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From Frigate to Mothership Pt 2

February 2, 2010

The guided-missile frigate USS Robert G. Bradley (FFG-49), prepares for an underway replenishment (UNREP), with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary fast fleet tanker RFA Wave Ruler.

The Overworked, Stretched Thin Frigates

Here are some examples just from current events that suggests the large multimission frigate might be in over its head in the modern sea environment:

  • Iranians seize British sailors and Marines in RHIBs from the frigate HMS Cornwall.
  • The RFA Wave Knight (used in the patrol role as a frigate) with Marines on board was present during a pirate hostage grab of a British yacht couple.
  • American auxiliary vessel (surveillance ship) is swarmed by Chinese “fishing trawlers” in the China Sea.
  • Despite having the world’s most impressive warships, modern frigates and destroyers deployed regularly in the Gulf, the Somali Pirates have not only survived but expanded their operations into the surrounding ocean.

None of the above incidents are individual proof the frigate is obsolete in its current form. Taken collectively they are signs the large multimission ship needs help in its essential function of sea control. Cost is not the only problem but also a confusion of the proper role of Blue Water versus littoral warfare. Using such ships in shallow waters, where most of these incident took place place means they are in the wrong environment where the best counter to small threats is a small warship.

There is always the “tyranny of numbers” to contend with as Brian J Dunn explains:

Our Navy is surely superior to any conceivable combination of potential foes, alarmism notwithstanding. Yet as a global power, our sea power cannot be narrowly defined by our superb warships able to win conventional sea-control campaigns. We have many objectives at sea… The tyranny of numbers matters to the United States Navy…

Our cruiser and destroyer surface combatants provide the bulk of our fleet and are outstanding multi-mission warships. But they can’t be everywhere. Nor are they needed everywhere. When a multi-mission ship is sent on a mission that does not need such a capable warship, we remove that ship from our pool of assets available to carry out another mission that requires a cruiser or destroyer.

The answer then is to no longer view the frigate as a stand-alone vessel but as a mothership of systems. The expensive ship with its advanced spaces, air-sea radar, sonar, large helos, and occasionally with amphib capability should be used in conjunction with patrol ships, fast attack craft, and corvettes to form a networked, single whole. Such vessels can cost in $100 million or much less (as seen in the next section), affording several to very many more than the cost of a highly capable but cost-prohibitive frigate.

Getting Help from Small Friends

The new frigate/mothership need not be of traditional warship design, probably shouldn’t be, but of mercantile specifications. Examples may be the RFA vessels or the above mentioned Absalon. How much greater would be the patrol area, and how much a deterrent they would be against small boats navies as in the Gulf, working in conjunction with patrol vessels? Each would enhance the abilities of the other. As a true mothership, the older frigate would maintain its role of a multimission vessel, but instead of lone cruising, it would share its enhanced abilities with a network of small craft. For $1 billion, you could build the first of many squadrons that can cover a great swathe of territory. For instance, for that price you can buy:

  • 1 British C2 design Future Surface Combatant ($644 million US?)  and 5 River class OPVs ($60 million)or
  • 1 Absalon ($400 million?) and 3 Visby Corvettes ($184 million) or
  • 1 RFA Wave class ($175 million) and 10 Skjold fast attack craft ($75 Million?) or
  • 3 JHSV ($200 million) and 40 Stiletto boats ($12 million).

You cannot maintain control of the sealanes with an all-battleship navy, as proved with continued frustration of Navy commanders in the Gulf, unable to get a handle on the most minor of nautical threats of hijacking or piracy. The business there is apparently booming, even under the guns, missiles, and aircraft of the world’s most powerful navies. Obviously the large multimission ships with so many wonderful capabilities are alone inadequate for today’s threats, neither can you afford enough them.

Waiting for the Transformation

After world war 2, there came a dramatic transformation of warships classes, taking into account the lessons of war. For instance, the role of capital ship was taken by the aircraft carrier, while the battleship quickly disappeared in most navies. Taking somewhat longer to die out was the large gun cruiser, variously of heavy, light and anti-aircraft ships, of which we wrote a while back in Evolutions of the Cruiser:

We also saw how the globe-spanning 10,000 ton cruiser of the 1930’s transformed strictly into a fleet escort by 1945, soon thereafter disappearing as a class or morphing into different classes, such as aviation ships. With the destroyers and frigate type ships increasingly becoming high-end escorts in most modern navies, along with attack submarines rising in cost and capabilities, the cruiser role has become all but extinct.

