Friday, March 15, 2019


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 If the US Navy is to be limited to something on the order of 300 plus capital ships it is never going to be able to sustain all of its global responsibilities under all circumstances. If the US Navy has to  fight its way into a major naval confrontation such as a  Chinese invasion of the Philippines or Vietnam or any combination of nations whose maritime territory they covet in the South China Sea most of those 300 war ships will be required. Yet the US will not be able to abandon its responsibilities in the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, the High Artic or anywhere else where we have maritime interests, including our own exclusive economic zone (EEZ)  and territorial sea. In our own EEZ and our insular waters the US Coast Guard constitutes a standing constabulary naval force, but it is not adaquate alone on several fronts. Particularly in the high Arctic where we face many challenges from Russia we are presently operating with two ice breakers , one woefully over aged against a Russian fleet that includes about forty icebreakers.   

The Navy needs more small ships in the mix. Not just for training, but as a significant part of the mission space. The trend has been to focus on versatile ships capable of handling any mission. Versatility is an important asset, but when destroyers are the only tool available for a job, destroyers get sent to do that job. Unfortunately, overkill inevitably brings the challenges of unnecessary wear and tear and it does more harm than good in the long run.

Where the Problem Begins
Destroyers (DDGs) and cruisers (CGs) need to be forward deployed naval stations (FDNS). Their power projection is essential, and the Navy needs a solid right hook at the ready to knock down anyone who steps out of line. More than a good right hook is needed, however, to win a fight. For example, a jab might not take anyone off their feet, but it has an important role in supporting and setting up the other maneuvers. DDGs serve as versatile craft capable of fulfilling many possible missions, but when DDGs get tasked with escorting oil tankers and hunting down pirate crews, their power is being wasted.
The fleet’s right hook is solid. What it is missing is a good jab.
Veteran sailors will hear all these ideas and likely make the same point—yes, and the Navy has a ship class to fit this idea, littoral combat ships (LCS). Only they do not work.2 It is conceivable that an LCS could fill the role described, however, they have struggled to do so. The current push is to scrap further LCS plans in favor of fast frigates (FFs).3 Currently, the Navy lacks a forward-deployed craft capable of adequately supporting the DDG/CG role in any sufficient capacity.
In the absence of adequate supporting ships, the DDGs have become over tasked and worn down. These additional duties strain the ship and the crew. Destroyers should not be tasked with burial-at-sea detail or escorting oil tankers except in the most critical of matters. When the FDNS depend too much on one type of vessel to handle all missions within that space, there will be tasks for which the craft is over-equipped. Destroyers need more supporting craft to offload missions to with less critical demands that can still operate in a forward-deployed environment or shallow waters. Reconfigured craft of opportunity such as reconfigured and armed offshore supply vessels presently in abundant supply could fill many of these mission requirements. 
The Navy needs a new, revamped class of patrol boat for: 1) better early leadership opportunities for junior officers, 2) reduced fatigue, and 3) cost/benefit analysis. This solution can address several of the problems cited as causal factors in the most recent surface fleet incidents. The Navy lost something important in the shift to bigger and better. It needs a new ship that is the right fit for the job.
Better Training and Better Opportunities for Junior Officers
After last year’s collisions, training been brought up again and again as a causal factor. Sailors continue to discuss whether or not the accidents could have been avoided if people had the proper training or had kept their training up to date. Still, the critical challenge is—as always—having enough trained personnel for the operations involved. Watch sections are built around crew qualifications, and the more training required, the greater the burden placed on the crew. The result will be fewer personnel “qualified” for all duties, and greater fatigue imposed by the intensified watchstanding requirements.
Even so, more training has never been the right answer—more training is how the service took steps toward becoming a checkbox Navy, where every training box is filled in Navy Knowledge Online and sailors only learned how to click through menus more effectively. Proficiency in the most critical responsibilities should be the goal. It is more important to have two proficiently trained sailors at the helm when urgency strikes than a dozen sailors who half paid attention when trying to complete a qualification. If the Navy makes better use of the mission space, then it can start training sailors to become proficient in something rather than trained in everything.
Here is where the mission space issue impacts our training and prevents proficiency from developing.
Every time routine operations are interrupted with special evolutions. Every time a crew has to go out of their way to fulfill some specialized task. Every time a ship is tasked to overly simple duties. Whenever one of these things happens, it places a burden on the crew. There then is less time for maintenance, less time for study, less chance of passing the tests, and less time to schedule the test. Training burdens are inherently time burdens, and taxing the ship by tasking it with lesser duties compounds an already complicated challenge. More time to train seems as if it should help resolve some of the training burdens, but the challenge ultimately becomes how to create the time needed to resolve our training issues.
So how do more ships create better training opportunities? Smaller craft can swap in and out of some future rotation, creating a watchstanding schedule for ships in a particular region not unlike the watchstanding schedule an individual sailor while under way. When smaller ships can alleviate the burden, other ships can focus on their training. In the case of DDGs/CGs, those crews will gain time by not facing more special evolutions or simple duties. Time is a hybrid solution. Time provides the opportunity to train, but simply training is not enough—the training goal should be proficiency rather than just qualification.
Another training issue concerns the opportunities available to junior officers (JOs). If JOs are going to become seasoned senior leaders, there need to be leadership opportunities worked into the training pipeline.4 Not just a relief from collateral duties, but an opportunity to stand on his or her own as a leader. There is no substitute for real leadership experience, and there is no leadership experience like being the most senior officer on board a ship at sea. In addition to assuming significant responsibilities and feeling the full weight of command for the first time, the officer has an opportunity to learn. What areas or experience need the most improvement? What does he or she need to learn before moving to larger vessels? Does the officer have the temperament for these positions, or is the Navy wasting its time training someone without the potential to truly lead?
