Throughout history governments have required the ability to project both hard and soft power well beyond their borders, and almost without exception naval force has been the most capable power projection tool available. Those same requirements still stand today. At the dawn of the twenty first century the nature of naval power projection and the equipment and doctrine needed to achieve it stand at somewhat of a crossroads, with the assumptions that have underpinned western naval procurement for the last twenty years undergoing extensive reexamination. The threat matrix facing western navies is now evolving rapidly, and naval strategists and procurement planners are racing to catch up. Was the “littoral centric” procurement program launched by the USN warranted given the evolving nature of naval power projection and the rise of potential blue water competitors? Is the RAN justified in investing so much in amphibious capability and assets to protect it while relatively neglecting offensive counter maritime and strike assets? In this article I will examine both the USN’s and the RAN’s procurement choices as both strive to adapt to the changing requirements of naval power projection in the twenty first century.
The USN and the Littoral Environment
The end of the cold war left the USN without the primary set of strategic requirements that had dominated procurement and doctrine; the need to protect the Atlantic sea lines of communication. No longer did the USN have to devote massive resources to a large frigate force intended to escort convoys to
This “littoral centric” view of procurement and doctrine that dominated the USN during the 1990’s is apparent in a wide range of programs: the conversion of Ohio class SSBN’s to SSGN’s, the Littoral Combat Ship program and the DD(X) program are perhaps the most well known. The only major blue water design and procurement program initiated in the 1990’s was the CVN(X) next generation carrier, and although DDG-51 procurement continued that program was thoroughly rooted in the cold war. Clearly the USN had relegated blue water capability to the “backburner” in terms of research, development and procurement.
The LCS is a small, fast, lightweight and inexpensive platform designed to operate effectively in the littoral environment. Its modular “mission package” system allows the LCS to perform a wide variety of roles with “plug in and fight” mission components giving it some blue water capability. The planned fifty five ship LCS fleet will be a vital component to the USN’s “313 ship navy” concept and will allow the USN to operate with much greater flexibility in the littoral environment. With a top speed in excess of forty knots the LCS is intended to move quickly into littoral environments dominated by smaller nations, deploy Special Forces, lay or hunt mines and provide small units deployed on shore with indirect fire support. The platform is optimized for this role with only minimal air defence capability and small ca
liber naval guns. The only potential blue water capability this class will posses will be in the ASW role, with the ASW mission package and a deployed MH-60 providing a partial ability to prosecute SSN/K/G threat in deep water. Clearly the bulk of the blue water ASW load will be taken up by the DDG-51 fleet due to its significantly superior sensor suite and ASW weapons fit. The LCS will provide the USN with a level of flexibility and speed of response in the littoral environment that the FFG-7 or DDG-51 simply could not.
Left: LCS 1, Freedom Right: LCS 2 Independence
The other major development and procurement program currently underway is the DD(X) program and its product the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyer. The DD(X) program was intended to fulfill the Marine Corps’ requirement for naval fire support which the USN lost when it retired the
Left: DDG-1000 Right:DDG-51
The DDG-1000 has been one of the more controversial naval procurement program in modern times, attracting extensive attention from the Congressional Budget Office and the press. The many revolutionary aspects of the DDG-1000’s design, such as its significant RCS reduction measures and dual band radar, entail a hefty research and development price tag with a $6.6 Billion USD procurement cost for the first vessel. After years of staunch defence of the DDG-1000 program, before the Sea power and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee in July 2008, the USN announced that it no longer intended to procure any additional Zumwalt class destroyers past the three already funded but requested funding for an additional DDG-51 with the possibility of a further eight. The Marine Corps consider the DDG-1000’s Naval Fire Support mission as critical, however the Navy contends that more than adequate fire support can be provided by airborne platforms, rocket assisted 5 inch munitions and organic marine fires. The USN sighted the increased blue water threats of air launched anti ship cruise missiles, ballistic missiles defence and proliferation of blue water capable conventional submarines, and the DDG-1000’s deficiency when facing this altered threat matrix, as the major rational behind the decision to resume DDG-51 production.
The decision to “truncate” the DDG-1000 to 3 vessels and resume DDG-51 production is the first step away from a littoral centric mindset that has dominated USN strategic thinking for the last fifteen years. It seems that this dramatic about face was attributable to more than a proliferation of SSK’s and the increased need for BMD that had developed in the previous 2 years. Evidently the mid term threat to the USN’s dominance of the worlds blue water by the rise of new Asian powers has been a major factor in the platforms selection. The increased threat of ballistic missiles clearly refers to the significant strides continental Asian powers are making in converting these weapons for anti ship use. The massive investment in green water operations that are invariably asymmetric in nature and facing a lesser power, which the DDG-1000 represents, is clearly a “niche” expenditure that detracts from the USN’s blue water capability. Now with an increased threat to the USN’s ability to operate outside of the littorals procurement has shifted to more flexible platforms.
