The Kiddie Pool Gets a Little Smaller
It took me a little longer than usual to get through The Economist’s recent article on the incident with the USNS Impeccable – my eyes couldn’t stop rolling from the by-line pun. Regardless, I was buoyed by the fact that it was the second most commented-on article on their website at the time of this post. The half-life on this story in the milblogosphere was much shorter than I anticipated.
The days of trading paint with Soviet warships are long gone…or are they? Substitute China’s modern new force and their increasing ambitions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans for our Cold War adversary and the current escalation of rhetoric and action seems to be pointing to history’s rear-view mirror.
With much of the focus on several high-profile internal incidents (the USS Hartford and the USS New Orleans), the Impeccable‘s encounter has quickly fallen away from the public view.
At issue is an important shipbuilding dilemma: with the increasing ranks of USNS (largely civilian-manned) ships and the dwindling ranks of waships (USS-prefixes), there is a risk that many key logistics and survey ships will be forced to operate without escort. Perhaps more alarming is the absence of a replacement for the Navy’s sole open-ocean escort, the FFG-7 Class Frigates.
As Gen. Barrow, former Marine Corps Commandant noted, “Amateurs talk about tactics, professionals study logistics.” America’s military strength has always relied on our ability to mobilize the fruits of our massive industrial production towards the front. If we can’t protect defenseless assets, how can their precious cargo get where it needs to be? If we can’t move bullets and beans, how can we stay in the fight? The DDG-51 Class and, to an even greater extent, the proposed DDG-1000 class are too costly and too valuable to peel off for escort duty. What’s needed is some “low” end of Admiral Zumwalt’s “high/low mix” Naval leaders could advocate several different options to Congress: (1) Fund and implement a service life extension program (SLEP) for the FFG-7 Class and upgrade the dated combat systems suite to modern capabilites (2) Fund an “escort” mission package for the new Littoral Combat Ship (3) Design and fund a totally new replacement class [FF(x)].
Given the current problems in shipbuilding, I don’t think we can deliver on option three and I don’t know what option two would even look like, or whether it would be effective. That leaves option one. There have been many voices advocating this, but does the Brass hear them? I’m interested in your thoughts…