Problem may be more widespread than officials acknowledge.
Having effective sensors, fire control, ordnance and control systems is only part of the picture for building a capable shipboard combat system. The task that makes all of these play together is called combat system integration, or CSI.
Many foreign navies rely on CSI to pull together shipboard combat systems that have components originating from different suppliers. If integration is not done well, it can be very costly and take years to do what should take months. Valuable warships needed for naval missions can be unavailable for years. The result is best described as combat system dis-integration.
Many nations do not openly admit that they encountered CSI problems when assembling a fleet, but clues abound. Typical scenarios include having difficulty achieving multiship interoperability, having problems operating a system that resulted from different nations teaming on a design and having a particular combat system on only one class of ship. Combat system dis-integration may be far more common and widespread than many countries and experts admit.
The United Kingdom, for example, offers a worst-case scenario with its Type 23 frigates. The first seven ships, F230 to F236, were at sea for more than 10 years without any combat display system at all. The Ferranti computer-assisted command system 4 was canceled in 1987, which was two years after the F230 keel was laid. The centralized computer system could not handle the combined passive sonar, electronic warfare and Seawolf surface-to-air missile processing/integration load. Type 23 ships had to operate with stand-alone systems, and they could handle only one Seawolf missile launch at a time. The replacement, the distributed architecture BAE (formerly Dowty SEMA Racal) SSCS, was not installed until the eighth hull, F237, which took place in 1994. The first refit adding SSCS to the other 15 ships did not begin until 1998.
The problem Australia encountered with its Collins-class submarine combat systems has been well-known for years. The lead submarine combat system was still in redesign six years after commissioning, and the original combat system may be completely replaced. The system’s commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) processor is no longer upgraded with new state-of-the-art models. The legacy distributed combat system cannot meet the increased load and needs an open architecture. Finally, the fixed-price contract could not respond to these early problems.
The first Collins submarine was commissioned in 1996 with known combat system processing and interface problems. The legacy Oberon CSS MK2 distributed architecture could not handle the heavy contact load that today’s missions require. Two years later, a fast-track interim software fix was begun with some combat system functions deleted. The following year, program management and defense acquisition was completely reorganized. In 2000, a request for proposals was put out to replace the SFCS MK 1, and some U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) processor units from the BSY-1 on Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines were installed as an interim rig until a new design would be available. In June, Cirrus and DRS won a fast-track bid, and two finalists for a new combat display system were Raytheon and STN Atlas Elektronik. As of early this year, the six Collins submarines still lacked full mission requirement integrated combat systems eight years after the problems were first noted.
Similar problems arise when multiple nations cooperate on a common new ship design effort to share cost and production assets. CSI problems can include disagreement on system selection arising from different mission requirements; dispute if one country believes it suffers from an unequal share of the cost or contracts; design and redesign dragging on for years, usually ending in a project cancellation; or the lack of a centralized decision authority.
In 1984, the NATO frigate project, NFR 90, comprised eight partner nations. Central to the combat system was to be a NATO anti-air warfare system, known as NAAWS. After five years, NFR 90 was abandoned because of conflicting requirements, designs and funding, to name a few reasons.
Next came the British, Italian and French Horizon common frigate program that was started in 1992. Program decisions were to be made by a joint program office in London, but each of the nations had its own offices that had to concur with any decisions. The United Kingdom wanted a 6,000-ton ship for open-ocean area defense, whereas Italy and France wanted a 3,000-ton point defense frigate. Commonality was gone when there was disagreement on the principal anti-air missile system (PAAMS), which was the key combat system component. The United Kingdom used the BAE Sampson multifunction active array radar, but Italy and France insisted on the European multifunction phased array radar (EMPAR) passive radar with the Aster missile. After six years of work, this program was terminated in 1999.
Russia’s fleet inherited many of its vessels from the old Soviet Union, which always was a very closed society—especially in military advances and most of all if problems occur in ship designs. Such issues could cause designers to disappear suddenly.
Clues have emerged as to the difficulties encountered in Soviet shipboard CSI. For example, many years would pass from ship-class introduction until the initial operating capability of its primary weapon system. In some cases, units would serve at sea for years with plates where weapons and sensors should be located.
The Udaloy guided missile destroyer with the SA-N-9 and associated Cross Sword radar appears to be one of the most difficult Soviet CSI platforms. The first three Udaloys were launched from 1981 to 1983 with five plates where the three vertical launchers and two Cross Sword radars should have been located. A prototype installation had been tested on a trial Grisha unit in 1980. The first complete fore/aft installation was not accomplished until 1986 on the Simferopol, the eighth Udaloy hull. The SA-N-9 team of Fakel MKB and Altair NPO seemed to have had difficulty with the new vertical launch system design as well as with the complex Cross Shield that combined six antennas.
Different clues on other Russian ships reveal a more subtle example of combat system engineering difficulties. A new combat system may appear on only the first unit of a production series, or newer units may have more kilowatt power but weigh much less than prior series.
The Tarantul II missile patrol boats appear to be a failed SS-N-22 CSI attempt, although neither the Soviet Union nor most naval reference books ever acknowledged this problem. The production series Tarantul II units all had the old SS-N-2C Styx surface-to-surface missile, although a new Light Bulb missile datalink and Band Stand targeting radar replaced the Tarantul I Plank Shave radar for the SS-N-2C. When the SS-N-22 was successfully installed on the Tarantul III, it used the same targeting radar and datalink. Other anomalies on the Tarantul II hint that a combat system design problem did exist. The weight of Tarantul II was 55 tons less to compensate for a planned heavier weapon system, and the electric load diesel was upgraded from 100 kilowatts to 300 kilowatts. In fact, the Tarantul III weight increased to 436 tons when the SS-N-22 was successfully installed years later. A single SS-N-22 Tarantul built when the Tarantul II started production was claimed to be only a “trial” unit. The most probable problem was that the SS-N-22 full system with fire control, missiles and launcher was too large and heavy and required considerable interior hull redesign.
