On Point: The Navy Needs Small but Highly Capable Warships

by Austin Bay
February 1, 2024

In 2004, ignorant media crucified then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for stating a historical truth about warfare.

Here's Rumsfeld's very pertinent quote: "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

In 2024, immediate crises demonstrate Rumsfeld's wisdom -- which is a reminder and a warning.

In late January, Britain's Royal Navy demonstrated a navy goes to war with whatever it has -- even when what it has can't quite accomplish the mission.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the HMS Diamond, a destroyer, was part of an allied flotilla conducting operations to stop Yemen's Houthi rebels from attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea. However, the British warship didn't have "the capability to fire at land targets" -- meaning it didn't have land attack missiles aboard, the weapon of choice to strike Houthi drone and missile launch sites located away from the coast.

HMS Diamond wasn't useless and it isn't useless. It is a Type 45 air defense destroyer. It has a 4.5-inch gun (artillery) and anti-air/anti-missile missiles, which it used to shoot down Houthi drones targeting ships at sea.

One source says HMS Diamond will be retrofitted with a strike missile sometime in late 2024. But right now, at this moment, in a threatened sea zone, HMS Diamond can't conduct a deep strike offensive mission, like U.S destroyers in the area armed with land attack missiles.

You go to war with the navy you have.

If American air and naval power were unleashed, the Houthis would disappear -- especially if the air component includes U.S. Air Force heavy bombers. They leave large, deep craters.

However, Iranian proxies, and for that matter, Iran, are sideshows.

Given the armed forces America has, is America ready for a war with China in the Pacific Ocean? I think not, and so do many Navy, Marine, Army and Air Force officers.

The war in Ukraine demonstrates that nations must be able to quickly replace ammunition stockpiles and destroyed weapons. Unfortunately, America's Cold War-era industrial base no longer exists. In December 2023, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said America must once again become a "global leader in shipbuilding." He wants to revitalize the U.S. shipbuilding industry and merchant fleet -- because the U.S. must have both if it wants to remain a naval power.

But right now, the Navy is short of warships, the so-called hull deficit. This shortage will take years to fix. Building large warships takes a long time. Carriers can take a decade or more. Guided missile destroyers can take six to seven years.

As it is, China has built forces designed to counter U.S. carrier battle groups. The People's Liberation Army Navy has the world's largest battle fleet. The PLAN is built to fight a "home game" within air and missile support distance of the Chinese mainland. China's deployment of "carrier killer" anti-ship ballistic missiles is designed to convince the Pentagon it will lose a supercarrier to long-range weapons, so carrier battle groups will stay out of range. The strategy is called anti-access/area denial (A2AD). While the carriers remain east of Hawaii, China seizes Taiwan.

What do we do now? In 2023, the Center for Strategic and International Studies released a study that recommended fortifying U.S. and allied bases (like Guam) and a "... shift to smaller, more survivable ships."

I've been advocating that for years -- buy small, fast strike warships that can be built quickly. In 2022, I wrote a column about a boat Forbes mentioned in a December 2020 article: the H96, designed by Texas-based engineer and technologist George Hamilton. Hamilton's warship combines long range with high "dash speed." The long range makes it ideal for dispersed operations in the Pacific. It can "fight forward" in China's front yard, has the speed to survive and the firepower to contribute to the Navy's Distributed Maritime Operations concept of concentrating fires from dispersed platforms. The ship can carry a variety of weapons -- strike and anti-air missiles, anti-sub torpedoes, drones. No need to retrofit.

Who will build it? Hamilton intends to build the ship himself -- in a new boatyard in Texas.

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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