The New Green Water Navy
Currently this fleet does not exist, despite the fact this is where the Navy’s interest had been since the demise of the Blue Water Soviet Navy. Amazingly this also is where each successive Maritime Strategy starting in 1992 with From the Sea has pointed to where the service should be with operations in shallow seas, and even the most recent strategy declares her intent to conduct soft power in such waters.
Inexplicably, the ongoing procurement programs instituted by the admirals during the past 20 years without a peer adversary has seen little change. The most money has been spent on the 60+ strong Arleigh Burke class, the most powerful but also the most expensive surface combatants in history. Add to this new aircraft carriers, successive aircraft programs, and the troubled LPD-17 and you have a navy little different in 2010 than the one deployed in 1980, howbeit greatly reduced in number. The Virgina class littoral submarine was supposed to be smaller and cheaper than the mighty Cold War diver the Seawolf, except at 7000 tons it is only slightly smaller, and not at all cheaper than the larger boat.
Here again is author and lecturer Capt. Wayne Hughes along with a team of strategists who have returned rationality to Navy procurement with the document titled “The New Navy Fighting Machine“, the foundation of which will be a new Green Water Navy geared at long-last to push the fleet toward the long-promised goal of dominating the littorals. First the rationale:
Early in the twentieth century, the introduction of the torpedo and mine pushed the battleship’s domain to seaward. Starting with the Russo-Japanese War and culminating in World War I, battleships and other surface warships were sunk in significant numbers off enemy coasts. The modern analog to the first wave of submarine and mine attacks is the missile—not as lethal in terms of sinkings, but equally fatal in terms of a firepower kill.
And while the plan returns the Navy to the coastal environments, where missiles are driving it from, it also returns the Marines to the sea, their natural domain. New Wars has made no secret we think this is a long overdue event:
…Restores responsibility for riverine warfare to the Marine Corps as a natural core capability. Marines have been expert at constabulary and riverine operations over many years. Control of rivers, while powerful in its effects, is accomplished not so much by patrolling the waters, deltas, and estuaries as it is by coordinated land, water, and air operations, accompanied by appropriate C2 systems and exploitation of waterways for suitable logistical support and great tactical mobility.
Here is Capt. Hughes’ list for the Green Water component:
- Offshore Patrol-160 $60 million (Offshore Patrol Cutter?)
- Fleet Station Ship-12–Cost $150 to $250 million each. “Twelve is enough to maintain one on each of
four global fleet stations, with a reserve for surges.”
- Inshore Patrol-400 “The theater security component comprises 400 small craft, each costing, at
most, $400K, for inshore patrol and to assist friendly, but poor nations in antipiracy and countersmuggling.”
- Gunfire Support-12–(Here is something for the naval gunfire support (NGFS) advocates. I don’t discount the need though I am not a big fan of gunfire support. Hughes complains about the cost of missiles for such warfare but then advocates rail-gun technology. Talk about expense)!
- Fast MIW-12 $200 mill each. (Dedicated anti-mine vessel, finally!)
- ASW Ship-12 $150 million corvette–(RSN Victory class)?
- CVL-8–advocates the 20k to 30k ton light carriers with 20 F-35B V/STOL aircraft. (We gave our opinion of these ships on Thursday.)
- Coastal Combatant-30 cost $100 million. (The return of “Streetfighter“. I question this cost, thinking the Visby’s $220 million more realistic.)
- CC Tender (Mothership)-“The new fighting machine provides two tenders for the coastal combatants, each costing about as much as an LCS without its modules. The tenders notionally support ten vessels each, and more aerial surveillance aircraft than carried by an LCS.”
Totals come to a 648 ship Navy–very impressive numbers though we question some of the ship types chosen. Still the diversity and possibilities here trump any current USN plans which have yet to grapple with the problems of littoral warfare in a serious manner. Even more interesting, is the costs of funding this dramatic increase in the size and capability of the fleet–$44.6 billion total or according to the plan–$1.56 billion annually. That is the cost of a single Burke destroyer! Hughes also says this is only 10% of the cost of his total plan, with Blue Water forces funded for 80% and strategic deterrent the other 10%.
Here is the might and power of the US Navy, the victor of the Cold War, which some have said to be “larger than the next 13 navies combined“, but in a new form. Instead of history’s most powerful and capable warfleet bound to the tyranny of a few exquisite and irreplaceable warships, we see this immense capability dispersed into numerous powerful and capable packages. These many smaller vessels take the technology of new weapons, and the tactics learned in land wars to its next logical conclusions on the sea.
The Navy we have now is filled with vessels individually as capable as we can make them, the most expensive and largest vessels of their type ever devised by man. Despite this, they are essentially failures since as more capable these giant multi-mission ships get, they are less practical for modern problems. Because we can only afford a few of them we have less to spare for the many global issues that arise. Because they are so costly, we dare not risk them close to shore, where, as we pointed out in the first paragraph, the Navy needs to be most in a new era.
As we have seen in the ongoing problem of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, our very costly and impressive cruisers, and destroyers have been essentially helpless to stem the tide. At best they have been a serious distraction, but most likely have taught the insurgents at sea how to do their job better, and to range further out into the shipping lanes than ever before. Much like in Capt Hughes’ proposal, we see the pirates practicing a traditional form of sea control, that Western navies have scorned as unimportant in an era where the admirals emphasize the very costly expeditionary power in carriers and amphibious warships, to the detriment of its primary reason for existence, to build hulls in the water for the defense of the sealanes.