There are two ways to work this idea into the training pipeline. First, additional ships mean additional opportunities to take command earlier in a career. This approach would mean using the existing system and expanding the number of billets. More leadership opportunities mean more leaders that can be trained simultaneously—in this sense, additional ships would be a means to expand the diameter of our training pipeline and increase the flow. Second, command opportunities could become available to more junior individuals. This approach would mean trying to expedite the elite performers through the training pipeline even faster. Although both approaches are viable, the more reasonable option would be increasing the number of command opportunities available as milestone billets.
Still, expanding the number of opportunities is important for other reasons, most notably in versatility. The surface warfare community is only so large, and milestone billets only become available in so many ways. More opportunities creates a greater scheduling challenge for the detailers, yet sailors can choose whether they will take another key step toward becoming a leader or opt once again for the more comfortable, familiar role on board a similar ship. In so doing, sailors would self-select themselves out of the leadership fast track without sacrificing the capabilities of the fleet.
It should also be noted that command on board a small ship, such as a patrol craft, will be a limited experience. For example, managing and maintaining supply lines is a critical responsibility on board larger vessels, which an aspiring commander will learn during their department head tour. This need will not exist to the same extent on board a patrol boat, and even if it does, the problem will not be nearly as challenging for a crew of 30 as it is for a crew of 300. Even so, this limitation is not necessarily a bad thing. Early command responsibilities should be more limited than senior command responsibilities so sailors have the time and opportunity to develop into mature and capable leaders. Additionally, these command milestones would serve as a demonstration of basic seamanship and potential leadership—things prospective commanding officers should master and display.
There will still be opportunities to learn how to manage a larger crew down the road. In the meanwhile, JOs get the opportunity to test out their leadership abilities, feel the weight of true responsibility for the first time, and understand what critical skills may be missing. At the same time, the Navy mitigates its risk by limiting the size of a first crew and cost of a first ship , and improves its ability to execute the mission by expanding the mission space. One way or another, this experience will happen to a commanding officer. If their first taste of real command occurs on a small vessel in charge of a few dozen crew members , the potential mistakes are much more forgiving than when the ship’s crew is several hundred.
Reducing Fatigue
Fatigue has been cited several times in recent mishaps reports, and for life at sea, fatigue and restricted sleep are as common as saltwater.5 Some military communities already do an incredible job of managing fatigue and limiting the risk to their personnel. Aviation is one area where fatigue management is down to a science. Some suggestions are to start using aviation tactics to alleviate fatigue in surface warfare.
A lateral move in procedures will not work because aircraft can stop moving at the end of the day and ships cannot. Constant motion means constant responsibilities, which means someone must always be watching. This requirement also imposes increased maintenance responsibilities in addition to typical watchstanding burdens.
How does the large vessel versus small craft debate fit into this mix? If it takes one destroyer to successfully patrol a given area, it might take three or four enhanced FFs or patrol boats to fulfill the same immediate power projection requirements—minus certain missile launch or defense capabilities. If the Navy can field a dozen patrol craft to one destroyer, then there is an interesting option to consider. The destroyer must be on the move at all times, but we can swap patrol craft in and out of the rotation. More frequent time in port could reduce the strain on the sailors underway and provide new opportunities to alleviate fatigue. In addition, the destroyer could avoid high traffic areas where possible and send the patrol craft into the mix for physical presence. The Navy can thus maintain the same broad scale projection capabilities and physical presence without sacrificing either. Less high-risk evolutions for the larger craft also provide more manageable risk for the fleet and more time to spend training rather than conducting another high-risk evolution.
If the Navy can replace a constant under way time for destroyers with a rotational patrol craft cycle, imagine the watchstanding versatility. Prolonged fatigue becomes less of an issue if sailors can have a couple of days to recover every week. The fleet becomes more alert and attentive while better able to match vessels to the mission space. The ultimate fatigue-related advantage is then that the service can move from having 300 sailors under way at all times, to 200 Sailors under way and 100 more on the bench ready to rotate. There still will be long days, but five days of long days versus five months of long days puts a different strain on the individual.
Cost/Benefit Analysis
Better optempo is the operational advantage, but there is another advantage to patrol boats and craft of opportunity that we must consider: cost/benefit analysis.. Scrapping one planned destroyer could provide the funding for two dozen patrol boats. Smaller ships also are cheaper to operate—fewer personnel, reduced maintenance costs, less fuel costs. The cost of sending a DDG to handle a mission when a smaller ship would suffice could easily be measured in millions of dollars.
Still, the reduced maintenance window is the notable piece because not only are the maintenance costs cheaper, but the benefit is greater. Less maintenance means less time in the shipyards, which costs the fleet in more ways than dollars. Shipyards are where operational readiness goes to rot. Morale drops and sailors get complacent.
Now take the devil’s advocate point of view. The Navy might not be able to replace one DDG with one patrol craft and maintain the same operational readiness. It may take three or four beefed-up patrol craft to support the fleet in lieu of one destroyer. So, if plans are scrapped for one Zumwalt-class destroyer, the Navy can build 12 PCs—while saving $2.9 billion.6 If the cost is based on an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, the savings is only $6 million. But, the Navy will have to man these ships, and manning 12 patrol craft will take hundreds of sailors—just as many it would for one destroyer. So, adding up the costs, replacing a single destroyer with a squadron of patrol craft will cost the Navy almost nothing. If anything, the Navy is likely to end up saving money while making better use of the mission space and expanding junior leadership opportunities.
Adding more small ships to the mix is a cost effective solution where the low-end savings estimates still have at least eight or nine zeroes. Better yet, the ships the Navy has can do what they were always meant to do—maintain, train, and equip combat ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas.

