What’s the Purpose of President Trump’s Navy?
By Simon Reich
Professor in The Division of Global Affairs and The Department of Political, The Conversation
Professor at the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, US Naval War College, The Conversation
10:20 AM ET
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Connor Loessin
Does the president's specified goal of 350 ships meet the needs of the nation in the 21st century? The answer is not yet clear.
President Trump visited Newport News at the beginning of March to deliver a speech aboard the soon-to-be commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. It provided a timely reminder of his campaign pledge that he would increase the size of the fleet from the current figure of 272 to 350 ships over the next three decades. This is significantly more than the Obama-era plans to increase the fleet to 308 ships.
How this decision fits with any broader grand strategy is unclear. Critics have debated whether Trump has one. Indeed, a recent New York Times story suggested the growth of the military may simply be for the purpose of possessing raw military power rather than part of any serious strategizing.
Trump’s decision to focus on building a more powerful global Navy, however, fits with a longstanding American strategic tradition. It dates back to naval officer and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan’s classic “The Influence of Seapower on History,” which was written on the cusp of America’s emergence as a global power at the end of the 19th century. In Mahan’s vision, a great Navy would promote America’s commercial interests at home and abroad. It was, and for many still*is, the foundation of any “grand strategy.”
But a key question remains: Does Trump’s specified goal of 350 ships meet the needs of the nation in the 21st century? How does this fit into a strategic vision for U.S. security?
Why 350 ships?
The new budget proposal reportedly calls for increasing the 2018 Defense Budget by US$54 billion. This won’t itself pay for an ambitious expansion of the Navy. The USS Gerald R. Ford alone cost about $13 billion. It will, therefore, take many years of spending to move building projects forward. But as the Trump administration’s plans, if enacted, make clear, buying more ships will mean cuts to*foreign aid, environmental protection and a series of regulatory agencies. These are choices that have been roundly criticized by former military officials and senior policymakers.
Moreover, there are few civilian officials available to answer the question of what purpose the Navy’s growth serves. That is because there is currently a dearth of administrative appointments to key leadership positions in the Navy and the Department of Defense. So there is no evident strategy to justify this new target.
The man initially anointed by the Washington rumor mill as the next secretary of the Navy was ex-congressman Randy Forbes, formerly of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces of the House Arms Services Committee and a vocal supporter of American naval power.
Forbes was passed over in favor of Phillip Bilden, a businessmen with ties to both the Army and the Navy. Bilden, however, withdrew from consideration when it became clear that ethics rules would require him to disentangle himself from his extensive business holdings. The vacuum remains unfilled. Now, in a strange turn of events,*Forbes is once again in the running.
Meanwhile, the preferences of the new Secretary of Defense General Mattis and National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster regarding the size, shape and purposes of the Navy are unknown.
Both are well-read, broadly educated, deep thinkers on U.S. and global security. But both participated in ground wars in the Middle East. They are therefore assumed to be advocates of land forces, not naval power. In the past, they have focused on conventional wars, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, rather than maritime challenges.
The Navy’s view
Even in normal periods, fleet design is a complicated bureaucratic dance with budgets, internal procedures and external interventions from Congress to be negotiated.
In times of crisis or great political change, the strong preferences of presidents, their advisers and the civilian leaders or the military services can play a decisive role. Most famously, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, at the behest of President Reagan, championed a 600-ship Navy to counter the rapidly growing Soviet fleet and threats to Europe, the Far East and elsewhere.
Even before candidate Trump shined the spotlight on the Navy, the service was, of course, planning for the future.
The Navy released its latest vision statement, “A Design for Maritime Superiority,” in January 2016. It resoundingly defended the ideal that the United States is a maritime nation and a premier naval power, specifically naming China and Russia as potential aggressors on the high seas. It didn’t specify a target fleet size although the documents could be construed as justifying the sort of overall budget growth proposed by Trump.
Still Congress, forcefully egged on by Representative Forbes, who felt the Obama administration and the Navy itself were neglecting naval strategy, mandated three independent studies to examine the future fleet. Interestingly, when completed, none of the three alternatives proposes anything like a 350-ship fleet by 2030, despite errant reports to the contrary.
Recent news reports suggesting that the alternative fleet architecture proposed by the think tank the MITRE Corp. called for over 400 ships misinterpreted the study. In fact, the MITRE authors recommend a far smaller fleet because they explicitly recognize the costs of building up to such a large number.
