New Cruisers against the Pirates Pt 3
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.