Home > Oz Politics > Do we need a (surface) navy ?

Do we need a (surface) navy ?

March 7th, 2008

The government has just scrapped one of the many troubled defence projects it inherited: the Sea Sprite helicopter. It may yet cancel Brendan Nelson’s Super Hornets. But with budget pressure still tight, it might be worth looking at more radical options. The obvious candidate is to abandon the long-standing tradition that our armed forces should include a surface navy.

It’s been argued ever since the development of the submarine in the late 19th century and the airplane in the early 20th (along with torpedoes and mines) that surface fleets were obsolete, being vulnerable to much cheaper attackers. This argument has been repeatedly vindicated by events, and just as repeatedly ignored by the makers of defence policy.

Update: My point is pretty much proved by this report that the Navy has dropped the ball on training and retaining submarine crews. By contrast, the general tone of many comments seems to be based on the notion “why not have it all?” with no consideration of budget constraints, let alone benefit-cost analysis.

In the first decade of the 20th century, the race to build Dreadnought-class battleships was a significant contributor to the tensions that led to the outbreak of the Great War. Yet when the War came, the Dreadnoughts on both sides turned out to be useless, meeting only in the inconclusive Battle of Jutland. The German Fleet stayed in port for the rest of war and the British Navy didn’t attack them because of the fear of submarines and mines. The real naval war was that of German submarines against British merchant ships and their escorts.

Despite this, governments around the world raced to build more and better battleships in the period from 1918 to 1939. The renewed outbreak of World War showed that battleships were only marginally useful, and highly vulnerable to air and submarine attack. Again the real naval war was one of submarines and carrier-based aircraft. The main role of surface ships was as anti-submarine escorts and as platforms for aircraft.

Since then, of course, the range, speed and capabilities of aircraft have all increased dramatically, while ships continue to travel at speeds of 20 to 30 knots. A ship can be sunk by missiles from huge distances, and the vastness of the oceans has ceased to be relevant in the era of satellites and pilotless spy planes. Submarines have greatly improved their capacity to avoid detection, but it is essentially impossible to hide a surface ship.

Since 1945, there has only been one serious naval conflict, the Falklands/Malvinas war which demonstrated all these points. The Argentine navy played real no role in the war, returning to port after the sinking of the Belgrano by a submarine. Pitted against a fourth-rate airforce (more used to murdering dissidents than to any kind of military activity) operating far from its home bases, the British Royal Navy only survived because the other side ran out of missiles and couldn’t get its bombs to explode.

Based on all this experience, it seems safe to observe first that we are highly unlikely to be involved in naval surface warfare ever again. If we are, a surface fleet will be defenceless in the absence of air and submarine superiority and redundant with it. In this context, there was an interesting piece in Prospect a few years ago which spelt out the vulnerability of surface fleets to submarine and air attack. I didn’t agree with all of it, notably the bit at the end suggesting the push for dreadnoughts leading up to the Great War was a good idea, but it confirms my general view that naval policy continues to be premised on fighting the wars of last century if not those of the century before that.

If we abandon the idea of a traditional surface warfare capacity that still leaves some jobs to be done by surface ships, of which the most significant in military terms is transporting troops and equipment, and supporting amphibious operations. But does it make sense to have a separate arm of the service for this. Wouldn’t it be better to let the army handle this job and decide what resources should be allocated to it?

Then there are various coastal patrol activities. Important as these are, they could be adequately handled by a Coast Guard, as proposed by Kim Beazley a while back.

Finally, there are the kind of long-distance operations characterized by our contribution to various operations in the Persian Gulf. We can never do this except as a small part of a US effort centred on a carrier battle group. It makes no sense to invested in ships dedicated to this kind of job. To the extent that we are obligated to support such operations, it would be better to make a cash contribution, as many US allies did in Gulf War I, or send specialist personnel.

How much could we save by doing without a surface navy? In capital terms, expenditure on large-scale naval projects appears comparable with that on the air force, while delivering a lot less defence. In terms of numbers, the navy has 13000 military staff, compared to 14000 for the air force and 21000 for the army. If we could halve the size of the navy by winding down the surface fleet, that would be about a 15 per cent saving in numbers. Overall, it looks like an option worth exploring further.

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  1. March 10th, 2008 at 16:31 | #1

    Very utilitarian of you, PrQ.
    The question then becomes do we want to have the capacity to run operations like Timor Leste or RAMSI without much or any support from the Yanks? If, say, the PNG governmental system collapses (not impossible) do we want to be able to turn up there without having to give George (or Barack) as call for help with transport and to give cover? It is unlikely that they will be able to put up much in the way of air attack and submarine launched cruise missiles are expensive per shot.
    First we need to decide if we want to do this sort of thing then look at how to do it.

  2. March 10th, 2008 at 17:06 | #2

    I agree with JQs last comment #49.

    Wouldn’t merchant submarines have altered the dynamic for Britian in WWI? One would think the merchants had an incentive to build them if it would and may have if the government wasn’t offering subsidised protection.

    p.s. Yes I’m being provocative, I have no significant knowledge in these matters. However have JQs ideas been peer reviewed?

  3. Peter Pan
    March 10th, 2008 at 17:14 | #3

    JQ wrt #49

    I think you have cut to the quick of the issue here. If you look throughout history you can see that there are two schools of thought about how to defend Australia. The answer as to whether we need a surface navy depends to which of these two schools you belong.

    One school says that we cannot defend our selves and need to attach ourselves to the coat tails of a strong ally. Currently this is the USA up until 1942 this was the UK. But as part of the deal we need to maintain a expeditionary capability and participate in that ally’s military adventures in the hope that they will come to our aid when we are threatened.

    The other says we are on our own and need to have the capability to handle any reasonably foreseen threat in the near future and the capability to rapidly build up our capability if as a new threat develops.

    Most members of the defence forces are very firmly in the first school. It provides regular small wars in which to hone their skill and test their equipment and tactics. (As well as get OS service bonuses, promotions and the like if you have a cynical outlook.) Needless to say, the Howard government was very firmly a member of this school.

    However, I personally think this approach is dangerous. It badly let us down in 1942. If the Japanese had not been stupid and attacked Perl Harbour, they could have just picked off those parts of Australia they thought worth the effort. Also the sponsorship of this approach was the cause of all the nonsense by Hasluck and Co in the 1960s. They plotted and planned to get USA involved in Viet Nam conflict and then despite their incompetence actually succeeded in achieving this goal. The bad taste that little war left in US public’s mouth meant the USA was not likely to venture into Asia again. This left Australia dangerously exposed if a local threat did arise. Fortunately one didn’t.

    I’d much prefer it if we because the “Swiss� of region. Make ourselves a hard target. Stay out of regional conflicts no matter our hearts bleed in sympathy for oppressed minorities. Make the responsibility for the defence of Australia the responsibility of every citizen etc. But I don’t think that will happen. Rudd seems to setting himself as the big brother for region and for that role he will need a surface navy.

    By the way, it isn’t just a surface navy we could retire if we went isolationist. Expensive manned aircraft could be replaced by umbrellas of much cheaper SAM missiles. This technology is at such a level of effectiveness due to modern signal processing technology that even stealth aircraft would not get past a well implemented system.

  4. jquiggin
    March 10th, 2008 at 17:52 | #4

    Actually, RAMSI made no use of frigates or destroyers – the naval component was HMAS Manoora, along with some mine hunters and patrol boats.

    As regards East Timor, the military, as opposed to political, need for a naval force was far from obvious. Indonesia had invited Interfet and the militia had no capacity to resist a landing. Presumably the purpose of the fleet was to cow any rogue elements in the Indonesian military who might have thought about a sneak attack. This was certainly convenient, but the F111s which were flying over ET throughout the period could have delivered a less calibrated version of the same warning.

