The Firepower of the Imperial War Navy to Nosedive in the Years and Decades to Come

The fixation on futuristic networks and data concepts has it forgetting tube counts

We’ve touched on this in posts and comments but it’s time to bring it together and hammer it home.  The Navy is headed down a path of smaller, weaker unmanned vessels as replacements for the retiring Ticonderogas and soon to be retiring Burkes.  The result is a loss of missiles, guns, and sensors – what we collectively call firepower and what is responsible for the actual destruction of the enemy.  Data and networks don’t destroy the enemy … firepower does.  Data and networks enable firepower;  they don’t replace it.  Unwisely, the Navy is actually replacing firepower with data and networks.  Let’s take a look at the magnitude of the problem.

Let’s start by looking at what we currently have in the way of surface ship firepower.  Note that the following analysis is somewhat affected by what one chooses to classify as existing versus replacement.  For example, is a Burke that is currently being built considered as existing or replacement?  I’ve made my best attempt to present a reasonable interpretation of what’s coming and what’s going but one can easily and validly debate the classification of a few ships.  However, the classification of a few ships won’t change the overall conclusion so view the analysis in that light:  an overall assessment rather than a rigid tally since we have no way of actually knowing what will happen beyond the next few years in terms of retirements or new builds.  We may find that the Navy early retires even more ships than anticipated (the Navy routinely does that!) or we may find that the Navy builds a few more Burkes than anticipated (the Navy loves them!).

With that in mind, here’s a table showing the current surface force ships and their firepower as measured by missiles and guns.

Class

Ships

VLS / Ship

Total VLS

Guns / Ship

Total Guns

Ticonderoga

22

122

2684

2

44

Burke

77a

96

7392

1

77

Total

10,076

121

 

a current, building, or on order

I have not included the LCS or Zumwalts because they have no useful, effective combat capability.

Now, let’s look at the replacements that are coming.  To be fair, we don’t have a lot of details on the unmanned vessel configurations, yet, so we’ll have to use our best guesstimates based on the little information we have and based on comparisons to similar size vessels.  Recall that the Navy has identified two classes of unmanned replacement surface vessels:  a small unmanned surface vessel (SUSV) which will be an unarmed sensor platform and a large unmanned surface vessel (LUSV) which will be a mini-VLS barge with few, if any sensors.  Note that the Navy nomenclature of “large” unmanned surface vessel is a joke since the LUSV is described as being 200-300 ft long and 1000-2000 tons which would make it significantly smaller than the 380 ft long, 3500 ton LCS.  So, here’s the anticipated replacements.

Class

Ships

VLS / Ship

Total VLS

Guns / Ship

Total Guns

Constellation

20

32

640

1

20

LUSV

30a

32b

960

0

0

Total

1600

20

 

a  guesstimate based on announced plans for the moderate future

b  estimate based on size of LUSV compared to frigate

There has been talk of a future new cruiser but given the trend towards unmanned vessels and the extreme uncertainty of budgets combined with the absolute certainty of ever-increasing ship construction costs, the likelihood of the proposed new cruiser making it to production is far from certain and, realistically, is probably unlikely.

Now, let’s combine the data and compare the current firepower to the replacement firepower.

Ships

Avg VLS / Ship

Total VLS

Total Guns

Current

99

102

10,076

121

Replacement

50

32

1600

20

 

The problem, the decline in firepower, absolutely jumps off the page.  The total VLS cells are being hugely reduced.  We’re going to lose mammoth amounts of firepower.

In addition to the immense loss of VLS cells, we’re also going to lose almost all of our already meager naval gun firepower.  In fact, there are no plans to replace the 5” gun, at all.  The replacement Constellation class calls for the Mk110 57mm (2.2”) which is barely more than a machine gun and there has been no mention of a gun of any kind on the LUSV.

Now, we have to be fair and assume that additional ships will be built in the future to continue replacing the steady stream of retiring Burkes but all indications are that the Navy will switch to mostly or completely small (although they call them large!) unmanned vessels with fractional weapon capacities so the declining firepower trend identified here will continue or accelerate.  In fact, the Navy has stated publicly that some portion of the Burkes will be replaced by unmanned vessels.  As stated above, the possible appearance of a few more replacement Burkes doesn’t change the overall assessment.

It’s worse than just the loss of firepower and naval guns.  Other sources of firepower are declining, also.

