Friday, July 17, 2009

May 10th, 2019: Missing Nelsons Cruisers

By the theory of naval war it must be reiterated we mean nothing but an enunciation of the fundamental principles which underlie all naval war. Those principles, if we have determined them correctly, should be found giving shape not only to strategy and tactics, but also to material, whatever method and means of naval warfare may be in use at any given time. Conversely, if we find strategy, tactics, or organization exhibiting a tendency to reproduce the same forms under widely differing conditions of method and material, we should be able to show that those forms bear a constant and definite relation to the principles which our theory endeavours to express.

In the case of Anson's threefold organization, the relation is not far to seek, though it has become obscured by two maxims. The one is, that "the command of the sea depends upon battleships," and the other, that "cruisers are the eyes of the fleet." It is the inherent evil of maxims that they tend to get stretched beyond their original meaning. Both of these express a truth, but neither expresses the whole truth. On no theory of naval warfare can we expect to command the sea with battleships, nor, on the communication theory, can we regard the primary function of cruisers as being to scout for a battle-fleet. It is perfectly true that the control depends ultimately on the battle-fleet if control is disputed by a hostile battle-fleet, as it usually is. It is also true that, so far as is necessary to enable the battle-fleet to secure the control, we have to furnish it with eyes from our cruiser force. But it does not follow that this is the primary function of cruisers. The truth is, we have to withdraw them from their primary function in order to do work for the battle-fleet which it cannot do for itself.

Well established as is the "Eyes of the fleet" maxim, it would be very difficult to show that scouting was ever regarded as the primary function of cruisers by the highest authorities. In Nelson's practice at least their paramount function was to exercise the control which he was securing with his battle-squadron. Nothing is more familiar in naval history than his incessant cry from the Mediterranean for more cruisers, but the significance of that cry has become obscured. It was not that his cruisers were not numerous in proportion to his battleships—they were usually nearly double in number—but it was rather that he was so deeply convinced of their true function, that he used them to exercise control to an extent which sometimes reduced his fleet cruisers below the limit of bare necessity. The result on a memorable occasion was the escape of the enemy's battle-fleet, but the further result is equally important. It was that the escape of that fleet did not deprive him of the control which he was charged to maintain. His judgment may have been at fault, but the strategical distribution of his force was consistent throughout the whole period of his Mediterranean command. Judged by his record, no man ever grasped more clearly than Nelson that the object of naval warfare was to control communications, and if he found that he had not a sufficient number of cruisers to exercise that control and to furnish eyes for his battle-fleet as well, it was the battle-fleet that was made to suffer, and surely this is at least the logical view.

- Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, by Julian Corbett
Six hours ago, the Peoples Republic of China attacked the Republic of China with 900 ballistic missiles causing massive damage across the Republic of China. At the same time, artillery positions in North Korea began shelling positions across the DMZ, triggering a renewal of hostilities on the Korean peninsula.

An American destroyer, a Japanese frigate, and several naval vessels of the Republic of China were sunk within the first 20 minutes during the surprise attack. All ships were apparently attacked by submarine, and there have been no reports of survivors yet. Air Force units from the Republic of China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States are engaged in a massive air campaign across most of the northern Pacific.

2 hours ago, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, and Malaysia declared neutrality, and immediately China recognized the neutrality of all those nations as long as attacks did not originate from their territorial waters, or from over their land territories. At the same time, both Singapore and Australia declared support for the Republic of Taiwan, and declared war against China.

The USS Ronald Reagan battlegroup is currently east of Singapore. The 9 ship USS Ronald Reagan battlegroup consists of:
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)
USS Port Royal (CG 73)
USS Kidd (DDG 100)
USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60)
USS Russell (DDG 59)
USS Tuscaloosa (LCS 6) (MIW)
USS Fayetteville (LCS 9) (ASuW)
USS Tulsa (LCS 13) (ASW)
USS Syracuse (LCS 22) (ASW)
The USS Hawaii (SSN-776) and an Australian submarine have each attacked and apparently sunk a PLA submarine operating in the area of the Riau Islands. The Ronald Reagan battlegroup is ordered to protect Singapore and Australia from air attack by establishing air space control in the South China Sea. Additionally the battlegroup is ordered to interdict, seize, and if necessary sink all commercial maritime traffic heading to China, regardless of flag, in the South China Sea.

