Arc of the Sun: Does the US Need More Ships and a Bigger Naval Budget?

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun

Way back in the third Presidential debate (that was pre-Sandy), the challenger said:

Our Navy is older — excuse me — our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now down to 285. We’re headed down to the — to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. 

So, how many ships does the Navy need?

On his website, the challenger says:

This will not be a cost-free process. We cannot rebuild our military strength without paying for it. Mitt Romney will begin by reversing Obama-era defense cuts and return to the budget baseline established by Secretary Robert Gates in 2010, with the goal of setting core defense spending—meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development—at a floor of 4 percent of GDP. 

So, do we need to boost the Naval Budget?

The Few and Expensive Ships of the US Navy

The challenger touches on a quite serious debate in terms of naval doctrine. Assuming a fixed budget (which could well be all that you can squeeze out of the civilian economy), should you have fewer and more expensive, more capable ships, or cheaper and less capable, but more numerous, ships?

Let me go to a blog that explores Maritime Strategy, Eagle Speak, by Mark Tempest, a semi-retired lawyer and retired Navy Reserve Captain, and rewind the clock to 2008. In The Time Is Right for Revolution, Mark Tempest writes:

These commanders need some political help from someone who understands that we shouldn't have billion dollar ships doing missions poorly that could be done better by having many more mission-designed ships. To use a famous Navy phrase, "any ship can be a mine sweeper once." Real minesweepers can be reused after they have swept a channel- multi-billion dollar "capital ships" cannot. 

Given the promise of "network centric warfare," merely connecting a few huge platforms under-utilizes the potential for linking many small ships for greater tactical flexibility. Or, as Captain Wayne Hughes writes in Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (p.286):

We have seen that the number of ships is the most valuable attribute that a fleet can have. We also saw that many small ships offer more tactical flexibility... The U.S. Navy is composed of large, highly capable ships, many of which have area defense capability. It was for defense more than for offense that the American navy sacrificed numbers for quality. 

According to the Wikipedia machine, the US Navy has 11 supercarriers, 22 cruisers, 62 destroyers, 29 frigates, 3 littoral combat ships, 9 amphibious assault ships, 2 amphibious command ships, 9 amphibious transport docks, 12 dock landing ships, 53 attack submarines, 14 ballistic missile submarines, 4 guided missile submarines, 14 mine countermeasures ships, and 11 patrol boats.

The ultimate expression of a few large, highly capable, ships are the Navy's eleven supercarriers. The oldest of these is the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear carrier, 1,123ft long, 257 ft wide at its widest, displacing about 93,000 tons fully loaded. Compared that to the WWII carrier, the USS Enterprise, the "Big E", as built was 770ft long, 110ft wide at its wide, and displaced 25,000 tons fully loaded.

The ten supercarriers of the Nimitz class are 1,092ft long and 252 ft wide at their widest, but displace about 105,000 tons.

The ships complement of a Nimitz carrier is 3,200, with an air wing complement of 2,480.

But a supercarrier is too big and vulnerable to travel alone. A carrier strike group consists of one supercarrier with an air wing of around 75 aircraft, one or two guided missile cruisers (we have 22 guided missile cruisers, the size of a WWII light battleship), perhaps an attack submarine, and a squadron of destroyers and sometimes frigates (DESRON). To give some current examples, DESRON One, with the CVN Vinson, and DESRON 15, with the CVN George Washington in Yokosuka Japan, are three destroyers and two frigates each, DESRON Two, with the CVN Enterprise, is eight destroyers, DESRON 23, with CVN Nimitz, has six destroyers and three frigates.

With 62 destroyers and 17 frigates (after six frigates go out of commission in 2013), that is 79 vessels to form into destroyer squadrons of three or more vessels, so an average number of vessels per squadron of six would mean 13 destroyer squadrons.

{NB. Destroyer squadrons are administrative groups, not necessarily operational groups, so the theater commander could well, for example, send the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group out with three destroyers and send the other five destroyers in DESRON Two on a separate Sea Lane Control mission.} 

So what is this about sending "a billion dollar ships doing missions poorly"? This is not talking about the supercarriers: the most recent Nimitz class, the USS George HW Bush, cost $6.3b. It refers to the destroyers: the current Arleigh Burke class of destroyers, which cost $1.8b each.

