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A Navy Unfit to Fight

May 7, 2009

If the “purpose of the Navy is not to fight”, as revealed by Vice Admiral John Bird recently, then the fleet shipbuilding strategy would reflect such an astounding admission. According to James at Murdoc Online, “The Navy’s ship designs are lessons in progressive futility“:

Somebody asked, “how will our ships defend themselves without armor?” And so the dream of walls of air came into being…“We can defend our ships via improved situational awareness and active defenses!” cried the theoretical admirals. But alas! The walls of air proved to be immensely expensive.

“We can defend our ships via stealth… and improved situational awareness and active defenses!” cried the theoretical admirals-turned-defense-contractor-lobbyists. And on came the DD(X)…But disaster struck and the country ran out of money for the DD(X). So the theoretical admirals turned the LCS.

Though I disagree with the writer’s suggestion that we need to start armoring our ships as of yet, I do concur with the overall theme, that our warships are not built to fight. By consistently refusing to consider reasonably priced alternatives over the past few decades, the US Navy has procured itself into a death spiral. While small, low cost platforms have proved themselves capable and even vital in past conflicts, we are forced to make due with an ever-shrinking fleet which can’t even manage that most minor of maritime threats, Third World piracy.

Even when a nod is given to affordablility and numbers in a new class of warships, compromises in the design increases its cost and lowers its combat value as to make it nearly useless save against the most benign threats, as in the littoral combat ship:

Alas many compromises had to be made. There was not enough money for walls of air, so the electronic defenses had to be cut. There was no ability to armor the ship since those companies when out of business years ago. Men were too expensive, so the crew was cut to the bone – but “smart ship” technology could fill the void. The miracle weapons of the era could not be used since there ship had not the electronics to support them. So there was only one thing to do – build really big engines so the LCS would run away!

We likely will be unable to risk this fleet even in the conventional wars at sea, as James reveals here. Giant hulls from aircraft carriers, to missile battleships, to amphibious assault ships are built as large and with many extras as possible, in an attempt to get as much capability on a hull as feasible. Such a fleet must survive because of its great expense, so a strategy is created to allow it to avoid conflict at all cost.

Giant exquisite warships are designed then to overawe a potential foe with its great bulk and “presence”. Even the Maritime Strategy which plays lip service to real combat, empathizes so-called “soft power” and preventing conflict over the likelihood it may have to fight. It is a colossal gamble to risk so much on not doing what is the main purpose of a navy, to defend its host country from all aggressors.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    May 9, 2009 8:39 am

    And don’t get me started on the new social programs now popular on Capitol Hill, likely where so much more graft and corruption goes on unreported. But at least we have some hope of fixing the Pnetagon. So we rant on.

    Mrs. Davis, all that does sound much like our current situation here in the USA. Everything is about service jobs these days. Not much to build a war economy on in an emergency.

  2. Mrs. Davis permalink
    May 8, 2009 9:03 pm

    In 1921 Britain had a ruling class that was in no way interested in manufacturing, an obsolete plant that was being milked by those interested and no desire or ability to create new plant. We have a ruling class that is indifferent to manufacturing but interested in profit, obsolete plant that has been sold to China, and the ability to design new plant when unencumbered by environmental regulation.

    In wartime we could respond, but it would take time, which our geographic position allows us.

    The real threat to us is our will, not our capability or our financial sector.

  3. Heretic permalink
    May 8, 2009 8:32 pm

    I was going to say something snarky about an inefficient and parasitic financial sector …

  4. May 8, 2009 6:30 pm

    “So when the time comes, we will have the time to build a war fleet to tackle the actual threat we face instead of all the threats we can imagine in peace time.

    We are far from the situation Britain was in in 1921. We don’t have an empire to support and an inefficient industrial sector.”

    Build a fleet? With what shipbuilding industry? The U.S. one that ranks behind Poland and Croatia in output?

    And no, the situation is similar to Britain in 1921 in certain regards, as the U.S. industry is much too small to support the nation’s consumption and in a bad overall shape.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink
    May 8, 2009 11:14 am

    All very good points Mrs D! As we often insist here, it takes a war to change hide-bound attitudes of warfare.

  6. Mrs. Davis permalink
    May 8, 2009 9:27 am

    Flushing the peacetime navy of its timorous leadership is part of why major wars tend to take a long time to prosecute. But when you think about all the barnacles that have to be removed, it is amazing how quickly we can create an effective wartime fleet.

    We are still protected by two major oceans and two relatively weak neighbors. So when the time comes, we will have the time to build a war fleet to tackle the actual threat we face instead of all the threats we can imagine in peace time.

    We are far from the situation Britain was in in 1921. We don’t have an empire to support and an inefficient industrial sector. And to the extent we are, it is within our power to change it if we have the will. I continue to believe the greatest threat to our national security is the erosion of that will by the NEA.

  7. Mike Burleson permalink
    May 8, 2009 4:23 am

    Jennifer, you have revealed a sad truth here. So we keep repeating the same mistakes, with no end in sight. And as long as we don’t fight a real war at sea, we are OK and no one is the wiser.

  8. Jennifer permalink
    May 8, 2009 1:38 am

    “Such a fleet must survive because of its great expense…” Is it possible that our economic hubris has migrated to our Navy in that “Our fleet is too expensive to fail.” Maybe this is the crux of the underlying fear. If we go ‘cheap'(a.k.a. a light fleet) then we are submitting ourselves to the possiblity of failure.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink
    May 7, 2009 1:57 pm

    This is true, but how long can you avoid battle? The British did for a little over a century, but the chickens eventually came home to roost at Jutland, and under the seas.

  10. Heretic permalink
    May 7, 2009 8:32 am

    When you spend your entire Naval career NOT FIGHTING it only makes sense to design your ships to intimidate … rather than to fight.

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