To beat the drum harder; in this profession a sound knowledge of history is absolutely critical. A love of books is essential. A long and clear perspective, understanding the paths and lessons of those who came before is a professional foundation stone.

Without that foundation, mistakes will be repeated. Debunked theories will be born anew …. with the same results at the terminal end. In our line of work, a terminal end usually results in dead Sailors, sunk ships, and a nation in extreme Strategic risk.

Every now and then a quote comes up from someone that just sets me back. Makes me take a deep breath and read again. Makes me go back to the beginning to look for some contextual clue that I missed. Makes me try to find some mistake in the reporter’s note taking or the editor’s red pen that truncated a quote to mean something the speaker did not intend.

Sadly, often times I find myself looking at another transformationalist – someone who thinks that war is new – a huge paradigm has occurred – “old” things will “never” happen again – a new kind of war that only the select few see will make all other things unneeded.

When you combine a transformatinalist with someone looking at the future Fleet with a more bureaucratic than strategic POV – then you often have this.

From Dan Taylor at InsideDefense;

The fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill allocates $15 million for the Navy to look into a “mobile maritime sensor” that would essentially be a dedicated radar ship for use in sea-based ballistic missile defense, according to Senate Armed Services Committee staff.

An Oct. 7 committee press release following the passage of the conference report on the bill announces that the funding would be added “for a mobile maritime sensor development program to provide options for the Navy in meeting its sea-based missile defense requirements.”

Dave Baker, a naval author and analyst, said a dedicated radar ship “is not a bad idea.” The option would be “infinitely cheaper” than doing it on a CG(X), and the service could use cruiser hulls or even merchant designs instead of developing a whole new platform.

“There’s no sense in going out and building something specialized for that role,” he told ITN Oct. 21. “A bulk cargo ship could do it.”

Baker said such ships might preclude the need for some CG(X) hulls in the future. It would also be important for the surface warfare community to get a new mission, he said.

They’re not going to be shooting at other ships at sea,” he said. “Getting a new mission for the surface community is important to the surface community.”


We have been here before. Remember when the depth charge, ASDIC, aircraft, and the homing torpedo would make the submarine no longer a threat? Remember when the B-36 and nuclear weapons made the Aircraft Carrier obsolete? Remember when the jet and guided missiles made a gun on a fighter a romantic anachronism? Remember when MIW was a problem for just the European navies to take seriously?

This is the same thought process that told the Royal Navy in the late ’70s early 80s that they would never need a gun on their ships again and that there was no use for Aircraft Carriers in the “new navy.” They got kicked in the teeth by the Argentines to prove otherwise.

I don’t know who this dude is – but I am sure he is a great, fun, and exceptionally smart guy – but someone get him a subscription to USNI’s Classics of Naval Literature series and Naval History magazine – please.

To steal a phrase:

Only the dead have seen the end of “…shooting at other ships at sea.”

If you plan the core of your Fleet with the assumption that you will not have to face another – you will cause Sailors to be killed – you will cause ships to be sunk – and you will cause your nation to be put in extreme Strategic risk.

“Phibian Salamander, a naval author and analyst, said that Dave Baker needs to read some more.”

Do we ever learn?

Posted by CDRSalamander in Books, History, Soft Power

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  • Byron

    David Baker needs to get someone to lend him the money to buy a clue…sure as hell he ain’t got one.

  • Phil Ridderhof

    I agree with you. I’m a naval, not Navy guy, but its obvious that as soon as we assume away any threat, and don’t prepare for it, it becomes the next successful “asymmetric” threat. Asymmetric being defined as that we aren’t prepared for.
    I will say that the discussion highlights the issue of multi-mission ships versus more specialized platforms. The challenge of multi-mission ships is that they can only be in one place at one time, and even with great ranges, can only be optimally employed against a certain set of threats.
    There is no argument for not preparing to kill ships at sea. On the other hand, not every platform needs to, or should, be able to do every mission.

    Phil Ridderhof USMC

  • wow. great article.

