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Call for Motherships, Arsenal Ships

January 12, 2009


Everett Pyatt at Real Clear World has some interesting proposals for rebuilding the Navy to somewhere near the proposed 313 plan. On at least 2 of these he appears to be reading our minds, or blog posts:

Step five is to make the Navy more relevant in today’s conflicts. For example, establish a pirate control force using small boats based on a easily-deployed heavy lift ship. It is crazy having billion dollar major combatants chasing outboard powered skiffs. A single shot from a skiff borne RPG could cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Include in this force airborne surveillance, either by drones or blimp, so the skiffs can be tracked before and after any encounter.

It appears we may be inching toward this type of warship which doesn’t yet exist save in the minds of naval pundits. In an aside, the author also gives good credence to why America must fight the pirates, even though the latter has no submarines, missile battleships, or even aircraft carriers to contend with:

Defeating the Gulf of Aden pirates is important for two reasons. First, pirates are forbidden by the Law of the Sea. Secondly, and of most practical importance, ransoms collected by pirates can generate a lot of money that could support terrorist activity. Pirates have reportedly collected between $30 and $100 million dollars. Most of this money is unaccounted for by their capital investment in outboard powered skiffs, stolen mother ships and extravagant villas on the coast. The close affiliation with Yemen and the Yemeni inclination to look the other way has to be related to terrorists. The USS Cole was attacked in Yemen while in port. Pirates do not pay a lot of attention to UN resolutions and must be treated forcibly. The U.S. Navy is the only Navy capable of providing surveillance and coordinating the activities of multinational ships now moving to the Gulf of Aden. It is time to lead.

Amen! Some good news is that the US has officially established an anti-piracy task force in the Gulf, perhaps because a certain Asiatic Fleet has made a show of force in the region? Finally is the call for a decision on the long-neglected issue of Marine Fire Support, and his proposal sounds vaguely like a warship type frequently called for in this blog, the Arsenal Ship:

Step six is to resolve the issues regarding naval fire support for Marines… If dedicated fire support is needed, than a special purpose ship should be built taking advantage of a current hull form, precision guided ordnance, long range Tomahawk capability and remote drone spotting. In today’s environment, these ships are more likely to be needed than many other classes of ships. Build at least four ships, if needed.

The arsenal ship in a nutshell. What is interesting, as the Navy prepares to build more DDG-51s in addition to the sixty or so they already possess, the 1990s plans for the arsenal ship would include equivalent firepower of 5 or more Burkes, with 1/5 the crew required!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. leesea permalink
    January 14, 2009 7:18 pm

    Bsmitty, I agree

  2. B.Smitty permalink
    January 13, 2009 10:32 am

    Any PC better be a lot less than 18ft draft. The 1700 ton Protector OPV’s draft is only 11 feet!

    A Cyclone’s draft is around 8ft, IIRC. I can’t imagine we’d carry a boat much bigger than that on a dockship.

  3. leesea permalink
    January 13, 2009 12:45 am

    The Dock Express 10 can take vesels up to 6 meter draft onto its well dock. In practical terms due to blocking and seafasteners, the would be more like 18 ft of draft.

    Does anyone know what the PC draft is?

  4. leesea permalink
    January 12, 2009 2:28 pm

    BTW that is a good example of a mothership in the background of the photo. Its an RSN Endurance class LST.

  5. leesea permalink
    January 12, 2009 2:26 pm

    As B.smitty knows I wrote a concept paper on using as dockship for GFS mission some time ago. Dockships such as Dock Express 10 class are heavy lift hulls with sidewalls to protect and contain floating vessel(s) in a wet well dock.

    He points to some of the problems in using them. When loading and discharging, the weather needs to be pretty calm. Since they are not full flo/flos, the draft of the vessels to be loaded is limited by the amount of water over their sill. I will go back to check on DE10’s limitations. The length is not much of a restriction when it comes to small ships. The air draft is limited by the gantry cranes.

    As is most cargo ship loadouts, the length of the vessels to be loaded competes for wet well dock space for the necessary support features loaded in barges.

    One of these dockships could be chartered by MSC for $55 to 75k per day. Thereby making a test of the concept concieveable. Will the Navy try that – no ! since replacing the Cyclone PCs is not in their great SCN plans.

