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Building a Bigger, Better Navy Pt 1

December 7, 2009

USS Buckley (DE-51). One of over 450 destroyer escorts from WW 2.

The Quarter-Sized Navy

In wartime, you need lots of ships. In peacetime, a global navy requires many hulls in the water. The US Navy will insist even though it is less than half the fleet of the 1980s, when we had a fewer enemies, that they are justified in contributing to the decline of fleet numbers. For instance, here is a quote from a recent post we did on the Future of Amphibious Lift

Originally intended as a class of 12, we will now get only 9, which further takes away from our already shrinking fleet in an age where the Navy is more important than ever.  Wiki also notes: The (9) planned San Antonio’s will replace a total of 41 ships. 

According to frequent commenter Solomon at this own blog, this comes to 1 ship replacing 4. However, we have some questions pondering the 4-1 ratio the Navy has so much confidence in: 

  • Can the one LPD-17 be in four places at once, as the vessels it is replacing?
  • Is the LPD-17 four times as survivable as the vessels it is replacing?
  • Does the LPD-17 carry four times the equipment and four times the troops of the vessels it is replacing?

 
Concerning the individual costs of such, we can see where this might be true, even an understatement, as we noted last week that 10 Joint High Speed vessels able to carry 10 Stryker companies could be bought for a single San Antonio! The Navy would justify the smaller numbers by lessons from decades of peacetime sailing, where its enemies have been Third World terrorists which aren’t shooting back. Such exquisite ships are too big to risk in shallow seas where they are most needed, as well as too costly and hard to replace in wartime. 

Too Many Risks

One of the architects of the 600 ship Navy of 30 years ago, for Navy Secretary John Lehman once wrote that these metrics advocating a smaller fleet are faulty, even dangerous: 

 Our fleet today has shrunk from 600 to 270 and is heading for 150. We have cut carriers from Reagan’s 15 to Obama’s 10.
But we can’t argue with geography: The seas still cover 70 percent of the world, and our vital trade and allies are far more global than in TR’s day. With this shrinking fleet, we can no longer deter piracy and guarantee freedom of the seas.   

 
The problem isn’t money, as Winslow Wheeler points out in a 2008 article, the fleet hasn’t been lacking funds in the past decade, despite ongoing wars on land: 

Not counting $95 billion subsequently received for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy/Marine Corps “base” — non-war — budget was increased by $174 billion to $1.07 trillion.
Did this additional $174 billion reverse a central trend that has plagued the U.S. Navy for decades? Did the extra $174 billion stem the receding tide of a shrinking and aging fleet? The opposite has been the case: The U.S. Navy’s fleet of active duty combat ships has sharply declined over time. Overall, the U.S. fleet is today as small as at any point in the post-World War II period. From a 1953 high of 835 combat ships, it persistently hovers in the 21st century at about 300.   

 
We can only conclude the admiral’s building programs are seriously flawed, and the metrics that “1 ship replaces 4” rather than making us stronger has placed us on a death spiral. Self inflicted wounds. 

Return of the escorts 

One answer might be to build many ships smaller. Small destroyer escorts of the world war, like the USS Buckley pictured, were at 1300+tons light what we would call a corvette today. They were very well armed for their size, and used in all sea environments during the global conflict. They were light of construction, carried the armament of a destroyer, and extremely useful. As noted, they were constructed in many hundreds in just a few years. 

So build smaller ships. Stop obsessing over hull form and get a well-armed, seaworthy frame. Keep hull size down to the 1000-1500 tons frame for an escort. Then the engineers can concentrate on primary armament, making the warship a fighter, not just a wonderful seakeeper. Important true, but the first rule of a naval ship is build it to fight, and build plenty of them.

Continued tomorrow.

Thanks to Bob Stoner of Warboats for his help with this article.

44 Comments leave one →
  1. B.Smitty permalink
    December 9, 2009 1:01 pm

    CBD,

    For $600 million you get a ship that can lug around a 200-tonne mission module at 40+kts. It’s a lot more than just a patrol ship. They both do have “basic defense” armament.

    Though they would be nice, I don’t think we need large AShMs on them. NLOS should be fine. Airpower and subs will take care of the enemy’s large combatants before the LCS gets close.

    I agree that a 70-90m OPV hull would be nice too, though we probably don’t need that many. Maybe two dozen.

  2. CBD permalink
    December 9, 2009 12:41 pm

    B. Smitty,
    FMS is a secondary benefit, yes, that’s how I see it, too. That doesn’t mean that we won’t be getting ships that are suitable for our needs.

    What are our needs? Ships to fill the void. Ships that can complete all of the small tasks so the DDGs, SSNs and the like don’t have to fill minor combatant roles. We need ships to conduct routine patrol, partnership exercises, combat picket, anti-shipping, sub-hunting and mine clearance.

    With LCS, we don’t get much more than a patrol ship for $600M (not including the cost of the unfinished modular systems). That is a ship program made with the stated purpose of our needs, but utterly removed from practical needs of the fleet (like VBSS as a regular duty, not a second mission module shoe-horned into the mission bay, and basic defense).

    You can get a 70m hull, core HM&E and your basic systems architecture (maybe the main gun) for the price I stated. In the US shipbuilding industry, it would be more in the range of $200M with your installed systems.

    I firmly believe that it’s possible. Look at what they fit onto PC-14 for <$25M and FSF-1 for $50M. With a non-developmental hull (PC-14, FSF-1) as testbed, a focused set of requirements, and an evolutionary design process, you can get a decent ship at a decent price.

    Test existing systems* on existing platforms, tweak, test, build a dedicated test platform, test, tweak, test, and build your first production prototype. In the third ship you have a useful platform (that has proven capabilities).

    Better than that, you have test 6 ships with variable capabilities (but each with a similar systems architecture) that you can deploy with a decomissioned LPD (for testing support and maintenance, LPD-9 is due for 2010) as your test fleet. Run it around the Gulf or off of Hawaii, and see how the networked fleet works and check that the manpower is reasonable. After a year of that, you're ready to begin production of the corvettes.

    *- This should begin as a program to push the developmental LCS weapons packages into practical use, what doesn't work is not waited upon. Conduct some comparative testing with smaller VLS systems (Barak, Mica, etc. vs SD-length Mk41, NLOS-LS), non-deck-penetrating gun mounts (Millennium gun, Mk 38 mod 2 vs. Mk46 mod 1, Mk 110), alternate weapons systems (M151-based Sea Protector RWS with Hellfire, Javelin, 70mm guided rockets and 127mm guided zuni rockets) and AShMs (ANAM, NSM vs. Harpoon). Test torpedo launch systems and conduct radar-fitting experiments on PC-14 and FSF-1. Feed the dimensions of these systems into your design process and test integration onto the existing PC-14 and FSF-1 hulls.

    The chosen platforms and radar should be integrated and tested on land, then on the test ships before the final test hull even exists (so a 12 month delay in getting software together doesn't mean a 12 month delay in testing the operational hull).

  3. December 9, 2009 11:49 am

    Mike said in resonse to my post about ‘big but cheap’ ships able to provide an effective war role while being cheap enough to mass produce to build a bigger globally deployed fleet:

    “I don’t see why all these capabilities are required in a single coastal escort”

    What is a “coastal escort” ? I did not mention a coastal escort, I said a ship big enough to deploy world wide for up to 9 months, with decent accommodation. You need the capabilities so that the vessel has a role in a “near-peer” shooting war, as I described.

