Thursday, March 5, 2009

Power Projection in the Twenty First Century: Lessons to be learned?

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 Europe. Over night the threat matrix facing the USN and the organizations primary role dramatically altered, with the lone superpower now taking on the role of global peacemaker. However the US fleet was not properly equipped for this role, with a large destroyer and frigate fleet designed for blue water operations. If the USN was to be the White House’s “big stick” in far flung corners of the globe the massive blue water capability appeared to be largely redundant. It was assumed that only dominating the littorals would allow the USN military to intervene in, coerce or militarily dominate lesser powers in strategically vital but distant locations. With no apparent blue water challenger in the 1990’s the full focus of procurement and R&D shifted to green water capability.

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[1] and will allow the USN to operate with much greater flexibility in the littoral environment[2]. 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[3]. 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 Iowa class battleships in the early 1990’s. The DDG-1000 is a littoral optimized vessel, with a dual band (X and S band) radar designed to track small targets in high clutter, in shore environments, significant Radar Cross Section reduction measures and the 155mm/6 inch Advanced Gun System, firing rocket assisted Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) Precision Guided Monition’s with a maximum range of 60nm[4]. While the DDG-1000 is a guided missile destroyer, it was never intended to fulfill the area air defence role that the DDG-51 fulfils today, which is a limitation in blue water scenarios. Additionally the DDG-1000’s sonar is heavily optimized for operating in the littoral environment. While the DDG-1000’s sensors, weapons, and RCS reduction will allow the platform to operate very effectively in well defended littoral environments, this optimization limits the platforms flexibility.

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[5]. 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”

In 2007, Australia was the fifth largest user of commercial shipping in the world. The geographic circumstances and economic structure that Australia must contend with create an almost unparalleled reliance on Sea Lines of Communication and the economic link they provide. Thus the concept of sea control is a matter of economic life and death for RAN and ADF as a whole. The ability to control the areas of ocean that function as Australia’s economic link to the rest of the world, and if need be deny that to an enemy, may be Australia’s realistic centre of gravity in any major conflict. The long and bloody battle for Guadalcanal in 1942 was fought by the U.S. in order to maintain those vital links to her ally. However this need to defend commercial shipping routs in high intensity warfare has taken somewhat of a back seat in procurement programs in the last ten years, with a heavy emphasis on amphibious lift and power projection. While the RAN is not investing heavily in such specialized vessels as the LCS or DDG-1000, the emphasis is clearly on the more visible elements of maritime power projection such as extremely capable Air Warfare Destroyers and Large Amphibious Ships.

The need for an area air defence solution for the RAN was outlined under Project SEA 4000, the Air Warfare Destroyer program. The previous destroyer possessed by the RAN was the Perth (Charles F. Adams) class DDG which were approaching obsolescence at their 1990’s retirement date. The area air defence need was partially fulfilled by the Adelaide FFG-7 class guided missile frigate (Oliver Hazard Perry class) however this solution never replaced the capability lost with the Perth Class retirement in contemporary terms. The chosen design from the SEA 4000 project is an Australian derivative of the Spanish F-100 Alvaro de Bazan class frigate. Equipped with the SPY-1D(v) phased array radar and Aegis combat system, the F-100 will provide a true quantum leap for the RAN in terms of area air defence capability[6].

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 Canberra class LHD to deploy a fully sustainable, complete force well beyond Australian shores, a capability comparable to the RAN’s entire current sea lift capacity. The two ships will be able to deploy the best part of a fully equipped mechanized brigade.

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 Indonesia and the common defence of South-East Asia[7]. Both of these strategic requirements require the ability to project hard power away from Australian shores. These requirements, in addition to ongoing contributions to global security, are the driving strategic focus for the acquisition of the Canberra class LHD’s and Hobart class DDG’s. These platforms are intended to allow the ADF to deploy heavy forces around the south pacific quickly and effectively with adequate organic capability within the battalion group/brigade. The common defence of South East Asia could well see the deployment of a brigade in amphibious operations in the face of hostile air and anti ship cruise missile capability, requiring first tier area air defence provided by the Hobart class DDG’s. Clearly the primacy of the defence of Australia scenario that had dominated Australian thinking has been abandoned post 2000, as the major naval procurement initiatives launched in the first decade of the twenty first century are all tools of power projection.

