November 2, 2011

In Uncertain Times, Size Does Matter

We recently learned that, due to budget cuts,  the British Navy is not able to deploy a surface warship to provide a 24 hour emergency response capability. Of course England is not at war right now even though her forces are involved in Afghanistan and, until recently on a limited basis in Libya.

But how much is enough in so-called peace time?

Truth be told, the US did not have a modern  battleship until 1895 when three were added to the fleet: the USS Maine, USS Indiana and the USS Texas. The USS Massachusetts and the USS Oregon came on line a year later. Of course we lost one of them, the Maine, on 15 FEB 1898 which brought us into conflict with Spain. The cause of the explosion that sank the Maine is now questioned. In any event, the Maine was re-floated and then scuttled at sea in 1912.

From the following site, Naval History and Heritage Command, we see the US Navy increase it's capacity for surface warfare dramatically after the loss of the Maine and the declaration of war. Of course this involves the cooperation of Congress to approve the funds necessary to build these war craft. Look at the increase in size of the "Steel" Navy.

                                Date     Dec 1896    Dec 1898           Change
Battleship 5 6 20%
Cruiser 16 18 13%
Monitor 6 14 133%
Torpedo Boats 1 12 1100%
Steel Gunboats 11 34 209%
Auxiliaries 1 30 2900%
Screw Steamer 7 16 129%
Screw Sloops 6 4 -33%
Gunboats 5 25 400%
Sailing vessels 1 1 0%
Steel Navy 40 114 185%
Old Navy 19 46 142%
                    Total Active 59 160 171%

The Great White Fleet - 1907

For a decade after the end of the Spanish American War, the fleet grew to about 175-180 ships. Uncertain political conditions in Europe saw the fleet increase to 245 vessels prior to the commencement of WWI hostilities. Look at the difference in the number of battleships, destroyers and cruisers from the prior war against Spain. By Armistice Day our fleet had increased by over 200%. But this was nothing compared to what would happen to our Navy less than three decades later.

                                Date    Dec 1916    Nov 1918          Change
Battleships 36 39 8%
Cruisers 30 31 3%
Monitor 3 7 133%
Destroyers 61 110 80%
Torpedo Boats/Frigates 18 17 -6%
Submarines 44 80 82%
Auxiliaries# 25 87 248%
Gunboats/Patrol 28 350 1150%
                    Total Active 245 774 216%

By 1924 the fleet had been reduced down to 137 surface warships and 376 total active vessels.  However, the biggest decrease was in the number of gunboats, from 350 to only 37. The number of battleships and cruisers were reduced by almost a half.  When the Great Depression hit, it got worse. Nothing changed much until the late 30's and then - 1940 when even the doves and isolationists in Congress saw the handwriting on the wall.

                               Date    Jun 1940    Aug 1945           Change
Battleships 15 23 53%
Carriers, Fleet 6 28 367%
Carriers, Escort                 0 71                 n/a
Cruisers 37 72 95%
Destroyers 185 377 104%
Frigates                 0 361                 n/a
Submarines 64 232 263%
Mine Warfare 36 586 1528%
Patrol 19 1204 6237%
Amphibious                 0 2547                 n/a
Auxiliary 116 1267 992%
Surface Warships* 237 833 251%
                   Total Active 478 6768 1316%

*Surface warfare ship totals do not include submarines, mine warfare, patrol or auxiliaries

By 1943 the US Navy had more ships than all other combatant nations combined - that includes allied and enemy navies - the Brits, the Canadians, the Fwench, the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians, everyone.

The end of WWII saw peace dividends realized through the shrinking of our armed forces.  By 1950 we were down to 634 warships, less than a tenth of our WWII levels.  But as the Cold War heated up, our Navy increased again.  By 1968, during the peak of the Vietnam War, we were at 932 warships

                                Date Jun 1950  Jun 1968            Change
Battleships 1 1 0%
Carriers 15 23 53%
Cruisers 13 35 169%
Destroyers 137 219 60%
Frigates 10 50 400%
Submarines 72 148 106%
Mine Warfare 56 83 48%
Patrol 33 3 -91%
Amphibious 79 162 105%
Auxiliary 218 216 -1%
Surface Warships 161 296 84%
                    Total Active 634 932 47%

This didn't last long.  As the Vietnam War ended and our nation transitioned to an all volunteer force (1973), our Navy shrunk by 44%; from 932 in 1968 to 523 by 1977.  From then on, our highest level of active warships was under President Reagan - in 1987 we deployed 594 warships.  It has been all downhill since then.  In 2007 we are at our lowest naval strength since 1916; we were down to 278 ships.  When President Bush took office, the Navy was at 318 ships; when he left it was 282.  We are now at 285.

                                Date    Sep 2007    Sep 2011           Change
Carriers 11 11 0%
Cruisers 22 22 0%
Destroyers 52 61 17%
Frigates 30 26 -13%
LCS * 0 2                  n/a
Submarines 53 53 0%
SSBN 14 14 0%
SSGN 4 4 0%
Mine Warfare 14 14 0%
Amphibious 33 31 -6%
Auxiliary 46 47 2%
Surface Warships 115 122 6%
                    Total Active 278 285 3%

The question still remains before us.  How much is enough? Naval technology has come a long ways to be sure and the capabilities of our warships has changed accordingly.  But it seems that our conflicts are not-state-of-the-art affairs, but more along the lines of combating low-tech thuggish cretins armed with AK-47's and butcher knives.

So if I'm wise I had better leave this question in the hands of military professionals who are vastly more qualified than I to render judgement.  I know they are obsolete and expensive as all get out to man, but I'd sure feel better if we had an Iowa class battleship or three or six floating off the shores of Egypt,  Palestine, Somalia, Iran and Venezuela.  Just to piss them off.


The Underground Pewster said...

I hope our Congressmen will listen to the naval intel types and fund the forces properly. It takes a long time to build new ships from the keel up and when we get into another shooting war ther might not be enough time to build em.

Woodsterman (Odie) said...

I'm all for pissing them off too.

Fredd said...

I'm no military expert, either, but I suspect the glory days of the navy are fading into the sunset.

In the good ol' days, it took a physical presence of ships, planes and men to project power internationally.

Now, we can project just as much power from a few huge submarines, and from ICBM's, along with a few strategically placed foreign bases. Ships? I guess they're nice to have, and certainly piss foreigners off that are less than friendly to US interests, but as a necessary factor in projection of power, ah, not so much anymore.

That, and it's much easier to sink an aircraft carrier with a single missile than it was in the good ol' days.

Of course, I am no military expert, either, and could be completely full of crap on the subject.

sig94 said...

Pewster - as I understand it, the Navy is researching new systems but they are not getting much funding to develop them into real weapons platforms. I think much of the research is coming out of DARPA.

And a ship is nothing but a weapons platform. A hundred years ago that's what it took to get your nasty stuff to distant shores to kill a few people. We still need ships to transport a whole lot of stuff but the airlift capability is quite strong - we need it to get a combat brigade into action on short notice. However, there is still nothing like a 50,000 ton whatever to get a lot of what you need the most to where you need it the most.

sig94 said...

Odie - I thought you wanted to piss on them....

sig94 said...

Fredd - The research is directed at rail guns but it is still at least a decade away before they become a useful weapon.

Originally the effective range of 16 inch, 50 caliber (in length) naval rifles was 35,000 yds at a 32 degree angle. Just prior to WWI you were doing good if you could hit a target at 18,000 yds.

See the following for a 1916 NY Times article on the British Admiralty deciding to arm their new super dreadnaughts with 18 inch guns.