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New Cruisers against the Pirates Pt 3

October 7, 2009
USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23) was conducting routine survey operations in international waters 75 miles south of Hainan Island when it was harassed by five Chinese vessels.

USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23) was conducting routine survey operations in international waters 75 miles south of Hainan Island when it was harassed by five Chinese vessels.

Surface Warfare’s New Look

What is interesting, even as traditional large navies spend a disproportionate amount of funds buying large deck aircraft carriers, signaling a continued dependence on naval airpower,  there has been a return to surface cruiser warfare unseen since the First World War, and initially in the Second. Aside from contending with pirates in the Gulf of Aden  and elsewhere, the Sri Lankans have initiated cruiser warfare against their long-antagonists the Sea Tigers, hunting down enemy weapon’s ships and successfully destroying them. Recently the destroyer USS John McCain shadowed a smiliar North Korean arms vessel, “Kang Nam 1″, suspected of carrying illegal weapons:

In June 2009, the USS John S. McCain pursued the North Korean cargo ship Kang Nam 1 toward Burma in enforcement of the new United Nations resolution of an arms export embargo against North Korea. The vessel was suspected of carrying arms for the Burmese junta government. The Kang Nam 1 returned to North Korea without delivering its cargo to Burma.

Also there has been sparring between Chinese and American auxiliary warships in the China Seas recently. This action stands out in that during the height of the Cold War between Russia and the USA we rarely became so confrontational, and China today is a close trade partner and a creditor!

The use of these auxiliary cruisers seem to be a growing trend. Somali pirates can create an instant warfleet by capturing a Western naval vessel, then transforming it into a mothership to support their smaller craft at greater distance away from the International Piracy Patrol.

It is easy to mock these make-shift Third World cruisers when comparing them to our space age wonder ships like the Zumwalt stealth destroyer or the massive Ford class supercarriers. Appearances often are deceptive when you consider how surprisingly effective these modern Davids are against our expensive Goliaths.

The West should take both the threat and the potential of auxiliary warships with greater seriousness, since they have the most to lose. In considering the frugality of the pirates, today a Western ship program will cost many billions and take a decade or longer to enter service. Perhaps it is time we stop thinking in terms of the traditional manner of specialized hulls and try harder to get more in the water, to the point of buying and building ships off the shelf, arming them for war afterwards.

Return of the Privateers

For reasons of economy, the Navy and Merchant Marine could be more closely connected. A large container ship with a bolted-on flight deck could become a helicopter, VSTOL, or UAV carrier. With VLS, the same could be an arsenal ship, likewise an Aegis mothership. With a few guns, even smaller ships could become coastal patrol craft. Such an economical fleet would not of necessity be a substitute for traditional warships, but release them from low tech patrolling for the rare but still possible peer conflict.

In such a circumstance the National Government could maintain a less costly cadre of high end ships (especially hard to build submarines or missile corvettes), much like the 16th Century Royal Navy that fought the larger and more heavily armed Spanish Armada. The bulk of the warfleet then composed of merchantmen, all of which possessed a secondary cruiser role. During time of crisis, as in the Armada episode, the fleet could be mobilized and outfitted for war. Modern weapons such as cruise missiles, “rockets in a box”, small SAMs, ect. make such an event highly feasible.

Modern navies likely aren’t yet ready for such radical change, though during wartime when ships suffer far greater attrition, change comes forcibly and sudden. Considering the immense cost and resources required to outfit and maintain high tech navies, the new low tech fleets are expanding faster than the West can replace older ships, threatening to overwhelm our shrinking number of exquisite vessels. At some point the decrease may get to where governments will have to look to such alternatives in order to maintain freedom of the seas, and the safety of our shores.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Tarl permalink
    October 10, 2009 9:59 am

    For reasons of economy, the Navy and Merchant Marine could be more closely connected. A large container ship with a bolted-on flight deck could become a helicopter, VSTOL, or UAV carrier.

