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Bring Back Canada’s Fighting Corvettes Pt 1

August 10, 2009
HMCS Algonquin (DDH 283), a Tribal Class Destroyer.

HMCS Algonquin (DDH 283), a Tribal Class Destroyer.

Like many Western Navies of late, Canada has endured numerous obstacles in replacing well-used but aging warships, while hoping to build newer versions for 21st Century threats. A replacement for her nearly-40 year old anti-air warfare destroyers have been consistently put off, as have the new Joint Support Ships intended to substitute for the even older Protecteur-class  replenishment ships. Recent plans to build  arctic patrol ships to plug this gap in its Northern defenses was canceled for cost overruns even before they were built!

The Government recently detailed plans to spend $40 billion to salvage the shipbuilding industry and by building up to 50 large vessels over the next 30 years. Considering the track record so far of promises not kept and programs consistently delayed, the public might understandably be skeptical of such a plan, especially in these doubtful economic times. As an alternative to grandiose plans often dashed by reality, the great maritime nation might look to its roots during the last world war when it was the 3rd largest Navy in the world with over 400 warships and hundreds of naval aircraft. The backbone of this battle-hardened force was its light frigates and Fighting Corvettes:

Corvette HMCS Sackville as a museum ship.

Corvette HMCS Sackville as a museum ship.

HMCS Sackville is the last of the 123 Corvettes used by the Royal Canadian Navy in WW 2. Harbored at Halifax, Nova Scotia, she stands as a lasting memorial to the courageous men who fought on her lively decks. The Canadian Corvette was based on a British design, which derived from a “whale catcher”. They were small and cheap to build, and so could be produced quickly and in large numbers.
Both Navy’s versions were much the same. Each were 209 ft. long, 33 ft wide, and displaced 950 tons. They were slow at 16 knots max, but still good enough to catch the U-boats of the day.
For armament, they carried a 4-inch gun in front and a small 2 pounder at the rear of the ship. Later they were given smaller guns for anti-aircraft, including the 20mm Oerlikons, probably the most widely used gun of the war. Seeing HMCS Sackville today, it is hard to imagine how important these “Davids” were against the Nazi “Goliath”. By August of 1941, the large number of Corvettes were making their presence felt in the Battle of the Atlantic, so much so that U-boat commanders were said to be “boiling with rage” by the German press.
Though disliked by the regular officers, who wanted cruisers and destroyers, Winston Churchill paid homage by dubbing them “cheap but nasties”.

 By turning to low tech assets such as the modern corvette, much more powerful and capable than those from the war years, Canada could replace the difficult to build and replace, larger assets and restore numbers to the fleet as well. Thanks also to modern weapons, notably stand-off missiles, she’d need not give up capabilities for this switch in procurement.

If the West could grasp hold of the concept, that the technology deployed late in the Cold War and perfected in the ongoing Middle East wars like smart bombs, cruise missiles, robot vehicles, advanced tracking sensors, ect, are the answer to replacing their aging, shrinking force structures, we would see a revolution in weapons procurement. First, this would require an end to traditional bias against small, low tech platforms, which are now so much more capable due to the miniaturization of warfare (smart bombs+common platforms). Western force structures in planes, armored vehicles, and warships have been steadily shrinking throughout the latter half of the last century, because of a desire to possess high tech and high performance vehicles. But the strain of placing this new wine brought on by the microchip revolution into old bottles of the Industrial Revolution has become unbearable even for the richest of nations.

Corvettes of 1000-1500 tons can mount the same weapons as larger destroyers and frigates, only lacking the range,performance, and payload. For Canada’s needs, short range light warships would be more than adequate since they would operate most often close to home, or for extended periods could always travel with logistics motherships. Vessels which performed the exact same functions, of basically the same size, and possessing the same limitations during the World War years were known as destroyers and frigates!

More tomorrow.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2009 8:26 pm

    @elgatoso:
    The British also have (had?) an AEW version of a Sea King.

    The French equipped several Super Pumas with a radar in their Orchidée project. The latter was for SAR/GMTI (standoff ground surveillance), but probably with limited AEW abilities.

  2. Defiant permalink
    August 11, 2009 4:58 pm

    there are radar systems for helicopters, but the only uav able to carry those is the firescout.

  3. elgatoso permalink
    August 11, 2009 3:49 pm

    I believe that all uav is a new tech not yet on the shelf.This tech is not even mature
    enough .If you are asking about a awacs helo I think the only one in the market is the russian Kamov 31 and the RN are developing one for the queen elizabeth.I could be wrong.

  4. Defiant permalink
    August 11, 2009 1:43 pm

    Are there even ship based radar uav’s on the market? vtol lack endurance especially with energy hungry radar systems, while the usual male drone is not really deployable from a ship.

  5. elgatoso permalink
    August 11, 2009 11:02 am

    The ng fire scout could be used in place of a manned helo.The fire scout have a Weight of 3,150 lbs (1,428.8 kg) and a height of 9.42 ft (2.9 m).

