As regular readers know, I’m often critical of the Navy and for good reason. However, there’s one thing the Navy is exceedingly good at and that’s selling a project. The Navy will use whatever spin, made-up stories, distorted facts, and creative accounting is needed. The corollary to this is the old saying that if you repeat a lie long enough it becomes the truth. Let’s look at the littoral combat ship and, specifically, the myth about the need for shallow draft.
We all know that the Navy can’t operate near shore or in littoral waters because of the extreme danger from enemy actions. How do we know this? Because the Navy has told us this over and over. The fact that an incoming anti-ship missile doesn’t really care what the depth of the ocean is under it is kind of glossed over. Be that as it may, even if we ignored the immediate combat threat, we know that Navy ships can’t operate in shallow waters simply due to their extreme draft. Only a specialized vessel like the LCS can even go in shallow water. That alone is justification for the LCS program. How do we know this? Because the Navy has told us this over and over.
Let me pose this question: How close do you want to be to the shore? That’s another way of asking, what activity can a ship perform in 10 ft of water that it can’t perform in 20 ft? What activity can it perform in 50 ft of water that it can’t perform in 100 ft? The entire “argument” about draft presupposes that there is some worthwhile activity that can only occur in very shallow water.
Let’s think about this, for a minute. A typical shore drops off fairly steadily and quickly from 0 ft to 100+ ft within a few hundred yards to, say, half a mile or so. Is there some beach, somewhere on Earth where the depth is only 6 ft a mile out from shore? Probably but that’s hardly typical.
Now, let’s do a quick check of some actual naval vessel drafts.
Nimitz Class – 40 ft
Burke Class – 30 ft
LCS Class – 14 ft
Well, that’s interesting. Referring back to our notional shore profile, and even allowing for a depth of twice the draft for operating safety, a Nimitz could stand to within a few hundred yards to a half mile or so off a beach.
Now think about that. What needed function is there that would require a ship to get closer to shore than a few hundred yards or a half mile or so? Because that’s exactly what the Navy sold us on – that there was some function that only a shallow draft ship could perform and therefore the LCS program was needed. What is that function? Chasing a guy in a motorboat? – I guess so but that hardly justifies a $500M+ LCS and the LCS can still only operate within 28 ft of depth so it can’t “run down” a motorboat in shallow water anyway. Neutralizing near-shore mines? Yeah! No, wait. Now that I think about it, the LCS is meant to stand well off from mines so shallow draft isn’t needed. Shallow water ASW? No, even diesel subs require a hundred plus feet of water to operate in and, besides, the LCS can’t perform ASW in shallow water – the towed arrays can’t deploy. Gun support for troops ashore? Burkes can get within a few hundred yards to a half mile. Would an extra hundred yards of inland range make any difference? Besides, the LCS isn’t a gun support ship anyway.
You get my point. I can’t think of a naval ship function that is required in the 28 ft – 80 ft depth that can’t be performed in 60 ft - 80+ ft which is what a Nimitz or Burke can do.