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Mothership Solutions

January 6, 2010

Defining a Mothership

What is a mothership you ask? Recently within the comments I gave small boat and shipbuilding expert Lee Wahler my definition and he mostly concurred with my ideas. I will repost here:

I see the mothership as a force enhancer, the multi-mission platform that the USN tries to make put of every single surface combatant. If we can place things like the aviation facilities, helicopters and UAV hangers, extra accommodations for small boat crews, high band radars, ect. you could forgo putting these tonnage and price raising extras onto surface combatants, reducing their cost and size. You could then affordably increase numbers dramatically…

The mothership might also carry the extra fuel to top off these smaller ships, much like Illustrious did recently for the RN, and garnered a lot of heat. The battleships use to do this all the time for their escorting tin cans. It is not uncommon. Like you I agree there need be no set size, though I’d stop at 20,000 tons at least!



Occasionally Lee will send yours truly suggestions for mothership designs. Here is an interesting proposal via Ship-Technology called “Blue Giant – Heavy Transport Ship“. Click the link for photos and more info:

Lee writes: 

Here is another T-MMS Multi-Mission Support Ship candidate.  It has cranes, a wet well dock, the cargo capacity and accommodations to support boat, small ships, amphib ops and perform sealift too.  A small helo deck fwd could be augmented.  MSC could charter it.  German built.


The 11,000t Blue Giant provides diving support, platform inspection, well
maintenance, dry dock (for vessels up to 130m long) and onboard workshop
facilities. In addition, it is designed to transport floating cargos and has
a 700t Ro-Ro capacity.

The ship is equipped with two starboard Liebherr electro-hydraulic cranes
with a single lift capacity of up to 350t (18m outreach) and 700t combined,
and a single portside Liebherr crane with 200t (31m radius) capacity. The
Blue vessel is also equipped with a DP2 dynamic positioning system;
accommodation for 199 crew; a 6.00m × 6.00m moonpool; and a 16.7m × 16.7m
helicopter platform.


The Blue Giant has a gross tonnage of 17,341t, an overall length of 172.5m,
a breadth of 25.4m, a docking draught 11m, and a fully loaded summer draught
of 6.6 m. The cargo hold is 132m × 18m × 9.4m and it can hold 1,383

There are 20 pontoon-type tweendeck covers to subdivide the hold at a height
of either 6m or 4.7m. The main deck is strengthened to withstand a loading
of 16t/m² and the centreline docking blocks can support a load of 150t. The
side docking blocks are strengthened for 90t.

The cargo holds are fitted with SOLAS -II-2, REG 54 systems along with CO2
and sprinkler systems. The vessel is equipped with two Becker rudders, twin
screw and three bow-thrusters and can achieve a speed of 16kt at 5.6m
draught and 15.5kt at 6.6m draught. The main engines are two diesel units of
4,500kW output and there are three bow thrusters (2 × 1,000kW and 1 × 760kW)
and two stern thrusters of 600kW.


The Supercharger

Some of you have expressed concerns in another post how small offshore patrol vessels like the River class can be used in place of high end frigates. A class of ship that would be adequate for fishery protection or anti-smuggling might be at risk against another enemy frigate or even a small submarine. These concerns are understandable but the OPVs and corvettes would not be alone.

The mothership would act as the supercharger for an Influence Squadron. By its mere presence it would transform a force of ships adequate for presence but not much else, into a fleet to be reckoned with for low intensity combat situations. The mothership would load helicopters allowing the corvettes to become a lethal ASW hunting group. If the ships are equipped with SAM like the ESSM or Sea Wolf, then the larger ship would engage over the horizon radar (Aegis?) dominating the immediate air space.

If an amphibious raiding operation is called for, the mothership would ferry the troops. Then she would disperse them among the smaller vessels better equipped for shallow sea operations. The mothership would also deploy RHIBs and even small landing craft for Marine excursions. She would provide extensive command, control, and communications gear.

