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The Navy’s New Look Pt 2

June 29, 2010

Missile power, as opposed to manned airpower, will decide how the Navy builds, deploys, and fight in this new century.

Coupled with the pressure imposed by the growing “reach” of hostile navies is a second factor: the effect on the form and function of capital ships and other vessels. Here too the pattern will be repeated, to some extent, in that the nature of the capital ship will be subject to rapid and radical change. But instead of driving navies toward ever larger–and fewer–capital ships, the information age will impel development toward fleets comprised of far more numerous but much smaller vessels, replete with swift, smart, long-range weaponry.

John Arquilla writing in Worst Enemy

The Fleet Ten Years Hence

I expect a revolution in warship design is upon us, only the lack of a major war at sea in seventy years keeping dated platforms in service long past their prime. The deception in the West has been our superior airpower will be the solvent for all our fears, and no weapon will ever get close enough to sink our warships. There have been much evidence to the contrary to disprove this false notion, from Israel’s Eilat in 1966, HMS Sheffield in 1982, USS Stark in 1987, to Israel’s Hanit in 2006. The great equalizer now and increasingly in the hands of Third World, barely industrialized powers, is the guided missile.

The cost of building a modern fleet based on last-century legacy platforms is sinking and shrinking navies as fast as full scale conflict. Barring a major new war, which is certainly inevitable but not necessarily imminent, it may take yet another decade for the change to become obvious, and for fleets to get in sync with the transformations that are already influencing land powers drastically. The need for reform is already upon us, as numbers of vessels decline as do the funds to procure them, while threats mount. By 2020 it will be most evident:

  • Giant aircraft carriers as the mainstay of the fleet will begin to disappear. There will probably be only solitary examples in European and Asian fleets, but the mighty US Navy will only possess a handful, none likely in full service or with complete aircraft complements. They will be brought out for the occasional brush-fire wars, but their huge expense in crew and operating costs, plus vulnerability will see their day end as surely as the dreadnoughts which they preceded.
  • Their place will be taken by much smaller multipurpose assault carriers, which can carry V/STOL planes, UAVs, and helicopters, plus armed Marines and their equipment. Even these will not be needed in huge numbers and will be used only in benign threat areas because of the missiles.
  • The Marines will be busier than ever, only their “second army”, heavy brigade status will be over. They will act as small raider teams in littoral operations, plus serve as armed guards and manned riverine craft such as CB90 boats. For larger operations, they can land from submarines, joint high speed vessels, or even larger sea lift ships like T-AKE, which can carry more troops while being less costly than an amphibious warship.
  • Conventional submarines (SSKs) will return to USN service, the amazing abilities of the nuclear attack boat outweighed by its immense cost, advanced skills and construction complications, plus declining numbers. By 2030 at least and for the first time since the 1960s, the SSK’s will outnumber nuclear boats in the American fleet.
  • The surface fleet will begin to grow enormously with the return of the flotilla. With the Navy seeing its need to be in the littorals, logically they will turn to shallow water warships, such as corvettes, patrol craft, fast attack craft and dedicated anti-mine warships. The attempt to pack all these capabilities in a Blue Water frigate, the mediocre but gold-plate littoral combat ship, will be recognized as the failure it is. Likely only 15-20 of the LCS will be built, used only in an underarmed mothership role for small craft, or perhaps as an assault transport for Marines.
  • Production of large destroyers will likely cease, only because we already possess so many with no peer adversary having any one ship comparable as the 60-70 Arleigh Burke class. So these ships will linger around for sometime in various guises and with successive rebuildings. Because they are so capable, with Tomahawk cruise missiles, Aegis, and soon unmanned vehicles, they will be able to project power as no other warship since the aircraft carrier, only in a vastly less costly and visible package.

The Fleet in 2050

By mid-century, or even sooner with a major war at sea, the revolution in warship design will be complete. The Navy’s new look will be as radical as the Korean War era fleet of 1950 would be to the sailors under Admiral Togo who fought the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. The guided missile will reign supreme, displacing the need for expensive manned airpower even as it forces obsolescence on its 20th century rival.

  • It could be the Tomahawk in US service will finally reach the status of “reusable cruise missile”, able to launch from VLS tubes, drop its payload, then return back to its launching point at sea. Retrieval will be by nets of some other yet-unforeseen apparatus.
  • The surface capital ship will be a modular mothership on a common hull, probably of 20,000 tons light. Built in adequate numbers to mercantile standards, they will replace the carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and frigates of the last century simply by changing various payloads. They can also act as sea lift vessels, fleet replenishment ships, carry Marines or act as command ships to an Influence Squadron.
  • The building of nuclear submarines will cease altogether for the reasons I gave above. Their place will be overtaken by the SSK, which will use new propulsion techniques and adapt to new hull forms in a less costly but quite lethal package. Some sort of arsenal submarine might also replace the Ohio SSGNs.
  • The most numerous surface combatant will be small attack craft of around 200-400 tons, and available in many hundreds. They will likely use a SWATH hull form allowing them to traverse oceanic ranges as smoothly as a vessel 10 times the size.
  • The Marines will have no separate navy as today, but will utilize USN ships already in service such as the modular sea lift vessels or even fast attack craft for beach landings.


