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Nomenclature

[ 11 ] November 29, 2012 |

In my latest at the Diplomat I call for a more standardized vocabulary of naval affairs:

Navies do a poor job of developing such a nomenclature, in part because they have good reasons to avoid standardized ship designations.  Civilian policymakers don’t like to hear that they’ve devoted a substantial portion of the government treasury to building a buying a light carrier (CVL); they’d prefer to think that they’ve invested state funds in an aircraft carrier comparable to those operated by the United States. On the other hand, the terms “aircraft carrier” and “destroyer” can have idiosyncratic negative political implications, pushing navies to refer to ships as “frigates” or “helicopter destroyers.”

Whatever its other merits, the Washington Naval Treaty and its follow up agreements established an international standard for ship types. By defining the terms battleship, aircraft carrier, heavy cruiser, and light cruiser, the treaty system created a warship typology that allowed relatively easy comparison across states.  Giving the typology legal and normative substance surely created some odd incentives, including aJapanese effort to build fleet carriers of less than 10,000 tons and a multinational “light cruiser” competition involving ships bristling with 6” guns and displacing in excess of 10,000 tons.  Nevertheless, it resulted in a system of de facto standardization, and consequently of defense acquisition transparency.

 

Comments (11)

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  1. On the other hand, the terms “aircraft carrier” and “destroyer” can have idiosyncratic negative political implications, pushing navies to refer to ships as “frigates” or “helicopter destroyers.”

    This strikes me as a “freedom fries” kind of dilemma.

    As in, ridiculous.

  2. Fake Irishman says:

    Interesting. It reminds me of the old story of how the British Navy managed to smuggle the Invincible class CVLs through a Labor-majority government as “through-deck” cruisers.

    • Dave says:

      Well, no. Compared to the cat&trap carriers being scrapped and cancelled, the Invincible class weren’t even close. There was no ‘smuggling’ involved, just bullshit.

      • Nathan of Perth says:

        Nonetheless, they were designated as cruisers in large part because anything that smelled of “aircraft carrier” was getting the axe as a part of the change in defence priorities (and the mad visisons of the future of guided missiles of the currents heads).

  3. cpinva says:

    which must have just scared the hell out of everyone, from capitol hill, to the shipbuilders themselves.

    Nevertheless, it resulted in a system of de facto standardization, and consequently of defense acquisition transparency.

    transparency is the very last thing wanted, by any of the above, with respect to acquisition, especially if the general public gets wind of such a thing.

  4. merl says:

    i was on a fast frigate which was commissioned as a destroyer escort, i always wondered why they changed it

  5. para says:

    John F: Soviet designations were very descriptive, its a Western misconception, that the point was deception. In the case of Kuznetsov the primary purpose of the ship was naval strike against USN CSGs via shipborne AShM, hence the “missile cruiser”. The aircraft carried were meant primarily to protect the ship, ie engaging incoming enemy fighters. In fact this characteristic is pointed out today as a major shortcoming of the Chinese carrier, as the design generates very low sortie rates, and AC carried cannot carry significant loads, as necessary for surface strike missions or any kind of stand-off ops. Kuznetsov really is more of a surface combatant than anything else.

    • Nathan of Perth says:

      It really was the failing of the design – trying to be too much at once. The missile nests rather restricted hanger space from what I recall, in addition to a number of other drawbacks. I don’t know to what extent the Chinese modified that part of the design.

  6. Pseudonym says:

    Do you really think nomenclature is a big enough issue to warrant this kind of naval-gazing?

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