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Principles of Fleet Composition

November 26, 2008

We consider the current chaos in shipbuilding with brand new warships forced into foreign ports for drastic repairs, not to mention budget busting cost overruns, plus the looming threat from sophisticated precision weapons at sea, are the first signs of senility in large surface warships. By this we mean the industrial age ships which came into being at the dawn of the last century are reaching the end of their usefulness in this new mellinia.

In contrast to this block obsolescence of entire classes within the surface fleet are the evolutionary submarine designs, which often suffer from structural faults and cost overruns themselves. Still, if the ability to survive in world with the proliferation of modern anti-ship weapons are going unchecked such as cruise missiles, deadly accurate precision bombs, advanced torpedoes and underwater rockets, and even old fashioned naval mines, then the modern submarine is unmatched.

The principles of fleet composition never change however, even as warships and hull designs alter over the centuries. Command of the sea and the ability of sea-going nations to project their will ashore is still the dominant purpose of navies. Throughout the ages, sea powers have utilized 3 main warships types to achieve these goals (not including the fleet train or small gunboats which for simplicity’s sake we will omit):

  1. The Battleship-This might also be known as a capital ship, ship of the line, and the more modern description of a mothership. The aircraft carrier is a mothership, and some would include the amphibious warship in this category.
  2. The Cruiser-Before the 20th Century, this was called a frigate. The privateer is also in this category. Roles might be multiple including commerce raiding as well as protection, scouts, dispatch vessels, command ships for flotillas and so on. The modern guided missile cruiser is not a true cruiser in the historical sense, but might be included in the following category.
  3. The Destroyer-The smaller the vessel, the more roles required of it. The destroyer through history (and its like is from even ancient times) would be to defend the battlefleet from small attack craft, with some of the offensive characteristics of the latter. The terminology is modern, of course, but history has often seen its like with dromons, sloops, corvettes, fire ships, destroyer escorts and modern frigates. Minelayers and sweepers are also of this category.

Note also that the roles of each of the types might overlap. For instance, the race-built galleon of the Elizabethan Navy were famously used by Admirals Drake and Hawkins to prey on Spanish treasure fleets in the New World as cruisers. Then when their island homeland was imperiled by the Spanish Armada, these same warships were utilized within the battlefleet to repel the common foe. Later these ships built for greater speed and maneuverability by the 18th century had morphed into the slow, cumbersome but powerful ship of the line.

Tomorrow we apply the principles to the “All Submarine Navy“.

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