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Battleships versus Speedboats Pt 1

September 7, 2009
The guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio (CG 68) prepares to investigate a skiff during a maritime security operation in the Gulf of Aden.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio (CG 68) prepares to investigate a skiff during a maritime security operation in the Gulf of Aden.

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.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe permalink
    September 8, 2009 6:01 pm

    Scott B,

    A +1 from me on the newspeak as it applies to battleships. It’s odd, as if the railgun technology ever becomes viable we could once again have a 21st-Century variant of the old-fashioned battleship roaming the oceans. If everything else becomes a rhetorical battleship…then pray tell what on earth will we call those vessels?

  2. Scott B. permalink
    September 8, 2009 5:14 pm

    Hudson said : “Teething problems have bediveled many weapons systems.”

    190 tons overweight, i.e. over 6% of the target full load displacement, is not something that can be called *teething problems*.

    The poor seakeeping qualities of LCS-1 at moderate speeds ain’t gonna make it the kind of *launch platform with formidable capacities* you’re talking about.

    Again, I can only encourage you to review some of the past discussions that took place elsewhere, rather than taking anything Mr. Raymond Pritchett proclaims re:LCS at face value.

  3. Hudson permalink
    September 8, 2009 5:11 pm

    Scott: I catch your fine distinction on newspeak re: Pritchett. No offence taken. I’m old school myself: Basically, it’s win or lose, sink or swim, in life. I worry that the Obama admin. actually believes that by toying with terminology, it can influence events–that “success” is somehow more achievable than “victory.” Not so.

  4. Hudson permalink
    September 8, 2009 5:02 pm

    Scott: Your points are well taken. Obviously if the Navy can’t make its ships “fly right,” you will get your wish and the LCS program will sink beneath the waves. A few comments:

    Teething problems have bediveled many weapons systems. The P-38 in WWII got off to a terrible start, costing the lives of numerous test pilots, until the Air Corps figured out how to fly the plane. Some of the cost increases to the LCS have come from added components or capacity, such as the ability to take a hit, which have increased the value of the ship over the original specs, not just cost overruns, so that if you want a frigate with the same specs, you will pay for that too.

    I think too that some of the opposition to the LCS program is because it’s something new, and people are often afraid of something new. It’s a hybrid like many ships today: part flat deck, part superstructure. It has formidible capacities as a launch platform. I predict if the program sinks with the first three ships, the design will nonetheless influence future surface vessels.

  5. Scott B. permalink
    September 8, 2009 4:24 pm

    Hudson said : “I appreciate your sensitivity to language.”

    I’m sorry if my comments on Mr. Raymond Pritchett’s Naval Newspeak may have sound offensive : they weren’t meant to be !

    As noted in wikipedia, the underlying theory of Newspeak is that if something can’t be said, then it can’t be thought.

    That’s why Mr. Raymond Pritchett never use such terms as *problems* or *deficiencies* when he alludes to something that might be negative for LCS (especialy LCS-1 which seems to be his favorite pet) and calls them *challenges* instead.

  6. Scott B. permalink
    September 8, 2009 3:57 pm

    Hudson said : “In what way, Scott, doesn’t the LCS work, considering that the ships are still in trials?”

    Here is one of too many critical deficiencies :

    Page 106 :

    “Also, incomplete designs during construction led to weight increases for both seaframes. According to the Navy, this weight growth contributed to a higher than desired center of gravity on LCS 1 that degraded the stability of the seaframe. In fact, an inclining experiment performed during acceptance trials showed LCS 1 may not meet Navy stability requirements for the damaged ship condition.”

    190 tons overweight for LCS-1, i.e. over 6% of the target full load displacement !

    There are so many things that don’t work and will never work no matter what that trying to make a comprehensive list is way too fastidious.

    Besides, I have already done some of the homework and commented upon quite a few deficiencies on Mr. Raymond Pritchett’s website : if you’re really interested, all you have to day is read through the comments section of the LCS topics posted over there till’ June 1, 2009. Don’t forget the sickbags though !

  7. Hudson permalink
    September 8, 2009 3:30 pm

    Shiver me timbers! I’m speaking naval newspeak! Odd, for a student of George Orwell. I don’t use the term “battleship” here unless referring to historical battleships. I’m not sure that “mother ship” is newspeak, in the way Orwell meant it, meaning a deliberately misleading form of authoritarian propaganda. I appreciate your sensitivity to language.

    Generally, a “lemon” is a machine that doesn’t work. In what way, Scott, doesn’t the LCS work, considering that the ships are still in trials? What would you replace the LCS with, if anything?

  8. Anonymous permalink
    September 8, 2009 3:20 pm

    I think LCS needs a few more guns……….

