Leadership: July 10, 2005

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After sixty years of dominating U.S. Navy policy, the carrier admirals are getting some serious competition from  what is coming to be called the brown water navy. This is the gang that advocates more attention be paid to coastal operations against irregulars, terrorists and the sort of troublemakers peacekeepers encounter. The LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) was developed to deal with this sort of thing, and has become even more popular because of its low cost. At $250 million per ship, the LCS is showing up the more traditional ships, especially the carriers. So now the proposal has been made that the navy cut one carrier, but not its air wing, from the fleet. That would save $500 million a year in operating expenses, and the $8 billion cost of building a replacement carrier for one of the older ones due to retire soon. Keeping the air wing in service would make it possible to work the planes, and aircraft, harder, because there would be an additional air wing that could be used for relief (of air wings that were just worn out from a particularly intense operation). The annual, and one time, savings would allow the navy to build more LCS ships, and even smaller patrol craft that are so useful and necessary for these kinds of operations. What really gives the brown water crowd clout is the need for these smaller ships to help out in the war on terror. At the moment, its the only war we got. Moreover, the U.S. Army, to the great embarrassment of old navy hands, has but together a brown water force of small patrol boats for use in Iraq. During the Vietnam war, the navy supplied this force. Not this time around, and the navy is feeling the heat for it. A aircraft carrier may have to be sacrificed to make amends. Meanwhile, the navy plans to form a riverine unit by next year, with more to follow, including a battalion of naval infantry to serve with the brown water sailors manning the small boats to be used along coasts and up rivers. Civil Affairs and intelligence units are to be formed as well. Service in Iraq seems a strong possibility. 

 


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