Evolutions of the Cruiser Pt 2
We continue our discussion on the history and future of the cruiser-type vessel.
Warfare at sea is constantly evolving, and naturally so does the design and construction of new classes of combat vessels. According to Corbett (Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, by Julian Stafford Corbett) there have been three types of warship classes dominating naval warfare throughout history–the battleship, cruiser, and the flotilla. The latter consisted generally of light craft, out of which was born present day escorts ships such as destroyers, frigates, submarines, and mineships. As we noted yesterday the dominate warships of today were the flotilla ships up until World War 2, displacing the cruiser of that era, with only an handful of those historic vessels surviving in much altered forms (as aviation ships).
A strange fact of history is that the cruiser of today will eventually become tomorrow’s battleship or capital vessel. As evidence I offer the following examples:
- The race-built galleons of the 16th Century which were the weapon of choice by English Sea Hawks such as Drake to decimate Spanish commerce, also fought the galleons of the Armada to a standstill. By the 17th Century these had morphed into the famed ship of the line.
- The powerful steam frigates of the mid-19th Century armed with new rifled cannons and exploding shells were called battleships by the end of the century. Example was the French “armored frigate” La Gloire.
- Admiral Fisher’s battlecruisers of World War 1, supposedly replacing the armored cruiser, had by the second World War become the aircraft carrier, the new capital ship.
- Today the fleet screen missile escorts and the attack submarine, the latter with Harpoon and Tomahawk cruise missiles and the former with the same weapons plus the Aegis combat system, are vying for the aircraft carrier’s role as the modern capital ship. While the aircraft carrier has maintained its dependence on escort vessels, modern technology has allowed escorts to become increasingly independent.
The purpose of the battleship (as a type, not as a specific class) is to create a situation where a navy has command of the sea. The purpose of a cruiser is to ensure the maintenance and welfare of this command, as a direct link between the battlefleet and the “population of the sea” or commerce. Currently the new USN battleship, the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyer are being used in the cruiser role, where its abilities are wasted, because as we noted above, these are battle force vessels.
As a type, there are no real cruisers in the US Navy. What comes close are the aging Perry class frigates and the Cyclone class of Patrol ships. The Navy sees the new littoral combat ship returning a more effective commerce protection role to the fleet, but this controversial vessel and her faults make it doubtful she can achieve such results. Here is Raymond Pritchett discussing the new ship’ inadequacies:
Ultimately, I do not see the LCS as is capable of meeting the requirements the Navy is demanding from it. The LCS is too expensive to buy the number of littoral ships needed to dominate that battlespace. The LCS is too big to be risked in the littorals during wartime, not to mention having survivability problems if thought of or treated as a warship. The LCS is too small to deploy the number of unmanned vehicles necessary to be effective, and cannot repair those systems when they break. That does not make the LCS a poor addition to the flotilla, rather it would be a smart addition, if utilized in a way that supported a credible approach to littoral warfare. Ultimately, to deal with the challenges of both war and peace, a credible littoral solution will require numerous ships smaller than the LCS, but also smaller ships capable of delivering more offensive firepower.
I have written before that the submarine currently holds some disturbing advantages over the surface combatant. The surface ship has advantages as well, such as the ability to defend convoys and destroy aircraft, though these are mainly defensive roles and in few ways threatens the submarine. It will take a war, however, to settle the issue, for definitive proof on which warship holds the mantle of capital ship. Until then, we continue to ponder “where are the cruisers“, or in other words, where are the small ships not tied specifically to the battleline?