The Case for More Ships
The Navy might think it is impressing someone with its vague and hardly serious notion of a 313 ship navy, but we think it can do much better. What is needed for today’s fleet is more like 400-500 ships, and 600-700 shouldn’t be unattainable if the need is there. This should hardly be a “fantasy” as the admirals’ own unimpressive designs have been called, if the right type of ships are built more relevant to the wars we are fighting. From Inside the Navy (subscr. only) here is Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi calling for more BMD ships:
Taylor also argued that ship-based missiles would allow the United States to respond more quickly to potential threats, including Iran, by posting the vessels off a hostile nation’s coast. “So what’s wrong with this change? The president has said we’re going from land-based systems to sea-based systems, but he hasn’t asked for the ships to do it,” Taylor continued.
Taylor estimated that the United States will need to have three ships equipped for missile defense available for every location where it wants one of the ships posted continuously. “With a 285-ship Navy, we don’t have it right now,” he said.
Taylor added, “I’m going to be the first one to say, ‘Mr. President, I’m with you on saying [we] shouldn’t have a land-based system, but if you don’t come back with the money to build the ships to put national missile defense out there, I will be the first one to get the folks on right-wing radio ginned up.’ … Quite probably, that’s what it’s going to take.”
The problems with our stretched thin BMD ships is easily solvable, but not with building more exquisite vessels. With nearly 80 such vessels already so capable, where are we stretched? Plus with many billions allocated you could only buy a handful of new Aegis destroyers, though with a few billion you could greatly expand the fleet and relieve the pressure on these ships which we see are needed elsewhere. Here is where the old adage by Corbett becomes clear:
In no case can we exercise control by battleships alone.
Earlier the great naval strategist clarified this statement:
We note a definite recognition of the principle that battleships should be as powerful as possible, and that in order to permit of their due development they must be relieved of their cruising functions by a class of vessel specially adapted for the purpose.
In other words, we have enough BMD ships, or vessels to be converted for that purpose. But with the Aegis ships off chasing piracy, we might easily question where these ships would come from.
First we need to address the huge gaping hole in our defenses, the lack of flotilla ships for low-end operations. You can call them cruisers, escorts, or whatever. I call them corvettes but these would only be the high end of a flotilla, comparable to the old DD’s of the world wars, backed by even less costly Offshore Patrol Vessels, Patrol Craft, motherships, mine ships, high speed vessels, ect. They should be deployed in many hundreds. The fact they are not is why we have a shrinking fleet.
These low cost vessels (the corvette alone pricing one-half to one-third of the flawed LCS) would do the low end operations like anti-piracy, coastal escort, anti-smuggling, coastal surveillance and so on we are currently using our most powerful and expensive Aegis warships for. This is not the function they were designed for, and as we see new threats mounting world-wide, their high end abilities are needed elsewhere.
Here is the failure of the “1 ship replaces 4” idea, that the Navy can get by with a smaller fleet of high end only platforms. Small low cost vessels have always played an important part in a fleet, in peacetime and war. The Navy should be making this case, calling for a bigger fleet, because isn’t it all about ships? But on their minds are only World War 2 era naval airpower.