It’s been so long since the Navy engaged in combat that they’ve forgotten what war really is. Now, before any of you jump on me for forgetting about the
war aviation strikes or Operation Praying Mantis or whatever your favorite example is, recognize that I’m talking about two-sided war where the enemy gets a vote and fights back – not the one-sided bombing exercises that have occasionally cropped up. Viet Nam
Carriers parked off the coast of
or Viet Nam or launching sorties during Desert Storm does not constitute naval combat. Again, before anyone jumps on me, I’m not demeaning the efforts of the naval pilots who risked, and sometimes gave, their lives. I have nothing but respect and admiration for their courage and skill. Objectively, though, those missions were performed in relatively benign environments other than the presence of surface-to-air missiles and AAA directly over the targets. Korea
Combat involving ships has not occurred for quite some time. We have not had to fight our way into launch position for carriers, fight off enemy air or missile attacks, deal with capable enemy surface ships, operate in submarine infested waters, or conduct an opposed landing since WWII.
The Navy has forgotten what combat is and it shows in the current ship and aircraft designs. We’ve discussed the shortcomings in ship design – how ships are no longer designed and built to take damage and continue fighting. The lack of armor, redundancy, and separation as well as inadequate manning show that the Navy has forgotten the reality of combat.
What will combat be like? Supposedly, we train for it all the time so we must know what it will like, right? Wrong. We’ve already discussed the nearly useless, setpiece exercises that pass for training today.
Combat is going to be chaotic with poorly performing weapons (on both sides) which will lead to much closer combat than anyone anticipates. Our anti-ship missiles are not going to sink ships with flawless ease. Our Aegis/Standard system is not going to blot aircraft and missiles from the sky with deadly precision. We’re not going to detect and destroy submarines a hundred miles from our carrier and amphibious groups. Instead, we’ll find that aircraft will penetrate our defenses with surprising regularity. Missile attacks will result in many leakers, revealing our inadequate point defense weapons. Missile exchanges with opposing ships will prove to be mainly a waste of missiles and we’ll find ourselves closing to gun range and regretting our single 5” guns. Submarines will pop up way too close and, more often than not, our first detection will be a torpedo in the water, inbound.
Don’t believe me? Look at the few examples of combat or near-combat over the decades since WWII.
Despite a vast network of AEW, scouting, air cover, and Aegis radar, the
incident showed a highly trained ship totally overtaken by chaos, confusion, and panic. Enemy small boats penetrated to gun range and despite dozens or hundreds of 5” rounds fired, we hit none of the boats. And, as you all know, we managed to shoot down a civilian airliner. VincennesThe Stark was surprised despite the same advantages of unhindered peacetime detection and surveillance.The Port Royaland Guardian both grounded due to faulty navigation during peacetime. It’s only going to be worse during combat when GPS is disrupted.Our submarines seem to suffer from a tendency to collide with commercial ships. And that’s without the confusion of combat!The incident of 2, Gulfof Tonkin 4-Aug-1964demonstrated a complete lack of situational awareness, especially on 4-Aug, with many false sightings and firings on non-existent targets.There have been several incidents of Phalanx CIWS accidentally firing on friendly ships and aircraft. Again, this is confusion and mistakes during peacetime. Combat will only be far, far worse.Desert Storm and the more recent war have had multiple examples of fatal friendly fire. Will naval forces fare any better in combat? IraqThe Air Force managed to shoot down two friendly helos while enforcing a no-fly zone despite the helos being fully authorized to be where they were. Will we experience less confusion in combat? was a debacle from start to finish. Confusion was the main attribute of the operation. Grenada
There are some constants of naval combat (or combat in general) that transcend time and technology. One of these is the absolute confusion and chaos of combat. Another is the historically abysmal performance of weapons when first subjected to combat. Linked to that is the historically poor performance of commanders when first exposed to combat. We’ve talked about lessons learned and forgotten but the sad reality is that until the Navy receives a bloody nose, or worse, in combat, we’re not going to design, build, or train for combat. We’re a peacetime Navy that has forgotten how to fight.
Pivot to the Pacific??? I’d like to see the Navy pivot to combat.