Where Warships Come From

US Navy 080918-N-8273J-153 The Military Sealif...

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For nearly as long as man has been trying to master the element of water, he has been waging war from platforms floating precariously on its surface. For much of the history of naval warfare, victory was decided by a combination of heavy firepower and the maneuvering to put broadsides of hot steel onto target.

The past century has been something of an anomaly. With the end of the transition from wind to steam as the locomotive force for naval vessels, technology began to grow in importance as a decisive factor in naval success. World War II in particular saw technology play a decisive role in the ultimate outcome. Radar, sonar, and forward-launched depth-charges helped win the Battle of the Atlantic. American inferiority in torpedos led to some serious losses and untold missed opportunities at the beginning of the war against Japan, solved only when fuses and guidance systems were improved: the U.S. Navy overcame a similar deficit in aircraft performance versus its Japanese counterparts. And superior ship design helped win the Battle of Midway and every amphibious landing after 1942.

Little wonder, then, that the Navy puts its smartest thinkers into the business of thinking about technology and, specifically, ship design. We now live in the age of stealth, missiles, terrorist attacks, and what has become to be called green-water or littoral warfare, not to mention the growing need for energy efficiency, lower staffing levels, and environmental friendliness in construction, operation, and decommissioning. The complex demands placed on today’s ships have driven up the costs faster than they have raised operational effectiveness. This means that the science of naval ship design is more exact than ever.

In Naval Engineering in the 21st Century: The Science and Technology Foundation for Future Naval Fleets, the National Science Foundation looks into whether the US actually has the capabilities to design such ships, and describes what will be necessary in order for the US to just be able to forge the navy it will need in the coming decades.

Whether the nation is ready, willing, or able to do so is another matter, but this is an area the report probes tangentially. Great design need not be expensive, but it requires superior work in advance to ensure the nation buys an excellent navy on the cheap. Given the sea service’s consistent failure in this regard over the past two decades, this book is certain to be a seminal work in determining the future of American sea power.

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