    You appear to be being deliberately “not understanding” my theme of “big but cheap” because you promote ‘small and cheap’ in your obsession with the “Corvette” – but your obsession really appears to be driven by cost – the cost of the LCS, or even the cost of the USCG National Security Cutter, which if it could be mass produced at a decent price would provide an excellent “frigate” for the USN – perhaps with a little stretch for those POLAR / P44’s :-)

  4. B.Smitty permalink
    December 9, 2009 11:18 am

    Mike said, “Seems that technology providing “one missile, one hit” would mean you need less such weapons, and your logistics load would then be greatly eased. Now the missile becomes more cost effective, if it works properly.

    For NSFS, there will always be a need for area fires, so “one missile, one hit” won’t always be possible. Therefore in a major conflict, you may still have to reload your NSFS system at sea.

    IMHO, naval gunfire is better when the ranges involved don’t require exotic rounds like LRLAP or ERGM (and specialized guns to fire them like AGS). Simpler PGK fuzes may soon give us near precision accuracy on previously dumb (and cheap) projectiles.

    Beyond this range, the argument in favor of the gun becomes far more muddled, IMHO.

  5. B.Smitty permalink
    December 9, 2009 10:50 am

    CBD,

    We still need to make ships that are suitable for us first. You won’t get much more than a patrol ship for $60-120 million.

    FMS is only a secondary benefit.

  6. CBD permalink
    December 9, 2009 10:11 am

    The LM P44 Missile (178mm vs. the MLRS’ 227mm) was another LM concept (meant to improve the rounds carried by the M270 launcher from 6 rockets per canister to 10).

    The P44 is expected to have a range of more than 70km for a warhead like the 28lb Hellfire MAC or a 17lb shaped charge warhead with a precursor charge. The real benefit is the variety of guidance modes available (SAL, GPS-INS, MMW, and IIR) which would allow this missile class to be used against a variety of targets.
    ref a
    ref b
    ref c
    ref d)

    Given all of these options, a VLS adaptation of the GMLRS or P44 could give ships some significant fire support capability for relatively little space. A Burke loaded with primarily ESSMs and navalized MLRS missiles could support 50 cells of POLAR-type PGMs (200 shots), 20 cells for ESSM (80 missiles) and still have room for a minimal load of 10 SM-2, 5 Tomahawk, and 5 VLASROC rounds (for contingencies). It’s not a ship that you’d send around the world alone, but it would be a nice fire support system for NSFS reaching up to 54nm (relatively cheaply) and could provide for local air defense of a landing group.

  7. CBD permalink
    December 9, 2009 10:10 am

    Graham,
    Sounds like you’re describing the Lockheed Martin POLAR (Precision Over the horizon Land Attack Rocket), which was a proposal to adapt the MLRS rockets (M30 warhead) to the Mk 41 VLS system, via a quadpacked Mk 25 canister, same as the ESSM (ref, p40). The rockets were supposed to be lengthened (30% longer rocket), giving a range of over 100km. Given the recent range achievements of upgraded GMLRS/GUMLRS rockets (85km) vs the initial reach (60km), that predicted 100+km range sounds reasonable.

    That comes out of the Naval TACMS missile project (adapting the ATACMs to the Mk 41 VL system), which in February of ’95 resulted in the following:
    The final NATACMS Block IA prototype missile test was an “at sea” firing from an M270 launcher on the deck of the USS Mount Vernon positioned off the coast of San Diego, California. The shot flew 75 nautical miles for a direct hit on the target.
    (from here and here).

    The plan was to have Navalized TACMs launched from surface vessels and submarines with a range of 1-300 miles, using the Mk 41 launcher (ref) or the new launchers on the SSGNs (ref).

  8. CBD permalink
    December 9, 2009 10:02 am

    Smitty,
    Re: Foreign Military Sales
    Absolutely. Weaker foreign militaries love buying what the US uses…no reason to not make something that is more affordable, acts as a sign of US dedication to local interests and is useful for every day operations.

    Modularity seems to be a poorly understood idea in the USN. With modern computer systems, it shouldn’t be difficult to configure a ship to allow for swapping in different weapons systems. The Danes have now done it for 2 vessels (Flyvefisken, Absalon) and are going for a third (their new Huitfeldt-class frigate), with an extreme example of modularity by using standard containers. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t treat our systems similarly (setting up missile launchers, guns, and carried craft (RHIBs, USVs, UUVs, UAVs, towed sonars).

    Using a ‘dumb’ platform to launch smart systems can readily be transferred to friendly/allied nations without much concern about tipping local balances of power. If we need to engage in operations in that area, we can fly in the modular systems in shipping containers with some engineers and our allied patrol corvette is now (within a few days) an allied AShM carrier/ASW platform/MCM mothership/SEAL insertion vessel. At the end of the war, most of the systems could be packed up and shipped home (or left in place to enhance allied forces in the region without actually dedicating USN fleet assets to the job).

    If we can make the core vessel for $60-120M, it is ‘giftable’ after a decade or so (small allied nations can buy the related modular systems as a partial offset), allowing for constant production in CONUS and incremental improvements to each generation of ships, thus improving the vessels as systems are refined in batches. A common, simple hull plan also allows multiple smaller CONUS shipyards to produce the vessels, hopefully teaching them to build warships (for future industrial capacity).

    Mike,
    I agree, it’s worth considering the worth of gun vs. cheap missile, especially for NSFS. Considering the amount of space consumed on the DDG1000 to fit the AGS, it might be more valuable to have just small guns (for short range targets, air defense and CIWS) on that vessel and replace the AGS space with Mk 41 or Mk 57 VLS cells loaded with POLAR (see below) rockets or some other low-cost munition.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 9, 2009 9:48 am

    Graham asked “Just a thought: Might a semi-guided, long-range MLRS battery be more effective for NGFS then either a 127mm or a 76mm? ”

    I often wonder that myself though we don’t have any proof that guns are obsolete, we do have proof that small guided weapons are extraordinarily effective in combat, much more than in the 1950s and 60s when some wondered if the missile would displace the gun altogether. The argument often goes you run out of missiles very quick, but there are countless cases in gun battles when warships ran out of shells prematurely.

    It doesn’t matter if the unguided shells are cheaper. What counts is, can missiles be loaded on less space than a 3 inch or 5 inch cannon, allowing warships to be smaller. What about logistics? Seems that technology providing “one missile, one hit” would mean you need less such weapons, and your logistics load would then be greatly eased. Now the missile becomes more cost effective, if it works properly.

    Again, I’m not saying its time to lose the gun, but I do think it is an argument worth considering.

  10. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 8, 2009 4:52 pm

    Smitty,

    Good point re. weapons sales. The Air Force does this all the time. It makes good business sense. Plus, it’s our own stuff, so if the seller goes rogue, we know how to wreck our old toys. ;)

  11. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 8, 2009 4:24 pm

    Mike,

    Just a thought: Might a semi-guided, long-range MLRS battery be more effective for NGFS then either a 127mm or a 76mm? Light weapons don’t have much value when it comes to NGFS but they CAN be very effective against warships, even fairly large warships, if they have a high-rate of fire. Historical example: The German invasion of Norway. The old 280 mm guns & shore-mounted torpedos pounded Blucher but lighter massed gunfire (15cm & smaller) pounded the superstructure & disabled the pocket battleship Lutzow.

