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Cheaper Piracy Patrols? Some Suggestions…

February 19, 2010

Peter S. Green at Bloomberg reports that the US State Department is looking for cheaper alternatives for battling pirates off the coast of Somalia. The bills are heaping up:

The U.S. says it wants to find cheaper options to battle pirates off the coast of Somalia, as an international naval force has pushed the seaborne brigands from the 1 million square miles of the Gulf of Aden into an area twice that size in the Indian Ocean.

“The locus of pirate activity has shifted and we are trying to deal with it,” Tom Countryman, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said in Washington today. “It’s expensive, and that’s why we feel strongly the need to pursue the lowest-cost options to deter piracy.”

So glad you asked Mr Under-Secretary. A few suggestions. First less of this:

USS Bainbridge Aegis Guided Missile Destroyer in Maersk Alabama incident.

More of these:

USS Whirlwind Patrol Craft

Less than $100 million Littoral Ships like Sea Fighter.

Motherships a half to a third the price of LCS like the Danish Absalon.

Skjold

Influence Squadrons for soft power instead of Strike Groups.

Corvettes like the Swedish Helsingborg, especially geared for shallow water operations.

Real Littoral submarines like this German designed Type 214.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 20, 2010 4:19 pm

    Matt said “My theory is that Iran rightly recognizes that in most situations capability trumps capacity. They likely see this corvette as cutting edge technology, adaptable to multiple situations – and not a compromise to get a hull into the water ASAP.”

    If they wanted capability, why not just buy a Chinese warship, since the development costs of advanced hull is astounding by itself? I don’t think the Iranians are deluding themselves into thinking they have something to match the West or her allies here, but as long as someone in the West believes this, then their job is done. Much of their strength is bluff and bluster, hence the title posted to the media “destroyer”.

  2. Matt permalink
    February 20, 2010 7:17 am

    Mike,

    “Concerning this Iranian corvette, despite the mocking title, this is a significant moment for the small ship navy. Tehran understands the importance of presence in seapower, and rather than wait to build something that could match Western navies, the perfect warship, they are putting what they can into the water. The importance of any battle, land or sea, is partly just showing up.”

    This goes to show that you that what you see depends on where you stand. I’d try to see this from the Iranian point of view vice US.

    Iran will likely never be able to build something that can match a Western warship. But they’ve fielded relatively large numbers of patrol vessels (gunboats, missile boats, fast boats) for years. If Iran is just looking at “showing up” as you’ve put it, why not just flood the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman with more of these?

    My theory is that Iran rightly recognizes that in most situations capability trumps capacity. They likely see this corvette as cutting edge technology, adaptable to multiple situations – and not a compromise to get a hull into the water ASAP.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 20, 2010 6:53 am

    Tangosix said “Without air cover a “frigate navy” could be sunk by any third world air force with a dozen Sukhois armed with Mach 3 anti-ship missiles.”

    Thats true, but also it is certain that without frigates and other small escorts you will have the world’s most expensive coast defense vessel, because your carrier can’t leave port! I am for a balanced fleet, not the idea that airpower can substitute for essential escorts. With airpower less is more, but hulls are the life of a navy. You can’t have balance if you are systematically selling off still useful hulls, compromising numbers for so-called capability.

    I am not against naval airpower or even carrier airpower, but I also think to compromise on other essential forms of naval combat is potential suicide for a fleet.

    Concerning this Iranian corvette, despite the mocking title, this is a significant moment for the small ship navy. Tehran understands the importance of presence in seapower, and rather than wait to build something that could match Western navies, the perfect warship, they are putting what they can into the water. The importance of any battle, land or sea, is partly just showing up.

    The fact whether this is even as powerful as a allied corvette like the UAE Baynunah isn’t important as the fact that have something in the water, potentially very threatening. Though it may not be a threat to an America Arleigh Burke, with all the latter deployed on extra missions due to the deployed LCS program, all it has to do is wait until the Americans are not around.

    Most of the work done by navies is just showing up, and you can’t do that if you have nothing to show. Go ahead and blow the budget on a few battleships, thinking you can scare the enemy away. I would prefer something that can fight, push come to shove. At least the Iranians have SOMETHING.

  4. leesea permalink
    February 20, 2010 1:37 am

    MSC already charters OSVs from Chouest Brothers to support NSWG and other less glamorous missions. The chartering process is realatively quick for periods up ot 5 years, and when done the ship are simply put off-hire. I don’t think you will find many weapons on chartered ships expect for FP and in the SEALS’ gun lockers~
    When Mike gets time to post some more of my mini-mothership candidates, I think you will find some more “charterable” ships which are remarkedly capable i.e boats, USVs, and accomodations and some which are fast. Google Fast Crew or Supply Boasts and see what pops up. Or search on Marinelog.com. I particularly like Seacor Marine’s fast cats.