    We have the capacity to deliver troops anywhere in our immediate neighborhood without fear of effective resistance, and the possession of frigates does not add significantly to this.

  5. jquiggin
    March 10th, 2008 at 17:57 | #5

    A further problem with East Timor as an example is that, if you believe the official line, we couldn’t have done it without the Americans, and particularly USS Mobile Bay – this claim has been made repeatedly here in various contexts. So, I’m not aware of any case where, even on the official view, our surface warfare fleet has given us an independent capacity we otherwise lacked.

  6. MarkL
    March 10th, 2008 at 20:56 | #6

    Gentlemen

    Those people who know very little about a subject should avoid being *quite* so definite.

    May I please suggest some good primers? Just to provide the very basics in a highly complex field?

    Start with Hill’s ‘Maritime Strategy for Medium Powers’, then Stevens (ed) ‘Maritime power in the 20th Century: The Australian Experience’, and finally Pugh’s ‘The Cost of Seapower’.

    Then wander over to the RAN Seapower Centre’s site and read ‘Australian Maritime Doctrine’.

    Then wander a little further afield, over to BTRE’s site and check out just what percentages of our trade by tonnage and value go by sea. And *that* is the bottom line here.

    This will give commentators here a sound footing on the subject – something lacking from some of the above. Otherwise the discussion is as shallow and useless as exactly the same discussion held in 1908-1910 and 1920-26 in this country.

    Just like the above, people then thought there was a cheap option. There isn’t.

    Robert Merkel and I have discussed this matter (AWD etc) at length elsewhere. While neither of us concurs with the other’s politics, I believe we hold each other in mutual respect when it comes to professional knowledge on matters military. I work in that area and Robert is, at the very least, a thoughtful and knowledgeable commentator in the same area.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  7. SJ
    March 10th, 2008 at 22:34 | #7

    MarkL, you’re “I’m an expert, trust me” approach doesn’t really help much.

    A large number of us here have expertise in our own fields. What’s under discussion here are the assumptions underlying your field.

    If you want to defend the assumptions, do so, and that means more than saying “check out just what percentages of our trade by tonnage and value go by sea. And *that* is the bottom line here.”

  8. SJ
    March 10th, 2008 at 22:39 | #8

    “you’re”? gack. “your”

  9. jquiggin
    March 10th, 2008 at 23:09 | #9

    “Then wander a little further afield, over to BTRE’s site and check out just what percentages of our trade by tonnage and value go by sea. And *that* is the bottom line here.”

    So, to help the discussion along, would you like to spell out what you are suggesting here? I assume you mean that some enemy country might plausibly to engage in attacks on our shipping, in an attempt to destroy our trade/starve us into submission, and that the possession of frigates and ADW capability would neutralise this threat. Perhaps you can point to an analysis of this threat with some actual candidate opponents and some serious cost-benefit analysis of your proposed response.

  10. Ian Gould
    March 10th, 2008 at 23:35 | #10

    I think the term “force projection” is being bandied about here with little thought as to what it means (see Al’s comments about “walk[ing] down some alley in a foreign land, shooting men, women, and children,…”.

    Force projection in the Australian context is all about having the capacity to attack at sea any invasion force heading towards Australia and, if we fail to prevent such a force landing, to interfere with the supply lines of any invasion force.

    If we want to take on the role of guarding our entire seaborne trade, we probably need a much larger navy than now – an infeasibly large one in fact.

    But a much smaller investment would assist us in deterring any possible invader. (Of course, this begs the question as to what role surface vessels would play in such deterrence.)

  11. Paul G. Brown
    March 11th, 2008 at 05:00 | #11

    Just a note on Henry V. vs. Charles VI.

    I recall from my reading of medieval military history (Keegan, I think) that while the longbow gets all the popular credit, it was the English army’s novel deployment of sharp, pointy sticks that really won the day at Agincourt.

    Nothing about the longbow was new. Crecy and Pontiers — seventy years prior — had demonstrated the weapon’s quality. The French weren’t stupid and knew they had to get their heavy cavalry among the lightly armored yoemen, but their charge failed because of the cunning use of sharp pointy sticks dug into the mud. Horses will endure a lot, but don’t like sharp pointy sticks. Even if the English had used crossbows (with their slow rate of fire) the sharp pointy sticks would have protected them long enough to destroy the flower of French chivalry.

    As we gamers like to put it – Sharp Pointy Sticks FTW! (For the Win!)

    Crecy – 1346. Agincourt – 1415. Surface navies proving themselves vulnerable to submarines, aircraft, and “smart bombs” (kamikaze) in 1945. Only it takes a long time for us to put aside the humiliation of our grandfathers and confront the of our own day, I suppose.

  12. Ender
    March 11th, 2008 at 09:16 | #12

    JQ – “If we abandon the idea of a traditional surface warfare capacity that still leaves some jobs to be done by surface ships, of which the most significant in military terms is transporting troops and equipment, and supporting amphibious operations. But does it make sense to have a separate arm of the service for this. Wouldn’t it be better to let the army handle this job and decide what resources should be allocated to it?”

    Usually when armed forces do this sort of thing ie: abandon a tradition, then the enemy that knows this simply attacks using something that could only be defended by the tradition that was just abandoned. From all the posts here that mention Crecy to the Faulklands it has always been the troops fighting with whatever they are given to fight with making the most of what they have and minimising what they don’t have. Usually the better trained troops with the most resolve win the conflict.

    The technology available now has not changed this. It has also been proven down the centuries of warfare that the set of troops with the most options to bring the enemy to battle on their terms rather than the enemies also usually win. Limiting our options by getting rid of surface ships would to me be really stupid no matter how much money could be saved.

    I think that a balanced force that has all the options that we can afford available will do better than a force that is constrained by not having one element.

    Another lesson from history is that armies are best on land and navies are best at sea and only lately air forces are best in the air. Attempts to combine these or force one service to do something that it really does not know about are usually costly mistakes. The exceptions are the Marines however ship commanders very rarely think that they know more than the Marine commanders about land fighting and leave it entirely up to them.

  13. Fred Nurgly
    March 11th, 2008 at 11:23 | #13

    One thing about discussions of defense hardware is that they lack abstraction. This is the reason that wars typically start off with an attempt to fight the last war. Coming back to submarines you don’t think that all defense forces are not spending large sums of money on the geophysics of submarines ? How long are they going to remain undetectable ?

  14. Hal9000
    March 11th, 2008 at 12:18 | #14

    For all the arguments about ‘force projection’, this is a role the existing RAN is not really equipped to perform – no aircraft carriers, troop transports, landing craft, amphibious armoured vehicles, battleships/cruisers (useless in ship-ship warfare, invaluable fore shore fire support). Instead, we have a force of escorts, either for adding to a US carrier battle group in support of US force projection strategy, or as convoy escorts. The one defence advantage from such a role is that it gives Australian sailors experience with operational naval force projection they would not otherwise be able to acquire.

    A genuine defence worry is that a hostile power could threaten Australian sea lanes with submarines and/or mines. Accordingly we also have a substantial counter-submarine and mineclearing capability. Our one significant naval offensive capability is the submarine force. Although the butt of much malicious comment, the Collins class are apparently a world leader in stealthiness and have ‘sunk’ US capital ships in exercises on numerous occasions.

    Finally, the RAN also performs sterling coast guard duty, apprehending illegal fishing boats, refugee boats, monitoring shipping movements, performing deep ocean search and rescue and the like.

    So, in response to Prof Q’s original comment, it appears he’s gunning for the escort component of the RAN – the frigates, destroyers and fleet support vessels. Abandoning this force would mean jettisoning the capability to form convoys if an enemy threatened Australian trade routes with submarines. The force projection argument is, appropriately enough for matters nautical, a red herring.