  • leesea

    Having actually worked on a dedicated radar ship i.e. USNS Observation Island, (based on a Mariner hull I might add), I got to say someone is very mixed up here. What mission is the “mobile maritime sensor” for? We are being told by the Navy now that BMD modified DDGs can perform that role in the near term. I think they have said that CG(X) can do full scale BMD in the future.

    Is this $15 mil merely an R&D program? Ok that is about one-tenth of what the Cobra Judy Program cost back in the ’80s. I will have to research the cost for the CJReplacement ship and platform, but could not find a cost for the later (an ONR sponsored contract?) on Tim Colton’s site. In any case it certainly is curious that the slim amount was inserted in the bill?

    As always the alternative to an expensive warship could be an unarmed naval auxiliary, but the question remains what for? I would add that an armed naval auxiliary might work in a permissive environment? We should all know threat the USNS Observation Island was/is protected by the SALT II treaty as a “national means of technical verification”. I don’t know of any other legal protections for radar ships?~~

    Is this another dumb useless earmark?

  • Byron

    “Is this another dumb useless earmark?”

    Sniff…sniff…. Could be, could be…

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Nobody would ever think to engage what is essentially a radar picket vessel, would they? Especially if they knew it was unable to defend itself?

    USS Laffey (DD-724) had plenty of weapon systems. Might be that the crew of “the ship that wouldn’t die” would respectfully disagree with Mister Baker. Blinding one’s adversary by hitting his observer/sensor network is hardly a new or “transformational” idea.

    Radar ship? Might’ve been a good mission for a modified Spruance, if we hadn’t discarded them like we’d gotten them at Wal-Mart.

  • Don’t we have an entire fleet today who’s “purpose is not to fight”. If that is the case why waste money on expensive weapons we don’t plan to use?

    Seriously, we use ships everyday who are underarmed and who rely on other platforms for their defense. They are called “aircraft carriers”. And doesn’t the USAF have radar planes built on converted airliners?

    A radar ship on an auxiliary vessel would be a low cost and welcome change to placing smart technology on exquisite hulls, which reduce the number we can buy, as well as making them too precious to place in harms way because they are few if any replacements.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Armed naval auxiliary? And the Geneva/Hague convention status of the merchant marine crew would be?

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Why would a retired but still capable hull be considered “exquisite”? Leave enough weapons systems aboard to defend herself. Enough speed to deploy with the CSG if necessary. Existing hull, already paid for.

    If we hadn’t deep-sixed them, the first five Ticonderogas, the Spruances or even the Virginias might have come in very handy for such missions. Very few were anywhere NEAR end of service life, and we didn’t even mothball them.

  • URR,
    You’re not being transformational enough. After all, the Navy learned nothing, gained nothing, and learned nothing when it went from CL-92 to CLG-4. [/sarcasm]

    Anyway – you forget the original post. This is supposed to be the mission that SWO’s should aspire to.

    Actually, if they aren’t going to be “shooting at other ships at sea” then maybe they should just be SOs.

    It is kind of funny when you think about it. “We need Aegis CG/DDG ships to protect our Aegis BMD radar picket that we built so we don’t have to place an Aegis CG/DDGin that area. ”

    Ummm ….. OK.

  • Chuck Hill

    “They’re not going to be shooting at other ships at sea,”

    True, but other ships, or planes, or submarines, may be shooting at them.

    Then there are all the other unarmed or virtually unarmed ships that are needed to keep the warships at sea, and no one escorts them.

    True, but of course they don’t protect us from a nuclear strike. They are not the lynch pen of a system that means life or death for not hundreds, but millions.

    We could name them after other merchant hulls placed in harms way: Pueblo, Liberty

    So what do you protect them with? Aegis equipped warships.


    Why the comment,
    “They’re not going to be shooting at other ships at sea,” he said. “Getting a new mission for the surface community is important to the surface community.”
    is just downright idiotic, the idea of a Radar ship for BMD is not a bad one. If I remember right, the X-band radar doesn’t have any defense yet we use it for missile defense.
    Note, the money is for a study. The purpose of a study is to determine if it makes sense. If a few radar ships with very powerful radars could contribute significantly to the effectiveness of a missile defense system from positions in relatively safe operating areas, like the Red Sea, Aegean, Black Sea, or Baltic (to name a few), that could reduce the need for using high end multi-mission (and hence expensive) naval forces for these roles (i.e. pure radar picket). What is the problem? We had numerous unescorted, cheap, single purpose radar picket ships as part of the DEW line.