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 US naval capability and the need to operate in the littoral environment effectively when facing lesser, although often well armed powers in strategically vital locations. Such an emphasis on expeditionary warfare without a credible blue water threat is reminiscent of the Royal Navy’s role between the world wars.

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 Soviet Union had little impact. The major shift in Australia was Canberra’s realization that the nations security did not just lay in ensuring any potential adversary could not operate freely in the northern approaches. Indeed the sea denial strategy that was utterly dominant in the late 1980’s and 1990’s still remains as the critical element to the defence of Australia; however it is now the option of last resort. The common defence of South East Asian friends and allies would likely be where any battle for Australia would be fought, and even though the use of friendly bases is assumed, the ability to deploy forces in the face of a credible air threat far from Australia becomes paramount. That capability, in addition to improved global reach, drove the acquisition of a world class air defence capability and massively increased amphibious capacity.

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[8]. 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 US to continue with production of its next generation destroyer.

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.

[1] CPRS Report for Congress, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and issues for Congress: Page 3.

[2] CPRS Report for Congress, Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress. Page 2.

[3] CPRS Report for Congress, Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress. Page 4.

[4] CPRS Report for Congress, Navy DDG-1000 and DDG-51 Destroyer Programs: Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress. Summary

[5] CPRS Report for Congress, Navy DDG-1000 and DDG-51 Destroyer Programs, Background, Oversight Issues and Options for Congress

[6] Australian Defence Business Review, Volume 25, July-August 2006, Page 18

[7] 2000 Defence White Paper, page 49

[8] Semaphore, Issue 9 2007, Royal Australian Navy

1 comment:

Jason said...

A well written article Ozzie, though perhaps a little behind the time now.

I would argue, given the recent WP09 decision to include a long range land attack capability that the AWD's ASuW and anti-ship capability is being enhanced beyond what RAN has ever experienced before.

It's anti-surface capability will be virtually second to none amongst comparable Destroyers.

It will be fitted with flex mounted small arms (Minimi 5.56mm and MAG-58 7.62mm) and 12.7mm HMG's.

It will boast Mini-typhoon 12.7mm HMG's and Typhoon 25mm weapons to handle short range anti-surface and limited anti-air situations.

It will boast a lightweight Torpedo system, of excellent capability (MU-90 or Mk 50, I'd expect).

It will boast a Mod 45 Mk 4 127mm gun, with extended range ammunition for anti-air, anti-ship and land attack missions.

It will boast AGM-84L Harpoon II/III for anti-ship and anti-coastal land attack duties.

It will boast Standard SM-2 and later SM-6 missiles, both of which possess a rarely discussed, but nonetheless significant anti-ship capability.

Significant, because it is a Mach 4 supersonic missile, and shows demonstrably why those who focus on the "lack" of supersonic ASM's in the West, know not of what they speak.

They will possess a long range land attack missile capability, most likely based around Tomahawk Block IV (TacTom). TacTom in the timeframe we require, will have the anti-ship missile capability added to the weapon.

Finally they will possess a maritime warfare helo, beyond the capability of our present aircraft and fitted with a weapon system designed to further increase our capability. As an example, RAN was briefed extensively on the capabilities of the Marte Mk 2 S ASM at Avalon this year...

These boats will have a surface and land attack capability, that will dwarf anything RAN has ever possessed, the Collins included, IMHO.

The reason for this is sheer persistence. 48x strike length VLS cells, the potential addition of up to 16x "tactical length" cells, a 127mm gun magazine housing in excess of 1000 projectiles and the ubiquitous 8x Harpoon missile launcher. The Collins, even on it's best day, can carry but 22x weapons.

A new sub might alter this scenario somewhat, but the AWD should not be underestimated. A 4th would add so much to RAN, I can't believe Government is procrastinating about the issue...

Anyhoo, that's me done for the time being.