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The Navy’s New Look Pt 1

June 28, 2010

The Navy in 1964, looking very familiar.

The US Navy today seems scarcely cognizant of these trends; it appears intent upon retaining a first-rate twentieth-century fleet well into the twenty-first century. The navy may have to sail this staggeringly expensive form of sea power into harm’s way against opponents who will, most curiously, await our ships with much more modern weapons and even more advanced concepts of naval operations. For us to maintain this course is to bear a growing risk of future defeats that would make Pearl Harbor look like a minor reverse. But to make the right adjustments now calls for questioning virtually all the conventional wisdom about sea power that has been accumulated and nurtured for nearly seventy years…

John Arquilla writing in Worst Enemy

Root of Decline is Internal

Still attempting to place the “new wine” of modern technical advances in old bottles, or the old legacy warships designed in the World Wars, perfected in the Cold War, the Navy refuses to see the light. In denial to the possibility that a revolution in warship design is upon them, and that the massive battleships they continue to update for use in the War on Terror might be obsolete, they suffer shortages and over-burden sailors with over-deployments. Inevitably they are coming to the conclusion that they must cast off essential roles and disavow historical alliances for their lack of ships and funds. It is a problem of their own making. The current Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead is one such denier, as quoted in Defense News:

Simply slashing big ticket items is not the solution, he said. Service leaders are looking to eliminate redundancies, embrace new technologies and rethink warfare operations as a whole. For example, Roughead said he is putting a greater emphasis on “the left side of the kill chain,” referring to intelligence gathering and the ability to cancel threats before they mature. While the right side of the chain – the actual “kill” of a threat or adversary – must remain a realistic option, Roughead said such costly endeavors can sometimes be avoided.

So they stretch the bounds of imagination, squeezing the last ounce of life,  trying to maintain dated building practices and much-loved giant warships, that inevitably get sent to the world’s most impoverished regions to fight speed boat navies, and pirates. Still these exquisite warships built to fight World War 3 are so much overkill in this 4th World War, yet the admirals refuse to admit: it is the ships that are the problem, not how they are used or how they are built.

A previous CNO Adm. Vern Clark tried to breathe new life in his shrinking fleet, which was obviously stretched thin and over-deployed as far back as the 1990s. Clark revised deployments and schedules to make life slightly more bearable for the sailors forced into extensive sailings in order to make up for lack of ships, only delaying the problem however. The long-held promise that capability duplicates availability, and that highly excessive and capable warships can take the place of numbers has been a failure no one will admit to. Still the admirals continue on their self afflicted death-spiral.


The Coming Armageddon

Seeing no answer other than extinction, the current CNO inevitably points to decline, as revealed by DefPro:

In a speech on June 8 at the Naval War College, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Gary Roughead, made it clear to his audience — and one would hope the entire Navy — that they are confronted by a potential disaster of titanic proportions. Simply put, the mismatch between the nation’s willingness to invest in national security, on the one hand, and the demands it makes on the military, on the other, is reaching a crisis point. With a lackluster economy and deficits of a trillion dollars or more projected out at least a decade, it is becoming clear to everyone that defense spending is going to decline sharply. No reasonable observer can really believe the administration’s promise to hold defense spending essentially flat. Cuts are coming.

Remarkably, it is admitted failure in the midst of apparent power and might:

It is ironic that the Navy should be in such a position just at the time when in many ways it is more powerful and capable than ever before. Yes, the Navy has shrunk in size. However, in the absence of a blue water threat and deploying an array of modern platforms and weapons systems, it can exercise near total command of the sea. The modern nuclear carrier will soon deploy an extraordinarily powerful air wing consisting of F/A-18 E/F and F-35 strike aircraft, the state-of-the-art E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and the new F-18G Growler electronic warfare platform. Carrier-launched unmanned aerial vehicles will soon join this array. New surface combatants including the DDG1000, advanced DDG51s and the Littoral Combat Ship with its modular mission packages will provide unparalleled capabilities in surface warfare, mine countermeasures, ASW and anti-aircraft/missile defense. Naval missile defenses based on the Aegis radar and the Standard Missile 3 are so good that the administration plans to expand its deployment to at least 38 surface combatants and to make it the centerpiece of a new land-based theater missile defense system. Then there is the fleet of nuclear submarines, in particular the Virginia class with its innovations in sonar arrays, photonic masts, enlarged launch tubes and power plant.

None of these amazing icons of 20th century Western naval expertise answers the dire need for this new century–numbers. Certainly there is little hope from the LCS frigate, supposedly the Navy’s answer to the shrinking fleet with a total of 55 planned. Yet the LCS is suffering cost-overruns, building delays, and doubts about its mission or survivability in the shallow water patrol functions that it is planned for. It is likely LCS will be another victim of cuts, not a centerpiece of fleet expansion.

The End of History?

