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Navy Resists Larger Fleet

October 7, 2008

Torn as they are between what type of war they wish to fight, the Navy leadership are stymied by the threats emerging in a new century. From Politico, you get the feel of the uncertainly from the following statements:

“The shipping industry is utterly amazed that the world’s leading nations, with the naval resources at their disposal, are unable to maintain the security of one of the world’s most strategically important seaways, linking Europe to Asia via the Red Sea/Suez Canal,” the International Chamber of Shipping said in a statement…

“It’s very daunting when you realize the size of the oceans and the length of the littorals and the difficulties of providing a suitable presence, as we deal with challenges that run the gamut from everything from pirates and criminals to the need for deterrence about potential peer competitors,” Navy Secretary Donald Winter said in a recent interview.

When you are thinking in terms of only a 313 ship navy, Sec. Winter’s comments make sense, as he goes on to declare “there’s no way that our Navy can do everything all over the place”. But others feel if the Navy could change its obsession with building only battleship type vessels, more could be done:

The Navy, which has long had the goal of 313 ships, is approaching its strategy with an eye toward balance, said Bob Work, vice president of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. That means the Navy is trying to reconcile the need to be prepared for any threats from China in the Pacific with the need to support special operations and other missions.

“The Navy is torn between these two poles and is trying to come up with a good mix of forces to do so,” Work said.

The majority of the Navy’s money is poured into vessels at the high end of that spectrum: cruisers, destroyers and carriers aimed at throttling attacks from major powers. But more ships are needed at the low end, for patrolling coasts and dealing with mines. And those ships aren’t nearly as costly, Work said.

Those in charge of Navy procurement seem frozen in time, as late in the Cold War a decision was made that only large hi-end ships could survive new threats such as cruise missile armed bombers and nuclear submarines. Despite the lack of such threats in the post-war era of the 1990s, the same practices continued unabated, most notably in the huge Arleigh Burke destroyer program, ongoing to this day and the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the fleet shrank to its current half size as new competitors and insurgent piracy runs rampant.

We agree with Winter that the Navy can’t be everywhere at once. This is why we think that the unconcern shown by the admirals for insurgents at sea are hindering the fleet’s calling in the new century. Understand that the Navy Department and its political supporters in Congress have a lot invested in the Military Industrial Complex built up during the Cold War, and have little desire to alter something which they deem as working.

Obviously the current shipbuilding practices are not working as the number of ships  decline and those we do purchase are often riddled with mechanical faults which greatly delay their entry into service. Congress is certainly complicit in all this but even they admire those who challenge the system for the sake of the service, as we have seen in the brilliant success of the out-of-the-mainstream Middle East commander General David Petraeus.

Let me close with this plea to the Reformer from Col. John Boyd:

“One day you will take a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. If you go one way, you can be somebody. You will have to make your compromises and … turn your back on your friends, but you will be a member of the club, and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go the other way, and you can do something, something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. … You may not get promoted, and you may not get good assignments, and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors, but you won’t have to compromise yourself. … In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you have to make a decision: to be or to do.”

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2015 3:05 pm

    David, you really don’t receive copies from the previous letters. As the letters go forward that variety could be in the hundreds. But if there’s a particular letter send us an email and maybe we can figure something out.

  2. charbookguy permalink
    October 7, 2008 8:27 pm

    Compare the current stand off with the pirates to the Iraq Theater about 2 years ago. The Army had their Abrams tanks and Bradley infantry vehicles safely behind the Green Zone or in fortified bases. Despite the defenses, casualties were high and the poor Iraqi population was suffering greatly. The Media was howling and the public was swiftly losing patience with the President’s strategy.

    When Petraeus sent the troops out in the streets and the countryside, the tanks and Bradleys plus newer Stryker armored cars, the results were almost immediate. Violence subsided faster than even the military surmised, and in the midst of the worse fighting, casualties were lower than when the soldiers were behind the barb wire and concrete forts.

    The lesson is, we need a new offensive strategy that will meet the enemy in their haunts, in the pirates case this means the shallow littoral seas. Also required are new “Sea Strykers” that can follow the enemy into these perilous waters, take casualties and give back the same.

    But first required is the will from politicians, followed by a naval leader in the vein of Petraeus, who is not afraid of shedding tradition and defeatism for the sake of winning.

  3. leesea permalink
    October 7, 2008 4:56 pm

    At this stage of the SCN budget vs reality fiasco, I would be happy IF the USN just had more hulls instead of less! There are so many good designs around for mulit-functional ships, it is such a pity that the US naval leadership cannot see beyond their bows towards more ships which are perhaps less capable or god forbid even smaller than the billion dollar babies currently being touted.

    IRT the pirate threat one does not need a helo carrier rather many helo & boat carrying ships are whatever description. Hell they could even be chartered by MSC as some currently are. Teh point is to spread the force out with suffficient weapons and sensors to take out a bunch of large whale boats/dhows.

  4. Distiller permalink
    October 7, 2008 9:27 am

    This is mostly a political question. If the armed forces are ordered to protect those 500nm of sealanes from sea bandits, they will do it. The job could be done by a single helicopter carrier.


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