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300 Ship Navy Falters in Haiti Relief

January 14, 2010

Sounding like a broken record, no matter how exquisite and capable modern naval ships are, they can’t magically reproduce themselves, being in more than one place. The current disaster relief operations ongoing off Haiti is a case in point. The Christian Science Monitor asks the pertinent question “Why is it taking so long for Pentagon aid to reach Haiti?”:

The aircraft carrier arriving Friday has three operating rooms, several dozen hospital beds and can produce fresh water. The Bataan amphibious ship also possesses some medical assets and is being outfitted with more. But it is the Comfort hospital ship, with its 250 hospital beds and 12 operating rooms, that would appear to meet the most pressing need in Haiti…

Pentagon officials say that ship, one of the Navy’s two hospital ships, won’t leave Baltimore until this weekend and not arrive until sometime at the end of next week. “It’s a slow moving vessel, it’s an older vessel, so it will take about a week to get down there once it gets all crewed up,” said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman…

“None of this will seem quick enough if you have a loved one who’s trapped, if you’re sleeping on the streets, if you can’t feed your children,” Obama said. “But it’s important that everybody in Haiti understand, at this very moment, one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history is moving towards Haiti.”

The Navy today, half the size from as recently as the late 1980s is the smallest its been in a century. Through the past several decades, the Navy has built an all-high tech force, extremely capable for shooting down ballistic missiles, for striking deep inland against defended targets, or detecting deep diving nuclear submarines. Still it is stretched with numerous functions in a new century, mostly contending with low tech insurgents who lack any of the weaponry required of a space age battlefleet.

In such a scenario, with the sea teaming with numerous threats, a large fleet of small warships would be ideal, and also more capable for inshore relief operations of the kind faced in Haiti. While the service is building a few shallow water types, the Littoral Combat and the Joint High Speed Vessel, the bulk of funds still go to giant warships like aircraft carriers and amphibious ships, built to face off the now rusting Russian Navy, or what the Chinese Navy is rumored to become in the next decade or two.

Once the giant carriers and the Gator Navy finally arrive, we’ve no doubt they will perform marvelously, though will still need shallow water vessels and helicopters to ferry relief back and forth to shore. First they have to get there, and it seems those designing multimission warships, with the idea that 1 vessel replaces 4, didn’t take into account the need for numbers and availability.

We can’t help but think squadrons of smaller warships, often maligned for their lack of capabilities, would be ideal for the type of relief needed to respond quickly, and numerous enough to arrive in time to help. Not perfect warships, with every advance known to man added on, but a Ford on hand is worth 2 Ferrari’s in drydock. These are the type of warships we need to prepare us for any eventually, saving lives, there when called upon.  Not just battles with future high tech navies, stretched thin and two few.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Coltman permalink
    January 18, 2010 3:40 pm

    Returning to the original theme of this discussion – it was about the merits of larger numbers of smaller ships in regard to the Haiti crisis. Although I tend to agree with the general argument that the US Navy (and other navies) cannot go on building small numbers of ‘exquisite’ ships, in this particular case I cannot see what smaller warships like frigates and destroyers can bring to the relief effort. The point has been made previously in this blog that smaller ships are less self-sufficient, the smallest requiring their own motherships, so even a big destroyer will have limited resources to contribute to a disaster like Haiti. Some Arleigh Burkes don’t even have a helicopter of their own. The ship of choice, at least in the 1st instance, has got to be the LHD, being able to land significant amounts of people and aid by air and onto the beach. Just what you need when the ports and airfields are shut or choked. Having said that, there are LHDs and LHDs. I have been reading about the Spanish Juan Carlos class, 27,000 tons, capacity for carrying vehicles up to MBT size, 20 or so aircraft, big landing craft, two operating theatres, accomodation for a battalion of marines, 360 million euros I have seen quoted. I cannot believe they really are that inexpensive but even at twice that price they look like a bargain compared with the huge price tags for the Makin Island & USS America. 27,000 tons is not small exactly, but you could buy a lot of them for the cost of the two amphibs I have just mentioned.

