An interview with Rear Adm. Pete Fanta, Director of Surface Warfare, N96.
The US Navy is preparing to build Flight III destroyers, the latest version of the Arleigh Burke class that has been under construction since the 1980s, and just began at-sea tests of the first of the Zumwalt class stealth destroyer, a design conceived in the late 1990s. But what of the next surface warship design, dubbed the Future Surface Combatant, currently scheduled to begin procurement in 2030?
We haven’t heard much publicly about what comes after the Flight III destroyers, but as you know it takes a decade or more to develop a new warship design. Where do things stand on the Future Surface Combatant?
We have been doing something for about a year, year and a half. We’ve been laying out the initial studies, which really revolve around the standard long programmatic, bureaucratic things you do anytime you’re creating a large ACAT1 [Acquisition Category 1] program. In this case you do a gap analysis. You do a capability-based analysis. What do the combatant commanders need, what does a war fighter need, what does the Navy need? That study is underway with the understanding that we have a number of slots to fill — in the 2030s the cruisers goes out, one way or another, maybe even before those hulls will expire. We are going to need to continue with the building of destroyer or destroyer-sized ships. Sometime in that timeframe I am going to need to replace the smaller ships, maybe before the ‘30s, maybe after the ‘30s, but the PC [patrol coastals] are going to need replacing.
We look at future threats, at how those threats come together, what the build rates on the threats are, what we’re most likely to experience and then what do we expect the ship to do. What you really come to is that ships have to do the same things they’ve always done — sea control, power projection, air defense, offensive strike, etc. Nothing changes.
What really changes are numbers and the capabilities those ships will have to have. It’s still going to be a box that floats on water. What we put in there is really going to be a function of the threats that come up. More than likely you won’t see a single solution — you’ll see a family solution. You’ll see probably small to mid-sized — the current euphemism is large surface combatant or destroyer-cruiser size. What I started this year will continue for the next, probably three or four successors [of mine] before we actually bend steel on these things.
If I have anything to say about it, it will be based on what we have today and evolutionary rather than revolutionary. We’ve tried revolutionary steps and they usually end up costing too much and never getting built. So we need both capability and capacity. We need numbers as well as new capabilities, able to take the latest technology and insert it, whether at the beginning or in an upgrade. That kind of speaks towards a bunch of buzz words that don’t really work for me in architecture modularity, things like that. The problems is those are buzz words used by industry that then get changed by how we do procurement.
Open architecture to me means we own the data rights and we can hire somebody to go build a new system using those data rights. I know the interface points, I know how those machines talk to each other. I say “This is your spec, go write these specs” or go write this software into your code so it plugs into mine and I don’t have to spend a billion dollars changing your code every time I want to upgrade the ship.
Modularity to me means not necessarily plug-and-play modules but being able to upgrade when technology allows me to upgrade at a reasonable rate. I can describe my next set of weapons, sensors, engineering components, hull designs that all allow me to go build that next ship. That’s more what I’m going for than a particular hull design. I’m looking for a family of ships that can do more than one thing, because every time we build a single-mission ship it tends to get decommissioned before its life expectancy. That’s really what this capabilities-based assessment and analysis of alternatives and everything else we’re doing is driving us to.
When will you put something out that the public can see?
I haven’t really thought about it. I’m more concerned right now that we get it right then be tied to a one way forward.
I’m not talking about decisions. I’m talking about where you are in the thought process, what you’re working on, what some of the alternatives are that you’re considering.
I haven’t really looked at a timeframe on when we put out a public statement. I tend to kind of ignore that at my own peril. I’m more interested in getting the job moving along, recognizing that there is a public face of this that we are probably neglecting.
Frankly I’m going to keep going, because I recognize that it’s 15 years between the initial we-scratch-our-head and the first steel is bent. I imagine that if I have a way forward the first step would be to look at the Flight Three destroyers. Not that that will be a follow-on [design], but do I need to do a half-step up before I go to that final large surface combatant in the ‘30s?
Most folks think that the Flight Three hull pretty much maxes out your design margins. It takes a long time, a lot of effort, a lot of expense to develop an entirely new hull rather than just expand on a pre-existing hull. Whether or not to develop a new hull would be a decision point you have to make fairly soon.
