Sunday, March 06, 2016

Forward-Deploying Ships Assumes Peace

With the Navy struggling to keep ships forward-deployed to counter more capable potential foes, and with money to expand the fleet unlikely to be appropriated, one suggestion offered is to forward deploy more of our ships to allow them to have more time on station with less transit time from the United States. This is a bad idea.

I don't like this idea as a solution to lack of numbers:

The CBO found that forward basing a single aircraft carrier, along with a complementary number of other classes of ship, would allow the Navy to maintain current presence levels. One example of this approach would be to base a second carrier strike group in an allied port in the Western Pacific, such as Yokosuka, Japan. Clark and Sloman endorse forward basing as a means of compensating for the declining size of the fleet, although rebuilding the fleet would be their preferred option. Their principal concern is that a smaller fleet cannot support a significant surge in the event of a crisis, regardless of its basing footprint.

Yes, forward deploying more of the fleet does mean that there is less of a reserve force to send forward in a crisis. But that's not the worst problem.

The worst problem is that forward-deployed forces are, by definition, more vulnerable to a surprise attack by an enemy in the region we forward deploy ships to.

It's one thing to deploy ships forward when no potential enemies can do much damage to them with a surprise attack, it's another thing altogether when we push them forward into a meat grinder that could be turned on at any moment.

So by forward-deploying a higher percentage of our ships in peacetime, we could lose more ships in the opening hours of a war initiated by an enemy and have fewer to reinforce the theater of war.

Even worse, by having a higher percentage of our ships forward deployed, we give an enemy an incentive to strike first by giving them the opportunity to inflict serious damage on our fleet.

I say don't increase the percentage of forward-deployed ships. If we need more ships to keep that ratio, we should assume a realistic ship-building budget, pick a number of hulls we need, and build the kind of ships needed to get that number.

And forward deploy fewer of our high-end ships and more of our cheaper ships capable of peacetime presence but less of a loss if sunk in an opening barrage.

More forward-deployed ships is a way on paper to match the need for ships deployed with hull numbers, time, and distance problems. But it assumes peace to really work.

What if our foes choose war? Aren't we just delivering a Pearl Harbor opportunity to their door step?