Howdy! Glad to be here myself, hope you will enjoy a dialogue of sorts with each other and the few of us silly enough to raise our hands when volunteers to be guest bloggers were called for. Now, I’m a long-time fan of Proceedings but it always seemed too remote, too stilted, too brown-nosy to me. I’m thinking this blog ought to allow a little more connectedness, a little more wildness into a discussion about our Navy, our Marines, our Coasties (may they all be 6 feet tall!), our country – our world.

Now, I’m just a retired reserve guy who never served an hour in the Pentagon, but spent some time on deck plates and lots of time working with people who take a very pragmatic attitude toward the tools of their trade. By which I mean people who consider some of Murphy’s Laws of Combat Operations to be a business plan. Worrying about getting the job done is big with them, holding committee meetings – to discuss “leveraging … best practices for a paradigm breaking six-sigma best business case in the global commons, rightsizing the core values supporting our mission statement via the 5-vector model” or whatever the heck Salamander has above his blog – not so much. In short, they don’t like fancy tools that aren’t reliable, and they fully appreciate Murphy’s Rule #6:

6. If it’s stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid. “

Now, there ought to be a corollary to Rule 6: “Sometimes things appear to work, but are stupid anyway.” This would include setting up anti-elephant garden protection devices in Connecticut (“Look, no elephants!”) or Ron Popeil’s spray on hair product.

Along the lines of the “Connecticut Elephant Protection System” (“CEPS” for the acronym lovers among you), I add the concept of using billion dollar ships to keep an eye on a merchant ship already captured by Somali pirates. Using an Aegis cruiser and a few other expensive ships seems to work – the pirates haven’t moved that ship or its cargo an inch, but . . .

Yeah, I know, Abraham Maslow got it right:

“It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Maybe we need more than hammers. And we need the other tools now, not when the proposed bevy of $300,000,000 – $600,000,000 (each) Littoral Combat Ships will be available with their full package (which reminds me of another Murphy’s Law – #56. Interchangeable parts aren’t. but that’s for a later discussion).

So, as previously revealed at my blog, but now exposed here for your consideration, a Crazy Idea:

  1. Take $250 million dollars and put it aside;
  2. Of that $250 million, use $100 million to buy or lease 50 to 100 offshore crew boats as currently used in the offshore oil industry (many of them are reaching the end of their expected useful life in the industry – you might be able to pick up some bargains).
  3. Invest $50 million in refurbishing the boats and in getting weapons for their decks. Turn them into “navalized” vessels. Make 22 knots the minimum acceptable speed.
  4. Do not try to make these low cost littoral combat ships into battleships for all conditions. Talk to the LCDRs who will be squadron commanders and the LTs who will be the commanding officers about what they would need to provide a presence, fight in a low threat environment against modestly armed pirates and the like, support occasional missions ashore and interdict drug smuggler semi-submersibles. Give them what they need in terms of state of the art comms using COTS (heck, load put a communication van on board so that no time is wasted trying to rewire the little ships more than needed). Put in some comfortable berthing suited for the sea states in which these things (I call them Special Purpose Vessels or SPVs) will operate.
  5. Under no cirmcumstance should the total U.S. Navy investment in any single SPV exceed $2 million, excluding the cost of adding weapons systems (adding a M-1 Abrams, for example) and the personnel costs.
  6. Make the project a 12 month “emergency” – and kill the bureacracy that would ordinarily take on this job – find a hard charging Captain, make him or her report directly to SecNav and tell them what the mission and the budget will be. Then get out of the way except for monthly status reports.
  7. Find a group of O-3s who are ready for command and who can think for themselves and train the heck out of them by letting them go to sea in the type of ships that you are acquiring, let them learn from the masters of current offshore supply and crew vessels. Find some O-4s who can take hold of the idea of being a squadron commander of a 5 ship squardron and train them in mission like that being conducted by the Africa station.
  8. Borrow some Army Rangers or fleet Marines and train them in the ship boardings, small boat ops, shipboard firefighting and ship defense. Treat them like the Marines of old. Stress people skills appropriate for counterterrorism work.
  9. Lease some ships to be used as “tenders” for the SPVs – small container ships on which the containers can be shops, supply warehouses, refrigerator units, etc. Bladders for fuel. Use the Arapaho concept to set up a flight deck for helo ops.
  10. Be generous with UAV assets – use the small “net recoverable” types.
  11. Don’t limit the small boat assets to RHIBs. Experiement with M-ships, small go-fasts captured from drug dealers, whatever. The idea is to have boats that can operate in one sea state worse than the pirates, drug smugglers, etc.
  12. Use the MIUW van concept for adding some sonar capability. TIS/VIS is a necessity.
  13. Start with a couple of squadrons, tell your O-6 that you want them ready in 6 months for operational testing. Unleash the budget dollars. For op testing, send one squadron off to the coast of Somalia for anti-pirate work. Send the other off Iraq. Put those expensive great big cruisers and destroyers currently in the area to work doing blue water stuff.

