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Nelson’s Lament: The Woes of Frigate Navies

May 19, 2010

The British Royal Navy frigate HMS Iron Duke (F234).

Was I to die this moment, ‘Want of Frigates’ would be found stamped on my heart.

Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson

The above complaint is surprising coming from one of the primary arbiters of conventional sea combat, leading the battleline to immortal victory at Trafalgar . Yet, Nelson understood the complications of sea power, and that you could not maintain control with battleships alone. Today modern admirals and their sailors are increasingly flustered, grappling with the same problem of trying to defend too much sea with too few ships. The following story is from W.G. Dunlop at the AFP:

Navies can intercept Somali pirate skiffs and foil hijackings but fighting waves of attacks at sea will not solve the problem, which is rooted in instability on land in Somalia, naval leaders said.
Anti-piracy efforts “will not actually resolve the base problem of why piracy is occurring … That solution lies in the stabilisation” of Somalia, Commodore Bob Tarrant, director of Britain’s Royal Navy staff, told AFP at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in Abu Dhabi.
“The symptoms (piracy) we’re seeing now off Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden, are clearly an outcome of what’s going on on the ground” there, said Australia’s navy chief, Vice Admiral Russell Crane.
“As sailors, we’re really just treating the symptoms,” not the root of the problem.

Good point, except the troubles on land should not hinder the sailor from performing his primary duty, maintaining the rule of law on the sea.

“There’s a vast area to patrol,” Tarrant said. “The pirates are an audacious bunch, and we’ve seen pirate attacks taking place as much as one thousand miles (1,600 kilometres) from the coast of Somalia.”
“Despite all these navies, and I think there are some 28 nations working together in this effort, you cannot possibly patrol and protect all the time.”

The frigates have been dealing with individual attacks quite well, and even made some headlines, but there are too few of them to make a lasting effect. This last problem has the admirals repeating the mantra that “piracy can only be defeated on land”, an astonishing statement for one service to degrade its own abilities, and promote another, meaning the ground forces.

Here is a golden opportunity for navies to ask for more hulls in the water, and lots of them, for historically navies have been essential in defeating outbreaks of brigandage on the high seas. Ancient Rome at its height, and the mighty Royal Navy, all were forced to contend with pirates at some point. Even the US Navy could trace its birth and its first naval heroes to the Wars against the Barbary Pirates.

We need small wars to prepare for the Big Wars, but for the Navy to only prepare for Big Wars, that never seem to come, means we are allowing a minor problem to grow and fester until it is becoming a major sore.

*****

Despite the effort, each of these 28 navies in the Gulf only deploy on average one or two ships. On total there are only 30-40 warships in the region, and often less. The problem is, most of these nations deploy high end missile frigates to the region, impressive on paper with advanced weapons, sensors, and long range helicopters, so they can only afford to send a few at a time. The expense cuts deeply into your presence, and you lose the ability to maintain control. Here is David Axe pointing to a recent incident in the Gulf concerning one of Norway’s modern Aegis frigates:

“The area that the coalition has to cover is enormous,” the skipper admitted. “Even though modern warships, with their sophisticated equipment, can monitor and conduct surveillance over large areas, it is impossible to be in more than one place at the same time.”
Actually, a vessel can be in two places at the same time, if she carries a helicopter. But Nansen sailed with her hangar empty, owing to delays in Norway’s procurement of the NH-90 naval chopper. Sandquist called the absence of a helicopter a “deficiency.”

 Helicopters today are so advanced and capable, they are losing their practicality, but we still need them. Because they are so capable, you can do less with more, but they still need many platforms to operate with, hulls being the boots on the ground for the Navy. So you deploy fewer helos, but deploy them more wisely, perhaps one aircraft operating with 6 small warships. A large mothership or small carrier is better able to operate and support the large and complicated helos like the Merlin, the NH90, or the Seahawk than a 3000-5000 ton frigate, which must also make room for crew, weapon stocks, fuel, etc. If you separate the aviation requirement from the patrol vessel you can buy a great many vessels.

*****

Canada recently had an interesting answer to the problems facing its fleet, but I fear it may not be  a lasting one. Faced with a shrinking budget and continuous delayed promises from government over the state of its fleet, the Vice Admiral in charge chose a more direct route, and an effective one. In order to maintain his force of 12 frigates built during the 1980s and 1990s, the admiral planned to cut 6 patrol ships, and reduce operations and weapons systems manning on several other ships.

It was an audacious move in the midst of celebrating the Navy’s 100th anniversary, and when news leaked out, there was widespread outrage. The order for cuts was rescinded, the money for operations was found, probably taken from another essential function, and the Navy was saved. It is only a temporary fix however, considering the country’s huge coastline, and the expense of building modern warships. Not shrinking seems to be the major goal for Western navies, but the problems of the Middle East and defending our own shorelines call for increases greatly beyond the handful of frigates we can afford.

A better way would be for Canada to operate very few of the high-end warships she can’t afford to operate, let alone replace. For instance, the Navy could keep 2-3  helo-capable ships in service for each coast, while these sail with 4-6 corvettes each, expanding the reach of the high end warships’ capability instead of concentrating it in a single package.

