Flexible Ship Concept Informs Fleet Standards
By DAISY R. KHALIFA, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Glen Sturtevant, the director for Science & Technology in the Program Executive Office-Ships at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), said the command is putting in place long-term goals dictated by a straightforward approach of maintaining — and investing in — a flexible and adaptable fleet.
In an early morning session on the first day of the Navy League’s 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition April 4, Sturtevant addressed a full audience of military and industry colleagues, where he expanded on the state of the fleet and the challenges facing the Surface Navy.
“Our ships need to be more flexible, adaptable and upgradeable,” Sturtevant said. “We’ve got to change the way we do things. The way we do things today is just not sustainable, in my opinion.”
Sturtevant described what he called a “perfect storm” of factors that have given way to an imperative for change in the way NAVSEA plans, manages and procures vessels. He said the need for these changes has been driven by rapidly evolving threats and missions, the accelerating pace of new technology, increasing costs, and the fact that readiness is “going down”.
As for the call for change within the fleet, Sturtevant stressed the fact that ships are costly and complex, whereby payload capabilities are strongly coupled to platforms, and that many vessels have inflexible architectures, and designs with limited allowance margins for modernization.
“Warfighting systems are inherently complex, probably the most complex systems we have in the world,” Sturtevant explained. “The ships are really densely packed. Densely packed ships are really costly to build and sustain. The ships need to be combat relevant for their entire service life. If we’re ever going to get to 355 ships, if we retire the existing ships ahead of their surface life, then we are chasing shadows and we are never going to get to 355.”
Sturtevant said that after years of studying NATO navies, the Surface Navy came up with the concept of “flexible ships.” He discussed the five main features of flexible ships, including having payloads decoupled from platforms, standard interfaces, rapid reconfiguration, planned access routes and modernization capability, while the benefits of flexible ships include, among other things, open architecture, modularity and commonality.
There were several important drivers for the NAVSEA research, key enablers that have bolstered the flexible ship concept, said Sturtevant. Some of those include: providing warfighting requirements with flexible architectures, investing in technology that supports flexibility, having the Navy prescribe and manage common interfaces, and establishing business models that support flexible ships.
“The big [enabler] is central and strong leadership,“ said Sturtevant. “Unless you have that, you are kind of doing it on your own.”