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

by BruceMcF Fri Nov 9th, 2012 at 11:58:39 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun

Crossposted from: Voices on the Square

Way back in the third US 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?

And follow-up to: Who is it that the UK and Spain intend to invade? (16 Oct, 2008)

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.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Nov 10th, 2012 at 12:00:54 AM EST
.. Or you could "hack" the global economy in order to pay for over a thousand small warships.

A container ship burns over a hundred million in fuel costs per year, and the merchant fleet is overall a not-insignificant contributor to global warming.

So, what you do is you build a small warship class with a oversized naval reactor power plant and tug gear.

 Then you sell long-distance tug service to the merchant fleet. Traders leave port under their own power, match speed with a passing patrol, pay up the tow fee (70% of what fuel would cost them) grab a cable and turn their oil-burners off.

Should be easily doable to clear 100 million in profits, per ship, per year. At which point your fleet is no longer a net burden on the civil economy - it makes a profit. Also should put a very abrupt end to piracy, as most ships now come with a gunship escort. (... a gunship which is absurdly fast if not towing anyone..)

Hmm. Actually, anyone with the technical know-how could get into this game. That means.. US, Russia, France, UK, China, possibly a couple more.

by Thomas on Sat Nov 10th, 2012 at 03:34:50 AM EST
What an oddly interesting idea.
by Zwackus on Sun Nov 11th, 2012 at 01:21:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Popped out of various discussions about cleaning up the merchant marine via marine reactors - The main objections to doing it directly (Ie: Merchant ships with reactors) are that you cannot retrofit reactors onto existing ships safely, many port authorities would object, no one would ever trust a lot of shipping magnates to do it right, and security concerns. However, merchant ships can be towed.

So, military tugs. Keeps the fissile material in the hands of governments that already have access, the navies of the world are OCD about maintenance in a way no merchant ship ever is, warships that only ever dock at military installations do not have to deal with local authorities that go into a faint at the thought of uranium within a hundred miles, and being warships, are also not exactly prime terrorist targets.

Heck, even the fact that M. oney G. Rubber the shipping magnate would rend down his grandmother for lubricant if it saved him a buck works in your favor, because it means the service will get used as much as at all possible.

by Thomas on Sun Nov 11th, 2012 at 09:34:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It has been a while and I don't have a link, but I remember reading a very thoughtful article on the composition of US ground forces that was an almost perfect analog of this one.

The gist of the article was that US Army and Marines are structured and equipped to fight (and win...) a major continental conflict against a similarly equipped superpower adversary, on at least two fronts simultaneously.  In other words, to re-fight WW2.  Large ground assault forces, battalions of main battle tanks, large mobile ground to ground and ground to air missile batteries, and on and on.

Of course as every military conflict since at least Viet Nam has shown us, such a force is virtually useless for any other sort of conflict, especially at smaller regional or local scales.  The author recommended a move away from giant assault forces toward smaller, more nimble and more mobile strike forces capable of reacting swiftly to changing circumstances.

And of course the MIC remains totally deaf to any such suggestions.  They'd rather build main battle tanks and ICBMs and huge permanent military garrisons planted around the world.  More dollars for entrenched contractors and their lobbyists that way.

Now where are we going and what's with the handbasket?

by budr on Sat Nov 10th, 2012 at 10:58:29 AM EST
Yup, though if it was the Army, Air Force or Marines, I'd be talking about slashing budgets and downscaling forces across the board, with refighting WWII forces downscaled more than others ...

... rather than more ships but littler, on average, and a bit less money.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Nov 10th, 2012 at 11:44:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If I may hazard some remarks, I would like to say that you forget to take into account maintenance and allies.

Maintenance first: due to the cycle of maintenance operation on carrier or submarine (any type), you should consider that to get one unit operationnal at all time you will need to build two units.

Your 11 carriers would be equivalent to 5 to 6 permanent groups, so would correspond to your "one group in Pacific/Atlantic/Indian/Autralia" policy. This is valid also for all your nuclear propulsed submarines. Non nuclear subs have a one week/2 knots max dive autonomy, leading to vulnerability to ... carrier groups.

