Sunday, March 17, 2013

Home Port Defense

A friend of ComNavOps made some very good points in a series of recent discussions.  The U.S. has become complacent in many aspects of its warfighting due to the second rate nature of the opponents it has faced since the demise of the Soviet Union.  We have come to expect air supremacy as the natural state of affairs, we take for granted our unchallenged use of the sea, we assume the ability to freely move troops and materials around the periphery of a conflict, and so on.  These complacencies will come back to bite us and find us wanting in our capabilities if we fight a peer (China) or determined near-peer.

One of the most glaring complacencies is our assumption of remote warfare, meaning that whatever conflict we engage in will not occur on U.S. soil or in U.S. waters.  In particular, our assumption of unfettered and uncontested use of our own ports is a glaring weakness.  Consider this scenario:  an enemy sends a submarine(s) to covertly deploy mines in key U.S. commercial and military port approaches.  What would the result be?  The affected port(s) would be paralyzed.  Remember, it only takes a few mines to completely shut down operations.  The U.S. would be forced to redeploy the very few mine countermeasure (MCM) platforms it has back to home waters.  In turn, this would severely impact our ability to conduct naval operations (or even simple passages) in mined areas in the remote combat zone.  U.S. naval efforts would be severely restricted, if not paralyzed.  We simply don’t have enough MCM assets to clear a dozen major home ports and simultaneously support warfighting efforts.

ComNavOps’ friend went on to suggest the use of diesel-electric SSKs for use in home port defense.  SSKs are ideal for this purpose.  They’re extremely quiet, relatively small, well suited for shallower water operations, and deadly.  A small fleet of a dozen or so SSKs would not only provide valuable defense but could serve as realistic opponents in ASW training.

The point of this post is not to promote the use of SSKs, though there is ample support for doing so, but to suggest that the Navy needs to broaden its warfighting focus.  A pivot to the Pacific is fine but we must not forget the vulnerabilities in our home waters that can be exploited by a determined enemy and subsequently impact our forward deployed capabilities.  As with mines in our home ports, a few enemy submarines operating off our coasts or just outside our ports can wreak havoc all out of proportion to their actual impact. 

The Navy needs a broad range of capabilities and platforms, not just carriers and nuclear subs.  We need a robust mine warfare capability, focused shallow water ASW platforms, enhanced home port defenses, coastal escort capability, and so forth.  The Navy exists not just to build carriers, as Navy leadership seems to believe, but to conduct the entire spectrum of maritime warfare.  Today’s Navy needs to reexamine and rebalance its focus and capabilities.


  1. That's why I am all for the US Navy having SSKs to protect our home waters as well. Look at how effective the Russians did, when they deployed Kilo SSK's to protect their territorial waters and harbors. SSK's acted as gate guards and listening outpost.

    A few dozen SSK's would be perfect to protect the CONUS and make it very tough for the Enemy to get near our EEZ. An SSK can protect harbors and key infrastructural from the enemy who is determined to Mine our ports or land special ops teams.

    On top of that SSK's are perfect for Special operations in the littoral environment. They can deliver special forces close to enemy's waters and ports. They can also serve as realistic ASW training for the US Navy as well.

    Maybe we can dust off plans for the Barbel class SSK and rebuild them with sterling AIP technology into them. The Barbel SSK would have been a perfect option for littoral and CONUS defense. Which would leave the SSN, SSBN, SSGN for overseas work and our SSK's to protect our home waters.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with this post. The United States has been very fortunate that all conflicts since 1945 have been “over there” with the obvious exception of September 11th. There is nothing that says it has to continue this way in the future.

    The problem could be truly terrifying during a larger crisis. All China would need to do is send a couple of submarines to the coast of California and sink two to four container ships within sight of land, and then leave. The U.S. would look impotent at protecting our own ports, and no one would be able to prove the subs were there or gone. There most likely would be no American deaths, as many merchant ships have no Americans on board.

    We would be in a similar position the Argentinean Navy was in after the cruiser General Belgrano was sunk during the Falklands War. A single submarine, firing three old unguided torpedoes, changed the course of the war.

    I’m not sure an SSK is the best way to deal with the threat in an economical way. If we had kept the Spruances and Perrys in mothballs we would have a cost-effective way of protecting our coasts and important convoys in a conflict. But that ship has sailed.

    1. That's why I am all for an SSK and a Frigate for CONUS defense. I'd hate to be caught with our pants down when China send a couple of SSN's to mine and sink our Merchant fleet.

      SSK's can be the last line of defense for the CONUS and can protect our EEZ and shallow water littoral regions. Our frigates can do the same thing and even be used to protect our CONUS as well.

