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Lincoln Strike Group CO: Record Deployment Marks New Uncertainty for Fleet
SAN DIEGO — The 3,000 sailors aboard aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) arrived at their new California homeport this morning having spent more time deployed than any carrier since the mid-1970s – 294 days.

Lincoln and its embarked Carrier Air Wing 7 deployed on April 1 from Norfolk, Va., for a planned seven-month deployment. However, shortly after leaving the East Coast, Lincoln was sent to the Middle East as tensions with Iran rose. While operating in a tight box in the North Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, Lincoln served to deter Iran at the same time the strike group was also supporting ongoing combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. All told, Lincoln spent more than 222 days operating in the U.S. Central Command region.

The 295-day deployment took the record for post-Cold War carrier cruise from Lincoln‘s 2002 to 2003 deployment during the invasion of Iraq. But there were good reasons for the extended deployment, the strike group commander told USNI News during an interview this week.

“Our mission there was to be a deterrent force. We were the response option,” Rear Adm. Mike Boyle, commander of Carrier Strike Group 12, said in a phone interview from the carrier. “I truly believe, and it’s not a talking point – is our presence in the Middle East prevented us from going to war with Iran. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

The deterrence mission paired with other missions in U.S. Central Command.

“We supported troops on the ground in Afghanistan. So if we can prevent one soldier, one coalition soldier, from getting killed, we’d stay out there forever,” he said. “We supported the Marines on the ground as they did their withdrawal up there in Syria.”


Rear Adm. Michael Boyle, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12, speaks with Lt. Cmdr. Raymond Miller during a tour of the central control station aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) on Dec. 18, 2020. US Navy Photo

With open, honest communication, sailors “get it and understand why they are there,” Boyle said, “but they also want to know when they are going home.”

That’s not always easy. Driving the extensions was the fact that the Navy had few good options to make carriers more available to support missions in the Middle East after USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) suffered a maintenance delay and couldn’t relieve Lincoln on time.

This has been “probably one of the more challenging deployments that I have done … and not because it was long, but because the end date was uncertain,” Boyle told USNI News. “If you can count down, you can pretty much do anything. But when you don’t know when to start the count, it’s really, really challenging.”

Boyle said Lincoln’s experience highlights a new set of challenges for the carrier force, such as “setting expectations. As we become a more dynamically maneuverable force … the plans become a little bit more uncertain.”

The carrier deployment of the last 20 years – often marked by a quick haul over to the Persian Gulf only to sit there for five months – is no longer likely.

“What we need to do is to set the expectations for them that we’re just not going to have the luxury of knowing where we’re going to go anymore,” Boyle said. “We can plan for great power competition and near-peer competitors like China and Russia, but the world gets a vote.”

The changes in Iran just over the last 10 months are an example of how events can pop up to change what the carrier forces are asked to do.

“We have to set the expectations for our sailors that we’re not going to be able to give them a predictable schedule,” he said. “An around-the-world cruise may mean that you’re going to stop in all kinds of exotic Pacific ports or it may mean you’re going to spend a bunch of time in the North Arabian Sea where there’s not a lot of exotic ports.”

Extensions and Anxieties

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Marlene Lopez stands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on Nov. 5, 2019. US Navy Photo

Boyle said he tried to emphasize to sailors to focus less on the negative when communicating with their families to help quell their own anxieties.

“There’s going to be anxiety, but I think the way to tamp down the anxiety is to be as transparent as we possibly can be with our sailors,” he said. “When we explained to them the mission that we were doing, the Navy’s role, the benefit of the Navy in peacetime to prevent us from getting into war in the first place, they all understand. … The more transparent we are – that we can only control the things we can control – then they are a little bit more mentally prepared for it.”

That included Boyle speaking to the crew on Lincoln’s 1MC daily about “what the plan is, what’s going on, what we know, and that what we know may change,” he said. “What we found out is it did change – and every time it changed, we got on the 1MC and let them know as soon as possible, to be the first to tell them what was going on before the rumors spread, and that really tamps down anxiety.”

The units’ ombudsmen as well as leadership, including Lincoln’s commanding officer, helped relay those messages home.

“We had the ship through the majority of cruise in the position of safety, out of the reach of any threat,” Boyle noted. “That makes us a stronger deterrent.”

Securing the Gulf

Seaman Jocelyn Ramey uses the ship’s binoculars while standing watch as a lookout aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) while transiting the Strait of Hormuz. Navy photo.

