As of 12/01/2008, the Ship Battle Forces fleet, according to the Naval Vessel Register, stands at 283 hulls. But the accounting is somewhat…odd. Let’s take a look at a few accounting issues:

First, ships are registered as being part of the fleet before they are commissioned. If we remove ships that are “in Service, not in commission” we reduce the fleet by 4 to 279 (Truxtun (DDG-103), Stockdale (DDG-106), Green Bay (LPD-20), and Amelia Earhart (T-AKE-6)). Shouldn’t we formalize this status instead of hiding them within a list of fully commissioned vessels?

Second, ships that are, for all intents and purposes, inactive, are not declared as such. If we remove these “deactivating” vessels, we reduce the fleet by 2 to 277 (USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), USS Tarawa (LHA-1)). Nuclear submarines have an “in commission, in reserve (standown)” status for inactivating ships, so why not follow their lead?

Finally, the Battle Fleet totals are padded by including the 9 FFG-7 reserve frigates…yet reduced by excluding the 10 Cyclone Class Patrol Craft. Why? Patrol craft used to be included…while reserves were excluded…

Still, without this sort of accounting, we’d be awfully close to the fleet’s 19th Century low… In the interest of providing the best, most accurate data to the public and national policymakers, does the Navy’s method of accounting for fleet size need rationalization? Is the baroque accounting distorting the national debate on Navy fleet size? Is the situation worse–or better–than we believe?

But the accounting questions don’t end with the methodological hiccups detailed above. We’ve got some very…interesting…assets listed in our books that need consideration. If we don the green eye-shades and poke into the Battle Fleet ship list, we see that the Military Sealift Command administers commissioned ships that are, as yet, skippered by a Navy captain and operated by MSC (civilian) mariners. So that leaves us with 2 ships in a “quasi-naval” status (USS Emory S. Land (AS-39) and USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20)).

And then we have an array of 42 other MSC support vessels, a fleet of 30 logistical support vessels (tankers and supply ships) and 13 support ships (tugs, salvage and surveillance). With civilian masters and civilian crew, their status as fully-fledged naval vessels seems…at best, unprecedented. Should these vessels be included as components of the Ship Forces Battle Fleet? Yes? No? We’re already seeing command and control problems bubble up on naval-led missions aboard MSC vessels. And, if we believe that future warfare will be characterized by some sort of surprise, why do all MSC vessels go without a weapons/communications suite? How durable is the MSC in a contested sea?

It seems, sometimes, the cost-saving disposition of the Battle Fleet sprang out of the same folks who gave us all fancy adjustable mortgages, cool financing options and endless credit. And that’s all ended really well, right? Right?


Posted by Defense Springboard in Hard Power, Navy

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  • Byron

    Which altogether is enough to ruin a great day off, when you ponder the terrible state of new construction. I’ve said several times that firing about 90% of the civilian and Naval leadership over those programs is the best thing to do. Just a shame that tar and feathering went out in style. And this yardbird will tell you that the ships you do have are getting old and very tired. Of course, I shouldn’t complain, since I’m making a decent living off patching those ships up to deploy again. Still, be nice to know there’s something new coming up, that isn’t a white elephant like LPD-17 and LCS or the still born DDX.

  • Byron

    your candid analysis is most refreshing! Why a low threshold of 90 percent?

  • Byron

    Hoping that at 10% get the idea 😉

  • leesea

    Your insuations about the usefullness of MSC ships/crws is insulting and incorrect. MSC ships serve wherever the Navy sends them and in some cases ahead of the Navy. T-ATFs leading ships into mine fields during Dsesert Storm for one instance. The merchant marine has always been there in wartime and peace! There is nothing unprecedented about the missions MSC has been doing for over 50 years! MSC crews are governed by SECNAV regs

    MSC ships are up to date with modern damage control practices and equipment. Their crews are professional who recieve high levels of training and the ships are well built. When was the last time you heard of an MSC sinking due to enemy action or casualty?

    USNS ships in fact have full communications suites, some of them which were converted from USS have the same comm suites. There have been no “command & control” problems rather ingnorance on the part of naval staffs unfamiliar with the mission & ship.

    Many NFAF ships have security teams on them (if requird by fleet commander). All others have more then sufficent small arms and specically trained crews.

    In addition, with the modern emphasis on soft power and HA/DR missions, one must believe that there are even more uses for sealift ships which the Navy has yet to imagine. Let me list a few: seabsing (no the USN does not need amphibs painted black!), medical diplomacy, Global Fleet Station/support, mothership to helos/UAVs/boats.

    Bottom line OF COURSE, MSC ships must be included in the Battle Force. Hell the Navy WebSite does not even show them.

