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What the Royal Navy Got Right

March 12, 2009

stennisillustriousTwice in the last century we see Britain barely hanging on, near to defeat against a German Fleet engaging in an insurgency at sea by use of the submarine. Once, in the same century, the Royal Navy now designed as a sea-going COIN force, geared mainly toward anti-submarine warfare due to post-imperial downsizing, fight a conventional war at sea in the South Atlantic and prevail.

Far more than the American Navy in the late Cold War, the British Fleet was prepared to combat the principle sea-going threat in modern times (if you consider the warship which sank the most naval and merchant tonnage in all history), the attack submarine. Thanks to a lack of funds due to successive economic crises in the post-war period, the island nation could ill afford large deck carriers, advanced guided missile battleships, and sizable amphibious forces alongside her ASW escort fleet. Ironically due to what some might consider a handicap, decades of decreasing defense allocations, she was forced to establish priorities where these funds would go, instead of a duplicate US Navy filled with expensive warships.

Emphasis turned then to a large anti-submarine presence to support NATO while still protecting her drastically shrunken empire. As Wikipedia details:

The navy was forced to make do with three much smaller Invincible-class aircraft carriers, and the fleet was now centered around anti-submarine warfare in the north Atlantic as opposed to its former position with world wide strike capability.

It was this fleet which was sent to war over the Falklands Islands in 1982, and though it was constructed to fight another type of war, it proved more than adequate for the mission. Even those who criticize the size the Navy has fallen, admits that it was still a force to be reckoned with. As we mentioned yesterday, Lisle A. Rose’s Power at Sea: A Violent Peace, 1946-2006 tells us that “The Royal Navy devoted fully 40 percent of its major surface combatants to the South Atlantic War.” While the author writes of this alarmingly, this is still less than half the fleet, allowing the bulk to maintain Cold War defense postures elsewhere.

Imagine the fleet built with the popular view, that the Falklands War proved the essential need for costly supercarriers and her equally pricey missiles escorts. The 40 or so RN warships required to take back the Falklands would alone dwarf the future Royal Navy plans, with 2 aircraft carriers and 20 or so escorts. That 40% is starting to look pretty good!

51 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 22, 2009 5:56 pm

    Amazing Alex but I actually read this very recently!

  2. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 22, 2009 5:55 pm

    Good point Alex. I am reminded of the battlecruisers at Jutland when I hear the “speed is armor” argument. You often have to make allowances for terrain in land warfare, and tactics can also play a greater role in keeping your equipment alive in such an environment as mountain terrain, where ambushes are prevalent. But also over-burdening our industry and budget with an over costly and complicated weapon systems, at the expense of vital equipment, for such a rare and focused mission (the Allies used Mules in the Italian Campaign, but did we bring back cavalry divisions?), can be a threat as well to force modernization.

  3. March 22, 2009 1:29 pm


    this might interest you – I don’t agree with all it says, because it seems to project the use of carrier singular; whereas I prefer to operate them in teams of aviation ships, as this seems to be more affective; but that is their research decision not mine.

    yours sincerly


  4. March 22, 2009 12:53 pm


    I am not sure whether speed is as important as armour, I keep hearing about light fast vehicles that the armies want and mentally think…what happens when it can’t go fast? like in the mountain terrain of afghanistan, or the cities of Iraq…the trouble with the light and fast consept is it only works if you a rapidly deploying by air…to an already militarily and politcally secure airfield; in the middle of somewhere like Utah or Sudan, or anywhere in the Sinai….a nice open area with plenty of room for manouver and nothing to slow you down

    yours sincerly


  5. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 22, 2009 7:18 am

    Like you Smitty, I think we could have done a little better than the Sherman, considering a single Tiger could hold up an entire convoy of US and British armor. At the very least we should have updated them by D-Day to British Firefly standards, and the Russians strapped on extra armor to the Shermans we sent them. But wasn’t the problem always too small guns on the allies side? The British were stuck with this 2 pounder 40mm for its tanks well after other countries had adopted the 75mm. They had some well armored behemoths early on and I love the Matilda, but that and slow speeds was a severe handicap.

    Anyway, I understand that armor is essential and high speeds often necessary, but if you can’t kill your enemy when you do catch him or he catches you, everything else is for nothing.

