BFM Capability Analysis featured fleet design measure missiles

The Measure of a Fleet

By Keith “Powder” Patton, CDR, USN

Calculating the facility of a fleet is a daunting and imprecise activity. Within the Washington Naval Treaty, tonnage and gun caliber have been used as metrics to set the ratio of capital ships between leading world navies. Capital ships have been seen as the supreme arbiters of a naval battle. The London Naval Treaty established comparable guidelines for tonnage and gun caliber for smaller combatants. The United States Navy counts battle drive ships, which incorporates fight logistics forces, toward its end power. The battle drive ship metric is straightforward hull rely, with T-AKE, PC, LCS, DDG and CVN courses all being counted as equals, despite vastly totally different mission, measurement, manning, and capabilities. By a simple measure of hull rely from 2018-2019 Jane’s Preventing Ships, the USN has 10 % fewer warships than Russia, and is half the dimensions of China’s fleet.

2019 Fleet complete hull rely by country.

Nevertheless, when tonnage is used because the metric, the image modifications dramatically:

2019 Fleet complete tonnage by country.

This variation is unsurprising. The nature of the fleets are considerably totally different. The USN tends to operate much bigger ships optimized for lengthy range power projection. China and Russia have many missile-armed patrol boats and corvettes compared to the relatively few U.S. Cyclone class PC and corvette-like LCSs.

Nevertheless, does the metric of tonnage really measure the facility of a fleet? The interwar interval treaties thought-about both tonnage and caliber of weapons. These two metrics have been associated, in that larger guns required a bigger vessel to carry them. Basically, there also was a direct correlation between the caliber of the gun and its damaging energy.  Tonnage also affected how much armor might be carried to protect towards gun hits. One other metric used to match warship energy was broadside throw weight. This was the entire mass of shells a ship might ship in a broadside towards an adversary. A heavier broadside might be anticipated to triumph towards less armed opponents. Nevertheless, in the trendy era, guns have been eclipsed by missiles as the first weapon of naval fight. Whereas battleships carried much more highly effective weapons and have been comparatively resistant to the deck guns of small combatants, the same isn’t true of missiles in the present day.  Very comparable if not equivalent anti-ship missiles are carried by small patrol combatants and mounted on the most important combatants, typically in similar portions (eight being a widespread quantity). While the defensive and injury management capabilities of bigger vessels may be larger, it still seems possible that a few missile hits will knock most ships out of motion, if not sink them. If missiles are the true measure of a fleet’s fight power, then neither tonnage nor hull rely is an applicable metric, as a result of neither is immediately related to a ship’s missile capabilities.

For the sake of this analysis, we’ll borrow Robert O. Work’s idea of battle drive missiles (BFM) from his “To Take and Keep the Lead” monograph. BFMs are missiles that “contribute to battle force missions such as area and local air defense, anti-surface warfare, and anti-submarine warfare. Terminal defense SAMs, which protect only the host ship, are not considered a battle force missile.” Thus, weapons like RAM, ESSM, SA-N-9, Mistral, and HHQ-10 level defense SAMs wouldn’t rely towards the tally of BFM. ASROC, Harpoon, Tomahawk, Commonplace Missiles and non-U.S. equivalents do rely. Usually speaking, BFMs cannot be reloaded at sea, in contrast to shorter-range defensive missiles. They are too giant and unwieldy. As such, additionally they serve as a cap on the offensive or defensive power a ship can present. When BFMs are exhausted, the ship should return to a secure friendly port to rearm.

The ship numbers and missile capacity thought-about under have been taken from Jane’s Preventing Ships 2018-2019 as a commonplace reference. In some instances, there are issues with overlap. For instance, some U.S. Mk 41 VLS cells can carry a BFM, or quad-packed ESSM, which would not rely. Russian vessels are capable of hearth SS-N-16 Starfish anti-submarine missiles from their torpedo tubes. While SS-N-16 (like ASROC) would rely as a BFM, Jane’s didn’t have a magazine capacity of how many have been carried by Russian warships. So, this BFM-launched by way of floor ship torpedo tube was ignored. Submarine heavy weight torpedoes have been counted. Whereas they is probably not missiles, they are a main anti-surface warfare weapon and, in some subs, are interchangeable with BFMs for strike or anti-ship missions. Lastly, there was not full knowledge for all courses (e.g. quantity of torpedoes carried), so knowledge was extrapolated from comparable designs. The outcomes of this BFM rely are within the chart under.

2019 Battle pressure missile complete by nation.

This accounting of fleet firepower exhibits the USN has greater than twice the BFM of the Chinese PLAN. The gap is even bigger if the contribution of carrier-born aircraft is taken into account. The U.S. has an virtually twenty-fold benefit in fixed-wing aircraft operating from ships. Service-born aircraft, particularly from CATOBAR carriers, can carry multiple BFM and may reload aboard the service. As well as, the service can have its magazines reloaded at sea, one thing different ships can’t do with their BFMs. Nevertheless, it is value noting that China’s BFM rely gained over 1000 missiles since 2017, and the U.S. quantity has been relatively static.