    Paint a Coast Guard like stripe on the hull of the SPVs – but make it Navy blue. If the Coasties want to join in, give them a boat and paint the stripe orange. Make the SPVs highly visible. Nothing deters crime like a visible cop on the beat.

    Show the flag.

See also here.

Now, let’s have a discussion.

Posted by Mark Tempest in Maritime Security

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  • SSG Jeff (USAR)

    You had me until #12 – what is “MIUW” and “TIS/VIS” – to me TIS means “Time In Service” which isn’t likely what you meant, sir.

    As for weapons loadout, make sure to drop one of the deployable 25-mm Bushmaster turrets that I’ve seen popping up on Figs and Destroyers lately on the front end of that thing. At that point you can dispense with the Abrams.

  • Byron

    You were doing good till you got to the 22 knot floor. You’d have to re-engine them and still you might have a large fuel penalty. Other than that, I’d have to say you could squeeze at least 3 flag commands out of this little WORKRON.

  • Just dropped in from InformationDissemination link. Thought that a Naval Institute Blog might be an interesting read, and then found your note. Of course, that pic tucked in between notes numbers 8 and 9 caught my eye….

    Using aerostat (no, it’s not a “blimp”) like the one pictured is a small step forward in increasing surveillance and communications abilities for the fleet.

    However, look at the picture: a boat, and a tethered balloon. Now, meld the two together, eliminate the tether, and you come up with a craft that can REALLY do work….anti mine warfare, surveillance, anti submarine, spec op force insertion…a host of things. Continue to increase the size of the craft, and end up with the 500 ton payload capable airships the Navy is looking towards for transport.

    Large rigid, amphibious airships are part of the Navy’s future. It is certain.

    Consider the advantages of increasing this type of navy presence….”ships” that have no sonar signature or wake, that can fly at knot speeds several times that of surface vessels, ships that can have as great a stealth capability as a B-2 bomber, carry both defensive and offensive weapons, ships that have unlimited linger ability in theater, or, can be swarmed in a matter of 72 hours to any destination on the planet directly from the U.S. mainland….ships that use solar energy for power and are free from re-fueling needs or nuclear concerns…..and can serve in any marine zone; blue, green, brown water….plus, have the ability to fly over desserts, mountains, continents and land without need of any prepared runways or facilities of any kind.

    THAT is increasing the Navy presence and the nation’s military ability, a thousandfold.

    It is all do-able, within months not years, and affordable.

    “6. If it’s stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid. “

    hope you’ll help to pass the word along…

    Glad to see the new blog, Naval Institute.

  • SSG Jeff (USAR)

    18kts would probably work – for faster work you’ll have the RHIBs and Mk 5s (what, you thought the SEALS would sit this one out?).

  • Byron: Higher speed is optional so long as they have go-fast boats and helos to chase bad guys.

    Flag commands? We don’t need no … flag commands…

  • Trent Telenko

    You might want to start with recent American naval history here for parallels:

    Inside the Danger Zone
    The U.S. Military in the Persian Gulf 1987-88
    By Harold Lee Wise
    Naval Institute Press (2007) ISBN 978-1-59114-970-5

    US Army Task force 160 operated six MH-6 “Little Bird” armed helicopters from two oil service barges to support Operation Earnest Will.

    Those helicopter shut down Iranian secret mining of the Persian Gulf in the late 1980’s.

    The text of the relevant chapter is available via limited preview on google books.