Summary and Recommendations
Here are three options for this proposed new class of ship:
  1. Fast frigates. The guided-missile fast frigate (FFG(X)) perhaps is the closest solution to the existing LCS. The idea (or at least one of them) will be to employ more unmanned systems and operate within contested areas to gain weapons and sensors advantages over potential adversaries.7 This new class would help relieve stress on the surface fleet by moving important, high-risk evolutions to a class of ships specifically designed for that role. Unmanned systems could help reduce the crew size and place lesser manning-related burdens on the fleet. Still, until we see designs, the FFG(X) requests resemble a souped-up LCS designed for high optempo.
  2. Enhanced Cyclone-class. The current ship class most resembling what we described here is the Cyclone-class patrol boat. It operates with a crew just under 30, diesel engines, and a range of over 2,000 nautical miles.8 These ships were designed more for mission support of SEAL teams and other special operations, which makes the design slightly different than the needs we outlined here. However, we have also seen the immense value of these ships in the Persian Gulf. Almost all of the Cyclone-class ships we have (numbering just over a dozen in total) have been deployed to great effect in contested waters, and when three-quarters of a ship type is succeeding while deployed at a mission for which it was not primarily intended, you may have stumbled onto a formula worth further investigation.
  3. Not one—but many. Another option is to harken back to the days of World War II and PT-109 where we operated many small ships, which could be used for various purposes. In highly contested waters, this approach would effectively scale down the fight and trade quality for quantity. The overall force effectiveness could remain the same, although this option would signify a fundamental shift in our existing procedures. Specifically, the Navy would need to invest more heavily in floating bases rather than just carrier strike groups.9
The Navy loses something important if it only focuses on bigger and better. There is value in matching the right craft to the mission rather than trying to have one vessel type to fit any mission. Hyperbole aside, the service never got rid of the patrol craft or patrol boats. However, the ones we have are aging, and in the big discussions of new ships like the USS Zumwalt or the FFG(X)s, it becomes easy to forget about the little guys. There are many good reasons for smaller craft, and we need more of them. In terms of rapidly reconfigurable seaworthy craft heavier than the patrol boat, a collection of very cheap to obtain off shore oil industry support craft could fill a wide variety of combat missions and handle intra theater sea lift. 

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Toohey Marine LLC
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