  5. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 19, 2010 7:01 pm

    Mike it sounds like the Iranians have been taking your advice. Sounds like your Corvette.

  6. D. E. Reddick permalink
    February 19, 2010 6:04 pm

    Mike,

    About that modest corvette type of a “destroyer” just commissioned by Iran:

    There’s a second video of this so-called DDG (i.e., corvette) at Military Photos and it shows some of the vessel’s weapons fit along with the photos already there. Here’s my limited estimate of what its weapons may be:

    Single automatic 76 mm DP cannon, forward (copy of the OtoBreda 76 mm / 62 cal. cannon);
    Single automatic 40 mm AA cannon, aft & unmanned (it sports what appears to be an ‘improved’ version of the vertical clip feed mechanism of WW-II era 40 mm Bofors cannon);
    Two single automatic 20 mm cannon, forward, unpowered & manned (featuring WW-II era-like shoulder supports for a standing gunner);
    Two triple tube torpedo launchers, presumably armed with 12.75 inch diameter ASW topedoes;
    Four tube launchers for AShM / SSM and presumably armed with something like Chinese C-802 cruise missiles;
    A single light to medium weight helo – a single UH-1 Huey is shown in photos & videos.

    Having looked at many photos and two videos, I still haven’t noticed anything that resembles an actual SAM launcher installation. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but if so then I have to wonder where the Iranians have hidden the SAM system.

    It really does look like something that might have been introduced 30 years ago.

  7. February 19, 2010 5:59 pm

    “I’m not really sure that’s the “cheapest” once you consider the number of ships passing through the region daily, the logistical problems associated with getting fire teams on and off ships, and the political problems associated with putting Marines on board foreign-flagged vessels.”

    A couple of things here. I don’t see any logistical problems. Pirates have no problem locating ships or getting onboard them! Probably the best use for all those mega-warships in the region is to act as a bases and despatch (ships.) (I think that sounded like Mike B. then..)

    As for political problems. An enormous amount of shipping flies a flag of convenience. I don’t think these tiny jurisdictions really have the political clout to argue with the West. (The Chinese can do what they like with their ships!) I think the shipping companies, (large) manufacturers will have more of a voice.

    What you are alluding to is a lack of political will. This is purely subjective. Purely imaginary. Is it possible to put a multiple onboard a ship? Yes. Is it possible to define robust ROE? Yes.

  8. February 19, 2010 5:50 pm

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Britain is totally distracted with her new carriers, equally useless for a frigate navy like herself.”

    Britain has had a carrier navy ever since she invented the aircraft carrier.
    The aircraft carrier has been consistently the most useful ship in the wars the United Kingdom has fought since then,unlike the frigate,which is not much use in the war we are fighting now in Afghanistan.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “But I’m still hopeful the ongoing budget strain will produce what realism in warfare has so far failed to produce, a Navy adequate for current threats.”

    Without air cover a “frigate navy” could be sunk by any third world air force with a dozen Sukhois armed with Mach 3 anti-ship missiles.
    Realism in warfare suggests such a navy is not adequate for current threats.

    The United Kingdom has a requirement to deploy air power globally in support of land and sea operations.
    Doing that with large aircraft carriers instead of land bases produces a net saving of at least £1,200 Million a year due to the smaller number of combat and support aircraft required.

    Ongoing budget strain dictates that if the United Kingdom does not save that money by buying aircraft carriers,it will have to make £1,200 Million of cuts elsewhere in the defence budget.
    Options would include axing the entire submarine force including the strategic nuclear deterrent or cutting the size of the destroyer and frigate fleet by two thirds.

    tangosix.

  9. February 19, 2010 5:49 pm

    “That would work for me,”

    You could have a depot ship at each end (or perhaps a triangle would be more appropriate.

    And as you say it would be a week’s work. And most passages would pass without incident. (Rather like the Atlantic in WW2 where 90% of convoys never saw a U-boat……….)

    This is more logical than having warships scurrying about.

    Armed merchant were plying those waters at the time of Christ carrying luxury goods from India to the Roman Empire.

  10. B.Smitty permalink
    February 19, 2010 5:49 pm

    x,

    I’m not really sure that’s the “cheapest” once you consider the number of ships passing through the region daily, the logistical problems associated with getting fire teams on and off ships, and the political problems associated with putting Marines on board foreign-flagged vessels.

