LCS Alternative Weekly
Rationalizing the Bigger Fleet
A few quotes from various sources on why navies need plenty of hulls in the water, like an army needs boots on the ground:
The Royal Navy is now smaller than it has ever been in its history but the demands upon the few remaining ships remain as high as ever.
Steve Bush, the editor of [British Warships and Auxiliaries, an annual guide to the state of the Navy], warns that even though the Navy is to receive two large aircraft carriers and more of the new Type 45 destroyers, there will not be enough frigates and destroyers to protect the most important ships. Mr Bush, who left the Royal Navy in 2000 after 20 years, told The Times: “There are new ships coming through but the fleet has been pared back so much by the Government that there are now not enough escort ships to protect the bigger vessels.
“The Government thinks that new ships are more capable and therefore you don’t need so many of them, but the number of escort ships is being cut significantly. If you’re going to rely on new carriers and an amphibious capability … you need escort ships to keep them safe. The Government is concentrating on the big ships but neglecting the smaller ships.”
The Navy continues to invest its money in a relatively small number of multi-billion-dollar warships tailored for high-end warfare, rather than a larger number of cheaper vessels that might allow round-the-clock coverage of vast swaths of ocean. Numbers matter.
On land battlefields of irregular enemies US ground forces have saturated populated spaces with manned combat power to disrupt enemy operations and develop intelligence against enemy forces.
I contend that as long as the US Navy rejects alternative force structures that significantly increase the number of manned platforms able to operate in any region of sea, the US Navy will consist primarily of what Andrew Krepinevich of CSBA describes as “Wasting Assets” when it comes to dealing with irregular warfare challenges at sea. Armed with the defeating mechanism of attrition, the US Navy lacks sufficient presence to disrupt irregular enemies towards a strategic objective, and because irregular enemies at sea do not need to attack US Navy platforms, the US Navy will also fail to achieve positive strategic object with an attrition defeat mechanism against irregular enemies.
The Navy Does Penance
I will grudgingly concede the littoral combat ship is a step in the right direction toward building numbers and managing the irregular threats at sea that have become so common. Still, its very large size of 3000 tons, huge price, and lackadaisical building program shows a continued lack of seriousness by the Navy, and a refusal to manage this new type of warfare. Admittedly, we have overwhelming conventional power at sea, but as proved consistently with our wars on land, the modern enemy will not fight in any typical fashion we are used to, and the high tech exquisite platform is more of a hindrance to COIN as like platforms are in a ground insurgency.
The excuse might be that established Navy doesn’t need to be fighting piracy and smuggling, so there is no need to plan for small threats at sea. The LCS then becomes the Navy’s penance for doing nothing. As long as it has the appearance of a “Pirate Buster”, that is enough. Whether it is effective or not in this role no longer matters.
With LCS as an offering, their chant becomes “Piracy can only be defeated on land”. Despite the historical hypocrisy of this statement, there is the fact that irregular tactics have been used against major warships, as with the Cole bombing and Hezbollah’s attack on the Israel Corvette Hanit. There is no reason why even a peer adversary might not see the success the pirates have in countering our conventional tactics and use these same weaknesses against us. It’s not like the Navy hasn’t been struck from unexpected places before.
The LCS Freedom should only be the start of a concerted effort building toward a low tech, economical and very usable fleet consisting of Influence Squadrons. Besides these very costly experiments, there should be many smaller corvettes, patrol vessels, fast attack craft, dedicated anti-mine ships, ect. The idea that a single hull can do the functions of very many niche warships is faulty, anymore than a submarine can be an adequate aircraft carrier, or vice versa. The idea that the LCS can do the functions of many ships-mine warfare, patrol craft, frigate, mothership, and do any of these functions as well as dedicated vessels, is much wishful thinking, as proved by ongoing technical difficulties and prohibitive price range.
PCs-What can’t they do?
Lee Wahler points out a very good article in the Naval Institutes Proceedings mag (subscr. only) about the Navy’s Cyclone class patrol craft, which we spotlighted in an earlier post. An apt title by Commander Stephen J. Coughlin, reminds us Good Things Come in Small Packages:
Of the six strategic naval imperatives identified in The Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, patrol coastal ships are arguably capable of conducting five. Power projection will be left to the carrier air wings and ships of the line. But of the others-sea control, deterrence, presence, humanitarian, and maritime security operations-all are well within the capacity of a PC, although on a smaller scale. To conduct these missions effectively, we must be in many places simultaneously and rely on our global maritime partners to make significant contributions to that effort. The Cooperative Strategy explains that “our maritime forces will be employed to build confidence and trust among nations through collective security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interest. To do so will require an unprecedented level of integration. Seapower will be the unifying force to build a better tomorrow.” Clearly, the value of a comprehensive engagement strategy to contend with piracy, smuggling, human trafficking, and other criminal activity cannot be overstated.
