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Barnett: Keep Fleet Numbers Up

March 28, 2009

Here is more from strategist and author Dr Thomas Barnett on the kind of Navy we need for now and in the future, and he echoes calls often repeated here for greater emphasis on smaller warships. From ScrippsNews:

I see a future in which the small-wars force (more Army and Marines) experiences continued significant growth in its global workload, while the big-war force (more Navy and Air Force) experiences the opposite. As such, the Department of Navy’s blue-water (capital ship) fleet will shrink significantly over the next couple decades while its green/brown water (smaller craft) fleet will expand dramatically, along with associated personnel requirements.

As our current naval Leviathan force enjoys a significant — as in, several times over — combat advantage over any other force out there today, our decisions regarding new capital ship development should center largely on the issue of preserving industrial base — namely jobs. My advice is that America should go as slow as possible in the production of such supremely expensive platforms, meaning we accept that our low number of buys per design class will be quite costly.

Yours truly has previously supported a freeze on on all supership construction to allow the green water/brown water navy to catch up. Still, this idea might allow our major defense industries to better absorb the shock of changing naval priorities.  Dr. Barnett continues:

To the extent that fleet numbers are kept up, such procurement should largely benefit the small-wars force’s need for many cheap and small boats…

This is the age of the small warship, such as corvettes, fast attack craft, and other littoral warships. And impending budget cuts will force the change anyway, so its best to make preparations now:

Given America’s ongoing ground operations, our navy faces severe budgetary pressures on future shipbuilding — like aircraft carriers. Those pressures will only grow with the current global economic crisis, which fortunately generates similar pressures on navies around the world.

He sums up with the following pinnacle statement:

Give America’s naval forces fewer big ships with fewer personnel on them and many more smaller ships with far more personnel on them.

The new Littoral Combat Ship isn’t called for here, which at 3000 tons and intended as an FFG-7 Perry class replacement in a frigate disguised in a revolutionary package.  Ultimately I see LCS as a very bad idea born out of a good one, which was Streetfighter. We don’t need anymore large general purpose frigates which are swiftly approaching the billion dollar mark, with little to show for their great expense, but we do need something for the littorals. I am convinced it is small missile/patrol boats, backed by some corvette missiles ships.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 30, 2009 9:19 am

    Bob, I recall that story about the USN torps during the war. It also made the boats and their brave crew all the more heroes, thanks to the stupidity of the bureaucracy!

  2. March 30, 2009 3:19 am

    When I was a kid in high school, I picked up two used copies of the US Naval Institute’s classic “Destroyer Operations in World War 2” and “Submarine Operations in World War 2”. Both books were written by Theodore Roscoe and profusely illustrated by Tom Freeman.

    I learned a lot about how navies fight from both these books. I also learned that the USN really got its clock cleaned in early fights with the Germans and the Japanese until they replaced the peacetime mindset with a wartime mindset and got these kinds of officers in the right places.

    I also learned about the deficiencies in USN planning and its tragic results for the sailors who placed themselves in harm’s way. One of the many deficiencies that hampered U.S. operations in the Pacific was reliable torpedoes.

    From 7 December 1941 until mid-1943, the USN surface and submarine force was plagued with malfunctioning torpedoes. These torpedoes had unreliable magnetic exploders that went off prematurely or not at all; the torpedo depth setting mechanism was faulty and the fish ran deeper than set; and the contact exploder had too strong a spring for its too light firing pin so these exploders failed one third to half the time.

    So why weren’t these serious deficiencies found out sooner? Because torpedoes were too expensive to waste on war shots! That’s correct — from the end of World War 1 until after war was declared on 8 December 1941, NO U.S. torpedo had been fired for real with a live warhead at anything.

    The Bureau of Ordnance was particularly reluctant to admit there was anything wrong with U.S. torpedoes. Instead, BuOrd blamed the users of their product.

    And then there was the sub that got lucky and damaged a Japanese tanker with a lucky shot. The tanker had to be left behind by its convoy and the U.S. sub closed for the kill. The U.S. sub fired torpedo after torpedo into the helpless sitting duck with absolutely ZERO results. There was no hurry and the sub took its time lining-up every shot and documenting them all. After hours of attacks, numerous torpedoes had been expended against the tanker. Then, Japanese warships were detected coming to affect a rescue, and so the sub returned to base early with the evidence (and half its torpedo load) intact.