*****

The British Royal Navy, also seems to have settled the type of fleet she will deploy in this new century. Again we hear from David Axe in a separate post titled “English-Speaking Navies Reorganize“:

Today, the escort forces numbers 22. With six new, large Type 45 destroyers under construction and 17 Type 26 frigates planned, that number might grow by one. Twenty-three escorts is just enough for standing patrols in the South Atlantic, Mediterranean and Caribbean, plus counter-piracy work and escort duty for the two 60,000-ton Queen Elizabeth-class carriers due to begin entering the fleet in 2016…

By consolidating its ready naval power into a single entity, the U.K. has effectively answered the question facing many countries: should they field small but powerful navies for conventional operations, or large low-tech navies that can distribute vessels widely for security operations versus pirates, smugglers and other “irregular” enemies. The Royal Navy is preparing for singular, intensive combat rather than for the ongoing demands of long-term security patrols.

It is difficult to see where this type of warfare would ever occur again. Is Argentina in any condition to face such conventional firepower as in 1982? Will Britain ever conduct an operation such as invading Saddam’s Iraq? Does the Royal Navy plan on contending with China on the the side of the world, the only other remotely peer foe? But the problems of piracy, smuggling, and coastal defense from terrorism are here and now, and the Royal Navy has stood among the best at this type of warfare, it’s premier drug buster HMS Iron Duke staying consistently in the headlines.

*****

Smaller warships are the answer. Corvettes of today are one-third the size of modern frigates, and one-third the price or less. They are more easily adaptable to shallow water but also the Blue Water if needed. It is wrong to consider them less capable, because when you build them in quantity you are dispersing, not losing capability. Plus, you are solving your presence problem at the same time. The ideal ship, the frigate of the future would possess NONE of the attributes considered essential in modern warship design:

  1. Superb seakeeping (It’s a shallow water animal, geared for coastal warfare).
  2. Long range and endurance (No more than necessary, since it will operate either close to naval ports or in conjunction with motherships).
  3. A helicopter or hangar (other than a landing pad).

 The inflated specifications for the perfect vessel means you have more luxury combat ships today than real warships. Corvettes provide adequate amounts of endurance and capability for their operating environment. They are about the size of frigates and destroyers in World War 2. For their size, they are the most heavily armed warships available. In contrast, Navies today are having to send their expensive frigates to sea without adequate armament, minimally manned, and in fewer numbers.

Corvettes probably should not carry the now-considered-essential helicopter hangar, to keep down costs and size which is killing the frigates. This doesn’t mean the small warship works without airpower. Instead they will operate in conjunction with a few large aviation ships and land based air.  Thats how you build a fleet, instead of shrinking force of “do everything nothing well” battleships. Thats how you increase numbers, reduce costs, and limit complications in the design. It how you maintain presence and control.

*****

The Republic of Singapore Navy missile corvette RSS Vengeance.

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43 Comments leave one →
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  2. Michael permalink
    April 1, 2012 2:53 am

    Staring at a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. Corvette: a small warship designed for convoy escort duty.

    Meaning it a) has to keep up with the convoy for as long as it takes to get to safety and b) have a reasonable chance of beating whatever enemy you think has designs on said convoy. Given that the convoys (if we started using them again) would consist of modern merchant shipping of various types and the enemy would be pirates in motor boats, how many of the ships currently labeled ‘corvette’ would be able to do that job? If so, are any of those producible, financially speaking, in large enough numbers to do the job? If not, what abilities would such a craft need and how much extra capacity (for patrol ops or more formidable enemies) could be added before the accountants start complaining?

  3. Scott B. permalink
    May 25, 2010 3:12 am

    CBD said, “3 Hamina-like FACs adopted for patrol duties give a single Absalon a run for its money in my book (in terms of sea control)…”

    What Smitty said…

  4. B.Smitty permalink
    May 22, 2010 9:14 am

    CBD said, “. 3 Hamina-like FACs adopted for patrol duties give a single Absalon a run for its money in my book (in terms of sea control)…

    I don’t think this at all the case. Try taking those three Haminas, sail them to the other side of the world, sustain and support them at sea for months and then have their tired, beat up, cramped crews do anything useful.

    More likely, those Haminas (only 500nm range) would have to be lifted via FLO/FLO, and then have a friendly port somewhere near their operating area to sustain them. They are only meant to be at sea for around 5 days, so they’ll need near full time logistics support from another vessel.

    OTOH, Absalon can deploy the entire way without assistance (9000nm range), and stay on station for 28 days or more with no replenishment.

    Haminas can’t carry or operate any helicopters (can’t even land one). The Absalon can carry two, big, long-ranged EH101s, which can patrol hundreds of miles away from the ship.

    So in terms of expeditionary sea control, there’s no comparison, the Absalon wins hands down.

  5. Guess who? permalink
    May 21, 2010 9:48 pm

    Back onto the cost of vessels, the last T23 (HMS St. Albans, 2002) cost ~£180mn adjusted for inflation which equates to ~$260mn by 2002 or 2010 exchange rates (they’re similar)

  6. CBD permalink
    May 21, 2010 7:43 pm

    “You’ve just proven the exact point I’ve been trying to make for some time, without much result apparently : STEEL IS CHEAP AND AIR IS FREE.”

    But bigger ships end up with bigger guns, more missiles and more missions on one hull…and thus have fewer ships doing more missions.

    “Going BIG won’t cost much more (and might even cost less), and will produce warships that possess most or all of the critical attributes discussed so many times on this blog.”
    It won’t cost much more, but it will cost more. The key to the Absalon program was good decisions being made at key times. The USN could have a highly capable patrol frigate or corvette for between 100 and 300 million dollars, if it ever played its cards properly and focus the mission…but it won’t and can’t.