  • 15 plus knots is a much better performance floor. That should be adequate for being a mini-mothership, which is pretty much what they would be. It would be the small craft they carry aboard that would be doing intercepts. As I noted on Eagle1’s site, tuna seiners might also be something to look at. Many of the large ones are for sale and already come with various stern ramps and helo pads. Additionally, they were designed for 6-7K mile ranges, so they have very long legs.

  • SSG Jeff:

    “MIUW” is Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare and they operate the AN/TSQ-108A Radar Sonar Surveillance Van.

    “TIS/VIS” stands for a “thermal imaging system/visual imaging system” which is essentially an infrared imager and super duper television camera…

    I’ll try to do better with acronyms in the future…

  • seattlefire

    SSG Jeff/Eagle1- the vans are all gone. The MIUW units have all been “reorganized” and the vans have been exchanged for tents, pickup trucks and trailers. The last unit got the new gear this summer.
    I’m not sure what was done with all the old vans.

  • Fascinating concept. It’s…so crazy…it just might work!

  • It’s a slow start. What the Navy really needs are UAVs that are basically go-fast boats and go-fast near surface subs. I guess you’d call them Unmanned Maritime Vehicles (UMVs).

    A couple of big tanker-ish boats should be convertible into motherships for these types of craft with plenty of room left over for blimp drones and control rooms/crew berths for the vehicles’ remote pilots.

    I really like your emphasis on stuff that’s available right now since we’re like, fighting right now. There’s way too much 20-yearism in military procurement currently. Thanks for floating a good idea.

  • Seattlefire:

    I guess this means the vans are available for use on SPV’s!

  • leesea

    First off there is NO need to buy old OSVs when MSC can bareboat charter new boats built and equipped from the start for anti-pirate missions. Witness the HSV Swift. All the weapons and sensor systems can be installed as GFE as was done on the Swift.

    Since the SPVs would be chartered they could be placed off-charter at the end of a period specified by MSC.

    There are plenty of merchant mariners inculding CIVMARs trained to operate special mission ships. goto MSC PM2 webpage to see what is already in service.

    There are plenty of EXO officers in the MESF of NECC who are already trained to perform the anti-priate mission.

    There are many small cargo/container ships which would be suitable for Araphao ops. Not to mention the T-AVBs and other RRF ships (though the Marines may not want to give up the former).

    MSC already chaters OSVs for NSWG support and security missions.

    My point being look at the govt owned ships we already have.

    UAVs & MIUW vans are both good assets which can be easily installed & operated from OSVs/SPVs as you designate them

  • Sounds like Eagle1 needs to roust out the USNS Apache, Catawba, Navajo and Sioux (T-ATF 172, 168, 169 and 171) for testing. They’ve got a 10,000 nautical mile range, berthing for 25 + 20 transients, gun mounts, a VERTREP spot…

  • Byron

    Don’t forget that those T-ATFs have a whacking big deck crane and a huge winch for hauling. And the berthing is set up for union merchant marine. I suspect you could squeeze a few more Navy and Marine racks in the same space.

  • LT Rusty

    Eagle1 – Helo? Nononono – Firescout!

    Takes up less space, less mass, less structural changes to the ship if you have to add a flight deck for one, still can carry weapons …

  • LT Rusty

    Oh, and speaking of Abrams as a naval weapon system …

    This may just have been a sea story, but I seem to recall hearing about CARTER HALL using an Abrams in her well deck in an ASUW role in an exercise back in … ehhh ’96? ’97? Something like that. Way the story went, they lowered the ramp, and when the target came into view, called away ‘golf-golf-golf,’ and it got scored as a kill.

    Like I said, might just have been a sea story, though.

  • SeniorD

    “Talk to the LCDRs who will be squadron commanders and the LTs who will be the commanding officers about what they would need to provide a presence, fight in a low threat environment against modestly armed pirates and the like, support occasional missions ashore and interdict drug smuggler semi-submersibles.”

    Y’know, you just lost a good 30 years of experience, knowledge and guile when you left out the Goat Locker. Any Chief Boatswains Mate could tell you exactly what is needed to make a service boat become a littoral warfare/ant-piracy platform. Any Chief Gunner’s Mate could give you facts and figures regarding the capability of most high caliber automatic weapons system. Bring a couple Gunnery Sergeants into the mix and now you have a credible force.

