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Aegis Battleships Misused in Drug War

October 26, 2009

091015-N-9500T-016.JPGFrom Navy News we learn of an astounding drug bust by one of the world’s most powerful warships:

USS Anzio (CG 68), operating as part of the Combined Maritime Forces, a U.S.-led coalition supporting maritime security operations in the region, seized approximately four tons of hashish found aboard a skiff Oct. 15 in the Gulf of Aden, with an estimated street-value of $28 million.

The skiff was located approximately 170 miles southwest of Salalah, Oman when it was spotted traveling at a high speed by Anzio’s crew.  Following a brief chase, the skiff was boarded by Anzio’s visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) team, including officers from the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy…

“The seizure of these drugs takes money out of the hands of those financing terrorists in the region,” said Rear Adm. Scott E. Sanders, commander, Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, embarked aboard Anzio. “Yesterday these Sailors were hunting pirates, today they have sent a message to all would-be smugglers that we won’t tolerate pirates or drug traffickers in these waters.”
Coalition Sailors discovered the drugs in the dhow along the ‘Hash Highway.’ The drugs were thrown overboard and destroyed. This is the first seizure of narcotics that Anzio has conducted.

However impressive a haul this is in the anti-narcotics mission, please note the type adversary the $1 billion dollar warship was facing and also the comment “Following a brief chase“, with our response being “ya think?” to this one-sided clash at sea . Also from the photos of this fearsome adversary, we think it a good thing for the Navy that the USS Anzio wasn’t photographed in the background.


The US Navy continues to use its most powerful and technically impressive warships to combat some of the world’s simplest (though still important) threats of smuggling. Such vessels like USS Anzio, of the vaunted Ticonderoga class Aegis cruisers were built to combat the old Soviet Union, and sports the most sophisticated and expensive anti-air warfare radars and weapons ever devised. The revolution brought on by the Anzio and her billion-dollar sisters has been such a profound one in war at sea, they have been likened to the New Battleships, most notably by this blogger.

Today, one of the most called on assets by Presidents of late hasn’t been the larger and more visible aircraft carriers, but BMD shooters like the Aegis ships. Though Anzio currently is not equipped for this role, plans for the future include upgrading the vessel with SPY 1B systems allowing it a anti-theater ballistic missile capability. Such an enhancement to the vessel’s already considerable firepower upgrades it to space cruiser status.

We continue to honor the Anzio and her crew’s service, plus the sacrifice made from home and family to serve their country. We in no way disparage their mission, but consider it an essential one which the Navy should gear their building programs more in line with. With that said, we think the way the fleet as currently structured is for the wrong war, with ships fashioned to fight a like peer enemy as with the old Soviet Union. At some point, perhaps the Chinese will deploy ships that might match the abilities of the Aegis ships, but with 99 already built and building for the US Navy, we think such a threat extremely remote in the near future.

USS Anzio (CG 68) in the Gulf.

USS Anzio (CG 68) in the Gulf.

For the job currently  performed by the Ticonderoga supercruisers and Burke superdestroyers, chasing down smugglers in motorized skiffs or pirates in speed boats and dhows, we see the same function performed adequately, perhaps better by 1000 ton offshore patrol vessels. The British head of the NATO counter-piracy flotilla recently described the requirements for this yet-to-be-deployed corvette, “The capabilities I want are a helicopter, a boat and a boarding party.” Vessels such as these cost in the millions, and are used by navies the world over to patrol dangerous shorelines with shoals, sandbars, and also pirates. No decades long programs, billion-dollar contracts, or shrinking force structures needed. Neither are space age battleships required, which might be put to better use elsewhere.

A low tech 21st Century war with many small threats, rather than the one single adversary from the Cold War, is the position the Navy finds itself in today. Yet, considering continued plans for the shrinking number of Aegis destroyers, large aircraft carriers, and costly amphibious ships it wants to buy but can hardly afford, the Navy’s strategy and their building plans are seriously askew. We would hope to see more plans for off the shelf weapons, small patrol ships and corvettes, plus commercial vessels converted to auxiliary motherships which could do the same function currently performed by exquisite capital ships like Anzio and her sisters, at drastically less waste in firepower.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Edna permalink
    October 27, 2009 8:26 pm

    thanks, I guess I should have clarified that. I realized the Cruisers are not getting the SPY-1D upgrade. I worked for RCA at the beginning of the AEGIS program. Admiral Meyer the Father of Aegis died this past summer. I retired from the program in 2002.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    October 27, 2009 7:11 pm

    Edna, you were correct the first time. The SPY-1A radars were all on the early “twin arm bandit” (Mk. 26) launcher CG’s. These are now all decommissioned. SPY-1B is the type of radar equipped on all of the VLS (Mk. 41) launcher CG’s, and SPY-1D is the radar for the entire DDG-51 class. The TBMD upgrades are for Aegis system itself, of which the SPY-1 radar is a component.

  3. Edna permalink
    October 26, 2009 10:10 pm

    My error, Cruisers are being upgraded to the Spy-1B configuration.

