Friday, November 27 2015
In recent blogs I have called for a larger U.S. Navy fleet, as measured by the number of ships available. The reason for this is that it takes a lot of ships to project power around the globe—but there is another rationale.
In WWII, a ship could take a beating and keep going. It was a time when any ship could survive hits from shells, bombs, torpedoes, or kamikazes. This isn’t the case anymore. Naval weapons are now so lethal that a single hit from an anti-ship missile or laser-guided bomb is all it takes to send a ship to the bottom of the sea. I can remember the early trials of the Harpoon missile, when a test shot blew a decommissioned destroyer in two without a warhead. While in the submarine navy, I learned that submariners divide naval combatants into two categories: submarines and targets. Even in WWII, torpedoes were the ship killers. Today’s torpedoes are smarter and far more lethal.
Historically, major naval battles have been fought in relative proximity to strategic land masses, so naval planners needed to consider defenses against land-based missiles, aircraft, and small craft armed with missiles or torpedoes—any of which could sink a modern cruiser or destroyer.
In modern warfare, if a ship takes just a single hit, it’s history.
Based on the number of defensive weapons systems deployed on modern navy ships, naval planners understand the threat, but defensive systems aren’t perfect and can be overwhelmed. If a naval war broke out, how long could any navy survive with weapons like these? Who would win? The navy with the largest number of reasonably capable ships or the navy with fewer, but more capable ships? I wonder. One hit, one ship—we need more ships.
There are many sides to this discussion. Let’s hear what you have to say.
Monday, November 23 2015
The grace, beauty, and power of a battleship at sea is enough to make any sailor worth his salt fall in love. These sea-going leviathans possess a majesty that once seen can never be forgotten. Presidential candidate Donald Trump hinted that he would consider recommissioning the USS Iowa and the USS Wisconsin. (Yes, they are kept in mothball condition just in case they’re needed—but they never will be called upon again.)
As much as I love the battleship, I think Mr. Trump is wrong. The cost of recommissioning the Iowa or the Wisconsin could easily be put to use building a new destroyer or two, or even several dozen small missile boats. One ship can only be in one place at a time. We need more hulls in the water to project force around the globe.
Let me hear from you. Is Trump right?
Friday, November 20 2015
The U.S. military is beginning to experiment with asymmetric offensive warfare. Asymmetric warfare isn’t new. Think about how Native Americans fought and how the Minutemen attacked the British—think also about WWII PT boats. (They called themselves the Mosquito Fleet. The Japanese called them “Devil Boats.”)
The eye on offense may be due to the defenses the Navy is developing to counter asymmetric threats, such as Iran’s large fleet of small boats, which could overwhelm U.S. Navy formations. The U.S. Army is experimenting with modified swarm strategies to attack large army units with a sizeable number of small two- or three-man teams. The Navy is also experimenting with groups of radio-controlled small boats to attack or defend against an enemy. In these cases, asymmetric means using swarm tactics to overwhelm an enemy’s defenses.
With the navy’s current “bigger is better” thinking, costs are skyrocketing and build times are getting too long. (The USS Zumwalt, a $3.5 billion contract, was awarded in 2008. The ship was laid down in 2011, launched in 2013, and won’t be commissioned until 2016.)
For decades, the Navy thought in terms of blue-water set-piece fleet combat, which wasn’t much different from how the Navy thought about battleships before WWII. Naval planners realized that blue-water conflict isn’t the only game in town and developed the littoral class of ships to fight in shallow green waters. The logical next step is swarm tactics.
Enter the Mark VI Patrol Boat program. It’s about time. What do you think?
Note: In both my novels, The Marathon Watch and Vows to the Fallen, my characters explored the value of green-water tactics and the wisdom—or lack thereof—in relying on blue-water fleet doctrine.
Wednesday, November 11 2015
1920 - Lenah S. Higbee becomes the first woman to be awarded the Navy Cross for her service as a nurse in World War I. Named in her honor, USS Higbee (DD 806) is commissioned in 1945 and is the first U.S. Navy combat ship to bear the name of a female member of U.S. Navy service.
Tuesday, November 10 2015
A few days ago I donned my navy veteran’s ball cap and headed to a local rural diner for breakfast. During breakfast on this particular morning something special happened. A stranger walked by my booth and snatched the check from my table. “I’ll get this and the tip as well. Thank you for your service,” was all he said.
When I served in the Navy in the 60’s and 70’s, like most other servicemen back then, I hid my military identity while off base because it was dangerous. The Viet Nam war had set our nation’s nerves on edge, and a serviceman in public could draw a crowd of angry hecklers who were not above pushing, shoving, spitting, or throwing things.
Now rather than being heckled, strangers stop and thank me for my service. This is a humbling experience and I am glad that Americans now appreciates the sacrifices our service members make. This is important for both America and for those who have served.
I doubt there is a service member who has at one time or another felt they were serving a thankless world. Ask any veteran and they will probably say the coldest, hottest, wettest, and most physically demanding day in their life occurred in the service.
There is not a single service member who hasn’t felt the indescribable hollow pain of loneliness on holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays. There is not a single service member who has not felt empty and alone as they longed for a loved one’s touch, voice, smile, or that special giggle. There is not a single service member who has not considered their own mortality in the course of their service: many lost friends, and many gave their life.
So, thank you America for remembering, and you’re welcome. But, it really isn’t a big deal—we were just doing our duty.
Saturday, November 07 2015
How could this happen? How could Congress let it happen? How could the Navy let it happen?
It seems two things are happening. First, the navy is building complex technically advanced ships that take a long time to build. Second, budget cuts and the high cost of technically advance ships have reduced the number of carriers the navy can afford.
Current events forced the navy to push the ten carriers they have beyond their limits and normal maintenance and overhaul schedules were cancelled, shortened or delayed. After years of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, Peter’s note has come due—five of our ten carriers are tied to the pier getting the maintenance they needed long ago. Now the five remaining carriers are having to carry twice their normal load. This will require more maintenance for those ships down the road. It’s a death spiral.
I like the idea of giving our seamen the finest ships and technology available. However, no matter how capable and advanced a carrier is, it can only be in one place at a time. This is not a quality versus quantity problem. The world has grown far more unpredictable and dangerous since the 1970’s when we had twelve active carriers. We are down to five. We need more hulls in the water.