Tag Archives: Force Structure

The Hohenzollern Chinese Navy? Part One

The Hohenzollern High Seas Fleet
The Hohenzollern High Seas Fleet

Recent Chinese pronouncements regarding the shift of their Navy from defensive to potential offensive operations contain a refrain with which naval historians are most familiar. It is a song once sung by another continental military power newly flush with a successful and expanding international economy.

South China Sea fleet vessels.
South China Sea fleet vessels.

China’s shift toward an offensive naval capability sounds very similar to the formation of the Imperial German High Seas Fleet (Hochseeflotte) in 1907. The Chinese and Hohenzollern navies have many commonalities in origin, training and choice of force structure. Their strategy, operational art and tactics are also remarkably similar to Kaiser Wilhelm’s fleet of the late 19th and early 20th century. The Chinese Navy may have also replicated the fatal flaw that left the High Seas Fleet incapable of achieving the victory it came so close to achieving in late 1917. Like the German imperial elite of the late 19th century, the Chinese Communist Party is now also seeking “a place in the sun” through President Hu Jinatao’s “new historic missions” assignment of 2004. China may too think that “its future is on the water” as did the Kaiser’s navy over a century ago. Such visions, however, for a fleet that has not seen battle against a peer opponent since 1894, can be dangerous.

Similar National Origins and Early Dismal Performance

Like Imperial Germany, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a continental land power that must look far into its past to find naval virtue. The Kaiser had to search back to the fifteenth century Hanseatic League in order to find heroic German maritime exploits that might be emulated by his own 20th century sailors. The PRC must equally rely on the historically remote Islamic Admiral Zheng He, who served the Ming Dynasty Yongle Emperor in the early 15th century as both a land and ocean-going commander. Both fleets were traditionally led by army officers and designed for coastal or at best littoral operations.

Both the German and Chinese fleets suffered from timid national leadership, and a paucity of training and operations that led to enforced idleness or defeat as late as the 19th century. Other Baltic powers often made short work of the Prussian Navy in war. The Swedes completely annihilated a Prussian fleet at the Battle of Frisches Haff in 1759. The Prussian Navy played practically no role in the three 19th century conflicts precipitated by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck that led to German unification. Its Danish, Austrian and French opponents either ignored, blockaded, or chased the small Prussian Navy from the seas. The Imperial Chinese Navy also suffered from neglect and poor performance from the Early Modern Period into the 20th century. The forces of the East India Company and the British Empire made short work of primitive Chinese warships in the two Opium wars of the mid 19th century. The French Navy destroyed the Chinese Fujian Fleet at the Battle of Fuzhou in 1884 and the Imperial Japanese Navy decisively defeated the Chinese Beiyang Fleet at the Battle of the Yalu River in 1894. The post-1949 People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has fought minor skirmishes against the Vietnamese, but has yet to engage anything approaching a regional, nor peer opponent in naval combat.

SMS Rheinland-focsle1914.
SMS Rheinland participates in a gunnery exercise, 1914.

The German High Seas Fleet and the PLAN both had to be “reborn” in new political and economic environments of their respective nations.  The united German state surged to new economic power between 1871 and 1906 and surpassed the British in steel production halfway into the first decade of the 20th century.[1] Germany also came close to equally British world trade and coal production by 1914.[2] Great Britain continued to prosper as both Germany and the United States surpassed Britain in key economic indicators and Britain’s Gross National Product grew from 1.32 billion to 2.1 billion Pounds over the period from 1870-1900.[3] Despite these changes, the British Empire did not regard either Germany of the U.S. as a potential enemy, and Canada’s shared border with the U.S. caused more concern to the British in 1900 than did Germany’s economic growth.[4] Germany, however, despite its unchallenged economic success decided to engage the British Empire in a naval building race that the British did nothing to instigate. Some historians have said the British detainment of several German ships transporting relief supplies to Dutch Boers during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), served as a catalyst for the passage of the German Second Naval Law which was much more provocative and aimed at Great Britain than its predecessor.[5] Emboldened by economic success and military strength, and baited into action by its inability to influence sea lines of communication outside its sphere of influence, Germany embarked on a risky warship building competition with the established naval hegemon at the time and made that challenge right on that naval power’s home doorstep.

