Influence squadrons ?

Commander Henry J. Hendrix, U.S. Navy, published the article "Buy Ford, not Ferrari" in the Proceedings Magazine. It's an uncommon approach for USN personnel. It received some attention in the naval blogosphere and the support of a developing anti-big ship fleet crowd.

The USN today deploys its ships primarily in (amphibious) "Expeditionary Strike Groups" and (air attack) "Carrier Strike Groups" (usually called CVBG - carrier battlegroup - on this blog).

Mr. Hendrix proposes an additional group concept, the influence squadron. It's smaller than the Expeditionary Strike Group and meant more for influencing what happens on coastal water than what happens on land.

He writes
(...) The next step on the Navy's path to a new future should be the creation of "Influence Squadrons" composed of an amphibious mother ship (an LPD-17 or a cheaper commercial ship with similar capabilities), a destroyer to provide air, surface, and subsurface defensive capabilties, a Littoral Combat Ship to extend a squadron's reach into the green-water environment and provide some mine warfare capabilities, a Joint High Speed Vessel to increase lift, a Coastal Patrol ship to operate close in, and an M80 Stiletto to provide speed and versatility.

The Influence Squadron should also heavily employ unmanned technologies to further expand the squadron's reach. (...)
This looks a lot like a fashionable policing force with some evacuation and disaster relief capabilities. Its combat worthiness isn't very significant.

The concept is - at least in material and ambition - surprisingly close to European approaches. The Dutch, Italians, French and Spanish could field about a dozen similar 'influence squadrons' if they wanted to.

The difference is that Europeans usually let their fleets do the training in friendly waters instead of cruising the seven seas all the time with an excessively expensive forward deployment strategy.

I personally never really bought into their concept, nor do I buy Hendrix' concept.

What could such an Influence squadron REALLY do before reinforcements arrive, what's its extra benefit? Most importantly; does this benefit justify the costs of keeping ships in such un-war-like formations, cruising in foreign waters?

He writes
These forces, operating every day around the world, would represent the preponderance of visible U.S. naval power. Their understated capabilities would epitomize America's peaceful, non-aggressive intent, and would carry out the new maritime strategy's stated purpose of providing positive influence forward. However, the Influence Squadron, carrying credible firepower across a broad area of operations, could also serve to either dissuade or destroy pirate networks that might seek to prey upon increasingly vulnerable commercial sea lines of communication.
- show of force (supposedly enough, but not too much)
- positive influence (magically)
- anti-piracy patrol

Seriously - pirates are way too much in fashion. The SE Asian pirates are under control of SE Asian maritime forces and the East African pirates aren't under control of a much, much bigger fleet than such an influence squadron.
So which pirates are meant to be dissuaded or destroyed by such a squadron? Jack Sparrow?
Sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow, of course. (Yes, I get bored and really turn the TV on sometimes.)

The U.S.American sense for their own importance is well-known, but neither does the USN much in the piracy affair nor would a single Influence squadron do much about pirates (determined people with annoying intentions are annoyingly resistant to influence).
Most importantly, there aren't enough job offers for 16 such squadrons as Mr. Hendrix proposes.
Other navies exist as well (really! not kidding!) and exert their "influence" on rare maritime trouble spots as well.

Well, seeking more jobs for his squadron Mr. Hendrix aims at the next over-hyped fashionable group of evil-doers:

Anti-Terrorism Force
Too bad; he writes only about the established ESG in this chapter - maybe because a battalion of non-"special forces" infantry with few helicopters won't do much about terrorism on its own?
Or maybe because terrorists don't pop up suddenly somewhere and don't disappear (except in explosions) before reinforcements could arrive?

Let's proceed with the next in-fashion buzzword:

Surge Force
OK, there's actually something I can agree with:

Instead, the aircraft carriers (nine or ten for the sake of this discussion) and their support ships and airwings will remain in home waters, exercising as required to maintain six CSGs in a high state of combat readiness.
This needs to be seen in context with the separate, earlier quote

Step one is to abandon the idea of a Navy built around 11 or 12 carrier strike groups. These have become too expensive to operate, and too vulnerable to be risked in anything other than an unhostile environment.
The permanent forward deployment of carrier groups is not only unnecessarily threatening; it's also a standing Pearl Harbor Vol.2 invitation. It's plain stupid to disperse forces in peacetime such that a small fraction can easily be destroyed when war begins. The permanent forward deployment is provoking to some nations, unnecessarily expensive - and problematic for the service members' private lives.