  15. March 11th, 2008 at 13:42 | #15

    Al loomisd wrote “the first step is finding strategic objectives within national capability” – actually, no. The first step in that sort of process is to make a wish list, ignoring resources available just there. Then you refine things, cutting your coat according to your cloth. If you try it the other way round you risk spending what you can afford on things that don’t actually help – an even worse form of waste.

    JQ wites “But attempting to impute a coherent logic to either side immediately before and during the Great War is the way to madness. It ought to have been obvious that war would bring ruin to all the contending parties, as it did.” Er… that’s a misreading, from not having all the alternatives under consideration and from working with the benefit of hindsight. As at 1905, for instance, a long war couldn’t have happened as imported nitrates were still needed. And the battleship race was a “money auction” that trapped rational players in a game theoretic way.

    Gerry writes “the more interesting point is about procurement. why do we bother with australian industry participation, it has been invariably disastrous. all our our most cost effective systems were proven US, UK or Euro technology purchased off the shelf. we would receive much better value for money if we stuck to this method, and we could afford more and better equipment if we did.” Because those wouldn’t be ours in a strategic sense, any more than paying someone else for defence would be. A good comparison is how Sweden approaches these matters. Stealth ships don’t work, by the way – they show up as a blank against radar “soap” reflected from the sea. And you can’t use lots and lots of little boats – which are very useful – unless you can polarise the environment, which means having a few big vessels or something else completely different to do that job. It’s why knights in armour still mattered well into the 16th century; without them around, the working parts of armies, infantry with pikes working with infantry with projectile weapons, got what the archers got at Bannockburn.

    JQ writes “OK, let’s work through it. The Germans foolishly constructed a surface fleet even though they could never expect to beat the British, instead of putting more resources into submarines, which might have won the war for them (we seem at least to be agreed on that).” No, it wasn’t foolish when they started. It was the money auction thing. They were betting that Britain would not keep up with an arms race and that they would end up with open access to the resources of the wider world. It was a lot like playing chicken. Submarines were related to blockading Britain, a quite different job, and they weren’t up to it until just before war broke out; spending on them would have been a huge risk.

    “The British built a fleet much larger than was needed to contain the German surface fleet, instead of putting the extra resources into destroyer escorts which would have won the naval war much earlier. Their policy was no more rational than that of the Germans.” Wrong. It was only just big enough, and destroyer escorts could not have done that job – they could only protect convoys against submarines, not commerce raiders which would have had a free hand. (Destroyers themselves were designed for a quite different job, one which they too stalemated themselves in, except for one brief engagement in the Dutch East Indies in the Second World War – wolf pack work.)

    “And then, after 1918, they all turned around and did it again, building dozens of battleships which were mostly sunk by airplanes and subs when the war restarted in 1939 and few of which did anything.” You haven’t been listening. They did not – they put in place a limitations treaty that remained in effect until the mid ’30s to head off the arms race. Then they went for broke, compromising vulnerability for range and speed, and were of great use maintaining cover from home waters where they had air support. That’s also omitting the successes keeping the Bismarck and Tirpitz from carrying out the battle cruiser function, predicated on being able to outrun anything they couldn’t outfight. They didn’t make war more likely – that course was set before the treaty stopped working.

    Terje writes “Wouldn’t merchant submarines have altered the dynamic for Britian in WWI?” – no, they simply couldn’t have carried the loads or had the range while submerged (no snorkels then).

    Peter Pan, while we need the help of others, we need to negotiate with them from a position of strength so they don’t leave us in the lurch (the USA is like what David Niven said about Errol Flynn, “you could rely on Errol, he always let you down”). It’s not just a matter of having something to offer them, it’s a matter of being able to take initiatives or change allies.

    SJ, MarkL isn’t doing “I’m an expert, trust me”, any more than I was. He is giving you the benefit of what he found out the hard way, just as I did, not going out of his depth (which is why I’m not commenting on specific current capabilities), and letting you know where to go and look for yourself just so you don’t have to trust him (I went part of that way, but I’ve been concentrating on stopping error from spreading, leaving new information for later).

  16. Fred Nurgly
    March 12th, 2008 at 15:30 | #16

    Yes agree with your update Quiggers , but what exactly are those metrics for the defense forces. Defense forces typically try to evade any metrics and go for the maximum amount of government expenditure available. It is not easy to cost the social product that a defense force provides. Economics does provide one set of tools to analyse defense force expenditures relating this to its ability to destroy opposing defense forces , for example. This would have to be the average over sets of war games scenarios.

  17. MarkL
    March 12th, 2008 at 18:57 | #17

    *So, to help the discussion along, would you like to spell out what you are suggesting here?*

    COMMENT: I am suggesting that learning enough to be able to discuss the issue from a substantive foundation of fact is the basis of an informed discussion.

    *I assume you mean that some enemy country might plausibly to engage in attacks on our shipping, in an attempt to destroy our trade/starve us into submission, and that the possession of frigates and ADW capability would neutralise this threat.*

    COMMENT: This assumption is wrong.

    *Perhaps you can point to an analysis of this threat with some actual candidate opponents and some serious cost-benefit analysis of your proposed response.*

    COMMENT: These have been done at two levels of which I am aware, there are doubtless more. They are not available in the public arena (nor to me as I have no need to know and would therefore reject any effort to inform me of the details) – that is the ‘bad’ news. The ‘good’ news is that the *outcome* of those deliberations, modelling and cost-benefit analyses is indeed available in the form of the outcome (as approved by Dept of Finance). This is, of course, the decision to purchase three (rather cheap and basic) AWD.

    Essentially, your argument focuses on about 1-2% of the requirements spectrum and ignores what it is that Navies are for, and what they actually do every day.

    So first, then, to the rock-bottom basics.

    If you look at BTRE IP-60 (Australian Sea Freight 2005-06), you’ll learn that the Australian international freight task is 696 million tons (MT) worth $249 billion. This is 624.5MT of exports worth $128.5Bn and 71.5MT of imports worth $120.5 Bn (see p.1). On p.11 you’ll see the international freight distribution origin and destination (Figs 2.1 and 2.2). This encompasses Australia’s area of trade interest. Table 2.4 also shows our top 20 trading partners. Within this globalised trade structure (so reminiscent of the way things were 1870-1914: globalisation is not new in any way) we, like all other maritime trading nations work cooperatively, even if remotely, in what is called ‘the Imperial policing role’. This is merely an old 17th century term and before folks go all Engels about it, it just means “ensuring the safety of the High Seas and coastal waters to ensure the free flow of maritime trade”.

    It takes 2 sides to trade so all oceanic naval forces play a role in ‘Imperial policing’. Basically, we all work to a common aim in maritime law enforcement, sea safety, flag and port state management and control, littoral policing, hydrography, suppression of piracy, slavery (still a big problem in the muslim world, of course) etc.

    OK, that is why surface navies are needed, so what are navies for?

    Navies exist to protect trade. The fundamental role of every seagoing navy (green and blue water) has always been this. See Hill (as mentioned), or Corbett, Richmond, Mahan, Colomb, Castex etc etc. These are the ‘greats’ of the maritime strategy milieu and should be very familiar to people commenting in this field.

    They use surface ships able to operate well offshore (in most cases) because that’s where the trade is. Surface ships are also flexible, providing all governments with unparalleled versatility not found in any other platform. This is because they are sovereign territory wherever they are, and do not need to be based on foreign soil. They are also persistent assets, they can stay there for long time. Ask the Frogs about the blockade of Ushant, for an example.

    The actual day-to-day tasks evolve over time in th eway they are done, but are basically the same over the centuries. Check Border Protection Command’s eight tasks as an example (see their website), or the RAN’s maritime Doctrine, as mentioned (RAN Seapower Centre website).

    Like previous uninformed debates, you have concentrated on the extreme right hand of the operational spectrum (Great Power unrestrained conflict) and ignored the actual 99% of what navies actually do every day, and for which their ships are designed, built, and routinely used.

