The Next Generation Destroyer
We once considered the advanced littoral combat ship as a future version of the hard-hitting greyhounds, the destroyers of the war years. Such small, but hard-hitting and plentiful type warships were once considered essential, especially during the world wars, for combating the new Insurgent at Sea, the submarine, plus for sailing into shallow seas to support amphibious landings. For its size and cost, though, the LCS is not hard-hitting though it can certainly sail into littoral waters. For its many technical faults it is doubtful it will be bought in the numbers promised, or work as well as proposed.
This leaves us with the current so-called destroyers, the Arleigh Burke class of 10,000 tons, which for its size and firepower might be more likened to a modern battleship. Such oversized vessels seem to be the Navy’s only answer to the rise of new threats in the form of cruise missiles and advanced submarines in the arsenal of potential foes. A very powerful ship indeed but still vulnerable to the simplest of asymmetrical threats at sea, from suicide bombers to old fashioned naval mines.
We have made no secret to our preference for small attack ships to deal with littoral threats, of around from 600-1000 tons. Such warcraft, besides being affordable enough to purchases in reasonable numbers, also are naturally of shallow draft allowing them to cruise shallow seas with perfect ease. We also see them not as adjunct of the battlefleet, as simple escorts or support vessels, but as replacement battleships in their own right, at least in their peculiar environment.
Attack ships, call them corvettes, fast attack craft, patrol ships, etc., would be built around the new decider in naval warfare, the cruise missile. We see the missiles as force multipliers allowing every ship to become an aircraft carrier of sorts. While not a perfect replacement for more versatile naval aircraft (neither was the aircraft carrier a perfect replacement for the all-gun battleship, especially in the shore bombardment role, but there you have it), its ability to be launched from numerous small ships makes it the arm of decision which can no longer be ignored. In short, the cruise missile has become the Longbow at Sea, as a direct threat to the old order of seapower.
Cruise missiles need not be fired from giant battleships whose principle function is anti-air warfare, escorting supercarriers, amphibious fleets, and convoys for protection. Such a practice was understandable when missile warfare at sea was in its infancy, and such traditional launch platforms as cruisers, destroyers, and submarines dominated the thinking of Cold War surface strategists.
Today the new precision missiles have come into their own and demand a versatile and affordable launch platform in reasonable numbers. Below are detailed the principle reasons for replacing 10,000 ton missile battleships with 1000 ton missile attack craft:
- Affordability-The cost of high-end destroyers has consistently doubled with each new class built. For instance-the Spruance of the 1980s cost $500 million. The next-gen. destroyer, the Flight I Arleigh Burke priced at $1 billion, or that of a Ticonderoga class cruiser! The newest class in production today, the Flight II Arleigh Burke comes in at nearly $2 billion each. Finally, the Navy’s future destroyer, DDG-1000 Zumwalt has been estimated at $3-$7 billion per ship. Obviously ship costs need to be reigned in drastically, and with attack craft pricing in a $100 million or less, the choice is increasingly clear.
- Survivability-Common sense might dictate the larger the ship, with greater armament and defensive equipment, the more survivable it becomes. Clearly the Navy has taken this attitude with current missile armed warships. Historically this has not been the case, as greater defenses often encourage adversaries to seek out some weaker spot, whether its its the battle cruiser’s light armor, the battleship’s lack of deck armor, or the aircraft carrier’s lack of underwater protection. The small warship’s advantage here can be quickly surmised: less visible hull due to size means natural stealth. High speed means it can race into a warzone, fire its missiles, and retreat quickly to safety. Its size and speed together enhances maneuverability making it less a target to threats such as torpedoes.
- Practicality-With the enhanced capability of cruise missiles alone, turning its parent vessel into a strategic asset against land and sea targets, its seems reasonable that there is little need to deploy many such weapons on a single hull. Many missiles on more hulls means you will have many options, as such weapon can be in more places at once. Also, in an attack by enemy missiles, you can expect more survivable platforms available for a counter-strike. As proven with the 3 British cruisers who attacked the German pocket battleship Graf Spee in 1939, a handful of weaker ships in the right spot is of more use than a battleship not present.
Finally, small attack craft would restore numbers to the fleet, while adding versatility, survivability, reduce the cost of individual warships, and make the best use of the revolutionary qualities provided by the sea-launched cruise missile.