We’re not done with the Fletcher, yet!
In various posts and comments, we’ve discussed both a literal version of a modernized Fletcher (see, “Knee Jerks and Paradigms”) and a conceptual version of a modern Fletcher. Just for fun, let’s see what an exact copy of a Fletcher would offer the US Navy, if anything.
For this conceptual exercise, a WWII Fletcher is magically transported to today and incorporated into the fleet. What, if anything, would such a ship be good for, today? What missions/tasks could it usefully perform? Does it have anything to offer? Bear in mind that a typical Fletcher might have 10x 40 mm, 7x 20 mm, and 5x 5”/38 guns. Let’s see what a Fletcher might do …
|Fletcher Class DD - It's No LCS or Zumwalt !|
Anti-UAV (thanks to G2mil) – The Fletcher’s numerous 20 mm, 40 mm, and 5” guns can throw up a wall of lead that no tactical UAV would have a chance of penetrating.
Anti-Swarm – Iran has not been shy about aggressively exercising its swarm boats and a Fletcher would be ideal for disrupting those exercises. If events escalated, the Fletcher’s firepower would make short work of any swarm boats.
Anti-Piracy – A Fletcher, while still a vast overkill, is at least a smaller vessel than a Burke and with outstanding speed and firepower would be highly effective at disrupting pirate activities.
Contesting China’s Coast Guard and Militia – China’s ‘fishing fleets’, protected by their coast guard, have been used to establish false territorial claims. An armored and heavily armed Fletcher would be ideal for disrupting those attempts.
Freedom of Navigation (FON) – While FON exercises are worse than useless, the Navy seems determined to conduct them. That being the case, there would be no better suited ship than a Fletcher. Every time we do a FON, the Chinese show up to try to intimidate us into leaving (often successfully, in that we perform the operation and quickly leave). A Fletcher, armored and packed with guns would have no reason to be intimidated and would be well suited to protect itself while taking its time on the mission.
Special Operations Support – A Fletcher would be ideal for special operations work. It is small, fast and has enough firepower to support operators ashore, if needed.
Presence – Nothing says presence like a lot of highly visible guns on a ship with armor. A Fletcher is just plain intimidating by today’s milquetoast standards!
Of course, peacetime missions are only as effective as the fortitude of nation and Navy. If we won’t let our ships confront enemies then we don’t really need a Navy, at all, do we?
Blockade – One of the problems current navies face in executing a blockade is that they don’t actually have much in the way of ship-sinking capability. A Fletcher, armed with 10x heavy torpedoes, is a legitimate ship-killer.
UAV Screening – For the types of small, slow, tactical UAVs routinely encountered by our ships, a Fletcher would be a devastatingly effective anti-UAV screen. The focused attention of dozens of guns of all sizes would create a literal impenetrable wall of lead.
Anti-Swarm – The problem with fighting swarms is dwell time. It takes far too long for a single weapon to achieve a demonstrable kill so that it can move on to the next target before the rest of the swarm closes in. A Fletcher’s firepower can quickly blot out small boats. Consider the LCS whose job is anti-swarm and is equipped with a single 57 mm gun and two 30 mm guns (and maybe, someday, Hellfires?). Compare that to the Fletcher’s dozens of guns. Which would you rather have protecting you from a swarm?
Anti-Ship - Very few ships today could stand in a toe-to-toe fight with a Fletcher, if the Fletcher can reach gun range. A Fletcher would be ideal for engaging the Iranian navy, the NKorean navy (such as it is), or Russian or Chinese ships in confined waters.
Special Operations Support – As noted above, the small size, speed, and firepower of a Fletcher would be a boon to special operations.
Naval Gunfire Support – While 5” guns are not the ultimate in naval gun support, the Fletcher’s 5x 5” guns represent potent fire support by today’s standards and is the equivalent of five Burkes, each with their single 5” gun.
Convoy Escort – Though lacking long range anti-air capability and today’s ASW sonar, a Fletcher would still make a useful general purpose convoy escort.
ASW – Though lacking today’s sonar capabilities, a Fletcher, working with another sensor asset, would provide significant ASW firepower in the form of depth charges to deal with the ubiquitous SSK submarines.
Finally, consider these general characteristics of a Fletcher as compared to today’s ships of whatever size:
- Great range
- Great speed; as much or more than the LCS
- Armor; nothing today matches it
- Overwhelming short range firepower
That’s not a bad set of WARship characteristics, is it? Discouragingly, none of our current surface ships can come close to matching that combination. What does that say about our current ships?
The conclusion is inescapable. A Fletcher, unaltered from WWII, would still be a highly useful vessel in today’s fleet, if properly used. In particular, the combination of armor and firepower would be extremely useful in contesting Iranian and Chinese provocations … if we would begin contesting instead of appeasing.
Firepower is always useful and the Fletcher represents a concentration of firepower not seen in today’s ships.
That one could even imagine an actual Fletcher being not only useful today but, quite likely, far more useful and valuable than an LCS or Zumwalt is a scathing indictment of our ship design efforts over the last several decades.