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Destroyer Vs. Lifeboat...Destroyer Wins

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EDITOR'S NOTE: We're working to get more details on the sniper shot on the pirates -- what weapon, what range, what optics, what rounds and also some of the tactics...We're narrowing in on the gouge but need to get it confirmed. Will post as soon as I get it and if anyone else out there has some info on it, please email me. I promise NO FINGERPRINTS.

Naval journalist Robert D. Kaplan had an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times, "Anarchy on Land Means Piracy at Sea." Kaplan states that the various ships the United States Navy now possesses are too big (heavy) and expensive to effectively carry out vital oceanic counterinsurgency efforts. While the safe rescue yesterday of the captain of M/V Maersk Alabama from Somali pirates holding him hostage in a lifeboat demolishes the central argument of Kaplan's piece, his thesis does bear further scrutiny, and rebuttal.

Vital shipping lanes are being ravaged hundreds of miles from land by expendable mercenaries commanded by smart and ruthless pirate warlords. The swelling costs of containment patrols, defensive measures, and ransom payments impact the global economy. Dispatching the 9,400-ton Arleigh Burke destroyer USS Bainbridge plus two smaller escorts was cost-justified and militarily appropriate -- in fact, was necessary.

Bainbridge is massive enough to carry two heavily armed Seahawk helos. Her deck cranes can launch speedboats with SEAL teams aboard, and in a pinch could deploy SEAL Delivery Vehicle underwater scooters. She can keep the sea in all weathers better than a smaller ship, and has longer on-station logistical staying power. She offers more adequate space for special mission communications and planning equipment and staff.

Bainbridge also sports powerful over the horizon surveillance systems and weaponry, able to track and engage many targets at once. She has sophisticated active sonar to search for hostile diesel subs, which become a real issue when the destroyer needs to dwell near one location for very long. She fields a broad spectrum of missiles plus state-of-the-art machine guns and cannon. She's big enough and well manned enough to take repeated hits from rocket propelled grenades, and keep fighting.

The pirates had considerable further strength in this game beyond Kaplan's "spectacle" of Maersk Alabama's "tiny" lifeboat with its "handful" of men and a single captive. They've commandeered larger vessels they use as motherships, and are well supplied with RPGs. They were sending in several other captured foreign cargo vessels loaded with hostage crews, to use as human shields. These might have tried to surround, or fire upon, or even ram something less able to defend herself and her escorts than USS Bainbridge.

Kaplan himself refers to the danger that mercenary pirate methods could be adapted by suicidal terrorists. This argues in favor of larger on-scene vessels, not smaller ones, to provide the command connectivity, sensors, weaponry, endurance, and survivability required for the U.S. Navy to prevail in any such fight to the death.

-- Joe Buff

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