    “Again, what you guys of the corvette ilk should really do is start to THINK BIG, not small !!!”
    I’m totally in favor of a larger ship for certain hybrid missions…but I also see the need for smaller craft. 3 Hamina-like FACs adopted for patrol duties give a single Absalon a run for its money in my book (in terms of sea control)…but 3 such patrol ships and a hybrid frigate/amphib together would be a real winning combination…and still cheaper to buy than a single LCS.

    But the problem is not in size.

    “1) Is labor more expensive in the US than in Denmark ?
    .
    .
    .
    .
    You would then realize that the common answer to all of the above (and many more questions) is NO.”
    Fair, but competent ship building labor IS more expensive in the US, we have so little of it…and even less of that is available for such projects.

    Ships in the US are expensive because of poor DoD/DoN work on planning projects, outlining the desired capabilities and performing proper oversight activities.

    Ships are more expensive in the US because contractors usually have little incentive (other than continued production) to come in under cost and they often manage to show increased costs with additional large items…except when it means avoiding a program cancellation.

    Ships are more expensive in the US because we lack an industrial base that produces thousands and thousands of skilled laborers that can produce the ships necessary for our fleet. While 2 Absalons and 3 Huitfeldts will be produced over 10 years (2003-2013), the USN would probably need that many to be produced every 2 years to properly perform its duties and fill in for the lost numbers of Perry-class frigates (8-9 of which were entered into service in some peak years). For the Perry class, we had 3 major American shipyards dedicated to producing the Perry vessels…now we barely have 3 major American shipyards. If you could produce the Absalon/Huitfeldt clone at NASSCO, that would only add one shipyard…and given the prices of the T-AKE support ships, I’m doubting that they’d produce a $300-400M frigate in the near future. Avondale will give you one for just over a billion if you ask right (but don’t ask about workmanship).

    “You might quit this defeatist posture (*we can’t do it*) and ask yourself THE RIGHT QUESTION : how are we going to do it !!!”
    By promoting smaller shipyards to progressively more work in order to build up a capacity based on a competent labor force?
    By buying from BIW and not NGSB when NGSB screws up ships? By constructing many smaller, easier to build vessels in the small yards, thus educating a work force as the improvements necessary for the construction of larger vessels are implemented?

    There are many options…but the Pentagon isn’t taking them and the big Shipyards are sucking up any free floating money in the USN budget to support their poor work habits.

    “Never forget that America was born and remains a CAN-DO Nation. A Nation that THINKS BIG, and not small !!!”
    A nation that thinks about what needs to be done and brings together many individuals to do it…each contributing according to his ability for the common purpose. It’s not about thinking physically big, it’s about thinking about the BIG IDEA.

    It’s also about HUNGER. The USN has been able to afford poor ideas, poor planning and poor execution because it hasn’t needed to be hungry for the past 20 years. No real opponent to drive construction, no real threat to counter…and few pragmatic, combat-experienced officers to shrug off the frivolous systems in favor of core competencies. And they’ve had budgets sufficient to feed a leaner, more FORD-equipped navy through an entire war…and have only managed to produce a small, high-end fleet that can’t conduct low-level operations without sending a high-end asset.

    As far as corvette lovers supporting the LCS, most who understood the Streetfighter subject were aghast to see the expansion of the LCS and HSV programs into large ship construction projects, with accordingly large budgets. Give the USN planners the hull of the Absalon class and you’ll see a massive well deck, larger hangar, more weapons and greater costs appear in that vessel…and a price 4 times what the Danish paid for their version.

    Why? It is because their version is good enough for their missions and the USN version would need to “strategically overmatch projected peer and asymmetric forces in a right-sized appropriate force manner.” Or, in other words, be so good at everything that it can do one thing (capable of doing 4 things, but only one at a time) and costs as much as 4 ships each doing one thing.

    Air and steel are cheap…but poor planning, over-specification and under-management are good ways to ruin the best of concepts.

  7. Scott B. permalink
    May 21, 2010 5:41 pm

    What reformers should realize instead is that the reason why what they were sold as a being Ford costs as much as a Ferrari is because it’s a Ferrari and not a Ford !!!

    Once you realize that, what you try to do is look around to find out whether there’s something out there that might do the job of a Ford and cost as much as a Ford. IOW, a Ford that’s a Ford, and not a Ferrari…

    And you know what ? There is such a thing out there.

    Some people call it Command & Support Ship, other people call it Station Wagon Frigate or Expeditionary Frigate.

    No matter how you want to call it, because, at the end of the day, it’s a Ford that costs what a Ford should cost and that’s “exactly what the LCS should have been”, as Stuart Slade and others pointed out so many times.

    Sadly, when confronted with the LCS disaster (a program they supported very strongly BTW), the pro-corvette folks think like this :

    “Hey, this Ford costs as much as a Ferrari. Let’s build a bunch of bicycles instead !!!”

    And they don’t even realize that the bicycle will end up costing as much as a Ferrari, because what they do is re-run the exact same software that lead to the LCS disaster and merely hope that re-booting the system will remove all the bugs.

    Talk about Self-Inflicted Wounds !!!

