Pacific Strategy XI: The Role of the Surface Fleet


10/27/2011 We have discussed three surface combatants earlier: the LCS, Aegis and the CVN and have integrated these platforms into a discussion of the interaction between presence and scalability.  Here the focus is upon other surface combatants and their roles in the way ahead.

If one is focusing upon littoral operations, the role of the mine fleet, which will be augmented and perhaps someday subsumed by the LCS is a crucial element.  But as Dr. Scott Truver has underscored in an earlier article on our website, the need to deal with de-mining challenges is not being met.

A CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 conducts an airborne mine countermeasures exercise with a MK-104 Mod 3 acoustic mine sweeper. HM-15 is assigned to Combined Task Force 52, conducting mine countermeasure activities in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. Credit: US Navy Visual Service, 5/9/11

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review called for the Air Force and Navy to develop a new concept for defeating potential adversaries — principally China, Iran and North Korea — that possess sophisticated anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities.  In response, the AirSea Battle Concept (ASBC) captured the imagination of former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, outgoing Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz.

The ASBC is to help guide the development of future capabilities for effective power-projection operations.  Surprisingly, this seems to include innovative ideas for using naval mines to defeat adversaries’ naval forces and strategies. While still not formally approved as of mid-2011, several observers noted the ASBC seems to address future naval mining capabilities:

Offensive mining appears particularly attractive, given its comparatively low cost and the difficulty and time-consuming nature of countermine operations. Mining will generally be effective only in areas close to hostile territory, near the approaches to ports and naval bases, and in chokepoints.

Significant numbers of smart, mobile mines capable of autonomous movement to programmed locations over extended distances will enable offensive mining.

Stealthy mine-laying platforms capable of penetrating A2/AD systems are preferred for conducting this mission, primarily submarines and stealthy Navy and Air Force bombers.

These AirSea Battle naval mining initiatives are years, if not decades, away from bearing fruit and depend upon a commitment to design, engineer and acquire modern mines, which is problematic at best….

Until recently, the Navy maintained a large stock of mines, including the Destructors, the Mk 67 submarine-launched mobile mine (SLMM), and the Mk 60 CAPTOR (enCAPsulated TORpedo) anti-submarine mine. But with the end of the Cold War, the Navy’s mine capabilities have atrophied.

Today the United States lacks modern mines, and the U.S. stockpile is significantly smaller than North Korea’s estimated 50,000 mines, while the Chinese Navy might have on the order of 100,000, and Russia has been estimated to have 250,000.

The CAPTORs are gone, and only the obsolescent SLMMs and three “Quickstrike” mine variants, which have limited effectiveness in deeper waters against surface targets, are in the Navy’s inventory.  But, the SLMMs will be phased out in 2012. At that point, the Navy will have no mines capable of being launched from submarines.

Worryingly, should the Navy actually have to deploy its weapons, there are only a few trained mine specialists on staff.   In mid-2011 there were only two minefield planners in the U.S. Navy—a retired USCG captain and a USN Limited Duty/Surface Ordnance Officer assigned to the Naval Mine and Antisubmarine Warfare Command in San Diego—in addition to a handful of enlisted Minemen (none having formal training).

The “workhorses” of the Navy’s mining capabilities are the Quickstrike weapons –– 500-pound (Mk 62) and 1,000-pound (Mk 63) bomb-conversions that are fitted with multiple-influence target detection devices (TDDs) plus the 2,000-pound, “thin-wall” Mark 65 dedicated Quickstrike mine.  (The Mk 62/63 mines replaced the Mk 36 Destructors.)  All are bottom mines and are deployed from tactical and strategic aircraft.

There is no surface mine-laying capability, although the U.S. Navy might investigate rolling Quickstrike mines off virtually any available ships and craft — something Libya, using Russian/East German “export” mines, did from a ferryboat in the Red Sea during the summer of 1984 — but that doesn’t seem to support ASBC stealthy mine-laying ideas.

Once the SLMMs are phased out, the nation’s sole mine-laying capabilities will reside in naval aviation and the Air Force. The Navy’s P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet can drop Quickstrike mines, but the P-3Cs start leaving service in 2013. They will be replaced by the P-8 Poseidon Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft, which also will have a modest mining capability, but the ability to do so in meaningful numbers is years away.

Today, there is no U.S. Navy mine program, other than the Quickstrike TDDs. The inability to invest in an advanced new mine looks to be held hostage to resource competition. The Navy’s mine warfare resource sponsor has a difficult challenge: balancing mines/mining with mine countermeasures (MCM), while having to fund legacy and future MCM systems as new systems are being brought on line, with no growth in total funding.  Indeed, challenges with the mine warfare module for the littoral combat ships (LCS) recently dictated a redesign of that “mission package,” including additional costs and delays in the future MCM program.

