Tag Archives: navy

The Mobile Landing Platform

Before we start writing our series on the evolution of landing craft, let’s address one of the greatest challenges of amphibious operations.

Amphibious landings generally give the attacker the initiative to chose the time and place of their landings. As such, gaining an initial foothold is generally successful, provided reasonable attention has been paid to tactical realities.

Maintaining that initiative is the challenge. The key to this is ensuring a sufficient buildup of troops and logistics to overpower any enemy counterattack.

While the Marines have a reasonable force structure for landing the initial waves of an assault, the buildup phase is therefore critical. And the Marines and the Army both have significant numbers of ships dedicated to carrying the vehicles and supplies that any buildup would require. What is often lacking is a means to land those vehicles and supplies ashore in the absence of significant port facilities.

And so the Marines and the Navy have teamed up to build a ship especially intended to connect those prepositioned vehicle carriers with the landing beaches.

The Mobile Landing Platform is designed so that vehicles can be driven off of the prepositioned ship, onto the MLP, and thence onto a Landing Craft Air Cushion for delivery to the beach.

Based loosely on the design of a large semi-submersible heavy lift ship, the MLP can provide docking for up to three LCACs. While designed with fiscal austerity in mind, you’ll notice that the MLP has significant open deck space. Couple that with a reserve of power and water, that means that it can be configured for other purposes rather easily.

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T-MLP-1 USNS Montford Point alongside a Bob Hope Class T-AKR in preparation for vehicle transfer exercises.

It’s important to note that the MLP is not an amphibious warship, nor indeed a warship of any kind. It belongs to the Military Sealift Command, and is crewed by Civilian Mariners. It is an auxiliary to support other ships.

Let’s take a look at an MLP in action.

Two MLPs, the USNS Montford Point and the USNS John Glenn, have been delivered.

The basic design of the MLP is also at the heart of the Afloat Forward Staging Base, which will be used as a mothership for mine hunting operations and other forward deployed elements that would otherwise require significant pierside facilities.

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USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-MLP-3/T-AFSB-1)

The Puller and a second, as yet unnamed AFSB are due for delivery in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

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F3H Demon

Before there was the magnificent F-4 Phantom, there was the McDonnell F3H Demon.

McDonnell Aircraft was formed in 1939, and aside from a prototype or two, it spent most of World War II building parts and subassemblies for other airplane manufacturers. About halfway through the war, McDonnell began designing what would become the US Navy’s first all jet fighter, the FH-1 Phantom.  Only 62 Phantom’s were built, but for a new company to manage to snag such an important contract was a significant break. Moving from a parts supplier to an aircraft designer and builder was a big business step.

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As soon as the FH-1 was underway, it became apparent that a larger, more powerful plane with the same general layout would be a better fit for the Navy. Soon production shifted to the F2H Banshee.

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The Banshee was a very successful design, and served throughout the Korean War alongside the better known Grumman F9F Panther series. Almost 900 Banshees would serve in the US Navy, Marine Corps and as the only carrier borne fighter of the Royal Canadian Navy.

But even as the Banshee was rolling off the production lines, the era of the straight winged subsonic fighter was clearly nearing an end. The performance of swept wing F-86 and MiG-15 jets in Korea, and the era of supersonic flight ushered in by the Bell X-1 in 1947 meant the next McDonnell product would be a swept wing supersonic jet. Not only that, advances in radar meant it would be intended to serve as an all-weather air defense platform for the carrier group. And so McDonnell began development of the F3H Demon.

Advances in avionics, and aerodynamics were very rapid in the 1950s.  The problem was, advances in jet engine design was rapid, but not universally successful. And McDonnell and the Navy made a bad bet that the Westinghouse J40 engine would be successful. It wasn’t. In fact, the J40 engine was a disaster, with atrocious reliability problems.  The first production run of 58 J40 powered F3H-1 Demons were grounded, useful only for ground maintenance trainers.

McDonnell convinced the Navy to switch to the less powerful (and still not terribly reliable) Allison J71 engine. Roughly 450 Allison powered Demons would roll off the lines, with later models armed first with Sidewinder missiles, and then the early AAM-2-N Sparrow missile.

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The Demon was not considered a failure, but nor was it genuinely considered a successful design. The much larger, more powerful F4H Phantom II would sometimes be called “twice the jet the Demon was” because it had not just two engines, but two crewmen as well.

Still, the Demon did have its good points. It has excellent visibility from its cockpit, and was generally considered a very pleasant airplane to fly, if a somewhat underpowered around the boat.

And speaking of the boat, here’s some home movies of some Demons operating from USS Hancock (CVA-19).