  6. August 11, 2009 7:26 am

    “Weapons on corvettes used by large destroyers and frigates-Harpoon missiles, Excocet missiles, Rolling-Air Frame Missile, 76 mm cannon.”

    German FACs use three of those as well (and could easily use Harpoons).

    Small ships lack the sophisticated, multispectral sensors to make as good use of these anti-missile defences as FFGs.
    Small ships also typically lack the mast height to match the radar horizon of FFG/DDG.
    A FFG or DDG can use its helicopter to see beyond the ship’s radar horizon, while no corvette has a hangar and the few helicopter corvettes lack beyond-horizon missiles.

    Radar UAVs aren’t for free as well – they easily need as much volume and displacement as 16 Harpoons.

  7. William permalink
    August 11, 2009 4:58 am

    Or how about something like the planned RN Future Surface Combatant C3 OPV/Corvette designed for OP/ASW/MCM, 3000-3500 tons, 100-110 metres, £100 million, similar in size to a the Type 21 frigate that served in the falklands. It probably will be fairly lightly armed, to keep costs down, but with the space and ability to have extra sensors and weapons added if needed.

    They probably won’t be built in the numbers that could exploit their potential.

    BVT shipyard is offering to LEASE C3’s to the RN, such that BVT would pay for their construction and lease them for a fixed period to the RN. This would save the RN the capital costs of construction.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 10, 2009 9:51 pm

    Smitty said “Mike asserted that corvettes mount the same weapons as destoyers and frigates. They clearly do not. ”

    Weapons on corvettes used by large destroyers and frigates-Harpoon missiles, Excocet missiles, Rolling-Air Frame Missile, 76 mm cannon.

  9. elgatoso permalink
    August 10, 2009 8:52 pm

    The hated for the blog comunity LCS was suposed to make use of a array of several different vehicles, VTUAV, and two Unmanned Surface Vehicles
    (USVs)The VTUAV under current
    configuration will have a sensor package with an electrooptical/
    infrared ball. These systems together are used to
    detect, classify, localise, track and engage submarines in the
    littoral environment. The LCS MCM mission package can also sweep for mines using an unmanned boat. This Unmanned Surface Vehicle autonomously sweeps for acoustic and magnetic mines using
    the Unmanned Surface Sweep System (USSS), an on-board
    deployable magnetic sweep wire and Mk 104 acoustic source.
    Future mission packages will also feature the Organic Airborne
    and Surface Influence Sweep (OASIS).In fact, LCS may usher in a new era in naval warfare.Even ezpensive.If can be used like mothership with some advanced “protector’ you could use the smaller ships like decoy and use your fire scout to disable your enemies.

  10. August 10, 2009 5:50 pm

    The Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship program hasn’t been canceled. At least not yet. It’s come under the umbrella of this 30 year strategy, so is temporarily delayed until there is some form of the strategy in place.

    Those ships are quite close to fitting the bill you describe. They are lightly armed, but have the potential to add complexity in sensors and armament as needed and they are designed to operate “close to home” on all three of Canada’s coasts.

    Relative to a frigate, they are very cheap and easy to build. If you are serious about wanting this capability in the Canadian Navy, you should argue that these ships should not fall by the wayside.

  11. B.Smitty permalink
    August 10, 2009 4:19 pm

    I agree Chuck. 1000-2000 tonne OPVs are certainly useful – and can be cheap to build – but they are not corvettes.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    August 10, 2009 4:12 pm

    Defiant,

    Corvettes are regularly used for patrol and forward presense, and OPVs in this size range (the corvette’s more peaceful cousin) are designed for it.

    We patrol with much smaller Cyclones, operating from bases the Gulf.

    HMS Stockholm and HMS Malmö are patrolling in the Gulf of Aden right now.

    Mike asserted that corvettes mount the same weapons as destoyers and frigates. They clearly do not. That was the point of my post.

  13. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 10, 2009 4:02 pm

    Canada’s plans and the 50 ships referred included beefing up their Coast Guard. That is where the Corvette sized ships can be useful.

    Incidentally there was a second class of Corvettes, the Castle class”
    1060 tons standard, 1590-1630 tons full load
    252 ft oa
    36’8″ beam
    13’9″ draft
    Still only a single shaft and 2,7850 HP for 16.5 knots.

    The extra length made them much better sea boats for the North Atlantic, but still under powered.

  14. Defiant permalink
    August 10, 2009 3:51 pm

    B.Smitty,
    It’s not that easy, you have the problem that those small ships do not have long endurance which is restrictive on foreign coasts without harbour infrastructure, compensating with numbers (as indicated by the “it’s cheaper” argumentation) is also hard as it further increases logistic strain.
    Homeland coastal patrol is the job of the coast guard, military does not have the rights of law enforcement.
    I don’t know how this is handled in canada though, with its long coastline and wide naval territory.