    Anyway, so I’m thinking a navalized semi-smart (or just plain dumb, even, if it has range) MLRS batter might be a better alternative to today’s naval guns as far as gunfire support goes. It’s a simple concept, the ordnance would be inexpensive & you could bring a world of pain & chaos to enemy positions AND, because of the cost effectiveness of the weapon, you could afford reloads.

    Precision fire can be overrated. I’m thinking maybe a navalized, longer range variation on the Russian TOS-1 thermobaric MLRS. Make bad guys go bye-bye.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    December 8, 2009 4:06 pm

    Chuck,

    What do we cut to free up funds for building these ships?

    What’s their mission? Would these ships be frigates? LCSes? OPVs? Focusing on high-end conflicts? Low-end? MIW? ASW? ASuW? AAW? COIN? Reconfigurable via modules? What are the expected threats?

    Independently tasked? Expected to operate as part of a CVBG or ESG?

    IMHO, there’s no sense in starting with an arbitrary tonnage (whether 1000t, 2500t, or 4500t) without defining mission needs first.

    Bob Work suggested another reason for building this type of ship (though he was talking about the LCS): Foreign Military Sales. Build em, use ’em for 15 year and sell them cheap to our allies. That way we build up their capability too.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 8, 2009 4:02 pm

    Jed said ” a 16 cell MK41 can carry 64 NSSM (SeaSparrow quad packs). A 5 inch instead of a 57mm allows for NGS in support of Marines, a big helo hanger and flight deck can maybe be used for multiple MQ8 in peacetime, and two SH60 “dippers” in the “big war”.”

    I don’t see why all these capabilities are required in a single coastal escort. Land based air is available, UAVs, also a mothership should be close at hand for helos, or even some corvettes carry these. We have tons of destroyers with Aegis and if you need a 5 inch gun. A 3 incher found on most corvettes is quite adequate. The point of many small vessels is you share capabilities. The multi-mission “do it all nothing well” mindset has given us the DDG-1000 and LCS boondoggles, and the incredibly shrinking navy.

    CBD-I will read all your comments ASAP.

  14. Chuck Hill permalink
    December 8, 2009 3:37 pm

    Think most everyone agrees we could use at least a few smaller ships. We don’t have to agree how many we want ultimately. It can be thought of as:

    — a demonstration project.
    — a way too bring along second tier ship-yards and make them competitive.
    — prototyping for possible future mobilization or foreign military sales.

    It is not necessary to make a big commitment, just start building. I would say one 2,500 ton full load and one 4,500 ton full load per year. And don’t try to do a multi-year contract, refine the design, making small changes to correct identified problems every year.

  15. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 8, 2009 1:42 pm

    Mike,

    This isn’t a 5,000 word essay. I promise. ;)

    I was just thinking, in the spirit of your build-a-better-navy articles, might it be worthwhile to do a little Red Team exercise. Call it Millenium Challenge 2009.

    Instead of hypothesizing how the US might build a more efficient fleet, maybe we should contemplate some scenarios whereby a near-pear or even second-rate naval power could totally hose a US task force on the cheap, a la Gen. Paul van Riper.

    Whaddya think?

  16. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 8, 2009 1:09 pm

    Mike,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but what you’re really advocating is for a BALANCED fleet, correct? That would be my position, anyway.

    I mean, do you really need a 9,800 ton Burke to handle a bunch of Somali pirates when it’s the four snipers on the stern who do the real damage?

    As for large nation threats, come on people, stop reading Tom Clancy’s war porn. We’re not going to war with Russia or China. North Korea is a little scary since they’re leadership is, well, batshit crazy. A serious engagement with Iran is an insane idea. The Gulf of Hormuz is 23 miles wide. Iran could simply sink some tankers, plant some mines & saturate the banks with land-based missiles & MLRS batteries. The US gets 23% of it’s oil from this region. Europe gets 67% & Japan gets 90%. Limited wars or mafia-style assasination conflicts in Iran–I can see that, but this is country better handled with guile and soft power.

    Japan, well, I can see how they might be very uneasy about North Korea & to a lesser extent China–again, China’s leadership is rational (except where Taiwan is concerned) but they do have a little grudge against Japan going back to WWII. I can sorta understand it. Japan also has vulnerable logistical lines, something ComSubPac exploited savagely in WWII.

    And you know what? Japan (And South Korea) have both responded to their most likely aggressors by building some of the finest small warships & ASW assets in the world. They build them fast, very well, and surprisingly inexpensively. Hyuga, which may be the best ASW platform in the world, cost the equivalent of about $1.3 billion & was designed, built, launched & commissioned in remarkably timely fashion.

    The fact is, the USN is plagued by a parochial Congress that has a habit of giving the Pentagon things even the Generals and Admirals don’t want. Our cost overruns are ruinous & it’s not at all clear what are ships are to be used for.

    We don’t need 11 carrier groups. We don’t need 10. Frankly, 7 or 8 would be more then plenty. With reduced numbers we could provide full air wings & free up more escorts to accompany each CVN group. I mean, 6-8 escorts each? Get anywhere remotely close to land while dealing with even a second-tier power & the USS Ronald Reagan becomes the USS Artificial Reef.

    (Hint: Your escorts will run out of missiles & CIWS rounds long before the other guy runs out of FAC & land-based missiles. Even if they’re truck launched Exocets, bad guys can buy lots of them.)

    I frankly don’t see the point of using SSNs to escort carrier task forces. They’re just not suited for it. I do think the SSNs & converted SSGNs are valuable strategic assets. They’re better suited then carrier groups for COIN & the Ohio-class SSGNs may be the true modern battleships. I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a 154 missile salvo followed up by 100 SEAL assassins. I can see UAV capability here, too. That’s pretty hardcore. Granted, I think the modified Ohios would be more effective if the US could replace the TLAMs with something a little more cost effective, even if it isn’t quite so awesome. I mean, you sail all four SSGNs into enemy waters, you’re bringing 616 missiles & up to 408 SEALs. You don’t need to be super-accurate with you have 616 missiles & 408 elite Spec Forces guys to mop up…which is what they’d likely be doing, btw. There won’t be a lot left besides a really messy debris field.

    Anyhoo, one thing which is anathema to many people but which the USN really out to consider is to re-think the “Buy America” thing. Build the stuff we’re good at building here. Sure. Why not? But when it comes to smaller boats, SSKs & the like, maybe we ought to consider buying from the folks who specialize in this sort of thing. Ultimately, it saves us money & we already buy weapon systems from Israeli (cause they’re good). Why not shop around a little on the world market?

    Japan, Korea, Germany & Sweden all build some pretty nice small boats. Shoot, buy from Russia. The Russians never really had a problem with design, only quality control. And they’ll sell anything to ANYONE. Buy ’em in Minsk & Refurbish them at BAW. At least North Korea & China won’t have ’em. And Germany, if it needs to be mentioned, builds some very sweet & very affordable SSKs.

    I can think of a few VERY good reasons why investing in small boats, and yes, buying abroad, makes sense. First, increased competition will (Hopefully) reduced military pork by increasing competition. Second, the US needs to start thinking about its OWN waterways & shores. We have a lot of coastline, folks, and not much to protect it with. Third, well…PIRATES!

