Dreaming of the 313-Ship Navy Pt 2
The U.S. Navy has been operating on something close to autopilot since World War II, replacing old classes of ships with improved versions when the old ones need to be retired, rather than approaching naval warfare from a clean slate. All but a couple of countries in the world have navies that look very different, with very different mixes of ships and objectives, than the naval forces of World War II.
The U.S. Navy may very well need more ships, but even if it does, they may not be the ones we are building now.
Wash Park Prophet blog
It is baffling why the Navy and many of its supporters do not associate our rapidly shrinking fleet with the type of ships we build. The strain on the force has been rising for some time so it is obvious the mindset of “bigger is better” in ship size is a deeply ingrained idea. Under Admiral Elmo Zumwalt’s (CNO from 1970-1974) High Low plan to replace hundreds of war-built destroyers and light carriers with similar easy to build and low cost substitutes, only the Perry class frigates made it past the High Tech obsessed ship buyers who preferred supercarriers, supercruisers, and supersubs. Even so, by the 1980’s we only managed (almost) a 600 Ship Navy by keeping obsolete vessels from the 1950s in service longer than required, and recommissioning a few from the 1940s!
Ask anyone within and without the Navy, and of course the desire for a bigger fleet is there, even for the very modest number of 313 ships. They will even tell you how much we need to improve our Green and Brown Water capabilities (near to shore), as this is where the service needs to concentrate in the Post Cold War era.
Mention cutting the number of large vessels, what I call the 5 Battleships of aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, nuclear submarines, and amphibious ships, and you have committed heresy. Every sailors, every politician, and every seapower advocate has a favorite of the 5, and the very notion of reducing numbers for any is likened to seriously endangering the national security of the country, as well as destroying her ability to control the sealanes.
What the high tech advocates fail to realize is they are hurting the very service they seek to protect. By refusing low cost alternatives like small warships, which are so much more capable thanks to the same technology they overload our big ships with, they ensure we have a shrinking, overpriced, inflexible, and top heavy battlefleet too costly to risk in wartime, plus stretched thin and over-worked in peacetime. And if we can’t get deployments right in peacetime, what will become of us in a world war?
Inadvertently, by refusing to bend or compromise with the small ship navy, they endanger the Big Ships they love. The traditional type aircraft carrier, cruiser, destroyer, attack submarine, and amphibious ship have now reached the end of their development cycle. There is always a balance for warship procurement in terms of the balance in speed, protection, and armament which you can reasonably place on a ship and still afford adequate numbers. Considering current ship delays, drastic fall in numbers, drastic rise in prices, and poor shipyard quality, it is clear now this time is upon us, calling for a new revolution in ship design.
A temporary solution is to continue building tried and true types from previous decades, as with the Arleigh Burke class of destroyers or the Nimitz class carriers. More likely, with budget cuts looming, these will be replaced altogether just as military aircraft are being by UAVs, and tracked armor by wheeled vehicles. In the 1990s light fighters such as the USAF now seeks would have been adequate replacements for aging F-15s and F-16s in some environments, but since they would’t have it we have turned to the UAVs. On land, the Army could have bought tracked light tanks such as the armored gun system in time for the COIN conflicts which have dominated this new century, but by refusing they had off the shelf wheeled vehicles virtually forced upon them. So it seems small warships like corvettes built from off the shelf designs will win by default, because of the budget crunch brought on by continued wasteful procurement policies.
The Littoral Combat Ship, seen as the answer to the Navy’s shrinking fortunes is actually a band-aid on a seeping wound. The misnamed shallow water vessel has itself suffered delays, cost-overruns, and weight issues, because the Navy doesn’t understand and has little interest in small ships. A vessel meant to be the size of a corvette now has the appearance of old-style frigate, and has no other purpose other than to raise or at least maintain ship numbers. This is a poor excuse to build a very expensive and poorly armed vessel meant to function as a coastal patrol boat.
The Navy of the future will be radically different in appearance, perhaps as today’s fleet might look to a Tar from the Age of Sail. Gone will be many of the familiar types created at the dawn of the last century, perfected in World War 2, and updated to fight the Cold War. In their place will be high speed catamarans, surface ships with smooth decks, Streetfighters for shallow water warfare, AIP subs which rival the underwater endurance of nuclear boats, and UAVs which can fly from submarine or surface ship.