    Maybe an even “cheaper” solution from a “patrolling” standpoint is to force insurance carriers to not pay out for ships lost to piracy. That may stop companies from paying ransoms, and take away the primary motivation for piracy in the first place.

    Of course, there may be some crews taken prisoner by pirates who may suffer as a result.

  11. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 19, 2010 5:37 pm

    x, “Surely the cheapest patrol is to put a mulitple (half a squad in US!) on each ship….”

    That would work for me, but for some reason there seems to be a lot of resistance to the idea although the French and I understand to some extent the Spanish have started putting armed guards on board.

    The total distance from Djibouti around the horn of Africa to Kenya is about 1600 nautical miles, so about four days transit even for a relatively slow freighter.

  12. February 19, 2010 4:43 pm

    Surely the cheapest patrol is to put a mulitple (half a squad in US!) on each ship….

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 19, 2010 4:34 pm

    “The Sentinel Class cutters are in production, they couldn’t do the whole job”

    Thats a great philosophy, spread the work load around. If we keep looking for the perfect vessel, which seemingly can do all things, we can expect to see shrinking numbers, rising costs, and continuous mechanical defects keeping the ships we do have in port more than on the job. The ship doesn’t have to be perfect, just available when needed, knowing that hulls in the water are the life of the Navy, not just capability.

  14. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 19, 2010 4:17 pm

    The Sentinel Class cutters are in production, they couldn’t do the whole job, but the could take over a lot of the work in the Gulf of Aden or patrol out of Kenya, Sacotra, or the Seychelles.

    Off shore, send the Bertholf and see how it works out.

  15. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 19, 2010 4:11 pm

    Smitty, I completely support the use of commercial vessels as auxiliary cruisers, and as we see with the British RFA vessels, they can be quite effective in these low threat areas. I think they would be quite adequate watching rogue powers like Iran, who recently launched a “destroyer” really just another modest corvette type.

    Bill, concerning the PCs, we could afford 50-100 such craft for the price of a couple Burkes, and relieve an enormous strain on the operating forces in the Gulf Right Now. It makes no sense to limit the abilities of proven small warships, but that is what is happening.

  16. Bill permalink
    February 19, 2010 3:44 pm

    Mike, you indirectly touched on the key reason why we have so little in way of true green-water capability in USN. You mentioned the LCS-1 doing Carribean drug patrol. The USN finds all such missions ‘distastefull’ and the craft to execute those missions beneath their contempt. What an irony it is that the vaunted LCS is being sent first toconduct a mission that the Navy has expended so much energy desparately trying to avoid.

    I guffaw every time that I see, in USN circles, to any positive reference now to the Cylcones..knowing full well how loath the Navy was to take them in the first place and how hard they have tried to shuck them ever since.

  17. B.Smitty permalink
    February 19, 2010 3:33 pm

    Could we charter modestly-sized commercial vessels, crew boats, yachts an so on for a few years? They’d probably only need modest modifications to be effective at counter-piracy.

  18. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 19, 2010 3:27 pm

    Good point Bill. I think if we started right now, it would take about 5 years to place a good, sizable force adequate for littoral operations. As it is, the Navy has wasted an entire decade on the useless LCS program, and has little interest in taking on anything other than smugglers in the Carib. Britain is totally distracted with her new carriers, equally useless for a frigate navy like herself.

    But I’m still hopeful the ongoing budget strain will produce what realism in warfare has so far failed to produce, a Navy adequate for current threats.

  19. Bill permalink
    February 19, 2010 2:44 pm

    But..does not any possible ‘cheaper but still effective’ solution, including those Mike listed, require new assets that we do not now have and would not have any time in the anything-close-to near future regardless of what contracting miracles one might assume? Its certain that we cannot build what is required in anything resembling a short time frame..and even if they could respond more quickly, none of those foreign vessels could be bought/built from their yards..right?

    One of the very few examples of a ‘rapid response’ , like this would require, was the ‘off the shelf crew boat’ purchase and commissioning of the fleet of USCG WSES to respond quickly to new initiatives in the expanded ‘drug war’ back then.

    Short of that..would not any other option set take literally years to get in place?

  20. CBD permalink
    February 19, 2010 1:53 pm

    Don’t forget the Hamina. Same displacement as the PCs, also survivable in larger conflict (SAMs, AShMs). The Haminas reportedly cost $80m (I’m still looking for a second source on that price point, but it seems solid), just a bit more than a new-build PC (PC-14 standard) would cost. Less extreme in signature control than the Visby class, but also cheaper.

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