  3. A big problem in this is that almost the entire US military is operated on the basis of overseas deployment. Forces in the US are mostly in a training status for the time they deploy overseas. Actual defense of US territory is a low priority for the US military, they think far more about operations in Asia, Africa, Middle East, etc

    The US Navy for example has lots of ships sitting in US ports but most have only a token amount of weapons on board until they are tasked with a overseas deployment. It is only at that point that they get priority for money, personnel and weapons.

    We don’t even have MCM’s at any of our major ports and most are home ported overseas and the Osprey class Coastal Mine Hunters are all decommissioned. They are supposed to be replaced by the LCS but the LCS even if they get the mine hunting modules working are also assigned for overseas operations.

    1. It's why now, the US Military needs to focus on protecting CONUS. My suggestion would include,
      1. Getting SSK's for Littoral, Shallow water and EEZ defense against Surface ships, and Enemy submarines
      2. Make use of the State Milita/State Guard and stand them up as Light infantry units and base the concept off of the Swedish Home Guard. Here's the Idea of bringing up State milita/State guard units to Swedish Home guard standard
      3. Stand up a Corvette force designed for EEZ operations and protection of CONUS EEZ.
      4. Put Marine corp units not on overseas deployment, made available for CONUS duty.
      5. Bring back Multi Role Frigates with ASW, ASUW and AAW capability.

    2. Nicky, you suggest a militia force similar to the Swedish Home Guard. From the brief description in the link you provided, the Home Guard seems to be just a very light weight and less capable version of the National Guard we already have. I may be missing your point on this. Care to elaborate?

      In addition, you suggest using Marine units. What would they be used for? Is it worth pulling them from training or do you mean only in wartime?

    3. The Swedish Home Guard is almost similar to our State Guard units and State Militia units. Except that our state guard and state militia units now are almost unarmed. Now if we were to bring them up as a last line of defense, maybe we can model the State Guard and State Militia after the Swedish Home Guard. The State militia and state guard would stand up as Light Infantry, medical, Supply, Signals, engineers and MP units. The National Guard would be the heavy end of the deal.

      The Marine units, would pull CONUS duty when not on training or overseas duty. They would be their as a just in case bad things happen and the Marines would be able to provide shore side/Coastal Defense.

  4. Or maybe if the Navy and the Pentagon don't want to do this then it should be turned over to the Coast Guard. After all it is our coast and we want it guarded.

    At the very least it might shake up the Pentagon if people start talking about taking money from them and giving it to the Coast Guard.

    Also it probably would be necessary to stop the Coast Guard deploying its ships overseas so they can concentrate on the US costal area. I remember when Russia and Georgia got into that short war, one of the first US ships to arrive in Georgia was a US Coast Guard cutter. Seems strange to deploy US Coast Guard cutters to the Black Sea, isn’t that a Navy job. While at the same time we have US Navy ships doing drug operations in the Caribbean.

    1. I love your suggestion that money be given to the Coast Guard if the Navy won't do the job. On a practical basis, though, it's not as simple as buying the CG an ASW ship, for instance. Warfighting, which is not really the CG's role, requires unique skills, tactical study, and training that the CG does not, currently, have. That doesn't mean they can't adapt and learn, only that it's not as simple as a new ship and they're instantly ASW capable.

      Your observation about foreign deployed CG ships is a good one. I have no idea what the purpose behind that practice is. Anyone know?

    2. The Coast Guard actually has a long warfighting history. It's ships (well, the ones from the Revenue Cutter Service, as the CG didn't exist yet) fought in all of America's wars during the 19th century. In the 20th, Coast guard warships served in WW1 and WW2, in both the Pacific and Atlantic. During the Cold War, the Coast Guard was a proper navy in its own right. Cutters were equipped to serve as ASW frigates - large cutters like the Hamiltons carried full ASW suite, Phalanx air-defense guns, and were fitted for Harpoon missiles. It wasn't until the 1990s that the Coast Guard went back to a more peace-time footing. So there is certainly precedent, and institutional knowledge.

      As for Coast Guard ships serving overseas, the coast Guard's predecessor, the Revenue Cutter Service, had a long history of serving away from America's shores, in part due to being America's only naval force for an extended peroid of time. Fighting pirates, intercepting slave traders, and so on. The Coast Guard still does a lot of work overseas - some of it is the service simply doing what it has always done. But there is also the fact that as an organization, the CG is seen as being better for law enforcement and humanitarian work. Its a "softer" option than the Navy, more easy to use diplomatically.

