Corvettes and the Failure of the LCS Pt 2
The best weapon to counter enemy small surface combatants is a force of small surface combatants.
Why the USN Needs Corvettes
Yesterday we discussed the ongoing gap in the US Navy’s plans for fighting in the littoral regions of the earth, and why the new littoral combat ship (LCS) designed specifically for this purpose has failed. Ultimately the attempt to marry Blue Water endurance with Brown Water capabilities has given us this hybrid craft at very great expensive, and as with all such weapons which try to do everything well, it is far from the “best of both worlds”.
In the book The Future of War, George and Meredith Friedman explain the diverging capabilities of Blue and Brown water warships:
The situation is this: surface vessels capable of extended global travel must be large enough to sustain life with a degree of comfort, remain on station indefinitely, and handle well on the high seas. They must be hard to see, highly maneuverable, and very fast. As can easily be seen, the first and second sets of criteria are incompatible.
The answer to this conundrum, which might turn one against the reasonable use of small corvettes can be two fold: forward deployment with mothership support, or from friendly naval bases. By this simple tactic the Navy could do away with large, long endurance hulls, and their voluminous spaces that add so much needless weight and cost, which in turn means fewer numbers of warships bought and deployed.
Home-porting of USN warships is not unheard of, from early times to today. Since its inception in the latter 18th, early 19th centuries, standard practice has been the forward basing of ships for the protection of US commerce and the national interest. At the start of the Civil War, President Lincoln was forced to recall this far-flung fleet, with more active vessels deployed overseas than were in home waters. Considering the variant politics of our allies, sometimes the use of a friendly ports might not be available in time of crisis. For such an eventuality, a better way of supporting the corvette fleet would be through the use of motherships. With this precedent in mind, America could once again build ships whose exclusive purpose is to fight.
Helicopters versus Corvettes
Recent history has given rise to a recurring myth that cause some to insist helicopters are the best weapon for countering the small missile craft threat in littoral waters. Helicopters have been used effectively against weaker powers like Iraq whose boats were very poorly armed with almost no anti-air capability. There is a problem we see with relying exclusively on aircraft as a sustained strategy for anti-attack craft defense:
- Helicopters can only patrol a threat area for a brief period, obviously.
- Helicopters are more affected by adverse weather or night operations than a corvette.
- The corvette, with a greater weapons load than helicopters can perform a greater diversity of missions.
- The corvette’s ability to detect and track an enemy is much greater than a helicopter.
- The combination of a corvette and a helicopter is the best counter to enemy sub and surface threats.
Corvettes versus Large Combatants
While we are on the subject of what the corvette can do, here is how it matches up against the large surface warship, call it a cruiser, destroyer, or frigate:
- Large ships are at risk from small attack craft using swarm tactics.
- Small corvettes can increase the size of the Navy quickly and at less cost than bigger and naturally more expensive large combatants.
- The small size of the corvette makes it naturally stealthy, while the greater the size of a ship presents a greater target.
- With 75,000 cruise missiles in the world’s inventories, the US Navy will run out of Big Ships long before an enemy runs out of missiles.
- Large ships are harder to maneuver in shallow seas, and their deep draft make them vulnerable to “grounding”.
What is a Corvette?
There is no generally accepted size that makes a corvette. The average in world navies today would likely consist of the following specifications:
- Size-From 500 tons up to 1500 tons.
- Draft-Usually 10 feet, more or less.
- Performance-High Maneuverability, High Speed (30 knots or more), Good Range
Corvettes should also have a good degree of stealth with a reduced radar, acoustic, and magnetic signature. Vessels of less than 1000 tons would be dual purpose, or with no more than two specific functions, while over at 1000 tons may be multipurpose. The capabilities of such craft would differ little from large surface combatants with anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine or minelaying tasks. The following list includes a few suggestions for a USN corvette:
- Israeli Sa’ar 5-1,295 tons
- German MEKO A100-1,685 tons
- Swedish Visby-620 tons
- South Korea’s Po Hang-1,200 tons
- Italian Minerva-1,285 tons
Again, Why the Corvette?
Back in May we wrote this clear justification for corvettes, which we hoped would satisfy the Big Ship Navy that their historical Blue Water function was not under threat:
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.
(This two-parter used as a main source the excellent article advocating a Corvette Navy titled “Think Small” by Milan Vego. We suggest you read the whole thing and memorize if possible!)