China has had an equally meteoric economic rise since the time it also changed political organization by throwing off its Maoist past and embracing state-sponsored capitalism. Like Imperial Germany, post Mao China has combined pride in economic growth with its aggressive continental past. The People’s Republic appears to have had the same sort of decisive “maritime moment” as Imperial Germany when the U.S. deployed two aircraft carriers to the Taiwan Strait in 1996 as a response to simmering tensions between the PRC and Taiwan. There appears to have been a similar rage amongst the Chinese Communist Party and military leadership over the 1996 US deployment, as there was from German Aristocrats, businessmen and military leaders over the seizure of German relief ships off South Africa in 1900. It is this kind of significant public support that allowed for the growth in the German Navy of the early 20th century and may play a role in public support for an expanded PLAN.

Both fleets also began as coast defense organizations led by Army officers and dependent on inexpensive denial capabilities. The early German Imperial Navy was first led by infantry General Albrecht von Stosch and General (and later Imperial Chancellor) Leo von Caprivi. It had few large ships and invested much of its effort in the development of torpedo craft and mine warfare. The architect of the High Seas battlefleet, Admiral von Tirpitz, and many of the Imperial Navy’s future senior officers came out of the German Navy’s torpedo boat arm. While Kaiser Wilhelm II played a very public advocacy role for larger and more capable surface ships, such expansion would not have been possible in the absence of strong support from the German business and political community. While perhaps not fervent navalists like the Kaiser, they certainly thought that having a Navy to protect emerging commercial interests was a good investment, and were willing to invest in Germany’s new naval effort. The spirit of American navalist Alfred Thayer Mahan’s writings on the importance of a battle fleet to a nation’s political and global economic health found as many adherents in Germany as it did in Great Britain, the United States, and Japan.

The early PLAN was also led by Army Generals. The most prominent advocate of improving Chinese naval capabilities was General Liu Huaqing, who served as PLAN commander from 1982-1987.[6] China’s naval strategy from 1949 through the 1980’s was also remarkably similar to Germany’s in that it was focused on coastal defense and emphasized missiles, torpedoes and mines deployed from small, coastal combatants. China appears to have also embraced the theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan as Germany did a century ago and added the study of the American navalist’s works to the curriculum of its advanced naval education courses.[7] 

Part two of this article will examine how Hohenzollern Germany and the People’s Republic of China developed striking similarities in force structure, naval strategy, and deployment of their naval forces.

Read Part Two here.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD candidate in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. 

[1] Aaron Friedberg, The Weary Titan; Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline, 1895-1905, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1988, p. 25.

[2] Ibid, pp. 24-25.

[3] Ibid, p. 24.

[4] Ibid, pp 185-186.

[5] Keith Wilson, editor, The International Impact of the Boer War, Abingdon Oxon, UK, Routledge, 2014, pp. 36-38.

[6] http://cimsec.org/father-modern-chinese-navy-liu-huaqing/13291, last assessed 16 June 2015.

[7] Howard J. Dooley, “The Great Leap Outward: China’s Maritime Renaissance”, The Journal of East Asian Affairs, 01 March 2012, p. 69.

Gaps in the Wall: The Capability Upgrade Challenges for the Philippine Navy

Just as Subic Bay is no longer in it's illustrated prime, the Navy of the Philippines has seen better days.
Just as Subic Bay is no longer in its once geo-strategic prime, the Navy of the Philippines has seen better days.

