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As Russia Goes at Sea Pt 2

February 9, 2010

France's Mistral. Like Russia, the US might seek foreign designs to beef up her greatly shrunken Post-Cold War Navy. Author F. Dubey and Netmarine.

Although jubilant over Russia’s victory at Azov, Peter I grew even more determined to create a true Russian navy. While in counsel with the Boyar Duma on 20 October 1696, the Tsar proposed the creation and perpetual maintenance of a Russian fleet. The Boyars agreed, declaring “The seagoing ships shall be!”, whereupon the Azov Naval Base was founded. Its creation in 1696 marks the birth of the regular Russian navy and naval fleet.

From a specially erected structure called the Tsar’s Tent on the Voronezh River, Peter himself was in command, but construction of the ships was directed by Chief of the Admiralty Alexanter Protasyev. The manual work at the Voronezh shipyard was performed by thousands of serfs, overseen by hundreds of shipwrights and officers brought from Western Europe.

In 1697 Peter I sent sixty young noblemen to Europe to learn shipbuilding and study navi-gation. Peter himself soon followed. In Holland he studied the most advanced nautical sciences of the day, worked in ship construction as a ship’s carpenter and earned the title of shipwright. He brought back to Russia books and charts, models of ships, tools and, of even greater significance, vast knowledge and new skills…

From History of the Russian Navy

Fixing Our Warship Woes

The planned sale of up to four French Mistral amphibious assault ships to the Russian Navy sounds like a logical repeat of history, when her leaders sought overseas expertise from European maritime powers for the construction of a war-winning fleet. The results speak for themselves: The Czars expanded the Russian domain, defeating Turks and Swedish forces, transforming the powerful nation from a Medieval Serfdom to a Modern Industrial Empire.

Instead of scorning such a notion as a sign of decline, perhaps America and Britain might find here an answer to their own warship woes, which seem to multiply after their Cold War victory with ever smaller force structures, and harder to build warships with constant cost overruns, technically flawed vessels, and shrinking numbers. For powers currently focused on land threats in the Middle East as these mighty Atlantic nations, such are unneeded distractions.

With the two Anglo land powers rightly concerned with current threats on land, they could purchase designs from foreign shipyards, either duplicating the construction at home, or ordering directly from overseas yards. European and Asia warships frequently come in under cost, on time, drastically less expensive and with fewer mechanical defects, unlike most warship construction emanating from Britain and the US. Some examples of quality design include the following:

  • Aircraft Carriers-No nation deploys nuclear supercarriers, or even large decks with the quality and experience of US types. Where others do excel is in the building of small carriers, which are multipurpose amphibious ships, as we see with Russia’s Mistral search from France, the latter vessel of 20,000 tons costing from $500 million. Other interesting designs are the Spanish Juan Carlos and the Italian Cavour, both of 27,000 tons and V/STOL ready(Australia also purchasing 2 similar types). On the low end are the Italian San Giorgio and the Japanese Osumi, all are of less than 10,000 tons each but possessed of a “through” flight deck.
  • Corvettes and Patrol Craft-A particular favorite subject of ours, since it seems the only way for the UK and US ever to restore fleet numbers, are with such vessels, seeing as they are very useful against other small threats at sea. Both nations construct small types for friendly allies, like the Saar 5 for Israel, while Britain in recent years have built corvettes for Oman and Brunei. Nordic nations specialize in stealthy craft such as the Visby and Skjold. Germany has numerous overseas orders for its respected MEKO A Class Corvettes, and for its own Navy, the K130 Braunschweig. The Gumdoksuri Class is an interesting patrol ship from S Korea, built with the lessons of combat with the North in mind.
  • Destroyers and Frigates-Destroyers are now synonymous with a large missile escorts, and both navies have excellent examples in these, the Type 45 and DDG-51 classes. Neither will need replacement but perhaps for the future, as well as the need for motherships for small craft, a second look might be taken at the frigate, which is too expensive to afford in large numbers, but also less pricey than a large destroyer. Examples of missile frigates with like capabilities are the Spanish F100 design, and versions built for Norway, and Australia. Germany also has the F124 frigate while Holland deploys the De Zeven Provincien Class. For a low-end frigate design, the Danish Absalon is well liked and excellent for the mothership role.
  •  Submarines-As with their destroyers, the UK and US have a superb force of nuclear submarines. Because they are large and hard to build, these can never be afforded in the numbers desired or required. Overseas are numerous conventionally-powered examples, which thanks to their extreme quieting and air-independent propulsion, are very effective while remaining affordable. Not surprising, some of the most popular are German classes, the U-212/214 in widespread export. Not too far behind is the Franco/Spanish Scorpene, built for numerous navies including Chile, India, Malaysia, and Pakistan. The Swedish Gotland is a well respected coastal design. Japan builds some of the largest and best SSK’s, the Oyashio of 4000 tons and the slightly larger Sōryū.