    Anyway, I digress. Mike is absolutely right that we need to have more dedicated platforms. There’s value in Big Sexy, but seriously, do we really don’t need a 10,000 ton missile cruiser to shoot four pirates, particularly when its four dudes hanging off the stern doing the shooting? I mean, they could have used Paul Allen’s yacht. Or a fishing boat.

  17. B.Smitty permalink
    December 8, 2009 11:40 am

    CBD said, “The Burkes are massively capable, but they’re also too large and too expensive for the small stuff. That’s why I’d like to see a balanced force.

    Isn’t that the point of the LCS program (however maligned)?

  18. B.Smitty permalink
    December 8, 2009 11:11 am

    Jed said, “ Oh my goodness, we are back to my hackneyed and tired example of the Danish Absalon…….. again………..

    Jed, are you really Scott B in disguise!? ;)

  19. CBD permalink
    December 8, 2009 10:15 am

    Dr. Ransom,
    The utility of small ships in big wars is easier to prove than the utility of big ships in small wars.

    At that point, it comes down to what capabilities you have on board the small ship that make it adaptable to the big war. The other trick is that we’ve fought a lot more small wars in the past 55 years or so than we did before that. Personally, I like the Burke-class and look forward to seeing the final capabilities of the Ford-class…but that doesn’t mean that that’s all that we should have in the future.

    It should be remembered that the USN needs the capability to properly engage in the big wars. Using it to fight the little stuff, to try to do partnership stations with allied patrol boats, to use it to engage in a blockade is a waste of limited resources.

    I don’t believe anyone here is calling for the elimination of the Burke– class in favor of small patrol boats, rather, for the consideration of the many small vessels that have played an important role in every naval war, large and small. Every major modern war we have been in has required the construction of a large array of small vessels (WWI, WWII (both theaters), Korea, Vietnam). The modern industrial capacity of the United States is insufficient to construct such small vessels for the next big war.

    Further, the shrinking time scales of major conflicts (due to more powerful weapons, more casualty-adverse public opinion and a paucity of reserve forces on all sides) mean that the next war will not give us time to raise the small craft necessary to fill out the force. Those were all long wars with long build-up periods (or large stocks of available small craft), which allowed the construction of hundreds of small patrol boats, inshore fire support ships, landing craft, and small ocean escorts.

    I believe that conventional forces can adapt to counter-insurgency given the institutional will to do so. I think that the historical examples of counter insurgency have shown the benefit of deploying small, swift teams of conventional combatant forces. Mechanized infantry divisions are relatively easy to divide into companies or platoons. Dividing a carrier strike group is not nearly as simple those several thousand soldiers cannot be divided into groups of 100 or 40, they must stay with their ship.

    The advocacy for small boats is not lacking in historical proof…but the willingness of the Navy to invest in these vessels before they are absolutely needed is the task at hand. These patrol boats and the otherwise described corvettes are not intended solely to combat pirates, although they can do that better and cheaper than our Destroyers, but to fight the small battles at the periphery of the next war.

    Yes, helicopters from our DDGs and jets from our CVNs could handle a Chinese or Iranian or North Korean missile boat threat, but they cannot handle that missile boat threat, the threat from small SSKs/SSPs, CSAR efforts, the threat from supersonic AShMs and ASBMs simultaneously with efforts to locate and destroy enemy forces (and unconventional weapons capabilities). A single DDG with 2 helicopters is barely capable of dealing with one of these threats at a time…a fleet of them is little better prepared. CVNs and amphibious forces have more resources available, but they’ll likely be focusing on landing our forces (and that needs a significant dedication of DDGs and the like to allow for a chance of success).

    Now that you’re facing this complex environment, is the use of a dozen or two small craft make sense for pursuing that submarine or missile boat threat? How about the follow-on efforts (assuming we’ll be in whatever nation we invaded for a while, rebuilding it) against smuggling, at-sea insurgency, riverine threats and piracy (oh, and the other major nations that we’re likely to fight are still there)?

    The need for small craft in big war is historically proven.

    That our modern small craft can do so much is of benefit since it means that we need fewer of them, but it doesn’t mean that we can readily do without. The navy had to establish the NECC to deal with riverine threats in Iraq, using the same types of craft that were used in Vietnam. That riverine force, had it existed, could have played a role by landing USMC light infantry up the Euphrates, opening another front in the rapid invasion of Iraq.

    In WWII the small, limited DEs benefited the main force a great deal by acting as pickets against Japanese air raids, naval forces and U-boats alike. These aren’t jobs you want to place on your major fleet assets. The small craft did take hits, yes, and many men died on them, yes. But many men also died on the large ships from the same attacks and many more men on large ships were saved by the efforst of the few men on the small vessels. Most of the men on these small vessels also survived to tell the tales. The small ships act in the periphery and are, thus, more exposed to danger. That they are in the periphery, however, means that the large ships at the core are safer.

    In the next war, who knows what these small craft may do, but we know that they’ll probably be useful, just as we know the Carriers and Destroyers will probably be useful.

    Now, for those two examples…

    The British Army in the Boer Wars was the same British Army as in the Crimea (a big war). That the resources were deployed as though it were another colonial uprising is what made the first Anglo-Boer war a failure from the British perspective (they sent a force of 1,200 man against a force of >3,000). A larger issue was the refusal of the British Colonial military to adapt to modern warfare. Faced with Boer soldiers who took cover, were highly mobile, launched raids, and were highly adept soldiers (very experienced hunters and fighters) were troublesome for British force that still wore Red and Blue coats and white pith helmets.

    In the Second Boer war, a British force with similar principles faced a Boer army that could assemble and mobilize more readily than the British. Look to the “Boer Offensive” phase of the campaign. Again, undersized and poorly lead forces were faced with Boer defensive warfare tactics (trenches). This resulted in the importation of almost 200,000 British soldiers in an offensive to handle an estimated Boer force of 40,000, which quickly transitioned to a mobile insurgency. In the insurgency phase, 250,000 British soldiers failed to control the territory against 30,000 Boer insurgents. The British had more men than that just guarding their fortified supply routes and soon turned to a scorched earth policy to sap the Boer support network. The British also transitioned to a light, highly mobile force that was able to effectively counter the light and highly mobile Boer forces. That won the war.

    So example #1: Small colonial forces that are highly outnumbered don’t withstand threats from equivalent forces. Large colonial forces against a much smaller enemy force resulted in a transition to light, highly mobile warfare where large units were outclassed by small unit raids until they adapted a hybrid strategy (large main forces, many small raiding units) that could adequately handle the threat.

    As for example #2: The gunboat navy. At the start it was 22 US ships (including 3 heavily armed frigates) against 85 British vessels (of hundreds in the British navy). Not a good force ratio, by any theory, and yet the American vessels were largely successful in their own way. The British adapted to the small, heavily armed American vessels by building or converting 10 heavily armed frigates to the same style.

    In fact, the British fared so poorly in single-ship engagements that they ordered naval officers to avoid combat with any of the American heavy frigates unless they had a significant superior force available.

    As far as the blockade goes, in 1812 it was only applied to the Chesapeake and the Hudson, friendly New Englanders meant that the Blockade did not extend that far North nor farther South until over a year later. The American forces were focused on raiding (capturing between 1,200 and 1,500 British commercial vessels) and on other operations (such as the very successful naval campaign in the Great Lakes).

    The main US naval force was simply not positioned to oppose the Blockades on the Hudson and Chesapeake. It was too small of a navy for that duty.

