Monday, November 05, 2007

Littoral Ships versus the Pirates

Galrahn at Information Dissemination and yours truly are in agreement over one thing, as he writes:

I think everyone agrees it is a red flag when ~9000 ton or larger ships are fighting pirates off the coast of Somalia.

The blogger was responding to the Navy's recent cancellation of another littoral combat ship, this time LCS-4, and also the continued dependence on the overworked and under appreciated FFG-7 Perry class frigates for patrol duties. With the dramatic increase in piracy within the Third World in recent years, the Big Ship Navy designed in past decades to combat a Blue Water foe, is forced to contend with a brown water menace that is stretching its already sparse resources.

The Navy Times has an interesting piece on the USN's recent brushes with modern-day buccaneers, titled In chasing pirates, Navy comes full circle. An exert details:

The Navy is getting back to its roots. Re-established specifically after the Revolutionary War to combat North African pirates who were plundering merchant ships, American sailors now find themselves toe-to-toe with seagoing thugs again, called on to rid the seas of violent hijackers.

At least three American destroyers engaged hijacked vessels off the coast of Somalia the week of late October, early November.

The reference is made to our country's first War on Terror, the conflict against the pirates of Tripoli from 1801-1805. I just mentioned last week to Galrahn that we should get away from our present Cold War strategy as sea, with its emphasis on Big Ships, and think Barbary Wars! That short and inconclusive struggle with Islamic Pirates in the early 19th Century, also offers a glimpse of the perils that big ships face in chasing pirates into shallow seas. Recall that a major disaster occurred when the frigate USS Philadelphia was captured by Tripolitan pirates after running aground. Though the subsequent recapture and burning of the US warship helped propel Steven Decatur to fame (even receiving praise from Admiral Nelson!), the very idea that our frontline warships could fall into the wrong hands must have been an ominous fright.

Before there was Petraeus' Guys, there was Preble's Boys. One of the unsung heroes of our nation's past, Edward Preble molded the outstanding but glory seeking individuals of our early Navy, such as Decatur, Thomas Macdonough, William Bainbridge, Isaac Hull, and others into an elite fighting force, that later went on to fame and glory in the War of 1812, while creating a foundation for our tiny and fledgling sea service. Thus we find that somehow, America always produces leaders who can combine our sometimes self-serving interests into a winning team to defeat our nation's foes.

I can imagine what the modern pirates would think seeing a bizarre vessel such as the Sea Fighter, or something based on the Navy's stealthy Sea Shadow, or the Austal fast catamarans, chasing it into its littoral haunts. Such vessels are large, but also can skim across the waves at speeds approaching that of a speed boat, often the craft of choice for sea-borne terrorists. Hopefully some future Preble will convince our intransigent Admirals the need to utilize our modern pirate hunters in the role originally envisaged for them.

Update-Also read Gunboats, Escorts, and the future of the Navy and Coast Guard at Brickmuppet Blog.