A few years ago, I bought all the folks in our call center a T-Shirt for Christmas. It read “I read the manual for you.” I thought it was clever, that is essentially what the helpdesk does for the user who is having computer problems.
Well, all the think tanks are putting out reports that carry recommendations for the future force structure of the military. Honestly, most of them are really pretty sad, and would be rejected as content lacking in intellectual rigor for any issue of Proceedings prior to 1960. Indeed, some of the chapters dedicated to Naval forces in these new reports are smaller than articles published in Proceedings prior to 1960. What ever happened to the idea of good ole fashioned indepth analysis?
Actually, there are two reports out that carry deeper analysis that I recommend for those interested in reading new ideas. As a public service of “reading the manual for you” so you can choose to skip it if you want, I’d personally recommend Frank Hoffman’s From Preponderance to Partnership: American Maritime Power in the 21st Century published by the Center for New American Security. Another report I really enjoyed among the many options is Dakota Woods The US Marine Corps: Fleet Marine Forces for the 21st Century (PDF) published by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. For a study of naval forces, to date these are the only two reports of the several out there during this transition period that put intellectual rigor and serious depth into the report.
While I enjoyed both reports for their serious depth of study into the topics, there was a similar topic raised in both reports that I see as movement towards a Littoral Strike Group, what I consider the evolution of the SSG I suggested is necessary yesterday. Frank Hoffman’s paper discusses the need for what he is calling a Littoral Superiority Fleet, which he believes should include 40 one thousand ton surface combatants. Dakota Wood evolves this a little further, and develops what he calls a Littoral Operations Group, which is essentially a formation centered around a single LPD-17 and 3 Littoral Combat Ships, each LCS with a Marine Squad. The idea Dakota Wood is pushing is for stand alone, reinforced company based distributed power that is seamobile, and he makes his case discussing both nuclear powered competitors and irregular warfare competitors.
I have been blogging about Littoral Strike Groups replacing Surface Strike Groups for a year now on my blog, and like Dakota Wood I believe this new strike should center around a LPD-17 as the high value unit. However, I also tend to agree with Frank Hoffman, and while I don’t have any idea if 1000 tons is the right size, I think we need to be building something like a modern Asheville class vessel for Littoral Operations, and oh btw, instead of putting a squad of Marines on the LCS we need to put that squad on the PC. A modern PC, particularly if it is 1000 tons, should be able to support 12 Marines and 6 Coast Guardsman and run with a Navy crew, or a true National Fleet platform. Build 3 PCs of a strike varient and 1 of a command varient and a squadron of 4 PCs now carries a platoon of Marines with some serious sea capable fire support in both green and brown water. The Marines have been shaping their forces for the large size of the Navy for decades, perhaps it is time to reverse logic a bit and scale our naval ships to better match the size of smaller, more flexible Marine units at the platoon, even the squad level.
What about vehicles? Have you actually seen a LPD-17? Vehicle space there is.
That leaves the LCS, what is this platform exactly? Well, I spent 3 nights on USS Freedom (LCS 1) and it is difficult to compare the ship to anything else. It is not a warship, it is more akin to an amphibious ship and a logistics ship built to operate in a small war environment. The LCS is two things, speed and space, and while plenty of people have all these unmanned systems ideas for how the ship can conduct all these war centric activities, I would suggest perhaps the ship is better used as a fast littoral logistics and support vessel for PCs in building peacemaking capability at sea for the US Navy. It may sound expensive in that role, but if given the choice of a HSV or LCS for supporting PCs in a low intensity war zone, I’d pick the LCS. The LCS and HSVs that bring tremendous amounts of space and speed to the fight look to me like the logistical enablers necessary to make forward deployed littoral PC squadrons work, indeed as logistical enablers (and they are built like logistics ships after all) these ships open the door to all kinds of different capabilities in managing the irregular space of war.
Before we get too busy trying to make the LCS the vehicle to deliver every littoral solution, I hope the powers that be do what I did, go stay the night on USS Freedom (LCS-1), walk around and think about the ships capabilities, and consider what the LCS can enable further down the ship chain… because I think anyone with a bit of imagination is going to have a new idea.