If you want to protect your carrier groups against ennemy threats, you'll need an escort, with a slightly lower requirement on maintenance, as the escort ship rarely use nuclear as fuel. You'll have to keep in mind the new russian made Shkval torpedoe, especially in its iranian design Hoot. Theses are anti-nuke-subs weapons, but a carrier would be greatly damaged by the 200kgs conventional explosive, and I'm not talking about the nuclear warhead installed on the russian version. There are a major reason for plethoric escort groups.

Then, you have allies: operation Atalanta against pirates in Somalia is leaded by european navies, with all small vessels needed for controlling sealanes put in common.

by Xavier in Paris on Tue Nov 13th, 2012 at 11:30:52 AM EST
Except the number of carrier in the article are ships in service, not ships on station. Maintenance is included.

An advantage of having a number of carriers on deep reserve and one in ready reserve is that if there is an extraordinary maintenance required for a carrier in service, the carrier in ready reserve can replace it, and one of the carriers in deep reserve can be brought up into ready reserve.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Nov 13th, 2012 at 03:55:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As far as allies: yes, that is in the Japanese source, the idea that the Japanese Navy provides the Shield and the US Navy provides the Spear.

I want my Navy to be able to provide the Shield on its own, and the carrier strike group Spear is looking increasingly like the height of Medieval chivalry faced with the rise of gunpowder.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Nov 13th, 2012 at 04:08:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, but if you do so, you'll prompt a reaction from your allies to build up a capacity as spear. So you will lose what was the initial advantage: that no other country -ally or other- has a similar fleet.
Incidentally, China is building a navy that will have capacities similar to the US navy, although with less ships: carriers, nuclear ISBN subs, and big ships.

Regarding your comment on maintenance, I'm not familiar with the US way of dealing with this, but in France, all ships are active, except during very restricted time periods when maintenance is carried out. The french navy has subcontracted the maintenance to a public company. Meanwhile, crews are formed and trained or have their rest time. There is usually two crews per ship (red or blue), so that crew teams may be substituted to give the rest needed.

Maintenance and crew salaries are the main costs for a country who wants to possess some operationnal ships, not the construction cost. An increase of maintenance efficiency leads to important rebate on total possession cost. A new generation of ships help reduce the number of the crew.

The european countries are getting quite good at interoperating ships from different type/navies. Maybe the US could go further in this way? It seems that cooperation between UE/US on link 16 (a NATO system to help interoperating fleets) has not be that straightforward in the past...

by Xavier in Paris on Tue Nov 13th, 2012 at 05:45:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, but if you do so, you'll prompt a reaction from your allies to build up a capacity as spear.

And? If that entailed US allies building supercarriers, the most serious concern there is the waste of resources on low benefit/cost ratio weapons systems.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Nov 13th, 2012 at 07:24:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I said, you lose the advantage, from a military point of view, of being the only power that has a full range capacity.

I am not convinced that you, US citizens as a whole, would accept to lose this, as an american: empire management requires that the center be more powerful (and feared) than the periphery.

i could point to you the continuous effort from the US to deprive UK and France of a national based deterrent capability, even from the start in the 60s. T this day, the UK has lost the technical ability to build its own submarines. Nowadays ISBN UK subs are US licensed. Last tentative from the UK has become the canadian sub fiasco.

In France, all the system is stretched at its maximum: it is not possible to go below four ISBN subs if France wants to keep its technical know-how in shape, but, given the state of public budget, it is under a very strong pressure. When the french ISBN program will be abandonned (I'd say for the next generation of subs), no US allies would have an autonomous deterrent capacity. As for carriers, I would consider this capacity as already lost, from the shipyard point of view. The same problem may arise in the future for frigates and corvettes, as the current franco-italian program are completed.

As an example of this dependence of US allies to Washington, I could also point the Airforce training: all french pilots have a dual US/FR course. I would be interested in any proof of US pilots following an european training...

If I try to distanciate myself from a rench-national point of view, I'd say that it is desirable from Washington to keep the industrial capacity on your side of the pond, as this allows to extract money from the allies, selling equipments, and as they order new ships, you will have access to an allied navy strenght which costs are entirely beared by other countries, while all military capablities would be of a US type.

