Distributed lethality & Naval Strategy 2025: More aircraft, more missiles, more platforms, less money
A lot of people worry that there could be a great power naval war sometime in the next generation. As such, the “fleet you have,” which last fought a live-fire fleet engagement with a near-peer opponent in 1944, may not be the “fleet you want” but some easy fixes could help.
Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes (Ret), now a PhD and heavy hitter on the military of the future, has an interesting take over at Task & Purpose on how to bring a lot of missiles and airframes to the naval engagement of the near-future: pick up gently used container ships for peanuts and convert them into haulers for combat-capable UAV’s and containerized missile systems. It’s a lot cheaper than risking a traditional CVBG or repackaging an LHD to use F-35s. Such a vessel could be fielded with a much smaller crew than a big-deck CVN.
As pointed out by Hammes: “a carrier and air wing alone cost $20 billion and 5,000 Americans live aboard. This is an enormous investment of eggs is a possibly fragile basket,” and that “Suggesting the use of amphibious big decks is not a different way – it’s just a very similar but much less capable basket.”
Thinking differently, we could envision any container ship – from inter-coastal to ocean-going as a potential aircraft carrier. It could carry from a couple dozen to thousands of cruise missiles as well as hundreds of autonomous drones ranging from short to long range and both reusable and expendable. And, of course, the containers could also be land based — with nearly unlimited basing and hide sites.
Also for your consideration is LCDR Daniel Wiltshire, USCG, and his take in the latest Proceedings that the Navy should man up and put anti-ship missiles on the new Offshore Patrol Cutters and National Security Cutters, some 35~ frigate-sized warships without frigate-equivalent weapons. A large part of his case is, since the Coast Guard often gets sent into harm’s way with the Navy, it should be able to keep its promise of being war-like.
Some will argue that cutters are not optimized for high-intensity combat. While it is true that the NSC and OPC were not designed for high-intensity combat, the distinction between high and low intensity becomes meaningless during a great power conflict. It is a distinction predicated on the luxury of being able to choose when, where, and with whom to fight and which ships are deployed to do the fighting. Great power conflict at sea affords no such luxury and typically entails a whole-of-fleet approach.