Humanitarian Peace Vessels

A reader passed along a piece about the future of U.S. Navy battle groups.
In “Danger Room: What’s Next In National Security? Navy Admiral Wants Do-Good Battlegroups,” the well-traveled and often prolific David Axe looks at the traditional carrier battle group and argues this heavily armed flotilla might not be the way for the U.S. Navy to navigate “today’s environment.” (Does anyone know what “today’s environment” really means?)

We love Axe’s stuff. His blog, “War is Boring,” is consistently a good read. It always is interesting to follow his underfunded travels to the next hot spot. But he seems to be parroting (if not overstating) what the Navy is trying to sell and this naval message is short on substance.

The proposal afloat calls for Humanitarian Service Groups, with the primary functions of training, disaster relief, and support of humanitarian projects. These hearts-and-minds missions (as transparent and patronizing as they truly are) have been proposed by naval leaders like Adm. James Starvridis, who is leaving his post as U.S. Southern Command chief to take over as the NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

The humanitarian gig has been a reality for some time. Recently, the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln was diverted to act as the U.S. headquarters for tsunami relief in Indonesia. The Navy was in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina. It was early on the scene after the tsunami that devastated Thailand in late 2004. If we correctly recall, the U.S. Great White Fleet was helping pull people out of the rubble in the aftermath of the catastrophic 1908 Messina (Sicily) earthquake, a humanitarian effort still commemorated by the Italians today.

While the Navy has based much around a carrier battle group, smaller forces have been assembled to meet varying missions. Aside from amphibious operations, a recent example is the Combined Task Force 151 that supports counterpiracy ops in the vast Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia.

As with such projects in a foreign country, training, medical, supplies, etc., would have to be arranged through the U.S. embassy. Other than the benefits of a U.S. hospital ship (and showing the flag) personnel, supplies, etc., could just as easily be flown in. The humanitarian service group essentially takes high-priced, high-tech warships and turns them into transports. Maybe they’ll toss some livestock on board and reenact life in the 19th century Navy.

Starvridis says he’s only looking at a small percentage of the incredible shrinking U.S. Navy to be involved in humanitarian ops. (Maybe the rest are in such bad shape? In his interview, Starvridis implies the aging fleet has seen better days.) And a 300-ship Navy? It appears the Navy might be wrestling with how to employ the 280-290 or so it has adrift right now.

Transporting a uniformed peace corps has its merits, but it is not a new idea and the Boys in Blue already do it well. Ah, but package this correctly and we are reasonably sure this idea will be a hit with lawmakers — which might translate into more than spare change to fund those $460 million (ha!) littoral CARE ships and other humanitarian peace vessels.

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