    “Mike said, “Corvettes of 1000-1500 tons can mount the same weapons as larger destroyers and frigates, only lacking the range,performance, and payload. “
    I don’t know of any corvettes that carry SM-2/3/6, Aster-30, TLAM, SCALP-N, 5″ guns, 155mm AGSs. Very few can carry 10-tonne helos like the SH-60 and NH90.”
    Small ships do not need these systems as land attack and AAW is clearly not a job for corvettes, they can still have short range air defense with aster15 or essm, which is enough as you won’t detect a sea skimmer outside the range of these weapons. AGS is not mounted on any ship yet.

  15. B.Smitty permalink
    August 10, 2009 2:40 pm

    Defiant said, “Vessels smaller than 2000t won’t be of much use outside of a real war or in niche roles.”

    I would actually say the opposite. They would have far more value outside of a real war than in one – as patrol vessels.

  16. B.Smitty permalink
    August 10, 2009 2:38 pm

    Mike said, “Corvettes of 1000-1500 tons can mount the same weapons as larger destroyers and frigates, only lacking the range,performance, and payload. “

    I don’t know of any corvettes that carry SM-2/3/6, Aster-30, TLAM, SCALP-N, 5″ guns, 155mm AGSs. Very few can carry 10-tonne helos like the SH-60 and NH90.

  17. Defiant permalink
    August 10, 2009 1:46 pm

    Protector is not really a good solution, the radar won’T be useful for more than 6 miles, and the whole electronic equipment along with a stabilised weapon station brings them up to several million in cost while a fisherboat with a 30mm can butcher themand you also need extra vessels for boarding. The best solution for naval patrol is air, carrier based awacs for example can cover over 100nm radius, you’d need more than 5 destroyers/frigates to cover the same field. Of course the problem is that such a system can only be launched fom a carrier. The only aerial systems deployable from helodecks are vtol, but these lack range/endurance and payload for siginificant radar systems.

    Mike,
    the number of every high tech military assetts will go down. This is especially because of all the new sensors and missiles and electronics. Less than 40% of the cost of a fighter jet is for the body and turbine, of course planes were cheaper without that stuff , but you can’t hope to shoot down a contemporary jet without those systems. It’s The same for ships. While it’s true that not every ship needs to have 200nm AA area defense, It’s better to built these complex ships in peacetime and build the less complex ones in wartime. You also cannot launch long endurance uav from small ships.
    Of course numbers are good for presence, but you also need more personell,which is even more expensive, not good in times of decloning budgets. For smart bombs you need jets which are as smart and a target. Targets are usually aquired by very expensive high tech technology. Robot vehicle will only fill niches, all the sensory equipment is also very expensive.
    Cruise missiles cost a million per shot as well and are only suitable against high value or high risk targets. Remember that you are blowing up a turbofan engine with every cruise missile.

    Vessels smaller than 2000t won’t be of much use outside of a real war or in niche roles.

  18. elgatoso permalink
    August 10, 2009 10:37 am

    The West would grasp hold of the concept that technology are the answer to replacing structures ,but take time.The new generations have the capacity to end the traditional bias against small, low tech platforms, which are now so much more capable due to the miniaturization of warfare (smart bombs+common platforms).
    Most of that press has focused on the Air Force’s Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles but Navy’s submarines have been equipped with unmanned vehicles.
    This trend is on the rise, with more subs trading out their nuclear weapons for easily deployed robots.The benefits of these machines far outweigh the costs. They save lives and Tax dollars by creating efficient ways to perform surveilance and reconaissance, attack our enemies, supply our troops in the field, and potentially remove troops from the field for medical attention. The costs of operations of these machines is less than that to arm and deploy a bomber jet, or trucks with supplies. These machines, are also significantly cheap to replace than if one of our Bombers, medical teams, or supply teams were taken out by enemy forces. We’re talking maybe millions vs. the billions it costs to replace our Dumb technology.A fleet of expendable unmanned patrol craft like the Protector should be created for counter-insurgency and anti-piracy operations.

  19. August 10, 2009 7:38 am

    “Corvettes of 1000-1500 tons can mount the same weapons as larger destroyers and frigates, only lacking the range,performance, and payload.”

    The same weapons (and more importantly: the same sensors, defensive suite and C4 equipment) cost the same as well. You don’t get the equipment for free just because you chose a smaller hull.

    The cost difference is merely about cheap relatively steel, a bit more installed propulsion power in FFG and about shipyard costs.

    In other words: Either you compromise on effectiveness or you get few units. The price difference caused by size alone is quite small.

    Those WW2 corvettes were compromises in comparison to normal destroyers.
    – too slow for surface action against anything but subs
    – too slow to escort even slow WWI vintage battleships
    – ineffective anti-air armament, therefore unacceptably vulnerable in most theaters (and no AA escort value)
    – ineffective anti-ship armament

    So they were limited to a ASW escort role in areas without enemy surface and air threat.
    That’s a wartime niche that fitted into a specific scenario – it’s a pointless approach for a peacetime navy that needs to be versatile to hope to meet future war’s needs.

Trackbacks

  1. LCS Alternative Weekly « New Wars
  2. Canada’s Navy Ripe for Change « New Wars

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