who are ready to pursue a civilian occupation.
  • Send our officers through more tactical training-not solely classroom, but hands-on, with tactics taught between every step of the surface warfare officer career path. The TAO Course at Surface Warfare Officer School provides baseline information, not tactics. We need to know tactics to win battles.
  • Allow beer consumption on board. The opportunity to drink one beer a day would be a big morale boost for the average officer and sailor. After witnessing the Abraham Lincoln's flight-deck crew suffer through 120 deg Persian Gulf summer heat while wearing long-sleeve jerseys, cranials, and safety float-coats, I think the idea of waiting for 45 consecutive underway days to drink a beer is ridiculous.

With so few ships on the Canadian Naval Registry, the ability to provide more benefits to personnel appears to be paying big dividends in morale, pride, and motivation. It is easy to understand why our officers are quick to volunteer to visit Canadian ships. If the Ottawa's performance during our 1998 deployment is any indication, Canadians can be justifiably proud of their navy. Their system works.

Lieutenant Commander Crockett , a surface warfare officer, is the Materiel Officer for Destroyer Squadron 21. He has served as a division officer on board the USS DeWert (FFG-45), as an instructor at Surface Warrior Officers School, and as Engineer Officer on board the USS Stethem (DDG-63).


Waiting for DD-21

By Major Sean D. Griffin, U.S. Marine Corps

Until the Marshalls campaign in 1944, U.S. Navy battleships, cruisers, and destroyers provided fire support for amphibious assaults in the Pacific. The landings on Tarawa in November 1943, however—where some companies suffered 50% casualties during the assault—convinced planners that more fire support was an absolute requirement. Taking advantage of what was available, they equipped smaller amphibious craft with unguided multiple rocket-launcher batteries. These "shotguns of [the] amphibious assault" became a fixture of every landing from the Marshalls during World War II to Inchon during the Korean War.

In 1955, the same year the USS Missouri (BB-63) was mothballed for the first time, the inshore fire support (IFS) ship USS Carronade (IFS-1, later redesignated LFS-1) joined the fleet. Armed with a single five-inch gun and rapid-fire rocket launchers, she served alongside the remaining World War II landing ships medium (rocket) [LSMRs] until stricken in 1973.

Today, the Navy-Marine Corps fire support team is at an impasse. In the case of the landings in the Marshalls, only two months after Tarawa, there was no time to develop a new, high-technology solution. Instead, the answer emerged when planners focused on what existing platforms were capable of doing rather than what they were designed to do. Today, we have more time and technology than was available in 1944, but we have far fewer resources. Nevertheless, as we refine our concept of Operational Maneuver from the Sea, we would do well to reflect on the way earlier generations solved their fire-support problems.

Various proposals to revive the inshore fire support concept have come to naught. The rationale for rejecting such proposals during the 1980s and early 1990s was the presence in the fleet of all four Iowa (BB-61)-class battleships. Today, reactivating the Iowas —with all the attendant problems of manning and modernization—is not the answer because their 16-inch guns' 25nautical-mile range does not support our concept of operational maneuver. It is time to reconsider the inshore fire support concept.

Fortunately, a solution is at hand in the form of casting an old trouper in a new role: The two remaining Newport (LST-1179)-class tank landing ships, the La Moure County (LST-1194) and the USS Frederick (LST-1184), can be modified with vertical launch systems (VLSs) to provide dedicated naval surface fire support.

Consider the alternatives. Present proposals for fire-support systems to support operational maneuver fixate on the land attack destroyer (DD-21), which is scheduled to be launched in 2004. These 32 littoral-warfare ships are scheduled to combine naval surface fire support, antisubmarine warfare, and enhanced mine countermeasures capabilities in a single platform that is to cost less to build, man, maintain, and operate than today's Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)-class guided-missile destroyers.

