This was inspired by a question raised by Dr. Robert Farleyhereandhere.
Within a navy the terms ‘frigate’ and ‘destroyer’ may have specific meanings, but there is no international standard. Governments often choose to call a ship a cruiser, destroyer, frigate, or corvette for political reasons, so the terms have lost much of their meaning. With the Germans building 7,200-ton F125-class ‘frigates’ and the Iranians calling their 1,500-ton Jamaran-class ‘destroyers,’ the naval typology system has lost its ability to inform.
Cruisers have all but disappeared. The term has certainly lost its relevance as a step between destroyer and battleship. In the few cases they do exist, with the sole exception of the Russian “Peter the Great,” they are functionally virtually indistinguishable from ships called destroyers, and even from some ships called frigates.
All these classes actually form a continuum of capabilities, influenced most strongly by their displacement. All fight primarily with gun, torpedo, or missile. All these ships are cruisers in the classic sense of a ship capable of sustained independent operations. They are all cruisers in the way Julian Corbett used the term, in that they are the ships that exercise sea control by enforcing blockades and protecting friendly commerce while denying it to the enemy. Additionally these are the ships that most commonly do boardings and fight piracy.
When the term cruiser first appeared it was a generic term that referred to a range of ship types with their own names. Frigates, sloops, and brigs might all have been referred to as cruisers. I’d like to propose a a return to something closer to the original meaning, to use cruiser as a generic term for surface warships that are not amphibs or aircraft carriers. I will suggest a further breakdown based on displacement with this example to show how this might be more informative:
Micro-Cruisers 1,000-<2,000 tons Mini-Cruisers 2,000-<4,000 tons Light Cruisers 4,000-<8,000 tons Heavy Cruisers 8,000-<16,000 tons Battle Cruisers 16,000 tons or more
For illustrative purposes, below is a comparison of five fleets. I have included ships of the U.S. and Russian Coast Guard, because they are also capable of doing some cruiser-type work, but added a notation. The numbers may be suspect. My sources may not be up to date, but I believe the comparison is generally valid.
US Russia China UK France Battle Cruisers — 1 — — — Heavy Cruisers 84 4 — — — Light Cruisers 3 (CG) 13 42 17 13 Mini-Cruisers 38 (10 CG) 19 (12 CG) 14 — 11 Micro-Cruiser 27 (CG) 34 (12 CG) 17 4 9 —- —- —- —- —- TOTAL 152 (40 CG) 71 (24 CG) 732133
There is no reason this typology could not be used in parallel with existing national or alliance systems that retain the destroyer, frigate, and corvette terms. The numbers above are based on the following:
US Battle Cruisers — Heavy Cruisers 84 – 22 CG – 62 Burke Light Cruisers 3 – 3 Bertholf (CG) Mini-Cruisers 38 – 28 FFG/LCS – 9 Hamilton (CG) – 1 Alex Haley (CG) Micro-Cruisers 27 – 13 Bear (CG) – 14 Reliance (CG) TOTAL 152
China Battle Cruisers — Heavy Cruisers — Light Cruisers 42 – 2 Type 052 Luhu – 4 Soveremenny – 3 Type 51 B/C – 9 Type 052 B/C/D – 17 Type 054 – 9 type 051 Luda Mini-Cruisers 14 – 14 Jianghu Micro-Cruisers 17 – 17 Jianghu TOTAL 73
UK Battle Cruisers __ Heavy Cruisers __ Light Cruisers 17 – 17 Type 45 and Type 23 Mini-Cruisers __ Micro-Cruisers 4 – 4 River-class __ TOTAL 21
France Battle Cruisers — Heavy Cruisers — Light Cruisers 13 – 2 Horizon – 2 Cassard – 1 Tourville – 1 Aquitaine – 7 Georges Leygues Mini-Cruisers 11 – 5 La Fayette – 6 Floreal Micro-Cruisers 9 – 9 D’Estienne d’Orves TOTAL 33
Chuck Hill is a retired Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard. He writes at Chuck Hill’s CG Blog, with the objective of looking, over the longer term, at the budgets, policies, tactics, roles, missions, and their physical expression – the platforms – that allow the Coast Guard to do its job.
Navies are expensive. In the case of the U.S. Navy, they’re really expensive. A quick review of the SIPRI world defense spending database shows over 40 coastal nations whose entire defense budget would not buy a single Arleigh Burke-class destroyer at 2011-2012 prices.
