New Battleships Just Got Scarier
The following quote from Craig Hooper at Defense Tech pretty much sums it up on the Navy’s present and future:
Putting PGS (Prompt Global Strike) into the VLS does something far more interesting than just “add capability”. It changes everything. PGS on a surface ship transforms the largely defensive nature of the U.S. surface combatant/carrier escort to, well, “offense”.
In other words, the Aegis cruisers and destroyers which are currently dominating the USN plans, as well as those of our allies such as Japan might be set to seize the title of capital ship, long held by the aircraft carrier. Here’s is more on the PGS from DARPA:
“The ArcLight program will design, build, and flight test a long range (> 2,000 nm) vehicle that carries a 100–200 lb payload(s). ArcLight is based on an SM-3 Block II booster stack, a hypersonic glider and is capable of being launched from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tube. The development of the ArcLight system will enable high speed, long range weapons capable of engaging time critical targets and can be launched from Naval surface and sub-surface assets, and Naval/Air Force air assets.”
With all its defensive assets and screening warships, the best anti-aircraft defense for the carrier has been to stay away as far as reasonable from land bases, as the British relearned in the Falklands, and strategists are reminding us today. Here we see a new weapon, based on off the shelf technology, keeping the fleet far offshore in many thousand miles while able to make its presence known.
The idea that America’s 7,804 VLS cells may soon gain the ability to rain almost instant havoc on targets some 2,000 nm away should put a bit of a damper on those who counted on overwhelming a hunkered-down and relatively passive “defense-oriented” AEGIS fleet. It’s a big deal.
As early as 2005, New Wars made the claim that our unmatched fleet of missile firing warships, equipped with Aegis radar and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles were “The New Battleships”. Here also is something from 2009.
This amazing and potent capability in one surface combatant begs the question” Are the new battleships still bound under the protective wing of naval airpower?” As we recorded earlier in the week the handwriting has been on the wall for airpower for some time. With the ability to dominate the airspace for 200-300 nautical miles, this is yet another role taken from the $6-$8 billion aircraft carrier plus its equally costly jets on a less costly (though still expensive) platform.
Certainly America’s 60+ DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers fit this category, as posted on the Navy’s own website:
“Named for the Navy’s most famous destroyer squadron combat commander and three-time Chief of Naval Operations, Arleigh Burke is the most powerful surface combatant ever put to sea.”
Concerning the huge lead the USN currently possesses in such vessels, over all other world navies totaled, here is current Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work writing in 2009:
The US TSBF includes 105 surface combatants. The next two largest surface fleets are operated by the PRC and Japan, with 98 total ships (49 ships apiece) — giving the US Navy a comfortable two-navy standard in this category of ships. However, these numbers are once again deceiving. The bulk of US surface combatant combat power comes from its 75 large, multi-mission cruisers and destroyers. Like US aircraft carriers, these warships are much larger than comparable foreign ships of the same class. In addition, all 75 are equipped with the below deck vertical launch (missile) system (VLS), which is much more space-efficient than legacy missile launch systems with above-deck launchers serviced by below-deck rotary magazines.
Consequently, the aggregate missile magazine capacity of these 75 US ships is 7,804 battle force missiles, for an average magazine capacity of 104 missiles per ship. In contrast, the 367 surface combatants operated by the twenty next largest foreign navies carry only 65 more total battle force missiles (7,869), for an average war load of only 21 missiles per ship. In other words, the US surface combatant fleet currently enjoys a twenty-navy firepower standard. When adding in the awesome strike power of US carrier air wings, the overall US fleet firepower advantage only widens.
To the 75 surface combatants, Work also adds the firepower of 56 nuclear submarines, SSNs and SSGNs to this list with “an aggregate magazine capacity of 2,467 weapons (torpedoes and land attack cruise missiles).” This seems to put to rest any fears of losing conventional power projection capability when the notion comes up that we should cut our dependence on 100,000 ton aircraft carriers, now pricing nearly $15 billion each not including their difficult to procure dedicated naval aircraft.
So if we have 130 new battleships running around, each with the projection ability of an entire carrier battlegroup, the impending use of Prompt Global Strike also assuring this at vast ranges coupled with precision targeting, perhaps we can start the debate on how many battleships do we need? Certainly over a 100 is excessive, with more like 50 sounding reasonable considering our few peer threats. Also consider, if we replace the destroyer with the guided missile frigate, you would have yet another potent battleship at about half the cost of a $2 billion Burke, without any loss in capability. The potential for savings makes me giddy!
If we can reduce our dependence on superships, the current practice in overkill, we will then have plentiful funds for use in restoring the Navy numbers, and for the restoration of the flotilla since our current Burke fleet will be needed elsewhere. Currently the pattern has been to send our most expensive warships, such as the cruisers and destroyers, to engage in sundry and very low tech sea control duties against pirates in wooden dhows, at an embarrassing mismatch and waste of resources. Such duties have historically called for light patrol vessels, equipped with light guns and inflatable boats’ which are also less at risk than 10,000 ton warships and their many hundreds of crew.
You can afford many such patrol craft for the cost of a single $2 billion dollar destroyer, dramatically reducing the Navy’s presence deficit. Again this is a historical and common sense approach, building vessels to suite a particular need, in contrast to “one size fits all” which can get expensive. It is amazing how all the current woes the Navy is facing as far as funding, manning, shrinking presence, and concerns over future threats can be solved with a simple change in mindset!
One final thought. If the Prompt Global Strike can be adapted to our current MK-41 VLS in surface combatants, any reason why it can’t be also placed in this: