Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Return of at Sea Reloads: The Big Importance of Small Things

On the list of "unsexy but important" are many items from icebreakers, to command ships, to hospital ships, that every POM cycle get left on the cutting room floor by the gaggle of cats chasing laser pointers we have in charge of building our fleet.

On occasion, someone on the inside manages to do the right thing. 

Today we have one of those things. In case you missed it, let's pull it above the ambient noise a bit;
The U.S. Navy is looking to restore its ability to reload its ships’ vertical launch systems at sea, which could be a dramatic logistical game changer in the planning and execution of high-intensity contingencies against peer competitors.
After discussing the means by which the Navy seeks to ensure its forward-deployed naval forces remain survivable and up-to-date with the latest tactical and technological innovation, Admiral Richardson said in reference to vertical launch system (VLS) underway replenishment, “we’re bringing that back.”

Since its operational debut in 1986 aboard the sixth Ticonderoga-class cruiser, USS Bunker Hill, the Mark 41 vertical launch system and its successor the Mark 57 have become the main battery of the preponderance of the Navy’s surface fleet, while the Mark 45 has become the principal means of deploying cruise missiles aboard submarines. Vertical launch systems are among the most adaptable weapon mounts that the Navy fields, allowing a ship to carry a variety of defensive and offensive missiles in the same shipboard infrastructure, and to fire them in rapid succession.

However, unlike other Navy striking arms like the carrier air wing, vertical launch systems cannot, at present, be practicably resupplied and reloaded while at sea. Once a VLS-equipped ship or submarine expends its missiles, it must withdraw to an equipped friendly port to replenish. This represents a significant operational liability, especially in high-intensity combat scenarios against peer adversaries.
Not just peer adversaries. As an old TLAM guy who managed to empty every operational TLAM out of one DDG and left a few DD & CG with only a handful of D1 & D2 warhead TLAM left - the inability to reload puts you in a pickle.

With our "peace dividend" carrier strike groups, you cannot afford to order a DDG or CG to steam a few days to some friendly port (if you have one) and then come back. Nope.

This is great news - and shows that now and then the right ideas can meet up with the right opportunity.

Now, let's talk about those armed icebreakers ....

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