  6. B.Smitty permalink
    March 21, 2009 11:47 am


    It almost didn’t matter what tank we built in WWII, our industrial capacity so completely outstripped German capacity. We could’ve built a quarter as many Tigers (or Pershings), instead of Shermans, and the result would’ve been the same (IMHO).

    On the other hand, smaller and easier to build light tanks and tank destroyers did not fair well at all, which is why everyone moved to standardized “MBTs” after the war.

  7. March 20, 2009 5:08 pm

    feel free to use it any time, my other addition to this would be the ‘cromwells’; they were the British Armies ‘heavy tank’ used as fire support; and to distract the 88mm – being the only tank which had any capability to resist its fire at range…in other words the bigger escorts providing suppot for the swarms of smaller escorts, whilst the carriers act much as artillery support, and the submarines as snipers; all resulting in a combined force overwhelming of the enemy.

    yours sincerly


  8. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 20, 2009 7:37 am

    Alex, I wish to see the destroyer return to its roots. Wartime experience may prove me wrong, and weight always increase over time, but I think the ships we are now deploying are dangerously overweight, to the point they may be at risk when the missiles start flying. Not to mention cost and increased complexity.

    I like your “Sherman vs. Tiger” analogy and have used something similar to describe the eerie resemblance between the US Military today and the late WW 2 force deployed by the Germans. An increasing obsession with “wonder weapons” while our enemies threaten to overwhelm us with cheap but good weaponry.

  9. March 20, 2009 4:00 am


    that is true, hence in my carrier design, there are 4 RAM Launchers, 4 Phalanx, and 4 BAE MK110 57mm…just to make sure that there was enough to provide a multilayered close in defence; against those swarms of missiles Mike is talking about.

    as for the expensive versus cheap weapon systems…I give you….Sherman vs King Tiger, the sherman was vastly cheaper, but becuase it was produced in large numbers, and so uncomplicated it could be quickly fixed and sent back in battle just behind the lines…instead of requiring a one the battle. Now at sea you have it as a relative term, if I can buy 4 corvettes armed with just as good, just as modern weapons…then why do I buy the one destroyer? okey in some circumstances, such as the ‘big boy’ command escort, carrier/battlegroup defence, amphibious support and of course defence of auxiliaries you need a larger escort with more weapons readily available and more helicopters…but for picket? for just showing the flag? for buliking out those escort groups that the larger escorts form the kernal of? for getting in really close in amphib operation? for counter piracy? no you need smaller ships, in some navies this will be a combination of corvettes and your favourite OPVs, in others it will be one or the other depending on what options they require more, and how much solo action they will be invovled in. The big point though is that 4 small ships operating together will have more chance of surviving than the one big ship….as at least this means the missiles will be divided between 4 targets; as well as four times the defencive manouvering capability, and 4 times the chance of being detected.


    I think uou are perhaps going a little to small with 600-1500 tons, as any vessel will need to carry its own reloads else you will forever be exposing auxiliaries to fire at the front. It is also true that according to a Naval Architect I know that 27% of ships weight can be put into its weapons systems, so 27% of 2800tons, thats about 800tons of weapons in a corvette…I think that will be nice and effective, and with enough supplies you do not over expose your auxilaries.

    yours sincerly


  10. B.Smitty permalink
    March 19, 2009 8:54 pm

    Mike, look at the history of the modern, missile-armed, Fast Attack Craft, especially in the Gulf War.

    Stark is a well-built 4000 ton frigate, not a small corvette or FAC.

    Hanit got lucky. Apparently the missile either didn’t explode or was a smaller C-701 with only a 29kg warhead, that struck well aft.

    And Mike, the best US destroyers of WWII were the larger Fletcher-/Sumner-/Gearing-classes.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 19, 2009 8:03 pm

    ” inexpensive systems that die in droves when they meet a capable adversary may be more expensive than buying “expensive” systems ”

    There is no historical precedent for this statement, and frankly, more to the opposite. I submit the fleet at Battleship Row, 1941, as well as HMS Prince of Wales and Renown as my evidence that giant “expensive” ships are vulnerable to swarms of aerial attackers. Though no ship is invulnerable, as I have stated before small craft has shown themselves very durable, as in the Kamikaze attacks in the Pacific War, with the much smaller DDs holding their own and some, like USS Laffey surviving multiple attacks. More recently we see USS Stark and INS Hanit surviving missile attacks, then returning to port on their own power.

