Asymmetry is a very popular word these days and, in my estimation, one applied too frequently to too many things. Prof. Robert Farley makes the point that asymmetric expectations lie at the foundations of decisions about all battles. “Combatants engage because they have different expectations about likely outcomes,” he says. But not every search for gaining advantage in battle is asymmetric. Using all available means and conditions to throw an opponent out of balance is a core of Liddell Hart’s indirect strategy. So perhaps returning to symmetry and conceptually focusing on symmetric warfare would help ease understanding of complex problems related to ship roles and design.
Asymmetry is a strategy of weak against strong. One side has no chance to match its opponent in a blow-for-blow fashion, and instead uses a type of attack for which the stronger opponent has developed ineffective defenses. This is more of a conceptual framework than anything tied to a particular weapon, and in fact the same weapon can be both asymmetric or symmetric attacks depending on its use. Torpedoes launched by a destroyer against a battleship constitute asymmetric warfare, but launched against another destroyer screening that battleship becomes symmetric. PLA Navy anti-access doctrine and capabilities are asymmetric versus the U.S. Navy, but the same capabilities linked to a more Mahanian concept would be symmetric versus JMSD Forces, or overwhelming versus the Vietnamese Navy. In the last case we would witness a reversal of roles.
Asymmetry is also a transient phenomena. Use of torpedo boats was seen by Jeune Ecole as an asymmetric strategy aimed at Britain’s Royal Navy and its commerce, but very soon the British were able to control this threat and reinstate the symmetry by creating the destroyer. The same torpedo, supported by excellent training, was part of an Imperial Japanese Navy asymmetric strategy in night actions against the (locally) numerically superior American counterpart. Radar soon nullified this concept, although as Capt. Wayne Hughes noted in his Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, it took some time for the U.S. Navy to grasp the concept of using the radar, in spite of the fact that it was already technically in service during the battle at Savo Island.
The advantage of conceptually coming back to symmetry as a guiding principle is seen in the way warships were built and designed in the past. A battleship was supposed to carry offensive weapons able to destroy the battle fleet of an enemy. At the same time, armor was to give it protection against similar (symmetric) opponents. In the case of cruisers the story was different, mostly because of Washington Treaty limitations, but the last cruiser designs without such limits returned to the need to fight opponents of the same class. For modern ships it would be much easier to think in terms of their primary mission, while taking as a rule ability to fight a similar class opponent.
Looking at a contemporary example, the LCS surface warfare mission package’s primary mission is to counter asymmetric threats, like swarm attack, but it lacks capabilities to counter a symmetric opponent like a missile corvette. My analysis could be viewed as an oversimplification, but could nonetheless help frame part of what should be a rational discourse among people who have no chance get to grips with real-world CONOPS. I like the way Master Chief Petty Officer Brett F. Ayer explains Offshore Patrol Cutter requirements.
Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitisis 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
The Polish Navy may be small, but it actively participates in many international exercises and NATO operations. Its core consists of two unmodernized Olivier Hazard Perry frigates (short hull), three Fast Attack Craft (FAC) upgraded with RBS Mk3 missiles and Thales C2, three minesweepers turned modernized mine-hunters, four German-designed Kobben-class diesel coastal submarines, and a Soviet-era Kilo-class. In March 2012, the Polish Ministry of Defense announced a long-awaited Navy modernization plan. In contrast with previous practice, the plan has been made public (unsurprisngly, but perhaps unfortunately for readers of NextWar, in Polish).
The new plan foresees replacing virtually all existing ships (except the newly modernized Orkan-class FAC) within more than 25 years. In simple terms, we’re talking about the complete reconstitution of all Navy platforms. Yet, many people remains skeptical. One reason is a previous plan, stalled for 10 years, to build a series of Gawron corvettes. Recently Ministry of Defense decided that the ship will be finished as a patrol corvette with ASW capabilities. But this skepticism has a deeper roots and to understand it better we need to look at broader context.
Role of the Navy
Beyond the superficial popular arguments about inadequate military funding, we find more useful reasoning, surprisingly in A.T. Mahan works:
The necessity of a navy, in restricted sense of the word, springs, therefore, from existence of a peaceful shipping, and disappears with it, except in the case of a nation which has aggressive tendencies, and keeps up a navy merely as a branch of the military establishment.
