Saturday, September 23, 2006

New tool for War on Terror

Today I had the distinct honor of attending the launch of the future USS Freedom, LCS 1. The christening was a "smashing" success. After five years of work to define what a littoral combatant should be able to do, and helping to influence the design of the ship, it was a real pleasure to see her with my own eyes this morning, and to witness the first Great Lakes launch of a naval combatant since World War II.
From the Lockheed Martin press release:

MARINETTE, WI, September 23, 2006 – History was made here today when the nation’s first Littoral Combat Ship, FREEDOM (LCS-1) – the inaugural ship in an entirely new class of U.S. Navy surface warships – was christened and launched at the Marinette Marine shipyard.
The agile 377-foot FREEDOM -- designed and built by a team led by Lockheed Martin [NYSE:LMT] -- will help the Navy defeat growing littoral, or close-to-shore, threats and provide access and dominance in coastal water battlespace. Displacing 3,000 metric tons and with a capability of reaching speeds well over 40 knots, FREEDOM will be a fast, maneuverable and networked surface combatant with operational flexibility to execute focused missions, such as mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare and humanitarian relief.
FREEDOM’s christening ceremony included the traditional smashing of a champagne bottle across the ship’s bow, performed by ship’s sponsor Birgit Smith. Smith, the wife of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom, was selected as FREEDOM’s sponsor by Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England.
FREEDOM made a spectacular side-launch before an audience of thousands who had lined both sides of the Menominee River, which divides the states of Wisconsin and Michigan.
“Just a little more than three years ago she was just an idea, now FREEDOM stands before us. And on this morning, we christen her, send her down the ways and get her ready to join the Fleet next year,” said Admiral Michael G. Mullen, U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Officer. “It comes none too soon … because there are tough challenges out there that ONLY she can handle.”

There are those who would criticize the LCS program as ill-defined, and potentially too expensive, but can we really afford to wait until everything is perfectly decided in the face of today's enemy? The Arleigh Burke class, the last combatant program to launch, started in the late 1970s and didn't commission a ship until 1991. During that period, the perceived threat for the Burkes didn't really change -- they were built to defend the fleet against mass air attack, strike at enemy land targets, and defeat the nuclear submarine threat. That threat is gone, replaced by the massed small boat attack, the mine, and the quiet diesel submarine. The Burke class is serving admirably against those threats, because it has to. Doesn't it make sense to build small, fast, shallow draft ships as a complement to the Burke class, allowing them to concentrate on keeping the blue-water sea lines of communication open?
I believe that we need to return to the developmental nature of shipbuilding experienced in the 1920s and 30s. Look at the number of different ship classes created during that timeframe, and the radically improved capability achieved in the late 30s designs compared to those of the early 20s. By building a few ships, experimenting with them, and feeding the results back into the design process we developed the seeds of World War II's great fleet. LCS follows in that tradition -- the Navy is building four ships to meet a single set of requirements, with two radically different designs. Experiments undertaken with those ships will inform future designs. Eventually, the Navy will have 55 ships, each able to take on modular mission packages to adapt to new missions, new threats, and new environments.
These ships have generated significant overseas interest, as well. Israel is one of the most interested countries, and is pursuing a study right now to take advantage of the LCS 1 hull form and mechanical arrangements with their own combat system needs built into the ship. Rather than buy a foreign design, I believe we should press on, and use the foreign interest to lower our costs by spreading the overhead across more hulls.
Here are a few articles for your consideration on the subject: - US Navy Studies Adapting LCS For Israel - 04/10 ...
Israel, Saudi Arabia Eye US Navy Ship
Give the Navy time. I think they really do know what they are doing. There will be some rough patches along the way, but the taxpayers will end up with a very effective ship, and will not have to pay through the nose to get it.

Tags: US Navy, War on Terror, Littoral Combat Ship, USS Freedom

Sunday, September 10, 2006

No Higher Honor

I've always had a fascination with ships, and especially the heroic efforts of men to save them in combat. I think this fascination comes from my grandfather, who was a submariner starting in the early 1930's and left his wife and young son safely behind in Pearl Harbor during a late 1941 Western Pacific patrol. My Dad doesn't remember much of the Japanese attack, and my grandmother rarely spoke of it, but I sucked up everything I could read on that battle and many others in the Pacific.
The men who brought our nation back from Pearl Harbor to defeat the Japanese live on today, although their stories aren't told the way they used to be.
During my time in the Navy, four ships suffered significant damage at the hands of an enemy - USS Stark, USS Samuel B. Roberts, USS Tripoli, and USS Princeton. In each case, sailors trained for the mission executed beautifully and saved their ships to fight another day.
A newly published book, No Higher Honor, by Brad Peniston, chronicles the tale of USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58). I haven't read the book yet, but it looks to be a winner. Here's a taste from Chapter 1:

On the forecastle, Gibson raised his binoculars again. This time, there was something out there. A half-mile off the starboard bow, three objects bobbed some distance apart. They were black, like the ubiquitous floating trash bags. But these had protrusions and rounded carapaces...maybe they were dead sheep? Gibson had seen plenty of those bloated forms, the castoff dead of Australian livestock carriers.

These objects were different, shinier.

That's a mine! he thought.

This kind of narrative just feels right. Amazon reviews give it five stars. Go buy the book.

Tags: Navy, Samuel B. Roberts, FFG