NAVAL: Ideas (formerly ARCHITECTURE)

From: Jay Dugger (
Date: Sun Feb 06 2000 - 17:34:31 MST

Hash: SHA1

NAVAL: Ideas (formerly ARCHITECTURE)

Sunday, 06 February 2000


Unless you object, I shall cross-post to World-Making mailing list,
which covers constructing role-playing settings. Its web page lies at

In this post, I'll discuss US Navy status, limits, ongoing
modernization and its problems, future systems, and general
speculation on America's military. Next, I'll mention a few ideas
particular to your setting, and then close with some gaming tips.

America currently enjoys naval supremacy. Its submarine and surface
fleets dominate the waves. It possesses more and more capable aircraft
carriers than any other nation. Every American combatant vessel
(except attack submarines) can carry Tomahawk cruise missiles. Few
other nations can compete in any department. Non-American carriers
rely on V/STOL aircraft. Only Great Britain has submarine-launched
Tomahawks, and only on a single vessel. Japan's SDF has one
AEGIS-class cruiser. Former Soviet Union (FSU) nations have weapon
systems with performance comparable to American killingry. These tend
to have larger sizes, fewer numbers, and lower reliability.

America's navy faces four main limits: retaining qualified personnel,
dispersion, its on-going shift from the open ocean to the littorals,
and its fragile endurance. About 67%-80% of Sailors, both commissioned
and enlisted, leave service after their first term. Part of this comes
from higher pay in private-sector jobs. Some of the rest comes from
job-related stress such as long frequent overseas deployment. These
deployments place American military forces "in harm's way" in three
main places: Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, and drug interdiction
operations. These new areas of interest demand a change from the Cold
War focus of blue-water operations and anti-submarine warfare against
a Soviet fleet to a new set of abilities to act against the coastlines
of Earth. New and extended responsibilities also stretch ship's
endurance. America's surface fleet (excepting carriers) runs from gas
turbine engines. This combines with a policy of maintaining a reserve
fuel capacity of 50% to make at-sea resupply very important.
Unfortunately, America has few oilers left. These are special-purpose
supply ships designed to restock other vessels.

Modernization and upgrades do go on in US Navy. Many newer vessels
have "Smart Ship" upgrades, which potentially automates navigation and
helm control. This upgrade doesn't require dry-dock time, but sees
little use because of institutional conservatism. Such resistance
evaporates before more serious challenges. Even older vessels have
sensors to detect biological or chemical agents. Unfortunately, these
have little practical use because they rely on air sampling.
Laser-based spectrography promises detection at range, but isn't yet
in service. Sonar improvements happen continuously. Sonar is a classic
"hard problem," and the military solution is throwing more computers
at it. The overwhelming majority of computer power aboard a combatant
is devoted to sonar, but sonar remains unreliable. Submarines remain
nigh-undetectable. Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs) now in
development might soon augment cruisers' and destroyers' helicopter
assets with small, high-endurance sensor platforms. Naval aviation
recently received the F-18E/F. This aircraft is an evolutionary
improvement over current carrier-based fighters, but its adoption owes
more to political maneuvering than military need. At best, it serves
as an interim measure to tide the Navy over until the Joint Strike
Fighter (JSF) enters service. The most significant recent improvement
in C4I (command, control, computers, communication and intelligence)
comes from the "Ring of Fire" system. This is a new method of handling
shore bombardment. It manages available assets to allow the best
possible response to calls for fire support from land units by
treating all weapon platforms in theater as both sensors and effectors
in a network. This allows the most appropriate munition from the most
available source to be the most likely response to calls for combat
support. This might be an anti-radiation missile, a sea-launched
cruise missile, or a shell from a ship's gun. Recent improvements to
naval guns allow ranges above sixty nautical miles. Combined with
GPS-guidance in both the fire control system and in the projectiles
themselves, naval guns now assume most characteristics of "precision

Naval modernization is obstructed most by conservative navy culture.
The controversy over nuclear power is a good historic example. The
resistance to computer navigation is another. One in early stages is
the role of humans in combat aircraft. Conventional wisdom suggests
the F-22 will be the last generation of manned fighter, and the later
JSF models might be the first unmanned warplanes. Another budding
controversy covers the future of aircraft carriers. The enormous
expense and vulnerability of a floating airport and its escort vessels
is currently a taboo subject. Eventually, carriers will go the way of
the battleship, but no one knows how soon. The proposed replacement,
the Arsenal Ship, received no support in America's last military
review. It lost out to a next-generation carrier, a next-generation
destroyer and new marine assault vessels. Resisting innovation comes
not only from Navy culture, but also from legitimate concern over the
enormous cost and ever-shorter lifespans of military systems. A proven
alternative is always preferred. This has the obvious advantage of a
performance history and interoperability with less advanced
militaries. (I.e., every other nation on the planet.)

