Navy, Industry Still Talking Over What Ship Designs Could Best Support Distributed Maritime Ops

 In GDI, Defense, Sea, Air, Environment, Threats

The guided-mis­sile destroy­er USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) sails in the Arabian Sea. Bainbridge is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of oper­a­tions in sup­port of naval oper­a­tions to ensure mar­itime sta­bil­i­ty and secu­ri­ty in the Central Region. US Navy photo.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Navy and indus­try are still facing a lot of unknowns during a “dynam­ic” con­ver­sa­tion about what ships to build and how to best sup­port future oper­a­tions, lead­ers said today.


What they do know, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said, is that the cur­rent plans for force size and mix are not right. What they don’t know, even as a new inte­grat­ed naval force struc­ture assess­ment is set to wrap up by the end of the month, is where exact­ly they want to be headed.

“We have a goal of 355. We don’t have a plan for 355, and we need to get a plan for it. If it’s not 355, what’s it going to be? What’s it going to look like?” Modly said while speak­ing at the U.S. Naval Institute’s annual Defense Forum Washington event.
“Everything was based around the 2016 force struc­ture assess­ment, which said that we needed basi­cal­ly 12 car­ri­ers, 104 large sur­face com­bat­ants, 52 smalls, and every­thing deriv­a­tive from that. I’m not sure if that’s the right force mix any­more. And we need to look at that, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, too, expressed dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the cur­rent fleet design.

“The fleet’s too small. Our capa­bil­i­ties are stacked onto too few ships that are too big, and that needs to change over time,” he said at the Naval Institute event, noting in par­tic­u­lar a reliance on “two-bil­lion-dollar ships wrapped around 96 mis­sile tubes” – a ref­er­ence to the newest Arleigh Burke-class destroy­ers in the fleet – that will need to change for the Navy to be suc­cess­ful in a con­test­ed envi­ron­ment that calls for the Distributed Maritime Operations con­cept.

Still, even if they know today’s plans aren’t right, few could say for cer­tain what “right” will look like in the future fleet. To some degree, the design of future com­bat­ants, air­craft car­ri­ers, sub­marines, logis­tics ships and more will be deter­mined by wargam­ing and mod­el­ing and sim­u­la­tion tools; they’ll likely be fur­ther refined by detailed con­ver­sa­tions between Navy and Marine Corps require­ments offi­cers, bud­geters and engi­neers and indus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

USS Indianapolis (LCS 17) sits pier­side the evening before its com­mis­sion­ing cer­e­mo­ny. US Navy Photo

Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, the deputy chief of naval oper­a­tions for warfight­ing require­ments and capa­bil­i­ties (OPNAV N9), said during a panel pre­sen­ta­tion at the event that the Navy had suc­cess­ful­ly used this approach for the frigate, which allowed the Navy to best bal­ance cost and capa­bil­i­ty and “which allows indus­try to then get ahead of that pivot to antic­i­pate what’s coming; it’s not a big reveal at the end.”

He pro­mot­ed using this process, called a require­ments eval­u­a­tion team, for other upcom­ing ship design and acqui­si­tion efforts – chiefly the large sur­face com­bat­ant effort, which would pro­vide an oppor­tu­ni­ty to move beyond Gilday’s descrip­tion of today’s destroy­er.

Kilby said anoth­er way to sat­is­fy Gilday’s crit­i­cism of the DDGs is through unmanned sur­face ves­sels. He said the Large USV will be used as an adjunct mag­a­zine to sup­ple­ment destroy­ers, with cap­tains of Aegis com­bat­ants using up the LUSV’s mag­a­zine first with their tar­get­ing data and saving their own supply of muni­tions for when the LUSV needs to leave the battle to rearm and resup­ply. He said this model would “pro­long my abil­i­ty to stay in the fight and maneu­ver,” but Kilby made clear the con­ver­sa­tion can’t stop there.

“I think we have to be thought­ful and look at oppor­tu­ni­ties and not say, no, we fig­ured out the right answer, it’s an LUSV and an MUSV, pens down, we’re done. I think we con­tin­u­al­ly have to pres­sur­ize our­selves to say, how much does that cost, is it afford­able, is it attri­ta­ble, is there a better way to do this, how does it fit into our war plan, and modify, modify, modify.”