It is no secret America, with rare exceptions of late, prepares to fight the wrong war. As Secretary Gates said recently “We have learnt through painful experience that the wars we fight are seldom the wars we planned,”. Before Korea, she planned on short conflicts in which nuclear bombers were involved. Instead she got a low tech conventional struggle not too dissimilar than the recent world war she fought, only more confined and which the bombers were of little use. Afterward, amazingly she kept building bombers, plus giant aircraft carriers which also could carry nuclear bombers, for a war over Europe, and yet found herself in a COIN battle in Asia with an enemy again much like the Japanese she fought in the Pacific Islands jungles.

The conventional battles in Iraq with Saddam Hussein were welcome victories after the loss in Vietnam, except they distracted the US from the type of enemies she most often fights, which is low tech COIN adversaries who manage to obtain high tech weaponry, matching us in firepower while nearly bankrupting us with their extreme frugality. Today the Navy is planning to fight wars in Outer Space with Aegis BMD cruisers, while the next conflict most likely will be in Cyber Space, again with minuscule budgets that we can’t hope to match.

America, and to an extent Britain should focus on their strengths and most dire needs, currently being land threats from terrorist insurgents. Air and seapower will always be needed, but instead of a top heavy force, should consist of medium and light forces. For the Navy especially, emphasis must be on sea control, which is all important, as a anti-submarine and counter insurgency force. Since the West hasn’t faced a significant carrier threat in three quarters of a century, this shockingly expensive arm can be downsized in favor of larger numbers of smaller vessels. By depending more on her allies as in Europe and Asia for naval support and also ship designs, the Pax America, born out of the British Empire, will sustain a reasonable peace indefinitely.

Or we could just keep going as we are, which is a sad alternative, as  Tim Colton of Maritime Memos explains concerning the Mistral sale:

As you can imagine, this ticks off a lot of U.S. senators, who, having an average age of 63, are still fighting the Cold War.  But think how badly the Russian Navy would get screwed up if it had to buy ships from Northrop Grumman.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 9, 2010 8:33 pm

    Desperate times require desperate measures.

  2. CBD permalink
    February 9, 2010 7:42 pm

    A good evaluation of the load-out of the Absalon vs the LCS designs is presented at this excellent international naval blog.

    While I’m dubious about the ability of US shipyards to properly build such a craft (although the NASSCO yard might do it well enough) and the willingness of Congress to fund such an effort, I believe that the Absalon could better execute the ‘mothership’ mission at an appropriate cost.

    Given what we have, my preference is for the LCS-2. But given a free hand, it would come down to Absalon (particularly as Jed adjusted its systems) and a re-designed LCS-2 to capitalize on its benefits and eliminate its draw backs.*

    *Quite a project: a smaller engine, dedicating the saved space to fuel capacity, calling it a patrol frigate, reinforcing the flight deck, fitting an enclosed mast for radar and signals and a ‘clean’ topside, expanding the middle section to fit a Stanflex-like reconfigurable space and to add fuel capacity, expanding its CIWS suite (2 on hangar instead of one), placing Mk38 Mod 2 remote weapons stations or Mk 46 stations to provide small caliber fire, placing AShMs in the NLOS spot forward, putting at least some (composite) armoring on the hull against small arms/ATGM fire and installing a better boat deployment system).

    Stanflex space: 16-32 cell SD-length Mk41 array (for ESSM and perhaps marinized M31 GMLRS or P44 missiles), Torpedo launchers, additional AShMs as the mission requires.

  3. Scott B. permalink
    February 9, 2010 5:23 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Remember when they tried to make a cruiser into a battleship? That was a pretty boat too!”

    That’s actually a very interesting parallel that deserve further investigation !

