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Galrahn’s Population of the Sea

June 25, 2009

The following is a portion of a post this morning at Information Dissemination titled “Gate’s 10% Naval Force For Mullen’s 1000 Ship Navy” that explains a whole new way of thinking about modern war at sea. I wish all of our leaders and future naval leaders could take the following to heart, which would change the Navy as we know it, even how we build ships, just as similar thinking has transformed our ground forces fighting in the Middle East. Hope Galrahn doesn’t mind me posting such a bug chunk, as it was too important to abridge!

Population of the Sea

If General McCrystal is trying to tell the American people one thing right now in regards to Afghanistan, it would be the simple phrase “Its the population stupid.” The reason this is his primary talking point is because US strategy in Afghanistan consists primarily of developing partnerships with with the people who are present in the terrain that is also his battlefield. General McCrystal knows that not everyone who populates that terrain is a partner, or even a potential partner. The challenge is to make sure that those who are partners, or who represent potential partners, remain partners even as he either kills, or prevents action from those who are the enemy.

This human terrain and the challenges of the population can be directly applied to the South China Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Guinea, the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and every Bay, Channel, Isthmus, River, Gulf, or body of water not specifically named. Lets use the South China Sea and potential conflict with China as an example.

Every day in the South China Sea there are over 200,000 private and commercial vessels at sea. The majority of these vessels are within 50nms of land, which means almost nothing considering there are over 250 ~1-km² islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs, and sandbars in the South China Sea, most of which have no indigenous people, many of which are naturally under water at high tide, and some of which are permanently submerged. The population of just the people on a boat in the South China Sea is estimated over 1,00,000 daily.

In a world of hybrid warfare, how will naval forces identify friend and foe in the populated seas? If the intent is to build partnerships, preferably by avoiding the destruction of the folks we are not fighting, how will the helicopter or UAV know which fishing boat to sink and which fishing boat not to sink? Ultimately operations will require manpower at the point of engagement to identify friend and foe if partnership, and not killing our allies, is a core strategic operational objective (which it is).

The post concerned the building of small warships like the corvettes we often advocate for taking back the littorals within the 25nm limit the Big Ships dread. If we start thinking we need to retake the littorals, you immediately think “we need a bigger fleet”, and more boots on the ground is the same as more hulls in the water.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott B. permalink
    June 29, 2009 9:11 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Scott, we’ve tried the bigger ships and all we get is overkill, out of control costs, and delays for service entry.”

    LCS started at less than the magical 1,000-ton displacement, and ended up with a displacement of 3,000+ tons !!!

    With your 1,000-ton corvette proposal, you’re running the exact same software that’s soon going to cause a major system crash.

    You’re hoping that merely rebooting is going to make all the bugs disappear : it ain’t going to work !

    Stop trying to change the narrative : what you need to do is change the paradigm.

    Think BIG, not small !

  2. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 29, 2009 8:24 am

    Scott, we’ve tried the bigger ships and all we get is overkill, out of control costs, and delays for service entry. Even of we fail with the corvette, it would be better than a multi-billion dollar failure with programs that take a decade or more to produce, then are too costly too cancel, like the 3 DDG-1000s and the LCS.

    CBD-Very interesting and well put.

  3. Scott B. permalink
    June 29, 2009 5:45 am

    CBD said : “The question is what can be done by a light naval vessel”

    Problem is you guys start with a pre-conceived solution, – the mythical 1,000-ton corvette -, and then try to figure out the problem.

    Once you do that, you’re pretty sure you’re not going anywhere, no matter how much rhetorics you inject in there.

  4. CBD permalink
    June 28, 2009 11:38 pm

    Scott B.,
    Again, grabbing a minor point. They have been doing this and it is evidence of the difficulty international forces face when they aren’t talking to the local population. In the straits to the north, a significant part of the world traffic (passing through the Suez) must pass within 100nm of the Somali coast and all the food aid and much of the commercial shipping to the eastern coast of Africa passes near the coast. The reason the pirates found their trade was that tremendous amount of traffic.

    The point is not where they pirates are when they raid, nor where their informants are, the point is to intercept the fishing boats they use to deploy their motor boats out to the 150nm-200nm area that is now considered “safer” for commercial shipping. If you control the relatively less voluminous space within 25nm of the coast then you can intercept suspicious craft, detain or at least disarm (EUFOR/EU/NATO rules) pirates, and seize the ships they use to conduct illegal activities. You can even ‘gift’ these relatively nice (for the region) ships to friendly villages that have sought to eliminate piracy (sort of along the lines of “give a village a large fishing boat and they can support a local non-piracy economy”).

