Floating Swarms

A while ago I opined that what the U.S. Armed Forces needed was not MOAR COMPLICATED weapons systems, but simpler, even old-fashioned kit that would do more or less the same tasks for much less money, with a much greater redundancy (i.e. losing one multi-million weapons system out of the dozen on hand to enemy action would not cripple either our wallet nor our force, when instead we had a hundred and fifty simpler weapons systems capable of doing more or less the same job).

Seems like some smart people think the same way about the Navy:

The Navy’s problem remains its obsession with blue-water ships and big-budget contracts instead of stepping back and rationally thinking about what is actually needed to fulfill requirements at a cost-effective level in terms of construction, use, and the risk of combat losses. The enemy of “good enough” is the desire for perfection and there is no reason to spend time and money reinventing the wheel when a proven gunboat design already exists that is good enough for the Navy’s littoral combat needs. A modern version of the Fairmile D motor torpedo boat—the famous Dog Boats of the Royal Navy’s coastal forces in World War II—is what the U.S. Navy needs today.

And the author goes on to explain how it would all work, and it’s a compelling argument.  A couple hundred of these bad boys, suitably updated, would definitely put a wrinkle into someone’s turban or Mao jacket, if you get my drift.

Read it all, and let’s hope someone in the Navy Department reads it as well, without throwing the thing straight into File 13.


  1. Put a jet drive on it then tell me where to send the check, cause I want 2 of them.

  2. My dad got me interested in the whole small gunboat idea because he trained briefly on the German WWII version, the E-Boat, in German the Schnellboot or S-Boot.

    They were quite the bad boy craft, so much so that the Brits took a few into service at the end of the war. There are some great videos out there of these fast nasty looking ships flying along.


    The British one, I think, is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReC87ZFHw8s
    It looks like a tough customer too.

  3. Good article by Owen, with the only misstep a misspelling of “pinnace”. I’d further refine the design he discusses by capping length at 100 feet, a single 40mm Bofors mounted fore and aft, side firing 50 cals with a 180 degree arc of fire, a couple of manpad AA launchers, twin diesels sufficient for 30 knots, a low freeboard and shallow draft, and a carbon-Kevlar armored citadel. All the other sundry suggested frou-frou, and “swappable” mission packs, seem contrary to the simple-fast-lethal-cheap paradigm. That’s a big part of why the LCS white elephants are so bloody expensive. Also serious, and expensive, efforts at stealth features seem rather pointless in a riverine environment. I question the jet drive angle unless they can be decently immunized against floating littoral schmutz. I do like Owen’s idea of a Whidbey Island style mother ship.

    A crew of twenty or fewer should be adequate to the task(s). Might get these rigs in the water for five million apiece by building in commercial yards hurting for the business. And for the love of everything holy no Chinese designers. A brutal application of the KISS principle throughout would be a refreshing change. At least a hundred of these rigs could be built for the cost of a single goofy failure prone LCS. Send them to the hunt in pairs and the payoff will be superb. Finally, paint the suckers a mottled dirty brown.

  4. Excellent piece! I used to love reading USNI Proceedings in print until my father got Alzheimer’s. He was a naval officer back in the day, and I used to read his copy even though I’m an Air Force vet.

    But I wholeheartedly agree with the premise. Even the cheaper of the two variants of LCS, the Freedom Class, runs well over $300 million. This proposal is more in line with the wonderful AT-6 plane you wrote about last time. I think the big expensive stuff is all well and good, for when needed. But not at the expense of lots of less expensive stuff that gets smaller jobs done economically. I mean, I think we’re using almost $2 billion apiece Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers in the drug war. That’s insane.

    Have some, but fewer, of the big toys, they are wondrous indeed for intended function. And as you say, lots of smaller stuff. But the military/industrial complex is alive and well, and likely always will be, and this flies against all its natural inclinations.

    I don’t know why. A company could earn a billion dollars making a fleet of these things as opposed to half a guided missile destroyer. Money is money, and these programs could generate a lot of defense firm revenue. One issue with the big expensive toys is the companies spend a gazillion dollars developing the thing counting on big numbers being purchased, then only a quarter of them get approved, and they are left holding the R&D bag because they can’t sell the most advanced stuff to many countries. These defense contractors get hurt a lot more when order numbers for something like the F-35 get whacked than they would with large numbers of AT-6’s and other, cheaper aircraft, I would think.

    It’s a puzzle. But we’ve gone all big and super expensive, and it’s not a good thing.

  5. As for the US Navy, from bitter experience I can relate what Kelly Johnson, he of Lockheed’s Skunk Works fame, said, “Starve before doing business with the damned Navy. They don’t know what the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy.”

    Our Navy’s traditions stem from Britain’s Age of Sail: i.e: Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. Nothing’s changed.

  6. Looks like the Air Force is looking (again) and using cargo aircraft as bomb dump trucks:


    It’s an idea that been kicked around since I first became with the AF in the late 70’s and it’s time may have come with the development of drones and smart self-guiding weapons.

  7. Sorry, Kim…but NO. You fight in the littorals after you have secured control of the seas. And the Chinese are engaged in the largest naval buildup since the Second World War…they’re building ships faster than we did in the mid-80s.

    The whole littoral fad is a thing of the American Unipolar Era. Which is ending. Time to arm for the conflicts of the future, not the past.

      1. Yes. And I’d be putting big money into reconstituting the air wing capabilities we had circa 1990.

    1. I’d go so far as to say that the new FFG(X) program, resulting in a FREMM variant being procured, is actually quite the Good Move for that. It seems to have been procured with an eye toward complementing the blue-water fleet (i.e. a little bit of ASW and ASuW, as well as credible AAW capability) at a fraction of the cost–a Burke DDG is about $2B per for the most recent contract, the first FFG will be a shade under $800M; follow-on FFG are expected to get cheaper as production gets sorted out.

      At any rate, if the Navy comes to their senses and puts a 3″ gun on it instead of the 57mm, it’ll have a pretty fair chance of being credible in the blue-water and green-water areas (the latter once the major threats are dealt with, I imagine) at about 1/4-1/3 the cost per hull of a Burke, and yet able to integrate with the latter all the same.

  8. The only problem with these small, fast boats is that I doubt if any of them will look as good when retired as did the many PT boats converted into private yachts in the late 40’s, and 50’s.

Comments are closed.