But Lincoln wasn’t standing duty alone. In the Persian Gulf, the carrier and its cruiser and destroyers had the important mission of ensuring the free flow of commerce through the Strait of Hormuz, where 25 percent of the world’s oil flows.

“Iran has the capability to shut off that strait, which would, although the U.S. does not rely heavily on oil from the Middle East, create a disruption of that oil to Asia, would severely disrupt the world economy,” Boyle said.

The strike group’s ships, particularly its destroyers, were working in a framework known as the International Maritime Security Construct.

The coalition task force supports freedom of navigation and protects the Strait of Hormuz with high-end destroyers placed at each end of waterway, Boyle said. Patrol craft and other warships escort merchant vessels in and out of the Persian Gulf. Lincoln‘s destroyers “really were center stage,” he said. Norfolk-based guided-missile destroyers USS Bainbridge (DDG-96), USS Nitze (DDG-94) and USS Mason (DDG-87) that were assigned to Lincoln were key to the mission. Meanwhile, guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG-55) provided defense and support to Lincoln in the North Arabian Sea.

The CRUDES crews, he noted, “spent most of their time a lot closer to the threat, so probably a little bit in more harm’s way than the aircraft carrier… ensuring the free flow of commerce through the Strait of Hormuz,” he said.

The ships, which trained with Lincoln through the predeployment certifications, left the Lincoln CSG in October and returned home to Norfolk. Meanwhile, CRUDES units assigned to the Truman CSG relieved them to join Lincoln in the region. Leyte Gulf returned home to Norfolk earlier this month.

“The fact that we had not planned on an extended deterrence mission against Iran created a scheduling dilemma,” Boyle noted.

After leaving U.S. 5th Fleet, Lincoln arrived in U.S. 7th Fleet and in mid-December was joined by the Japan-based guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) and littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) for the escort through the South China Sea during the eastward transit through the region, Boyle said.

Before pushing to California, Lincoln‘s crew got a break, reveling in “crossing the line” ceremonies as the carrier transited the International Dateline and again in Hawaii, where the carrier had a five-day liberty break after pulling into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Jan. 8. The carrier took on 650 family members for the “Tiger Cruise” back to San Diego and sent off its fixed-wing squadrons. “It was just a chance for people to decompress a little bit from the long deployment,” he said.

Keeping Sharp on Long Deployments

Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Briana Lewis stands starboard life-buoy watch on the fantail while a C-2A Greyhound attached the ‘Rawhides’ of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 40 prepares to make an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). US Navy Photo

Throughout the long stretch in the Persian Gulf, Boyle said a focus was ensuring the CSG’s capabilities remained sharp even though the focus was on deterrence against Iran.

“What some people don’t understand is, that means our capability sits on the shelf,” he said. Crews know full well that pulling long duty in a region can be tedious. “We have to find ways to maintain our fighting edge,” he said, “and we look for training opportunities even though we are deployed and supporting real world operations.”

For all the uncertainty and changes to the schedule, the Lincoln CSG was well positioned to react and respond to contingency missions including Iran, Boyle said.

“The training we do for the high-end fight… with a near-peer competitor has us fully prepared for a threat like Iran and in the area of the Strait of Hormuz. It’s nothing that we’re not able to handle,” he said.

Still, Boyle noted, situations such as a face-off against a threat like Iran get complicated because the U.S. isn’t at war.

“Defending a force against a threat at peacetime is much more challenging than defending the force against a threat at wartime,” he said.
“You have to wait until somebody starts a fight. So you’re right on the edge all the time.”
Lincoln Strike Group CO: Record Deployment Marks New Uncertainty for Fleet - USNI News
 

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Navy To Greatly Expand P-8 Poseidon's Mission With New Missiles, Mines, Bombs, And Decoys
The U.S. Navy says that it is interested in dramatically expanding the arsenal of weapons that its P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft are capable of carrying. The service says that it wants to start by integrating the AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM, on the planes, but then potentially move on to add various air-launched naval mines, precision-guided bombs, and the Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD, to the available loadout options. There has been a debate within the Navy for years about giving the P-8As the ability to employ more types of munitions and other stores, which could turn these aircraft into arsenal ships of sorts capable of performing missions beyond anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare, and search and rescue, something The War Zonehas been following for years now.

On Jan. 28, 2020, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) issued a notice on the Federal government's new central contracting website beta.SAM.gov, asking for contractors to submit information about their capabilities for integrating LRASM and the various other weapons onto the P-8A. LRASM, which is derived from the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) land-attack cruise missile, entered service last year on the Navy's F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, as well as the U.S. Air Force's B-1B Bone bombers.

