Where is the Navy’s Petraeus?
I would dearly love to see a Navy admiral with the courage to stand up to the status quo, as the Army’s new commander in Iraq General David Petraeus has done, to answer the real challenges of modern war at sea. These challenges include intercepting pirate terrorists and WMDs at sea, the threat from AIP submarines in littoral waters, and supporting operations in coastal and inland waterways. Instead, we continue to receive vessels little changed save in size and cost from their World War 2 forebears, forced to fight a 21st Century antagonist. New hull designs (like the Littoral Combat Ship which is under siege by budget cutters) to combat cruise missiles at sea are desperately needed, but instead we get massive targets like Ford Class super carriers, and the LHD-17 class of amphibious ships. The latter ship has been criticized by Congress for being $400 million over budget, and is for ferrying troops to seize beachheads on a hostile shore, something the Marines haven’t done since the Korean War. Wouldn’t a leased cargo ship do just as well? Here is the current Navy Secretary Donald Winter on his plans for “Business as usual” during his tenure (via Defense Industry Daily):
“In the past, the Navy has had shipbuilding production plans that included 34 Spruance class destroyers, 30 Aegis Cruisers, 62 Arleigh Burke class destroyers, and 54 Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates – very large production runs over relatively short periods of time. Needless to say, those production rates are just not feasible with ships like DD (X), CG (X), CVN21, and Virginia class submarines. We need a new shipbuilding model that can cost-effectively provide significant increases in capability at low rates of production.”
In my own opinion, the less capable and cheaper vessels he mentions at the start are more capable than our current crop of whiz-bang and technically uncertain dinosaurs at sea. My reasoning for this is a large fleet can be many places at once, showing the flag still being the most effective deterrent of aggression, and can maintain itself better in a war of attrition. The latter type operation is the kind the Army wasn’t prepared to fight before General Petraeus. The old Cold War Military felt it needed only a small, hi-tech force to counter the blitzkrieg tactics of the last century, but after Desert Storm our enemies knew better than to fight such a massive and quick slug fest with the US. Instead, they hit us where we are weakest, and a type of warfare we had avoided since Vietnam, an insurgency conflict.
Though some navies are still obsessed with building massive US style aircraft carrier fleets, and we expect the Chinese to produce theirs any day now, the most likely style of fighting our enemies would choose would be one we faced numerous times before, a submarine campaign against our merchant and surface fleets. I contend that the submarine is the Insurgent at Sea, and for such an attrition type warfare in the last 2 World Wars massive spending on aircraft and escort ships were required to combat it. The irony of it all, is the Navy continues to purchase ships, in the words of Mr. Winter with “increases in capability at low rates of production”. In other words, a massive construction capability is increasingly out of their plans, and likely soon out of their capability.
Bottom line: we are not ready for a war of attrition at sea, the kind the Army had forced on them in Iraq and perhaps is just barely now turning around. Our enemies know better than to match us carrier for carrier, destroyer for destroyer, but have no qualms in hitting us where we are weakest.
More-Information Dissemination reveals Iranian Underwater Warfare Capabilities.