  • USNVO,
    “We had numerous unescorted, cheap, single purpose radar picket ships as part of the DEW line.”

    Yes, and they were considered expendable in a large scale war. We are talking about something different though. I do grant you that such ships may be useful in some circumstances, but is it a false economy?

    I would not consider the Red Sea a safe operating area. You park that in the Red Sea unescorted – let me put on my Red Hat in some backwater coastal town in Egypt, Yemen or Sudan, and I will sink you for an expenditure in the high five to low six figures.

    The Baltic? Have you seen the force protection issues concerning Malmo? Swedish or CIA, doesn’t matter. Open source or closed, doesn’t matter. Let me wear my Red Hat, and I can have a cell ready to go for a long dwell-wait mission based out of Malmo in a heart beat. You MODLOC in the Baltic unescorted; I’ll sink you and you won’t even know I am coming at you. You’ll wave at me as I make my final approach.

    No, the days of the DEW line were a different world. Threat was rather simple – and the environment accepted expendable assets as long as they gave a warning – either prior of as a result of them going “poof.” Not today.



    CDR Salamander,

    I disagree with your assessment for a variety of reasons,

    First, unescorted and completely unarmed are two different things. With a minimal investment in self-defense capability, you can easily defend against the threats you cite. In times of conflict or heightened threat, something like a Coast Guard Cutter can handle any threat. It is not like the Iranians can generate a swarm attack in the Med, Black, North, or Baltic Seas (or even Red Sea for that matter). The central Indian Ocean would also probably be safe, as would the Pacific and various other places. By your arguement, even a CG is toast since they have no more close in defense against a covert attack than a TAO.

    Second, The point of studying it is to see if there are economies to be made. I don’t know if it is worth doing, but it makes sense to study it to see.

    Third, We parked T-AOs and “unescorted” ships in the Red Sea (and other places like the North Arabian Sea) without having any of them sunk and/or damaged in the past. You would have to plan in advance and then have everything unfold exactly on your timeline. I am thinking I would take my chances. Plus of course, since they are mobile, you can move them around all the time. Not much Iranian MARPAT outside the Arabian Gulf.

    That is not to say that it makes sense, just that it should be studied. If, for instance, 3-4 BMD Radar pickets can save you 12 cruisers being tied down to do the same job where their other capabilities are largely wasted, then I am all for it. Kind of like have FFGs chase pirates because DDGs are better used elsewhere. Not every ship needs to be a high end combatant, especially if you want to be able to afford your fleet.

  • Jay

    While incidents happen, the track record of USNS ships (or other platforms) performing non-combat missions is long and successful.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Not sure the track record of a combat support role for USNS vessels is long enough to determine that. So, putting yourself on the unarmed deck of a USNS vessel that is captured/sunk by enemy action, what is your GC status?

    “Incidents” will certainly happen if our picket vessels are key to defense against an enemy nation who intends us harm. Then, it will be open season on these platforms.

    SOoooo… extending Sal’s “Red Team” thread, if I am that enemy nation, I believe I take them out, and as stealthily and quickly as I can. Without defensive weaponry to be concerned about, my task is considerably easier and requires far fewer resources.

  • Jay


    Ok that you are not sure about their track record, but I am. The Navy seems to be, as well.

    USNS ships aren’t unarmed. Of course they aren’t combatants, and might be damaged/sunk by an opposing combatant. However, some folks who I suspect might be uniformed — seem to think that a sensor need be close to a dangerous area, in order to be effective. Not so.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    “the track record of USNS ships (or other platforms) performing non-combat missions is long and successful”.

    That would be because that is what they are for.

