The Future of Amphibious Lift Pt 2
Today we note the commissioning of the US Navy’s latest and most famous member of the LPD-17 class amphibious ship, the USS New York. Most of the public who are appropriately celebrating a vessel made with World’s Trade Center steel have little inkling of the troubled history of this entire class, which we touched on yesterday. The endless delays, the mechanical difficulties, doubling in cost, and the questions of its survivability in a new century are forgotten in the midst of the media spotlight.
Instead of sending in Blue Water ships which are ever fewer in number and extremely visible to modern missiles and aerial threats, we think there is a better way. New hull forms, some even currently in use by civilian shipping companies, the Army, and Navy offer alternatives to sending billion-dollar wonders into harms-way with their many hundreds of crewmen.
Warships, Off the Shelf
Where I see amphibious lift going in the near future is toward high speed vessels. This must happen if the concept is to survive the new century, where missile threats abound and the cost of last century “Gator’s” which are constantly packed with armor and weapons until their are priced out of range. As proved by exorbitant prices, their increase size and cost, such giant amphibious are too costly to risk in a full scale war, and too exquisite for the low tech warfare they most often perform. As proof of this, we need look only to the new $3 billion future helicopter carrier USS America, estimated pricing at $3 billion each, about twice as much as the recently commissioned USS Makin Island. Yet, unlike her predecessor, the America doesn’t come with the well deck considered essential for amphibious landings, making it more of a mini-carrier.
So we see these high tech giants getting pricier, but less capable. We must do better and can, with off the shelf vessels like this:
The idea is to combine the speed of the Navy’s hovercraft, with the range and seakeeping of the HSV such as those already deployed as navy auxiliaries. Instead of a massive amphibious mothership, with an expensive crew, protection, and refueling problems, the lander itself would go direct from port to the beach. Though, most of these ferry conversions are unable to beach, they can get to close enough to shore for their cargo to be safely floated in. Back in January, we wrote:
Where then does the HSV fit into this? How about as a fire brigade, the nautical equivalent of the old west horse cavalry, always on standby, prepared to race to any world hotspot in time to save the day. Here is where the fast cats high speed, which some has questioned as irrelevant to littoral warfare, would come into play. The HSVs would bring with them troops armed for bear with Stryker or Abrams armor ( a feat which the C-130 cargo plane is incapable) ready to strike at pirates in their supposed shallow water safe havens. For disaster relief, they would come with numerous supplies to save the needy.
We also mentioned the same concept earlier when discussing the new MV Susitna ferry, the Navy’s Transforming E-Craft:
The MV Susitna catamaran ferry is an interesting concept similar to the Navy’s current fleet of catamaran vessels with one remarkable difference, it has the ability to transform from a deep water transport to a shallow draft vessel, specifically into 3 distinct modes of barge, catamaran and SWATH (small waterplane area twin hull) ship…The Navy sees it as key for its expeditionary/amphibious warfare sea basing plans, hence the official moniker of “E-craft”. This is also where its transforming abilities come to play, allowing it to morph into a shallow-water “Sealifter” quickly from its Blue Water transport mode.
Rolls Royce has proposed a Intra-Theatre Logistics Vessel, much like the Navy HSVs, which the company describes as the following:
Intra-Theatre Logistics Vessel – A fast steel monohull vessel configured to deliver capability within Operational Theatre. The vessel is designed to operate at an average speed greater than 40 knots and has a long- self-deployment range.
The design uses a monohull commercial ropax hull design with a wave-piercing bow. With a range of 3,000nmiles, 2,500 tonnes of cargo can be transported at 40 knots, almost twice as fast as existing ships of equivalent payload.
The smaller Intra-Theatre Logistic Vessel has a cargo area of 2,310m² and is capable of transporting up to 350 troops over 4,000nm at 40 knots.
Specific military features include a helicopter landing area amidships capable of accommodating an aircraft up to Chinook size.
Check out the link for photos of this interesting concept.
For close-in operations, supporting these larger vessels there is Sweden’s combat boat 90. This amazingly versatile craft defies description, other than being worthy of the US Marines:
More is Less
Since the end of the Cold War, the US Navy shipbuilders has used a set of metrics for its warships, including amphibious vessels which expects “that less is more”. In other words expect to get much more capability and service out of a smaller peacetime fleet. Arguably, since the 1990s, the fleet has been operating at a wartime tempo, since now there are numerous small threats instead of the one Red Navy. Looking at this newest amphibious warship USS New York and her sisterships of the LPD-17 class, it appears that “more is less“, with pricier ships deploying less capability, as well as fewer numbers.
Using smaller, advanced hulls forms as we have mentioned would address two main problems facing the Navy: declining numbers and increasing vulnerability. While a large ship might be seen as being more survivable in modern war, no ship is invulnerable or can deploy in more than a single warzone at once. Lose one ship and here is a tremendous percentage of your capability lost. The smaller, more numerous high speed vessels, constantly in motion, from port to port or port to beach, presenting less a target and available in large numbers will do the job of a few big ships, with less the risk.