  8. Scott B. permalink
    May 21, 2010 5:10 pm

    CBD said : “The mode of construction and claimed resultant costs of these twin ship classes are stunningly lower than any comparable ships…truly outliers and, unfortunately, unlikely to be obtained by means of the US shipbuilding firms at anything like an equivalent price.”

    At the risk of repeating myself again, rather than being so defeatist, what you should is start to ask yourself the following questions :

    1) Is labor more expensive in the US than in Denmark ?

    2) Is steel more expensive in the US than in Denmark ?

    3) Are diesel engines more expensive in the US than in Denmark ?

    4) Is a 5″ gun more expensive in the US than in Denmark ?

    5) Is a Mark-48 GMVLS more expensive in the US than in Denmark ?

    6) Is a Harpoon launcher more expensive in the US than in Denmark ?

    7) Is piping more expensive in the US than in Denmark ?

    8) Are pumps more expensive in the US than in Denmark ?

    You would then realize that the common answer to all of the above (and many more questions) is NO.

    You might quit this defeatist posture (*we can’t do it*) and ask yourself THE RIGHT QUESTION : how are we going to do it !!!

    Never forget that America was born and remains a CAN-DO Nation. A Nation that THINKS BIG, and not small !!!

  9. Scott B. permalink
    May 21, 2010 4:46 pm

    CBD said : “Valour MEKO A200 (for South Africa)-$327 million*
    Braunschweig K-130 Corvette – $309 million
    Kedah Corvette (MEKO A100 for Malaysia)-$300 million

    *- these are armed more like a corvette or, using a nearly equivalent term, patrol frigate rather than the modern, heavily armed european frigates.”

    You’ve just proven the exact point I’ve been trying to make for some time, without much result apparently : STEEL IS CHEAP AND AIR IS FREE.

    Going BIG won’t cost much more (and might even cost less), and will produce warships that possess most or all of the critical attributes discussed so many times on this blog.

    Again, what you guys of the corvette ilk should really do is start to THINK BIG, not small !!!

  10. CBD permalink
    May 21, 2010 2:26 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Corvettes of today are one-third the size of modern frigates, and one-third the price or less.”

    One-third the price of less ?

    Quick reality check straight from the Warship Costs section…

    Scott,
    You’ve got to compare apples to apples. That is, shipyard to shipyard. Ship type to ship type. We’ve all already covered how the modern uses of the terms “frigate” “destroyer” and “corvette” have only a loose basis in the traditional distinctions. Let’s break the ships down by country of origin

    Germany:
    Sachsen Type 124 Frigate -$1.06 billion
    Type 125 (original estimate: 4 ships for 2.2B Euros): ~$690M
    Type 125 (as estimated by the accountants: 4 ships for $3B Euros): $942M

    Valour MEKO A200 (for South Africa)-$327 million*
    Braunschweig K-130 Corvette – $309 million
    Kedah Corvette (MEKO A100 for Malaysia)-$300 million
    New Israeli MEKO/CSL Corvette – (est.) ~$300M

    *- these are armed more like a corvette or, using a nearly equivalent term, patrol frigate rather than the modern, heavily armed european frigates.

    Thus, for Germany, a well armed frigate or destroyer is about 3x as expensive as a well-armed corvette/patrol frigate.

    England (BAE/VT):
    Daring Type 45 (for UK)-$976 million
    Type 23 Frigate- $471 million*
    Nakhoda Ragam class (patrol frigate for Brunei, as contracted)- $400 million
    Khareef Corvette/OPV (for Oman)-$262 million

    In the case of England’s production systems, it would seem that the benefit has shrunk to only about 1:2/2.5…with only a relatively small increase in cost between the light frigates and their heavier siblings.
    *- Based on cost estimate for latest Type 23, adjusted for inflation (1988 to 2010).

    Turkey
    In the case of Turkey, many of their Frigates were bought/gifted from foreign countries, with a few being constructed in Germany & Turkey (following the Meko A200 design, with modifications). Those craft likely cost about what the Valour class costs.

    The TF-2000 project (an expanded version of the frigate variant of the MILGEM) is projected to cost about $500M per vessel.

    MILGEM corvettes (Turkey)-$250 million

    Given the vagaries involved in estimating the Turkish ship costs, the Turkish MILGEM cannot be readily compared to other frigates.

    Denmark
    Now, the case of Denmark, the only comparable ship of recent vintage is the Thetis class patrol frigate, but prices are not readily available for comparison. The mode of construction and claimed resultant costs of these twin ship classes are stunningly lower than any comparable ships…truly outliers and, unfortunately, unlikely to be obtained by means of the US shipbuilding firms at anything like an equivalent price.
    Absalon (Denmark)-$269 million
    Iver Huitfeldt (Denmark)-$332 millon

    Sweden
    As far as the Visby project, there’s not much room for comparison, as there are no larger Swedish vessels to be compared to that Swedish product. Its construction methods are also without comparison. It stands apart in those regards.

    Overall, I don’t see a significant shift in the ratio of costs from market to market, although we can readily pick the lowest cost frigates and the highest cost corvettes to compare, the distinction between the classes is more often doctrinal and opinion based than in clear distinctions of form. The higher end frigates are clearly distinct from the lower-end patrol frigates…but how do you distinguish a patrol frigate from a corvette? That’s a question I don’t know how to answer.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 21, 2010 5:06 am

    “Coast Guard cutter sort of ship?”

