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Shrinking the Navy’s “Presence Deficit”

June 25, 2009

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.

littoral combat ship

littoral combat ship

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:

  1. Excessive defensive equipment (stealth, LR missiles, Aegis radar).
  2. 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.

Norwegian Skjold class stealth boat

Norwegian Skjold class stealth boat

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.

Sweden's Gotland SSK

Sweden's Gotland SSK

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.

41 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2016 12:05 am

    You have brought up a very fantastic points, regards for the post.

  2. CBD permalink
    June 29, 2009 12:05 am

    Scott B.,
    Amen on the CB-90 and the similar SRC-90E!

    The Absalon would be a great mothership/frigate (destroyer) for the fleet, but the USN won’t be building it (without some changes). Getting them to buy the first really new patrol boat for riverine ops since Viet Nam (and it took a separate command faced with the demands of daily riverine combat to accomplish that). The USN didn’t want their only PCs and had started giving them away to the USCG and foreign navies until they realized the urgent need for those vessels to defend Iraqi harbors and oil platforms.

    IF the USN were to come to grips with a littoral squadron (and admit the failure in the LCS program of a reasonable set of requirements), then there might be a move towards pragmatic ship design and development…but it might take a major naval war to accomplish that shift. Ike was right.

    We can only hope that the LCS program proves us all wrong by exemplary performance off of Somalia or that it does so miserably that those in the PEO are replaced with people who can give the shipbuilders decent design requirements and thus demand of those shipbuilders the performance necessary to fulfill the mission requirements of the USN.

  3. Scott B. permalink
    June 26, 2009 7:48 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Scott, you would have the USN be a perfect fleet, but I will be satisfied with one reasonably priced.”

    Not so long ago, SecDef Gates stated that he would *pursue greater quantities of systems that represent the 75 percent solution instead of smaller quantities of 99 percent, exquisite systems*.

    If I can buy 3 ABSALON for the price of one LCS, then I choose the former any time.

    If I can buy 3 (or more actually) SRC-90E for the price of one Stiletto, then I choose the former any time.

    This is my vision of the 75% solution that can be pursued in great quantities.

    It doesn’t matter if the Ford was designed in Sweden or Denmark, that’s what you want to buy rather than a handful of exquisite Ferraris !!!

  4. Scott B. permalink
    June 26, 2009 1:41 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Scott, you would have the USN be a perfect fleet, but I will be satisfied with one reasonably priced. If I had my choice, we’d be getting much of our weapons from Sweden, but thats seems unlikely for the near term.”

    Safeboat International of Port Orchard, Washington, was contracted by NECC in 2007 to build a derivative of the Swedish CB90 for about $2.8 million.

    I can’t think of any reason why a similar arrangement could not be made to produce the SRC-90E in the USA in the near term.

    Same thing for the FCEPs, all the more as VT Halter Marine already belongs to Singapore Technologies Engineering.

  5. leesea permalink
    June 26, 2009 12:20 am

    Mike when it comes to Stilletto, you are beginning to sound like that airship guy? LOL
    Seriously if you would start talking Swededish CB-90 and its USN version the Safe Boats Riverine Command Boat, then I wouldn’t laugh so much.

    BTW the complex hull forms of the Stiletto means it cant’ be landed in the wet well docks that some are so enanmored of.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 25, 2009 7:48 pm

    Alex, thats a good idea, if the politicians could get together. I remember back in the 80’s President Reagan tried to give Maggie Thatcher a couple of old Essex class to make up for the loss of the Ark Royal. The offer was declined though admittedly these ships were pretty old.

    Scott, you would have the USN be a perfect fleet, but I will be satisfied with one reasonably priced. If I had my choice, we’d be getting much of our weapons from Sweden, but thats seems unlikely for the near term.

  7. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 5:36 pm

    Alex said : “but I thought that my line fitted more with the general wittism of my post”

    Oh, I see ;).

    In the same vein, I am pretty sure you guys in the UK now reap the full benefits of a long (self-imposed) carrier building holiday…

  8. June 25, 2009 5:30 pm

    Scott; I am sorry, I was making use of that quaint form of humour, known as sarcasm, I have written whole papers why the british carriers are wastes of money because they don’t have catapults – but I thought that my line fitted more with the general wittism of my post

    yours sincerly

    Alex

  9. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 5:05 pm

    alex said : “I know they are not that useful, but I am a sucker for quaint technology”

    Whoever told you that catapults are not useful simply doesn’t know what he (or she) is talking about.

  10. June 25, 2009 4:51 pm

    I like the idea of a building holiday; but here is an even better suggestion – instead building them and commissioning the ships into the USN, build them and give them to a navy which really needs them – the RN would love some! and we obviously do not care about the operating costs cause we are building 65,000ton gas powered carriers which will be more expensive to operate than they’re nuclear powered equivalents…which would also have more space for things like aircraft and aviation fuel and other consumables…as well as being able to operate catapults(I know they are not that useful, but I am a sucker for quaint technology)

    yours sincerly

    Alex

  11. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 4:51 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “You know shipbuilding is in trouble when a $10 million craft is called a “Ferrari”.”

    These are Ferraris

    They cost a hell of a lot more than vanilla models.

    The only thing they may have over vanilla models is that some believe they look *cool*.

    Exact same story for Stiletto.

  12. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 25, 2009 3:52 pm

    You know shipbuilding is in trouble when a $10 million craft is called a “Ferrari”.

  13. west_rhino permalink
    June 25, 2009 1:46 pm

    Still bluster loudly, walks softlly but carry a kinder gentler stick?

  14. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 1:37 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Scott, Stiletto is at $10 million each a bargain compared to the Absalon.”