    So the RAN does, every day, a myriad of tasks most of which relate to trade protection. Yes, diplomatic functions in Tanjung Priok are part of this, just as is working with the Malaysian, Singaporean, Indian, Indonesian and Philippines navies to help out with coastal patrol, trade surveillance and piracy suppression. This is all basic and simple stuff. Sure, they practise higher end warfighting skills as well, because that too is part of the job – and that’s trade protection too, in the form of deterrence: ‘yes, if you go and kick over our apple cart, we *really can* smack you in the head’. Again, all very basic and simple: and centuries old conceptually. By looking only at a tiny slice from the extreme right hand of the spectrum, you miss all of this. Hence the sterility of such discussions in the past. Such discussions cannot be very interesting for the simple reason that you are discussing one twig and think it’s the whole tree. It isn’t.

    As for AWD, even if you just want to deal with a major industrial accident off the NW shelf (say a Piper Alpha plus a major oil spill from an opened well) you will need that level of command-and-control (C2) on the spot. Let *alone* an east Timor, where we had to ask the USN to supply USS Princeton and USS Peleliu for the C2 (and additional muscle… and other very interesting things) to actually do the operation and overawe the Indonesian Generals who were not about to let their province go without a fight, thanks… until the USN and USMC showed that if it came to a fight, ABRI had to count them in.
    Oops.
    Did THAT help change a few minds quickly. You also need this sort of C2 for another Operation Sumatra Assist. There was a good reason the USA sent a carrier and a couple of AEGIS cruisers there, the C2 was needed. From the start, they had to take over all of northern Sumatra’s air traffic control and communications, for example.

    The Navantia AWD really is basic, too, they are not the ‘biggest and best’ (an Arleigh Burke) or the ‘second best’ (the Gibbs and Cox reduced Arleigh Burke), they are an expanded frigate design, the cheapest entry level ship for the role. They are actually optimised for mid-level issues, not the high end you are looking at. This is also classic Australian response, we buy ‘second class’ capital ships because out here we can get away with it. Effectively, we leverage off our Alliance with teh global maritime power to ‘transfer’ a large % of our deterrence function on to them. As the Indonesian generals found out, if you really want to tackle Australia, you have to factor the USN in too. This is really a transfer of probably half (or so) of our defence spending on to the US taxpayer. The USA knows this, but they also save money because of the Alliance: it evens out in the end to mutual benefit. People forget that where countries have common interests, Alliances form.

    But back to our habit of buying ‘second class capital ships’: check the history. Australia I was an Indefatigable, not a Lion; Australia II and Canberra I were Treaty cruisers, Melbourne II and Sydney III were light carriers, etc: and all were optimised for trade protection. The AWD are no different.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  18. jquiggin
    March 12th, 2008 at 22:26 | #18

    There are lots of points on which I find this argument doubtful, but I’m willing to settle on one as decisive. Unless I have totally misread you, you are claiming that an air war destroyer is needed to respond to a major oil spill. “As for AWD, even if you just want to deal with a major industrial accident off the NW shelf (say a Piper Alpha plus a major oil spill from an opened well) you will need that level of command-and-control (C2) on the spot.”

    Convince me of this by showing that such warships have played a central role in cases like the Piper Alpha disaster or the Exxon Valdez spill and I’ll admit that I need to revise my views.

  19. Ian Gould
    March 13th, 2008 at 00:18 | #19

    Honestly John I don’t think he needs to – all he has to do is show that the civilian sector here in Australia doesn’t have the capacity to respond to such an emergency.

  20. March 13th, 2008 at 18:09 | #20

    MarkL, I would only disagree with you on one point, “[t]he fundamental role” [emphasis added]. As I read it, that is a fundamental role, but there are other things navies are for, at least from time to time. However, these other things don’t introduce needs for yet other capabilities, by and large, so it is sound planning just to start from that – as long as you check to make sure that you don’t miss anything else.

    JQ, how would you react to someone who told you “I don’t know much about economics, but even I know that [fill in as required]“? I once had pretty much that from a potential programming client who wanted me to install new features of the “but it’s just one small change” sort without allowing me time to set up an off line test system. We did not proceed. You may have had commenters of that sort.

    On the other hand, did any of your commenters ever ask “I don’t know much about economics, so could you tell me how to get to grips with [fill in as required]? It seems obvious, so am I missing something here?”? Was it more fruitful for the both of you?

    There is one source which may help people get started, the Australia Defence Association.

  21. jquiggin
    March 14th, 2008 at 18:54 | #21

    “Honestly John I don’t think he needs to – all he has to do is show that the civilian sector here in Australia doesn’t have the capacity to respond to such an emergency”

    That’s a necessary condition (and it’s far from obvious that this is true), but he also has to show that the military has the capacity, and that it needs sophisticated warships to maintain that capacity.

  22. MarkL
    March 15th, 2008 at 12:40 | #22

    There are lots of points on which I find this argument doubtful, but I’m willing to settle on one as decisive.

    COMMENT: Sounds more like you can’t argue them due to lack of knowledge, which is my entire point – you are looking at a very thin slice from the extreme right hand of the operational spectrum the ships are being acquired for and think ‘that’s it, that’s all there is’. In doing so you miss 99% of the point, which betrays your near-total lack of knowledge regarding seapower and maritime strategy. This is nothing to be ashamed about, of course, it is a complex field some thousands of years older than your own field of economics.

    To understand the reality of the situation, you actually have to educate yourself in the field of and philosophy behind seapower and maritime strategy. If you want to debate this issue properly, you have to know what navies are for and why they do what they do. Anything else is merely chasing the wind, to quote the Philosopher, David’s son. (Ecc.1:17)

    Unless I have totally misread you, you are claiming that an air war destroyer is needed to respond to a major oil spill. “As for AWD, even if you just want to deal with a major industrial accident off the NW shelf (say a Piper Alpha plus a major oil spill from an opened well) you will need that level of command-and-control (C2) on the spot.”

    COMMENT: Yes, you have it wrong. You have totally misread me and then gone further, into reductio ad absurdum. You have taken an effort at providing you with the most basic facts as to why seapower is a national strategic requirement and endeavoured to take a single example from the operational spectrum, and (yet again) try to pretend that is the entirety of the case, or at least a large chunk of it.
    To compound this, you have also committed the logical fallacy of ignorantio elenchi (the rhetorician adapts an argument purporting to establish a particular conclusion and directs it to prove a different conclusion), which tells me much about your shared assumptions: and that your issue here is emotional. For goodness’ sake, read some of the basic texts of maritime and seapower theory so you can comment sensibly and dispassionately. I and others have provided ample references to basic texts.

    Convince me of this by showing that such warships have played a central role in cases like the Piper Alpha disaster or the Exxon Valdez spill and I’ll admit that I need to revise my views.

    COMMENT: As noted, I do not have to, because of all the other matters across the operational spectrum you have apparently accepted as valid requirements. Logically, then, failure to prove one point cannot invalidate your acceptance of the rest – but you are not being logical here, you are arguing from little basis of knowledge and emotionally to boot, so I shall. As Ian Gould notes: “Honestly John I don’t think he needs to – all he has to do is show that the civilian sector here in Australia doesn’t have the capacity to respond to such an emergency.”

