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Surface Navy Eyes Hybrid War

The Surface Navy Association holds its annual conference this week here in the Washington, DC area. This year’s topic: hybrid warfare at sea. We’ll be eager to hear where the surface folks come down on what should be one of the biggest questions going forward as the fleet looks at hybrid fights in littoral waters: whether to build a large number of smallish multipurpose fast-attack craft or to continue to build the planned 55 or so hugely expensive Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) that is probably the wrong ship for the littorals.

We’ll also have a chance to hear from the inestimable Bob Work, formerly of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who has been locked away for the past year trying to inject some strategic sense into the Navy as an undersecretary. Those of us who cover the defense world still eagerly await -- vainly perhaps -- a naval strategist with the command of the topic to replace Work in the think tank ranks. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to read my former colleague Chris Cavas and the folks over at the Information Dissemination blog.

Of all the services, the Navy is most in need of some strategic guidance to help sort out its shambles of a shipbuilding plan and shake it out of its blue-water focus. For a good example of the latter, read this Proceedings article from September, where the author, Rear Admiral Terry Kraft, makes a convincing case for the greatness of aircraft carriers.

Now, large deck aircraft carriers are great and wonderful things; I’m not sure there are a lot of people arguing to the contrary. Problem is, the author doesn’t once address the actual issue that matters: how many large deck aircraft carriers does this country need?

Of course that would require a discussion of strategy, that is, matching resources to desired ends. It’s much easer to argue the merits of an individual tool than discuss how many and what kinds of tools you might need in the tool box; in this case, a warship with a new build price tag of around $13 billion a copy.

Stay tuned as we’ll be reporting from the SNA conference and hopefully we’ll hear somebody provide some analytically robust arguments for a future Navy battle fleet that includes plausible scenarios and realistic defense budget projections.

Until then, here is a better article from the current Proceedings, by Milan Vego, that actually gets into some hybrid/littoral war issues. He argues for abandoning the LCS at no more than 6 copies and instead building a “modest number” of 1,200- to 1,500-ton multipurpose corvettes and 400- to 500-ton fast attack craft. He also says the Navy should buy a “relatively large number” of 1,500- to 2,000-ton air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines.

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