The CNO on the Evolution of the USN: Robots, Ships, USMC Collaboration and the Arctic

2014-02-04  The CNO attended the christening of the second Mobile Landing Platform in San Diego held on February 1, 2014.

During his visit, Jeanette Steele from U-T San Diego had a chance to talk with the CNO and published a very helpful interview with him.

The interview highlighted a number of his focal points on the evolution of the US Navy and we will include them here with comments and references back to some of our own work, which underscores aspects of the key problems, which he highlighted.

Robots and Unmanned Systems

The CNO identified four agenda items.

The first was with regard to the Navy’s use of the electromagnetic spectrum and building out the new Naval communications system.

The second was with regard to robots and unmanned systems.

According to the CNO:

(We need) to move ahead with unmanned vehicles in the undersea domain. This year, I want to lay out a road map for the future where we have milestones. That technology is out there, we’ve done demonstrations in the lab or in a docile bay. We’re going to take this to the ocean on a mission, a specific exercise, as a road map to commit ourselves to certain things.

We can’t be everywhere in the world we want to be with submarines. They are almost $2 billion a copy. We can get the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of the under ocean with something that costs tens of millions.

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and platform members applaud former U.S. Senator John Glenn after his daughter Lyn Glenn, the ship's sponsor, broke a bottle of champagne on the hul to officially christen Mobile Landing Platform (MLP 2) John Glenn. The ship, named in honor of U.S. senator, astronaut and Marine Corps pilot John Glenn, represents the newest platform in Navy-Marine Corps integration. Credit: USN, 2/1/14

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and platform members applaud former U.S. Senator John Glenn after his daughter Lyn Glenn, the ship’s sponsor, broke a bottle of champagne on the hull to officially christen Mobile Landing Platform (MLP 2) John Glenn. The ship, named in honor of U.S. senator, astronaut and Marine Corps pilot John Glenn, represents the newest platform in Navy-Marine Corps integration. Credit: USN, 2/1/14

He was then asked why the Navy seems further behind with underwater unmanned systems than with airborne systems.

The operations in the Mideast, the need to understand the terrain there, helped accelerate the need for (unmanned aircraft). Also, flying in the air with an unmanned vehicle, frankly it’s easier than sending something underwater. When you are underwater, you have to depend on a battery or some other fuel cell. Battery technology in the United States has not been on the cutting edge.

Earlier we interviewed the former head of Nav Air, Admiral (Retired) Joe Dyer about the challenges of building out underwater vehicles.

And he argued that the Navy could get further if they would focus on smaller underwater unmanned vehicles, precisely because of the projected state of battery technology.  For Dyer, the attempt to build larger UUVs with the state of battery technology made no sense; but that leveraging smaller UUVs, which could operate with current and projected battery technology, made more sense.

I believe UUV’s offer great potential but there are challenges.  The prime challenges for UUVs are range and power,area coverage. UUVs have the disadvantages of being relatively slow and of limited search duration. So you can’t efficiently transit them; you have to deliver them to the area of interest.

At iRobot, we’re coming at this problem with our Ranger program, which we’re funding atop some basic work sponsored by the Office of Naval Research. We are designing a Ranger UUV that’s “A-size.” “A-size” means it fits into a sonobouy launcher. And there are literally thousands of tubes out there on multiple patrol and tacair platforms. Marry the capability to air-launch with swarm capability and you cut out the transit time, greatly reduce the power requirement and introduce UUVs directly into the area of interest.

Using swarm techniques, which DARPA has funded iRobot and others to develop; you start to see the operations research numbers get much, much better. This isn’t something that’s awaiting better batteries and more power; it’s awaiting further development of a new concept.

Dyer suggested that changing the con-ops to take advantage of realistic technology might be an answer to getting UUVs out into operational situations.

Moving Ahead with USN And USMC Integration

The next priority mentioned by the CNO involved the Navy’s working relationship with the USMC.

I just left the christening of the mobile landing platform John Glenn. It’s bringing those expeditionary-like ships into the fleet, ready to go on deployment. 

We are taking the littoral combat ships Freedom and Fort Worth to Singapore. With their (carrying) volume, we are determining what kind of Marine Corps capability we want to put in there. 

He then argued that the next steps are afoot.

A squad-sized group (of Marines) with a couple of boats. They do search and seizure, they do takedowns at what we call level three – that’s when somebody doesn’t want to pull over. We want to work to get their helicopters compatible with the flight deck. If you’ve got a Huey or a Cobra helicopter here, imagine you are being attacked, they would help with swarms (of small boats). It would start with that takedown piece, such as fast-roping from helicopters. 