    When the evidence was presented to ComSubPac, VADM Lockwood, went ballistic and called BuOrd on the carpet to find out what the problem was with their product.

    In a series of tests over several months, the defective maganetic exploders were replaced by contact exploders — but the rate of duds hardly budged. BuOrd then conducted firing trials against a cliff face that was screened by a net. It was discovered that the torpedoes were traveling deeper than set — and the depth setting mechanism was fixed.

    The warshots also exposed the problem of faulty contact exploders. Eventually, the contact exploder spring and firing pin problem was solved by dropping an inert warhead with a live exploder onto concrete from a height of 75 feet. When a lighter firing pin spring and heavier firing pin was substituted, the exploder success rate went to nearly perfect.

    However, while all of this experimentation was being done to ferret-out the culprits in the defective torpedoes, American ships were sailing into harm’s way with unreliable armament. Several were lost due to these defective weapons and American sailors died. All because some Navy bureaucrats attempted to save money at the expense of actual testing with live warheads!

  3. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 29, 2009 2:29 pm

    Very good, Bob. And whether they listen or not change is a’comin! Every great navy must go through a time of testing, and there is no greater teacher than war. We either learn our lessons or die.

  4. March 29, 2009 1:21 pm

    I have been saying this for a long time. It is good that others are examining what the Navy is buying and what its force structure should be in the light of reality.

    Bluntly, the USN leadership does not want to give up its huge, gray, expensive ships (whose numbers keep shrinking) and its bluewater posture. It does not understand green and brown water operations, nor does it want to. The current USN leadership (suits and uniforms) are still fighting the Cold War and do not want to change (or even consider change).

    The reality is that, like it or not, they are going to be dragged kicking and screaming into this arena by the reality of their budgets. They will NOT like it and they will do everything they can to maintain the status quo. This kind of thinking is NOT sustainable.

    The problem is, when Big Navy finally realizes that it has no other choice left, they will make the wrong decisions to fill the gap. The LCS concept is but one example. The LCS is a “swoose” — part swan and part goose — and cannot perform either part effectively.

    The Big Navy people are fixated on the concept of “multi-role” (think: big, expensive, gray ships). They cannot think outside the box.

    The result: ships similar to the LCS. The same Big Navy types will squander precious budget dollars trying to cram 50 pounds of “mult-role” big warship into 20 pounds of green and brown water warship. The results are predictable.

    Can we do better? Yes. The problem is that Big Navy won’t listen now or in the future.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 28, 2009 3:33 pm

    I find nothing to argue about in your comment, Heretic. Well put! And I think decreasing budgets will soon take care of the problems, unless International Alliances step in to save Big Ticket items. Then and sadly only a war will bring sanity back to spending priorities. Hope it isn’t too late.

  6. Heretic permalink
    March 28, 2009 12:04 pm

    It’s a lot like the situation with the USAF … where if it doesn’t have a pointy nose, go mach snot, have stealth and supercruise, they’d rather zero out its funding for something that does have all of those things. F-35s are NEVER going to be able to compete with (let alone, replace!) A-10s when it comes to the CAS mission. End of story. That’s because the F-35 is a single golden BB away from being a write off … while the A-10 eats golden buckshot for breakfast and can fly home on (what’s left of) a wing and prayer in manual reversion, get patched up, and fly out again the next day on a new mission.

    It’s the cheap platforms that aren’t “sexy” that get the dirty work done, but the service wants the “big sexy” platforms that are too expensive to buy in the quantities that can win wars when shove comes to cliff.

    The USN is suffering from the same mentality, where if it isn’t big enough to scare everything else afloat back into port as soon as our ship slips its moorings, it’s not worth buying. There’s hardly any blue water navies in the world left to fight, but there’s plenty of competition over the green (let alone, brown) waters of the world. Unfortunately, green and brown water missions aren’t “the big sexy” like blue water work is, and so the USN avoids committing any resources to the green and brown water missions for as long as it “doesn’t have to” because the green and brown waters of the world are “mucky” places to have to work in, and require a completely different mix of forces and doctrine than the “comfy” world of blue water.


  1. Are American Warships Obsolete? Pt 2 « New Wars

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