Good Evening, Drifters
WASHINGTON – Journalism is a remarkable career field. To do this job well is a bit like running: If you want to get good at it, lace up your shoes and go do it. And if you stick with the same beat long enough to know what you’re writing about – enough to be dangerous – it unlocks the door to a whole host of amazing opportunities.
I muse on this because I still find it strange that 15 years ago I was scrubbing unspeakable things out of deck-drains in the showers of Operations Berthing on board USS Normandy. And now, by virtue of deciding to be a journalist, I get 45 minutes of time to ask questions of guys like Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, the Chief of Naval Operations’ director of surface warfare, or women like Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, the commander of U.S. 6th Fleet. It’s always kind of a trip, and it’s a testament to our free society that it works this way.
For this edition of The Drift, I want to circle back to some things that I haven’t written up yet from my pre-Surface Navy Association interview with Rear Adm. Boxall, who was incredibly generous with his time, and cover some ground I haven’t made publicly available yet.
I’m also going to dive into a couple Navy-related items from the Missile Defense Review.
Be good to one another,
This is going to work a bit like bonus footage at the end of the DVD. I gave you all a lot of my interview with Rear Adm. Boxall, but not all of it. A couple of things we discussed:
- Plans for FFG(X) crewing
- Training for the platform
- Unmanned development
- And the future of LCS
As with a lot of these interviews, the quotes are edited for concision.
Boxall on FFG(X) Crewing
Boxall said the Navy is planning a Blue-Gold crewing model, which means that half the crew would be out with the ship, the other crew is shoreside.
Here’s what he had to say:
The Quote: “We’re looking at the blue-gold construct on FFG(X), we’re planning on it, which gives us a larger operational availability – it should double it. So, these ships are going to be out there half the time while the [off-hull] crews are back training in higher-fidelity training environments. And what [commanding officers] will tell you is that as we get to higher and higher fidelity training, time to train becomes equally as valuable. So, in an increasingly complex environment, it’s just intuitive that that you have to have time to train.
“We think Blue-Gold makes sense for those reasons on the frigate. We’ll look and see if that makes sense on the large surface combatant or not. Maybe those are better ships to keep as a surge force, maybe they’re fine operating on a lower rotational model.”
Boxall said the fleet was likely going to ease into the new world of unmanned warships or, as I termed them, killer robot ships.
The Quote: “I expect it won’t be immediately unmanned. We’re going to design these things with the idea that, you know, we’re going to put people on them in the near term. Then maybe move toward fully unmanned when we think the technology and the understanding of how we will use them matures.”
The future of LCS in the fleet
We also discussed the upcoming deployments for LCS later this year. I asked him if the new vision for the surface fleet meant an evolving role for the platform.
The Quote: “One of the exciting things about LCS is its flexibility – everyone who steps inside one of those mission bays says "Wow, I could do a lot with this." So, as you get them out there, the fleet commanders are seeing the same thing. So, what you see is a capability that can expand in the future or be adaptable for something you don't know about.
“They're coming fast, every couple months we seem to be commissioning or christening one of them. So as we get them out there you are going to see some excitement about what else we can do with them. We haven't even thought of the best use of LCS is yet, if you ask me.”
Boxall also listed the new anti-ship missile as an exciting new capability, and said the team was working to make sure the first deployer would have the missile on it.
The Quote: “I think we are going to continue to get better with LCS. We're trying to make decisions about the future of LCS on the first few out there, and then we changed the model. So, I think we are going to lock down this model for a while. We had a hiatus in 2018, they're going to be out there in 2019 and I think now that they're through their post-shakedown availabilities they're going to be out there, they are going to be forward deployed. And the allies are excited to have them.”
Missile Defense Review
If you’ll recall, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson isn’t a huge fan of ballistic missile defense patrols. It’s worth reviewing his comments:
The US Navy is fed up with ballistic missile defense patrols
Richardson’s underlying gripe is that you take a multi-mission warship like a DDG and consign it for weeks at a time to a tiny box waiting for the possibility of a missile launch for a chance at shooting it down.
The Quote: “It’s a pretty good capability and if there is an emergent need to provide ballistic missile defense, we’re there,” he said. “But 10 years down the road, it’s time to build something on land to defend the land. Whether that’s AEGIS ashore or whatever, I want to get out of the long-term missile defense business and move to dynamic missile defense.”
Well the reviews are in and it doesn’t look like the Navy is getting out of BMD. In fact, the long-delayed Missile Defense Review may indicate a new mission on the horizon. While the BMD force is painted as a “surge force” to be used in emergencies, the review also raises the possibility of using the SM-3 Block IIA as an “underlay” for homeland defense.
Excerpt: The SM-3 Blk IIA interceptor is intended as part of the regional missile defense architecture, but also has the potential to provide an important “underlay” to existing GBIs for added protection against ICBM threats to the U.S homeland. This interceptor has the potential to offer an additional defensive capability to ease the burden on the GBI system and provide continuing protection for the U.S. homeland against rogue states’ long-range missile capabilities. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) will test the SM-3 Blk IIA against an ICBM-class target in 2020.
The open question here is who is providing the underlay? Are these SM-3 IIAs in the VLS cells on Navy ships? Are San Diego-based DDGs going to have to patrol in tiny boxes off San Diego with SM-3s spun up if Kim Jong Un starts feeling froggy? Or are these land-based missiles? These are questions to be answered.