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Navy must fight piracy or die

April 12, 2009


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!


17 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 13, 2009 8:32 am

    Well, maybe the USN is wrong, duh, having not fought a major war at sea in a good while. An all-Blue Water Force would naturally need to be able to “self deploy”, but this won’t work as well with a brown water fleet. This is a lesson from Vietnam we need to relearn.

  2. April 13, 2009 6:46 am

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 4/13/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  3. Heretic permalink
    April 12, 2009 11:26 pm

    re: Heretic, if the pirates can have motherships, why not us?

    Because the pirates capture their motherships at sea. They also don’t take their motherships half-way around the world (in 40 days…) in order to patrol an area. Their “motherships” are actually operating relatively close (in USN terms) to their home ports.

    Oh and because the USN believes that everything should be able to self-deploy from CONUS, simply because the CVNs can. Duh.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 12, 2009 3:17 pm

    At first I wasn’t sure what you meant Mrs D. That is great news!

  5. Mrs. Davis permalink
    April 12, 2009 2:21 pm

    FINALLY, I can breath again. Well done to all our sailors and SEALS! And my color is returning.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 12, 2009 12:16 pm

    Solomon, I agree with your Coast Guard proposal and I have advocated the same in the past. We do have cutters already in the area. So my advice to the Big Ship navy is stand back and let the experts take over!

  7. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 12, 2009 12:14 pm

    Doh! I forgot about that Adm Bird! So you think the pirates will hold off until 2020 when we have our 3 Zumwalts ready for them?

    Heretic, if the pirates can have motherships, why not us?

  8. Heretic permalink
    April 12, 2009 12:01 pm

    If the purpose of the Navy is “not to fight” … can we at least assume that the purpose of the Navy is “to secure the seas” in which our commerce sails?

    And while the CB90 (and it’s international variant, specifically) would be excellent for dealing with commerce raiders (it. pirates), due to its ability to carry marines aboard for boarding actions, it lacks one thing to make it ideal in the Horn of Africa theater … deployment range. You either need a nearby (friendly!) port to base them out of … or … find some way to replenish them while underway so that they can remain on station longer (with all that that implies for the crew).

    The primary weapon you need in the fight against pirates, especially ones who fail to fly the Jolly Roger at all times, is (today) sailors and/or marines with small arms who can board other vessels … and if necessary, arrest people, at sea, and bring them back to landfall for justice to deal with. Manpower, is the navy’s “weapon” which will defeat piracy in the 21st century.

    Too bad the USN is doing everything it can to keep its big ships undermanned, eh?

  9. Adm. Bird permalink
    April 12, 2009 9:49 am

    The purpose of the Navy is not to fight.

  10. April 12, 2009 9:35 am

    Hydrofoils and a mother ship!!!! Already built, not expensive, and a proven record of operations in the Caribbean.

  11. solomon permalink
    April 12, 2009 8:07 am

    this piracy mission reminds me of an insurgency on water. where on land you have villagers and tribesmen that popout of doorways and fire rifles or set off explosives at sea you have these fishermen that go from fishing to piracy and back again. sadly i think in our current framework of roles and missions—this really might be a job for the Coast Guard with their expertise of control territorial waters in a law enforcement fashion.


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