"The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), PMA-290 (Program Office for P-8A aircraft), is soliciting information from industry to determine potential contractors who have the skills, experience, qualifications, and knowledge required to perform aeromechanical and software integration of the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) onto the P-8A aircraft," the contracting notice reads. There is also "the potential to include, but not limited to, the following additional weapon systems: 500 lb to 2,000 lb class of Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) variants, Mk62/63/65 mines, Small Diameter Bomb (SDB-II), Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD), Bomb Rack Unit BRU-55, and Universal Armament Interface (UAI). Engineering tasks for this effort includes, but are not limited to upgrades to the Boeing Tactical Open Mission Systems (TOMS) and Stores Management Computer (SMC) software and interfaces, test planning, execution, data reduction, and reporting on flight test efforts."

At present, the P-8A's armament options consist of the AGM-84D Harpoon anti-ship missile and the Mk 54 air-launched lightweight torpedo. The Navy is also already working on integrating Mk 54s with the High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability (HAAWC) kit onto the aircraft, which you can read about in more detail in this past War Zone piece. HAAWC adds pop-out wings and tail fins to the standard torpedoes, which will allow Poseidon crews to employ them from a standoff range.


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A US Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft armed with an AGM-84D Harpoon anti-ship missile prepared to take off from Kadena Air Base in Japan.

The stealthy LRASM, which has been in development since 2014, is an obvious choice to give the P-8As a more capable standoff anti-surface warfare weapon over the aging Harpoon and has been a planned addition to the aircraft's arsenal for some time. You can read more about this missile here.

The possible addition of the Mk 62, 63, and 65 naval mines, collectively known as the Quickstrike family, which you can read about in-depth in this past War Zone story, also makes good sense. The Navy has been re-investing heavily in naval mine warfare, including developing new air, surface, and submarine-launched types, as a means of improving its ability to respond to a future large scale and very likely distributed maritime conflict, especially in the Pacific region. There are standoff wing kits now in development for the Mk 62 and Mk 63 mines, which would also enable the Poseidons to emplace maritime minefields from a safer standoff distance. The U.S. Air Force is already actively exploring this concept using its B-52H bombers.

Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB-II), now also known as the GBU-53/B StormBreaker, is a small munition with standoff capabilities and a multi-mode guidance capability, allowing it to engage static or moving targets in any weather and at standoff ranges. A P-8A loaded with GBU-53/Bs would be a powerful tool against swarms of manned or unmanned small boats. The ability of the Poseidons to carry a large number of those munitions in place of larger weapons, combined with the aircraft's range, sensor, and endurance abilities, could enable it to provide a more persistent defense against those types of threats across a broad area. The Navy's largely retired P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft had the ability to engage smaller targets from a distance with AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles, a capability that did not get carried over to the P-8A.

The inclusion of Joint Direct Attack Munition-series GPS-guided bombs and the Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) are especially interesting because they point to potential future mission sets for the P-8A beyond purely maritime operations. With the exception of Laser JDAM variants, munitions in this family are not capable of engaging moving targets, such as ships or other watercraft sailing on bodies of water. The same standoff wing kit in development now for certain Quickstrike mines was also originally intended to help give JDAMs additional range and could become an additional capability for the P-8As in the future.

StormBreaker also has the ability to engage land-based targets, including moving vehicles. Again, the P-8A's range and endurance, combined with its overall payload capacity, and its vast array of sensors, could help turn the aircraft into more of a multi-mission weapons truck.

Similarly, though the various versions of MALD, including the newest MALD-X, which you can read about in-depth in this past War Zone story, could distract and confuse the air defense systems on enemy warships and shores. In addition to helping to protect itself on the way to a target area, the P-8A could use its large payload capacity to employ significant numbers of MALDs in support of other combat aircraft and cruise missiles as they wend their way to their objectives.

It's not necessarily surprising that the Navy would be interested in growing the P-8A's arsenal and, as a result, its mission sets. As mentioned earlier, there has been a debate going on about exactly this in the Navy's maritime patrol community since around when the Poseidon first entered Navy service in late 2013.

