Diversity equals resilience
In nature, if one type of tree develops a susceptibility to a particular disease or pest and largely dies off, another type of tree will take its place in the ecosystem and the overall strength of the ecosystem is preserved. The ecosystem’s strength lies in its diversity. If one species fails, another takes its place and the ecosystem goes on.
The same is true of military, and in this discussion, naval forces. If one type of ship is found to be a failure, or even simply less successful, another type can take its place and the naval force adapts, lives on, and succeeds. This occurred in WWII. Our magnificent battleships, lined up neatly at
Pearl Harbor, were suddenly found to be failures. That was okay, though, because we had other
types of ships, submarines and carriers chief among them, to take over their
role. Our naval diversity ensured that
our Navy was able to adapt, live on, and succeed.
One can’t help but wonder, what if we hadn’t had such diversity of ship types. What if our submarines and carriers had been excluded from the fleet in the name of budgetary savings and standardization. What if every capital ship had been an unending progression of minor variations of, say, the
What if, instead of new ship types, we had succeeded the Pennsylvania class with the Pennsylvania Flt II and then the Pennsylvania Flt III and so on – an endless string of slightly
improved Pennsylvania ? Pennsylvanias
Well, fortunately we didn’t do that. Fortunately we developed new ship types like the long range fleet submarine and the aircraft carrier. And, fortunately, we learned that lesson – that diversity of ship types equals strength and resilience in the never-ending evolution of naval power. Yes, as I look proudly out over the row upon row of nearly identical Burkes, the Flt I’s , Flt II’s, Flt IIa’s, and now Flt III’s, I rest easy knowing that our diversity has prepared us for the next unanticipated upset in naval warfare and that we will have plenty of alternate choices to … ah … um … You know, as I look upon the ranks of Burkes, it occurs to me that we may not have as diverse a fleet as I thought.
Setting aside the small and non-combat capable LCS and the Ticonderogas that the Navy is in the process of retiring, it occurs to me that we only have one surface warfare ship – the Burke. If an enemy were to find an effective counter to a Burke or if the dictates and conditions of future naval combat were to negate the capabilities of the Burkes, we wouldn’t have much in the way of alternate platforms to choose from, would we?
The same concepts can be applied to our one and only weapon system, Aegis. If an enemy develops an effective counter to Aegis, we have nothing else to turn to.
Are we arrogant enough to believe that we are perfectly predicting what future naval combat will be like? Every war ever fought has produced major, unanticipated changes to the prevailing notions of warfare. Do we really believe that we will flout all of history and perfectly predict the next war? It seems unlikely in the extreme.
So, where’s our diversity? Where are the one-off prototype ships that explore new technologies and new approaches to naval combat? The answer is that there aren’t any. We’ve sacrificed innovation and diversity in the name of a few percent savings through standardization on the next ship to be built.
Well, now that you and I have had a chance to think about it, we realize that our current fixation on unending Burkes is wrong. We should be building all manner of prototype vessels to try out new concepts and see what works and what doesn’t. For example,
- Maybe we should have a few 16” big gun battleships in the fleet.
- Maybe we should build a combination ship that’s half carrier and half cruiser.
- Maybe we should build a prototype laser ship
even if the technology isn’t yet perfect.
Hey, the technology wasn’t perfected when we built the first
, but it paid off in experience and lessons learned, didn’t it? Langley
- Maybe we should build a submersible Aegis destroyer.
- Maybe we should build a rail gun fire support vessel.
- Maybe we should build a close-in MLRS and C-RAM amphibious assault support ship.
- Maybe we should build a new generation LST.
- Maybe we should build a replacement SSGN.
- Maybe we should build a short range ballistic missile arsenal ship.
- Maybe we should build a cheap WWII style attack transport as an alternative to our budget busting big deck amphibs.
I can go on all day listing alternative naval ship types that might prove useful in a future war. Of course, many might not – that’s the nature of experimentation. As long as we build these as one-off prototypes rather than leap instantly into buying 55 of each like we did with the LCS, who cares if they don’t prove useful? We won’t be out much.
Building such prototypes has the added advantages of keeping our industrial naval design expertise fresh and vibrant and it would keep our shipyards active and up to date with new construction technologies.
Diversity equals resilience and, right now, our navy is not very diverse or resilient. That needs to change because the next war is guaranteed to be unlike what we imagine and the more choices we have to choose from, the more likely that we’ll be able to adapt and win.