    The appropriate comparison is between a Stiletto and an SRC-90E.

    At $2-3 million each, an SRC-90E is a bargain compared to the $10-million Stiletto.

    To paraphrase CRD Hendrix : Buy Ford, not Ferrari !

  15. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 25, 2009 11:33 am

    Scott, you’re drowning me with details. I mentioned the 1990s when we built or laid down about 30 Arleigh Burkes, when we were technically at peace, there was no Red Navy to speak of where this hi end wonder would have been the most use, but the Navy’s own strategy said we need to defend the littorals, not the Blue Water. Someone missed the memo apparently and we are still struggling with ship numbers.

    Don’t care how capable your ship is, no vessel can be many places at once.

    Thanks UNRR!

  16. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 10:42 am

    Bill said : “In addition to simply being mine-sneaky due to composite construction, the intrinsic shock resistance of the Skjold (or any SES ) when on cushion is unsurpassed by anything other than a true hovercraft.”

    Shock resistance is one aspect. Add a couple more :

    1) The 100% steel hull of LCS-1 ain’t gonna be that good in terms on magnetic signature (which is one facet of stealth you mentioned earlier).

    2) The severe cavitation problems expected on LCS-1 ain’t gonna be that good in terms on acoustic signature (which is another facet of stealth you mentioned earlier). A crappy acoustic signature is going to be a major problem with acoustic mines and wake-homing torpedoes.

    But, hey, Mr Raymond Pritchett thinks a $700+ million LCS is a sound investment for mine warfare…

  17. Bill permalink
    June 25, 2009 10:29 am

    Good point about the mine issues Scott. In addition to simply being mine-sneaky due to composite construction, the intrinsic shock resistance of the Skjold (or any SES ) when on cushion is unsurpassed by anything other than a true hovercraft..

  18. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 10:13 am

    There is also some comfort level associated with something that’s not going to be a magnet for coastal mines, and migt actually survive some sizable UNDEX.

    Having a decent FC radar to go with the medium-caliber gun doesn’t suck either.

    Etc………………………………………………………….

  19. Bill permalink
    June 25, 2009 9:48 am

    Further to that last comment…its also per’aps a usefull ‘feature’ that you can nose a Skjold on to the ‘dry’ beach and back off again, under certain approach gradient and bottom conditions.

    Can anythying else out there around 300 tons do that?

  20. Bill permalink
    June 25, 2009 9:45 am

    “In shallow waters, I’d take a Skjold over an LCS any time, and this would have nothing to do with the 76mm vs 57mm. ”

    Yes..there is indeed a certain comfort level associated with having unrestricted 0-50+ knot stealthy (real stealth..not that ‘LCS kind’) operational capability with all that weaponry in water that is only 10 feet deep. ;-)

  21. June 25, 2009 9:37 am

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 6/25/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  22. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 9:36 am

    Did I mention the Absalon could carry two of these FCEPs instead of the SRC-90E ?

  23. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 9:33 am

    Bill said : “Given my choice, I would much sooner enter hostile littoral waters in a Skjold (76mm Rapid Fire Deck Gune and 8 medium-range anti-ship cruise missiles + torpedo option) than I ever would on the much larger LCS-1 with it’ s one weeny pop gun.”

    In shallow waters, I’d take a Skjold over an LCS any time, and this would have nothing to do with the 76mm vs 57mm. ;)

  24. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 9:31 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Scott, Stiletto is at $10 million each a bargain compared to the Absalon.”

    Stiletto won’t self-deploy, has very poor seakeeping qualities, and is much bigger than necessary (think big target).

    I’d take the SRC-90E over the Stiletto any time, any place.

  25. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 9:26 am

    Mike Burleson said : “That was 30 comma, billion dollar Burkes!”

    Since the end of the Cold War (USSR declared dissolved on December 25, 1991), more than 50 Burke have been commissioned by the US Navy (DDG-52 in December 1992, DDG-106 in April 2009).

  26. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 25, 2009 8:56 am

    Scott, Stiletto is at $10 million each a bargain compared to the Absalon. But we have room for both with your Absalon as the Stryker and the M80 as the “boots”.

    Bill, think the 76mm should be minimum for the corvettes.

  27. Bill permalink
    June 25, 2009 8:50 am

    I wonder if this kind of proposal will forever fall on deaf ears?

    I know one thing for sure. Given my choice, I would much sooner enter hostile littoral waters in a Skjold (76mm Rapid Fire Deck Gune and 8 medium-range anti-ship cruise missiles + torpedo option) than I ever would on the much larger LCS-1 with it’ s one weeny pop gun.

  28. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 25, 2009 8:50 am

    That was 30 comma, billion dollar Burkes!

  29. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 7:24 am

    Mike Burleson said : “More boots on the ground the same as more hulls in the water.”

    One ABSALON can carry two Storebro SRC-90E PLUS two RHIBs.

    Multiply by 55 and you have the *boots on the ground* you’re looking for, without having to spend gazillions $$$ on exquisite gadgets like Stiletto.

    Think BIG, not small :

    BRING ON THE STATION WAGON

  30. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 7:01 am

    Mike Burleson said : “We could continue building the LCS”

    The GAO found LCS to be the worst offender in terms of cost growth in the entire shipbuilding portfolio (LCS-1 = +183%; LCS-2 = +147%; well ahead of LPD-17 = +84%), but you want to continue building this failed (war)ship ?

  31. Scott B. permalink
    June 25, 2009 6:53 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Even during the cuts of the 1990s, we still built 30 billion-dollar Burke battleships, plus new carriers and submarines.”

    30 billion for a Burke ? In what currency is that ? Rupees ? ;)

Trackbacks

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