The future surface dreadnought will be a modular mothership similar to today's container ships, and equally versatile with its cargo.

54 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2013 1:19 am

    each time i used to read smaller content which as well clear
    their motive, and that is also happening with this paragraph which I am reading now.

  2. April 12, 2011 1:43 pm

    It’s very exiting to find your blog. What a great blog! I love how particular each of the entries are. They are well balanced, both informatory and amusing, and the pictures are great too.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 2, 2010 5:32 pm

    Guys, you made my day, week, year! God bless. You’re why I keep coming back.

  4. jkt permalink
    July 2, 2010 1:36 pm

    “A lot of readers keep coming back because Mike B. is intelligent and open-minded enough to keep the debate free on his own blog, rather than framing in such a sterile way that if you’re not with him, you’re against him.”

    I think you’ve hit on something important there. And something other writers could learn. Most opinion blogs that comment on touchy subjects (politics, war, etc) have a tone of anger and vitriol that they are unable to hide. It’s clear that they think of their opponents as not just wrong, but evil. Not just misinformed, but maliciously willfully ignorant.

    It’s not like Mike doesn’t rib his opponents — he often says they are wrong or being dumb or beholden to out-dated ways of thinking. Some of his charges could seem quite vicious, but somehow they don’t and the overall tone remains pleasant, upbeat, and enthusiastic.

    Mike is able to present his strong opinions without being a jerk about it. Which is a real talent. Most people can’t do that. Most professional writers seem unable to it. I disagree with a majority of what Mike writes, but I still check in to see what he’s saying.

    A huge upside to Mike’s ability to not be a jerk is his opponents will actually hear him out. Most opinion writers end up just preaching to the choir

  5. sid permalink
    June 30, 2010 1:25 pm

    I’m always amazed by how reluctant people are to consider change as possible, if not actually likely.

    Given the prevalent, “armor is the only solution to survivability,” mentality around here, and the hackles raised when a differing view is raised….

    Who’s reluctant about change?

  6. sid permalink
    June 30, 2010 1:06 pm

    Do the math – add up all those ten and twenty and fifty percent failures to stop an incoming missile, fast attack craft, bomb or torpedo, and you quickly get a crippled and sunk warship.

    You are speaking of “Susceptibility Reduction” here Matt. It is but one leg of the Survivability “equation”….

    Take the time to read Capt. Wayne P Hughes’, “The Value of Warship Attributes in Missile Combat”:

    The case for staying power in the form of armor ended with the atomic bomb. We would have, we thought, one ship sunk with every hit; survivability would have come from other means. As the threat of nuclear war [has waned], corresponding interest in staying power has not been reborn. The U.S. Navy has enjoyed the luxury of contributing to decisions on land while being itself relatively free from attacks from the land. But the sanctuary of the sea seems less secure today, along with the prospect of taking hits while fighting close against the Littorals.

    Now, is this a suggestion that every ship be “invincible” -as that cheesy Swedish PR slogan goes?


    What Hughes is saying is that every ship should be designed with attributes -consistent with its mission- which enable it to make a full contribution to the “Staying Power” of the force.

  7. Scott B. permalink
    June 30, 2010 1:01 pm

    MatR said : “Let the flaming commence!”

    Now I see who you are and what you’re really looking for

  8. Scott B. permalink
    June 30, 2010 12:54 pm

    MatR said : “New Wars seems to have a lot of readers who hate it but keep coming back to it time and again.”

    A lot of readers keep coming back because Mike B. is intelligent and open-minded enough to keep the debate free on his own blog, rather than framing in such a sterile way that if you’re not with him, you’re against him.

    You make it sound like cheergirls and other fanboys should be the only ones allowed to make comments on Mike’s blog, and fail to understand that many people actually keep coming back because they enjoy the style of our host and the quality of the debate on his blog.

  9. Scott B. permalink
    June 30, 2010 12:40 pm

    MatR said : “How dare this site not argue for *nearly* enough of the sexy, high-end, mammoth ships some of its readers obviously fantasize about captaining when they’re in the bathtub?!”

    Here is a short paragraph from DK Brown’s Future British Surface Fleet (pp.126-127) that pretty much sums up the way I feel about the proposals defended by the so-called reformers :

    “There is no point in building large numbers of small and ineffective ships and equally no sense in having a very powerful ships, too few in number to cover all tasks. This is discussed by Khudyakov, who points out that one may optimise for maximum effectiveness at constant cost or for minimum cost at constant effectiveness.

    Carried to extremes, he sees the one leading to what he aptly calls the Super Battleship Paradox, the other, emphasising numbers at the expense of capability, to the Chinese Junk Paradox. One may, however, wonder if the Royal Navy’s Flower class of World War II was so limited in capability that it fell into the latter category.”