    T AGOS were essentially unarmed. The tail draggers were semi camoflaged (EW indistinguishable from most merchant ships) and very quiet. The loss of one would be a bell ringer. The calculation was that merchant sailors had a lower profile than military personnel was

    The counter drug variants were too few to be more than an irritant to the smugglers, and protected by the cartels’ perception that attacking an american flag vessel would raise the cost of smuggling more than they wanted to pay.

    Tug and salvage work is done in company of combatants, or in more or less non tactical environments.

    The beans, bullets, food, and fuel ships are escorted or not, depending on the tactical environment.

    I wouldn’t assume our opponents will always (locally, at least) be fighting above their weight class.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    insert “military personnel were”if worse came to worse. Oops.

  • Spade

    No, USNVO, I’m pretty sure what we need here is another multi-billion dollar gold plated (seriously, for the radar and it would look keen) ship that can do everything from the mentioned radar work to BMD, self defense, NGFS, Mine warfare, right on down to deploying small boats arresting guys in speedboats. We’ll name it after a congressman’s aide from PA’s 5th Congressional district.

    This will probably also need the creation of a couple more O-6 level jobs. We should also tell Congress that we need 87 of them, so we could end up with maybe 2 and that we’ll need to have it by the time all current O-2’s have retired, died of old age, or died of exposure when the sun shrinks to a tiny dark piece of coal.

  • Just a quick note re. radar and BMD. The SBX is not/not meant for surveillance. It is optimized for characterization (i.e., how many/what’s real and what’s not in a target cluster – not “something’s been launched and coming this way”). COBRA DANE, UEWRs like Beale, AN/TPY-2 and Aegis are your primary radar surveillance platforms.
    – SJS

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    I would say keep the couple of 0-6’s and get a couple of these:

    to tag along. Just mail the prints to Manitowoc or Bay City, they will have no problem hiring skilled trades guys at bargain rates.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Amen to that on the FF-1052s. But, for goodness sake, get rid of the boilers and put two screws/shafts on ’em so they can go faster than 27 knots downhill!

    (Was on FF 1091 a million years ago for six weeks. Loved it.)

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    I think the sales boss at Cummins has enough time on his hands to make a couple of phone calls to Korea about a licensing agreement for some BIG slow speed diesels and screw/shaft installations. Spec 36 knots AABendix (one notch past flank on the EOT).

    Shrink the sonar dome a tad, lose the mack and put the wt and moment into anti cruise missile and other bullet/small warhead projectors and FC and a few VLS cells. Helo dk and double hanger please.

    Or play around with a new build CODAG mod and weapons brush up on these:

    Call it a AWAOCS (anywhere any ocean combat ship)

  • Chuck Hill

    Actually the power plant on the new cutter would do nicely. Combined diesel and gas turbine; with two 9,655hp diesel engines and one 30,565bhp gas turbine twin shafts and almost 50,000 HP total. Or go crazy and use two turbines for 80,000 total. Cruise on a single diesel with both shafts pushing.

  • Chuck Hill

    Or they could just mount the Aegis radar on the cutter hull.

  • “the track record of USNS ships (or other platforms) performing non-combat missions is long and successful”.

    True that, but the history of unarmed and barely armed vessels performing military roles during wartime is one of sunken hulls. See the Japanese circa 1940s for what happens when you steam without escorts. A radar picket is, unquestionably, a target in wartime.

    The “cost” analysis would include the additional escorts necessary to keep them alive, perhaps defeating the purpose of removing the radar from a warship hull.

    “Ballistic missile defense” needs a comprehensive plan, and it begins by getting taking a joint services approach, not solely focused on Sea Based BMD. I don’t care if the radar is in space, in the air, on the sea, or on land… it must first be reliable, effective, and part of a survivable network of redundant systems during wartime.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    What Galrahn said.

    No reason why the USN can’t get some decent escorts out of the deal though.

    Here’s a thought:

    Legion of Merit and a star to the guy who brings the first 10 on line at 600 mil a copy and the second ten at 500 mil.

    Bump one rank and a MSM to everybody in the project office for the first 10 and again for the second 10.

    That’ll get em motivated.

    Nice economic stimulus too.