Friday, April 6, 2012

What Size the Navy? What War?

What is the right size for the Navy. What War are they planning for? I was at the Naval War College a few years back, 2009 I believe, and the CNO was proudly discussing the humanitarian role of the Navy, it most important missions. This was not Mahan, in fact it was almost an anti-Mahan. Now Mahan is a somewhat distant relative from Mohill, County Lietrim, Ireland, seem to be a fifth cousin, but perhaps the same Irish blood flows through the veins, and I too was a bit surprised. I thought the role of the Navy was to protect US interests abroad. But we do have a different administration.

Thus I was interested to read the update of the political battle over the new direction of the Navy's fleet, deploying coastal area vessels, Littorals, in the NY Times.

One of the two $700 million ships completed so far has had a major leak and crack in its hull, while the other is at sea, testing equipment that is failing to distinguish underwater mines from glints of light on the waves. More ominously, a report late last year by the Pentagon’s top weapons tester said the ship “is not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment.”...Able to operate on the high seas and along shallow coastlines (the “littorals”), the fast, maneuverable ship is central to President Obama’s strategy of projecting American power in the Pacific and the Persian Gulf. It adds a relatively small and technologically advanced ship — part of what former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld envisioned as a lean, proficient military — to America’s traditional blue-water Navy of aircraft carriers and destroyers. 

Now the issue is one of sea warfare tactics. I wrote a paper on an analysis of swarming tactics, using WW II Destroyer efforts in the Battle of Leyte, and noted that the use of low cost smaller ships, in this case WW II Destroyers, allowed for a successful attack against a superior fleet. The key however was tactics and integrated communications as I demonstrated in the analysis of the specific battle in my book on WW II Destroyers. The NY Times continues:

“If you use smart tactics, techniques and procedures, we believe the ship is survivable,” Mr. Work said, making an argument that Mr. Hunter, the congressman, finds specious. If seven Iranian attack boats should come at the new ship, Mr. Hunter said, “it backs away, it can’t take any major hits.” In short, he said, “it’s not going to stand there and trade punches with anybody.”But perhaps its appearance could frighten potential enemies. As Joseph J. Rella, the president of Austal USA, said in a recent interview: “If I was a pirate in a little boat, I’d be scared to death.” 

 One should look at history here. $700 million is a lot to spend but the War possibilities are even greater. An integrated command, control, communications and intelligence backbone is critical as I had observed during WW II. In fact it can be argued that in WW II we were victorious due to that C3I backbone. We lost hundreds of destroyers, the past counterpart of the Littorals. That observation that numbers count is critical. The absurd, in my opinion, remark that the appearance will scare away an adversary is at face value ridiculous. It is also dangerous. Just look at the past, all of the past!

Thus the issue is what is the true mission of the Navy, what threats do we have, how far will we go to defend our interests? We need that discussion. Do we fear Iran more than China? What of Russia? What of the small terrorist group who could deliver a low yield nuke to a few locations, and we have but a few ships, then we may very well lose C3I. That is a real threat.