Reversing the Navy’s Meltdown Pt. 3
We conclude this week’s study of Chapter 6 “The Navy” by William Lind, from Winslow Wheelers anthology America’s Defense Meltdown (pdf) The author’s thoughts are in bold face, with mine coming afterwords:
Cruisers and destroyers are obsolescent as warship types. In their main role, carrier escort, they add little to the carrier’s own defenses, represented by its aircraft.
I could also add frigates to this list, but that is another story. As stand alone vessels, armed with cruise missiles and their own air-defense, such large surface combatants might be today’s battleships save for their vulnerability to modern submarines. The navies of the world have consistently ignored the threat of the new U-boats, as is their habit with each new war, that the gulf in capabilities (sub stealth, long-range weaponry, and in some cases, speed all outclassing the surface ships) are likely insurmountable without an unexpected ( and no doubt too costly) break-through in technology.
Aegis was designed to protect carrier battle groups in the North Atlantic from massed raids by Soviet Backfire bombers during the Cold War. As the U.S.S. Vincennes demonstrated, it has little utility in coastal waters, where air traffic is likely to be heavy with civilian aircraft. Its capability against low-flying aircraft and anti-ship missiles is also in doubt, as many tests have demonstrated– tests that the Navy has refused to disclose…Reformers would mothball or transfer to the Naval Reserve all or almost all Aegis ships, and build no more. Nor would they build “stealth” warships, which can easily be detected by old fashioned long-wave radars.
Think about it. In the late 1960s into the 1970s, the US reacted to the cruise missile threat by this enormously expensive and complicated defensive missile system rather than embracing the new technology and modernizing the fleet accordingly. Fortunately we were wealthy enough to do both, maintain our long-range strike aircraft in the form of giant aircraft carriers as well as long-range stealthy missiles that are nearly unstoppable and would never involve the capture of death off a pilot.
Some contend that the single loss of a million dollar Tomahawk isn’t as cost -effective as a “bomb truck” manned plane which can return again and again to a target. But if you consider the enormous resources poured into developing modern aircraft, plus pilot training, plus the decades a plane will need to be patched up since it takes so long to develop new planes, the loss of a single missile becomes irrelevant.
The best escort for a carrier is another carrier, with an air wing task-organized to defend against the particular threats anticipated in the mission. Landing Helicopter Attack (LHA) and Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships, which are classed as amphibious ships but are actually small aircraft carriers, could function usefully as escort carriers. Should other escorts be required, they would best be provided by converting merchant ships…
The price to build even a light carrier these days is around $3 billion each. The continued need for this duplication of resources with UAVs and land-based airpower makes an “escort carrier for a carrier” an unneeded and unreachable goal.
Virtually all the capabilities found in current amphibious ships are duplicated in ships in merchant
service. The Royal Navy has used modified merchant ships successfully as amphibious ships, including in the Falklands war. What the Navy now lacks are small amphibious ships, such as the Landing Ship, Tank (LST), that are suited to coastal waters.
The continued building of specialized amphibious ships have reached their limit, as proved in undeniable detail by the brand new USS San Antonio forced into a foreign port for major repairs. MAJOR REPAIRS! The exception may be in the last sentence such as constructing cheap but good LST’s for our numerous peacekeeping adventures against non-seapowers in the Third World. Notice that every US naval action since World War 2 has been in these benign threat environments, or against a suprising lack of opposition. In a future war we can longer depend that we will only face Third World adversaries who are overawed with out enormur and last-centuryship designs. Either we get serious about the threat of cruise missiles (or even jet warfare!), or we concede the littorals without a shot being fired.
Reflecting its Mahanian blue-water orientation, the U.S Navy today has few small warships suitable for warfare in coastal and inland waters. The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, which recently attempted to build some, has foundered.
I see littoral ships as the “Strykers of the Sea” which can be afforded in large numbers that can do the work the Big Ships should not be doing in mine and missile infected coastal waters. The current USS Freedom dubbed an LCS is not a true littoral ship but a glorified frigate, too big to fight in the shallow seas, and not big enough for the Blue Water conflicts. True littoral ships include gunboats, fast attack craft, corvettes, mine ships, patrol ships, and low endurance cutters.
The Navy does assure us that the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines, which are 377 feet long and displace 7800 tons, are “optimized for coastal operations,” which is something of a bad joke.
Amen! Large nuke submarines are ship killers par excellence and should not be wasted in such a dangerous littoral mission.
These final statements merely repeat what I wrote above, but also introduces the “mothership” concept, which will likely dominate amphibious and littoral warfare in the future.
(Reformers) would build some appropriate watercraft (most “ships” are too big for green and brown water). Types would vary, but in general all would make extensive use of standard civilian design practice in order to avoid another cost debacle like the LCS…They would be well armed themselves, with machine guns, light automatic cannon,
recoilless rifles and in some cases mortars to hit land targets. Some coastal and most river craft would be designed to carry Marines, both as boarding parties and for minor amphibious landings.
These new craft would be formed into deployable “packages” or flotillas that would include the support capabilities they need, such as maintenance shops, fuel and ammunition resupply and barracks (many of the craft being too small to have crews live aboard permanently). In the case of coastal craft, these support capabilities would be based on a “mother ship” that would deploy as the flotilla’s home base.
The mothership is an interesting and novel idea. Think a of PT boat or submarine tender expanded to the new littoral and amphibious navy, as the future of expeditionary warfare. Various guises have been discussed but most reject a purpose-built vessel in favor of a converted amphib or merchant hull. The new Ohio SSGNs might also be in this category, especially with unmanned vehicles and even landing forces (SEALs). During Operation Iraqi Freedom (the first year), Joint Venture, a high speed catamaran ferry leased from Australia operated in this role with small special forces boats.
I would like to conclude this study with a single comment: We can buy a lot of littoral craft for the price of a single Zumwalt-class destroyer. The former is the future, the latter is the past.