Top 5 Navy Stories of 2010

December 2010


#5 – Russia Buys Mistral Amphibious Ships from France.

There is already a lot of complaining coming from NATO nations with the recent Christmas surprise that France will sell Mistral class amphibious ships to Russia. While it is absolutely true the Mistral class is a dynamic ship capable of supporting several peacetime missions for Russia, it is the capabilities of waging war that has Russia’s neighbors nervous. From the US perspective, promises that Russia will be utilizing the ships in the Pacific is hardly better news considering that means the ships will be primarily for demonstrating Russian resolve in territorial disputes with Japan. It could be worse, Russia could base the ships in the Black Sea and give Georgia plenty of reasons to be nervous. No matter how one looks at it, the Mistral class is a weapon of war well designed towards Russian strengths (like attack helicopters) and Russian requirements for power projection, and does represent a major transfer of knowledge and capability from a NATO friend to a former enemy. The dynamics of the deal itself are tailor made for political firebranding.

#4 US Navy Dual Purchase of Littoral Combat Ship

The Littoral Combat Ship is the single most interesting US Navy discussion there is, and it isn’t even close. If I need to increase the traffic to my home blog by an extra few thousand visitors on any given day, all I have to do is write an article about the Littoral Combat Ship. Folks inside and outside the Navy are critical of the LCS – indeed I often find the comments of active duty SWOs are the most damning criticisms tossed towards the LCS. I personally think the LCS represents one of the most horribly designed great concepts in modern naval history by any nation, but the truth is no one actually knows what the LCS is, or will be in the future. What we do know is that over the next 5 years the Navy will build 20 more at an average cost of $440 million per hull, and at that price the LCS is less expensive per 1000 tons than the Osprey MCHs, the Avenger MCMs, and even the Perry FFGs. Because the ship is also armed like the Osprey MCHs, the Avenger MCMs, and the Perry FFs we can all look forward to 5 more years of criticisms.

#3 PLA Navy Expansion Towards Blue Water and Long Range Strike Capabilities

韬光养晦 – The literal translation is “hide brightness, nourish obscurity,” but it is more commonly known as Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “tao guang yang hui” toward international relations – which describes a policy of patiently keeping a low profile when forced into an unfavorable position and nourish your position until opportunity to act presents itself. Many scholars believe this has been the core philosophy driving policy in China for almost the past 3 decades, but China appears to have discarded this policy in 2010. Perhaps I am reading this wrong, and China believes their opportunity to act has arrived? It is clear that 2010 is a year of massive shipbuilding for the PLAN, what some have termed the PLAN’s second shipbuilding boom. In 2010 China has apparently begun construction of a new aircraft carrier while continuing construction on surface combatants, submarines, and their fast attack combatants. We finish the year with ADM Willard declaring the DF-21 has reached an equivalent stage to IOC while the internet goes buzzing with photography of a new supposed 5th Generation stealth fighter/bomber. While it is worth admiring the growth of China’s maritime military capabilities, we should be very careful not to get caught up in the hype. China has significant strategic vulnerabilities right now – military, political, and economic – and with a rapidly approaching demography problem compounded by one of the largest generational gaps any culture worldwide has encountered, it is very premature to make predictions solely based on the expansion of military hardware quantity.

2) Stuxnet Exposing the Vulnerability of Entire Fleets to Worms

This probably should be number one, but due to very little public attention given to the threat Stuxnet represents to naval forces I decided to leave it at number two. Whatever damage Stuxnet did to Iran’s nuclear program could have gone infinitely worse had the same technologies been directed at any modern fleet globally. All that heavy industrial equipment used in Iran’s nuclear program is very similar, if not exactly similar, to the mechanical systems that drive naval vessels across the world. Stuxnet has introduced us to a world where it is possible that well funded and coordinated teams of nerds can disable fleets of warships at the time and date of their choosing, and in the world of Stuxnet – internet connectivity is not a requirement for effectiveness.

1) Sinking of the Cheonan by North Korean mini-submarine

Welcome to the Pacific Ocean, where China, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, and Japan are all increasing the size and/or modernizing their submarine forces. Oh, speaking of submarines, did you hear about North Korea using a mini-submarine to sink a South Korean corvette? The Cheonan incident represents what could be the opening salvo of the 21st century in the Pacific as it relates to underwater warfare. Interestingly enough, it might also have been the first major shot fired in a Korean Peninsula crisis that has South Korea talking about reunification as early as next year. When it first took place, I recall speaking to people across the US Navy who initially believed some terrible accident had occurred, but a few days later when divers had been able go down and see the damage to the ship and begin salvage operations, I remember distinctly how the mood turned. 46 South Korea sailors died in that attack. The memory of the Cheonan still makes front page headlines today within the context of current tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Posted by galrahn in Foreign Policy, Homeland Security, Maritime Security

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  • Sam Kotlin

    To have our two wars unmentioned above pretty well pegs the relevance of the Navy to today’s defense needs.

