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Toward the 200 Ship Navy Pt 2

March 23, 2010
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Once 20,000 ton Aircraft carriers carried 100 planes to sea but are now 100,000 ton ships which carry less as many. Destroyers from 100 years ago and 1000 tons, the small boys, tin cans, and greyhounds are now surpassing the 10,000 ton mark. Submarines once affectionately dubbed “boats” are now far less so, approaching cruiser size of 7000 tons or more at the price of a destroyer. Finally is the once mighty amphibious fleet, in the last World War consisting of thousands of craft of various sorts and sizes, now with only 33 examples of hulking and inflexible vessels, liable to shrink even further as we noted yesterday.

The answer seems even more obvious than the demise of the Navy. A return to basics in warships design, and a relearning of basic shipbuilding skills to fashion a rebirth in the expertise, not only within the Fleet but the shipbuilders as well. Smaller low cost ships built in large numbers would restore the fleet’s fallen fortunes while bringing much needed work to various shipyards. A bigger fleet would mean more jobs and greater expertise in building adequate hulls, because limbs which aren’t exercised frequently soon wither with disuse.

In thinking small warships, look at the 3000 ton LCS and think smaller than that. That ship being the poster child of what’s wrong with the procurement process, anything smaller can only be an improvement. Small warships are exactly what is needed to combat current threats, not mythical ones long past with the demise Soviet Navy, as the Chinese are in no hurry to compete with us carrier-for-carrier, nuclear submarine for submarine, or missile destroyer for missile destroyer. In other words, we can’t concern ourselves about obscure future threats while ignoring those staring us in the face and nipping away at our sea control.

To deal with the threat of smugglers, pirates, and terrorist on the high seas, you do not even need a $700 million frigate, the continued construction of which is so much over-kill and ensuring the continued death spiral of the Navy. The building blocs of a new fleet should be these 1000 ton corvettes and patrol vessels, that range of $50 million to $250 million. They can be built in huge numbers, are self-deployable, and perfect for fighting in the world’s shallow seas, where the majority of threats loom today, in stark contrast to a Blue Water frigate, which is wasted and even at risk in such waters.

The corvette would not only be economical and more sensible tackling low tech adversaries, but also potential peer adversaries armed with stealthy diesel electric submarines. These shallow water battleships are still the scourge of anti-submarine hunters, and we recall it took the combined allied navies building hundreds of small warships, backed by land based patrol bombers, years to defeat Hitler’s U-boat arm. Today, the US Navy deploys only a handful of frigates, about 30 of the aging Perry’s with Britain less than 20 such dedicated sub-hunters.

The new destroyer then will be these 1000 ton corvettes, backed by long-range UAVs whose speed and persistence in flight make then ideal for such sundry but important function. Even these would be backed by smaller fast attack craft, cutters, assault boats, and patrol craft, and small conventional subs of our own. The latter would avert the demise of the Submarine Fleet, itself at half its 1980s numbers and likely to decline further. These smaller Brown Water patrol craft would ensure potential aggressors no hiding place in their shallow water haunts, complementing and adding to the Green Water corvettes and submarines.

Historically then, we see the fleet falling and the Navy assurances holding little water. It makes no sense that carriers, destroyers, frigates, and amphibs, which annually increase in size and cost will not induce another massive downsizing of the fleet in the near future. We are already witnessing the disappearance of the cruisers, and we wonder which class of vessel is next on the Navy’s hitlist to maintain its exquisite shipbuilding programs?

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Jed permalink
    March 24, 2010 11:17 am

    Mike said: “Sure, an airplane or helo can sink a small boat, but they have to be there to do this an we know they can’t be everywhere at once”

    True. but a small ship is NOT the best defence against a small ship. We are back to the mother ship concept, and maybe even that other love of yours, small (cheap) carriers.

    The best thing would be a vessel capable of carrying 4 to 6 helo’s and maybe 4 x Combat Boat 90 type / size boats (either the E 10 man model, or H 20 man model). Chuck in 2 to 4 A160 UAV’s for long endurance surveillance.

    Now we are back to the gold plating arguements. If the USN were to build such a vessel it would be based on the LPD 17 hull and cost a fortune. If the South Korean’s were to build it it might be smaller version of the Dokdo. If the Japanese wanted it could be a version of the Hyuga class, the French the Mistral etc All of these are slightly bigger than I would consider to be ideal. A variant of the Schelde Enforcer class would probably do just fine.

    And if it needed a ‘real war time’ role to back up its peace time maritime security ops roles, it could be an ASW carrier – just change out the helicopters being carried, maybe replace your CB90’s with USV’s with dipping sonar. Et voila……

    Think big – but not necessarily complicated or expensive :-)

  2. Matt permalink
    March 24, 2010 8:45 am

    Mike,

    I won’t bother to dispute dogmatic catch phrases — it’s like trying to logically debate religion!