    Thats my impression. It certainly would help with the presence problem, which seems to be why the Navy can’t conquer the pirates. You could afford a couple dozen patrol ships for the price of one frigate, and spread your net.

  12. Jacob permalink
    May 21, 2010 5:01 am

    Wouldn’t the ideal anti-piracy ship be a Coast Guard cutter sort of ship? Just a gun, some marines/SEALs on board, and enough armor to shrug off RPG-7’s. Maybe the USN can just lease some from the USCG.

  13. Scott B. permalink
    May 20, 2010 5:54 am

    Guess who said : “especially once the RoRo deck and all the other bells and whistles the RDN have on their frigates”

    1) There’s no RoRo deck on the Ivar Huitfeldt.

    2) A RoRo deck is not something that drives costs up dramatically. A RoRo deck is mainly steel (which is CHEAP) and air (which is FREE).

    3) It’s not clear what *other bells and whistles* the RDN might have on their frigates. Actually, I have no idea what such *bells and whistles* might be. Perhaps you could be more specific and provide actual examples ?

  14. Scott B. permalink
    May 20, 2010 5:50 am

    Guess who said : “the figures quoted for the Danish frigates are too low, the Danes have a dodgy method of releasing these figures”

    The figures given on the Danish MoD website are :

    For the Absalon program : DKK 2,500 million for 2 ships, i.e. about $206 million per ship based on current exchange rate (DKK 1.00 = USD 0.165).

    For the Ivar Huitfeldt program : DKK 4,700 million for 3 ships, i.e. about $258 million per ship based on current exchange rate (DKK 1.00 = USD 0.165).

    If you have a credible source showing why these figures that come straight from the Danish MOD are *too low* as you proclaim, I’d love to take a close look at it.

    Meanwhile, it is safe to assume that the Danish MoD folks know much better than you do about these programs.

  15. mark scease permalink
    May 20, 2010 1:32 am

    I really hope I’m not the first to state this; The only solution is to destroy the forces ashore. We can build them up again later, but it is asking too much for any reasonable amount of ships to control the threat we are faced with in the IO today. Grow a set and park a couple of carriers off the coast and bomb, strafe, and destroy. We don’t exactly owe these scum anything. Send in aid, hopefully, by raft at a later date.

  16. Guess who? permalink
    May 19, 2010 7:49 pm

    The problem isn’t the size of warships if you lengthen a 2,500T Corvette into a 4,000T frigate the cost increases are about 10% whole life costs and the increase in capacity is measured in a scale of magnitudes and for the same power plant speed would be reduced by 10~15% (28kts vs 32kts for example, if that 32kts was necessary it is easily satisfied by more powerful diesels which are dirt cheap!)

    The problem is solved by producing warships that are designed for a specific task and avoiding a capacity blur between warship classes, a multi role vessel can only perform 1 task to the best of it’s ability at once, either every mission suffers or others are ignored at the expense of another, which is why I’m not a fan of things like: Tomahawks on T45, ASTER on T26, the whole concept of Arleigh Burke class, etc.

    In the case of the Royal Navy there needs to be serious changes, there’s not going to be a huge increase in funding any time soon (unless Russia doubles defence spending or Argentina build a carrier… Reckon we can sell them HMS Invincible as an excuse to increase defence spending?)

    You’ve quoted Type 26 as a plan of 17 units (any chance you have a source? it sounds rather suspect; 17 is a direct 1:1 replacement of T22B3 and remaining T23), as I’ve explained to many there’s no requirement for any more or less than 8, as the main ASW asset in the RN she will bare the T2087 TAS, there are only 8 T23s equipped with the upgraded TAS and it’s highly unlikely anymore will be built, in that sense T26 will replace T23 as the primary ASW vessel, but will inherit the C&C of T22B3 and will serve a task force flagships on minor operations, the addition of land attack missiles is really owing to the fact frigates are cheaper to deploy than SSNs or Carriers and she’ll be big enough and there’s enough numbers, perfect! although looking at initial concepts it looks like the MoD/BAe are managing this wrong, she’s got a stern ramp/mission bay, mother/daughter hangar arrangement (ingenious way of making a hangar for 2 large helicopters into a hangar for 1 large helicopters and a little dinky UAV hangar bolted to the side where in reality the stern ramp/mission bay and a UAV hangar are added unnecessary costs, a conventional twin Merlin hangar is better suited to the mission of the vessel

    to fill out the fleet was the C.2 requirement, for a GP frigate although if what I’ve read is true it’s a sad shame. The closest match to the ideal C.2 requirement is the conceptual DCNS FM400, the main design constraint is cost and operational costs; no larger than 4,500T, hangar for 1 heavy helicopter, 8x Sylver VLS cell (32xCAMM), Stern ramp/RHIB deck, would definitely leave some change from £200mn/$325mn

    then there was C.3, I think that’s pretty much dead in the water now, BMT Venator was posted here in the summer last year, that was aimed at satisfying the C.3 requirement. admittedly that would’ve been “a £40 solution to a £10 problem”; BMT Venator had CAMM and all sorts it was a frigate without an organic air element, complete waste of money but still would’ve cost well in excess of £100mn, C.3 is better thought of as an oceanic patrol vessel (Larger HMS Clyde) and a stern ramp/mission deck, pad and hangar, (105m? 2,500T?) no frills warship, no SHORADS such as CAMM, no VLS whatsoever, could possibly extend to SeaRAM if there was money for it (there is definitely intent for it in the RN; I remember SeaRAM trials were carried out on HMS York about 10 years ago)