    Do we need a Navy? Certainly.

    Do we need the Navy that its proponents push for? Only if we have no other use for the resources.

  • Scott B.

    Galrahn said : “at that price the LCS is less expensive per 1000 tons than the Osprey MCHs, the Avenger MCMs, and even the Perry FFGs.”

    Apples and Oranges.


  • Comparing the price to build ships and the price to build the ships replacing those ships is apples and oranges?


  • Sam,

    I am not sure what you mean, but I reject the premise that the defense interests of the nation lies solely in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Can anyone even tie the wars to Iraq and Afghanistan to a strategic national interest on a scale even remotely similar to the protection of the global economic system – which is what the Navy does today?

    That reality is why the United States is getting out of both countries primarily due to time lines instead of based on factors on the ground.

  • Scott B.

    Galrahn said : “Comparing the price to build ships and the price to build the ships replacing those ships is apples and oranges?”

    Reason #1 why your *stuff* is apples and oranges :

    “Comparing the price to build ships and the price to build the ships replacing those ships is apples and oranges?”

    h/t : CDR Salamander

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Hate to disagree with a fine fellow such as yourself… BUT….

    The #1 Navy story for 2010 is that the Rising Sun of Imperial Japan of 1940 has been replaced by the Red Star of Communist China in 2010, as they build and prepare for war. The difference being that in 1940, under terrible economic conditions, we had the spine to recognize what Japan was doing and were feverishly building warships to counter their challenge. Whereas in 2010, in lousy but not depression economic conditions, we are shrinking our Navy and offering no counter to China’s challenge.

    Might be interesting in 2025 to re-assess the top 5 Navy stories of 2010. Let’s hope we aren’t doing it in Mandarin instead of English.

  • CPT Joe

    The top story in 2010 for the Navy has to do with personnel issues. The Navy has been heavily handicapped with the DADT decision, the decision to man submarines with women, and the relentless diversity programs that ignore merit and reward someone’s idea of the right mix of women, queers, trannies, and God knows whatever else the idiots in Washington can throw in. WE ARE DOOMED. Not because we forgot how to build ships and manage programs, but because idiots are making decisions that will lead to our defeat.

  • UltimaRatioReg,

    I would encourage you to undertake a New Years resolution tonight to study up on China. I think you see a whole lot of dragon, but little else.

    There is a lot of hype about China, but until China can annually produce more patents per year than just three 3 counties in New York State, I’m not going to get too worried about China trying to take over the world.

    If we view the world from the scope of a gun, all we will ever see is targets.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Always studying the PRC, its military fairly extensively. One lesson that always comes to the fore is to take note of their stated intentions.



    Prudent military policy looks at a potential adversary’s capabilities. ‘Twas ever thus. We ignore it at our own peril, including the subsuming of US interests and allies in the Pacific.

    “Once China becomes strong enough to stand alone, it might discard us. A little later it might even turn against us, if its perception of its interests requires it.”
    – Henry Kissinger

  • Aubrey

    Patents is a REAL bad way to judge their threat Gal…consider that IBM is owned by Lenovo, and Lenovo is owned/controlled by the Chinese government. They get all those shiny IBM tech patents, and yet get to sit down at the bottom of the table that you cite.

    They are also buying stakes in GM and other companies. Why invent your own stuff when you can just buy US companies and let them do the work? Or Russian planes and ships?

    You have to look at whole lot further than just what is on mainland China to get a true picture of their capabilities and threat.

  • Sam Kotlin

    Wow! China is behaving as a capitalist country! Be afraid?

  • Aubrey

    No, Sam, China is behaving as growing power who will do whatever it takes to protect nd further their own interests. Whether those interests are inimical to those of my own country is still up in the air.

    I hate to repeat truisms, but they are there for a reason – there are no permanent allies or enemies, there are only coincidences of interests, and conflicts of the same.

    I am not Chinese – I am American and a Christian. Therefore the interests that are important to me are those of my faith, my family, my friends, and my country (pretty much in that order).