Now, US Navy ships tend to be big: not only are our carriers are the eleven largest naval vessels at sea, our destroyers, displacing 9,000 to 11,000 tons (depending on vintage), are the size of a WWII light cruiser. By contrast, the new Australian class of destroyer, the Hobart class, displaces 7,000 tons fully loaded. Our remaining frigates, the Hazard Perry class, displace 4,100 tons, and cost about $200m in mid-70's dollars (which would be about $450m in 2012 dollars) are classed as destroyers when they appear in the navies of some other nations.

Modern corvettes are smaller vessels displacing from 600 tons to 2,000 tons. The 46-ship Spanish Navy has four corvettes of the Descubierta class, displacing 1,666 tons. The 40-ship Swedish navy has corvettes as the largest of its surface fleet, with the stealth Visby class displacing 640 tons. The modern Russian Navy corvette Boiky displaces 2,000 tons.

The US Navy does not have corvettes, though the 15 Coast Guard Reliance class cutters and 13 Coast Guard Famous class cutters are in the general size class, as is the proposed new Offshore Patrol cutter.

Instead of corvettes, the US Navy is proposing to build "Littoral Combat Ships", with two competing designs represented by the USS Freedom, costing $670m and displacing 3,300 tons, and the USS Independence, costing $704m and displacing 2,800 tons fully loaded.

What Do We Want a Navy For, Anyway?

All this tech talk leads me to the question of: what for? A fighting ship and trained crew is an instrument, a means to an end. So the question must be raised, what is the Navy for? Is the purpose of the Navy to head across the Ocean to bomb the stuffing out of some nation overseas? Is the purpose of the Navy to keep the Sea Lanes open and available for international trade? Is the purpose of the Navy to defend our shores from invasion? Is the purpose of the Navy to go to natural disasters accessible from sea and provide relief, whether at home or abroad?

In a general sense, this is the question raised by the Green Day / U2 video imagining a different response to Katrina:

"Until our weather change condemns belief, how long now?"

Wasp Class amphibious assault helicopter carrier, USS Makin Island.

And indeed, the US Navy deployed naval ships in response to Hurricane Sandy. But they were amphibious assault vessels, not supercarriers: an amphibious assault helicopter carrier, the USS Wasp, and two amphibious helicopter transport docks, the USS San Antonio and the USS Carter Hall s. The USS San Antonio had earlier served as the flagship for the anti-piracy effort off the coast of Somalia.

In a 2008 piece for Information Dissimination, Maritime Strategy blogger Galrahn asks "Where are the cruisers? ~ where he is using "cruiser" in the Napoleaonic Wars era sense of the ships that are smaller and not as well armed as the main "Ships of the Line", but which patrol the sea lanes and maintain control of the sea. He quotes the classic Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, but Julian Corbett:

It is perfectly true that the control depends ultimately on the battle-fleet if control is disputed by a hostile battle-fleet, as it usually is. It is also true that, so far as is necessary to enable the battle-fleet to secure the control, we have to furnish it with eyes from our cruiser force. But it does not follow that this is the primary function of cruisers. The truth is, we have to withdraw them from their primary function in order to do work for the battle-fleet which it cannot do for itself. 

Well established as is the "Eyes of the fleet" maxim, it would be very difficult to show that scouting was ever regarded as the primary function of cruisers by the highest authorities. In Nelson's practice at least their paramount function was to exercise the control which he was securing with his battle-squadron. Nothing is more familiar in naval history than his incessant cry from the Mediterranean for more cruisers, but the significance of that cry has become obscured. It was not that his cruisers were not numerous in proportion to his battleships—they were usually nearly double in number—but it was rather that he was so deeply convinced of their true function, that he used them to exercise control to an extent which sometimes reduced his fleet cruisers below the limit of bare necessity.

That is, you exercise control of the sea with a class of ship that can (1) operate on independent patrol at sea and (2) that you can afford to build and man in sufficiently large numbers to patrol the sea lanes that you need patrolled.

If there is no contesting of your control of the sea, the "cruisers" by themselves are sufficient, but if it is contested, then you need "battleships" in order to fend off the battle fleet of the opposing nation.

And what are the "cruisers". These range from what the Navy calls frigates, about half the size of a modern Destroyer, or what the Coast Guard calls a High Endurance Cutter, displacing about 4,000-5,000 tons, down to the Corvettes that the Navy no longer has, which the Coast Guard calls a Medium Endurance Cutter, displacing about 1,500-2,000 tons.

