Searching for the Arleigh Burke Replacement Pt 2
As my friend Raymond “Galrahn” Pritchett will often insist, you can’t maintain sea control with battleships alone. Just read what he has to say recently in the post “Missing Nelson’s Cruisers“:
The roles we built little inexpensive 1300 ton destroyer escorts to perform in WWII will be filled by $2 billion platforms in the 21st century under the current US Navy vision, and all the Navy says is “We need more Burkes!”
Battleships (using this term descriptively, meaning any large capital vessel such as Aegis ships, nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, ect.), like our DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyers can perform single strikes against enemy fast attack craft or even less capable pirate craft given the political will, but they cannot linger indefinitely to ensure the sea dominance they have just won. A handful of larger warships near to shore become vulnerable to more numerous asymmetrical threats such as land based missiles and aircraft, stealthy and deadly quiet conventional submarines, air-land-sea launched cruise missiles which often are undetectable until the moment of impact, old fashioned naval mines, and suicide boats.
This is an interesting contrast in that just as the small corvette hasn’t the ability to linger in the heavy seas of the Blue Water environment, so does the large battleship have little place in the littoral waters. The smaller ship doesn’t have the endurance or sea-keeping for ocean operations, just as the battleship possesses little maneuver room in Brown Waters and can be swarmed by many threats. It is true then the adage that states “the best weapon to counter enemy small surface combatants is a force of small surface combatants.” Such a vessel can go where the small fast attack craft (FAC) can go and utilize the same tactics as the smaller vessel.
As with the new littoral combat ship USS Freedom and her kin, it is a mistake to try to marry both Blue and Brown water abilities in the same package. Such a craft would be too underarmed to sail with a ocean-going battlefleet, and too large for shallow water sailing. Also the effort has proven too costly with the new LCS Independence at $3/4 of a billion, with small price and large numbers being a major attribute of the corvette.
To keep costs low and simplify construction, capabilities should be spread among many ships or discarded altogether, instead of emplacing many abilities on a single vulnerable platform. There should be corvettes geared toward anti-air warfare, and for anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine, for carrying helicopters or UAVs, mine warfare, and so on.
To make up for any lack of endurance, mothership tenders should always accompany the corvette squadron. Such fairly large vessels converted from older amphibious ships or merchantmen have cared for small boats navies in all our wars, notably in World War 2, allowing our submarines to take the war to the enemy after Pearl Harbor. Motherships also serviced the light destroyers and destroyers escorts mentioned by Raymond Pritchett above, as well as the famed PT Boats. Also in Vietnam 20+ years later and more relevant to our own era, motherships serviced and extended the capabilities of the PBR squadrons of the Mekong Delta and the Brown Water Navy’s famed Swift Boats which harassed and hindered the Viet Cong unmercifully.
We see then the use of small vessels with mothership support against targets near-to shore is not a new concept anyway foreign to the US Navy. Yet today’s admirals will insist their warships must be very large, like the massive and costly Arleigh Burkes, able to “do all and be all”. But this in itself is a new concept derived from decades of peacetime sailing, not from rational wartime experience and thought. We have plenty of battleships then for the Blue Water warfare they are mainly good for. Time now to build a new fleet, and a new destroyer for the long-neglected shallow water mission.