For the next decade, however, the proposed DD-21 will exist only on a computer-aided design terminal or as a builder's model in a wave tank. To address current naval surface fire support deficiencies, the Naval Sea Systems Command is investing in an improved five inch round, the Extended-Range Guided Munition (ERGM), which is scheduled for fielding on board the latest DDG-Sls beginning in 2001. Thus, for at least the next three years, naval expeditionary task forces engaged in power-projection operations ashore in a littoral warfare environment will have to make do with less. In this contest, the ubiquitous term "less" refers to a surface fire-support capability limited to the inexpensive, short-range five-inch round and the very expensive, long-range Tomahawk cruise missile. The Mk 45 5-inch/54 caliber gun's range is 13 nautical miles at a cost of $500 per round; the Tomahawk Block III can deliver a 750-pound warhead out to 1,000 nautical miles at a cost of $1.2 million per missile; the ERGM is a 5-inch/62 caliber round that can range to 63 nautical miles at an estimated cost of $25,000 to $45,000 per round.

The Tomahawk's cost and lack of responsiveness restrict its employment to high-value targets of more concern at the operational or strategic levels of war. Although strategic- and operational-level shaping of the battle space is designed to influence the tactical level of war, naval surface fire support for a maneuver element is for practical purposes limited to the 13-nautical-mile range of the 5inch/54.

A vertical launch system is the key to providing fire support during ship-to-objective maneuver as opposed to ship-to-shore movement. The Mk 41 VLS is operational on board modified Spruance (DD-963) destroyers, Arleigh Burkes , and Ticonderoga (CG-47)-class cruisers where it can launch Tomahawks, surface-to-air missiles, and Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles. The planned DD-21 also is scheduled to get a VLS. With slight modifications, this system could launch the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has a proved combat record against unarmored targets and is to be given an antiarmor capability.

For all the system's versatility, however, its major shortcoming is that the fleet rarely replenishes VLS weapons while under way. Most weapons are replaced in port, and the result is that a VLS ship must deploy with a weapons mix configured to execute the most likely mission requirements. Since VLS ships are multimission platforms, naval surface fire support weapons must compete with antiair and antisurface weapons and the ratios must be determined before the VLS ship deploys. A VLS ship dedicated to surface fire support would be invaluable to an expeditionary task force. Unfortunately, our current inventory of VLS ships also is invaluable for other missions; one of the factors that mitigated against the proposed arsenal ship was the high cost for a single-mission platform.

Enter the La Moure County and the Frederick . Why modify ships whose keels were laid 30 years ago? I can think of six reasons, for starters:

  • No acquisition costs.
  • They do not require depreservation.
  • VLS technology is available off the shelf.
  • Sufficient internal voids exist to accommodate a VLS.
  • Their marine diesel propulsion systems are economical and commercially viable.
  • Digital data-link technology proved in other modified amphibious ships such as the USS Coronado (AGF-11) could provide the necessary command-and-control.

These ships could plug the gap until the DD-21 is on line, and serve as an afloat test platform for surface fire-support weapons and delivery systems. The USS Mount Vernon (LSD-39), for example, served as the test platform in 1995 for launching a Block IA ATACMS from its own self-propelled launcher against a target on San Clemente Island at a range of 75 nautical miles. The new Fasthawk (Tomahawk Block V) and the DD-21 Vertical Advanced Gun System (VGAS) also will require operational testing. Fasthawk, originally called Cheapshot, is designed to deliver a 450-pound earth-penetrating warhead at a range of 700 nautical miles. In addition, the Block Vs are estimated to cost only $300,000. Today, a dedicated test platform not subject to the demands of the deployment cycle makes sense.

The Navy-Marine Corps team is halfway to fielding the triad of air cushion landing craft, (LCACs), MV-22 Osprey assault support tiltrotors, and Advanced Armored Amphibian Vehicles (AAAVs) necessary for ship-to-objective maneuver. LCACs have been operational for years and the MV-22 is scheduled to achieve an initial operational capability in 2001. It is conceivable that elements of the Marine air-ground task force will operate beyond even ERGM range before the first DD-21 is commissioned. Would a commander launch a Tomahawk in support of a platoon-size maneuver element in this situation? If not, aircraft would be the only means available to support ground forces.

