Tom Rick’s New Navy
Foreign Policy.com has republished a 2004 Proceedings article by Thomas Ricks titled “More on the Navy’s lack of impact on national strategy“. His force structure proposals closely mirrowed my own so I thought I would discuss each individually. First, Ricks lays out the Navy’s two essential missions for the near future:
- Mission One: maintain a sufficient fleet-in-being as hedge against potential threats to freedom of the seas…
- Mission Two: support land warfare…
Now that you have that, here are the proposed changes:
Just enough attack submarines and surface combatants to keep Mission One alive — about half the current number. Protect assets in the near-shore area with them and with the new littoral combat ship, a design tuned to the new mis-sion at a cost per hull of one-tenth that of the complex new cruiser-destroyers and submarines on the drawing boards.
This is pretty close to my own drastic changes. The idea is to form a Cadre Navy which would be ready for those “just in case” scenarios. Currently the USN maintains a worse case fleet with over 90% geared toward conventional warfare. This is just ludicrous and unsustainable even if we weren’t in a so-called economic crisis.
Aircraft carriers as they are now, but hold the CVN(X) until Mission Two is equipped fully.
I mostly agree with this. A freeze in carrier construction for over a decade would do us no harm, as no nation on Earth can match the capabilities of even one of our giant flattops, let alone 11. The USS Enterprise probably needs to go ASAP, leaving us still with 10 Nimitz’s. The rest should be retired as needed without replacement until 2020, which by then we may have come up with a better alternative.
Cost-driven replacement of aging combat aircraft that maximizes ordnance delivery, even at the expense of air-to-air combat.
I am almost certain the F-35C won’t be purchased in anywhere near adequate numbers to fill even our handful of carrier decks. Combat UAVs may not have been a big deal yet in 2004, but are absolutely vital to operations on land, and should in the sea as well. Long range UCAS-D aircraft promise to return long-range and persistence to the carriers, lost with the retirement of high performance Cold War planes like the A-6 and the F-14. The Big Ships don’t need to be anywhere near missile and submarine filled littoral waters, so the greater reach we can give them the better.
Large numbers of sea-launched cruise missiles rebased to arsenal ships. Smart weapons do not need smart platforms and their huge per-round delivery costs.
Cruise missiles are the new decider in sea warfare, though not yet in close air support of the troops, but who knows? The “Smart weapons do not need smart platforms” quote is eerily similar to our own “dumb platforms plus smart bombs” which we often site. In other words, a high tech plane or ship married to a high tech missile is so much redundancy and unnecessary and unafordable overkill. Such small computerized weapons just need a ride to the target and the greatest “platform” of all are the boots on the ground.
Concerning arsenal ships, we still think that a handful of such fairly large and spartan craft needs be looked into, as a replacement for a multitude of super-destroyers in the fleet. With one of these “missile barges” possessing the equivalent firepower of 5 or more Burke battleships, at about the same cost of one, the savings here are enormous, and the fear-factor off the scale (knowing how much the modern USN savors shows of force and presence over real combat).
Just enough Trident submarines to maintain an adequate deterrent posture against rogue nations — six would do. Keep the four Trident conversions.
We don’t concur with this proposal, as you may recall. Considering that the Trident force is the most survivable of all our nuclear arsenal, the advantages of sending the entire deterrent to sea, as the Royal Navy does currently, should be obvious. The vulnerability of the ancient Minuteman force was well-told decades ago, so it is high time we bow to reason on this issue.
Amphibious readiness groups, but with state-of-art ship designs and the concept expanded to embrace support of special operations forces (SOFs).
I will assume Ricks mentioning of special forces would be a nod to our call and others of forward deploying smaller and more numerous amphibious craft as opposed to ever shrinking numbers of large amphibious ships. “State of the art” might also include new high speed vessels which as as long ago as the East Timor Crisis ferried Australian troops into a war-zone.
Expanded logistics support of land war from more fast sealift and prepositioned ships, also expanded to embrace direct support of SOFs.
Full commitment to mobile sea bases as a primary contribution to supporting land combat.
We have failed to discuss the issue of sea bases here at New Wars, but let me add that we support this idea, though the use of current classes of large amphibious ships is the wrong approach. Commercial type freighters and tankers or fast sealift ships would be a much better bargain and provide greater logistical facilities than a billion-dollar warship for this role. Keep it simple should be the motto, recalling it is not about the platform but the mission.
From the Vietnam Era we get an idea of what a real littoral sea base might be composed of:
The force would be based aboard U.S. Navy ships that would include 5 self-propelled barracks ships, 2 LST’s, 2 large harbor tugs, and 2 landing craft repair ships. In addition, two U.S. Navy river assault groups would provide tactical water mobility. Each assault group would be capable of lifting the combat elements of one reinforced infantry battalion. A small salvage craft would be necessary to recover damaged ships or craft.