    BTW: the figures quoted for the Danish frigates are too low, the Danes have a dodgy method of releasing these figures IIRC but there’s no way in hell of developing a 6,500T AAW warship for £250mn (you couldn’t built a 6,500T ASW warship for that price) especially once the RoRo deck and all the other bells and whistles the RDN have on their frigates… while we’re on the subject the €360mn for Juan Carlos I is the cost of the raw hull, actual figures are more than twice this but finding a credible source is another matter

  17. Chuck Hill permalink
    May 19, 2010 6:17 pm

    The other thing that happens here is that displacement is thrown around without much qualification as to type. In fact Gearing class destroyers were almost 3,500 tons full load and even the Fletchers were albout 3,000 tons, much larger than the magical “1,000 tons.”

    Even the Flower Class of WWII were almost 1,400 tons, full load.

    Since earlier ships were typically described in terms of “standard tons” and modern ships are described in terms of full load, there appears to be more growth than is really the case.

  18. Hudson permalink
    May 19, 2010 5:20 pm

    “Corvettes probably should not carry the now-considered-essential helicopter hangar, to keep down costs and size which is killing the frigates. This doesn’t mean the small warship works without airpower. Instead they will operate in conjunction with a few large aviation ships and land based air.”

    Mike, I agree with you here, in that smaller ships certainly have a function in the Navy, particularly in littoral waters. My idea of a lcs is not LCS or SF-1 up-gunned, but a ship based on the Fletcher class destroyer, or even the smaller DE. The Fletcher II might carry two 5″ guns, two 2×4 Essm mounts, two CIWS (Phalanx or Millennium) plus assorted 25mm and .50 caliber, or even the original 20mm Oerlikon–the only gun known to shoot down a cruise missile headed toward the ship–plus ASW torpedoes and mine racks.

    No helo and no VLS. Oh, plus armor and a small UAV spotter. In other words, a ship built to fight in the littorals between the semi-decks and shore. To slug it out, if necessary, with shore batteries. It would provide horizon-to-horizon protection to the lightly armed semi-decks, which would provide aviation. That would be in the spirit of netcentric warfare, meaning different ships that have a symbiotic relation to one another rather than LCS, which is a smaller version of the semi-deck (LPD, etc.), neither frigate nor gunboat.

    Without the helo, it would not operate independently as a frigate could. But so what. Fletcher II would be useful, hard hitting, and not too expensive. As to crew comfort, well, I don’t know. But you can’t ignore the tremendous record of accomplishment of these ships in WWII. They are not exactly small at 376ft. I’ll bet JFK found a way to relax aboard PT-109.

  19. Joe permalink
    May 19, 2010 4:54 pm

    As one report says about the Russian Navy: If the Russian Navy does not procure more new equipment, the entire Navy will consist of less than 50 vessels by 2019.

    And not knowing the full depth of defense cuts to come in GB, the Royal Navy & Russian Navy might be services heading in the same direction for different reasons.

  20. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 4:41 pm

    Mike Burleson said : ” The inflated specifications for the perfect vessel means you have more luxury combat ships today than real warships. Corvettes provide adequate amounts of endurance and capability for their operating environment. They are about the size of frigates and destroyers in World War 2.”

    The recurring theme of how today’s corvettes are *about the size of frigates and destroyers in WW2* reminds me of what the much regretted DK Brown wrote in his “Nelson to Vanguard” on the subject of human factors in the chapter dedicated to Escorts (p. 134) :

    “Today, it is recognized that the combat efficiency of the crew is increased if they are well fed and can rest properly when off duty but this was not recognized during the war and British ships fell well short of what was possible and desirable. There was an impression that sailors were tough and almost revelled in discomfort; in particular, it was thought that discomfort was necessary to keep men awake when on duty.”

    IOW, crew comfort, far from being a luxury, is actually paramount to the combat efficiency of a WARship, and is therefore the kind of critical attributes that a Navy meant to fight should not compromise with !!!

  21. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 19, 2010 2:44 pm

    Russia? I suppose its possible, though that fleet is pretty run down.

    Oh wait, I forgot carriers aren’t supposed to fight other carriers! That discussion makes the admirals uncomfortable!

  22. hokie_1997 permalink
    May 19, 2010 2:29 pm

    Mike B wrote: Does the Royal Navy plan on contending with China on the the side of the world, the only other remotely peer foe?

    ****

    The sun has long ago set on the British Empire in the East. I wouldn’t think that Great Britain would offer more than a token force in the event of a China-Taiwan flare-up.

    I would think they might be a little more concerned about a more historical foe – Russia. With 1 CV, 25+ cruisers & destroyers, and 30+ SSNs and SSKs, I think the Russian Navy could definitely give the RN a run for its money.

  23. Hudson permalink
    May 19, 2010 12:19 pm

    What a great quote by Lord Nelson. No man, or woman, has loved a frigate more.

  24. Marcase permalink
    May 19, 2010 11:53 am

    Some relevant highlights from Jane’s June 2008 article –

    “Big is beautiful for RNLN’s new Patrol Ship sentinels”.