At what point does a Tomahawk become cost-effective? If the threshold is the operational or strategic level, then we do not have a naval surface fire-support capability at the tactical level—we have only a naval gunfire-support capability. In this scenario, a single inshore fire-support vessel with 96 to 122 VLS cells dedicated to surface fire support would solve the problem.

Major Griffin , a combat engineer, is an instructor with the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps Unit at the Ohio State University. He served with the 8th Engineer Support Battalion during Operation Desert Storm and graduated from Amphibious Warfare School in 1996.


Fleet of Modified Seawolfs & Virginias Makes Sense

By Dr. George Sviatov

Today, almost all concerns involving U.S. nuclear attack submarine development are focused on the Seawolf (SSN-21) and the recently named Virginia -class New Attack Submarine (NSSN). Emphasis is on the NSSN because the Navy some years ago concluded that the Seawolf class was too expensive for serial production and a smaller, less expensive design—originally called Centurion—was required.

The U.S. Navy plans to spend $64 billion to acquire 30 NSSNs over the next 18 years, which officials believe will allow the service to maintain its force structure goals and preserve the present submarine industrial base. The Fiscal Year 1997 Defense Authorization Act directed the Navy to procure the first four submarines of the new class competitively following a noncompetitive research and development phase. In February 1997, however, the Navy revealed an unusual teaming arrangement between Electric Boat and Newport News: both shipyards would use Electric Boat's digital design data base to build the NSSNs, and each shipbuilder would specialize in certain assemblies. Electric Boat will do the engine room, the propulsion train, and the hull structure; Newport News will produce the bow, the stern, and the weapons module.

Electric Boat is responsible for one forward module—the command-and-control system compartment—because it has the facilities to test the electronic components before installation. The first submarine is to be completed at Electric Boat in 2004, the next at Newport News in 2005; the yards will alternate throughout the production run. The Navy believes that this alternate approach will be less expensive than building the first four NSSNs at Electric Boat: $10.4 billion versus $13.6 billion with an average cost of $2.6 billion per submarine. The service also believes that the cost for the fifth and subsequent submarines would drop to $1.65 billion. Electric Boat and the U.S. Navy present the NSSN as a revolution in cost-effective design, construction techniques, and mission flexibility.

The NSSN has been designed to satisfy the full range of regional and near-land mission needs in the post-Cold War era. Equipped to wage multidimensional warfare, these submarines—with stealth, lethality, and unlimited endurance—will be crucial to American sea power.

Missions include:

  • Covert intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The submarines' advanced electronic sensors will collect critical intelligence: locate radars, missile batteries, and command sites; monitor communications and track ship movements; detect minefields; and monitor other threats and possible targets.
  • Special warfare. The submarines will support all special warfare requirements: search-and-rescue, reconnaissance, sabotage and diversionary attacks, directing fire support, and other clandestine assignments. The submarine's integral nine-man lock-out chamber can host the advanced SEAL delivery system, a minisub, or a dry deck shelter for special forces vehicles and equipment. In addition, the submarine's torpedo room can be reconfigured to accommodate a larger number of special operations troops.
  • Antisubmarine and antisurface warfare. The submarine is equipped to destroy hostile ships and submarines, using its advanced combat systems and flexible payload of advanced torpedoes, antiship missiles, and naval mines.
  • Covert precision strike and direct support ashore. Launching land-attack missiles from its vertical launchers and torpedo tubes, the NSSN's strike effectiveness is multiplied by its ability to attack with complete surprise from coastal waters. Initially, the NSSN will employ the Tomahawk land-attack missile. A submerged-launch variant of the highly effective Army Tactical Missile System—a precision weapon with a 160-mile range—is being evaluated for future direct support of ground forces.

