Navy must fight piracy or die
You hear a lot of talk about the only way to defeat piracy is on land. I happen to ultimately agree with this statement, but even so this should not give the US Navy an excuse to do nothing. Recalling our own history, our entire fleet was defined in such a fight against what some might consider a minor power, against the Barbary pirates at the turn of the century. The famed frigates of the Constitution class were constructed to battle a conventional power, specifically France, but most got their baptism of fire off the coast of Tunisia. Likewise did the early heroes of the Navy receive their first taste of battle against the pirates, the famed Preble’s Boys who would later go on to greater glory in the War of 1812. Notably these were Stephen Decatur, William Bainbridge, Charles Stewart, Isaac Hull, Thomas MacDonough,James Lawrence, and David Porter.
The US Navy is in a bad way these days. Though still the world’s most powerful on the open ocean, she has trouble dealing with these most minor of threats on the high seas, from pirates in speed boats to pirates in dinghy’s(?). We would hope that our naval leaders would recall it is the small things that define us, and to coin a phrase from the Bible, if we aren’t faithful in tackling the least threats on the high seas, how can we be expect to handle the Big Wars when they come? With deep cuts planned in most of her major shipbuilding programs, it appears some are even questioning the Navy’s relevancy in dealing with modern threats.
In an aside, this Op Ed via the New York Times, reveals what won’t work to defeat the pirates:
The Navy has plans to build 55 new Littoral Combat Ships to deal with this deficiency. Yes, these fast, maneuverable ships have low drafts and are thus suited for many different kinds of unorthodox missions close to shore. But the oceans are vast, and ships cannot be in two places at once. Without sufficient numbers of them, it’s hard to believe that they will make much of a difference. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in his recent budget statement, indicated that only a few of these ships will be built at first, even as he endorsed the whole program.
Likely sizable numbers of the LCS won’t join the Navy until late in the next decade. What will we do until then, still send in our battleships like USS Bainbridge to tackle these terrorists on the high seas (and we do think them a part of this War on Terror, call them criminals if you like.)? How’s that working out so far?
In a very short time the USN could buy large numbers of light craft, like this Combat Boat 90 built by Sweden, putting them on the frontlines. These tiny but tough boats would be the sea service’s version of the Stryker or MRAP, bought in large numbers for the emergency. Currently they would be worth more to us than an extra aircraft carrier or missile destroyer, superships which might be good on the high seas but out of their league in combating this most minor, but still important threat to the freedom of the seas.
The great John Keegan weighs in on what type of ship is needed to battle piracy:
This intensified anti-piracy campaign will require real re-equipment. Although the European navies likely to bear the lion’s share of the burden – ourselves, the French, the Spanish and the Italians – are all efficient, they lack the right sort of ships. The Royal Navy’s potential anti-piracy ships are anti-submarine or air-defence frigates.
But the Royal Navy has been here before. In 1939, at the start of the Battle of Atlantic, its anti-submarine fleet was largely composed of large fleet destroyers that needed to refuel too often to be suitable for the long operations with convoys. The navy had to try a new sort of ship – the frigate – and a new small destroyer, the Hunt model, in order to cope.
The Hunt class Keegan is speaking of weighed in at 1000 tons light, the type of corvette sized vessel we advocate here as well!