    More often than not, reformers take pretext of what they perceive to be a Super Battleship bias among the Navy leaders to advocate passionately for alternatives that indeed fall into the latter category, i.e. the Chinese Junk Paradox.

    The reformers are desparately trying to make it sound like it has to be one way (the Navy’s way, i.e. the Super Battleship) or the other (their own way, i.e. the Chinese Junk), and that there’s no continuum in between these equally undesirable extremes, WHICH IS AN ABSOLUTE FALLACY.

    There are very valid options in between these equally undesirable extremes, and some of the people who keep coming back, no matter how much they might disagree with Mike B’s mantra, are merely trying to point out to what some of these options might be.

  10. sid permalink
    June 30, 2010 12:38 pm

    “Survivability” is not synonymous with “Big, Exquisite, and Expensive”….

    As so many here blindly -and wrongly- believe.

  11. Hudson permalink
    June 30, 2010 11:19 am

    It’s the old quantity vs. quality argument. You can find examples of how one or the other shaped the outcome of a battle or war. As Mike B. sometimes says: “Quantity can be it’s own quality.” By and large, the West has built quality tanks, planes, ships, because of its value for human life as well as its technological expertise. And, of course, if you are in one of those tanks, planes, ships, you are hoping that everything has been done to protect you.

  12. MatR permalink
    June 30, 2010 11:08 am

    I’m always amazed by how reluctant people are to consider change as possible, if not actually likely.

    I’ve been reading this site for six months now, and New Wars seems to have a lot of readers who hate it but keep coming back to it time and again. Either they’re gluttons for punishment, or they suspect New Wars may be right, but they don’t like the future it outlines. How dare this site not argue for *nearly* enough of the sexy, high-end, mammoth ships some of its readers obviously fantasize about captaining when they’re in the bathtub?!

    Small ships traversing the oceans and refuelling from larger ships? Outrageous! Why, that doesn’t happen with fighters or tanks! Er…

    Cheaper assets with distributed capabilities, using networks and affordable technology? Insane! That trends’s only visible right now in, um, satellites, radio networks, off-the-shelf sensors, military logistics, C4I, soldier’s kit, missiles, smart munitions, and, er, a measly few dozen other areas.

    And anyway, our modern ships with their inch-thick hulls are impervious to all known weapons!

    The more I see test video andhard data for standard missiles, sea viper, CIWS, sonar, asroc, electronic warfare – the whole spectrum of defensive aids – the more I see that failure rates (to detect, intercept or kill) of even 50 percent are common, depending on the system. Do the math – add up all those ten and twenty and fifty percent failures to stop an incoming missile, fast attack craft, bomb or torpedo, and you quickly get a crippled and sunk warship.

    If you don’t have that multiple small-ship ability to flex, flow, move and absorb losses, you won’t survive the conflicts of the future. Sea battles of small ships and motherships may well be more like aerial dogfighting with AWACs at your back, than the old sea battles of the past.

    Let the flaming commence!

  13. sid permalink
    June 30, 2010 7:35 am

    A true Littoral Combat Ship, one 10th the size of the new ones, but the crew was probably larger.

    There is zip point zero reason better crew and HME protection -Vulnerability Reduction- cannot be built into a modern equivalent.

    Take the time to read this thesis:

    Its not about “exquisite”…

    Its about fielding the most combat effective platform you can for the money.

    And one built to “mercantile” standards will result in the needless waste of lives and battles.

    “Survivability” pays off where it counts the most.

  14. sid permalink
    June 30, 2010 7:23 am

    Too many people these days think it can’t happen to them. That somehow naval warfare is beyond such scenes .

    It seems that you are saying there is nothing to be done Hudson. If so, you are turning a blind eye to the advent and advances and advantages of Survivability Engineering that has occurred over the last 65 years.

    Its just a matter of time that it will happen again. And, unlike 1945, the USN of 202 will not be able to “afford” to take too many such such losses.

    Next, you are dead square wrong about the role “Staying Power” played at Samar.

    In fact, the Fletchers at Samar parlayed their “Staying Power” -along with the air cover provided by the CVE’s- into a victory. Those ships stayed combat effective long enough to drive off the Japanese.

    Thats the essence of “Staying Power”

    You don’t have to believe me. But check out what Norman Friedman has to say in US Destroyers:

    In many cases, what mattered was not so much the ultimate loss of the ship as her ability to keep fighting despite fatal damage. That was particularly the case with the small boys covering the escort carriers off Samar…Their mere survival, with torpedo tubes intact, represented a threat the Japanese commander had to respect.

    As for your characterization of “Survivability” Its obvious that you have never really explored the subject.

    First off, you completely misconstrue the concept of “survivability” by equating it with “invincibility”.

    The Fletchers at Samar were not invincible, but they were survivable enough to garner a victory.

    If those ships had been built to “mercantile” standards, the story would have been dramatically different.

    Next, you see survivability solely in terms of armor.