    More importantly Smitty, I see the smaller ships like corvettes and FACs, which from 600-1500 tons are the exact size of the first primitive DDs that held the line in giant battles of the Atlantic and pacific War. They will be the Navy’s salvation as larger super destroyers increase steadily in size and cost, while reducing drastically in numbers.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    March 19, 2009 8:59 am


    For RAM, if the first missile misses, you fire another missile. You can afford to put two RAM launchers with 42 missiles total on a ship for the same weight as one Kashtan. (of course they will require more deck space and clearance)

    BTW, Phalanx and RAM have already been married in the form of SeaRAM, though not in the way you want. The 20mm cannon is replaced by a11-rnd RAM missile launcher.


    What is “reasonably priced”? Buying inexpensive systems that die in droves when they meet a capable adversary may be more expensive than buying “expensive” systems that can survive and accomplish their mission.

  13. March 19, 2009 7:09 am


    but you see here is the problem and the advantage of the Kashtan, if the missile misses, then the gun is already targeting the inbound, and therefore the defence is seamless. now whilst it probably in the case of the soviets is to cover deficiencies, and does not have a multiple target capability….I am pretty sure if US/UK mated a RAM launcher with a Phalanx it would have, and would work rather nicely

    cheap/good value for money will always be used alternatively, depending on whether you support the weapons or are deriding them

    yours sincerly


  14. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 19, 2009 7:02 am

    Again I have to relearn my phrasing. Not exactly cheap but “reasonably priced”. Cheap weapons are few and far between, but there has to be some balance between capability and affordability. Something currently lacking in nearly all the weapons we buy, but especially large platforms.

  15. B.Smitty permalink
    March 18, 2009 12:55 pm


    The only similarities between Typhoon and Kashtan are that they can have a gun/missile combo. Typhoon has zero anti-AShM capability (other than getting a lucky shot) and is mainly meant for ASuW duties, Kasthan is primarily an anti-AShM CIWS.

    Typhoon weighs 750kg. Kashtan weighs 8-12 TONS – twice as heavy as a RAM launcher – and has an integrated fire control radar.

    BTW, I think it is incorrect to assume that having multiple weapon types makes a system better. Guns can only deal with one missile at a time. A gun/missile combo mount using its guns won’t be able to fire missiles at another target. RAM, OTOH, can cycle between inbounds immediately after firing, since its missiles are fire-and-forget. IMHO, the only reason to have guns is if the missiles used can’t cover the 0 km to 3km range band. But if that’s the case, they would’ve been better off improving the SA-N-11s and fire control to handle short range shots.

    Just MHO.

  16. March 18, 2009 12:09 pm

    I am afraid I am starting to agree with you, but I don’t think its the services such as the ‘military-industrial complex’…cheap useful planes are not cheap or useful to them.

    yours sincerly


  17. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 18, 2009 11:46 am

    I don’t think the services know how to build cheap but useful planes anymore. Or want to.

  18. March 18, 2009 11:08 am

    the thing I keep asking is why was there not a replacement developed for the Viking? surely it would not have been that difficult

    yours sincerly


  19. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 18, 2009 6:26 am

    I DO WORRY about the Songs and her kindred prowling near our ships with their Russian built ship killer missiles. Also I have posted on the folly of retiring Viking as well as updating our AEW aircraft which Congress recently denied. Our leaders are just asking for it.

  20. March 18, 2009 3:05 am


    yes but the Rafael Typhoon is currently the western system which combines gun+missile system in one self-reliant package. and I agree that maybe this is a case of the Russians building quite a good system out of pairing of two rather mediocre system….but the point is valid and I myself would be far more trustful of a CIWS which incorporated a RAM launcer + Gatling Gun, That weapon system would then be a very capable of dealling with threats far better than either a missile launcher or a gun….as when one ran out instead of having to stop and reload, it just fills the air with lead.

    The thing about corvettes is that they are very quick and easy to build, as well as having a small crew…this is always an advantage to any nation especially one which seeks to big things on a budget which never matches.


    don’t worry about the song class, whilst they have to surface we are safe, its when they don’t we should start worrying. I think though the worst idea the USN has have had was when it started retiring the S-3 Viking, it was the biggest real advantage American carriers had over other nations as it pushed the ASW barrier out from the task group. Helicopters just don’t have the legs to do that, not without and extensive tanker program…and the carriers don’t carry enough of those either.

    yours sincerly


  21. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 17, 2009 6:00 pm

    Smitty, you may very well be right, but I have my doubts, especially after that Chinese Song surfaced within torpedo range of USS Kitty Hawk. I fear in a real shooting war with only seconds to react it may be “every ship for itself” and point defenses will receive new importance unseen since the aerial battles of the Pacific Campaign. Aegis might do well against those subsonic Bear missile bombers, with their easily tracked flight path, but a cruise missile submarine?

