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Building a Post Surge Navy

February 24, 2009

We continue our study of Robert Work’s US Navy: Charting a Course for Tomorrow’s Fleet plan with the following summary:

  • Doesn’t take into account of the unreasonable cost of large warships, keeping ship numbers dangerously low in the cruise missile age.
  • While the 300 ship navy is more powerful than ever, it cannot be everywhere at once, leaving us with an increased dependence on often difficult allies for essential patrol and peacekeeping duties.
  • Only answer for the increased risk of modern weapons seems to be keeping the fleet well away from shore, and continued reliance on costly anti-missile defensive systems to the detriment of sea control.

Work’s Navy is one that also absorbs the last bit of fighting capability left to last century war designs, in which pre-Computer, pre-Information Age, pre-Precision Age platforms dominated the globe in 3 World Wars (counting the Cold War). It leaves little maneuver room if the old warships classes are unable to withstand numerous assaults, not only from modern weapons, but the price and scarcity of  fossil fuels, and the inability to mass produce overly complicated hulls quickly in wartime, without numerous faults when they do enter service.

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The Fleet envisioned here enables a force which could be compared to the US Army and Marines in Iraq Pre-Surge. Before the 2007 influx of troops and change in strategy in what many considered a “New Vietnam” there were 2 schools of thought ongoing for the Iraq War military. One was to ignore the threat of Islamic terrorism and 4th generation Warfare (also called COIN), and pull out completely from the country. The second, which was more popular, was to ride out the war in heavily defended bases, relying on heavily armored convoys to maneuver when necessary, while hoping our allies the Iraqi’s would eventually step up and fight the war for us.

There is a much similar attitude prevailing in the Navy today. With the threat of 4 Gen War at Sea upon us, currently from Third World pirates but potentially and likely by the proliferation of cruise missiles in the hands of rogue states like Iran and North Korea, again we see 2 schools of thought to deal with the situation. First, there are those who think we should concentrate on peer enemies with like naval capabilities of our own, such as China, Russia, or perhaps India down the road. This sort of reasoning gave birth to the “1000 ship Navy” in which America’s allies, who already possess sizable frigate/corvette navies collectively, would manage the lower threats for us.

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The next school within the Navy, one in which Mr. Work’s plan bares more than a passing resemblance to,  would still utilize heavy ships as the bulk of the fleet, with a nod to 4 Generation War at Sea by procurement of the littoral combat ship. This latter vessel, at 3000 tons could still be used for ocean escort, thus it is not a true littoral ship geared for shallow seas operations, where we increasingly find ourselves. This top heavy force would rely on longer range missiles to keep battle force carriers, destroyers, and amphibious ships well out to sea, hopefully out of range of enemy cruise missiles,a defensive strategy geared less toward fighting as it is survival, or fearful of going in harms way.

We need a Post-Surge navy, one that is not fearful of the littorals but equipped to survive and also fight a sustained conflict there if need be. As awesome as the new precision weapons are, they are still only man-made, and as with all new technology there is always a counter-weapon. Rather than a last-century fleet filled with exquisite vessels too precious to risk, or in denial of the threats that face us (like the battleships admirals at Pearl Harbor), we need a 21st Century Navy filled with warships of a reasonable size and price, with enough of the new technology to defend itself but not so much that its primary function becomes “live to fight another day“. Whether these are small and stealthy corvette ships of 1000 tons, naturally low observable, quick, tough and maneuverable, or giant arsenal ships, with minimal crews, but maximum (and various) missile storage, with numerous water-filled compartments like a tanker able to absorb missile strikes and keep on fighting, will be for our leaders to decide. But for the sake of the future generations, PLEASE decide quickly.

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