I have a relatively wide hull; on the Flight Three we modified some of the stern to give us a little more stability. The other bookend is the DDG 1000 hull form. With those in mind we understand the engineering to go both ways. Could you put a plug into the destroyer? Probably. Could you change the tumblehome design of the DDG 1000? Probably.
But you’ll need something more than a destroyer to act as the air defense commander ship to escort strike groups.
I need an air defense commander ship with a radar capable of handling threats with enough missile capacity — and what those missiles are will be developed over the next 10-15 years, it doesn’t have to be the current ones — to allow me to defend the sea base, whether that’s with a carrier or an expeditionary strike group or group of oilers or whatever. To defend the sea base and conduct counter-ballistic missile, anti-shoot cruise missile and provide an offensive strike for that carrier or by itself. But everything in that sentence is completely within the capability of a slightly larger DDG 51, or destroyer-cruiser-size hull.
It’s the number of cells, the number of weapons. Not just hard-kill systems but also directed-energy weapons, whatever is coming down the road. Whether that’s lasers, particle beams, rail guns, whatever comes down the road 15 to 20 years from now is really what we’re going to have to satisfy. That means a power system that can handle it. It will have to be a hard kill, soft kill, directed-energy plus kinetic weapons blend. Enough power so when the power density gets there I can have directed energy for defensive purposes as well as the offensive long-range punch we’ll probably get off kinetics. As well as enough reserve power to handle jamming and electromagnetic warfare and everything else we do.
I’m not designing something that looks like a ship. I’m designing something that looks like a box in the water and I’m adding capability. Frankly whatever the naval and architects tell me that that hull shape should look like is what I’m willing to go with. I’m not stuck to a particular hull shape or tumblehome or traditional hull, square, round, fat, thin. I want to know what it’s supposed to do, how much it should carry and what capabilities should it have in there. And then the naval architects will design around it.
Raytheon is developing the Air Missile Defense Radar for the Flight III destroyers, which you’re to begin construction on this year. Are you happy with what you’re seeing?
It is absolutely on track. The initial indications are that it’s working very well. The software development is on track. The question is will we hit something we haven’t seen? The same technology is being used on the Air Force radar and the Marines’ new radar and just about every other radar that’s going on every modern platform in the world. It really is how I take that radar face, the drivers for it and the software and integrate it with a weapons control system for the Aegis system. I’m on track right now for the install, and we’re starting construction of the ship that will have the radar in 2016.
Does the US Navy have a missile gap with its competitors?
Absolutely. There is a missile gap now and if we don’t do something within the next few years it will continue to expand.
How do you want to address that gap?
I want a family of surface-to-surface missiles. I want them on everything I can bolt them onto. I want a missile that goes over 100 miles — I’ll use round numbers so I don’t get cross-threaded with the security guys — a missile that goes over 200 miles, a missile that goes over 400 miles, a missile that goes over 700 miles. That’s my ultimate goal. They can be dual-purpose missiles, can attack surface targets and land targets.
There’s no reason we can’t take a look at some of the short-range missiles and use them against small surface targets. I have to have a mix of smart seekers/dumb missiles, smart missiles/dumb seekers, smart targeting/dumb missiles, smart missiles/dumb targeting. We’re working on matching the targeting capabilities developed over the past dozen years with weapons that we’re now modifying. Nothing that I’m talking about doesn’t exist right now. I know I will have to get to a high-speed long-range missile that goes really far and does some amazing things. But what I’m looking at in the next five to 10 years is taking the systems I have and using them in a smarter and better way.
Would you entertain non-US weapons?
I’ll let the acquisition community figure that out but yes, I would use the comparative test process to go ahead and test foreign weapons. French or Italian, Scandinavian, British, the Australians, the Japanese, the Germans. These are all countries we have consortiums with one way or another.
The destroyer Zumwalt (DDG 1000) just spent a week on her initial sea trials. How did that go?
They went very well. I haven’t seen the final reports but everything I got back is the integrated power system worked very well. The total ship competing environment actually handled the power loads. The steering gear new, the propulsion system is new, the hull is new, everything on that ship is new. They were out in some reasonable weather, not rough weather trials or anything but some fairly good weather, and at full speed with full rudder turns less than 10 degrees roll on the ship — it wouldn’t shake the coffee cups on the bridge.