All three studies focus on new war-fighting concepts such as distributed maritime operations, new types of platforms including unmanned systems and new technologies including rail guns (that can repeatedly launch a projectile at more than 5,000 miles per hour). Capacity and fleet size are obviously not the same thing, despite the current focus on numbers of ships.
The point is that analysis underpinning the Navy’s own vision for the future is different from that of the new president.
To date, the president has concentrated on the overall number of ships while the Navy and the congressionally mandated studies focused on war-fighting capabilities and war-fighting concepts. What is missing from the president’s target of a 350-ship Navy is an underlying strategy – one that links what is proverbially called the “ways, means and ends” necessary to defend American interests on the high seas.
Working outward, the national security community, the public and indeed America’s allies and adversaries need to understand the logic underlying any historic naval buildup. A clear statement regarding the primary threats facing the U.S., the types of adversaries it will face and the nature of future conflict would help explain why the American taxpayer is investing so much national treasure in the military services.
After all, if Russia is not the enemy, and we don’t need a big Navy to defeat the Islamic State, then why spend so much?
‘Military operations other than war’
So far, Trump has not offered an answer for the nation to rally behind and to reassure his critics.
In its absence, experts have sought reassurance in the president’s fragmentary and sporadic pronouncements to support their own vision. Neo-isolationists have cheered his efforts to close American borders. Others have warmed to the notion that he has suggested our allies assume more responsibility for their own defense. Even proponents of old-fashioned primacy have sought luster by interpreting the president’s defense buildup as a return to the unilateralist days of American military prowess through intervention.
Our own research suggests that the truth is that none of these grand visions may apply. The Navy, and indeed the other military services, face a growing demand for their services. They are now being asked to perform an increasing number of functions that are not associated with fighting wars.
The military even has a term for it: “MOOTW” (military operations other than war). And the U.S. Navy’s MOOTW ranges from conventional war-fighting against other countries’ navies to policing the globe against pirates, drug flows and the smuggling of nuclear materials, humanitarian assistance and even fighting Ebola in Africa. These activities consume much of the Navy’s time. And their increasing demands require increased resources. Military budgets therefore often reflect the requirements entailed in providing these services as much as the need to conform to any one image.
Of course, congressional democrats may yet scuttle plans for an enlarged Navy. Alternatively, the president may move beyond discussing discrete missions to a more coherent grand strategy – perhaps tutored by his new senior military appointments – that justifies acquisition decisions.
The types of ships (and aircraft, and unmanned systems and equipment) purchased in the coming years will make sense only if they are employed in an operationally coherent manner. Only then will the American public be able to judge if the trade-offs made to fund such an enterprise were worth it.
This article first appeared at The Conversation.
Dr. Peter Dombrowski is a professor of strategy at the Naval War College where he serves as the chair of the Strategic Research Department. Previous positions include director of the Naval War College Press, editor of the Naval War College Review, co-editor of International Studies Quarterly, Associate Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University and defense analyst at ANSER, Inc.
Last edited by buglerbilly; 16-03-17 at 03:58 AM.
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard commander says more jobs to be added this year
By: The Associated Press, March 19, 2017 (Photo Credit: Navy)
KITTERY, Maine — The new commander of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard says 350 workers are going to be added this year to handle the growing workload.
Capt. David Hunt also tells The Portsmouth Herald*that he wants all three of the shipyard's dry docks to be capable of handling Virginia-class submarines. Currently two of the three dry docks can handle the newer Virginia-class submarines.
Hunt became the shipyard's 85th commander of the facility, which is the nation's oldest, continuously operating U.S. Navy shipyard.
The shipyard repairs and overhauls nuclear-powered submarines and its current workforce stands at 5,400 people. The shipyard is set to begin construction later this year on new barracks for sailors stationed at the yard during submarine overhauls.
Fast-Tracked Ramjet Provides Deep-Strike Capability
(Source: Navair blog; posted March 14, 2017)
By Jeff Newman
Using existing components sold for civilian rocket hobbyists, Naval Air Systems Command technicians were able to develop, build and fly a solid-fuel ramjet in six months, a timeframe made possible by a unique acquisition strategy. (Navair image)
The U.S. Navy took the first step to reintroducing to the fleet an old-but-much-needed technology when it successfully tested a solid-fuel ramjet engine at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) in China Lake, California.
As threats emerge that require an ability to strike targets from farther out to sea than ever before, the Navy is revisiting the solid-fuel ramjet—an air-breathing engine that can propel a missile up to three times the distance and at higher speeds than a standard solid rocket motor.