    Again, its a BALANCE of Susceptibility Vulnerability and Recoverability. It gets well be yond simple platform design characterisitcs such as armor.

    Lastly, you see it as needlessly expensive, and “exquisite”.

    You are looking the wrong way here Hudson. But -again- you don’t have to beleive me, but you really should take heed from those who know:

    (written in the context of aircraft survivability, but the same tenets apply to ships)

    “One of the major barriers to designing the right amount of survivability into an aircraft is the perception that survivability might be too expensive, particularly those features that make the aircraft tougher or less vulnerable. Some believe that a hit is a downed aircraft, and nothing can be done about it. There is also the perception that the benefits from survivability will never be realized if the aircraft is never used in combat; and if it is used in combat, a return on investment might not be achieved until late in the life cycle of the aircraft.
    These beliefs and perceptions are not correct, and they must be eliminated using realistic cost-effectiveness analyses. These analyses will show that designing for survivability pays off, an aircraft that is both mission capable and survivable in combat will achieve its mission objectives and return home more often, it will be used more aggressively in high risk combat scenarios, and it will win battles.”
    Robert E. Ball

    “In the last 40 or so years, aircraft survivability has shifted away from damage tolerance to hit avoidance. As technology advanced and threats became more lethal, it made a lot of sense to keep the aircraft from being hit in the first place. With advanced countermeasures and low observable technology, this was possible. As our technology increased and we were able to outfit our aircraft with a lot of high-tech gizmos, the focus shifted from developing vulnerability reduction features to developing advanced sensors for threat detection, engagement, and target destruction at greater distances. You see, if you can detect and identify a threat at 500 miles, engage it at 450 and destroy it at 400, there really isn’t a need to worry about getting hit. The only problem with that is—we aren’t there yet.
    If you took a poll of operators in the fleet and asked them what they wanted most on their aircraft, they would say—
    1)advanced sensors,
    2)range and speed,
    3)long range and very accurate weapons,
    4)low observable technology, and
    50)vulnerability reduction.
    Yes that was number 50, not number 5. There are two reasons for this. First, vulnerability reduction technology is not very sexy. A cool new radar that can identify a target at 500 miles is always preferable to a fuel tank liner. And second, most operators just assume that basic vulnerability reduction features such as fire protection and redundancy are a given in aircraft design. If you asked an operator if he would prefer target ID at only 400 miles while guaranteeing he would not burn up in flight because of a fuel leak, you might get a different answer.
    Keep in mind that vulnerability reduction is still a very important part of the overall survivability equation. Until we can truly develop technologies that can keep our aircraft from being hit in combat, this will be the case.”
    CDR Andrew (Andy) Cibula

  15. Hudson permalink
    June 30, 2010 2:17 am

    I’m not sure than any moral or practical lesson can be drawn from displaying gruesome photos of lightly built LCI(G)s that were overwhelmed by shore gunfire in one of the bloodiest ship-shore battles in history.

    Both the lightly built jeep carriers and destroyers of Taffy 3 in the Battle Off Samar suffered under the gunfire of the Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers of Center Force. The 8, 14 and 18 inch shells were too much for any small ship to survive. Even at that, a number of heavy shells passed clean through the smaller ships–which might be construed as an advantage for thinly armored ships, although Japanese shells were sometimes unreliably fused.

    The issue in that battle was why six small carriers could not defend themselves against a surface force with no carriers of its own in excellent flying weather. According to Mike B. in an earlier discussion of that battle, the carriers were loaded with munitions for attacking land targets, hence no aerial torpedoes. Even so, six enemy heavy cruisers were damaged or sunk. And as everyone know, Center Force was driven off by the wildly brave DDs and DEs unleashing spreads of torpedoes at the cautious Japanese, who somehow believed they were facing much heavier ships.

    Any armor can be defeated, as happened to Yamato itself, and to Israel’s excellent Merkava IV tanks sometimes individually hit with dozens of the latest Russian AT missiles in the recent Lebanon incursion. Although the armor did save some of the crews even though the tanks themselves were a loss.

    From which one might conclude that it’s worth building the most “exquisite” life-saving weapons system you can, in some instances; and it’s worth building numbers of less resilient ships or weapons systems, in other instances.

  16. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 30, 2010 1:01 am

    A true Littoral Combat Ship, one 10th the size of the new ones, but the crew was probably larger.

  17. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 10:02 pm

    Story of that particular action here:

  18. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 9:58 pm

    That LCI was unusual in having 40 mm on the deck just forward of the bridge. Normally those were 20 mm. I think they are Army style mounts.

    These were LCI(G)’s…

    modified into ad-hoc Littoral Combat Ships

  19. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 29, 2010 9:53 pm

    That LCI was unusual in having 40 mm on the deck just forward of the bridge. Normally those were 20 mm. I think they are Army style mounts.

  20. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 8:34 pm

    See the gent partially obscured on the port side by the life ring?

    I believe that is the CO, who was in a state of shock. He had had a devil of a time bringing the listing and steering compromised LCI alongside the blister sided Nevada.

