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Fighting Today’s Threat

July 29, 2008

Here is Jay Tea at Wizbang’s take on how we are handling the major threat at sea these days; international piracy:

I hate to say it, but not very well.

The biggest militant threats we now face are small. I’d wager that a single US naval task force could easily wipe out every single pirate on the high seas, quite possibly without using a single aircraft. And our combined Army and Marine Corps probably outnumbers the number of active terrorists, let alone outguns them on every single worthwhile metric. But their size is not just a weakness, but a strength as well.

Our military is designed to fight other militaries, put forth by other nations. We don’t have that problem any more — there’s not a nation on earth that either wants to or could stand up to us in a fair fight. So they don’t even try.

Instead, they focus on attacking “soft” targets, avoiding the kind of force-on-force engagements that will end very, very badly for them. And in between those attacks, they disappear, they hide, they lurk in the shadows and avoid drawing our attention.

Yet our mostly hi-tech military is still geared to fight the Big War, with our giant missile battleships, supercarriers, and stealth fighters. How will they fare against the poorly armed but fanatically motivated insurgent:

Not very well.

Those amazingly capable weapons are remarkable technological achievements, and they represent the latest and greatest in American ingenuity and technology and innovation and industriousness. They are the ultimate (for now) example of the American tradition of “quality over quantity.” But they are expensive as hell. We can’t afford very many of them. And against foes like terrorists and pirates, we need quantity over quality.

The Zumwalts will be, quite simply, the most powerful destroyers ever built. Indeed, I question whether they qualify as “destroyers.” They are far closer to cruisers in size, and will possess greater destructive power than the mightiest battleships ever wielded.

But against pirates, I’d trade one Zumwalt in for a half-dozen World War II-type light cruisers, modernized with advanced communications and sensors. Hell, keep the cruisers — gimme a half-dozen Fletcher-class or Sumner-class destroyers with modern electronics. Their vintage weapons would be more than enough to take on today’s pirates.

What a great article, which I encourage you to read in its entirety. I was hoping that the new littoral combat ship would be the “Fletcher’s” of our day; a fast ship able to go near to shore and support the troops with naval gunfire, missiles, or uavs. Instead it has become a half-billion dollar boondoggle. Still, I’d rather have 100 LCS than 10 Zumwalt destroyers, which is how many you could buy of the lighter and more relevant ships for the smaller number of DDG-1000 dinosaurs!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. B.Smitty permalink
    July 30, 2008 9:30 am


    IMHO, manned helos are essential across a wide range of missions. UAVs can supplement, but they can’t pick people off of a sinking boat, or deliver a security and inspection team to a suspicious vessel, or carry medical personnel ashore in a humanitarian crisis, for example.

    Having a mothership/tender for smaller cutters certainly is an option, but you have to factor in that cost along with the cost of the small cutters when evaluating the overall package.

    I personally don’t think an LPD-17 is a cost-effective mothership for this role. I would much rather see a cheaper, pure commercial-spec vessel. Perhaps a small one like the NAVSEA GFS Station Ship concept, or a large one based on a commercial RORO, container or tanker ship like the Afloat Forward Staging Base concept, or some combination.

    The small ship could be bought in a higher ratio of mothership to patrol craft. The larger ship would contribute massive amounts of space, tonnage and flight deck area.


    I agree that the USCG doesn’t currently have enough assets to handle threats overseas in addition to their traditional roles protecting our coasts and ports, but neither does the Navy.

    Either way, we have to buy assets. And it seems to me that NSCs are more cost effective than buying true frigates for this (with all their expensive combat systems).

    I’m also one of those who thinks the “white-hull” vs “gray-hull” difference is important. It sends the message “we’re here to help”, not “we’re here to conquer and destroy”. Plus, USCG personnel have more appropriate training for what amounts to a law enforcement mission.

    Mrs Davis,

    Certainly our desire for influence in a region has to be a factor in deciding whether to intervene in counter-piracy missions. This argument holds more weight for me than the economic one.

  2. charbookguy permalink
    July 30, 2008 8:50 am

    Thanks for all the ideas, which is why this Blog was formed. Stay tuned tomorrow for a related post on this discussion.

  3. leesea permalink
    July 29, 2008 11:01 pm

    IRT which ships would be better to have than DDG1000s I would go for a mix of Danish Absalons or German F-125s. Others mentioned oare too far over the hill. My point is the Navy needs more frigates.

    I do not believe we should divert the USCG assets from homeland defense. I know everyone thinks and says the Coast Guard should be expeditionary, but I think NOT. The Navy should handle all threats overseas while he USCG protects our coasts and ports. They do not yet have enough platforms to do the later, why make it tougher on a law enforcement – centric service.

