Analysis: From Syria to South China Sea, navies cruise back into vogue

LONDON Mon Sep 30, 2013 10:03am EDT

The guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52), (front) pulls into formation with the French Marine Nationale anti-submarine frigate Jean de Vienne (D 643) during Exercise Proud Manta 2013 (POMA 13) in this February 26, 2013 handout photo provided by the U.S. Navy. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

The guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52), (front) pulls into formation with the French Marine Nationale anti-submarine frigate Jean de Vienne (D 643) during Exercise Proud Manta 2013 (POMA 13) in this February 26, 2013 handout photo provided by the U.S. Navy.

Credit: Reuters/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

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LONDON (Reuters) - After a quarter century of Middle Eastern land wars and a sharp fall in big powers' naval spending after the Cold War, sea power is back in vogue in response to the rise of China and Western reluctance to deploy ground troops in conflicts like Syria.

The greater interest in navies is being felt from the corridors of Washington to the pirate hunting grounds off Africa and the shipyards of Asia.

"You're going to see a much greater emphasis on using sea-based forces to produce an effect," said Admiral Gary Roughead, who retired as Chief of Naval Operations, the professional head of the U.S. navy, in 2011.

"You're seeing it in the Mediterranean, with Syria, and you're seeing it in the Pacific and the Middle East," said Roughead, who is now a visiting fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

India last month launched its first locally built aircraft carrier and a dozen such ships are to be completed worldwide in the next decade, including two U.S. Gerald R. Ford-class giants, two British vessels, a refurbished Russian carrier for India and one or more of the first indigenous carriers to be built by China.

U.S.-based consultancy AMI International estimates about $800 billion will be spent globally on naval programs in the next two decades, a quarter of it in Asia, which now surpasses austerity-hit Europe as the second-largest naval market after North America.

In April's 2014 budget, the U.S. Navy pulled ahead to win the biggest chunk of funding of all three services. The Pentagon requested $155 billion for the Navy, just under 30 percent of the total $527 billion baseline budget, which does not include contingency funding for Iraq and Afghanistan.

That did not take into account the automatic across-the-board spending cuts of "sequestration" that the Navy says could leave it with 10 percent less than its budget submission in 2014 if Congress cannot agree a deal to tackle the U.S. deficit.

"Sea power is growing in importance," said U.S. Rear Admiral Robert Kamensky, commander of NATO's submarine force, in a presentation on behalf of the U.S. Navy in London.

"We are experiencing increased demand ... at the same time as a reduction in resources."

Washington is moving ships from the Atlantic to Pacific in part to confront Beijing's People's Liberation Army Navy, seen the primary beneficiary of years of double-digit defense budget increases.

Beijing began operating its ex-Soviet carrier late last year, though it says it is not yet fully operational. It is also building submarines, patrol boats and other warships.

In September, state-backed China Shipbuilding Industry announced it planned to raise $1.4 billion through a private share sale to buy assets used for building warships, the first time Beijing had tapped the capital market to fund its military expansion.


Worried nearby nations - particularly those with maritime boundary disputes with China - are upgrading everything from radar to missiles and torpedoes.

Japan will next year see its largest defense spending rise in 22 years, purchasing patrol boats and helicopters and creating a force of marines. Australia is boosting its navy to include new assault ships, while Vietnam is buying Russian submarines.

The Philippines is dramatically expanding its once almost moribund force, acquiring two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters, Japanese patrol boats and a second-hand French warship.

Western defense firms struggling elsewhere are keen to get in on the act. BAE Systems is working with Thailand on building an offshore patrol boat, while other smaller firms are selling electronic equipment and weaponry.

Washington's ability to strike from the sea remains without parallel, going well beyond its 10 massive carriers, currently over half the global total.

Five U.S. navy destroyers and an unspecified number of submarines are still holding position off Syria, ready to make good on threats of a cruise missile strike should a U.S.-Russian deal to put Syrian chemical weapons beyond use collapse.

Still, if the sequestration budget cuts continue throughout the decade, the U.S. Navy says it could be left with 38 fewer ships and might have to consider cutting its carrier fleet to eight or nine.

Sources say spending cuts are already affecting major U.S. shipbuilders such as Huntingdon Ingalls, with projects delayed, including the construction of the new USS John F. Kennedy nuclear carrier.

In the Gulf, worries over Iran's swarms of small boat flotillas and the U.S. reduction of permanent carrier presence from two taskforces to one has prompted Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to buy and build new patrol boats.

Such deals can be highly lucrative. In July, Saudi Arabia asked to buy 30 Mark V special forces-style patrol boats worth $1.2 billion from unlisted Mississippi-based Halter Marine Inc.

In number of ships, many European fleets - including Britain's Royal Navy, once the world's pre-eminent maritime force - are now at their smallest in centuries. Britain has spent the last three years without a single operational aircraft carrier.

Though smaller, European navies remain potent. Spain, France and Italy have all built new carriers since 2000, the latter two using theirs heavily during the 2011 Libya war.

Britain's "Queen Elizabeth" class - built by a BAE Systems-led consortium, with the first due to launch in 2014 - will be even more capable, the Royal Navy says, even if they will not have Lockheed Martin F-35 jets to fly for at least three years. By 2022, naval spending will have increased to 46 percent of Britain's entire defense equipment budget.

"It amounts to nothing less than a maritime renaissance," Britain's First Sea Lord Admiral George Zambellas told an arms fair in London. "The Navy is back in business."

(Editing by Will Waterman)

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Comments (7)
StigTW wrote:
Except that unlike Naval years gone by your opponent doesn’t need a lot of navy to sink your 100million$ ship anymore. US military ship building is wildly over priced. (And most likely excessive naval projections put sailors in unnecessary danger).

Sep 30, 2013 12:37pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
RobertFrost wrote:
The trend towards increased involvement of naval resources is not new, as one saw in the invasions of Afghanistan (Commander Task Force 50) and Iraq (Combined task force of the Fifth and Seventh Fleets).

Further, it is not as a result of reduction of the use of ground forces, as was seen in these two invasions, and indeed, in preparation for what was called the “limited attack” on Syria last month, when several troop carriers, including the USS San Antonio.

The increased involvement more than flotilla which of in the It is attributed mainly to two factors:

1. The development of the self-guided (Cruz) Missiles. These are typically limited to a flight of a maximum of some 1000 nautical miles.

2. The inability of the Air Force to operate freely and with adequate strength, from nearby bases, particularly during the Iraq invasion.

In the case of Syria, the difficulties were mainly two:

1. The need to keep the Air Force bases in Turkey away from the conflict to prevent their attack by Syrian ballistic missiles.

2. To keep Turkey, as much as possible, out of the military conflict to prevent a corresponding involvement of Iran, and possibly Russia, who had amassed its own naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The article may have mentioned the corresponding advances in the design of Surface-to-Sea missiles expanded, at least in Russia and China, and now we hear, Iran. An example of the use of such missiles was observed in the July 2006 Israel’s invasion of the Lebanon, when the Israeli INS Hanit was struck and disabled by a Hizbullah missile on 14th July.

Sep 30, 2013 2:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Yea StigTW I guess these navy guys don’t (or won’t) remember the Falkland Islands war.

Sep 30, 2013 2:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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