The U.S. Navy stresses at least three advantages of the NSSN relative to the Sturgeon (SSN-637), Los Angeles (SSN-688) and Seawolf (SSN-21) nuclear-powered attack submarines:

  • Manning efficiency (important from life cycle costs). In a measure of crew per 1,000 tons of displacement— Sturgeon /28, Los Angeles /18 Virginia NSSN/17.
  • Force employment efficiency (increased availability to fleet commanders) improves because of nuclear-reactor cores with longer service lives and reduced overhaul periods: Sturgeon /82%, Los Angeles /86%, improved Los Angeles (SSN-6881)/93%, and the Virginia NSSN/94.5%.
  • Propulsion plant. The NSSN will be the first nuclear-powered submarine designed from the start never to require refueling during its planned service life. Compared to the Los Angeles and the Seawolf classes, she has significantly fewer pumps, valves, circuit breakers, unique parts, and pipe hangers.
  • The submarine's command-and-control system will realize significant savings by using commercial off-the-shelf equipment and an open systems architecture design philosophy, including 60%70% reduction in the amount of software to be developed, a 70%-80% reduction in hardware-development cost, and a four-to-one reduction in system recurring and support costs.

The submarine's most important advantage from naval architectural aspects is her manning efficiency. The Seawolf , for example, which displaces more than an improved Los Angeles , has fewer watchstanders than the Los Angeles . The Virginia-class NSSNs, in contrast, require 15 fewer watchstanders than the Seawolf . For example:

  • Ship control station: The NSSN digital fly-by-wire station will be operated by a pilot, copilot, and a relief pilot. These men replace the traditional five watchstanders—diving officer, chief of the watch, helmsman, planesman, and messenger—required on earlier submarine classes.
  • Navigation-quartermaster watch station: The increased use of automation, including electronic charts, allows combining the present two-man watch—navigation electronics technician and the quartermaster of the watch—into a one man navigation watch.
  • Throttleman-reactor operator watch station: Increased use of new technology and automation allows the reactor operator to perform the duties of the throttleman as well as his traditional duties.
  • Auxiliary aft watch station: Innovative automation again will allow engine room personnel to monitor auxiliary equipment, eliminating the after auxiliary watch station.
  • Torpedo room watch: Automated systems and tours by other watchstanders will eliminate the torpedo room watchstander.

The Virginias, as well as the Seawolf and improved Los Angeles -class submarines, will employ a recently developed AN/BQQ-10 sonar system, also known as the acoustic rapid commercial-off-the-shelf insertion. The system was tested successfully in the USS Augusta (SSN-710) during May 1998, where it demonstrated a multifold improvement in towed-array broad-band detection and tracking ranges and significant improvement in exploiting unique submarine transients.

From a naval architect's point of view, however, the NSSN is quite similar to the last models of the improved Los Angeles -class submarines (with some features—mainly side sonar arrays and propulsor—which were adapted from the Seawolf ). The NSSN class will have the following characteristics: submerged displacement 7,700 tons; length 377 feet; beam 34 feet; draft 30.5 feet; test depth 1,600 feet; two steam turbines (about 40,000 shaft horsepower [shp] driving a single shaft); an S9G pressurized water reactor; speed about 35 knots; manning approximately 100 officers and men; payload of 38 weapons; four 21-inch torpedo tubes; and 12 vertical launch system tubes. Development proceeded rapidly during 1997 and 1998, but the submarine community and the Congress have yet to agree on the ultimate size and shape of the building program.

The most important factor influencing the program is the Seawolf class, with its submerged displacement of 9,137 tons; length 353 feet; beam 40 feet; test depth about 1,950 feet; 60,000 shp; speed 40 knots; eight 26-inch torpedo tubes with 50 torpedoes and missiles. This submarine offers real competition to the NSSN submarine. That the U.S. Navy cannot afford to procure two classes of nuclear attack submarines should not preclude an objective comparison of the two submarines in terms of naval architecture.

The SSN-6881 project was under way when the Seawolf project was developed; in spite of that, Electric Boat naval architects chose less length, more test depth, more speed, more torpedo tubes and weapons, and decided to dispense with vertical missile launchers (VLSs) outside the pressure hull. The U.S. Navy's decision to install 12 Tomahawk vertical launchers outside the pressure hull on the SSN-688I and NSSN classes submarines is a palliative that was very popular on Soviet cruise-missile and even some ballistic-missiles submarines. Such launchers are less reliable, in part because neither the missiles nor the launchers can be inspected regularly at sea.