What can the John Glenn do? It would take this long, open deck and there’s a bumper-like arrangement that forms lanes for LCACs (air-cushioned landing crafts) to pull into. It’s got girders, and you can use to lower stuff into the LCACs. 

So it’s taking these to exercises. Let’s try humanitarian assistance. Let’s move Marines ashore to get folks from an embassy. What kind of command and control do we need? Do the exercise. Write down what we need. Same thing with special operations. But first thing, predominantly with Marines. 

In the 2014 defense bill, we got money to put a flight deck package on the same ship. We need to sit down with the Marines and say, ‘This thing will be ready to go in ’16. What do we need to do to support it when it comes?’

He was then asked what his milestones for the way ahead were?

The mobile landing platform Montfort Point deploys a year from now. During that deployment, we need to be doing exercises overseas where they go with the Marine Corps. 

The other one is the joint high-speed vessel. We are building 10 of these. Two are delivered. You’ll see one of these running around here in the not-too-distant future. It’s about how many folks can you put onboard and move from one place to another very quickly. It goes about 40 knots. And you can drive a tank on that thing.

What is particularly interesting about the CNO’s perspective is that it revolves around the key role of amphibious operations and its evolution, which he discussed from the standpoint of three new ships, the USNS Montford Point, the LCS and the JHSV.

The LCS is a quite interesting case, because it has never been developed or sold as a part of the amphibious ready group or part of Marine Corps operations.  The Marines certainly have not been a key player in its development.  And it shows.

The aircraft cannot easily integrate with the ARG-MEU and can not operate with key elements of USMC aviation which is evolving with the ARG-MEU, Building a ship on which an Osprey can not land, nor a CH-53, nor has demonstrated an ability to land other USMC helos makes little sense.

The CNO states that “With their (LCS) carrying volume, we are determining what kind of Marine Corps capability we want to put in there.”

Or the most revealing comment: “We want to work to get their helicopters compatible with the flight deck.”

This is a comment on the ship; not on USMC aviation.

Put bluntly: we have some LCSs now let us see if the Marines can use it and how?

According to our sources, the Navy built a “Littoral Combat Ship” with a flight deck that generally cannot accommodate USMC type,model or series helicopters or tilt-rotor.

The LCS can take a lightly loaded H-60, but because of the physics of skid configured aircraft versus wheeled aircraft, the deck is not able to handle H-1s.

It is not simply a question of size, but the impact of the aircraft on the deck. The H-1 skids put more pressure per square inch than the wheeled (bigger) H-60 does.

The H-1 program is the modernization effort which has led to AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom to replace the aging fleets of AH-1W Super Cobras and UH-1N Twin Hueys.

In other words, the LCS is not designed to incorporate the future of aviation; but legacy systems, but not even many of those.

The problem is that the ship is not well configured for integration into an afloat force, for it was designed largely as a shore hugging, fast, but supported largely from reach back to the shore ship.

It must NEVER be forgotten is the ship was designed for “distance support,” not organic support.  And indeed is viewed by senior MSC officials as a challenge to the MSC fleet to support.

For example, according to a senior Admiral interviewed in 2010:

We have designed in a lot of pieces into LCS with a lot more ability to do distance support.  We have in other words taken the workload off the ships. 

For example, the supply officer on the ship has the ability to electronically e-mail and get the order in. 

He will make sure that the order gets off the ship, but all the mechanics and backroom, that would sometimes and in many ships be done on that ship with two or three other people, are actually done ashore at the support squad.

The Military Sealift Command mobile landing ship USNS John Glenn (MLP 2) underway off the California coast, Jan 9. John Glenn successfully completed Builder’s Sea Trials on Jan. 13. The ship is expected to be delivered to the Navy in March following Acceptance Trails. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

The Military Sealift Command mobile landing ship USNS John Glenn (MLP 2) underway off the California coast, Jan 9. John Glenn successfully completed Builder’s Sea Trials on Jan. 13. The ship is expected to be delivered to the Navy in March following Acceptance Trails. (U.S. Navy photo/Released) 

The USNS Montford Point is a vastly different case.  It has been tailored to the USN and USMC amphibious and afloat operations. It can carry a rack of LCACS; it will evolve into a ship configured for flight support, ranging from Ospreys to every other USMC rotor assets, and perhaps a lilly pad option for the F-35B.