  9. Scott B. permalink
    September 8, 2009 2:49 pm

    Hudson said : “If you look at the LCS more as a mini-carrier/mother ship for present and future uavs and bots, this might start to make sense. Thus the LCS air-centric design would have more force multipliers than a traditional frigate. Seeking pirates and other low end threats, it could patrol a larger area of ocean and thus be more or equally cost effective in the long run compared with multiples of smaller vessels. “

    This kind of rhetorics probably looks good on powerpoint slides, but it didn’t make sense back when the Überexquisite LCS was supposed to cost $220M (the objective being $150M), and it makes even less sense now that the high-speed lemon costs 3 times as much.

    On a sidenote, I find it extremely worrying to see more and more people embracing the Naval Newspeak promoted so heavily by people like Mr. Raymond Pritchett, where every ship is either a *battleship* or a *mothership*.

    Mr. Pritchett’s Newspeak doesn’t elevate the naval debate, it’s gradually killing it !!!

  10. Hudson permalink
    September 8, 2009 1:45 pm

    Yes, Scott, there are plenty of good frigate designs out there. The MEKO A200, mentioned above, would be a good replacement for the Perry Class frigate–assuming the Navy intends to replace them. It would still take years to start putting hulls in the water (wrangles over Americanizing the design) during which time, if you cancel the LCS immediately, there would be no mid-size hulls going into service. One thing the Congress should do with the Quad-Review next year is to pin the Navy down on its order of battle plans.

    Maybe the Navy intends the LCS to replace its frigates. If you look at the LCS more as a mini-carrier/mother ship for present and future uavs and bots, this might start to make sense. Thus the LCS air-centric design would have more force multipliers than a traditional frigate. Seeking pirates and other low end threats, it could patrol a larger area of ocean and thus be more or equally cost effective in the long run compared with multiples of smaller vessels. Even at that, and if the cost comes down, 55 is too many.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 8, 2009 5:24 am

    All major navies are suffering from shrinking force structures, mainly because of escort size ships like frigates are now approaching the exquisite category. There is today little difference in cost, size and firepower of today’s cruisers, destroyers, and frigates, as I point out in Part 2 of this post. I also lump the LCS in this category because of its cost, though certainly not because of firepower!

    This is why I advocate the corvette/OPV type vessels which cost lower in the hundred millions US$$$, in contrast to traditional mid-size warships. So you would have a navy of basically 2 type warships, plenty of corvettes, and a handful of battleships, a truly balanced fleet, not like the all-battleship navy the USN and RN currently deploy, which is unaffordable, and not required for most of the missions the sea services currently perform. Only a few high end types are needed because they are so much more capable these days.

    Still plan for the Blue Water conflict, but the Navy needs to also be actively involved in our current low tech conflict or the Army will get all the budget, and understandably so.

  12. Distiller permalink
    September 8, 2009 3:31 am

    I’m afraid the tired approach is not possible financially, and will only lead to having the wrong ship in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Means only a single class below the escorts.

    For a number of reasons I see 3500/4000ts (monohull) as the lower limit for the USN. A vessel like this MEKO A200 version

    Buy the license and build four dozen!

    Or even the LCS-2 tricat, if done properly. Or an armed version of the JHSV cat, which, with a little adjustment could very well take on the LCS mission. LCS and JHSV should be merged.

    And regarding the Coast Guard and it’s own little blue water ambitions: Reign them in, cancel the upper parts of the Deep Water programme, as the word is COAST, not yet another other Navy in the making. There is no need for the U.S. to have three or four armies in parallel, or three or four air forces, or navies. That is unsustainable.

    FACs are also nice – Skjolds. A dozen of them based in the Gulf, to play with the Iranians, or the sea bandits in the Gulf of Aden. Give them to SOCOM-N, so that the careers of the USN hopefuls on their DDGs are not disrupted.

  13. Scott B. permalink
    September 8, 2009 2:55 am

    Hudson said : “I disagree that the LCS program should be canceled abruptly, if for no other reason than it is the only semi-frigate the Navy has going.”

    There are plenty of good frigate designs out there : there’ absolutely no need to persevere with the Überexpensive LCS lemon.

  14. leeses permalink
    September 8, 2009 12:53 am

    IMHO Cyclone PCs are not a good reference point for new USN small combatants. In addition to being underarmed and lacking good sea keeping and endurance, they are simply not comparable to modern OPVs or FACs. Look to Europe for good designs of those ships types. Cut a deal to buy an existing design and build it in a US shipyard.

    Think Fincantieri design build at their Marinette yard after LCS is terminated.

    I would start at the lower end of the mix though. NOT boats but true littoral combat ships.

  15. September 7, 2009 10:57 pm

    Well, I’ve said -part- of this before.

    We do need battleships to protect carrier battle groups and amphibious / expeditionary forces. And yeah, then there’s that problematic matter of BMD defense…

    However, for littoral or mixed brown/green/blue water operations we do need some other platforms. The LCS-1 design appears to be not much more than an especially large speedboat (of frigate displacement) armed like a patrol boat (think Ashville or Cyclone PC classes). The LCS-2 design does appear to offer some greater promise of capacity for aviation functions and other loadouts.