  • Springboard,

    I think we should exlude ships deactivating and not yet commissioned. I think we should include the cyclone class patrol craft as well as MSC ships. But then again what do I know I am just a reserve 0-3

  • Byron

    Lessea, SB is right. By definition, auxilleries cannot be counted as “Battle forces”, since merchies cannot put warheads on foreheads. They ARE extremely important, and in any discussion of the fleet, their numbers must be counted. After all, amateurs discuss strategy, professionals discuss logistics 😉

  • SeniorD

    The truly depressing state of affairs is the majority of ‘fighting ships’ are dedicated to Carrier protection or Amphib assaults. Very little in between.

    For example, no diesel boats – extremely quiet, hard to detect and, get this, better in shallow water than SSNs,

    For example, no basic patrol craft to support littoral combat – where are the Pegasus Class hydrofoils?

    Short sighted, blue water centric planning was fine when the other side has comparable units. Today’s and tomorrow’s warfighters need hulls that can go in Harm’s Way. Sadly, no one seems to think there’s a ‘Sea Change’ coming.

  • Byron

    Senior, I agree on all points, save one: Keep those damn PHMs tied to a dock! They are a maintenence nightmare, and yardbirds will quit before they try to work on them. Besides, they tend to be whale magnets 😉

  • leesea

    The ships are not merchants, they are USNS vessel in service to the USN and listed on the NVR. ALL naval auxiliaries are now in fact crewed by MSC CIVMARs. Where does it say a ship has to shoot to be counted? How far will all those warships get withou their fuel, how much can they shoot without their shells and missiles, how long can they stay at sea without their parts. You had better damn well count the MSC NFAF ships at least. The Stratice Sealift Force (PM-3) is vital to the USN since 95% of all materials going to/from theater is borne of sealift ships most of which are owned or contractd for by MSC.

    BTW depending on which list you are looking at MSC ships ARE counted. In addition to the NVR, the STADST which the Navy uses internally counts all ships assigned or operated by MSC typically over 100! So it depends on which bean counter you are discussing.

  • sid

    And then we have an array of 42 other MSC support vessels, a fleet of 30 logistical support vessels (tankers and supply ships) and 13 support ships (tugs, salvage and surveillance). With civilian masters and civilian crew, their status as fully-fledged naval vessels seems…at best, unprecedented. Should these vessels be included as components of the Ship Forces Battle Fleet? Yes? No?

    A fundamental question is: How much of its core “business” is the USN going to “outsource”?

    Seems the most strategic assets of all, and the ones most likely to find themselves in “Harm’s Way” -the Expeditionary assets- are the assets getting farmed out.

  • WTH

    The reserve FFGs need to stay on the list. The only reserve aspect of them is the 10-20% crew that is assigned to a reserve detachment. I was active duty on a reserve FFG, we did the same missions and had all of the same requirements as active FFGs. For all intents and purposes they are identical to any active FFG, just with less crew. Our argument was always why do other ships have so many people? It’s also interesting, that unless things have changed, you’re not going to get big Navy to authorize the overtime for tugs and the like to get underway for a drill weekend.

  • leesea

    Sorry I do not consider that naval auxiliaries operated by professional American merchant mariners as “outsourcing”. The Navy considers the Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force as fleet support which is hugely cost beneficial. NFAF is also an underfunded part of the SCN. Although I did just see a contract for long-lead items for last two T-AKEs.

    P.S. MSC’s force of over 100 ships is divided into four programs. PM1 manages the NFAF in which most auxiliaries are. PM3 runs Prepositioning Force. PM5 provides Strategic Sealift ships.

  • sid

    leesa, the issue is they are civilians, and thus noot enirely under military authority. When is a navy no longer a “Navy”, but is instead a civil service/contractor organization?

    Might add to, the Brits ran across some issues in the Falklands

    A helicopter-carrying merchant ship that sank with the loss of 12 men after being hit by two Exocet missiles in the 1982 Falklands conflict was unarmed and unprotected because Ministry of Defence lawyers feared that it was illegal to fit a commercial vessel with weapon systems, according to newly released classified documents.

    And there are concerns with the current trends in the USN as well

    (from the Spring 2006 NWC Review)

    If the MPF-F is manned as prepositioning ships are today, its crew will consist entirely of civilian mariners. There is no legal prohibition against manning naval auxiliaries, such as oilers, ammunition ships, supply ships, and prepositioning ships, with civilians. In fact, these seamen have a recognized status under the Geneva Conventions as “civilians accompanying the force” and are entitled to prisoner-ofwar status if captured.10 Issues arise, however, if the MPF-F is indeed to become part of the “assault echelon”—if Marines or soldiers actually launch from the ship into combat operations ashore. Similar issues will arise if USS Mount Whitney, with its hybrid crew, is employed as a C4I platform in an armed conflict. The issues that arise are twofold. First, under conventional and customary international law, a warship is manned by a crew under regular armed forces discipline.
    Second, civilians who assist in operating and maintaining a warship engaged in international armed conflict might be viewed as participating actively or directly in hostilities and thus as having lost their protected status as civilians accompanying the force.