That underscores the fiscal truth of U.S. Navy mine warfare: mines and mine countermeasures — from the labs and industry, and from the Pentagon to deployed forces — usually accounts for less than 1 percent of the Navy’s annual budget.

Nevertheless, several senior Navy officials, including the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commanders, U.S. Third and Fifth Fleets, are warming to the idea of “offensive” mine warfare.  Without mines the U.S. Navy essentially gives adversaries a “free pass….”

The newly developing robotics revolution married to LCS and Amphib ships could provide a partial solution to these gaps. As General (Retired) Heinz now of Irobot commented in a recent interview:

SLD: We are going to put LCS, LPDs, ARGs, and F-35s into the littoral, how do we best leverage the robotic element in littoral operations?

Heinz: In that discussion, we need a little bit more time spent at the front end of what is the data and the threat that I need to have SA on in near real time and then I’ll solve the vehicle problem that collects that on the robotic domain, and I think that’s the last part of this that’s still missing is that we’re talking about counter mines to blow them up, but if the premise is: If I had enough robots out there to simply tell you when they’re coming or delivering those systems and when they’ve been put down, then I’m actually trying to avoid the threats instead of trying to neutralize it after it exists.

And that’s where robots provide you with an unblinking eye in terms of surveillance, but the discussion has to be about what it is I want to know about and how persistent does it need to be under water like we are having the discussions with Global Hawk and other platforms today in the air.

SLD: And certainly the LCS is almost a perfect platform to work the kind of robotics you are developing.

Heinz: Absolutely.  And a point I think that’s worth saying is that I believe that robots in the underwater domain are different than air in the fact that the human logistics chain is less expensive for underwater robots, that I don’t have to maintain that very large human back train for a UAV. I don’t have to do that for a UUV and so there is potential for savings beyond just the functionality that the robot provides.

In addition to the de-mining or counter mining issue, surface combatants provide a wide range of contributions to presence and scalability interactions.

  • The fleet provides a significant fueling and support capacity;
  • Fire support is provided through missiles, and surface strike assets;
  • Fleet defense is augmented significantly by a connected surface combatant fleet which if properly connected can be key elements of the honeycombed force supporting a variety of air, surface and subsurface forces;
  • Surface combatants play a key role in anchoring Anti-submarine activities as well.

The surface fleet can provide significant lilly pads for various maritime air breathing platforms to operate off of – over time maritime UAVs will proliferate and become a key element of the robotic revolution; V-22s and other modern vertical lift assets will proliferate and work a honeycomb approach to leap off, deploy and engage from a variety of surface assets; and the revolutionary lift fan capability of the F-35B suggests that the airplane could land and take off a wide variety of surface assetss in the period ahead.

In this respect when looking at the surface fleet, one should distinguish between ships provide full support to an air assets versus a surface asset providing a lilly pad functionality whereby the air asset can land, get refueled, and take off again.  This allows the mix and match capability between surface and air assets which significantly increase the number of vectors of operation and enhance both survivability and capability in Pacific operations.

These are only a few of the key roles and in this regard the ability of the US surface combatants to work with allies in the Pacific is a key element of shaping a viable scalability approach in the Pacific itself.

The allied issue will be discussed in a future piece, but innovations in the surface fleet are essential to re-shape the capabilities in a littoral engagement force.  A key contributor in this process would be to leverage the innovations generated by the DDG-1000 force.

An artist rendering of the Zumwalt class destroyer DDG 1000, a new class of multi-mission U.S. Navy surface combatant ship designed to operate as part of a joint maritime fleet, assisting Marine strike forces ashore as well as performing littoral, air and sub-surface warfare. Credit: USN Visual Service 7/23/08

The “bundle” of technologies embodied in the DDG-1000 destroyer – as well as those innovative technologies that will easily find a “home” in this ship – represent many of the most cutting edge and transformational technologies adapted for military use:

  • the integrated power system (IPS); integrated electric drive;
  • a stealthy tumblehome hull and integrated topside (InTop)[i] design;
  • 155-mm Advanced Gun System (AGS);
  • the Mark 57 Peripheral Vertical Launching System (PVLS);
  • the S-band Volume Search Radar (VSR) and the X-band AN/SPY-3 Multi-Function Radar (MFR);
  • and a host of other advances related to network-centric warfare, stealth, and survivability.