The basic construct is that our global maritime partners would be an informal coalition of navies all having much to gain by securing ocean areas for maritime commerce and other legitimate activities. The U.S. Navy provides the leadership for the development of everything from operational concepts and training strategies to the creation of viable, long-term maintenance and modernization plans. Therefore, meaningful security cooperation should be conducted with ships that mirror the partners’ capabilities. Nations that will contribute to the partnership in regions such as the Persian Gulf will never aspire to own highly sophisticated, multi-billion-dollar warships. An Aegis destroyer will put them in awe but achieve little-to-no effective combined naval operations.
Patrol coastal ships have demonstrated that they are the perfect fit for theater-security cooperation. Based on the work that they have already done in the Persian Gulf, it is hard to deny their utility as partner-building platforms.
Commenting on a recent Tom Rick’s posting, Inside the Headquarters detail’s how Congress virtually assures the Navy will build only failed warship programs:
Congress approved just more than $1 billion for the littoral combat ship (which clocks in at around $600 million per copy) and two destroyers, as Ricks writes. BUT $1.3 billion is going to the Zumwalt class (DDG-1000), the Canceled Stealth Ship to Nowhere, thanks to some slick lawmaker deals. Roughly $1.5 billion goes to the Arleigh Burke class (DDG-51). The Boys are returning to the Burke’s proven platform following the Zumwalt-class disastrous run. (Seen “enabling” below.)
The problem with LCS and DDG-1000 extends beyond the dollars. It is systemic. Congress continues to enable Navy program mismanagement. The Boys took the $240 million LCS and redesigned it to nearly triple the estimate. The same applies to the failed Zumwalt. (“Mission? Let’s just make it do everything, even if it is an unstable platform! Cost? Irrelevant.”) The shipyards located in prominent lawmaker districts play into this funding dart game as well.
This is why I insist that allocating more money to the admirals is not the solution but the problem. It only feeds the beast.
Maersk’s Private Anti-Pirate Force
We could see this coming, with lack of interest from established navies in defending commerce. The Merchant Mariners are taking the pirates to task. From the Copenhagen Post:
Danish shipper A.P. Moller Maersk has hired out soldiers and a warship from Tanzania to protect its fleet in pirate-ridden waters off the coast of Africa, and now other shippers are expected to follow suit.
Maersk hired the warship through former special forces soldiers working for firm Guardian GBS security in December 2008. The ship was charged with protecting the Brigit Maersk tanker from pirates. It is unknown how much the shipping company paid for the service.
‘The waters east of Africa are a grey zone because developing countries don’t have resources to fight pirates. It’s a temporary solution that a shipper has hired a warship from another country, but there’s no alternative,’ said Jan Fritz Hansen, vice-president of the Danish Shipowners’ Association.
Steffen Jacobsen, technical director at Maersk Tankers, said the company checked first to make sure the move was legal. ‘That’s why we chose it as an alternative solution to a very critical situation,’ he said.
Earlier New Wars wrote on this subject in Thinking Beyond the Navy:
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…
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.
LCS Alternative-UAE Baynunah class corvette
A French design for the United Arab Emirates’ Navy, total of 6 under contract. Naval Technology provides details:
Delivery to the UAE Navy is scheduled for 2010. The second Baynunah is scheduled to be delivered eight months later, with the remaining corvette deliveries in six-month intervals until 2012…The main roles of the corvettes will be in patrol and surveillance, minelaying, interception and other anti-surface warfare operations in the United Arab Emirate’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.
- Length 71.-30m
- Displacement-915 tons full
- Speed-32 knots max
- Range-2000 miles
- Armament-8 x MM40 Block 3 Exocet
4 x MK56 eight-cell VLS for ESSMClose-In Weapons System (CIWS)1 x Mk 49 launcher for RAM missileMain Gun, 62mm
Aircraft-Hanger for medium sized helicopter.