There are a couple of common complaints about US naval capabilities that stem from the same misunderstanding about how naval combat is waged. Consider these common complaints,
- Ships lack the ability to reload missiles at sea. Thus, the Burkes, with 96 VLS cells will, after a few to several battles, be out of missiles and they and the ships they’re escorting will be sitting ducks, waiting to be sunk unless we can provide at-sea reloading.
- We lack the needed 3 or 4:1 ratio to maintain useful numbers of forward deployed ships during war. Among other applications, this seems to arise often in people’s calculations of required escort numbers. For example, in previous posts and comments I’ve stated that carrier groups will need around 20-30 escorts. People immediately apply the peacetime 3 or 4:1 deployment support ratio and instantly conclude that we would need 60 to 120 escorts just to support a single carrier group and that we don’t have, and can’t afford, enough escorts to even come close to filling our needs.
The misunderstanding that leads to these erroneous conclusions lies in how naval combat is waged. Too many people seem to think that peacetime ship deployments will continue more or less unchanged during war. Nothing could be further from the truth! Ships will not deploy at all. Every available ship will fight “continuously” for the duration of the war. There will be no routine, scheduled, rotational deployments in and out of the war.
The history of naval combat is one of very brief missions and battles followed immediately by return to port for repair and replenishment. Combat, both naval and land, is not continuous. It ebbs and flows. Forces gather, conduct recon, maneuver, commit to a battle, and then settle back into a “stagnant” period while they re-strategize, reorganize, repair, reassemble, replenish, and rest. Eventually the cycle repeats itself. This cycle is even more evident at sea than on land.
As an example, let’s take a closer look at how one ship, the USS Enterprise (CV-6), operated during the first, frantic year of WWII. Below is a calendar of 1942 with the days blocked in red (at sea) or green (in port, mostly
During the year,
participated in strikes and battles
at Enterprise Kwajalein, Wake, , the Doolittle raid, Midway, Marcus Island Guadalcanal, Eastern Solomons, and . A very busy year, indeed, and yet note the amount of time in port - roughly equal to the time at sea. Also, note that the longest sea periods were only around 7-8 weeks as opposed to today's peacetime deployments of several months or more! So, in the middle of the first desperate year of the war, the Enterprise still did not put to sea and stay there for extended periods. Santa Cruz
As seen from the calendar,
did not deploy for months on end, as so many people seem to believe a ship would, and then rotate back to the Enterprise . Instead, as with every other ship in the fleet, she put to sea for a few weeks at a time, executed a mission (strike or battle), and returned to port to repair, refit, and replenish. US continued this pattern for the duration of the war. Enterprise
Note: Lacking complete ship's logs, a few sea/port days had to be guesstimated but 95%+ of the days are confirmed via data from various sources.
I apologize for the fuzziness of the image but the Blogger engine has only very limited graphics capabilities.
The widely held belief that ships will deploy during wartime is incorrect. Every ship in the fleet will fight continuously in a pattern of brief missions and battles followed by returns to port. The pattern is generally one battle followed by an immediate return to port.
So, what are the implications of this pattern of naval warfare?
- Reloading VLS cells at sea is unnecessary. Ships will not be at sea or engaged long enough to run out their collective magazines.
- Peacetime forward deployment ship ratios of 3:1 or 4:1 simply don’t apply during war. If you need 20 escorts for a carrier group then you only need 20 ships to support that effort. Deployments are a peacetime artifact.
- Upgrades will occur
continuously, in theater, as new equipment becomes available.
underwent two fairly major upgrades in 1942 alone and did so at Enterprise Pearl Harbor, thereby remaining in theatre. Ships will not need to rotate stateside for upgrades. This strongly suggests the need for robust forward situated repair facilities and dockyards/drydocks.
- Maintenance will be reduced to the bare minimum for the duration of the war. This is not a problem since the Navy tends not to do required maintenance, anyway! It does, however, strongly suggest the need for on-board maintenance and repair capability to the greatest degree possible. Ships need machine shops and machinists, pipefitters, welders, electricians, etc. Shore repair facilities will be in high demand and less critical repairs will have to be done by the ship’s company. The trend towards minimal manning is flat out wrong.
- Ships will not be continuously at risk. Only during the course of a mission will significant risk occur. Thus, risk can be managed through calculated exposure based on anticipated gain.
- Ships will not stake out a chunk of ocean and just sit there. Instead, ships will come and go on specific missions. This suggests that the “sea control” concept is invalid.
This post clearly demonstrates that wartime operations bear little or no similarity to peacetime operations. Naval analysts need to keep this distinction firmly in mind while considering combat operations, fleet size and structure, and forward basing needs. Of course, this also begs the question, why are we conducting peacetime deployments that won't be the mode of operation in a war (train like you fight, fight like you train) instead of conducting peacetime missions?
Hopefully, we now all have a better understanding of how naval warfare is conducted.