Thinking Beyond the Navy Pt 1
Brian J Dunn at the Dignified Rant has an excellent post, Forward … to a Thousand-Ship American Navy, which he claimed “free content”. I am going to take him up on this because it is that good. Without saying he is endorsing anything I write here, I will be using his article throughout as a reference.
Brian also says he sat on this article for 2 years before publishing it online. It seems even more timely today considering we have a Navy that is shrinking while threats are mounting. Most of these problems are of their own doing, for the failure to accept the possibility that war at sea has changed, that their mightily impressive and capable ships, which they can’t build enough of, aren’t needed for a global navy, and that numbers often are more important than individual size and firepower. Here’s Brian on “The Tyranny of Numbers“:
Our Navy defends our nation within the incompatible and unforgiving boundaries formed by the tyrannies of distance and numbers. We struggle to build enough ships both capable of deploying globally and powerful enough for fighting first-rate opponents. Operating within a network-centric Navy, auxiliary cruisers could once again play a valuable role in projecting naval power. Using modular systems installed on civilian hulls, auxiliary cruisers could handle many peacetime roles; free scarce warships for more demanding environments; add combat power within a networked force; and promote the global maritime partnership.
Our Navy is surely superior to any conceivable combination of potential foes, alarmism notwithstanding. Yet as a global power, our sea power cannot be narrowly defined by our superb warships able to win conventional sea-control campaigns. We have many objectives at sea. Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers could provide the numbers we need to achieve our maritime objectives. The tyranny of numbers matters to the United States Navy.
Which leads to me my own conclusion, could established navies be obsolete in future conflict? While this may be yet in the far-off future, it seems conceivable if the National established agencies ignore ongoing difficulties in the World’s oceans, which is their domain, and actively encourage merchant sailors to protect themselves. Commercial shipping companies might be forced to deploy their own protection, something the West hasn’t seen for centuries.
Today we have merchantmen defending themselves in the Gulf of Aden, faced as they are with modern outbreaks of piracy. While there are government warships available, the preference of traditional navies to build only high-end, highly capable warships means hulls are few and far between. With only 40 available from the combined fleets of Europe, Asia, and the Americas, they are required to patrol over 200,000 square miles of ocean off Somalia alone. Not surprisingly, a pirate attack is often over long before the stretched naval vessels arrive on the scene.
Though extremely capable, the large cruisers, destroyers and frigates are not very practical for patrolling these great swathes of ocean. Instead more numerous ships are called for, many more as Brian points out. They would possess few special attributes seen as necessities on Cold War era types, updated to fight the War on Terror and Piracy. A gun is essential, plus a well armed crew, and often a helicopter.
Our cruiser and destroyer surface combatants provide the bulk of our fleet and are outstanding multi-mission warships. But they can’t be everywhere. Nor are they needed everywhere. When a multi-mission ship is sent on a mission that does not need such a capable warship, we remove that ship from our pool of assets available to carry out another mission that requires a cruiser or destroyer.
Because we are so stretched, unable or unwilling to build sizable fleets, the Navy is leaving merchant ships pretty much on their own. It is amazing to see professional officers declare before the worldwide media, what is essentially defeat in the face of the world’s most minor threats of piracy. With talk such as “piracy can only be defeated on land” and the “sea is too large to stop all pirate attacks”, we can only conclude the admirals are talking themselves out of the essential navy mission of the 21st Century, and perhaps out of a job.
Much of the training in small boats, anti-boarding exercises, convoy, and engaging targets at sea the merchant sailors are receiving would be of great benefit for any navy. These skills would prepare future naval leaders for real war at sea, involving the clash of ships and the defense of harbors, yet the Federal sailors are, for the most part uninterested. Amazing!
This is not a proposal on our part, of any sort, to get rid of established navies, just an observation of the trends. I think anywhere there is lawlessness on the high seas, the government should be the first to involve itself. If not, I see the merchants taking matters in their own hands, but this is rarely an acceptable solution. If the commercial shippers show increasing independence and effectiveness in protecting the sealanes, a traditional function of sea control, the public might rightly question where our funds are going, and if the vast expense of maintaining a costly but ineffective National Navy is worth the price. Consider this then as a wakeup call.
Tomorrow-Reestablishing the Navy’s primacy.