    According to his wife, he went to his grave convinced he was responsible for the deaths in his crew.

  21. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 6:49 pm

    Quite so Scott….

    Which –in spite of its gruesomeness- I invite one and all to take a close look at the pic of the LCI(G)-441 alongside the Nevada…

    That, my friends, is the reality of fighting in ad-hoc small combatants…

    built to “mercantile” standards.

  22. Scott B. permalink
    June 29, 2010 6:33 pm

    Sid said : “Guess such losses would be ok if you can outproduce your enemy”

    Not only outproduce, but also outman your enemy.

    Which is not exactly a winning proposal against Communist China (which, at the very least, would fight to the last North Korean / Pakistani / Iranian).

    Which leads us to one of the biggest flaws in the thinking of most reformers : their proposals are most invariably manpower intensive, because they fail to recognize that, in post-industrialized societies, PEOPLE are THE critical resource.

  23. Scott B. permalink
    June 29, 2010 6:14 pm

    Chuck Hill said : “I don’t recognize the class of the two missile boats being transported but they appear to be Russian (or possibly Indian?).”

    Tarantul V for Vietnam, presumably during the *Channel Dash* of Christmas 2007.

  24. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 6:03 pm

    More “savings” from “mercantile” standards….

    (from the Liscome Bay Loss report)

    (g) Partition bulkheads and joiner doors in the intact part
    of the ship on the second deck and above were generally knocked
    down or badly distorted by shock or blast or both. Furniture
    and equipment were also knocked down and contributed to the
    general wreckage forward. This wreckage impeded passage of
    personnel escaping, but no personnel were reported as actually
    trapped by such wreckage. On the other hand there were numerous
    cases reported of persons injured by the collapse of partition bulkheads
    or other light material including joiner doors*.

    Yeah…Go on ahead and save money by not bothering to build in naval shock standards on your circa 2050 “capital ships.”

    The very ships your enemy will almost certainly concentrate their efforts against.

  25. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 29, 2010 5:48 pm

    To continue with Scott B’s list of videos. I don’t recognize the class of the two missile boats being transported but they appear to be Russian (or possibly Indian?).

    They are certainly of the size Mike is advocating.

  26. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 5:23 pm

    It wasn’t the Charger I was thinking of, but the HMS Avenger:

    More “savings” from “mercantile” standards…..

    Guess such losses would be ok if you can outproduce your enemy, as we could then.

    But that luxury is a generation gone.

    Build sacrificial forces without the ability to replace losses, and you will have a navy in the same shape as the IJN was in by 1943….

    On the way to painful defeat in detail.

  27. Scott B. permalink
    June 29, 2010 5:18 pm

    Swedish Navy deploying transoceanically :

    Gotland SSK :

    Stockholm FACs :

    Demonstrates the kind of logistics burden involved, with the attendant costs and rigidities and vulnerabilities.

    Which is what inevitably happens when you try to turn a coastal force geared for home waters into a global Navy.

  28. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 4:52 pm

    So….you want to put the most valuable warfighting components into “capital ships” built to “mercantile” standards?…

    Here is where that shortsighted economy will get you:

    (from the Liscome Bay War Loss Report. Make sure you make it to the last sentence):

    6. LISCOME BAY, Maritime Commission Hull 1093, was one of
    a large class of ships designed as escort carriers by the
    Maritime Commission. She was built by the Vancouver yards
    of the Kaiser Company, Inc. to the plans and specifications
    of the Maritime Commission and under the supervision of the
    Maritime Commission. Thus, hull design and construction followed
    merchant-type practice in contrast with combatant-type
    carriers built to Navy Department specifications. The main
    objective, of course, of this procedure was to provide a large
    number of small escort carriers in the shortest possible time
    by following mass production methods. The ships were originally
    intended, as their name indicates, for employment as
    convoy escorts, primarily to provide planes for anti-submarine
    work. It is well known that all classes of escort carriers,
    ~s well as other naval ships converted from merchant types,
    do not have armor protection against direct hits by bombs and
    projectiles, and do not have torpedo protection systems such
    s those provided in large carriers. In the class of escort
    carriers converted from oilers, however, good protection against
    fragments from torpedo hits is provided by a heavy layer of
    liquid in the wing tanks (originally oil tanks). In escort
    carriers converted from C-3 hulls, as in some other naval
    auxiliaries converted from merchant-type hulls, the Bureau of
    Ships required special protection against fragments from
    torpedo hits in way of torpedo and bomb stowage spaces. This
    protection took the form of a liquid layer or, in special cases,
    a heavy splinter protection bulkhead. In the CVE55 class,
    however, primarily because of the very limited space available
    for bombs and the urgent demands for early delivery of the
    ships, this protection was not provided.

  29. Scott B. permalink
    June 29, 2010 3:50 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “The most numerous surface combatant will be small attack craft of around 200-400 tons, and available in many hundreds. They will likely use a SWATH hull form allowing them to traverse oceanic ranges as smoothly as a vessel 10 times the size.”

