Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In No Case Can We Exercise Control by Battleships Alone...

If the object of naval warfare is to control communications, then the fundamental requirement is the means of exercising that control. Logically, therefore, if the enemy holds back from battle decision, we must relegate the battle-fleet to a secondary position, for cruisers are the means of exercising control; the battle-fleet is but the means of preventing their being interfered with in their work. Put it to the test of actual practice. In no case can we exercise control by battleships alone. Their specialisation has rendered them unfit for the work, and has made them too costly ever to be numerous enough. Even, therefore, if our enemy had no battle-fleet we could not make control effective with battleships alone. We should still require cruisers specialised for the work and in sufficient numbers to cover the necessary ground. But the converse is not true. We could exercise control with cruisers alone if the enemy had no battle-fleet to interfere with them.

If, then, we seek a formula that will express the practical results of our theory, it would take some such shape as this. On cruisers depends our exercise of control; on the battle-fleet depends the security of control. That is the logical sequence of ideas, and it shows us that the current maxim is really the conclusion of a logical argument in which the initial steps must not be ignored. The maxim that the command of the sea depends on the battle-fleet is then perfectly sound so long as it is taken to include all the other facts on which it hangs. The true function of the battle-fleet is to protect cruisers and flotilla at their special work.

Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, Chapter 2, Theory of the Means - The Constitution of Fleets, by Julian Stafford Corbett
Since the end of the cold war, the United States Navy has achieved Command of the Sea in the spirit of Mahan, or controlled communications in the spirit of Corbett. This achievement was made possible by decisive victory, but not a decisive victory of war, rather the decisive victory of the cold war. The great question that has plagued the US Navy since the achievement of this decisive victory has not been how to achieve control of maritime communications against competitors, rather how to USE the control the US Navy has achieved. The Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower answers this question, listing the 6 ways the US Navy will execute its strategy. Those ways are forward presence, deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security and humanitarian assistance/disaster response. The fundamental motivation behind the ways is mutual cooperation, not imperialism.

Today, the average age of the 86 battleships (22 CGs, 62 DDG-51s, and 2 DDG-1000s) the US Navy has or is building is a combined average age younger than the aircraft in the US Navy aviation inventory, younger than the submarine force, younger than the amphibious fleet, younger than the logistics force, and younger the aircraft carrier fleet. It seems strange then that this week the big debate in Congress is not how the United States will leverage the US Navy to forward the foreign policy of the United States by managing peacetime, rather which new battleships the US Navy will build to further increase the command of the sea the Navy already enjoys today.

Command of the Sea exists only where the US Navy is present, and let us not confuse scouting with unmanned technology as the same as presence. Presence requires manpower to exercise control in peacetime, which is why the ability to influence, and more specifically USE Command of the Sea requires forward deployed manpower in sufficient numbers to execute such influence. When Command of the Sea is not challenged, which in today's maritime environment describes almost all points of the maritime domain, the entire maritime domain is available to be leveraged as a base of operations by which to execute strategy. To us this means there must be a commitment to building flexible forces for leveraging the sea as base to connect with the non-integrated gaps, and in this way US Navy can position itself to better manage the maritime challenges of peacetime.

In every maritime era there is always one type of ship that determines the capability of naval forces to execute maritime strategy. In the sixteenth century galeasses and heavy galleys represented the dominate ship of the era. As the age of sail emerged, the Royal Navy became the dominate force by putting sails on all of its battleships, which ultimately became the dominate vessel at sea until the mid nineteenth century, when the armored ship replaced the age of sail battleship as the dominate weapon. Eventually the combination of armor and larger guns evolved the battleship again, until all ships were completely rendered irrelevant all at once by HMS Dreadnought, a technological evolution that combined armor, firepower, mobility, speed, and the flexibility to maneuver heavy gunfire and fight on multiple axis. In the mid 20th century, the aircraft carrier became the dominate platform, and combined with the nuclear powered submarine held the position of the most influential vessel at sea until the end of the cold war.

However, with the end of the cold war, it is time to ask what is the dominate ship to execute maritime strategy in this era. Taking a broad view around the world, we note that almost every nation except the United States appears to have answered this question. Back in 2006, Robert Farley observed the trends and highlighted the shift in the maritime domain. He raised the topic as a question, and has sense written unpublished works regarding. On this blog, we proclaim the idea as a statement of fact, The Dreadnought of the modern maritime era is the Amphibious Ship.
The amphibious assault ship spree is somewhat reminiscent of the drive, around 1910, of a number of major and minor powers to purchase or build dreadnought battleships. Countries that had no business owning major modern units, like Brazil and Argentina, spent enormous sums on modern vessels for reasons of national prestige...

An amphibious assault ship gives a country like Spain, the Netherlands, or Canada a way to involve itself in an expeditionary operation without being excessively dependent on one of the major naval powers. Like their armies, the navies of these countries are becoming less focused on the traditional forms of territorial defense and more on the need for policing, peacekeeping, and other forms of expeditionary warfare.
Essentially Robert is making the case the resource to execute the "ways" of strategy to "USE" Command of the Sea in the modern maritime domain is the amphibious ship, and the trends worldwide, whether in 2006 and even more so in 2008, support that case. The nations currently operating, building, or seeking amphibious ships include the US, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, France, Netherlands, Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Argentina, Turkey, India, Russia, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, and Brazil.

It is noteworthy that only Taiwan has a battleship (former Kidd class) and is not in the above list, and only 11 of the 21 countries listed have battleships.

Corbett warns nations regarding the unwise approach of building all battleships, noting both the cost constraints, numerical problems, and insufficiency for a fleet to do its work when the number of platforms required to do the work of naval strategy are scarce. Corbett's advice is timeless, and applies just as much today as it did when he wrote it.

The US Navy finds itself at a major crossroads of history. At this point in time, and for only the next 12-15 years, the US Navy has superior battle-fleet capabilities to maintain complete control of the sea, and none of the 86 battleships widely recognized as the most powerful warships in the world need replacement during the entirety of that time. At the same time, the amphibious force continues to shrink, and the small combatant force (what Corbett calls a cruiser, known as the modern frigate) is completely ignored. While Lockheed Martin and the US Navy, to the disgrace of maritime terminology, insist the Littoral Combat Ship is a surface combatant, it is not. By every strategic and maritime definition used for the last several centuries the LCS is an unrated ship of the flotilla, any insistence otherwise is a demonstration in ones own ignorance. Under such misrepresentation we should be counting MCMs as surface combatants.

On Thursday at 10:00AM the United States Congress will take up the discussion of the future of fleet constitution for the US Navy. No where in this discussion is there any evidence that the US Navy is aligning its resources to sound maritime strategy, indeed all options to be discussed promote a plan of action that continues to spend taxpayer money on the tools needed to fight some unknown mythical naval force that will somehow overcome the existing fleet of 86 battleships that can only be described as the most dominate naval force in the history of mankind.

There is another option. The United States is the worlds lone superpower, and as both candidates of the current election are trying to make the case, with that role comes responsibility. The "ways" outlined for executing the Navy's existing maritime strategy promotes a responsible approach for promoting national interests in peacetime. The question to be asked on Capitol Hill is which battleship should the Navy build to fight the future foe somehow capable of overcoming existing naval power. The question that should be asked on Capitol Hill is how do we use shipbuilding money to exploit the Command of the Sea the US Navy enjoys towards the ends of advancing a responsible Grand Strategy for the United States of America and its people.

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