As history records it, the Philippines has traditionally occupied the roles of both a logistical base and buffer for the West in modern 20th-Century conflicts. As one of the first U.S. outposts to be attacked and overrun in World War II, and later serving as one of the largest regional ports and airbases during the Cold War, the country finds itself on the cusp of the Asian Century serving once more as part of a virtual wall, this time holding back China’s slow but inexorable encroachment upon the second island chain.

Article II of U.S. and the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) calls for both nations to sustain territorial control and maintain a basic self-defense capability. It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the Philippines had one of the most advanced and well-equipped armed services in Southeast Asia. In the days following World War II, the geographical importance of the island nation and close ties to Washington brought a wealth of weapons aid to Manila while neighbors were rebuilding their war-torn infrastructure and fighting off internal security threats.

Fast-forward to the present-day Philippines and the decades of underfunding and neglect are painfully apparent. The causes are numerous; most notably endemic corruption, a weak economy and focus on internal stability operations, but the end result is that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is unable to put up a basic credible defense of the nation’s territory. Among other things, this undermines America’s China-containment strategy requiring allies to use political, and if needed, military options to mitigate a de-facto surrender of territory or economic resources.

In 2003 under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration, the AFP embarked upon what is now known as the Capability Upgrade Program (CUP). The plan’s core described eighteen blocks that span from Human Resources to doctrine and training all the way to force and infrastructure modernization. The funding would come from a variety of sources, including excise taxes and profits made from the joint venture Malampaya Oil Fields located off the coast of Palawan facing the Western Philippine Sea (WPS). A decade later, President Benigno Aquino the III’s term in office has most progressed this effort.

While theoretically well-funded, the CUP is hamstrung by several factors: a convoluted, inefficient, and supplier-unfriendly logistics and acquisition process; the interference of serving politicos seeking to direct purchase decisions for their own benefits; systemic graft and corruption within public and military agencies; a struggling economy; and, competing needs to maintain and upgrade basic infrastructure and services required throughout the rest of the country.

What’s missing for the Philippine Navy (PN):

 

BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a Hamilton class US Coast Guard-Weather High Endurance Cutter.
BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a Hamilton class US Coast Guard-Weather High Endurance Cutter.

Foremost lacking for the PN are surface combatants with a baseline contemporary self-defense and offensive capability. With the exception of the recent U.S. Coast Guard WHEC cutters and South Korean attack craft, most of the Philippine Navy’s fleet is well past the age (some are as old as 1943) where other nations would have decommissioned the vessels on safety and maintenance principles alone. None of the vessels are missile-armed nor anti-submarine equipped, and with the exception of recent acquisitions, most combat suites and sensors date back to the 1960s or earlier. For most of the fleet, major organic fires are limited to 5″ guns and smaller caliber cannons and machine guns. PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz (the newest of the WHECs) will receive the first upgraded shipborne weapons in several decades: two Mk 38 Mod 2 remotely controlled Bushmaster cannons.

Immediate major combatant vessel acquisitions would likely be in the frigate class. Initially, there was consideration to purchase another nation’s Excess Defense Articles (EDA) – in the running were USN Perry class and Italian Maestraele frigates; but the recent experience with converting and refurbishing the former Coast Guard WHECs (particularly the delay with PF-16, the former USCG Dallas) educated PN and political leadership that buying new makes more fiscal sense then perpetuating the process of keeping older vessels going beyond their projected life-cycle. However, a recent boost in US military assistance aid could result in a third WHEC being obtained while bidding continues on the new frigate build.

While quite a few manufacturers responded, the serious bids seemed to come down to a few – including Spain’s Avante 1800, Israel’s SAAR V, South Korea’s Incheon class FFG and unspecified options from Australia, Croatia and the United States .

One of the benefits of having more recent used articles is that crews finally get training and experience on contemporary marine technology, such as Gas Turbine powerplants, and even the WHEC’s older combat integration system is still years ahead of what’s present in the rest of the fleet.