The Seawolf (SSN-21), commanded by Commander David M. McCall, U.S. Navy, completed sea trials and was delivered to the Navy in June 1997. Her shipbuilder had a few problems in the development and testing of the ship, including the mounts for the wide-aperture array. Problems have been minimal, considering the revolutionary nature of the technology on board; this is by far the fastest, quietest, and most heavily armed submarine in the world.

During 1998, the Seawolf continued to perform superbly in trials and testing. In May, she successfully completed weapon system accuracy testing, then entered post-shakedown availability at Electric Boat in August. During her next year in the yard, the Seawolf will get numerous equipment upgrades and her skin will undergo an advanced special hull treatment, which should make her even stealthier.

The second submarine of the class, the Connecticut (SSN-22) commanded by Captain Larry H. Davis, U.S. Navy, was launched in September 1997, and is scheduled to join the fleet this month. The Jimmy Carter (SSN-23)—presently scheduled to be the final submarine of the class—is a little more than 50% complete.

With 65 SSNs today, the U.S. attack submarine force is entering the final gate of the steep downsizing slope. Nine SSNs are scheduled for deactivation during 1999, and the force is to stabilize at 50 by 2003 as required by the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review. The Navy plans to buy four NSSNs through 2002, and should buy two or three NSSNs per year beginning in 2007 to maintain a 50-SSN force.

By 2020, the fleet should have three Seawolfs , up to 30 Virginias , and about 17 of the San Juan (SSN-751) class—the most improved Los Angeles -class submarines. Such is the general picture of U.S. nuclear attack submarine development—but is such an outcome the only one possible or should we explore alternatives? The majority of today's submariners apparently believe that a mix of 6881s and NSSNs is the answer. But others, including this author, believe that the Seawolf class, especially modernized versions, provides some interesting alternatives.

Even today's Seawolf class, however, has significant advantages when compared with Virginia -class NSSNs and 688Is. Compared to the NSSN, the Seawolf is just as quiet, is faster, dives deeper, has eight rapidly reloadable 26-inch torpedo tubes whose increased caliber allows stealth firing of wire-guided torpedoes, and carries an increased payload of 50 weapons; Seawolf capabilities exceed those of the San Juan -class 688Is by a factor of 2.75.

The characteristics that make a difference are number of weapons, speed, diving depth, and reduced length, which produce additional firepower, mobility, maneuverability in the vertical plane, and more resistance. When it comes to modernization, the Virginia -class NSSNs really cannot accommodate any improvements in naval architecture; it is practically impossible to increase a submarine's length and weapon payload. The Seawolf class, on the other hand, offers many options:

  • Install up to 16 vertical launchers in the second ballast tank, which would increase the payload to 66 weapons.
  • Increase submarine length by ten feet and displacement 350 tons to install up to 16 vertical launchers inside the pressure hull aft of the sail—increasing the payload to 82 weapons. Further stretches might yield a weapons capacity of 100.
  • Install 12 21-inch torpedo tubes instead of eight 26-inch tubes with overall weapons numbering 100.

I believe that the last two options would prove the most cost-effective. Such an improved Seawolf would be much more capable (by a factor of 5 or 6) than a Virginia -class NSSN during the first two decades of the 21st century. With 100 conventional and nuclear torpedoes/cruise missiles or 200 mines, and a much larger torpedo room to carry SEALs and Marines, she would be a real "underwater cruiser."

Should the U.S. Navy drop the NSSN? Of course not. The NSSN is a cheaper "underwater destroyer," a continuation of the SSN-688I program that is necessary—but not sufficient alone—for the United States. This is especially so because Russian submarine development is not proceeding along similar lines. Its Project 971 improved Akula-class submarine with greater displacement has eight torpedo tubes, 40 weapons, and bigger displacement; the next-generation Project 885 Severodvinsk class will have yet more displacement, the same number of torpedo size weapons, plus eight of much larger diameter (about 60 inches) vertical tubes in the special compartment after of the sail for supersonic antiship and land-attack conventional and nuclear missiles.