Remember for a long time this has been the question, of how that hull form — because as it gets deeper in the water and actually the stability curves change — unlike a normal hull, which gets more stable as you get deeper in the water. This hull form was very stable in the testing we’ve done so far. And frankly [the ship] worked pretty well. Remember not all of it is in final configuration. We are still working the combat system. We are still working radar integration. We are still working all the communications integration. This [trials] was really to take the hull and the engineering plant and the ship’s computing environment and go shake it out to make sure we were comfortable with getting it to sea. And every indication I got was it worked very well. And the commanding officer got to drive and he is extremely pleased with it.
When is this ship going out again?
February or March depending on weather. We’ve got to get enough ice off the [Kennebec] river to get it out there.
What’s the status of the modernization program for Flight One and Flight Two Arleigh Burke destroyers?
We’ve just added some [funding] back in destroyer modernization and we’re pushing hard. That’s actually showing up as one of the most cost-effective midlife ideas.
Congress just appropriated funding for two more modernizations, but you still have a number of ships not in the modernization plan. How many are left out right now?
A dozen maybe. I haven’t quite figured out which path I want to go down with. Do I want to shift completely over to a new system? Do I want to continue that computing environment like I’m doing, the new baseline in normal modernization? They’re the ones I have to decide what I’m doing. That is one of the mysteries I’m still kind of struggling with. I know where I’m going with the ones that are pure old government computing baselines and I know where I’m going with the commercial off-the-shelf modernization on other ones. With my budget the way it is I’m still sitting in a quandary on this.
The thing I’m really looking at is the rate of modernization. If I just build new I won’t have a high-end modernized fleet before about 2035. If I modernize at one a year it moves into the late 20s. If I modernize at two a year it moves into the mid-20s, if I modernize at three a year it moves into the early 20s.
My threshold for modernized or new construction is about 40 of what we call integrated air missile defense ships. The ability to shoot down both an incoming ballistic missile while also looking for that incoming cruise missile. And every threat parameter I see out there in the next 10 years or so tells me I have to have that capability in numbers by the early to mid-20s. That would drive me towards about three modernizations a year if I can get there, two at a minimum.
You have two ships that recently began the cruiser modernization program, with two more to go in this year. This has been a hugely controversial program in Congress for a number of reasons. How goes that program?
I run up into limitations of how much Congress has authorized in the ships’ maintenance and overall funding. I’m trying to stretch those dollars as far as I can, because remember they also include modernization of LSDs [landing ship dock amphibious ships], so I can’t just take all that money and use it for my cruisers. I have to cut in the LSDs.
Will a new variant of the plan be made part of the fiscal 2017 budget submission?
I’m not going to talk about the 17 budget.
Will there be no changes in the 17 budget submission?
Given the amount of money Congress has appropriated for this plan and the fact that there wasn’t more appropriation in the 16 budget I would think that it would have to change.
In September you directed that new and existing littoral combat ships (LCS) be fitted with surface-to-surface, over-the-horizon missiles. Two of those ships deploy this year. Where does that effort stand?
The budget came in a little late, slowed us a little down. I have made a couple steps — I have to do the engineering and structural work on the ship. It’s not much but it’s enough to weld in a couple beams and box beams to allow me to put the weight where I want to. I’ve already found some launchers and some weapons and some consoles and so on. I know where those are. Really at this point it’s matching when the engineering work, this is when I can put the ship into an availability and this is when the money is ready to go.
We’re trying to make something happen very quickly that would normally take five years to happen.
The LCS Freedom was to deploy to relieve the Fort Worth out of Singapore, but with work on Freedom taking longer Fort Worth has now been extended. What’s your assessment of that deployment?
She’s being extended and she’s doing a very nice job. She’s operating well, her systems are working fine, it continues. This is one of the advantages of the 3-2-1 crew rotation construct -- the hull can stay out there as long as it’s performing, and the crews keep coming back and forth every four months. That 3-2-1 allows us to keep her going until we need to bring her home.
Would you consider deploying Freedom without the missile and fit it in the field?