If the purpose of the Navy is to keep Sea Lanes open, we have our Navy force structure upside down: we have the ability to knock the stuffing out of a hypothetical rival navy that does not exist, but we do not have the ability to patrol the sea lanes and keep them open in an increasingly turbulent world without stripping our Carrier Strike Groups of the escort vessels they need to retain their capacity to bring their striking power to bear.

Actually Defending the Sea Lanes

To get a grip on what is required to keep sea lanes open, we do not have to rely solely on maritime strategy bloggers, since there is a reasonably large modern Navy which has the task of keeping Sea Lanes open as its primary mission: the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (which I will call the Japanese Navy). To quote Vice Admiral Yoji Koda (ret) in A NEW CARRIER RACE? Strategy, Force Planning, and JS Hyuga (pdf):

As for maritime operations, ensuring the safety and security of the waters around Japan is the most important mission of the JMSDF. In this way the JMSDF ensures that Japan can receive American reinforcements from across the Pacific Ocean, guarantees the safety of U.S. naval forces operating around Japan, and enables U.S. carrier strike groups (CSGs) to concentrate on strike operations against enemy naval forces and land targets. At the same time, for Japan, as a country with few natural resources and little domestic food production, the safety of merchant shipping is a matter of national survival in crisis or wartime. All of these operations are grouped under the heading of protection of sea lines of communication (SLOCs) in the northwestern Pacific. The JMSDF has accepted these simple realities as the essence of its strategic objectives.
Proceeding from this defense strategy, the main missions of the JMSDF have consistently been defined as the protection of SLOCs and the defense of the homeland in case of direct invasion. In support of this defense strategy and its two main missions, in turn, the JMSDF has set antisubmarine warfare as its main task. The operational concept under the Japanese-U.S. alliance is that in case of a national or regional contingency, the U.S. Navy would deploy CSGs into the seas surrounding Japan, to provide the strike capability lacking in the JMSDF to oblige the enemy to give up its intention of invading Japan or attacking its SLOCs. It would be necessary to exclude firmly the enemy’s submarines, which could pose the greatest threat to CSG operations in Japanese waters and to the safety of the SLOCs around Japan. As a result of this logic, ASW was made the main pillar of JMSDF missions.
Even in the present security environment, twenty years after the end of the Cold War and the threat of invasion from the Soviet Union, two factors are unchanged—the Japanese-U.S. alliance and Japan’s dependence on imported natural resources. Therefore the protection of SLOCs has continued to be a main mission of the JMSDF.

In other words, Attack Submarines, not Carriers, are the "Capital Ships" of the late 20th, early 21st Century. They are the vessels that other ships fear the most, and the vessels that most fear each other, just as the "Dreadnought" Battleships of the turn of the early Century, and the Carriers of the middle of the 20th century.

And what is the force that is most effectively deployed to defend Sea Lanes against Submarines? In the 60's and 70's, it was a squadron of two Helicopter Destroyers, carrying three helicopters each, one guided missile destroyer, for air defense, and five light destroyers ~ which the US Navy would now call a frigate ~ for general operations,

The JMSDF conducted extensive mathematical operations-research analyses of these threat scenarios and came to the following conclusion: a surface force of eight destroyers with six shipboard ASW helicopters would be the most effective against a single SS attempting to make torpedo attacks, supported by sporadic bombing by long-range bombers.
The six ASW helicopters in total—four available for operations at any one time—were to be used as “reaction assets”—that is, to investigate contacts gained or to conduct counterattacks. They were not considered to be primary search assets against the enemy SS. Instead, once contact was gained, the four were to be sent to the contact area to track the submarine and eventually to kill it, when tactical conditions were met.

As attack submarines evolved from sole reliance on torpedoes to surfacing over the horizon and attacking with Ship to Ship missiles, and as surface ship warfare shifted to missiles, the anti-submarine detection capacities had to be increase, so the number of helicopters was increased from six to eight. At the same time, the air defense capacity of the squadron had to be increased, so the number of Guided Missile destroyers was increased from one to two. This required converting the light destroyers to be capable of carrying one helicopter each. After developing a full range of Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities for a helicopter light enough to be flown off of a light destroyer, the Sea Lane Control squadron was established as two Guided Missile Destroyers, one Helicopter Destroyer, carrying three helicopters, and five light destroyers, carrying one helicopter each, "eight ships, eight helicopters".