    And this is indeed so, Ian is quite correct. While all companies have platform and pipeline-based contingency plans which are lodged with NOPSA (National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority), there is no system above the company level to either conduct sea surveillance of the whole area or to respond to external threats, or to coordinate multi-company (let alone multi-agency) responses to a Piper Alpha-plus-major-spill. That is why the Howard government has funded an expansion of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and Border Protection Command (BPC) and also funded massive expansion of the AIS and LRIT systems (AMSA runs these, they are coastal and sea safety, surveillance and reporting systems) whereby all the data is also funnelled into BPC and other material pkud value-adding thrown in, AFAIK this is/will be the ‘
    sea surveillance ‘data spine’ of BPC, Australia’s multi-agency response coordination entity. They put all that in to a C2 system they are developing for oceanic surveillance purposes (I dunno what it is called). The hole in all of this was identified last year, and the then-government coughed up something like $25M for AMSA. This is to buy a slew of new radars and also to help fund an offshore oil industry coordination centre (a C2 centre) in Perth. Why? Because one does not exist. Even when it does, you’ll need something up there (if it’s available) to do the same things such ships did in Operation SUMATRA ASSIST, all the air traffic control, surface tracking of all assets both government and private etc etc. Oh, you can get by with lower levels of C2, something bodgy based on the industry centre and a couple of frigates, but things then take longer to sort out and more people die, of course. The informal estimates I’ve seen from people (Indonesians) involved at that sort of level in SUMATRA ASSIST were that the high level of C2 the USN brought with it got medical supplies delivered to where they were most needed FAST, in such good time that 10,000-20,000 injured were saved on the west coast alone. And all while the worthless UN idiots were whining about not being able to set up due to a lack of five-star hotels in Bandar Aceh! The Indons are still pissed about that.

    John, all you have done is put up a post which recapitulates at a very primitive and uninformed level some elements of the Jeune Ecole theory of maritime strategy. It was recognised as a truly spectacular failure over a century ago, something pointed out to Paul Dibb during his patently ridiculous 1980s report: and which he (of course) ignored. In my dealing with Paul, he has always seemed somewhat….. rigid, shall we say. Lovely fellow, of course, and extremely interesting to talk to.

    Hence the sterility and frankly uninteresting nature of this discussion. You just do not know enough to be very interesting. I and others have provided you with ample material to study should you actually be interested in this field and wish to educate yourself in relation to maritime strategy and seapower. I’d suggest Hill first, then Corbett (just to get the basics) before moving on to the recent publications of the RAN Seapower Centre. As an economist, you should already be very familiar with BTRE IP-60, which well sums up Australia’s complete and utter economic dependence on maritime trade.

    JQ Post 26

    “To pick one example, you didn’t respond at all to what I said about the Falklands, except to defend the honour of the murderers who ran the Argentine Air Force. I’ll repeat what I said. If the junta had been as competent at procuring and maintaining bombs and missiles as it was at murdering its opponents, the Argentines would have won the war with air power alone. This isn’t just my view; it’s that of numerous British participants, one quoted in the Prospect piece IIRC.”

    COMMENT: this is a nonsensical combination of emotion and ignorance. John, you DO know that the RN Task Force actually *completely destroyed* the Argentine Air Force, don’t you? They started the war with 112 jet-powered combat aircraft. 102 of themwere confirmed as shot down. The RN lost NOT ONE aircraft in aerial combat in return.
    The RN adopted a position where it was forced to operate at extreme range against a fully formed and up-to-date (but not state of the art) sea-based air defence system. The TF exploited its great tactical mobility and forced the Argentine AF to come to it and fight inside its radar and figher coverage. RN aerial losses in combat against the Argentines were zero, you will read the tale of the destruction of the Argentine AF in Ethell and Price’s ‘Air War South Atlantic’ (especially Appendices 1-8). In return, the Argentines got lucky once, with their destruction of Atlantic Conveyor, one of the high-value targets. The loss of Sheffield was militarily irrelevant to the campaign, you lose escorts in war, that is the cost of the game. The other RN losses occurred once they were geographically constrained at closer ranges. And even there the escort losses were not significant to the outcome of the campaign, although the loss of the two LST most certainly was.

    The Argentines never had a prayer of winning the war on airpower alone, all they could do was die gallantly (which they did) and extract some losses (which they did). The Junta actually was quite good at “procuring and maintaining bombs and missiles”, they actually had the only *operational* air-launched anti-shipping missile system on the continent at that date. And they were remarkably incompetent at ‘murdering opponents’ to judge by the true masters of the art, every socialist regime one cares to name. What’s Fidel’s death toll now, 110,000 and still rising? (http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=B701FEA7-CBF5-42D0-B4B1-1273D9065383)

    JQ 29 “Well, let’s stick exactly to the point. Thanks to its failure to buy and maintain adequate armaments, Argentina had a fifth rate air force. Whatever cuts Thatcher might have made, the RN was still the second-most powerful surface navy in the world. If it had come up against the fourth-rate air force you could reasonably expect a country like Argentina to field, it would have lost. As it was, it was a near thing.”

    COMMENT: No, not correct because that judgement is relative. The actual issue is ‘fifth rate’ against who? Locally, Argentina had and retains a first class air force. Compared to the RAAF, it’s second tier. Only compared to the USAF could it be considered ‘fifth’ tier, and they were not fighting the USAF, were they? Compared to the ‘air power’ component of the RN present at the time, it was *substantially superior* (112 jet powered combat acft compared to 20 Sea Harriers on the TF). So the RN chose to fight so as to maximise their own strengths and minimise their own weaknesses, while simultaneously minimising Argentine strengths and maximising their weaknesses. So they forced them to fight inside RN radar and SAM coverage, and the result was that the RN smashed the Argentine AF for light loss (and no aircraft lost to them). Things were less rosy inside San Carlos Water for the first 36 hours, but even there the kill ratio was wholly in the RN’s favour and the rump of the Argentine AF was all but wiped out. Sure, they killed Coventry in the SAM trap, and sank a couple of frigates, but at what cost to them? They lost ALL of their operational combat aircraft! That’s the cost of the game – and the RN got the Army ashore with all their stores and most equipment, and won the conflict.

    JQ 33″Wilful is exactly right, and his point works even better against the arguments of Ikonoklast. In the post, I argued that we could never mount the kind of long distance force projection that requires a carrier battle group.”

    COMMENT: Of course we can. It’s just a USN CVBG in an alliance context. This is what Allies are for. And before anyone says’we have never had a USN CVBG under RAN OPCON – oh yes we have, in 1995 during a real-world ‘Imperial Policing’ operation.

    As Ikonoklast notes, one carrier battle group isn’t enough, you need “another carrier or two” to have any real capability. That is, if you want to be serious about this kind of thing, you need to be a power comparable to the US. None exists at present, and Australia certainly will never be one.”

    COMMENT: Again, this is subjective. Against who and for what political purpose? If we want to stop China from invading Taiwan, then yes. However, this is outside Australian government strategic guidance and so is a straw man argument. Reading the DWP and Update (and the new DWP when it appears) will tell you what Australian Government strategic guidance is. Then the *relativities* become clear.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  23. jquiggin
    March 15th, 2008 at 13:22 | #23

    A long answer, much of which is devoted to explaining why you aren’t going to defend the claim you made in your earlier comment. I conclude that, indeed, AWD capacity is not justified by the need to respond to civilian maritime disasters.

    Instead, if I understand you correctly this time, you are saying that naval command-and-control systems have some dual use capacity for responding to civilian emergencies. This is a relevant consideration in a cost-benefit analysis, but does not seem to me to be a strong argument for spending a large portion of our defence budget on surface fleets

  24. jquiggin
    March 15th, 2008 at 13:31 | #24

    On a second point, as you are implicitly conceding, the position I’m putting forward has a long-standing basis in the literature to which you’re pointing me, on the apparent assumption that I’m entirely ignorant of it.

    You can describe the Jeune Ecole and Dibb (and plenty of others in between) as “patently ridiculous” if you want. I say the same of Mahan and the advocates of force projection through sea power to whom you appeal. As the post notes, the battleship fleets they built ended up either sunk by subs and air attack or rendered useless by of the fear of such attack.

    At least no one any longer suggests that battleships are worth having (AFAIK), but Mahan’s ideas, slightly modified, are still driving policy.