    Small units, however, were highly effective for a while.
    Look at the example of the small flotilla of 18 ships under Barney in the Patuxent. That small fleet of small boats (the largest being 23m) were able to wage a littoral insurgency campaign until its sailors were ordered ashore to support the fight at Bladensburg. This minor action was able to successfully tie up several British vessels with minimal capital and manpower investment. It was the British land campaign that ended the small-fleet experiment. It was also the overwhelming British land campaign that was the main threat to the fledgling United States.

    It should also be noted that 1812 ended in a military stalemate and the Treaty of Ghent returned both sides to status quo ante bellum.

    The second example does little more to support your claims than the first. Both of these wars, rather, showed the benefit of a conventional force’s willingness to depend on small, peripheral units as a significant component of the overall battle. It slowed British forces in 1812 and defeated the Boer threat.

    The ability of a large force to fluidly transition between large-scale war and small-scale war is critical. I think the ideas of “counter-insurgency,” “unconventional,” “assymetric,” “hybrid” warfare are an essential misunderstanding of the history of war. There have always been small battles just as there have always been concentrations of force. The key is to note how the large concentrations are benefited by the small. Scouting, presence, defense and raiding are all done by small groups, all conducted by resources otherwise included within the main body of any military force. If the main body is ignorant of how it must redistribute itself, then it will lose. If it can adapt to the environment, it will win.

    Scouting has always been important in warfare, there’s no reason to believe that this importance has decreased. Small vessels are the scouts, the highly mobile light forces, the managers of peripheral missions (anti-piracy) and peripheral places (pickets for the fleet).

    They are also the light strike forces. Without AShM-capable Tomahawks on our fleet vessels, a corvette with 8 Harpoon missiles is as capable, at range, as a Burke destroyer against enemy vessels.

    Close in, the 5″ (127mm) main gun, CIWS, and assorted small arms of the Burke are nearly matched by the 57-76mm main gun, 30-35mm CIWS and many small gun stations of the cheaper and smaller corvette. The helicopters on the Burke shift the balance (ISRT, up to 8 Hellfire missiles), but the ISRT provided by ScanEagle UAVs and the ability of that small vessel to mount similar weapons to the helicopters means that they’re still about evenly matched, in armaments, against small surface threats.

    If you have to enter an archipelago in the next war, will you risk your Burke (which may or may not have the reaction time necessary to respond to shore-based AShMs in confined spaces) or a corvette? If you lose access to that space, you have lost much of your ability to control it.

    Yes, you could carpet-bomb the islands with the hope that you’ll get the missile launchers, too…but you’ll end up with a lot of civilians (even ‘friendly’ civilians) dead. The corvette can be sent in, has the same chance of defending itself against missiles (with modern small VL SAMs and CIWS guns) as the Burke, but can also maneuver in the enclosed spaces to support the efforts of the overall force. A patrol of 3 Corvettes costing less than half as much as a Burke are not subject to the same surprise (any shooter would be lucky to get shots off at one ship) and can rapidly respond, eliminating the threat.

    The Burkes are massively capable, but they’re also too large and too expensive for the small stuff. That’s why I’d like to see a balanced force.

  20. December 8, 2009 9:37 am

    Mike said: “I also think that the new corvette navy would be very useful in Big Wars. ”

    Maybe, maybe not – probably not. More hulls would be though, more hulls which are cheaper to build than DDG51, or LCS, and thus fulfill your requirement for a bigger fleet, and yet at the same time have some capabilities which are useful for high end warfighting – a 16 cell MK41 can carry 64 NSSM (SeaSparrow quad packs). A 5 inch instead of a 57mm allows for NGS in support of Marines, a big helo hanger and flight deck can maybe be used for multiple MQ8 in peacetime, and two SH60 “dippers” in the “big war”. Oh my goodness, we are back to my hackneyed and tired example of the Danish Absalon…….. again……….. (oh yes, and its big enough to have really plushy ‘euro standard’ accommodation for sailors on 9 month deployments!)

    So we are right back to my original comment on this posting:

    1. What is the strategy (as dictated by the political system)

    2. What is required to fulfill the strategy (as analyzed by the Pentagon)

    3. What is the trade off required to build enough hulls (not necessarily small corvette ones) to meet peacetime “gunboat diplomacy” requirements while retaining enough capacity to have a “peer conflict” role

    4. How do you ensure they are built on time, on budget and ‘to spec’ without scope creep and gold plating

    I state again, I think the biggest issue the U.S. defence establishment would have with all of this is #4 – on time, on budget, on spec, no shiny toys added !

  21. B.Smitty permalink
    December 8, 2009 9:26 am

    x said, “No you are right perhaps soft power isn’t a military function. Perhaps the states of the developed all need to build a pair of Enforcers each, paint em white, fill the holds with bulldozers and tents, etc. And when disaster breaks out off they go.

    I’m sure Royal Schelde would be in favor of that plan. ;)

    The nice thing about using amphibs is that they’re immediately re-taskable for MCO as troop ships, if needed.

    Of course we couldn’t afford to use LPD-17s for this. We’d need to build something like the Enforcer – something a LOT cheaper.

  22. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 8, 2009 7:59 am

    DrRamsom said “Piracy does not matter, in the grand scheme of things, compared to North Korea, Iran, and China. ”

    The same was said about terrorism in the 1960s and 70s, and even into the 1990s. It may have seemed so compared to the colossal Soviet threat, a hijacking here or there. Didn’t matter much. then, they started diving planes into our buildings and sending suicide bombers into loaded rail terminals. These seemingly minor threats have been greatly magnified thanks to globalization, the INTERNET and information revolutions, plus new weapons. These events haven’t happened at sea quite as much where you must admit we are more vulnerable. If you manage to close a couple ports in the Strait of Hormuz, you shut down the entire world economy.

    I agree in part with your historical references, but I have to contend that game has changed greatly since these days when the technology was wholly controlled by the West. Even back then when the implications were very minor as you insist they still are, the established navies worked hard to eliminate outbreaks almost as soon as they happened. Now the new weapons and computers are in the hands of the insurgents, and they aren’t so constricted by bureaucracies and laws to play the game the old, civilized way. I think we ignore the threat at sea or land to these high tech terrorists at our peril.

    I also think that the new corvette navy would be very useful in Big Wars. They would be like the old tin cans and destroyer escorts of the world wars, escorting big ships near coastal passages, acting as pickets to defend them against smaller but still lethal threats, as well as convoying the lumbering slow moving merchantmen. They would be the vanguards of the shallow seas, clearing the path for the amphibious fleets. Small escorts are still and always have been the lifeguards, as a vital complement, but not a substitute for the Big Ship navy.

  23. December 8, 2009 6:14 am

    “Or amphibious ships. Just depends on the capability you need.

    For soft power, IMHO a big, modest-draft hull with lots of reconfigurable space, substantial berthing, organic lighterage, organic medical facilities, and RORO/LOLO discharge is more useful than a warship.”

    No you are right perhaps soft power isn’t a military function. Perhaps the states of the developed all need to build a pair of Enforcers each, paint em white, fill the holds with bulldozers and tents, etc. And when disaster breaks out off they go.

  24. Al L. permalink
    December 8, 2009 2:13 am

    Dr Ramsom said:

    “CBD, the answer is very simple. ”

    What Dr R. argues for in this comment is what I call the “GM strategy”.

