Navy versus the Bigger Fleet
Has there ever been a fleet in all history where it was the Admirals themselves who were the greatest obstacle to increasing ship numbers? Welcome to the modern age where Western fleets build only the biggest, baddest, and subsequently often “too big to fail” ship programs, then use them for fighting pirates, smugglers, or disaster relief. In wartime giant ships aren’t overly useful either, since they can’t leave port without escort from smaller warships, recalling the tin cans, destroyer escorts, frigates, and corvettes of the World Wars, and the famed PC’s of Vietnam.
David Axe talks about small warships, especially Sea Fighter above and links to a New Wars post in this article titled “USA Should Have a Bigger Small-Ship Navy“:
An experimental catamaran dubbed Sea Fighter, currently owned by the Office of Naval Research, has the potential to make an effective, affordable littoral warship. But the four-year-old vessel, built at a cost of just $60 million, has been deliberately buried under artificial restrictions by admirals and their political supporters, who prefer costlier and frankly riskier solutions to the Navy’s problems…
In 2007, [Congressman Duncan] Hunter had overseen legislation requiring the Navy to spend $22 million adding weapons to Sea Fighter, so that the vessel might be commissioned into the combat fleet and sent out on operations. The Navy “fails to take full advantage of the capabilities of this vessel,” the legislation asserted. Without weapons, the ship would never deploy.
But the Navy refused to abide by the law, and today Sea Fighter remains unarmed and unavailable for combat taskings. Senior Navy leaders effectively blocked Sea Fighter’s development, apparently in order to protect further production of its Cold War-era Burke-class destroyers and the controversial Littoral Combat Ship. The Burkes are 9,000-ton, multi-mission destroyers optimized for air- and missile-defense and deep-water warfare. A single Burke costs more than $1 billion and sails with at least 250 crew.
A scathing indictment of ongoing obstructionism from the Navy. Before this it was the Cyclone Patrol Craft which they have consistently tried to foster off to the Coast Guard or foreign navies. They exile Stiletto to the Caribbean where small ship programs go to die. Then it was the high speed vessels which they could have purchased in large numbers a decade ago instead of LCS . Now we are stuck with the expensive and essentially worthless LCS (pretty as she is), yet the Navy feels the need for more JHSV’s in the new budget.
The Admirals claim they want a bigger fleet, yet no one wants to cut a particular battleship program. The Navy Aviation has its battleships with the carriers, the subsurface folk must have only 8000 ton nuclear subs, the surface community has the 10,000 tons Burkes in perpetuity. Even the Marines has a new $3 billion amphib which oddly enough doesn’t have a well-deck for troops! And apparently the $600-$700 million LCS is the new battleship for Navy coastal warfare advocates.
It is the Navy they want, not the Navy they need. A larger fleet of Sea Fighters, light carriers, conventional subs, Stilettos, JHSV’s, corvettes, Absalon motherships, old fashioned mine ships, would be cheaper to build and operate than buying only billion dollar plus wonder ships which can do everything except be in more than one place at a time. They would use less fuel individually and need fewer personnel to operate. It would be a bigger, better navy than one we have today, more relevant to the times than the steadily shrinking all-battleship fleet we have.
I don’t mind battleship types, which are still needed, but that is ALL they are building. Incredible, when in the post-Soviet era, you don’t even require a “mostly battleship Navy”, but a Cadre of such vessels for the rare Big Wars. Even the large ships they build could be constructed cheaper and somewhat smaller, taking advantage of new technology (as we talked about here and here), but apparently they don’t even want to increase the number of Big Ships! It’s a death spiral and no one responsible is at the helm.