Tomorrow's Fleet

By Scott C. Truver

The NSSN also will embrace network-centric warfare concepts and systems. It will host an advanced electronic support measures (ESM, formerly called ASTECS—advanced submarine tactical ESM combat system) capability that will provide detection, identification, and direction finding for radar and other signals from a variety of sources. It will be linked to the integrated ESM mast (IEM), which will support higher throughput and frequency and pulse-agility capability than legacy/in-service systems for operation in dense ESM signals environments. Similarly, the submarine integrated antenna system (SIAS) will be prototyped for the NSSN, enabling the ships to communicate in Navy and Joint network, ranging from extra-low to super-high frequency, and the high-data-rate system, which will provide a significant upgrade in demand assigned multiple access capability. The NSSN will also feature a new universal modular mast (UMM), an integrated system for housing, erecting, and supporting mast-mounted antennas and sensors, in a non-hull-penetrating design. In addition to the ESM and SIAS, the UMM will house the Photonics imaging system, which will provide advanced visual, infrared, TV, and image-enhancement technologies and other capabilities, for significantly increased detection, identification, and classification capabilities. Some of these systems may be backfit to Improved Los Angeles (SSN-688I) and Seawolf (SSN-21) attack submarines.

The first four NSSNs will be built under an innovative teaming arrangement between General Dynamics Electric Boat Corporation and Newport News Shipbuilding, under which construction of the first four ships will be shared by ship section. Electric Boat will build all hull sections for use at Electric Boat and Newport News, as well as the engine room modules and command-and-control system operating spaces; Newport News will build the bow, stern, sail, and selected forward sections. Electric Boat will assemble the first and third ships, scheduled for delivery in fiscal years 2004 and 2006, respectively; Newport News, the second and fourth, to be delivered in fiscal years 2005 and 2007. A total of 30 NSSNs have been identified in Navy program planning. There are plans—as yet without adequate funding programmed—to increase the build rate to two per year.

In addition to calling for more than 50 SSNs, the Defense Science Board has recommended accelerating the production of the SSN-774 class while pursuing a vigorous technology development and insertion program for existing and future submarines and coming up with a more capable successor to the NSSN in the 2020 timeframe. In the Defense Science Board's assessment, this future SSN should be a large nuclear-powered ship with substantial internal volume for unconventional payloads, such as adjunct submarines and various offboard/auxiliary vehicles. The Defense Science Board concluded that a wide-open look at the future submarine should be conducted jointly by the Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, with substantial input from industry, to develop a range of alternative designs.

Another QDR decision was to maintain the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks Treaty (START) I force posture—which calls for 18 Ohio (SSBN-726)-class fleet ballistic missile submarines—and wait until the Russian Duma and the U.S. Senate ratify START II. Should that materialize, the United States is committed to reducing the Ohio /Trident force to 14 SSBNs by decommissioning early the first four Ohio SSBNs. Thus, no decision has been taken to backfit the first four SSBNs, currently armed with the C4 Trident I missile, with the more capable D5 Trident II. This future continues to generate proposals to convert these early Ohios into submarine land-attack ships (SSGNs) or special operations forces platforms, especially given the fact that significant service life will remain at the time they might be scheduled to leave service.

Critical to the SSGN conversion proposal is the availability of a weapon, especially as procurements of advanced Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles (TLAMs) continue to be fiscally constrained. During the past two years or so, the Navy's submarine and surface warfare communities issued a memorandum calling for cooperation in converting the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) into an "NTACMS" capable of being launched from the vertical launching system (VLS) cells of surface warships and submarines and perhaps the converted launch tubes of the first four Ohio SSBNs. However, based upon a review of current and near-term future needs, the Chief of Naval Operations in May last year decided to pursue a modification on another weapon, the land-attack version of the Standard missile—the LASM—rather than the NTACMS. That is not to say that a future NTACMS-like weapon might not be pursued. Absent a reversal on LASM/NTACMS, however, in the near-term the submarine warfare community simply does not have the available funds to continue on its own, which brings into doubt the viability of the Ohio SSGN conversion.