    Besides the Navy thinks nothing of using an LSD to support and operate boats offshore even if amphib assets are limited?

  6. B.Smitty permalink
    January 12, 2009 11:59 am

    Given the times we live in, it seems to me that there is plenty of places where an modest, aviation-capable vessel (I hesitate to call it a warship), with good range and seakeeping, and useful payload can contribute. The Protector OPV’s draft is only 11′, so it can get close to shore, or visit shallow ports.

    Each could carry a pair of SURCs, two Marine squads and an H-60 or H-1. Two of them could carry a full Marine rifle platoon. Six ships carrying a rifle company would still be less expensive than a single LCS.

    Each could carry part of an LCS MIW module. Two or three might be able to carry an entire module.

    One could carry two USCG Long Range Prosecutors plus two 7m RHIBs, for VBSS or counter-piracy missions.

    However we need to recognize their limitations. We should never call them a frigate or corvette or warship. At best, they aren’t even as capable as a big, USCG cutter. They are simply an economical means to distribute people near where they need to be, and keep them there without jumping through a lot of hoops.

    In short, they could be the Hummer of the fleet – an inexpensive utility platform.

    They make more sense to me than the heavy lift vessel carrying small craft, in a lot of cases. Sending heavy-lifter may be major overkill if all you want to do is show the flag, or participate in a small training exercise. OTOH, one OPV might be just the right size.

  7. Mike Burleson permalink
    January 12, 2009 8:51 am

    I recall a book from the 90’s called The Future British Surface Fleet by DK Brown which proposed using austere type warships (I think it was the Castle class OPV) to replace larger frigates and destroyers, in order to maintain an 50 ship combatant force for the RN. The idea was that numbers counted as much as capabilities in wartime. Your idea reminded of this.

    It goes back to the medieval Knight theory I often use, that your warfighter gets so heavy with defenses, dealing with new threats (then new missile weapons, almost the same today) that they become nearly useless in combat. The idea then is to lose as much of your protection as possible, trusting in maneuverability, new weapons, and increased numbers to keep you alive.

    The same applies to our navy. Ships are so big with extra defenses they are becoming unaffordable, fewer in number, vulnerable to cheap asymmetric threats. We have slim down or die.

  8. B.Smitty permalink
    January 12, 2009 7:49 am

    I go back and forth on the “small-boat via heavy lift ship” concept. There may be a place for this for inshore work, but perhaps we should just buy some fully commercial spec OPVs instead (or in addition to). I’m thinking something like a modestly stretched NZ Protector OPV (

    They can carry and hangar a small helo (a stretched version might allow for an H-60), have good range, endurance and seakeeping.

    The best part is they cost around $60 million USD.

    The first Protectors are around 100 tons overweight, but removing ice strengthening and adding a plug of 5m or so should fix that.

    Relevant particulars from Wikipedia,

    Displacement: 1700 tonnes
    Length: 85 metres
    Beam: 14 metres
    Draft: 3.6 metres
    Propulsion: Two MAN B&W 12RK280 diesel engines with a continuous rating of 5,400 kW at 1,000 rpm Bow thruster Three MAN diesel electricity generators

    Baseline speed 22 knots (41 km/h)
    Economical speed 12 knots (22 km/h)
    Loiter speed 4-10 knots
    Range: 6000 nm

    Boats and landing
    craft carried:
    2 x RHIB (7.74m) or
    1x special forces RHIB (11m)
    Capacity: 30 passengers, 1 x sea container, 1 x 15 tonne crane aft
    Complement: 35 + 10 flight personnel + 4 personnel from Government agencies
    Sensors and
    processing systems: Fire Control: Optical
    Armament: 1 x Remote Controlled MSI DS25 Stabilized Naval Gun with 25 mm M242 Bushmaster cannon
    2 x .50 calibre machine guns
    Small arms

    Aircraft carried: 1 x SH-2G Seasprite helicopter. Can be armed with a combination of homing torpedoes, depth charges, Maverick Air to Surface missiles, M60 Machine Gun. 1 x A109 light utility helicopter (alternative to Seasprite)
    Aviation facilities: Hangar for Seasprite and A109

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