Where Are the ‘Streetfighter’ Ships Now That We Need Them?

The Washington Post reported today that the Iranian Navy has developed a fleet of small, inexpensive, heavily-armed patrol boats that could operate in swarms to attack and possibly sink large and expensive U.S. Navy ships operating in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. Navy could have its own swarms today, if it had not dismissed the idea for a small, light ship proposed by Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski in 2001, which he dubbed the “Streetfighter.” He first detailed that concept for the public in a front page Wall Street Journal article by Greg Jaffe (now with the Post) in July of that year.

Cebrowski argued then that buying a bunch of inexpensive ships -- rather than a few expensive ones -- would leave the Navy with a substantial force, even if an enemy sunk many of the small vessels, which his critics in the Navy derided as the “throwaway ship” concept.

The Streetfighter, Cebrowski said, could also take on missions in waters close to shore that the Navy’s carriers, cruisers and destroyers could not handle due to their size and draft --the situation it faces today in Iranian waters.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appointed Cebrowski to lead the Pentagon’s now defunct Office of Force Transformation in October 2001, where he continued to push --without success -- the Streetfighter concept.

Cebrowski died in 2005. I covered his last speech for Federal Computer Week at an AFCEA conference in San Diego that February, where he once again backed the Streetfighter.

Cebrowski said then he had sent Congress a plan that week for Navy transformation which called for a 500-plus ship fleet, many of them modeled on the Streefighter and 1,800 unmanned vessels.

He said that navies around the world had entered a new era. “This is the age of the small, the fast and the many . . . and we should get with it.”

It looks like the Iranian Navy paid more attention to this admonition than the U.S. Navy.