In 2014, a Navy maritime patrol pilot that had time flying the P-3 and the P-8 told The War Zone's own Tyler Rogoway, then writing for Foxtrot Alpha, the following:

"There are currently two schools of thought in the maritime patrol community right now when it comes to how the P-8 should be used. One where it works closely along the lines of its predecessor, and follows the P-3's traditional mission sets of ASuW [anti-surface warfare], ASW [anti-submarine warfare], and limited ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance], and another where the P-8 can be adapted more dramatically for a litany of missions, including direct attack on ground targets. Personally, I believe the P-8A should also be equipped with a more robust set of weapons and sensors for the fight against smaller vessels in constrained littoral environments."
"Harpoon is a great weapon, but it's too imprecise to use with civilian shipping nearby and in dense target environments close to shore. P-3C had a robust short-range ASuW capability with AGM-65 Mavericks, and we saw that used in Libya. We took a major step back capability-wise with only Harpoon being deployed aboard the P-8. I would equip P-8A with an off-the-shelf targeting pod such as the AAQ-33 Sniper [Advanced Targeting Pod], which is currently found on everything from USAF F-16s to B-52s. Couple the targeting pod with short-range, laser-guided munitions such as AGM-65 Laser Mavericks, AGM-176 Griffin, and/or or Small Diameter Bombs and you have a lethal and persistent weapons system."​
By 2017, a P-8A pilot from the Navy's Patrol Squadron Five (VP-5), the "Mad Foxes," told The War Zone that this same debate was still ongoing, explaining:

Tyler Rogoway: "There seems to be two different forms of thought within the maritime patrol community as to how the P-8 and its mission set will evolve. One points to a much broader set of missions, where P-8s may even support ground troops, or provide overland armed reconnaissance, or even work as an arsenal ship along with other functions. The French are doing some of this with their old Atlantique IIs today, kinetic missions included. On the other hand, more traditionalists in the maritime patrol community want to keep the aircraft locked more strictly in traditional ASW, ASuW, sea control and surveillance roles. How do you think the P-8 and its crews will evolve in the coming years?"
Pilot: "This is purely my own opinion, but what we have seen from the fleet and combatant commanders, is that they want to keep the P-8 a maritime ISR and submarine tracking platform. The aircraft is optimized for this mission set, but it is being expanded with future capabilities like AAS [Advanced Airborne Sensor]. I believe that you will start to eventually see an evolution of the P-8 over time, in that as the P-3 and EP-3 begin to be phased out, the P-8 will slowly pick up those mission sets. I do not think it will ever become a true overland weapons truck asset; however, the plane definitely has the capability to accomplish these mission sets if the need arises."​
The recent NAVAIR contracting announcement strongly suggests that the proponents of expanding the P-8A's mission set and giving it the ability to carry additional munitions and other stores to realize that expansion, have won the debate after all these years. It's not entirely clear what the Navy's timeline might be for when the aircraft may gain the ability to employ weapons such as SDB-IIs or JDAMs, but the goal certainly now seems to be to integrate these munitions in the future. The contract notice says that the prospective period of performance would run from 2021 to 2026.

The added armament options could be of interest to the P-8A's growing international user base, as well. Australia and India already operate Poseidons, while the United Kingdom is looking to stand up its first squadron this year. Norway, New Zealand, and South Korea all have aircraft on order and there are a number of other prospective customers, as well.

All told, the next few years look set to be a very important and exciting time for the Navy's P-8A squadrons and their place in the service's overall concepts of operation.
Navy To Greatly Expand P-8 Poseidon's Mission With New Missiles, Mines, Bombs, And Decoys
 

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Judge Orders Navy to Release USS Thresher Disaster Documents
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A U.S. District Court judge ordered the Navy to start releasing unclassified documents related to the sinking of USS Thresher (SSN-593), 57 years after 129 officers, sailors and shipbuilders died in the nation’s worst nuclear submarine disaster.

Retired Navy Capt. James Bryant, a former Thresher-class submarine commander, sued the Navy in July to force the release of unclassified investigation documents detailing Thresher‘s operation during its final dive. The Navy previously rebuffed Bryant’s request for records under the Freedom of Information Act.

During a Monday court hearing, Judge Trevor McFadden ordered the Navy to start releasing the requested material. Bryant, while pleased with McFadden’s ruling, shelved his excitement until he sees what the Navy starts releasing and whether the documents are heavily redacted.

In his retirement, Bryant has taken to investigating the cause of Thresher’s sinking because, even six decades later, he thinks there are valuable lessons to be learned. Thresher never resurfaced after conducting a test dive on the morning of April 10, 1963. Mechanical failures or even Soviet interferences have been cited as possible reasons for the sinking.