After the world war, we saw the tiny destroyer, or small boys taking over the mantle of cruiser for fleet screen and commerce protection duties. Now that these vessels, along with new frigates have become so expensive and essential to battle fleet duties, we seem long overdue for a “new cruiser” which can perform screen, escort, and patrol missions in place of the shrinking number of large warships. We see at least two types emerging out of the frigate–the Mothership and the Corvette, each of various shapes and sizes, but more affordable and available in large numbers.

39 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2016 1:13 am

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  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 5, 2010 2:11 pm

    Scott I’m looking at 4 of your posts, 2 from different emails. Looks like whatever was wrong fixed itself!

  3. Scott B. permalink
    February 5, 2010 1:53 pm

    I don’t seem to be able to post any more comments under this blog entry.

  4. Scott B. permalink
    February 5, 2010 1:52 pm

    I’ll try again :

    ****************************************************

    Scott B. said : “LCS mission modules, which adds another $60 million or so to the unit cost”

    I just had a quick look at the FY2011 budget material for the Navy, BA1 Book, to find out what the latest budget figures for the LCS mission packages looked like.

    Here is what I learned (so far) :

    Page 319 :

    1) 16 mission packages are to be procured through FY2015, at a total cost of $1,157.6 million (including spares), meaning an average cost of $72.35 million per unit.

    2) One MCM package will be procured in FY2011, at a cost of $91.1 million (including spares).

    Page 321 :

    1) The MCM package to be procured in FY2011 is NOT complete, since it lacks :

    * 1 x USV ($5.7 million each)
    * 1 x USV sweep ($2.6 million each)
    * 1 x USV craddle ($0.1 million each)
    * 2 x RMMVs ($12.7 million each)
    * 2 x Support containers ($0.25 million each)

    2) Missing items above adds up to $34.3 million, which means the complete MCM mission package would cost $125.4 million per unit

  5. Scott B. Mk2 permalink
    February 5, 2010 1:43 pm

    Meanwhile, HDMS Absalon is back off Somalia and starts to kick @$$ :

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8500611.stm

  6. William permalink
    February 3, 2010 9:46 am

    Apart from all the OTHER reasons that many have stated in favour of the ABSALON – One BIG reason I’m in favour of it, is that it can be built NOW (providing the funds are made available) in Danish/Polish shipyards taking the pressure off of already committed UK shipyards resulting in escort numbers rising sooner.

  7. Jed permalink
    February 3, 2010 9:23 am

    D.E.Riddick said: “By your prediction of a $900 million cost per LCS, then we might be able to acquire *THREE* Iver Huitfeldt type GP / AAW frigates for something like $100 million more”

    Buy why – you (sorry USN) don’t need the AAW version – you want the original flexible support ship (Absalon) version with the ability to launch boats over the stern, to carry the LCS’s “mission modules” (or cheaper versions thereof) on the flex deck, to carry extra USMC in containerized accom for green water ops etc.

    Now I admit that Gahlran is writing about a recent chat with the Skipper of LCS1 in which she leaves him with an appreciation of when all that speed can actually be useful: http://www.informationdissemination.net/2010/02/great-day-at-west-2010.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+InformationDissemination+(Information+Dissemination)&utm_content=Google+Reader

    But I think many of us remain unconvinced on that point. I am with many of the commentors here that big can be cheap, and as I am an completely unabashed Absalon ‘fan-boy’ I wrote an article for ThinkDefence on how the Absalon could fulfill the Royal Navy’s Future Surface Combatant – Capability Level 2 (or C2) requirements here: http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2010/01/fdr-maritime-futures-part-2-another-view-on-c2/

  8. D. E. Reddick permalink
    February 2, 2010 9:17 pm

    Scott,

    By your prediction of a $900 million cost per LCS, then we might be able to acquire *THREE* Iver Huitfeldt type GP / AAW frigates for something like $100 million more… Some collection of fiscally responsible congress-critters should be able to comprehend this sort of math… …Build a few USN warships in Baltic (id est, Danish) shipyards and let the US shipbuilding industry feel the shift in which way the winds are blowing. I bet they could figure out how to build effective warships just as inexpensively as is being done in Denmark.