Yes I would. Actually what we’re looking at right now is what the multiple possibilities are. Nobody should expect me to go out with eight Harpoons on two launchers, crossed on the bow or the stern.
You’re probably hoping for only two missiles for the first deployment?
That’s what I’m looking for and that will depend on how much I can get. Will I make it? I intend to and I’ll do it as fast as I can. I need a lot of people to help with this and get the process going. First step was to get the money moving.
Same thing with the Coronado, the first Independence-class ship to deploy?
Coronado the same thing. She is going into [the shipyard] before she deploys so I still have a possibility to catch her. Again I need to know how much structural work [is required] and that’s being looked at right now.
My hold up right now is not identifying weapons, it’s not identifying launchers. My hold up right now is the engineering, how long it takes to say this is how much. I know it costs me $250,000 to do the weapon certification. That I’m not worried about. What I am worried about is getting that structural work done to make sure I don’t break something when I bolt these things up.
The brand-new Milwaukee (LCS 5) just broke down off Norfolk with an engineering problem. Are you worried about that? Does that say anything about the concept or the design or anything? How would you characterize that at this point?
I haven’t gotten all the results back yet. At this point I know the shavings came from two clutches. That tells me something didn’t happen that was supposed to happen, either an overrun or a disengagement of the clutch. I don’t know what that is, yet. We are going to go down that review.
We know how to do mechanical clutches; we know how to do overrunning clutches. I know this is a different design than LCS 1 and 3, so that’s the first place we’re looking. What is the difference in design between this and LCS 1 and 3 and how does that difference make an effect on why those two clutches slipped against each other?
We’re going to fix her, but remember that 5 and 6 (USS Jackson) are intended to carry out shock trials on the East Coast. There’s a long extensive process to get them ready for shock trials. They instrument the ship, they look through all the systems, they go and double- and triple-check for the accelerometers and sensors they put everywhere to get them ready for shock trials, so that’s a pretty long process. Right now whether we continue this availability depending on what we find with that reduction gear. How that transitions into the availability to get it ready for shock trials is yet to be determined, [probably] in the next couple weeks.
The Navy’s requirement is for a total of 52 LCSs and LCS frigates. Would you call that a warfighting requirement, or a presence requirement?
It’s both. I primarily drive off warfighting. I have the requirement for that number of LCSs to allow me to start the war fight. At some point I run out of ships even with 52 LCSs.
You’re developing a frigate variant of the littoral combat ship (LCS). Where does that effort stand?
I’ve finished. I have to get through joint staffing, the change to the LCS documentation. We have not completely selected all the components that don’t have to be selected now — so that over-the-horizon missile is still up in the air, it really doesn’t make a difference whether I pick this one or that one. We’re picking the heaviest one at that point to make sure we have the space and weight for it.
The one thing I insisted on was going back and looking at the guns, primarily the 30mm guns, because the rest of the world is going very quickly for these highly accurate lightweight guns. We might be able to save some weight, and frankly the Army is looking at larger-caliber guns. I don’t want to be the only service or subcomponent of a service that’s building the 30mm round. If everybody else is going to larger, smaller, smarter, dumber, I want to match that. In fact I’d love to get onto the Army’s bandwagon if they’re going to 40mm. I know they’re looking at different calibers but I would love to buy off somebody’s like the Army’s production line because it makes it a lot cheaper for me.
But again I don’t have to put those in right now. That’s the beauty of LCS, it’s a module in the hull, I can slide that in. I can do a competition on it.
The combat systems has been determined — we’re going down to the [Lockheed Martin] Combatss 21 [now used on the Freedom class]. The radar is being looked at but we’re down to a few that meet the requirements of the threats. We’re going to go with a SeaRAM weapon system integrated with combat system, which is already being done. We know the Multi-function Towed Array. We know we’re going with the same electronic warfare system — we’re changing the cabinets to lighten up the weight — that the destroyers are getting. So everything I’ve got somewhere else in the US system exists with the exception of a couple things like the over-the-horizon missile and I’m looking at the guns. I’m going to stick with the 57mm main gun, but I have funded an upgrade to the ammunition. I know the torpedo alertment system I’m pulling off other vessels.