However, the Navy has kept a close hold on roughly 3,600 Thresher-related documents while saying a classification review occurs. The requested documents – more than 50 years old – should be unclassified and releasable by now under federal declassification rules, Bryant’s attorney, Robert Eatinger, said during Monday’s hearing.

“The plaintiff believes this document review is overly complex,” Eatinger said during the hearing. “When we filed this case, the records were in an automatic 50-year review project. We were told it would be complete in May 2019.”

The Thresher disaster spurred the Navy to create its SubSafe program. Bryant, who wrote about Thresher‘s sinking in the July 2018 Proceedings, says there are still competing theories about what caused the disaster.

Answers might be in copies of the Navy’s investigation after the sinking, Bryant says. Specifically, he wants details about whether Thresher‘s main coolant pumps were shifted to slow speed before the reactor automatically shut down – a scram – which could help explain why the sub sank.

The Navy is in the process of reviewing these records to ensure there’s not an inadvertent release of classified information. This review involves several subject matter experts and is time-consuming, explained William Chang, the assistant U.S. Attorney representing the Navy.

“Multiple components of the Navy are reviewing the documents,” Chang said.

Judge McFadden was not swayed by Chang’s argument regarding the need for more time to review the requested documents.

He ordered the Navy to finish reviewing the first batch of 300 documents by April 30 and released them by May 15. The Navy is then supposed to release additional batches of 300 or so documents by the 15th of each month until all requested documents are released. He also ordered the Navy to produce status reports on the release of the documents every 60 days.

“Normally, I defer to the government, but I can’t say I have a lot of confidence in how this looks now,” McFadden said.
Judge Orders Navy to Release USS Thresher Disaster Documents - USNI News
 

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The Navy Now Wants To Retire The First Four Of Its Troublesome Littoral Combat Ships
It was something many of us saw as a near-certain eventuality, the Navy has formally announced that it wants to retire its first four Littoral Combat Ships. Split evenly across both the Freedom and Independence classes of the failed Littoral Combat Ship concept, the oldest of the vessels was commissioned just 12 years ago, the youngest a mere six years ago. Yes, you read that right—six years ago! The troublesome fleet within a fleet has been serving as a training and test force, a dubious role from the start that the Navy says isn't even needed anymore. Giving up on the vessels as front line ships began a few years ago as part of a restructuring plan that was initiated as the program became increasingly mired in technological and logistical turmoil.

It can't be overstated just how stunning an admission this is for a service that is desperately trying to find a way to reach its 355 ship fleet goal in the coming years. Retiring four youthful vessels does not vibe with this strategy, at least on paper. It serves as a clear indication of just how bad the first four of these vessels truly are and it serves as another reminder of how the Navy is coming to terms with the LCS debacle after years of being in denial.

The news of the planned divestiture came as part of the Pentagon's briefings on the department's 2021 Fiscal Year budget request. The justification behind the move reads as such in the Navy's budget highlights briefing book:

Navy decommission the first four LCS ships. These ships have been test articles and training assets, and were key in developing the operational concepts leading to the current deployment of LCS ships today. But cancelling their modernization allows us to prioritize lethality and survivability where we need it and in the mission packages assigned ships that will fill the roles of Surface Warfare (SUW), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), and Mine Countermeasures (MCM) going forward...​
I have set up a clip in which you can watch Rear Admiral Randy Crites' comments on what is bound to be a very controversial new plan to flush LCS-1 through LCS-4 out of the fleet by clicking here.


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LCS-2 and LCS-1.

Now that the Navy is admitting that it isn't even worth keeping the four ships, which are uniquely configured and problem-prone, around for training and experimentation duties, where they will end up is anyone's guess. At this point, they could be mothballed, picked for parts, and eventually meet the scrapper's torch. On the other hand, maybe an ally will be willing to take one or two of them on for a very good price. A lot of you are probably saying "give them to the Coast Guard!" I would bet heavily that the Coast Guard doesn't want them and that service is already cash-strapped as it is. Adding these anchors to their bottom line would be a move in the wrong direction.

Using one for a SINKEX drill would be quite interesting as both types' survivability has long been in question, especially due to the widespread use of aluminum in their construction and their overall lower design standards than their more hardy dock mates. Seeing what real weaponry does to either of the designs could be beneficial, but doing so may be a bit too ironic and damning of a pill for the Navy swallow.

