Monday, December 14, 2015

Now That Sea Control is a Mission and Not an Assumption

Our long-range anti-ship power is distressing reliant on our few and increasingly vulnerable aircraft carriers. This has to change.

In a network-centric naval world, it makes no sense to have a platform-centric fleet that relies on our few big deck aircraft carriers for long range anti-ship capabilities.

But that is what we have today, after post-Cold War decades of emphasizing the power projection mission as sea control was taken for granted. (See here for the difference.)

As sea control becomes a mission once more, our Navy at least recognizes that this has to change:

The evolving Distributed Lethality (DL) concept ––announced last year –– offers a new approach for how the nation might use its naval surface forces as potential adversaries acquire naval capabilities designed to control the sea.

In some regions, confrontation could lead to crisis that could degenerate to conflict. There is cause for the Navy to worry. Many warships of potential antagonists have anti-ship missiles that far outrange the U.S. Navy’s weapons, and more advanced cruise and even ballistic missiles are in the offing.

In late 2015 the U.S. Naval Surface Force’s only anti-surface weapons are the 60-nautical mile Harpoon anti-ship missile, first deployed in 1977, and 5-inch guns that can hold targets at risk out to about 15 nautical miles. Thus, the provision of long-range anti-ship missiles on U.S. cruisers and destroyers, littoral combat ships, future frigates, and possibly other ships and submarines could dramatically change the out-ranged challenge. A long-range anti-ship missile previously existed in the Navy’s Tomahawk anti-ship variant, but the Navy took that weapon out of service because of long-range targeting issues. Those issues can now be solved.

Another effort to spread out our firepower involves using the F-35B on our big deck amphibious warfare ships:

The US Navy's amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) has received an upgraded flight deck, with a thermal spray coating to support the F-35 joint strike fighters (JSF) during future operations.

Spreading out our air power a bit will distribute the lethality, too, which makes these LHAs a "stealth fleet" of small aircraft carriers (Note that these are not a real alternative to the big decks to generate firepower, but as long as they exist for the amphibious role they can be used as aircraft carriers when needed.)

Really, I received two shocks in the last couple years as I realized that even our shorter-range Harpoon missiles were disappearing from our surface ships and had been removed from our subs in the post-Cold War world. Now we are trying to claw back that capability.