For sustained operations, the larger ship will load extra fuel, compensating for the smaller vessels’ shorter range and endurance. Ammo stores could also be carried. She would be a hospital ship, also a barracks vessel, providing essential comforts for long tours often not found in small spartan warships.

For most operations at sea, experience in the last decade which will likely continue, even expand into the new, point to low tech anti-insurgency operations on the sea. These will include anti-piracy, showing the flag, anti-narcotics, anti-arms smuggling, disaster relief, ect. For these missions plus sustained presence dealing with the population of the sea, large surface battleships are so much over-kill, and since even multi-mission frigates have priced themselves out of range for adequate numbers, then low cost patrol ships, corvettes, and cutters are more than adequate for these missions. They will return numbers to the fleet, while countering the forces of anarchy at sea. If something more is needed for the occasional “hot” war, in most instances a carrier strike group may not be needed. Instead of “send in the carrier” it will be “send a mothership!” to supercharge vessels already present.


18 Comments leave one →
  1. leesea permalink
    January 8, 2010 1:29 pm

    I would like to point out that my PBR had more gun barrels than the Swift or the JHSV is going to have!

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 8, 2010 6:02 am

    D.E. wrote “Those two .50s were emplaced in two hull openings reminiscent of old USN cruisers”

    I imagine you would have to get creative arming the Swift considering her unconventional hull!

    Lee-Swift is only a great pirate hunter compared to the LCS! Of course, almost anything would be…

  3. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 7, 2010 11:26 pm


    There is an olde American saw… KILL the lawyers. After that, everything else falls into place naturally.

  4. leesea permalink
    January 7, 2010 10:58 pm

    WE need a reality check here. The Swift was chartered as a testbed for mine warfare missions – guess what it did NOT do? Then she was Navy crewed and yes they had gunners. Then the ship was re-chartered for a new nebulous mission and as a time chartered civilian crewed ship. Some of its original armament was changed. Here is its final chapter: as soon as the JHSVs come into service I predict the Swift will go off charter – regardless of its value for ANY mission. Call me cynical but the USN does not want any inexpensive ship competing with its wonderful HSV toys!

    The Swift probably will not perform ANY anti-piracy work IMHO unless CNO oks a test for the LCS-1 deployment and only in that context.

    DER yes lawyers rule! for right or wrong. The number three at MSC is a lawyer.

  5. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 7, 2010 7:56 pm


    Too bad HSV-2 Swift has been down-graded, arms-wise. She used to have a 25 mm chain gun atop her bow and also a single M2HB .50 cal. machine-gun to either side of her bow. Those two .50s were emplaced in two hull openings reminiscent of old USN cruisers of the force in service during the late 19th and earliest 20th centuries. Each HMG was provided with a gun shield. They really did look like old 19th century RF guns. There’s a hi-res bow-on view of this gun set-up available online, but I can’t find it – presently.

    Currently, HSV-2 Swift has a .50 cal. H2MB machine-gun in place of that 25 mm chain gun in the bow. The two bow-wing .50 cal.s seem to have been removed. I have to suppose that other, earlier armaments have now been reduced and/or removed. Lawyers rule, I suppose – or something equally stupid.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 7, 2010 7:28 pm

    The HSV Swift-Here is a fast ship already in the water, already well proven in numerous operations. Now shakedown needed, she’s ready to go and at 1/3 the cost. She ain’t no frigate, but good enough for the likes of the Somali pirates.

  7. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 7, 2010 6:20 pm

    Slightly OT, but HSV-2 Swift is now docked in Djibouti along with FFG-47 USS Nicholas. They are heading down the east coast of Africa through Somali pirate waters. They’ll be visiting four African mainland nations and three Indian Ocean island nations. Besides showing the flag and conducting training exercises with East African navies & coast guards, one might wonder if they might go pirate hunting (one can always hope). Certainly, one would expect that the HSV-2’s utility as a logistics enhancer might fit into a future conceptualization of mothership deployments. Many small naval and coast guard forces are going to be seeing something new when HSV-2 makes a port visit. Anyhow, just go down to posting # 3 of this thread to see an onboard picture taken in port at Djibouti.