Future improvements in naval prowess range from the certain to the
likely to the possible. Using lasers for detecting and communicating
with submarines from ships, planes and satellites is a current
research focus, but results are classified. Another area of interest
is underwater cannon. These differ from, but might have performance
similar to, the solid-rocket motor torpedoes of Soviet-era design.
America's navy continues to use dolphins in many of the same
capacities as dogs are used above. Little of this work reaches open
literature, so invent freely. Next-generation close-in defense will
probably go from current high-speed 20mm guns (Phalanx and Goalkeeper)
and quick-response missile launchers (RAM) to laser weapons. Automated
warplanes saw mention above. Hypersonic munitions currently receive
much interest because great speed could reduce the ability of an enemy
to detect, analyze and respond to threat. They could also reduce the
need for explosive payload through kinetic kill. Both missiles and
shells are now under development. I don't know much about naval
applications of stealth techniques, but I strongly suspect stealthy
cruise missiles are now black budget items. Science-fiction favorites
like orbital bombardment platforms, MHD propulsion, electromagnetic
acceleration weapons all now seem unlikely. Deploying dedicated
orbital artillery is an overtly hostile act. America enjoys space
superiority, but has no public plans to even study such a system. I
have heard rumors that MHD propulsion is not as stealthy as popularly
believed. This removes most of the reason for its military adoption.
Mass drivers and railguns seem to offer no improvement over current
guns, although variants are under consideration for replacing steam
catapults on the next generation of carriers.

In general, America's military prowess has the following strengths and
weaknesses. They enjoy superiority in space, sensors, and information
warfare. Dominating space comes about through lack of real
competition. Put simply, Russia's broke, China's way behind, and no
one talks much about anti-satellite weapons. Sensor superiority
follows from space superiority. This might change in the next few
years as private remote sensing companies become more common and more
competent. Though America's government would like to exercise "shutter
control," this seems no more reasonable than their silly encryption
policy. However, watch for quiet agreements between Department of
Defense and private companies for fat contracts and relaxed shutter
control in return for agreements to not develop capabilities in
certain parts of the spectrum, such as radar sensing. Micro-UAVs,
some massing less than a kilogram, now exist as remote sensor drones
for individual soldiers. None have been adopted yet. Information
warfare ability, especially offensive IW is now highly classified. In
recent Air Force wargames, participants are simply told to assume
certain results without knowing when, why, or how these work.
America's military suffers from extremely poor retention of service
members as discussed above. (I personally knew service members on food
stamps. Senator McCain doesn't exaggerate.) Electronics warfare
capacity has degenerated since the Cold War's end, but this is
currently improving. Fortunately, it is also subject to software
upgrades and can expect to merge with IW over the years. Logistics has
yet to fully adopt many commercial practices brought allowed by
improving computer networks. This area offers comparatively easy
improvements. Transporting troops and materiel remains very difficult.
Many proposals for improving this situation exist. Some rely on more
and better versions of current methods, such as the new marine assault
ship. Others rely on more exotic technology, like
wing-in-ground-effect vessels or high-speed semi-rigid aircraft. Far
down the road exist hypersonic transports as variants of SSTO vehicles
or submarine supply dumps.

Here are a few setting-specific suggestions and questions. First,
since glaciation occurred, icebreakers probably exist in most navies.
Some countries, especially those in areas near newly exposed land
masses, have stronger amphibious troops. Since climate change is so
important, you can expect meteorology to be much improved over current
standards. This becomes a military advantage to those forces with
better prediction. Some groups might work hard to alter the weather in
their favor. This might include submarine deflection of ocean
currents, though I can't imagine how you'd alter the major ones. Maybe
opening up a volcanic vent? If you have it available, I'd like to see
a timeline. Does the USA concentrate its attention on internal
matters? If not, they might still focus on Western Hemisphere affairs.
The ongoing intervention in Colombia's civil war is a good example.

Finally, please use GURPS. ;-) Seriously, their vehicle and robot
construction rules can offer surprising insights into hardware and
also provide the ridiculously detailed statistics beloved by military
nuts worldwide. For example, I designed an AI for the Reign of Steel
setting. The setting required space-proofing the machine. To my
amazement the device not only would survive running on Luna's surface
for two weeks, but it would also float. I don't know if you have any
familiarity with the game FUDGE, but it provides a set of Interactive
History rules. This might prove helpful in providing a large-scale
background in your setting.

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Jay Dugger		:
Til Eulenspiegel	:

Sometimes the delete key is your best friend.

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