    General Motors execs stated for years that GM couldn’t afford to waste effort trying to be good at building small or fuel efficient cars because all the gravy was in truck type platforms.
    What they missed was that it’s easy to pile a bunch of features into a big truck, but it takes real skill to deliver many of those same features in a small package.
    While GM’s small platform capability atrophied, GM’s competitors became brilliant at it and used the skill to pack even more good stuff into their bigger platforms. The result is well known.

    The analogy applies to Dr. R’s ” the Navy can ignore all but the big stuff” idea.

    Secondly, his idea assumes that Navy leadership gets to dictate strategic policy in maritime matters. In the U.S. it’s the civilians who decide policy, the Navy’s job is to execute the policy.

    I venture that should an insurgency, piracy or other “small stuff” elevate the price of oil to $140/ barrel and the Navy was found to be unprepared to deal with the problem then Congress and American voters would make the shit hit the fan.

  25. Al L. permalink
    December 8, 2009 1:13 am

    About Mike B.’s concept of a small ship Navy.

    Mike harps continuously about smaller cheaper ships. The problem is he only ever addresses initial costs. The elephant in the room of this concept is manpower. The greater number of hulls will inevitably mean more personnel. This was fine when the Navy could conscript cheaply. It’s remarkable that most of the ships he quotes as being such good examples in the past, were ships full of conscripted sailors. We are in a different world today.

    His concept has a compounding flaw; the small austere hulls he advocates will not only require more net personel,they will be harder on sailors, inevitably increasing turnover and thereby decreasing experience among the crews. This will certainly lead to greater cost both operationally and financially.

    The key is balance. The Navy needs more hulls, smaller hulls and less expensive hulls. But that must be balanced against the increasing costs of personnel, the demands of the other Naval assets (particularly aircraft), the need to support other forces, and strategic risks (such as declining base access)

    Hulls can be too small as easily as they can be too big, and forces can be too distributed as easily as they can be too concentrated.

  26. B.Smitty permalink
    December 7, 2009 11:36 pm

    DrRamsom,

    I agree with just about everything you just said. Excellent post.

    I do think conventional armies can fight insurgencies. It’s a lot cheaper and easier to exchange M1s for MRAPs than the other way around.

    Professional soldiers can adapt.

  27. DrRamsom permalink
    December 7, 2009 11:14 pm

    CBD, the answer is very simple.

    Piracy does not matter, in the grand scheme of things, compared to North Korea, Iran, and China.

    That is why the fascination about Corvettes to fight pirates, etc. is wholy misguided. The Navy will structure itself to fight those things that can concievably have a big effect, not the minor nuisance of piracy.

    This is the key issue the blog should address, and it can address. How can small ships succeed against the big enemies? Because, to build a navy to fight the small stuff is just a silly strategy. Yes, you’ll get more milage, but if the shit hits the fan, you’re up a creek without a paddle.

    I have two historical references.
    1) British Army pre WW1. Brilliant small wars army, until they ran up against similarily armed opponents (Boers)
    2) The Gunboat Navy of 1800. Yes, capable of fighting Tripoli pirates and quite cheap. Also next to useless during the war of 1812.

    Now, you may say that conventional armies cannot fight insurgencies. In that, you are correct. But, insurgencies very rarely threaten fundamental American interests. Big wars can threaten the nation as a whole, not insurgents with IEDs in a Middle Eastern country. You build the military to protect the nation against its worst threats, not the most likely.

    What Mike could do, with some success I think, is argue that a small, distributed navy, will be more successful in the ‘big wars’ than a big boat navy.

    That is the question, not piracy, once you’ve argued that small boats can be successful in a big war, then you can talk about piracy later.

  28. leesea permalink
    December 7, 2009 10:51 pm

    Mike go look up the Streetfighter concept by Capt Wayne Hughes in Proceedings.

    Bsmitty what your are talking about is my T-MMS ship proposal. Send me a PM and I will reply.

    JHSVs are IMHO transformational ships. Sorry to use an over-used adjective but they are. They are NOT warships they are transports in the new idiom. BTW catamarans have notably good damaged stability because their are two hulls. I’ve seen the navarch studies.

    CBD you are bang on! with this: “If we can put 9, <1,000 ton hulls out there for <$220M a piece (with UAVs), and you've got more than 9x the coverage and boarding capacity for the same ship costs."

    To my way of thinking ALL modern littoral warships must come with a significant boat capacity and helo decks OR UAV pads.

  29. December 7, 2009 9:56 pm

    JHSV’s are junk. They’re effectively indefensible. You take down one and you take down a whole company. JUNK.

    Re: “…10 Joint High Speed vessels able to carry 10 Stryker companies could be bought for a single San Antonio!”

  30. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 7, 2009 8:20 pm

    Bob Tolland asked “Did we ever actually achieve the actual 600 hulls of the “600 ship navy”?”

    Technically we did Bob, if you count the number of vessels in the Reserve fleet. According to the Navy History website:

    By 1990, the Navy had not reached the 600-ship number, but did operate the most powerful fleet on earth with 15 carrier battle groups, 4 battleship surface action groups, 100 attack submarines, and scores more cruisers, destroyers, frigates, amphibious ships, and auxiliaries.

  31. CBD permalink
    December 7, 2009 8:02 pm

    Ransom,
    If we were just shooting at pirate ships on sight and sinking them…then helicopters are just as good as ships (easier to travel farther, spot them earlier, and shoot more). But you’ll have a PR problem about families coming forward to claim that the evil USN has been sinking their poor son’s fishing boat to help foreign fishing ships collect the fish. The other problem is that while each Burke-class DDG can support 2 H-60-series helicopters, the average is more like 1…so while there’s been a lot of ink spilled about the US dedication to destroying piracy, the dedicated resources are less impressive.

    ID’s tracking of deployments to the 5th fleet AOR has been particularly informative. How many ships do we have out there?

    Sept. 7, 2009
    CTF 150: 0
    CTF 151: 1 (CG 68 Anzio
    NATO fleet: 1 (DDG 75 Cook)

    August 24 and 30, 2009 ? Same as above.

    If you look back to August 15, we have:
    DDG-58 Laboon with NATO, T-AKE-1 and Anzio with TF151
    and nobody with TF150 (2 combat ships and a support vessel/holding facility).

    Meanwhile, the Reagan Strike Group was wandering in the area with CVN-76; CG-62; DDGs-73, 83, 101; and FFG-43. Oh, and the Bataan ARG (LHD-5, LPD-15, LSD-43). There are also a good number of other vessels a bit further north to make sure that Iraq has safe waters or operating elsewhere in Ocean 6:

    USS James E Williams (DDG 95)
    USS Bainbridge (DDG 96)
    USS Scout (MCM 8)
    USS Gladiator (MCM 11)
    USS Ardent (MCM 12)
    USS Dextrous (MCM 13)
    USS Typhoon (PC 5)
    USS Sirocco (PC 6)
    USS Chinook (PC 9)
    USS Firebolt (PC 10)
    USS Whirlwind (PC 11)
    USCGC Baranof (WPB 1318)
    USCGC Maui (WPB 1304)
    USCGC Adak (WPB 1333)
    USCGC Aquidneck (WPB 1309)
    USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332)
    USCGC Monomoy (WPB 1326)
    USNS Rainier (T-AOE 7)
    USNS Walter S. Diehl (T-AO 193)
    USNS San Jose (T-AFS 7)
    USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168)

    So what gives? We want to fight pirates but we’re averaging 2+ vessels with over 30 ships (>20 combat-capable vessels) in the region? Not to mention that our best helicopter carriers (the ARG and the Reagan) are off making scary noises in the direction of Iran and North Korea, a duty that could be adequately covered by the >100 cruise missiles sitting on the 2 vessels we have stationed off of Somalia.