  • Great comments ya’ll. The MSC is important. No question. But I still worry that our disposition of logisitical force is built around the unquestioned dominance of US afloat forces. As the fleet shrinks, that is going to change.

    I also think it’s important to note that most of the fleet auxiliary support craft carried Sea Sparrows and CWIS. In the event of a crisis, how quickly will these systems get retrofitted onto these platforms? How much time will it take to train the crew?

  • leesea

    sid, MSC CIVMARS are regulated by SECNAV instuctions, how is that not under military authority. They can be jailed and/or fired if they fail to follow orders. The argument you pose is a red herring issue raised by Marines who only want sailors crewing an over-sized Assault Echelon. They are demanding that only “exquisite ships” support their ops. It is a non-issue with the working level folks.

    Springbored, in point of fact NFAF and MPS ships have had gun mounts and equipment to support them since the early ’80s. CIWS are in essence bolt on systems. Shoulder fired missiles need less the SeaRam and the like but come on how much self-defense is really needed? Want to profer some more guesses? Pls define which group of MSC ships you are so worried about. The Navy’s warship role since its founding was to support all the ships which sail with it. BTW the RFA ship’s military dets shot down Argie jets with what they had in the Falklands.

  • sid

    It is a matter of organizational culture leesa. As Spring suggests above, the USN is too focused on fiscal constraints and is applying the dubious MBA calculus that has been all the rage over the last decade to problems that do no lend themselves well to such solutions….problems of War.

    Bottom line, CIVMARs are not navy. Again, when does a “navy” cease to exist as an entity…focused on winning wars as THE core competency…and becomes a “corporate entity” more concerned with social mores, and simply operating “nice rides”?

    I argue that the increased “civilianization” of naval functions -in particular the Expeditionary assets- are a manifestation of waning “Battlemindedness” in the USN.

  • sid

    Now…UPFRONT..I am not casting aspersions on all the fine folks operating blue and gold striped stack vessels as I type. And since I make no secret of the day job I am in, denigrating those who work contracted lift would be a case self-tarring…

    Spring alludes to C2 issues aboard MSC vessels between the civilians and the military. There is historic friction that has always been there. This from SE Morison’s History, Vol. I(p380):

    They arrived 30 March 1942. Landing conditions, exceedingly difficult at best, were rendered almost impossible by foul weather, and by the attitude of the transports’ merchant seaman, who refused to work overtime and regarded the bluejackets sent aboard to do their work as “finks”. Naval energy and resourcefulness were largely responsible for getting the bulky bulldozers and other material ashore; the Army Engineers then turned-to, surmounted every difficulty of construction and had the Ascension filed operational by July 1942.

  • sid

    Oh yeah…the calculus thing…Even though I can’t cipher so well, I know all about Systems Analysis and its place in Naval thought

  • I don’t like the idea of creating a second Navy–one that is either, as Leasea would say, on equal footing to their Navy brethren or one that could be interpreted by some in the Navy as a second class service.

    That’s a friction that we don’t need on the battlefield.

    And Leasea, how can you bolt on a CWIS that…erm…isn’t available in the depot or is already shooting at motars in a very sandy place?

  • leesea

    sid & springbored, MSC has been doing its job and getting along quite nicely with the warship navy for more than 50 years. It is not a new creation. Any problems you may see are ancient history. Pls accept the facts that MSC exists and ALL combat logistics afloat is about to be performed on USNS ships. Get over it. In point of fact USNS masters are performing TG logistics coordination now previously done by a naval staff.

    P.S. I have been on many an MSC ships and the friction you percieve is not onboard. IF you have any recent examples pls provide.
    P.P.S. I helped launch two MILDETS for T-LKAs, the sailors in them looked foward to working with MSC mariners. MILDETS and AIRDETs are on many NFAF ships.
    P.P.S. Commerical contracted helos provide VETRREP services on some NFAF ships with arguably better helos – Super Pumas vs. Blackhawks. But that is a separate discussion to have on another thread.

    BTW The naval staff on hospital ship Comfort was a destroyer ron stuck with running a humanitarian mission for which they were not trained.

    Springbored the availablity of CIWS applies to ANY ship platform they might go to. So that is not the issue. I understand the US Army rqmts are diverting CIWS units from naval uses right now?