LCS Alternative Weekly
What Would Jefferson do?
Often when discussing the need for adding numbers to the fleet, and advocating small warships for this purpose, advocates of the all-battleship navy like to point to the failure of gunboats purchased by President Thomas Jefferson in the early 1800s. I will let radio host Chet Nagle at the Daily Caller explain:
President Obama is emulating President Jefferson. Strapped for money, Jefferson cut the navy by two-thirds and built small gunboats instead, saying they “are the only water defense which can be useful to us, and protect us from the ruinous folly of a navy.” What were the results of Jefferson’s version of a low cost ‘policy of restraint?’ Britain’s navy brushed the gunboats aside and burned the White House in 1814.
Fortunately, the British superpower of 1814 did not have an air force, a strategic missile force, or a large amphibious Marine Corps. If they had, they would have burned the Declaration of Independence, too.
First of all, warfare has changed a lot since 1814. Now ships are not propelled by oars or sails but by the internal combustion engine, so small warships are faster, more sea-worthy, more lethal than ever. But the cuts in the Navy doesn’t take away from the conventional power of the USN, as Secretary Gates pointed to us of the practice in overkill the present fleet indulges in his speech before the Navy League in May:
- The U.S. operates 11 large carriers, all nuclear powered. In terms of size and striking power, no other country has even one comparable ship.
- The U.S. Navy has 10 large-deck amphibious ships that can operate as sea bases for helicopters and vertical-takeoff jets. No other navy has more than three, and all of those navies belong to pur allies or friends. Our Navy can carry twice as many aircraft at sea as all the rest of the world combined.
- The U.S. has 57 nuclear-powered attack and cruise missile submarines – again, more than the rest of the world combined.
- Seventy-nine Aegis-equipped combatants carry roughly 8,000 vertical-launch missile cells. In terms of total missile firepower, the U.S. arguably outmatches the next 20 largest navies.
- All told, the displacement of the U.S. battle fleet – a proxy for overall fleet capabilities – exceeds, by one recent estimate, at least the next 13 navies combined, of which 11 are our allies or partners.
- And, at 202,000 strong, the Marine Corps is the largest military force of its kind in the world and exceeds the size of most world armies.
Believing that only high end, exquisite warships can manage modern problems of sea power, and that a few large ships can do everything from shallow water patrol to space warfare, hasn’t tempered the increasing panic the Navy is feeling toward its falling numbers. The admirals previously proposed a “1000 ship navy” hoping to outsource maritime security to other countries, so they can continue to build supercarriers, super-destroyers and supersubs. But what is needed is hulls in the water, and current building practices are failing us.
So the new gunboats would not be less capable, as often contended, but spreading capability which the Navy currently has concentrated in fewer, less flexible packages. Individually greats ships, but we need also a great navy for all our global commitments.
Jefferson didn’t need to worry over terrorists smuggling WMD’s into our many ports, or suicide boats that can disable our most powerful warships. Neither was there a drug smuggling problem which we now send space-age destroyers to manage, at tremendous cost and far below their abilities. The writer of the above mentioned Declaration was also aware how handy small warships were contending with pirates, when the largest frigates could be disabled in shallow seas, used as a prize by the enemy.
What the small warship brings is something we can never get from the all battleship navy–numbers and adequate presence. But we don’t need all-gunboats as Jefferson was seeking, any more than all or even mostly large warships in the fleet.
Pirate-Busting on a Budget
Speaking of pirates, the media have been all abuzz about the Dutch sending a diesel submarine to contend with the modern buccaneers. Here is one take from Matt Gurney at the National Post:
As awesome as warships are, is there maybe a cheaper way of handling this problem? Is it necessary to send the best of NATO to take on drugged-out gunmen with speedboats? Unless they have some Death Star-esque laser cannon, why send the quietest submarine available…why deploy billions of dollars in military hardware halfway around the world to take on speedboats? There are much better, cheaper solutions…
- Convoys. Maritime captains are typically a fairly independent-minded bunch and schedules are firm, so they dislike waiting around for a convoy to assemble, but, frankly, too bad. If NATO or the UN or whomever could constitute a workable convoy system, requiring a relative handful of warships, insurance companies should strip any vessel that goes it alone of its insurance. Merchant captains weren’t eager to join convoys at the start of both world wars, either, but get what? It worked. And what was good for the Kriegsmarine is more than good enough for pirates.
- Private security contractors should sail on most of these ships. The costs of hiring them should be offset by reduced insurance premiums. Such contractors have already proven their worth.
Or all of the above, he says. I’m surprised the convoy idea hasn’t been more popular, since it is a historical solution to cruisers preying on commerce. Just let the pirates start sinking the ships, but of course that would cut into their profits. Their greedy, not stupid.
Thats David Axe’s advice, from War is Boring, and we think it sound:
The new Chinese Fast Attack Craft took the world by surprise. In 2004, Western naval observers spotted an unusual, catamaran warship in Qiuxin Shipyard in Shanghai. Over the next six years, as many as 40 identical vessels emerged from Chinese yards. The FACs, dubbed the Type 022 or Houbei class, began participating in People’s Liberation Army Navy training events.
Today, the U.S. Navy is mulling how to defeat the new vessel.
One hundred and forty feet long and displacing around 225 tons, the Type 022s are capable of at least 36 knots. Armament includes eight, 135-mile-range C803 Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles plus a Gatling gun for point defense. The crew is small: just a dozen sailors. The Type 022 is based on a ferry design produced by AMD Marine Consulting in Australia.
America also experimented, and actually led the way in the deployment of catamaran vessels for military service, recalling the use of the HSV Joint Venture, Spearhead and others. Instead of seeking to place many small ships for service in the war on terror, they went with a traditional Blue Water design called—well you know.