China, which has been building indigenous ships adapted from older Soviet designs and technologies (SIGNAL, December 2002, page 57), has encountered its share of CSI difficulties. The first class of Chinese destroyers with surface-to-air missiles provides several clues about serious CSI problems. These include having many years pass from ship installation until initial operating capability, having only two ships built in a planned new vessel class and having a very short lifetime from construction to decommissioning.
The first indigenous design for a guided missile destroyer could be expected to take longer than other designs. The fact that the Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile had been in production by the People’s Liberation Army for years, and it had previously been “navalized” by the Soviet Union on a cruiser, should have reduced much of the risk.
The Jiang Dong DDG 531 was launched by Jiangnan SY in Shanghai in 1972 and commissioned in 1977, and the DDG 532 followed two years later. The HQ-61 land-based copy of the SA-2 was redesigned for shipboard conditions as the RF-61 twin-rail surface-to-air missile by the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation, or CPMIEC, arm of the Chinese Ministry of Space Industry. Although these two ships were at sea for several years, the successful certification firings were not achieved until December 1986, which was nine years after commissioning. That is longer than the ship’s active time, as both the 531 and the 532 were quietly decommissioned in the mid-1990s.
The Indian navy has several ship classes with combat system design features that indicate the potential for integration problems. These features include being equipped with weapons, sensors and control systems from many different nations; having many system designs that are copies manufactured in the host nation; and originating from a shipyard known to be unfamiliar with ship and system-unique difficulties.
Although India’s 1978 Godvari frigates had a higher number of multination source systemsF, the time from launch until commissioning was five years longer on both the 1987 Delhi-class guided missile destroyer and 1989 Godvari update. Some problems may have arisen. The original Godvari used the French IPN-10 combat display system, but the update and the Delhi used an Indian-produced version named Shikari. The larger SS-N-25 with complex computer and tracking systems would have been challenging, compared to the crude SS-N-2C on Godvari. The planned replacement of the Godvari SA-N-4 surface-to-air missile with the Indian Prishful surface-to-air missile had such difficulties that SA-N-4 had to be installed on initial Godvari ships. The Delhi was similar to the Soviet Kashin that had been in the Indian navy for years, but the major differences in sonar, combat display system, electronic warfare and several radars caused serious integration problems.
Malaysia’s shipboard integration problems became apparent in a different manner. Builders of a new warship were sued because of a three-year delivery delay caused by CSI problems. The customer claimed it was the British shipyard’s fault; the shipyard blamed constant supplementary requirements added on by the customer; and the usual mix of Swedish, British, Dutch, U.S. and French systems added to the confusion.
The frigate Lekiu was launched in 1994 and scheduled to be commissioned in 1996, but it did not meet CSI goals until 1999—three years later. Malaysia claimed that Yarrow Shipbuilders Limited in Glasgow, Scotland, was at fault for the weapon control difficulties. The shipyard countered that increasing demands from changes to the original specifications made it necessary to redesign and retest. Such arguments are common to many battles over CSI difficulties.
The Netherlands has two ship classes that seem to be candidates for combat system problems. Clues exist: Ship construction was advanced several years to keep the shipyard employed. Several key systems were not installed until after six years of shipyard time. And the planned construction run of the class was canceled.
The Karel Doorman class of frigates was planned to start in 1987, but because Schelde Shipbuilding completed work on two earlier frigates in 1983, the Doorman was moved up three years to keep the shipyard from laying off workers. Combat systems have to be funded, and their production must begin years in advance of installation.
In 1996, the modernization of the air defense system on the guided missile frigate Witte de With had integration software problems. Modernization included replacing a two-dimensional radar with a sophisticated Signaal three-dimensional missile radar. The NATO Sea Sparrow missile failed to launch twice during live firings. The software was modified by the Centre for the Automation of Weapons and Control Systems. After one successful firing, the missile control system had “irregular behavior” during the next salvo shot.
Not all shipboard integration problems are multiyear disasters. Sometimes the telltale sign is only a few months’ delay before acceptance. One example was Taiwan’s Jin Chiang patrol boats in 1999. The China Shipbuilding Corporation designed and built the original units of 680 tons. A 1997 modified design decreased the weight to 500 tons and changed the fire control system. The fire control failures required technical assistance from the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology. This delayed ship availability for navy operations by several months.
Some instances of inadequate CSI are not detected until ships are launching weapons at sea. The vertical launch array on the Japanese Kongo cruisers failed sea tests because the launcher was installed 90 degrees differently than on the U.S. Navy’s Aegis cruisers, which caused all of the provided vertical launch ballistic sine/cosine calculations to be wrong. Among the factors causing the loss of the Royal Navy’s HMS Sheffield in the Falklands could be radars that should have tracked incoming Exocets but were shut down because they interfered with communications frequencies. The inability to conduct vital communications and radar operations simultaneously should have been noted during integration tests.
James C. Bussert is employed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Virginia, where he works on surface-ship antisubmarine fire control systems with commercial off-the-shelf technology upgrades.