Additionally, the USS Kidd (DDG 100) is carrying 48 Tomahawk missiles, and is ordered to move north into the South China Sea and be positioned to launch a cruise missile attack in coordination with other naval assets against targets on Sanya island in 16 hours. The cruise missile strike from the USS Kidd (DDG 100) cannot go over the territorial waters of any country in the South China Sea, so the irregular path of the missiles launched will account for the range the weapons must be fired at. The USS Hawaii (SSN-776) will maintain an ASW patrol around the Riau Islands to cover the USS Kidd (DDG 100), but other assets may be dispatched as necessary to support the USS Kidd (DDG 100).

The point of this exercise is not to execute the orders, rather think about the environment, operational considerations, and challenges even a large battlegroup, like this theoretical Ronald Reagan battlegroup, faces in executing orders in such a scenario. Note the two points in the line on the map. The bottom point of the line is the current position of the battlegroup, while the top point of the line is one possible location the USS Kidd (DDG 100) must launch from. ~300nm is a lot of water to cover in only 16 hours.

Considerations
This is one of many scenarios where the LCS makes an effective MIW vessel, but in this scenario, the USS Tuscaloosa (LCS 6) is basically married to the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) until specifically required. The strike group commander has 1 MIW vessel in this scenario, and cannot afford to risk it for any reason 6 hours into a war against the country that contains the largest inventory of sea mines in the world. I don't think anyone would dispute that the USS Port Royal (CG 73) is also married to the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).

Presumably, the USS Fayetteville (LCS 9), USS Tulsa (LCS 13), and USS Syracuse (LCS 22) would be required for interdiction, so presumably you would want the ASuW module. Singapore is expected to be one location where LCS mission modules can be swapped out, but here is a question. Would you send two Littoral Combat Ships into a known port location for a 24 hour module swap 2 hours after that country declares war on China? Perhaps those LCS are better utilized with ASW modules, searching for submarines in the South China Sea? If they are used to hunt submarines, then who is conducting interdiction?

Would a Strike Group Commander seriously use either the USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) or USS Russell (DDG 59), ballistic missile and theater air defense AEGIS warships, to conduct maritime interdiction operations in the South China Sea, or even perhaps both ships with USS Fayetteville (LCS 9)? What about USS Kidd (DDG 100)? Are we going to send a single Burke north by itself 6 hours into a war with China?

Considering Possibilities
It is now 8 hours into the war, and the USS Fayetteville (LCS 9) has encountered a full 300,000 ton super tanker known to carry oil to China. Here is the question... do you seize the ship, or sink it? If the ship is seized, it must be seized with helicopters from the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), not with sailors from the USS Fayetteville (LCS 9), unless you are going to commit the boarding party from your lone interdiction vessel only 8 hours into a war.

An MH-60S with a 13 person fire team is dispatched to the tanker. Along the way, as a helicopter passes by several fishing boats, a radio message is overheard in Chinese noting a US Navy helicopter with speed and direction information broadcast in the clear. It is unclear which fishing boat made the broadcast. 10 minutes later, the position of the USS Ronald Reagan is broadcast into the clear. At the same time, the USS Kidd (DDG 100) reports one of several fishing boats on its horizon has just broadcast in Chinese its speed and direction into the clear.

The Point
In this scenario, it can be said that it is useful to have 4 LCS in the configuration described, but what happens if there are no ships to send a helicopter with a security team to seize the 300,000 ton super tanker? An amphibious ship could obviously solve this problem by providing manpower for this function. Oh that's right, amphibious ships are only for Normandy landings!

Does anyone else see the enormous flaw in the Sea Control theory of the LCS, or any ship that doesn't have manpower? I guess we will just have to sink the 300,000 ton super oil tanker in the middle of the South China Sea. Sorry Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore... didn't mean to take a crap in your fishing ecosystem, not to mention the high probability that the sinking would happen in the EEZ of one of those countries.

Is anything in this scenario impossible to imagine? In my opinion, the only thing I find impossible to imagine is expectations the USS Kidd (DDG 100) in this scenario can get to its position without being attacked, likely multiple times. It would not matter if you replaced DDG-100 with DDG-1000 either, because the scouts in populated seas are not necessarily technological. Oh that's right, the US is going to jam every frequency in the middle of seas surrounded by neutral nations fishing in their own EEZ, and pretend like that won't have consequences.

The USS Kidd (DDG 100), just like all Arleigh Burke class ships, is a brilliant ship, but if the US Navy ever fights a war against a capable Navy with the fleet constitution they promote today, the Arleigh Burke class is not going to be operating the way it is optimized to.

The reason is simple: the Arleigh Burke class is a modern battleship - ship of the battle line. It is armed like a modern battleship, and needs to be used like a modern battleship in order to justify its investment and contribute the combat power to the fleet necessary to obtain the object of victory at sea.