By the turn of the century, the Japanese Navy had completed four squadrons under the "eight ships / eight helicopters" design. However, while the Japanese Navy has not had to fight to defend sea lanes during that time, naval exercises and wargaming had revealed weaknesses in the squadron. One was the need for a capability to support anti-mine helicopters. A second was the need to be able to respond to multiple submarine contacts at once.

The response is the new, larger, helicopter carrier, displacing 20,000 tons, which is the size of a light carrier. However, it is provided with both the offensive and defensive weaponry of a regular destroyer, as operations may involve two or three groups of ships in pursuit of submarine contacts and the helicopter carrier on its own. It has a normal complement of three anti-submarine helicopters and one anti-mine helicopter, but can take on up to ten helicopters at once if required.

And that is the modern, state of the art, squadron for keeping sea lanes open: a squadron of eight ships: one helicopter carrier, two guided missile destroyers, and five light destroyers ~ which the US Navy would call frigates.

We don't have dedicated light carriers, but we have eight amphibious assault helicopter carriers, the Wasp-class, capable of embarking a wing of twelve jump-jets for air defense and rapid response operations and ten helicopters. Our Navy has ample guided missile destroyers to allocate two guided missile destroyers to provide additional air and surface missile defense cover for each of our amphibious assault helicopter carriers, in a Sea Lane Control squadron ~ even if many of them are devoted to the role of escort ship for supercarriers.

What are we missing? We are missing the frigates to make up the balance of the squadrons. Eight Sea Lane Control squadrons along these lines would require forty frigates. We are on track to have none. Instead we are getting "Littoral Combat ships". Given their expense, we are going to have far fewer than forty. And given their specialization in fighting in the Littoral, they seem likely to be ill-suited to play the role of light destroyer in an Antis-submarine Sea Lane Control squadron.

What is the Littoral, Anyway?

I have repeatedly mentioned the "Littoral Combat vessels". What in the hell is the Littoral?

In reading Maritime Strategy, one sees reference to "Blue Water", "Green Water" and "Brown Water" naval forces. The "Blue Water" is the "High Seas" ~ the middle of the Ocean. The "Green Water" is coming closer to land. The "Brown Water" is approaching the surf on the coastline and tidal zone in the mouth of a river.

Ever since the development of mines and torpedoes in the 1800's, the main combatant naval ships of battle have been backing away from the "Brown Water" zone, and with the rise of inexpensive land based Surface to Surface missiles, they have been backing away from the "Green Water" zone as well.

Suppose that the purposes of the Navy are to keep the Sea Lanes open and available for international trade, to defend our shores from invasion, and to go to natural disasters accessible from sea and provide relief, whether at home or abroad. For all three, we need a Littoral Navy as well as a Blue Water Navy. Sea Lanes are not open if swarms of pirates or other unconventional combatants in speed boats with shoulder fired surface to surface missiles can sink a freighter. In defending our shores, we need to be able to supplement shore-based defenses with mobile naval forces able to operate in the Littoral. And naval disaster relief is far more often relief of disaster in coastal areas accessible from sea, than relief of disaster in the middle of the High Seas.

However, small but expensive ships designed to operate in the Littoral seem to me to be trying to combine 21st Century technology and mid-20th Century thinking to solve a distinctly non-20th century problem. The problem here is the problem of the swarm. In the littoral, this can be a swam of light, maneuverable land units equipped with surface to surface missile that can concentrate fire on one or two relatively large and very expensive close-to-shore vessels ... and then disperse back into small units, making it difficult to target and take out enough of the units to eliminate them as a threat.

This is not simply my casual speculation. The re-emergence of the swarm as a critical military strategy is discussed in Arquillo and Rondfeld (2000), "Swarming and the Future of Conflict" out of that planner of more effective ways to blow shit up, the Rand Corporation National Defense Research Institute:

Swarming is seemingly amorphous, but it is a deliberately structured, coordinated, strategic way to strike from all directions, by means of a sustainable pulsing of force and/or fire, close-in as well as from stand-off positions. It will work best — perhaps it will only work — if it is designed mainly around the deployment of myriad, small, dispersed, networked maneuver units (what we call "pods" organized in "clusters"). Developing a swarming force implies, among other things, radical changes in current military organizational structures. From command and control of line units to logistics, profound shifts will have to occur to nurture this new "way of war."