    While SWATH might offer the kind of improved seakeeping qualities you’re alluding to, you have to understand that there’s MUCH MORE to transoceanic capability, e.g. range and endurance.

    A displacement somewhere between 200 and 400 tons as you suggest won’t get you any of these critical platform-centric attributes.

    Meaning they will be a MAJOR logistics burden (with the attendant costs and rigidities) and will produce MUCH wear and tear on the one asset that really matters : PEOPLE.

  30. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 3:44 pm

    “The most numerous surface combatant will be small attack craft of around 200-400 tons, and available in many hundreds.”

    *many* hundreds?

    Dream on.

    And -again- no matter the number, as whatever gets built will almost certainly never really be “enough”…what the USN of 2020 will not be able to “afford” is very many scenes like this:

    (look close…and NEVER say “never”)

  31. Scott B. permalink
    June 29, 2010 3:09 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Kinda of like what we have today, the world’s most expensive coastal force”

    There’s a major difference between a Navy that’s only capable of operating off its own coastal areas, i.e. the coastal force you’re advocating for, and a Navy that’s capable of deploying globally, including operating off somebody else’s coastal areas.

    Your vision of the future US Navy amounts to building a supersized version of the Swedish Navy from the Cold War.

    This dramatic disconnect with the real world is a direct consequence of an approach that starts with the solutions (mythical corvette, allmighty SSK) and tries to walk its way back to the problems.

  32. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 2:59 pm

    Proper garbage quote:

    “A warship’s survivability can be built on one of two premises: invincibility or invisibility,'”

    Survivability is a BALANCE between:

    reducing “Susceptibility” -shooting your enemy first; and making sure he misses you….

    reducing “Vulnerability” -if you do get hit, reduce the chances of it being a fatal blow….

    maximizing “Recoverability” -being able to “fight hurt”. The too often ignored (by you and others Mike) “Staying Power”.

  33. Jacob permalink
    June 29, 2010 2:52 pm

    If anti-ship missiles do make aircraft carriers obsolete, then I’d imagine that any future naval operations can only take place under the umbrella of land-based airpower, otherwise even corvettes and fast attack boats would fall prey to enemy planes and helicopters. The only exceptions might be submarines, but even they should probably stay far from shore unless friendly air forces can keep away enemy airborne ASW.

  34. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 2:45 pm



  35. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 2:44 pm


    Leave this garbage touted by some lame-ass PR type:

    “A warship’s survivability can be built on one of two premises: invincibility or … invincibility,”

    in the junk heap of of founded pablum…..

  36. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 2:37 pm

    “Built in adequate numbers to mercantile standards,”

    This has been tried Mike.

    Didn’t turn out so well….

    Look up:

    USS Liscome Bay

    HMS Charger

    then contrast and compare those disasters with the experience of the -much modified- USS Block Island

    You are advocating an “affordable” fleet that will not be able to “AFFORD” to fight.

    And …NO…Survivability need not be equated with silly expensive crap like stealth that does not work, or some kind of wonder ray.

    Its about building robust -relatively simple- hulls with HM&E systems that can absorb some amount of damage.

  37. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 29, 2010 2:32 pm

    Concerning nuke subs-I don’t see how we can get pass the decline in numbers, and how we can keep this ability with anything other than SSKs. The admirals are complaining now how they are overstretched and hurting for subs. The ones we have are extremely overworked.

    So other than a dramatic reduction in the price of nuclear fuel (but the trend has been increases), I see the USN possessing only between 20-30 within a decade or two. The bulk of our fleet now are old LA class from the Reagan era and before.

    I am not saying nuclear power is not desirable, but I see no one offering low cost solutions. The next Virginia’s have been estimated at $3 billion and the Trident replacement upward of $7 billion each. At best at these prices by 2050 we will only afford a handful, less than a dozen. Is that practical?

  38. sid permalink
    June 29, 2010 2:28 pm

    Better design them in a manner different than container ships are built for normal service…

    Otherwise, this is what you will see:

    Not a very enticing “new look”.

  39. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 29, 2010 2:21 pm

    Smitty asked “do you have any actual evidence that these shifts are taking place? ”

    The budget and history is my evidence. I have faith in both, especially the last since every time we get into this fix, there is a back to basics, and a return to dependence on smaller ships. Historically, almost every capital vessel got its start in the flotilla. The destroyer and submarines, arguably today’s new battleships, came from the flotilla, got their start on the road to greatness first with torpedoes, now missile. Both meant to combat coastal threats, then found to be effective against larger warships when used stealthily. Both have outlived the larger and seemingly invincible battleships and cruisers, are now possessing their features and taken up the missions of these vessels. Likely too they will displace the aircraft carrier.

    I won’t claim to be 100% accurate, but not far off the mark. All I do is study and the outcome is plain to see. The admirals are floundering, seeking an answer. But its as plain to me as the nose on my face, and its all historical, not something I pulled out of a hat, Smitty.