    Given all of the fleet assets, you’d think we could spare more for one of the tasks that the USN was founded to execute (defending sea lanes, specifically from pirates)? The problem is that while those two ships off of Somalia could decapitate a good portion of the government and military of Iran, they and their 2 helicopters can’t do much in the way of stopping and searching pirate skiffs.

    Smuggling, piracy and other illicit tasks on the high seas have traditionally been countered by boarding of numerous vessels…but our helicopters can’t distribute additional VBSS teams and the two ships-of-the-line only have 1-2 a piece (enough to support boarding one vessel at a time, each).

    Where it comes to capabilities that support the mission off of Somalia, a pair of the Cyclone-class patrol boats guarding Iraqi oil platforms can board and search as many vessels as the DDG and CG deployed to the region…Sure, they can’t support assassination raids against wanted terrorists, but a small fleet of them with a mothership of some sort (could borrow the LSD…or the LHD) could set up a real off-shore VBSS operation that would cover a great deal of territory.

    We don’t need an AEGIS warship (2 isn’t much better) to search suspected pirate vessels along >1,500 miles of coastline…the high-powered radar does little to identify real fishing vessels from a pirate mothership (and the ROE forbid opening fire on the ‘fishing vessels’ that are filled with a preponderance of armed men and are dragging 4 skiffs 200 miles past the normal fishing zone…so there’s not much for the helicopter to do).

    Given all of this, what’s the benefit of having a heavily armed warship when previous pirate efforts were governed by the standing rule that pirates were executed upon capture and piracy ended (by the Romans, by the early USN) by the utter destruction of Pirate fleets and their home bases? We’re not going to shell the villages where the pirates are known to live, we’re not sinking them on sight, so why does it matter that we can do so from 500 miles away?

    If we’re not doing that, we have to board and search…to board and search, we need hulls to cover (provide presence, interdict and board, question the ‘population of the sea’) the region. We aren’t using the big hulls out there because it isn’t worth the effort of one 9,000 ton destroyer + 1 helicopter to turn around and chase the <300ton pirate motherships.

    If we can put 9, <1,000 ton hulls out there for <$220M a piece (with UAVs), and you've got more than 9x the coverage and boarding capacity for the same ship costs.

    The most upgraded Cyclone-class boat (PC-14), which included all of the nice bells and whistles for NSWC, cost $23 million (FY97) with options that would bring the total price to $30 million. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $30.5-39.8 million in today’s dollars (for a vessel with reduced radar and thermal signatures).

    Even if you wanted to upgrade the vessel further, say expand it from 55m to 60m (increased endurance), upgrade the guns (to the same 57mm on the LCS), throw in a bunch of other upgraded systems (like an Avenger-style mount for the Stinger missiles), put in a ScanEagle launcher, a reinforced hull (in case of beaching), a handling system for a second RHIB, some more berths and other upgrades and we’re likely not even at $100m (counting some contract inflation) brand new…If you can run it with ~35 crew (vice 28) and can thus fit in enough passengers for 2 VBSS crews (18 vice 9)…then you have 1 vessel with the pirate-fighting capacity of a Burke for <1/20th the price and 1/8th the obligate crew, that can also launch amphibious raids for those special missions…

    Yes, smaller size is less important than lower cost, but a vessel under 5-600 tons, under 60m and costing under $100m can accomplish a lot on its own. If you could resist giving these patrol boats names, then NSWC might find a lot of use for them.

    IF the helicopters are as effective as smaller craft, why have the two warships? Why not deploy an ARG with landing group replaced with small boat units and helicopter assault teams? We did!, and at the head of TF151. An impressive group…that boarded 20 vessels (most small craft in Garden Market did that in 1-2 days). Back in march, we had LPD-18, LHD-4, and LSD-45 with TF-151 as well as DDG-96. 4, large helicopter-equipped vessels that barely slowed down piracy (but did kill 3 pirates and detain another…with rifles).

    There’s something to concentrated power, and then there’s something to large numbers of hulls.

  32. Bob Tolland permalink
    December 7, 2009 6:59 pm

    Our fleet today has shrunk from 600 to 270 and is heading for 150. We have cut carriers from Reagan’s 15 to Obama’s 10.
    But we can’t argue with geography: The seas still cover 70 percent of the world, and our vital trade and allies are far more global than in TR’s day. With this shrinking fleet, we can no longer deter piracy and guarantee freedom of the seas.

    Did we ever actually achieve the actual 600 hulls of the “600 ship navy”? I know our fleet was enormous but was the full 600 ever reached?

  33. Hudson permalink
    December 7, 2009 5:29 pm

    Mike, my point with the quotes was that just as government or the military thinks they are through with some capability, they find themselves in need of it. The Navy can’t afford to keep all of these older amphibs. operational. One hopes the Navy will hold a good portion of these 41 ships in reserve.

    The LPD-17s are useful ships, can answer many calls, but do represent an overall lost in amphibious capability/capacity, which is to your point.

  34. B.Smitty permalink
    December 7, 2009 4:41 pm

    x said, “Yes they are called destroyers…….

    Or amphibious ships. Just depends on the capability you need.

    For soft power, IMHO a big, modest-draft hull with lots of reconfigurable space, substantial berthing, organic lighterage, organic medical facilities, and RORO/LOLO discharge is more useful than a warship.

  35. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 7, 2009 2:45 pm

    DrRansom said ” I don’t see why corvettes are superior to improved helicopter and UAV recon assets?”

    For one thing, the corvettes don’t need a launch platform, just the occasional refueling. Helicopters cannot do presence although their motherships can, but the cost of excessive aviation facilities is driving warship costs up and numbers down. The hulls are the boots on the ground for a navy. What fleet would say “we don’t need anymore ships”? Ships are the life of a navy. Plentiful aviation ships in the Gulf haven’t made the impact we are promised with helicopters and patrol planes. They are even talking defeat saying “the war on piracy must be won on land”. Why are the admirals saying this? Do they now make policy?

    But they like big beautiful battleships, yet it is increasingly clear the capability we have isn’t enough. They also need presence, the cop on the beat. But you can’t get enough presence with planes and a handful of ships. Turn the formula around, and have plenty ships and a handful of planes, the latter so much more capable now thanks to modern sensors. The Navy has its priorities wrong. It needs more hulls, not more planes.

    Hudson, I would never say get rid of the amphibious technique. I just did several posts in the past week on improving it and expanding it. The Navy would make the concept obsolete by placing the Marines on a handful of Giant Floating Fortresses, limiting its capability and flexibility. I want to go back to basics. They are gutting the amphibious fleet.

    Joe said “if you freely send those smaller ships into the waters of hostile countries (whether for anti-piracy or to keep tabs or whatever) and do so without the appreciation of the lives of the men and women who man those ships you are labeling those men and women as expendable.”