An improved Seawolf , designated the SSN-211, on the other hand, would be charged with conventional and nuclear deterrence, plus action in major regional and lesser conflicts against land and sea targets, including littoral special operations. It would displace 9,500 tons submerged, and have a length of 360 feet and a beam of 40 feet; test depth would be 1,800 feet. Its two team turbines powered by an improved S8G reactor would generate 60,000 shp and yield a speed of 40 knots. The crew would consist of 120 officers and men.

The SSN-211 would carry a combination of 100 Harpoons, Tomahawks, and Mark 48 torpedoes; alternatively, it would carry up to 200 sea mines. The submarine would be fitted with eight 26-inch or 12 21-inch rapidly reloadable torpedo tubes amidships. It also would come with an improved BSY-2 with a large spherical array and hull-mounted; a TB-29 towed array, and a BQQ-10 sonar. Electric Boat and Newport News would alternate building a total of four submarines (one every three years) at a cost of $2.5 billion per boat.

Commander Charles J. Leidig, U.S. Navy, commanding the USS Cavalla (SSN-684), made the case for more weapons in a July 1997 Submarine Review article: "Simply stated, submarine weapons in the 21st century must be multipurpose, rapidly re-targetable, highly accurate, long range-and we must carry a lot of them!"

Keep the Virginias coming, but build a few upgraded Seawolfs too—they promise a big payoff for a marginal cost increase.

Dr. Sviatov , a naval architect and engineer, is the Washington director of Transoceanic, a joint-stock company that plans to open a passenger line between New York and St. Petersburg. He participated in the design and construction of Soviet submarines beginning in 1954, and has lectured widely on the subject of submarine design.


Replace the Great White Elephants...with LSTs

By Lieutenant Commander Pietro Marghella, Medical Service Corps, U.S. Navy

Since first becoming available in 1986, the hospital ships USNS Mercy (TAH-19) and Comfort (T-AH-20) have been the largest and most capable maritime medical platforms in U.S. history. In fact, they are the largest at-sea medical assets ever fielded in the world. However, because of their designation as flexible deterrent options, their vulnerability as hard targets in a combat environment, limited patient movement capabilities, deployment requirements, staffing constraints, size, and cost, these ships have been severely limited in terms of deployability. The Mercy -class hospital ships should be moved to a reserve status, for use only in a major theater war, and replaced by smaller, more mobile, and rapidly deployable maritime medical platforms capable of providing support across the range of projected military operational requirements.

In 1984, at the height of concerns regarding the "Evil Empire" and in the virtually unlimited defense spending of the Reagan years, the U.S. Navy began construction of two hospital ships. Their stated mission was (and remains) "to provide a mobile, flexible, rapidly responsive afloat medical capability" in support of our forward-deployed forces, and as a secondary mission, "to provide a full-service hospital asset for use by other government agencies in the support of disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide."

Second in size only to aircraft carriers, the Mercy and Comfort are larger in scale and capability than many of the nation's shore-based military treatment facilities. During peacetime, they normally are in reduced operating status, on standby to activate to full operating status within five days, with the Comfort maintained in layberth in Baltimore and the Mercy in San Diego. Because their medical treatment facilities (MTFs) can be activated at different levels (250, 500, or 1,000 bed increments), the embarked MTF crew may vary in size, but can include up to 1,200 military personnel, both medical and nonmedical supporting staff. These personnel primarily come from the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, for the Comfort , and from Naval Hospital San Diego for the Mercy .

Despite these unparalleled capabilities, the Mercy -class hospital ships are not, as their mission statement would proclaim, the mobile, flexible, and rapidly responsive assets they were intended to be. Several issues warrant discussion when considering the merit of these ships:

Cost . Built at a cost of $514 million per ship, each platform requires significant capital expenditures to be maintained as an active fleet asset. To maintain only the hull of each ship in reduced operating status is $20,000 per day ($600,000 per month); to maintain the hull in full operating status, the current projected costs are $65,000 per day ($1.95 million per month). These figures do not include the operations and maintenance costs of the MTF, which are slightly more than $8,000 per day, or the cost to provide a loadout of medical and surgical equipment to staff the T-AHs at 1,000 beds and 12 operating rooms ($19 million). Given the ships' limited number of operational deployments (four in 12 years), this is an extraordinary amount of money to maintain a standby asset.