Keep in mind that Congress still has to approve this remarkably frank choice by the Navy. We will keep you informed as more information on the early demise of these four vessels that have sucked up billions of dollars becomes available.
The Navy Now Wants To Retire The First Four Of Its Troublesome Littoral Combat Ships
 

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The Navy Is Arming Attack Submarines With High Energy Lasers
The U.S. Navy's Virginia Class attack submarines are formidable weapons platforms. They carry advanced-capability (ADCAP) torpedoes and Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles. But apparently this is not enough. They are to be the first subs in the world armed with a powerful laser as well.



The US Navy project will fit high energy lasers (HEL) onto a mast of the Virginia Class attack ... [+]

Documents suggest that the High Energy Laser (HEL) could be incredibly powerful, around 300 kilowatts. And eventually be up to 500 kilowatts. The power will come from the submarine’s nuclear reactor which has a capacity of 30 megawatts. And there are indications that it may already have been tested using a towed power generator instead.

It is likely to be incorporated into the periscope system of the submarine. The periscope mast, nowadays called a Photonics mast, is already a highly sophisticated device. It isn’t like periscopes of old where the captain looked directly through it. Instead it has an array of cameras which can snap high resolution photos in 360 degrees. So the submarine only has to put the mast up for a fleeting moment to get full all-round awareness. With the laser, if it can see it, it can kill it.

It is unclear why the Navy wants to fit a laser to submarines. One of the possible uses will be as a last ditch defense against aircraft such as drones and anti-submarine helicopters. Traditionally submarines were equipped with machine guns to defend against air attack when they were on the surface. But postwar submarines spend very little time on the surface. The U.S. Navy hasn't built subs with guns for around 70 years.

During the Cold War the British developed the Submarine Launched Airflight Missile, or SLAM. This used a mast with an optical sensor and 6 Blowpipe missiles which could be slaved to the periscope. The missiles had a very short range but could engage enemy helicopters. SLAM was to equip Israeli submarines but it was ultimately never fitted. Today the German Interactive Defense and Attack System (IDAS) uses missiles fired from the torpedo tube to engage aircraft.

But the high energy laser could have some advantages over missiles. The submarine will only have to reveal itself briefly to zap the threat. And because the laser travels at the speed of light it is very difficult to defend against. Low cost drones are proliferating and submarines operating inshore may face swarms of them. A laser would be cheaper per-kill and not run out of ammunition in the way that a missile system would.

The laser may also be intended for swarms of speed boats such as those used by Iran and North Korea. Individually these are not worth expending torpedoes on and also move very fast which makes torpedo attacks harder. In the old days submarines would surface and use their deck guns on lower value targets. But today the submarine has to let them pass so the laser could provide an alternative.

Finally the laser may be intended to strike coastal targets such as radar stations, submarine piers or communications masts. The target would have to be of sufficiently high value to warrant the inherent risks of placing the submarine so close however.

For the moment the Navy is not providing very much information on the project. So it may be years before the full capabilities of this system are revealed. Whatever the rationale it could quickly become a differentiating capability for American subs.
The Navy Is Arming Attack Submarines With High Energy Lasers
 

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Lockheed Martin to build and upgrade electronic warfare (EW) to enable submarines to detect enemy radar
Submarine combat systems experts at Lockheed Martin Corp. will build and upgrade the U.S. Navy AN/BLQ-10 electronic warfare (EW) system for Navy submarines under terms of a $40 million order announced Wednesday.

Officials of the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington are asking the Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems segment in Syracuse, N.Y., to design, upgrade, and support the AN/BLQ-10 submarine EW system, which provides automatic detection, classification, localization, and identification of potentially hostile radar and communications signals at sea.

This order calls for Lockheed Martin to design, prototype and test AN/BLQ-10 EW systems equipment. The order is an option on a potential $970.1 million 10-year contract awarded to Lockheed Martin last year.

The AN/BLQ-10 helps Virginia-, Los Angeles-, and Seawolf-class fast-attack submarines, Ohio-class conventional guided-missile submarines, and future Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarines detect enemy radar and communications. It is not for existing Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines.

The original contract calls for Lockheed Martin to provide upgrade kits and spare parts for the AN/BLQ-10, covering advanced processor builds and technology insertion (APB/TI) cycles TI-20, TI-22, and TI-24. Efforts include work on new-construction and in-service submarines.

The AN/BLQ-10 processes signals from the submarine’s imaging mast or periscope when the boat is at periscope depth. It provides threat warning to avoid counter-detection and collision; determines the number and location of targets for subsequent prosecution; and conducts intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) to support the fleet or battle group.