Last year, the Navy concluded that the service lives of the Ohio SSBNs could be as long as 42 years—two 20-year operating cycles separated by a two-year overhaul and nuclear-plant refueling. Thus, a new class of ballistic missile submarines need not reach the active forces until the mid-2020s. However, the D5 Trident II missile has an expected service life of 30 years, resulting in a platform/weapon service life "mismatch" of about 12 years. This mismatch has generated early studies of a D5 modernization program that addresses a broad range of other weapons that might be loaded out in the future.

Expeditionary and Mine Warfare

A force of 12 amphibious ready groups (ARGs) remains the stated objective to meet the 1991 Department of the Navy Lift Study's requirement of 3.0 Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) assault echelon lift capability. But, by the end of the next decade, the Navy's amphibious force will level off at 36 ships, enough to meet the lift objectives for the assault echelon of only 2.5 MEBs. The three-- ship ARGs will be the backbone of the Navy-Marine Corps team's expeditionary capabilities. However, unless a modified LHD-8 and follow-on construction are in the offing, as was proposed last year, a new-design LHX soon must be considered, if the Navy-Marine Corps team's Operational Maneuver from the Sea (OMFTS) and Sea-Basing paradigms are to be sustained.

Building ‘Gators . The Navy's plan of record is to continue to acquire the 12 San Antonio (LPD-17) amphibious transport dock ships, with the lead ship contract awarded in December 1996 for a 2002 delivery; the 12th LPD is scheduled to deliver in 2009, according to Major General Dennis T. Krupp, U.S. Marine Corps, Director Expeditionary Warfare (N85). Optimized for operational flexibility and designed to meet Marine airground task force (MAGTF) lift requirements in the emerging OMFTS and Ship-to-Objective (STOM) concepts of operations, the LPD-17 is a medium-size (approximately 25,300 tons full load), medium-speed (22 knots, sustained) diesel-powered ship (four turbocharged diesels, two shafts, two outboard rotating fixed-pitch propellers), of 682 feet in length, with a beam of 105 feet, and a crew of about 490. The LPD-17 will carry approximately 720 troops, and will have 25,000 square feet of space for vehicles, 36,000 cubic feet of cargo space, medical facilities (124 beds, two operating rooms), aviation facilities ("O"-level maintenance for four CH-46 helicopters or a mix of AH-1/UH-1, CH-46, and H-53E helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft), and two landing craft air cushion (LCAC) vehicles.

At the moment, the LPD-17 design includes the Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS) and two Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) Block 1 launchers, although Rear Admiral William Marshall, Deputy Director Expeditionary Warfare (N85B), in late October noted that the ship design could accommodate a Mk 41 VLS and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). Another alternative is to build the ships with a lightweight version of the Navy's Aegis phased-array radars—the SPY-IF—rather than the rotating SPS-48E. This would be a logical development if the topside arrangements were to embrace an advanced enclosed mast design, which also has been proposed.

The future of the amphibious assault force remains in flux, with proposals for a service-life extension/upgrade program for the five Tarawa (LHA-1)-class ships, commissioned between 1976 and 1980, and plans for a future LHX generating at least one counter-proposition. Last May, General Charles Krulak, Marine Corps Commandant, wrote to Senator Trent Lott, suggesting that it would be a far better course and a "wiser investment for our nation" to continue to build modified Wasp (LHD-1)-class amphibious assault ships. The Fiscal Year 1999 Department of Defense Appropriations Act included $45 million for advance procurement of LHD-8, with some advocates also calling for the new ship to include a gas-turbine propulsion plant, integrated power systems and integrated electric drive.

Mine Warfare Fleet Engagement . In practically every war game and total-force assessment that has been conducted since Operation Desert Storm, the "mine problem" has loomed large. "Let's look at the threat to our forces at sea," General Krupp explained last fall. "Some 30 nations manufacture naval mines. Of these, approximately 20 are in the habit of selling their wares to others. The result? Upwards of 50 nations—not all of whom are friendly to the United States—maintain significant mine inventories." This asymmetrical threat is important for the nation's strategies and operations, especially when the post-World War II ship casualty toll is considered: Of the 18 ships that have suffered damage from military action since September 1945, 14 were mine casualties.