The result is, the Chinese have 40 potent warships ready for service, while the USN has only a single counter whose main armament is a flop, and so probably would have to run away from a type 022 in a standup fight.
LCS versus World War 2 Destroyer
CDR Salamander makes the comparison, and this doesn’t bode well for the newer ship:
Yes, LCS is larger than a WWII-Vietnam era destroyer. Of course, NLOS is vapor-ware. The Army has CANX it. Still not proven on land or at sea.
I am glad that the LCS is fast – because it better run away fast from the cutting edge of 1940-60s technology. That’s ok though. It will run out of fuel fast enough that in our time-warp sea battle – the dash would find her and the DD could stand off at a respectful distance and plunk away with its six 5″/38s. It will only take a hit or two.
Oh, we’ll even give the LCS a helo. Good luck getting close to MANSFIELD. Those 5″/38s have quite a track record against sub-200 knots targets. That one 57mm might break or jam after awhile – and it can’t shoot aft … that would be bad.
Here is a fun fact; the widdle LCS’s 57mm has a max range of 9 mn – about 1,000 yds more than the standard load for the 5″/38. At that range – it takes a round about a minute to reach the target. Both ships are very maneuverable. On top of that – LCS cannot fire from the stern and would have to turn and close the MANSFIELD. Optically guided, ahem, or even if it was fully online – you will not get hits at max range.
My favorite quote is this:
How many hits from a 5″/38 HE rounds could LCS take? I vote one.
I don’t mind a ship being mediocre, since it can make it for its lack of armament with numbers and a small crew. Plus they’re good enough for the likes of smugglers and pirates. Get a mediocre 3000 ton warship with likely 100 crew when the mission modules are in place, and you have mediocrity plus a gold plate price. Not a good combination.
Limited as an icebreaker, critics have disparaged AOPS as ‘slush breakers’ of limited utility. As offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), AOPS are burdened with the vast weight of icebreaking hulls unnecessary for that role. Carrying that extra bulk around in temperate seas mean that AOPS will be relatively slow while fuel costs and similar operating expenses are very high.
How to address disparate requirements for Arctic and offshore patrol? An obvious solution is to split the AOPS program budget between ships dedicated to the specific tasks – that is, give $1.5B to Arctic icebreaking and $1.6B to offshore patrol of Canada’s temperate waters.
The Government of Canada has announced plans for a highly capable new Arctic icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard – the future CCGS John G. Diefenbaker. Taking $1.5B from the AOPS budget would allow for the construction of two follow-on Diefenbaker-type ships – true Arctic icebreakers.
Of the budget for AOPS, the remaining $1.6B would be dedicated to acquisition of specialist offshore patrol vessels designed for use in temperate seas. A Canadian-designed example is the PV85 OPV from STX Marine Canada – a firm involved in the AOPS program. PV85 is a highly-automated but reasonably-priced design. A $1.6B OPV program should be sufficient to acquire four coast guard vessels (replacing the CCG’s current, mixed fleet of 4 OPVs) and 6-to-8 identical ships for the Navy as corvettes (to fulfill naval domestic patrol obligations).
Hardening AOPS to Ice Class 5 provides little added utility for substantially higher material and operating costs. A dedicated OPV, like the PV85, offers a lower acquisition price as well as reduced operating costs (due to lower crew demands and much-improved fuel economy). What is surrendered with the PV85 is full Arctic ice capability – but PV85s are ice-protected.
The New Zealand Project Protector OPV (Otago) is a PV85 class, and here are her specs:
- Displacement: 1600 tonnes
- Length: 85 meters
- Beam: 14 meters
- Draft: 3.6 meters
- Speed: 22 knots
- Range: 6000nm
- Complement: 35 + 10 flight personnel + 4 personnel from Government agencies
- Armament: 1 × remote controlled MSI DS25 Stabilized Naval Gun with 25mm M242 Bushmaster cannon
2 × .50 caliber machine guns
Aircraft carried: 1 × SH-2 Seasprite helicopter.
Time for Canada’s Corvettes
As we mentioned the Flower corvettes above, from the same article the CASR opines over why the venerable but still useful class of warship is needed in Canadian service once again:
In this, the anniversary year of Canada’s Navy, there will be many recountings of the deeds of the Flower class corvettes during the Battle of the Atlantic. Since WWII, the debate has raged over the value of putting corvettes back into Canadian service. The time is now right.
Today, the Canadian Navy finds itself pressed for both recruits and operating funds. In a recent, ill-considered manoeuvre, the Chief of Maritime Staff threatened to tie-up half of the Kingston class patrol ships and ‘restrict’ major warships to domestic, offshore duties. There was a simpler and more politically-palatable solution available to the hard-pressed CMS.
With corvettes, the Navy gains vessels able to fulfill its domestic waters patrol mandate far more economically than its current major warships. The PV85 has a core ships company of 35, the Halifax class frigate requires a crew of 180. And crew costs are a major operating cost for naval vessels. Other operating costs for warships are rarely revealed. It stands to reason though, that the frigate with a hull almost twice as long and displacing 2.5 times as much as the OPV design will be substantially more expensive to operate than a PV85-based corvette.
And really, the type of missions most warships are called on to do these days do not call for a billion-dollar supership, which can do many wonderful things, save be in more places than once. Disaster relief, anti-smuggling, anti-piracy, coastal patrol, all these important functions of sea control are being performed by frigates, destroyers, and now submarines built to fight a Soviet Navy that no longer exists.
Last year, New Wars proposed the exact same idea in a couple posts: