Monday, May 4, 2015
Retired Navy commanders: U.S. surface fleet outgunned by China, Iran, others
David Larter, Navy Times
2 May 2015
The surface Navy is starting to find itself outgunned by potential adversaries such as China or Iran.
That's the contention of two retired naval officers turned analysts, who recently told lawmakers about strategies to make the surface fleet relevant against adversaries armed with mines, jets and long-range anti-ship missiles.
Bryan McGrath, a retired commander and former destroyer skipper, told the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee hearing that today's surface Navy is less prepared to fight and defeat a sophisticated adversary than the Cold War-era Navy of 25 years ago.
The surface force has to adapt to compete with China and other foes who are seeking to block the U.S. Navy's access to key strategic points on the globe, McGrath said. And with that will come a fundamental rethinking of Navy strategy. Instead of encircling the aircraft carrier, McGrath said ships like destroyers and cruisers should be dispatched to gain sea control and clear the path for a carrier to launch airstrikes before moving elsewhere.
"In an era of little or no threat, the Navy packed its defenses around the carrier and positioned itself close to an adversary in order to generate maximal combat sorties," McGrath said at the open hearing on April 15. "Against a high-end, near-peer competitor, implementing an [anti-access, area denial] strategy, this is on longer possible.
"In the future the carrier strike group will have to fight its way into portions of the ocean from which it can then execute strikes. And then quickly retire and or relocate."
While the Navy has been focused on low-end missions, potential enemies such as China and Iran have adapted, said Bryan Clark, a retired Navy commander, who explained that their goal is to keep the U.S. Navy out of striking distance with a barrage of shore-based missiles that will overwhelm the defenses of an cruiser or destroyer.
An adversary could, with relative ease, force a DDG to shoot all its missiles and overwhelm its defenses — taking it out of the fight for about 1/10th the cost of the $1.8 billion Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
The major disadvantage is that technology has advanced to the point where enemy aircraft, ships and submarines pack missiles that have a longer range than those on U.S. ships. For Clark, that means the Navy has to invest in new missiles that can hit the enemy before they are in range to fire their missiles; to shoot the archer before he looses his arrows.
"Today, the surface ships we deploy don't have weapons that are able to reach enemy aircraft ships or submarines until we are already well within range of their anti-ship cruise missiles" Clark testified. "The way you get out of that is you have to deploy some new weapons."
Clark said that some progress has been made. The cruiser Normandy, which deployed with the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, is packing SM-6 interceptors that can strike enemy aircraft outside of the range most current anti-ship cruise missiles.
"The anti-submarine rocket I've got on board a ship has a range of about 12 miles," he said. "Whereas the anti-ship cruise missiles that Chinese submarines can carry have a range of a couple hundred miles, and launched comfortably from a range of 100 to 150 miles.
"We need new weapons that allow us to extend the range," Clark added.
Clark said the Navy is developing a long range anti-surface missile, but that it needs to focus on anti-submarine missiles as well.
The other sea change for the surface Navy, Clark argues, is that it needs to stop shooting incoming missiles a hundred miles from the ship. That's a waste of missiles, Clark says, because the enemy is trying to get you to expend all the rounds in your chamber.
His alternate strategy: letting those missiles come within range of close-in weapons such as the new Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, CIWS Phalanx, or future weapons like a laser orhigh powered microwave to intercept them, saving missiles for longer-range strikes on enemy ships, fighters and shore targets.
Another mitigating strategy is to have missiles that can provide a dual function so ships can conserve real estate in their vertical launch magazines. For example, Clark said, the long-range anti-ship missile in development can be modified to function as a long-range strike missile as well. This eliminates the need to have separate cells for Tomahawk strike missiles and anti-ship missiles in an environment where every missile cell is a commodity.
Ultimately, McGrath argued, the Navy needs to see surface forces as offensive weapons, rather than air defense platforms to protect the flattop.
"I think we have to begin to question whether or not air superiority that's required for surface operations can be provided by the ships themselves," McGrath said in his closing statement.
"I'm not saying we should drive three-ship [surface action groups] into the Taiwan Strait, I'm saying that the Chinese [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] structure is not equally good throughout its entire volume, and there are places within it where surface forces will be able to operate, will be able to create mayhem, and will be able to hold [valuable] target at risk."
The approach that McGrath advocates, using sea control to penetrate an anti-access, area-denial environment has its critics. Retired Capt. Jerry Hendrix, an analyst with the Center for a New American Security, said sea control strategies aren't the best approach to an A2AD threat like the one posed by China.
Instead of investing in legacy forces, the Navy should invest in a new force that can project force and bring the full strike capability of the Navy to bear, he said. Such an investment would be a long-range drone that is capable of strike from outside the A2AD envelope.
"Today, despite the fact that we are building $14 billion aircraft carriers and we are spending $16 billion a year on aircraft, we are still not buying either an airplane or a ship that can consistently project power from outside the A2AD environment," Hendrix said.
"So what's being argued for is a justification for the legacy force, rather than investing in a new force that will allow us to continue a power projection strategy."