The Coast Guard Dilemma

What the PN also needs is more Off-shore Patrol Vessels (OPVs). The proposed re-integration of the Philippine Coast Guard back in the Department of National Defense (DND) highlights the service’s severe lack of assets to cover basic patrol and presence operations, never mind being able to deal with operations-other-than war (OOTW) such as the Sabah Crisis. A stop-gap purchase of a used French Patrol Vessel will help to restore PCG capability. Projected purchases include new build French 83m and 24m vessels and ten unspecified new patrol boats from Japan.

As an unintended consequence, the PCG’s dearth of assets caused escalation in clashes with China. Confrontations over resources such as the Scarborough Fishing shoals forced the AFP to initially send assets that had the range and speed to reach the intrusion point in a timely fashion. This meant sending gray hulls like the newly arrived PF-15 WHEC while Beijing had only dispatched China Marine Surveillance hulls. The end result is that the Philippines inadvertently looked like they were escalating by using overwhelming force.

Aviation Support and Maritime Surveillance

Naval Aviation assets are sorely lacking. Due to attrition and the need to gain efficiencies with remaining inventory, serviceable military aircraft lie mostly in Philippine Air Force (PAF) inventories. The PN would especially benefit from long-range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPAs) to effectively cover areas such as fishing zones in the WPS and the contested Spratleys. Currently, a few BO-105 rotary craft and BN Islanders are providing surveillance roles. In 2012, a contract to deliver three AW-109 Augusta helicopters for utility and ship-borne aviation was concluded. These assets would presumably be paired with the new WHECs to deliver surveillance and potentially stand-off strike capability.

There is a strong reliance on the PAF to provide the air defense and monitoring component – namely replacement military radar sites to complement the existing ATC network and tactical jets for basic offense and defense. There are enormous gaps in Strike and non-existent Air Defense/Interception assets. The Air Force is slogging through a long-convoluted deal with Korean Aerospace International for purchase of the T/A-50 Golden Eagle – a spinoff of the Lockheed Martin F-16 Falcon. The T/A-50 would play the role of a Lead-In Fighter Trainer/Surface Attack Aircraft (LIFT/SAA), paving the way to indoctrinate pilots in a future Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) yet to be selected.

Lift, Logistics and Basing

For logistical and lift needs, the PN has also been investigating MRVs (Multi-Role Vessels) such as the Indonesian Makassar Landing Platform Dock (LPD), a useful asset in both combat and Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Response (HA/DR) operations – especially so for a nation often in the path of tropical typhoons. This is a gap that could be filled locally; an appropriate ferry with roll-on/roll-off ramps and a helipad could be converted or purpose-built.

Additional basing and expanded facilities in the Spratleys and the Palawan peninsula are needed to complement any increase in force modernization. Ports, airfields, and refueling points within and  facing the WPS would reduce reaction times and increase operational range of any assigned assets. With current basing, major combat assets face a 200 nm transit to get to contested areas.

As an extreme example of infrastructure need, the Philippine Marine “garrison” in the contested islands is actually a grounded 1940s Tank Landing Ship (LST). A proposed expanded logistics and supply base in Ulugan Bay on Palawan would allow direct access to the WPS (instead of sailing around the island), as well as proximity security to the nearby Malampaya Oil Fields. And after years of commercial use, the Philippine government is contemplating more useful contingent access to the former naval base at Subic, which would allow visiting allies more than just courtesy access to one of the finest deepwater ports in the region.

Despite all that, successful defense projects are possible to fulfill compelling strategic goals, even with limited resources. The Coast Watch South initiative shows that the AFP can deliver a competent maritime security environment with political and modest but sufficient fiscal support. The latter two are the critical factors to CUP success.