  9. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 8:46 pm

    D.E. Reddick :

    What I don’t forgot is what happened when I announced at the other place, about a year ago, that LCS was going to hit the $800 million mark…

    But, hey, leave the past in the past, because the future is bright : full steam ahead towards the $900 million mark !!!

    After, at the current $840 million per single-mission ship, the Navy is already half way through…

  10. D. E. Reddick permalink
    February 2, 2010 8:33 pm

    Scott,

    You forgot to mention that L16 HDMS Absalom is truly armed like a frigate:
    _a) Single 127 mm / 62 cal. Mk 45 Mod 4 gun;
    __b) Two Oerlikon Millennium 35 mm naval revolver gun system CIWS;
    ___c) Thirty-six RIM-162 ESSM SAMs;
    ____d) Eight to sixteen Harpoon AShM / SSM warshots;
    _____e) Three twin navalized Stinger ManPad missile launchers.

    Compare that to LCS-1 USS Independence as presently configured like a PC type gunboat:
    _a) Single Mk 110 57 mm cannon;
    __b) Two Mk44 Bushmaster II 30 mm chain guns;
    ___c) Single RAM SAM launcher with 21 rounds.

    The two above designs have similar helicopter carrying capabilities, so that’s mostly a wash. But the Absalom class wasn’t designed to be 45-knot speedboats, so they do possess greater endurance and station-keeping capabilities. And the Absalom class comes in at less than one-half the cost of either type of LCS…

    Then there are those building Iver Huitfeldt class half-sisters to the Absalom class. They’re the general purpose & AAW enabled frigates being built for the Royal Danish Navy. And their cost appears to be coming in at just over one-half the price of the LCS. Of course, that price for those frigates doesn’t include the cost of their missile loadout.
    _a) Single 127 mm / 62 cal. Mk 45 Mod 4 gun;
    __b) Two Oerlikon Millennium 35 mm naval revolver gun system CIWS;
    ___c) Thirty-six RIM-162 ESSM SAMs;
    ____d) Eight to sixteen Harpoon AShM / SSM warshots;
    _____e) Two twin navalized Stinger ManPad missile launchers.
    ______f) Four eight-cell Mk 41 VLS systems with up to 32 SM-2 IIIA SAMs or a mix of SAMs and BGM-109 Tomahawk TLAMs.

    Such comparisons do result in making both LCS designs appear to be ANEMICALLY under-armed and hideously overpriced.

  11. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 8:23 pm

    WTH : He Shoots, He Scores !!!

  12. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 8:17 pm

    And we are supposed to believe that LCS “happens to be one of, if not THE best idea to go to production in the US Navy since nuclear power.”

    Really ?!?!?!

    No sh!t….

  13. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 8:11 pm

    “And now, the multi-million-dollar question : does anyone remember how much one DDG-51 represents in terms of operating and support costs ?”

    Here is the answer (sorry, I cannot resist) :

    “The letter stated that the average procurement cost of subsequent DDG-51s would be about $1.8 billion each, and that the estimated annual operating and support cost of a DDG-51 would be $41.2 million

    (May 7, 2008, letter from Admiral Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), to Senator Edward Kennedy)

    Reference : Page 14 of this report :

    Navy DDG-1000 Destroyer Program: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress
    Order Code RL32109
    by Ronald O’Rourke, CRS
    Updated June 5, 2008

  14. WTH permalink
    February 2, 2010 8:10 pm

    Mike,
    You continue to miss the point several people keep making in their own different ways. Corvettes in the USN are not useless, but their ability is terribly limited by their small size. You perceive them to be affordable because they are small; this is a fallacy. They are affordable because there is only so much you can squeeze into a small hull, a minor but important distinction.

    Larger hulls are easier to build than small hulls and steel is the absolute cheapest part of a ship. If you have to spend 2 hours on a weld because it’s difficult to reach in the small hull vs 20 minutes (or better yet automate the process) on a simple to perform weld with a 50% steel increase the bigger ship is going to come out cheaper. Designing for ease of construction and maintenance will drastically reduce costs, corvettes do not do well in this math.