The article is rich and offers even more for analysis:

(...) Another area of focus for the future force should be in undersea warfare. Perhaps no place poses a greater threat to the current U.S. force structure or suggests the greatest potential for improvement in a future Navy than the underwater environment and the vessels that populate it. The first major proposed shift is the inclusion of diesel-powered submarines that incorporate air-independent propulsion (AIP) technologies. These submarines can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine such as those of the Virginia class.

Diesel/AIP boats are very quiet, and can be equipped with effective torpedoes, antisurface missiles, and even antiair missiles. These relatively inexpensive yet highly capable subs (...)
I agree that the USN isn't really good in mine countermeasures and is lacking in SSK (conventional attack subs; quantity: zero) and apparently also in anti-SSK warfare capabilities.

SSKs aren't "cheap" (unless you have a grossly bloated budget, of course), but at least they don't cost as much as nuclear-powered submarines. SSKs are indeed a good choice for most submarine missions.
They're smaller, more affordable, can be more quiet and modern AIP/air independent propulsion (fuel cell technology advances quickly due to the automotive industries' efforts) is available since the early 90's. SSKs can operate at depth without snorkeling for weeks - all the time in silent and slow movement in their patrol area.

Finally we part ways again:

Another proposed area of change is the permanent inclusion of guided-missile submarines (SSGNs) in the U.S. inventory. The advantages inherent in the deployment of these concentrated strike packages either in conjunction with a strike group, or by operating alone are only now being recognized. However, the U.S. Navy has made a mistake along the path to an SSGN force by tying the capability to a back-fit program for Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines. Future guided-missile submarines should be built new as adaptations of the Virginia class, perhaps offsetting the decreased buy of Virginias as the diesel/AIP boats come online.

Really? I've got another proposal: Don't use the expensive submarines for this job. Don't build any ship for this mission.
Build standard containers instead. Charter a container ship if you badly want to launch some cruise missiles from sea in order to bombard some very distant country that does obviously not attempt to invade an allied country. Load the missile containers onto the chartered container ship, raise the navy flag, launch the missiles and move away.
Alternatively, just send in midair-refueled heavy bombers for a salvo of hundreds of air-launched cruise missiles.
Neither container-launched nor air-launched cruise missiles require a capsule as neither needs to travel through water during launch; this saves a lot of money (six digit $) on every shot.

To launch cruise missiles from submarines is plain silly unless you're in a very special situation (like Israel or like the Soviet Union that wanted to have a credible threat against CVBGs).
SSGNs make no sense for the USN because they're the most expensive cruise missile delivery vehicle.
- - - - -

My conclusions for the USN:

Form ad hoc fleets at home to meet actual mission requirements when the shit hits the fan elsewhere.
Get into the SSK business, but don't break your nation's purse; four SSKs are enough for understanding SSKs and for training. A dozen is enough for warfare because many allies have SSKs anyway.
Get some modern mine countermeasure (MCM) ships with good seaworthiness, range, self-protection and cruise speed. Mine-hunting alone isn't sufficient; combine mine-hunting with drone-based mine sweeping. The mine countermeasures ship might indeed be a drone mothership for both hunting and sweeping. Even large LPD-like ships could be considered (that would add hovercrafts and helicopters as additional MCM tools).
Don't ignore the capabilities and assets of allies or else you'll look foolish.
Forget about intricate SSGNs.

Meanwhile, the German navy should focus on its constitutional purpose; defence. The collective defence of Germany and its allies in Baltic Sea, Mediterranean and North Sea is a fine job description.



  1. Kevin Billings9 April 2009 at 23:21

    You write "Commander Henry J. Hendrix, U.S. Navy, published the article "Buy Ford, not Ferrari" in the Proceedings Magazine. It's an uncommon approach for USN personnel."

    Actually, it is not uncommon at all. Proceedings is the forum to do just that and has been since 1874. As pointed out in Admiral Stavridis' (the next EUCOM Commander) article in the August 2008 Proceedings


    Halsey, Nimitz and King all published in Proceedings as young officers -- not to mention Stavridis himself who is a prolific writer.

    One of the things that sets the US Navy apart from its counterparts in the US military, is that there is culture that encourages this type of discussion that extends from daily Wardroom discussions to publishing in journals like Proceedings.

  2. OK, that's a misunderstanding. I didn't mean the act of writing an article, but the content (especially the approach that's summed up in the title).

    Galrahn at Information Dissemination remarked that it was only the second article of an active navy officer in many years that publicly challenged the USN force structure planning.
    The other one was written by the same officer.

    Armor and infantry magazines were actually much better forums for critical articles (at least back in the 90's) than Proceedings was in this decade.