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A Navy Shaped for New Threats

April 24, 2010

“Cleaning house” this weekend, with a few posts I couldn’t fit in elsewhere. Enjoy!

The modern Navy we have would fit in nicely with the strategies of World War 2, leaving out the submarine of course because of the dearth of small escort ships. Progress rarely stands still for 70 years however, and the Navy needs to start thinking more in terms of missile warfare, less of manned naval airpower. In this new century, really much of the last, the missile is the longbow, the musket, the rifle, and machine gun of previous centuries. In fierce rivalry with last century platforms for decades who sought to use technology to shrug off its impact against traditional armored tanks, fast jets, and large warships, I believe the sheer costs and technical complication of these high tech wonders, are making them increasingly unaffordable, impossible to procure in adequate numbers. In other words, the practicality of guided weapons is winning over the capability of the platform.

With this in mind, here is a future fleet, prepared for the new missile war at sea, certainly coming sooner or later:

  1. The large-deck aircraft carrier and amphibious landing ship will be totally useless in a war dominated by light but lethal projectiles, as we have been warned by defense analyst Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., among others. They will be mostly irrelevant to future war since their survivability is in question, but also more practical low cost missile firing ships, and long range UAVs will negate the requirement of giant floating bases for launching air and manpower. UAVs will also be able to spread out amongst the fleet, as they have empowered small combat units on land, enhancing naval airpower even further. Concerning the Marines, it will be far safer to spread them among a great many vessels as well, than fewer larger ones, which is how the amphibious technique has historically and mostly successful been carried out.
  2. The guided missile destroyer or frigate might survive the initial onslaught of missiles. We must afterwards be careful with them as we were the battleships in 1914-1918 and also later in 1939-1945. As before, the  new battleships must avoid waters teaming with submarines, mines, and newer missile launching small craft. They must only venture toward land masses in wartime with utmost stealth and caution, and only for short decisive strikes with missiles or UAVs.
  3. The principle combat vessels of this new age will be small Streetfighter vessels, ranging from 500 tons to no more than 2000 full load. They will be fast, short-ranged, and fueled for overseas deployments by larger motherships. They are not expendable craft, as some have described them, but due to their natural stealth and numbers, plus the ability to disperse, more survivable than larger vessels. They will offer the surface fleet a fighting chance for survival in this new age consisting of thousands of guided projectiles.
  4.  Having almost defeated the world’s Great Powers in two world wars, actually contributing to the demise of at least 2 colonial empires in the last century, the submarine is set to become the new capital ship of this era. It’s already amazing stealth is enhanced by its ability to fire missiles from underwater. The speed of the sub matches and often surpasses in the case of nuclear boats, the speed of its once feared opponent, the destroyer. While the submarine has maintained its numbers in the world’s fleets, the number of sub-hunting planes and ships have been on a downward slope for decades, now almost irretrievably lost due to the technical complications and prices of new platforms. By default we see the perfect stealth warships, the cruise missile submarine seizing the mantle of Queen of the Seas decisively in the next war.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. WTH permalink
    April 24, 2010 10:16 am

    Mike 2 quick points:
    In all of this you are not discussing the problems of targeting. Targeting is really the Achilles heel of missile warfare because if you think for a second the USN is going to start sending missiles downrange without positive ID and tracking you don’t understand how the fight is fought. To get that data you either put men at risk or do it with a UAV, sufficiently ranged missiles and UAVs drive you to larger ships.

    You are obscuring the truths of survivability, a smaller ship is not more survivable than a larger ship. PERIOD. It may be slightly harder to detect, but it is not more survivable. Your point that a fleet made of more smaller ships is more survivable as a whole is true, but the individual ships are less survivable. It’s a question of individual vs aggregate survival, sacrificing the individual for the whole is going to be tricky to sell.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 24, 2010 9:57 am

    Certainly agree that the carrier is very useful and capable. It’s hard to get beyond the threats and specifically the pricetag outweighs all advantages.

    I could see keeping them if it wasn’t for the current attitude, Britain and the US is “we don’t need a big fleet, we have carriers”. It is the death knell of Western seapower.

  3. Marcase permalink
    April 24, 2010 9:46 am

    I still disagree that the carrier is a pure missile-magnet. A carrier can steam over the horizon, yet still influence the littorals. It’s Hawkeyes can observe vast areas of sea and land, and it’s airwing in general provides deep and close strike capabilities, that overmatches most land-based air forces.

    Regarding fast, short-ranged vessels – see the ROKN Cheonan; small ‘cheap’ vessels, when attacked and sunk, can still create a political and public uproar.
    A larger Burke or Tico carries better radar, ECM and SM/ESSM/CIWS to deal with missile and small boats effectively.


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