Briefly, we advance the idea that swarming—engaging an adversary from all directions simultaneously, either with fire or in force—is one of four types of doctrine that have long been around. The other forms are the chaotic melee, brute-force massing, and nimble maneuver ...

This study derives insights from examples of swarming in nature and in history. Both areas are replete with instances of omnidirectional yet well-timed assaults. From ants and bees and wolf packs, to ancient Parthians and medieval Mongols, swarming in force, or of fire, has often proven a very effective way of fighting.

Swarming could become the catalyst for the creation of a newly energized military doctrine: “BattleSwarm.” One requirement—well-informed, deadly small units—is already coming into being. But getting them properly networked and getting a new doctrine to take hold will not be an easy process, given the continued popularity and apparent utility of the current AirLand Battle doctrine. Swarming implies radical new changes in current military organization—including the elimination of many formations above the company level. 

What does "above company level" mean? Well, in army lingo, a Lieutenant commands a platoon of about 25 to 50 soldiers, a captain or major commands a company of 2-8 platoons, a lieutenant colonel commands a battalion of 2-6 companies, and a colonel commands a regiment of 2+ battalions, which is roughly 1,500-3,000 soldiers.

So a single aircraft supercarrier is a regiment's worth in the ship's complement plus a regiment's worth in the air wing.

In other words, you got nearly 5,000 people on a single ship costing $10's of billions of dollars. You can't make a "wolf's pack" of supercarriers. Those forces can't disperse: they are all on the single ship.

Nor can you make a wolf's pack of 300 ton "Littoral Combat Vessels" costing over half a billion each.

What could you make a wolf pack out of? If based on-shore to defend coastal waters, this seems to be a role for Fast Missile Boats, like the Israeli Sa'ar 4.5 class missile boat. 202 ft long, ft wide, displacing 430-500 tons, with a speed of 33 knots (38mph) and a range of 5,500 miles running at about 25mph. The Sa'ar 4.5 class missile boat costs about $30m each, based on the $60m purchase price when Mexico bought the first two built by Israel (purportedly for defense of the offshore PEMEX oil rigs).

There is a problem with that for control of sea lanes in the open ocean, or to patrol for pirates off an unfriendly coastline, though: a boat like that is not designed for months long patrols. It would need a tender to act as a mothership.

If we looked smaller, we might be able to get a boat that could be carried by a larger boat. This might work: the M80 Stilleto, a one-of-a-kind "research platform" with a pentamoran hull mbuilt for the Navy by M ship company. It is 89ft long, 40ft wide, displaces 60 tons fully loaded, has a top speed of 50knots (59mph), a range of 500 miles, and is expected to cost $6m to $10m each, which means for the $700m of the "Littoral Combat" ship, we could buy 50 Stilleto type vessels and have $200m to spend on refitting motherships to carry them.

The Stilleto is small enough to be craned onto a commercial cargo vessel, but a more appropriate mothership might be something like a retrofitted Landing Ship Dock, like the Whidby Island class. The Whidby Island class is an amphibious assault ship, designed to carry either four marine LCAC hovercraft or up to 36 amphibious assault vehicles in an internal well deck, together with a large helicopter pad aft. And given the range of ships in the Navy that have the capacity to support LCAC boats, the footprint of the LCAC is a reasonable target for the size of an operation small swarm attack boat.

Now, for true swarm operation, one would want an ability to carry more than four boats per mothership. However, a mothership does not need well deck capacity for each boat it carries, if the boat is small enough to be craned to a carrying slip for transit. Since the Whidby Island class is about as wide as a Stilleto is long, the helicopter pad could be converted into a two high stack of four Stiletto slips loaded by crane, with the helicopter pad on top, and the Whidby Island class would be converted from an amphibious assault ship to a fast attack boat carrier, able to carry a complement of twelve fast attack boats, as well as helicopter deck capacity to support two helicopters.

A capability to Sea Base the Wolfpacks of fast attack boats is required in order to cover a full range of Control of Sea Lanes and Relief Operations, but a range of 500 miles means that they can also be based and operate out of ports and dedicated boat support bases, just as the PT boats of WWII. A hundred attack boats, with a capability of Sea Base base 48 of them on four modified Whidby Island class helicopter dock ships, combined with development of effective swarm attack and defense techniques, seems likely to be a far more cost-effective purchase than a handful of 300 ton "Littoral Combat" boats at $700m each.