    The point is not to invade Somalia or to blow up pirate bases worth $400 with million-dollar strike missiles (and causing the occasional massive collateral damage). Military interventions to eliminate warlords have failed and only made matters worse in Somalia (and better for extremists). Improving the situation for the people and the extremists, gangsters and warlords have less power. Blow up a schoolhouse by accident and you make the situation worse for all of us.

    The point is not to out-compete non-existant Somali helicopters but to make piracy more difficult to the point where it no longer threatens international trade. Benefiting the local population, and thus attacking the root of the lawlessness by ‘soft power’ efforts, is a secondary benefit that will also improve long term stability in the region.

    Whatever the capabilities are of US helicopters armed with advanced missiles and supported by satellite intelligence and powerful ship and airborne radars to vector the helicopters to their targets against hapless, poorly trained ship crews with outdated and limited air defenses is not the question.

    The question is what can be done by a light naval vessel (which benefits from lightweight Link 16 modules like MIDS-LVTs or MIDS JTRS and thus from all of the resources of the USN fleet), which has the benefits of high endurance UAV technology, precision guided medium range weapons and a USN/USMC crew?

    Since ScanEagle has day/night capabilities (Visible/IR swappable cameras) and is gaining SAR capability, organic IRST capabilities to a corvette can be superior to that of a cruiser operating independently two decades ago. Fire power to sink blue-water vessels is a plus, not a necessity for this scale of vessel. The role of a USN PC/corvette would be to patrol areas where the rarity of destroyers and other large (and expensive) USN assets are unavailable or not demanded for the threat level and where greater numbers of craft are needed.

    The point of a littoral (influence) squadron and the larger Littoral Strike (Patrol?) Group is to: (1) relieve the pressure on major fleet vessels and in case of major conflict, (2) to provide a ‘presence’ in advance of the main fleet force, and (3) to minimize the effects of enemy small craft on fleet operations (neutralization).

    If facing a peer threat (China), large numbers of enemy missile boats will need to be screened against (protecting the CVBGs) and denied control over strategic targets. Our current fleet cannot do this on short notice. We can bring overwhelming power to bear in time, but our big ship navy doesn’t have an ability to dominate the seas without a carrier in the area. The VLS systems that constitute the main armament of our destroyers and cruisers are optimized for land attack and air defense missions. We lack advanced ASCMs to attack enemy surface combatants. Our submarine fleet has capability, but the surface combatants are not well-armed for that task. Small vessels of our own can dilute the threat and prepare the battlefield for the arrival of superior forces.

    If facing a dissimilar threat (hybrid warfare), we need ships that can enter dangerous regions in the place of our massively expensive major vessels and defeat small, irregular threats leaving major vessels free to dominate (and without embarrassing, expensive damage from poorly armed enemy combatants (See: Cole)).

    Helicopters are an integral part of this new fleet conception, but they do not take the place of smaller vessels. UAVs will have similar effects on sea combat to what they have ashore. With larger vessels becoming ever more capable of destroying nations single-handedly, at ever-increasing costs, it will be necessary for the USN to invest in smaller, ACTUALLY cheaper vessels that may not be utterly survivable, but merely very capable.

  5. Scott B. permalink
    June 28, 2009 3:33 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Scott, but certainly more sustainable that a helicopter. right?”

    What’s the score in the Helo vs speedboat match so far ?

    42-0 in favor of the Helo or something like that ?

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 28, 2009 2:49 pm

    Scott, but certainly more sustainable that a helicopter. right?

  7. Scott B. permalink
    June 28, 2009 2:45 pm

    CBD said : “(who can radio reports of passing targets)”

    How many *passing targets* in the 25NM range band off Somalia ?

    Just askin’…

  8. Scott B. permalink
    June 28, 2009 2:42 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “You will need something that is self-sustainable for a while.”

    Exactly what the 1,000-ton is NOT going to be…

  9. CBD permalink
    June 27, 2009 9:09 pm

    Another thought: 40 vessels spread over 2312 miles is 1 vessel per 58 linear miles, over 1755 miles it’s 1 every 44.

    A Littoral Strike Group (Galrahn’s idea) is 29 vessels by itself at a price similar to that of the fleet currently being used by the USN off of Somalia. Fewer resources needed for greater area coverage by the one nation.

  10. CBD permalink
    June 27, 2009 3:44 pm

    “And that’s exactly where your *demo* collapses.

    What you patrol is a range band. A range band of given width will always have the same surface, no matter how far from the coastline it’ll be.”