But in the fleet design of the US Navy, the Arleigh Burke will be forced to do the role of the cruisers, because once you run out of Littoral Combat Ships, Burke's are all that the Navy has left. As Corbett clearly articulates, when there are not enough cruisers to exercise control, the battle line suffers. This is why the talking point about the Arleigh Burke class being a great example in its role for anti piracy is so damn intellectually stupid. The US Navy believes unmanned systems and aircraft can perform the role of cruisers, and yet, it was the Arleigh Burke class performing the role of a cruiser in the pirate episode. It turns out, unmanned vehicles and aircraft can do scouting and can blow things up very efficiently, but if you need the other 90% of fleet functions that cruisers perform, a robot isn't up to the job.

In the fleet design of the US Navy, the Burke is forced to do what the Littoral Combat Ship cannot do. I included four Littoral Combat Ships in this scenario, is it that I was not using them properly or is it that we have specialized the Littoral Combat Ship beyond its ability to be effective as a cruiser? In this scenario USS Fayetteville (LCS 9), USS Tulsa (LCS 13), and USS Syracuse (LCS 22) were able to perform the role of cruisers and their tasks based on their included module, but when we ran out of cruisers, the Burkes would have to take up the slack. In this scenario the presence of USS Tuscaloosa (LCS 6) is important, because we want MIW with our carrier groups ready to go to work against minefields in 21st century warfare. However, when the LCS is in a MIW configuration, as USS Tuscaloosa (LCS 6) is in this example, the MIW LCS cannot perform the role of a cruiser screening the battle line. That means ships from the battle line, Burkes, will have to perform those roles.

The USS Kidd (DDG 100) is a battleship, and in this scenario was tasked like a battleship would be. Unfortunately, even 1300 miles from the enemy coast, and under the air superiority of a US CVN, USS Kidd (DDG 100) is forced to conduct its operations without cruisers screening and protecting her flanks. Why? There are not enough cruisers. In fact, if you note the scenario, I pulled another high value asset, the USS Hawaii (SSN 776), away from her primary function of aggressively stalking the enemy - to act as a cruiser and screen the USS Kidd (DDG 100).

People keep saying small ships are for littoral warfare. I disagree, small ships are for naval warfare wherever there is water and wherever they are needed. As a cruiser, we don't need super armed small ships, indeed I still can't think of a single way a small anti-ship missle corvette would have helped the US Navy in the scenario above. But what if the force above had 8 very cheap PC/Corvettes each able to support manpower? What if those PC/Corvettes, each with 8 ESSMs and point defense, had their manpower requirements reinforced by a supporting mothership like a LPD-17? What if the LCS didn't have to go into port in Singapore to swap out a mission module, but could do it in some cove instead and swap from a tender? Would these capabilities be useful?

The Navy says they want a fleet of 300 ships. OK. They want 55 Littoral Combat Ships. OK. If we treat the LCS as the screening capacity for the battleline, that means around 18.3% of the entire fleet is the screen for the modern US Navy battle line, a battle line that based on current orders alone will consist of 11 CVNs, 87 AEGIS ships of the battle line, and 34 Amphibious ships... nevermind the civilian manned, unarmed MSC. In the US Navy, 44% of the US fleet is the battle line, meaning the battle line is nearly two and a half times bigger than the screen to the battle line.

What are we going to do, use Amphibious Ships or MSC ships as screens for the battle line? Of coarse not, the Burkes will be pulled off the battle line to act as the screen, and do all the little dirty work for the fleet because there are no cruisers to do that work. Or will we use $2 billion submarines and have them act as screens?

Either way, the roles we built little inexpensive 1300 ton destroyer escorts to perform in WWII will be filled by $2 billion platforms in the 21st century under the current US Navy vision, and all the Navy says is "We need more Burkes!" The risk averse nature of the US Navy, the presumption that protection comes from mass alone, and the lack of oversight it takes to completely fail to build an effective screen for the battle line is adding significant tactical, but more importantly existential strategic risk to the ability of the US Navy to meet its obligations. There should be outrage among Flag officers regarding this obvious strategic imbalance in force structure, and yet... silence. When all a Navy has is $2 billion dollar battleships of the line to fight pirates with, and openly acknowledges they have too few ships to effectively fight pirates and control a few important sea lanes in the Indian Ocean from AK-47 waving small skiff boats, that should be a strategic red flag for Congress.

Instead, it is the Congressional testimony of Flag officers with a shrug and a smile, and it comes as they are telling Congress they can't build anything smaller than $2 billion, 9000 ton battleships. Mr. Chairman, if you build anything else it is too risky for our sailors. By the way Senator, have you seen our maritime strategy?

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