    The USN is in the low ship count predicament because the Navy has tried to cram as much as possible onto each hull which has obviously raised costs. The mistaken concept has been that concentrating capability is cheaper in the long run because a ship already costs so much. That theory is true to an extent, but if you follow that line of reasoning you eventually wind up with a single nuclear powered submersible Aegis equipped aircraft carrier, or the current fleet.

    Your reasoning of now building corvettes is incompatible with where the USN needs to be able to operate: the other side of the ocean, without land support. A corvette or FAC is fine if you solely want to defend your own coast, but to carry the fight to the blue water or an enemy coast you need a larger hull for reasonable seakeeping and endurance in weather. 3000-4000 tons is proving to be about the minimum for this. The LaFayette class and derivatives are good examples of this line of thought.

    If we start building corvettes now we’ll be in an even worse position down the road when we have to deal with supporting them because they will come with a huge logistical tail. Your cure is worse than the disease, even if it looks good in the short term.

    To some of your other points:

    -If you argue that Tico’s or Burkes are not some of the most capable warships ever built, you’re blinded by your own position and not looking at anything objectively.
    -The piracy issue is by no means a capability issue, like other points you brought up in the original post it’s a people/ROE/political will problem.
    -Over deployment of crews and hull fatigue is not a function of poor capability, it’s a function of reduced quantity, don’t mix the arguments.
    -We can’t get to 313 or beyond without “low end warships” or more money. However a low end warship and a corvette are two different animals.

    If the USN can build a reasonably sized ship without insisting on cramming everything possible into it is an interesting question.

  15. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 8:00 pm

    Quick highlight from the aforementioned GAO report on LCS, page 11 :

    “For the seaframes, the Navy’s 2009 estimate of operating and support costs projected a total of $64.1 billion based on a 25-year service life.”

    Here is the maths : $64.1 billion for 55 ships over 25 years equals $46.5 million per ship per year in terms of operating and support costs.

    And now, the multi-million-dollar question : does anyone remember how much one DDG-51 represents in terms of operating and support costs ?

  16. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 7:45 pm

    Meanwhile, the GAO ratchets up the pressure on the LCS program : make sure you check their latest report HERE (PDF, 50 pages).

  17. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 7:43 pm

    OK Folks,

    I might be anticipating on tomorrow’s LCS weekly update, but there are some very interesting tidbits in the new 30-year Shipbuilding Plan :

    Page 17, Table 3 :

    1) 17 LCS are to be procured from FY2011 through FY2015, at a total cost of $10,816 millions, i.e. an average cost of $636 million per unit

    2) As explained in footnote #2 of the table, funding above does not include LCS mission modules, which adds another $60 million or so to the unit cost (assuming 1 module per seaframe), i.e. about $700 million per unit, or maybe I should say per single-mission unit.

    Page 20, first bullet point (emphasis added) :

    1) The Navy intends to continue procurement of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and, allowing for their 25-year service life, plans to build to its inventory total of 55 by FY 2035.

    2) IOW, $700 million for a (war)ship with a service life of 25 years is equivalent to $840 million per unit for a ship with a service life of 30 years.

    For (non-)comparison purposes :

    1) The Navy plans to procure 8 DDG-51s over the same timeframe for a total cost of $14,418 million, i.e. $1,802 million per unit (cf. Page 17, Table 3).

    2) The Navy intends to extend the service lifes of the Flight IIA DDG-51s to 40 years (cf. page 21, last paragraph).

    3) $1,802 per unit for a ship with a service life of 40 years is equivalent to $1,350 million per unit for a ship with a service life of 30 years.

    4) In other words, from an acquisition cost POV, a single-mission LCS costs as much as 62% as a multi-mission destroyer, meaning the same amount of money will either buy 3 multi-mission DDGs or 5 single-mission LCSs.

    UNREAL !!!

    Can we cancel this entire LCS program immediately and use the $700 million per one LCS to procure THREE (3) ABSALONS (with a designed service life of 30 years) instead ?

  18. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 6:35 pm

    Chuck Hill said : “The total life cycle costs for these combinations are going to be much more than that of a single frigate.”