  22. B.Smitty permalink
    March 17, 2009 11:08 am


    IMHO, you defeat missile swarms with layered defenses and tactics. Point defenses are important, but ships armed solely with them can’t support each other. Each ship becomes an isolated, defensive island.

    Sensors have gotten much better. Detection range should be higher, especially if AEW is available.


    Heavily-armed corvettes might be appropriate for nations who have outgrown their FACs. Modestly-armed corvettes may be appropriate for nations who want to have a hand in worldwide deployments but don’t have the cash for a frigate. Otherwise, IMHO, frigate-sized vessels are more appropriate.

    OTOH, if you are talking about defeating a high-end, integrated A2/AD infrastructure, than many small “Streetfighters” may be part of a viable strategy. Just expect sustainment problems.

    Kashtan-M looks to me like another Russian Rube Goldberg system. The general design principle seems to be, “Well, since each of our systems stinks, by itself, let’s weld a bunch together and hope the combination is greater than the sum of its parts.”

    BTW, it is not a competitor to Typhoon. Kashtan-M is a CIWS like Phalanx, Millennium Gun, Goalkeeper, RAM, or CAMM. They are meant to shoot down cruise missiles. Typhoon isn’t.

  23. March 16, 2009 4:34 pm


    I think this add to your argument – the trouble is the nearest western equivalent is the Rafael Typhoon, and that is no where near it.

    with one of these mounted on the back of the ‘dream’ corvette, a BAE MK110 57mm and a couple of the Raphael Typhoon Autocannons I would put money on a brace of them surviving a saturation attack rather than a destroyer mounting two?

    B.Smitty, I am glad you have now conceeded that whilst the lightly fitted frigate might be better for the USN, the heavily armed corvette could be better for others. I would not jump on the LCS bandwagon though if I were you just yet, the program is going to pot.

    yours sincerly


  24. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 16, 2009 1:38 pm

    Smitty, since no navy has experienced the kind of swarm missile attacks you mentioned, I wouldn’t necessarily count the smaller ships out. In a major war, I am thinking point defenses could matter more than long range antimissiles systems, considering all the attacks so far conducted with cruise missiles, almost without exception the strikes weren’t detected until mere seconds, and sometimes until there was an direct hit.

    Again we are basing what we know about missile attacks on fairly benign threat environments, so we still don’t know what a mass missile strike will be like, though I am thinking something like the Kamikaze attacks off Okinawa 1945 would be an relevant guide. Remember that no warship is unsinkable and I would rather have many small but rugged ships in a shooting war than a few still vulnerable Big Ships not so easily replaced. And if you recall any major war at sea in history, the Big Ships start them, but the small ships finish them!

  25. B.Smitty permalink
    March 16, 2009 10:18 am

    The Nansen class is another one that is worth a look, IMHO.

  26. B.Smitty permalink
    March 16, 2009 9:36 am


    You see corvettes protecting motherships and OPVs against what? AShMs? Aircraft? Helicopters? SSKs? Small boat attacks?

    I think you will find that its the corvette that needs to be protected from the high-end threats. It may handle leaker AShMs but small vessels like this can’t carry enough missiles to stop a massed attack. They also typically lack the number of fire control channels needed to deal with multi-missile attacks. Of course, new, smaller AESA radars and illuminators are helping.

    If the vessel doesn’t have a decent helo, it’ll be at a serious disadvantage in ASW. UAVs just aren’t suitable replacements yet. The RN is lucky here, they have the nifty little Lynx. They can fit it on smaller vessels than we can fit our H-60s. Of course the H-60 is more capable, but it does impose a minimum size on vessels that can operate them.

    In the end, given the choice between a lightly-fitted, small frigate and a heavily-armed corvette, I would choose the former, at least for the USN. This is where I think LCS gets something right, and where vessels like the Sa’ar 5 are wrong. Trying to pack every square foot with weapons is not the right approach, IMHO.

