Small Answers for Big Problems
Some readers are growing weary of my continued mantra of “smaller is better”. Understandable since New Wars does harp often on small warships, light armored vehicles, UAVs, and other cheap but good weapons more relevant to our current wars. Even more tedious, in my opinion, is the constant delays and shipbuilding woes that emanate from the fleet these days, as Eric L Palmer points to with this article titled “Navy fleet in high demand”
“Over the past decade, we have seen a decline in the number of ships in our inventory,” said Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet. “However, the demand signal for those assets has steadily increased to support efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, counter piracy around the Horn of Africa, assist with security requirements in the European theater, and respond to humanitarian crisis about every 60 days, on average.”
The Navy has 287 deployable ships. Now 49 percent are under way and 40 percent are on deployment. In the early 1990s, a typical day in the Navy saw 25 to 30 percent of the fleet under way or deployed.
The fleet being smaller than ever, it is also busier than ever. The consistent solutions have been “lets build fewer platforms, but make them bigger and more complicated to get more work out of them”. We then have one warship replacing four, one fighter replacing dozens, and so on. So I have to question whether the Navy’s large ships which they assure us are so capable, are really up to the task set of a new era of warfare? It’s not just me but as ELP explains:
Using an expensive dollars-per-hour, big crew cruiser to do anti-piracy and other low level work is a big business plan problem. Many kinds of U.S. Navy missions; anti-piracy/security, disaster relief and so on, don’t require gold plated solutions. Frigates, corvettes, Mistral class flat-tops all the live-long-day will do.
The blogger also reveals how warships often go to sea greatly undermanned. With small warships, you already have reduced manning. Today we deploy an all-battleship-navy, on a small navy budget! Aircraft carriers also regularly go to sea with fewer airplanes than they can carry, yet we insist on building them bigger (more on this tomorrow).
Another blog post by War News Updates reveals to us “The Sad State Of US Navy Shipbuilding” and the following headlines:
Navy reports widespread problems on Northrop’s Gulf Coast-built ships — Daily Press
Navy finds faulty welds on Northrop Grumman ships — Sacramento Bee/AP
Widespread problems found on LPDs, other ships — Navy Times
LCS=Lockheed Cannot be Serious! — New Wars
The Three Biggest Challenges Facing U.S. Naval Shipbuilding — Defence Professionals
These are just from the past week! The last report from DefPro holds the popular assumption that the problem in shipbuilding is “money, money, and money“, yet with 2010 Navy Budget of $171 billion, this is hard to grasp. Less than 10% of this actually goes to shipbuilding, it is true, but the rest goes to maintaining a fleet consisting of the worlds largest warships, with more tonnage than 13 navies combined and about 50,000 crewman massed in only 11 USN warships. Thats 15% of the total Navy manpower!
It isn’t just smaller warships and cheaper weapons we want to see. It is a return to basics, a return of simple warfighting and shipbuilding skills, and most of all a bigger fleet of reasonably priced warships. It’s all about the tyranny of numbers and no matter how good your technology, it can’t be in more than one place at a time, or in other words, you can’t do presence if you aren’t present! So if we adopt the idea that less capable doesn’t mean incapable, we see small platforms for what they truly are:
- Easier to build, with fewer construction faults.
- Require less manning which means more savings.
- Often more rugged, possessing fewer high tech components.
- They can take battle damage easier, easily repaired, far easier to replace if lost.
- You can buy a lot for the price of a single supercarrier, superfighter, or heavy tank.
- With numbers you also see less wear and tear on equipment, less over-worked crews.
- Produce dramatic savings in operating costs especially fuel usage.