    I raised the idea of a container ship as Fire Scout mother ship for anti-piracy with some Navy guys, and it got no traction at all. No, too hard, can’t do it, we’d rather use an LPD. Talk about lack of imagination…

  2. Jed permalink
    October 8, 2009 11:18 am

    During the cold war I was on an RN frigate, actively pinging and chasing a suspected Soviet Victor class away from Faslane when we were in “collision” with a Soviet “Trawler” , that was an interesting night…..

  3. Chuck Hill permalink
    October 7, 2009 10:38 pm

    There was also Pueblo and Liberty.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    October 7, 2009 2:49 pm

    “Like McNamara said: “We came very, very close to war.” ”

    A lot went on (still goes on) that the public don’t know about. And they are probably are better off for not knowing.

  5. Hudson permalink
    October 7, 2009 11:30 am

    I don’t know if the Russians sank any of our ships, but I do recall that they shot down a number of our B-47 medium bombers flying the Arctic patrol route close to Soviet borders. The usual protests were lodged, etc.

    During the Cuban Missile Crisis U.S. destroyers pinged Russian subs and dropped warning depth charges. We did not know it at the time, but the sub skippers were under orders to fire their nuke-tipped torpedo if their pressure hull was holed. What at, I don’t know since they were miles from Miami. McNamara found out about this when he traveled to the USSR after he left office and talked with a Russian sub skipper who attended a lecture he gave in Moscow. The skipper said he was chided by authorities for not launching the nuke when he got back to port. Like McNamara said: “We came very, very close to war.”

  6. William permalink
    October 7, 2009 10:15 am

    Jed, Sorry, they’re not my designs, they belong to “MSR” from the Warships1 blog. I don’t know how to go about searching for somebody elses albums I’m afraid, perhaps somebody else can help.

    MSR has some more designs based on the Bay Class on Page 1 of this thread:

    http://warships1discussionboards.yuku.com/topic/10563/t/Could-the-RN-get-the-likes-of-this-past-the-treasury.html

  7. Scott B. permalink
    October 7, 2009 9:57 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Also there has been sparring between Chinese and American auxiliary warships in the China Seas recently. This action stands out in that during the height of the Cold War between Russia and the USA we rarely became so confrontational

    Black Sea, February 12, 1988 : USS Yorktown and USS Caron vs one Soviet Krivak I plus one Soviet Mirka II

    Mediterranean, April 1957 : USS Wisconsin vs the Soviet Tanker Komsomol

    You can find a picture of Komsomol cutting right in front of USS Wisconsin (something like 100 yards away) during exercice RED PIVOT in Malcolm Muir’s book on the Iowa-class battleships, page 100 of the paperback edition.

    This sort of incidents happened regularly throughout the Cold War, especially in period of heightened tension.

    No CNN, no internet, no blogs (!) back then however…

  8. Jed permalink
    October 7, 2009 9:48 am

    William

    I have created a PhotoBucket account, how do I get to see the rest of your designs, which appear to have been discussed on here a number of times ?

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 7, 2009 7:15 am

    And much of what the Navy does these days is “low end work” William, so where is the risk we keep hearing about?

    Basically, this entire series of post is a plea for the Navy to seriously consider warfare off the shelf as an answer to much of its procurement woes, presence deficit, endless program delays and skyrocketing prices. Such a proven strategy was forced on the Army early in this decade, and more recently on the USAF by Sec. Gates. The axe will fall on the fleet as well, only a matter of time. They should choose what weapons they will use for this new warfare instead of having it forced on them as with the other services. The LCS is a smokescreen that isn’t fooling anyone.

  10. William permalink
    October 7, 2009 6:56 am

    Like I’ve suggested before, build ships for low end work to commercial standards and fit them out with a modest weapons and sensor fit.

    Or slightly less modestly, as suggested before, something like this for £200 million(?) based on the £100 million Bay Class, perhaps with an extra main gun:

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 7, 2009 6:48 am

    Proves the continued importance of seapower, and that you don’t need battleships for this type of work.

  12. Anonymous permalink
    October 7, 2009 6:34 am

    Low level cold naval warfare has always gone on. Since I have been researching naval matters I have constantly been surprised by how often even friendly nations have sent a ship to monitor the activities of each other. Nobody sees what happens at sea………….

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