Many of us who read and contribute to this forum are professionals in Maritime Security. As such, we tend to take for granted the importance of Navies and the positive role that Navies play in the international system. We have been conditioned to believe that Navies are worth the cost. But looking at the disparity in naval spending among maritime nations, it seems that not all nations share the same view of the relative dollar value of maritime security[i]. In an era of sharply declining defense budgets, and a maritime strategy that, while it places warfighting first, places heavy emphasis on the cooperative and international nature of maritime power, it’s worth asking whether navies are, in fact, cooperating in pursuit of a common goal. If so, what is that goal? The question, as suggested by the title of this forum, is: What exactly is “international maritime security?”
Security itself is a dependent concept. It’s not enough to say that a country is secure. It must be secure from something or someone. A reasonable working definition of maritime security might be “freedom from the risk of serious incursions against a nation’s sovereignty launched from the maritime domain, and from the risk of successful attack against a nation’s maritime interests.” In the absence of a specified threat, how much “security” a nation needs to defend against those incursions or attacks is speculative, at best. That makes the problem of defining international security more challenging—in order to be international, both the interests and the threat must be held in common by two or more nations. And, while an interest and threat held in common by just two nations might be international in the strictest sense of the word, the connotation of “international security” is of interests held widely throughout the international community.
Some naval missions seem to be inherently international and cooperative. Securing sea lines of communication is a great example. In the introduction to the U.S. maritime strategy, the authors gravely proclaim that, “Our Nation’s interests are best served by fostering a peaceful global system comprised of interdependent networks of trade, finance, information, law, people, and governance. We prosper because of this system of exchange among nations, yet recognize it is vulnerable to a range of disruptions that can produce cascading and harmful effects far from their sources.” Sure, maintaining the security of this global system serves our own interests, but we are quick to point out that in doing so, we are helping the interests of others, too.
One answer to this critique has been to assert that other nations are free to define their maritime security narrowly because the U.S. defines maritime security broadly. According to this argument, the U.S. as a global maritime power must maintain open sea lanes all around the world; other nations, especially those whose trade ties are mostly regional, can hitch a free ride on our security at a fraction of the cost. Such a critique has an intuitive appeal, but it can’t be proved, since to do so would require a definitive measurement of the economic and human costs of the absence of U.S. efforts. Nevertheless, some version of the free rider argument is at the heart of many calls for increased defense burden sharing, and the desire to have other nations pick up at least a portion of the tab for “low-end” missions that are perceived to benefit all nations, rather than serving strictly U.S. interests.
The parable of the tragedy of the commons offers an interesting perspective on free-riding, burden sharing, and international maritime security. Writing in 1968 in the journal Science, biologist Garrett Hardin suggested that when there is a public resource—a commons—which is limited and diminished by use, but can be used by individuals without marginal usage cost, each individual will tend to increase their use (grazing herds in his example) until the resource itself is exhausted. According to this view, which has great traction in economic circles, each person expects to derive greater benefit from increasing their own use rather than showing restraint, since they expect their neighbors to likewise show no such restraint. If the commons are going to be depleted anyway, why not get mine? It is in such a situation that free riding becomes both possible and problematic. When a wealthy neighbor takes the time and money to fence off parts of the pasture and let it recover, everyone benefits; however the wealthy neighbor alone bears the cost, not only of the restoration efforts, but also of the outrage from their fellow cattlemen that they violated the concept of the commons by fencing it off. The wealthy neighbor does have some recourse: to begin with, because he is caring for the resource itself, rather than just his own herd, he has a legitimate moral claim against his fellow cattlemen; depending on his own pain threshold, he may try to make good on that claim by withholding his public service (whether in the fenced off area or more widely) until his neighbors begin to pay their share. Pursuing that course, however, comes with a risk—if he’s not willing to bear the pain of seeing the commons fall into disrepair, his neighbors may effectively call his bluff and he will go back to caring for the public good out of his own pocket. To many, this seems an apt metaphor for the predicament of the U.S. in security affairs.
