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More Questioning the Maritime Strategy

December 17, 2009
tags: ,

Iranian small craft practice swarming tactics in close proximity of U.S. Navy ships.

Thinking I was a voice in the wilderness questioning the USN and its allies’ obsession with fighting land powers in expeditionary warfare. Here is Michael Auslin at Human Events:

The Sea Services repeatedly refers to deterrence, but how would it seek to deter Iran? Would the mere positioning of Fifth Fleet naval assets near the Straits in the aftermath of an Israeli attack be enough to deter any attempt to close the waterways? Would senior U.S. leadership make clear to the Iranians that such an aggressive action would open the door to further U.S. sea- and land-based air attacks on Iranian military installations? In other words, is our deterrent force credibly expressed?

Secondly, how skillfully would the U.S. Navy achieve sea control? Iran obviously could not prevail by going toe-to-toe with the Navy; it has only seven destroyers and frigates. However, anti-access strategies, based on submarine attack, mines, and its twenty-four fast attack torpedo boats would be the likely tactics.

Earlier New Wars discussed “USN’s Ongoing Neglect of Sea Control“:

Today the size of the US Navy stands at about 280 ships, possibly an adequate number if the type of foe we will counter in the next few decades will be non-naval landpowers of the likes of the Yugoslavs, the Iraqi’s, or Afghanis. It may even be enough if we consider that the ability to “overawe” rising potential naval adversaries like China or Iran is enough, the much ballyhooed “presence” strategy and shows of force, with American superships off an enemy coastline.

If the US Navy is to engage in full scale war at sea, which is really the primary reason for its existence… a few very large and capable ships will not be enough.

Back to Iran specifically, Michael seems to think the Navy’s Maritime Strategy doesn’t properly address these issues:

Whether or not Iran truly maintains this capability–and it is hard to believe that even if Iran succeeded in closing off the Straits the U.S. Navy and Air Force would not be able to re-open them easily–any conflict in the Straits would prove to be the first test of the joint “Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.” Issued in October 2007, the Cooperative Strategy sought to provide an overall rationale for the use of U.S. naval assets, superseding the 1986 Maritime Strategy. The new strategy states that the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard will (among other goals) “secure strategic access and retain global freedom of action.” This will be achieved through “regionally concentrated, forward-deployed task forces…continually postured in…the Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean….” Among the rungs of operationalizing the maritime strategy is to maintain forward presence, to deter, and to achieve sea control. Each of these would come into play in a conflict in the Straits of Hormuz.

 Given the emphasis the U.S. Navy puts on partnerships, goodwill missions, and the like–all of which are important–the ONI report on Iran’s navy is notable for bringing back to the fore the traditional rationale for naval power: sea control. The Cooperative Strategy does not spend much time defining sea control…

Our point exactly! The strategy in fact reduces sea control’s importance secondary to that of projecting power onto the land, mimicking the Army and Air Force missions as a result. For taming the seas, the Navy is depending on uncertain allies, with all the talk of a “1000 ship navy” and “Somali piracy can only be defeated on land”.

Any power attacking the freedom of the seas, interrupting the safe navigation of commercial traffic is a threat, and should never be ignored by the primary keeper of the peace at sea, the Navy. Small boat navies like Iran, and Somali pirates are only a major threat if they are ignored, and is why these so-called “minor issues” stay consistently in the headlines, because we haven’t gotten serious about the problem.

Long range patrols, keeping track of hundreds of merchant ships, and sundry escort duties aren’t as “sexy” as carrier launches, giant missile ships, or exquisite nuclear powered submarine programs. Yet this is the purpose of the Navy, and would also be a perfect rationale for building up ships numbers. The Navy has yet to make this case which is why they continue to get the snub during budget talks, and are the first targets when governments look for cuts.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 19, 2009 10:35 pm

    Seth Meyers did a pretty funny bit on SNL’s Weekend Update on 11/7 (I think) re. Royal Carribeans’s new 225,000 ton cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas.

  2. CBD permalink
    December 19, 2009 12:05 am

    Tarl,
    What’s the range on those Fire Scouts? How fast are they?

    How many ships do you need to cover the area?

    BAMS is great for finding a specific ship you know is there…somewhere. Or finding a ship when none should be there. Two difficult jobs handled well by BAMS (if it’s close to home or a base). If you want to know that something is down there, BAMS is your best option. The USCG and drug interdiction teams will love it.

    BAMS, however, is not presence. It is not a patrol, it is a search. It can’t tell you much about whether that specific ship should or should not be there. It can’t perform visits, boardings, searches and seizures. It can’t ask merchantmen if they’ve seen anything suspicious. It does not ensure the free passage of the sea lanes.

    Also, as we’ve now proved off of Somalia, a few large ships with air assets and UAVs overhead can’t patrol in depth 1,000 miles along over 1,000 miles of coastline. Look at the area involved, then count the number of ships out there for NATO, EU, USN, TF150, etc. Divide the number of square miles by the ships available for surface action (CGs, DDGs) in the entire USN, for the combined fleet of all NATO nations. The numbers don’t work even with all of those ships available. And all those ships are never available. Other fleet duties, other seas to sail and maintenance will ensure that you only have a small fraction of your ‘best possible’ force available.