And as Admiral Buzby, former head of the MSC put it about the ship:

The USNS Montfort Point is our newest ship and it’s our newest type of ship.  It’s a float on/float off ship that was basically conceived from an existing BP Alaska-class tanker design that we modified to give us a float on/float off capability that’s going to be essentially a pier at sea.

It’s going to integrate with the maritime prepositioning force that we currently have.  These two squadrons of ships provide the ability to deliver a brigade’s worth of combat equipment and sustainment from large medium speed roll on/roll off ships in stream or inport.  MLP enhances the in stream off load capability.

It will give us the capability to have connection to the beach to move the material off those LMSRs much quicker than we do today using lighterage that is typically carried on the MPS ships.

This will give us the capability to have a lot of throughput as it’s currently envisioned.

It’s a big empty deck, it’s 80,000 tons and 800 feet of use your imagination.

It’s a big empty deck from which you can put almost anything to move pretty much anywhere.

In other words, it gives us tremendous flexibility, of the kind, which is increasingly necessary in an uncertain world.

The CNO finally mentions the JHSV which clearly can have a role in carrying  kit and Marines within a strike force.

It’s about how many folks can you put onboard and move from one place to another very quickly. It goes about 40 knots. And you can drive a tank on that thing. 

Again turning to the insights of Admiral Buzby, the role of the JHSV within the maritime force can clearly be seen.

When a MEU goes forward, deploys, it has an ACE attached to it.  And part of that ACE is a KC-130 that obviously doesn’t float with the ARG-MEU, but it’s attached and it’s there to do that intra-theater lift into the supporting an area.

I think in many ways, Joint High-Speed Vessel is a maritime version of a C-130. 

It’s there in support of the ARG.  It’s going to be available potentially to run missions, to pull stuff forward, and it’s like a Humvee, supporting the heavier maneuver units.

It’s very reconfigurable; you can assemble it in many different ways.

It’s a utility vehicle potentially for the MEU or for a carrier strike group depending on when they get into an area and they’re operating.  You have to be mindful of its capabilities and its limitations.  It’s not a heavy armored vessel; it’s not meant to go in harm’s way, particularly.

But it uses its speed for survivability, its ability to move very quickly.  And it could carry 600 tons over 1200 miles at 35 knots using its 20,000 square feet of mission bay – whatever you want, plus about 300 marines to wherever you need to go in a hurry.

Once you kind of establish yourself in an area, it’s that maritime C-130 that can move a good chunk of material pretty quickly and pretty flexibly.  In this sense, I think it’s got a great future to deploy in that sort of scenario in support of a ARG-MEU or carrier strike group in the future.

One of the reasons why I’m having my change of command aboard the ship is I want to show it off to people. I want people to come see the ship.  I want people to crawl around and touch it, feel the ship; we’re going to hold the ceremony in the mission bay.

People are going to walk up the vehicle ramp and go into the mission bay and behold what 20,000 square feet looks like.  And my way of thinking is it’s yet one more mission that it could be reconfigured to do.  It could host a large gathering of personnel.

I’m expecting people to come aboard and say “hey, we could do this,” or “oh, this could be used for that.”  I want leadership and young thinkers to say that and see that because you can’t help but think about it when you walk aboard.  You can’t help but think about it when you walk up on that flight deck.  You can’t help but think about it when you walk into the troop area.  It just jumps out at you.

The Arctic

Finally, the CNO discussed the Arctic and its impact on the evolution of USN missions.

And interestingly the article also includes the USN map laying out a view on Arctic evolution from a SLOCs perspective.

I turned to my oceanographer and said do four things: Tell me what’s the ice situation going to be in the future. Given that, where are the sea routes? What’s the passibility? What does that mean to the big shipping companies of the world? (The answers received are shown on the map below).

SLOCs in the Arctic as seen by USN. Credit: USN

SLOCs in the Arctic as seen by USN. Credit: USN 

We have a working group with China and with Russia and the Scandinavian countries. And there’s an Arctic Council. So, what’s the governance going to be? Part of our job is to ensure freedom of navigation.

We’ll sort all that out and decide what’s the level of combatant ship presence that we need.

I’m not in a big hurry. I don’t need another domain to go to. But I do acknowledge it could be a domain of significance.

It would seem from the CNO’s characterization of the challenge that is a rolling one, which will become central to the USN sometime in the future.

This would suggest that the USCG is the central player in shaping near to mid term Arctic security capabilities and policies.

The CNO’s realistic perspective clearly lends support for the notion that the USCG needs to be funded for the Arctic mission NOW, for nothing is going to come out of the USCG budget for Arctic operations.

And we might note that the CNO did not mention the LCS in this regard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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