From a “disciple” of the famous Col. John Boyd, Chuck Spinney, comes Reductio Ad Absurdum, Navy Style:

An utterly convincing testimonial, from an expert witness with flawless credentials, regarding the benefits of quality over quantity for the fleet:

“The U.S. commander in charge of the waters off Somalia, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, told CNN on Monday that he thought it would take a force of 61 warships to safeguard the sea lanes just in the Gulf of Aden, compared with the 14 international ships now patrolling off the Horn of Africa. If the U.S. Navy alone had to provide a force that size, it would take every destroyer and cruiser in the fleet, plus three frigates. ( Navy Times, 12/09/08 )”

Pierre continues: In other words, the USN’s pursuit of ever more “capable” ships has provided America with a fleet that is incapable of handling the Somali pirates.

Spinney’s comment: In January, it is my understanding that the Pentagon will request a budget of about $581 billion for its core budget, i.e., not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of the Navy’s share of this budget should be something on the order of $150-160 billion a year, yet Admiral Gortney is telling us that securing the Horn of Africa from a gang of rag tag Somali pirates will take every cruiser and destroyer in the Navy plus 3 or its Frigates. This means the Navy would not enough surface warships left over to configure the normal defense screen for even one carrier battle group. Since the United States is spending about as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, Gortney’s confession raises a basic question about about the Pentagon’s competence to do its job.

‘Course, Mr. Spinney hasn’t studied at the Department of Crazy Ideas lately.

Let’s have a discussion.

UPDATE: Is quantity vs quality the real issue here? If we had 80 more Aegis cruisers wouldn’t the issue still be having the right force to meet the sort of threat posed by Somali pirates in small boats that look just like the normal fishing fleet? Is this a fire power issue or an issue akin to dealing with an insurgency ashore – (as in Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife)- somewhat like Market Time operations off Vietnam? (For those of you who don’t recall Market Time, here’s a quick look. How do we build flexibility into our Navy to allow such missions to be undertaken on the cheap? Or has the Navy become too bound to “big gray hulls” to think creatively about these small wars green water missions and how to win them on the cheap. For pirate monitoring activity, I argue the big cruisers, destroyers, LHA/LHD whatever are exactly the wrong vessels – where are the real “small boys” when we need them? A destroyer that is bigger than the old battleship Texas just doesn’t cut it.

The U.S. Coast Guard knows this – which is why they have so many small patrol boats for U.S. domestic waters. Can you imagine a Burke-class destroyer being used to tow a broken down pleasure boat? Or enforcing fishing laws?

Further, we need to get our young crews (officers/chiefs/junior petty officers) involved in small boat/ship operations. Is anyone seriously projecting that the next war at sea will be a totally blue water affair? History tells us that is really unlikely. Sea battles are fought for and near land. We need to prepare for battle in the littorals, the straits, the chokepoints and in green water. And to prepare we need to get experience for our future leaders.

As Captain Wayne Hughes wrote in Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (p.290):

I have yet to find a rationale for sending large, expensive and highly capable warships into contested coastal waters unless they can take several hits and continue fighting without missing a beat … It is better to fight fire with fire using expendable, missile carrying aircraft or small surface craft.

We need to train those small surface craft skippers and crews now and develop tactics and skill sets. Why? You fight like you train: “You won’t rise to the occasion – you’ll default to your level of training,” as some wise head once wrote.

Posted by Mark Tempest in Maritime Security

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  • Your idea for a cheap coastal fleet sounds like a pretty good idear to me, and you wouldn’t even have to deal as much with the COIN aspect of “enabling moderates in the local population” since it’s out at sea. Why aren’t people like you running the Navy!

  • Listening to our people talk about how hard if not impossible it would be to take on the Somali pirates, I gather they’re not lining up looking for fast ships to go in harm’s way. As I understand it we don’t have the right kinds of ships in sufficient numbers to really do anything and only real amateurs would expect the US Navy to get in this fight. With the Royal Navy being cautioned not to put any pirates in custody lest their human rights be violated, I wonder if we shouldn’t leave the area and leave the problem to navies actually willing to fight. I would hate to have civilian mariners come to harm in mistakenly relying on the US Navy to protect them.