    In short, my view is that the approach that led Fisher to put so much emphasis on speed in general and the battlecruiser in particular is very similar to the approach that led the Transformation crowd to put so much emphasis on speed in general and LCS in particular.

    I don’t have much time to further explain, but the parallel should be pretty obvious if you read the very first pages in Chapter One of Norman Friedman’s Network-Centric Warfare.

    A book, which, for some reason, doesn’t get much attention in the various NCW discussion that take place on the blogosphere.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 9, 2010 5:04 pm

    Mr X says “I don’t care for the USN LCS. It is flawed and if anything backward looking.”

    Tries to be a patrol boat and a mothership. A confusion of roles that’s asking for trouble. Remember when they tried to make a cruiser into a battleship? That was a pretty boat too!

  5. Scott B. permalink
    February 9, 2010 4:38 pm

    x said : “But it isn’t cargo ship. More of a station wagon with a sports kit.”

    I agree with you.

    That’s one of the problem with the Naval Newspeak and buzzwords like *Mothership* : they don’t mean anything at all, because they can mean anything you want, and therefore create a false impression of consensus.

    That’s why I don’t use the Naval Newspeak : I’m an old school guy who believe words should have a clearly defined meaning.

    As far as ABSALON is concerned, I’d rather call it a Station Wagon Frigate like you do, or an Expeditionary Frigate as leesea does, or a Command and Support Ship as the Danes do, or simply a Patrol Frigate (which fits pretty well my vision of what the USN force structure should look like, but that’s an entirely different subject).

    Any of these would do. *Mothership* simply doesn’t, because this word is meaningless.

  6. February 9, 2010 4:26 pm

    Hello Scott B.

    Hopefully I have posted enough here for you to know that I am pro-big.

    I like the Danish ship. The “vehicle deck” is useful for all sorts of things. You can’t have too much space. But the space on the Absalon is limited. But it is useful for a small navy such as Denmark’s. It allows them to participate. That space adds some utility to the design. But it isn’t cargo ship. More of a station wagon with a sports kit.

    If I wanted a mothership I would rather have 7,000 ton (and upwards) vessel. My favorites would be the current Singaporean LST and the personally lamented Sir Class LSL. Big flightdecks. Sea doors. Lots of cargo space.

    I don’t care for the USN LCS. It is flawed and if anything backward looking.

  7. Scott B. permalink
    February 9, 2010 3:24 pm

    x said : “If you have a walk around one as I have had you would be skeptical about saying it could be used as a mothership.”

    Another report from September 2009 :


    With ABSALON, the Danes seem to have found the way to keep a relatively large warship affordable, by (among other things) preventing vacant area on the deck or volume within the larger hull to become a magnet for expensive additions :

    1. A fair amount of deck area is either dedicated to :

    * the flight deck (~850 m2),

    * the hangar (~495 m2),

    * the weapons deck (~400 m2).

    2. A fair amount of internal volume is either dedicated to :

    * the RO/RO deck (~915 m2, with a height extending over two decks, i.e. ~4.5 meters),

    * the cargo hole right below the RO/RO deck (~140 m2, about one deck high),

    * permanent accomodation designed for 170 (crew of 100 plus up to 70 additional personnel) and galley / personnel facilities designed for up to 300.


    THINK BIG, not small !!!

  8. Scott B. permalink
    February 9, 2010 3:21 pm

    x said : “If you have a walk around one as I have had you would be skeptical about saying it could be used as a mothership.”

    1) There’s enough cube and deadweight in the existing ABSALON design to accommodate all the UxVs (plus supporting containers) they are desperately trying to cram inside the LCS (the LockMart design in particular). The existing handling equipment is entirely appropriate.

    2) In addition, an ABSALON can deploy manned vehicles that cannot be accommodated in any of the existing LCS, for instance the SRC-90E.

    3) ABSALON’s hangar is much bigger than LCS-2’s (~495 square meters for the former vs ~350 square meters for the latter). And of course, it’s also MUCH bigger than LCS-1’s.

    4) ABSALON’s superior seakeeping qualities also make it a MUCH BETTER platform for launching / recovering manned / unmanned vehicles.


  9. Scott B. permalink
    February 9, 2010 3:09 pm

    Solomon said : “Wow, what exactly is the Absalon.”

    Quick repost from October 2009 :


    Does a ship that can do everything an LCS can do for a unit cost of $300M exist ?