The Navy's mine countermeasures (MCM) forces continue to confront diverse readiness "challenges" in the face of severe fiscal constraints. For example, early last year the Commander, Surface Forces, Atlantic Fleet, directed the Regional Support Group, Ingleside, to limit the ability "to operate and repair their SQQ-32 sonars" to only four Osprey -class coastal minehunters (MHCs), leaving the other eight single-mission Reserve Force minehunters and the Avenger (MCM-1) to "operate until SQQ-32 failure occurs" because of a lack of repair funds. Little wonder, then, that Secretary of Defense William Cohen wrote to then-Navy Secretary John Dalton in April 1998 that:

I remain concerned about the lack of commitment of the necessary resources to bring about the desired transformation of mine warfare within the shortest possible time. Over the past several years we have spent a great deal of our resources on RDT&E programs, none of which have resulted in any transition to production. We cannot continue in this manner in the future.

Thus focused, the Navy's mine warfare force has been looking to innovative operational architectures and an emphasis on organic mine countermeasures capabilities throughout the fleet to sustain the mine warfare momentum, which General Krupp characterized as the MCM "Fleet Engagement Strategy." Although critics warn that it might not be as easy as the Navy apparently has concluded, with the fleet-wide mine awareness education task a daunting challenge, the service sees mainstreaming mine countermeasures organic capabilities to nondedicated platforms as offering significant advantages. The new approach comprises a renaissance in survey and mapping efforts. A revitalized focus on strategic and tactical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and the means to get time-critical data to the operating forces when and where it is needed; and the use of "regular" operating forces as platforms for current and future mine countermeasures sensors and neutralization systems, including production of an MCM variant of the Seahawk (SH-60) helicopter that would enable every ship with a helicopter platform to be a minesweeper. Still, dedicated MCM forces will be needed, and there continue to be assessments as to future MCM platforms, systems, and technologies, especially in future amphibious objective areas.

Recognizing severe shortfalls in its ability to detect and neutralize mines in the very shallow water (VSW, from 40-foot to 10-foot water depths), the Navy has successfully completed a feasibility demonstration and is standing up its sole VSW Mine Countermeasures Detachment under the Commander, Mine Warfare Command, Ingleside, Texas. The VSW MCM Det, which throughout 1998 continued its transition from a prototype, demonstration unit to a "full-up round," will provide the Navy's only capability for conducting advance-force and pre-assault MCM exploratory and reconnaissance missions in the VSW zone. The Surf Zone MCM problem—from the ten-foot water depth to the high-water mark on shore—remains to be solved by a variety of innovative means, including research involving nematodes ( Caenorhabditis elegans ) at the University of Oregon; researchers are mapping C. elegans' brain wiring to run an electronic robot that one day might be a model for a cheap, artificial eel that can detect and locate mines in the VSW environment. Bats are being studied at Brown University to determine whether bat sonar wavelengths and neural processing can help refine and improve MCM sonars.

A Mine Is a Terrible Thing That Waits . Although a late-fall 1998 draft of the fourth edition of the Navy's Mine Warfare Plan noted that an "aggressive initiative in the development of mines is undeniably required," there is no renaissance in the Navy's mine programs. Two Cold War weapons—the Mk-60 Captor antisubmarine warfare mine and the Mk-67 submarine-launched mobile mine (SLMM)—are being phased out of service, and even older mines in the Navy's inventory essentially are obsolete.