The Demon would have a relatively short service life, entering squadron service around 1956, and with the last leaving the fleet in 1964, replaced by the Phantom.

H/T to Cybermodeler

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3”/50 gun, and the 8”/55 gun

A nice little video showing the autoloading features of each gun.

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They’ve got the laser, now they just need the shark

So, the Navy deployed its Laser Weapon System (LaWS) aboard USS Ponce forward deployed to the Persian Gulf.  Intended to complement the existing suite of close in weapon systems, LaWS is seen in this video demonstrating its prowess.

USS Ponce is an interesting ship in and of itself. Formerly known as LPD-15, an Austin class Landing Platform Dock, it was for many years used to transport Marines and their vehicles and such. She was supposed to be retired in 2011 after thirty years of service. But the Navy was looking at a concept known as the Afloat Forward Staging Base, or AFSB. Before building ships for that purpose, the Navy decided the Ponce would be used as an interim test bed to see what parts of the concept worked, and which didn’t. After a refit period, and being manned with an unusual Navy and Civilian Mariner crew, Ponce was deployed to Bahrain to serve as the forward operating base for both minesweeping helicopters, and for small mine warfare craft.

Since Ponce was already being used for one operational test mission, it made a good bit of sense for her to also host the initial operational testing of LaWS.

No word one when sharks will get their frikken laser beams.

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Battleship!

I happened to stumble across this US Navy video from 1988 chronicling the reactivation of the USS Missouri and her Iowa class sister ships.

Shortly after Desert Storm, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and consequently the Soviet fleet, the manpower costs associated with the battleships led to their inactivation. The hazards and logistical issues with their bagged powder guns likely played a part as well.

Let’s back up a moment and discuss the role of the battleship in World War II. The common wisdom is that the defeat of the Pacific Battle Fleet at Pearl Harbor sounded the death knell of the battleship, and heralded the rise of the carrier as the primary capital ship of the fleet. The battleship was relegated to shore bombardment. That’s only partly true.

The US battleship fleet in World War II consisted of two distinct types of ships. The older “standard” slower battleships built before the Washington Naval Treaty, and the later, post-treaty “fast battleships” of which the Iowa class was the third and final batch.

Some of the  old battleships were used early in the war in the Atlantic to escort convoys, as the threat of German surface raiders was seen as potentially as devastating as the U-boat threat. As fast battleships became available, they too served in the Atlantic. As the threat of German surface raiders declined, the fast battleships were transferred to the Pacific Fleet where they were integrated with the then nebulous Fast Carrier Task Force. The slow battlewagons increasingly became the experts on shore bombardment.

The fast battleships, the North Carolinas (2 ships in class), the South Dakotas (4 ships in class) and the Iowas (4 ships in class) did tend to provide a massive anti-aircraft screen to the carrier task force.

But their role was more than that. It is important to remember that the carrier had only the most limited ability to attack at night or in foul weather. The battleships still maintained a critical anti-ship warfare mission, one that they would execute, perhaps not as often or as decisively as pre-war doctrine envisioned, but more than popular history seems to recall.

And while the reactivated Iowa class was used almost exclusively in the shore bombardment role (via either their guns or as Tomahawk missile launchers), the impetus for reactivating them was as the nucleus of powerful Surface Action Groups to face off against Soviet surface fleets.

The Iowas are now but museum pieces, and never again will we see their like upon the waves. But my, what a sight to see one with a bone in her teeth.

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Rough Day at the Office

Long tine readers of Neptunus Lex probably remember a commenter, Spazsinbad, who apparently was a former Royal Australian Navy A-4G pilot. He always had interesting bits to add to the conversation.  Let’s take a look at one of his compatriots having a rough day.

The A-4, in US Navy usage, operated handily from the supercarriers. And it was even quite at home on the modernized Essex class. But the Royal Australian Navy’s only carrier, HMAS Melbourne, was tiny! And there was simply no margin for error.

A tip of the hat to:

https://twitter.com/classicNavalAir/status/540721118811017216?s=03

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Bryan Clark, Sea Control and Power Projection- The Future Surface Navy

On November 10, Bryan Clark, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, gave a presentation advocating changes in the structure and employment of the surface combatants in the US Navy. It’s a rather radical concept in some ways. In others, it’s simply a return to the traditional role of the Navy.

There are two fundamental roles for any navy, sea control and power projection. Sea control is ensuring that your fleet and merchant marine have the freedom to use the seas. Very generally, sea control is war against the enemy navy. Power projection is use of your navy to attack enemy forces and assets ashore.  Our own US Navy, in terms  of World War II, served in both roles. The Battle of the Atlantic, the epic struggle against the U-Boats, was largely a sea control battle. In the Pacific, the island hopping campaign saw the Navy in a power projection role. Of course, both theaters were not exclusively one other the other type of naval mission. You have to exercise sea control to be able to project power. And often the best way to exercise sea control is by projecting power ashore, to defeat the enemy’s base.