    I would have loved to see something like a modularized version of the Meko A200 or French La Fayette class compete with the other LCS designs. This hull type and size has long and successful history in the USN. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  27. March 15, 2009 2:48 pm


    yes but you need the ABM/Command facilities, which I know you can fit a lot in a corvette, but I just don’t think you can fit in this case. the problem is that of protection and accomodation, any ship providing tactical command of a force at sea will need to have plenty of firepower when everyone and everything the enemy has will be gunning for you; and even command of an escort group will usually require 23 (in the case of most NATO countries; 40 in the case of France and Greece) extra personal to be accomodated; as well as already having a sizeable communications suite.

    yes I know this is the same weight as HMS Ajax and her sisters of the Leander Class; but I also know those vessels were very good at what they did; especially when placed in command of smaller vessels in escort groups and convoys. I also know that this size vessel could carry two medium helicopters + UAVs, thus providing a lot of the capabilities which you talked about it – perhaps being the genesis for the non-conventional avaition ship you were talking off…

    yours sincerly


  28. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 15, 2009 1:51 pm

    Considering the war-built destroyer of about 1500 tons carried more guns than the corvette of the same size, my proposal would use less shells fired from 1-2 heavy guns. This compared to the older ship with its 5-6 guns. Then with Excalibur you have precision rather than the need for saturation fire, again using far less shells.

    Back to the heavy destroyer you mentioned, here you have a ship the size of a WW 2 light cruiser, sending it into the littorals where it is at grave risk from asymmetrical threats like missiles, mines, suicide boats, ect. All ships would be at risk, but how better to replace a low cost ship at about 1/5 the size and price you mentioned.

  29. March 15, 2009 7:33 am

    Trouble is the 1500ton corvette could not carry enough rounds and do everything else, my view is a 6/7000 ton destroyer with 2*double 5inch mounts + vls + ciws + autocannons and helicopters/UAVs; would seem the better option as it would have enough fire power to act support; whilst also being large enough to carry ABM (with required sensors)…something which corvettes unfortunately not able to do.

    yours sincerly


  30. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 15, 2009 7:14 am

    At least UAVs would be a must. Not sure if you would need any “through deck” type carriers, ie traditional aviation ships. These can be launched from any warship with a catapult and caught by a net. As for big gun destroyers, now we build 8000 ton ships that can only carry 2X5 inch guns at most! Back in WW2, we had these 2000 ton ships that could carry at least 6X5 inch guns. Why not put 1 or 2 big cannon on a 1500 ton corvette? Maybe give it some Excalibur rounds for long range fire.

  31. March 14, 2009 8:43 pm

    for mothership…could I perhaps read aviation ship? a LHD/CVN hybrid? or perhaps a brace of them, like the Danes like to operate the Absalon class. realistically you need a ship to be capable of operating awacs, so one would be carrying them, and a primarily fighterbomber mix of aircraft, whilst the other would be a carrying a primarily helicopter mix – these combined with maybe some destroyers to provide the big boy escorts, a larger group of corvettes (+ opvs – in the case of a nation which can afford both); all supported by a range of auxilaries, and carrying an amphibious task group of reinforced brigade strength. Yeah I think I could see that working, I think I could see that working in a lot of situations, it was proven prior to world war two that aviation ships working in pairs are 32-47% more effective, simply due to the fact that they like soliders operating on the battlefied, feed of each others energy. The destroyers to provide the ABM/AAD/big gun NGFS, whilst the corvettes provide the surface attack edge, all combined with a range of submarine actions.

    thanks for the advice, I will remember it. I am a bit dyslexic, so have been using and therefore used to reading on computers for years; but I have to agree it is easier to read the articles once they are printed out.

    yours sincerly


  32. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 14, 2009 8:19 pm

    I like the corvettes, though I don’t think we need an “all corvette” force anymore than we do an “all battleship navy” of hi end missile firing warships (call them destroyers, frigates, or cruisers”. In my ideal navy, the corvettes would be the hi end of a littoral flotilla, providing cover for the OPV’s at long range, and protecting the mothership.

  33. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 14, 2009 8:14 pm

    Don’t feel bad! I have found that the articles I spend the most time on and I think are the best usually get few comments! No accounting for taste, right? But then you have these obscure posts on breaking news that you put out hurriedly and gets everyone talking. It’s just the nature of the blogosphere I guess, and the unexpected does make things interesting.