  25. MarkL
    March 15th, 2008 at 14:57 | #25

    In fact, a ten-minute answer.

    As usual, you entirely miss the point. I explained why the point you were making was very partial, then Please read some of the basics on seapower. Advanced C2 systems are useful across a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from high end war (the one ‘slice’ you have thought of), down to low end activities like SAR and disaster management. You seem to deliberately disregard this, but at least you have partially understood some of the complexities of this issue for the first time. This is progress.

    Your second point: “You can describe the Jeune Ecole and Dibb (and plenty of others in between) as “patently ridiculousâ€? if you want. I say the same of Mahan and the advocates of force projection through sea power to whom you appeal. As the post notes, the battleship fleets they built ended up either sunk by subs and air attack or rendered useless by of the fear of such attack.” merely shows you have little understanding of the area under discussion.

    The Jeune Ecole was conceded by its intellectual founders to be a bankrupt concept in the Marine Nationale’s 1900 program, when they moved back into BB construction in a big way with the Rebublique class. Dibb proposed a coastal area denial strategy. As an economist, the implications for a trading nation should be obvious to you.

    As for Mahan/Corbett/Richmond’s concepts being rejected by you, so what? You patently know very little about the theory and practise of seapower and are unwilling to learn, so your opinion on the matter is of negligible value. The whole intellectual field of maritime strategy will carry on regardless.

    I am not saying this to be insulting or patronising, it is merely a fact shown by very superficial comments such as ‘the battleship fleets they built ended up either sunk by subs and air attack or rendered useless by of the fear of such attack’. This is quite false, as Pugh explains in detail on cost grounds, and as even a cursory study of WWII history proves.

    If you actually understand what I am talking about, you will be able to answer this question: The traditional role of the battleship is filled today by what vessels?

    MarkL
    Canberra

  26. jquiggin
    March 15th, 2008 at 16:19 | #26

    As the post and several subsequent comments note, the traditional role of battleships is now filled by aircraft carriers, and has been since WWII. As also noted, Australia doesn’t have the capacity to operate a carrier group and shouldn’t try.

  27. MarkL
    March 15th, 2008 at 16:57 | #27

    Actually, only partially, the traditional C2 (flagship) function has been filled by carriers and dedicated fleet flagships, and cruisers. The heavy surface strike function has been filled by carriers, submarines, destroyers and cruisers with various missile and air-launched systems.

    The ‘AA’ (actually air defence environment) function has been shared between space based sensors, carriers and semi-specialised AA platforms: cruisers and ‘air warfare destroyers’ (actually cruisers as they have a flagship function at lower levels), while the shore bombardment function has been very widely dispersed among cruisers, destroyers and frigates.

    As Pugh notes, the BB became ‘baroque’: too much money in one platform type with too high a manpower/operating cost, so its functions were dispersed amongst other platforms.

    Finally, the CV did not functionally replace the BB in all areas either functionally or geographically, especially poor-weather areas (such as northern European waters) during WWII or after. Why it faded away in those waters post 1950 (not 1945) was because it had no equivalent opposition except the large Soviet Sverdlov force (and the Chapaev’s and Kirov’s too, of course). And those were countered by modernised WWII cruisers, which took over the ‘heavy ASuW task’ at much lower operating cost, and then later by vessels such as the RN County class light cruisers. There was a very good reason why SEASLUG had a surface-to-surface mode and why it packed the equivalent punch to a 15″ shell in that mode.

    So while in the simplest possible terms you are partially right, you missed most of it, and all the nuances. That is not intended to belittle you in any way, I am merely trying to see where your level of knowledge is.

    I do not intend to make some foolish game of this either, that would be juvenile, but may I ask you one more question: what is your understanding of the (so-called) ‘Mahanian’ maritime system, and what differentiated it from the maritime system in existence before it?

    I am asking this solely to assess your level of knowledge on this topic.

    MarkL
    canberra

  28. jquiggin
    March 15th, 2008 at 17:03 | #28

    Coming back to the Falklands, much of what you say appears irrelevant to my point, which is that the air force of a developing country, operating at the limit of its range, came very close to beating the most powerful naval force that the world’s third-strongest naval power could deliver.

    Since you’re keen on flourishing expertise, I will quote the Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Craig, as reported by leading military historian “Six better fuses and we would have lost.”
    Keegan goes on to observe that developments since then have tipped the balance further “Aircraft and missiles have improved since 1982, counter-measures less so.” Keegan concludes that Britain probably couldn’t fight and win a Falklands-type war today.

    As I read Keegan, he would like to remedy the situation by spending a lot more money on ships and carriers. But, I think he realises that this isn’t really feasible for the UK and that’s obviously true in spades for Australia. The notions of force projection that have been bandied about here are obsolete fantasies.

  29. jquiggin
    March 15th, 2008 at 17:23 | #29

    MarkL, if you ask a short question, and get a short answer, it’s rather silly to complain afterwards that not all the qualifications were included.

    To spell things out further, and cover some points you’ve ignored, many/most of the traditional functions of battleships have been replaced by non-naval forces, most obviously aircraft and missiles operating at steadily greater ranges.

    Coming to Mahan, I don’t see his system as being radically different from what preceded it – indeed that was part of the problem. Rather, it was a systematization of the experience of the 18th and (to a limited extent) 19th centuries, which led him to see fleets centred on powerful surface ships (battleships in his period) as vital in projecting power globally.

    To repeat myself, Mahan’s analysis largely ignored the role of submarines and of course failed to anticipate the impact of aircraft.

  30. MarkL
    March 15th, 2008 at 17:50 | #30

    SO: “many/most of the traditional functions of battleships have been replaced by non-naval forces, most obviously aircraft and missiles operating at steadily greater ranges”.

    How peculiar that you regard naval aircraft organic to ships and and missiles fired from ships as ‘non-naval forces’. This explains much.

    “Coming to Mahan, I don’t see his system as being radically different from what preceded it – indeed that was part of the problem.”

    Quite false. The maritime system before it was based on naval ships incapable of remaining at sea for more than a brief period, amphibiously deployed soldiers, and coastal fortresses. Read Guilmartin’s ‘Gunpowder and Galleys’ for a description of this maritime system.

    The so-called ‘Mahanian’ system was based entirely on the new ability of ships to remain at sea in any weather conditions for extended periods of time. This system began to evolve in the 14th century and became dominant in the 17th, replacing the previous system, which was some 3,500 years old.

    “Rather, it was a systematization of the experience of the 18th and (to a limited extent) 19th centuries, which led him to see fleets centred on powerful surface ships (battleships in his period) as vital in projecting power globally.”

    Again, false, but the most common misreading of Mahan (and for that matter Corbett, Richmond and Colomb)- this was Kaiser Bill’s notorious misreading. Sea Power was projected then as now by trading ships conducting either peaceful trade or carrying troops and your trade (but not the enemy’s) during conflict. The role of the fleet was to mask the enemy fleet and to throttle enemy trade through blockade so that our side could use the sea for our purposes while denying its use to the enemy. The masking function was critical, for the standard enemy response was guerre de corse, which and to be dealt with through a large number of small, cheap but individually weak naval units unable to stand up for a moment to an enemy ‘capital ship’ (line-of-battle ship in that era, usually a 60 and later a 74). Thus, by masking the enemy fleet, out sea control ships could protect our trade and use of the sea and deny it to the enemy.

    THAT is the Mahanian maritime system, very simplified.

    Thank you for answering. Your level of knowledge is at a par with most people who have not studied this area. I hope that you have learned something of the basics of this milieu. I enjoin you to read the books recommended by myself and others. This is a fascinating area, and one that goes back millennia. It is well worth serious study.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  31. jquiggin
    March 15th, 2008 at 18:20 | #31

    To put it mildly, I’m unimpressed. In the most obvious shifting of the goalposts, you’ve made “the system that preceded Mahan” refer to the period ending in the 17th century, that is about 200 years before he wrote. At any rate, I couldn’t ask for a more complete proof of my point about fighting the war before last than your description of the Mahanian system, advocated for the 20th century, in terms of Napoleonic era ships of the line.

