Sunday, February 11, 2007

Naval Crisis On The Horizon

During the Reagan years the Navy, the force which allows us bring the fight to our enemies fighting on their territory rather than ours, had a 400 ship Navy. This was when we were faced with a dire threat from the Soviet Union and its force of submarines which could strangle the SLOC's (Sea Lines of Communication), a capability that the PRC is now trying to emulate. The use of Sea Power to keep the SLOC's open is paramount to the economic well being and continued liberty of our citizens and that of the rest of the world.

Leadership and elucidation on this issue can be found at Cdr Salamander and Eaglespeak.

Currently our Navy is shrinking, already we are retiring the first Ticonderoga class ships, the first to carry AEGIS combat systems, the state of the art in dominating the battlespace at sea in all three dimensions, this will lead to our inability to project power during a crisis.

Imagine if you will that the United States of America is embroiled in a crisis and that our Navy has shrunk to under 300 combat vessels, we have two carrier battle groups deployed to assist in operations currently. While 300 ships sounds like alot recall that they cannot be at sea continuously. Ships need repair, crews will need to rest and maintain a semblance of quality of life (imagine the retention issues of increased deployment tempo as those professional sailors leave the service due to family pressures), crews will need to train up before deployment, etc. While we are busy with our current crisis and redeploying ships that just returned from deployment an antagonistic state decides to push a standing dispute with its neighbors, an easy example would be China and its partner Pakistan squaring off with India in their next conflict. With resources stretched to the max we would be unable to quietly influence the decision paths with the presence of a carrier battle group as the U.S. Navy would be over extended. This could lead to political posturing not being backed down by a show of committment with an ally leading to actual conflict.

This is what we look forward to as our Navy shrinks.

The current plan was to have the limited capabilties of the LCS (Littoral Combat Ship ) to allow us to rebuild the Navy keeping numbers up while allowing us to influence the brown water areas. The concept was fine; inexpensive ships with the use of technology to reduce manning and costs, flexibility brought by the use of mission modules (containers with sensors and equipment tailored to specific tasks) allowing the ship to optimized for its mission. This concept turned out to be a $500 million dollar a piece boondoggle and has had one half of the program stopped due to escalating cost. To put it into perspective the concept of mission modules is nothing new the MEKO class of frigates had this as a hallmark in the 1980s.

Compare the $500 million dollar LCS against that of the Saar V class of ships already made in the U.S.A.; for $260 million on a three ship run you get the ship fitted out not awaiting undeveloped mission package modules.

I will not go into much further detail than to point to another example of so call transformational thinking the "Zumwalt" class. A two ship run planned of extraordinarily high tech vessels that would cost six billion dollars. Should we eliminate the second and build one as a modern day Long Beach technology demonstrator we can use the remaining money to build 20 fitted out frigates with of greater capabilty to that of the Saar V. Indeed building a new, expendable calls of ships like the Knox class itself will allow the U.S. Navy to train up leaders ready for the next war at sea.

The United States Navy's leadership needs to look to better, faster cheaper rather than moving to bleeding edge technology. It is either make that decision now or trying to face three crises with the naval power to meet only one and a half of those and the dire consequences that would bring to the free world.

For more information read Alfred Thayer Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power Upon History

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