Thursday, December 13, 2012

Math Versus the Navy

Let's get clear on something. Pivoting to Asia means little if the end result is that we still have less naval power in the Pacific. And that is what the path of our Navy will lead to.

This is not a good trend:

The U.S. Navy leadership has to deal with the fact that they cannot build and maintain the number of ships they want. Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the American fleet has been shrinking and will continue to do so. ...

[From] 2001 to 2008 the U.S. Navy lost 34 ships (11 percent of its strength) falling to 282 warships. That was despite a 51 percent increase in the navy budget (adjusting for inflation). In the last four years the budget increases kept coming but warship strength only increased by two ships (to 284). Now that the navy budget will be shrinking, the size of the fleet will fall to 230 ships in ten years and to under 200 in twenty.

The ships are too expensive. Super carriers and super destroyers and even super low-end ships (littoral combat ships) cost too much to buy very many of them.

Which means we will have to be more cautious with them. Carriers, as I've droned on about, are a platform-centric king in a network-centric world being built.

And the littoral combat ships have no business being in green or brown waters.

The Navy insisted that it could have quality and quantity. But the Navy cannot have both. By insisting that they could have both, they have made a choice to sacrifice quantity. The Navy has chosen to get smaller.

This is a mistake. Our Navy is stretched at 284. What will we do when we are at 200?

We must actually build affordable ships. The LCS is not an affordable ship even though it was supposed to be. We must pick a number of ships we need and then build the ship types to reach that number withing the ship-building budget the Navy has--and not the budget it wishes it has.

I know we can't build small corvette-type ships given the distance our ships must travel. But surely we can build affordable ships of 3-4,000 tons with basic weaponry that allow them to carry out peace time presence missions. Build modules that we can insert--or bolt on to empty deck space--for added anti-aircraft or anti-ship capabilities in war time.

In a networked Navy, these ships might not even need the sophisticated search and fire control gear that we use. If those missile modules are simply slaved to other more capable ships via the naval network, we'd cut costs for many ships by letting other assets control the longer-ranged strike weapons added to these smaller ships.

If we build enough of these modules based on shipping containers, we might even bolster numbers with modularized auxiliary cruisers.

Numbers matter. Our Navy keeps saying number matter. So maybe the Navy should make decisions like they believe numbers matter.