    DJIBOUTI (Jan. 5, 2010) Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Marc Gomez salutes the national ensign during the shifting of colors after High-Speed Vessel (HSV-2) Swift moors in Djibouti. Swift and the guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47) are in Djibouti as part of a scheduled deployment within the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility supporting Africa Partnership Station. Swift and Nicholas will deploy to East Africa, visiting ports in Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros. Africa Partnership Station, originally a U.S. Navy initiative, is now an international effort aimed at improving maritime safety and security for the African through training and other collaborative activities with African partner countries. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jason Morris/Released)

  8. leesea permalink
    January 7, 2010 2:14 pm

    my problems with the NNFM is that the smaller boats it uses are just not appropriate for the green water it talks about. And that is from someone who has done brownwater and greenwater and bluewater ops.

  9. leesea permalink
    January 7, 2010 2:12 pm

    MrsD, I absolutely do not think the LPD17 platform should be used as a baseline for ANY other US Navy ship. It is the epitome of how to over-design a ship built specifically and expensively for a single mission i.e. forcible entry.
    There is no good engineering nor ship production reason to repeat that class’s mistakes for an LSD(X) and certainly no reason to build naval auxiliary or sealift ships more expensive as warships. One must understand the basic construction and specification differences. As for amphib ships I think the Danish Absalon or Singaporean Endurance class ships are far better models and less expensive.

    When ANYONE starts with a warship design for a solution (are you listening Galrahn?) they MUST accept significantly higher costs and that means LESS hulls will inevitably be bought. I have done all three types many times over.

    BUT back to this thread’s topic: DEFINE the nature of a mothership. I have said my preference is for a naval auxiliary or specialized sealift ship (which is what Mike started with). Next week we hope to have more of naval auxiliaries.

  10. elgatoso permalink
    January 7, 2010 12:24 pm

    could be a really stupid idea but what about something like this

    or this

    or this

    inside this
    to catch pirates.

  11. nico permalink
    January 6, 2010 10:41 pm

    I am sure we can do this, motherships are just an extension of tenders used by subs of both sides during WW2.

  12. Mrs. Davis permalink
    January 6, 2010 8:24 pm

    Sub 20,000 ton? Sounds like it ought to be built off the LPD-17 chassis. Getting the kinks out of that design was pretty painful. No need to reinvent the wheel and endure another round of pain. Just modify the one we’ve got to fit the budget and the requirements. That’s what we’d do if there were a war on. There is? Someone should tell the USN

  13. leesea permalink
    January 6, 2010 7:51 pm

    I see seabasing as a joint operation for the transhipment of men and materials ashore. My ideas for mobile logistics ships wrap around the idea that the later type sail with the small combatants and maintain a MODLOC at sea in their patrol zone.

    The other element which is important is that the logistics ship serves as a force enabler by having C4ISR capabilities which could be networked into the smal boys.

    Seabasing requires large ships with high load capacities. My logisitics ships can be much smaller and their capacities are tailored for warship support. I see the German Berlin class as towards the top end in size. Absalons may be over the top?

  14. January 6, 2010 7:01 pm

    uh, you do know this sounds like a combined sea base…instead of logistics being spread over 3 ships its contained in one. can the two concepts (sea basing and a mothership) be combined on one hull? by that i mean can we by one ship to fill both roles?

  15. leesea permalink
    January 6, 2010 5:30 pm

    The key to the use of a dockshp in support of small combatants is that one can load almost anything which will fit in its dock well. For example, the forward end could have accomodations barges with a helo deck on top after which woul be cargo, POL and stores barges. Alternately the well could be keep open in order to dock ships like PCs.

    Admittedly this is NOT a naval auxiliary which would be my top line choice but certainly it would be vastly cheaper and quicker to deploy. MSC could charter and the Navy would provide the barges etc. Hopefully NAVSEA can modigy barges quicker than ships?


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