“The combination of range and speed is an absolutely enabling technology for the warfighter that they need now,” said Matt Walker, head of the Airbreathing Propulsion Section at NAWCWD.
In a traditional rocket motor, oxidizer can make up roughly 90 percent of the rocket’s propellant, Walker said. Meanwhile, a ramjet engine—a technology first conceived in Europe in the 1910s—uses its vehicle’s forward motion to draw in oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere, allowing more room for fuel and making it four-to-five times more fuel efficient than a solid rocket motor, he said.
Larger fuel stores also allow a ramjet to sustain high speed during flight, making it harder to shoot down than a solid rocket motor, which exhausts its fuel shortly after launch and then rapidly slows down, he said.
Though most ramjets are liquid fuel, which generally burns more efficiently, solid fuel can be packed more densely, meaning a solid-fuel rocket can typically fly farther, Walker said.
“We are consistently seeing that solid fuel ramjets will fly about three times the distance as a solid rocket motor of the same size,” Walker said.
The Navy began experimenting with surface-launched ramjets toward the end of World War II and air-launched ramjets during the mid-1950s. Development on air-launched ramjets continued throughout the Cold War, but the fall of the Soviet Union shifted the nation’s military focus to conflicts in the Middle East, where adversaries with inferior air defenses rendered the ramjet’s range superfluous.
But now with Russia re-emerging as a threat, and joined by a resurgent China, the Navy is once again in need of the ramjet’s unique capabilities.
Unique Acquisition Strategy
To that end, NAWCWD Commander Rear Adm. Brian Corey and Weapons and Energetics Department Director Dan Carreńo challenged Walker and his team at the end of April to develop, build and fly a solid-fuel ramjet in six months, a timeframe made possible by a unique acquisition strategy.
Walker said his team determined the best course was to keep the project small and use parts that could be purchased off-the-shelf for far less money and in far less time than it would take to design and develop them independently.
“It doesn’t have to take 10 years to get something done,” said Nick Quigley, an aerospace engineer on Walker’s ramjet team. “We took stuff that would come off-the-shelf, we were able to order from somebody, and then we would make that integrate into a solid-fuel ramjet. So, we made a solid-fuel ramjet out of things we could get readily available.”
The team sought out manufacturers popular with model rocket hobbyists. It found a rocket booster that could propel the vehicle to Mach 2-at which point the ramjet would take over-for $900, a pittance compared to the tens of thousands it would have cost to develop one in-house, Walker said.
To his knowledge, this acquisition strategy was unprecedented. Fortunately, many of the parts Walker’s team needed could be purchased with a credit card.
“We had to keep things inexpensive, so we couldn’t rely on the contract world. To buy things this quickly is very difficult to do with the standard contract process we have,” he added.
Walker also stressed the importance of keeping his development team small and agile.
“If you have a small team, you can just get together and draw on a white board on the fly and not have to worry about getting the large team involved and buy-in from everyone,” he said.
Walker believes the strategy could be applied broadly throughout the Navy, but acknowledged that it might not fit larger programs and systems as well as it did his project.
Walker said he sees the greatest impediment to developing such an acquisition culture is an institutional unwillingness to assume risk, both technical and professional.
“The risk-averse approach is to do all kinds of analyses and testing so you understand every aspect of what you’re looking at, but that can take a long time to complete,” Walker said. “Too much as a DoD, we aren’t willing to fail and have a ‘black mark,’ so to speak. We learn a lot from our failures, and as a culture, we need to be willing to fail, to take some chances.”
Walker and his team flew the ramjet about three months into the project, before it had every aspect of its design nailed down. The first flight failed when the booster separated at the wrong time, preventing the engine from igniting.
“But we learned things in that flight that we would not have even known to look for, so ‘fly early and often’ was our mantra,” he said.
As a result of the flight, the team discovered it had a timing issue with the ramjet’s ignition. A quick fix, and the second test flight saw the engine fire at the right time, but the fuel took too long to ignite, causing the ramjet to decelerate to the point it missed its target.
The team changed the ignitor to provide more direct flame to the ramjet’s fuel, and on the three subsequent test flights, “it ignited perfectly,” Walker said.
Now the team is working on making its solid-fuel ramjet “more tactically relevant,” integrating the rocket booster with the propellant inside the combustion chamber, rather than having a separate booster that has to detach from the rocket mid-flight, Walker said.
