In a Fight, Having Your Reloads at Home in the Safe Won't Help
There was a topic as a JO in the 1990s that we bandied about when we started to think about what we wanted to see show up in the fleet before we had to fight a no kidding war at sea for any length of time.
Of course, at the end of the Cold War when "there was no other place I'd want to be" was in the air with the world waking up from history etc ... no one was really interested in spending the shrinking Clinton Era defense budget on something that, at best, maybe should be on the bottom of the unfunded priorities list from the perspective of the Potomac Flotilla.
At the end of the decade and the experience of Desert Fox, the requirement came in to even sharper relief. With the 330+/- TLAM we fired over those few days, we emptied out one DDG's VLS cells of TLAM and left the remaining DDG, DD, and CG with a land of misfit toys with either "interesting" warheads that we did not have good targets for, or were fail-to-fire duds taking up space.
That was just the surface ships. Though the Persian/Arabian Gulf's floor was littered with tube-launched TLAM that failed to fire at a silly rate - a few of them were left along with the handful that had VLS cells with one or two, but were pretty much emptied as well.
We were, in just a few days a spent force except for the ships in the Mediterranean Sea whose TLAM we underutilized but would come in handy in Kosovo.
More strikes? With what exactly? Call a training time out for a few weeks?
No, we were lucky it was only a 72-hr war or so.
We knew we would not be that lucky at some point in the future ... or at least should plan for it.
This shortfall was known a decade prior - even earlier I am sure - yet in at the end of the 20th Century, there was no longer a way to deny it, but we did anyway.
And yet, via Megan Eckstein at Defense News, here we find ourselves in the third decade of the 21st Century ...
In early October, the U.S. Navy reloaded a destroyer’s missile tubes using a crane on an auxiliary ship pulled alongside the destroyer, rather than a crane on an established pier.
Reloading a vertical launching system, or VLS, is a challenging maneuver, given the crane must hold missile canisters vertically, while slowly lowering the explosives into the system’s small opening in the ship deck.
It’s also a maneuver the Navy cannot yet do at sea. This demonstration took place while the destroyer Spruance was tied to the pier at Naval Air Station North Island, as a first step in creating a more expeditionary rearming capability.
But in the near future, that same evolution between a warship and an auxiliary vessel could take place in any harbor or protected waters around the globe. One day, it may even take place in the open ocean, thanks to research and development efforts in support of a top priority for the secretary of the Navy.
Ponder for a second and then I want you to bring to mind the geography of the Pacific to get ready for the next paragraph;
Carlos Del Toro is eyeing this rearm-at-sea capability as one of a handful of steps the service must take to prepare for conflict in the Pacific; other steps include strengthening logistics capabilities and identifying foreign shipyards that could conduct repairs to battle-damaged ships.
Today, the Navy’s cruisers and destroyers can only load and unload offices at established piers with approved infrastructure. For the Pacific fleet, these reload sites are in Japan, Guam, Hawaii and California.
In any large conflict in the Western Pacific, we can pretty much plan on most, if not all, of the facilities in Japan and Guam not being usable for an undetermined period of time.
What option does that give us? That's right - transit all the way to Hawaii or the West Coast to rearm.
That isn't just unacceptable - that is almost a criminal in 2023.
More and faster please. As our friend Brian McGrath likes to say; winter is coming.