The Polish Navy finds its purpose from the first part of the above phrase, while the General Staff is more concerned about other countries taking theirs from the latter portion. In fact, both the MoD and BBN (National Security Bureau), following the logic “home first,” have defined the area of interest for the Navy as “Baltic Plus.” BBN’s recently concluded survey on the security environment of Poland stated that there is no danger of open armed conflict in foreseeable future. However, Prof. Stanislaw Koziej, who leads BBN, is concerned about the fact that Poland is a frontier country of the European Union and as such is exposed to some tensions and conflicts. Not surprisingly the most recent investment for the Navy was a shore battery of the Kongsberg anti-ship Naval Strke Missile (NSM), while the next priority is for new submarines, mine hunters, and then ASW helicopters.
Poland is geo-strategically located between two traditional European powers – Germany and Russia. All armed conflicts with these two powers have been resolved on land. Likewise, the 17th century wars with Turkey ended with a great Polish victory at Vienna, far from the sea. The only war with an important, although not decisive, naval episode was the war with Sweden. In 1627, the Polish fleet achieved victory over the Swedish squadron at Oliwa. The Polish Navy was restituted immediately after regaining independence in 1918. 20 years later, a young and small navy unable to save the country continued its fight at the side of the British Royal Navy. One participant of these struggles, the destroyer Blyskawica has been depicted by CDRSalamanderin his Fullbore Friday series. The Polish Navy, rightly proud of its traditions, nevertheless historically had little influence on the outcome of wars of the past. And this is probably the General Staff’s point of view.
A few years ago, the investment budget of all the Armed Forces was centralized. All projects now compete for resources within the same structure of the MoD. Such centralization theoretically allows for better spending of scarce money, but it leaves Services without control over their own future. Even much bigger navies have from time to time had problems in justifying their mission, a problem amplified for a small navy in a continentally oriented country.
Although there are shipbuilders in Poland with profitable operations, none of them is now involved in warship design and construction. The dilemma therefore follows: should a navy rely on foreign construction and unknown support or on a local industry which has no expertise. It is possible to build such expertise over time, but is Poland’s new modernization plan enough to support such a venture?
As outlined above, some skepticism has well-founded reasons. On the other hand, my belief is that a navy should be confident in its better future, and the reason is simple. Poland, as a young member of the European Community, wants to be active in the international arena. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan allowed our Armed Forces and politicians to learn a lot. The price of these lessons is high and the next step is discovering that using a navy to express political will is typically much cheaper.
The basic assumptions of the concept include: · Permanent financing at a level of PLN 900 million per year · Abandoning modernization of current old equipment in favour of obtaining modern ships ·A three-phase modernization of the Polish Navy, implemented until 2022, 2026 and 2030 respectively · By 2030, in line with the modernization plans, the Ministry of National Defence plans to acquire, among other things: – 3 new submarines – 3 coastal defence ships with a displacement in excess of 1,000 tonnes – 3 patrol ships with minesweeping abilities – 3 modern minesweepers – 2 rescue ships – 2 electronic reconnaissance ships – 7 support ships, including an operational support ship and logistic support ship – 6 SAR helicopters and 6 anti-submarine helicopters – unmanned aerial systems: 6 reconnaissance planes (3 ship-based, vertical take-off and landing type, and 3 land-based) and 10 mine identification and destruction systems – Rearmament of the Coastal Missile Unit – Purchase of two short-range anti-aircraft systems for the defence of main naval bases
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
“What is International Maritime Security?” is an excellent post, framing the question against the common interests, threats, and resources of nations in the effort to keep maritime commons secure. Why are these dynamics and underlying processes so complex, and what we can do with that knowledge? Professor Mearsheimer’s work The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, notes Kurt Albaugh, helps provide some answers. It discusses great powers’ search for ultimate security, possible only through hegemony. But it leaves untold the story of great powers’ neighbors. These states have a need for national security disproportionate to the real threat, which Prof. Mearsheimer explains in following way:
When a state surveys its environment to determine which states pose a threat to its survival, it focuses mainly on the offensive capabilities of potential rivals, not their intentions.
