The Navy Between Crises
The US Navy as currently configured is obsessed with fighting land threats. At great expense it has deployed an awesome arsenal geared toward the “deep strike” against continental powers. At one time, this mission was the sole domain of the aircraft carrier with its aerial bombers, but now modern technology has provided increase opportunity for the admirals to ignore the principles of maritime strategy, that of securing and defending the sealanes. As examples, the fleet possesses long-range weapons such as:
- Naval aircraft for strikes 400 miles inland or more with aerial tanker support.
- Tomahawk land attack missiles 900 miles average.
- Advanced Gun System with 155mm ammo out to 100 miles range.
- Standard SM-3 missile for Ballistic Missile Defense 270 nautical miles.
We fear this single minded “over the horizon” strategy is putting the fleet at risk from asymmetric threats which threaten to sink our ships. In a shooting war at sea these will include missile firing surface ships, nuclear and conventional submarines, aircraft, and suicide boats.
We feel the Navy should concern itself less with threats from continental powers, normally the domain of the Army and Air Force, and more with coastal and Blue Water threats. For land operations, it should limit its involvement to beach and shallow water areas, except in cases of extreme crisis. As we often insist, large warships are vulnerable to low tech weapons in littoral waters, especially when it is distracted by long-range enemies.
An ideal fleet, with a reasonable weapons composition would reject the deep strike mission. In its place shorter range point defenses would be deployed to defend its immediate airspace. These might include the following:
- Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) in VLS with a range of 30 miles.
- Sea Ram 11-cell missile launcher with a CIWS radar about 4.7 miles.
- Phalanx close in weapons support (CIWS) with a 20mm cannon 1-5 miles or Goalkeeper, with a 30mm gun.
- Harpoon Block III 50 miles.
- NetFires (NLOS-LS) with 15 containerized missiles, 25 miles for the precision attack missile.
We have seen that the current fleet composition based on the aircraft carrier is good for crisis management, always on call forward deployed in case of attack against ourselves or our allies. What happens though, when the crisis is over, and is the Navy prepared to go the long haul in wars of attrition, if deterrence and shows of force fail? Taking cues form the Army’s “train as you fight” mantra, it should also be ready to perform traditional sea control duties such as anti-submarine warfare, convoy, blockade, anti-mine warfare, and so on. Such sundry but essential functions of sea services must be considered if America ever fights another major war at sea. If history is a guide, we certainly shall.
Thanks to Robert Stoner for the technical help.