Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Towards a sensible shipbuilding strategy

Someone in the Navy is finally showing some sense concerning the warship procurement process. From Defense News:

The U.S. Navy’s top strategist has floated to the chief of naval operations three alternatives to the service’s current 30-year shipbuilding plan that if adopted would radically reshape American naval power.
The three options are contained in a 26-page briefing titled “Three Futures, One Navy, A Portfolio Analysis” by Vice Adm. John Morgan, the service’s strategy chief, which was e-mailed to Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, just before the Thanksgiving holiday.
The force structure options — a 263-ship fleet optimized for major combat operations against a peer competitor; a 534-ship shaping force tailored for coalition and maritime security operations; and a 474-ship balanced force able to perform high- and low-end missions — would replace the current 30-year shipbuilding plan.

Naturally, the leadership is so set on the fleet's current death spiral, that they are attacking the individual plans:

“The proposal has not been vetted among the Navy leadership,” said Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman. “The hypothetical numbers listed in the brief are ludicrous and are not reflective of Navy leadership’s thinking or intent and has no bearing on the budget or POM (Program Objective Memorandum)

Still, there are very interesting proposals, worth taking notice, for instance:

  • A force of 263 ships, smaller than the 313-ship fleet that Roughead has said he wants, tailored for battle against a peer competitor. Mainly the kind of fleet we have today.
  • A fleet of 534 ships, mostly corvettes and patrol boats better suited to littoral, maritime security and partnership operations. The kind of which I have frequently proposed to seal with the kind of foe we face today, as opposed to the above Cold War type fleet.
  • A fleet of 474 ships able to conduct operations from high-end battle to low-end counterterrorism and maritime security. Possibly the safest route for navy leadership to take, i.e., the best of both worlds.
The article goes on to point out the small number of submarines planned in the last 2 strategies, 36 each compared with 56 in the first. With the Virginia subs practically the only class where savings have been made in recent years, it makes more sense to keep this rare success going, with 56 boats a bare minimum. In my own view, and as I have written before, the submarine can take the place of numerous types of warships in many cases, especially large destroyers, all the while being our only true stealth vessel.

Another factor in the larger ship plans is the (as I see it) excessive number of amphibious ships called for, which is likely as unaffordable as the current Navy shipbuilding scheme. Still, the idea of 23 assault carriers, their decks loaded with vertol planes like the F-35 is an intriguing concept, reminding us of the successful "Harrier carriers" utilized in both Gulf Wars. I also contend that converted merchant vessels would proved adequate and affordable amphibious craft, without sacrificing the numbers so desired by our Marines.

Of course, the construction of large numbers of LCS corvettes and patrol craft are essential to our fleet's continued success fighting terrorist pirates at sea. The current strategy of using our billion dollar Burke Aegis destroyers to chase insurgents in speed boats are at best overkill, and a disaster waiting to happen. I believe we are headed for another Philadelphia incident if such a waste of our resources continues, or have we already had one with the USS Cole?

Also, Galrahn pronounces this report "a great development".