Playing China’s Game
Over at the Information Dissemination blog, the discussion is all about a letter from Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead to Senator Edward Kennedy who is on the Senate Seapower committee. You can read about that here. Then there was a second post at ID whose title immediately caught my eye as you might understand-“Return of the Arsenal Ship“. A very long post, but interesting nonetheless; if you have the time, check it out.
I was a little disappointed that the “Arsenal Ship” in question was the DDG-1000 Zumwalt dinosaur which we had hoped we’d heard the last of, after Sec. Gates’ 2010 Defense Budget released early this year called for a stop production at 3 vessels. It would have been much better for Navy procurement and our rapidly shrinking fleet that the number built was Zero, considering we are currently suffering through a “presence deficit” as these budget sucking battleships range from $3 billion, more likely $5 billion each, and perhaps even as high as $7 billion.
The jist of Admiral Rougheads letter and Galrahn’s post is interesting, calling for replacing the Zumwalt’s advanced guns system (AGS) with more vertical launchers for missiles. From here I will let the blogger explain:
The DDG-1000 being evaluated is basically a modified version without the Advanced Gun System (AGS), but including the other 9 new technologies of the ship class. According to the letter, both guns would be replaced with VLS and would possess a capability “not less than” the most advanced DDG-51 on the books. The AGS is huge. If one was to put the AGS on a DDG-51, it would consume the space not only of the 5″ gun but also the 29 VLS cells on the bow of the ship. As I understand it, one AGS can be replaced by at least 1 x 61 Mk41 VLS cell system.
That means the Navy has given us a $2.55B estimate for a stealth arsenal ship with 80 Mk 57 PVLS cells, 2 MK110 57mm guns, and anywhere from 80 more MK57 PVLS cells or 122 MK41 VLS cells, and is comparing this behemoth of missile power to a DDG-51 Flight IIA.
Did you get that? $2.5 billion for a ship with 160 rather than 80 missiles cells, still far from the arsenal ship we once advocated, with its 500-1000 missiles and likely the same price. If you read deeper into the article you will see the DDG-1000 transform from a shallow water destroyer to a Blue Water battleship. Besides land attack, the Navy also wants it to posses ASW abilities while also shooting down those pesky Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles we have been hearing about lately, all for $2.5 billion each! Sure.
Speaking of China, she should be ecstatic that naval strategists continue to worry and ponder how the best way to make their giant 20th Century warship designs more survivable in the 21st century. Rather than building a Navy meant to fight, it is instead meant to survive, shooting down the occasional missile fired by tin-pot dictators, or bombing a rogue terrorist in his mud cave. So instead of spending precious shipbuilding funds making the navy bigger, warships, smaller, and naturally more survivable, we play into China’s strategy by making a few very large hulls, which we might as well paint giant bulls-eye on their very spacious top-decks.
Not one for conspiracy theories, I can’t help but wonder if Beijing is at constant work pulling the strings of their North Korean puppet Kim Jong-il, and his constant threats to launch ballistic missiles against the West, specifically the USA. By doing so, he pushes the Navy and our political leaders further toward a defensive minded fleet with already expensive Aegis cruisers and destroyers, with even more costly anti-ballistic missile technology, that has nothing to do with sea control and maintaining the freedom of the seas. This latter should be the Navy’s primary purpose, but by focusing on keeping our ships alive, we stray greatly from the true purpose of even having a Navy.
As we saw in the first Gulf War, with Saddam Hussein lobbing his Scud missiles against Israel to coerce that nation into war and likely disrupt the Arab Coalition against him, these weapons are more of a political tool than a military threat. From the Second World War to the Second Gulf War, it was found the only way to destroy such mobile weapons is to physically occupy the ground they were on rather than very costly and not so effective Ballistic Missile Defense. It is also interesting recently how President Obama diverted a North Korean arms ship off its course by building a coalition of nations who refused to receive it! The lesson is, we need to create unconventional measures to fight an unconventional foe.
Now China is supposed to be fielding what is dubbed a “carrier killing ballistic missile“, which supposedly has the accuracy to destroy our biggest ships, making a mockery of the Maritime Strategy geared toward littoral warfare. It would be logical then that we should build very many smaller ships, making more targets to swarm any such strategy by the Reds null and void. Instead, we continue to obsess over giant ships, and how to make them more survivable and ever fewer in number.
China’s is not an unlikely strategy, since Stalin and his successors used a similar one against the USA in the last century. While we were planning to fight nuclear war with giant bomber fleets, supercarriers, and Polaris submarines, the communists coaxed us into fighting wars of attrition in Korea and Vietnam, which nearly broke the back of our economy and almost sapped our will to fight aggression. Having grown up in the 1970s, I distinctly recall the gas lines, plant closings and high unemployment, and especially the hollow military. We thought we were losing the Cold War as Stalin’s long-distance plan began bearing fruit.
Only with a supreme effort did the World War Two generation, led by Ronald Reagan rise up and drag the Baby Boomer’s kicking and screaming to stand for freedom around the world. It was a ripe opportunity for someone to support the disgruntled groups and freedom movements rising in the Warsaw Pact. It was mostly bluff on our part because we had no idea how, or if our new weapons would work, but Reagan’s strategy certainly did work, with the communists giving in instead of us. It could have went the other way though.
This is how we play China’s Game, and they must be ecstatic to know they are bluffing us with their missiles, just as we once bluffed the Soviets with our antiballstic missile defense, Star Wars, now almost 30 years under development and still a long way from perfect. A supreme irony that the ABM defense that helped bankrupt Stalin’s Russia is dragging us down with its price, distracting us from what is important.