  2. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 17, 2010 12:12 am

    A few more pictures of the U.S. efforts to aid the disaster recovery effort in Haiti can be found at the following link. Imagery of Marines boarding USS Bataan at Morehead City, N.C. are part of what’s provided. Also provided are pictures of medical personnel and sailors boarding the hospital ship U.S.N.S. Comfort in the port of Baltimore, MD. And there’s a single pic of two tired-looking USAF female airmen resting atop five gallon fuel gerry-cans in Port-au-Prince. These pics are found in posting # 28 of this thread at Military Photos.!!-16-17th-of-January-2010/page2

  3. nico permalink
    January 16, 2010 7:15 pm

    Just a thought when I read the last comment by D. E. Reddick, with so much damage to the airport, the carrier is only proper “airfield ” in Haiti. You obviously want to repair the airport as fast as possible but this just confirms how important a carrier can be. Even after repairs, you could keep the airport to unload bulk cargo and use the carrier just for heli. operations which will be a lot more efficient.

  4. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 16, 2010 1:31 pm

    Pictures of CVN-70 USS Carl Vinson engaged in humanitarian relief efforts along the coast of earthquake-struck Haiti appear in posting # 5 of this thread over on Military Photos. Note the MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters along with the more usual SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopters working from the deck of the Vinson. The aircraft carrier has been turned into a floating helo airstation for operations around Port-au-Prince.!!-16-17th-of-January-2010

  5. Joe permalink
    January 16, 2010 11:24 am

    Civility has been a hallmark of this blog. And Al L. did go “off the reservation” in his comments. Still, I think it would be appropriate to refrain from tying any given naval force structure arguments to an unfolding national/human tragedy of unimaginable proportions. The future will allow plenty of time for that type of post-event analysis.

  6. Distiller permalink
    January 16, 2010 1:14 am

    There was a time when AWs where in the fleet

    Always thought a distilling ship is as important as a crane ship, a power generator ship, floating docks, and other engineering ships for amphib operations.
    The USN still has a few of them, maybe these events will provide some momentum to review the auxiliaries!

  7. nico permalink
    January 15, 2010 9:00 pm

    One of the reasons I like this blog is generally it is pretty civil and not too much left-right politics. I hope it stays that way. :)

    to elgatoso:

    This situation shows the advantages of a big CVN just for the sheer scale of the disaster. Only the military can mobilize that fast, it will take a lot longer to fill up civilian cargo ships and where are you going to get choppers?

    Also shows the need for the Marines to help and provide security.
    I just heard reports of looting. You need to secure the airport, port, distribution centers, convoys, civilians can’t do that.

  8. Mrs. Davis permalink
    January 15, 2010 6:29 pm

    Dan Smith approached the topic, but it is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of deaths in Haiti are going to be the result of disease caused by polluted water. Only a CVN can generate 400,000 gallons of fresh water a day. I suspect this fresh water distribution will save more lives than all other efforts being made. This does not mean there is not a need for any other type of ship, but that the CVN will prove to be necessary and indispensable if not sufficient. Small ships would help also, but would also not be sufficient.

    And given the warranted call for a more civil discourse on this thread I want to congratulate Galrahn for making his point in two sentences.

  9. Bill permalink
    January 15, 2010 4:40 pm

    Good suggestion D. E ..and well timed. Me..I was hiding under my desk..;-)

  10. Graham Strouse permalink
    January 15, 2010 4:18 pm

    I just want to say that until now now this has been the most civil blog I’ve ever read & contributed to, bar none. I don’t agree with Mike about everything but I have to say that he has done a marvelous job maintaining civil discourse here. So knock off the playground name-calling, ‘kay?

  11. B.Smitty permalink
    January 15, 2010 4:11 pm

    D. E. Riddick said, “Could we please refrain from name-calling and accusations and then simply continue with what had been a civilized discourse. Just saying… :-(

    Hear, hear.