  4. west_rhino permalink
    July 29, 2008 10:15 pm

    Something from the French, a “colonial frigate” if haze gray must troop the flag, though a tender backing up current USCG classes has potential, including perhaps a heliostat vice a Ka-27AEW or SeaKing AEW absent an AWACS or E-2 …

    A LPD or some gator types has tremendous potential for supporting a cutter task force, including a few FPBs, maybe a PBM type with some SO capability in back up.

    Perhaps an erkanoplane design for a FPB or PBM has some potential for both SO and flanking pirates, never mind diversion, given the big a signature that its kicked up to 90 knots or so and pitching up quite a rooster tail. You might pop SA-7s at the helos, but the RPG vs flanking surface craft is exteremely limited.

    Another option I’m prone to is, if modular is the LCS game, having a modular package that you can surrepitiously fit out an inviting q-ship and sucker pirates into a fatal error. Consider a containerized company of Marines with a section of AH-1s or Harriers staged behind a ring of containers that you’d have to have either aerial recon to see or to hack someone’s satellite…

    If they don’t have the radar that won’t be absorbed or bounced off into another direction, your KC-10 is as stealthy as that F-117.

  5. charbookguy permalink
    July 29, 2008 8:48 pm

    I agree that the anti-Piracy is very important, at least potentially as much as fighting terrorism. If we ignore the sore it will only get infected.

    On the bright side Smitty, it looks like the USN is content to let our allies deal with the problem for now.

    West, I see fighting piracy as an excellent opportunity to bring vital warfighting skills to a service dominated by push button sailors.

    Concerning the Coast Guard, Smitty, maybe this is where Galrahn’s motherships would come in, offering a vital mobile base to extend the small cutters’ reach. As for aviation, what about UAV’s, which need fewer space as compared to a dedicated manned chopper?

  6. Mrs. Davis permalink
    July 29, 2008 6:25 pm

    Piracy is a broken window problem. If we tolerate it, some other power will enter the vacuum to rectify the situation. Then we can look forward to discussions with our hegemonic competitor about where our sphere of influence ends and theirs begins.

  7. west_rhino permalink
    July 29, 2008 4:02 pm

    How exactly have we assisted in the Straits of Malacca with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore? Of course those regiemes found it in their interests to oppose piracy.

    We may have to follow Jefferson and Madison’s response to the Trioplitanian pirates.

  8. B.Smitty permalink
    July 29, 2008 2:26 pm

    Our Navy was formed during an era of piracy, and that piracy had a significant economic impact on us.

    My argument is, piracy today does not have such an impact.

  9. B.Smitty permalink
    July 29, 2008 2:19 pm

    Just read your article. Well done!

    I agree with the sentiment, but not with the specifics.

    I do think the USCG needs larger cutters. Small ones like the FRC are too closely tied to a port to be able to guard the world’s waterways, and can’t carry aviation.

    The NSC, with its 90 day endurance, 11,000 nm patrol range, good seakeeping and helicopters can go pretty much anywhere and stay there for long periods without support. It can also monitor and influence a large area with its organic aviation.

  10. charbookguy permalink
    July 29, 2008 2:17 pm

    Certainly would be less costly. Yet, recall that our navy was formed during an era of piracy, so the founders must have felt it important enough.

  11. B.Smitty permalink
    July 29, 2008 1:24 pm


    Yes, but how big of a disruption is it really? $13 – 16 billion annually, worldwide really doesn’t sound like that much to me. The total ocean-going commerce worldwide has to be in the many trillions of dollars.

    Maybe the solution isn’t even to send warships or cutters. Maybe we just need to change behaviors of shipping lines to reduce the potential for piracy.

    Maybe insurance companies will start to demand changes from their clients to operate in certain waters. So maybe the problem will manage itself.

  12. charbookguy permalink
    July 29, 2008 9:48 am

    I believe anything that disrupts the flow of commerce anywhere in the world as a problem for the US, dependent as we are on imports. That it is occurring in the Middle east compounds the problems, considering it is near the primary source of oil. We have declared war on the terrorists and certainly this is terrorism on the high seas.

    I concur with your idea about taking advantage of the Coast Guard’s expertise with small boats to fight the terrorists:

  13. B.Smitty permalink
    July 29, 2008 9:25 am

    Strategically, is piracy really a significant problem for the US?

    IMHO, if we want to fight pirates, we should be expanding the GFS initiative and developing an expeditionary Coast Guard, not a low-end Navy. Cutters are all that’s really needed.

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