I’m sure you all recognized that “new” frigate design as just being a Fletcher class destroyer. Hopefully, though, that little thought exercise also made you realize just how far we’ve moved away from real warships over the years since WWII.
Consider the sheer density of weapons that WWII warships carried. Modern warships don’t even come close. A simple Fletcher class destroyer puts an LCS to humiliating shame and, in many respects, even a Burke.
Consider the armor and survivability of even the lowly Fletcher compared to an LCS or Burke.
My point is not that we need to build exact duplicates of WWII Fletchers but that we need to return to serious WARship design and a study of WWII designs is a good place for the Navy to start since they seem to have forgotten what a warship is.
We tend to think the modern VLS is a wondrous thing – able to spit forth highly accurate missiles all day long. Why, a single Burke has 96 missiles and can, therefore, shoot down around 85 enemy missiles and aircraft (we’re attempting to be fair and acknowledge that a few misses might occur). The reality, though, is that the historical record of modern AAW systems is abysmal. In addition, the Navy’s philosophy is shoot-shoot-look, or some such. If you consider an average of four missiles per target, that’s only 24 targets that can be engaged (we’re ignoring quad-packs). Given that a portion of the VLS cells would likely be filled with Tomahawks and ASROC, that probably drops the AAW target capacity to around 16. There you have it. A modern Burke can engage around 16 targets before running out of “ammo”. We’ve covered VLS and AAW effectiveness in previous posts so I won’t belabor it further.
The point is that modern ships have a very low weapon density and even lower “magazine” capacity. A Fletcher could engage aerial targets for hours on end.
The situation is even worse for surface combat. Modern USN ships have almost no anti-surface capability. A Burke has a maximum of 8 Harpoons and a single 5” gun. Compare that to a Fletcher with five 5” guns and ten large torpedoes. Again, the Fletcher’s gun magazines allowed it to engage multiple targets, endlessly, for practical purposes.
Even the Burkes vaunted Tomahawk capability is limited. While the Tomahawk is a very potent long range precision strike weapon, the general utility of the missile is a bit limited. In an amphibious assault scenario, for example, a Burke would probably have a Tomahawk loadout of around 20 Tomahawks. That’s 20 targets that can be engaged and then the Burke is limited to a single 5” gun. Further, the Tomahawk is not capable of area bombardment and suppressive fire (well, I guess it is but at $1M+ per missile no one would use it that way). By comparison, the Fletcher could engage land targets for hours on end with five 5” guns.
Consider the simple task of sinking an enemy tanker. A modern Burke probably can’t accomplish it. Eight Harpoons would be unlikely to sink a tanker. By comparison, a Fletcher’s ten 21” torpedoes would almost certainly do the job.
I know some of you are going to try to make the argument that modern guided weapons make large magazines superfluous. A single missile can do the work of hundreds of unguided rounds, you claim. Well, you’re right – if the guided missile actually worked the way the manufacturer’s claim. We’ve already documented that the historical record for guided missiles is very poor. This blog is based on logic and data and the data is unequivocal – guided missiles are not very accurate. Hit rates for AAW engagements are in the 1% - 25% range and for surface engagements are in the 20% range, at best, and will likely be in the 1%-10% range against actively defended warships.
All right, that’s enough. My point is not to argue that a Fletcher is more powerful than a Burke, although for many scenarios one could make a credible argument for just that, but that the weapon density, armor, and survivability of modern warships has been severely compromised since WWII. We have lost our way in warship design and the study of WWII warships is a good place to start reminding ourselves of how we should be designing warships.