For Littoral operations, we would want an operations group to have a couple of corvettes equipped as minesweepers, with capacity to carry one anti-mine helicopter each. A free-standing Littoral Control group, analogous to the Japanese Sea Lane Defense groups, would also ideally have two guided missile destroyers for air defense of the group, which also provides the capacity to carry four anti-submarine helicopters. For Littoral operations, the balance of the squadron would be the lighter, more maneuverable Corvettes. If they are 1,500-2,000 ton Corvettes with capacity to support one Anti-Submarine helicopter each, four Corvettes would round out a capacity to support ten anti-submarine helicopters: two each on the fast attack boast carrier and the two guided missile destroyers, and one each on four Corvettes.

Corvettes do not generally have the capacity to sustain months-long patrols, but since the Whidby Island class is originally an amphibious assault ship, it has ample cargo capacity to act as a mothership for the four Corvettes as well.

Four Littoral Control Squadrons of one fast attack boat carrier, two guided missile destroyers, two anti-mine Corvettes and four general patrol Corvettes would allow two squadrons to be based on the Atlantic Coast and two to be based out of Pearl Harbor for Pacific operations.

So, How Big An Increase In the Navy Budget IS This, Anyway?

So I am talking about recommissioning, retaining or building maybe forty frigates for the Blue Water Navy for Sea Lane Control. And I am talking about building a dedicated Littoral Navy, one version of which in one post at Information Dissemination is estimated as:

  • 400 Inshore Patrol vessels similar to the US Coast Guard Defender class boat.
  • 160 Offshore Patrol vessels similar to the Australian Armidale-class patrol boat.
  • 30 Coastal Combatants similar to the Swedish Visby class corvette.
  • 12 Fast MIW vessels similar to the Norwegian Alta class minesweepers.
  • 12 Gunfire Support vessels similar to the Finish Nemo Navy program except bigger, with AGS.
  • 12 ASW Inshore vessels similar to an ASW dedicated Sa'ar 5 class corvette
  • 12 Global Fleet Station vessels similar to the vessel recommended in the often discussed NPS GFS design study (PDF).
  • 8 Light Aircraft Carriers similar to the Italian Cavour class but dedicated to VSTOL aviation.
  • 2 Coastal Combat Tenders intended to support 10 Coast Combatants a piece.

This is reckoned to be 10% of a notional Naval budget. Now, its debatable whether we need all of that for a Littoral Navy: the central point in the debate is how much of this is for Sea Strike capabilities, and how much of this is for Littoral Defense, for home shores, for control of the opposite end of sea lanes and to secure peacekeeping and relief operations from interference from various form of irregular and guerrilla forces.

However, even aside from that: if what we are trying to do is home waters defense, Control of Sea Lanes, and maintaining the capacity for a range of peacekeeping (as opposed to "peacemaking") and relief operations ... we don't need eleven carrier strike groups. If we had five carrier strike groups, two to the Atlantic, two in Pearl Harbor and one forward based, for example, in Darwin, Australia, we would still have greater Sea Strike capacity than we require ~ so long as we are not engaged in multiple reckless and ill-advised foreign invasions ~ and the savings in Carrier Strike Group operations would easily permit the establishment of both eight dedicated Sea Lane Control squadrons, as well as four Littoral Control squadrons and the entire cost of balance of a serious Littoral Navy over the decade ahead.

We would not save the entirety of the operating cost of six carrier strike groups, since just as we did with the WWII era battleships, we would not scrap the supercarriers that we are standing down, but rather mothball them, and one would likely remain in active operation as a Naval Reserve squadron, so that Naval Reserves can train in Carrier Strike Group operations. However, we would save most of that operating cost. Our present sixty-two (62) destroyers, which do not require replacement over the decade ahead, implies that we could have a full-strength complement of eight guided missile destroyers as the standard destroyer escort to a Carrier Strike Group for all five Carrier Strike Groups in active service and one in Naval Reserve training operations, two guided missile destroyers in each of eight Sea Lane Control Anti-Submarine squadrons, and two guided missile destroyers in four Littoral Control squadrons.

However, accomplishing a simultaneous "expansion of the navy" by ship numbers (though not tonnage), and moderate contraction of the naval budget, requires a serious fight with the most serious threat to our national security of them all: the Military Industrial Complex. The Military Industrial Complex does not want to build a large number of vessels designed for maximum national defense benefit per dollar, since their benefit is the dollars. They don't really give a damn, after all, whether a $700m "Littoral Combat Ship" can be destroyed by $100m or $20m worth of speedboats or fast moving land based units and surface to surface missiles and mines: the victory for them is achieved when they get an order for a large boat at $2.3m per ton displacement.