Time is the Challenge

It is the glacial pace of modernization that is ultimately the biggest threat to the CUP. As time passes, the opportunity cost to bring the major budget requisitions to fruition is rising ever higher. From a political perspective, there is the perpetual notion that EDA and stop-gap efforts are “good enough;” permissive factors in the past which in fact led to the current sad state of affairs for the AFP. The Philippine Congress and Aquino III’s administration are now suffering from sticker shock as they collectively realize what it will take to bring a “credible defense” to reality. That was most notable in the President’s most recent State of the Nation Address. The competing needs of domestic issues and persistent problems in the economy, healthcare, jobs and housing could end up diverting funding away from the CUP. With only two years left in Aquino’s term, the next Administration could have an agenda brings the progress made to a screeching halt. The cascade implications to the U.S. Pivot to the Pacific could put more burden upon the US Navy and Air Force to take up activities and responsibilities that rightfully belong to the treaty partner.

Juramentado is the pseudonym for Armando J. Heredia, a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner, with a background in the defense and financial services industries.  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any particular nation’s government or related agency.

Sea Control and the Minimum Capability of Carriers

Sea ControlBy Simon of ThinkDefence.co.uk

Someone recently turned the tables on me with a question about what “military effect” I was actually after when I argue for the concept of a Sea Control Carrier. What follows is an attempt to indicate the minimum capabilities of such a platform necessary to achieve any realistic sustained defence or offence. It’s not really based on a known threat, but rather a “theoretical” nation [albeit using Royal Navy models] with aspirations of international reach and influence based on a series of requirements to “fly the flag”, protect an area of investment, or launch 3Cdo [3rd Commando Brigade] into hostile territory (ish). It assumes threats from land, sea and air in all circumstances.

After some careful consideration I have come up with the following requirements:

1.To provide 24-7 Combat Air Patrol (CAP – lead and wingman continually airborne).
2.To provide 24-7 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW – two helicopters continually in the air “dipping” and deploying sonobuoys)
3.To provide 24-7 Airborne Early Warning (AEW- a single asset continually monitoring the horizon for incoming threats)

My desire for 24-7 CAP is because I do not believe that Deck-Launched Intercept (DLI) will give a fast enough or far-reaching enough response in the future (see graph below). In addition, it “sizes” the requirement such that the ship can swing-role for rapid-response air support. The ASW capability is assumed to work in conjunction with a towed-array frigate. Now let’s work some rough math…

An enemy incoming at Mach 0.9 and a Deck-Launched and CAP Intercept. At point of detection (200km) both aircraft accelerate as fast as possible giving the enemy aircraft a massive advantage when up against the DLI jet starting from zero knots. Current technologies are probably about “break even” in terms of AMRAAM intercept distance and anti-ship missiles, however this is likely to change.
An enemy incoming at Mach 0.9 and a Deck-Launched and CAP Intercept. At point of detection (200km) both aircraft accelerate as fast as possible giving the enemy aircraft a massive advantage when up against the DLI jet starting from zero knots. Current technologies are probably about “break even” in terms of AMRAAM intercept distance and anti-ship missiles, however this is likely to change.

Flight Hours and Air Crew
The above requirements mean 48 flight-hours for the jets, which we’ll assume require 25 man-maintenance-hours per flight-hour (1200 maintenance hours) which equates to a minimum of 150 man-days. Likely to be more if the aircraft is Low Observable. Similarly, there is a total of 72 flight-hours for the helicopters which we’ll assume require 10 man-maintenance-hours per flight-hour (720 maintenance hours) which equates to a minimum of 90 man-days.

A total maintenance team of 240 men, along with around 60 further pilots and systems operators and another 10% for “management”. A total of about 330 airgroup personnel. Minimum.

It is my impression that a ~27,000 tonne, 20 aircraft, CVL can provide this with 8 jets, 8 ASW helicopters and 4 AEW helicopters.

However, I am asking for this airgroup to undertake three two-hour CAP sorties per day, per aircraft, forever (well at least for a couple of months). Regardless of how hard I try to push my head into the sand it simply isn’t going to happen. History has shown carrier air wings to deliver between one and two sorties per day over a sustained period so perhaps we can settle for 1.5 sorties per day and 16-18 jets.