    As I’ve said in all my previous posts, in piracy it’s not about sinking small boats. That’s the end game and just about any ship type can that.

    The trick is finding them and that takes wide-area, persistent surveillance. A land-based long-range UAS can surveil a much wider area and move from one are to another a heck of a lot faster than a surface vessel.

  3. Matt permalink
    March 24, 2010 8:08 am

    Mike,

    Seriously. Please read my whole post. I never said either-or.

    My position is that since counter-piracy is a detection and cueing problem. We’d be getting a higher return on investment spending the next dollar on long-range/endurance aircraft vice trying to flood the Indian Ocean with small surface vessels.

    4 x Global Hawks at ~$240 million can man a station 24/7 nearly indefinitely out to a range of 1,000 nm. And because of its speed and sensors, a land-based UAS can provide surveillance over a much wider area than any ship / helo combo. And with much less manpower.

    No surface ship cannot stay at sea forever, and we are all aware that endurance is even more of a problem for smaller craft than larger vessels. It can and does require multiple vessels and/or a mother ship to maintain a patrol station.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 24, 2010 7:41 am

    Here’s another one:

    The best counter to a small warship is another small warship.

    Which is logical and note that I said “best”. Sure, an airplane or helo can sink a small boat, but they have to be there to do this an we know they can’t be everywhere at once. Like giant warships, you can’t afford too many exquisite planes, which brings me to another catch phrase:

    Capability cannot duplicate availability.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 24, 2010 7:35 am

    So Matt, I understand then that you would have us flood the air off Somalia with planes instead of small ships which you say are “too cost prohibitive”? How much exactly is a Global Hawk, about $60 million and she can stay in the air longer than a craft can stay in the water?

    But my “catch phrases” are based on the lessons of war, in that it took many hundreds of small boats to defeat the U-boats, plus airpower. It can’t be either-or. I think results speak for themselves with our multimission superships, with every weapon devised onboard, including each with their own aerial assets in shipborne helos, still unable to match the frugality and boldness of the threadbare fishermen of Somalia.

    So we keep doing the same thing and expect different results? But more hulls are a proven method of sea control against a small elusive foe. A few planes, yes, but many hulls and not of the exquiste variety either, but just the opposite.

  6. Matt permalink
    March 24, 2010 7:04 am

    Mike wrote:

    “So the planes can do boarding with RHIBs? And concerning defeating the U-boats, I think the frigate, destroyer, and corvettes crews might feel left out. It was a team effort, surface ships and planes.”

    Please read my whole text and don’t pull out just one snippet, as I addressed the roles of surface vs. air. Yes, it was a air-surface team effort in the Atlantic, but the tides really turned once the Allies got very long-range patrol aircraft to provide detection and cueing. Same holds true for counter-piracy.

    “Planes can do power but not presence. Even the longer range UAVs can’t stay in the air forever, nor can they do boarding, rescue, search and seizures.”

    Actually with 4-5 Global Hawks, you can man a surveillance station 24/7 indefinitely out to about 1,000 nm from home plate. That’s pretty much what they’re doing now in AFG and IRQ.

    “Hulls in the water are boots on the ground for the Navy.”

    Cute catch phrases not backed by any rigorous analysis are pretty annoying.

  7. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 24, 2010 5:33 am

    Note also, the 3000 tons or so Gearings, Sumners, and Fletcher DDs were used like the Perry’s of today, as low cost ASW and patrol vessels. The LCS of their day because they were a fair shallow water vessel. Through the 50s and 60s, when there was mainly the Soviet threat and a few chokepoints to guard, we felt the need for on average over 200 such vessels, not including the carrier missile escorts! Today we have 30 equivalent ships in the fleet, basically performing the same function, which is why I often insist we are top heavy with battleships, easily disturbed by the most minor of threats.

    The Navy possessed such a back-log of these essential small boys after WW 2, they got distracted on what was really important. They got out of the habit of real sea control, and felt free to spend the bulk of funds on high end nuke subs, nuke carriers, and large guided missile escorts. This is why these pirates in skiffs and smugglers in speed boats and even home-made subs pretty much have the run of the sealanes. Except for some spectacular headlines, we see this anarchy on the oceans by the most minor of threats is a lucrative and expanding business.

    A return to the flotilla would simplify things, and get us back where we need to be. A revolution in sea control, a back to basics if you will to what a fleet is really for, to maintain the security of the sealanes for the free passage of maritime commerce, and in wartime to allow the projection of armies and air forces on land. But you can’t have the latter without the former.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 24, 2010 5:16 am

    Joe, the change was even more profound from 1945-1968, but to simplify things I only kept them within my lifetime. For instance the number of destroyers for each year were:

    1945-377
    1950-137
    1953-247
    1957-253
    1960-226
    1965-221

    These are the Navy’s own figures.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 24, 2010 5:05 am

    “Counter-piracy in the open ocean is a job much better suited to land-based maritime patrol aircraft”

    So the planes can do boarding with RHIBs? And concerning defeating the U-boats, I think the frigate, destroyer, and corvettes crews might feel left out. It was a team effort, surface ships and planes. Planes can do power but not presence. Even the longer range UAVs can’t stay in the air forever, nor can they do boarding, rescue, search and seizures.