Which is not surprising: when it comes down to making progress in a useful direction, the most serious obstacle we invariably face is the thorough and complete corruption of our current political system. And the Military Industrial Complex has been playing this game longer than almost anyone: they are the model and idols for the proliferating horde of yellow-bellied surplus suckers that threaten to bring our two century old Republic to its knees.

World Music: Habib Koite "Wassiye"

And to remember that its worthwhile to keep the lines of communication open across the sea ~ even if we aren't using that to roam around blowing shit up.




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If you're wondering where this leaves the Peace Dividend ...

BruceMcF's picture

... the answer would be Army, Air Force and Marines ...  we don't need near as many Marines to defend sea lanes as to wander around and invade countries, and the Army and Air Force have been massively oversized since the end of WWII.

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Personnally I don't think the military should be involved

Big Al's picture

in relief missions.  Something else should be arranged, and if we're talking world relief missions, then that should come from the U.N.   It's time for the US, and US taxpayers, to participate, not shoulder the load.  Regarding protecting the sea lanes, the key is protecting them from what.  Pirates off the Somalia Coast or from military agression from other nations or what.  And what or who are we supposed to be protecting the sea lanes for?  Multinational corporations and their raping of the earth?  Attacks on CONUS?  That's not going to happen.

It's complex because so many factors are interrelated.  We create terrorists with our huge military and it's actions thereby needing more military.  We protect multinational corporations in countries whose actions contribute to the instabilities in those countrires which requires more security.  Cause and effect.

The Navy in it's commercials now bills itself as "a global force for good".  That's simply not true. It's just like any branch of the military, a global force for the elite to wage wars and maintain hegemony over the planet.

There needs to be a global conference on the militarization of this planet, it's gone crazy and increases daily, hourly, every country on earth has become infected.   

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One thing that the Navy always hides behind ...

BruceMcF's picture

... as Navies in numbers of countries over the years have hid behind, is that we substantially do not know who the enemy is. That is, we might know who the enemy is NOW, but you build a Navy decades in in advance of when the Navy need to be used, since the useful life of a rated naval vessel is measured in decades.

That is, indeed, a problem with the current Naval force structure. Its dedicated to fighting the Soviet Union in a World War III fought in Europe. We built up sufficient aircraft carrier strike groups to have an uninterupted carrier air cover from the US Atlantic Coast to the UK, and additional carrier strike groups to deploy to the Pacific to keep undefined nations (possibly China, possible others, guessing the Great Power alignment twenty years into the future is always a guess, it would be a feckless gamble to assume what it will be). But now ... that scenario is off the table and the false certainty it provided as to what the Navy might have to do is a thing of the past.

As far as protecting the Sea Lanes is protecting the interests of corporations ... we have an economy dominated by by transnational corporations. Any defense ~ up to and including defense of the Continental US ~ is defense of the status quo establishment. If we were to overturn that status quo, then the defense would be a defense of the nouveau regime.



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Very well written.

downsouth's picture

And well reasoned, too.  The carrier strike group made much more sense when we were opposed by the very capable Soviet Navy, but in todays world we need to seriously look at reducing the number of strike groups as you suggest.  I can't see a better way of spending those savings than your Sea Lane Control squadrons, since controlling those sea lanes is becoming the paramount mission in an era when nations like Iran threaten to constrict and/or block access to the seas and pirates interdict commercial traffic and cost millions of dollars (whether paid in ransom or paid to defend said traffic or taken as a loss).  

I'm not as convinced about the potential effectiveness of "BattleSwarm" theory, at least in a littoral control role.  I have long held the view that the biggest threat to our land-based combat forces from potential adversaries is just this type of swarm warfare, due to our focus on fixed-line, conventional warfare (up until very recently, at any rate) intended to counter Soviet divisions, not Taliban cells.

But swarming with boats is more time-consuming than land-based swarming, and the mothership might remain easily in range of shore- or ship-based missiles or even artillery or speedboats.  I'd like to see some air attack option other than ASW and minesweepers, such as at least two attack helicopters per squadron for use against such threats.  It is, I admit, an interesting idea.  I'd be very interested in seeing us build one such Littoral Control Squadron and doing some wargaming with it to see if it is, indeed, a workable alternative to the current Littoral Combat Ships.

