The 100 Battleship Navy
Looking back to the Heritage Foundation’s recent plan to upgrade America’s “Future Fleet”, which we posted on previously:
The Navy’s future force structure is the minimum size needed to secure U.S. maritime interests, but it lacks the proper internal balance and sufficient funding for the necessary shipbuilding rates. Specifically, it shortchanges aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and attack submarines in favor of littoral combat ships.
At what point in recent history has the conventional battle force ships been shortchanged? Certainly not in the Clinton/Bush era, when the sole surface combatant under construction until LCS has been the Burke class destroyers, an excellent design of a 9000+ tons warship, but at $2 billion each a prime reason why we struggle with less than 300 ship navy. The idea then that the Big Ship Navy is somehow inadequate for future needs becomes ludicrous, as Galrahn details:
Hidden in plain sight within Chris Cavas’s article is the fact the Navy’s FY10 budget plan will include 4 of the largest, most modern, most capable, most expensive battleships in the entire world. In FY 2010 alone, the Navy will be seeking money to complete the purchase of the third DDG-1000, a ship the Navy doesn’t even want, and also seek both R&D and SCN funding for a brand new DDG-51 Flight III ship to be purchased in FY 2010, which the Navy does want.
The new plan will also include the previously mentioned Future Surface Combatant (FSC), also known as either DDG-51 Flight IV (or block 4) or CGL-9, that the Navy would begin purchasing in FY 2012. There are a total of 18 Future Surface Combatants in the Navy’s 30 year plan. Finally, the FY 2010 shipbuilding plan includes an 8 ship class of 22,000 ton nuclear powered ballistic missile defense cruisers scheduled starting in 2017 to be built every 3 years over a period of 24 years, what some are calling the CG(X) or the CGN-42 class.
We have gone then from “Next-war-itis” to Battleship Disease. Where does this obsession with heavy warships to fight some hypothetical foe comes from? We need only trace it as far as the 600-ship Navy of the 1980s, and the lessons the US Navy leadership took from the Falklands Conflict between the UK and Argentina. After the Royal lost 4 frigates and destroyers to enemy action, the brains at the Navy Department came to the conclusion that cheap construction material, and the small size of the ships involved was the culprit, as then Navy Secretary John Lehman writes in his book “On Seas of Glory“:
“The other lesson-clearly stated-is that relying exclusively on smaller, cheaper, less well-armed combatants can be a false economy. They are more vulnerable, as demonstrated by the loss of the four Royal Navy combatants. If any of the sixteen successful attacks against British Ships had instead hit the battleship New Jersey, it would not have done sufficient damage to prevent continuing operations of the ship. The Exocet missile that sank the Sheffield would not have been able to penetrate the armor anywhere on the battleship. Unlike many of its critics, the Navy retains its institutional memory of World War II, when it lost a ship a day at Okinawa.
Sadly, what is forgotten in those dark days in the Pacific War, at least the Navy had the ships to replace those losses, because ships then were easy to manufacture in large numbers because they were much smaller and far cheaper. Though the Secretary may have a point if he thought that the new missiles would only aim for the New Jersey’s heavily armored hide, battleships losses culminated from hits on its deck. The old fashioned “dumb” bombs carried by Argentine fliers in 1982 were more of a threat to the Iowa class than the much more modern Exocets.
Moreover, after the incidents of the 1982 war, several other “smaller, cheaper, less well-armed combatants” survived similar attacks. The USS Stark in 1987 was hit by 2 Exocets and heavily damaged, though she made it under her own power to repairs in Bahrain. Recently, the smaller Israeli corvette Hanit was hit by a Hezbollah fired C-108 cruise missile. Again, the lighter warship “stayed afloat, got itself out of the line of fire, and made the rest of the journey back to Ashdod for repairs on its own.” (Quote via Wikipedia)
Ironically, in 2000, while in port, the 9000 ton US battleship Cole, a Burke class supership, was struck by an Al Qaeda manned suicide boat, which blasted a 40 foot gash in the hull and killed 17 sailors. Even with makeship repairs, the giant Cole had to be carried by salvage ship back to the US, and was out of service for a year. While we in no way disparage the valiant destroyer nor the sacrifice of her brave crew, its goes to show how no vessel is totally invulnerable to attack, and size isn’t proof positive from destruction.
Where will it end? The attitude seems to coincide where the government and the economy is these days. With both so huge and mismanaged that all is crumbling beyond recognition, so it will be with the Navy. It is currently so top heavy with Big Ships that when war finally comes and the exchange of missiles begins, the Navy will wish it had heeded those who warned that many good ships is better than a few supposedly perfect ones.
Recalling back to Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, we discovered the billions we spent on strategic weapons, high tech battleships, and super stealthy bombers did us little good when facing a low-tech and elusive foe. This is practically the only type of warfare we have fought since WW 2 but the Pentagon will quickly shut up critics when they say “we have to keep these large conventional forces, just in case”. Meanwhile, we are bankrupt.
I don’t think we should do away with all high tech platforms. I worry about the “just in case” scenario as well. But for the balance to be wholly on the side of Future Wars is a waste of resources, and a waste of good troops, airmen, and sailors when war does come, but not the one we planned for.