July 26, 2008

The USN Should be Proud...not Ashamed

 Gahlran (who does not use random catgirls and 'science babes' to lighten the mood of his blog) has a typically thorough and thoughtful post on the strategic direction of the navy and what should be its corresponding shipbuilding program. He is particularly concerned that the Navy does not have enough small combatants for short of war duties. Read the whole thing.

 Rather unusually, I disagree, particularly with this statement from the post.

...Indeed if you look at activities like that of the Coast Guard cutter Dallas (WHEC 716), the Navy is basically outsourcing its peacetime engagement responsibilities in major maritime theaters to the already stretched thin Coast Guard. The Navy really should be embarrassed that it is incapable of doing the mission the Coast Guard does today in the Persian Gulf, it is a tragedy of leadership the Navy doesn't see its inability to do that mission as a problem, because that is part of the global mission set the maritime domain demands in today's maritime era....

First of all...GO COAST GUARD!
As to the idea that the Navy should be ashamed that the USCG is conducting these missions...


The Navy should be damned proud that, unlike some loons, it is a professional enough organization to be actively partnering with its fellow sea service. This enables  that organizations strengths to be utilized while avoiding the dilution of its own.

The USCG has a surprising number of specific strengths in the international arena. These  include working closely, and generally benignly, with the worlds merchant fleets, fishing fleets, the UN (particularly through the IMO) and anyone who is in the water and doesn't want to be. Because the USCG has as one of its main Raison' Detre's the rescue of mariners, so they are always welcome sights in foreign harbors, particularly since their peacetime armament is generally no more intimidating than a light gun and, perhaps, a CIWS.

Trained to operate in close proximity and cooperation with the public, Coasties are a good choice for diplomatic presence missions. There is a good body of expertise in boardings and maritime law enforcement operations. Coasties are adept at inshore work.  Coasties also have small vessels with small crews that will minimize the loss of blood and treasure in the event of a successful asymmetrical attack.

This is not to suggest that the USCG take the whole of the show the flag mission from the USN. That would be silly, the USCG can perform some functions to compliment the Navy, particularly if the old ocean station program were revived...with different station locations. An earlier post on that is here

The Navy has strengths too, such as amphibious warfare vessels that can be used to haul tremendous amounts of "stuff" to wherever the hell it is needed. Said "stuff " can be tanks, leathernecks, solar stills or food for disaster victims, small patrol boats,  helicopters for a myriad of functions from assault to minesweeping to SAR, supplies....and baby screech owls.

The NAVY has yet more strengths, an airforce of brownshoes and leathernecks who care, really care, from the 4 stars on down, about close air support for those who need it. The Navy has the ability to strike targets ridiculously far inland, with missiles, bombs, and food packets. It has escorts for its carriers ( and, presumably civilian convoys as well) that can knock planes and missiles and even a friccking satellite out of their sky and will, if the program is not terminated, be able to defend ships and some land targets against incoming tactical ballistic missiles. Most of all the Navy is the 800 pound gorilla of the worlds oceans, they train and equip themselves to secure the sea lanes for the use of us and our allies. They do this with large ships that can carry the necessary electronics, and weapons,  use said assets in the most violent sea states, and enough fuel to take this capability halfway around the world.

  The Navy IS actually building a class of small combatants, the Littoral Combat Ships. These are interesting vessels but they are basically high performance utility craft. They have the fixed armament of a Coast Guard cutter but they seem intended to mainly act as tenders for unmanned vehicles that will provide a lot of functions such as mine warfare which is something the Navy has a definite need for. There are a lot of questions about this vessel that laymen are asking....particularly its cost and seemingly unnecessarily  high speed.

However, those of us in the 82nd chairborne division don't know what specific tactical purpose the speed is supposed to support, it may be an operational requirement for drift and dash ASW, it could, given the large cargo area be related to seabasing or something else tied to a warm or hot war situation. The speed may not in fact be due to an admiral saying "Gee whiz! wouldn't 40 kts be swell!?"

For antipiracy, peacebuilding or short of war duties the vessels seem excessive, but that is likely a small portion of what they are designed to do.

Now Gahlran is right that a big concern is indeed the dwindling numbers of navy ships. No matter how capable a ship is it can only be in one place at once. This is less true for carriers but it is still true.

Some economy and increase in numbers can be made while maintaining hot war capability, the Australians very sensible choice of the Spanish F-100 is a good example of this. The best form of armor is to have another ship. The Australians were able to afford a 5th ship as opposed to the 4 cut down 'Burkes they were offered...but that can only go so far. The F-100 has half the missile tubes in addition to the attendant disadvantages of a smaller hull ...for 60-80% the cost.

Additionally, inshore, in most locations, a 4,500 ton ship is not going to be able to go a lot of places the 9,000 Burke can't. That kind of maneuverability really doesn't come until you get rather smaller, like under 200 feet in length and ~ 600 tons....a, um,  Coast Guard patrol boat....or for extreme inshore fighting...a CB90.

There is a political dimension as well. If the nation develops very austere vessels...."peace cruisers" in the parlance of the old navy....these vessels will be counted by congresscritters as hulls on the navy list...to the potential detriment of the hot war fighting capability of the navy.

There is a temptation on the part of many to point out that the current unlikelihood of a war with a peer force is  going to hold for a very long time. It won't and greatly reducing our emphasis on that currently unlikely scenario ironically makes it more likely.
The  criticism of "next war-itis" is not without merit as it is imperative to focus on the  war you are fighting now.
However, this  does not  hold quite as true for the Navy. One of the reasons that there is no peer competitor right now, is because those that might be dont see challenging us as in any way attainable except in specific circumstances (cough Taiwan straits cough). If we detract from the carrier strike capability  and the escorts that protect it we open a window that a competitor might use to build a fleet quite rapidly. The problems our shipbuilding industry has are severe and the topic of another post, but suffice it to say we would be hard pressed to do any dramatic surge in  shipbuilding.

The biggest problem the navy has is a lack of support vessels...oilers and other logistics vessels. This needs attention.

Galhran has raised some good points, particularly with regards to the basically capital ship status of submarines and the idea of using austere, perhaps off the shelf amphibious vessels as presence ships ( about which more here).  However, reorienting the navy away from a Mahanian force to a gunboat navy is in my opinion a poor bargain and a strategic misstep.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 04:34 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
Post contains 1440 words, total size 11 kb.

1 Good stuff.

Only one point.

The Australians never looked at the Burke, Gibbs and Cox designed a mini-burke that had 64 VLS, but was more expensive than the F-100s.


Posted by: Galrahn at Sun Jul 27 20:42:08 2008 (7IKBm)

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