  4. Edna permalink
    October 26, 2009 9:52 pm

    We have stopped making new Cruisers, we have however been upgrading them to keep them viable and able to communicate with the new Aegis Ships. We are also building Coast Guard Cutters, under the Deepwater program.

  5. October 26, 2009 9:32 pm

    A great post as others have already noticed. What will it take do you think for a return of adults to the business of making foreign policy and national security policies? We are in the hands of midgets — sorry little people but….we are.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    October 26, 2009 9:11 pm

    Your own link says it. All VLS CG’s (CG59-onward) are equipped with SPY-1B, but not all VLS CG’s have BMD capability.

  7. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 26, 2009 8:43 pm

    Edna, could you please leave a link showing where I am incorrect on these upgrades.

  8. Chuck Hill permalink
    October 26, 2009 6:26 pm

    So what we really need is coast guard cutters. Well, the cutters are all busy right now, and the CGs/DDGs have to be in the area anyway, so, as long as nothing more interesting comes along, they might as well be used for this.

    I would also like to see us have more ships in a range of sizes, but this is not the reason.

    Prior to WWII the British said they needed 70 cruisers. They never got there, but they had a rationale, however flawed. It was a based on a plan and could be continuously refined. We don’t seem to have a plan.

    Mike, I call on you to open a discussion of what we need “cruisers” for and how many it will take. I think we have a substantial range of expertise here, we might be able to actually come up with numbers.

    We don’t need a peer opponent to require a lot of ships, for instance: If we wanted to “quarantine” country “A” (North Korea, Iran,
    China, fill in the blank) how many ships would it take to intercept traffic with a high level of certainty and conduct boardings to determine intent while simultaneously escorting our other assets. Look at Market Time of Viet Nam for example.

  9. Edna permalink
    October 26, 2009 5:08 pm

    If the Aegis Cruisers were in the golf, why not take advantage of the assets and use them. The upgrades you are talking about Spy-1A to Spy-1B are incorrect. If something happens in the middle east these ships can fight a war with a lot less of our troops on the ground. We are the most envied country in the world, there is a reason we need to be always prepared.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 26, 2009 2:55 pm

    Matthew, I don’t agree that we must have “either, or”. The aviation community does the same thing with large carriers, refusing to contemplate lighter carriers, thus ensuring we have a shrinking, stretched thin fleet. Small ships are there so you won’t have to keep your Big Ships in harms way near to shore, and so their special abilities won’t be wasted chasing after dhows, becoming a second Coast Guard.

    What we are doing now is historically indefensible.

  11. Matthew S permalink
    October 26, 2009 2:35 pm

    I think those Cruisers and destroyers are still necessary. China is rebuilding its entire fleet at rapid pace, India is upgrading its fleet and even Russia is upgrading its fleet. Theres no way we should sacrifice these cruisers and destroyers for small boats meant to deal with pirates. Also, the LCS is supposed to accomplish that mission regardless of how big of a success or failure that program will be.

  12. Joe K. permalink
    October 26, 2009 2:07 pm

    You know, a thought just occurred to me. Instead of pandering to the types that would have us build a Navy around fighting solely skiffs and small boats how about actually designing a radar or surveillance system that can detect targets below the radar’s minimum level.

    That would save some considerable funds seeing as how your alternative would be to spend the next 50 years decommissioning current ship types, extensively refitting others, and building a whole new force based around the threat of skiff boats.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 26, 2009 11:54 am

    Mark here is my counter-argument: With 62 of the powerful Burke’s built or building at an astronomical price plus the 22 Ticonderoga class, when does this become overkill? We are also planning on a Burke followup for the next decade, and as you say with no peer threat in sight, our practice of building only high end ships is to the detriment of other essential naval functions.

    Considering the amazing abilities of these vessels, which I argue are our New Battleships, where are low end ships which can do sundry but essential everyday patrol work? We are even scrapping prematurely our anti-mine abilities in expectation of this untested LCS wonder, even though out of 18 incidents of combat damage to US Navy ships in the past few decades, 14 has been from mines (see Hughes, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat).

    When can we say enough and stop using our best ships, now needed to watch Iran and North Korea since we won’t have much of a land based BMD shield, for chasing smugglers in skiff, pirates in speedboats? It is a terrible waste of resources and an affront to the highly skilled technicians trained to fight another kind of war on these ships (though the mission itself is an old and honorable one).

    Instead lets build up ships numbers, and reduce our presence deficit and the time at sea for our selfless servicemen and women who sacrifice so much in our steadily dwindling fleet.

  14. Mark permalink
    October 26, 2009 11:30 am

    Here’s the best argument. We’ve built the ship for peer and near-peer competitors. But there aren’t any at the moment. So we might as well use the ship for something while we wait for China to build more ships, or for Iran to try to close down the Gulf.

    The lack of a real mission is an argument not to build more of these ships, but you might as well use the ones you’ve already built. That or drydock it until the China threat gets more serious.

  15. October 26, 2009 9:56 am

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 10/26/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 26, 2009 7:36 am

    Thanks Henry!

  17. NavHist permalink
    October 26, 2009 6:11 am

    Spending $10 for a 5 cent piece of candy just never makes sense in the end. Great post.


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