Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reforming the Industrial Age Navy

Your enthusiastic response, both pro and con, for our recent posting titled "Questioning the Need for a Gator Navy" inspired us to publish parts as an editorial. This article ended up in the Navy News Clips emailed by the Office of Information. We appreciate our readers and the US Navy for its open mindedness in publishing this little piece of constructive criticism.

Our main purpose in writing such articles is in hopes of salvaging the supremacy of the US Fleet, which is down to 279 ships in commission and no end of this decline in sight. None of the potential presidential contenders, whether Republican or Democrat offers any hope of a major expansion in shipbuilding funds for the near future, an obvious requirement of the stated goal of a 313 ship navy.

Yet, the USN insists on constructing a traditional industrial age force structure consisting of aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, nuclear submarines, and amphibious assault ships. Continuing down this course in the age of digital weapons is not only folly in our view, but very unnecessary.

Concerning the amphibious ships, we part company from Galrahn who offers a good argument on what the Gator Navy should be doing, and therein lies the problem. They do seem to be everywhere, showing the flag, threatening Iran, providing disaster relief; all very well, except these very complicated and highly expensive warships were designed for a Inchon/Falklands style forcible entry onto a hostile shore.

Instead we use them in the role of gunboats, which Galrahn concedes is the right role for such massive ships(?) in the Post Cold War:

If we consider a moment that the challenge regions emerging in
the expeditionary era are what Thomas Barnett calls the
Non-Integrated Gaps, the regions from South
America to Africa to Southeast Asia, and we believe it is likely this is where
extremism is likely to breed and disruption to the global system is most likely
to occur, we first observe there is a serious lack of military basing in those
regions. This means the US military is going to require a force shaped for
gaining access and sustaining operations to remote regions far away from
sustained ground support presence.

Yet again we must point to the threat of cruise missiles, inexpensive naval mines, speed boats loaded with dynamite in the hands of radicals prepared to blow a hole in our obsession with the Big Ship Navy.

What is a post Industrial Age Amphib fleet? Of far greater importance than the stagnate Marine Force off the Iraq Coast during Desert Storm One, was prepositioned vessels. All these warships forward deployed in nearby Diego Garcia contained all the Marine Divisions taking part in the Liberation of Kuwait needed. Looking again to the Falklands, we are reminded of the Queen Elizabeth 2 ferrying some 3000 British Troops to the Falklands in 1982, in an example of fast sealift, or about half of the entire Fleet Marine Force. If the Marines continue to be a land adjunct to the Army, this is the type of ship it needs. Even Galrahn concedes this, stating:

When the 24th MEU deployed to Afghanistan, they
took a FSS
not amphibious ships, the reason being
the FSS could actually take all the MEU equipment while the amphibious ships
could not.
If the Marines would return to their roots as a light intervention force, then place them back on the warships, especially these fast ferries with their spacious cargo hulls. Also place them onboard our invisible submarine fleet in homage to Carlson's Raiders, or on the new littoral ships if they ever make it into service.

Yet, he bemoans the dearth of amphibious shipping, and we sympathize with him. The fact is, as long as the Navy continues to build battleforce ships that often duplicate each others missions (i.e., 2 types of carriers, 3 types of surface warships, 3 classes of submarines) we will have to be content with an ever decreasing fleet that can do a little of every type of mission, and much of nothing.