    I would prefer to see a tiered array of ship types that are not so compromised as the two LCS designs appear to be. Although, I could see an improved LCS-2 class being useful (large hanger & aviation deck, besides its large internal space suitable for carrying spare equipment – several spare Fire Scout UAVs, anyone).

    First, build a well-armed corvette of between 1000 & 2000 tons. Base it on something like an enlarged & extended U.A.E. Baynunah class. Make certain it could carry one fully loaded SH-60 and a couple of smaller UAVs. See the ‘Future Navy’ section in this Wikipedia page regarding the U.A.E. Navy:

    Second, build a longer-endurance, larger displacement frigate (4000 to 6000 tons) capable of blue water operations that can also get in close to the littorals to support the gators and any corvettes operating in brown water environs. The Danish Ivar Huitfeldt class of AAW frigates (based upon the Absalom class of command and support ships) seems like a good point from which to start building a large frigate. Only, rearrange things aft to provide for a hanger that can allow for the embarkation of two SH-60 ASW helicopters plus a couple of UAVs (the Perry class FFGs started out under 4,000 tons and embarked a two ASW helicopter detachment).

    Place the smaller corvettes and frigates where needed and keep the true-blue battleships where their strengths are best utilized. And, add in some speedy Patrol Boats (of 20 or greater tons) and some modern Patrol Craft (up to about 500 tons) to assist the corvettes in the littorals (and -also- in ports and up into riverine environments). Create a mix of combatant craft that can do the job without placing a $2 billion dollar Burke class battleship (‘destroyer’) within range of a cheap, shore-launched C-801 (or worse) Anti-Ship Cruise Missile.

  16. Hudson permalink
    September 7, 2009 10:35 pm

    I disagree that the LCS program should be canceled abruptly, if for no other reason than it is the only semi-frigate the Navy has going. I would say a dozen of the craft should be sufficient, then cancel–by which time, hopefully, Congress will compel the Navy to build a proper frigate/large corvette for general service.

    For a pirate chaser you need a ship with decent freeboard. Remember, the Somali pirates sometimes swarm vessels at night, and you don’t want them jumping from their skiffs onto your deck. Granted, they can scale a monster tanker. Still, I think bigger is better here. A Cyclone type of gunboat has the firepower to sink the pirates, but you don’t want a desperate fight on your decks. BTW, the Navy doesn’t use Cyclones to chase pirates. The only ones in operation I know of are guarding Iraq’s oil rigs in the Gulf.

  17. Scott B. permalink
    September 7, 2009 6:54 pm

    leesea said : “YES the USN needs something like a Visby instead of the ludicrisly expensive and too large LCS.”

    leesea is right : LCS IS THE PROBLEM !!!

    In spite of Mr. Raymond Pritchett’s desperate attempts to camouflage the LCS issue, this program should be terminated as quickly as possible !!!

    This cancellation is long overdue !!!

  18. leesea permalink
    September 7, 2009 5:47 pm

    No the Navy does not need USCG cutter type ships, YES the USN needs small combatants like FACs of which ther are almost too many designs to mention. YES the USN needs something like a Visby instead of the ludicrisly expensive and too large LCS.

    No the USN does not need Burkes to be motherships for boat and UAV ops aka MSO and MIO. YES the USN needs many Burkes especially for new misiosn like BMD and for all the traditional destroyer roles

  19. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 7, 2009 3:45 pm

    “The USN could afford to cut a few Arleigh Burkes and replace them with USCG style cutters”

    My point exactly! I don’t want to end the reign of these modern battleships, I just think they need to share the workload, and the shipbuilding budget. Because they are so powerful, we should make do with many less, even in wartime. But also during conflict, numbers count as well as capabilities.

  20. Anonymous permalink
    September 7, 2009 3:35 pm

    I agree with everything you say. The HMS Cornwall incident angered me greatly; a frigate sent to launch RIBs (sorry RHIBs) for boarding operations. Absolutely stupid.

    The only thing I will say is that for smaller navies (such as the RN) there is a choice between the high end platform and low end platform. Remember politicians count hulls, not capabilities. It might appear to be waste to have a Type 23 “driving” around the Caribbean chasing drug runners or providing hurricane relief. But in peace time what else would we do with her? Better to have these highly capable ships being used and being seen to be used so that we can have them ready for war. Ships are wonderfully flexible machines. Nobody suggests that Western airforces fly turbo props during peace time. Tanks and artillery pieces are of no use beyond the designed purposes. But ships can perform all types of duties. Look beyond radar and missiles, look at the hull, the trained crew, and the helicopter.

    The USN could afford to cut a few Arleigh Burkes and replace them with USCG style cutters and still be the most powerful fleet on the planet.

    Super article again. BZ!

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