Another goal is to install a high-performance inlet that will allow the ramjet to more fully realize its speed potential. The ramjet tested last year did not accelerate much once the booster got it up to Mach 2, but the next rocket “will accelerate like crazy,” Walker promised.
Walker believes his team could have a ramjet-equipped missile to the fleet within three-to-four years, “which is a very fast schedule,” he said. “People doubt it, but I’m very confident we can do it if we can change the acquisition culture. We’ve tested the technology and know that it works.”
Skunk Works Head: Latest Navy MQ-25A Requirements Pushing Competitors to Redesign Offers
By: Sam LaGrone
March 21, 2017 9:54 PM • Updated: March 22, 2017 4:54 PM
Lockheed Martin MQ-25A bid. Lockheed Martin Photo
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy’s latest revised list of requirements for its carrier-based*unmanned aerial tanker will likely push all four competitors to redesign their bids, the head of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Work division said on Tuesday.
The Navy’s latest direction for the MQ-25A Stingray would further minimize information, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) requirements for the airframe and further reduce strike as a mission, Rob Weiss, the head of the company’s internal aviation research and development arm, said at Lockheed Martin’s annual media day.
“The Navy came out with these requirements perhaps in the last six to eight months, and they still haven’t given us the final system requirements document – that should be coming any day – with specifically what they want this tanker to do,” Weiss said.
“From our viewpoint, the requirements, as they are currently unfolding, are going to require a new design from all of the competitors. It’s now very tanker-focused. We’re looking at what those requirements are, there will probably be a follow-up capability – some ISR it could do and potentially some strike – but it’s very much focused on tanking.”
Along with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics and Boeing are competing for the first operational carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle.
As part of his presentation, Weiss teased an image of Lockheed Martin concept that*showed a view of a wing with an aerial refueling tank hanging from a pylon and trailing a probe-and-drogue fuel line to an F/A-18E Super Hornet.
Currently, the Navy refuels its carrier aircraft with*its Super Hornet fleet. The tanking mission accounts from anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of Super Hornet sorties, further exacerbating the ongoing tactical aviation shortfalls in the service.
That demand – in part – is pushing the Navy to get a tanking UAV into service as soon as possible rather than creating a more multi-mission platform, USNI News understands.
“If the requirements were about penetrating ISR in contested airspace – be it ISR or strike – you would need an airplane that looks different than the concept you’ve got up there with pylons and so forth doing tanking,” he said.
Last year, Weiss suggested the Navy pursue a more stealthy tailless flying wing design that could be adapted to higher-end missions later.
“If you start with a vehicle shape that will allow it to penetrate into a contested environment, you can get a low-cost tanking capability upfront without putting all the capability into that vehicle. … You can do it at low cost but stay on that same path to use that vehicle design to operate in a penetrating environment,” Weiss said in 2016.
Later last year, Commander of Naval Air Forces Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said industry was struggling with designs that could blend the requirements of an ISR platform and a tanker. The Air Boss said the two missions lent*themselves to two different types of platforms.
A primarily-ISR UAV would be a high-endurance platform that would “probably not carry a lot of fuel, have a large wingspan,” to be an efficient platform, Shoemaker said in August.
“If you’re going to be a tanker at range, you’re obliviously going to have to be able to carry a fair amount of fuel internal to the platform. … That drives the different design for those two. So the industry is working on an*analysis of where that sweet spot is to do both of those missions.”
However, based on Weiss’s comments, the Navy’s latest revision to the requirements seem to push all the competitors to a wing-body-tail design for Stingray rather than the*flying wing concept both Lockheed and Northrop were thought to be developing for the MQ-25A program.
“The requirements have been defined to be a tanker, so you really don’t want to go with a tailless design if your primary requirement is associated tanking,” he said.
General Atomics and Boeing both have proposed wing-body-tail for their MQ-25A proposal in the past, USNI News understands.
Following a draft Request for Proposal issued last year directly to the four competitors, the Navy is expected to issue the final RFP this summer, with an expected contract award in 2018, Weiss said.
The MQ-25A is the Navy’s follow-up program to the service’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) UAV program that developed an aircraft primarily for ISR. However, the program was restructured following a 2015 Office of Secretary of Defense review led by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, and it became a tanking-first concept that became MQ-25A.
While the four competitors are developing the airframe, the Navy is developing the ground control station and the data link packages for the MQ-25A that remain largely unchanged from the UCLASS program.