More Comment & Discussion from October

Many articles in Proceedings contain a lot of acronyms, each shown in parentheses after the first appearance of the term for which it stands.

The frequent use of these later in the same article requires the reader to go back through the text in order to recall what the acronym means. I suggest that, in addition to the above, it would be most helpful to add a box to each article containing a glossary of the acronyms used, to make the reading smoother and more expeditious.

— CAPT William W. Burns, USN (Ret.)

Editor’s Note : The Proceedings editorial team does daily battle with acronyms—simplifying, replacing, or removing them whenever possible. At the same time, the editors battle for space: a 96-page magazine has only so much of it, and, unfortunately, not enough to include glossaries. As long as the Sea Services use acronyms so persistently, Proceedings editors and readers alike will be challenged to interpret them.

The Navy Needs 21st-Century Pants

(See B. Cordial, p. 16, August 2018)

Naval uniforms do require a small pocket, as Lieutenant Cordial suggests, but not for the reason he discussed. The Navy uniform should have a pocket in which to store a small portable computer device, that looks like a large smartphone, but is for support of Navy personnel. Call it an “electronic wheel book;” with one, sailors would not need to carry their cell phones constantly, especially at sea. The electronic wheel book needs no special software; rather, it needs all kinds of data that could be downloaded to support personnel in their unique jobs/positions.

So yes, we do need to give Navy personnel modern tools to do their jobs, and we need their uniforms to be designed to carry those tools.

—CDR Marc Apter, USNR (Ret.)

Fifty Tons of Fury: Bring Back the Patrol Torpedo Boat

(See E. Hernandez, pp. 38–41, September 2018)

The Navy Needs a Modern PT Boat

(See A. Janigian, pp. 42–45 September 2017)

MH-60S Can Be Today’s PT Boat

(See Ben Foster, Proceedings Today , September 2017)

Captain Hernandez’s appeal for a modern patrol torpedo (PT) boat is but the latest to run in Proceedings , echoing Lieutenants Janigian and Foster last year. The recurrence of the PT boat theme leads me to believe that, contra his assertion, there is some basis of nostalgia and romanticism in the argument.

He makes several assertions that require context and challenge. First, while the PT boat is “combat tested,” that testing was 75 years ago. He bases much of his argument on the success of PT boat night-time missions during the Guadacanal campaign. This ignores the most important reason they only operated at night: the Japanese Navy knew it could not risk daytime operations within range of allied land and sea-based aircraft.

Today, there are fundamental questions of where and how a PT boat would “help establish sea control.” From his framing of the scenario with “high-end platforms to maritime militia” and “near-peer competitors” it is clear that he is positing PT-boat operations in the framework of a conflict with China. In such an environment, a PT boat would be of questionable utility and survivability.

What Captain Hernandez describes, a gun and antiship cruise missile (ASCM) armed PT boat with a small crew, is what is generally known as a fast attack craft (FAC). In fact, he mentions FACs in passing but continues to argue for the PT boat moniker. Any number of navies around the world employ FACs and the U.S. Navy has operated innovative FACs such as the Pegasus -class hydrofoils.

In high-end conflict, a FAC has no ability to detect, track or attack submarines, which China is building rapidly. FACs also are at a disadvantage against high-end surface ships. Aside from the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s own FACs—for example, the Houbei -class of which they have built roughly 60—nearly every surface combatant China is building has both ASCM capability and the ability to defend itself against ASCMs. The proposed PT boat lacks such self-defense.

In lower intensity conflict, against maritime militia, a FAC might have some use in attacking unarmed vessels but aircraft and other existing platforms can perform this role and can do a better job differentiating between maritime militia and civilian fisherman.

The Navy has been reluctant to embrace FACs for a number of reasons. One of the best is that the Navy knows what airpower can do to ships, including FACs, if they are not protected by their own airpower. If the primary purpose of this FAC is to assist destroyers “to contest and gain sea control” then the argument falls flat. Captain Hernandez is right that “destroyers don't need to be the first, or only, choice for every mission.” Submarines and aircraft already are significant contributors to gaining sea control and often better options.

Unlike destroyers and most other current fleet assets, FACs cannot operate at sea for any significant length of time. They require basing—fine for a defensive mission, but on offense, they would require forward basing. That is not assured in a potential conflict with China. Even if it were politically acceptable by partners in the region, such bases would still be vulnerable to attack.

Yes, China and many other nations are building FACs in quantity. This might seem like a good reason to build a similar platform. But other countries’ FACs are designed for defensive operations in waters close to home bases. They will have air cover. They will act as a classic sea-denial force. A U.S. Navy response to this threat architecture should not be the same. The counter to adversary FACs is better and more ordnance, not more symmetric FACs.

Ultimately the argument fails because of its specificity. Instead of an argument for a capability to assist destroyers “to contest and gain sea control” that the Navy does need, the past year’s authors keep calling for a specific platform that the Navy does not need.

—CDR Ted Huebner, USN

Loss of VMAQ Community Leaves a Gap

(See R. Johnson, pp. 12–13, September 2018)

I wholeheartedly agree with Lieutenant Colonel Johnson’s assessment of the state of airborne electronic attack in the Marine Corps pending the disestablishment of VMAQ-2 in March 2019.

The Marines have led the way in electronic attack since the inception of this warfare capability, beginning with the development of the EF-10B and EA-6A (both Headquarters Marine Corps initiatives) that were used to great effect during the Vietnam War. The EA-6A provided the impetus for developing the highly effective EA-6B Prowler as a tactical electronic-attack asset. Marine Prowlers have participated in every airborne conflict since Vietnam and partnered with the Navy in providing expeditionary assets to address deployment gaps left by the disestablishment of the U.S. Air Force’s EF-111A and F-4G electronic warfare platforms.

As Marine Corps expertise in tactical electronic warfare atrophies in coming years, it will sadly have followed the Air Force with the loss of their cadre of tactical electronic warfare experts. Nothing really substitutes for having a “community” dedicated to this warfare area. As the Navy continues to improve the capabilities of the EA-18G Growler with systems like the Next Generation Jammer, it will have to pick up the load left by both the Air Force and Marine Corps—a significant burden given the challenges of electromagnetic-spectrum operations. The solution may require procurement of additional Growlers and an increase in the number of Navy VAQ squadrons to cover the warfighting needs of combatant commanders.

—RDML John P. Cryer USN (Ret.),  Commander, VAQ Wing Pacific 1998–2000

 

 
 

Conferences and Events

WEST 2019

Wed, 2019-02-13 - Fri, 2019-02-15

Sharpening the Competitive Edge: Are We Ready to Compete, Deter, and Win Globally? Wednesday, 13 February - Friday, 15 February...

2019 U.S. Naval Institute Member Event

View All

From the Press

13 December - Book Talk & Signing

Thu, 2018-12-13

J. Michael Wenger

13 December - Book Talk & Signing

Thu, 2018-12-13

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 140 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership