You May Fire When Ready
In this photo, the USS Gridley (DDG-101) fires a standard projectile from its Mk 45 5-inch gun during a November exercise in Norway. In the not-too-distant future, the Gridley—and the other guided-missile destroyers and cruisers in the fleet—may join the USS Dewey (DDG-105) in being equipped with hypervelocity projectiles (HVPs). In the summer of 2018, the Dewey test-fired at least 20 HVPs, as first reported by USNI News. At roughly $75,000 apiece, the BAE Systems HVPs could represent a low-cost solution for a variety of threats, from antiship cruise missile defense to unmanned aerial vehicles to the too-expensive-to-fire 155-mm Advanced Gun System on the Zumwalt-class destroyers. The projectile originally was designed to work with the Navy’s electromagnetic railgun, but the HVP could put a big portion of the railgun’s capability into the hundreds of existing Navy (and Coast Guard) guns. Its potential to be used with land-based howitzers is also being examined, possibly bringing the weapon to the Marine Corps as well.
'Learning to be a Mariner'
The surface navy has undergone two years of self-reflection, and it is implementing substantial changes to the training and career path for a surface warfare officer (SWO). Proceedings spoke with the commanding officer of Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) Command, Captain Christopher D. Alexander, to find out what changes have happened and what are still to come.
“When I went through SWOS DOC [Division Officers Course], we got under way on the [yard patrol craft],” Alexander said of his training 27 years ago. A student then might have gotten lucky to practice getting under way once, do one contact report, one pier landing, and “a little bit of navigation . . . over a period of four or five hours.”
Today, on the other hand, the focus is on “reps and sets.”
Students begin their training with the nine-week-long Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC), a week longer than just a few years ago. New, however, is their immediate entry into the Junior Officer-of-the-Deck Course (JOOD).
Alexander says the four-week JOOD course “takes a building-block approach.”
“We start off with very low-intensity scenarios,” he says. “They might have to do one contact report or maneuver for one ship. We build in complexity.”
As the course progresses, “I can give students 20 contact reports, and I can make them take station on multiple contacts. If it doesn’t go well, I can reset the simulator and make them do it again.”
“By the end, they are passing a fairly robust scenario, proving they understand the practical application of the rules of the road.”
Regarding the use of simulations instead of training on boats, Alexander says SWOS is “trying to use simulation smartly.”
“On-the-job training is and remains an important element of surface warfare officer training. We’re not removing the real-world reps and sets, [we’re] just making that foundation a lot thicker and a lot more stable.”
Additional changes are coming. New ensigns will get two weeks’ training on damage control in a repair party leader course. And in 2021, the JOOD course will expand with two additional weeks of training: one on radar navigation and another on how to use the automated radar plotting assistance program.
New officers typically qualify for their SWO pins around the 18–22 month mark, Captain Alexander says. Until recently, they would finish their first at-sea tours just a few months later, around 24 months. Now, the changes mean officers will stay on their first ships for 30 months, gaining six additional months of practical experience.
When they finish that first tour, they will rotate back to SWOS for the Advanced Division Officer Course. In the next couple of years, they will also get a three-week intensive ship-handling course, bringing the total to nine weeks. And then it is straight back to sea for an 18-month tour, bypassing the staff tour that had become standard. This gets SWOs almost five years of time on ships (or training to be on them) before they move to a shore assignment.
“I rolled off my second ship right at the five-year mark,” Alexander says. “We are getting back to the training we were doing before, but we are doing it in a smarter, more effective, more efficient way.”
The Unaffordable 355-Ship Navy
The Congressional Budget Office issued a report by naval analyst Dr. Eric Labs that assessed the Navy’s fiscal year 2020 shipbuilding plan. The report concluded:
The Navy’s 2020 plan differs very little from its 2019 plan in its goal for the total inventory of battle force ships, the number and types of ships that the Navy would purchase, and the funding proposed to implement the plan. If fully carried out, the shipbuilding plan would represent the largest naval buildup since the 1980s.
The report explained that in September, the Navy had 290 “battle force ships—aircraft carriers, submarines, surface combatants, amphibious ships, combat logistics ships, and some support ships.” The 2020 plan is based on the 2016 force structure assessment that concluded the goal should be 355 battle force ships. To meet this goal, the Navy would need to buy 304 ships between 2020 and 2049—247 combat ships and 57 support ships (including combat logistics). “If the Navy [adheres] to the schedule for retiring ships outlined in the 2020 plan, it would meet the goal of 355 ships in 2034 and maintain that number through at least 2049,” the report said.
The trouble is, the plan “[requires] shipbuilding appropriations that are more than 50 percent larger than the Navy’s average funding for shipbuilding” during the 2014–19 period. “Including nuclear refueling and all other costs associated with the Navy’s shipbuilding budget,” Labs estimates, “the total shipbuilding budget would average $31 billion per year (in 2019 dollars), one-third more than the Navy estimates. Annual operation and support costs for the fleet over the next 30 years would grow from $60 billion today to about $90 billion by 2049.” That bottom line would mean “shipbuilding costs over the next 30 years would be twice as much as appropriations over the past 30 years.”
In short, we can’t get there from here. And that’s why another fleet force structure analysis is under way.