On a personal note, I can't even put into words how glad I am that this site exists and that you are posting here.  This is the kind of policy discussion that has been sorely lacking in the progressive community, outside the think tanks.  My areas of interest are foreign policy, national security, counter-terrorism, and military policy...topics you see virtually nothing about over at the Kingdom of Kos.  Thank you for a very detailed, well thought-out proposal for achieving real savings while improving our readiness to meet the emerging threats of a very volatile 21st century world.

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The M-80, as most fast attack boats ...

BruceMcF's picture

... have a range of 580 miles operating fully loaded at 58mph top speed, more at 45mph cruising speed. It can also be the operating support base for (in the Stiletto experimental design) four surveillance drones and two unmanned marine drones. 48 light drones each equipped with one light missile when they set out are a more natural air attack component to the swarm strategy than two to four attack helicopters.

And in that force structure, its the guided missile destroyers that have helicopter hangers, so there are twelve helicopters and four hangers. The same basic type of helicopter, two of them specialized for anti-mine work, seems more robust than trying to mix ASW/ASM helicopters and attack helicopters.

If more substantial air cover is required to be dedicated to that kind of force, a light carrier along the lines of the Japanese "destroyer carrier" would seem a more robust way to do it. It would trade off the cargo capacity and well deck of the Wasp type amphibious assault ship in the Sea Lane Control squadrons for the greater self-defense capability of a destroyer. It might have 12 jump jets, six attack helicopters, and four ASW helicopters, which would allow a complement of six ASW helicopters to be carried between the light carrier and the two guided missile destroyers, and leave the helicopter pads of the fast attack boat mothership and the general patrol Corvettes as lilypads to extend the range of helicopter operations.

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True on the M80 Stilleto.

downsouth's picture

Though when discussing the speed of a ship or boat, one must always remember that the true achievable speed will be dictated by sea conditions at the time.  Heavy seas will greatly slow even the high-tech "air cushion" design of the M80, possibly leading to vulnerablity.

I do have reservations on the effectiveness of light drones in such a role, because I'm not convinced that they can penetrate sophisticated air defense systems without severe attrition.  It's the main reason I went with attack helicopters instead, which are not only capable of stealth but can bring a lot of firepower to bear on a target.  If light drones can effectively penetrate coastal air defenses to take out threatening missile batteries or artillery (or even swarming units) it would certainly work.

I like the "destroyer carrier" variation, but thats just the pilot in me.  I love jump jets, lol.  Getting rid of the cargo space in the amphibious assault ship would limit time spent on station by the Squadron, wouldn't it?  Probably not worth it.  As I said before, I'd love to see some wargames data with such a Squadron to see if there is, indeed, any need for additional air component.

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On this point ...

BruceMcF's picture

Getting rid of the cargo space in the amphibious assault ship would limit time spent on station by the Squadron, wouldn't it?

That is not a light "destroyer/carrier" to swap for the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship in the Sea Lane Control squadron, but a light "destroyer/carrier" as a swap for one of the guided missile destroyers in the Littoral Control squadron, which already has the substantial cargo capacity of the large well helicopter dock ship.

That is, what would affect time on station is the Corvettes need a mothership. For this squadron:

x1 helicopter dock large well amphibious assault ship, x2 helicopter lilypad{+}
 {carrying x12 fast attack boat},
x1 guided missile destroyer, x2 ASW helicopters/pads
x1 light carrier "destroyer", x12 jump jets, x4 attack helicopters, x6 ASW helicopters
x4 regular Corvettes, x1 helicopter lilypad each
x2 minesweeper Corvettes, x1 anti-mine helicopter

{+ lilypad: a helicopter is not permanently stationed to the pad}

... the Corvette mothership with the substantial cargo capacity is still the fast attack boat carrier. The Corvettes cannot dock in its well deck, but they can still dock at the well deck, and loads can be craned from a Corvette to the fast attack boat carrier or back (weapon load-outs, supplies, laundry).

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Quite ... one of the incentives for ...

BruceMcF's picture

... turning amphibious assault helicopter carriers into Sea Lane Control sqaudron flagships is to have them practicing to be fighting a war defending a sea lane from attack submarines, instead of looking for some country overseas to invade.

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nemesis's picture

Blown away by the writing here.

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