    And given the idea that a reference to aircraft automatically means “naval aircraft” is rather silly. I meant to spell out the point that the increased range of aircraft and missiles means that ground-based aircraft and missiles can fulfil functions previously undertaken by ships, but thought it unnecessary. Obviously this was incorrect.

  32. March 15th, 2008 at 20:48 | #32

    JQ, didn’t you even know that Mahan wasn’t trying to innovate as such in his system – though he did want the USA to apply it – but rather to codify and systematise the lessons brought out by real world experience? That he gave due credit to British experience? That this experience was accrued over nearly the previous two centuries? He wasn’t making it up from pure reason and moral superiority.

    Speaking of Paul Dibb, internal evidence also made me think he doesn’t appreciate the issues, whereas Paul Monk does. Paul Monk does seem only to have a subset sort of grasp, i.e. he doesn’t have all the answers (which is still more than I have), but if I were to recommend one Australian-oriented defence commentator who is publicly accessible, as a place to start, it would be him. He has a site of his own you can start from.

    For a broad worked example of just how sea power worked out, try reading Barbara Tuchman’s “The First Salute”, paying particular attention to the lessons of Chesapeake Bay (and compare and contrast with how, over time, sea power made it practical to subdue if not subjugate a far more hostile Ireland). That is something the ordinary intelligent reader can get to grips with (Barbara Tuchman just gets selective on the good guys/bad guys issue – read Christopher Hibbert’s “Redcoats and Rebels” to offset her bias).

    By the way, even today battleships are worth having – just – only, they are not worth building. That is, they are worth keeping mothballed, if you happen to have some around anyway (getting rid of them on cost benefit grounds would be the sunk cost fallacy). Even a decade ago they were worth keeping operational. If cost were not an object, or less important, it would be technically possible to build one today but it wouldn’t resemble those of seventy years ago much. Most likely it would be a semi-submersible of whaleback design that could run on snorkels (if not atomic), made of ferrocrete using a fusible alloy instead of cement, with armament like the old sinking guns only adapted for missile launching, point defence and what have you. It would cost far too much compared with realistic alternatives, but it would do the job of clearing the way for all those smaller vessels to do their jobs.

    “A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring”
    .

  33. March 15th, 2008 at 20:55 | #33

    “I meant to spell out the point that the increased range of aircraft and missiles means that ground-based aircraft and missiles can fulfil functions previously undertaken by ships, but thought it unnecessary. Obviously this was incorrect.”

    I take it that the latter sentence refers to the part of the former sentence before the comma? Because that part is incorrect. I even heard that argument brought out as an exhibit in a familiarisation talk given by a young naval officer to my school. It was a widespread misunderstanding needing to be refuted, which he did by showing just what else was involved. Improvements in those arms have been made since then, but they still don’t do those other jobs.

  34. MarkL
    March 15th, 2008 at 21:49 | #34

    JQ: For the first part of your response, oh, what utter piffle. You have made it abundantly clear that you lack the knowledge to say that, and have not read any of the works you need to!

    “At any rate, I couldn’t ask for a more complete proof of my point about fighting the war before last than your description of the Mahanian system, advocated for the 20th century, in terms of Napoleonic era ships of the line.”

    Please read Alfred Thayer Mahan – I have a first edition and a pretty penny it cost me.

    You apparently do not know the title of his book, it is entitled: “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783″. You need to read Chapter 1 ‘Discussion of the Elements of Sea Power’ especially the section entitled ‘Navies Exist for the protection of Commerce’

    How is it ‘fighting the war before last’ to state that navies exist to protect maritime commerce, when this has been true through TWO maritime systems since the Bronze Age an remains just as true now as it did 3000 years ago?

    Have you worked out some way to move a small amount of material, say, 50,000,000 tons of ore, over a short distance, say 3,000 nautical miles, at lower ton mile costs that provided by a panamax? No? Did not think so. Well, sunny jim, that means that things are just as they were when Phoenicians were shipping Cypriot tin ingots from Ugarit to Cathargo, 3,500 years back. Oh, and the Phoenicians had a navy to protect that trade, too.

    Mahan looked for the fundamental trends of seapower over that period – and he certainly did not look as late as the Napoleonic period. It was too close to the time he wrote and the lessons then were less clear to his audience due to the different nature of that series of conflicts, much of his work looks at the first global war, the Seven Years War.

    Your lack of knowledge here even of basic economic facts of maritime trade really is surprising to me. For example, carriage of goods by water retains exactly the same advantages now as it did during the Dutch Wars of Punic War for that matter: ton mile transport costs 2-3 orders of magnitude below land carriage of those same goods, and carriage of larger tonnages faster than is possible by land. So navies exist to protect that competitive advantage. Nothing has changed.

    Um, you DO know when the Revolutionary Wars ended and the Napoleonic Wars started, don’t you?

    Finally, he published in 1889 – he was writing for the NINETEENTH CENTURY. This was a treatise to awaken in the US body politic an awareness that the USA was a maritime power – something you are patently unaware of. That he (and Richmond etc etc) identified the SAME series of fundamental economic and strategic structures seems to escape you entirely.

    You are seriously out of your depth and need to do some reading.

    It is just that perhaps unlike in economics, where you may well shift with various winds of economic fashion for all I know (which would merely imply that it is a poorly understood milieu with lots of theoreticians involved), seapower has truly been studied by extraordinary minds looking for the fundamental lessons involved in its practise. And this level of study has been done for *centuries*. And fundamentals just do not alter quickly. What was true of seapower when the Misenum Fleet applied the principles has not changed enormously by the invention, 2000 years later, of ships able to keep the sea. Both the Misenum Fleet and the RAN existed and exist fundamentally to protect maritime commerce.

    You have made it very obvious that you do not understand any of that at all.

    What you apparently also cannot understand is that seapower is a PRACTICAL matter far more than a theoretical one. It is very hands-on. We do it every single minute of every single hour of every single day. I find myself surprised to realise that you do not understand that the fundamental difference between a first rate and a modern capital ship is that the latter is far easier to man, and takes much *less* training to make effective as a combat system than the former. In terms of what it is, and what it does; its *effect*, there is very little difference between the two. Oh, the technology is wildly different, but so what? The effects are so similar as to be all but indistinguishable because the technology has not affected the fundamental structures of maritime commerce or sea power.

    DO some study. You have no idea of what you are talking about, and Lord, does it show.

    MarkL
    canberra

  35. jquiggin
    March 15th, 2008 at 22:06 | #35

    Umm, I’m fully aware of Mahan’s title and ostensible historical reference. My reference to the Napoleonic era was to your comment. In my reference to Mahan, I’m talking about the large group (including Mahan himself, IMHO) who imagine(d) that the naval experience of the 18th century was a useful guide to policy in the 20th and 21st centuries (your quibble about 1889 being in the 19th century is duly noted, so feel free to include the last few years of that century as well).

    Reading the rest of what you’ve written, I agree that we’re getting down to the basics. You say nothing has changed in 2000 years, and therefore we need to go on as before. I suggest that, among other things, the arrival of airplanes implies fundamental changes.

    But you keep going on about the protection of maritime commerce. Can I ask you to spell out the threats against which we should be guarding, and how our current force structure contributes to this?

    Finally, can I suggest a change of pseudonym? It’s very difficult to take claims of expertise seriously when they are signed with a snarky attack on a retired politician.

  36. H&R
    March 15th, 2008 at 22:20 | #36

    ‘Al, in my view, the greater our contribution to the alliance with the US thee greater our ability to influence US policy.’

    Has this presumption ever been compared with the historical record?