    UAVs may tell you that there’s a skiff with armed men on board, en route to intercept a merchant vessel. Great. If your Destroyer is 8 hours’ fast sailing away, its helicopters are more than an hour away…and your merchantman is 10 minutes away from being attacked. Not much help.

    Radar can tell you if something is there and its approximate size…which is insufficient in a complex maritime environment. ROEs restricting violent action in favor of an approach closer to law enforcement (with really forgiving policemen) means that even known pirates aren’t killed/sunk on sight. Even those ships suspected of being pirate motherships can only be safely removed from the seas by a boarding party (for fear of killing captives on board).

    Yes, if we had a free fire environment, large ships could simply send out a few helicopter patrols and armed UAVs. They’d patrol, blow up anything that looked funny to them, and then return to rearm. Even better, the USN and allied marine/SOF elements would launch armed raids into the Pirate villages, killing everyone who could be armed, sinking all local ships and pulling hostages back to the ships. We ‘dealt with’ piracy on the Barbary coast by sinking their ships and shelling their towns, we ‘dealt with’ piracy elsewhere by shelling pirate ships and executing their crews with minimal fuss, and we ‘dealt with’ piracy in the ancient Mediterranean by the violent actions of Roman soldiers on warships. We’ve long since left a world where such behavior is acceptable.

    So, we come to smaller vessels. They’re cheaper, they can patrol and many of them can deploy UAVs to seek the suspicious craft and thus direct the many, small ships to where they need to be. The costs of using larger vessels mean the work is never properly done.

    Manpower is expensive, yes, but larger ships also cost disproportionately more throughout their life cycle. It takes about as many men to keep a Burke on station than it would to keep 10 Cyclone-class PCs on station, which means 10 times as many boats can be interdicted, boarded and searched in a given area.

    The cyclones cost a small fraction of the Burke (approximately 1/80th) and their operating costs are a drop in the bucket vs. the Burke (~$5m vs. $58m, cost of crew and maintenance, excluding fuel, separate helicopter costs).

    Yes, the Burke has a helicopter (cleared for 2, but rarely provided thus), but the Cyclones could readily be equipped with ScanEagle UAVs to spot the suspect craft, just like the Burke.

    These massive surface vessels are made to crush nations. We’re not in the nation crushing business when it comes to normal maritime patrol. We can afford to have some smaller vessels (nation-crushing ability absent) that can patrol more cheaply and more efficiently. We certainly can’t afford to provide and man enough of these nation crushers to effectively patrol the seas.

  3. Tarl permalink
    December 18, 2009 9:35 pm

    Long range patrols, keeping track of hundreds of merchant ships, and sundry escort duties aren’t as “sexy” as carrier launches, giant missile ships, or exquisite nuclear powered submarine programs. Yet this is the purpose of the Navy, and would also be a perfect rationale for building up ships numbers. The Navy has yet to make this case which is why they continue to get the snub during budget talks, and are the first targets when governments look for cuts.

    Uh, whut? For long-range patrols to keep track of hundreds of merchant ships, you absolutely do not need lots of small combatants. Unless you want to do it as stupidly and expensively as possible? If you do it right you need fewer ships, not more.

    Long-range, broad-area maritime domain awareness is a mission that is tailor-made for BAMS. You back this up with a small number of Fire Scout-carrying mother ships for the times when BAMS tells you that a closer look or armed response is required.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 18, 2009 3:42 pm

    Complete agreement Joe. Plus, what you think is important might diverge from what is important to your allies. But if you become dependent, there is only compromise left.

  5. Joe permalink
    December 18, 2009 10:32 am

    It will do no good to rely on allies long-term, as while our navy is shrinking, given another decade or so many of theirs might be gone.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 18, 2009 6:29 am

    Joe-Actually it made me think about the Navy restarting its ASW efforts this decade, which is also a key function of sea control. The piracy is something I think we should deal with now. If the submarine threat becomes more severe, I’m not sure our overworked and stretched destroyers can handle the function alone.

    Another point, though as yet the pirates don’t have submarines, during the Sri Lanka war, the Sea Tigers were on the verge of deploying semi-submersibles for arms smuggling. The Colombian drug lords already use such craft constantly. The potential of such vessels in the hands of terrorists is ominous.

    Very crude vessels I admit. They are easily dealt with cheap off the shelf patrol ships and cutters. Oh wait, we don’t believe in such light weight warships, or prefer to rely on our allies.

  7. Joe permalink
    December 18, 2009 1:01 am

    Mike,

    My bad. Read everything in a hurry at work & flubbed up a bit. Rereading it w/o my hair on fire reveals the context.

  8. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 17, 2009 10:21 pm

    Mike,

    “D.E.-Yeah the Swedes, Norwegians, now the Danes seem to be taking the lead in littoral operations.”