In brief, the DDG-1000 destroyer represents one of the most ambitious technology leaps that the U.S. Navy has undertaken since steam-driven, iron-hulled ships replaced wood-hull sailing ships.

But as cutting-edge as the technologies currently embodied in the DDG-1000 destroyer are, it is the potential to host game-changing technologies in this ship as the Navy evaluates these and other technologies for the Navy-After-Next that makes the DDG-1000 arguably one of the most exciting naval vessels ever fielded.

For example, the Office of Naval Research recognized, “Among the possibilities inherent in all-electric ships are the new weapons that become feasible when virtually unlimited electric power is available on board.”[i] The advanced DDG-1000 propulsion plant can enable such weapons to be used without significantly drawing down the ship’s electronic surveillance and weapons control systems, or speed, a critical factor because of the high electrical demands of these cutting-edge, weapons.

These weapons are generally classified under the general heading of Directed-Energy Weapons (DEW) and include high-energy lasers, radio frequency weapons (high-power microwaves or ultra-wideband weapons), and electromagnetic rail guns.[ii] Far from futuristic weapons that may-or-may-not-be feasible, the Office of Naval Research is already developing and working to scale up the power of free-electron lasers, chemical lasers and their associated beam directors, radio-frequency weapons, and full-scale electromagnetic rail guns capable of launching precision-guided hypersonic projectiles at supersonic speeds.[iii] Indeed, independent assessments outside government have concluded that solid-state lasers (SSL) “are capable of making unique and important contributions to U.S. military effectiveness.”[iv]

The DDG-1000 can perform ideal host platform for the technologies that will accelerate the Navy’s revolutionary leap to the Navy-after-Next.[v] As the DDG-1000 destroyer technologies continue to be tested and mature, the DDG-1000 will serve as a credible platform to evolve these technologies for the Navy’s entire family of new surface combatants.[vi]

It is the prospect afforded by directed-energy weapons that promise to revolutionize naval warfare and will represent for the Navy and Marine Corps a dramatic paradigm shift on how the two services – as well as the Joint Force – will conduct operations on and from the sea in the 21st Century.  As the only feasible host platform for directed-energy weapons for at least the next decade, the DDG-1000 destroyer is the ship that will move these technologies out of the laboratory and ground test sites and to sea where they offer the potential to revolutionize warfare at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.

Hosting these directed-energy technologies on the DDG-1000 offers the promise of accelerating the development and refinement of these weapons in the operational environment and in so doing, not only identify “the art of the possible” for what the Navy-After-Next can look like, but if these emerging technologies deliver merely a portion of their enormous potential, the DDG-1000 destroyer will become the prototype for the entire high-end of the Future Surface Combatant family of ships.[vii]

With a defense budget under increasing stress, any new military technology must do more than just offer the potential to reshape how the military fights in the future – it must also have the ability to close current warfighting gaps today.  And given the especially high cost of naval vessels, any ship the Navy deploys must have an impact today.  In the case of the DDG-1000, this ship will immediately close important warfighting gaps.

A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard’s first new maritime strategy in a generation, lists six missions for U.S. maritime forces, four “traditional missions” ( Forward Presence, Deterrence, Sea Control, and Power Projection), and two new missions (Maritime Security and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response).[viii]

While the DDG-1000s destroyer will be capable of supporting all six-mission areas of the maritime strategy, it is the power projection and sea control missions that serve to define the primary focus of this ship and its “bundle” of new technologies….

In supporting a wide-array of Navy missions, the DDG-1000 will bring important capabilities to the fight, especially in the littorals.  It is beyond debate that most of the areas of instability and strife are located in major cities and urban areas easily accessed by seaward approaches.  The emergence of potential threats in these areas, coupled with the nation’s dependence on the world market and support for regional allies, demand increased U.S. presence in the littoral regions.[ix] This is not a “futuristic” concern, but a near- and mid-term warfighting requirement.  The DDG-1000 is optimized to operate at the land-sea interface, supporting the Navy and the Marine Corps combined arms mission.

It is anticipated that the USN will procure a significant number of new littoral combat ships for operation in the littorals.  There are key technologies on the DDG-1000, which will prove to be important compliments to the LCS ships and their supporting aircraft and unmanned systems.  Notably the radar systems and defensive suites on the ship will provide to important assets added to the new destroyer or cruiser class to be built and deployed with the LCS in the future.

