25 years after the end of the Cold War and the publication of the ninth volume, Dr. Pournelle has revived his classic science fiction series with Castalia House. THERE WILL BE WAR Volume X continues the tradition of combining top-notch military science fiction with first-rate real-world analysis by military experts. The Cold War may have ended, but as recent events everywhere from Paris to Syria have demonstrated, war has not.
THERE WILL BE WAR Volume X is edited by Jerry Pournelle and features 18 stories, articles, and poems. Of particular note are “Battle Station” by Ben Bova, “Flashpoint: Titan” by Cheah Kai Wai, “What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke, and the eerily prescient “The Man Who Wasn’t There” by Gregory Benford. Volume X also includes timely essays on “War and Migration” by Martin van Creveld, “The 4GW Counterforce” by William S. Lind and LtCol Gregory A. Thiele, USMC, and “The Deadly Future of Littoral Sea Control” by CDR Phillip E. Pournelle, USN, which was awarded the 2015 Literary Award by the Surface Navy Association for “the best professional article in any publication addressing Surface Navy or surface warfare issues.”
THERE WILL BE WAR Volume X is free today and tomorrow.
The following is an excerpt from “The Deadly Future of Littoral Sea Control” by CDR Phillip Pournelle. The introduction was written by his father, Jerry Pournelle.
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The United States has always been a maritime power, and freedom of the seas has been our policy since the founding of the Republic. We have known since President Thomas Jefferson refused to pay tribute to the Barbary Coast pirates that blockade might not be enough. Sometime you must control the coastal areas and send the Marines to the shores of Tripoli.
The control of littoral areas generates different fleet requirements than controlling the high seas. Commander Phillip Pournelle has been involved with the future of naval requirements, including fleet structure, for years. This article was recently published by the United States Naval Institute and is reprinted here by permission of the institute. The opinions in the article are, of course, his own.
There is a lively debate about the future of the Navy, and how the Fleet should be structured, in Naval circles. Those interested in it should consult the Naval Institute Proceedings, where the various features of the force, including submarines, carriers, surface vessels, information warfare, and the Marines, are discussed. This essay concentrates on an important part of the debate.
When I was in the aerospace industry, I used to say that “the opinions expressed here are my own, and not necessarily those of the Aerospace Corporation or the United States Air Force, and I think that’s a damn shame.” The opinions expressed here are those of Commander Pournelle, and not necessarily those of the United States Navy.
And I think that’s a damn shame.
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THE DEADLY FUTURE OF LITTORAL SEA CONTROL
by Commander Phillip E. Pournelle, U.S. Navy
In an age of precision-strike weapon proliferation, a big-ship navy equals a brittle fleet. What is needed is a revamped force structure based on smaller surface combatants.
The U.S. Navy is building a fleet that is not adapted to either the future mission set or rising threats. It is being built centered around aircraft carriers and submarines. Surface ships are being constructed either as escorts for the carriers or as ballistic-missile-defense platforms. While the littoral combat ship (LCS) was originally intended for sea-control operations in the littoral environment, its current design is best employed as a mother ship for other platforms to enter the littorals. The result of all this is a brittle—and thus risk-adverse—fleet that will not give us influence, may increase the likelihood of conflict, and will reduce the range of mission options available to the national command authority.
This trend is not unique to the Navy. Like other services, it has been operating since the end of the Cold War in unchallenged environments. For the last 12 years in particular, the United States has been operating against opponents who do not have the means to seriously challenge it in multiple arenas such as the air, sea, cyber, space, and other domains. However, due to the proliferation of precision-strike-regime (PSR) weapons and sensors, these domains are increasingly being contested, and the sea, particularly in the littorals, may become one of the most threatened of all these domains.
Sea control is the raison d’être for a navy. The littorals have become, and will increasingly be, critical to the global economy and joint operations. To be relevant a fleet must have the ability to secure the littorals, dispute them, or just as importantly, exercise in them, in the face of an enemy who will contest them. Different platforms perform each of these tasks, some more effectively than others, which should drive fleet architectures. As the proliferation of weapons changes the littoral environment, the U.S. Navy will be forced to reexamine fleet architectures and make some significant changes to remain viable. This is due to the poor staying power of surface vessels in relation to their signature in the face of these rising threats. This new deadly environment will have tactical, operational, and strategic implications for the fleet, and will require significant changes if the fleet wishes to remain effective.
Sir Julian’s Three Elements
What is sea control? As the Royal Navy puts it, it is “the condition in which one has freedom of action to use the sea for one’s own purposes in specified areas and for specified periods of time and, where necessary, to deny or limit its use to the enemy. Sea control includes the airspace above the surface and the water volume and seabed below.”
Without sea control, all other attributions and capabilities for a fleet are irrelevant. As noted by the classic naval strategist Sir Julian Corbett, control (he used the word “command”) of the sea is fleeting and “the only positive value which the high seas have for national life is as a means of communication.” Given the fleeting status of command/control then, accomplishing it must be in support of further goals. Corbett breaks down his concept of control of the sea into three distinct areas: securing command, disputing command, and exercising command. Where securing enables exercising command, disputing may deny, or at least reduce, the ability of an opponent to use the sea for his own purposes.
So it would appear a navy unable to accomplish Corbett’s three elements is unbalanced, particularly if it cannot do so in the critical littorals. Execution of Corbett’s three areas can roughly be translated into three current mission areas: scouting, maritime-interception operations (MIO), and destruction. Enemy forces, and merchant ships, must be located through scouting. While ships and merchants could be simply swept from the sea, more often than not there is a need to be present to shape events and conduct visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) or MIO in support of sanctions, proliferation reduction, or other operations short of unrestricted warfare. VBSS/MIO is critical when there is a need to confirm the identity or contents of a vessel.
The characteristics of different platforms drive their strengths and weaknesses within these three mission areas. In the past, aircraft carriers were the best platforms to secure command of the sea. That role is being contested in anti-access/area-denial environments created by competitors. The air wing provided excellent scouting capabilities, but the U.S. Navy has determined land-based maritime-patrol aircraft (MPA) are best capable of searching large volumes of water, as long as the airspace is not being contested. The carrier is an inefficient vessel for VBSS. It is only used in the most extreme circumstances and limited in capacity. Further, because so many other mission capacities are tied up in one platform, using the carrier for VBSS (or humanitarian aid/disaster relief, for that matter) denies these capabilities to other missions during the duration of the operation. The carrier air wing is currently the best platform for destruction thanks to the volume of fire it can produce, and the mobility of the carrier as a home base, though it can be argued surface ships could be more cost-effective in this role. MPA can be effective in destruction but are limited by the fixed operating location of their airfield.
Submarines are poor scouting platforms with limited perception of the area around them, but they can enter anti-access areas often denied to surface ships and carriers. While they are poor VBSS/MIO platforms and have not been used in that role, submarines have an oversized impact on destruction. Their weapon of choice, as seen in the Falklands War, can be extremely deadly, and the psychological shock of an unlocated submarine can neutralize an enemy fleet.
Surface ships are good scouting platforms, particularly if equipped with helicopters and/or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They are good platforms for destruction if armed with appropriate weapons. The U.S. Navy has long vacillated back and forth regarding arming them with Harpoon or other antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs) mostly because of target-identification challenges. Surface ships are the best platform for conducting VBSS/MIO, if there are sufficient numbers of ships. Today Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are conducting VBSS/MIO off the coast of Africa and other locations.
Given the cost and other mission capabilities, does it really make sense for these air-defense destroyers or other large capital ships to conduct VBSS/MIO?