The oceans are often described as a “maritime commons;” is there a corresponding “tragedy of the maritime commons?” Yes and no. One of the key aspects of Hardin’s metaphor is that the resource itself is limited and diminished by use. Global commerce has no limiting feature, and while the sea lanes may become more crowded, they are no less available if more trade takes to the seas. Since the resource itself is not diminished or threatened by use, U.S. efforts to secure the sea lanes are not really efforts to secure the commons, but to protect U.S. interests in the form of trade. While other nations may benefit from this, we would do it whether they benefited or not. In such a case, the international aspect of our maritime security interest is purely coincidental. We may be happy or unhappy with the level of help from other nations, but we have no leverage to encourage them to give more or less.
Fisheries protection, on the other hand, is an example of an international maritime security interest where the tragedy of the commons has been very real and very costly. According to a study funded jointly by the UK government and the Pew Charitable trusts, illegal fishing costs between $10 and $23 billion annually. These figures, comparable to piracy in scope, often have an immediate impact on the lives of local populations, and at least one study has suggested that fishery depletion from illegal fishing is a contributing cause of maritime piracy.
Missions like fisheries protection aren’t terribly sexy. In the U.S., we have normally assigned these missions to NOAA or Coast Guard personnel. For many other nations, however, this is a central Navy mission.
Seeking common ground in international maritime security is good practice, not only from an economic perspective, but also because it increases our understanding of regional partners and problems, potentially affording the opportunity to stop an emerging crisis before it ever develops. But our definition of international maritime security must go further than, “other navies do the same things we do, and help foot the bill.” If the USN is to meaningfully pursue international maritime security we must seek out areas where we truly share common interests, common threats, and common resources.
CDR Doyle Hodges is a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy. He has commanded a rescue and salvage ship in the Pacific and a destroyer in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Middle East. He is the Chairman of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Seamanship and Navigation Department. 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, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Naval Academy.
[i] For more accurate comparison of the relative value each country places on security, it is more useful to compare defense expenditure as a percentage of GDP, as found here than total outlay. While the CIA does not break out naval expenditures separately, total defense spending serves as a useful, though not perfect, proxy.
With the constant stream of news about maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific, the threats of piracy, and bluster of the Iranians, it can be easy to forget about the regular naval drama in the Western hemisphere. The U.S. Navy’s contributions to drug interdiction efforts don’t get a as much press, but they are a major focus of naval operations up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in the waters of the Caribbean. Yesterday Spanish-language station Univision helped shed light on the mission and its impact thanks access it was given to USS Nicholas (FFG 47).
This is the report from Univision and the English-version clip:
It’s estimated that over 80 percent of the cocaine entering the United States is transported during part of its journey by sea. For that reason, the U.S. Coast Guard has moved the battlefield in the fight against drug trafficking to the oceans.
Univision’s Ricardo Arambarri got exclusive access on board the USS Nicholas during Operation Martillo, a 175-day-long mission patrolling the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic and Pacific coastal waters of South and Central America.
Arambarri and cameraman Herman Ulloa were on board for 10 days and witnessed the interception of a speed boat loaded with drugs. Operation Martillo returned to land on July 17th with four tons of cocaine and marihuana seized during the mission, with an estimated wholesale value of $93 million.”
This is some great footage, especially if you haven’t spent much time on a surface ship. It again highlights the benefits that mostly untrammeled access can achieve – namely helping generate an understanding of what it is the Navy does in the minds of the American (and international) public. Kudos to the PAOs and whoever else made the decision to give them the access.
According to WAVY 10, “Nicholas‘ crew seized a total of 16,000 pounds of cocaine and 500 pounds of marijuana during the deployment, worth more than $515 million…the crew also captured 14 suspected drug smugglers.”
Univision also provided some entertaining behind-the-scenes footage of the filming process:
This is also a reminder of how well the sea services can work together with practice. In addition to the Nicholas, a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), an embarked SH-60B Seahawk helicopter, and a Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) of the U.S. Coast Guard along for the ride all make an appearance. It is sad, however, to see during the gun shoot and SCAT-team fire (yes, the military does love its acronyms, as the reporter kindly points out) that we still can no better than boxes for targets. They must have run through all their killer red tomatoes. But at least they have some non-combat expenditure allocation (NCEA) ammunition to shoot off, and at least the boxes look like they’re floating. While I’m all for going the inexpensive route, it was hard to tell how well a gunner was at hitting a target when the plywood from pallets we were using slipped below the waves after only a few rounds.
Another thing the videos reinforce is that speed is a big factor in ultimately catching the drug runners. But it’s the speed of the airborne assets that matter, not the surface vessel.
LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
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.