The RAN, the AWD and the “Fat Ships”
The need for an area air defence solution for the RAN was outlined under
Left: The Hobart class AWD
Left: The Hobart class AWD
The replacement of the LPA’s HMAS Kanibla and HMAS Manoora under Project JP 2048 phase 4a resulted in the selection of the largest vessels ever acquired for the RAN, the 27,000 ton Canberra Class LHD’s. Each of the Canberra class LHD’s will be capable of moving a mechanized battalion group, complete with M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, self propelled or towed artillery, Ground Based Air Defence units, combat engineers, signals companies and logistics assets in addition to a mixture of between ten to twenty four attack and lift helicopters. The ability to move a complete battalion group allows a single
Left: The Canberra class LHD
According the defence white paper published in 2000, the secondary and tertiary roles of the ADF in terms of strategic importance are the promotion of stability in the south pacific and
Lessons to learn?
The dynamic nature of power projection and the strategic landscape has created an extremely challenging situation for naval strategist’s and procurement planners to contend with over the last fifteen years. The lack of a clear blue water threat after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ascension of the U.S. to the role of global policeman in the security vacuum that followed lead to a dramatically different set of operational requirements for the early twenty first century, a set of requirements not seen in modern history. No global contender to
The littoral centric mindset that seems to have gripped the USN is perhaps understandable given the organizational drive to evolve after the cold war. Post 1990 the USN would face small states in widely dispersed theatres, and in every case it would have the task of maintaining or restoring the established security order. The new operational environment drove the new operational paradigm, and the result is the littoral optimized vessels such as the DDG-1000 and LCS. These vessels are a reaction to a perceived strategic environment, and both will allow the USN to operate with virtual impunity in the littorals in the vast majority of scenarios. However the question remains as to why the USN is abandoning the DDG-1000 and acquiring previous generation DDG-51’s if these vessels are so well suited to the operational environment that the USN was bound to face in the post Cold War era?
The RAN faced a similar shift in its strategic landscape, but the collapse of the
However this adaptation to an evolving strategic requirement may have been short sighted. The arguably myopic, fifteen to twenty year limited view held by the USN and RAN has lead to a situation, particularly in Washington, where procurement choices are racing to catch up with the evolving threat matrix, and falling back on legacy platforms to do so. After billions of dollars invested in what is undoubtedly the world’s most capable destroyer sized vessel the mighty DDG-1000 has been relegated to the abyss of a technology demonstrator. This is the price the USN is paying for its myopic focus on the littoral operational environment; the construction of legacy platforms because next generation systems are too optimized and inflexible to adapt to a changed threat matrix and strategic requirements. Undoubtedly the technology equipping the DDG-1000 is, on average, far more capable than that equipping the DDG-51; however the lack of blue water capability which could have easily been included in the design stage has rendered the platform virtually redundant. With only two options the USN has no choice but to continue production of previous gen platforms.
The ADF is in danger of repeating similar mistakes. The acquisition of an Aegis capability and the massive increase in sea lift will improve the RAN’s ability to project power globally, in line with the government’s requirements. However since the commissioning of the sixth Collins Class SSG there has been no real investment in counter maritime or ASW capability. The Hobart Class DDG’s will dramatically improve the RAN’s air defence potential, however the platforms maritime strike capacity is broadly capable to an ANZAC class FFH, and its ASW capability is not dramatically superior. The ADF’s single most capable maritime strike and ASW asset is without doubt the Collins class SSG, yet the government did not exercise its option for a further two platforms or begin construction of one or two vessels in the lag time between the completion of the final Collins and construction of the Hobart class DDG.
Left: The Collins class SSG
It seems the critical point that must be remembered is that sea control is a critical prerequisite for power projection. The USN’s dogmatic adherence to littoral combat neglected investment in blue water capability; the ability to operate in the littoral environment is useless if you are challenged by an enemies attempt at a sea denial or sea control strategy out of the littorals. Sea control in blue water requires local superiority on, above and below the oceans, and that superiority is necessary for maritime forces to project power ashore. The ADF has apparently focused on only one element in the last ten years and missed an opportunity to significantly increase the RAN’s ability to dominate the other two. Although usually considered tools of a sea denial strategy, submarines can be extremely effective in a sea control strategy if used in conjunction with surface assets. The DDG-1000 could still have performed its littoral mission adequately if it had not been so heavily optimized for green water, the addition of proper blue water sonar, additional VLS and BMD capability would have allowed the
As we look towards our next round of procurement choices, such as the numbers of Hobart Class to be produced and the ANZAC and Collins class replacements, we must remember the lessons being learned at the moment. Procurement planners must look beyond the immediate strategic needs and not invest in heavily optimized platforms, in addition to making sure the platform choices match the strategic environment are designed to address. The question remains as to weather the lessons of twenty first century power projection have been learned.
 CPRS Report for Congress, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and issues for Congress: Page 3.
 CPRS Report for Congress, Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress. Page 2.
 CPRS Report for Congress, Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress. Page 4.
 CPRS Report for Congress, Navy DDG-1000 and DDG-51 Destroyer Programs: Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress. Summary
 CPRS Report for Congress, Navy DDG-1000 and DDG-51 Destroyer Programs, Background, Oversight Issues and Options for Congress
 Australian Defence Business Review, Volume 25, July-August 2006, Page 18
 2000 Defence White Paper, page 49
 Semaphore, Issue 9 2007, Royal Australian Navy