  37. March 15th, 2008 at 22:21 | #37

    For what it’s worth, sea power as used against Ireland, and in support of the British land effort against the American rebels, wasn’t focussed on trade. However, trade featured in not continuing the American effort after 1781 – it was still militarily realistic there after that, it would merely have compromised the core through economic collapse and opening Britain itself up to similar things in reverse.

  38. MarkL
    March 16th, 2008 at 13:26 | #38

    “I’m talking about the large group (including Mahan himself, IMHO) who imagine(d) that the naval experience of the 18th century was a useful guide to policy in the 20th and 21st centuries”

    COMMENT: Well, he ‘imagined’ right, then. His call for the USA to recognise its essentially maritime nature and to build a navy to deal with that worked, so his work hardly failed. In identifying fundamental structures of maritime trade and sea power, his work remains valid. Historical studies to identify fundamental trends and deep, foundation level structures tend to. That is why Mahan and the other great maritime strategists remain valid today.

    “Reading the rest of what you’ve written, I agree that we’re getting down to the basics. You say nothing has changed in 2000 years, and therefore we need to go on as before. I suggest that, among other things, the arrival of airplanes implies fundamental changes.”

    COMMENT: Well may you suggest that, but aircraft have caused no fundamental changes to maritime trade. Aircraft made for lots of changes at the technological and tactical levels, but that’s essentially superficial. In Mahanian terms they mostly replace frigates,and sloops. They do nothing to change basic strategy because aircraft cannot compete with ships on a ton mile basis. Therefore trade still goes by sea. Therefore this trade still requires protection, and this means surface navies.

    Oh, there are tactical changes aplenty, but in the end aircraft can only do so much. Unless based at sea they cannot really go very far or search very much, cannot maintain a permanent presence, and are horribly vulnerable. The sea remains vast, and very hard to find things on. The issue you raise here implies the need for ships like AWD, BTW.

    “But you keep going on about the protection of maritime commerce. Can I ask you to spell out the threats against which we should be guarding, and how our current force structure contributes to this?”

    COMMENT: Already answered in the references provided to you in multiple posts. Sea the Seapower Centre, RAN Doctrine and BPC/AMSA websites for these basics, which, you will note, have a few additions to what Mahan, Corbett, Richmond, Castex and Colomb all identified but which are otherwise the same. You might even look at ‘Navy News’, which carries many stories about what teh RAN does on a day to day basis. Nearly all of it is the classic trade protection function as conducted in times when no maritime war is being conducted.

    “Finally, can I suggest a change of pseudonym? It’s very difficult to take claims of expertise seriously when they are signed with a snarky attack on a retired politician.”

    COMMENT: What on Earth are you talking about? I have used this pseudonym both on this iteration of internet and in earlier generation fora for well over two decades. Why should I change it? Others ‘got’ the reference in pre-internet years (it’s an in-joke: hints, Romanise it, adjust that slightly, and link it to both a targeting process and a 1970s weapons system and add the geographical context – which is not what it looks like: it’s as intricate as the jest behind Whale Spinor’s handle), so I still see no need to alter it.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  39. jquiggin
    March 16th, 2008 at 13:57 | #39

    My apologies on the pseudonym.

    Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have got anywhere in trying to get a clear answer from you on the trade protection function, and the references you’ve given are no more explicit. I’ve found this problem with discussions of defence spending in general.

  40. MarkL
    March 17th, 2008 at 14:18 | #40

    “Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have got anywhere in trying to get a clear answer from you on the trade protection function, and the references you’ve given are no more explicit. I’ve found this problem with discussions of defence spending in general.”

    COMMENT: I am reluctant to provide a list on two counts. Firstly, the data from the practitioner perspective is contained in the references provided, and there is nothing that helps educate more than having to actually find out for oneself. Secondly providing a mere list loses all the nuances and over simplifies the matter. Trade protection is quite poorly studied – there is only one person I know of currently doing work in that area in Australia and some of his work is in one of the books I have mentioned. I can put you in touch with him should you want to discuss this seriously with someone working in the field. I am knowledgeable but no expert in that field and do not have the time to trawl through the references for you. Perhaps he can. I have seen him at conferences and he appears to know his stuff – he might be a bit of an anorak, though!

    “But you keep going on about the protection of maritime commerce. Can I ask you to spell out the threats against which we should be guarding, and how our current force structure contributes to this?”

    COMMENT: Again, a mere listing does nothing for your knowledge on this matter. The current matters in this spectrum which concern the Australian government are matters identified in Australian Doctrine (see http://www.navy.gov.au/spc/amd/amdintro.html) and the eight tasks you’ll find on the Border protection Command website (http://www.customs.gov.au/site/page.cfm?u=5765) :

    Which are: Illegal exploitation of natural resources, Illegal activity in protected areas, Unauthorised maritime arrivals, Prohibited imports/exports, Maritime Terrorism, Piracy, Compromise to Bio-security, Marine pollution. Note the short-sea focus.

    These demonstrate the day-to-day practical matters and government concerns in the martime trade protection spectrum. The maritime strategists already quoted cover this much better than any listing I can provide you with. Sorry, but there really is no substitute for doing the reading if you really want to understand this matter: the field is complex. Start with Hill’s Maritime Strategy for Medium Powers. The spectrum ranges from all-out conflict, with the usual threats (submarines, naval airpower, land based air power, mines, raiders – yes, still a viable tactic, surface ships, SLCM attacks on ports and land side infrastructure) through to the daily stuff you can see the patrol boats doing, fisheries work, anti-piracy, and anti people smugglers work, diplomatic work etc etc etc.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  41. jquiggin
    March 19th, 2008 at 05:55 | #41

    That’s helpful but as you say, all short-sea focused stuff that can be addressed by patrol boats.

    The really big unanswered question is whether its worth investing a lot to prepare for an old-style naval war with an attempt to attack merchant shipping on a large scale, and if so, whether powerful surface ships would be useful in such a conflict.

  42. MarkL
    March 19th, 2008 at 21:06 | #42

    ‘That’s helpful but as you say, all short-sea focused stuff that can be addressed by patrol boats.’

    COMMENT: Well, not entirely. Patrol craft are quite useless across about half of our EEZ and have zero ability to even survive in Southern Ocean waters (let alone get there). So there is a need for large, seaworthy OPV. The UIT 750 series types are examples, up to 20,000nm range at 16 knots and exceptionally seaworthy.

    ‘The really big unanswered question is whether its worth investing a lot to prepare for an old-style naval war with an attempt to attack merchant shipping on a large scale, and if so, whether powerful surface ships would be useful in such a conflict.’

    COMMENT: That gets back to the point on where on the spectrum a medium power draws the line. tasks above that line cannot be done, but all those below it can be. I’d argue that from the air defence side alone, the small, cheap AWD we are obtaining are sub-par for some of the things in this region today (SS-N-27 Sizzler being a case in point). I’d also note that this project has always had bi-partisan support, indicating concurrence on the need.
    Beyond that I think I am not qualified to go. As mentioned, I have a contact who is, to my knowledge he is the only person doing serious research on trade protection matters. it is a very poorly understood field AFAIK. I queried him on that, and replied along the lines of ‘it depends. There is far more impact on a trade system from the strategic fact of attack on the system than from the tactical results of attack on ships themselves. While each loss is a permanent ton-mile loss, far more ton-mile losses are caused by the three tiers of sequestered losses generated by the response to the attacks. These are damaged ship losses (especially from weather)convoy loss, and node loss in the ports and land side transport infrastructure.’ He said that more loss was caused in British ports, for example than by all the ships the U-boats ever sank. He is published on this and apparently thought of as pretty good on the subject.

    Should you wish to discuss this with him, I can ask if he is willing to correspond. He’s a little bit quirky and won’t discuss things on blogs. As far as I know, he does not even read them much.

    MarkL
    Canberra

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