The point here is that a small “Cavour-sized carrier can only deliver about half of my requirement. In other words it can deliver the “jet” component, or daytime cover, or single aircraft CAP and ASW. Any CVL will therefore need to be supplemented with enough escort/support ships to sustain the required ASW capability.

The Fleet
Following from this conceptual CVL I’d now like to examine how the fleet could operate to provide sustained presence, defence, and ultimately offence. Much of the numbers following are for illustrative purposes only, again representing a “theoretical” nation:

Presence
We’ll begin with frigates. Thirteen of them. 3-4 of them in deep maintenance/refit and the remainder providing 85% availability. This gives us eight active ships, with two assigned to each of four key locations around the globe – rotating back-to-back – operating independently, policing, and flying the flag.

In addition we’ll need a number of tankers to sustain their presence.

Defence
This is the real point of this section. This is the ability to supplement the active frigate as local tensions rise in one of the four key locations. This supplement increases the area of control/dominance from a ~20km to ~200km radius using the Sea Control Carrier above.

We therefore require a sustained sea control capability, which can only come about with at least three Sea Control Carriers.

Furthermore, we have already identified that the CVL above cannot sustain the level of aviation that is required to totally dominate the area. We can assume that the CVL can support the jets and AEW capability, but we need other ships to operate the ASW squadron. Well, we already have a frigate with an embarked helicopter and in order to sustain any kind of operation we are going to need one of the tankers on station for much of the time.

This therefore puts the onus on the tanker to embark the remaining seven helicopters with hangar facilities for at least three of them. This is hardly a tanker. The ship that fits the bill is probably more akin to RFA Argus or an aviation optimised Bay class. This means dragging another ship along in order to provide sustained control of the sea.

We now have a frigate, a tanker, a carrier and an aviation heavy support ship on station.

Offence
Obviously the above task group provides a fair level of offensive air power, however, here I mean “offence” in the form of amphibious assault.

RFA Argus
  RFA Argus

I’ll keep this relatively simple and just suggest that we need to sustain a single commando battalion in theatre or launch a heavy assault with almost all of 3Cdo. To this end we will need four amphibious assault ships all similar to the Rotterdam/Galicia design. These ships would generally be operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) with a small contingent of Royal Marines so the assumption is that four such ships will provide three operational, one for each of 40, 42 and 45 Commando [battalions].

Again, the point is not to discuss force balance or numbers, but simply to indicate that these ships could double up as the aviation heavy support ships as required above.

All-out war would see all eight frigates on the front line operating the majority of the ASW squadron, therefore freeing up space on the assault ships to operate utility/lift helicopters.

Total Approximate Numbers:
Ships
13 frigates (8 available, 4 tasks)
3 Sea Control Carriers (2 available, 1 task)
5-6 tankers (4 available, one per task)
4 assault ships (3 available, one per Commando)

Aircraft for Sea Control
16-18 jets on the carrier
4 AEW helicopters on the carrier
1 ASW helicopter on the frigate
1 ASW helicopter on the tanker
6 ASW helicopters on the assault ship operating as the aviation heavy support ship

Conclusion
What I have tried to do here is provide a minimal fleet design. It is not a fantasy fleet, it is simply an indication of how a fleet could be built to provide various levels of capability. The use of a small carrier keeps the cost minimal, but at a high price in terms of overall effectiveness. We are severely limited with our aviation assets because we have to “off deck” much of our sea control ASW squadron onto tankers and assault ships that would otherwise be operating utility/lift helicopters.

This means that our sustained offensive presence deploys almost zero utility/lift helicopters because the aviation space on the amphib is being used to operate the majority of the ASW squadron.

A larger carrier would be better, which I will cover in a second post entitled “CVF or LHD”.

“Simon” is a tax-payer (annoyed about: the aircraft carrier debacle, and generally the way the U.K. is run) – okay I’m just a grumpy old man! I have a degree in aerospace engineering and work as a self-employed IT consultant. Unfortunately the bottom fell out of the defence industry when I graduated so I was left high-and-dry with a degree in a discipline considered unimportant by HMG. I’m just biding my time until Britain wants to rebuild her empire with imagination, ingenuity, and a nice hot cuppa.

