Battleships versus Speedboats Pt 1
Here is yet another story detailing how we misuse our most expensive warships, sending them to combat piracy in the Gulf. From Navy Times:
ABOARD THE CRUISER ANZIO IN THE GULF OF ADEN — Since deploying in May, this ship and crew have been all through the waters of the Middle East, but they still wait to encounter a ship hijacker or board a suspicious vessel.
If it does happen, it will probably be soon.
Positioned along the heavily traveled corridor between Yemen and Somalia, Anzio and warships from around the globe are set to pounce on suspected pirates and escort merchant ships as they pass.
Here is one of the world’s most capable, most powerful and most expensive fighting ships in contention with one of the world’s poorest seapowers, the Somali pirates, who are surprisingly effective despite the firepower arrayed against them. Though we laud the sacrifices of the crew as well as their enthusiasm for protecting our merchant fleets, obviously a space age Aegis warship like the Anzio, of a type often described here as “new battleships” might be put to greater use elsewhere against a near-peer power, replaced altogether in the piracy role by a low tech corvette or even a USCG cutter, backed by an auxiliary warship with helicopters loaded.
The practice of building only high end warships while all our enemies are of the low tech variety can be described as being afflicted with “battleship disease”. The idea is the services prefer to fight some type of conventional war to contend with some First World power that they give little thought to Third World insurgents who must be tamed before they become something worse. They often claim giant warships as “more cost effective” than small ships, and are seen as ignoring the problem of small threats, or discounting it altogether. A while back, John Burtis at the Canada Free Press gave us a humorous rendition of the pirates versus our most powerful warships, also revealing to us the striking contrast:
The first ship the near-sighted pirates blundered into was the USS Cape St. George (CG-71), a 567-foot-long guided missile cruiser which weighs in at about 9,600 tons with a full load. She is powered by two gas turbine engines and is capable of speeds in excess of 30 knots, enough to keep up with nuclear aircraft carriers, which she is designed to protect. She is armed with vertical launch systems for Standard missiles, Phalanx close-in weapons systems which fire 20mm depleted uranium shells at 5,000 a minute, two five inch rapid fire guns, Tomahawk cruise missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine rocket propelled torpedoes and conventional torpedoes. She also carried two Sea Hawk helicopters for anti-submarine operations, search and rescue and as gunships, and is equipped with advanced sonar. The ship is manned by some 400 officers, sailors and Marines, with an armory chock full of weapons.
The Aegis cruiser is designed to go toe-to-toe with anything afloat and submerged, and it’s ready to rock and roll with anything, anywhere, day or night, in any kind of weather, in the defense of the United States. It can track hundreds of targets in tens of thousands of cubic miles of space, above and below the water line.
While large individual ships might be cheaper to run over time, they aren’t very practical for a globalized fleet. With a Navy, when you have many good vessels instead of a few exquisite battleships, you have a greater presence and don’t wear out your transportation prematurely. With so much firepower also may come overconfidence, as happened with the American superfrigate Philadelphia, designed to outfight or out-sail anything afloat, used in an earlier fight against piracy:
She cruised off Tripoli until 31 October 1803, when she ran aground on an uncharted reef off Tripoli harbor. All efforts to refloat her under fire from shore batteries and Tripolitan gunboats failed, and she surrendered to the enemy; her officers and men were made slaves of the Pasha.
The Army had its gold-plated Future Combat System mostly taken away, as did the USAF with its F-22 Raptor. These two services are now planning on how to contend with future COIN threats, with a lessened emphasis on the rare Great Power conflicts. Other than its overly-large and essentially useless DDG-1000 destroyer, the Navy hasn’t come under Gates’ close scrutiny as of yet. A while back we wrote on What the Raptor Cancellation Means for the Navy:
If one considers the F-22 as the core of the Air Force’s future hopes and dreams, then for the Navy it’s version of the Raptor would be its giant fleet of aircraft carriers. The continued focus of the USN on large-deck mobile airbases is the principle reason it is struggling to come to terms with threats in littoral waters, and why it steadily shrinks in ship numbers. Since the Fall of the Iron Curtain in the 1990’s, future force structure goals have fallen from a 600 ship Navy, to 450, 375, and finally today’s plan to deploy 313 ships in the future. Some experts believe even this lackluster goal is “sheer fantasy“. At this rate, with dwindling shipbuilding budgets and rising ship prices, we will never again be able to increase fleet size, especially with a continued dependence on the brute force of conventional carriers.
We don’t call for a wholesale scrapping of the Navy’s magnificent fleet of space age battleships, but a greatly reduced dependence on such exquisite ships, which often duplicate each other’s roles, and have no business in littoral waters fighting pirates on a regular basis. Smaller patrol ships, high speed vessels, cutters, and even auxiliary warships can do the same mission, cheaper, and more effectively, without busting our shipbuilding budgets, or risking our most powerful ships in dangerous waters.
Tomorrow, thoughts on Duke’s and Castle’s.