Until the Navy admits that the type of ships they are trying to fit in modern war at sea no longer have a place, and learn how to place hulls in the water, all of Admiral Roughead’s predictions will be true. A sad state for a Navy, a country, to be in since it is also avoidable if a little boldness and willingness to take chances returns to the fleet. Desperate times may call for desperate measures and those times certainly are upon us.

With all the signs pointing to warship obsolescence, why it is so difficult for the naval leadership to grasp? Currently we are sailing a fleet changed very little cosmetically since the 1960s into the 2010s. This is in contrast to the almost constant revolutions in design of the past few centuries, that saw the sail battleship replaced with the ironclad, the latter with the dreadnought, and finally the aircraft carrier seizing the mantle of sea power. So has the naval leadership declared the end of history, insisting warships no longer evolve, and the basic transformations in design no longer affect them? But we are looking for the new dreadnought, one which doesn’t cause planners to stretch the budget to the breaking point, or cast off essential roles, or defer fleet expansion to another generation.

Tomorrow–the Navy in 2050.


18 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2010 9:01 am

    Hello Jed,

    I said immigrants “arrive in the United Kingdom on commercial airliners,car ferries and trains”.
    Which is certainly the case.
    Most illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom arrived via legal means and overstayed their visas.
    Many others come in like this:

    Sneaking across thechannel in small boats is not an attractive option as there are cheaper and easier ways to enter the country.


  2. Jed permalink
    June 28, 2010 9:58 pm

    tangosix old chap, if you think most “illegals” arrive in the UK via airlines (?) or even via the “chunnel” I think your not much mistaken ! There are plenty put ashore on remote beaches by fishing boats, and others who unfortunately ride in containers until they reach our mostly un-patrolled or policed commercial dockyards.

  3. WTH permalink
    June 28, 2010 7:34 pm

    Godwin’s law.

    Next post.

  4. Jacob permalink
    June 28, 2010 4:00 pm

    “Without political will it doesn’t matter what hull (or weapon system) you deploy. The question is basically one of when does the West’s indigenous population decide enough is enough?”

    Yeah, a group of fanatics from a modern European country once said that. They also preached about “political will” and the “threat” against the indigenous population. Then they went off to massacre an ethnic minority that had lived peacefully among their society for generations. We know of them today as the Nazis.

  5. June 28, 2010 3:32 pm

    Without political will it doesn’t matter what hull (or weapon system) you deploy.

    The question is basically one of when does the West’s indigenous population decide enough is enough?

  6. Scott B. permalink
    June 28, 2010 2:17 pm

    MatR said : “When the scientist who invented the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock, claims we’ll need more small hulls to keep out waves of desperate refugees fleeing conomic and farming collapse in their homelands.”

    So that’s the real reason why so many people are trying to turn the US Navy (Royal Navy) into an oversized Coast Guard. Because, let’s face it, the corvette thingy never made sense in an expeditionary context…

    Now, if the point is to *keep out waves of desperate refugees*, why not build some giant fence instead. You know, something like the invincible Maginot Line.

    Oh wait… ;-)

  7. MatR permalink
    June 28, 2010 12:31 pm

    @ tangozix – and I never even said I was talking about the UK alone, as opposed to the rest of the Western world. Where do you see ‘UK’ or ‘Royal Navy’ in my post? If you’re going to pick me up, pick me up for something I actually typed, for goodness sake, otherwise you look silly.

  8. MatR permalink
    June 28, 2010 12:27 pm

    @tangosix – I knew you couldn’t resist joining in. Wish you’d read my complete words. As I mentioned, the barriers to destructive behaviour are low because of technology. 1000 years ago, a small group of 20 fanatics couldn’t kill 3000 people in one terrorist atrocity.

    And as I mentioned (it’s in the bits you skimmed over) population pressures are signally different, too. When I was born, 3.5 billion people lived on earth. It’s closing to 7 billion now. Maybe 10 billion mid century. That’s in excess of the planet’s carrying capacity with current technology. Does that sound like the last 1000 years? I must have missed something in my history lessons.

    And, yeah, why would we need more hulls for coastguard duties, inspections, or stopping drug boats. Or anti-piracy. Or EEZ control. For that, we can just use, er, um, oh, boats are it, really. And if you’d read what I typed, you’d have seen that I mentioned customs. If you’re going to criticise, at least be accurate.

  9. June 28, 2010 9:18 am


    MatR said:

    “It’s a continual insurrection with no end in sight. With rising populations and resource depletion, the planet faces a future of constant bush wars, rebellions, uncontrolled migration, clamouring for resources, and armed bullying of neighbours.etc.”

    The future sounds just like the last ten thousand years.

    MatR said:

    “When the scientist who invented the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock, claims we’ll need more small hulls to keep out waves of desperate refugees fleeing conomic and farming collapse in their homelands, you know things are serious.”