He sug­gest­ed that acquir­ing manned and unmanned sys­tems in blocks, to allow for capa­bil­i­ty inser­tions in each new block, would be an ideal approach to ensure the fleet is ever-evolv­ing to keep up with threats and keep up with con­cepts of oper­a­tions.

Mike Petters, the pres­i­dent and chief exec­u­tive of Huntington Ingalls Industries – whose Newport News Shipbuilding yard builds all the car­ri­ers and com­po­nents of all sub­marines, and whose Ingalls Shipbuilding yard builds all amphibi­ous ships and half the destroy­ers – noted it was a “dynam­ic envi­ron­ment” for ship­build­ing and ship design, as the CNO looks to move away from reliance on tra­di­tion­al destroy­ers and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger looks to change the face of the amphib fleet with the addi­tion of less exquis­ite amphibi­ous or alter­nate ships to move Marines around.

The amphibi­ous trans­port dock ship USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26) returns to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam at the end of the at-sea-phase of the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exer­cise, July 31, 2018. US Navy photo.

Still, Petters said during the panel that he’s not wor­ried about his yards keep­ing up with changes the Navy may make to its fleet archi­tec­ture and ship design pref­er­ences.

“At our ship­yard in Newport News, over half of the work­force has less than three years of expe­ri­ence,” he said, saying Newport News Shipbuilding is doing now what much of the ship­build­ing indus­try will be doing in the coming years: replac­ing master ship­builders with green work­ers as a wave of expe­ri­enced per­son­nel hit retire­ment.

“So when we start talk­ing about left turns – we’re not going to build this ship because we’re going to build that ship – well, my view is that I can actu­al­ly have my work­force and my team ready to do that faster than you can make that deci­sion, and I can absolute­ly do it faster than the appro­pri­a­tors could appro­pri­ate. So I’m just not too con­cerned about the abil­i­ty of the indus­try to respond dynam­i­cal­ly to what­ev­er it is we want to do,” he said, with a new work­force capa­ble of lever­ag­ing dig­i­tal design and con­struc­tion tools and ready to learn their skills on what­ev­er kind of ship the Navy wants to buy.

“We have new tools, we have lots of dif­fer­ent things inside the indus­try to allow us to be agile enough to be respon­sive; but we need to find the lan­guage that allows us room to do that,” Petters said, call­ing for a con­ver­sa­tion about how to accept risk in ship­build­ing pro­grams if the Navy wants indus­try to deliv­er ships quick­ly to meet evolv­ing needs.

Ron O’Rourke, naval affairs ana­lyst for the Congressional Research Service, said during the panel that the mil­i­tary had, during an era of rel­a­tive­ly uncon­test­ed oper­a­tions, shift­ed towards a demand for “zero-defect acqui­si­tion,” mean­ing there were no cost increas­es, no sched­ule delays and no test­ing hic­cups. Today, with peer com­peti­tors rapid­ly devel­op­ing new tech­nol­o­gy, the U.S. too needs to acquire plat­forms and weapons at the “speed of rel­e­vance” – even if it means adding tech­ni­cal risk to the pro­gram – instead of asking for a zero-risk pro­gram that’s too slow to have any sig­nif­i­cant impact on the bat­tle­field.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) con­ducts high-speed turns in the Atlantic Ocean on Oct. 29, 2019. US Navy Photo

Noting that a gen­er­a­tional shift is coming to what kinds of ships and con­nec­tors the Navy and Marine Corps plan to buy, O’Rourke said the mix of ships will change and there­fore the bal­ance of work across large and small ship­builders may change.

“If we are moving towards a change of that scale and with so many dimen­sions to it, what are some of the things that we can try to keep in mind as we launch into that? One is to work expe­di­tious­ly to reveal what the new archi­tec­ture is sooner rather than later so help clar­i­fy for indus­try what the new pic­ture looks like sooner rather than later, so that they have more time to pre­pare for it,” he said, noting the first naval inte­grat­ed FSA is due out soon but may not be reflect­ed in budget plans until Fiscal Year 2022 or 2023.

“Second, if you’re going to build a new mix of ships, we can maybe also turn to indus­try and say, well, if we’re build­ing a new com­bi­na­tion of plat­forms, is there in fact a new way to build them com­pared to the way that we have been build­ing them?” he con­tin­ued.
“If we’re going to build a dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tion of ships, it may not be best to do it in the same old way that we’ve been build­ing the pre­vi­ous archi­tec­ture.”

Source: USNI

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