Using BFM as a fleet metric also permits for various ship sizes. A U.S. Flight IIA Burke class DDG with 96 VLS tubes supplies the identical BFM capacity as 12 patrol boats with 8 missiles each. Who would win in such an engagement would in all probability hinge on who had better intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) help to target the other first. Nevertheless, twelve patrol boats also have the advantage of with the ability to be in multiple locations directly and needing no less than 12 hits to defeat – excess of the Burke might probably endure.  Persevering with with Robert Work’s characterization, we will classify ships by their BFM rely. At present, warships have classifications of cruiser, destroyer, frigate, corvette or comparable based mostly extra on politics than clear distinctions. What Work really helpful was just like the previous system of classifying ships by weapons. On this case, missiles as an alternative of guns. First-rate warships (>100 BFM), second-rate (90-100 BFM), third-rate (60-89), and on right down to unrated warships with negligible missile capability. For this analysis, the writer augmented Work’s decrease scores with fourth-rate (40-59 BFM), fifth-rate (20-39 BFM), sixth-rate (6-19 BFM), and unrated as < 6 BFM. This reclassification produces the next recent perspective:

2019 Warships by score.

There’s a clear USN choice for heavily armed floor combatants compared to potential adversaries. The one Russian Kirov is rated as a first-rate warship, however is barely a blip in comparison with the U.S. Ticonderoga-class cruisers. The Chinese language Sort 055 arriving into service will provide China with first-rate warships as nicely, but nonetheless a fraction of the number the USN has. The two U.S. Zumwalt DDGs in 2019 are third-rate ships-of-the-line, however have scores of better armed compatriots in comparison with the Chinese language third-rate vessels. None have a fifth price combatant (6-20 BFM) until it is a submarine.

The chart above might spark concern on the tough parity in assault submarines between the U.S., Russia, and China. Nevertheless, when damaged down by sort of submarine, the image modifications. The USN relies solely on nuclear-powered submarines to offer longer vary, larger velocity, and more submerged endurance in comparison with diesel or air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines. It’s because the U.S. plans an “away game” with submarines deployed removed from U.S. shores, while Russia and China anticipate to be using their bigger typical submarine fleets near house.

2019 Quantity of submarines by sort per country.

When the metric of BFMs (together with torpedoes) is utilized, the U.S. can also be shown to have a vital lead in subsurface firepower. While the U.S. has fewer SSGNs than Russia, they carry much more missiles per submarine. The three Seawolf SSNs even have an extra-large torpedo load, as do Los Angeles and Virginia class SSNs fitted with vertical launch tubes, to offer them more weapons than other subs their measurement. This enables them to remain in the battle longer earlier than returning to reload. Newer Virginia class submarines could have the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) put in, further growing their firepower.

2019 Quantity of submarine weapons by nation.

In fact, any single metric will fail to seize the facility of a fleet. Informed opinions will differ on the right offensive and defensive load combine for a warship, or the qualities of a Harpoon ASCM compared to a P-270 Moskit, 3M-54 Club, or YJ-18. Some of these points are discussed by Alan Cummings in his 2016 Naval Conflict School Assessment article on Chinese language ASCMs in competitive control. In that article, he exhibits that for anti-ship firepower, U.S. floor vessels are severely over-matched. Nevertheless, after 2016, VLS options for surface strike (SM-6 and Maritime Strike Tomahawk) have turn into possible. Because the combination of weapons in a VLS tube battery is variable, the quantity of cells might now present a higher metric than calculations assuming weapons masses. In addition, one should think about crew high quality, training, and readiness as elements of fleet power. Nationwide character and experience as a sea energy additionally come into play. Nevertheless, all of these qualities are exhausting to ascribe metrics to, and arms control treaties and analysts concentrate on measurable and verifiable metrics.


In the long run, a fleet have to be measured towards what it is anticipated to do. For energy projection abroad, a giant quantity of BFMs (or carriers supporting strikes) can be extra succesful of performing the mission. Close to residence, vessels can extra easily return to pleasant ports to rearm BFMs, so the whole at sea could also be less essential. Even at equal numbers of BFMs, a fleet concentrating them on a smaller number of high-capacity platforms can be less capable of control sea-space than a fleet that spread the same number of missiles over a half-dozen combatants. The extra distributed fleet would also be extra tolerant of losses. Presently, the USN has its energy concentrated in high-end warships, be they carriers, giant floor combatants, or nuclear submarines. Nevertheless, this also makes the USN vulnerable to major losses, particularly if defenses don’t work as well as expected.

The U.S. has a vital lead in BFMs, but in addition has international commitments which may drastically scale back what number of BFMs might be dedicated to a specific theater. Within the western Pacific, the PLAN is quickly narrowing this lead. As america builds in the direction of a 355-ship Navy, it might want to rigorously think about the missions required and, in wartime, the firepower required, to perform them.

Commander Keith “Powder” Patton is the Deputy Chair, Strategic and Operational Research Dept (SORD) at the Naval Warfare School. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not characterize the official views of the Navy or the Division of Protection.

Featured Image:  September three, 2005. US Navy (USN) Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke Class (flight I); Guided Missile Destroyer, USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) examine the MK 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) for water to stop electrical failure. (Photograph by: PHAN Adam York, USN)