    Scott wrote ” an oversized coastal force”.

    Kinda of like what we have today, the world’s most expensive coastal force, since the Navy likes to use missile battleships, supercarriers, and subs as littoral warships, to maintain their “From the Sea” strategy. Unless we get essential escorts for our capital ships, they will be running from the sea, stuck in port, fearing to venture forth because of stealthy subs and suicide craft.

    Twice in the past century we have been surprised by the ability of submarines, and both times prewar having been assured by the admirals the problem was solved. It will be solved, but it will be long and hard and I don’t think airpower will save us at sea anymore than it has solved our problems on land, when the enemy refuses to fight like we want them too. Most aren’t dummies like Saddam.

    Never in history have battleships maintained sea control all by themselves. We are trying to do this now but it won’t work, if we ever get a stand-up enemy. Been pretty lucky so far.

  40. Distiller permalink
    June 29, 2010 2:19 pm

    Distiller’s Navy 2050 (the ships, that is):

    # Battle Fleet: Exlusively under water and nuclear powered, includes the ballistic missile boats. The remaining CVN and their escorts will be part of it till retired.

    # Presence & Patrol Fleet: Mostly frigate types, probably of the flight-deck type, and acting primarily as platform for unmanned airborne and subsurface sensor vehicles. No such vessels exist yet, the LCS is only half way there for various reasons.

    # Amphib Raider Fleet: Aka “Marines”. Raider-type units, possibly operating from something looking like the son of JHSV that enables and supports the 2D and 3D assault of a brigade-sized (mechanized) unit. The remaining LPDs and fire-support destroyers will be part of it till retired.

    # Strategic Mobility & Combat Support Fleet: Vessels to put and keep major ground force formations on foreign shores.

    I think what will drive this setup is the need for a unified force (yes, I know …) where the Navy is not a “stand alone” force any more, and the lack of warfight-able enemies (seen already today), as they will either be too big and nuclear (China, India, Euroland, Brasil?) or vassals of such, or will be total have-nots not worth attention beyond special forces level.

  41. Scott B. permalink
    June 29, 2010 1:29 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “The Fleet in 2050”

    This proposal, dominated by SSKs and FACs, confirms what I suspected yesterday, i.e. aims at turning a global Navy like the US Navy into an oversized coastal force, without any kind of global reach.

    This would in effect signal a major strategic shift in which the emphasis would become the defense of a Fortress America Under Siege, struggling to *keep out waves of desperate refugees* and other hordes of fanatic terrorists.

    Incidentally, this shows what happens when you start with a solution (the mythical corvette, the almighty AIP SSK) and then try to walk your way back to the problem : in effect, you end up with a vision that’s very poorly connected with the strategic realities of the real world.

  42. Scott B. permalink
    June 29, 2010 1:14 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Production of large destroyers will likely cease, only because we already possess so many with no peer adversary having any one ship comparable as the 60-70 Arleigh Burke class”

    This kind of *argument*, made popular by such people as the current Under SECNAV, Robert Work, actually reveals a major flaw in the logic adopted by most reformers out there. Their flawed thinking goes like this :

    1) Our enemies don’t have this specific weapon system (e.g. DDGs, CV/CVNs, etc…), so we don’t need it either.

    2) Our enemies have plenty for this specific weapon system (e.g. FACs, etc…), so we need to have plenty of these as well.

    What most reformers actually propose is actually the best recipe for the US to lose its leadership, and become a follower instead.

  43. west_rhino permalink
    June 29, 2010 1:00 pm

    Ahhh, the modular container q-ship/BBG if it had a point defence system, perhaps the Atlantic Conveyor would still have been a discreet proof of concept for operating Harriers and Chinooks in support of the conquest of los Malvinas… ;-)

  44. michael permalink
    June 29, 2010 12:49 pm

    A short logical and precise summing up of the situation.
    If the powers that be in either China India or looking further into the future South America took this post as a blueprint for the USA’s future strategy,they will be extremely happy with it.
    As it stands I honestly think that you are straying into the realms of phantasy ,you are letting your small ships policy become something of an obsession.
    The above headline posting is never going to happen,your small ships navy is never going to happen. The upcoming powers in Asia are not going to give up their desire for larger and more powerfull vessels,and that is where the next conflict is going to occure unless the middle east explodes and then we won’t need to worry as if a nuclear armed Israel come up against a nuclear armed Iran then it’s going to be another story.
    If the USA wishes to play any role in world politics then the have to to seen to be doing so,and to do that it will need a large and powerful armed forces.
    I really hate to say this but December 1941 showed up how ill prepared the USA was for war,since then they have fielded the most powerful military ever seen throughout history and seemed to have learned from that traumatic period in its history.
    You are to focused on what you deem to be the threat in the future I.E. worldwide terrorism and rogue states.
    Rest assured that in ten to twenty years time there will come a state upon state conflict,it may not be in your immediate sphere of influence but you will be involved and be expected to take sides.
    What will you do with your emasculated forces?