Moreover, in such a case the “stopping power of water” likely doesn’t apply, not only because neighbors could share a land border but also because defensive power is not strong enough to check a great power’s short-distance naval assault. The Impact on the navy is important. In the event of a neighbor’s build-up, the smaller neighbor’s scarce financial resources would be devoted to building as much war-fighting capabilities as possible, depleting a budget very quickly. The maritime security mission becomes a “nice to have” item, especially protecting the maritime commons, which is possibly perceived more as a foreign affairs than defense issue. The corresponding fleet composition is summarized well with another observation made by D.K. Brown in Future British Surface Fleet: Options for Medium-Sized Powers, discussing individual ship design:
This is discussed by Khudyakov, who points out that one can optimise for maximum effectiveness at constant cost or for minimum cost at constant effectiveness. Carried to extremes, he sees the one leading to what he aptly calls the Super Battleship Paradox, the other, emphasising numbers at the expense of capability, to the Chinese Junk Paradox. One may, however, wonder if the Royal Navy’s Flower-class of World War II was so limited in capability that it fell into the latter category.
The end result is a navy consisting of a very few “Super Battleships” to defend against the great powers, and under-appreciated fleet workhorses like the Flower-class to carry out International Maritime Security missions. The Naval Diplomat might offer a solution to that problem. The concept of a “Fortress-fleet” operating under the umbrella of land-based aircraft and missiles would allow a smaller nation to forgo the “Super Battleships” and develop a fleet much more oriented toward International Maritime Security. Such “fortress” should satisfy demand for national security, cover the gap between a real threat and its perception, and allow the nation to build much lighter naval forces, which theoretically could be more focused on diplomatic and constabulary missions. Governments would be also more inclined to invest in dual-use, army and navy weapons like aircraft, instead of very expensive systems with only a naval application. Rooted in the views of A.T. Mahan, this distant descendant of his original concept answers partially its critics. Fleets thus freed to get involved in international cooperation in distant waters are no longer inactive and without initiative.
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
When I reached Charlestown Navy Yard on August 19, 2012, it seemed like a perfect morning to be underway in the harbor: clear skies, a forecast high in the mid-70s, and the ship going to sea was USS Constitution, set to sail on her own power for the second time in 131 years. Reporting as her conning officer was certainly the last thing I ever expected to do.
Six months earlier, Commander Matthew Bonner, Constitution’s 72nd commanding officer, asked if I’d be up for the job. Boston NROTC, where I teach navigation and naval operations to midshipmen, has a long standing relationship with Constitution. With only an Executive Officer and Operations Officer, the wardroom would be fully stretched that day. I was understandably more than happy to help out.
Once onboard, I surveyed the area where the navigation team and I would be working. The harbor chart was laid out on a folding table in front of the ship’s proud 10-spoke wooden helm about three quarters of the way aft. Navigation equipment was rather limited; a magnetic compass on each side of the ship’s wheel was the only permanently installed equipment. Technicians from Naval Sea Systems Command, onboard to monitor the stability of the ship, had also installed a digital reader for course and speed.
As the underway time of 1000 neared, the ship was buzzing with activity. Constitution’s normal crew is around just over 50, but they had assistance from 150 Chief Petty Officer-Selects temporarily assigned for a two-week CPO heritage program. Also onboard were several former Constitution commanding officers, Medal of Honor recipient Captain Tom Hudner (Ret.), three flag officers, and the British Consul General. With the crew taking in the last line and casting us into the harbor, I could feel the shared excitement as we began our historic cruise.
There was no conning to be done, initially. One primary tug boat and a backup were towing the ship approximately three miles to a predetermined “sail box” just past the channel entrance where we would have up to a mile to maneuver with sufficient separation from shoal water. Despite not having active control of the ship, two Quartermasters laid regular fixes from a handheld GPS receiver.
Once in the channel, Commander Bonner and the British Consul General laid a wreath overboard to honor the 7 American and 15 British sailors who died in the fierce battle between Constitution and HMS Guerriere 200 years ago that day. Constitution’s vanquishing of the British frigate was a milestone victory for the early U.S. Navy and also the occasion where the ship earned her famous “Old Ironsides” moniker.
