The Navy has plans to build 55 new Littoral Combat Ships to deal with this deficiency. Yes, these fast, maneuverable ships have low drafts and are thus suited for many different kinds of unorthodox missions close to shore. But the oceans are vast, and ships cannot be in two places at once. Without sufficient numbers of them, it’s hard to believe that they will make much of a difference. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in his recent budget statement, indicated that only a few of these ships will be built at first, even as he endorsed the whole program.
In recent years the American public has been humbled by the limits of our military power in dirty land wars. But navies have historically been a military indicator of great power. That a relatively small number of pirates from a semi-starving nation can constitute enough of a menace to disrupt major sea routes is another sign of the anarchy that will be characteristic of a multipolar world, in which a great navy like America’s — with a falling number of overall ships — will be in relative, elegant decline, while others will either lack the stomach or the capacity to adequately guard the seas.