  12. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 15, 2010 3:45 pm

    This blog has been a very courteous place for proper discussion regarding matters mostly naval.

    That is, until this thread developed. Now, things appear to be developing in an ill-considered and ill-tempered fashion.

    Could we please refrain from name-calling and accusations and then simply continue with what had been a civilized discourse. Just saying… :-(

  13. Scott B. permalink
    January 15, 2010 2:34 pm

    Galrahn said : “Your ignorance of logistics at and by sea bleeds off the page in this post.”

    What’s the point you wanna make with such an arrogant comment that adds absolutely NOTHING in the discussion ?

    Or perhaps you’re simply trying to fan the flames ?

  14. January 15, 2010 1:50 pm


    Your ignorance of logistics at and by sea bleeds off the page in this post. Well below the expectation standards you have set for your readers.

  15. Matthew S. permalink
    January 15, 2010 1:33 pm

    I dont like using this situation to further the small ships agenda either. If anything this seems to justify buying large amphibious ships which can also function as disaster relief vessels.

  16. elgatoso permalink
    January 15, 2010 1:27 pm

    Al L.
    The words ass and asshole are not really necesary in this blog.Try to be polite

  17. B.Smitty permalink
    January 15, 2010 11:44 am

    IMHO, gators, CVNs, and so on, are good first responders, but as leesea says, we will need throughput. That means large MSC and commercial ships offloading via INLS and/or ELCAS until the ports are back in business.

  18. west_rhino permalink
    January 15, 2010 11:28 am

    Didn’t we stumble through this kinda mess when Clinocchio was in office and Colin Powell had to hold Jimmy Carter’s hand through negotiations? As I recall the opinion then was that gators coulda and shoulda, though over-ruled by the left wing.

    go fig!

  19. Distiller permalink
    January 15, 2010 4:31 am

    PS: Any word about planned airdrops? Water – food – shelter – medical stuff?

  20. Distiller permalink
    January 15, 2010 4:24 am

    Yeah, don’t use such events to further an agenda.

    LHDs are pretty much the perfect tool now, when the ports might be damaged and the roads blocked. The Marines aboard can be used for security assistance ashore, the helicopters aboard for Medevac and emergency equipment transfer, the LCACs for the transfer of heavy construction equipment. Using Army and National Guard helicopter Medevac units to fly off the carrier would also be a good idea. And I hope there are ways to get heavy construction equipment from whatever vessel delivers them into the area onto the LCACs without too many problems or without the need to use the ports. Shows how important interoperability across the forces is. And also shows that forces that you don’t have ready to go within, say, 12hrs max are of questionable value.

  21. Al L. permalink
    January 15, 2010 12:49 am

    Mike B:

    You are an ass.

    For this chrisis nothing, repeat nothing in the way of ships would have been more useful than a CVN parked off Mayport loaded with 70 Ch-53s on the deck and all spaces packed with relief supplies, and support personnel.

    Put it at flank speed and it would be there in a day.

    But to do that one would have to have future vision.

    The size of the ship doesn’t matter for shit if it isn’t ready for the mission.

    So quit acting like some brilliant futurist unless you can point out where you recommended the U.S. Navy post a squadron of MPF ships at Guantanamo to be ready for the next Caribbean disaster.

    People are dying now, you’ll have years to make your point over and over again.

    Your right up there with Pat Robertson: media types who have to make their point on the backs of people suffering the most; can’t wait until the pain and suffering subsides.


  22. January 14, 2010 11:51 pm

    Not to be a stinker, but if I can get back to the original topic of needing numerous smaller ships vice building only larger and/or more technically advanced vessels: Frigates, DDGs, etc, don’t have the medical facilities to help Haiti. I’m on a CG and we’d be swamped within ten minutes. We don’t make much more fresh water than what is already needed by the crew, and we only carry two helos. The answer to this situation is not more, smaller ships.