    Littorals, amphibious operations, anti-piracy patrols & actions? No problem! The modern Vikings plan on making themselves available. Just read the entirety of the following article and what it suggests is a plan for dealing with problematic places around certain oceans, seas, and their littorals. THEN, contemplate that Danish plan to build PBs, PCs, and/or OPVs for East African navies for combating Somali pirates. All of a sudden, things suddenly seem to be a bit more interesting…

    Nordic Nations Eye Joint High North Patrols

    Helsinki – Nordic governments are weighing an integrated naval approach to bolster security in the High North, and better manage the increased exploration and shipping activity expected there as climate change affects the polar ice cap.

    Apart from Arctic operations, the near-coast defense expertise of the amphibious unit could be used to support peacekeeping operations led by the United Nations or European Union that require anti-piracy duties, for protecting vulnerable maritime transports or for safeguarding important shipping lanes, said Stoltenberg.

    http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=4070496

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 17, 2009 8:59 pm

    Joe said “Since when do the pirates have submarines?”

    Ugh! You’re killing me. It’s all about sea control!

    Elgatoso-Thanks for the link!

    D.E.-Yeah the Swedes, Norwegians, now the Danes seem to be taking the lead in littoral operations.

  10. elgatoso permalink
    December 17, 2009 8:27 pm

    Mike.you should like this
    http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htsurf/articles/20091216.aspx

  11. December 17, 2009 8:21 pm

    Its not a matter of the pirates, its a matter of joint command structures. Or to be more precise coalition warfare (or lack thereof). The European Union has an entire command devoted to the piracy issue yet you don’t see any action. Its not because of a lack of ships, not because of a lack of fighting spirit among their Sailors or Marines but more likely because of the politics of the situation.

    The same could occur in a larger conflict. The tools aren’t the problem its the carpenter. We can develop all the new concepts etc…that cause a stir up the leg of the typical media journalist but the real issue is this.

    Does it work in real life?

    CS-21 doesn’t. Scrap the doctrine, then develop a new one (that’s realistic) then you procure the hardware to support it. That’s how grownups do it.

  12. Joe permalink
    December 17, 2009 7:58 pm

    Hudson said: As for these Somali pirates, the naval powers are cruising on snooze alarm because of the over-cautious merchant vessel owners who don’t want violence against their ships and crews…Yes, the military solution is to attack their several land bases and hit them hard.

    Mike replied: I disagree that landpower is the only solution. Remember that the U-boats had to be defeated first, before we could invade Europe in WW 2.

    Since when do the pirates have submarines?

  13. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 17, 2009 7:57 pm

    Hudson,
    Mike,

    The Danes certainly appear to be willing to build a fleet of PBs / PCs / OPVs for East African coast guards to aid in suppressing Somali piracy. Their maritime industry is willing to spend perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat piracy in the Horn or Africa and down along the eastern coast of Africa. Whatever the number of vessels built (no one knows, at present), whether ten or fifty… They’ll be valued if properly armed and should the the local coast guards be properly trained in their proper usage.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 17, 2009 7:17 pm

    Hudson said “the naval powers are cruising on snooze alarm because of the over-cautious merchant vessel owners who don’t want violence against their ships and crews.”

    In this you may have a point. We hear few howls of alarm and disgust against this new appeasement save in a handful of blogs. Can’t say they weren’t warned.

    I disagree that landpower is the only solution. Remember that the U-boats had to be defeated first, before we could invade Europe in WW 2. It will take a concerted effort, and a heck load more planes and ships than we currently have, but isn’t this the Navy’s day? They are going to have to fight someone, somewhere. Better these low tech navies now, than the peer fight tomorrow with no lessons learned, and no leaders with combat experience, except the sailors currently serving besides the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  15. Hudson permalink
    December 17, 2009 5:54 pm

    If one of our Burkes is savagely ambushed in the Persian Gulf while escorting a tanker ot two, really creamed, overwhelmed by missiles and torpedos, the crew will fight bravely to the bloody, burning end–you can count on that. The USS Arizona will rise from its oily grave and the Golden Tongue O will put on his street sneakers and play rough. And, yes, our allies at sea will get in their kicks and punches too.

    As for these Somali pirates, the naval powers are cruising on snooze alarm because of the over-cautious merchant vessel owners who don’t want violence against their ships and crews. As long as that attitude prevails, there is no point in spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build new fleets to chase the pirates across huge expanses of blue ocean. Yes, the military solution is to attack their several land bases and hit them hard. That is what the naval powers did in response to the enslaving of more than a million Christians by the Barbary pirates in the 18th and 19th centuries, according to my reading. Think of that number for a moment.

    We’re simply not hurting enough by this new crop of pirates to take drastic action. No pain, no gain.

  16. Mrs. Davis permalink
    December 17, 2009 4:47 pm

    CS-21 is a joke in other words…right?

    It was prepared by a leadership that believes the purpose of the Navy is not to fight.

  17. December 17, 2009 3:47 pm

    The strategy in fact reduces its importance to secondary that of projecting power onto the land, mimicking the Army and Air Force missions as a result. For taming the seas, the Navy is depending on uncertain allies, with all the talk of a “1000 ship navy” and “Somali piracy can only be defeated on land”.

    You said it much better than I did. On this we see eye to eye.

    CS-21 is a joke in other words…right?

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