  • Byron

    Smells like someone is empire building. My group would include a DDG, an LHA w/helos and harriers, and one amphib with helos and LCACS. Through in a couple of cycling unrep ships for beans bullets and gas. That’s 3 combatants, 2 support. For that you get the ability to chase fastboats (RHIBS and LCACs), Air for tracking and attack/suppression, lot’s of Marines for boarding, and the ability to make a quick run ashore after bad guys if in hot pursuit.

  • Z

    Ok, have you ever thought about how big the area might be and how much traffic there is? How about sustainment? Will you keep this TF at sea 24/7?

    This is not the pond in your garden………

  • andrew koch

    Seems to me the wrong questions are being asked. If it costs so much in terms of fleet presence, not to mention operational funding, to handle piracy under the strategy outlined, then clearly something is wrong. And the question becomes not how to better configure the types of ships deployed, but how at the national level do you adress the issue in a more effective way (or maybe not adress it if its not such a big deal that the cost is greater than the reward)…

  • SeniorD

    I like Bryon’s idea of LHAs, LCACs and RHIBs. Rather than pull a DDG from Carrier defense, I’d re-commission a couple FFG-7 frigates, take the missiles off and add a couple Bushmasters. Include a video recording capability to capture acts of piracy and use the LHA as a floating court using Maritime Law and existing Anti-Piracy statutes for conviction.

    Declare a 2 mile exclusion area around any ship in the Gulf and then reduce the piracy one pirate at a time. The frigates could even paint gallows for each pirate captured/tried/executed.

  • Brine

    I think the admiral is looking at it from a tactical perspective when the answer to piracy is going to come from policy at the AFRICOM and NCA level which I hope he is fighting for.

    The numbers he quotes seem reasonable for covering the area so you can go stop or deter the pirates when they engage the merchants: it is a big big AOR with a lot of cargo to protect running on each companies schedule. I don’t know if the Admiral’s comments are like my own grumblings on our loss of command of the sea during the decent from the Reagan Navy, or meant to point out that the current politically correct paradigm of stopping the pirates when they attack loses sight of the Navy’s employment against the Barbary Pirates at the large tactical and or Strategic level.

    A lot of the answers to this will come from the victories ADM Allen just reminded us of, the large tactical picture is very similar in terms of weak states and small hard too discern targets, just double the adversity of the initial conditions and throw in a religious element and potential external state funding instead of cartels. The notes on both are there in CENTCOM and SOUTCOMs play books, but it is a very very hard rode ahead for AFRICOM with the medias eye on this in our PC and risk adverse world. I wonder a little if some of the rise in piracy is market forces or external sponsorship to give AFRICOM embarrassment as it starts up, and or to lean the world’s eye away from the 3rd tier competitor in the 5th fleet AOR.

    Unfortunately the effect of our actions will also be similar in that Piracy is a very high profit margin venture, some elements of Hearts and minds will have to go into making it shameful, instead of a Johnny Depp like pillaging of the infidels. On the plus side the market for this enterprise is mostly local to Somolia, and not here at home. I’d invite ADM Allen to post on this because I’m not sure which elements in Steel Web he thinks are most transportable to 5th fleet and AFRICOM.

  • “Budget~Blowing Hardware” for USAF is harming the US ability to Project Power ! (When was the last Dog~Fight ?) The USN / USMC TEAM + USCG have got to “SELL” SEA~LANES DISCIPLINE to CONGRESS;
    LHA / LHD Mother ships outfitted with appropriate Small Boys & RIVERINE & Swiftboat type assets & capable Attack Helicopters & Harriers could easily put a clamp on the hard-point locations of Pirate Activities. Grab a couple USAF AWACS to provide oversight & air traffic control . . . quarantine Somalian waterfronts and declare a “FREE FIRE ZONE”. With No Government in Somolia ~ how can they compl;ain ? Encourage a “United African Ground Force” to come out of the WEST & drive the “Bad Guys” into the SEA ! You may reap a sudden capable, legal Somali Government from this approach. OR ~ are we no longer a SEA POWER, all you ADMIRALS & SECDEF ? wes

