New Cruisers against the Pirates Pt 2
For two main reasons we advocate that Western Navies, especially the US and Britain, devote greater resources to purchasing smaller, more numerous warships. First is the advent of precision guided weapons, and satellite tracking sensors which are incredibly accurate and can easily target and destroy the most heavily armed or protected warships, thanks to accuracy and lethality unmatched in war at sea.
Then there are the numerous smaller navies, able to create warships out of commercial vessels, or updating older designs with modern weapons as the Iranians have done with their Sina class missile boats. Individually such spartan vessels appear little threat to any Western naval battleship, yet with the latter stretched from numerous wars in the Third World, while still attempting to maintain conventional arsenals that are ever harder to build and deploy, these new cruisers threaten to overwhelm the shrinking and over-worked traditional fleets with numbers and adaptability.
Future plans for older navies promise only cuts, with almost the complete disappearance of low end frigates and coastal escorts from their arsenals, the same vessels most needed for today’s threats. Despite facing few if any peer navies, the US, Britain, and their nautical allies wholly obsess over conventional war at sea by constructing ever fewer and more costly aircraft carriers, missile escorts, submarines, and large amphibious vessels. Such capable platforms in small numbers are always handy in war or peacetime, but with threats ongoing from from pirates, smugglers, and Third World Navies, an all-high tech fleet becomes so much over-kill and a waste of resources. Not that such multi-mission battleships can’t handle a pirate or smuggler on an individual basis, but taken as a whole we are witnessing the declining influence of Western seapower in many parts of the globe, mostly self-inflicted.
Misreading the Threat
The modern cruiser began to take shape around the turn of the 20th Century, from various types of protected and unprotected, armored, and torpedo cruisers, plus a class known as a “dynamite cruiser“. By the 1930s two specific types were widely used, the heavy and light cruiser, with little difference in roles or size other than loading 8 inch and 6 inch main guns respectively. During WW 2, another type known as an AA cruiser was also deployed. Wikipedia provides us with further details:
For much of 19th century and the first half of the 20th, the cruiser was a navy’s long-range “force projection” weapon, while the larger ships stayed nearer to home. Their main role was to attack enemy merchant vessels, so much so that this task came to be called cruiser warfare. Other roles included reconnaissance, and cruisers were often attached to the battle fleet. In the later 20th century, the decline of the battleship left the cruiser as the largest and most powerful surface combatant. However, the role of the cruiser increasingly became one of providing air defence for a fleet, rather than independent cruiser warfare.
Britain, with the most cruisers in the prewar era considered her Empire rested on the backs of such expensive and versatile vessels, but this proved to be an antiquated strategy. Though the surface threat still remained, it gradually subsided as technology gave power to more asymmetrical ways of war for striking at commerce, involving submarines. The antidote proved to be smaller, more numerous escorts ships, especially destroyers, but also frigates, corvettes, ect.
The Same Mistakes
Today, modern navies are again preparing for the wrong threat, concentrating on high end missile ships, confusingly calling them cruisers, destroyers, or frigates, even though they each perform the same functions of defense from air attack, with secondary surface and ASW. Most cost at least $1 billion each and in the US Navy much more than this.
All these are still essential vessels of war, no doubt needed in some numbers, but the real threat to commerce remains in the form of these pirates and smugglers. Like the submarines early in the last century, the threat from these modern day cruisers are either ignored or at least considered insignificant. Yet on many occasions they managed to humble the mighty fleets of the West, forcing merchant men to take disparate and safer routes, burning precious and expensive fuel. Others they hold up for ransom and kidnapping or robbery.
The results, however, aren’t as impressive as the fact they have made an impression at all. Here are the great traditional navies, with the best equipment money can buy and secure in their hereditary command of the seas, forced to react to the threadbare sailors of Somalia, of the world’s most impoverished states. These fair-weather fisherman turned buccaneers in their make-shift pirate craft, are building navies from scratch, utilizing ancient tactics of stealth and boarding that are surprisingly still effective in the Space Age.
Tomorrow-A new look for Seapower.