New Cruisers against the Pirates Pt 1
Cruisers Past & Present
On board the frigate HMS Kent in the Gulf, Birmingham MP Gisela Stuart describes her experience on a vessel built to fight another type of war:
Launched in 1998, she cost £140 million to build and £14-16 million a year to run. She carries an array of weapons, from harpoon anti-ship missiles, to Stingray torpedoes and Vertical Launched Seawolf anti-air missiles, as well as carrying a helicopter.
Almost 200 officers and ratings are on board and I’m sure finding a bunk for five visitors wasn’t easy. It is hot and I mean hot. The water temperature is around 32C, but at least air-conditioning makes things easier on board. These ships were designed for anti- submarine warfare and intended to sail in cold Atlantic waters.There are some Marines on board – a reminder that the Navy isn’t just about sailors and the sea. The Navy plays its role on land, sea and air.
The Kent’s tasks are to participate in defence diplomacy, support the joint maritime operations, and provide an airborne asset, as well as supporting wider British interests. Some British interests in the region are more obvious than others. If the Straights of Hormuz are blocked, the entire world’s trade will suffer.
Piracy is back and it’s big business.
A few posts back we showed how today’s real cruisers are the destroyers, frigates, and submarines and how these rose from the flotilla of coastal warships before World War 2 to become essential combatants for modern navies. The traditional light and heavy cruisers which fought that war spent most of their time on the battleline or tied down as aircraft carrier escorts. After the war and over the decades they have disappeared as a type (though some have morphed in ASW helicopters carriers), their role in the fleet as screen, commerce protector and raider now taken by ASW escorts and subs.
The high cost of modern cruisers, easily surpassing the billions dollar (or pounds) are making them prohibitive in the escort role. Their enhanced abilities such as Aegis, PAAMS phased array radar, plus Tomahawk strategic and tactical missiles make them high end assets better suited for the battleline, as their war-era forebears. Even low-end frigates like the littoral combat ship are nearly as costly, ensuring that fewer will likely be bought, and these will be too precious to risk in shallow seas where they are needed the most.
Off the coast of Somalia on a US Navy Aegis destroyer, journalist David Axe reveals what happens when you have the wrong ship for the right mission:
I asked Commodore Steve Chick, the British head of the NATO counter-piracy flotilla, what he looked for in warships under his command. “The capabilities I want are a helicopter, a boat and a boarding party.” The U.S. Navy contribution to Chick’s group, the destroyer USS Donald Cook, has two boats and two boarding crews, but no helicopter. She has a flight deck, but no hangar, so the best she can do it accommodate some other ship’s chopper for a brief while. Nor does “DC” have the gear to support a Scan Eagle drone, like some other U.S. ships do.
Seeking the New Cruisers
Today’s modern naval combatants which were adequate dealing with their Soviet counterparts of 20 years hence, the deep diving nuclear boats, have been hard pressed to contain those most minor of nautical threats, the pirates and smugglers. Now they are faced with suicide boats foreshadowing the spread of radical jihad at sea. Though there have been some successes, such as the USS Bainbridge’s take-down of pirate kidnappers off Somalia, or HMS Iron Duke’s headline-making anti-drug patrols in the Caribbean, such vessels are too large, too costly, and too few to manage these missions and still contend with traditional roles should they arise. As we see with the growing ballistic missile threat, plus rising China and historically belligerent Russia, such vessels and their heightened abilities are of better use elsewhere than in the backwaters of the Third World.
In place of the useful but exquisite ship-types of the last century, the destroyers, frigates, and nuclear subs, we propose the navies of the West build smaller platforms. Corvettes, offshore patrol vessels, conventional submarines, backed by motherships would create a new escort flotilla, hearkening back to the world wars where it was discovered such easy to build in quantity ships were the right choice for then-modern threats. Smaller vessels would allow the Big Ships to stay out of the uncertain shallow seas, while concentrating on the rare but always possible conventional wars and crises which they are better suited for.
Sri Lankan Lessons
During Sri Lanka’s final showdown with the LTTE Tamil Tiger terrorists, they fought full scale war at sea which also involved examples of the modern cruiser warfare. The “Sea Tiger’s” utilized asymmetrical tactics at sea including fast smugglers and suicide boats. So called warfare ships secretly delivered the enemy with arms from overseas. With only a small coast defense fleet of ships, the Sri Lankan Navy was forced to improvise to interdict the flow of illegal weapons. From an interview with the Navy commander we read:
“We went near to Australian waters and whacked the last four vessels,” says Vice- Admiral Karannagoda. “Yet we are not a big navy; we had to improvise and use innovation and ingenuity to get our job done. The SLN does not possess any frigate-sized ships, so we used offshore patrol vessels and old tankers, merchant vessels and fishing trawlers as support vessels.”
Tomorrow-the New Cruiser threat at sea.