The Aegis Mothership
Today we honor the recent passing of Rear Adm. Wayne E. Meyer by looking ahead at his lasting legacy, the Aegis Combat System. The Navy’s future Aegis plans are centered around updating current Ticonderoga and Arleigh Burke class ships, the 3 Zumwalt destroyers, and a future CG(X) cruiser design. Concerning the latter, initial details has it as a 22,000 ton warship, powered by nuclear reactors, with an estimated cost of $5 billion each. Considering the Navy practice of drastically under-estimating the cost of new construction, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest $10 billion or more for CG(X).
When Aegis was first envisioned in the 1960s and 1970s, initial proposals included the placement of the high tech radar system on board various hull designs, described here by Wikipedia:
During this time frame, the Navy envisioned installing the Aegis combat system on both a nuclear powered “Strike Cruiser” (or CSGN) and a conventionally powered destroyer (originally designated DDG 47). The CSGN was to be a new, 17,200 ton cruiser design based on the earlier California- and Virginia-class cruisers. The Aegis destroyer design would be based on the gas turbine powered Spruance class.
In the 1970s we see a much larger and better funded Navy rejecting very costly platforms that would reduce the number of Aegis vessels in service, while increasing building time, choosing instead to use a rather spartan Spruance destroyer hull. Though not an ideal solution, the vessels being somewhat cramped for this purpose, it had the benefit of getting a very important weapons system to the fleet very quickly when it mattered most, in the final showdown of the arms race between the Soviet Union and the USA.
In contrast, today a less well-funded, and greatly reduced in numbers fleet is seeking a solution for its cruiser plans that the Cold War Navy rationally rejected. We can only see the CG(X) design as currently configured entering service by further taking away from our vanishing general purpose forces, and even then only a handful bought as with the DDG-1000 debacle. There are other solutions though which will not add to the detriment of our fleet numbers, or bring an unbearable strain on static shipbuilding budgets-The Aegis Mothership.
For the most part, the Aegis Mothership would be unarmed, save for a handful of point defense guns and missiles. It would be totally dependent on armed warships for protection, much like an aircraft carrier or a USAF AWACS plane is to fighters. As with these existing weapons, it would greatly enhance the fighting power of its charges.
By taking the expensive radar system out of existing vessels, the Navy could build warships drastically cheaper and in greater numbers. Taking away much of the top superstructure of a warship would also make them naturally stealthy. During times of peace, or in low threat areas against pirates or smuggler, such ships would be adequate in their “floating barge” role where today we use our costly and technically wondrous Aegis ships, wasting their superior abilities in a very sundry function. In times of war or crisis, the Aegis Mothership would deploy, super-charging the squadron defenses by the proven abilities of the most sophisticated radar, command, control, and communications system ever devised. A true “plug and play” warship!
There should be little concern that such a ship would be the first target by enemy countermeasures in a conflict, since the carriers and AWACS operators face this already. Enough would be on hand to ensure one or more would be available for any contingency, from 18 to 25 at least. The possible platforms are endless but should be on a spartan hull built to mercantile specifications, much like the old radar picket ships from the 1950s were converted from Liberty Ship hulls. Here was a very important and unique capability which entered service very quickly by an imaginative conversion. Our current T-AKE vessels would not be an unlikely candidate, but something about half the size and cost would be preferable.
Considering the widespread proliferation of anti-ship cruise missiles, and now the deployment of ballistic missiles with precision targeted warheads, it is obvious we need Aegis at sea. However, this doesn’t mean every ship must be fitted with Aegis anymore than an airport needs more than one tower, or a warship needs many captains. The advanced radar can already control hundreds of missiles and aircraft in a wartime environment, and if placed on a large enough ship, even this proven attribute would be greatly enhanced with little to impede growth or updates.
Summing up-placing the Aegis Combat System in auxiliary type warships, also known as motherships in blogging terminology, would reap the following advantages:
- Warships would decline in cost, size, while their stealthiness and numbers would improve.
- The abilities of spartan warships such as corvettes would be enhanced, without any additional cost.
- The attributes of Aegis technology would be the focus, instead of an exquisite, revolutionary, hard to build new hull form.
- The more room on deck for the Aegis, the greater the area for updates and expansion.
Just imagine the Aegis Mothership as an orchestra conductor, with its violins, cymbals, flutes, and cornets as arsenal ships, corvettes, aviation ships, and SSGNs. As the conductor of music makes no sound himself, so is it unnecessary for the mothership to be armed, but controlling the actions of other instruments. It would perform air defense, launch deep strike, engage enemy missiles, bombard shore establishments, guide anti-submarine helicopters, and destroy enemy ballistic missiles. All this will be performed without the parent vessel firing a shot, but allowing warships to do what they were built for, only to fight.