    Just remember that writing for the INTERNET is different than doing a term paper or writing a book. People usually get on, read lots of stuff in a hurry. Personally, if I find a very long article I like, I have to print it out to read later. Can’t read long posts on the net, but that is just me.

    The main thing, though, is if you love writing and care about the stuff you post, don’t worry so much about the comments. Sure, they do help your self esteem, but the main thing is to satisfy your self that you are doing a good job, and be consistent. Trust me, they will come. Just look at the counter on my frontpage and you will see that is not a huge number. But I figure what I lack in the number of readers, I think I make up for in quality! One of my favorite naval authors Norman Polmar posted once! (he’s a poor speller. Ssshhh…)

  34. March 14, 2009 5:22 pm

    also this is a question Mike and B – when I post a little thing like the dream corvette I get tones of comments and interaction; but when I posted – no one notices it? I spent hours on it…its from the book I am writing, I post them for the comments and no one writes anything…this is not asking you to go do so, but you both seem so good and getting the interaction; I wondered if you had any advice?

    yours sincerly


  35. March 14, 2009 5:14 pm

    I can see both arguments merits, but I come from a medium navy background, I have been fighting this for years, and whilst I reckon the RN needs at least 3 medium carriers (not the liddle spanish ones this site is on about; but I know in our case the money is not around to build enough High end escorts, and also the opvs we would need…so we will have to comprimise on rather heavily armed corvettes. my theory is that instead of frigates&opvs we would just build corvettes, along with at least 6 but preferablly 12 destroyers. This would allow britain enough escorts in war or peace; and is another reason why they should carry the bigger Type 41 vls, so that they can fuflill as wider range of roles and tasks as possible.

    oh and that site you mentioned, from my own knowledge (top of the head) is missing a double figure amount of merchantmen, and have also forgoten the fourth wave escorts to get down there; they missed most of the fighting but included another Type 42/22 combo (again from memory)… the only ships which only ever avoided coming into range of Argentine air power HMS Hermes and the QUE2…the rest all visited the continental side of the islands or scarpa flow at some point…they rotated escorts most evenings, as vessels sorted for NGFS operations.

    B.Smitty; also appologies for being quite so sarcastic last time; and thankyou for you views on the dream corvette. However, I think the design is one which mike will favour, due to its weight of firepower; also if you noted I put on 4 modular or rather “2*two stanflex containers, initially to be loaded with 16 harpoon SSM – mounted forward of bridge in ‘B’ position” – stanflex can be easily changed to a wide variety of systems including exocet, and I think RAM (although only heard this from a friend working in the field today); as is part of its overall package to enable the design to be rapidly reconfigured for different roles…I just thought 16 harpoons would be a good standard outfit.

    yours sincerly


  36. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 14, 2009 4:03 pm

    Again Smitty is on the mark concerning the use of OPVs. We are incredibly top heavy with high performance ships, and even corvettes, which I do like are little more than mini-destroyers. Some are more powerful than larger frigates.

  37. B.Smitty permalink
    March 13, 2009 11:27 pm


    According to this,

    17 ships were damaged or sunk. 79 ships were in the theater. Of that 79, far fewer than that ever came within range of Argentinian airpower. If you just look at this list of actual combatants and amphibious ships, the number of damaged and sunk looks pretty grim. Of course there were a number of ships which were only superficially damaged.

    This list isn’t even correct, as Sir Tristram and Sir Lancelot both were damaged. Sir Tristram was even abandoned for a time.

    How many more would’ve been lost of the Args had fewer dud bombs and missiles?

    My point wasn’t to say OPVs are “better” than corvettes. That, of course, depends on the mission.

    We (the USN) don’t need anything more than a 30mm-armed (plus possibly CIWS) OPV for the vast majority of VBSS, COIN, counter-piracy and partnership operations we send frigates and destroyers to do every day. We do need numbers for these tasks. And these need to be ships that aren’t tightly tethered to a base or tender, and are small enough to operate relatively close to shore.

    We have real warships for more dangerous jobs.

    Mike and I have an ongoing “argument” about the future of the USN. He wants to see fewer carriers and high-end warships and spend more on small combatants like your corvette. I want to hold the line on the high-end, sacrificing only a little to build large number of very low-end OPVs. I don’t think corvettes (generally, warships in the 600-2000 ton range) offer enough capability to warrant their price, and yet are overkill to use running around boarding pirate skiffs. They will invariably trade range, seakeeping and endurance for a longer, narrower hull that is more cramped, less livable and vastly more expensive (when combat systems are factored in) than a simple patrol boat.

