Wedded to a Smaller Fleet
Comments like this on the future of the US Navy are very discouraging:
The ugly reality is, the Navy needs to design a new major surface combatant somewhere around 10000 tons, probably very similar to the Burkes (the Navy may be calling this Future Surface Combatant (FSC) already), but with the modern technologies that have been developed over the last 30 years. This ship needs to be capable enough to meet future threats at the very high end of warfare at sea, but be cost effective enough to build between 40-70 total, meaning 3 ships annually for a price of around $5 billion annually in FY10 dollars.
Somehow, most of our top nautical strategists within the service and without can’t get beyond the notion than only very large, expensive, high end warships can contend with our future naval threats. This despite all the evidence to the contrary that in wartime it is the small ship, whether called destroyers or frigates (speaking of their traditional ancestors of cheap but tough craft which can be built quickly and in large numbers during wartime, NOT their missile-firing, carrier escorting clones of today) corvette or fast attack craft, do the most work and are some of the most valuable ships afloat, which we never seem to have enough of.
Currently the USN has about 200 or so battle force type ships within the service, by which I mean very large warships of nearly 10,000 tons or more, costing more than a billion dollars each, designed for a Blue Water engagement on the high seas. These would include aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and amphibious ships. I include the amphibious ships on this list because they are still forced to stay well off of shore during operations, utilizing large landing craft, hovercraft, and helicopters for moving troops and supplies to the beach.
I have no problem with battleships, especially with all the noise China and Russia are making these days, its good to know we have a few high end ships to over-awe potential aggressors, the enemies of freedom. What does bother me is our single-minded focus on such ships at the expense of supporting troops on the shore, dealing with pirates that are breaking the Law of the Sea, and rogue states which regularly make a mockery of our giant warships.
Our ships are vulnerable to very low tech asymmetrical threats, especially from suicide boats, as well as older weapons such as mines and submarines. While there is no doubt America rules the oceans, she has less ability to control the littorals as almost all strategists admit is where the future of naval warfare lies.
The new littoral combat ship is only half the answer. She seems a much smaller, less capable, and only slightly less costly version of the battleships we build. Riddled with untried technologies and very large for a ship designed to chase pirates in speed boats, greatly delayed entering service, she has also tripled in cost and is under constant threat from Congress with cancellation. This is a very half hearted effort on the Navy leadership’s part and more bad news for those wishing for the fleet to remain somewhere near its current size of 280 ships. We rarely hope for more these days.
Almost anything would be better than LCS. USCG cutters, merchant ships converted into Patrol Ships, small corvettes bought off the shelf from our allies; whatever we could send into shallows seas at a reasonable cost and risk, without making the show of wondrous technologies, advanced hulls, marvelous weapons. Just give us a ship to fight in and let our sailors take care the rest.
Getting back to “10000 ton combatants” we seem to forget the very real danger that large ships are in from aerial attacks. As evidence, just look to the fleet at Battleship Row, 1941, as well as the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and Renown in 1942 that giant “expensive” ships are vulnerable to swarms of aerial attackers. While any ship is at risk from destruction, as I have stated before small craft have shown themselves very durable, as in the Kamikaze attacks in the Pacific War, with the much smaller DDs holding their own and some, like USS Laffey surviving multiple attacks (the destroyers were most often used as picket defense, thus bearing the brunt of the attacks). More recently we see USS Stark and INS Hanit surviving missile attacks, then returning to port on their own power.
Smaller ships like corvettes and FACs, which from 600-1500 tons are the exact size of the first primitive DDs that held the line in giant battles of the Atlantic and the Pacific War. Supported far from home by motherships, they will dominate future surface warfare, while carrying UAV’s and perhaps even long range guns and missiles to support the boots on the ground. Nautical versions of Infantry Fighting Vehicles in large numbers will ferry troops to shore, displacing the need for giant and vulnerable amphibious landing ships. Such craft will be the Navy’s salvation as larger super destroyers increase steadily in size and cost, while reducing drastically in numbers.