Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Return of the Gunboats

Galrahn at Information Dissemination points to a Proceedings article titled Fill the Middle Gap Rediscover the Corvette (sub. only), that calls for radical new thinking in the US Navy's current warship procurement strategy:

The U.S. Navy needs a new force structure for the new century's challenges. This force should include ships that are inexpensive enough to be plentiful, and robust enough to operate for prolonged periods in inhospitable environments far from the mainstream of U.S. Navy support. Our commanders must be able to commit these ships without reluctance to dangerous waters among the dhows, junks, and oil platforms in shallow seas. In short, we need a small warship that can self-deploy to (and stay in!) areas like the Horn of Africa, South East Asia, and the Gulf of Guinea.

Does my heart glad! The story goes on to compare the Fleet's current dominant position and the British Royal Navy's post-Trafalgar state in 1815, with the seas well secured and the shallow waters beckoning a new gunboat diplomacy. I discussed this fact as well in the Navy Review Newsletter back in April 2004:

As the storm washed ships of the line of Nelson’s day defeated Napoleon
at Trafalgar, and Fisher’s dreadnoughts at Jutland chased the Germans to
their ports, so America’s aircraft carriers are returning home. After
decades of defending the seas during the Cold War and its aftermath,
under the Navy’s new Fleet Response Plan the bulk of the carrier groups
are now homeported, awaiting their recall if needed. There they train
continuously, and wait for the call to war, while new-age gunboats armed
with cruise missiles displace them in the role of forward deployment and
showing the flag. The big ships still sail, but with less frequency and
for shorter durations.

Perhaps some wishful thinking on my part, but its seems some are taking notice. Here's Galrahn's view on the same time period:

As we detailed, the period following the War of 1812 for the Royal Navy represents the best historical example regarding the position the US Navy finds itself in today. It should be pointed out, and Lieutenant Rushton does point out, that while the time is known for colonial rule, the Royal Navy did a lot of good ranging from suppressing disorder in remote locations, almost completely eliminating the slave trade by themselves, projected British influence and interests around the world, and served as a instrument for peace as a deterrent for war.

A stealthy corvette would be the ideal vessel for just such an operation against the new Barbary pirates, Al Qaeda terrorists, and less attractive a target as a 12,000 super destroyer like the DDG-1000 in the so-called "Philadelphia Incident" I've mentioned before. Sea Fighter is the first contender which comes to mind, at a cost I believe of $50 million, about 1/8 the cost of the littoral combat ship which the USN has committed itself to.

It is imperative for the Navy that this happens now. The admiral's continued obsession with Big Ships when there is no clear threat for such an expensive need is increasingly called into question, while the Army is taking the lead as our most effective and transformative military force. Then, there is the increasing threat from cruise missiles at sea and silent and cheap conventional submarines, which any Third World Nation may obtain. There may come at time in the near future when Congress will call for defunding the Navy to wean it off its Blue Water-only mindset, a drastic course which I have already advocated.

Update-Why do people try so hard and use so many confusing facts to explain why we need submarines in the strategy mentioned above, as in this Defense Tech article "Subs in the GWOT"? It's very simple if you think about it: submarines sink enemy warships, thus leaving the sea lanes free for littoral ships to undertake their expeditionary strategy against continental contenders without interference. How hard was that?