WASHINGTON – Good Evening, Drifters!
Well, I made it back. And right glad I am to be back.
Scotland was a blast and the Drift was in great hands with CDR Salamander and Chris Cavas at the helm. I think we’ve thoroughly covered running rust. We can revisit the topic in the future as there is news.
I haven’t had two straight weeks off in quite some time and I feel like I’m a bit out of touch in Navyland. I figured I’d take a few minutes to chat with my friend and sounding board Tom Callender over at The Heritage Foundation to talk about what I missed while I was away.
So, that’s the subject of tonight’s Drift. Thanks again to Sal and Chris for minding the store.
The Drift: So, while I was away, Lockheed dropped its LCS Freedom design from the FFG(X) competition. What happened there?
Thomas Callender: Well they say they’re going to focus on the combat system, and on their part of the program. They’re saying, “Hey we’re still in it.” I’m not sure what feedback they got from the Navy during the process, but from the outside looking in, you were kind of maxing out the Freedom LCS hull design, latching on a lot of extra things to the LCS design. And then there wasn’t going to be much ability to then further modernize or upgrade it over its lifetime because you are maxing that design out.
In some ways I feel the same way about the Austal design. You know, you are taking things that were designed for a certain mission set and then sub-optimizing them adding in additional weight and payload trying to make it fit. A platform that was designed to go 40 or 50 knots with water-jet propulsion, and now you’ve got something that’s probably going to go 10-12 knots most of the time. If you are doing ASW missions you aren’t going to need a lot of speed, and you wouldn’t be able to hit those speeds anyway with the extra weight.
But again, who knows what feedback the Navy is giving them as they go through the design reviews. But I think that is the realization on their part.
TD: There is some chatter about BAE possibly coming in at the last minute with their Type 26 design. Obviously, they’ve had a lot of success internationally with that design. Is there room for them in the FFG(X) competition?
TC: I think it will ultimately be one of the designs that are already part of the competition. I think cost is going to be a factor. The Navy has already been talking about what they are looking at in terms of first-in-class costs and follow-on hull costs. Even there I think the costs – I think it will be hard to hit $800-$900 per hull. When you add in all the things you want it to do, then add in NAVSEA’s specs for survivability, it’s going to be hard to meet that cost.
To do the mission set right – to have sufficient VLS capacity, radar capacity, anti-submarine capacity, etc. – you don’t want to suboptimize to meet a cost requirement but I think cost will play into it. And I think Type 26 would have a hard time competing, not from a capabilities standpoint, but from a cost standpoint.
TD: So, you mentioned that the Austal LCS hull might be running into the same issues as the Lockheed LCS hull. In your view, then, it comes down to the Huntington Ingalls National Security Cutter, Navantia’s F-100 variant and Fincantieri’s FREMM?
TC: Yeah, the frigate version of the National Security Cutter and the other two: Yes, they are already traditional frigate/corvette hull designs. The FREMM and the Navantia designs already have a lot of weapons systems integrated into the design, and the NSC doesn’t yet. But I toured it in 2017 and it has a lot of space, weight, power and cooling that can be added in to handle those mission sets. It’s different from the LCS hulls, where you could do it but you are kind of maxing it out.
But certainly between those three, those are the more likely contenders.
TD: Another thing that happened while I was away: The flare-up over the John S McCain in Yokosuka. I don’t want to relitigate the issue here on The Drift. But does the military need a course correction in terms of politicization?
TC: There is always going to be some degree of politicization of the military, at some point its unavoidable. In this case I think there was a degree of, on the part of some in the White House, interpreting what they thought their boss wanted. That said, I do think it needs to be reiterated that inside the military you need to strive to be apolitical.
Senior leadership needs to be involved in pushing back at the highest levels on the White House or whoever to make clear what the military should and should not be doing. You have to have those discussions at the highest levels – the secretary and Chief of Naval Operations – that we’re going to push back on requests that seem overly political.
It seems like the Navy pushed back in this case, but there were some mixed messages.
TD: And then finally, just in the last 24 hours, there has been a sharp increase in tensions with Iran over its alleged attack on a tanker near the Strait of Hormuz. What’s going to happen, do you think?
TC: don’t think the U.S. is going to respond with some kind of military strike on mainland Iran. I think more likely would be something closer to what we did during the Tanker War in the 80s, where maybe the U.S. and – I’d like to see – a combined task force with Europeans and others’ together with maybe frigates and minesweepers and mine countermeasures capabilities to escort and otherwise facilitate commercial traffic through the strait. In terms of any direct military actions, more likely they’d be directed toward Iranian vessels engaged in dropping mines or activities like that.
TD: Thanks for taking the time, Tom!