    Please tell me what new O-3 has anywhere near the practical experience of a Chief. We’re not all knuckle draggers that have to use hand and feet to count above 10. Some of us actually have Bachelors, Masters and Doctorates.

  • SeniorD:

    Absolutely right. My bad.

    Of course, my “secret plan” calls minimal officer manning and for Chiefs to fill the meaningful roles involving engineering, weapons and deck seamanship, etc. Given that, my LTs and LCDRs, if worth their salt, would be going to the Goat Locker for input.

    And I’ll fight the man who says Chiefs are “knuckle draggers” – I’ve been helped by too many Chiefs to ever believe that.

  • Leesea:
    You are absolutely right that civilian mariners can handle this job, but part of my idea is to provide platforms for young naval officers to get some experience in littoral operations, assuming that lesson learned might be transferable to LCS operations, if we ever see more than 2 LCS platforms, and if we don’t then we will need this sort of crazy idea even more.

    NECC ought to be heavily involved in a lot of ways. For those unfamiliar with the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command and its components, here’s a link.

  • SSG Jeff (USAR)

    Ah, the TIS/VIS must be the MMS (Mast Mounted Sight) system originally designed for the Kiowa Warrior program (OH-58D). I’ve seen photos of it mounted on top of the bridges of Figs in the Gulf.

  • SeniorD


    Why not get them involved in the planning in the first place? I believe this is roughly akin to the business world spending much time and effort in developing some new IT application but never include the QA people in basic Requirements Elicitation. A good Chief knows how to work with officers and the wise Chief knows how to get the officers to make the ‘right’ decisions.

    Take advantage of the those years of practical experience to get a better product.

  • Eagle1

    Senior D:
    Okay, they’re in on the initial planning.

    See how easy it is to amend a “crazy idea?”

  • pk

    eagle 1:

    in 63 there was an all chiefs message that came out for chiefs specifically not to drag their knuckles. the first divisions on the ships were complaining to much about deck maintainence.

    it was the places (right outside the goat lockers) where there were parrelel grooves in the deck that was the tip off.


  • SeniorD

    Guess that makes me a ‘Wise Chief’?

  • Don’t forget retiree’s/former sailors in your planning team. For instance, I was a crewman on a PG and on an ATF. Click on this link to see a group of people with centuries of experience between them.

  • Eagle1

    Hey, if this keeps up the planning team is going to “look like America” – an experienced, “go in harm’s way” America…

  • Hey Eagle, just for some historical context, your crazy idea ain’t all crazy. There’s precedent! Oil rig crew boats–back when they were smaller–have been pressed into Naval service before. The SWIFT boats and the old PB MkI, II, and III were all modified from oil rig crew boat designs, if not direct mods from the showroom.

  • sid

    Sorry I am late to the party here. The (first) point I was going to make was the one Spring did.

    According to Friedman in his Small Combatants, the USN has traditionally used extemporized vessels for a transient threat.

    And this latest bout of Piracy sure appears to fit the bill as a transient threat.

  • Gideon Almy (aka El Gid et al)

    Some “crazy ideas” ain’t all that crazy! I would like to weigh in here but my current tasking won’t permit me the time to do the subject justice. In my view, the Navy has already turned over too many missions/roles/platforms to MSC & the Coast Guard. We need to get procurement under control and under adult supervision. The Coast Guard needs to revert to “Homeland Defense” and stop wasting Defense Dollars on their so-called Blue-Water programs. They are stretched so thin they are having trouble performing even marginally in their primary job code. As far as using oil-rig vessels in an anti-piracy role we’d have to be really careful about what we spend our money on. Many oil patch assets are marginally maintained and if procurement isn’t done properly we could be buying/chartering assets that will spend much of their time at the dock getting repaired. There are some exceptions, but not many. I currently operate a 180′ OSV that is 27 years old and in good shape. But we’ve had military based maintenance philosopies in the boat for the past 6 years (My engineer is a former Army tank mechanic and I am a former steam plant Injuneer). Having said all that, the concept of using oil field assets in an anti-piracy role is a valid one. I would opt for a modern PSV (platform supply vessel) in a mothership role with RHIB’s. …El Gidmo