  • Brine

    Thomas PM Barnett (yes groan of ADM Fowler resignation commentary fame, but he has some interesting amylases) had an article on something similar that was planned ancd leaked leading to unwillingness to do it again as well as commentary on AFRICOM as the good investment it is in Esquire: “The Americans have Landed”

  • pk

    how about an LH? as a mother ship and about a half dozen of the coast guards high endurance cutters just cruising around being nosy in the area of interest. the cutters are very well equiped for this type of work and their people are quite experienced in the world of boarding parties.

    yeah i know that “schedules are set years in advance” but this might just be one of those times…..


  • Eagle1

    You mean all those “spare” CG high endurance cutters they are keeping in reserve?

  • Byron

    Senior D, it’s nice to hear agreement from someone who’s not in love with transformational high drag, low-speed doo-dads. Keep it simple. You’re only talking 500 miles of coast, and you work it from the middle out. You sit about 10 miles off the coast, so they can SEE you. Marines for rounds on foreheads and intimidation, LCACs to get them there quickly, RHIBS to search and board, helos for fast rope and ASuW for the mother ships (remember them cute little Cobras?). If you need AEW (which I don’t think you do), D-Gar ain’t that far away.

  • Those who think that giant Aegis destroyers are enough to handle the pirates, may I remind them of the famous Philadelphia incident of 1803? We finally had to burn her using a craft much like those the Barbary Pirates used. A lesson from the past which we could use today.

  • Piracy isn’t political, it’s financial. People faced with poor prospects will become pirates if they think the risks are outweighted by the rewards. If we want to reduce or eliminate piracy in the region we can either try to improve living conditions for the locals (which worked out poorly the last time we tried that) or increase the risks to piracy. That means killing the pirates, sinking their boats, and ruining whatever they have. If we are unwilling to do that, there really isn’t any point in trying.

  • I would think it would be cheaper, safer and a good deterent to the many pirates and pirates-to-be if all commercial ships were fitted with a system that would dump a caustic foam of some sort around all sides of the ship to avoid boarding by would be hi-jackers (pirates). Caustic to skin and very slippery. I think it might just slow down boarding long enough to muster an on board defense by the ship’s crew.

  • sid

    It is better to fight fire with fire using expendable, missile carrying aircraft or small surface craft.

    And the LCS at a half billion “bareboat” and 3000 tons…”in close” where that speed will be of little use…is neither small nor “expendable”.

    All this talk of stand off out of harm’s way and letting the robots doing all the fighting and dying as well is a false promise.

    You won’t have enough on scene, and they don’t have enough range, speed and endurance to allow the LCS to truly stand off, or smarts to make that happen.

  • SeniorD

    Of course pirates will attack targets of opportunity if they think the return on investment pays. They’re attacking unarmed merchant vessels with what are, in essence, canoes. The pirates are armed with RPGs, AK-47s and other junk that can be bought anywhere in Africa.

    LCACs armed with M-2s, LAWs and two Marine Fire Teams have three times the speed and four times the firepower. Using a retired LPH/LPD or even the 20 knot LSTs as a basing platform puts the pirates on notice. The real attention getter would be a personal visit from some of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children or SEALS to the local chieftain in the dead of the night. A little PSY-OPS never hurt anyone.

  • Byron

    @Wayne: got three letters for you: EPA.

    SeniorD: Are me and you the only ones that understand KISS? Good Lord, get a couple of amphibs, about 600 of those Misguided Children, some fast boats and fast movers, and tell them pirates are open season! When you fly under the black flag, you lose ALL protection of law. And Senior, be even better for them to wake up and find one of them dead lying down next to a bunch of live ones…that’s PSY-OPs 😉

  • pk

    as i remember (from the history books not having been there) the end of pirates was usually single ship engagements between vessles representing someones navy and the guys with the black flag.

    after a bit of a chase it ususlly settled down to one of those engagements that depended on the amount of fight in the dog rather than the size of the dog.

    like i say, them high endurance cutters really look like a good fit for this work.