A Battleship for the Shallow Seas
A friend recently emailed the following good advice:
Now, if you want to put a warship within range of anti-ship missiles, aircraft platforms with anti-ship missiles, and even shore based artillery — you’d better have a ship that can defend itself or make itself invisible with a Romulan “cloaking device.”
The missile armed corvette is the new battleship for littoral operations. Weighing in at 1000-1500 tons, of shallow draft, and low profile, such small attack ships should be the largest Navy warship sailing in such missile, mine, and submarine infested waters on an extended basis. For the traditional forward strategy of the USN, such relatively inexpensive and easy to build vessels, deployed in large numbers would be the “shock absorber”, taking on the initial wave of any enemy attack in the impending missile war at sea, until sizable Blue Water forces can surge to the location.
A vessel intended to sail in harms way would of necessity be heavily armed, even out of natural proportions to its size. Ship survivability has become an obsession with modern warship designers, though it should be secondary to weapon’s payload, which in itself enhances a ship’s lifespan under fire. The very costly and perhaps fool-hardy practice of constructing exquisite platforms with minimal armament, most notably with the new littoral combat ship, must be abandoned in favor of as many point defenses, offensive cruise missiles, aerials assets, and guns as practical.
The closer a naval force approaches enemy controlled coastal regions, the less effective long range defenses such as Aegis becomes. With only seconds to react where missile armed aircraft, warships, conventional submarines, and ground base missile launchers are active, the necessity of medium range, short range, and last-ditch point defenses increases substantially. An adequately armed corvette should consist of layers of such defenses, including missile and gun weapons. Airborne early warning UAVs should be constantly in flight and on alert as the littoral flotilla approaches the land.
Air defense corvettes are the high end of the new littoral flotilla, which some might describe as an “Influence Squadron“. Also available probably in higher numbers will be low end ships such as Offshore Patrol Vessels (or fast attack craft) slightly less heavily armed and able to carry a helicopter. Monitors might also be required if the armada consists of amphibious troops, which could carry a heavy gun or guided rockets for shore bombardment. Concerning the landing of troops, small landing craft, though somewhat larger than current versions allowing them to traverse oceanic ranges, but still compact enough to be cost-effective to purchase in adequate numbers.
Traditional minesweepers would also complement the flotilla, as well as conventional AIP submarines which are more effective in littoral operations than a giant nuclear attack boat. Logistical motherships would complete the force, allowing the corvette and her brood to operate for extended periods in a warzone.
A $100-$300 million corvette is a stark contrast to $1-2 billion escort ships of the American, European, and Asian navies. It is the antidote to out-of-control costs, and ever increasing bulk affecting all traditional warship types, especially in the US Navy. The perceived need to pack ever conceivable advance in design of these exquisite multi-mission vessels has assured us of an ever decreasing, gold-plated navy unsuited for low-tech insurgency conflicts which we most often fight, and perhaps too precious to risk in the kind of conventional “worse case” threats we most often plan for.
The corvette, then will return balance to naval warfare as well as sanity to ship design. It is a return to basics, on a low-cost hull that still takes advantage of high tech capabilities of the new precision warfare, brought on by the micro-chip and the miniaturization of weaponry and sensors. Thanks to this new computer age of warfare, the smaller ship will become a potent vessel in its own shallow water environment, in the tradition of the mighty battleships that once dominated the Blue Water expanses.
Below are links to some interesting corvettes or OPVs currently in service:
Sa’ar 5-class Israel
Visby class Sweden
River Class UK
Kedah class (MEKO A-100) Malaysia
Commandante Class Italy