    Not really true with geometry, on either point…

    With a straight-shot northern coast of about 550 miles (based on an area map with controlled projection) and an eastern coast of 1100 miles, the area at 25nm is 49,504 sq. statute miles and at 150nm is 326,566 sq. statute miles (greater than 6.6x difference). This is counting the rectangular volume off of each coast plus a radius around the point and an extended radius around the southern coastal border, with compensation for the narrowing of the strait to Bab-el-mandeb.

    Going purely on an imaginary patrol line (which accomplishes little with the pirates, since all they have to do is ‘run’ that line and they’re free to operate) rather than an area in 2 dimensions, you still have an increase at the edges and points (which are still ruled by expanding circles). These spaces, measured as a line, increase from 105.4 mi to 662.2 mi, resulting in total distances of about 1755 mi and 2312 mi, or a 30% increase.

    As far as “mixing with the populace” goes, it means boarding passing ships and talking to the crews (interdicts arms or at least will collect HUMINT), observing normal traffic during calmer times (allowing the crews deployed to that area to build a ‘feel’ for the area), building personal connections with small towns and villages in the area and even placing teams on the ground to collect information on passing vessels. The Somali pirates use information from corrupt port office workers, friendly fishermen (who can radio reports of passing targets), and can readily shift from actually being fishermen to being raiders when opportunities arise.

    Why are we running things as a rapid reaction force or protective WWI/II style convoy instead of engaging at a level that can dissuade attacks by making our presence felt (they see our ships whenever they sail and know that we’re watching them). For the price of 3-4 Burke-class vessels, we could probably field one of the Littoral Strike Groups Galrahn described with all new vessels (that’s with the LCS at $600M).

  11. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 27, 2009 10:48 am

    Add a few RHIBs, Scott and you’re good to go. Everything is a mothership. But we are doing this now with our Burke battleships! Its just not as cost effective as the corvette and too vulnerable.

    You will need something that is self-sustainable for a while. You can’t sit out their very long in your speed boat.

  12. Scott B. permalink
    June 27, 2009 8:08 am

    You won’t *mix with the populace* in a 1,000-ton corvette ! Even assuming *mixing with the populace* is the way to go…

  13. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 27, 2009 5:53 am

    Scott, how long can a helicopter loiter around as compared to a corvette? Thats the point. Sure, a helo can come in, blow things up, but it can’t linger and mix with the populace. Even a UAV can’t stay up forever. You have to have a footprint there, IFVs on the sea.

  14. Scott B. permalink
    June 27, 2009 5:18 am

    CBD said : “As Galrahn’s post points out, in island chains many land masses are < 25nm apart, so being incapable of approaching within that range means they’re entirely excluded from a massive territory."

    You don’t need a corvette to do that. E.g. you’ll do it much faster with a helicopter.

  15. Scott B. permalink
    June 27, 2009 5:13 am

    CBD said : “Now, true, Somalia isn’t an island, so the increase isn’t in a circle and thus the increase isn’t as large, but it illustrates the principle.”

    And that’s exactly where your *demo* collapses.

    What you patrol is a range band. A range band of given width will always have the same surface, no matter how far from the coastline it’ll be.

  16. CBD permalink
    June 26, 2009 10:07 pm

    Now, true, Somalia isn’t an island, so the increase isn’t in a circle and thus the increase isn’t as large, but it illustrates the principle.

    There is also the issue of exclusion. As Galrahn’s post points out, in island chains many land masses are < 25nm apart, so being incapable of approaching within that range means they’re entirely excluded from a massive territory.

    That’s a geographic mission kill.

  17. CBD permalink
    June 26, 2009 9:18 pm

    Placing the Eisenhower CVBG (5 combat + 2 support), Boxer ARG (3), EU NAVFOR (10+3), CTF-150(6+3), CTF-151(4+1), and PLAN forces (3?) within 150nm of pirate island gives you 31+9 vessels in 70605.2 sq. nm or about 1765 sq. nm/vessel. It’s a bit much for me to calculate air assets, but 1765 vs 458 (4:1) just for commissioned vessels is a lot…and it took 40 (mostly destroyer+ sized) vessels not 6 smallish ships. Equivalent force would be 160 vessels.
    Ref:
    http://www.informationdissemination.net/2009/06/5th-fleet-focus-order-of-battle_21.html

  18. CBD permalink
    June 26, 2009 9:16 pm

    Scott B.,
    Why inside of 25nm? Various operational reasons. The simplest and most comprehensive is the problem of circles.

    Assuming you wish to an island, the patrol line at 25nm (assuming the island is 5nm across, pretty small), you have to patrol pi*(30)^2 (area contained) – pi*(5)^2 (area of island) sq. nm of water (pi*900 – pi*25, or 875*pi). If you patrol out to 50nm (2x distance), thats 2475*pi (almost 3x area). Now, say you’re the USN and NATO patrolling the coast of pirate island with destroyers and cruisers at 150nm (6x distance), you have to cover 22475*pi sq. nm (25.7x area).