    The term ‘Patrol Ship’ is explained as a vessel –

    “…optimised for constabulary operations to maintain security and counter criminal activity at sea”, adding: “We are talking of a vessel at the low intensity end of the military spectrum, one optimised for coast guard tasks, naval presence, maritime security operations, maritime interdiction, disaster relief, evacuation and search and rescue.”

    Some highlights regarding the Patrol Ships larger size –

    “Initially the displacement was set at around 3,000 tons and the length at about 100 m. During the design phase, however, the displacement stadily increased to [provide] a stable platform for helicopter operations at Sea Stae 5, to improve standards for crew accommodation, to accommodate ballistic protection and to reduce construction costs by adopting DNV Naval Rules.
    “The Requirement to provide a stable platform for helicopter operations and the necessity to accommodate a relatively heavy integrated mast resulted in a lower length/beam ratio than normal for ships of this size.”

    “…By the time the final general arrangement was frozen in October 2007, it had grown to 108 m overall and 3,750 tons.”

    “We have adopted the so-called Enlarged Ship concept (…) extending the size of the hull forward so as to gain benefits of better seakeeping and improved vertical accelerations in the main operations areas, which are now positioned close to the centre of the ship’s length [and thus experienced reduced ship motions]. The final hullform was also influenced by the weight and position of the integrated mast.”

    “The DMO (Defense Materiel Organization) advocates the Enlarged Ship concept on the grounds that it will deliver a significant increase in operability for a very modest increase in building costs. At the same time it significantly reduces the powering requirement and fuel consumption through-life”.

  25. jkt permalink
    May 19, 2010 11:37 am

    Kill the pirates and piracy will be under control quickly. America understood this once upon a time.

  26. Chuck Hill permalink
    May 19, 2010 11:37 am

    The mix of aircraft that identify vessels to be boarded and vessels from which to board is very much a function of the urgency of the intercept and the density of suspicious vessels we will want to board. There is no single answer applicable to all cases.

    There are cases where it is best to use MPA to find, ship board helo to fix, and relatively few vessels to actually do the boardings.

    On the other hand there are “target rich” environments where there are so many boardings to be done and so many vessels required to do them that no aircraft are required.

  27. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 11:09 am

    Marcase said : “Janes did a great piece on it in the June 2008 edition, (Mike if you’re interested I’ll email you the article), explaining why size matters ESPECIALLY during maritime policing/constabulary ‘patrol’ mission.”

    I think you should post some highlights from this June 2008 edition. Given the nature of the discussions taking place on the blog, posting such highlights would undoubtedly be fair use.

  28. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 10:58 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Even the US Navy could trace its birth and its first naval heroes to the Wars against the Barbary Pirates.”

    And what Wikipedia reminds us is that :

    “The city [of Algiers] remained a haven for and source of pirates until its conquest by France in 1830. The thoroughness with which the French conquered and colonized Algeria put an effective end to piracy from the Barbary coast.”

    The root cause of Barbary Piracy was eventually eradicated on the ground, and not at sea.

  29. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 10:51 am

    Mike Burleson said : “This last problem has the admirals repeating the mantra that “piracy can only be defeated on land”, an astonishing statement for one service to degrade its own abilities, and promote another, meaning the ground forces.”

    What Commodore Tarrant is trying to explain is that the root cause of piracy is the political instability and treating the symptoms (piracy being one) won’t eradicate the root cause.

  30. Marcase permalink
    May 19, 2010 10:48 am

    One of the main costs of ships is NOT size/displacement – ships steel is cheap – and the longer the ship, the more efficient it runs. The main operating costs of ships is simply fuel.

    The new RNLN Holland class Patrol Ships (a new designation, fitting between corvette and frigate) are limited to 20kts max, with a 16kts cruise speed to keep operating costs down. High speed interceptions are done with fast deploy RHIBs and embarked NH-90 – the Holland class includes a hangar and stowage space for two mission containers below decks.

    The Holland class PS are not multi-purpose, they are not designed to do MIW or dedicated ASW/ASuW. That role is done by frigates or the embarked NH-90 when absolutely necessary.

    A Thales multi-mission mast and networking (Link 16/JTIDS) allows a 360 FOV, and the mast *can* see and distinguish small boats.

    To allow good sea-keeping, it’s displacement is 3,750t – an absolute minimum for stable ops during sea-state 5, especially near coastal/chokepoint waters.

    Janes did a great piece on it in the June 2008 edition, (Mike if you’re interested I’ll email you the article), explaining why size matters ESPECIALLY during maritime policing/constabulary ‘patrol’ mission.

  31. Chuck Hill permalink
    May 19, 2010 10:37 am

    We are intercepting pirates with a frequency that would discourage the practice if there were consequences to being caught. As long as all they can expect is a good meal and medical treatment before being returned, of course there is no disincentive to piracy.

    Banditry is the subject of a risk reward calculus. Up the risk and it is less attractive.

  32. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 10:37 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Corvettes of today are one-third the size of modern frigates, and one-third the price or less.”

    Below are some benchmarks provided in the 2004 NATO Study on the acquisition costs and service lives of surface combatants :

    600-ton SLC (Small Littoral Combatant) :
    * normalized acquisition cost : 100
    * service life : 20 years

    2,000-ton SLC (Small Littoral Combatant) :
    * normalized acquisition cost : 178
    * service life : 25 years

    4,000-ton Frigate :
    * normalized acquisition cost : 203
    * service life : 30 years

  33. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 10:28 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Corvettes of today are one-third the size of modern frigates, and one-third the price or less.”