This post appeared in its original form and was cross-posted by permission from Think Defence.

What Would Sir Julian Corbett Write…

…today, about the constitution of modern fleets? When Corbett spoke about battleships, cruisers and the flotilla, he focused on the integrated fleet functions these ships performed more than their individual capabilities. Even their names reflected this attitude, contrary to later ship types like the aircraft carrier, submarine or torpedo boat. Corbett was aware that such classification was not constant and that technology was rearranging the old structure of fleets:
We retain the three-fold nomenclature, but the system itself has really gone. Battleships grade into armoured cruisers, armoured cruisers into protected cruisers. We can scarcely detect any real distinction except a twofold one between vessels whose primary armament is the gun and vessels whose primary armament is the torpedo. But even here the existence of a type of cruiser designed to act with flotillas blurs the outline, while, as we have seen, the larger units of the flotilla are grading up to cruiser level.”

Corbett believed that the constitution of fleets ought to reflect the dominant strategic and tactical ideas at a given time. With these thoughts in mind, what kind of prevailing strategic and tactical ideas are expressed by structureless fleet? Do modern navies posses a clear structure? If not, either his theories are obsolete or our concept of ships and fleets is dangerously detached from strategy.

 

Confusion over fleet constitution, in any time, seems to be caused by three reasons. One is technology, and the addition of new capabilities. Another is perhaps best expressed in the wisdom of Thucydides regarding the reasons for conducting a war – Fear, Honor and Benefit. Fear is rooted deeply in psychology and affects the perceived level of threat. The final reason is inability to predict the future, despite all scientific progress in forecasting. Attempting to follow Corbett’s logic, a navy performs the basic functions of striking, scouting and screening in three dimensions – surface, air and below surface. The three sources of confusion, on the other hand, cause navies to give a ship capabilities in all functional areas and in all domains at the same time. We want to give our scouting force fighting power, forgetting a bit about another statement from Corbett:

The object of naval warfare is to control maritime communications. In order to exercise that control effectively we must have a numerous class of vessels specially adapted for pursuit. But their power of exercising control is in proportion to our degree of command, that is, to our power of preventing their operations being interfered with by the enemy. Their own power of resistance is in inverse proportion to their power of exercising control; that is to say, the more numerous and better adapted they are for preying on commerce and transports, the weaker will be their individual fighting power.”

At this point LCS comes to my mind. Still controversial and presenting challenges to implementation, this project possesses a unique capability. Through modularity and autonomous, off-board systems, it offers a possibility to correct errors in its initial operating concept. Controversy surrounding this ship would be best resolved by return to the roots of the concept and intended function. Answering the question “what is this ship?” is far more important than its actual capabilities. The story of HMS Jervis Bay dramatically illustrates the difference between concept and capability. In May 1940, this armed merchant ship was performing its function of escorting a convoy, consisting of 37 ships, when they encountered German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer. The price for the British was high as almost 200 men died and the ship lost, but the HMS Jervis Bay fulfilled its mission despite having almost no capabilities, charging the Admiral Scheer and enabling the convoy to escape. One way to avoid paying such a price is to give every ship enough fighting power (with all the attendant controversy over exactly how much is enough). Another is to give fleet a more defined structure:

On cruisers depends our exercise of control; on the battle-fleet depends the security of control.”

Closing the loop and returning to the opening question. The chapter title in which Sir Julian Corbett expressed his views on fleet structure is “THEORY OF THE MEANS—THE CONSTITUTION OF FLEETS.” The subject so defined will never be obsolete. I am still curious how he would today find a way through the jungle of new technological innovations which seem to force us to constantly revise operating concepts, and bring us a clear view on the theory of the means. 

 

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland. His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country