    I hate to say it, but it just flat out takes time to move from one port to another. It’s not ok, it’s not cool, but I guarantee that once the fleet is there, things will get better. It doesn’t remove the pain of losing loved ones, and I’m not trying to alleviate the need for more effort, but reality must be faced.

  23. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 14, 2010 11:28 pm


    Vinson was already at sea out of Norfolk. There are ten or eleven CVNs in service (depending on how you interpret intentions regarding the retention of USS Enterprise). Presently there are six LHDs in USN service, plus some older LHAs. Simply stated, it was easier to re-deploy Vinson during her current work-up than to grab a further distant, less numerous flight-deck amphib.

    Note that three LSDs are already heading for Haiti (along with CGs, DDGs, FFGs, and Coast Guard vessels already present on scene).

    I could wish to see the Brazilian aircraft carrier São Paulo deployed with a helicopter detachment to assist in aid to Haiti. Brazil has already promised aid. Their single flattop São Paulo isn’t that far from the Island of Hispaniola. However, I suppose that it is possible that she is contractually committed to training Chinese PLAN naval aviators and so isn’t available. It would be helpful if Brazil could and would emulate the Indian Ocean efforts of the Indian Navy following the 2004 Tsunami. India stood up and helped her stricken neighbors while dealing with her own problems resulting from that Christmas, 2004 disaster and subsequent crisis. After the USN, Brazil has the greatest ability to project naval assistance into Carribbean waters.

  24. January 14, 2010 11:19 pm


    An LHD is en route, but the carrier is faster, and they will need the extra deck space for helicopters. Haiti is looking that bad.

  25. elgatoso permalink
    January 14, 2010 11:03 pm

    Okey.that make sense.But is not better or cheaper some LHD?

  26. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 14, 2010 11:00 pm


    The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson has a huge flight deck and an even larger, capable crew. A full squadron of SH-60 helos was just transferred to her. That means rather than being an all-purpose or attack aircraft carrier, in this situation the Vinson will perform as a super helicopter carrier with all sorts of additional logistical capabilities. Many of her crew will likely be freed from their usual duties and so may be available for onshore relief duties in Haiti. It’s all about air-lift capability from ship to shore and also boots and hands ashore to lend assistance.

  27. elgatoso permalink
    January 14, 2010 10:09 pm

    Sorry for my ignorance in maritime affairs,but why we need to send the Navy there.What about sending merchants full of food or whatever they need?Why we need aircraft carriers there?Is the Imperial Japanese Navy somewhere that we need aircraft carriers?

  28. Chuck Hill permalink
    January 14, 2010 8:22 pm

    Small ships are already there (Coast Guard), but the ships, that are bringing the supplies have to be loaded and ships move relatively slowly (in fact, large ones are generally faster than small ones).

    Relative to the Hospital ship, a lot of the delay is because it has to be reactivated.

    Don’t know why the Coast Guard has not sent a buoy tender. Seems likely they will need one to reopen the port. Plus the boom and cargo deck are useful for all sorts of things.

  29. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 14, 2010 7:59 pm

    But if they aren’t there, what good is that? Because small ships are less capable, doesn’t mean they are incapable, and they are especially built for shallow seas. This is what they do.

    Even when the Big Ships eventually get there, they will still need major support from small ships to adequately operate. best the small boys get there to begin with.

    But we’ve been using shallow water HSVs since the beginning of the last decade, and we still haven’t learned these lessons. Large numbers of small ships would make up for their lack of capability. But a single giant warship taking most of a decade to build is still just one ship.

  30. January 14, 2010 7:31 pm

    But with the widespread devastation in Haiti, the need is for amphibious ships – which are a lot larger.

    The carrier is also needed there.

    It is easy to build a LOT of smaller ships fast, and we should, but we need the carriers and large `phibs. It takes five to seven years to build a CVN.

    That’s a long time to be in the hole if we need them and don’t have them.


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