Meet the Sloop
New Ships for New Roles
The recent pirate take-down by the Danish naval vessel Absalon, dubbed a Command and Support Ship, gives impetuous to this post concerning warship terminology. New Wars has been trying to get a handle on the ongoing revolution in ship designs, noting the disappearance of traditional types as they take on new roles and new missions in a new era.
For instance, we have detailed the disappearance of the traditional cruiser from the world wars (here, here, and here), with its sole remaining legacy being in numerous small V/STOL carriers in foreign service. Though the term “missile cruiser” still exists in the US Navy, it is really a legacy of the destroyer leaders (also called frigates) from the 1950s, as placing the new surface to air missiles on the large cruiser hull was considered too expensive, especially with stretched naval budgets going mostly for large new supercarriers and expensive and capable nuclear submarines.
So with the destroyer no longer a low cost, easy to construct jack of all trades, but a large carrier escort, the mantle of ASW and general purpose warship fell on the frigate. For the USA, this was a direct descendant of the destroyer/escort from the WW 2, which were built in many hundreds, utilized in all theaters of war with great distinction. In foreign navies, with their declining colonial assets meaning they had less of a need for large fleets, they could spend more time and funds on creating the perfect frigate.
So we see the traditional frigate today has morphed into another exquisite guided missile escort, examples being the Spanish F-100, the British Duke, and especially the older Type 22 Frigates, plus the German Sachsen class. Simultaneously there has also been a trend toward lower cost, but equally large frigates which can perform multi-functions, a “swiss army knife” of warships. This latter seems to be the final evolution of the frigate. Meet the Sloop.
The best definition I can give of the sloop is look at Absalon. According to the Danish Navy, here are the numerous functions in this large but still low cost package:
Main Tasks: Command platform land, air and Naval Forces, transport of personnel and material, military hospital ship or minelayer.
A tall order for any ship, but the Absalon and its often over-looked sister Esbern Snare pulls this off, and at a bargain price of $269 million US, on a 6300 ton hull (full load)! What makes these ship different from say, the average frigate like the American Perry FFG-7, is the large ramp doors to load cargo like an attack transport, or as an APD. In this role we see the sloop’s place in future warfare operating in the Green Water and supporting expeditionary littoral operations “from the sea”.
A Cavalcade of Sloops
While probably the best example, the Danish ship is not the only sloop out there. Ones which come to mind are the C-2 design of the British Future Surface Combatant, the Dutch Holland class, the BMT Venator, and the Austal Multi-Role Vessel. The LCS almost makes this list, except for its high speed and subsequent small fuel capacity. Low endurance is fine for a patrol boat, a fast attack craft, even a corvette, but for the sloop a primary requirement is presence, range, and persistence. The LCS is uncertain whether it is a Streetfighter or frigate, a sloop or a speed boat.
The sloop could easily be a command ship for an Influence Squadron. With corvettes, she could operate like the old destroyers leaders of the World Wars. An ideal function would be leading a force of PCs or assault boats into shallow waters on a anti-pirate or anti smuggling raid. She could be a mothership for coastal submarines. If necessary, she might carry extra fuel to “top off” smaller craft. The sloop would be a far better choice for cooperating with the Coast Guard than Aegis ships or high end frigates!
The following specs are not set in stone (and your criticism and advice is much appreciated), but here are the basics I’d like to see in the Future Sloop:
- Displacement-3000-6000 tons (less for a catamaran)
- Length-100-130 meters
- Draft-3-6 meters
- Speed- 25 to 30 knots
- Guns-Lots, mainly small caliber
- Missiles-point defense and cruise missiles
- Helicopters-Yes please!
- Other-Landing craft, RHIB, UAVs, UUVs, USVs, mine sweeping equipment