    Illegal immigrants arrive in the United Kingdom on commercial airliners,car ferries and trains,unlike Italy which does have a problem with immigrants in boats.
    It is difficult to see how increasing the size of the Royal Navy is going to be of any benefit in that regard.


  10. June 28, 2010 8:55 am

    Greatest Navy costs are:
    (1) Manning
    (2) Fuel
    (3) Weapons systems
    (4) Hulls

    Until those first two are squared away by extreme reduction, the ability to deploy numerous hulls is virtualy nil, however desirable. There is an answer of course, but it involves lifting hulls out of the water…

  11. June 28, 2010 8:36 am

    It is simply a question of us or them…

    And you can bet them don’t go about us at all!!!

  12. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 28, 2010 7:25 am

    MatR-Norman Podhoretz also wrote a book titled “World War IV”. I’m not too particular on titles, simply using that to get the point across. Its also known as the Long War, War on Terror, call it whatever. It is certainly different and I think different conflicts require different tools. The so called “Cold Worriers” think the good ole days are coming back. I’m not so sure, but if they do I think the new warfare which the insurgents are teaching us can manage even that. They managed us in Korea and Vietnam as I noted earlier.

    Technically speaking, our weapons are better, more effective that ever. Qualitatively not so much, as we also seem to be getting kicked out of a lot of places despite our superiority, and roughly handled in the places we are still in. I would emphasize more hulls in the water like we are doing with more troops on the ground. Get some basic spartan hulls. Add extra armor and guns as needed, but get them there.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 28, 2010 6:58 am

    In terms of propaganda, they use what we consider an asset, our superior bombing capability, as a weapon against us. So the discrepancy in strength is balanced out, but at only a fraction of the cost for the enemy.

    Now airpower and ships are an effective team, just as troops and air support. But we overcompensate with the first, making the extra expenditure on our part a wasted pursuit.

  14. MatR permalink
    June 28, 2010 6:52 am

    Mike, regarding your phrase about the “4th World War” – by golly, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The historian Eric Hobsbawm described WW1 and 2 as one long ‘civilsational war’ within Western Europe that did-for the continent. I think we’re in a slowly-mounting ‘global war’ as systems break down.

    It may not be a war of epic destruction yet, but it’s a ‘phase change’ in the way things are. It’s a continual insurrection with no end in sight. With rising populations and resource depletion, the planet faces a future of constant bush wars, rebellions, uncontrolled migration, clamouring for resources, and armed bullying of neighbours.

    Qualitatively, this is something new, not just the same old conflicts we’ve always faced. Technology has become an enabler of conflict, as small groups gain the ability to weild enormous firepower and disrupt established power systems – even if most people think they’re crazy. Population has become a significant pressure, making water, oil and farmland life-or-death questions for states, regions and tribes. Globalisation throws competing ideologies and fractious cultures into the same arena, without the dampening effect of distance or transit time to blunt arguments.

    Candidates for the adoption of nuclear weapons over the next decade include Iran, Syria, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Turkey, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia (they may be signatories to the NPT, but they all have current ‘black’ atomic programmes). And I fear war with Iran much less than I fear a drug cartel getting hold of Stingers or briefcase nukes. Criminal gangs grow in power, with ever-deeper ties into states like Mexico or Columbia, and tendrils into the developed world. (I did the math recently, using UN and US government figures, and it turns out that more people die in the US every year as a result of heroin shipped by narco-baron ‘allies’ in the Afghan and Pakistani governments, as died in 9/11.)

    It’s simply too easy to wreak havoc.

    We need a better constabulary presence – a swathe of small hulls to stop the rising tide of people and drug traffickers, arms shipments, smuggling, piracy, EEZ intrusion, fishing disputes and border disputes – or we face death by a thousand cuts. (When the scientist who invented the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock, claims we’ll need more small hulls to keep out waves of desperate refugees fleeing conomic and farming collapse in their homelands, you know things are serious.) And we need better customs systems, or sooner or later someone will sail a nuke into one of our major port cities and kill millions.

  15. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 28, 2010 6:45 am

    Juandos-so how has the Curtis Lemay viewpoint worked for us in Korea or Vietnam, and for that matter overwhelming superior airpower in the age of Terror?

    As I pointed out, the principles of WW 2 no longer apply against any enemy who doesn’t fight like we do, neither are they practical technically as we see with the falling fleet and the leadership itself of a loss what to do.

  16. juandos permalink
    June 28, 2010 6:30 am

    What I find bizzare is that anyone would consider the politically correct rantings of someone like Arquilla as somehow contributing something useful to the situation…

    The point of war to is to quickly and efficiently finish off one’s enemies even if it means that the alledged innocents suffer also…

    Personally I’m of the opinion that we need a lot more Curtis Lemay type people and a lot fewer Arquilla types…

    Then again that would mean we would also need politicos with backbone and maybe that’s why the Arquilla types flourish…


  1. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — June 29, 2010 « Read NEWS
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