Friday, April 6, 2012

A "Pivot" platform re-considered? And seconded!

Ingalls Shipbuildings NSC/Patrol Frigate rendition

USS Freedom after a few months of service

As noted in the previous post, the United States had carried the mantle of being the preeminent maritime nation on the planet. The years since the end of the Cold War, and the first decade of the 21st century has begun to call that legacy into question as we spent trillions trying to coax modernity and democracy into minds locked in the grip of customs born of remoteness and religion.

Now in the wake of President Obama announcement that we would begin a "Strategic Pivot" to reinforce our presence in the Western Pacific, as we continue to secure the sea lanes in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and guard against aggression emanating from North Korea and drug interdiction on the southern approaches. We are doing all this with the same sized navy that we had under President Howard Taft in 1916. True, we have aerial surveillance and satellites to watch every square inch of land and sea, but having a cop, (navy) on the beat, by showing the flag, keeps the potential for trouble in check, and if trouble happens, are able to answer the bell without mounting a crusade.
USS Independence
Scare them with speed!

The topic of what kind of "cop on the beat" we field, got a significant amount of attention today when the New York Times published an article that calls into question the survivability, feasibility and mission capability of the new Littoral Combat Ships that by all accounts are having more teething problems than President Franklin D. Roosevelt's entire 1933-41 Shipbuilding Program. And to top it off, the mission suites are not even fully developed and will not deploy for a few years. The article set off a reaction across the naval centric blogs that continued to generate reactions here and here. The problem as I, in my capacity of following naval affairs for a few years, and more importantly, as a concerned citizen has come to recognize the problems and shortfalls that bring into question whether the LCS's will ever be mission ready and capable. First, lets look at the positives that the Navy and leadership tout about the two LSC versions. It is fast, with a top speed of over 40+ knots, It's small crew lowers manning costs, and it's designed to switch out different modules, to meet a single mission threat, like mine warfare, anti-ship, anti-submarine or special ops. This all looks good on paper, but what happens if the mission suddenly changes? I guess the high speed allows for running back to a home port, or some pre-positioned mothership to switch out of the module. But what if confronted by more than one threat? That would require calling on the big boys, and hightailing for safer waters since as the New York Times article points out it is not capable of slugging it out with any formidable foe. What happens if you have to shoot it out with the tools you brought? The prognosis is not good for winning that kind of contest, right from the mouths of those who designed the ships.

Now for the short falls besides not being able to preform multiply missions. First, in contrast to being high speed, it has very short legs for a blue water warship coming in at 4,000 miles at 18 knots, with an endurance of 21 days or 336 hrs. Then the small crew, 45-75 would be hard pressed to maintain sustained combat, as one looks back on the level endurance required of sailors during the last time the navy fought a major naval war in World War II. Then there is the single mission module that leaves them defenseless if say they are clearing mines in the Persian Gulf and two dozen Iranian speed boats attack. Finally, there is the cost overruns that continue to bleed our tax dollars. The bottom line is these seem like fine ships for chasing pirates off Somalia, or raising rooster tails during "Fleet Week" parades. But, the ghosts of sailors from Burke, Mahan, Dewey, Faragaut and all the way back to Jones are rattling their sabers and stamping their feet to send their message back from the grave and through the pens of those who are questioning this latest effort to high tech and manage our way into building future warships.

USCG Bertholf
Is there an alternative platform that is equally mission capable? Many are beginning to point to the Coast Guards new National Security Cutter as an example of a more mission capable and cost effective vessel. The NSC might not be as fast, topping out at 28 knots, but it's range is 12,000 nmi. with an endurance of 60 to 90 days makes her one long legged lady with 3+ times the endurance of the LCS. The reports coming back from the first two in service are revealing a platform that has excellent seakeeping characteristics and so far, minimal teething problems. Now let's talk what they can do mission-wise. The needs of a Coast Guard cutter are different from a LCS, but the builder Ingalls Shipbuilding will introduce a patrol frigate derivative at the Doha International Maritime Defense Conference this week. The patrol frigate will come in two variants.

Patrol Frigate 4501 and Patrol Frigate 4921.
Patrol Frigate 4501 is closely aligned with the basic National Security Cutter hull with limited design changes. The ships are 127 meters (418 feet) long with a 16.5 meter (54 feet) beam and displace 4,600 tons with a full load. The ship has a 12,000-nautical mile range and can operate in speeds up through 28-plus knots. They have an endurance of 60 days and accommodations for 148. The ship includes an aft launch and recovery area for two rigid hull inflatable boats and a flight deck to accommodate a range of aircraft, with twin hangars for storage of one H-60 class helicopter and two rotary-wing unmanned aircraft. The ships are equipped with various sensors and surveillance systems as well as a 57-mm gun, a 20-mm close-in weapon system and six 50-caliber machine guns.
Patrol Frigate 4921 has additional mission capabilities for anti-aircraft, anti-submarine, anti-surface and mine-warfare provided by a 76-mm gun, a 12-cell vertical launch system, an anti-ship missile launcher and torpedo launcher, sonar dome and remote-controlled and manned 50-caliber machine guns.
Both frigates retain the NSC's propulsion system of one LM2500 gas turbine and two MTU20V 1163 diesels in combined diesel and gas configuration. All variants incorporate the current quality-of-life features on the NSC, including modern berthing compartments, entertainment facilities and workout facilities.

More voices have joined the conversation, pointing out the advantages of a patrol frigate over the single mission LCS.
MicroSystems Integration used historic U.S. Navy data from the 2010 Navy Program Guide to calculate the expected frequency for each of the 19 missions for the LCS-type ship during an average year and then assigned the preferred ship to each.

The analysis determined that out of the 19 missions traditionally performed by small surface combatants, seven indicated the Patrol Frigate was the preferred ship. When compared against a non-missionized LCS, (just the seaframe, no mission systems), the Patrol Frigate was the preferred ship in 15 missions. 
To compare operational costs (fuel and personnel), six modeled scenarios were run based on proposed scenarios in the CSBA paper, ranging from securing loose nuclear weapons to maritime interdiction. For those two scenarios, the Patrol Frigate reflected an operational savings of approximately 29 percent and 33 percent, respectively, when compared to an LCS-type ship. In all six scenarios (the two above and convoy protection, maritime stability operations, counter piracy/counter crime, and humanitarian assistance/disaster response), the Patrol Frigate reflected an operational savings of approximately 26 percent.
Industry view: Why the Navy needs a ‘Patrol Frigate’

H-I pitches ‘Patrol Frigate’ as cheaper alternative to LCS

Presenting the Patrol Frigate

USCG Taney 1944

USCG Taney
Variant 4921 seems to be a good alternative to consider as a ship capable of preforming the kind of missions envisioned in the "Strategic Pivot" and the LCS with all three suites on board and underway at all times. Using a historical footnote, USCG Taney served from 1936 until 1986 and was in action from December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor and today is the last surviving combat vessel from that day. The hull and construction of the Taney lent itself to be re-purposed many times during the war and later in her long career. The National Security Cutter is a platform that like the Taney can be modified to preform all the defense requirements of our modern maritime forces.

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