Therefore, I believe that, for the US, the strategic option of drying out the industrial capacities in Europe is a good one, though it needs that the US shall keep an important deep sea fleet that acts as a fleet for the european also, but only in the US strategic interests (ie if europe is directly threatened).

by Xavier in Paris on Wed Nov 14th, 2012 at 03:26:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Obviousy, ditching the brutal and quite clearly unsustainable net costs of empire and the threat it poses of the collapse of the United States as a coherent industrial economy in the climate-stressed century ahead is part of the point, here. You can be sure that I "would accept to lose this, as an american".

There is no such thing as "US citizens as a whole", its a reification of a populace that is not a thing in and of itself.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Nov 14th, 2012 at 08:57:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
let's consider then that "US citizen as a whole" means a majority at vote time... ;-)

If it may reassure you, I'm convinced that french people would probably not accept to ditch their army, even if one would prove that this would be a progress for them.

If you want to have look at what the right wingers here do believe, even when still young, just go there.

We have our own Republicans. They may seem a little more moderate, because they start from a situation that is socialist to US eyes. But the dumbass stupidity that rules them is identical.

by Xavier in Paris on Thu Nov 15th, 2012 at 07:07:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We could consider "what US citizens as a whole want" to be a majority at the time a vote is taken, and doing so demonstrates how massively off the mark accepting the assumption of its existence as a real thing would take any analysis ~ the phrase presumes that choices presented under the two party duopoly include the choices that a majority of the American electorate would prefer to have available to them.

Indeed, without changing the desires of a single American voter, one can change what "US citizens as a whole want" by:
(1) rearranging the coalitions represented in the two competing parties of government
(2) increasing or reducing suppression of black, Hispanic and college going voters
(3) changing FCC regulations on the level of demonstrable accuracy required of cable news broadcasters

... so the frame of "what US citizens as a whole wants" obscures far more than it reveals.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Nov 17th, 2012 at 01:56:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I understand that you believe that it is possible to convince people that a less militarist approach to US-power is possible.

I am not sure about that. But I obviously have no proof that US people would not follow you. It is just a gut feeling. I can only wish you good luck in your attempts to form a majority. But overall, I believe that we are quite astray from the actual choices open to US government just now. I am sure that, in a different world, different solutions are possible. I am not convinced that you're doing yourself a favor to project this different world in your decisions today. This is simply too a long term to be applicable now.

But the discussion has been interesting, thank you.

by Xavier in Paris on Wed Nov 21st, 2012 at 09:31:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not coming up with an example of an empire that pulled its own plug due to a rational decision by its citizenry.  They've all been forced to pull the plug, or had the plug pulled, by colonies and opposing powers.  I do not see the US being an exception.
by rifek on Thu Nov 22nd, 2012 at 10:09:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But when the colonies revolt there are differences in how long and bloody the empire fights. For the empirical cores post-empire existance an orderly retreat is a better choice and arguing for a peaceful post-empire existance can only serve to strengthen that option.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Fri Nov 23rd, 2012 at 04:40:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As usual, Rmoney was deliberately missing the salient point.  A large part of The Blessed St. Ronnie's defense budget splurge went toward implementing John "Why Can't Naval Aviators Grope Women Anymore" Lehman's 600-ship navy.  The problem with the plan (aside from being absurd, impossible, and wholly unnecessary) was that, in spite of the massive build-up, we still didn't have the ships we actually needed.  Gulf War I brought this home with a vengeance when it took us effectively forever to deploy because the 600-ship plan hadn't provided for transport capacity.  By the time of Gulf War II, deployment had been reworked, as had naval force structure.  The restructuring Rmoney proposed leads me to conclude he believes Nimitz is still and admiral instead of a carrier class.
by rifek on Wed Nov 14th, 2012 at 11:46:37 AM EST
Yes, that is a good way to put the gist of my post: Romney was right about ship numbers, and only about ship numbers, and entirely by coincidence.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Nov 14th, 2012 at 08:58:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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