As Russia Goes at Sea Pt 2
Although jubilant over Russia’s victory at Azov, Peter I grew even more determined to create a true Russian navy. While in counsel with the Boyar Duma on 20 October 1696, the Tsar proposed the creation and perpetual maintenance of a Russian fleet. The Boyars agreed, declaring “The seagoing ships shall be!”, whereupon the Azov Naval Base was founded. Its creation in 1696 marks the birth of the regular Russian navy and naval fleet.
From a specially erected structure called the Tsar’s Tent on the Voronezh River, Peter himself was in command, but construction of the ships was directed by Chief of the Admiralty Alexanter Protasyev. The manual work at the Voronezh shipyard was performed by thousands of serfs, overseen by hundreds of shipwrights and officers brought from Western Europe.
In 1697 Peter I sent sixty young noblemen to Europe to learn shipbuilding and study navi-gation. Peter himself soon followed. In Holland he studied the most advanced nautical sciences of the day, worked in ship construction as a ship’s carpenter and earned the title of shipwright. He brought back to Russia books and charts, models of ships, tools and, of even greater significance, vast knowledge and new skills…
Fixing Our Warship Woes
The planned sale of up to four French Mistral amphibious assault ships to the Russian Navy sounds like a logical repeat of history, when her leaders sought overseas expertise from European maritime powers for the construction of a war-winning fleet. The results speak for themselves: The Czars expanded the Russian domain, defeating Turks and Swedish forces, transforming the powerful nation from a Medieval Serfdom to a Modern Industrial Empire.
Instead of scorning such a notion as a sign of decline, perhaps America and Britain might find here an answer to their own warship woes, which seem to multiply after their Cold War victory with ever smaller force structures, and harder to build warships with constant cost overruns, technically flawed vessels, and shrinking numbers. For powers currently focused on land threats in the Middle East as these mighty Atlantic nations, such are unneeded distractions.
With the two Anglo land powers rightly concerned with current threats on land, they could purchase designs from foreign shipyards, either duplicating the construction at home, or ordering directly from overseas yards. European and Asia warships frequently come in under cost, on time, drastically less expensive and with fewer mechanical defects, unlike most warship construction emanating from Britain and the US. Some examples of quality design include the following:
- Aircraft Carriers-No nation deploys nuclear supercarriers, or even large decks with the quality and experience of US types. Where others do excel is in the building of small carriers, which are multipurpose amphibious ships, as we see with Russia’s Mistral search from France, the latter vessel of 20,000 tons costing from $500 million. Other interesting designs are the Spanish Juan Carlos and the Italian Cavour, both of 27,000 tons and V/STOL ready(Australia also purchasing 2 similar types). On the low end are the Italian San Giorgio and the Japanese Osumi, all are of less than 10,000 tons each but possessed of a “through” flight deck.
- Corvettes and Patrol Craft-A particular favorite subject of ours, since it seems the only way for the UK and US ever to restore fleet numbers, are with such vessels, seeing as they are very useful against other small threats at sea. Both nations construct small types for friendly allies, like the Saar 5 for Israel, while Britain in recent years have built corvettes for Oman and Brunei. Nordic nations specialize in stealthy craft such as the Visby and Skjold. Germany has numerous overseas orders for its respected MEKO A Class Corvettes, and for its own Navy, the K130 Braunschweig. The Gumdoksuri Class is an interesting patrol ship from S Korea, built with the lessons of combat with the North in mind.
- Destroyers and Frigates-Destroyers are now synonymous with a large missile escorts, and both navies have excellent examples in these, the Type 45 and DDG-51 classes. Neither will need replacement but perhaps for the future, as well as the need for motherships for small craft, a second look might be taken at the frigate, which is too expensive to afford in large numbers, but also less pricey than a large destroyer. Examples of missile frigates with like capabilities are the Spanish F100 design, and versions built for Norway, and Australia. Germany also has the F124 frigate while Holland deploys the De Zeven Provincien Class. For a low-end frigate design, the Danish Absalon is well liked and excellent for the mothership role.
- Submarines-As with their destroyers, the UK and US have a superb force of nuclear submarines. Because they are large and hard to build, these can never be afforded in the numbers desired or required. Overseas are numerous conventionally-powered examples, which thanks to their extreme quieting and air-independent propulsion, are very effective while remaining affordable. Not surprising, some of the most popular are German classes, the U-212/214 in widespread export. Not too far behind is the Franco/Spanish Scorpene, built for numerous navies including Chile, India, Malaysia, and Pakistan. The Swedish Gotland is a well respected coastal design. Japan builds some of the largest and best SSK’s, the Oyashio of 4000 tons and the slightly larger Sōryū.
It is no secret America, with rare exceptions of late, prepares to fight the wrong war. As Secretary Gates said recently “We have learnt through painful experience that the wars we fight are seldom the wars we planned,”. Before Korea, she planned on short conflicts in which nuclear bombers were involved. Instead she got a low tech conventional struggle not too dissimilar than the recent world war she fought, only more confined and which the bombers were of little use. Afterward, amazingly she kept building bombers, plus giant aircraft carriers which also could carry nuclear bombers, for a war over Europe, and yet found herself in a COIN battle in Asia with an enemy again much like the Japanese she fought in the Pacific Islands jungles.
The conventional battles in Iraq with Saddam Hussein were welcome victories after the loss in Vietnam, except they distracted the US from the type of enemies she most often fights, which is low tech COIN adversaries who manage to obtain high tech weaponry, matching us in firepower while nearly bankrupting us with their extreme frugality. Today the Navy is planning to fight wars in Outer Space with Aegis BMD cruisers, while the next conflict most likely will be in Cyber Space, again with minuscule budgets that we can’t hope to match.
America, and to an extent Britain should focus on their strengths and most dire needs, currently being land threats from terrorist insurgents. Air and seapower will always be needed, but instead of a top heavy force, should consist of medium and light forces. For the Navy especially, emphasis must be on sea control, which is all important, as a anti-submarine and counter insurgency force. Since the West hasn’t faced a significant carrier threat in three quarters of a century, this shockingly expensive arm can be downsized in favor of larger numbers of smaller vessels. By depending more on her allies as in Europe and Asia for naval support and also ship designs, the Pax America, born out of the British Empire, will sustain a reasonable peace indefinitely.
Or we could just keep going as we are, which is a sad alternative, as Tim Colton of Maritime Memos explains concerning the Mistral sale:
As you can imagine, this ticks off a lot of U.S. senators, who, having an average age of 63, are still fighting the Cold War. But think how badly the Russian Navy would get screwed up if it had to buy ships from Northrop Grumman.