  • Sam Kotlin

    China is seen as a looming threat for two reasons.

    One is the lightweight idea that ‘it’s just like the Soviet Union and the future is just like the Cold War.’ [redacted by admin]

    The second is as filler for the threat-void left by the exit of the Soviet Union, thus justifying continued high spending on a Navy otherwise low in current defense priorities.

    In 2010, US defense spending was over $650 billion. China’s was variously estimated to be under $100 billion, with most estimates clustering around $65 billion. We are each other’s second-largest trading partner, exchanging a bit under $400 billion annually (China – interestingly – spends more on US imports than on defense). In short, the US and China are giants in global trade and utterly interdependent for the quality of each nation’s future.

    In this context and replying to Aubrey’s patronizing comment, US-China mutual interests are large and in any rational universe of much greater importance than any purported military threat from China. Indeed, China should see more threat from our imperial military establishment; to the extent that Chinese defense spending reflects any relationship to the US, it is arguably defensive, forced by us, and logical.

    If we want to search out the real looming threat to America’s future, it would be good to review Paul Kennedy’s overarching thesis in his 1989 ‘The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.’ Kennedy uses history to show that excessive military spending cripples nations and brings about their decline on the world stage. Those who see threat everywhere should worry more about the larger threat of their own ideation.

  • John Patch

    Galrahn is right that LCS is an important story for 2010. It is the cover story for the Proceedings JAN 2011 issue for that reason. While I am more pessimistic than he is about its prospects, the story does serve to highlight the dramatic need to rethink Navy strategy and force structure, in that order. If the SWOs are the ones asking, “How do we use these things again?” and claiming, “It cannot survive in the littorals,” that is a sign we are in trouble. The concept for operations should have been cemented years before the first hull hit the water, not after. The hulls may be cheap, but as the GAO related, the hull without any appreciable capability addition to the fleet makes it a really cool looking, fast gas burner. Great for photo ops; poor for COCOM and fleet requirements. There are many dirty little secrets about the LCS still to come out that will keep it a top story in 2011–and these will surround everything except the hull. Regards, jpp

  • Scott B.

    John Patch said : “There are many dirty little secrets about the LCS still to come out that will keep it a top story in 2011–and these will surround everything except the hull.”

    There are still many dirty little (and not so little BTW) secrets surrounding the LCS hulls themselves. Many !!!

    Stay tuned…

  • john patch

    Thanks Scott–I stand corrected. Did some research and you are right–hull included, in the unpleasant news to come.
    Regards, jpp

  • Paul

    What we need right now is a serious look at what the true threats are in the next fifty years and then a commitment from the government to build what is needed.

    Ike was right– the influence of the military industrial complex is a real threat. Weapons are being designed not for possible threats but for what generates the money. We can cram all the capabilities, whistles and bells into a hull but if it can’t survive a fight then what’s the point? Why can’t a ship be designed for primarily one kind of threat? As Gorshkov once said “Perfect is the enemy of good enough.” Shouldn’t the LCS be tailored to deal with littoral threats primarily? Say, with enough gun power to make any bog boat think twice? Heck, even mount Bradley turrets on them for fire support.

    A high/low mix makes sense. There needs to be a force capable of high intensity power projection and defense of that (carriers, cruisers, DDG’s) and then a presence force that isn’t as capable for high intensity conflict, but has the advantages of long station time, redundant weapons, weatherly, and bullet proof systems.

    Trouble is– the navy is very political. The influence of well-meaning, but ill-informed congress types drive procurement based on what’s good for their districts and not for the navy as a whole. There’s a lot of money in ship building and manufacturers are smart enough to spread subcontracts out across the states so many congress types have a vested interest. Gone are the days of the NY Navy Yard or Bath IW doing it all. Perhaps we should go back to that.

    SECNAV should be a position that can determine this– perhaps they should be appointed for a set term longer than a presidential administration– say six years, so that way ships can be designed and ordered under one guy. Limit the number of subcontractors as well so weapons that don’t work can be eliminated as well.

    We also have to stop buying into the idea of “too big to fail…” mentality. If something doesn’t work– stop pouring money into it and move on. We commit ourselves to big, expensive ships and then don’t have the humility to say “Wait, this won’t work…” How does that help the common good?

  • Aubrey

    Paul, well put.

    More than once I’ve read in Proceedings about the concept of “influence squadrons”, and I think that idea really has merit.