Building a Pirate-Fighting Navy


The annals of defense contracting are full of horrendous mismanagement and cost overruns. They’re also full of hulking, pointless systems that have little to do with the military’s modern-day missions. When critics are lucky, these two issues go hand-in-hand, as with the F-22. But sometimes they come apart. The Littoral Combat Ship, for example, has been a disaster as a program in terms of screw-ups and cost-overruns. But the basic idea of a small, fast, modular ship that can operate in very shallow waters does seem genuinely useful.

When Noah Schachtman asked Gates about the LCS the other day, Gates basically just said the capabilities are really useful. I pressed him on what, exactly, was so appealing about it and he specifically cited pirate-fighting, telling me “You don’t need a $5 billion ship to go after pirates” and, indeed, the high cost of a ship might dissuade you from risking it against a relatively trivial enemy.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that at the end of the day. But as Schachtman point out, it certainly is true that the Navy we have is not well-suited to the doctrine we’ve adopted in terms of anti-piracy missions, while the shift to the LCS would leave us with forces that were better-suited to that policy. My view is that ultimately if you want to tackle the pirates issue, you need to do it on land. Which, in practice, means we probably don’t want to tackle the pirates issue and shouldn’t let this specifically concern play too large a role in our thinking. But LCS has other kinds of appeal as well and on the whole I’m equivocal about it.