    Its these men and women I am thinking of, not believing in the concept of the invulnerable warship. Did we learn nothing from the anniversary, Dec. 7, 1941 we are celebrating today? The largest, most powerful, most heavily armed warships on earth are no promise your ships won’t get sunk. The larger the ship and crew, the greater the loss of life. By increasing the number of hulls, you increase the chance of survivable for each member of the crew. I think of them all the time, also the constant sea duty they must perform, away from home this Christmas because we are stretched thin everywhere.

  36. December 7, 2009 2:11 pm

    “Can a ship not be built that could be used for ’soft power’ showing the flag, anti-piracy, surveillance etc while retaining enough capability to work within the air defense umbrella of a carrier task force (with organic AEW, CAP and Aegis etc). Perhaps all it needs to be useful in this context is a large ‘air weapons” magazine for its embarked helo / UAV (lots of Torpedoes and anti-ship missiles ??).”

    Yes they are called destroyers…….

  37. Joe K. permalink
    December 7, 2009 2:05 pm

    DrRamsom has a good point about the expendable factor of smaller warships that you, Mike, want to put in harms way.

    You do realize that officers who put their men into harms way (whether it is based on solid/not-so-solid reasoning and whether it leads to a positive/negative effect) are frowned upon and could lose their commands because of it – that is, if they aren’t killed in the process. And this is not talking about sending men into a warzone to fight an enemy; this is sending men into an area in which the objective is not clearly defined or realistically attainable and allowing them to be within a stone’s throw from a potentially dangerous incident.

    If you do build a 400+ ship Navy and if you freely send those smaller ships into the waters of hostile countries (whether for anti-piracy or to keep tabs or whatever) and do so without the appreciation of the lives of the men and women who man those ships you are labeling those men and women as expendable. And if people start dying and results don’t outweigh those costs you would find yourself without a command or a job in the military for that matter; but that would be the least of your worries.

  38. December 7, 2009 1:47 pm

    B. Smitty said: “What percentage is spent on hull vs weapons systems vs command and control and so on.”

    Oh boy, yes that would be really interesting :-)

    I have seen figures for the Absalon before either on this very blog, or over on Information Dissemination as the Danes published their build costs, and much of if not all of the armament was delivered as ‘government furnished equipment’ – but a true breakdown, for any modern warship would be very interesting. Which links to……

    DrRamsom said: “Remember, if you really want to drop the cost of a warship, you’ll have to reduce its capability” – and there in lies the crux of the matter, what is the tipping point ?

    At what point on the budgetary / capability cost benefit analysis does the notional ship gain enough capability while remaining affordable ?? That of course, depends on what you want to do with it !

    Can a ship not be built that could be used for ‘soft power’ showing the flag, anti-piracy, surveillance etc while retaining enough capability to work within the air defense umbrella of a carrier task force (with organic AEW, CAP and Aegis etc). Perhaps all it needs to be useful in this context is a large ‘air weapons” magazine for its embarked helo / UAV (lots of Torpedoes and anti-ship missiles ??). Just a thought……….

  39. B.Smitty permalink
    December 7, 2009 11:54 am

    Jed said, “What the USN needs to obsess over is Price !!

    I, of course, agree completely with this. Size doesn’t matter. Price matters.

  40. B.Smitty permalink
    December 7, 2009 11:53 am

    Jed said, “It has been discussed numerous times on this blog, hull steel is cheap, construction apparently can be cheap (anywhere outside of the U.S.) and gold plating, scope creep and program / project management are where the money is disappearing down the head.

    It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the recurring costs for various ship programs like the LPD-17 and LCS. What percentage is spent on hull vs weapons systems vs command and control and so on.

  41. Hudson permalink
    December 7, 2009 11:16 am

    The answers to the three LPD-17 questions are no, no and no.

    Obviously, the Navy is not contemplating doing any more Inchon-scale landings, requiring 320 ships, including four carriers, and 70,000 men, 40,000 Marines and infantry ashore.

    An LPD-17 with a Burke riding shotgun could perform many rescue, insertion and extraction missions. A larger Tarawa class task force could obviously do more. Contra Solomon, brush fire wars are what we are suited to fight these days, especially inasmuch as we are currently fighting two regional conflicts with many Marines being used as infantry, with multiple deployments. I doubt that today’s rifle platoon represents four times the fighting power of a 1950’s platoon. So the question is: how many larger than brush fire conflicts do we intend fighting at one time? I include the below as cautionary comments.

    “I predict that large-scale amphibious operations will never occur again.”

    Truman’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Omar N. Bradley, October 1949
    ________________________________________

    “We’ll never have any more amphibious operations. That does away with the Marine Corps. And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do nowadays, so that does away with the Navy.”
    Truman’s Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson, to Admiral Richard L. Connally in 1949

  42. DrRamsom permalink
    December 7, 2009 10:43 am

    Remember, if you really want to drop the cost of a warship, you’ll have to reduce its capability. You’ll have to cut electronics, sensors, weapon systems, and return to the basics.

    This raises the problem, the ship will be less capable, but in a world where the weapons arrayed against it are ever more capable. So, there is a solution, build the warship to only fight where it is not going to face heavy opposition. But, then you’re just dedicating warship space to conflicts, such as the piracy fight, and rendering the ships useless in larger scale conflicts. And, you’ve returned to the seafighter problem. While it may be nice to have a great fleet of small expendable warships, in the end, the government, navy, and US citizenship will not like the idea of making a ship expendable.

    And, finally, if the problem is small boats, I don’t see why corvettes are superior to improved helicopter and UAV recon assets? Corvettes necessarily have a smaller radar range than a helicopter, and the helicopter, operating from a larger warship, will be able to cover more territory.

  43. December 7, 2009 10:30 am

    Mike said: “Stop obsessing over hull form and get a well-armed, seaworthy frame. Keep hull size down to the 1000-1500 tons frame for an escort”

    Only if you stop obsessing over displacment !

    What the USN needs to obsess over is Price !!

    It has been discussed numerous times on this blog, hull steel is cheap, construction apparently can be cheap (anywhere outside of the U.S.) and gold plating, scope creep and program / project management are where the money is disappearing down the head. Once again we roll out the Danish Absalon class as a example of a ‘large’ (ish) hull of ‘destroyer’ displacement (5000 tonnes plus) that is cheaper than the 3000 tonnes under-armed combat speed boat that is the LCS – and I use that example because they both have large flexible spaces for carrying multiple boats, unmanned surface or unmmaned air vehicles and specific mission crews.

  44. December 7, 2009 6:48 am

    Your assumption rests on the belief that global trade as we know it today will continue into the future. Without going into specifics I believe that to be a false assumption. The American people and the nation itself are going to face a period of “readjustment.” The vision of the neocons of an expansive US foreign policy has been found wanting. Military strategy will have to adjust to that fact. The idea that the US will engage in brush wars in the future is highly doubtful. The idea that fleet presence is predicated on the number of hulls in the water is also highly dubious. Again I must point out that naval aviation, satellites and land based assets will help to strengthen our position if continued “dominance” of the sea is required. Additionally the need for amphibious assault assets has mirrored our other forcible entry options. The US is not able to drop 2 divisions of paratroopers like we did during WW2. Is that a capability issue or is it an acceptance of the realization that warfare has changed. If one Infantryman has the firepower of a WW2 squad, one fighter the strike power (through accuracy) of a squadron of bombers and one carrier the ability of an entire task force, then can you really make the case that more-less capable ships are really the answer?

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