    Placing one of the littoral squadrons (4PCs (4 RIB), 1 LCS-1 (2 RIB, 1 heli, 3 ScanEagles), 1 JHSV (2 RIB, 2 heli, 3 ScanEagles)) within 25nm gets you 6 capable vessels in 2748.8 sq. nm (458 sq. nm/vessel). Including RIBs and airborne assets (6+6+8) you get 20 assets or 137.4 sq nm/asset.

  19. B.Smitty permalink
    June 26, 2009 1:55 pm

    Scott B,

    Actually, you know that. Not sure why I felt the need to tell you. :)

  20. B.Smitty permalink
    June 26, 2009 1:52 pm

    Scott B,

    The case where the 25nm range limit comes into play is against an adversary with land-based anti-ship missiles or coastal artillery (e.g. Iran, North Korea, China).

    The range band for the South China Sea scenario would actually be much further, once you factor in land-based airpower, and potentially anti-ship ballistic missiles.

  21. Scott B. permalink
    June 26, 2009 12:06 pm

    CBD said : “If small USN vessels represented a real presence and were boarding potential pirate mother ships (fishing boats)”

    Why does this have to be done in the 25NM coastal band ?

    I also observe that the conservation is drifting farther and farther away from Mr Pritchett’s South China *example*, showing that said *example* may not be as convincing as intended…

  22. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 26, 2009 11:24 am

    CBD makes a good argument. Why must we react to the pirates by enforcing convoy when we can limit their capability altogether? As General Petraeus would insist, we need to protect the population. And as this article maintains, the population in the sea is in this 25nm limit.

  23. CBD permalink
    June 26, 2009 10:56 am

    Scott B.,
    Why control the 25nm limit? If small USN vessels represented a real presence and were boarding potential pirate mother ships (fishing boats), the freedom of the pirates to operate 100nm out is reduced. If you seize their weapons before they go out that far, or when they’re returning from an unsuccessful raid then it makes it difficult for them to conduct operations. Also, if you interview local fishermen who may be not 100% in favor of the pirates then you might also get HUMINT on which vessels are currently operating for the pirates.

    A small (PC/Corvette) vessel that can deploy a RIB or two and some ScanEagles covers a decent space. Not great for escorting large vessel convoys, but excellent for coastal patrol & interdiction ops…which is why every other navy (including the USCG) uses patrol boats.

  24. Distiller permalink
    June 26, 2009 4:47 am

    Talking basically ops-other-than-war, law enforcement, light colonial warfare, a LSD with a flotilla of CB90s would do the job just fine. Put some ISR UAV and MH-60 on the LSD, and tell the Marines to float up and down the coasts in question.

    Though the Navy needs to get more capability below the battle fleet, it can’t be sized and designed for such tertiary tasks as described above.

  25. Scott B. permalink
    June 26, 2009 2:10 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Some like the pirates are slipping through the cracks of our stretched thin fleet, currently suffering from a self-inflicted “presence deficit”.”

    Somali pirates have seized most of their preys WELL beyond the 25NM limit, in not-so-shallow ;) waters I would add.

    I have yet to see one valid reason why we should try to control the 25NM range band off Somalia.

  26. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 25, 2009 8:36 pm

    Scott said”The only thing you want to do about it is to deny any anti-access strategy that an opponent might try develop from this range band. There is no need to retake it.”

    This sounds much like the containment policy the Navy has advocated since the 1950s, but no longer relevant when you have nations not afraid of our Big Ships. Some like the pirates are slipping through the cracks of our stretched thin fleet, currently suffering from a self-inflicted “presence deficit”.

  27. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 5:01 pm

    Jim said : “What defines the 25nm limit?”

    > 25 NM = Over The Horizon (OTH)

    It’s pretty much dictated by the curvature of earth (both visual and radar).

  28. jim permalink
    June 25, 2009 4:53 pm

    What defines the 25nm limit? Is that the range of coastal radar? Obviously missiles have much farther range. How much will that no-mans-land zone grow in the coming decades? How big will it be in 2030? 2050?

  29. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 3:42 pm

    1) Even though Mr Raymond Pritchett just realized that recently, the 25NM range band has been considered a No Man’s Land for well over a decade. The only thing you want to do about it is to deny any anti-access strategy that an opponent might try develop from this range band. There is no need to retake it.

    2) The *potential conflict with China as an example* is BOGUS. Under the ROEs that would prevail in such a conflict, any vessel that might be perceived as threatening would be sent to the bottom in due course.

Trackbacks

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