2007/07/10

The value of navies

With everyone focused on small wars and even terrorism these days it's difficult to see the value of navies.

After all, no ships are sunk, no ships threaten our forces, few if any coastal bombardments are necessary, no amphibious operations ... and aircraft carriers are much more expensive platforms for sorties than airfields.

This has led to weird attempts of the navies to justify their new procurements. The U.S. Navy has converted SSBNs to cruise missile batteries at great cost with the argument that they could bombard targets inland (as if that wasn't simple enough without them ... using cruise missiles fired from surface ships, out of submarine torpedo tubes and air strikes). Another super-expensive submarine class is being promoted as intelligence and special operations platform...

The German navy drew plans for a corvette class laden with all possible buzzwords and a tiny short-range missile for strikes against land targets. The corvettes were bought, the tiny missile armament disappeared in a black hole.

The attempts of NATO navies to justify their budgets are on the verge of comedy in general, but that's not because they were so useless but because their value is so difficult to see. They're the great enablers these days - the logistical ties of our expeditions depend more often than not on open sea lanes. Furthermore, our expeditions do often depend on the navies for plausible emergency evacuation plans.

Furthermore there's a general characteristic of navies - their equipment requires years to produce and lasts for decades (air forces approach this with their planes).
Most of our shipbuilding capacity was transferred to countries like South Korea and China and just a couple of the remaining shipyards are experienced with shipbuilding to military standards. We simply could not build up our navies quickly if we saw the need within five years, for example.

We need the navies. It's offending how they try to manipulate us with buzzwords and unrealistic projects and some of their projects seem wasteful. But despite the normal wastefulness of these services, they are (buzzword alert!) "relevant" and should prepare for a (buzzword alert!) "wide spectrum" of maritime warfare.

Today, the navies are the most underestimated service.

Sven Ortmann

1 comment:

  1. The task of all navies has always been SLoC and will remain so in the future. It's not so much about having own capability of producing a commodity than having a commodity available through communication lines. Most transport is and will be on water.

    I agree with you that regional concentrations of critical resources and knowledge should be avoided. So in order to balance East Asian shipbuilding potential, South America, India, Bangladesh, Iceland (plenty of energy), Greece and our southern Mediterranean neighbours could be helped to have their share of this market.

    It would be similar to modern approaches to food safety by establishing contracts for food production in foreign countries with ample resources. China is following this approach in Africa.

    Kurt

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