    The corvette proponents also tend to systematically minimize some indirect costs, such as :

    1) The cost due to the lack of endurance : see for instance DK Brown’s Future British Surface Fleet, page 142 :

    “Since WW2, warships have relied on replenishment at sea to keep their fuel tanks, store rooms and magazine topped up. This is a demanding and expensive operation which takes the ship off station for a considerable time. […]

    There would be considerable overall savings in eliminating not only the AOR but also the need for its escorts.”

    2) The cost due to insufficient seakeeping qualities : see for instance DK Brown’s Future British Surface Fleet, p. 93-95, where the loss of operational effectiveness is assessed for a Leander-class frigate (108 meters, 3,000 tons) and a notional longer hull (125 meters, 3,500-4,000 tons).

    Out of 150 days at sea, the 108-meter design loses the equivalent of 13 days operational time, whereas the 125-meter design loses the equivalent of 7 days operational time under the same conditions.

    According to Brown, the one-time cost of making the frigate longer is 3 times less than the cost due to the loss of operational value over the service life of the ship.

    Now replace one of the designs with the mythical 1,000-ton corvette, and the other one with the ABSALON (137 meters) and do the maths…

    And these are just two of the 10 critical attributes defined by Dr. Robert Dalsjö !!!

    Back to basics is NOT trying to make the kind of penny-wise, pound-foolish decision of which the mythical corvette is the utmost incarnation.

    Back to basics means, among other things, that the much denigrated platform-centric attributes remain absolutely central in warship design.

    It’s about time to THINK BIG, not small !!!

  19. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 5:11 pm

    D.E. Reddick said : “So, a suggested price of $200 to $250 million per Absalom type in 2004 or 2005 dollars does seem a very likely and logical assumption and/or conclusion.”

    Now that sounds like a sensible approach to the question !

  20. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 5:08 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “1 RFA Wave class ($175 million) and 10 Skjold fast attack craft ($75 Million?)”

    Some observations if I may :

    1) At the risk of repeating myself again (but that’s what I’m here for, ain’t it), the average cost of the Skjold class is $125 million per unit, and not $75 million as suggested. Furthermore, I’ll observe that, once again, it is automatically assumed that a US shipyard will be able to offer the same price, and I’d like to understand why people making this assumption systematically deny this might be possible with an Absalon…

    2) Regarding the choice of the Wave class tanker, this is exactly where the Naval Newspeak practice of calling everything a *mothership* if it’s not a *battleship* produces one of its most nefastuous effects.

    Let’s be clear here : a tanker like the Wave class is NOT what you want to use as a tender for FACs : it doesn’t have the repair and hotel facilities that a tender MUST offer and it’s far TOO big (or GIANT in Naval Newspeak) for the role.

    Real world examples suggest that tenders are either :

    a) converted amphibious ships, e.g. :
    * USS Graham County (ex LST-1176) for the Asheville-class PGMs
    * USS Wood County (LST-1178) planned for the Pegasus-class PHMs

    Another example would be RFA Sir Galahad (L3005) which acted as an MCMV depot ship during the 1991 Gulf War.

    b) purpose-built vessels, e.g. :
    * the German Type 404 Elbe-class
    * the Swedish HMS Trossö (A264)

    3) Incidentally, recent experience with the latter and a couple of Swedish *corvettes* demonstrates that another type of *mothership* is likely to be needed for long-range deployments : the heavy-lift *mothership*.

    The recent Swedish experience off Somalia offers some interesting insights on some of the problems involved with *motherships*.

    4) And then, of course, you might need some tanker support, because the tender *mothership* won’t carry enough fuel for sustained overseas operations. You might be able to modify the heavylift *mothership* to duplicate as a tanker, but then you’ll have it tied to the theater of operations.

  21. D. E. Reddick permalink
    February 2, 2010 4:45 pm

    Scott,

    The claimed price for the Absalom sister-class of Iver Huitfeld AAW frigates is $332 million per hull ($997 million for all three) in 2008. Today (in 2010), who knows the exact price – perhaps it’s up to $350, $375, or even as much as $400 million per ship. That 2008 price of $332 million is supposed to be the price for everything except the missile armament (84 warshots) and the helo det. Of course, these Iver Huitfeldt class frigates have a more capable war-fighting electronics suite than the Absalom class. That has to have added cost to their basic price as compared to the earlier Absalom class. So, a suggested price of $200 to $250 million per Absalom type in 2004 or 2005 dollars does seem a very likely and logical assumption and/or conclusion.