The program is adopting an open-architecture incremental development process that fields hardware and software technology insertions every two years. The AN/BLQ-10 blends modular interoperable systems that adhere to open standards with published interfaces.

The system's first technology insertion in 2008 added a subsystem to intercept some low-probability-of-intercept radar signals. Fielded upgrades from the 2010 technology insertions updated commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) processors and displays, and Improved Communications Acquisition and Direction Finding (ICADF) system.

For TI-20, Lockheed Martin is building an upgraded AN/BLQ-10 for Virginia- and Columbia-class submarine new construction, and in-service Virginia-class modernization.

TI-22 work will provide upgraded AN/BLQ-10 systems for in-service Los Angeles- and Seawolf-class attack submarines, as well as for Ohio-class conventional missile submarines. TI-24 work will build an upgraded AN/BLQ-10 for Virginia-class and Columbia-class new construction, as well as for in-service Virginia-class modernization.

On this order Lockheed Martin will do the work in Syracuse, N.Y., and should be finished by February 2021. For more information contact Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems online at www.lockheedmartin.com, or Naval Sea Systems Command at www.navsea.navy.mil.
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RISING SUN

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Mysterious Laser Turret Appears On US Navy Destroyer USS Dewey
A photo from one of our awesome commenters, James Milliken, shows the American Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Dewey (DDG-105) outfitted with a new turreted system installed on its forward close-in weapon system pedestal—an area usually left open on the majority of Flight IIA Arleigh Burke class destroyers. The image was taken in San Diego very recently. The use of Dewey for integrating new technologies isn't surprising. The ship has been used to test cutting edge capabilities, like the temporarily installed Laser Weapon System (LaWS) and the firing of Hyper-Velocity Projectiles, although what we are seeing in the image above is a far more permanent capability.

The installation looks most like renderings of Lockheed's HELIOS laser system, which is set to be installed in that position on an Arleigh Burke class destroyer for its initial fielding, but that is supposed to be at least a couple of years out from occurring. The Ruggedized High Energy Laser (RHEL), a similar effort, is also in the works, but the installation of such a highly integrated system at this time also seems outside of that program's schedule.


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HELIOS concept image.
The Navy has three other shipboard laser programs underway beyond these two as part of its Navy Laser Family of Systems (NLFoS) initiative and its periphery programs. Just last month, The War Zonewas first to report that Northrop Grumman shipped its Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) system to San Diego under curious circumstances. It will be installed on the amphibious transport dock USS Portland for trials.

High Energy Laser Counter-ASCM Program (HELCAP) is another that looks to leverage the various components of NLFoS to develop a laser system capable of rapidly engaging anti-ship cruise missiles. But, by our analysis, the most likely answer to what we are seeing on Dewey is the Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (ODIN) system, which was set to be installed on a Navy destroyer by the end of this year.

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USS Dewey (DDG-105)
ODIN is a lower power laser system that will be used to blind enemy electro-optical and infrared sensor systems by shining a modulated "dazzler" laser beam at them in a similar manner as to how directed infrared countermeasure (DIRCM) systems work to defend aircraft from heat-seeking missiles. ODIN will be capable of countering ship and boat-based systems, those used by aircraft and drones, and even those used by anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles.

Currently, electronic countermeasures, both expendable, like Nulka decoys, and not, like SLQ-32 SWEIP and the newer shadowy SLQ-59, are capable at countering radar-guided missiles, but anti-ship missile systems are increasingly using passive infrared guidance, or even a mix of the two, for terminal homing. That leaves those other systems useless against them. A dazzler, on the other hand, could blind these missiles, sending them off course or into the sea as they make their kamikaze attack runs. Anti-ship ballistic missiles, namely those belonging to the Chinese, are posited to use some form of infrared terminal guidance, as well.

The Navy has been aggressive about fielding the ODIN system as fast as possible. Two of these systems are scheduled to be installed on destroyers by the end of this year, with six more being fielded, or in the process of being fielded, by the following year. See the 2020 budget documents below for more details about this plan.

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With only so many places to mount directed energy systems on surface combatants, eventually, a solution that pairs the dazzler and a high-energy kill laser system together may be more ideal. This is the concept behind Lockheed's HELIOS. On the other hand, a laser can only be pointed at one thing at one time, so it is possible that as the technology miniaturizes, multiple laser dazzlers could be dispersed around a ship to help counter multiple, simultaneous threats. This is similar to what has occurred with DIRCM systems on aircraft.