  5. The building of a small number of SSKs is so logical that it will never happen. These are assets that would be very useful for deploying special forces (the Royal Navy used SSKs rather than SSNs to deploy SAS/SBS during the Falklands), for defending CONUS and in some ways most importantly for ASW training against one of the biggest threats out there. After all the only SSN operator that the USN might in the future end up fighting is China but N Korea and Iran both have diesel boats.

    And it's not as if there aren't plenty of off the shelf SSK designs out there. The Japanese have some very good designs as do the Germans. Unless you let pride get in the way it would be possible, I'm sure, to buy a cutting edge design from one of those two. Personally I'd suggest Japanese, it's a design intended for the Pacific.

    1. I agree with you completely. Now, just play a little Devil's Advocate, here's some negatives related to the purchase of a foreign SSK.

      American jobs - Congress must approve purchases and they would not look kindly on giving work to foreign countries with our unemployment where it is.

      Technology compatibility - A foreign design will have non-standard technology, electronics, displays, etc. These could be replaced with standard U.S. equivalents but at a much greater cost. If not replaced, they would require the establishment of additional training pipelines, non-standard spare parts supplies, etc.

      Security - Foreign made subs that are commercially avialable are susceptible to security breaches. Any country expressing an interest in buying the same sub would have access to detailed performance specs. The U.S. Navy does not like anyone knowing about the performance of its weapons and platforms.

      Supply disruption - Dependence on foreign produced parts creates a potentially problematic supply issue as opposed to U.S. suppliers directly under contract to the U.S. government and bound by U.S. law.

      That's enough for now to illustrate that the decision to procure SSKs, especially foreign produced SSKs, is not quite as straightforward as we like to assume. There are legitimate downsides. Are the negatives sufficient to offset the benefits? I don't think so but I do recognize that the decision isn't as simple as we portray it.

      Just something to think about.

    2. That's why the US Navy needs SSK submarines. It would free up the SSN's for Overseas work and the SSK's would cover the CONUS, protect the EEZ in the US, provide ASW/ASUW training and crew training. It can also provide Special forces support as well. The SSK's can patrol the Littoral and shallow waters of America such as the Gulf of Alaska, gulf of Maine and gulf of Mexico as well.

      The other option is to dust off the blueprints for the Barbel class SSK and maybe update the design with them Sterling AIP and bring the Barbel class SSK up to 688I standard. It would also be exportable to countries such as Taiwan and Thailand as well.

    3. ComNavOps:

      Some very good points raised there and to be honest there isn't much need to go beyond the first, Congress. Buying foreign built submarines is not going to fly at the same time as people are being/soon to be laid-off in Virginian shipyards (and elsewhere). It just isn't going to happen.

      To my mind the only way to use a foreign design that would be both politically acceptable and also not susceptible (as much at least) to the other negatives you've outlined would be to buy only the design. So go over to Japan and ask to license the design for the new Sōryū class, hand it over to General Electric (or the new General Board ;) and adapt to fit local constraints.

      My concern with starting from scratch is that the US hasn't designed an SSK since the 1950s. That's a lot of ground to make up. The same problem exists with dusting off the designs of the Barbel and modernising that, it's sixty years old (I have similar concerns with continuing to build Burkes but that's a different topic!).

      That being said, speaking personally, I think that just going to Japan or German and asking for a dozen SSKs would still be the best option. You could even, to an extent, do what the Brits have done in the past with jets. They used to buy the frame and then fit their own engines and avionics. In this case why not buy the hull and engine plant, then fit the sonar and other electronics at home?

    4. That's why I think going to Japan and Germany maybe the US Navy's best option for SSK's. As I have said, SSK's are perfect for CONUS defense and Defense of EEZ, ports and coastal regions. They are also perfect to provide ASW & ASUW adversary training as well. They can also be used to support Special Force in inserting and extracting Special forces teams in Littoral environments.

      It would be wise, if the US Navy made a deal with Japan and Germany for SSK's such as the Sōryū-class submarine, Type 212, 214 & 216 SSK's. They can make a deal for technical assistance in return for SSK submarines that can be built in America.

  6. I suspect that part of the reason for the US not taking defense of the homeland seriously is the thought that no country would dare attack there, those sorts of things won't occur. The US strategy for a war with China, AirSea Battle, calls for restraint at first - no bombing power plants, railyards, dams, bridges, and such. The idea is the slowly dialing up of force, not a full on early strike - that's seen as counterproductive. The tacit assumption is that any traditional nation-state foe the US faces would think the same way - an attack on the American homeland would be counterproductive, serving only to inflame the American people, pushing them to be more supportive of a war, going all out. The wisdom of this may be questionable, but the idea isn't coming out of nowhere.

