Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bigger Ain't Always Better

The old "David versus Goliath" scenario from Martin Sieff:

U.S. aircraft carriers were designed to carry more and better
aircraft than any other carrier force afloat, and for 65 years, as they have
gotten bigger and bigger, they have become and more dominant until today, no
other nation in the world has plans to build enough surface aircraft carriers to
even dream of challenging the dominant U.S. ones.

But instead, the
gigantic U.S. ships must face the looming 21st century threat to their survival
from lots of cheap, easily built diesel submarines. Russia and China have bet
big on this option, as we have repeatedly noted in these columns, and other
countries like Iran and Indonesia are trying to follow in their paths, too.

Similarly, the main challenge in the first wars of the 21st century to
the mighty General Dynamics M1 Abrams MBT comes not from its supposed arch
rival, the Russian T-90, nor even from rocket-powered grenade launchers. And
they were already a formidable presence in the Nazi Wehrmacht of 1944-45 as the
familiar Panzerfaust.

Instead, the main threat to the U.S. land
leviathans in urban environments has come from the simple shaped-charge
improvised explosive device that has been used so effectively by Sunni Muslim
insurgents in central Iraq.

Of course. we have all heard the saying "the bigger they are the harder they fall", which seems to be the usual justification for these high tech giants, but I fear our military leaders have been lulled into a false sense of security thinking our mighty land, air, and sea behemoths are invincible. Earlier, I studied this problem of controlling size in weapons systems, concerning our new DDG-1000 destroyers, and created this chart:

  • Fletcher (1942)-2050 tons

  • Gearing (1944)-2616 tons

  • Charles F. Adams (1958)-3277 tons

  • Spruance (1973)-6600 tons

  • Arleigh Burke (1989)-8230 tons
  • Zumwalt (2012?)-12,000 tons

Notice how the DDG-1000 is over a 5-fold increase in size of its war era counterpart. The seemingly endless and absurd reasoning for ever costlier, larger in size, while fewer in numbers weapons platforms reminds us of another period in history when super-size was in vogue:

History details the account of a great naval race in the
ancient world which transpired between the Greek nations that arose following
the death of Alexander the Great. The navies of Macedonia, Syracuse, and Egypt
built ever larger and more absurd vessels which were for little more than show.
One great galley with 40 banks of oars and 4000 rowers was so large it could
barely put to sea. Finally the Carthaginians and Romans put an end to the
madness, by producing vast numbers of similar galleys which could be easily
massed produced.

We see then while the Greeks were distracted impressing one another with these sea-going marvels, younger nations were preparing to seize the mantel of power from them. Food for thought to our stubborn leaders who still look to the weapons of the past to fight our future wars.