    I do think there is room below the Burke for a smaller, frigate-sized warship to act as a U*V carrier, and there may be room at the bottom for a fast patrol boat (not FAC), but I don’t see the rationale for a heavily-armed corvette for the USN.

    Just MHO.

  38. March 13, 2009 6:21 pm


    30mm pop pop is no defence in the modern world, I am sorry but I would not trust the river class to patrol most british rivers, let alone anywhere in the world where someone might be carrying an RPG.

    6 escorts out of 33ish…well in the amphibious task group at its height there was 54, at the same time there were 36 in the carrier group, and a further 28/30 waiting outside the TEZ waiting to come in laden with supplies…now to my mind that makes 6 out of 120 which is 5% sinkage…quite good. now I am basing these figures on my interveiws with Commodore Clapp, Major General Thompson, and several other officers (who I will not name cause I am not name dropping to show off but to make a point) who were out there in command of the war. trust the last thing they would have wanted was an OPV anywhere near by. as for bad enough, but eventually made it home…what a great line so sweeping, so negative, so analytical, as a historian (in a tired and sarcastic mood this evening) I will appllaud your leading yet vague phraeseology, it is worthy of the finest minister at prime ministers questions. In fact though it is a large overstatement of the fact; the vessels were damaged, as would expect from an encounter with a very well trained, pretty well armed airforce; in fact out of that number I stated only 32% were (including those sunk, and when the bombs did not go off) damaged by bombs (however a total of 48% were hit, but the bombs did no damage – in one case sat on top of the helicopter pad until it was roled off).

    As for OPVs being better that corvettes, I would disagre with this on grounds that a corvettes better arnament is what makes it so useful as compared to an OPV, it is also what adds the capabilities which modern warfare or international diplomacy requires of vessels.

    yours sincerly,


  39. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 13, 2009 6:04 pm

    Smitty is correct on the OPVs. Some corvettes like the Israeli Sa’ar, are some of the most heavily armed ships per ton in the world, though still cheaper than the LCS.

  40. B.Smitty permalink
    March 13, 2009 4:17 pm


    I said, a third sunk or severely damaged. There were 6 sunk, and 6 damaged out of 33 (-ish) ships (not counting subs).

    Many damaged ships were bad enough off to be mission kills, even though they eventually made it back home.

    I was advocating OPVs, not corvettes, in my earlier post. You can’t buy a modern corvette for $70 million. You can buy a modern OPV for that much.

    OPVs and corvettes have different (if overlapping) roles. There should be less pressure to gold plate OPVs, since they aren’t meant to be warships. (less but not no pressure to)

  41. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 13, 2009 4:13 pm

    Smitty,doesn’t luck (or providence) often decide the fate of empires? Like for want of a nail…

    As for the “mediocre” Argentines, their Israeli and American trained Air Force might take exception to this description. And the West has often been bested in the last few decades by what is perceived as poorly equipped, trained, and led opponents, like the N. Koreans, Vietnamese, the Iraq insurgents, or the Taliban. So the British winning one for a change is most welcome.

  42. March 13, 2009 4:11 am

    a third sunk? Smitty, I think you have been reading argentine propaganda to much, yes we had a third of our ship’s damaged by falling bombs, but it wasn’t that difficult to find that the third; and the argentines lost a very large percentage of their aircraft – most importantly a even larger percentage of their senior/most experienced pilots. As for being severly damaged they all made it back to britain 8000 miles away so they were not that damaged…remember they had the good fortune of most of the Argentine bombs not going off.

    wars are never nice and simple; yes the british lost more ships than argentines, but after HMS Conqueror sunk the Belgrano, the Argentines went home and never came out again (this meant due to political constraints the RN was not allowed to go after them).

    I agree with you large quantity of smaller vessels, such as corvettes, would be of benefit in modern warfare; for two principle reasons 1) mass has a quality all of its own, 2) small ships have an advantage in littoral warfare which can not be replicated by the larger vessels. however as you can see from the comments on my own post, even the small ships you are so desirous of will ultimately suffer as their larger cousins have from the desire to put so much ‘new’ and ‘top of the range’ technology in that they will be overly expensive…I refer you specifically to my reply to Sven’s most interesting comments.

