A Navy Unfit to Fight
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.