Clark is an interesting fellow to address the issue. In his naval career, he was a nuclear submariner. But he’s also been working as a strategic level thinker for years, and before joining the CBSA, served as a special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations.  His focus there was at the operational and tactical level. His presentation is about 40 minutes long.

There are also two other videos, the introduction, and the Q&A session.

If you don’t wish to spend 40 minutes watching the video, Breaking Defense has a thought provoking article on Clark’s ideas, and some of the challenges.

Someone shoots a cruise missile at you. How far away would you like to stop it: over 200 miles out or less than 35?

If you answered “over 200,” congratulations, you’re thinking like the US Navy, which has spent billions of dollars over decades to develop ever more sophisticated anti-missile defenses. According to Bryan Clark, until 12 months ago a top advisor to the nation’s top admiral, you and the Navy are wrong.

Now for my thoughts on the matter.

Let’s take a look at how we came to have the surface combatant fleet we have today. Currently, the Navy has 22 Tico cruisers, 62 Burke destroyers, 28 or so Perry frigates, and a couple of LCS.  The Ticos and Burkes were conceived primarily as anti-air warfare escorts for the carrier battle groups. The Perry’s were seen as anti-sub escorts for merchant, logistics, and amphibious groups. The LCS are… well, that’s been covered elsewhere.

Prior to World War II, the cruisers and destroyers of the fleet were seen both as a screen for the main line of battleships, and as an offensive weapon to attrit any enemy screen of their own line of battle, and as weapons to attack that same line of battle. The carriers of the fleet were seen as an adjunct of the screen, primarily to provide reconnaissance and scouting, and to provide air defense over the fleet.

But by the end of the war, the air wing of the carrier was seen as the primary weapon of the fleet, both as an anti-surface warfare weapon, and for power projection ashore. It was also seen as the primary defensive weapon of the fleet. The cruisers and destroyers were no longer seen as offensive weapons, but rather as distributed sensors for the fleet, networking to provide that information to the air wing, and serving as backstops against any leakers that the air wing failed to destroy.

That focus on anti-air escort has remained with the surface combatant community to this day. To be sure, it is not the sole mission of cruisers and destroyers, but it is the driving force behind the design and construction of almost every major surface combatant class since World War II. The only other mission which the surface navy placed nearly as much emphasis was anti-submarine warfare. And with the collapse of the Soviet Union, that emphasis has largely been allowed to lapse. See the shedding of the entire fleet of Spruance destroyers, long before their useful service lives were over.

One of the main characteristics of the evolution of the fleet air defense escort has been the ever increasing range of the interceptors they employ. Radar range has effectively had roughly the same range since its introduction. The first interceptor used by the Navy, the Terrier missile, had an effective range of about 10-15 miles. Today, the SM-6 can theoretically engage at ranges of up to 150 miles.

Clark argues that the long range interceptor is a losing proposition, in that the SM-6 costs more than any missile it is likely to engage. Further, it’s likely that any near peer enemy can launch enough cruise missiles to simply empty the magazine of any cruiser or destroyer.  That is, if a cruiser carries 50 interceptors, the enemy only need launch 51 cruise missiles. Instead, he argues, the Navy should abandon the long range interceptor, and focus on short range interception, at about 35 miles, which means using the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). Where a Vertical Launch System (VLS) cell can only carry one SM-6, that same cell can carry four ESSM. Coupled with jamming and decoying, and with emerging laser and rail gun technologies, Clark argues that this defense would allow for sufficient magazine space to counter any likely attack, while also leaving sufficient cells for offensive weapons to destroy the launch platforms of the enemy. And he’s certainly correct that it is more effective to destroy the launch platform than to attempt to intercept every possible incoming attack.

But that revision to the missile defense doctrine ignores that any potential adversary with sufficient numbers of cruise missiles to overwhelm a cruiser or destroyer is an adversary that would be worthy of engaging with a carrier strike group. And thus we’re back to the point where the air wing is the primary offensive weapon, tasked to destroy the  launch platform. Kill the archer, not the arrows, as the saying goes. And with the air wing as the primary offensive weapon, that logically means the surface combatants are back to their historical role of defending the carrier. As to the cost argument, yes, an SM-6 does cost more than any single cruise missile it will likely engage. But that’s not the fiscal argument that matters. The real cost argument is, how much is saved by spending $4 million expending an SM-6? If it keeps a $15 billion dollar aircraft carrier from suffering a couple billion dollars in damage, that’s money well spent.

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