There are some glimmers for a future for U.S. mines. The advanced, programmable Target Detection Device Mk 71, designed for use in the Quickstrike mine series against both large and small targets in shallow water, has been approved for production, and funding has been programmed. The Navy also has demonstrated a requirement and prepared a mission need statement for both a littoral sea mine (LSM) and an improved SLMM (ISLMM). A proposal to modify early variants of the Mk 48 heavyweight torpedo for a two-warhead, wire-- guided ISLMM remains uncertain, although a Mk 48 ISLMM concept demonstration was successfully carried off in fiscal year 1997. And, development of a remote-controlled mine, an aircraft system for delivery of offensive mines (dubbed "Longstrike" by engineers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Coastal Systems Station), and a high-volume mine-laying capability are being proposed. Finding the necessary resources for these programs is likely to be as frustrating as finding mines in the real world.

Second to None?

The stark reality for today's fleet is that it is a "Navy that is working hard . . . a Navy that doesn't have a lot of flexibility left anymore," as Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Resources, Requirements and Assessment, remarked during a Naval Coastal Systems Station conference in November 1998. "Our OpTempo, our PersTempo, our turnaround rates—everybody is working at the maximum pace," he continued. "You really can't squeeze a lot more out right now."

The stark reality for tomorrow's fleet also should be apparent. In broad terms, the numbers of ships will dictate the service's ability to meet peacetime, crisis, and wartime needs, as well as the numbers of aircraft, unmanned vehicles, weapons, sensors, and combat systems the Navy will request in the years ahead. If we sustain shipbuilding at current low levels, the repercussions will be felt throughout our defense industries—not just the shipyards that depend on Navy orders for their lifeblood.

The situation in Congress gives pause for reflection. There are fewer U.S. senators and representatives with real-world military experience than at any time since the end of the Korean War. From the 103rd Congress in 1993, when 60% of the Senate and 41% of the House had served in the military, there has been a 25% drop in congressional military experience to the new 106th Congress—just 43 senators and 136 representatives have had some military service.

None of the eight new senators elected last November served in the Armed Forces, and just 10 of the 40 new representatives, an indication of the growing gap between the military and the general public. When Defense and Navy issues are addressed, more often than not it is in local or regional contexts—"What's in it for my district or my state?"—rather than taking on the issues from a national or a global perspective. This may continue to result in the Defense Department getting weapon systems that it does not request and being denied those that analysis concludes are necessary for the 21st-century operational environment of asymmetrical threats and chaos in the littorals.

If the Navy does not sustain a shipbuilding program of at least ten ships per year beginning in the early years of the next decade, the fleet will number approximately 250 ships by the year 2025. As 1998 came to a close, there were doubts whether the fiscal year 2000-2004 five-year defense plan could garner enough resources to increase the acquisition rate, as decisions about future force structure and force mixes compete with demands for tax relief and expanded domestic programs as the country looks to a near-term future of balanced budgets if not surpluses as we enjoyed in fiscal year 1998. Reports in mid-November 1998 indicated, however, that for fiscal year 2000 the Navy would request funds for only five new-construction ships: three Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) destroyers and two San Antonio (LPD-17) amphibious transport docks.

Certainly, many of the ships of 2025 will be highly capable and highly sophisticated multimission warships armed with a variety of advanced, brilliant weapons and off board systems. But—absent broad innovations in force employment and operational concepts—the Navy of 2025 will be hamstrung in its ability to provide meaningful naval presence in regions important to America's leaders.

This, in turn, will constrain the Navy's capabilities for prompt crisis response and warfighting, which will continue to be prime elements that undergird the nation's security and military strategies for regional stability and peace. In this future, the best may indeed be the enemy of good enough, undermining the quality that quantity could bring to the fleet. And that is where the Coast Guard may have in increasingly important role to play.

Dr. Truver is Executive Director of the Center for Security Strategies and Operations (CSSO), TECHMATICS/Anteon Corporation, Arlington, Virginia. Numerous sources and interviews were relied upon for this overview of tomorrow’s fleet, and he thanks two members of the CSSO team—Ms. Kisha Ferebee and Mr. David Nelson—for their research and production assistance.


Mr. Maxwell is the Deputy Commander, Human Systems Integration Directorate, Naval Sea Systems Command, and Mr. Bost is the Technical Director, Human Systems Integration Directorate, Naval Sea Systems Command.

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