Sunday, July 27, 2008

The 'Littorals' - Part 1 - Submarines and Surface Craft

Definition of the term littoral zone is simple enough, so naval journalists and bloggers believe they have a fairly firm grasp on using the term repetitively without much more thought. That is very risky on their part and on the part of anyone relying on their articles, especially when it comes to speculation on naval strategy.

To marine ecologists, the littoral zone is close enough to shore that the effects of tidal and longshore currents are experienced to a depth of 16-33 feet below the low tide level. Try to apply this term to naval operations other than SEAL and Marine landings, however, and it tends quickly to lose meaning.

The Wikipedia definition of littoral zone notes that the United States Navy divides the littorals into several zones (coast, beach, near shore, and offshore). The depth of the Offshore zone is shown in the illustration as approximately 200 feet (60m). For discussions of submarine operations, it is this offshore zone which particulary obtains. M.E. urges you to read this 3-page article, in which Joe Buff tells us:

Firstly, 100 to 200 feet while relatively shallow is definitely within the operating envelope of U.S. Navy SSNs and has been for a long time. So-called "littoral" operations such as Indications and Warnings, SEAL deployment and recovery, minefield surveys, and Intelligence, Surveillance, & Reconnaissance (ISR) go back a long way and have occurred in some very shallow places. ...

Another example of ongoing SSN ops -- which is public info -- includes the fact that many SSNs transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back via the shortest and most covert route, the Arctic, which involves negotiating the Chukchi Sea and Bering Sea. Those two seas are extremely shallow (some areas for 100+ miles have a maximum depth of 150 feet) and are also somewhat confined ...

M.E. sees it Buff's way; SSN and SSGN submarines are littoral combat ships. So what if here the 'lcs' must only be represented in lower case. The submarine force seeks stealth, anyway. And although submarines will never land a Marine Expeditionary Batallion, they do not only what Buff describes above, but much, much more. Here's what he says about traditional surface warfare:

Despite frequent misinterpretations to the contrary, [Rear Adm. Alfred Thayer ] Mahan's central tenet never was to advocate some sort of abstract 'main battle-fleet fight to the death,' where at the start of a war two enemy navies would steam toward each other in blue water and blast away until one side or the other got wiped out. [empasis added]

The frequent misinterpretations to which Buff alludes seem to express exactly what some bloggers only see as flawed U.S. naval strategy. Molten Eagle, on the contrary, believes our Navy leadership knows full well what it can do, is doing and needs to do in the future.

If the size of the fleet must dwindle for economic reasons, what a swell opportunity to cull the outmoded and obsolecent, reject the fancy and impractical and, by necessity, force reallignment of the naval officer corp. Fewer ships should mean fewer admirals, etc. Did you learn anything?



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