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Future of the Navy.

Robert O. Work's "Small Combat Ships and the Future of the Navy" (Issues. Fall 2004) makes a much-needed contribution to the debate over the transformation of the U.S. armed forces to meet the threats of the future.

As Work notes, the case in favor of acquiring at least some Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) is strong. The U.S. Navy has conducted, and will continue to conduct, a range of missions that would benefit from the capabilities of a ship such as the LCS. Moreover, the development of these ships can foster innovation within the naval services. The Australian, Norwegian, and Swedish navies, among others, have fielded highly innovative small craft in recent years. The U.S. Navy can benefit from many of these developments through the LCS program. Finally, regardless of whether one believes that the era of the aircraft carrier is at an end, there is a strong argument for diversifying the Navy's portfolio of capabilities.

Although the case for investment in LCSs is strong, Work correctly notes that there is opposition to even a limited buy in parts of both the Navy and Congress. The fact that the Navy envisions LCSs undertaking missions that it considers marginal, such as mine warfare, demonstrates that to some, small combatants are themselves peripheral.

This is not the first time that the Navy has considered a prominent role for small combatants. In the late 1970s, Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt envisioned a fleet that would include a number of new models of small combatants, including missile-armed hydrofoils. His plans came to naught, however, because of a combination of organizational opposition within the Navy and uncertainty over how such ships would fit U.S. strategy. Supporters of LCS would do well to heed this experience. The LCS program will succeed only if supporters can demonstrate that it will have value as an instrument of U.S. national power.


Visiting Fellow

Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies

Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies

The Johns Hopkins University

Washington, D.C.

Robert O. Work's assessment of the U.S. Navy's ongoing transformation and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program captures the essential technical and doctrinal challenges facing the Navy as it transitions to a 21st-century fleet postured to meet U.S. national security requirements in a dangerous and uncertain world. Work's article is a summary of a masterful study he completed early in 2004 for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C.

Today's Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard are proceeding on a course of true transformation. The term runs the risk of becoming shopworn in the Bush administration's national security lexicon, but it is undeniable that the U.S. sea services are being transformed in a way comparable to the transition to modern naval power that began roughly 100 years ago. Work's article highlights the key attributes of this transformation, notably the development of highly netted and more capable naval platforms.

His contemplation of the Navy of tomorrow resembles the experience of naval reformers in ages past. As Bradley Allen Fiske wrote at the Naval War College in 1916, "What is a navy for? Of what parts should it be composed? What principles should be followed in designing, preparing, and operating it in order to get the maximum return for the money expended?"

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Vern Clark grapples with the same issues that Fiske pondered 88 years ago. Clark seeks to build a balanced fleet encompassing potent platforms and systems at both the high- and low-end mix of the Navy's force structure--a force able to meet all of its requirements in both coastal waters and the open ocean.

Tomorrow's Navy will be able to project combat power ashore with even higher levels of speed, agility, persistence, and precision than it does today, but Clark also faces the stark challenge of affordability in recapitalizing the Navy, when it is unlikely that funding for Navy recapitalization will be increased and, because of a variety of factors, could be decreased if wiser heads do not prevail.

At a time when the number of warships in the Navy is falling to the lowest level since 1916, the need for a significantly less expensive, modular, and mission-focused LCS is obvious. Today's ships are far more capable than hulls of just a decade ago, but in a world marked by multiple crises and contingencies, numbers of ships have an importance all their own. "There is no substitute for being there," is how one former CNO expressed this consideration. LCS will help the Navy to achieve the right number of ships in the fleet by providing a capable and more affordable small combat ship suitable for a wide range of missions.

Clark has spoken eloquently of the shared responsibilities faced by navies and coast guards around the world in keeping the oceans free from terror to allow nations to prosper. "To win this 21st-century battle on the 21st-century battlefield, we must be able to dominate the littorals," Clark said last year. "I need LCS tomorrow."

Work offers some useful cautions regarding LCS design considerations (notably the tradeoff between high speed and payload), and his recommendation that the Navy evaluate its four first-flight LCS platforms carefully before committing to a large production run makes sense.

It should be noted, however, that the Navy has conducted extensive testing and experimentation in recent years using LCS surrogate platforms, including combat operations during the invasion of Iraq. It has a good grasp of its mission requirements in the littorals. As for the Navy's requirement for a high-speed LCS, no less an authority than retired Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, director of the Office of Force Transformation in the Department of Defense, supports the Navy's position. As he observed earlier this year, speed is life in combat.


Retired Captain, U.S. Navy

Technical Director

Center for Security Strategies and Operations

Anteon Corporation

Washington, D.C.
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Title Annotation:FORUM; Small Combat Ships and the Future of the Navy
Publication:Issues in Science and Technology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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