  22. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 3:54 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “1 Absalon ($400 million?) and 3 Visby Corvettes ($184 million)”

    That’s amazing :

    1) I posted many credible sources stating that the price for one Absalon was somewhere between $200 and $250 million (depending on the exchange rates). But all of the sudden, the price becomes $400 million. And the only *source* for this random claim is a nonsense story told by one guy, who happens to be the most hysterical Absalon-hater and the most rabid LCS-lover all over the blogosphere…

    As one of the regular posters pointed out recently, “Absalon has to remain as a valid counter to the arguements that a) larger ships always cost more and b)substantial capability cant be bought for a low price.”

    2) At the same time, it is assumed that one Visby merely costs $184 million, and that a US shipyard would easily be able to achieve the same performance (which is something the US industry is claimed to be incapable of when it comes to the Absalon). It’s almost like all the money the Swedes keep spending on various upgrades for the Visby don’t even exist.

    Not so long ago (September 2009), on this very blog, I suggested a side-by-side comparison should be made between the Danish Absalon and one of the mythical 1,000-ton corvette, with a focus on big ticket items like weapons / sensors / electronics and propulsion.

    Why is it that I keep getting no feedback on this suggestion ? The world wonders…

  23. Scott B. permalink
    February 2, 2010 3:25 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Using such ships in shallow waters, where most of these incident took place place means they are in the wrong environment

    With the exception of the incident that involved the RHIB from HMS Cornwall, none of the examples you’ve listed actually took place in shallow waters as you claim. Which in return invalidates your point that “multimission frigate might be in over its head in the modern sea environment”.

    On a sidenote, I’ll observe that the incident involving the RFA Wave Knight (example #2) and piracy off HOA (example #4) are the same thing really, the former being one illustration of the latter.

  24. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 2, 2010 3:00 pm

    Mike, “Chuck, as is, only about 10% of the budget goes to procuring ships, with the rest going toward maintenance and personnel, I would think the best way to “go green” would be smaller ships that burn less fuel. Naturally smaller ships would need less manning without expensive robotic crew saving devices.”

    A smaller ship probably cost less to run, but the price differences over the lifec ycle are not necessarily large and certainly not in proportion to their procurement costs. That is why I had to call you on the assertion that for the price of a $1B frigate:

    “…you could build the first of many squadrons that can cover a great swathe of territory. For instance, for that price you can buy:

    “* 1 British C2 design Future Surface Combatant ($644 million US?) and 5 River class OPVs ($60 million)or
    “* 1 Absalon ($400 million?) and 3 Visby Corvettes ($184 million) or
    “* 1 RFA Wave class ($175 million) and 10 Skjold fast attack craft ($75 Million?) or
    “* 3 JHSV ($200 million) and 40 Stiletto boats ($12 million).”

    The total life cycle costs for these combinations are going to be much more than that of a single frigate. Because of physics it may take nearly as much fuel to drive a small ship at 30 knots as a much larger and longer one. Watch standing requirements don’t have to be any different. If the same equipment is on both ships, the maintenance and manning for those systems should be the same. In fact, given the same systems in a larger volume sometimes the maintenance might be easier on a large ship because there is less crowding and the better ride of the larger ship makes working on the system possible in sea states that would preclude it on a smaller ship.

    I would not argue that there are not circumstances where a mother ship and a flotilla of small vessels might not be superior, but to compare only building cost is a gross oversimplification.

  25. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 2, 2010 1:41 pm

    Thanks Chuck

    WTH said “I’m in line with Byron on this. You’re twisting facts to support your argument”

    Here are some unassailable facts:

    The price of even general purpose warships (non Aegis) is approaching the cost of high end frigates, with the cheapest version of LCS above half-billion dollars. Most other GP ships fall into this category.

    Even if you double the current shipbuilding budget, you would only just meet the 313 ship Navy.

    Both the British and American navies are smaller than they have been in modern times.