Submarines.  The long known and anticipated shortfall in submarines has begun and will result in a decline from the current 68 subs to around 39.  Even the SSBN replacements will be reduced from the original 18 (later 14 + 4 SSGN) subs with 24 missile tubes to 12 subs with 16 tubes which is a 43% decrease in total missile tubes even compared to the current 14 SSBNs.

Helicopters.  To the extent that helos represent firepower, the 99 Ticonderoga and Burkes represent a helo force of 2x per ship for a total of 198 helicopters.  Compare this to the replacement helo capacity of 20 Constellation frigates with a single helo each for a total of 20 helos.  The LUSV, of course, has no helo capability.

Helos

Current

198

Replacement

20

 

Sensors.  Sensors enable firepower.  The contribution of sensors to the firepower assessment is difficult to quantify but hundreds of Aegis systems will be replaced by the handful of Constellation small SPY-6 Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) and unknown Small Unmanned Surface Vessel sensors.

Carrier Air.  We’ve already seen a steady decline in air wing size from the 80-90 of the Cold War era to the current 65 or so.  As F-35C squadrons are activated, the Navy has stated that squadron size will be decreased from 12 aircraft to 10.  We’ve also seen that the number of combat aircraft has been effectively decreased by 6-12 aircraft due to their use as tankers although the Navy hopes that the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker will free up those aircraft for their intended use as combat aircraft.

Summary

To be fair, it’s much easier to see what’s going to be retiring from the fleet in the near to moderate future than to see what will be joining the fleet.  It is quite possible, likely even, that more ships will join the fleet than are noted in this post but the addition of a handful of extra ships does not significantly change the conclusion.

We seem to have forgotten that, ultimately, even after you’ve collected every bit of data there is about your enemy, you eventually have to destroy their assets to achieve victory.  That requires firepower and lots of it.  We’ve lost sight of that elementary fact.  We’re so focused on data and networks and AI-assisted command and control that we’ve forgotten about the firepower side of things.

Firepower?  Yeah, it’s declining and in a big way.

Source: Navy Matters

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Ronnie
Ronnie
5 months ago

Jamming

The DonaldDuck is reported to have floated dead in the Black Sea by a single Russian plane with a fancy squark box bolted on it. (?)
If true, then that’s the future. S600 or S900
flybys cooks every navy ducks electronics.
Unmaned, unwomenized, untransgendered or robot crews…it matters not.
Best navy vessel in the future transports American made gizmos / products and or medical equipment for export.

Or better still,…”A” grade Vodka and Caviar Cheese burgers. The business of America’s is business itself….not war.

Mr Reynard
Mr Reynard
5 months ago
Reply to  Ronnie

Like Grey Goose Vodka ( Sorry it’s French) but I’m partial to Petrossian Caviar..
comment image
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Ronnie
Ronnie
5 months ago
Reply to  Mr Reynard

I am humbled indeed……….and yield to a connoisseur !

Digby
Digby
5 months ago
Reply to  Mr Reynard

Like Grey Goose Vodka ( Sorry it’s French)

Is there a problem with that?

Last edited 5 months ago by Digby
SteveK9
SteveK9
5 months ago

VLS = ?? I wish Authors would realize that if they are writing for an audience that is not part of their own little World, then you do not use acronyms and never define them.

Harry
Harry
5 months ago
Reply to  SteveK9

You’re wrong. This is taken from the NavyMatters blog which is dedicated to serious discussion on (US) navy matters and assumes a certain amount of knowledge amongst it readers and commenters. If you don’t know what a VLS is (and couldn’t be bothered to look it up for yourself), you weren’t the intended audience for this blog post (which I stress again, was NOT written for the anti-empire site).

XSFRGR
XSFRGR
5 months ago
Reply to  SteveK9

Don’t wait to be spoon fed like a baby. When in doubt look it up.

yuri
yuri
5 months ago

slow LGBT targets able to only intimidate villagers in Grenada

XSFRGR
XSFRGR
5 months ago

It looks like welfare costs are finally trumping defense costs. Now that the Empire is admitting that it is bankrupt perhaps it’s time to make nice with our adversaries. Russia/China have been giving us the opportunity to be one among equals, but their patience isn’t endless, and their tolerance for an attack on their assets is ZERO. Besides all of this ordinance isn’t going to be very useful in the war that is about to be fought right her in the U$A.

Anti-Empire