    One-third the price of less ?

    Quick reality check straight from the Warship Costs section :

    FRIGATES

    Absalon (Denmark)-$269 million

    Iver Huitfeldt (Denmark)-$332 millon

    Valour MEKO A200 (South Africa)-$327 million

    CORVETTES

    Braunschweig K-130 (Germany)-$309 million

    Khareef (Oman)-$262 million

    Kedah (Malaysia)-$300 million

    MILGEM corvettes (Turkey)-$250 million

    Visby (Sweden)-$184 million

  34. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 10:21 am

    Mike Burleson said : “[Corvettes] are more easily adaptable to shallow water but also the Blue Water if needed.”

    At the risk of repeating myself again, I have yet to be explained why a mythical corvette with a max. draft of 26 feet is *more suited to shallow water warfare* than a Station Wagon Frigate with a max. draft of 20.5 feet.

  35. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 10:17 am

    Mike Burleson said : “The inflated specifications for the perfect vessel means you have more luxury combat ships today than real warships.”

    Adequate seakeeping qualities, aviation facilities and endurance are not *inflated specifications* that drive costs up as you suggest, although they certainly require larger vessels than what you’re prepared to accept.

    For instance, in the infamous 2004 NATO study, it was found that increasing the range by 10% would have the following impact on normalized acquisition costs :

    600-ton OPV : +0.7%
    2,000-ton OPV : +0.1%
    600-ton SLC : +1.0%
    2,000-ton SLC : +0.7%

    Again, what you have to understand is that, though such critical attributes as endurance, seakeeping or aviation facilities indeed require bigger ships than what you’re willing to consider, this doesn’t mean that these will be more expensive than the mythical corvette you favor so much, because, essentially, STEEL IS CHEAP AND AIR IS FREE.

    If you really want to reform the Navy without sacrifying capabilities and eventually human lives, the only way to go is this : THINK BIG, not small !!!

  36. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 10:01 am

    Mike Burleson said : “The ideal ship, the frigate of the future would possess NONE of the attributes considered essential in modern warship design:

    2.Long range and endurance (No more than necessary, since it will operate either close to naval ports or in conjunction with motherships).”

    At the risk of repeating myself again :

    Here is one reason why hoping forward-basing could compensate for the suicidal lack of endurance of the mythical corvette may not be such a wise move :

    Okinawa residents protest at Marine base

    Politically fragile, militarily vulnerable, financially expensive : this is forward-basing for you.

    Is this really the basket you want to put all your exquisitely delicate eggs into ?

  37. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 9:55 am

    Mike Burleson said : “The ideal ship, the frigate of the future would possess NONE of the attributes considered essential in modern warship design:

    3. A helicopter or hangar (other than a landing pad).”

    I seem to recall vaguely that this specific subject was discussed not so long.

    At the end of the day, with such proposals, what you end up with is a situation where some critical capabilities into a small number of *motherships* (for aviation, fuel, repair, etc…), which, at the very least, increases your response times and the vulnerability of your task force.

  38. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 9:45 am

    Mike Burleson said : “It’s a shallow water animal, geared for coastal warfare”

    I would hate to be repetitive or anything ;-), but :

    1) What sort of shallow waters are you talking about, i.e. how deep in feet / meters ?

    2) What would be the corresponding maximum navigational draft of the vessel you envision ?

  39. Scott B. permalink
    May 19, 2010 9:38 am

    Mike Burleson said : “The ideal ship, the frigate of the future would possess NONE of the attributes considered essential in modern warship design:

    1.Superb seakeeping (It’s a shallow water animal, geared for coastal warfare).”

    At the risk of repeating myself again and again and again, this claim that a *shallow water animal, geared for coastal warfare* may have little need for adequate seakeeping qualities is a GROSS MISCONCEPTION, as the much regretted D.K. Brown pointed out so many times, for instance in his “Future British Surface Fleet” (p.56) :

    “It is widely believed, incorrectly, that waters close to the land are sheltered and so are safer, but even in the English Channel high winds and seas are not uncommon.

    The 50-year wave height is 20 meters almost to the Isle of Wight, with a corresponding wind speed of 30 m/s.

    Many inshore disasters have shown the danger of underestimating coastal areas, such as the breaking in half of the French torpedo Boat Branlebas off Dartmouth in World War II.”

  40. May 19, 2010 8:35 am

    My position keeps changing on this subject.

    You do know that some would say that the best vessel for the job that you’re describing (controlling a large swath of sea) would best be performed by an LHA/LHD…properly equipped as a sea control ship.

    You’re talking about the tyranny of distance, response time to threats, response time to attacks and monitoring the area.

    A helicopter carrier, UAV’s, and boats alot smaller than frigates…more like CB90’s or Watercats would be tailor made for that mission. Moreso than your frigates and a helo or two.

    Despite the show of force by the US Navy….despite the wins by the Royal Netherlands Navy and the Russian Navy and the French Navy…we’re still not serious because we have yet to see a full equipped amphib arrive in area…heck, even a carrier arrive to attempt to put a stop to this piracy.

    The Cavour would do more to help here than in Haiti. The HMS Ocean would be a God send and the Rotterdam would be a champ if they gave it a proper helo compliment.

    Just my two cents.

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  1. Corvettes Versus Midget Subs « New Wars
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