James R. Holmes writes an excellent op-ed on the number of ships in the U.S. Navy over at The Diplomat. Needless to say, he hits the nail on the head. Read the beginning:
As naval technology gallops on, can fleets execute the same missions with fewer assets?
Eminent people say so; I have my doubts.
Officials like U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work point to scientific and technical advances that supposedly render numbers of ships and aircraft less meaningful than in bygone decades.Unmanned reconnaissance aircraft able to detect, classify, and track hostile contacts across wide sea areas and feed targeting information to U.S. Navy task forces represent one such innovation. Sea-service leaders also point out that warships now entering service are far more technologically advanced than the ones they replace.
The message, seemingly, is that quantity no longer has much quality of its own.
Yet there’s an otherworldly feel to such claims. It’s certainly true that each new generation of ships, warplanes, sensors, and weaponry is far more capable in an absolute sense than the generations that went before. True, but not especially meaningful.
One of today’s Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers, for example, would surely outclass an Aegis cruiser from the early 1980s, when that combined radar/fire-control system first went to sea on board USSTiconderoga.