Evolutions of the Cruiser Pt 3
As we have noted so far this week, as a type the cruiser has passed its unique capabilities of fleet screen and commerce raider on to other vessels, notably the destroyer and the submarine. The enhanced capabilities of modern technology currently has these two types vying for the role of the new battleship or capital ship in modern war at sea. Still there remains a gap in our naval defenses for a true cruiser, able to perform the sea control mission, specifically the protection of commerce, which the larger warships have secured for us.
We also saw how the globe-spanning 10,000 ton cruiser of the 1930’s transformed strictly into a fleet escort by 1945, soon thereafter disappearing as a class or morphing into different classes, such as aviation ships. With the destroyers and frigate type ships increasingly becoming high-end escorts in most modern navies, along with attack submarines rising in cost and capabilities, the cruiser role has become all but extinct.
In two recent instances we have examples of which the cruiser role is still valid in modern warfare. One is the ongoing anti-drug smuggling mission of HMS Iron Duke in the Caribbean, which culminated in a dramatic “drug bust” last week. The second, is the use of Burke class missile destroyer USS Bainbridge in the rescue of pirates hostage Capitan Richard Phillips. Both are clear examples of the proper role of warships carried out by improper ships. As we mentioned in the first of these posts, modern destroyers and frigates are now in the battleship role, with their anti-missile defenses and surface attack cruise missiles, these exquisite ships are wasted combating pirates or smugglers. Here is Galrahn at Information Dissemination, who asks, like us, “Where are the Cruisers?”:
Based on our rating system, the Navy today has either commissioned or has ordered 86 first and second rate battleships consisting of 22 CG-52s, 62 DDG-51s, and 2 DDG-1000s. The Navy’s strategy for fleet constitution in the future is to build 55 seventh rates (what Corbett would call unrated, or the flotilla) in the form of the Littoral Combat Ship. The US Navy has decided to build a fleet without the Cruisers that have dominated all previous naval eras. We note this because upon no era of naval history has a fleet without cruisers, or a ship capable of filling the sum of the roles Corbett assigns to Cruisers, has ever established and maintained Command of the Sea over an adversary during an extended period of naval war.
Both the American and British Navies have found their own modern “cruisers”, like the Burke’s and the Iron Duke class nearly impossible to replace. The newest fleet escort, respectively the DDG-1000 and Type 45 ships (the latter not a Type 23 replacement, but the RN’s only new surface combatant) have suffered from delays entering service and greatly reduced orders. This is to be expected by the natural evolution of such warships, dictating the follow-up class should be larger and better armed than its predecessor. For the role envisioned, destroyers and frigates are now as powerful as can be reasonably expected on an affordable hull, perhaps bordering on overkill.
The only ships currently geared toward the cruiser role in the US Navy is the planned fleet of littoral combat ships, the LCS. Sadly, this unique design has proven a failure because of standard shipbuilding practice of over-loading new warships with numerous missions, as with this attempt on a 3000 ton hull. In its size and price it more resembles the old ASW frigate, but in no way is as well armed, which would be irrelevant to the design since we seem to have enough battleships these days. Such a vessel is impossible to afford in any numbers needed as for the cruiser’s sea control mission.
With the destroyers, frigates, and attack submarines no longer geared toward ocean escort and commerce defense, what is there left but the lowly corvette, as we often argue? Since we have noted how other warships born out of the flotilla are now our most powerful warships, it stands to reason that we should return to basics for the next cruiser. Just as the torpedo enhanced the smaller submarines, destroyers, and frigates of the war years, so would today’s technology, especially guided missiles but also unmanned air-surface, and undersea vehicles turn these affordable vessels into war-winners. Here then is the answer for ships which are irreplaceable and increasingly unaffordable, misused in low tech warfare while geared for high tech-Blue Water combat.
In a repeat of history, we see the new cruisers born out of the flotilla, with the corvettes, patrol ships, fast attack craft, new high speed catamarans, ect. Such craft in their large numbers will perform the historic role, guarding commerce from pirates and rogue states, assisting in amphibious landings, clearing mines, screening the fleet from submarines and small attack craft, all essential roles where a battleship isn’t needed or shouldn’t be placed at risk. Some day perhaps, like the old escorts ships the destroyers and attack submarines with their smart, stand-off missiles now displacing the aircraft in many roles , the small ships will be tomorrow’s battleships. One revolution at a time though!