VLS Reloads at Sea: Now More Than Ever
run with what we have
History is a helpful lady - she’ll give you hints and suggestions - but she does not trifle fools well, and can be quite resentful if ignored.
Let’s do some simple math here. WWI ended in 1918, and for most of Europe, WWII started in 1939. That is only 21 years.
Towards the end of the Cold War when we moved to VLS cells from single or double armed missile launchers, smart people gave a hard look at major war at sea and realized we needed some way to reload at sea.
It was a problem that we started appreciating when the first MK-41 ship, USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), was commissioned in 1986, 38 years ago.
Let me do one of my favorite things and quote myself from back in 2017, seven years ago;
As an old TLAM guy who managed to empty every operational TLAM out of one DDG and left a few DD & CG with only a handful of D1 & D2 warhead TLAM left - the inability to reload puts you in a pickle.
With our "peace dividend" carrier strike groups, you cannot afford to order a DDG or CG to steam a few days to some friendly port (if you have one) and then come back. Nope.
This is great news - and shows that now and then the right ideas can meet up with the right opportunity.
Yep, after Desert Fox we pretty much emptied the Battle Group’s (as we called them then) TLAM inventory except for a few we had left over to spank the Serbians a few months later over Kosovo.
We talked about how for any significant operation, when it came to TLAM, we were approaching combat ineffectiveness. It sure would have been nice to be able to reload them…somehow.
So, in 1999, a quarter century ago, we appreciated the problems some more.
Fast forward to 2024, and the events in the Red Sea against a less than 4th-rate non-state actor, the Houthi, people are starting to notice that, hey, would sure be nice to be able to reload those VLS.
Before that unpleasantness kicked off, in March of last year we had some more problem appreciation trying to figure it out - roughly treading water where we were years ago. At the end of the year, after a couple of months being heckled at by fussy history, we noted we’re getting closer to meeting a requirement established by sober-minded people … decades ago.
Notice a trend?
Yes, expeditionary VLS reloading will be hard and dangerous. It will be difficult in its demands on equipment, sea state, location, and weather. You will be very vulnerable when you need to do it.
At the dawn of the American Era over a century ago, our Navy had decades of experience in expeditionary coaling operations, as did all other naval powers before everyone transitioned to oil.
It was difficult, if not more so, than the challenge of expeditionary VLS loading … but it was essential if you wanted a fighting navy, not a parading navy.
Let’s go back to where we started at the top of the post.
History gave everyone warnings about what would dominate the next great war after WWI. Imagine if any of the great powers ignored all the lessons of 1918 about armor, mobility, and aviation - just to name a few.
What if that same power completely ignored the reminder in the mid-30s with the lessons from the Spanish Civil War?
What if that power strolled in to 1939 unchanged from combat requirements based on 1916?
That is where we are.
Smart people in hard jobs, like those linked above, are close to finishing up a “good” way to reload VLS at sea.
Let’s go with that. What is the stated requirement number? Double it. Not good enough? Tough, work on a better way while we get what we have to the fleet.
People smarter than me know we are well within the window of a serious war in the Western Pacific. To get what we need by 2030, which is really too late by some measures, we need to get things moving now. Not two POM cycles from now. Now.
We’ve spent decades enough appreciating this problem. Take the “good” and run with it.