  43. B.Smitty permalink
    March 12, 2009 9:29 pm


    The Etenards didn’t take time to fine Hermes and Invincible. They fired at the first blip on their radar. The warships fired chaff, which distracted the Exocets. Unfortunately, as the missiles flew through the clouds, they acquired Atlantic Conveyor.

    The Args did eventually go after the amphibs. They damaged or sunk Sir Galahad, Sir Tristram, Sir Bedivere, and Sir Lancelot. The problem was, more often than not, the Arg pilots went after whatever they saw first, which was often the escorts.

    BTW, Spartan also could’ve been in position to sink Veinticinco de Mayo, had the Brits let it move out of it’s operating patch.


    They had a healthy dose of luck to go with their highly-trained, high-quality people, but they lost a lot of ships to a mediocre opponent.

  44. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 12, 2009 5:09 pm

    But Smitty, the point here is the British Won. They won. Are you saying they didn’t win correctly? But the Argentines lost so much more, including their air force gutted with losses, their navy disgraced and forced to flee into port after a single British submarine sank won of their major fleet units (right Alex?). The amount of prestige garnered by the fallen Empire has lingered to this day, and back then allowed Margaret Thatcher to become a major player within the superpower standoff that ended with victory for the West. meanwhile, Britain could lay claim to something which Reagan couldn’t say as of yet, she had won a war!

    I agree we must have quantity and quality, but you won’t have quantity with an all battleship navy. As yet this is exclusivly what the Navy leadership has given us since the Cold War, with no peer adversary to justify this. We are currently a very unbalanced force, and the new littorals ships, faulty as they may be, won’t enter service in numbers until late the next decade. But back then, Britain still had high end warships, her fleet of nuclear attack subs, as good as any in the world.

  45. March 12, 2009 4:00 pm

    – they did go after the carriers, and hit the atlantic conveyor; they would have gone after the amphibs but Commodore Clapp, the man who commanded the amphibious task group is a very clever man, and he knew they could not gain lock and fire in the time any aircraft would have in the sound; hence RN doctrine triumphed over American staying at sea doctrine.

    what I would give for the RN to have a fleet of corvettes, to support its larger escorts, amphibs and 3 decent carriers….so that we could send that 40% if it was needed, so that we could send two carriers both with proper AEW capability.

    I bet Mike knows the answer to this, but it is important to consider in the context of the question this article posses; which is the only power to have ever sunk an enemy warship with a SSN?


  46. B.Smitty permalink
    March 12, 2009 2:44 pm

    Some losses, yes, but having over a third of their surfaces fleet either sunk or severely damaged is not “adequate”, IMHO, especially considering their opposition.

    We don’t need to scrap our high-end fleet to deal with low-tech threats.

    We can buy 1800-ton, helo-capable OPVs for $60-70 million each to hunt for pirates and Al Qaeda. We just need to dedicate a small fraction of our shipbuilding budget towards quantity over quality.

    For the price of two new Burkes, we could buy 70 new OPVs to patrol the worlds oceans.

    We just have to accept full commercial-spec construction, preferably based on an in-service foreign design. No NVRs. No advanced combat systems. Just good comms, range, endurance and enough space to house a helo, boarding teams, and so on.

    We can have quantity and quality.

  47. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 12, 2009 11:42 am

    So losses aren’t allowed in western warfare anymore, Smitty? To bad Spruance and Halsey didn’t know this in this Pacific Campaign.

    But again I’m not excusing anyone here, just saying that an affordable and sizable fleet geared toward the most likely threats, rather than some costly and obscure “worse case scenario” is an acceptable risk in peacetime. But even with our much more wealthier fleet able to afford every advanced weapon available, we still have trouble dealing with these low tech assemetrycal foes, who harbor more power than their size or cost reveals.

  48. B.Smitty permalink
    March 12, 2009 8:33 am

    Hmm, I’m not sure having six ships sunk and six more seriously damaged should make one conclude the RN fleet was “more than adequate” for the Falklands conflict.

    If the Argies had a few more Exocets, or if they’d been smart and gone after the amphibs or carriers, the war could’ve very easily gone the other way.

    Adm Woodward consistently bemoaned the lack of AEW, which severely hampered their air defenses. He also felt that if the Argies had waited another year, Hermes and Invincible would’ve been decommissioned and the RN could not have undertaken the invasion at all.


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