Thursday, August 11, 2016

Ocean Security: Surface Ships

If submarines and air power projection platforms represent the outer edges of ocean security, then surface assets are the middle.

In the public imagination, the surface ship is scarcely present. People tend to be drawn towards the much "sexier" carrier and submarine platforms and don't think much about surface vessels.

Embracing a wide variety of roles, surface assets shoulder the majority of the ocean security burden. Typical mission profiles for surface assets are
  1. Transport and Re-supply (troop movement, replenishment etc....
  2. Surveillance (patrolling SLOCs, VBSS, anti-Piracy, SAR, etc...)
  3. Protection (screening forces for carrier groups, convoy security, anti-submarine roles, air defense) 
  4. Land attack (using either missiles or artillery)
As these roles are so diverse, typically a surface asset will have a certain degree of flexibility built into their design. The average surface ship may be able to perform many of these separate roles with a relatively minimal modification.

It is difficult to audit the exact price per unit of productivity of a surface asset as a large fraction of what they do is so diverse and so intangible. Because it is difficult to define an exact measure of their utility, and given their large number surface ships operate under severe resource pressures. The captains and crews of such vessels are under a lot of pressure to keep expenses down and operate as economically as possible.

This background of issues creates patterns in the way these assets are used.  
  1. Surface assets try to stay out of harms way unless absolutely necessary - Captains try to be extremely conservative in the way they approach targeting issues. Knowing full well that in most cases the enemy cannot be pinpointed and that there is little to no backup, Captains of surface assets refrain from adventurous idealism. If approached by unknown entities, the surface asset will use a variety of posturing (lighting up the intruder with radar or lights, firing warning shots etc...) to scare off the intruder. 
  2. Surface assets try to remain in the land of "known-knowns" - A surface asset will stay as close to a well characterized point (or path) on a map as a possible. Captains will avoid wandering into places that are poorly mapped or contain unknown hazards (such as mines, or reefs or shoals). 
  3. Surface combat is minimalist - When surface assets are drawn into combat, they will use their resources extremely sparingly unless they are left with no choice or they are guaranteed resupply (which is *never*). A surface asset will spend a significant amount of time maneuvering to get into a somewhat ideal firing position before it releases its weapon. When it reaches said position, it will only release as many weapons as absolutely necessary to eliminate the adversary (barring of course - a loss of fire discipline). 
The effort at every level with a surface asset will be to maximize the apparent utility of the vessel when it is underway. This is the only effective way to address persistent criticisms from bean-counters about the general lack of a utility metric. 

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