    1. It's why the US fails to learn the lessons of the past, when the British invaded America in the war of 1812 and the Japanese did it in World War II in Alaska. It just seems like the US is not taking defense of CONUS very seriously and we've become too complacent.

      That's why I have long advocated beefing up the USCG with basic ASW and ASUW defense. That means bringing their NSC cutters up to Light Frigate standards such as the Almirante Padilla-class frigate and the Kasturi-class frigate.

      I would also force the US Navy to acquire SSK's from our Allies such as Japan, Germany or France to provide SSK's for EEZ patrol, ASW/ASUW training and special forces support. The SSK would provide the US Navy with underwater/Surface littoral and shallow water defense. At the same time beef up the US Coast Guards medium endurance cutters to Combat OPC standard.

    2. Jrggrop, you may be assuming a pattern of thought that doesn't exist. Have you seen that logic spelled out in a document somewhere? More importantly, have you heard any potential enemy speak that way?

      While refraining from attacking each other's homeland might be logically appealing, it would only apply to a rational opponent. North Korea, for example, isn't rational. China has performed many irrational acts (forcing down and capturing a U.S plane, harassing U.S. naval forces, etc.) and I'm not sure could be counted on to act and think rationally. Iran is far from rational.

      I'd be interested to read about this thought pattern if you're aware of any documentation about it.


  7. So in an era of shrinking budgets and lack of ships for overseas missions you want to build a large number of ships whose sole purpose is to stay in our territorial waters?

    Avoiding the fact that the Chinese have less than a dozen submarines that could even reach the west coast, the US Navy, indeed the entire US military, is designed to fight overseas to prevent this scenario from happening.

    You talk about the paralyzing shock of an enemy submarine mining our ports or sinking merchantmen off shore. But how many advanced submarines would an enemy being willing to send on a 6,000 mile mission when there is a carrier task force off his coast destroying everything it can reach?

    1. Fencer, if your comment was addressed to me, yes, I would suggest a dozen or so SSKs and, no, that doesn't constitute a large number of ships. Recognizing the reality of budget constraints I would pay for the SSKs by cancelling the LCS and JSF programs, among others.

      How many advanced subs would I (if I were China) be willing to send to the U.S.? As many as needed (probably only a couple) to force the Navy to redeploy all its mine countermeasure platforms back to the U.S. That would paralyze the Navy's movements in the Chinese A2/AD zone due to the immense mine threat. That seems like an excellent use of Chinese subs!

    2. That's why to pay for the Frigates and SSK's, I would cancel the JSF and the LCS. The money saved from the JSF and LCS can be used as down payments for the Multi Role Frigate such as the FREMM Frigate, F-125 Frigate.It would also be used to pay for the rights to build either the the Sōryū-class submarine or the Type 212, 214 & 216 SSK's.

      I have also call for FRAMing all the Burke Flight I & II's into a version of the Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate. It would mean removing the aft VLS missiles and replace it with a hangar for a single Helicopter or a UAV. You don't need Flight I& Flight II's doing BMD, that's what Flight IIA's and Flight III's are for.

    3. Nicky, what would be the purpose behind FRAMing the Burkes? Just to add helo capability? Something else? Why only a single helo? Is a single helo worth the loss of the VLS? Remember, the saying that if you have one helo, you have none and if you have two, you have one (an acknowledgement of the susceptibility of helos to maintenance downtime).

      Curious about your thoughts!

    4. My thought is that why not downgrade all the Burke Flight I & Flight II's to a version of the Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate. You just remove the aft VLS and replace it with a Hangar for helicopter's.

    5. Nicky, OK, I understand that you want to downgrade the Burkes but to what purpose? How would a downgraded Burke be more valuable than the current version? Is there an advantage to removing strike (VLS) in favor of a single helo?

    6. A Burke Flight I & II is nothing more than a cross between a frigate and a Destroyer. I would essentially designate Flight I&II burkes as Frigates and see about installing a Hangar for a helicopter.

    7. OK, Nicky, I'll try one last time. You want to spend money to downgrade Burkes by removing their VLS and substituting a single helo/hangar. What benefit do you see to that?

    8. Simple, You have burkes on hand and most of the original Burkes are doing frigate work without a single Helicopter. Maybe it's time to put hangars, so they can have helicopters on hand.

    9. So 64 VLS cells (a helluva lot of strike power/ASROCs/SM-6s) disappear for one single solitary SH-60 Seahawk? I don't think that's going to fly.