    Hulls in the water are boots on the ground for the Navy.

  10. Matt permalink
    March 24, 2010 12:46 am

    Mike wrote:

    “For a Navy at peace with the world, you can build whatever you want. For maintaining sea control, you must have many small escorts in the flotilla. I didn’t invent this but smarter folks than I from experience, notably Corbett taking his own Navy’s lessons, which ruled the waves for centuries.

    But today’s naval planners say airpower and robots will end the need for hulls in the water. These are sailors saying these things, helping to shrink their own influence, while the ground troops are pleading “a little help here”!”

    A couple points:

    Per the “Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power” counter-piracy is a maritime security mission — not sea control.

    Counter-piracy in the open ocean is a job much better suited to land-based maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) vice surface ships. What is needed in counter-piracy is detection – air assets can provided that much more effectively than surface vessels.

    We definitely need surface vessels for the soft (VBSS) and hard kill, but I think trying to flood the oceans with small escorts would be cost prohibitive. IMHO piracy is analogous to the WW2 U-boat threat, which was largely defeated due to the introduction of very long range aircraft.

  11. Joe permalink
    March 23, 2010 10:52 pm

    Mike said: “That ship (LCS) being the poster child of what’s wrong with the procurement process, anything smaller can only be an improvement.”

    If the USN “went small” in the making of the disaster flick known as the LCS, then an even smaller sequel to it would by no means guarantee anything positive.

    Also, you begin your destroyer chart with the total in service as of 1968 and note the precipitous decline after that. For the sake of knowledge, what was the total in service at earlier points in the 1960’s and even the 1950’s?

  12. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 23, 2010 7:11 pm

    Chuck-they haven’t had anything important to do since 1991! Perhaps earlier.

    Hudson, in a perfect world, your analysis sounds nice. However, often your friends may not be willing to go along with whatever you might think important. We’ve seen in with America in Iraq, Britain recently over the Falklands.

    A 200 ship navy doesn’t give you much room to maneuver, even in peacetime mode, as we see with the battleships being used to fight piracy, but because they are so few, the insurgents at sea slip through the net. We are as much giving them first-hand lessons in seamanship as we are disrupting their activities close to shore. The littorals are important, but the bigger fish, the large freighters and tankers are in the open ocean, thinking themselves relatively safe.

    Almost all the past lessons of sea control point to the lack of frigates, then cruisers, then destroyers, and even smaller escorts.

    For a Navy at peace with the world, you can build whatever you want. For maintaining sea control, you must have many small escorts in the flotilla. I didn’t invent this but smarter folks than I from experience, notably Corbett taking his own Navy’s lessons, which ruled the waves for centuries.

    But today’s naval planners say airpower and robots will end the need for hulls in the water. These are sailors saying these things, helping to shrink their own influence, while the ground troops are pleading “a little help here”!

  13. Hudson permalink
    March 23, 2010 11:41 am

    Let’s suppose you wanted to create a 200-ship Navy. You might start with the existing fleet and whittle it down. You might start from scratch. Or you might copy existing fleets, just for the heck of it.

    If you took the particularly well balanced French fleet (81 ships) and added it to the still potent Royal Navy (87 ships), you’d have a fleet of app. 168 ships, including carriers, SSBNs and SSNs. You’re short, so you get to add another navy, let’s say, the Spanish fleet, of distant greatness (28 ships). You’d still be four ships short. Well, you could add four future vessels, including the two Elizabeth class carriers. And maybe take two Absoloms from Denmark. Now you’ve got Viking blood in your veins.

    A fleet of this composition would certainly give you strategic deterrent, global presence, a strong core of frigates and destroyers, and a range of amphibs and smaller craft to hunt for pirates. There, that’s not so bad.

    And you need to consider you would still have allies from around the globe. After all, it we have no allies, then all the ships in the world will win wars for us. Not all our allies will stand with us every time. But they won’t get in the way, either. So you could add another couple hundred ships available in a pinch. It’s sure nice to have friends.

  14. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 23, 2010 11:16 am

    Have you considered that the reason that we are using high tech ships to patrol for pirates is that they don’t have anything more important to do at the moment. We need the ships and we need them in that part of the world just in case, but for now, using them to chase pirates is the most useful thing we can do with them.

Trackbacks

  1. DDG-1000:Defying Expectations or Reason? « New Wars
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