Regardless, it's clear that the Arleigh Burke class's striking profile is about to change, with ODIN laser dazzlers being the first directed energy weapons fielded across multiple destroyers.
Mysterious Laser Turret Appears On US Navy Destroyer USS Dewey
 

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Ford Class Of Supercarriers May End After Four Ships, Navy Eyeing Smaller Carriers
One of the hottest debates in the world of defense procurement and strategy surrounds the role that aircraft carriers will play in the future, one in which their ability to operate within striking distance of enemy shores is increasingly questioned. This issue has many facets, including air wing composition, the physical size of the carriers themselves, their propulsion type, shipbuilding capacity, force size, and more. Price is also a huge factor. With the troubled Ford class supercarrier topping out at around $15B for a single hull, competing priorities like the massively expensive Columbia Class nuclear ballistic missile submarine and the Navy's dream of substantially expanding its surface combatant fleet are putting the viability of America's current supercarrier concept of tactical naval aviation power projection ever more in question.

In a fabulous story by Breakdefense.com's Paul McLeary, the future of America's carrier force structure is brought into focus, or at least the planning for that future force structure. I highly suggest you read the piece in full, but it is worth breaking down some of the main points here as they will have a substantial impact on many of the topics we have been covering or will be covering going forward.


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The rare sight of three supercarriers operating alongside each other in the Pacific.
Some of the key points include:
  • The Future Carrier 2030 Task Force will soon be introduced and will partake in a six-month-long study looking at the viability and survivability of aircraft carriers in reflection of emerging threats that put into question carriers' their ability to project relevant combat capability forward during a peer-state conflict. This task force will look to predict threats beyond 2030, as well as the shipbuilding sensitivities that will emerge during that time period. The findings could deeply influence the Navy's future aircraft carrier procurement and operations strategy.
  • The study will run in conjunction with the ongoing deep-dive into the Navy's force structure and shipbuilding requirements over the next 30 years that is being headed-up by Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly is heading up the Future Carrier 2030 Task Force. The two initiatives could end up being at odds with one another, at least in some manner.
  • Four Ford class supercarriers are currently planned, the last of which will be delivered around 2032. It is possible, if not likely, that the class's procurement will end at that time and new class will take its place. This will likely be a cheaper and smaller design.
  • A possible shift in the use of carriers from front line operations to controlling large swathes of ocean and bolstering critical supply lines during a peer state conflict is emerging.
  • USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and her strike group trained for such a role in the run-up to the Army's massive Defender-Europe exercise. The "Ike" and its escorts simulated crossing the Atlantic under contested conditions—a reality that the Navy says has already manifested itself. This was the first exercise of its kind since 1986 and included fighting off simulated submarine, electronic warfare, and aerial attacks. In other words, the ships basically fought their way across the Atlantic and provided protection for a convoy loaded with land warfare reinforcements.
  • The Navy's current carrier deployment model is considered broken and it is restricted by the force structure that underpins it.
  • The Lightning Carrier concept, which The War Zone was the first to report on, is being closely examined as a way to bolster and help redefine the Navy's power projection options. Also, pushing detachments of F-35Bs ashore to austere airfields could be part of future air combat fighting doctrine. These are all issues that we have discussed before, but it appears they are picking up steam within the Pentagon.
  • Amphibious ships turned Lightning Carriers would not replace the Navy's big-deck carriers, but any carrier that comes after the Ford class is likely to be smaller.

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USS Ford undergoing trials off the Virginia coast.

Of course, our readers are familiar with the arguments in favor of smaller carriers and the benefits they could bring to the U.S. Navy, although it remains a bizarrely heated topic. While even stepping away from 100,000-ton displacement supercarriers to smaller, but still large, 65,000-ton designs is seen by many as sacrilege, pivoting from nuclear back to conventional fuel is even more controversial.

Regardless, it seems that the powers that be within the Pentagon are finally coming to terms with the opportunity cost imposed by chasing an all supercarrier procurement strategy and how unsustainable it has become. Even disposing of nuclear-powered supercarriers once their service lives have ended is becoming a hugely costly endeavor. This is in addition to the concerns surrounding investing so much into so few hulls in light of the shifting geopolitical winds and America's potential enemies' growing anti-access, area-denial capabilities.

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The 65,000 ton displacement Queen Elizabeth class in CATOBAR configuration.

As it sits now, we could be just six months away from the emergence of a major shift in American naval strategy, one that could degrade the notion that huge nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are the best way of achieving America's national defense goals.
Ford Class Of Supercarriers May End After Four Ships, Navy Eyeing Smaller Carriers: Report