As the US Navy appears set to fix the future shape of its fleet, dissenting voices are beginning to be heard. Should it continue on its hi-tech course, creating battle groups based around the new generation of nuclear supercarriers? Should it develop an entirely new kind of "dumb" missile-launching warship? Or should it create a "cheap and cheerful" fleet of frigates to help it maintain its fleet of 300 warships?
The options must be examined against three major factors which threaten the balance of international naval power. One, the emerging ability of more potentially hostile nations to detect and hit warships, Exocet-style, up to 50 miles out to sea. Two, the growing cost of equipping, staffing and operating carrier battle groups, which can cost 50 per cent again of the construction costs of a carrier to run each year. And three - probably the real enemy as far as America is concerned - a crippling manpower shortage.
Educational standards are being lowered all the time to attract more men. But the navy's manpower problem has become so acute that crew reductions of up to 70 per cent are being sought in specifications for the new destroyer-class DD-21.
The answer, according to one influential commentator, is relatively low-tech. Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, suggests staying with the carrier-building programme for now, but urgently examining other options. He wants the navy to resurrect plans to build arsenal warships, stealth vessels which can strike furtively at enemy targets but which, with a skeleton crew of just 50, could be sitting ducks for an enemy attack. He would also like it to take some of its fleet of Polaris nuclear submarines out of storage and convert them into cruise missile carriers.
Full article: Electronic Telegraph