    The Navy justifies the smaller fleet by claiming their ships are more capable in times past. (which to me sounds like the twisting of facts, proved by their inability to even contain piracy, and the consistent over-deployment of crews, premature wearing out of hulls since the end of the Cold War)

    If Byron can show me how to rebuild ship numbers, under the current budgets, without low end warships added to the mix, which is a historical solution to a global fleet, not something I made up, I’m ready to listen.

  26. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 2, 2010 1:05 pm

    Mike’s reports of the death of the frigate are greatly exaggerated, but I think a lot of us would agree that the US Navy ought to have a the least a few smaller surface warships. Some 1,000 ton, some 2,000 ton and some 4,000, if for no other reason than to help us understand how to use these ships if working with allies. And in some cases, as Mike suggests these ships can do some missions as well or better than a DDG.

    At least attempting some smaller ships would allow us to embark on an evolutionary path to useful ships that would also be exportable.

  27. WTH permalink
    February 2, 2010 12:48 pm

    Mike,
    I’m in line with Byron on this. You’re twisting facts to support your argument, especially if you’re assertion is that the platform is the problem not the people. Every one of the incidents you site could be evaluated as a people or ROE problem.

    Further, your argument is lacking in detail. It is entirely too simplistic to solely trade shipbuilding costs. As but one example take a quick look at 3 JHSV + 40 Stiletto and add the people up; 41 per JHSV and call it 6 per Stiletto. I make that 360 to use an even number, roughly double a Perry class FFG. Tech is cheap, people are expensive. What sort of coverage can you maintain with a JHSV and 12 Stilettos? You can’t run a Stiletto with a crew of 6 24/7 so what do you do with crews/ships in downtime? Assuming they can just float there IVO the JHSV you now have 6 Stilettos out and about, those things are tiny, what sort of visual/radar coverage do they have? Your argument unravels…

    The frigate as a mothership argument I think is actually very valid. A ship, or system thereof is only as good as what it can see and then influence. The answer is not lots of small ships, but extending the area of influence of single ships. Answers to that, with existing technology, seem to me to be UAV sensor coverage followed by people in boats to influence something.

  28. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 2, 2010 12:25 pm

    “Fuel and manpower costs particularly are higher for your $1B squadron, compared to a $1B single ship.”

    Chuck, as is, only about 10% of the budget goes to procuring ships, with the rest going toward maintenance and personnel, I would think the best way to “go green” would be smaller ships that burn less fuel. Naturally smaller ships would need less manning without expensive robotic crew saving devices.

    Byron your politeness is much appreciated.

    Jed replied “The problem is with budgets for the RN”

    Any argument that the RN has been selling off still useful warships for the sake of the 2 supercarriers? I will say the RN does suffer from smaller budgets more than the USA, but all the more reason to live within her means. She will show the world how to build a respectable and adequately sized fleet on a budget, as she did in the 70s and 80s.

  29. Jed permalink
    February 2, 2010 12:05 pm

    Mike, you replied: “The trouble is with the platform, not the people.”

    In the words of the song, it aint necessarily so !

    The problem is with budgets for the RN, with gold plating and mission creep for the USN, and maybe shipbuilding too – but there plenty of European and other navies who have nice useful ‘frigate’ type ships, bought at reasonable cost.

    So while I assure you I had not taken any offence with any unintended (and not perceived on my part) “picking” on the RN, I think you are “picking” on the platform, when instead it might be better to “pick” on the strategy, doctrine and tactics. However other than that I am still with Bryon – lots of small ships ain’t gonna solve it either, and yes I know your not suggesting a single type fleet – but I don’t believe would ever get enough low into your high-low mix to achieve the desired result !

  30. Byron permalink
    February 2, 2010 11:33 am

    Mike, this is your place, so I’ll try to be as polite as I can. Your argument flat sucks. Items 1,2 and 4 were pure lack of politica spine/will. Item 3 we hade an unarmed vessel and the choice was go in like the ugly American or resolve it as peacefully as we could. You will note that a Burke destroyer was pushed into the area to let the PLAN know that the next time they tried this stunt the USN was in the hood.

    Trying to use any of these examples to bolster your argument for corvettes (something that the professional surface warfare times have said was amusing at best) is a pure folly.