Summer weekends are popular times for pleasure boaters in Boston Harbor, and that Sunday was no exception. Hundreds of boats were out in the harbor to catch a glimpse of America’s ship of state, with many trying to follow along for the whole cruise. Fortunately, the Massachusetts State Police, Boston Police, Massachusetts Environmental Police, and U.S. Coast Guard provided escort and protection with a sizable exclusion zone around Constitution.
The two-hour trip to the sail box flew by. Before I knew it, our two tugs were turning us around between Deer Island and Long Island and into position. Around this time our “sail master,” a First Class Boatswains Mate, began barking commands to a hybrid team of Constitution crew and CPO-selects. In well-rehearsed sequence and with dozens of Sailors on various lines, the crew raised Constitution’s three main sails. The world’s oldest commissioned warship was coming to life.
It was almost game time for me and my helmsman, a First Class Sonar Technician. We reviewed what we learned the prior Friday during steering checks: maximum rudder in either direction is 20 degrees, one full turn of the wheel is 10 degrees, therefore each of the wheel’s 10 spokes represents one degree of rudder. There was no rudder angle indicator like one typically finds on ships. Instead, a black marking on the line wrapped around the wheel moves forward and aft relative four rows of line on either side as the wheel turns.
The Quartermaster recommended course 260T to return us to the western end of the sail box and back into the channel. To verify we were on that heading, I called over to the still-connected tug’s captain. Constitution’s two magnetic compasses fluctuated during the transit and now displayed conflicting headings, and since we were still dead in the water, our digital course repeater was unable to help. After verifying that we were on the correct heading, I was ready to go.
“Conn, tug’s cast off!” the Captain yelled to me, and with a “Rudder amidships,” we were off and sailing. The entire crew, who had worked so hard and waited so long for this special moment, erupted in spontaneous applause as the tugs moved away and took ready station off our quarters. I can recall the surreal feeling of looking to my left and right seeing no tugs and knowing that I was playing a small part in navigating this almost sacred warship, and would remember it for the rest of my life.
I allowed myself only a brief period to soak in the moment and then kept my focus on driving the ship. Although we were laying frequent fixes, I relied on input from the Captain, who had climbed partway up the ship’s rigging for a better view. Standing by the helm, one has only a limited view of what is actually ahead of the ship. As we intended to maintain course, only minor rudder adjustments were required.
USS Constitution handled very surely. At roughly two knots speed over ground, we pressed ahead. Our speed, while slow, impressed everyone onboard since we had a tail wind of just about three knots. That was just enough to fill our sails and keep Joshua Humphrey’s brilliantly designed ship moving ahead. News helicopters circled overhead and hundreds of boaters kept up with what must have been a majestic sight. The last time Constitution was underway on sail power was 1997, and prior to that was 1881.
Seventeen minutes later, our brief sail into history came to an end. The tug returned, the crew partly lowered the sails, and Constitution was no longer under our direction. It felt like no time at all, but I relished every second. It was a great feeling to shake hands with the helmsman and quartermasters as we shared congratulations and absorbed up what we had just done.
We were not finished yet, though, as the return to Charlestown was still ahead and Constitution still had one more show to put on. The tug brought us to a stop just north of Fort Independence at Castle Island, where thousands (including my mom) had assembled for a view. The crew came to attention, and with a thunderous “boom” a 21-gun salute commenced. Dozens of surrounding boats answered with their whistles and the harbor was alive with enthusiasm. Afterwards, in an unscripted moment, the Chief-selects broke out in “Anchors Aweigh,” soon joined by the whole crew. We sang so loudly that the crowd on shore could hear, I later learned, and they loved it.
Around an hour later, a small crowd welcomed Constitution back to the Navy Yard, and we moored where we had started roughly four hours earlier. Knowing that the day’s events were almost certainly something I would never take part in again, I took time to reflect before disembarking. I thought of naval heroes like Edward Preble and Stephen Decatur who walked Constitution’s decks two centuries before. Considering their bravery, courage, and the impact they and USS Constitution had on our early Navy and the country, I was incredibly humbled to feel so connected to their history. I also thought of the professional, passionate Constitution sailors I met that day. Those impressive men and women are heirs to and representations of our proud past. On August 19, 1812, USS Constitution’s iron-like live oak hull repelled British cannon fire, but it was the courage and resilience of the American Sailor that won the day and continues to keep our Navy strong.
LT Chris Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy and an instructor at Boston University.
The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.