Saturday, March 10, 2007

Power Projection in a Box

The thousand-ship navy concept calls for us to work with allied navies to conduct missions beyond the capabilities of the United States Navy:

“This 1,000-ship Navy idea is all about a global maritime network, a huge network of sharing,” said Morgan. “That’s the biggest challenge we’re facing: a network of many integrated countries’ navies with one goal in mind of patrolling the world’s seas.”

While our fleet is more powerful than any conceivable coalition of foreign navies, we still have a limited number of hulls to spread around the globe for missions that don't focus on sinking enemy ships.

The idea of helping the Dutch defend their Caribbean territory from Hugo Chavez led me to assume that we would need to support the Dutch with logistical support since it is unlikely that they could sustain a substantial force across the Atlantic for any length of time. With their long focus on NATO defenses, most European navies are local forces only.

This concept applies to most allied navies that might be part of a thousand-ship fleet. Unless we only operate with navies within 500 miles of their operational area, who will sail with us where we need to go? Few countries have navies with global reach.

What if we could supply the logistics capability for allies without necessarily sending the U. S. Navy along for the ride?

The modular design of our new littoral combat ship (LCS) could provide a model for filling this capabilities gap of our allies that could leverage allied capabilities and bind our allies more closely to us.

Perhaps we could design modules that fit in standard shipping containers that would be available to be secured to civilian ships that could link the ship to our network, add command-and-control facilities and air defense capabilities, support helicopter operations from the deck, and provide for transferring supplies to another ship. The goal would be to basically turn a civilian ship into an instant logistical support ship.

We can't support all allied ships with our own active Navy logistics ships. But if we can mobilize civilian ships and stiffen them with Navy crews and specialized modules, we could support an allied naval expeditionary force without affecting our own fleet.

These ships could work with us or independently of us with such a support capability.

We could also train allied naval personnel to use these modules. Sometimes, it would be helpful diplomatically if we had no personnel involved at all. If the Dutch could crew militarized civilian ships that we equip to support their expedition to the Western Hemisphere to defeat Chavez, we could help one ally without hurting our relations with Latin America, whose people might be offended if we help a European nation against even a local nut job like Hugo.

So, with allies less willing or capable of putting quality combat troops on the ground at our side, could we leverage allied help by creating a reserve force capability that allows allied navies to operate globally in harmony with our interest whether we particpate or not?