Shrinking the Navy’s “Presence Deficit”
Over at the US Naval Insitute, Raymond Pritchett reports that the Navy has a “presence deficit” in some strategic places around the world. To be blunt, they only have themselves to blame for any decline in seapower despite being awash in billions of dollars from the end of the Cold War to this day. Here’s Raymond:
Vice Adm. Barry McCullough stated in testimony the places where this “presence deficit” is identified includes “with new partners in Africa, the Black Sea, the Baltic region, and the Indian Ocean.” McCullough also went on to say “Africa Command capacity demands will not mitigate the growing European Command requirement” and “Southern Command capacity has consistently required more presence that largely goes unfilled.” All of these places suggest the “presence deficit” is specific to presence of the surface combatant force, but most of those places suggest the “presence deficit” is not in regards to high end combat capabilities, but the necessity to engage in littoral places and ungoverned spaces where local Coast Guards are largely incapable of meeting the regional maritime security requirements.
Basically the Fleet has talked itself into a strategy where only exquisite high end warships can operate against modern threats. Any talk of less capable vessels is quickly shut out of debate or only included in the bottom 10% of the force structure, like the 30 or so ancient Perry frigates and aging Cyclone patrol boats. Historically this attitude seems ludicrous when you consider the importance of small ships in past naval wars. An onging paranoia is that if they cancel ships they are already building, precious Navy dollars will be transferred to the other services.
Two main problems have driven the high cost of modern platforms in recent decades:
- Excessive defensive equipment (stealth, LR missiles, Aegis radar).
- Ship Size.Only large and high sea-worthy craft will survive new threats.
A result of this steadfast procurement strategy is the Navy gets smaller, resulting in the “presence deficit“. A dependence on nuclear power could also be added to this list, since when you build ships so equipped, you have to keep building them on a regular basis or, as we are so often warned by military and Industry, you lose the expertise. So its an unending circle. The recent fuel crisis has compounded the problem with calls for even more nulcear powered ships, thus almost ensuring the demise of the US Navy as we know it.
There has been numerous proposals here at New Wars, and at many others including Information Dissemination. Rather than hash through each one, here is a very drastic Navy construction plan that is the least they can do to build ships numbers.
A freeze on all large warship (ships over $1 billion each) programs for a decade.
Thats it. I can hear the howls now that it will be the end of American seapower and it will destroy the defense industry, but trust me, it won’t. Both are in a bad way as it is, with ships riddled with faults and numbers shrinking steadily since the 1990s with no end in sight. Can’t we afford to take some risks since we are failing anyway? And such a shock to the system might bring the industry out of the money-flushed coma it has suffered throughout the Cold War and ongoing to this day.
Savings would go toward building up the small ship navy, historically the most important ships for fighting in the littorals. We could continue building the LCS, but also place in mass production cheaper vessels the fleet has experimented with of late such as Sea Fighter, Stiletto, and perhaps some of the Nordic stealth boats like Visby. We could also consider something larger like auxiliary warships in the mothership role planned for LCS. T-AKE is an idea but something much smaller would be preferable, around 10,000 tons or less.
If China or Russia start saber-rattling, we could always continue the Virginia submarine program, but a better alternative might be to build conventional subs. An SSK can carry the same offensive weapons as a Virginia, are super quiet, and as we learned during the Pacific War are quite handy in major fleet actions. The bottom line is they would be less vulnerable for littorals operations than the huge and costly Virginia’s.
We already have 80 of the most powerful missile battleships in the world, 11 of the only fully functional supercarriers, and the best submarine fleet in existence. When will we say we have enough firepower, now lets bring capability and numbers back into the fleet? This would restore our global presence, while at the same time learning how to build ships again, placing greater emphasis on the new robot weapons now being deployed to sea, and less on exquisite but increasingly too costly warships. And more ships mean more of the advanced weapons where you want them, when you need them.
A building holiday for Big Ships would also be a God-send for naval planners, since they would have time to consider the type of fleet best suited for America’s needs. Warfare is changing drastically on land, so the Navy we need must be different than the WW2/Cold War clone we currently deploy. New threats call for new ideas, and clearly the ones we have aren’t working. Even during the cuts of the 1990s, we still built 30, billion-dollar Burke battleships, plus new carriers and submarines. Then came the War on Terror and the Navy has yet to wind down from the aftermath of the end of the Soviet Union.