    Take a look at the Danish Absalons :

    * the 915 sq. meters flex deck and the weapons deck probably offers enough room to accomodate any of the existing mission LCS modules.

    * in addition, unlike any of the LCS designs, they possess decent self-defense capabilities ; for AAW : S-band 3D radar, up to four CEROS-200 directors, 36 x ESSM, 2 x Millennium 35mm CIWS; for ASW : Atlas hull-mounted sonar, 324mm torpedo tubes, fitted for but not with an active variable depth sonar (to be uplifted from the existing Standard Flex inventory or procured downstream).

    * Denmark, a country with wages 15% higher than the US, was able to produce two of these for about DKK 2,500M, i.e. $225M per unit.

    Here’s more :

    * Wanna do emergency disaster relief : the Absalons can be configured as hospital ships.

    * Wanna do global partnership stuff : the Absalons are prepared for Joint Task Group HQ staff.

    * Wanna do limited amphibious operations : the Absalons can load about 75% of an Army reconnaissance squadron minus logistics, container accommodation for an additional 130 forces personnel can be installed on the flex deck.

    * Wanna do NSFS : the Absalons have one 5″ Mark-45 Mod.4 gun and I suspect you could develop a flex container for land attack rockets such as the Isaeli NAVLAR.

    * Wanna do sealift : the Absalons have 250m of parking lanes, with an reinforced deck can embark vehicles for up to 62t such as the Leopard II main battle tank.

    * Wanna do SOF insertion : the Absalons are equipped for insertion of Special Operations Forces (SOF), with two 40ft SRC-90E insertion craft carried on the cargo deck.

    Here are some of the things the Absalons don’t have :

    * speed : you won’t be able to make 40 knots, but I have yet to see one valid justification for such excessive speeds.

    * survivability : they probably don’t achieve Level 2, but then neither do any of the LCS designs. They have some ballistic protection that LCS-1 doesn’t seem to have.

    Like I said earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that their survivability is at least as good, and probably better, than that of the current LCS designs.

    One could also point out such things as their draft, which is greater than that of the existing designs (20.7 feet, but then the LCS threshold was 20 feet IIRC) and various tidbits here and there.

    The Absalons may not the best thing since slice bread, however, they are, as Stuart Slade pointed out recently, exactly what the LCS should have been.


    Much more infos on ABSALON in this blog entry

  10. Scott B. permalink
    February 9, 2010 3:04 pm

    Solomon said : “Wow, what exactly is the Absalon.”

    ABSALON @ Naval Technology

    ABSALON @ Wikipedia

    ABSALON @ WikiMedia

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 9, 2010 1:28 pm

    How could I leave out the Japanese Hyuga class in the aircraft carrier paragraph! 14,000 tons, 11 helos, and at 30 knts the speed of a destroyer.

  12. Jed permalink
    February 9, 2010 12:18 pm

    Absalon is what the Danes call it, a multi-role support and command ship. It is as X suggests a large frigate/destroyer type hull with a roll on roll off vehicle deck. The deck can carry amoured vehicles (including amphibious types), containerized troop accommodation or field hospitals etc. It has the ability to over-the-stern launch two SCE90 which are the smaller version of the Swedish Combat Boat 90. They have a hanger for 2 AW101 Merlin sized helicopters.

    SO – Mothership – well kinda, for 2 x medium helos, plus maybe some UAV’s and at least 2 x armed 11m RHIB and 2 x SCE90.

    LCS alternative – well, why couldn’t the boats be replaced by unmanned surface vehicles and unmanned submersibles for ASW and MCM work ? So maybe.

    My article on ThinkDefence has links to Absalon resources and my suggestion that a variant of the design would make an excellent Future Surface Combatant (C2) for the RN:

  13. February 9, 2010 10:31 am

    Absalon is a fat high endurance patrol frigate with what I would term an enclosed vehicle deck.

    If you have a walk around one as I have had you would be skeptical about saying it could be used as a mothership.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 9, 2010 9:33 am

    Solomon, I guess the answer would be “all of the above”! But I’ll let Scott explain…

  15. February 9, 2010 8:45 am

    Wow, what exactly is the Absalon. I’ve heard it recommended for everything from an LCS replacement, lt wt LPD, mothership, and even OPV. What the hell is it really?!

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