Motherships on Land, Sea, and in the Air
The mothership should be looked on as a concept, rather than a single weapons platform. This new way of thinking is caused by the dominance of robot weapons in modern war, that rarely need an expensive heavy tank, stealth fighter, or giant warship to launch against a target. It only needs a ride. Such computerized new weaponry include unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, smart bombs, plus autonomous ground and naval vehicles. Their launch platform can be the following: surface warships, long range bombers, armored vehicles, submarines, perhaps even dirigibles in the near future.
An example of a mothership currently in widespread use is the Stryker combat vehicle. The Stryker is an immediate descendant of the LAV III used by the US Marines as well as our allies in the First Gulf War of 1991. An older ancestor might be the infantry fighting vehicles of the 1960s and later such as the American Bradley, and Soviet BMP. Many proved extremely vulnerable when used alongside tanks, mainly because their operators sought to operate these thin skin vehicles with and often as tanks (does the WW 1 battle cruiser come to mind?). IFVs were built to defend vulnerable infantry on the modern battlefield, but in our recent Middle Eastern wars, the infantry has turned the tables on its supposed protector.
The purpose of the Stryker as a battlefield taxi is to give its passengers a ride to the fight. The following quote from Strategypage sums up its revolutionary function:
If the vehicle is a Stryker, the enemy will soon find themselves dealing with half a dozen or so heavily armed infantry, who get out of the vehicle and come at the ambushers.
This alteration in the role of modern armored vehicle is very hard for some to grasp, who see Strykers and other light armored vehicles headed to the warzone as sitting ducks for enemy anti-tank weapons. The opposite has proved to be true as improvised “slat armor” proves adequate protection (we now see the once invulnerable heavy tanks forced to carry this new armor, on top of the tons of metal, plus reactive, and composite defenses it already carries).
An even older mothership type is the troop-carrying helicopter. Almost 60 years after the first helicopter air assault in history during the Korean War, the concept of vertical lift is still proving essential in warfare. During the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, transport helicopters have been extremely adaptable and useful, especially in keeping troops and supplies safe from road-bound IEDs. Like the Stryker, the assault helicopter relies on her infantry passengers for her offensive capacity, often as many as 80 and armed with various portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. Larger choppers can also carry howitzers and even small armored vehicles into a fight.
The beauty of the helicopter air assault is that it need not be performed by a hi-tech platform with a decades’ long gestation period like the V-22 Osprey tiltroters. Instead, it is amazing to see Vietnam-era Chinooks and Sea Stallions taking the fight to the enemy and winning America’s wars in the 21st Century!
I often contend that thanks to the use of cruise missiles at sea, every warship is now an aircraft carrier, meaning they are able to perform some of the long-range attack role currently performed by the larger and more costly giants. In the future, every ship will also be a mothership of some sorts, able to operate autonomous underwater vehicles, surface craft (like the Protector), and aerial vehicles such as the Fire Scout. US Navy SSGNs have operated in this role, and so will the newer littoral combat ship.
As I noted yesterday, motherships will also tend to small manned combat boats in future warfare. Australian designed ferries performed this role with Special Warfare craft in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Pirates already use motherships to dominate the Gulf of Aden, thwarting established naval tactics of larger Western navies. Hopefully in the near future the US and her allies will turn the tables against these sea insurgents and deploy small craft backed by their own motherships, using the nautical terrorists’ successful tactics against them.