A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower states the power projection requirement clearly, “Our ability to overcome challenges to access and to project and sustain power ashore is the basis of our combat credibility.”[x] The gaps in the Navy’s ability to dominate this littoral battlespace are significant – and growing. The ship is optimized for this mission and many of its other features – especially its radar, stealth, and survivability – are specifically designed to enhance its ability to project power and defend it effectively in the littorals.  Sensors – radars in particular – are crucial to success in the littorals.

And the new destroyer class will be working with a number of new littoral assets, the F-35, unmanned systems and the LCS.  It can form the lynchpin for the enduring littoral maritime presence mission.

See also,

This article is a contribution to the Strategic Whiteboard

[i] Science and Technology for the 21st Century Warfighter, p. 25.

[ii] George Galdorisi and Lynn Pullen, Leveraging Directed-Energy Weapons to Accelerate Naval Transformation: Prospects and Issues (Arlington, Virginia, Center for Security Strategies and Operations, December 2004), p. 15.

[iii] Science and Technology for the 21st Century Warfighter, pp. 25-26.  See also, Leveraging Directed-Energy Weapons to Accelerate Naval Transformation: Prospects and Issues and William McCarthy, Directed Energy and Fleet Defense: Implications for Naval Warfare (Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Air War College Press, May 2000).  The fact that Directed Energy Weapons have not been written about extensively in the defense media over the past several years can be traced directly to the uncertainties surrounding the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer program.  Without a “host” platform having an integrated power system and integrated electric drive, directed energy weapons will remain land-bound.

[iv] Thomas Ehrhard, Andrew Krepinevich, and Barry Watts, “Near-Term Prospects for Battlefield Directed-Energy Weapons,” CSBA Backgrounder, January 2009, accessed at  The authors note, among other findings, that “Lasers have long been considered a technology that could give rise to a new RMA.  As a December 2007 Defense Science Board on directed-energy weapons (DEW) observed, lasers promise to be transformational “game changers” in military operations…Recent advances in solid-state laser  technologies suggest , however, that directed energy weapons in the 100-kilowatt (kW) range with power sources dense enough to provide “deep” magazines could be fielded in the near future…In sum, the technical challenges that have long delayed the fielding of directed-energy weapons for battlefield use finally appear to be giving way to technical and engineering progress.”  See also, Andrew Krepinevich, Tom Ehrhard, and Barry Watts, “Solid-State Laser Weapon Systems: Bridging the Gap – or a Bridge Too Far,” Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) briefing, May 20, 2009.  The briefers, all highly-respected defense experts who authored the study cited here, conclude that the key impediments to the development of solid-state lasers are not technical, but are cultural and institutional.

[v] See Zumwalt DDG-1000 Multi-Mission Destroyer: Strategic and Operational Context and David Maurer et al, Comparative Analysis of Surface Warfare Designs, Report prepared for the DDG-1000 Program Office (PMS-500), PEO Ships, 4 September 2008, pp. 1-43.

[vi] The current Navy Future Surface Combatant (FSC) Program includes the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class Destroyer, the CG(X) Cruiser, and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).  This FSC program is the evolutionary successor to the Navy’s mid-1990s program called the SC-21 (Surface Combatant for the 21st Century) program.  See, Navy DDG-1000 and DDG-51 Destroyer Programs: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress, CRS Report to Congress RL 32109, pp. 49 – 50.

[vii] Science and Technology for the 21st Century Warfighter, p. 25.  This now-five-year-old ONR report was prescient in recognizing the potential the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer as the lead ship for the Navy-after-Next, noting, “IPS and electric drive will revolutionize surface ship and submarine warfighting capabilities by increasing combat effectiveness and agility while reducing ownership costs, space, requirements, vulnerability, and crew size.  Indeed, IPS is critical to the future development of the ‘all-electric Navy.’”

[viii] A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (Washington, DC, Department of the Navy, October 2007). pp. 6-12.

[ix] Zumwalt DDG-1000 Multi-Mission Destroyer: Strategic and Operational Context, p. 2.

[x] A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, p.12.


[i] The Integrated Topside (InTop) Design was developed via the Innovative Naval Prototype Program managed by the Office of Naval Research.  The ONR website ( defines InTop as; “An integrated, multi-function, multi-beam top-side aperture construct that has a modular open RF architecture, software defined functionally, and synchronization and optimization of RF functions for mission support and EMI mitigation.”  In defining the attributes of InTop, this description further states; “InTop plans to reduce the number of topside apertures o Navy ships through the use of integrated, multi-function, multi-beam arrays.  In the past, the topside design approach was based on developing separate systems and associated antennas for each individual RF function which led to significant increases in topside antennas.  This increase has led to problems with Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI), Radar Cross Section (RCS) and the overall performance of critical ship EW and communication functions.