The Navy’s Time for Choosing
We may have reached a major turning point in the history of the US Navy, as leaders prepare to release its Naval Operations Concept, which among other things should decide the future force structure of the service. In other words, will we have an expanding fleet filled with numerous smaller warships, or a receding battleship heavy force dependent on allies for mundane, though essential tasks? Inside the Navy (sub. only) reports:
The goal of what was originally advertised as the “2008 NOC” is to “operationalize” the maritime strategy released in October 2007, which advocates more cooperation with foreign fleets and better tracking of maritime shipments around the globe. Preventing wars is as important as winning them, according to the strategy, which seeks to balance hard and soft power. The document will be signed by the three maritime service chiefs: Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen, Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead.
Industry sources, who declined to be named due to the sensitive and political nature of the ongoing discussions, said the most recent drafts of the NOC revealed a fleet of around 342 ships. Exactly what the additional hulls would be remains unclear, but sources said there are indications they would include a larger number of amphibious ships requested by the Marine Corps and possibly more Littoral Combat Ship hulls.
However, the expected constriction of the Defense Department budget in the coming years could give the Navy pause before asking for funds to build a larger fleet, sources noted. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said publicly that the U.S. Navy fleet remains larger than the “next 13 navies combined” and most of those navies are allies, the secretary said. Right now, the Navy fleet consists of 283 ships, according to the service’s Web site.
Basically, a fleet filled with giant carriers, Aegis missile ships, and large amphibious carriers would be useless for the kind of wars we most often fight, Third World counter-insurgencies. Oh, we could still use our battleships to chase pirates in speed boats, as the USS Vella Gulf did with great success last week, but rational people might actually balk at using billion-dollar warships for such work, which a million dollar patrol ship or Coast Guard cutter could do at far less expense.
Some of the most capable ships during our ongoing Middle East wars, as well as in soft-power deployments to Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere have been these high speed vessels. Whether ferrying supplies for troops or disaster relief, they are quite handy vessels, and in wartime, could perform mothership duties for smaller craft, as we have seen.
More littoral combat ships would also be welcome if we could reduce the cost, but smaller 1000 ton corvettes would likely be more useful and more relevant for shallow water operations. With smaller warships we might could even break the “300 ship navy” barrier we have been stuck with since the post-Cold War, due to the admirals’ obsession with an All Battleship Navy.
More pro-LCS stuff via Springbored.