Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mahan Against the Little Ship Navy

Galrahn at Information Dissemination has a great post about the US Navy chasing pirates in Somali waters, but I was a little distracted by this statement:

"More interesting is news that the Somalian government has given permission to the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) to enter Somalian waters to pursue the hijacked vessel."

Thats great, but I still cringe everytime I hear of one of these 9000 ton destroyers built to fight Soviet nuclear subs in the North Atlantic chasing pirates in wooden dhows or tiny speed boats. This is comparable to using an M-16 rifle to swat mosquitoes. I am fearful that if one of these little "Davids" were to launch a mine, torpedo, or missile and damage one of our naval Goliaths, it may be viewed as a great propaganda victory for the terrorists, as seen in the 2000 USS Cole incident.

William Lind might have the answer with this post titled A 'little ship' Navy:

Today as throughout the Cold War, the U.S. Navy is building a fleet perfectly designed to fight the navy of Imperial Japan. If someone wants to contest control of the Pacific Ocean in a war between aircraft carrier task forces, we are ready. Unfortunately, no one does, absent that general resurrection when Shokaku and Zuikaku, Soryu and Hiryu -- the four Japanese aircraft carriers sunk at the Battle of Midway in 1942 -- will rise from their watery graves.

Were the U.S. Navy really to turn to Corbett, it would build lots of ships designed for operations in coastal waters and on rivers, often with troops on board. But such ships are small ships, and the U.S. Navy hates small ships. Some 30 years ago, when the senator I worked for was trying to push the Navy into buying some small, fast missile boats, the PHMs, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James L. Holloway III said contemptuously in testimony, "The U.S. Navy has no place for little ships."

That last comment is evident from this article titled The Boat Nobody Wanted, but getting back to Lind, he was discussing the difference between 2 schools of naval thought, one led by the famed Alfred Thayer Mahan and the other by the less well known Julian Corbett. Mahan was an advocate of big ship, battlefleet type warfare, the kind our Navy continues to practice long after the Cold War, while Corbett was more flexible, concentrating on operations like commerce protection and amphibious warfare. The latter 2 are sadly neglected by the USN except when it is forced on them during wartime.

I see where Mahan theory failed at the battle of Jutland in 1916, and when the British were so reluctant to deal with the submarine threat in that war. Again in the second world war, the Navy was dilatory in applying new weapons to fight the sub, especially aircraft. At late as the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Halsey left the invasions forces on their own to chase Japanese carriers dearth of aircraft, in a desperate attempt to fight Mahan's "decisive battle", almost incurring disaster.

I give credit, though, to Mahan for bringing America out its its Post-Civil War doldrums, and setting the Navy and the nation on the path to world power and greatness. I fear though, that our obsession with his inflexible and unimaginative strategy may be steering us toward disaster, especially with insurgents eager to bypass our hidebound theories of war fighting, as we have seen consistently since 9/11.

Some good news- Galrahn also posted on using the new LCS to ferry Marines, recalling the fast destroyers transports of the war era.

For more on Julian Corbett, you can read his masterpiece of naval strategy for free here: Some Principles of Maritime Strategy.