Staffing . To augment the hospital ships, whether for real-world deployments or training evolutions, personnel are pulled from the two largest teaching hospitals in the U.S. Navy, which affects the availability of services at these flagship facilities. In wartime, it takes a presidential call-up of selected reserves to provide staff to backfill San Diego and Bethesda (whose services are vital because each hospital provides Echelon V medical support to returning casualties).

Deployability . Because they have nearly the same pier, hotel services, and keel-depth requirements as a Nimitz (CVN-68)-class aircraft carrier, but lack the ability to perform underway replenishment, the hospital ships are limited in the location and duration of deployments. Most ports cannot accommodate them.

Patient Movement . Unless operating at a pier—ironically, the ideal operating environment for the hospital ships—the Mercy and Comfort have significant patient movement problems. The original plans for patient ingress and egress involved three access routes: the flight deck, starboard, and port hull entries. Operations during Desert Shield and Desert Storm proved that surface transfer of patients while at sea through either the port or starboard hull access routes could be futile and downright dangerous. Even light sea states (one to three feet) were enough to put patients, crew, and equipment at risk. As helicopter medical evacuation was determined to be the only reliable means of patient transfer, the continued advertisement that the "hospital ships are capable of receiving 200 patients per day—up to 1,000," is suspect.

Operability in a Chemical/Biological Environment . After Desert Storm, the chemical/biological defense and casualty decontamination capabilities of the T-AHs were determined to be inadequate. Steps have been taken that purportedly will enable the hospital ships to "receive chemical casualties in limited numbers," but they still could not function in a biologically contaminated environment. With no bio-agent detection capabilities, inadequate air filtration systems, and no patient isolation capabilities on board, the ship's crew would be at risk; and the closed environment of the hospital ships makes them the last place to which one would consider evacuating potentially contagious bio-contaminated patients.

Vulnerability . Protection under the Geneva Convention does not guarantee that hospital ships will not be targeted. Hospital ships have been fired on during combat support operations, and at least two incidents in the 20th century have resulted in significant loss of life. More recently, combatant forces have begun to target medical support capabilities, based on the premise that if you destroy enemy medical infrastructure, you degrade their ability to provide force protection and sustainment. The size of the Mercy -class ships contributes enormously to their vulnerability.

Designation as Flexible Deterrent Options . This is, by far, the single most limiting factor in the deployability of the hospital ships. When the National Command Authorities want to send a "message" on the nation's intent relative to the use of force, flexible deterrent options (FDOs) such as carrier battle groups, fighter wings, and bomber squadrons are deployed to an area in close proximity to a potential adversary to signal U.S. resolve. Hospital ships are the only medical assets in the national inventory to be designated FDOs. As a result, even when the ships have a clear utility in a U.S. operation, they remain pierside, for fear that they may send the wrong message (i.e., that we are willing to accept high numbers of American casualties to support U.S. policy in a given area).

A Proposal for Alternative Platforms

Sailors and Marines have not stopped getting injured or sick while the hospital ships remain at their piers. What the Navy and Marine Corps really need are dedicated fleet medical assets to provide support across the range of operations without the constraints of our current platforms. Consider the following:

  • Recent tragedies in Lebanon and Somalia have shown that we cannot assume these environments will present no danger to U.S. personnel.
  • Just because many of these operations are considered too small to deploy shore-based Echelon II or III medical assets does not obviate the requirement that those levels of support be available for deploying personnel.
  • Host-nation facilities in many countries come nowhere near the standard of care we expect for our military personnel. In some cases, they may actually put U.S. personnel in greater peril than the original illness or injury.
  • The medical capabilities of deployed major surface ships are not designed for use as Echelon III theater assets; they exist only to provide organic medical support to their embarked units and personnel. It has been a mistake to say that the secondary mission—principally of the large-deck amphibious platforms—is to function as hospital ships. Their purported doctrinal expansion capacity doesn't really exist. Anything more than a few casualties would overwhelm available services and divert the platform from its principal mission.

The answer is to create fleet medical assets that do not suffer from the constraints of the hospital ships, yet can provide the medical support needed to sustain both combat and low-intensity operations. Recent shifts in doctrine and tactics within the Navy and Marine Corps demand that these platforms be lighter, faster, and more maneuverable.

Prime candidates for conversion to dedicated hospital ships are the Newport (LST-179)-class tank landing ships. During World War II, some 15 different platforms were used in this capacity, and the LST functioned extraordinarily well in its role as a casualty receiving and treatment ship. The Navy maintains two LSTs in an active operational status, and four others are in a 180-day reduced operating status. If these six ships were converted to 200-bed hospital ships with dedicated crews, and made available as deployable fleet assets, the following benefits could be observed:

  • Without the FDO designation, the new hospital ships would be free to deploy in routine and crisis evolutions.
  • LSTs would provide better ingress and egress. Patient through-put could be accomplished by helo, advanced amphibious assault vehicle, or by running the platform right up on the beach to receive casualties during non-hostile situations.
  • LSTs would offer greater speed, maneuverability, and deployability.
  • Their smaller size would allow them greater latitude in location of deployments, lessen their requirements for sustainment and pierside services, and significantly reduce their target signature.
  • The platforms could be configured for enhanced survivability in a chemical-biological environment by providing the latest detection and protection technology during their initial outfitting.
  • Dedicated platform staff means medical personnel gain greater experience in operational medicine. In addition, the ability to treat patients in a fleet organic MTF means fewer medevacs from battle groups during deployment.
  • No cost data available on the concept of refitting the LSTs, but the cost-benefit relationship would have to side positively with an asset that can meet the medical requirements of the operating forces.
A Role for the Mercy and Comfort

There still is a place for the Mercy and Comfort in the national inventory. We may again have to participate in large-scale, traditional military operations, and for all their shortcomings, the hospital ships will remain one of the most readily deployable and capable platforms at Echelon III. Until then, the Navy should consider one of two options:

Make the hospital ships part of the Naval Reserve Fleet, to be maintained in mothball status until a national crisis requires that they be activated for service in a geographic commander-in-chief's area of responsibility. Current equipment and supply set packages could be maintained for use in much the same way fleet hospital "fly-away" sets have been engineered for rapid deployment. Staffing would be maintained as at present, using the platform's "ramp-up" period to train and qualify deployment crews prior to getting under way. Current hospital ship operations-and-maintenance budgets could be used to fund either smaller maritime medical platforms or fleet medical support requirements.

Crews assigned augmentation duties no longer would have the actual platform to train on, but since augmenting crews have few responsibilities associated with maintaining the ship (other than fire-fighting, which could be trained at shore-based fire-fighting taught centers in the same manner as for surface combatant crews), this should not be a problem. Training for patient treatment and handling procedures could and should remain the responsibility of the staffing MTFs, to be accomplished within their fixed facilities. Specialized training procedures that are organic to the shipboard environment (e.g., moving patients from helos to MTF ingress routes) could be done after augmentation, during transit to the deployment area.

Use the hospital ships as regional trauma centers to offset shortfalls in civilian trauma and critical-care facilities. With this option, DoD could recoup operations and maintenance costs through private and third-party remuneration for services, and military physicians, nurses, and hospital corpsmen could get training in trauma care in a DoD organic asset. This 500-1,000 bed facility could ease the burden on civilian centers and provide a wide scope of services to a large cachement population. As an additional benefit, it could generate positive public relations for the Navy and DoD.

Prudent practice dictates that we have maritime medical platforms that truly are readily available to support our operational forces. By developing a smaller, more mobile, and rapidly deployable platform, the Navy not only has the chance to provide a more accessible asset to the fleet, but also can become the asset of choice in the joint environment by virtue of its reach, capability, and deployability. At the height of the Cold War, bigger may have been better, but in fleet and joint maritime medical support, less can be more.

Commander Marghella , a 1998 graduate of the College of Naval Commander and Staff, is medical plans officer on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Command.



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