    I’ll give you points for effort though…

  31. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 2, 2010 11:19 am

    Or one National Security Cutter and ten Sentinel Class.

    Even so, the procurement and life cycle costs are not in direct proportion. Fuel and manpower costs particularly are higher for your $1B squadron, compared to a $1B single ship.

  32. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 2, 2010 11:07 am

    “Even taken together these incidents say nothing or prove nothing about the relevance of modern frigates / destroyers. ”

    Disagree, since it all boils down to the lack of numbers which is a prerequisite for proper sea control. The cost of the frigate means you can only afford a few of them. The idea that you have to use an RFA vessel as a frigate means you don’t have enough of them. The failure to grapple with the problem of piracy tells me we don’t have enough small warships and NO ONE says you must buy an all-Visby fleet since I often call for low end platforms like OPV and FACs, even more cutters for a balanced fleet. This is why I NEVER endorse a single warship class to solve all our problems. This is why we are in the shape we are with the LCS which is so heavily capable it is of little earthly good, a mediocre ship with a gold-plated price tag.

    Arguably the USNS vessel doesn’t belong here, but I didn’t want to sound like I was just picking on the Brits, which are in fact the supreme practitioners of frigate warfare. Just the best, hands down.The trouble is with the platform, not the people.

  33. Jed permalink
    February 2, 2010 10:03 am

    Sorry Mike, but you seem to be contradicting yourself somewhat, well at least, your confusing me with your agruments:

    “None of the above incidents are individual proof the frigate is obsolete in its current form. Taken collectively they are signs the large multimission ship needs help in its essential function of sea control. Cost is not the only problem but also a confusion of the proper role of Blue Water versus littoral warfare”

    Whats it got to do with bluewater versus littoral ? Wave Knight is a sodding great tanker, but there is not suggestion she did not reach the hi-jacked Yacht in time because it was in shallow water !

    Neither did the Cornwall sail off and leave her boarding parties unprotected because of the depth of the water, it was an unsound operational decision to go do something else – bad tactics !!

    What has the US ‘ unarmed surveillance ship incident go to do with anything ?

    Even taken together these incidents say nothing or prove nothing about the relevance of modern frigates / destroyers.

    Yes in many ways its about the tyranny of numbers – so using an RFA to carry additional Marine boarding parties and helos because you have run down your fleet so much, kind of makes sense. However not even your country has enough cash to flood the east coast of Africa with enough Visby’s to make the slightest bit of difference. However even an emasculated Perry with no SAM’s can carry two SH60 class helo’s and these are the best sensor / weapon platform for anti-piracy (and many other roles).

    So, yes, the frigate can become mothership – a la the Absalon class – 2 x EH101 size helo, 2 x CB90, 2 x armed RHIBS, and retain enough ‘conventional’ weapons to be part of an integrated blue water task group. BUT that’s why the Danes don’t call them frigates, and as Denmark is a loooooong way from the horn of Africa, thats why it decided to build such large ships.

    So as per usual, I agree with some of your theory – just not the one that lots of small “corvettes” is the answer !

  34. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 2, 2010 7:33 am

    William, your numbers sound better, though a 6000 ton ship, I wouldn’t be surprised that my figures are accurate.

    I am thinking about doing a whole page like the FAQ page on just Warship Prices. I often struggle to find accurate figures on the cost of programs when I do a post.

  35. William permalink
    February 2, 2010 7:26 am

    Mike,
    Sorry – I don’t. Thats a figure I’ve heard quoted by some particularly knowledgable people on some naval forums. However if they’re now intending to use the same 6000 ton C1 hull for the C2, albeit with a reduced sensor and weapons fit, its probable that the cost of the C2 will have increased beyond its original estimate, but not to $644 million – otherwise its defeating the purpose of having a C2.

    But time will tell. Perhaps they’ll end up seriously over budget like everything else.

  36. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 2, 2010 6:44 am

    William, do you have a scource for that? I had a hard time finding even that price.

  37. William permalink
    February 2, 2010 6:39 am

    Mike, I don’t know where you’re getting the figure of $644 million for the C2 surface combattant. The figures I’ve heard quoted are in the £200 – £250 million range. The $644 million figure is more likely for the C1. C2 was always mean’t to be relatively cheap and cheerful – unless things have changed.

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