    10. We don't need Flight I & II Burkes doing destroyer work. That's what Flight IIA's are for. If we need a frigate in a hurry, we can convert all the Flight I or II Burkes into a version of the Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate

    11. "Avoiding the fact that the Chinese have less than a dozen submarines that could even reach the west coast, the US Navy, indeed the entire US military, is designed to fight overseas to prevent this scenario from happening."

      Ah, but the Chinese have legions of container ships that could do the job, and even a single mine in the port of Los Angeles would shut down half of U.S trade over night...


  8. Sorry if this is a daft question, but aren't your ports - and coastline in general - protected by MPAs and the US Coastguard? Getting another new class of vessels into service when you're already struggling to finance those you already have in the pipeline (Americas, Fords, LCS, SSBN, etc) would appear very unlikely.

    As for cancelling JSF what would you do in the 15 yearish gap it would take you to design/develop/build/introduce into service an alternative? Your legacy planes can't soldier on forever; the Iraq-Afghan wars have taken a lot of the life out of their airframes. Not to mention p*ss*ng off your allies who may be forced into buying a rival design in the nearer term. The horror of we Brits buying Dassault!

    1. The Coast Guard is tasked with protecting American waters and ports but it has become a criminal (smuggling, drugs, etc.) and anti-terrorism mission as opposed to warfighting. The Coast Guard currently has little or no ASW or mine countermeasures capabilities.

      Adding a class of ships could only come by eliminating another class or program such as the LCS, JSF, or DDG Flt IIa/III.

      At this point, there are no good alternatives in the JSF saga. The problem with the JSF is that even if it is brought into service it will only provide a very modest increase in capabilities, if that. The lesser of evils is to cancel the JSF and procure additional Super Hornets until a another aircraft can be designed. I've shown in another post that the cost of new Super Hornets is half the cost of the JSF and the JSF is only going to get more expensive.

      The reality is that JSF is too-big-to-fail and the tie-in to foreign sales makes cancelling the program even more problematic. Our allies are going to wind up with a very expensive aircraft that is a mediocre performer.

      No good options.

  9. " will only provide a very modest increase in capabilities..." - Well that depends on what you're comparing it with and doing what. Your Marines and the European navies are replacing Harriers; I think F35B is likely to be a far more capable aircraft all round; the problem is the cost - we Brits and Italy have already cut our orders while Spain is staying clear so far. Hopefully as production ramps up the price will come down; our plan is to buy 48 initially, then look again after 2015 - when we may buy more Bs or As for the airforce, or both (duck low flying pigs!).

    Your navy seems to have drawn the short straw with the F35C. However, just cancelling the C will drive up the cost of the A and B and you still have to pay for a C replacement. Cancelling JSF completely might work for your navy but it leaves everyone else - including the USAF - with no viable Plan B. "No good options." - Sums it up nicely.

    How about handing over however many LCS you end up building over to the Coast Guard, equipped for ASW or minewarfare only, while buying frigates for your navy? Or keep them in the navy but forget this idea of forward deploying them to other peoples' coastal waters.

    1. You're quite right and I should have been more precise. The F-35B will be a vast improvement over the Harrier, by all accounts. However, the F-35C for the Navy will be replacing the Super Hornet and that looks to be a very minor improvement especially if some of the JSF capabilities are deferred as is being contemplated. Likewise, the F-35A for the Air Force will be no improvement over the F-22 Raptor and possibly only a small improvement of the F-16.

      I'm fairly sure that the Coast Guard would never accept LCSs due to the associated manpower and maintenance issues. Plus, the LCS is generally too big for the vast majority of Coast Guard activities. Unless the LCS came with vastly increased funding for ASW and MCM roles, the Coast Guard's response would probably be a polite refusal.

      Honestly, the best use that can be made of the LCS is as an MCM platform but if that's the case, a dedicated upsized/upgraded Avenger could be had for far less money and manpower.

  10. I don't know if it still exists, but before it was BRAC'd, Ft. Monroe, at the entrance to Hampton Roads, hosted a Navy occupied building on the East shore of the base that had several very thick rubber coated cables running out into the water. A similar arrangement could be found at Ft. Story on the South side of the entrance from the Atlantic into Chesapeake Bay. It was understood that these were basically shore based sonar installations. When combined with suitable aviation assets, P2/3/8/Helos, we had/would have Inshore Undersea Warfare defense against submarines and there might be an anti-mine capability too.

    Do we need mine warfare ships to counter mines? Well, we did it inshore in Korea with LCVP's and rubber boats operating from an LSD. Off shore is a different story.

    There are Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Units, both active and Reserve in the Navy. They are classified as Expeditionary units, but I suspect that finding them all deployed at one time would be an unusual circumstance. I have not yet found any non-deployable units.


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