  45. Hudson permalink
    June 29, 2010 11:03 am

    I agree that 2050 is too far out to see clearly. Due to internal dissention, we may not even have a coherent foreign policy by then. Some possibilities:

    A nasty little war with Mexico over immigration.

    A stronger Coast Guard to keep people and materials out.

    A phony conventional war (so as to avoid nuclear horrors) with China, in which quite a few ships might be lost on both sides before it’s over.

    A nuclear war arising from the Middle East. If the U.S. homeland is badly damaged, there will be little appetite or capability for foreign adventures.

    Lasers and particle beam weapons will be part of the Navy’s inventory by then. Also, long range aircraft with these weapons, covering land and sea.

    Newer forms of energy (hydrogen?) that will make it cheaper to run naval vessels.

    Satellite launched weapons.

    More powerful and numerous UAVs. Robotic ships and subs.

    Difficult to say what the most survivable ship might be, possibly subs. High altitude radar might negate today’s undersea advantages.

    Bans on certain types of weapons, including weather used as a weapon.

    Battles of champions: our ship vs. their ship for area control.

    Peace, that is, no major war at all.

  46. B.Smitty permalink
    June 29, 2010 9:50 am


    No offense, but do you have any actual evidence that these shifts are taking place? Or is this just what you would like to see happening?

    Assuming we build no CVNs past USS Ford, and we don’t retire any early, we will still have 11 CVNs in service by 2020 and 3 in 2050. I have a feeling we will build at least a few more between now and then.

    Do you have any evidence that we are going to go on a massive, small ship building spree?

    How is the LCS even close to a “blue water frigate”? Just because it is sized similarly to some blue water frigates doesn’t mean it is designed to be one.

    My guess is we will continue to build one or two large surface combatants per year for the foreseeable future to preserve the industrial base and build a cushion for the retirement of large numbers of DDGs built during Cold War in the 2020+ timeframe.

    Jumping out to 2050, everything is pure speculation. I think it is more likely we will still see large carriers, but their airwings will have a significant number of UCAVs (the real “reusable cruise missile”).

    I don’t see cruise missiles becoming reusable or having anything close to the mission flexibility of aircraft (manned or otherwise). We will see more, smaller armed UAVs, however sensor, comm, munition and fuel sizes will necessitate larger air vehicles (and thus larger ships to fly them from).

    SSNs will still be the preeminent subsurface vessel in the U.S. fleet. We may or may not have some SSKs, depending on the whims of those in charge.

  47. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 29, 2010 9:23 am

    I believe the future budgets are on my side:

    Anonymous wrote:

    “I don’t see thearines giving up their fleet to use Navy ships anytime soon.”

    The marines are like the other services thinking in ways they haven’t considered in a while, though until 2050, a lot of things can happen. Lack of funds can change priorities and you’d be surprised what you can live without on a budget!

    Also, I grade no one here for spelling, then I’d have to give miself an “F”! LOL

  48. June 29, 2010 9:19 am

    I agree with Renko’s comments that the real future of the navy will be in the depths and in the space over the oceans. These two realms will have to be be coordinated for effective control.

  49. June 29, 2010 9:16 am

    The ocean is an economic zone as well as a battle space. The debacle in the Gulf will not impede the continuing exploitation of mineral resources at ever greater depths. New technologies will emerge to exploit the depths which will alter the conception of the underwater battlespace. Do not discount nuclear technologies of several kinds in this evolution, including SSNs. Otherwise a wonderful and very thoughtful essay.

  50. Anonymous permalink
    June 29, 2010 8:18 am

    Also I don’t see the need for nuclear submarines dissapearing. Just as nuclear subs are not suitable for every mission, diesel submarines have missions that they cannot do as well as their nuclear counterparts.

  51. ArkadyRenko permalink
    June 29, 2010 8:09 am

    And this fleet will not get more than 500 nm from the shore, before it all runs out of gas.

    Did you see the comment in the previous posting?

    The Navy’s two biggest costs are:

    1) Manpower
    2) Fuel

    Your plan is stunningly dependent upon those two quantities. A fleet of small boats will all require crews and they will all need to be paid. Your merchant quality ships, with their 20,000 ton size, will be cruise missile bait. After several 2050 era cruise missiles, they’ll be sinking. Your small ships will be even more cruise missile bait, or they’ll be so expensive that they will be unaffordable.

    If you really wanted to get into the New Wars side of things, you’d realize that the future of the Navy is underwater, with larger submarines / submarine battle groups. Not with a flotilla of targets.

    Finally, Tomahawks that return their cargo? Why don’t you just build a bomber then? That’ll be cheaper per Lb ordinance.

  52. Anonymous permalink
    June 29, 2010 8:07 am

    Sorry. Read “thearines” as “the Marines”

  53. Anonymous permalink
    June 29, 2010 8:05 am

    Given the competition between branches I don’t see thearines giving up their fleet to use Navy ships anytime soon.


  1. The Impending Rebirth of the Flotilla Pt 1 « New Wars

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