They are important because they foreshadow a major aspect of 21st century naval warfare - commerce raiding - to which our and other navies are poorly structured to respond.
A recent article in the Small Wars Journal supports this thesis.
The United States Navy needs more and smaller vessels to combat emerging asymmetric threats, Claude Berube asserts in The Post Oceanic Navy, the New Shadow Zones, and the U.S. Navy’s Force Structure Challenge.
Today's United States and other navies feature declining numbers of large ships, he states. Gaps in naval forces are therefore resulting. He states:
In a global period of disharmonic convergence where declining Western navies can no longer operate in great numbers and other navies lack the strength and/or experience to replace them, expanding maritime security gaps will provide opportunities for asymmetric threats and operations by criminal and hostile belligerent forces.
The Post-Oceanic Era could focus in part on maritime security gaps or “shadow zones.” The term “shadow zone” traditionally has been used to describe a set of environmental conditions in underwater acoustics in which sound cannot - or can only minimally - penetrate and area thereby providing a safe operating area for submarines. The term could also apply these modern maritime security gaps – littorals near a failed, failing, or belligerent state that no navy has the strength, experience, or authority to patrol.
Berube discusses several options:
- Maintaining order through NGO's.
- Develop "brown-" and "green-water" platforms
- Acquire corvette-sized ships from foreign shipyards
- Build non-traditional support ships.
There should be no question that the U.S. needs carriers, cruisers, and advanced aircraft andestroyers, but there are coming realities unless there are unexpected shifts in policy and funding. Without an investment in modern smaller craft en masse, the federal budget will continue to constrict the Navy’s size, limit its abilities in the littorals, and allow non-state actors to rise, hone and possibly share their skills with other actors.
It is truly remarkable that the Navy has gotten itself into this sort of bind. Commerce raiding dates to the 16th century, when Huguenot corsairs, British sea dogs, and Dutch sea beggars raided the Spanish main. The tradition continued. Much of the United States' naval activities during the Revolution and the War of 1812 were commerce raiding against the British. The Confederate Alabama was a famous commerce raider as was the German WWII Graf Spee.
So how the navy could have overlooked a revival in commerce raiding is remarkable.